HANDBOOK TO THE GOSPELS
We have now stepped carefully through the three Synoptic Gospels
to see what they say and what they don't say and what they agree on
and what they disagree on. We have not examined the gospel of John
because it is so completely inconsistent with Mark, Luke, and
Matthew. In this chapter we will list the discrepancies between
the gospel of John and the other three gospels, and then offer our
summarization of what the Synoptic gospels tell us that we can
accept as reasonably certain. We will first summarize how Matthew
and Luke used older source documents to compose their individual
gospels, as referred to frequently in this book.
THE SOURCES AND HOW THEY WERE USED
Both Matthew and Luke used Mark as their primary source for the
history of Jesus' life. This is proved by the fact that nearly
all of the events in Mark are found in the same order and the same
wording in either or both Matthew and Luke.
Matthew and Luke also used another source document which scholars
have given the name of Q (for quelle, German for "source"),
which in this book has been considered to have been two separate
documents, called Document G and Document P, because the two
editors used that material in different ways. Matthew and Luke
also each had another document of their own, called Document M for
Matthew's and Document J (or Document L) for Luke's.
a) Luke used Document G at the beginning
of his story, inserting bits of Mark where it seemed appropriate
to do so. He used Document P in its entirety, interpolated between
Mark 10:1 and Mark 10:2, confirmed because Matthew reports those
same two verses in the same order with NO interpolated material.
Luke interpolated parts of Document J at appropriate points in his
copy of Mark, which is believed to have been incomplete because he
omits several consecutive episodes from Mark.
b) Matthew also used Document G at the
beginning of his story, but rearranged both Mark and G freely to
group related material, and inserted bits of Document P everywhere
in his gospel. He follows Mark faithfully starting with Mark 10:2,
and he interpolated bits of Document M freely throughout his
c) Both Luke and Matthew drew on legends
and other unknown sources for the beginning of the story, regarding
the birth and genealogy of Jesus; and both drew on different
traditions for the happenings after Jesus was executed.
THE CONTENTS OF THE GOSPEL OF JOHN
The discrepancies between the gospel of John and the Synoptics
which make it unacceptable as a source document are as follows:
1. John reports four trips to Jerusalem during Jesus' career,
three of which are during Passover, which is the source of the
legend that he taught for three years. Mark and the other two
report only one trip to Jerusalem (not counting the visit when
he was 12 years old), and that it was the final week of his
2. John the evangelist reports John the Baptizer as being
very effusive in his praise of Jesus as being the one who would
supersede him. John the evangelist also reports that John the
Baptizer was the one who saw the vision at the moment of baptism
of Jesus, rather than it being an appearance to Jesus alone.
John the evangelist also says that John the Baptizer did not
know Jesus until he saw the vision. And John the evangelist
says nothing about John the Baptizer's doubts about Jesus as
we are told in Luke 7:2-3 and Matthew 11:2-3. He further tells
us that it was the disciples who believed that Jesus was the
messiah and decided to follow him, rather than Jesus calling
the fishermen and others to be his disciples, as reported by
Matthew and Luke.
3. John only reports four (4) healings, ALL of them claimed
as signs, compared with 21 in Mark, Luke, and Matthew, with
NONE of them claimed as signs, where Jesus tells the healed
person not to tell anyone, and with Jesus on more than one
occasion refusing to perform a sign, other than his preaching.
We may especially remark the so-called Raising of Lazarus after
4 days in the tomb as a totally fictional story, for several
reasons: it is improbable in the highest degree that a corpse
should come back to life; Lazarus would certainly have become
an ardent preacher in favor of following Jesus if he had been
raised from the dead; but thirdly he is never heard of again,
either in the New Testament or any of the early church writings;
and in fact he does not even appear again in John's gospel.
4. John does not report a single parable, compared with the
thirty-two parables in Mark, Luke, and Matthew, and with the
three Synoptic authors going so far as to tell us: And he did
not speak to them except in parables
5. The clincheroo, however, is the content of the discourses.
The gospel of John contains 10 discourses, EVERY ONE of which
reports Jesus as telling the hearers that he is the son of God
and also the messiah, which he NEVER claims in the Synoptics.
These discourses are:
1. Conversation with Nicodemus on being born again (John 3:1-21)
2. Himself as living water and the Messiah (4:4-42)
3. On the Son and the Father (5:19-47)
4. Himself as bread out of heaven, and telling them to
eat his body and drink his blood (6:27-70)
5. Living water and the Son (7:14-53)
6. The Son and the Father (8:12-19)
7. The good shepherd and the door of the sheep (10:1-21)
8. The Son and the Father (12:23-30)
9. He is the son of God (John 14-16)
10.Telling them that his followers will all be saved and the rest
are outside his love (John 17).
By contrast the Synoptic gospels report six extended discourses,
NOT ONE OF WHICH is about himself, but rather about ethical
and moral behavior, and about living under the reign of God,
and about what he saw as the future of Judea. These may be
listed as follows:
a. The Sermon on the Mount
b. The Parables of the Kingdom of God
c. Instructions to the disciples on their mission
d. Teachings on greatness and service and forgiveness
e. Discourse against the scribes and Pharisees
f. Discourse about events of the future
There are also many isolated sayings or series of sayings
which do not seem to have been an extended discourse.
It is the dogmatic and egotistical content
and tone of ALL of the discourses reported by the gospel of John that make it
impossible for us to accept that gospel as truly a record of
the teachings of Jesus. When to this is added the fact that
John contains no moral or ethical teachings whatever, without
ever mentioning repentance, forgiveness, prayer, faith, hope,
or wisdom, that gospel stands exposed as someone's fictional
story about Jesus.
