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Are the Gospel Documents Forged?

It has sometimes been legitimately noted that Christianity is a religion not just founded on ancient mythology or tradition, a clever book, insightful writings, or even along with a charismatic leader but upon stupendous supra-normal and/or supernatural events. Take away the crucifixion and especially the resurrection and what you have left is a Jesus that is no more than just one more in a long line of itinerant, self-appointed peddlers of strange religious convictions and teachings. Just an unusual and probably unhinged man who made some waves, and then just died like everybody else. The thinking would be that his disciples somehow cultivated the growth of the religion and eventually it turned into the mess that it is today. The very spiritual chaos that we find today in Christianity would seem to lend some credence to this explanation.

None of us were around to see Jesus and these paradigm changing events for ourselves, and we have to rely upon ancient writings with very shaky documentation as to their origins and technical authenticity. There are NO original manuscripts of the Gospels extant today. There are only two or so somewhat tenuous mentions of a man called Jesus in writings from the time, and these are not really definitive in proving his historicity as the significant figure that Christianity demands. Right up front we MUST admit that we are going to have to operate on choosing to believe what is the most reasonable scenario, and not hard historical facts nor documentation.

Some people would have you believe that it is the wisdom or teaching content of Jesus that validates him as an iconic symbol, that they do not need him to be literal or historical. Just being a glorious composite archetype is all that is required. But his claim went far beyond that of being a wise teacher, and we need something far more significant than another wise teacher or inspirational metaphorical avatar. Besides, the Golden Rule was not original with him, nor his doctrine of forgiveness, nor his railing against hypocrisy, etc., and maybe not even many of his parables.

Furthermore, his statements and promises of faith empowerment and not dying are not born out so far in my experience. The latter not only do not authenticate him as these people claim but clearly tend to disconfirm him as being what they hold him up to be. For me, if there was no literal, historical Jesus, there is no reason to pay any undue heed or attention to what is in the Gospels. If we cannot see that he settled the ultimate issues that would arise in a universe with humans, we cannot understand all that he said and appreciate what he really did.

Today, Christianity and its very founder and the momentous events ARE being seriously denied by certain scholars as having been real and historical, and the documents that Christians hold dear and base their faith in are being fundamentally challenged as to their authenticity by two alternative scenarios proposing their contrived or fabricated origins.

However:

The disciples were not predisposed to the Easter event.  The theory that the disciples were predisposed to hallucinate that Jesus appeared to them alive might be plausible if despite his crucifixion they had remained unshakeable followers of his cause.  But the NT Gospels depict the disciples as dim-witted jerks and wimps who in fear for their own safety abandoned Jesus at his arrest, trial and crucifixion; the leader of the bunch emphatically denied ever knowing the man (Mark 14:66-72).  Apparently, only women and some peripheral followers were loyal enough to be present at Jesus' crucifixion and attend to his burial (Mark 15:40-16:1).  Meanwhile, his disciples were hiding in fear for their own lives (John 20:19).  The two followers en route to Emmaus confessed that with Jesus' crucifixion their hopes died for Israel's liberation from Roman oppression (Luke 24:21).  The Gospels attest that the disciples initially disbelieved even the resurrection appearances (Matt 28:17; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:24-29).

The witnesses were predisposed to not
expect the resurrection of this crucified man.

The admissions of confusion and cowardice in these accounts are marks of authenticity.  It is unimaginable that the propaganda literature of this fledgling movement (the Gospels) would portray its founders in such a bad light unless their abandonment and disbelief of Jesus were indeed factual.  Such candor about a sect's origins is unparalleled. - Article by Lebrecque, Alexander, The Credibility of the Testimony to the Resurrection of Jesus.

In this page we will deal with the first of these challenges. While the author goes too far in his claims, the article below is one of the strongest attacks on the foundations of Christianity. See:

  The Forged Origins of the New Testament

The author of the article unjustly overstates his conclusion thusly,

“Simply put, there was no Christian religion at Constantine's time, and the Church acknowledges that the tale of his "conversion" and "baptism" are "entirely legendary.".

But that is precisely the point in contention. Although the process of settling on the 27 books of the NT canon was generally not complete until the fifth century, the candidate documents numbered over 2000. If only 1% of these were genuine, not forgeries nor contrived fabrications, that is far more than enough for it to be possible that the Gospels are not such total fabrications. And genuine doesn’t mean that they were dictated nor even instigated by God. The claim of this site is that probably only two were eyewitness accounts of Jesus, these being the Gospels of John and Thomas, but that the balance were genuine along the lines of their being compilations engendered by early Christian congregations. The early church letters included in the New Testament are probably genuine as well, but who cares about this non-germane aspect when it comes to sorting out the meaningful spiritual issues?

