What to Do With an Errant Jesus?

Shipmates, last October I published the following in a “From the Pulpit” column of our local newspaper, The Pantagraph (Bloomington-Normal, IL).
________

Many years ago, I felt compelled to admit that the historical study of Jesus, if honestly pursued, leads to conclusions about him which, although they are disturbing, cannot be denied: Jesus was expecting certain events to happen in his own time that simply did not take place, including the full arrival of the Kingdom of God in all its power throughout the earth. This would happen, Jesus said, in his own generation, within the lifetime of some of his apostles (Mark 1:15; 9:1; 13:30) and opponents (14:62).

All the early Christians, including the Apostle Paul, were expecting this to happen soon. It did not, and that raises questions about the inerrancy of the scriptures and even of Jesus.

In nearly six decades of preaching, I have struggled with trying to be honest about this historical reality while being true to the good news of Jesus. That is not an easy task, and I have often failed.

Thirteen years ago, I began writing The Dead Sea Gospel, a novel in which I attempt to accomplish in fiction what is so difficult to accomplish in preaching.

Historical realities about Jesus are not easy to face, for they raise questions about him which challenge and disturb both conservatives and liberals. Yet truth is truth and honesty may bring its own rewards. For all that we lose by facing the historical realities concerning Jesus, we also stand to gain, even spiritually. And this, I hope, is made clear in my novel which is based on some of the very best historical Jesus research now available.

Dare we look at Jesus honestly? That is the question I would raise with everyone, and I invite all to join in the discussions found on my website www.TheDeadSeaGospel.com.

Rev. James Boswell Normal, Illinois
___________

I soon received the following response:

Rev. Boswell,
I read your article in the Pantagraph last week with some interest and wanted to briefly write to you. I’m also a local pastor [at PLACE]...

I know that you would probably rather have a conversation after I would read your book, but I’m not going to be able to do that. I have too many other books I am working on. However, I am somewhat familiar with the scriptural arguments of historical critics including Bart Ehrman.

Right up front I’ll tell you that I don’t accept any of the claims of historical criticism. I’m certainly not as versed in the realm as you are, but I don’t think the science behind their work is valid or trustworthy. But what I really can never understand is why an historical critic such as yourself doesn’t feel compelled to leave the Church, become an atheist, etc. If Jesus isn’t really the Son of God, then why believe in Him at all or believe in the Bible at all? I hope you don’t read my tone wrong, I’m trying to ask you in all seriousness. It breaks my heart to see a pastor such as yourself who says you have struggled for much of your ministry with how to proceed.

From my angle, that’s because once you don’t believe Jesus to be who He says He is there is really no point to any of it at all. Why continue to be a pastor? Furthermore, what would be the reason to write an article for a local column that is supposed to be “from the pulpit”, in other words, proclaiming Jesus, when the article that you wrote specifically denies Jesus?

Again I’ll plead with you not to hear my tone wrong. I’m not trying to be rude or dismissive but I am puzzled and a little frustrated too. Some of my members read that column and it’s dangerous to their faith to hear a Christian pastor write that he doesn’t think Jesus or the Scriptures are trustworthy.

With enough flashy arguments and big names and books and studies, I think you make a person doubt pretty much anything. Even that we really exist at all. That’s the way I often feel about historical criticism. To me it would be a miracle if the world could ever produce a book as historically reliable as the Holy Scriptures.
NAME
________

Shipmates, to see how I responded to NAME, and he to me, I invite you to go to the MORE/DISCUSSIONS page of my website www.TheDeadSeaGospel.com. There you will see not only our long (too long!) dialogue, but you will find many pieces of historical Jesus INFO, etc. which you may wish to comment on or question here.

I apologize for loading you down with more information than you may want, but the subject is far too complicated to be dealt with fully in a few brief posts. But I will gladly try to dialogue with any of you here concerning your own ideas of What to Do With an Errant Jesus?

James Boswell II
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Comments

  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Errancy is in the eye of the beholder.
  • Inerrancy also.
  • W HyattW Hyatt Shipmate
    edited June 26
    Didn't Jesus also predict that the temple in Jerusalem would be rebuilt in three days?
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    I apologize for loading you down with more information than you may want, but the subject is far too complicated to be dealt with fully in a few brief posts. But I will gladly try to dialogue with any of you here concerning your own ideas of What to Do With an Errant Jesus?
    If a dialogue is what you want (I just can't bring myself to use "dialogue" as a verb), then perhaps instead of posting a wall of text that mainly seems to be an ad for your website, you could have . . . I don't know . . .posted something that might actually start some dialogue.

