Bible Prophecies (Textual)

Jesus’s Resurrection

Bible Prophecies (Textual)

Whenever I ask Bible inerrancy believers why they think the Bible is God’s Word, their answer is invariably because of the prophecies contained in it: of course, they mean prophecies that have supposedly transpired. This article is intended to validate, or reject, this claim from the evidence concerning these so-called ‘prophecies.’

Most Bible inerrancy believers contend that there are many biblical prophecies that indeed came true. It is important to realize, however, that it is enough to show that just one prophecy failed to transpire to prove the Bible fallible. I don’t think most of them realize this. Again, this article is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment: I shall only show that most, if not all, alleged biblical prophecies never transpired.

There are two types of prophecies in the Bible: the first type consists of prophecies claimed in the biblical text itself; the second type consists of those prophecies claimed by various Christian denominations. I shall deal with the first category, the ‘textual’ prophecies, in this article and with the rest in the next.

Paul’s Creed

(1) Let me start with the alleged textual prophecies by the only well-known biblical author—Paul of Tarsus (better known as Saint Paul). In his undisputedly authentic First Corinthians, Paul writes,

“I delivered unto you first of all [as of first importance (NAB)] that which I also received, how that Christ [Jesus] died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of [by] Cephas [Peter, the leader of Jesus’s original apostles], then of [by] the twelve [Jesus’s original apostles].” (First Corinthians 15:3–5, KJV, emphasis mine)

Notice the iterated phrase “according to the scriptures.” Incidentally, this quote seems to have been one of the first creeds of Christianity. So, Paul himself (who was previously a Pharisee, and therefore, very knowledgeable in the Scriptures) seems to have believed that Holy Scripture (for him the Old Testament) predicted that: (a) Jesus is the ‘Christ,’ (b) he would die for our sins, and (c) he would rise from the dead. Let’s see whether we can find such predictions in the Old Testament.

(a) Jesus is the ‘Christ

Now, ‘Christ’ is our English rendering of the Greek word christos meaning ‘anointed,’ which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word mashach, which we render as ‘Messiah’ in English. In ancient Hebrew custom, before someone was delegated on a special mission, his head was anointed with an oily perfume by his superior. The New American Bible explains that power was conferred on both kings and high priests through such an anointing ceremony (NAB, Psalms 2:2n).

Therefore, one must be careful in distinguishing between a messiah (any anointed individual) and the Messiah: the promised ‘Anointed One’ from the line of King David. This brings us to the fact that one of the most basic tenets of Christianity is that Jesus was the ‘Christ,’ the ‘Messiah’ par excellence, promised to King David by God himself: in fact, we get our name from him. (In this article, therefore, I shall use the upper key, ‘Messiah,’ for the promised descendant of King David and the lower key, ‘messiah,’ in the general case.) This is how the early Christians preached Jesus to the Jews they tried to convert to Christianity in the first century CE: that he was the Messiah promised to David, the Israelites, and humanity by God himself.

So, first I would like to show how far Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah transpired in the person and life of Jesus. If things turned out meticulously as described in the Old Testament, that would be a strong indication of true prophecy in the Bible; if not ….

I shall here give Christianity the benefit of the doubt by playing in its home court and assume, for a moment, the Christian belief that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah (the Christ) and summarize how far the various so-called ‘messianic prophecies’ have been fulfilled in him.

We read how it all started in Second Samuel, which portrays the prophet Nathan telling King David,

“The Lord telleth thee [King David] that he will make thee an house [dynasty (NLT)]. ‘And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep [die (NLT)] with thy fathers, I [God] will set up thy seed [descendants (NLT)] after thee, which [who] shall proceed out of thy bowels [offspring (NLT)], and I will establish his kingdom. He [King Solomon] shall build an house [temple (NLT)] for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: but my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from [King] Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.’ ” (Second Samuel 7:11–16, KJV, emphasis mine)

Notice the clauses, “I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever” and “thy throne shall be established for ever.” In other words, God supposedly promised David that his descendants will rule Israel indefinitely. According to the Bible, therefore, God promised David that there will be no end to his descendants, that the Messiah would come from his line, and that he will rule Israel forever. As far as Jesus is concerned, the second of these two promises apparently materialized: that is, Jesus seems to have been a descendant of David. It was common knowledge to the Jews of Jesus’s time that the Christ would be a descendant of King David: John’s gospel clearly says so.

“Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” (John 7:42, KJV)

I do not think there is any doubt that Jesus was a descendant of King David. According to the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels, Jesus was a descendant of David by both parents: by birth through Mary (Matthew 1:6–16) and legally by adoption through Joseph (Luke 3:23–31). According to the Revised English Version website, the “Joseph” mentioned in Matthew 1:16 is not Mary’s husband, but Mary’s father; there seems to have been a mistranslation between Matthew’s Aramaic and Greek originals: that is why the two genealogies do not match: https://www.revisedenglishversion.com/Matthew/chapter1/16.

We cannot tell, for certain, whether there was an end to David’s descendants, since the original records seem to have been lost around 70 CE when the Jerusalem Temple was burned by the Romans. I suppose, however, there were enough of David’s descendants to last indefinitely: there are even modern claims on the internet to this effect. So, we may also assume that the first of these promises: that is, that there will be no end to David’s descendants, has also materialized so far, and there is no reason to believe that it will not continue to materialize—the odds are in its favor.

However, in several verses, the Bible also says that God promised David that his reign would last indefinitely. For example, besides the passage above from Second Samuel, we also read in Psalms,

“My mercy will I [God] keep for him [King David] for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him. His seed [descendants] also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven [forever].” (Psalms 89:28–29, KJV, emphasis mine)

So King David’s dynasty should have lasted indefinitely: even to the present day. This absolutely didn’t happen; the kingdom of Israel was inexistent at the time of Jesus: Israel was only a Roman colony, and naturally Jesus was never king of Israel.

However, some passages in the Bible make this promise conditional upon later monarchs of David’s line remaining faithful to God and the Law of Moses—the ‘Torah.’ For example, also in Psalms, we read,

“The Lord hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it; ‘of the fruit of thy body [offspring] will I [God] set upon thy throne. If thy children will keep my covenant and my testimony that I shall teach them, their children shall also sit upon thy throne for evermore.’” (Psalms 132:11–12, KJV, emphasis mine)

Notice the conditional “if.” In this case, the promise would also have materialized (in a negative kind of way, of course) since most later Jewish kings, in fact, failed to remain faithful to God and the Torah. But then, Jesus’s being the Messiah would make no sense since all bets were off—so to speak, no? Not to mention that there is no way of reconciling another blatant contradiction in the Bible: the fact that we have texts saying the promise of David’s unending dynasty was conditional and others that say it was unconditional—even in the same book (Psalms, in the above two examples).

That the king of Israel would reign over all the other kings of the earth and rule the whole world never happened. Psalms, for example, portrays God telling “his anointed,” presumably the Israelite king in the ‘end-times,’

“Ask of me [God], and I shall give thee the heathen [Gentiles] for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” (Psalms 2:8–9, KJV, emphasis mine)

Such concepts have the ring of the wishful thinking of a beleaguered nation rather than a promise by God. Jesus never even tried to rule Israel: he apparently also shied away from an opportunity to be made king:

“When Jesus therefore perceived that they [the crowd] would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.” (John 6:15, KJV.)

That Jesus (or rather the Messiah) would bring peace and justice to the whole world also never happened—far from it. In Isaiah, we read,

“Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 9:7, KJV, emphasis mine)

God tried to sow a seed for world peace through Jesus, his Son; apparently it took root for a while (see Acts 2:42–47), but it never materialized fully: it stalled. God never does all the work himself: he always works with seeds. He waits for us to participate and do our part: he never forces us to do anything, even if it happens to be for our own good.

Despite the above discrepancies between the New Testament Jesus and the Old Testament’s supposed ‘messianic prophecies,’ I do not preclude the possibility that David might have had a personal revelation from God that a special personality (possibly the same as the Prophet of Moses’s caliber promised to the Hebrews in Deuteronomy 18:15–19) would be one of his descendants: a personal revelation that somehow ended up in the Hebrew Bible. Since David was “a man after his [God’s] own heart,” (First Samuel 13:14, KJV) he might have had a special relationship with God. God might have promised him that he would send someone who would lead us to living a full life in a close relationship with God. Such a promise might have been blown out of proportion, over time, to a political leader and liberator from oppression by the Romans: a development that might have simply been wishful thinking of an oppressed people. The fact that Jesus never even tried to attain political power seems to confirm such wishful thinking. What goes down in scriptures does not automatically become infallible; the Bible is not a truth factory.

It is also worth adding here that John the Baptist had serious doubts as to whether Jesus was the promised Messiah; so, he sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus the question, point-blank. Apparently, Jesus’s reply was that he truly was the expected Messiah; but he also added that John and his disciples should not be surprised that he did not turn out to be what most people of his time expected the Messiah to be—or what the Scriptures said, for that matter. Following is the account of the incident, in Matthew’s gospel.

“When John [the Baptist] had heard in the prison the works of Christ [Jesus], he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, ‘Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?’ Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended [shocked] in [by] me.’” (Matthew 11:2–6, KJV, emphasis mine).

Note, especially, the last sentence: “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be [shocked by] me.” Of course, this incident, which is also narrated in Luke’s gospel (7:19–23), passes the criterion of dissimilarity. Doubting whether Jesus was the Messiah was not something a Christian—one who believed Jesus was the Christ—would write, out of the blue; so, it most probably did happen. It is therefore a clear indication that Jesus did not turn out to be the same kind of Messiah predicted in Old Testament scriptures: John the Baptist knew it and so did Jesus himself. This clearly undermines the concept of the so-called ‘messianic prophecies’ in the Old Testament—despite what Paul says in First Corinthians 15:3 (“according to the scriptures”).

In conclusion: is Jesus the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament? In short, even though personally I believe he was the Messiah God promised David and possibly Moses, I do not think he would have had a case in a court of law.

We now come to what authentic Paul preached was foretold in Holy Scripture (i.e., the Old Testament): namely, (b) Christ would die for our sins, and (c) Christ would rise from the dead.

(b) Christ’s Atonement

(i) Luke’s gospel portrays Jesus, right after his resurrection, discussing with two of his disciples, who were on their way to the town of Emmaus:

“Then he [Jesus] said unto them [the disciples], ‘O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25–27, KJV)

I tried looking for these alleged scriptural texts many times, but I couldn’t find any. Rather than just tell you about my failure, let me quote biblical scholars and other experts.

First, the New American Bible, which is a Catholic Bible, commenting on this passage, states that the concept of a suffering Messiah is only found in the New Testament; it has,

“The idea of a suffering Messiah is not found in the Old Testament or in other Jewish literature prior to the New Testament period.” (NAB Luke 24:26n)

Undoubtedly, this statement undermines the evangelist Luke’s claim.

Second, in his book Jesus the Servant-Messiah, New Testament Exegesis and Early Christian Literature professor Marinus De Jonge writes,

“One should realize that in the OT [Old Testament] the term “anointed” [messiah] is never used as a future savior/redeemer, and that only in later Jewish writings of the period between 200 B.C. and A.D. 100 the term is used only infrequently in connection with agents of divine deliverance expected in the future.” (ABD 4.777–88)

Third, in his article “Messianic Hopes and Messianic Figures in Late Antiquity,” New Testament scholar and author Craig Evans writes that the Messiah, in the mind of the Jews of Jesus’s time, was supposed to be a great King, the likes of King David, who would deliver them from oppression, particularly Roman occupation.

“The Davidic covenant is clearly echoed in the promise that the ‘throne of David’ will be ‘over his kingdom, to establish it … forever’ (Isaiah 9:7).” … “Simon’s [Simon ben Kosiba’s] messiahship seems to have been a very earth-bound, David-like rule intended to liberate Israel from Gentile oppressors.” https://arts.ucalgary.ca/sites/default/files/teams/2/CLARE/Chair_Christian_Thought/2004nov2_evansmessianichopes.pdf (pp. 13, 33).

Fourth, in his book Did Jesus Exist?—The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, after discussing the various scholarly first-century-CE views regarding the Messiah as derived from the original documents, New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman summarizes,

“In short, ancient Jews … held a variety of expectations of what the future messiah would be like. But all these expectations had several things in common. In all of them the messiah would be a future ruler of the people Israel, leading a real kingdom here on earth. He would be visibly and openly known to be God’s special emissary, the anointed one. And he would be high and mighty, a figure of grandeur and power.” (pp. 162–63)

(ii) But what about the Suffering Servant portrayed in Isaiah? Who is this Servant of the Lord anyway?

First, in Isaiah we read,

“[God] said unto me, ‘Thou art my servant, O Israel [the nation], in whom I will be glorified.’” (Isaiah 49:3, KJV)

So, in this verse, it seems that the ‘Servant of the Lord’ is Israel—that is, the Jewish nation—not Jesus.