Of course. we shouldn’t take ANY statements or proclamations as authoritative except when they are an eyewitness account of what Jesus did and said. The issue here is whether Christianity is a new religion entirely concocted by Constantine and associates or whether it pre-existed him and he just put his imprimatur on it one way or another. I find the idea, that some scheming British-born Roman leader could fabricate and carry off such a grand conspiracy, to be preposterous. Here is why:

  1. The Council of Trent, held in twenty five sessions ostensibly held between 1545 and 1563, among other things was the Roman Catholic church's attempt to set the NT canon.  This was a contentious issue long before Constantine, because the list was largely set by 150 AD. How can we posit that these thousands of documents and the issues culminating in the selection of 27 would even have existed if Christianity didn't have a literal foundation and wasn’t already flourishing? And there would have been no need for having the Council if there weren’t major divergences and controversies. You can’t have it both ways!
  2. As most Biblical scholars would agree, the Synoptic Gospels are obviously compilations from previous sources and stories from people being interviewed, and have very little structure beyond being a jumbled collection of events, statements, and parables, ostensibly done and spoken by Jesus. The chronologies are not correct and the order of the events are significantly different in these documents. These discrepancies would represent an AMAZING, incredible level of noteworthy and nefarious detail in a fabricated conspiracy, and that would seem to be counterintuitive.
  3. The various Gospels have obviously different styles and reflect different agendas, which bespeaks different authors/compilers.
  4. The Synoptics have different embellishments and several discrepancies of fact between them all, and all three differ from John in certain accounts and facts.
  5. The above is exactly what you would expect to find in the natural process of a disorganized, growing religion based upon earlier literal events and teachings, a time when the dissemination of written material, travel and communication over distance was problematic. This level of “authenticity” would be very difficult to fabricate in an all out conspiracy to start a new religion that had legs. I do admit that a new religion can be started just by ideas—witness Urantia and Dianetics—but these religions show no promise of incorporating a third of the world, and they, unlike Christianity, are not grounded upon events but upon charismatic leaders, clever psychological techniques, and published  material or books.
  6. There are a handful of very old cultural Christian factions, like the Coptics, Greek Orthodox, etc., in some of which there is no reason to suspect that they are offshoots from the posited Roman fabrication by Constantine. And I think that some others that are based upon the teachings and events of Jesus don’t call themselves “Christian”, which after all was a pejorative term applied to the Jewish ones by other Jews.
  7. The substance of the Synoptic Gospels differs from that of John in just the way you would expect between compilations of stories by people that didn’t understand the ultimate issues and didn’t understand the import of Jesus' life and message versus the structured and pointed material related by John that is spot-on relevant to a resolution of the human condition. People that don’t understand what is being demonstrated and said are going to remember a different type and level of things than someone that writes about it after they get an overall understanding of it.
  8. Never in a million years could a crafty Roman politician and a committee come up with some of the wonderful wisdom, insight and content that is in the Gospels of John and Thomas, some of which had never entered into the mind of Man previously. The position of this site is that some of this is STILL not understood by Christendom.
  9. Finally, we can find reason to accept the Gospels of John and Thomas taken together to be self-authenticating eyewitness accounts for the following reasons:
  • John is not a cheerleader for the Christianity of his time, and every sensible student of the Gospels sees that he is writing to correct and redirect the thinking of then existing Christians. He gives four or five laments early in his writing, decrying how the message and understanding of Jesus had not taken root and borne effective fruit.
  • John writes to show that Jesus was the Original being, the creator, not just some marvelous but lesser representative,  the latter of which is what the Jewish people at the time expected.
  • John writes a very structured document that shows Jesus' life and message to be the answer for the ultimate issues and the dilemma of the human condition. It deals with the crucial issues of truth and aspects of the Jesus-delivered paradigm.
  • John pulls no punches in showing that Jesus meant that we should have present, imminent immortality by following his instructions.
  • This Gospel document of John is the most spiritual and inspiring of the lot by being focused on the purpose, values, plan and character of God, not on his sovereignty, power and control.
  • John is not just impressed by the miracles of Jesus, but shows them to be relevant and meaningful in a larger way than just solving a specific problem.
  • John makes an early offhand statement that, “Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptized.” Later he corrects himself when he says, “Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples).” We could not reasonably expect this kind and level of development in a fabrication, and it has the flavor of authenticity.
  • John does not indulge in self-aggrandizement nor make himself into a central character, and only refers to himself as “the disciple that Jesus kept on loving.”
  • Even the author Hyam Maccoby, a devout Jewish enemy of Christianity whose stance is like that of a prosecutor who never misses a trick in casting doubt and aspersions on it, admits in his book Revolution in Judea that both the Roman and Jewish background political, cultural, structural setting in John are historically authentic.
  • The Gospel of Thomas not only has been authenticated to a greater degree scholastically and historically than the other writings, but it contains many of the sayings that are found in the other Gospels, and its message reflects the same good news that is found in the Gospel of John. It can be considered as the second witness needed to validate the authenticity of any testimony.
  • Of course, the final piece of evidence is that when the message of the good news is properly understood or as represented on this site, the package being offered by God deals with the real issues and is the sum total of what we as human beings really want and need. As I have often stated when challenged as to its ultimate reality, “If I go for it and it isn’t real, call me foolish. If it IS real and I don’t go for it, call me really stupid.”
As anybody can see that is familiar with ancient mythologies and writings, and archaeology, the truth of what happened in the ancient times is almost hopelessly buried beneath a mountain of misconception, confusion and falsity. It is the position of this site that the truth of Jesus has likewise been buried in the same way by the same syndrome of mankind. The further premise here is that it is more reasonable to accept the reality of the rise of Christianity in the first century rather than to not accept it.

Bottom line: the above referenced article does NOT destroy the authenticity of the Gospel of John nor the gospel of Thomas and the message of Jesus therein.  All of this actually gives plenty of reason to give the message another, deeper look.

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