  • To W Hyatt
    An excellent observation! He did. Not only rebuilt "by no human hand," but first it would be totally destroyed. Jesus even said that not a single stone of the existing temple would remain in place, but all would be thrown down, and that is simply not the case. Numerous of the huge Herodian stones of the Roman era still lie there in the lower strata of the outer temple walls (not just the famous "Wailing Wall") still firmly resting in place.
  • "But he spake of the temple of his body..."
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited June 26
    Inerrancy also.

    I don't do inerrancy. Or infallibility. Or literalism. First class @W Hyatt.
  • By the way, when I refer to Jesus in a factual way, I am usually basing my views on
    1) information about Jesus provided by Paul's letters (written during the 50's)
    2) information provided by what scholars have come to call Q, a hypothetical source no longer in existence, but which I prefer to describe simply as parallel passages which do still exist and are found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke and were not derived from Mark and may have been gleaned from a Greek document written earlier than Mark.
    3) the gospel of Mark, almost definitely the earliest extant NT gospel which was written around 70 and was extensively used by the authors of the gospels of Matthew and Luke
    4) other information supplied exclusively in Matthew (M) and Luke (L) that seems to accord well with all the above
    5) some of the information found in the gospel of John which also seems to accord well with the above.

    It is my opinion that very little contradictory material (almost none!) can be found in 1-3.

    That is not true with all the M material or all of the L material, or all of the gospel of John material. (One place where there are some severe contradictions may be found in the way John the Baptizer is portrayed in the earlier as opposed to some of the later writings.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    And?
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    Host hat on
    Welcome aboard @James Boswell II if you haven’t already done so, please familiarise yourself with the 10 Commandments and the Purgatory Guidelines.

    If
    What to Do With an Errant Jesus?
    proves to have legs for debate and discussion well and good, but the Ship is not the place to advertise either your book or your website, and I am taking advice upstairs on that.

    If the discussion veers into questions of Biblical inerrancy, that horse died here years ago so there’s no point flogging it. For those who wish to it will be moved into the place where all Dead Horses go. You have (all) been warned.

    It doesn’t look to me like a question which will involve detailed discussion of a biblical text or texts, but if that is what it ends up as it may be more at home in Kerygmania.

    (You may be able to tell I’m struggling to identify what the OP hopes to discuss.)

    Host hat off
    BroJames
    Purgatory Host
  • W HyattW Hyatt Shipmate
    So you could decide that Jesus did not intend for his listeners to take him literally. And that he was disinclined to provide proof of his identity, such as by making specific, testable predictions.

    Also, how can you be sure that the Kingdom of God did not arrive, at least in the way that he meant it?

    I'd say that he probably wanted to avoid having people respond to him by arguing about the details. He wanted people to respond to his broad message that God wants us to love each other and treat each other with mercy and compassion. Our faith in his message does not need to depend on how we view the accuracy of his prediction about the Kingdom of God, or of his claim to be the Christ and the Son of God.

    Personally, I believe that Jesus is God himself, but I don't think that such a belief is necessary to accept his message and to try to live accordingly.
  • To Sir Palomides
    Jesus was not speaking of the temple of his body in Mark chapter 13. The author of the Gospel of John attempts to explain away the problem that not all the Herodian stones were thrown down by giving it a radically different interpretation and by placing Jesus' "cleansing" of the temple near the beginning of his ministry even though Mark clearly states that the action that took place near the end of his ministry and led to his death soon afterward (Mark 11:19).

    That is one of the examples of some of the later gospel material not fitting in well with the earlier.
  • Actually this is an example of how the fundamentalist reading attacks scripture from two sides.
  • I hope you will allow me to continue posting, recognizing that I directed readers to discussions on my website and am not encouraging them to purchase anything.

    I had to do that because the complexity of the issues discussed here needs to have at least some complexity of information provided, and that can be abundantly found on the INFO page of my website and in the Dialogue with A Conservative Pastor.
  • To Martin who said "And?"

    And I find it exciting (as I did already as a young teen) to learn that a STRICT applying of historical standards to the gospel texts as is done by some of the (imho) best historical Jesus scholars (including an atheist, an agnostic, two Jews, a Muslim, a Catholic and a Protestant) still yields considerable information that can hold up to their strict applications of objective questioning.

    I do not agree, then, with those who, dismiss it all as myth.
  • To H Wyatt who said, "how can you be sure that the Kingdom of God did not arrive, at least in the way that he meant it?"