6. The gospel of John was almost certainly produced by a group
of followers in Asia Minor who had come to believe that Jesus
was in fact the son of God and God himself, and wrote their
own gospel making this point and only this point. Loisy thinks
that they were trying to discredit the Synoptic gospels, all
three of which were in existence in some form by the time that
the gospel of John was written, which was almost certainly the
first quarter of the second century, if not later.
7. It's not a big deal, but there is the fact that John only
mentions SIX of the disciples by name, and the rest are all
unnamed, including one who is never named but is referred to
as the "beloved" disciple and whose witness is cited as proof
of the authenticity of John's gospel. An unidentified witness?
That won't hold up in court.
SUMMARY OF THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS
By contrast, we have found the following features of Jesus'
life and teaching to be documented by one, two, or all three of the
Synoptic gospels, and in many cases the gospel of Thomas as well.
1. Jesus was the son of a man named Joseph and a woman named
Mary. In childhood he exhibited a precocious interest in
matters of religion, as told in an anecdote in Luke.
2. When he was about 30 years old, a man named John known as
the Baptizer came into Judea east of Jerusalem along the Jordan
river. Jesus came to John, probably as his disciple, and then
had an inspirational experience at the moment of his baptism
at the hands of John which transformed him from a little-known
carpenter from Nazareth in Galilee into one of the most
acclaimed teachers in the history of humanity.
3. He also had some kind of solitary desert experience after
the baptism, which he described to his followers in the form
of little parables about himself and how Satan the adversary
of humankind had come to him and tempted him to power in
several ways. He refused the temptation to just provide
material comforts for his people, and the temptation to seek
political power, or to show any sign to the people to prove
anything about himself or his mission. He reaffirmed this
refusal to show a sign at least three times during his
teaching career, according to Mark, Matthew, and Luke.
4. He was an extremely popular speaker, it being reported that
great crowds came from all over Judea and outside of Judea to
hear him. What he could have said to hold them spellbound for
long periods and long distances from home, we can hardly even
conjecture. I have proposed in my first book that he was
quoting from the prophets in the Old Testament and from John
the Baptizer, trying to make those teachings warm and personal
to all his hearers.
5. He chose 12 men to be his "disciples", but he was followed
by many others and especially by many women.
6. He liked to speak in "parables", little stories containing
some allegorical advice or truth. At one point he is reported
to have given a long discourse in parables on the kingdom of
God, or as I prefer to translate the Greek word "basileia", on
the reign or kingship of God or living under the rule of God.
7. Many people were healed in his presence, and a few not in
his presence. However, he nearly always told those people NOT
to tell anyone that he had healed them, and often told them
that it was their FAITH that had healed them. More than once
he told people that his mission was PREACHING, and he NEVER
told his hearers that any of those healings were signs, or
even important to his mission; in fact, when he was asked to
give a sign, he stated unequivocally, No sign shall be given
unto this generation, except my preaching.
8. Finally, after travelling everywhere in Palestine, he made
a trip to Jerusalem for the passover, with the intention of
challenging the priests and scribes and Pharisees. He outwitted
them on several occasions, and finally gave two long discourses,
one against the scribes and Pharisees, and the other on events
of the future.
9. He was finally arrested, tried on charges of sedition
against Rome, and executed. Three times he had clearly spelled
out to his disciples that he would be killed by the chief
priests and elders, but we are told that the disciples didn't
seem to understand that at all.
10. His last discourse about events of the future was given
in Jerusalem, in answer to a remark by one of his disciples,
in which he predicted that temple and all the other buildings
and the walls of the city would be knocked down and Jerusalem
would be destroyed with "not one stone left upon another".
This actually happened in 70 CE. This prediction is confirmed
by his three lamentations, as i have shown below at item #12.
But his immediate followers all assumed that this was a
prediction of a "Last Judgment", when bad people would be
punished and good people would be rewarded.
11. After his death his disciples began to claim that he had
risen and that they had seen him again. This eventually became
one of the dogmas of Christianity, that he had risen from the
dead. But just as with Lazarus, we have to assert that it is
improbable in the highest degree that his corpse came back to
life. It must have been hallucinatory experiences by the
disciples, the more so since the gospels do not agree on who he
appeared to or where or for how long or how long it was until
he disappeared into the skies. Nor do any of the appearances
listed by Paul in the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians
(I Cor. 15:5-8) agree with those in the gospels.
12. There is no support for the belief that he intended to
found a church or to start a religion. His overriding concern,
as proven by what I have called his three lamentations, was to
persuade his people to leave off trying to defeat the Romans.
I have shown these all together in Chapter XVIII: the first
when he was still in Galilee, and had been threatened by Herod;
the second on his arrival in sight of Jerusalem, when he wept
over its failure to "understand the things of peace"; and the
third while he was on his way to be crucified, when he
responded to the women weeping over his fate by telling them:
"Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for
yourselves and your children..." (Luke 23:28-31)
Jesus was an ethical and moral teacher, preaching all over
Palestine for several months, and drawing great crowds. He was
dedicated to teaching his people that the movement to expel the
Romans by force was doomed to failure, and that the city would be
destroyed and not one stone left upon another. He predicted that
he would be killed by the chief priests and elders, and challenged
them anyway in Jerusalem, as a result of which he was arrested by
them, turned over to the Romans as a seditionist, and was crucified
by them. His followers and a later follower named Paul came to
believe that he had risen from the dead, and founded a new religion
based on that belief, which fortuitously saved the meager records
that we do have of his life and teaching.
To believe that Jesus was God, or that he was the son of God,
or that he rose from the dead, or that we should eat his body and
blood, is just mythology. Fortunately, the Synoptic gospels give
us ample evidence that he never said any of those things. What he
did say was that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, and
also that we should love our enemies.