The Painful Truth About The Worldwide Church of God

 E-SKEPTIC FOR JANUARY 2, 2001 Copyright Skeptics Society, Skeptic magazine, Michael Shermer or Permission granted to reprint or distribute without additional permission.



AN EXCERPT FROM RANDEL HELMS' WHO WROTE THE GOSPELS Who Wrote The Gospels? by Randel McCraw Helms 1997. Millennium Press. Available at, hardback $21.95.

Introduction: Who Wrote The Gospels?

No one would trouble to ask such a question if it were not that all four of the biblical gospels are deliberately, even playfully, anonymous in their texts. The Third Gospel for example carefully names its audience, Theophilus ("Friend of God"--Luke 1:3), but never its author; while the last chapter of the Fourth Gospel takes great pains to identify the author of that work as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 21:7, 20), and then never tells us his name! The gospels are so anonymous that their titles, all second-century guesses, are all four wrong. Christians in the second century, possessing anonymous manuscripts and eager to give names to them, fastened upon four historical figures--the Apostles Matthew and John, Luke the "beloved physician" of Paul (Col. 4:14), and John Mark of Jerusalem, the "son" of Peter (Acts 12:12; I Peter 5:13). It's relatively easy to show that these identifications are imaginary and based on wishful thinking, and I will do so below. But that really is not the most amazing part: what still surprises is that, paradoxically, though the four gospels are anonymous they in fact tell us more about their authors than they do about their ostensible subject, the historical Jesus of Nazareth.

If the paragraph above surprises you, welcome to the ongoing debate; biblical scholarship is still chewing on the truly groundbreaking argument of Rudolf Bultmann, propounded some seventy years ago, that any gospel is a primary source for the historical situation out of which it arose, and is only a secondary source for the historical details concerning which it gives information. (Bultmann, 1960, 38)

That the gospels tell us more about the situations of their origin than about their subject is a disturbing idea, and remains controversial. As Robert Funk has recently put it:

Biblical scholars have not been able to make up their minds whether the biblical narratives are about real or fictive events. Or, if they are about both, which is which. The test is a simple one: did the events depicted as having taken place actually take place? Are the gospels essentially fiction or biography? (Funk, 1997, 179)

The title of my last book on this subject, Gospel Fictions (Helms, 1988), gives some idea of my own views, but there is much more to be said about the authors of the gospels. There is a gradually growing consensus that since, as John Meier puts it in his recent biography of Jesus, the gospels are "1stcentury Greco-Roman religious propaganda" (Meier, 1991, 419) "the real Jesus is unknown and unknowable. The real Jesus is not available and never will be" (22); thus our efforts to recover what is recoverable about the historical Jesus can give us only a "fragmentary hypothetical reconstruction" (31). Likewise, in another major biography of Jesus published the same year as Meier's, John Dominic Crossan reminds us that in "the search for the historical Jesus--there is only reconstruction" (Crossan, 1991, 426).

No one should be surprised at Meier's description of the gospels as "religious propaganda"; for the Gospel of John (20:30-31) frankly declares this as its purpose:

There were indeed many other signs that Jesus performed in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. Those here written have been recorded in order that you may hold the faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this faith you may possess life by his name.

The gospels were written to convert or confirm their readers to Christianity (surely no shameful project); they are the highly colored arguments of powerful authors, not just transparent windows upon the historical Jesus. If we adjust our focus from the brilliant imaginative pictures to the imaginations that produced them, to the situations out of which they arose, we get to the point of this book--a study of the minds of the authors we call Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Let me state my thesis now. Behind these four names I count seven authors: six men and one woman. No one can supply their names, but I do hope to describe their minds, their thought-processes and world views, how they wrote and how they viewed their sources of information about Jesus.

A word about my presuppositions: I assume the validity of the Two-Source Theory (that the authors of Matthew and Luke wrote with copies of the Gospel of Mark and the Sayings Gospel Q open in front of them, copying large amounts of both works). Of Mark's 666 verses, some 600 appear in Matthew, some 300 in Luke. Any careful reading of the three Synoptic Gospels (that is, Matthew, Mark and Luke) in some such work as Robert Funk's New Gospel Parallels (1985) will reveal that Mark is the common element between Matthew and Luke and was a source for both of them. I also agree with such scholars as Arland Jacobson that the "non-Markan passages common to both Matthew and Luke agree word-for-word so often that Q must have been a written document and not simply a body of material that Matthew and Luke took from oral tradition" (Miller, 1992, 249). And that there are works of three different authors inside the Gospel of John will surprise some, but not those who have read such standard commentaries on this gospel as those by Bultmann (1971) and Haenchen (1984). I will look at the Four in the order of their completion--Mark, Matthew, Luke-Acts, John--with a brief excursion into two "lost gospels," Thomas and Q. If you finish this book, I think you will be able to answer the question of its title.

