HANDBOOK TO THE GOSPELS
JESUS BEGINS PREACHING
21. Jesus returns to Galilee
22. He visits Nazareth
23. He calls his first disciples
24. He preaches in Capernaum
25. He heals many
26. His mission is preaching
28. He tells a leper he's cured
28. He disputes with the scribes
JESUS RETURNS TO GALILEE
Mark, Matthew, and Luke all report that "after John had been
arrested" Jesus returned to Galilee. The gospel of John claims
that Jesus began his career by turning the water into wine at Cana,
went to Jerusalem and drove the money-changers out of the temple,
and had a discourse with a member of the Sanhedrin named Nicodemus.
But the other three gospels (Mark copied by Matthew and Luke) say
that he didn't drive out the money-changers until nearly the end
of his career, and they do not mention Cana or Nicodemus or turning
water into wine at all. (Turning water into wine is very like
turning stones into bread, which Jesus has refused to do.) Furthermore
the first three gospels say that John had been imprisoned BEFORE
Jesus began preaching, whereas John tells us that John was NOT YET
cast into prison even after the first three events and that John
praises Jesus effusively. These conflicts between the gospel of John
and those of Mark, Luke and Matthew are some of the reasons that we
cannot accept John as a reliable gospel.
Mark and Matthew report that Jesus' first words were the
same as those of John the Baptizer: Repent, for the kingdom of God
is at hand (Mark 1:15). But they do not tell us where or
to whom he made this statement, and it sounds like it was written
by the narrator in any case. Luke gives instead as the first event
in Jesus' career his visit to his hometown, and his rejection by
them after he speaks in the synagogue. This event is not reported
until much later in Mark's and Matthew's gospels, however; but they all
agree that he was rejected by the people of his home town and that
he made his famous epigrammatic statement, "No prophet is accepted
in his own country" on that occasion, which is one of the only two
statements which are found in all four gospels.
HE CHOOSES HIS FIRST DISCIPLES
23. He chooses four disciples
Mark and Matthew then report that Jesus called Simon and
Andrew, two brothers, to be his disciples; and then he called
James and John, another two brothers, to be his disciples. This
event is reported also by Luke, but Luke's version of the calling
of the first disciples is completely different from that of Mark
and Matthew and appears at a different place in his gospel. It
reports how Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the right side
of their boat, and they bring in a huge catch of fish, after which
Jesus tells Simon, later called Peter, that from henceforth he
will "catch men". This story probably comes from Document G, but
it is a little too fanciful to be accepted.
John would have us believe that the first disciples chose Jesus,
rather than Jesus choosing them, because they thought he was the
Messiah; and the names John reports include Nathaniel who is not
mentioned in the other three gospels, and one unnamed disciple.
These conflicts between John and the others also make us less
ready to accept John as an authentic gospel.
HE PREACHES IN CAPERNAUM
24. He preaches in Capernaum
25. He heals many
Mark and Luke (but not Matthew) tell us that the first
healing event reported of Jesus was an exorcism. The story is
that he went to Capernaum, a city on the northwest corner of the
Sea of Galilee, and preached in the synagogue, though no content
of what he said is reported. But someone in the audience (called
a person with an "unclean spirit" by the gospels) yelled something
critical to Jesus (the words ascribed to that person by Mark and
Luke are almost certainly unreliable); and Jesus "rebuked" him for
his outburst. The man calmed down, and the audience was astonished,
and thought that Jesus had driven the "unclean spirit" out of the
man. And this report went out "immediately into all the region of
Galilee round about" as Mark puts it.
What can we conclude from this report? Only that Jesus gave
a talk in the synagogue, which must have been an unusual and very
impressive speech, and also that he was heckled by someone, who
was immediately calmed by what Jesus said to him.
JESUS HEALS MANY
All three Synoptic gospels then tell us that Jesus then went to
the house of the fisherman Simon, where Simon's mother-in-law was
sick, and that Jesus took her by the hand, and she rose up. Luke
claims that he "rebuked" the fever, and it left her; but the other
two merely say that "the fever left her". (Mark 1:29-31)
Then the imagination of the gospel authors runs riot, and we
are told that all the city of Capernaum brought their sick and
mentally ill persons to him to be healed. Mark says that he
healed "many" of them, and cast out "many devils"; whereas Matthew
and Luke exaggerate the report by saying that he "healed ALL that
were sick, and ALL who were possessed of devils." Which is more
likely, that he healed all of them, and Mark watered it down
to that he healed "many", or that Mark said that he healed "many",
and Luke and Matthew exaggerate Mark's report? The latter seems
far and away the most probable. Finally, Mark reports that he
"suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him," which
Luke inflates to tell us the possessed persons call him the "son of
God", and that Jesus tells them sternly not to say that.
HE DECLARES HIS MISSION IS PREACHING
26. He travels through Galilee
The gospels report that "the next day" he went up in the
mountain alone, but the disciples found him and urged him to
return, because everybody was seeking him. But Jesus answers
with a definitive statement of what he considered his mission
JESUS: Let us go forth into the next towns,
that I may preach there also, for to this end
I came forth from the desert.
