HANDBOOK TO THE GOSPELS
HE FORECASTS HIS OWN DEATH
71. At Caesarea Philippi
72. Forecast of his death
73. Costs of discipleship
74. The vision of Jesus
75. The epileptic youth
76. 2nd forecast of his death
77. Donation to the temple
78. Many teachings, part I
Many teachings, part II
Many teachings, part III
Parable on forgiveness
79. Departure for Jerusalem
AT CAESAREA PHILIPPI
Jesus is next reported by Mark as going further north to a city
called Caesarea Philippi, located on the slopes of Mount Hermon in
the Anti-Lebanon range. Luke does not give the place a name, but
Matthew also calls it Caesarea Philippi. While there Jesus has an
important little dialogue with his disciples:
(Mark 8:27-30;Luke 9:18-21;Matt.16:13-20)
JESUS: Who do men say that I am?
DISCIPLES: John the Baptizer, or Elijah, or one of the
JESUS: But who do you all say that I am?
SIMON (impetuously): You are the messiah!
JESUS: Please! I command you to tell no one that belief!
The disciples' first answer confirms that during his lifetime the
people considered Jesus to be a prophet, not a messiah. Peter then
expresses his belief about Jesus. But Jesus admonishes them not
to tell that to anyone. What does that mean? Does it mean, Don't
tell people that I am the messiah? Or does it mean, Don't tell
anyone that, because it's not true? The latter explication is the
most probable, because he immediately goes on to tell them how he
will be killed by the elders and chief priests (see below).
Matthew inserts between Peter's exclamation and Jesus' telling
them to tell no one a statement by Jesus, proclaiming that Simon or
Peter will become the head of "his church". But this is surely an
interpolation by Matthew, because the word "church" was unknown in
Palestine at that time, and for Jesus to promise the "keys to his
kingdom" to Peter is contrary to all he has preached thus far, as
well as being contrary to his injunction to them to tell no one,
and the subsequent forecast of his death, which comes next.
FORECAST OF HIS DEATH
The dialogue between Jesus and the disciples continues:
(Mark 8:31-32;Luke 9:22;Matt.16:21-23)
JESUS: Listen to me, all of you, and try to understand.
I, a son of man like yourselves, must suffer many things
at the hands of the chief priests and the elders, and be
rejected by them, and be killed by them. But you will
be able to carry on my message.
PETER (fiercely): This cannot be, Master; this shouldn't
happen to you.
JESUS (scoldingly): Get behind me, you tempter! for you
do not understand the things of God, but only the things
I have deleted the reference to rising again after three days,
since all the evidence is that Jesus never said that. Firstly, he
tells a parable later about how if people will not believe his
teachings on their own merit, neither will they believe them even
if someone managed such a miracle as rising from the dead, which I
will tell in chapter XIII, section 108. Secondly, the reference
to "rising after three days" is most certainly copied by the
evangelists from Hosea, chapter 6, and applied to Jesus after he
was dead. This passage reads as follows:
Come and let us return to Yahweh;
he has torn us, but he will heal us; he has smitten us, but
he will bind our wounds. After two days he will raise us up;
and after three days we shall live in his sight
This is the most important emendation I have made in my translation
of the gospels.
But this last little repartee completely refutes Matthew's
interpolation which makes Peter into the head of the church. And
here for the first time Jesus tells them of his coming death, and
how it will happen. "Satan" means "tempter" or "adversary" in
Hebrew; so Jesus is telling Peter not to tempt him with a hope of
escaping being killed.
COSTS OF DISCIPLESHIP
Jesus goes on to narrate the costs of becoming his disciple,
in the following words to both the crowds and his disciples:
(Mark 8:34-9:1;Luke 9:23-27;Matt.16:24-28)
JESUS: If any of you would become my follower,
you must deny yourself, and take up your cross,
and then you may come with me.
And whosoever would save his life
shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life in
the cause of righteousness and truth shall
save it. For what shall it profit you, even
if you were to gain the whole world, and lose
your life? And what can you possibly give in
exchange for your life?
For if anyone does not believe my
words, neither can he be redeemed in the disaster
which is coming. And there be some of you
standing here, who before their death shall
see the coming of this disaster. I tell you
Mark, Luke, and Matthew all describe the so-called disaster which
Jesus speaks of here as either the end of the world, or the coming
of the kingdom of God. But when so far has Jesus ever spoken of
the end of the world or a final judgment? Here he seems clearly
to be speaking of a disaster which is coming on Palestine, which
he is trying to avert with his teachings, but which he foresees
will happen nonetheless.