Second, a couple of verses ahead in the same chapter of Isaiah, we read,

“Now, saith the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob [Israel] again to him, though Israel [the nation] be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength. And he said, ‘It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob [Israel], and to restore the preserved [remnant (NET)] of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.’” (Isaiah 49:5–6, KJV)

In this passage, Isaiah seems to be thinking of an individual, not a nation. In view of this obvious duality in the identity of the ‘Servant of the Lord,’ it cannot be taken seriously as a prophecy of a suffering Messiah.

Third, in her article “Servant of the Lord,” theology graduate and Presbyterian Church pastor Elaine Wilson confirms this.

“In many of Isaiah’s prophecies, he’s talking about the people of Israel, God’s chosen people. … But as Christians most of us probably immediately assume the Servant is Christ. … But the passage is vague about the identity of the Servant. … But this passage is not just about Jesus the Christ, and this passage is not just about the people of Israel, because we are also called to be God’s servants. We are called to be this Servant of the Lord, this ‘Servant for justice.’”

The ‘Servant of the Lord,’ therefore, seems to be more of a concept—an ideology—rather than a real person.

Fourth, in his book Did Jesus Exist?, Ehrman asks, “But weren’t there any Jews who expected the Messiah to suffer and die?” To which he replies, “The short answer is that so far as we [scholars] can tell, there were not” (p. 165). He then explains further why we, Christians, believe so.

“The single greatest obstacle Christians had when trying to convert Jews was precisely their claim that Jesus had been executed. … They had to deal with it and devise a special, previously unheard of theology to account for it. And so what they invented was … the idea of a suffering messiah. That invention has become so much a part of the standard lingo that Christians today assume it was all part of the original plan of God as mapped out in the Old Testament. But in fact the idea of a suffering messiah cannot be found there.” (p. 173)

Fifth, in his article “Judaism and a Dying Messiah,” Rabbi Moshe Shulman refers to first-century-CE historian Flavius Titus Josephus (37 CE to c. 100 CE) to prove this.

“We see further proof of this in Josephus. He mentions a number of figures who were ‘Messianic’ in his two works, Antiquities of the Jews, and The Jewish War. Suffering and dying was never an accepted part of their program.” (http://judaismsanswer.com/dyingmessiah.htm)

(c) Jesus’s Resurrection

(i) Matthew’s gospel portrays Jesus referring to Jonah’s incident after being confronted by the Jewish religious authorities to prove his authority to them.

“Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Master, we would [want to (NLT)] see a [miraculous (NLT)] sign from thee.’ But he answered and said unto them, ‘An evil and adulterous [unfaithful to God’s covenant (NAB)] generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas [Jonah]: for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’” (Matthew 12:38–40, KJV)

Concerning its protagonist, the book of Jonah narrates,

“Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:17, KJV)

Does this account predict Jesus’s three-day burial and resurrection? Or is Matthew’s passage the fruit of Christian hindsight?

First, Jonah’s text is talking about the prophet Jonah, not about the Messiah. There is nothing in Jonah that even hints that the Messiah is going to have a similar experience.

Second, Matthew’s passage does not mean that Jesus actually said those words while he was alive. Written fifty-odd years after Jesus’s death, disqualifies it from being a prediction of Jesus’s resurrection: it is only hindsight. It looks more like Christian wishful thinking: that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. In fact, the Jews still don’t believe Jesus is the Messiah, despite this biblical text.

Third, Jesus was not buried for “three days and three nights,” as Jonah’s text says: traditionally, he was buried from a Friday afternoon to an early Sunday morning—that is only two nights—not to mention that the three days were far from complete days: they were more like one and a half days. (However, I concede that “three days” might have been a figure of speech for ‘three partial days’—a Jewish way of speaking—but it still makes a sloppy prophecy.) It seems the evangelist is stretching this incident to fit hindsight (i.e., what happened to Jesus)? Objectively, one can take it or leave it: depending on whether one wants to believe in biblical prophecies or not.

(ii) By the time Acts was written around 110 CE—eighty-odd years after Jesus’s death—Christians had had ample time to look up Scriptures. So, in Acts, the evangelist Luke portrays the original apostles’ leader, Peter, quoting Psalms to the crowd that gathered after the commotion caused by the descent of the Holy Spirit on the first Christian community at Pentecost.

“‘Because thou [God] wilt not leave my soul in hell [Hades (NKJV)], neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance.’ Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre [tomb] is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins [descendants], according to the flesh [offspring], he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell [Hades], neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.’” (Acts 2:27-32, KJV, emphasis mine)

“Hades” is the Greek name for the ‘abode of the dead,’ often translated as “hell,” especially in older English translations of the Bible.

If one follows Luke’s syllogism (through Peter’s speech) above, it does seem that Psalms kind of predicted Jesus’s rising from the dead.

According to the King James Version, the Psalms original text reads, “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” (Psalms 16:10, KJV)

The problem, however, is that the author of the Acts of the Apostles (the evangelist ‘Luke’), probably did not know Hebrew and was using a Greek translation (the ‘Septuagint’) of the original text: which did not convey accurately what the psalmist, had said. The (Catholic) New American Bible using the original Hebrew text, renders the above verse in Psalms as,

“For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, nor let your devout one to see the pit [grave].” (Psalms 16:10, NAB)

Sheol” is the Jewish name for the ‘abode of the dead’—equivalent to the Greek “Hades.” So, the psalmist is only talking about God’s prolonging a righteous person’s life. In a proper translation of the verse there is nothing about the Christ, his resurrection, or even his body not decaying.

Interpreting such a verse as prophecy of the resurrection of Christ is a total misunderstanding of the original text.

(iii) Elsewhere in Acts, the evangelist ‘Luke’ portrays Paul quoting Psalms to fellow Jews and sympathizers of Judaism in the synagogue at Antioch.

“We declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm [verse 7], ‘Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.’” (Acts 13:32–33, KJV)

But was not Jesus conceived by the Holy Spirit, through his mother Mary, some thirty-three years before his resurrection? Why, then, “this day”? I could not see the connection between this verse and Jesus’s resurrection. How ‘Luke’ (through Paul’s speech) saw a prophecy of Jesus’s resurrection in this verse was puzzling to me. I suppose verse 2 of this psalm 2 has something to do with the misinterpretation because it is sometimes translated as,

“The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together, against the Lord, and against his Christ.” (Psalms 2:2, DRC, emphasis mine)

However, most modern Bible translations, including the (Catholic) New American Bible, render the phrase “his Christ” as “his anointed,” from the original Hebrew text: https://biblehub.com/psalms/2-2.htm.

In the footnote to this verse 2 of psalm 2, the NewAmerican Bible confirms what I already mentioned above: that power was officially conferred on both Israelite kings (see Judges 9:8, First Samuel 9:16 & First Samuel 16:12–13) and high priests (see Leviticus 8:12 & Numbers 3:3) through a superior’s anointing the candidate’s head with a perfumed ointment. In actual fact, this psalm 2 refers to a coronation of a newly appointed king of Israel; as is quite clear from its verse 6.

“Yet have I [God] set my king upon my holy hill of Zion [a synonym for both Jerusalem and Israel].” (Psalms 2:6, KJV)

Now, with this background in mind, the clause: “Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.” makes much more sense. Metaphorically, of course, God is adopting any new king of Israel as his son—on the day of his coronation. Despite what Luke writes in Acts, this psalm has nothing to do with Christ, the Messiah.

(2) Jesus’s Virgin Birth

In Matthew’s gospel, the evangelist tells us that Jesus’s conception happened through a virgin’s impregnation by a sperm from the Holy Spirit, and that all this was foretold in the Old Testament by the prophet Isaiah.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise. When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost [Spirit]. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily [privately]. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.’ Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet [Isaiah], saying, ‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel,’ which being interpreted is, ‘God with us.’ Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: and knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:18–25, KJV)

It always bothered me why Jesus was not named ‘Emmanuel,’ to conform more fully to the prophecy; but anyway, let’s take a closer look at the associated account in Isaiah. I shall start with some historical background to the relevant text.

Israel/Ephraim, in the north, consisted of ten of Jacob’s (or Hebrew) tribes, while Judah, in the south, consisted of only two of Jacob’s tribes: namely, the tribe of Judah, his fourth-oldest son, and the tribe of Benjamin, his youngest son. King David was a descendent of Judah. Jerusalem was the capital of Judah, Samaria was the capital of Israel, and Damascus was the capital of Syria. In the Isaiah account that follows, Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of (north) Israel, visited Ahaz, king of Judah, proposing the formation of an alliance against Assyria. When Ahaz refused to join them, both Syria and Israel attacked Judah.

“It came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it. And it was told the house of David, saying, ‘Syria is confederate [allied] with Ephraim [Israel].’ And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind. Then said the Lord unto Isaiah, ‘Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field; and say unto him, ‘Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah [Pekah]. Because Syria, Ephraim [Israel], and the son of Remaliah [Pekah], have taken evil counsel against thee, saying, “Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeal.”’ Thus saith the Lord God, ‘It shall not stand [be], neither shall it come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five [65] years shall Ephraim [Israel] be broken, that it be not a people. And the head of Ephraim [Israel] is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son [Pekah]. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.’ Moreover the Lord spake again unto Ahaz, saying, ‘Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.’ But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.’ And he [Isaiah] said, ‘Hear ye now, O house of David [Judah]; is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin [young woman (NAB)] shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [Emanuel]. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.’ … And I [Isaiah] took unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah. And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare [bore] a son. Then said the Lord to me, ‘Call his name ‘Maher-shalal-hash-baz’ [meaning ‘quick spoils, speedy plunder’ (NAB)]. For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, “My father,” and “My mother,” the riches of Damascus [Syria] and the spoil of Samaria [Israel] shall be taken away before [by] the king of Assyria.’” (Isaiah 7:1–16; 8:2–4, KJV, emphasis mine)

I shall here quote self-declared atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who, in his book The Selfish Gene, happens to comment, in passing, on this alleged prophecy.

“Several distressed correspondents have queried the mistranslation of ‘young woman’ into ‘virgin’ in the biblical prophecy, and have demanded a reply from me. … The point is in fact well known to biblical scholars, and not disputed by them. The Hebrew word in Isaiah is almah, which undisputedly means ‘young woman,’ with no implication of virginity. If ‘virgin’ had been intended, bethulah could have been used instead (the ambiguous English word ‘maiden’ illustrates how easy it can be to slide between the two meanings). The ‘mutation’ occurred when the pre-Christian Greek translation [of the Hebrew Bible] known as the Septuagint rendered almah into … parthenos, which really does usually mean virgin. Matthew (not, of course, the Apostle and contemporary of Jesus, but the gospel-maker writing long afterwards), quoted Isaiah in what seems to be a derivative of the Septuagint version (all but two of the fifteen Greek words were identical) when he said, ‘Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name ‘Emmanuel.’”’ (Matthew 1:22–23) It is widely accepted among Christian scholars that the story of the virgin birth of Jesus was a late interpolation, put in presumably by the Greek-speaking disciples in order that the (mistranslated) prophecy should seem to be fulfilled. Modern versions such as the New English Bible correctly give ‘young woman’ in Isaiah. They equally correctly leave ‘virgin’ in Matthew, since they are translating from his Greek.” (p. 270)

Some readers might retort asking, “What do you expect an atheist to say?” I believe, however, that atheists do help us believers keep our feet on the ground.

Because of the importance of this supposed prophecy of Jesus’s virgin birth in the Old Testament, I decided to challenge Dawkins’s claim and see what biblical scholars really had to say. Sure enough, the first place I looked agreed with him to a significant extent. According to the biblical scholars of the New American Bible,

“[The] Hebrew [word] ‘almah designates a young woman …. The Septuagint translated the Hebrew term as parthenos … [a] virgin, and this translation underlies Mt 1:23. (NAB, Isaiah 7:14n)

Please understand that I am not trying to say here that Jesus was not born of a virgin; personally, do I happen to believe it. (See my article on “Mary’s Virginity”: https://faith-or-reason.com/2021/11/27/marys-virginity/.) What I am saying is that, even though this belief is of prime importance in Christianity, there actually was no prophecy in the Old Testament concerning it—it just happened—if indeed it did. I am also saying that the evangelist ‘Matthew’ was wrong about there being an Old Testament prophecy concerning Jesus’s virgin birth. Had God really been the author of ‘Matthew’s’ gospel, he would have known better, and he would have prevented his ‘transcriber’ from writing erroneous facts. In other words, ‘Matthew’s’ gospel is not ‘gospel truth’; and, by inference, neither is the Christian Bible infallible.

(3) Emmanuel

While I was researching this prophecy concerning Jesus’s virgin birth, something told me to check out Isaiah’s original prophecy, concerning the child that was supposed to be born in his time, that is, Emmanuel.