    With all due respect, look at the plain sense of the texts I abundantly provided in the Dialogue with A Conservative Pastor under the MORE/DISCUSSIONS page of my website.
  • W Hyatt wrote: »
    Didn't Jesus also predict that the temple in Jerusalem would be rebuilt in three days?

    No. He said, quote: "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." John 2:19 John goes on to note that he was referring to his own body by "temple," and if anybody should know, it would be one of the twelve.

    But naturally people got hold of the wrong end of the stick--either accidentally or on purpose. So in the mouths of the false witnesses at his trial and later, it morphed into:

    Matthew 26:61
    “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’”


    Matthew 27:40
    “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”



    Mark 14:58
    “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’”



    Mark 15:29
    And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.."

    All of this is rather tempest in a teapot, anyway. If some nutcase runs around saying, "I am able to destroy the Statue of Liberty and rebuild it in three days," I might call for the guys in the white suits to come check him out, but it wouldn't be a crime. How precisely is Jesus supposed to be a threat, even if he HAD said what they reported he had? It's not like he could have been packing TNT somewhere.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited June 26
    3:1 after 02:20:00

    Again, complexity is in the eye.
  • ... And vis-a-vis the Herodian Western (Wailing) Wall, which still stands today--and which has nothing to do with the fooferaw over Jesus' previous remark, though it does with his eschatological discourses...

    this structure is a retaining wall, not part of the temple itself. Claiming that its continued existence is a disproof of "not one stone will remain on another" is akin to saying that the continued existence of my garden shed is proof that when I told the insurance the house had burnt to the ground, I was lying.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    From a small-o orthodox perspective, is it actually a big deal if Jesus was errant?

    The Incarnation requires us to believe that God the Son set aside, or somehow chose not to make use of, his properties of omnipresence and omnipotence. Is it such a stretch to suppose he set aside omniscience as well?

    I think there is a tendency for people (well, for me) to imagine that the way Jesus was man and God was this: his body was exactly the same as a human body, and his mind was exactly the same as God's mind. From which it would follow that his lack of omniscience is a problem, but lack of omnipotence isn't. However, there is a nasty name for that view of the incarnation: to wit, Apollinarianism.
  • As Jesus' disciples and he were leaving the Temple, they called his attention to the huge stones. The largest stones of all were and were and still are those resting in the lower courses of the great Temple walls.
  • Further evidence that xkcd's Randall Munroe keeps up with new Ship threads (that comic is today's).
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Of course He was errant. His mind was 100% human. Whatever else it was. What is the mind of God?
  • I think I shall now abandon for a while this back and forth. When I next have something to say, perhaps it may be more valuable, for I'm not interested in debating anyone who is a strict literalist. I know where that always leads. And no, I will not engage in flogging that dead horse.
  • Back and forth is what we do here.
  • Ricardus wrote: »
    From a small-o orthodox perspective, is it actually a big deal if Jesus was errant?

    The Incarnation requires us to believe that God the Son set aside, or somehow chose not to make use of, his properties of omnipresence and omnipotence. Is it such a stretch to suppose he set aside omniscience as well?

    This is a really tricky question but yes, there are orthodox theologians who would agree with you. In his book The Lamb of God Fr. Sergius Bulgakov advances this "kenotic" Christology (drawing in part from German theologians) and shows how it better fits the dogmas of the incarnation than a fair amount of patristic explanations, which sometimes edge toward explaining Jesus' human passions and weaknesses as just a performance for the edification of the disciples.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    . . . for I'm not interested in debating anyone who is a strict literalist.
    I don’t believe you’ve encountered any “strict literalists” in this thread so far.

  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    It's only tricky if one assumes that the second person of the Godhead became a spermatozoon.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    It seems very unlikely to me that Jesus literally meant he was going to destroy the Temple, even assuming the witnesses at the trial were telling the truth. It's just not consistent with his style as portrayed by the Gospels. Off-hand, every miracle he is claimed to have performed related either to people or natural forces, and every teaching I can think of related to either people or God. He seems to have been totally neutral towards buildings.
  • As Jesus' disciples and he were leaving the Temple, they called his attention to the huge stones. The largest stones of all were and were and still are those resting in the lower courses of the great Temple walls.

    Sure. But the Wailing Wall is not a temple wall. And that's the one we're talking about, right?

    It's a retaining wall, and thus basically part of the grounds, not the temple structure. Seriously, go and do the research.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    . . . for I'm not interested in debating anyone who is a strict literalist.
    I don’t believe you’ve encountered any “strict literalists” in this thread so far.

