Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How Jesus Evolved

Here's Bishop John Shelby Spong, from "Why Christianity Must Change Or Die", Chapter five:

"We need to be prepared....to discover that there is an enormous gap between the theological claims that have been made for Jesus in the life of institutional Christianity and the record that was actually contained in the Gospels....Most believers....do not learn in church that the virgin birth accounts were not original to Christianity, and did not appear in Christian history until the ninth decade."

"Perhaps more important....the divine nature of Jesus....was also a late-developing reality."

This might need a bit of elaboration. The first books to be written in the New Testament were those of Paul, who probably wrote between 18 to 34 years after Jesus' death.
Then came the Gospel of Mark.
Matthew was next.
Then Luke.
Then John.
Got it? Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. You can argue the fine points, but even some of the most fundamentalist of Biblical scholars agree with that timeline. The Apostle Paul was blogging away long before the first Gospel accounts of Jesus' life were written.

Paul writes as if Jesus didn't perform any miracles during his lifetime. Not once does Paul mention a virgin birth. Paul says that Jesus was designated a "son of God", but God did all the designating. There's no sense of divine equality between God and Jesus. You can search Paul's writings (and the rest of the Bible) in vain for the word "Trinity".

Paul claimed that the designation of Jesus as God's divine son took place by his "resurrection from the dead." You could make the case that Paul believed Jesus wasn't thought of as God's son until Jesus experienced a spiritual resurrection, something totally different from the heroic "Jeff Bridges In White" moment shown below.

About ten or fifteen years after Paul, someone wrote the Gospel of Mark. Like Paul, the author of Mark doesn't seem to know anything about virgin births, Mary being visited by angels, or even any post-resurrection appearances. (Note how the oldest copies of Mark end at Chapter 16, verse 8. Someone got creative with Mark about 100 years after the first draft.)

The author of Mark wasn't content with Paul's theory that "God designated Jesus as 'God's Son' at the time of the resurrection". Some one-upmanship was in order.... Mark took Paul's words and put them in the voice of God during Jesus' baptism. When Jesus is lifted out of the water, the voice of God says "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased". But read the text in Mark 1:9-11, and you get the idea that no one saw the heavens splitting open or heard God's voice except Jesus.

Yeah, right. Good job there, Mark.

Anyway, Mark moved the moment of Jesus' divinity forward about three years, from the resurrection to the baptism.

Then, about 50-55 years after the time of Jesus, came the book of Matthew. Spong writes that "It was for Matthew an intolerable idea that Jesus became something either at his baptism or his resurrection that he was not already,"

So an unnamed angel appears to Joseph (only in a dream) and tells him that Mary's child is from the Holy Spirit. "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

Matthew trumped Mark and Paul nicely, giving Jesus a divine pedigree at the moment of his conception.

Just a few years later, Luke used the same storyline, but firmed it up a bit. The angel was given a name (Gabriel), and appeared in person to Mary, not Joseph. Gabriel tells Mary that she's to be the mother of "the Son of God", the "Son of the Highest", and that "The Holy Spirit will come upon you".

So Luke is sitting back, in the words of Mark Twain, with "the calm confidence of a Christian holding four aces". Nobody would EVER be able to improve on that. Conception is the earliest point in our existence, right?


Here's Bishop Spong again: "Jesus' identity with God had become so complete by the tenth decade of the common era that he was said to have shared in that identity prior even to his conception and birth. So pre-existence became a category of which Christians began to talk."

Near the end of the first century someone composed the Gospel of John. Chapter one of John begins like this: " 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made..... 9 And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."

And there, ladies and gentlemen, is your proof that plants and animals aren't they only thing to evolve.
Gods do it too.

Pictures from here and here and here and here and here.


Nick M said...

Interesting stuff. I can't comment on the details because as an unbaptised heathen I'm not too up on Biblical stuff. But... I'll just add that my understanding is that Eastern Orthodox types aren't too big on virgin births either. Actually, I rather like the Russian Orthodox Church's take on a couple of things. Their Loki-esque concept of the Devil has much to recommend it. And sort of makes more sense to me than the Western concept.

I don't like their beards though. They all look like Rasputin.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Saint Nicholas,

My little brother married into the Greek Orthodox wing of the Orthodox rigmarole. Had to be re-baptized prior to the wedding, etc.
I totally bonded with those folks. Married priests, priests with children, dancing for hours, and plenty of alchol.

What the heck were the hardshell protestants and Roman Catholics thinking when they split off from the Orthodox?


Anonymous said...

Just like to add, all those letters in the New Testament attributed to Paul aren't actually his.

Great post SE, I like your idea of Christianity being "hijacked" for other purposes(got to slip that into a paper sometime). A shame they never taught me this in Sunday School when I younger.

As I keep saying, religions borrow, evolve, steal and change to fit a certain purpose. Prime point from this post.

Aaron Shafovaloff said...

"Just like to add, all those letters in the New Testament attributed to Paul aren't actually his."

This is an idea that even most liberal scholars wouldn't agree with.

Anonymous said...

Spong makes a faux pas (a mistake here). While his fiction is interesting, it is based on the omissions. For example, the Bible never mentions Jesus' favorite food. Therefore Jesus must have not preferred any food over the other, right? Well, it doesn't mention his height or weight, so he had no height nor weight either. You do not mention using Microsoft Windows, nor Mac OS, so all of you are therefore posting this on Linux computers, but wait, you didn't mention computers... are you telepathically sending information to the Internet? (Do you see where this is going? Relying on what an author does NOT say as meaning "it was not in the author's knowledge" is misleading. On the other hand, what IS said is cause for a validation of what the author did know). Spong can assume - but building a case on ommission is a lousy guess. Or else, you doom yourself to "telepathic Internet" fantasies and the like.

JBAC said...

Allen, REALLY!!!!!!!!!!! Spong's position on this whole subject is, well...laughable!!! Are you really serious? about buying into this dribble?!!!!!!!!!!!! Assuming you do, what is your clear cut opinion of Christ's divinity; at conception, at birth (virgin birth), his baptisum, crusifixion or when he was ressurected and asended? And, if we are questioning whether or not Paul was the author of the books attributed to him......what parts of the Bible do we believe as the divine Word of God?

If we must disect the Word to the very core of it's message...... to what end? Where does faith come into play?

Remember; if anyone should cause these little ones to stumble..... wo unto him, it would be better had he not been born.

Jesus Christ is the virgin born son of God and Paul met him on the road!
I know you will have fun with this but, I find nothing funny about the message Spong is spreading.

The Whited Sepulchre said...


Please clear up the issue of who wrote the New Testament book "Hebrews".


You are correct, but the "omissions" are what makes Spong's theory interesting.

If the earliest account of a car wreck doesn't include anything about elephants, but ten years later there's a story that an elephant crossing the street caused the car wreck? Would you believe the earlier story or the later one?

And what if, ten years later, you read a story that a PINK elephant crossing the street caused the car wreck?

And finally, 50 years after the event, you hear another account that it was a flying pink elephant?

Most of us would suspect that somebody was gilding the lilly.

You want to know what the difference is between you, me, and Jesus?

It's a difference of degree, not a difference in kind.

There were lots of things written about Jesus when the current four Gospels and the letters of "Paul" were composed. All of these went through multiple hands, multiple revisions, and were told by lots of people with different agendas.

And do you know how they decided which Gospels and Letters were the inspired Word Of God?

Just like we decided on President Obama.

They voted.