Once again, Jesus plainly tells us that his mission was preaching,
not working miracles. The gospels then report that he went
throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues.
Luke inserts the phrase "the kingdom of God" into the words of
Jesus: "...that I may preach the kingdom of God there
also..." Matthew does not copy the quotation from Jesus in Mark
about going into the next towns, but he expands on the final verse
by adding that "he preached throughout all Galilee, healing all
manner of disease and all manner of sickness."
But we can conclude from this that since he regarded
his mission as preaching that the healings attributed to him were
incidental to that mission. However, we still do not have any
content yet on what his preaching is all about.
HE TELLS A LEPER HE'S CURED
28. He tells a leper he's cured
This is about another individual whom Jesus reportedly
cured, as distinct from when the gospels tell us that he healed
"many". The place is not identified (Luke calls it "one of the
cities"). He is approached by someone called a "leper", which was
a dreaded disease in the Middle East, who asks Jesus to heal him.
Jesus is "moved with compassion", according to Mark, and he tells
the man that he is clean. Mark and Luke report that "the leprosy
departed from him", Matthew says it was "cleansed". Jesus then
tells the man to go and see the priest and make the offering that
Moses commanded, and further orders him to tell no man about his
healing. But here we see unmistakable evidence that Luke copied
from Mark, because Mark reports that "...Jesus said to him, See
that thou tell no man, but go thy way...", but Luke copies it
as, "...he charged him to tell no man, but go THY way..." (
(Mark 1:44;Luke 5:14;Matt.8:4). Thus Luke changes the first
clause to a third person statement, but preserves the second
person in Mark when he says, "Go thy way."
But the man goes out anyway, and begins to tell everyone he
meets how he was cured, and the story spread far and wide. And
the narrator says that Jesus couldn't enter into a city because
of the crowds, and he sought solitude in the desert.
HE DISPUTES WITH THE SCRIBES
29. He disputes with the scribes about forgiveness
The next episode, found in all three gospels in nearly all
the same words, reports that Jesus healed a man of paralysis and
had a dispute with the scribes about forgiveness of sins, and the
crowds were astonished about him.
The event is described as: Jesus was in Capernaum, and the
house was filled with people, and a few men brought a friend of
theirs who was paralyzed into the house through the ceiling. Then
we are treated to a little dialogue:
JESUS (seeing their faith): Son, be of good cheer;
thy sins are forgiven.
SCRIBES AND PHARISEES (to each other): This man blasphemes;
for only God can forgive sins.
JESUS (knowing what they were thinking): Why do you think these
things? Which is easier to say to a man, Your sins are
forgiven, or to say, Arise and walk?
Presumably he means that, it's easy to say to someone, Arise and
walk, when they are sick; it's harder but much more helpful to say
to someone, Your sins are forgiven, when that person believes that
it's because of his sins that he is sick.
JESUS (continuing): Here, I will show you that the son of man
has the power to forgive sins, by telling this man to rise up
and walk. (To the man.) Arise, get up and walk.
(Man arises, picks up his bed, and goes home.)
CROWD: Amazing! Wonderful! We never saw anything like this
We need to note here that the Aramaic expression "bar-nasha", which
means literally "a son of a man", simply means any human being; and
it is a linguistic error to believe that Jesus ever used it as an
appellation that applied to himself alone.
But assuming that the man WAS healed, by Jesus telling him
that his sins were forgiven and to rise up and walk, it's still
notable that Jesus didn't lay his hands upon the man, but only
spoke to him, and didn't claim it as a sign or that he had any
special healing power. It cannot be stressed often enough: the
way Jesus uses the term "bar-nasha" here, and in every other
instance, including where he clearly means himself, is only the
Aramaic expression for the soul or spirit of each individual
person, as shown in its usage in the book of Ezekiel; in the same
way that in English we would use the term "the human spirit" is
this or that. But it has erroneously come to be used to mean
Jesus talking about himself as a unique being and the only one
entitled to be referred to by that term.
So our conclusions are, that this man Jesus, whom we know must
have existed because these stories couldn't have been written if
there wasn't some basis in fact, however overlaid with later
interpretations of him and his life and his teachings these stories
may have become; that he came as a preacher, as he tells people and
as he travels through the cities of Galilee; that people sought him
out to have their sick family members and friends healed of their
maladies; and that in none of the cases reported in these chapters
did he claim any healing power or lay his hands on anyone but that
he told them NOT to tell others about their healings, almost certainly
because he considered himself a preacher, not a wonder-worker. Beyond
this we know that he had gathered a few followers; we have been told
four of them by name, Simon, Andrew, James, and John, who were
following him in all of his travels.
But we still do not know any of the content of his preaching,
except for the reference in Mark 1:15, where Mark reports him as
saying, "The kingdom of God is at hand", which is probably just
the narrator's way of summarizing Jesus' message, rather than the
actual words Jesus used. And in any case we have not yet been
told anything about this "kingdom of God", nor what it means to
repent, or what the gospel (the word means "good news") is that
we are supposed to believe in.