According to the New American Bible, Ahaz was king of Judah from 735 BCE to 715 BCE. As mentioned above, because he refused to ally with Israel (the north) and Syria against Assyria, a coalition of the two kings of Israel and Syria attacked his capital city, Jerusalem, the same year Ahaz started his reign in Judah—see also Second Kings Ch 16 (NAB, Isaiah 7:1n). Rather than relying on God to protect his kingdom and nation, as the prophet Isaiah insisted, Ahaz sought the protection of the king of Assyria.

Meanwhile, Emmanuel’s mother was pregnant with him. Now, allowing one year for the attacks on Jerusalem, another year for Emmanuel’s pregnancy, and another year for the child to start talking, brings us to the year 732 BCE: the exact date of the fall of Damascus.

Perfect timing: even though it only happened three years later, that is, it could be humanly foreseeable. However, the fall of Samaria was also prophesied to happen simultaneously; but it didn’t happen until ten years later, that is, around 722 BCE. According to the New American Bible, Damascus fell in 732 BCE, Samaria fell in 722/721 BCE, and Sennacherib invaded Judah in 701 BCE. (NAB, 2 Kings 16:1–20n). Can we really call this a fulfillment of the prophecy? I don’t think so—only 50% of it was fulfilled—not to mention that three years ahead might have been humanly foreseeable.

And that is not all; the prophecy also predicted the total annihilation of the north of Israel and Samaria in sixty-five years. Well, they were certainly both still standing in Jesus’s time—more than 700 years later: Jesus was, in fact, born in the north of Israel, Samaria still existed, and Paul was in and out of Damascus, Syria.

It is not that I want to rub it in, but I think the reader should know the whole truth about the Bible. Regarding the clause “within threescore and five [65] years shall Ephraim [north Israel] be broken, that it be not a people” the New American Bible aptly comments that such a distant (sixty-five years) so-called prophecy would not have comforted Ahaz in the least—since he would probably be dead by then; consequently, its scholars write,

“Ahaz would not have been reassured by so distant a promise; the phrase is probably a later addition.” (NAB, Isaiah 7:8–9n)

Please note it is biblical scholars who are saying this: in other words, it was probably changed several times until the sub-authors of Isaiah finally gave up. How many times does one have to poke holes through an allegedly impregnable armor? The concept of fulfillment of prophecies in the Bible is generally untenable. We have obvious evidence here that Isaiah’s text was manipulated by his later disciples. And this could have happened several times without our getting to somehow know about it in other cases of alleged prophecies.

Moreover, it also seems that the prophet Isaiah was proved wrong since, unlike what he prophesied: “this shall not be,” Ahaz was, in fact, defeated as is related in the Bible itself in Second Chronicles:

“Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem [Judah]: but he did not that which was right in the sight of the Lord, like David his father [ancestor (NLT)]: for he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim [Baal (NLT)]. Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom [Ben-Hinnom (NLT)], and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen [Gentiles] whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel. He sacrificed also and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree. Wherefore the Lord his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria; and they smote him, and carried away a great multitude of them captives, and brought them to Damascus. And he was also delivered into the hand of the king of [north] Israel, who smote him with a great slaughter. (2 Chronicles 28:1–5, KJV)

Furthermore, as the New American Bible also points out, in actual fact Ahaz ruled Judah for 20 (not 16) years (735–715 BCE). (NAB, Isaiah 7:1n)

In other words, according to Second Chronicles in the Bible text itself, and contrary to what Isaiah prophesied, rather than Syria and Israel (the ten northern Hebrew tribes) being destroyed by the time the child Emmanuel (whose birth was foretold in Isaiah) could speak, it was Judah (the two southern Hebrew tribes) that ended up doubly destroyed by them both in succession. Needless to mention, one cannot say much for so-called biblical prophecies, and when the Bible text itself shows that a particular prophecy failed to transpire, there is nowhere to hide or run.

(4) Historical Fabrications

The evangelists also seem to have made up stories in order to cook up so called ‘prophecies’ from the Old Testament. I shall only give a couple of examples, just to make the point.

(a) The first example comes from Luke’s account of the alleged census at the time of Jesus’s birth.

“It came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the [Roman] world should be taxed [enrolled (NAB)]. (And this taxing [census (NLT)] was [the] first made when Cyrenius [Quirinius (NAB)] was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed [enrolled], every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea [Judah], unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David). (Luke 2:1-4, KJV, emphasis mine)

Notice the phrase “all the world” in this passage, which was synonymous to the Roman Empire in those days.

The problem with this passage is that, apart from the New Testament, there is no record of such a universal decree by Caesar Augustus. The New American Bible comments here that we only know of three universal censuses of Roman citizens: in 28 BCE, 8 BCE, and 14 CE; we also know of several provincial censuses of those who were not Roman citizens. However, if the New Testament is excluded, “a universal census of the Roman world under Caesar Augustus is unknown.” Besides, Luke’s statement “when Cyrenius [Quirinius] was governor of Syria,” creates serious historical discrepancies and “the various attempts to resolve the difficulties have proved unsuccessful.” Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was appointed legate governor of the province of Syria in 6 CE, at which time the Roman province of Iudaea (which consisted of Judaea/Judah, Samaria immediately north of it & Idumea immediately south of it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaea_(Roman_province)) was added to the province of Syria. “At that time a provincial census of Judaea [i.e., Iudaea] was taken up” (NAB, Luke 2:1–2n, emphasis mine). Notice the phrase “provincial census”—it was not a universal census.

Now, Nazareth (where Jesus’s parents lived), was in Galilee, and Galilee was in the north of Israel while Judea (or Judah) was in the south of Israel; so, Galilee was not part of the Roman province of Iudaea: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galilee. In other words, the fact that there was a census of Iudaea does not imply, in fact excludes, that there was also a census of Galilee.

(Note: To put things in the right perspective in what follows (for the benefit of the reader who might not be aware of it), the Common Era (CE/AD) was originally intended to start at the birth of Jesus. But, in fact, Jesus was born around 5 BCE (not 1 CE): it so happened that a small error in calculation was made when this (our current) dating method was first introduced by a sixth-century Christian monk; unfortunately, this minor error persisted over the centuries: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Era.)

The New American Bible, commenting further on this passage, points out that if we postulate Quirinius was governor of Syria before Jesus was born (i.e., besides his 6–12 CE known legateship), it would have had to be prior to 10 BCE because we happen to know all the governors of Syria from 10 BCE to the death of King Herod the Great, estimated in 4 BCE. However, as we shall see presently, dating the census prior to 10 BCE would not jibe with what Luke’s gospel itself has in 3:1 and 3:23. But let us first look at some historical and politico-geographical facts around the turn of the first century CE before we delve into all this.

The Romans made Herod the Great king of all Israel in 37 BCE. When he died in 4 BCE, his kingdom was divided among his four children, who were subsequently called tetrarchs, from the Latin phrase meaning ‘ruler of a fourth part’ of a country or province. He is not to be confused with his son, Herod Antipas, who became tetrarch of Galilee and Perea after his father’s death.

In Jesus’s time, west of the River Jordan, Israel was divided in three regions: Galilee (which included Nazareth) in the north, Samaria in the middle, and Judea/Judah (which included Jerusalem and Bethlehem) in the south; east of the River Jordan, it was divided in four regions: Iturea, Trachonitis, and the Decapolis (Greek for ‘ten cities’) in the north, and Perea in the middle (NAB, p. 12a). As just mentioned, Herod Antipas ruled Galilee and Perea.

Luke introduces John the Baptist’s and Jesus’s ministries as follows:

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea [i.e., Iudaea], and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee [& Perea], and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene [in Syria], Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John [the Baptist] the son of Zacharias [Zachariah] in the wilderness.” (Luke 3:1–2, KJV, emphasis mine).

“Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age.” (Luke 3:23, KJV).

Now, as I was saying, if one were to postulate that Quirinius was governor of Syria at some other time (i.e., besides his 6–12 CE legateship), the New American Bible contends that it would have had to be prior to 10 BCE because all the governors of Syria between 10 BCE and the death of King Herod in 4 BCE are known.

However, 10 BCE would have been too early for the time of Jesus’s birth given in Luke’s gospel. Combining: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar … the word of God came unto John [the Baptist]” with “Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age,” (Luke 3:1–2, 23, KJV) from these two verses, one can calculate the date of Jesus’s birth according to Luke. We know that Emperor Tiberius reigned from 14 CE to 37 CE. Since John the Baptist started his ministry after fifteen years of Tiberius’s reign, John must have started baptizing around 29 CE (14+15 = 29). Now, since Jesus started his ministry shortly after this, and Luke’s gospel says that he was then about 30 years old, this places Jesus’s birth at, or shortly before 1 BCE (29-30 = -1). Consequently, the New American Bible argues that (assuming these two gospel statements are correct) Quirinius could not have conducted a census at the time of Jesus’s birth: the Bible would have a historical error of about a decade: from say 11 BCE (just prior to 10 BCE) to 1 BCE (11-1 = 10).

Summarizing: The alleged universal census in Luke’s gospel, if it ever happened, had to be either prior to 10 BCE because Quirinius was definitely not governor of Syria between 10 BCE and 4 BCE (the estimated year of King Herod’s death) or else after 6 CE when, we know, Quirinius became governor of Syria. But these dates are either too early or too late for the year of Jesus’s birth (which presumably happened at the same time as the census).

(i) If we follow the biblical scholars’ estimate for Jesus’s birth (i.e., 5 BCE), after 6 CE is ten-odd (5+6 = 11) years too late for Jesus’s birth; while prior to 10 BCE (say 11 BCE) is five-odd (11-5 = 6) years too early.

(ii) If, on the other hand, we follow the estimate for Jesus’s birth from Luke’s gospel (i.e., 1 BCE), prior to 10 BCE (say 11 BCE) is ten-odd (11-1 = 10) years too early; while after 6 CE is five-odd (1+6 = 7) years too late. (NAB, Luke 2:1–2n)

Finally, as the New American Bible points out, postulating that Quirinius was governor of Syria at some time in between 4 BCE and 6 CE would not have worked out either because it would contradict the statements by both Luke (1:5) and Matthew (2:1), that Jesus was born while King Herod the Great was still alive. Let us see exactly why.

Following are the verses the New American Bible cites here. In Luke, we read,

“There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias [Zachariah], of the course [priestly division (NAB)] of Abia [Abija]: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.” (Luke 1:5, KJV, emphasis mine)

And in Matthew, we read,

“When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea [Judah] in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men [magi] from the east to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.’” (Matthew 2:1–2, KJV, emphasis mine)

Notice the word “king,” not “tetrarch,” in both the above quotes: so they are referring to King Herod the Great, not to Herod Antipas who was only a tetrarch, not a king. From the first verse of this last quote, especially, we may safely conclude that King Herod was still alive when Jesus was born (at least according to the Gospels) because King Herod entertained these wise men or magi.

So, a census between 4 BCE and 6 CE is out of the question because King Herod the Great would have been dead after 4 BCE: consequently, Jesus would have already been born, but the alleged census conducted by Quirinius took place just before Jesus was born. In other words, it would contradict the above statements by two evangelists.

Therefore, the New American Bible concludes that ‘Luke,’ writing his gospel around 90 CE, was only going by some hazy memory of the provincial census Quirinius had conducted eighty-odd years earlier (i.e., in 6 CE). It has,

“Luke may simply be combining Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem with his vague recollection of a census under Quirinius.” (NAB, Luke 2:1–2n)

As if this were not bad enough, in Acts, the same author, ‘Luke,’ writes there:

“[Pharisee Gamaliel] said unto them [the Sanhedrin], ‘Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men [the apostles]. For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing [census], and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.’” (Acts 5:35–37, KJV, emphasis mine)

The New American Bible comments here that Theudas’s movement occurred between 44 CE and 46 CE. Now, according to Wikipedia, Judas the Galilean resisted registration to Quirinius’s provincial census around 6 CE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judas_of_Galilee. Yet, Luke places Judas and the census after Theudas. In Acts, ‘Luke’ is, therefore, some fifty-odd (45+5 = 50) years off regarding the census that allegedly happened just prior to Jesus’s birth around 5 BCE: showing his very poor knowledge of historical facts (NAB, Acts 5:36–37n).

‘Luke’ probably made some assumptions from his own recollections, or he confused the dates and the names, or (at worst) made everything up: any of which cases does not say much for the historical accuracy of the New Testament or the Bible.

