Thursday, October 9, 2014

Did Later Christians Edit The Gospels?

One of the key questions of biblical scholarship is whether the gospels are accurate accounts of Jesus' life or if they were highly edited. I have gone through why it would not make sense for the early church to embrace such editing. 

Yet there is another way to look at it. Suppose they did make big changes to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, what would they add? The reality is we know what the early church was concerned about. They were concerned about circumcision. They were concerned with eating meet sacrificed to idols. There were a lot of questions around sexual morality in a very promiscuous Roman empire. There were early forms of Gnosticism coming on the scene a bit later. So if the church was of a mind to put words in Jesus' mouth then these are the things you might expect. 

What do we see? We see nothing of the kind. One more talked about examples is the fact that Jesus never says anything about homosexuality. Does that mean Jesus was somehow pro-gay? Quite the opposite. It means Jesus didn't have the need to talk about homosexuality. He was in Israel. There was no controversy about it there. Jesus was not suggesting the Old Testament teaching change in any way. So there was just nothing to talk about. If he did talk about it what He said was unsurprising enough that nobody bothered to write it down. 

St Paul talks about it. Not because he has issues. He talks about it because in places like Rome and Corinth people are challenging the church's teaching. This is what you would expect if Paul is addressing the gentiles and Jesus is focused on the lost sheep of Israel. You would not expect it if the gospels were written slowly over time and people added things they thought would be good for the church but had no basis in history. 

If you say later Christians added most of what we find in the gospels today then they behaved very strangely. They didn't add anything on the matters they cared about. What did they add? A lot of very similar miracle stories. If you read the daily gospel reading it is striking how many almost redundant stories there are. Many of them are very short and don't seem to add much. Yet every one of them has to be a later addition according to secular scholars. They believe miracles are impossible so they can't be historical. Yet you struggle to imagine these Christians seeing the need to add so many short miracle accounts. What do they add to the story? They quickly become redundant. 

Again, it makes perfect sense if the accounts are real. One healing is not the same as another if you talk to the eye witnesses. The basic facts might be similar but a different person makes it a different story when you actually know the people. Once the stories are there then the fact that they remain there shows more respect for the integrity of the gospels. Nobody decides to remove anything redundant even if copying by hand is expensive. 

So we have a theory that does not fit any of the data. You try and remove the supernatural from the gospels and you end up creating a bunch of problems. You end up saying the early church created Jesus and the gospels rather than Jesus and the gospels created the early church. The trouble is the church is not capable of doing that. Jesus and the gospels are to surprising and to Jewish for that to work. A church is not even the type of entity that is capable of creating the gospels. What you need is 4 writers who have credibility. A larger community simply does not produce literature. 

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