THE DISCIPLES' VISION
Now Mark, copied by Luke and Matthew, tells us of a vision the
disciples experienced while climbing Mt. Hermon in the northern
corner of Palestine.
(Mark 9:2-10;Luke 9:28-36;Matt.17:1-9)
After 6 days Jesus hiked up the
mountain with Peter, James, and John. The three disciples had
a vision of Jesus in brilliant white clothes, with
Moses and Elijah on either side of him.
Simon, astonished at this sight,
said to Jesus, Master, let us build three tabernacles here,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. And
the disciples were afraid. Then they thought they
heard a voice from the skies saying, This is my
beloved son whom I have chosen; listen to him.
What the voice says is a quotation from the Old Testament, in
Isaiah 42:1 and Deuteronomy 18:15, loosely rendered. Now we have
been told that Jesus healed the centurion's son from afar, and the
Syrophoenician woman's daughter without visiting her, but it
strains credulity to think that the ghosts or spirits of Moses and
Elijah came down on Mt. Hermon and talked with Jesus and that the
disciples saw them. Perhaps they were all struck snowblind by the
snowcap on Mt. Hermon. In any case, Mark tells us that then the
disciples looked around, and saw no one with Jesus; and Jesus came
down and told them not to tell anyone of their vision.
Mark adds, echoed by Matthew, "until the Son of man be risen from
the dead." But that couldn't have been said until the belief that
Jesus had risen from the dead had become widespread, and in any
case the narrator then says that the disciples were puzzled as to
what rising from the dead could possibly mean, proving that Jesus
could never have said anything about it. The event concludes:
DISCIPLES: What about the prediction that Elijah will
return before the great and terrible day of the Lord?
JESUS: Yes, the prophets have indeed said that Elijah
will come; but I tell you, that Elijah has already come,
and been persecuted and executed. And in the same way, I,
a son of man, shall be persecuted and killed.
Mark concludes the report here; but Matthew adds a statement that
the disciples finally figured out that he was talking about John
the Baptizer. We already know that Jesus had a high estimation of
John, so it is easy to see that Jesus is here comparing him to
Elijah, one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament.
THE EPILEPTIC YOUTH
Between the fantastic event just told and his next forecast
of his death, Mark tells another tale of the healing of an epileptic
youth. Or perhaps not, as we shall see. Mark's original story is
full of details which are omitted by Matthew, and Luke's version
is even more abridged. This abridgement of Mark's narrative seen
repeatedly in both Luke and Matthew is another of the factors which
make it clear that Matthew and Luke were copying Mark, and like
good editors were shortening the stories wherever possible.
(Mark 9:14-29;Luke 9:37-43;Matt.17:14-20)
(When they returned to the rest of the disciples,
there was a great hubbub of the people and the disciples,
and some scribes among them.)
JESUS: What's going on?
THE FATHER: I brought my son to be cured of the
falling-sickness, but your disciples are unable to cure it.
JESUS (in vexation): O faithless generation, how long
shall I be with you? and how long must I put up with you?
Bring the boy to me. (Father brings him.) How long
has he been like this?
FATHER: Since he was a child; and sometimes it nearly
kills him. So if you can do anything, please do it.
JESUS (vehemently): What! If I can do anything?
Of course I can; just keep up your faith.
FATHER: (agonized) I believe; please help my unbelief.
JESUS (stroking and murmuring to the boy, whereby the boy
relaxes and seems to sleep. Then Jesus takes his hand,
stands him up, and lets him go to his father.)
DISCIPLES: Why could we not cast it out?
JESUS: This sort of evil can come out only by prayer
One of the minor significances of this story is the illustration
of how Jesus could get impatient and annoyed at people, especially
those who turned to him only for cures of their maladies. Mark
tells us again that Jesus "rebuked the dumb spirit", but since we
don't believe in evil spirits the way people of that time did, we
can't accept this explanation of what Jesus said or did. And Jesus
himself refutes any belief that he told any spirit to come out of
the boy when he says it could come out only by prayer.