So, in conclusion, why did Luke fabricate such a universal census? He had an agenda. He needed to conform to the birthplace of Jesus as was supposedly foretold by Old Testament scriptures. He wanted to show how Jesus was born in David’s city of Bethlehem, as the prophet Micah had declared:

“Thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2, KJV)

Now, in any kind of Roman census (provincial or universal), Jesus’s family could have registered their names in their own village, Nazareth, or perhaps a nearby town in Galilee (not to mention that Mary was not required to be present, only the “‘paterfamilias’ [head of the family] had to appear in person”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_censor). But ‘Luke,’ somehow, needed to explain why Jesus’s family lived in the north of Israel (Nazareth) and yet Jesus was born in the far-away south (a journey of a week or longer in those days—with Mary pregnant: https://www.stcatherinercc.org/single-post/2017/12/06/how-long-is-the-trip-from-nazareth-to-bethlehem), in Bethlehem of Judah, as was supposedly foretold by the prophet Micah. So, was Jesus born in Bethlehem? Maybe! The fact is we do not really know, but it is very unlikely. What we do know for sure is that Luke fabricated the circumstances that might have led up to its happening on vague recollections: but, unfortunately, it does not hold water—he never anticipated his writings would be scrutinized centuries later.

(b) The second example of historical fabrications in the New Testament comes from Matthew: King Herod’s ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ around the time of Jesus’s birth.

“Then [King] Herod, when he saw that he was mocked [tricked] of [by] the wise men [magi], was exceeding wroth [angry], and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, ‘In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not [no more (NAB)].’” (Matthew 2:16–18, KJV)

Did this actually happen? For starters, we do not find ‘Matthew’s’ account of the murder of the innocents in any of the other three gospels. Nor is it corroborated elsewhere by unbiased historians. According to Wikipedia, for example, we do not even find it recorded in Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews, which was written around 93 CE, where he mentions many of King Herod’s atrocities like the murder of three of his sons. Consequently, Wikipedia concludes, “some scholars consider it folklore inspired by Herod’s reputation”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_of_the_Innocents.

So, why does ‘Matthew’ write this then? Simply because he wants to show that Jesus’s coming was foretold in Holy Scripture by the prophet Jeremiah:

“Thus saith the Lord; ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel [Rachel (NAB)] weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not [no more (NAB)].’” (Jeremiah 31:15, KJV)

From Josephus’s accounts, therefore, Herod was definitely ruthless in protecting his reign. So, a legend along the same lines (i.e., Herod’s taking bloody measures to prevent Jesus from taking his kingship) would hardly be questioned by anybody: it fit the contemporaneous ‘paradigm’ like a glove. Keep in mind that ‘Matthew’ was writing for a Jewish-Christian audience some fifty years after Jesus’s death; so he figured there would not be anybody questioning him. The evangelists had no idea that their writings would be adopted in Holy Scripture. Assuming, of course, that the Bible is a book written by humans, not dictated personally by God, this would be something one would expect. As I argued above, ‘Luke’ was not perfect; neither was ‘Matthew.’ He probably thought that lying for a good cause was helping God’s interests and would be commendable. Moreover, ‘Matthew’ probably sincerely believed that Moses prefigured Jesus in many ways: so, narrowly escaping death as an infant while all other male children of his age were killed would be a desirable parallelism for Jesus with Moses (i.e., that Moses was a ‘pre-type’ of Jesus). (See Exodus 1:15–2:10.)

In his article “The Real King Herod, the Bible’s Bloodiest Tyrant,” editor of the book Why I Am Still a Catholic and ex-editor of the Catholic Herald periodical, Peter Stanford, confirms that the evangelists made up some of the details to fill up gaps or to agree with Old Testament alleged prophecies; he writes,

“Their [The Gospels’] writers, composing accounts of Jesus between 30 and 100 years after his death, played fast and loose with details, making some up to fill in the gaps or chime with Old Testament prophesies.” (Daily Mail, May 10, 2007)

Consequently, the massacre of the innocents may just be a tale so as to agree with the above verse from Jeremiah: thus, exalting it to the higher level of prophecy. Such an accusation of King Herod would also have been quite easy to sell, given his horrible reputation.

Conclusion

As one can see, there is not one single ‘smoking gun’ where one can comfortably say, “Yes, that is a genuine biblical prophecy.” It makes me wonder therefore, what makes Bible inerrantists believe the Bible is God’s Word. Not to mention, as I pointed out above, that one single ‘prophecy’ that failed to transpire disqualifies the Bible’s being God’s Word.

References

Bible Hub: https://biblehub.com/.

De Jonge, Marinus. Jesus the Servant-Messiah. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.

Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2012. (ISBN: 9780062204608)

Evans, Craig A. “Messianic Hopes and Messianic Figures in Late Antiquity.” Acadia Divinity College, posted November 2, 2004: https://arts.ucalgary.ca/sites/default/files/teams/2/CLARE/Chair_Christian_Thought/2004nov2_evansmessianichopes.pdf.

Holy Bible: New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Nelson, Thomas, 1982. (NKJV)

Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2015. (NLT)

“How long is the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem?” in St. Catherine of Siena Roman Catholic Church: https://www.stcatherinercc.org/single-post/2017/12/06/how-long-is-the-trip-from-nazareth-to-bethlehem.

New American Bible: Revised Edition. Translated from the original languages, authorized by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, and approved by the United States Confraternity of Catholic Bishops; Totowa, NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 2010: ISBN 9780899429519 (NAB)

New English Translation Bible. Dallas, TX: Biblical Studies Press LLC, 2017. (NET)

Revised English Version Bible (REV), Spirit & Truth Fellowship International, “Matthew 1:16 Commentary,” https://www.revisedenglishversion.com/Matthew/chapter1/16.

Shulman, Moshe. “Judaism and a Dying Messiah” in Judaism’s Answer, posted 2012: http://judaismsanswer.com/dyingmessiah.htm.

Stanford, Peter. “The Real King Herod, the Bible’s Bloodiest Tyrant,” in Daily Mail, May 10, 2007.

The Holy Bible: Douay-Rheims Version. Revised by Richard Challoner. Douay & Rheims, France, 1752. (DRC)

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Oxford, UK, 1769. (KJV)

Wikipedia, s.v. “Common Era,” last edited September 15, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Era .

Wikipedia, s.v. “Galilee,” last edited July 21, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galilee.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Judaea (Roman Province),” last edited September 18, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaea_(Roman_province).

Wikipedia, s.v. “Judas of Galilee,” last edited March 18, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judas_of_Galilee.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Massacre of the Innocents,” last edited September 10, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_of_the_Innocents.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Roman Censor,” last edited May 28, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_censor. Wilson, Elaine. “The Servant of the Lord” in Strathcona Park Presbyterian Church, posted January 2015: http://strathcona-park-presbyterian.ca/files/2015/01/JN2815ServantOfTheLord.pdf (website no longer available).

Bible Contradictions (Old Testament)

Book of Genesis

As I argued in the previous article, one can safely conclude that the Bible is fallible if one can find irreconcilable contradictions in its own text. One cannot have it both ways: textual contradictions imply that at least one of the versions is false—if not both. Undoubtedly, this is the ultimate litmus test for the Bible’s infallibility or otherwise since the Bible is supposedly God’s word, and presumably God cannot contradict himself: it defeats the opponent on one’s own home court, so to speak. Naturally, as in the previous article, I shall let the Bible speak for itself.

Old Testament

This article consists only of textual contradictions we find in the Old Testament and between the two Testaments. I’m sure the reader will appreciate that this article is not an exhaustive study of the Bible or even of the Old Testament, for that matter; so a few examples will have to suffice. Indeed, being written, edited, and re-edited by many authors and sub-authors, the Bible is overloaded with contradicting accounts and statements; there are many, perhaps hundreds, of contradictions: reflecting the different opinions of these authors/sub-authors. To the pure of heart, however, even one clear such instance should prove, unequivocally, that the Bible is fallible. We find all sorts, a whole spectrum, of contradicting texts throughout the Bible.

Order of Creation

According to the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, chapter 1, humans (both male and female) were created after all the animals.

“God said, ‘Let there be light’: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light ‘Day,’ and the darkness he called ‘Night.’ And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament [dome (NAB) or vault (NIV)] in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the [rain] waters from the [lake/sea] waters.’ And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament ‘Heaven.’ And the evening and the morning were the second day. And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear’: and it was so. And God called the dry land ‘Earth’; and the gathering together of the waters called he ‘Seas’: and God saw that it was good. And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth’: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day. And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth’: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light [the sun] to rule the day, and the lesser light [the moon] to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day. And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.’ And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.’ And the evening and the morning were the fifth day. And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind’: and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.’ …And it was so. And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:3–28, 30–31, KJV)

Here’s a short summary of the above Genesis passage for easy reference and comparison with that of chapter 2 below.

(1) On the first day of the Creation, God created light.

(2) On the second day, he created a dome/vault (the heavens/sky—thought to be made of a shiny metal).

(3) On the third day, he created the seas, the land (earth), the plants, and the trees.

(4) On the fourth day, he created the sun, the moon, and the stars.

(5) On the fifth day, he created the sea animals, the fish, and the birds.

(6) On the sixth day, he created the insects, the land animals, and finally humans (both male and female—together).

According to Genesis chapter 2, however, Adam was created before all the animals. Compare the above summary, with the following passage.

“These are the generations [makings] of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, and every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. And the Lord God formed man of the dust [slime (DRC)] of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison … the name of the second river is Gihon … the name of the third river is Hiddekel [Tigris (NAB)] … and the fourth river is Euphrates. And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’ And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet [suited (NAB)] for him. And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet [suited] for him. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.” (Genesis 2:4–11, 13–22, KJV, emphasis mine)

Here’s a short summary of Genesis chapter 2 for easy reference and comparison with that of chapter 1 above.

(1) First, God created heaven and earth.

(2) Then, he created the plants and grasses.

(3) Afterward, he created a man (Adam).

(4) Next, he created the trees.

(5) Later, he created the land animals, the birds, and every other animal.

(6) Finally, he created a woman (Eve).

So, contrary to Genesis chapter 1, clearly, in Genesis chapter 2, Eve was not created at the same time as Adam: Adam seems to have been created before the animals, while Eve seems to have been created after the animals (Genesis 2:7 & 2:22). Which version of the Creation is the correct one: chapter 1 or chapter 2?

Why does the Bible contradict itself in the same book, just a couple of pages apart? Why is God’s word so sloppy? Or, maybe, it is not God’s word after all. Maybe, the Bible is simply a book written by ordinary people. Being a meticulous person, these and similar discrepancies, which I discovered while reading the Bible cover to cover, made me rethink my initial assumption: namely, the Catholic (and Christian) doctrine that the Bible is infallible.

In all fairness, however, in their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? Jehovah’s Witnesses make a good attempt at reconciling this discrepancy. They argue that while Genesis chapter 1 is a chronological account, chapter 2 is written in order of topical importance. They contend that in Genesis chapter 2 other information is added subsequently as required. They explain that after a short introduction, Genesis chapter 2 starts with the main subject: that is, the creation of man, Adam. Next, it tells us that Adam was to live in a pleasure park, and so details about the garden are added. They continue,

“Jehovah [God] tells Adam to name “every wild animal of the field and every flying creature of the heavens.” Now, then, is the time to mention that “Jehovah God had been forming from the ground” (Genesis 2:19, NWT) all these creatures, although their creation began long before Adam appeared on the scene” (pp. 94–95).

As much as this might be a possibility, I do not see it this way for the following three reasons.

First, since, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, both Adam and “his family” constitute the main subject (i.e., of first importance, p. 94), I do not see why Eve was not mentioned in the beginning with Adam: that is, before the animals and the garden. In Genesis chapter 1 they are mentioned together.

Second, if one examines the context of Genesis chapter 2, the tenses of the verbs do not add up to what Jehovah’s Witnesses are saying above. Following their own Bible translation, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, we read:

“Then Jehovah God said: ‘It is not good for the man [Adam] to continue to be alone. I am going to make a helper for him, as a complement of him.’ Now Jehovah God had been forming from the ground every wild animal of the field and every flying creature of the heavens, and he began bringing them to the man to see what he would call each one; and whatever the man would call each living creature, that became its name. So the man named all the domestic animals and the flying creatures of the heavens and every wild animal of the field, but for man there was no helper as a complement of him. So Jehovah God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was sleeping, he took one of his ribs and then closed up the flesh over its place. And Jehovah God built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman [Eve], and he brought her to the man.” (Genesis 2:18–22, NWT, emphasis mine).

Notice the future tense in the clause: “I am going to make a helper for him.” I think that is when God decided to create the animals to serve as a helper for Adam. He did not create them beforehand: the same way he decided to create Eve, later, when none of the animals worked out as Adam’s suitable helper. The past tense in the clause: “God had been forming from the ground every wild animal” does not jibe with the future tense used in the previous sentence. In fact, the New American Bible has,

“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him.’ So the Lord God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name.” (Genesis 2:18–19, NAB, emphasis mine).

Notice the introductory word “So.” I found three (i.e., two more) translations with this introductory word “so,” but I also found five (i.e., four more) translations with the past tense “had formed”: https://biblehub.com/genesis/2-19.htm.