 ------------GO TO: TO ORDER A COPY OF THIS WONDERFUL VOLUME ARTFULLY DESIGNED AND BEAUTIFULLY ILLUSTRATED BY SKEPTIC MAGAZINE ART DIRECTOR PAT LINSE. YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED. ------------------------------SKEPTIC SENIOR EDITOR FRANK MIELE ON THE GOSPELS: Irenaeus, one of the early Church fathers, said the attribution of the Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were "righteous guesses." Even within Catholic and non-Fundamentalist Protestant scholarship a common view is that: THE GOSPEL OF MARK was written by John Mark, the companion* of Peter; MATTHEW was written by Matthew the Levite; LUKE and ACTS by Luke the companion* of Paul and the REVELATION OF JESUS TO JOHN (i.e., REVELATION) was written by John the Beloved* Disciple in exile on the Isle of Patmos, but not necessarily the GOSPEL OF JOHN. Proving even this would be damned near impossible.

(* Funny how in these days on Gay interpretations of literature, words like "companion" and "beloved" tend take on a different meaning).

Another view is that the first gospel (MARK) simply uses the most common name in the Roman Empire (Marcus), i.e., it's a Gospel by Everyman. It's far and away the shortest Gospel, written in the worst Greek, and some of the early manuscripts don't even have a Resurrection (the women find the stone has been rolled away from the front of the tomb and the run away in fear).

MATTHEW is steeped in Jewish references and seems to be spin to make Christians (who were then a sect of Jews, and a questionable one at that for sitting out the Jewish Revolt against Rome) the REAL heirs to God's promises. The Catholic Church has always given MATTHEW priority because it contains the very "thou art Peter..., I give you the keys to the kingdom" on which the claims of the Apostolic succession of Papal authority are based.

LUKE is the best Greek. It and ACTS are aimed at the Hellenistic population, and esp. ACTS moves the Christian mission out of Palestine and into Europe.

JOHN, the favored gospel of Evangelical groups like Crusade for Christ, is said to derive from a Syrian or Babylonian center, rather than a Judaean one. To me it's always seemed the most whacked-out of the Gospels. Evangelicals probably like it because of its High Christology -"In the beginning there was the word,... and the word became flesh." Orthodox Catholics disparage such a view as a denial of the Trinity. But then many Protestants consider Catholicism to be Maryolatry. (I was brought up a Roman Catholic. Like most young Catholic boys I thought about becoming a priest in my preteens. I still favor Catholicism in any of these disputes, not because of theology really, but the music and art just beat the pants off anything the Protestants or the Jews or Muslims have ever been able to come up. The Eastern Orthodox come in second place. Their art & music are sublimely mystical, but they can't break out of that mode.

------------------SKEPTIC CONTRIBUTOR PHIL MOLE ON THE GOSPELS: I saw your "Politically Incorrect" appearance, and thought you did an admirable job stating your case (although, like Pat Linse, I did notice your small error about the possible feminine issues being in John instead of Luke....and if I'm not mistaken, you started to say "Luke" before switching to "John" in mid-sentence!) Also, it may have been interesting to point out to Victoria Jackson that many scholars believe that Jesus' disciples were NOT all men. Paula Fredriksen, Elaine Pagels, Wayne Meeks, John D. Crossan and many other prominent New Testament scholars have demonstrated that there are many points in the gospels which refer to the presence of women around Jesus, but these women, unlike the Twelve, are never or almost never mentioned by name. There are numerous passages which name the members of the Twelve present with Jesus, and then, almost in passing, mention that there were also "a large number of women," or something to that effect. For this reason, most of these scholars conclude that there were many women in Jesus' inner circle, and that perhaps these women even outnumbered the men. Also, many of the meetings of the very early Christians were held in women's homes and were organized by women.