ANOTHER FORECAST OF HIS DEATH
Then they all left that village (Mark does not tell us what
village it was) and traveled through Galilee, and Jesus tried not
to let anyone know he was there. (Mark.9:30) So it seems
that he was still apprehensive that he would be arrested by Herod,
who was the ruler over Galilee.
While he was alone with his disciples, he repeated his forecast
of his death:
(Mark 9:31-32;Luke 9:44;Matt.17:22-23)
JESUS: Let these words sink into your ears:
I, this son of man, shall be delivered up
to the authorities, and they will kill me;
but after three days it will be as if I was
raised up again, and you shall continue to
spread my message.
The colorful statement "Let these words sink into your ears" was
apparently added by Luke, since it is not found in either Matthew
or Mark. But we are told that these thick-headed disciples did not
understand what Jesus was saying, and were afraid to ask him about
it. It does not seem at all improbable that Jesus, or any man, could
foresee his own death, and would try to prepare his friends against
that event. And that he made this clear prediction, recorded thrice
in the gospel of Mark and each time copied by Luke and Matthew,
together with statements about Jerusalem being the city which kills
the prophets, cannot be doubted.
DONATION TO THE TEMPLE
Matthew has an additional tale at this point, probably found
in document M: the question of making a donation to the temple
according to the rules of the priests. Again there is a little
LEVITES: Your master owes the temple tax of one half-shekel.
SIMON: Okay, I'll ask him.
JESUS: Hmmm. What do you say, Simon? Do rulers collect toll
from their sons, or from strangers?
SIMON: From strangers, I guess.
JESUS: Therefore the sons are free. But lest we offend them,
go to our catch of fishes, and pick up the first one you see,
and open its mouth, and you will find a shekel. Give that to
the Levites who are asking for toll.
Amusing, but not really edifying. Actually Jesus could have
insisted that the sons were free, and not paid anything; and I
doubt very much that Simon could have gone and picked up a random
fish and found a shekel in its mouth. I suspect that Matthew
added the last two sentences in order not to make it seem that
the later Christians could refuse to give any money to the church.
This story is not found in any other gospel.
The next event reported in Mark concerns Jesus' explaining to
the disciples about greatness in the kingdom of God. The disciples
had been arguing with each other along the way about who was the
greatest (how did these idiots become the founders of a new
religion?) Jesus saw that, and took the opportunity to try to
teach them something about humility and service, as follows:
(Mark 9:33-47;Luke 9:46-50;Matt.18:1-9)
JESUS: What were you disputing along the way?
DISCIPLES: (silent and shamefaced, having been arguing
about which of them was the greatest)
JESUS (trying to explain it to them again): If anyone
would be first in the kingdom of God, he must be as the
least, and the servant of everyone. (Mark 9:35)
Then he picked up a little child, and lectured them further, as
JESUS: I say to you truly, that if you do not turn
and repent, and become as little children, you shall
not enter the kingdom of God. (Matt.18:3)
And whoever receives such a
little one in my name receives me; and whoever receives
me receives not me, but him that sent me. (Mark 9:37)
Who was Jesus referring to when he said "him that sent me"? Was
it God? That presupposes that Jesus believed that he was sent by
God, but he has never said that in the Synoptic gospels. I believe
that he meant John the Baptizer, whom Jesus has praised as the
greatest prophet of all, and was also Jesus' teacher, if we are to
make any sense out of why Jesus came to John to be baptized. Another
little bit of repartee follows between the disciples and Jesus:
(Mark 9:38-39;Luke 9:49-50)
JOHN (the disciple): Master, we saw one performing an
exorcism in your name, and we put a stop to it, because he was
not one of us.
JESUS: Do not forbid him; for no one can do a good thing
in my name, and also speak evil of me. For indeed, he that
is not against us is for us. And I say further, that if anyone
gives you even a cup of water in my name, he shall not suffer,
because he is close to the kingdom of God. And more, if anyone
hinders anyone who believes on me, it would be like hanging a
millstone around his neck, and casting him into the sea.
Did Jesus really say this last statement? I have edited it a bit
to make it less punitive and more figurative. Jesus continues with
imagery he has already given in the Great Sermon, about cutting off
your hand or foot or putting out your eye if it is offensive, but
Mark reports it at this time and in this place; and also the
statement about salt losing its taste which Matthew has inserted
into the Great Sermon.