Third, I think the actual writing sequence clinches the argument. I contend that anyone’s interpretation of the Bible is only an opinion: it is not what the Bible, in fact, says. In a court of law, it is usually what one does that matters most: intentions must be supported by factual evidence. In my opinion, therefore, there were, probably, two different authors (or groups, like the ‘Yahwists’ and the ‘Elohists’ NAB: pp. [17]–[18], Genesis 1:1–2:3n, 2:4n) who initially wrote the first two chapters of Genesis, and they thought differently: God does not seem to have interfered at all to reconcile them.

To add weight to my observations above, I here quote New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, who in his book Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them), specifically mentions some of the contradictions and scientific shortcomings in Genesis.

“The Creation account in Genesis [chapter] 1 is very different from the account in Genesis [chapter] 2. … Are animals created before humans or afterward? Is ‘man’ the first living creature to be created or last? Is woman created at the same time as man or separately? Even within each story there are problems: if ‘light’ was created on the first day of creation in Genesis [chapter] 1, how is it that the sun, moon, and stars were not created until the fourth day? Where was light coming from, if not the sun, moon, and stars? And how could there be an “evening and morning” on each of the first three days if there was no sun?” (pp. 9–10)

I agree with all Ehrman says above except regarding “light.” I used to think like him too, that is, that the sun had to be created before light. However, the first thing that seems to have happened in our universe, according to the big bang theory, was its being full of electromagnetic waves. Electromagnetic waves consist of all sorts of energy waves of different wavelength, namely, gamma rays, x-rays, ultraviolet, visible light, infrared (heat), microwaves, and radio waves (in order of increasing wavelength). So, visible light happens to be a very small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. In my opinion, if I were God inspiring a biblical author to write an accurate account of the beginning of the universe, I too would tell him to write “light” as the first thing created: given the fact that humanity was unfamiliar with any other portion of the electromagnetic spectrum—except heat, perhaps, but it is much less descriptive.

I am writing this clarification to show the reader that I have been wrong before, and I am willing to admit it: I am only interested in finding the best version of the truth. Moreover, I do not take for granted whatever experts say; that is, not without researching, considering, and weighing other opinions.

Cain’s Wife

According to Genesis, Adam and Eve were the first and only people created directly by God on earth. Initially, that is, at the time the following episode happened, they had only two male children: first Cain then Abel.

“Adam knew [had intercourse with (NAB)] Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare [bore] Cain, and said, ‘I have gotten a man from the Lord.’ And she again bare [bore] his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep [shepherd], but Cain was a tiller of the ground [farmer].” (Genesis 4:1–2, KJV)

Cain killed his brother, Abel, because he was jealous of God’s preference for Abel’s behavior. God punished Cain for his crime by making the ground (soil) unproductive for him; forcing Cain to become a wanderer. (See Genesis 4:3–12.)

“Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. And Cain knew [had intercourse with (NAB)] his wife; and she conceived, and bare [bore] Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.” (Genesis 4:16–17, KJV)

Now, where did Cain’s wife come from, if at that time there were only three humans on earth (i.e., Adam, Eve, and Cain)? How did she grow up so fast?

In their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? Jehovah’s Witnesses suggest one examine the context to find out where she came from; so let me do just that.

From the verse in which Cain’s wife appears suddenly (verse 17) to the end of that chapter there are almost ten more verses, and the next chapter in Genesis is simply a genealogy of Adam’s descendants. Now obviously, eventually Adam had to have more children through Eve; otherwise there would be no humanity (i.e., if one were to assume that the world started with only one male-female pair of humans). So, they (as well as all other Bible-inerrancy believers) propose that Cain married a sister or a niece (pp. 90–91). Of course, there must have been a time lag of twenty-odd years for Cain to marry a sister and forty-odd years for him to marry a niece. Naturally, this would have been feasible at a time when people supposedly lived eight or nine hundred years. (See Genesis 5:1–32.)

The problem I find with this explanation is that, in fact, the Bible context does not show it, as Jehovah’s Witnesses claim: there is absolutely no delay in the biblical text. I took here their own translation, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, so there would be no debating.

“Then Cain went away from before Jehovah [God] and took up residence in the land of Exile, to the east of E’den. Afterward Cain had sexual relations with his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to E’noch.” (Genesis 4:16–17, NWT, emphasis mine).

I checked twenty-seven other English translations, only two of which add the word “Later” at the beginning of this verse: https://biblehub.com/genesis/4-17.htm.

In the original Hebrew, there is no corresponding word for “Afterward” or “Later”: https://biblehub.com/interlinear/genesis/4-17.htm. (Should the reader decide to check the annexed link, please note that Hebrew is written from right to left—i.e., backward.) In other words, the original context tells me exactly this: that Genesis’s author slipped and overlooked the details—typical of a human book, not a divine book—and that Bible-inerrancy believers now try to cover up the textual problem.

Even a lower than average writer would feel the need to explain where Cain’s wife came from—let alone God (if he were truly the Bible’s author). In my opinion, had God really anything to do with this verse, it would have been to tell us clearly not to take the account too seriously.

Now, if science were to prove categorically that humans evolved from apes, this would be almost irrefutable evidence that the Bible supported science in this respect. And I have no doubt whatsoever that Bible-inerrancy believers would use it to their advantage. They would contend that this is where Cain’s wife came from—from other developed ape communities—and the Bible knew it!

The Exodus

I here adhere closely to the biblical text in figuring out how many Israelites left Egypt in their supposed ‘Exodus.’ My derived number from the Book of Exodus text shows clearly a blatant contradiction with the biblical text in the Book of Numbers.

Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob (Genesis 29 & 30), was Moses’s progenitor. Jacob (recall he was renamed Israel in Genesis 32:28) and eleven of his sons joined Joseph (Genesis 46) after he was sold by his brethren (Genesis 37) and became famous in Egypt (Genesis 41). According to Exodus, from Jacob (Israel) to Moses there are only four generations. (Focus on the italicized names.)

“These be the heads of their fathers’ houses: the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel; Hanoch, and Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi: these be the families of Reuben. And the sons of Simeon; Jemuel, and Jamin, and Ohad, and Jachin, and Zohar, and Shaul the son of a Canaanitish woman: these are the families of Simeon. And these are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations; Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari: and the years of the life of Levi were an hundred thirty and seven years. The sons of Gershon; Libni, and Shimi, according to their families. And the sons of Kohath; Amram, and Izhar, and Hebron, and Uzziel: and the years of the life of Kohath were an hundred thirty and three years. And the sons of Merari; Mahali and Mushi: these are the families of Levi according to their generations. And Amram took him Jochebed his father’s sister to wife; and she bare [bore] him Aaron and Moses: and the years of the life of Amram were an hundred and thirty and seven years.” (Exodus 6:14-20 KJV, emphasis mine)

So, summarizing the above italicized names (from Jacob/Israel to Moses), we have: (1) Jacob (Israel) had Levi, (2) Levi had Kohath, (3) Kohath had Amram, and (4) Amram had Moses.

Note also that Levi’s brothers, Reuben and Simeon, had no more than six male children each. Even if we assume that every male in every generation bore twelve children (i.e., six male and six female), after four generations the Israelite male population (young and old) would only reach about 3,100: 1×12+12×6+12x6x6+12x6x6x6 = 12+72+432+2,592 = 3,108, assuming nobody dies in the four generations.

Now, according to the Book of Numbers, about two years after leaving Egypt, God asked Moses to take a census of the Israelite male population, who were more than twenty years of age and fit for war.

“The Lord spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying, ‘Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls; from twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies.’” (Numbers 1:1–3, KJV, emphasis mine)

Numbers also gives the final figure.

“So were all those that were numbered of the children of Israel, by the house of their fathers, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war in Israel; even all they that were numbered were six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty [603,550 men]. (Numbers 1:45-6)

Keep in mind that this number excludes those under age twenty and those too feeble or handicapped to fight. So, compare a maximum of 3,100 men with well over 603,550 men. Is my calculation far out or is Numbers exaggerating the Israelites’ population?

If I am right, the Israelite ‘nation’ that was freed from the slavery of Egypt was not a nation at all; but just a sizable band of people. I hate to undermine the Jews’ most treasured ‘history,’ but numbers don’t lie. Moreover, I am only using information given in their Bible: to me, it looks like the event was mythologized over time.

In fact, according to the Rational Wiki website, there is no geological evidence that a great nation spent forty years migrating from Egypt to Israel: like a concentration of broken pottery or buried corpses strewn along the way there.

“Archeologists from the 19th century onward actually expressed surprise when they failed to find any evidence whatsoever for the events of Exodus. By the 1970s, archaeologists had largely given up the Bible as any use at all as a privileged field-guide. … Israeli archaeologist Ze’ev Herzog provides his view on the historicity of the Exodus: ‘The Israelites never were in Egypt. They never came from abroad. This whole chain is broken. It is not a historical one. It is a later legendary reconstruction—made in the seventh century BCE—of a history that never happened.’ Professor of Ancient History and Archaeology Eric H. Cline also summarizes the scholarly consensus in his book Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction (published by Oxford University Press and winner of the 2011 Biblical Archaeology Society’s ‘Best Popular Book on Archaeology’): ‘Despite attempts by a number of biblical archaeologists—and an even larger number of amateur enthusiasts—over the years, credible direct archaeological evidence for the Exodus has yet to be found. While one might argue that such evidence would be difficult to find, since nomads generally do not leave behind permanent installations, archaeologists have discovered and excavated nomadic emplacements from other periods in the Sinai desert. So if there were archaeological remains to be found from the Exodus, one would have expected them to be found by now. And yet, thus far there is no trace of the biblical “600,000 men on foot, besides children” plus “a mixed crowd…and live stock in great numbers” (Exod. 12:37-38) who wandered for forty years in the desert.’ Nevertheless, another current consensus among scholars suggests that some historical elements lie behind the Exodus narrative, even if Moses and the Exodus belong more to collective cultural memory than to verifiable history. According to Avraham Faust, a professor of archaeology in the department of General History at Bar-Ilan University in Israel: ‘While there is a consensus among scholars that the Exodus did not take place in the manner described in the Bible, surprisingly most scholars agree that the narrative has a historical core, and that some of the highland settlers came, one way or another, from Egypt.’ Those Canaanites who started regarding themselves as Israelites would likely have been joined or led by a small ‘Exodus group’ of Semites from Egypt, likely carrying stories and collective memories that made it into the written composition of Exodus: ‘It appears that while many individuals, families and groups were involved in the process of Israel’s ethnogenesis throughout the Iron Age, and that many of those who eventually became Israelites were of Canaanite origins, the first group was composed mainly of Shasu pastoralists. Other groups, probably including a small ‘Exodus’ group which left Egypt, joined the process, and all were gradually assimilated into the growing Israel, accepting its history, practices and traditions, and contributing some of their own. Traditions and practices that were useful in the active process of Israel’s boundary maintenance with other groups were gradually adopted by “all Israel”. It appears that the story of the Exodus from Egypt was one such story.’” http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Evidence_for_the_Exodus.

This confirms exactly what I said above: the numbers in the Bible don’t jibe.

Earth’s Foundations

In the Book of Job, God asks the protagonist,

“Where wast thou [Job] when I [God] laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? Or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the corner stone thereof?” (Job 38:4–6, KJV)

In the same book, Job tells his friend Bildad,

“He [God] stretcheth out the north [firmament/heavens (NAB note)] over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.” (Job 26:7, KJV)

So, which is it? Does the earth have “foundations,” or does it hang “upon nothing”? One would naturally opt for what God says (which would, in fact, turn out to be wrong) rather than for what Job says; but it does not matter here: one of them is wrong, anyway.

I shall now change gears and address contradictions between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

One God

The Book of Deuteronomy portrays Moses as God’s oracle telling the Hebrews,

“See now that I [God], even I, am he, and there is no god with me.” (Deuteronomy 32:39, KJV)

And again Isaiah portrays God saying practically the same thing.

“Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his [Israel’s] redeemer the Lord of hosts; ‘I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. … Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.’” (Isaiah 44:6,8, KJV)

Isaiah also portrays God declaring to the Persian king Cyrus the Great,

“I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me.” (Isaiah 45:5, KJV)

So clearly, according to the Bible, there is only one God. However, in John’s gospel we read there is another God (the “Word”): that also Jesus is God.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1, KJV, emphasis mine)

Later, in the same chapter, the evangelist John makes it very clear that by the “Word” he means Jesus because he writes,

The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, KJV, emphasis mine)

Of course, I know that Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians believe in the Trinity, and that they declare it a mystery that defeats human understanding. Maybe, however, there is no mystery at all; the solution to the riddle may simply be that the Bible is fallible: that one should not assume that every biblical verse is true, and that there might even be contradictions in its own texts—as I have shown in this and my previous article. (See also my article on “The Trinity.”)

On the other side of the religious fence, even though Jehovah’s Witnesses also believe the Bible to be infallible, they do not believe that Jesus is God. This, therefore, constitutes a major discrepancy in the interpretation of the same Bible.