The de-emphasis of women's roles probably occurred for a number of reasons, which are probably not mutually exclusive. First, Christians writing the gospels in the crisis years of the late first century needed to show people that Jesus, who was crucified and thus failed to serve the role of the liberating messiah expected by many, really was the one they were waiting for after all. As Randel Helms shows in his books, one way they did this was to pour through the Hebrew scriptures to find new ways of understanding how a crucified man could be the Messiah. The "Suffering servant" passage from Isaiah did the trick nicely, as did a number of passages from the prophets which were reinterpreted as predictions of events in the life of Jesus. Using this method of "historicizing" prophesies led the gospel authors to find great significance in Jesus having twelve apostles, since there were also Twelve tribes of Israel. Thus, by giving Jesus twelve apostles, the gospel authors created a powerful symbol of the establishment of a new kingdom by Jesus to replace the old. The leaders of the original twelve tribes of Israel were then must be the leaders of the new tribes. Also, once Christianity grew past the status of an ancient mystery cult and became an increasingly organized religion, it paved the way for more traditional hierarchical structures, with a correlated decline in the participation of women.

By the way, did you explain to Jackson after the show that "AD" does NOT stand for "after death?"

-------------------------E-SKEPTIC READER LEE MARKLAND ON THE GOSPELS: As regards the so called Gospels. A touchy subject with political implications, but the evidence is that the gospels did not exist until after the council of Nicea, and they were works in progress for another 1,000 years. The old testament itself was written between 500 b.c.e and was a work in progress until the lst century of the common era. It appears that the Jewish identity was formed over time, by tribal leaders-priests, after the Juth's (Jatt's, Jath's) were gifted Canaan by Cyrus Messiah (Isaiah 45:1 original Hebrew and Septuagint).

For instance: There never was a man named in Greek Loukas, any more than we have men named Texan or Georgian. The adjective is territorial and simply means "a man from Lucania" a region of which the capital city was Luca, modern Lucca, south of Piso in Italy.

The socio-political-religious movement later known as Xtianity has origins unknown, and appears to be an ideological creation, perhaps Pharaiscal revenge on Rome. Most certainly what is known as Xtianity and the gospels are very heavily (through Augustine) Zoroastrian (Manichean). Then again the Jewish religion also evidences strong Zoroastrian and Egyptian influences.

-----------------------------------------"GOD DID IT" SAYS CHILDREN: A LESSON FOR CREATIONISTS To me, the results of the following study indicate not that "God" exists because children from different cultures attribute artifacts of nature to Him/Her/It, but that there is a propensity in the human mind of this pattern-seeking, myth-making, storytelling species to attribute certain patterns in nature to a storybook mythic creature. Far from this providing support for creationists and Christians who have argued that the concept of God is innate, it seems to me to place the creationists' argument from Intelligent Design of "God did it" on par with how children see the world.

Interface between science and faith

Tuesday, 12 December 2000 22:57 (ET) Interface between science and faith By UWE SIEMON-NETTO, UPI religion correspondent

 NEW YORK, DEC. 12 (UPI) -Can science corroborate the Apostle Paul? This might sound a little far-fetched. However, at the latest encounter between some of the world's most powerful minds of science and religion, reports of a remarkable discovery seemed to support this idea.

 Saint Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Romans, "Ever since the creation of the world his (Gold's) invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made" (Romans 1:20).

 During the second one-week conference on Science and the Spiritual Quest (SSQ II) that ended Tuesday in New York, Oxford University psychologist Olivera Petrovich revealed preliminary research data suggesting that the knowledge of a creator might be intrinsic to human existence. Prof. Petrovich tested the ability of British and Japanese children to distinguish between physical and metaphysical explanations for certain images. For example, she would show the fourto 14-year old children a picture of a book on a table and ask, "Who put this book there?" The kids replied, "Mom."

 Then she put a picture of the sun in front of them and asked, "Who placed the sun in the sky?" The young Britons answered, "God," and to Petrovich's surprise their Japanese contemporaries said "Kamisama (God)! He did it!"

 As Petrovich pointed out, "Japanese culture discourages speculation into the metaphysical because that's something we never know. But the Japanese children did speculate, quite willingly, and in the same way as British children."

 In an interview with the journal, Science & Spirit, the British scientist gave another example. The European and the Asian children were to look at the photograph of a dog and then asked, "How did the first dog every come into being." Again, both groups replied, "God did it." "This was probably the most significant finding," Petrovich reported. "But where did these Japanese kids get the idea that creation is in God's hands? This is absolutely extraordinary when you think that Shintoism (Japan's predominant religion) does not include creation as an aspect of God's activity at all.


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