    If anyone's a literalist...
  • Re 3:31:
    Ricardus, I think Jesus himself believed that Daniel chapter 2 and Daniel chapter 7 would soon go into fulfillment (in his time), meaning that all the kingdoms of this world would soon be destroyed "by no human hand" and a glorious "one like a son of man" would come to receive dominion power and glory and would be served by all nations. I think he believed he would be that glorious one, and thus he may literally have believed and even said that he as the Son of Man would "destroy this temple that is made by hands and in three days build another, not made by hands" -- a temple which, unlike the Herodian temple (and unlike what now stands on the Temple Mount) would be "a house of prayer for all the nations."

    It didn't happen. It hasn't happened. But what a beautiful vision!
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Uh huh.

  • Of course Jesus was human. So was the Apostle Paul who was expecting Jesus to return before everyone with whom he was corresponding had died (he told them that!) So was John the Baptizer who was telling people the wrath of God was about to fall on that generation (yet Jesus called the Baptizer "a prophet and more than a prophet" and declared that John was as great as anyone ever born --and that despite the fact that John wasn't sure what to think of Jesus! (John asked him, "Are you the one who is to come or must we wait for someone else?" [Q sayings!]

    Was Paul inerrant? No. Was the Baptizer? No. Was Jesus? Of course they were all human.

    But at this point I want to say something that gives me greater joy than anything I have said so far, and I will do this in spite of the likelihood that some of you may think I am trying crassly to advertise my novel or my website. I simply have no other way of saying what I am about to say.

    As previously stated, in my opinion honest biblical scholarship has revealed realities about the historical Jesus that are not widely shared in churches because they are considered too disturbing. Those realities include the realization that Jesus had a number of mistaken expectations about his near future, and if that is true, it means that he was in some respects a limited human being -- something which many Christians, especially fundamentalists and Bible literalists, do not like to admit, for it reveals that Jesus was not in every sense "inerrant."

    Although that may be disturbing, if something is true, it is true. I have tried, therefore, in my writings, to be as honest about Jesus' historicity as I can and must be. That does not mean that I enjoy being controversial or hurtful. Rather, it means I am convinced that any truth about Jesus should somehow result in good. Somehow, it should. For that reason, I am delighted to learn that there are atheists, skeptics, and members of other world religions who find my depictions of Jesus so convincing that they now believe he really did exist, and are interested in learning more about him. For that purpose I recommend the "Info" page on my website, www.TheDeadSeaGospel.com, for a listing of some excellent historical Jesus studies now available.

    However, I was even more delighted to receive a note from a Christian believer indicating that she also benefited from historical honesty. She wrote, "Your work, The Dead Sea Gospel, genuinely impacted my life with its theologies and perspectives on the historical Jesus. In fact I can't stop thinking about it, and thoughts of it influence and abide in my Lenten reflections. In sum, I find it liberating -- in no way damaging my faith. but rather enhancing it. Thank you.Your book is a gift. I feel indebted to you."

    She also said she found the novel's storytelling "stunning. [This] Jesus is radically incarnate, thoroughly and even limitedly human. I find my faith strengthened, not lessened by that fact. And paradoxically, as I encounter Jesus emerging in such (human) form, I find myself grasping and embracing the idea and mystery of atonement as never before! This remarkable novel, grounded in brilliant scholarship, has actually renewed my faith and contributed to my spiritual understanding of Jesus."

    I am humbly, deeply grateful for such responses, whether they come from skeptics or from believers. And any "brilliance" in my writings is largely attributable to the exceptional studies listed on that "info" page.

    I wish good studying to all, and stand prepared for further honest and civil discussions.
  • Dude. This reads like a carefully crafted advertisement.
  • Much of it was written previously. It is on my website. But it is from the heart.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    edited June 26
    Dude. This reads like a carefully crafted advertisement.
    Except that a carefully crafted advertisement would be concise and wouldn’t read like an essay.

    This is more like an infomercial.

    @James Boswell II, I’m sure it is from the heart, and that is fine. But it doesn’t read like an invitation to discussion. It reads like a lecture.

  • Doesn't matter if it comes from the heart. I rather suspect the hosts will be along to say a few words...
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited June 26
    @James Boswell II - none of your proof texts demonstrate that any real divine incarnate Jesus behind the legends had mistaken expectations about his near future, or that the legendary Jesus of the texts did. Got any more?

    He was mistaken about His mission of course, how could He not be? And His belief in the God of the TaNaKh.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Much of it was written previously. It is on my website. But it is from the heart.