How do they reconcile these two seemingly conflicting biblical statements? Their translation of the first verse in John’s gospel is a little different; they have,

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god [or divine (note)].” (John 1:1, NWT, emphasis mine)

Notice the article “a” and the lower key (not capital) in “god.” So, they claim that the so-called ‘contradiction’ in the biblical statements is only apparent and can be reconciled by proper translation of John’s text. Personally, I disagree with both their and other Christians’ doctrines: I contend it is simply a biblical contradiction like all the examples I have given above and below.

Let me start my discussion of the subject with an overview of the Gospels. The first gospel written, Mark’s around 70 CE (NAB, p. 69), does not narrate anything from Jesus’s infancy: it portrays him only as an adult and claims he is “the Son of God” (Mark 1:1, KJV). However, this begs the question: how is it, exactly, that a human being became the Son of God? So, the two later gospels, Matthew’s (written around 80 CE, NAB p. 10) and Luke’s (written around 90 CE, NAB p. 96), try to answer this question by informing us that Jesus was the Son of God from his conception: they give us an infancy narrative of Jesus telling us that the Holy Spirit somehow impregnated his mother, Mary. (See my article on “Mary’s Virginity.”) So far, so good, miracles do happen occasionally, and God, possibly, decided to personally mold a special person for us. Still, this was not enough for the early Christians. For some reason, they started to believe that Jesus existed with God even before his birth: so, initially, they identified him with God’s personified “Wisdom” in the Old Testament, or the way he thinks—his “Thought.” So, the latest gospel, John’s (written around 100 CE, NAB p. 144), declares that Jesus existed “in the beginning” (John 1:1, KJV) of the Creation, and that God sent him on earth to reveal to us his Father. Therefore, John identifies him with God’s “Word”: words are the expression of one’s thoughts, and God created the entire universe simply by his word—according to Genesis. That is why John’s gospel also starts, like Genesis, with “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1, KJV): meaning in the beginning of the Creation or the universe. (Scientists now say in the beginning of ‘time.’)

Naturally, John’s gospel, and by inference the Bible, does not make much sense in today’s concept of God. It may have been excusable, however, in John’s time since many considered even the living Roman emperor, although human, to be divine. In his book God and Empire, biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan writes,

“Other human beings who had greatly benefitted their fellows were divinized only after their death, but [Roman Emperor] Caesar Augustus [63 BCE–14 CE] was unique in having achieved divine status while still alive. Nothing like him, therefore, had come before or would come after him.” (p. 19)

I develop this theme in more detail why this happened under “First-Century Divinity” in my article on “The Trinity.” Over time, the early Christians tried to extol Jesus more and more, until they eventually made him God like the Roman emperor. Recall that John’s gospel was the last canonical (official) gospel written: it therefore lends itself to being the least authentic because of the lack of eyewitnesses who could question it at the time it was written. In fact, Jesus’s divinity is only claimed in John’s gospel: one does not find such a claim in any of the other three gospels—the ‘synoptic’ Gospels.

In trying to emphasize Jesus’s importance, John ended up making Jesus greater than he really was. However, it backfired on him because Christianity, later believing his book to be infallible, came to the wrong conclusion of the Trinity: that is, roughly, that there are three ‘Gods’ in the one God. The three Gods in the Trinity are best described as Siamese twins (triplets rather) or possibly like the three-headed Greek mythological monster, Cerberus. At the time the Trinity was defined in 381 CE, Christians were still highly influenced by Greek philosophy and mythology. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, the third US president and main author of the US Declaration of Independence, compares the Trinity to Cerberus in his 1822 letter to theologian James Smith; he wrote,

“The hocus-pocus phantasm of a god like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs.” (https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-3202) Indeed, if you read the entire letter, he was confident that the Unitarianism (one God) would be the new religion of the new world.

“I confidently expect that the present generation will see Unitarianism become the general religion of the United States.”

Because, he adds, it was the religion of the early Christians:

“No historical fact is better established than that the doctrine of one god, pure and uncompounded was that of the early ages of Christianity.”

Unfortunately, his dreams did not pan out.

I honestly do not really understand what Jehovah’s Witnesses mean exactly by “a god” or “divine” in their translation of the first verse of John’s gospel—except what ordinary folk, like you and me, think they mean. Whatever translation one adopts, the word used in John’s gospel is misleading: typical of a human book. If it were truly God writing John’s gospel, he would not have used the word “god” or “God” for a created supernatural being like an angel, say: he would have used a word like ‘spirit.’

If one really thinks about it, all this mess stems from a ludicrous assumption that every Bible verse is infallible: Christians promoted a simply human book to divine status; but Christianity is not a truth factory, nor is the Bible. The whole mystery of the Trinity would be no mystery at all if one were to concede that the Bible is fallible: which, I believe, I manage to prove beyond any shadow of a doubt in my book Is the Bible Infallible?—A Rational, Scientific, and Historical Evaluation.

Even though I disagree with their somewhat weird translation of the first verse in John’s gospel, I think that, of all Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses have the best concept of who, or what, Jesus is. I find it hard to admit this because it goes against what I believed most of my life. Still, I disagree with them that Jesus pre-existed from the beginning of the universe (or earlier) simply because a handful of New Testament verses, mostly from John’s gospel (John 1:1, 14, 30; 8:24, 28, 56–59; 10:30–33, 37–38; 13:19; 14:20; 17:5, 21–24; 18:5–8. 20:27–28; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1), happen to say so. Again, if one were to simply forget about the initial assumption, the ‘axiom,’ that the Bible is totally infallible, it would be easy to come to the right conclusion: namely, that Jesus did not exist before his birth—like every one of us.

I suppose what the evangelist John tried to convey in his text was the concept that Jesus is most like his Father (God), that he is like a chip of wood taken from a large tree; in other words, that he is of the ‘same substance’ as his Father—but not physically, of course: he is as close as a human being could possibly get to being like God. Having said this, I believe Jesus was still totally human, and his existence only started when he was conceived by the Holy Spirit in his mother Mary’s womb—no more. We are all made in the image of God, but he is the image of God par excellence.

Now, is there any biblical support for my opinion? Surprisingly enough, there is quite a bit. The early Christians thought that God exalted Jesus to his ‘right-hand,’ but only after his resurrection. The first such passage comes from one of Paul’s undisputedly authentic letters, Philippians (written in the mid-50s CE, NAB p. 301); he writes,

“Let this mind [attitude (NAB)] be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form [essence (AMP), or nature (NIV), or father-son living image (mine)] of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant [slave (NAB)], and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11, KJV, emphasis mine)

According to Plato (c.428–c.347 BCE), the form is an imitation of a concept: like drawing a circle or a triangle, say, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_forms. Observe the word “exalted” in the above passage. Had Jesus been God, how could he be “exalted” any higher? Paul, like John, probably perceived Jesus as closest to the nature of God himself: like a son is to his father; indeed, Jesus was known as the “Son of God.” Paul too recognized Jesus as the Son of God in the Galatians passage (1:16) we saw at the beginning of the previous article: but not exactly God—there was only one God for Paul.

Moreover, in Acts, we find a second passage showing that the early Christians did not believe Jesus was God. About fifty days after Jesus’s resurrection, the original apostles’ leader, Peter, addressed the crowd that gathered following the commotion at Pentecost (the descent of the Holy Spirit on the first Christian community) as follows:

“Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain. … This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by [to (NKJV)] the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost [Spirit], he hath shed forth [upon us (NLT)] this, which [what] ye now see and hear.” (Acts 2:22–23, 32–33, KJV, emphasis mine)

Again, notice the clause “to the right hand of God exalted” and the phrase “a man” (not ‘a god’). Was Peter being heretical, then? Of course not, the source of this speech is probably from very early Christianity; at which time Christians simply thought of Jesus as a special person: “a man approved of God.”

We find the same clause again in Acts, which portrays Peter before the Sanhedrin saying,

“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree [cross]. Him hath God exalted with [to (NKJV)] his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:30–31, KJV, emphasis mine)

But later in Christianity, there was a concept evolution: trying to understand how, exactly, Jesus was so closely connected to his Father. Unfortunately, this evolution went in the wrong direction.

Furthermore, John’s gospel itself gives us another verse showing that John himself didn’t believe that Jesus was equal to God; he writes, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28, KJV). The Douay-Rheims Bible tries to explain this embarrassing, contradicting verse as follows:

“It is evident, that Christ our Lord speaks here of himself as he is made man: for as God he is equal to the Father. (See Philippians 2:5–11.) Any difficulty of understanding the meaning of these words will vanish, when the relative circumstances of the text here are considered: for Christ being at this time shortly to suffer death, signified to his apostles his human nature by these very words: for as God he could not die. And therefore as he was both God and man, it must follow that according to his humanity he was to die, which the apostles were soon to see and believe, as he expresses, [in the next verse] ver. 29, ‘And now I have told you before it come to pass: that when it shall come to pass, you may believe.’” (John 14:28n, DRC, emphasis mine)

Notice the clause: “as God he could not die.” Presumably, however, neither does a human soul die when one dies, but we still talk about a person dying.

According to Christian doctrine (Council of Chalcedon 451 CE), Jesus is supposedly one person with two natures: in whom both divinity and humanity are inseparable (Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 104, ¶ 467).

“This one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son [of God] must be confessed to be in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably [united], and that without the distinction of natures being taken away by such union, but rather the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and being united in one Person [prosopon] and subsistence [hypostasis—essence/substance], not separated or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten, God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ.” (https://earlychurchtexts.com/public/chalcedonian_definition.htm)

Therefore, following this doctrine, when Jesus says “I,” it should include both his humanity and his divinity: just as when a person says “I,” it includes both one’s body and one’s soul. The lengthy explanation the Douay-Rheims Bible gives is only an indication of biblical contradiction.

Personally, like early Christianity, I tend to think of things a little simpler than later Christianity: I believe Jesus is Mary’s son through a special sperm donated directly by God (or better, by the Holy Spirit—God’s emissary). Admittedly, a small miracle, creating a special sperm, was required of God: but then, God is capable of much greater miracles—as I detailed in the chapter on “Miracles” in my book Is God a Reality?—A Scientific Investigation (pp. 283–324).

The Gospels’ evangelists, as well as later New Testament authors, over time, mythologized Jesus (like Robin Hood or Zorro) and tried to exalt him to a higher and higher position: until he became equal to God. Finally, he was also declared God: one of the persons of the Trinity. But I think that, all along, this was only wishful thinking on the part of Christians. (See my article on “The Trinity” for further political insight.)

In short, John’s gospel and a couple of New Testament letters (Titus & Second Peter) written after John’s gospel contradict the Old Testament assertion that there is only one God; the so-called mystery of the Trinity is merely a miserably-failing attempt to work around this contradiction.

Morality

Assuming the Bible was inspired by God himself, one would expect it to be a book advocating ‘proper’ morality. One would also imagine that God’s laws wouldn’t change over time: what is right is right, and what is wrong is wrong: time, places, and customs should not be a factor, no?

Marriage

There is hardly any question, at least nowadays, that monogamy (one wife) is proper morality while polygamy (more than one wife) is devious morality—possibly even evil.

Genesis starts by saying clearly that monogamy is the way to go.

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife [singular]: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24, KJV)

So then, why did God allow polygamy in the Old Testament?

In the First Book of Samuel, the Bible says that God himself considered David “a man after his own heart.” It portrays the prophet Samuel telling King Saul, the Israelite king preceding David,

“But now thy [Saul’s] kingdom shall not continue: the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, [David] and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee.” (1 Samuel 13:14, KJV, emphasis mine)

In Acts, Luke portrays Paul confirming God’s opinion of David, given above, stating,

“When he [God] had removed him [Saul], he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave their testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will.” (Acts 13:22, KJV, emphasis mine)

Yet, this same David had many wives, six for starters: in the Second Book of Samuel, we read,

“Unto David were sons born in Hebron: and his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; and his second, Chileab, of Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream, by Eglah David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron.” (2 Samuel 3:2–5, KJV, emphasis mine)

David continued to increase the size of his ‘harem’ after he captured Jerusalem.

“David took him [himself] more concubines [plural] and wives [plural] out of Jerusalem, after he was come from Hebron: and there were yet sons and daughters born to David.” (2 Samuel 5:13, KJV)

Of course, there was also the well-known Bathsheba, with whom David committed adultery, practically murdered her husband, Uriah, and then married her too. (See 2 Samuel 11:1–27.)

In short, we do not really know, exactly, how many wives and concubines David had: https://www.gotquestions.org/polygamy.html.

As if this were not bad enough, King Solomon, one of David’s four sons through Bathsheba, is said to have had a thousand wives and concubines:

“He [Solomon] had seven hundred wives, princesses [queens (DRC)], and three hundred concubines: and his wives [women (DRC)] turned away his heart.” (1 Kings 11:3, KJV)

How can one justify this drastic morality change in the Bible?

