Academic scholars researching the New Testament documents have created an intriguing mythology of their own, to assist them in the popular quest of turning Christianity into a mere human movement. This is not to say that all academics are atheists or that none of them has a living faith in Jesus Christ, but that the body of scholarly work is undergirded by a supposition that the New Testament events were not the supernatural happenings which Christianity celebrates.
Need For Invention
People who are antagonistic to Christianity and to the clear claims of Jesus Christ and His followers as provided to us in the canon of New Testament books, need to build a case for their doubts. The books of the New Testament have been put under intense scrutiny for centuries and keep rebounding as dynamic and living expressions of powerful truth that is able to impact the hearers far beyond any other works in human history.
The sheer potency and significance of the New Testament, including its historical track record and glowing endorsements, supported by the millions who live by its truths in each generation, boldly challenge all who would oppose those twenty-seven books.
Such a challenge does not deter the most determined, and one option open to them is “invention”. If something supportive of an antagonistic position could be created from what has passed to us from that time, then much might be made from it.
There is no shortage of doubtful material in New Testament times. Various, spurious claims were made in the first few centuries, and have passed to us in various documents. However, those documents were recognised as spurious from their own time. They are not reliable historically and lack sufficient authority to challenge the overwhelming body of evidence in support of the approved New Testament books.
That has not stopped people who are antagonistic to Christianity from pushing those documents and their spurious ideas into the headlines from time to time. But no on-going credibility has been attained, despite the most vigorous efforts of some.
The Invention Summarised
The breakthrough which antagonists sought ultimately required invention. In simplified form, what was lit upon was the idea that evidence could be ‘created’ to accuse early (nascent) Christianity of having ‘evolved’ into a religious belief system.
The key was to create the impression that at least two different streams of Christ-consciousness existed. The initial stream would be based on Jesus as a rabbi, who presented ‘wisdom teaching’ and gained a following. Later streams would deify Jesus, after his death, by interposing into his biography such things as miracles, a virgin birth and Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
If such a construct could be invented, even just hinted at with sufficient force, then Christianity would be reduced from the reverberations of a divine visitation, to a delusional man-made religion, based on fraudulent deification of a humble Galilean teacher.
Imagining and Inventing
Since the Gospels provide a compelling and cogent account of the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it was necessary for detractors to devalue those writings. Initially it was suggested that the Gospels were created quite late in the picture and did not include eye-witness accounts, but fanciful inventions of supernatural events.
However, continued research has proven the opposite. The texts are remarkably reliable, strong in eye-witness elements and dated very close to the events they describe.
To overcome this obstacle, scholars came up with the notion that these Gospels were created late in the picture, but based on earlier eye-witness material. By careful review of what was included and excluded from the various historical records of Christ’s life (gospels), guesses were made about what a common source document would contain. The hope was that such an imagined source document would be devoid of supernatural elements.
Two source documents have been proposed, the Passion Narrative and The Lost Sayings Gospel Q.
The Q Document
The imagined Q Document suggests a text which brought together much of the wisdom teaching of Jesus. The value of that notion is that it suggests Jesus was really only a teacher, not a miracle worker, nor Son of God who rose from the dead.
Once the hypothesis of a Q Document was developed, it could then be hypothesised that the document was used by an early branch of Christianity, those who followed Jesus because of the wisdom teachings.
CM Tuckett, author of ‘The Anchor Bible Dictionary’ communicates something of these implications when he said that, “Q may also alert us to the great variety within primitive Christianity. It shows us a version of the Christian faith which is perhaps less cross centered than, say, Paul or Mark”. (emphasis added)
The Imagined Evolution
The invention of a Q document prompts the hypothesis of a community based on “wisdom” sentiment, living to celebrate divine insights, brought to them by their teacher, Jesus. This is then contrasted with the Pauline emphasis on the death and resurrection of Jesus, and “Bingo”, they have constructed an evolutionary continuum in which the man, Jesus, is deified after his death, and a mythology about his resurrection is added. Other enhancements to the life story of Jesus, such as the miracles, are thought to have been invented by the promoters of the new religion, to give their leader special significance and sell their package ahead of the competition.
Mythology versus Myth
It is amusing to note that those who insist that Christianity is based on a Christ myth are forced to create a mythology of their own.
Those who receive the New Testament writings as accurate and divinely overseen records of supernatural events full of moral potency and divine significance, have no problem with the New Testament. We do not need to invent anything. Our very own, personal encounter with the living Jesus Christ of the New Testament, and the living truths unpacked by Paul and the others, confirms to us that there is no myth involved or needed.
Reality triumphs over the myth-makers.
Tags: academic, academic scholars, mythology, new testament writings, scepticism
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