    That's nice dear. What about the head?
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Martin54 wrote: »
    @James Boswell II - none of your proof texts demonstrate that any real divine incarnate Jesus behind the legends had mistaken expectations about his near future, or that the legendary Jesus of the texts did. Got any more?

    He was mistaken about His mission of course, how could He not be? And His belief in the God of the TaNaKh.

    Sorry, His near future.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    To Martin who said "And?"

    And I find it exciting (as I did already as a young teen) to learn that a STRICT applying of historical standards to the gospel texts as is done by some of the (imho) best historical Jesus scholars (including an atheist, an agnostic, two Jews, a Muslim, a Catholic and a Protestant) still yields considerable information that can hold up to their strict applications of objective questioning.

    I do not agree, then, with those who, dismiss it all as myth.

    Sorry James, missed you.

    None of that works for me. The claim does, just, as it is so perfectly outrageous. It's the only and ultimate hope. In its tenuousness, its fractured, ignorant, second, fourth hand humanity in the telling, the transmission. In the lack of history except in the sudden, initially rapidly expanding, then stuttering, networking, mutating, C1st Church including Paul, predicated on the only oral claims for a generation and more. Just because it is mythic, legendary in this case is no reason to dismiss it. Just because the best story is a late, even very late addition to the yet late Gospels. It barely works because I need it to.
  • Maybe we could have that in plain English? ;-)

    Sorry, that was sarcastic, and I have avoided calling anyone Dude or Dear, or anything like that.

    I have also avoided pointing out that attempts to claim that the great Western Wall including the wailing wall, was NOT part of the huge Temple complex (into which 21 American football fields could be inserted) is a form of "temple denial" which many Jews today compare with Holocaust denial, and the archaeologists simply laugh at.

    I have even seen attempts to claim that the Temple wall was down near the pool of Siloam.
  • When Jews of that time, after undergoing purification rites, entered the Hulda gates at the southern end of that great Herodian wall, they were entering the Temple. True also of all the other gates.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    edited June 27
    Maybe we could have that in plain English? ;-)
    History is not on your side in that regard, I’m afraid.

    I have also avoided pointing out that attempts to claim that the great Western Wall including the wailing wall, was NOT part of the huge Temple complex (into which 21 American football fields could be inserted) is a form of "temple denial" which many Jews today compare with Holocaust denial, and the archaeologists simply laugh at.
    Probably just as well that you avoided saying that, since @Lamb Chopped acknowledged that the Western Wall was part of the temple complex. (Actually, she said it was part of the “temple grounds.”) What she also said, and accurately so, was that it was not part of the “temple itself”—i.e., not part of the temple proper.

  • It was considered Temple by Jews of the time and it was still considered Temple during the following centuries when they wailed at the small portion of it they could more easily get to.

    Perhaps you and she are thinking only of the Sanctuary which contained the Holy of Holies (holiest place) and is sometimes called the Temple. The Temple was far more than that. There were at least seven entrances in the huge walls which led into the enormous Temple platform built by Herod.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    Further evidence that xkcd's Randall Munroe keeps up with new Ship threads (that comic is today's).

    ROTFL!
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    Dude. This reads like a carefully crafted advertisement.

    Yup. Complete with "But WAIT--there's MORE!".
  • Oh dear. If your reasoning about what precisely constitutes the temple is correct, then we must throw out everything that says that Gentiles were not to enter the temple--because, of course, we know they had a whole court to pray in, and the court was most definitely further "in" than the retaining wall. So rewrite history! The Gentiles were always allowed in!
  • Gentiles were allowed into the Outer Court, sometimes today called the Court of the
    Gentiles but never called that in ancient times according to Mary Smallwood. They could not go past the balustrade surrounding the Sanctuary which had written warnings on it that to pass those entrances would result in death to non Jews. Jewish women could enter and go as far as the Court of Women in front of the Nicanor Gate, and no further.
    Jewish men could go through that gate as far as the Court of Israel in front of the Sanctuary and no further. Priests could go further and even into the Sanctuary to perform special duties. But only the high priest could enter behind the curtain of the Holy of Holies and that only three times on the Day of Atonement.

    When Jesus "entered the temple" and drove out the money changers (Mark 11:15), he was in the Outer Courtyard. Do you think he and the money changers were in the Sanctuary? When he taught in the Temple, he was teaching in the Outer Courtyard, certainly not in the Sanctuary and it was there that his opponents confronted him repeatedly (11:27, f.).
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