The answer is very simple: morality depends on the times, locations, and customs. If men are scarce because of wars or exile, I suppose women would rather have half a loaf than no bread: so, under such circumstances, polygamy becomes acceptable to them—naturally, men will not object to it.

Contrary to what Jehovah’s Witnesses claim in their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? (pp. 168–70), this inconsistency of moral principles in the Bible shows, quite clearly, that it is not even a yardstick for what is right and what is wrong. Inconsistencies in moral laws are across the Bible: from incest among Adam and Eve’s children, to polygamy as we saw in this subsection, to divorce as I shall show in the next subsection. The obvious conclusion is that the Bible is not a divine book but a human book.

Divorce

Divorce is a similar subject that is easily allowed in the Old Testament but, practically, absolutely prohibited in the New Testament: again, showing inconsistency of moral principles in the Bible. The New Testament has no problem admitting that divorce was allowed in the Mosaic Law.

“The Pharisees came to him [Jesus], and asked him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?’ tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ And they said, ‘Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.’ And Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation “God made them male and female [Genesis 1:27]. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh [Genesis 2:24].” What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.’ And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, ‘Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.’” (Mark 10:2–12, KJV)

Now, some might argue that in the New Testament Jesus set things right and that one should read the entire Bible. Perhaps it is the case here but ….

Slavery

I am afraid though, one cannot even buy that argument because the New Testament, for example, never condemns slavery as being wrong; yet nowadays, after the American civil war, practically everybody agrees it is wrong. The abolition of slavery might have been recommended in early Christianity but never actually condemned as being evil in biblical texts: showing that morality is time-dependent and not absolute. It took a civil war, not the Bible, to make it wrong.

Paul’s opinion was that there should be no race, gender, or class distinction among Christians. In his authentic Galatians (written in the early 50s CE, NAB p. 283), he writes,

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond [slave (NAB)] nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, KJV, emphasis mine)

Consequently, in the early 60s CE (NAB, p. 335), he asks his friend Philemon to free his slave Onesimus, who had escaped from his master and become a Christian.

“For perhaps he [Onesimus] therefore departed for a season [a while], that thou [Philemon] shouldest receive him for ever; not now as a servant [slave (NAB)], but above a servant [slave (NAB)], a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.” (Philemon 1:15-17, KJV)

So far, so good, the Bible measures up, to some extent.

But then, after the 80s CE (NAB, pp. 293, 308), pseudo-Paul comes along and writes in the Letter to the Colossians,

“Servants [Slaves (NAB)], obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.” (Colossians 3:22, KJV)

And later in the same letter, he also writes,

“Masters, give unto your servants [slaves (NAB)] that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians 4:1, KJV)

These last two quotes are biblical texts too: one cannot just close an eye to them.

I do not know where people ever got the idea that the Bible is God’s word or that it sets high moral standards, as Jehovah’s Witnesses (as well as most Christian denominations) contend (pp. 168–70). Possibly because they are biased and only focus on the uplifting sections in the Bible, or they never read it in its entirety.

Conclusion

Now that I have basically torn the Bible apart with its own contradicting accounts, what should we do with it? I hope you agree, by now, that we cannot consider it infallible any longer because of these numerous contradictions; besides (as I show in my book Is the Bible Infallible?) failed prophecies, myths, historical inaccuracies, and fabricated accounts, not to mention scientific errors. When first I realized this, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was shocked to discover that the Bible was not infallible (something I had believed for fifty-odd years), but on the other hand, it was a real liberation in my life: I did not have to believe blindly everything that the Bible (or the Catholic Church) said any longer, and I did not have to try to reconcile its blatant contradictions. Most important of all, I was so relieved that I did not have to believe in the Christian hell any longer! The source of the Christian hell, as I show in my article on “Hell,” is misinterpreted metaphorical quotes from the Gospels.

In fact, in his book Jesus, Interrupted, Ehrman confirms this; he writes,

“There is not literally a place of eternal torment where God, or the demons doing his will, will torture poor souls for 30 trillion years (as just the beginning) [eternally] for sins they committed for thirty years. What kind of never-dying eternal divine Nazi would a God like that be?” (p. 276).

So now, as far as our faith is concerned, how do we determine what is true in the Bible, especially in the Gospels? Do we pick and choose the verses we like and leave out those verses we do not like? This sounds like a dangerous proposition. Again, in the same book Ehrman explains and advises us,

“It is important to recall the historical view that the biblical authors were all living in a different world from ours and reflected the assumptions and beliefs of people in their world. … Some people may think that it is a dangerous attitude to take towards the Bible, to pick and choose what you want to accept and throw everything else out. … In my opinion, people need to use their intelligence to evaluate what they find to be true and untrue in the Bible. This is how we need to live life generally. Everything we hear and see we need to evaluate.” (pp. 280–81)

In other words, the biblical authors could not possibly think outside their ‘box’: we need to re-evaluate what they once wrote for ourselves. Unfortunately, this is all we have—this is our legacy!

For the reader who would prefer to see a biblical quote to this effect, I believe that also Deuteronomy gives us the proper answer to this question: it portrays God saying to the Hebrews—and us by inference,

“This commandment which I [God] command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, ‘Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?’ But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11–14, KJV)

God’s word (i.e., morality: good and evil, right and wrong) is imprinted deep within us (like God’s signature on our being): we can, therefore, sort out biblical texts intelligently, using reason and our conscience, provided we are honest with ourselves and, if possible, take the time to study the scriptures (and religion) carefully. Even atheists agree with religious people, in most moral cases, as to what is right and what is wrong. However, major differences do seem to creep in over time: in decades or centuries; but the golden rule, to love one’s neighbor as oneself, never changes.

Many of the biblical passages are inspirational: they are conducive to our living a harmonious life together. I suggest we assume any particular biblical verse to be true unless we have positive proof of its falsity: namely, there are other verses that contradict it elsewhere or, most importantly, provided nothing deep down inside us tells us that something is wrong with what we are reading. In other words, believe the Bible critically not blindly: something like we treat a nation’s wisdom—the sayings or proverbs. Everyone believes or assumes there is a lot of wisdom in the sayings of a nation, but nobody takes them as infallible: yet, we still use them somehow. I suggest we treat the Bible the same way. I believe there is no other way of reading (or rather studying) the Bible: otherwise, we might as well throw the Bible away, but would you dispose of a nation’s sayings?

The reader, I am sure, will now appreciate that the fact that the Bible, including the Gospels, is not reliable enough has colossal ramifications for us Christians. We cannot quote it any more as a source of divine wisdom or revelation to prove something or to give us insight about God, Jesus, heaven and hell, the resurrection, the soul, original sin, morality, and so on. We are basically at the same level as the atheists, with perhaps a slight advantage over them, or possibly even at a disadvantage at times. So, we need to build mutual respect with the atheists: if nothing else, they keep our feet on the ground, preventing us from being carried away by superstitious and, perhaps, dangerous beliefs and actions resulting from blind faith. Of course, a similar argument applies when dealing with people of other religions.

Here, I would like to make one last important point. In his authentic Second Letter to the Corinthians, written around 57 CE (NAB, p. 266), Paul (to whom God “revealed” his Son, and who also saw and talked to the resurrected Jesus) describes Jesus as “Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4: 4, KJV) Therefore, I believe God conceived Jesus for three reasons:

(1) To tell us what the Father is really like,

(2) To show us, through a living example, the best way to the Father, and

(3) To set Holy Scripture straight.

The Old Testament, for example, portrays God as a neurotic ogre while, in actual fact, he is the greatest gentleman. God is our “Father” according to Jesus; and “God is love” itself—the personification of love—says the First Letter of John (4:8).

So, Jesus’s authentic words (as opposed to the evangelists’) and actions are paramount in finding the truth: that is, deciding whether a particular concept represents God’s word or not. (If someone writes a story about Jesus, and puts words in Jesus’s mouth, it doesn’t mean he actually said them.)

Notice my emphasis on the word ‘authentic.’ I realize it is not easy to determine which of Jesus’s sayings or actions are authentic: a lot of research is required. Frankly, I don’t know exactly where to draw the line; but then, I also believe God has a preference for variety rather than clones: we only have to look at nature around us to perceive this. He has no problem having an intimate relationship with all kinds of people. In other words, we don’t have to get things right all the time, he would still love us anyway: as long as we show interest rather than apathy, he doesn’t mind our conclusions. (But, please, don’t try to fool yourself with preconceived notions.) We are his children, and his love for us is always unconditional!

References

Attard, Carmel Paul. Is God a Reality?—A Scientific Investigation. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2017. (ISBN: 9781532012228)

Attard, Carmel Paul. Is the Bible Infallible?—A Rational, Scientific, and Historical Evaluation. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2019. (ISBN: 9781532078446)

Bible Hub, https://biblehub.com/.

Bible Hub: “Interlinear,” https://biblehub.com/interlinear/.

Crossan, John Dominic. God and Empire: Jesus against Rome, Then and Now. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2008. (ISBN: 9780060858315)

Early Church Texts, “Chalcedonian Definition of Faith,” (the Chalcedonian Creed), https://earlychurchtexts.com/public/chalcedonian_definition.htm.

Ehrman, Bart D. Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them). New York, NY: HarperOne, 2009. (ISBN: 9780061173936)

Got Questions: “Why did God Allow Polygamy/Bigamy in the Bible?” https://www.gotquestions.org/polygamy.html.

Jefferson to Smith, December 8, 1822, National Archives: “Founders Online,” https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-3202.

Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Translated by Concacan Inc. Ottawa, ON: Publications Services, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1994. (ISBN: 0889972818)

New American Bible: Revised Edition. Translated from the original languages, authorized by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, and approved by the United States Confraternity of Catholic Bishops. Totowa, NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 2010. (NAB) (ISBN: 9780899429519)

New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. Wallkill, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc., 2013. (NWT)

Rational Wiki, “Evidence for the Exodus,” last edited February 16, 2022: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Evidence_for_the_Exodus.

The Holy Bible: Douay-Rheims Version. Revised by Richard Challoner. Douay & Rheims, France, 1752. (DRC)

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Oxford, UK, 1769. (KJV)

Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? Brooklyn, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. International Bible Students Association, 1989.Wikipedia s.v. “Theory of Forms,” last edited June 9, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_forms.

Bible Contradictions (New Testament)

John’s Gospel

One can safely conclude that the Bible is fallible if one can find irreconcilable contradictions in its own text. One cannot have it both ways: textual contradictions imply that at least one of the versions is false—if not both. Undoubtedly, this is the ultimate ‘litmus test’ for the Bible’s infallibility (or otherwise) since the Bible is supposedly God’s word, and presumably God cannot contradict himself: it defeats the opponent on one’s own home court, so to speak. In this article, I shall let the Bible speak for itself.

New Testament

This article consists only of textual contradictions we find in the New Testament; my next article will consist of textual contradictions we find in the Old Testament and between the two Testaments. The reader will surely appreciate that these two articles are not an exhaustive study of the Bible; so a few examples will have to suffice. Indeed, being written by various authors, the Bible is overloaded with contradicting accounts and statements: there are many, perhaps hundreds, of contradictions. To the pure of heart, however, even one clear such instance should prove, unequivocally, that the Bible is fallible. We find all sorts, a whole spectrum, of contradicting texts throughout the Bible.

Saul’s Conversion

I’ll start with a passage most Christians are quite familiar with: the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (better known as Saint Paul) to Christianity, as described in the Acts of the Apostles. Now, Acts seems to have been written by the same author as Luke’s gospel. We don’t know who the authors of the gospels are, but, for simplicity, I shall keep calling the evangelists by their traditional names.

“Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord [Jesus], went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way [Christians], whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?’ And he said, ‘Who art thou, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks [sharp sticks to guide cattle].’ And he trembling and astonished said, ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’ And the Lord said unto him, ‘Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.’ And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Behold, I am here, Lord.’ And the Lord said unto him, ‘Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, and hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.’ Then Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints [followers] at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.’ But the Lord said unto him, ‘Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel [means] unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.’ And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost [Spirit]. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat [food], he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:1–20, KJV, emphasis mine)

It looks perfect in the absence of any other account, no? Now, according to biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan, in his book The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, this account was written after 120 CE (p. 432); and its author, as mentioned, is unknown. (All biblical authorship datings in this article are taken from this book or the New American Bible.) Keep in mind that this is more than 90 years after Jesus had died; naturally, all the apostles and practically all the generation of Jesus’s time had died by then: so, there was hardly anyone left who would be able to challenge or even question it.

Let us now read about the same incident from another source in the Bible itself. Again according to Crossan, the following account from the letter to the Galatians was written much earlier, in 52–53 CE, and the author is known to be Saul/Paul himself (p. 427).