Matthew has interpolated some instructions on church procedure
which are not found in any other gospel and which presuppose that
the church already existed, which of course it didn't in Jesus'
lifetime, as follows:
JESUS: Take heed: if your brother sins against you,
rebuke him; and if he repents, then forgive him.
JESUS: And if thy brother sin against thee, go, show him
his fault between him and thee alone; if he hear thee, thou
has gained thy brother.
But if he do not repent, take
one or two other persons with you, and go to him
again; and if he still doesn't repent, tell it to the
church; and if he does not listen to the church, let
him be to you as the Gentile or the publican.
And I tell you truly, that
if two of you agree on anything to be done, then God
shall bring it about for you;
For where two or three be gathered
together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
And if your brother sin against you
seven times in the day, and turn to you seven times and
say, I repent, you shall forgive him.
PETER: Master, how often must I forgive my brother? Until
JESUS: Nay, I say not until seven times, but until seventy
times seven times.
Matthew appears to have spliced together the paragraph found in
Luke from document P about forgiveness with some rules about church
affairs which were either from document M or from some other source.
But those statements, despite their popularity and widespread
acceptance among Christians, cannot be from Jesus, because the word
"church" did not exist in Aramaic nor even the concept. I only
show these statements here in order to repudiate them. The
statement about forgiving seventy times seven times may actually
be from Jesus, however; it implies "forgive endlessly".
THE PARABLE ON FORGIVENESS
Matthew adds a parable not found in
any other gospel, called the parable of the Unforgiving Servant.
It tells about a king who had a servant who owed him a hundred
pence, and when the servant came and said he just couldn't pay it
back the king forgave him the debt. Then a second servant who owed
the first servant five pence came and told the first servant that
he couldn't pay it back, and the first servant was furious and had
the second servant thrown into a debtor's prison. When the king
heard about it, he came to the first servant and said, I forgave
you your debt of a hundred pence; could you not have forgiven my
other servant his debt of five pence? And the king had the first
servant thrown into prison until he should pay back what he owed
the king. Matthew finishes with a most threatening statement:
So also shall my heavenly father
do to you, if you forgive not your
brothers from your hearts.
What is this parable supposed to teach us? Does the king
stand for God, and are we all servants? Does God forgive all our
sins, and should we forgive others all their sins? Matthew's
conclusion is that God will punish us if we do not forgive others;
couldn't God also forgive us our unforgivingness? Matthew's
conclusion seems merciless; but can we conclude from it that
unforgivingness is an unforgivable sin? In any case Matthew's
conclusion cannot be from Jesus, because it reports Jesus as
referring to God as his personal father, and tells us that God is
a punitive overlord. The only value of the parable seems to be
that if we are unforgiving it will bounce back and hurt ourselves,
as Jesus said in the Great Sermon: Judge not, and you shall not be
judged; for with which measure you measure to others, it shall be
measured to you; and, Release, and you shall be released; condemn
not, and you shall not be condemned (Matt.7:1-2;Luke 6:37-38).
It's also certainly a bit pompous for us to call anyone's behavior
towards us a "sin".
DEPARTURE FOR JERUSALEM
Mark, and Matthew also, now tell us that Jesus left Galilee
and came into Judea. We have not read much about Jesus' plan up
to this point, but Luke states explicitly that Jesus had made up
his mind: He steadfastly set his face toward Jerusalem
(Luke 9:51). In Mark and Matthew, the very next verse
shows Jesus already nearly there, but Luke appears to have
interpolated the entire document P into Mark at this point:
And he came into Judea beyond Jordan,
and he taught them there.
And when it was time for him to
be received up, he stedfastly set his
face toward Jerusalem.
<<< Document P (Luke 9:52-18:14) >>>
And Pharisees came to him, and said,
Is it moral for a man to divorce his wife
for any cause?
One-third of Luke consists of the long section from 9:52 to
18:14, as diagrammed above, much of which is found in other places
in Matthew. This is the demonstration of the existence of document
P: that Luke seems to have inserted it between two verses of
Mark, which verses are copied by Matthew without any insertion;
and Matthew seems to have cut it up and inserted the pieces into
all the discourses we have seen up to this point and subsequently.
Luke resumes his use of Mark after the discussion of marriage as
found in Mark and Matthew, but which Luke does not report.
So now we shall follow Luke, in keeping with Luke's decision
that all these events and sayings and teachings were spoken on the
long trip from Galilee to Jerusalem.