“For ye have heard of my conversation [way of life (NIV)] in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: and profited in the Jews’ religion above many [of] my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in [to] me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood [anyone (ESV)]: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter [the original apostles’ leader], and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; and was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: but they had heard only, that ‘he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.’” (Galatians 1:13–23, KJV, emphasis mine)

Notice that God himself “revealed” to Paul that Jesus was his (God’s) own Son. Notice also that Paul did not consult anybody or meet any Christians for three years—not three days, as the author commonly known as Luke would have us believe. Indeed, immediately after his conversion, he went first to Arabia, not Damascus. Moreover, Paul swears “before God” that he is telling the truth about all this.

In his coauthored book In Search of Paul: How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom, biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan opines that if one studies Luke’s writings, one observes that the latter had an agenda; he wanted Christians of his time to believe in the unity of the Church: that all Christian authority started in Jerusalem, that Paul was subordinate to the twelve apostles first chosen by Jesus, and that Paul was initially instructed in the faith by the disciples in Damascus. On the other hand, Paul claims that his apostleship came directly from God (p. 29). In other words, Paul claimed that he learnt practically everything about Christianity from God himself, as he says in this passage, and the resurrected Jesus, as he says in other passages. To Paul this was of prime importance, as is shown by his oath here.

I personally believe Paul is telling the truth. Why? Because he was a skeptic of early Christianity; he was a Pharisee who initially persecuted Christians, and who suddenly, without any logical explanation, started to preach Christianity: “he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.” So, something drastic must have happened to him: in the above passage he himself tells us why: “it pleased God … to reveal his Son [to] me.” He spent three years alone, I presume, reconciling his old religion (Judaism) with the new religion (Christianity).

For example, one problem Paul might have had is that Deuteronomy says that whoever is hung on a tree (crucified) is cursed by God—and Jesus was crucified!

“If a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be [condemned] to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree [cross]: his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God); that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 21:22–23, KJV, emphasis mine)

Had not God somehow “revealed” Jesus to Paul, the latter would still have believed (according to Holy Scriptures) that Jesus was cursed by God.

Luke, on the other hand, seems to be distorting the truth because, as mentioned, according to Crossan, he had an agenda. Moreover, it also seems that Luke invented that whole section about Ananias and the disciples in Damascus, as well as Paul’s three-day blindness caused by the alleged “light from heaven.” Wow! Interestingly, in all my decades as a Catholic, I never heard this passage from Galatians in church: I had to read the Bible privately to get to know about it. Now recall that this same Luke also wrote one of the four gospels. So, how can we believe anything else he says? So much, then, for the reliability of Luke’s gospel! I am not saying that all of it is lies; but, to me at least, it sure raises a red flag.

Still, it does not really matter here who we believe—Paul or Luke—the Bible has a contradiction that cannot be reconciled in this incident: it follows, therefore, that they cannot both be the infallible word of God.

Saul’s Escape

Not only did Luke, at times, invent his accounts, but he actually manipulated the truth to suit his purpose. In his coauthored book In Search of Paul, Crossan shows this quite clearly through the following example. The first version again comes from Acts. In this extract, Saul/Paul is in Damascus.

“After that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him [Saul]: but their laying await was known of [to] Saul. And they watched the gates [of Damascus] day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.” (Acts 9:23–25, KJV, emphasis mine)

We find Paul’s own account of the same incident is in his authentic Second letter to the Corinthians.

“In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: and through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.” (2 Corinthians 11:32–33, KJV, emphasis mine)

In Paul’s account, therefore, the danger arose from Arabs, not Jews: the Nabatean (nomadic Arab) ruler Aretas IV held the city of Damascus between 37 CE and 39 CE. This passage was written around 57 CE (NAB, p. 266); Luke’s, you may recall, was written after 120 CE (Crossan, p. 432).

Luke, some sixty years later, wanted to blame the danger on the Jews. According to Crossan, throughout his book Luke portrays pagans accepting Christianity after the Jews had rejected it; the Jews then opposed gentile conversions “out of jealousy.” Luke knows the details of the above incident, as one can see when one compares Paul’s account, yet he distorts the truth to help promote his own agenda (Crossan & Reed p. 31). So we find anti-Semitism in Luke’s writings: namely, Acts and Luke’s gospel. Does the reader think God would inspire anyone to stretch the truth in prejudice of a particular nation?

Some might argue that there is not much difference between an Arab and a Jew; but these people have fought each other for centuries: ever since my youth I have always known them fighting each other. It is ludicrous to identify them as one and the same nation.

True, Luke might not have been aware of the difference, but God should have known better if he were truly dictating to Luke, no? If it was a lack of Luke’s knowledge, it is the type of error one finds in a human book, but one would not expect to find such an error in a divine book. God does not make mistakes, not even small ones, right?

Christianity was an offshoot of Judaism; yet Christians were ostracized from worship in the Jerusalem Temple and from Jewish synagogues: they ended up having nowhere to worship God. They had to resort to private homes for a while. In his book Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit, Catholic Church historian Garry Wills states that, while it might be true that Jews persecuted Christians as heretics of Judaism, over time, Christians augmented the Jews’ responsibility for Jesus’s death, and downplayed the Romans’ (p.22).

Naturally, Christians developed a certain animosity against the Jews that was to last a very long time—centuries—which got worse over time to the point of calling the Jews deicides; that is, God killers. In fact, in Matthew’s gospel, we read,

“Then answered all the people [Jews], and said, His [Jesus’s] blood be on us, and on our children.” (Matthew 27:25, KJV, emphasis mine)

No doubt, a human book would show such sentiments as a reaction, but presumably not a divine book since God is impartial and loves everyone equally; not to mention the fact that the Jews only thought they were killing a mere man—a heretic at that. In short, Christian anti-Semitism has its roots in the New Testament scriptures themselves.

Anyway, again it doesn’t matter here which version one believes—Paul’s or Luke’s—one of the versions is wrong. The Bible has here a significant discrepancy; therefore, one of the versions cannot be God’s word.

Flight into Egypt

In Matthew’s gospel, we read that Jesus narrowly escaped King Herod the Great’s ‘slaughter of the innocents’ because Jesus’s family fled to Egypt beforehand.

“When they [the magi/wise men] were departed [from the infant-Jesus’s house], behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph [Jesus’s foster father] in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, and take the young child and his mother [Mary], and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for [King] Herod [the Great] will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son.’” (Matthew 2:13–15, KJV, emphasis mine)

However, in narrating Jesus’s infancy, Luke’s gospel does not say anything about Jesus’s family’s flight to Egypt. Instead, it says that when Jesus was eight days old, he was circumcised; when Jesus was forty days old, his family visited the Jerusalem Temple; and they all went straight back home to Nazareth, Galilee, where they stayed at least until the child was twelve years old. Here’s the Lukan account.

“When eight days [from Jesus’s birth] were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called ‘Jesus,’ which was so named of [by] the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the days of her [Mary’s] purification [i.e., 33 days more] according to the law of Moses [see Leviticus 12:2–4] were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord [in the Temple]. … And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him. Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.” (Luke 2:21–22, 39–42, KJV, emphasis mine)

So, again, we have a contradiction between Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels which is impossible to reconcile. The explanation, according to Wikipedia,

“A theme of Matthew is likening Jesus to Moses [and Israel] for a Judean audience, and the Flight into Egypt illustrates just that theme” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_into_Egypt.

In other words, it seems that Matthew, who was apparently writing for a Jewish-Christian community, opted to send Jesus on a detour to Egypt in his gospel; thus fabricating a so-called ‘prophecy’ from Hosea:

“When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” (Hosea 11:1, KJV)

Of course, God’s “son” in this verse refers to Israel (i.e., the Jewish people), not Jesus, which Matthew is trying to portray to his audience as a type of Christ—in addition to Moses who, as an infant, also narrowly escaped death from Pharaoh (see Exodus 1:22–2:10).

Anyway, either Matthew’s or Luke’s account of Jesus’s childhood is false: it does not really matter which, as far as this article is concerned.

The Empty Tomb

Who was the first to find Jesus’s tomb empty? All four canonical (official) gospels disagree, except that they all agree Mary Magdalene was among the various groups the evangelists describe. Following are the four gospel accounts. According to Matthew,

(1) “In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre [tomb]. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: and for fear of him the keepers [guards] did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, ‘Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which [who] was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.’” (Matthew 28:1–6, KJV, emphasis mine)

So, Matthew says two women were the first to discover Jesus’s tomb empty, and an angel announced his resurrection. According to Mark,

(2) “When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him [Jesus]. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre [tomb] at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, ‘Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?’ And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, ‘Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which [who] was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.’” (Mark 16:1–6, KJV, emphasis mine)

So, Mark says three women were the first to discover Jesus’s tomb empty, and (what seems like) an angel announced his resurrection. According to Luke,

(3) “And that day was the preparation [day], and the Sabbath drew on [near]. And the women also, which [who] came with him [Jesus] from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre [tomb], and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment. Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: and as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, ‘Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, “The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.”’ And they remembered his words, and returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven [Jesus’s original apostles], and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.” (Luke 23:54–24:10, KJV, emphasis mine)

So, Luke says there were, at least, five women who first discovered Jesus’s tomb empty, and (what seems like) two angels announced his resurrection. According to John,

(4) “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre [tomb], and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter [the leader of Jesus’s original apostles], and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.’ Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.” (John 20:1–8, KJV, emphasis mine)

So, John says one woman alone saw Jesus’s tomb empty first, but it was immediately confirmed by two men; no angels are mentioned.

As mentioned earlier, in all four canonical (official) gospels, Mary Magdalene is among those who first discovered Jesus’s tomb empty. The problem, in first century CE Judaism, was that the testimony of a woman was not worth much if anything. Moreover, the testimony of at least two witnesses was required to make it believable. Consequently, we see all four evangelists scrambling for a second witness, but they could not agree. According to Matthew, it was “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (28:1, i.e., two women) who first found Jesus’s tomb empty; according to Mark, it was “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome” (16:1, i.e., three women); according to Luke it was “Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women” (24:10, i.e., at least five women); and according to John, Mary Magdalene alone discovered that Jesus’s body was missing (20:1–2, i.e., one woman alone) even though it was promptly verified by two men (20:5–8). Reading between the lines, this tells me that it was Mary Magdalene, alone, who first found out that Jesus’s body was not where it was buried. All four evangelists then tried to ‘dress-up’ the bare truth. One must admit this has the ring of truth: it satisfies the so-termed criterion of dissimilarity—something embarrassing, but has the ring of truth.

Jesus’s Ascension

In Luke’s gospel, we read that Jesus appeared to his disciples alive on the same day he was resurrected (see Luke 24:1–49) and right after this apparition, that same day, he ascended to heaven.

“He [Jesus] led them [his disciples] out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.” (Luke 24:50–51, KJV)

So, the final chapter of Luke’s gospel portrays Jesus ascending to heaven the same day he resurrected from the dead: there is no hint of any delay in between. (I suggest the reader check it out to convince oneself.)

Now, in the beginning of Acts, written twenty-odd years later, the same author, Luke, seems to have forgotten what he had written in his own gospel because he writes,

“The former treatise [Luke’s gospel] have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up [to heaven], after that he through the Holy Ghost [Spirit] had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: to whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of [by] them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:1–3, KJV, emphasis mine)

So, according to Acts, contrary to Luke’s gospel, Jesus remained on earth for forty days, appearing to his apostles/disciples, before he ascended to heaven: there is no indication in any of the New Testament books that he zigzagged back and forth between heaven and earth.

We, therefore, have here another contradiction by the same biblical author nonetheless: between the end of his first book and the beginning of his second book surprisingly enough. Not much to write home about regarding Luke’s consistency and consequently the Bible’s infallibility.

Christian Equality

Following is Paul’s opinion regarding Christian equality from his authentic Galatians, which was written in 52–53 CE (Crossan, p. 427).

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond [slave (NAB)] nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, KJV)

So, according to authentic Paul, Christians should not be distinguished by nationality, social status, or gender—they are all equal. He does not say anything about pagan or Jewish relationships; he only defines Christian relationships—of course, his ideas needed improving over time, but that is another issue.

Slavery

Moreover, in his also authentic letter to Philemon, written in 61–63 CE (NAB, p. 335), Paul asks his Christian friend, Philemon, to voluntarily free his escaped slave, Onesimus, whom Paul had just baptized in prison.

“Perhaps he [Onesimus] therefore departed for a season [a while], that thou [Philemon] shouldest receive him for ever; not now as a servant [slave (NAB)], but above a servant , a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.” (Philemon, 1:15-17, KJV)

On the other hand, in the letter to the Colossians, which was probably written after Paul’s death, according to Crossan some time prior to 80 CE (p. 430), pseudo-Paul writes,

“Servants [Slaves (NAB)], obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.” (Colossians, 3:22, KJV)

And later, in the same letter, pseudo-Paul writes,

“Masters, give unto your servants [slaves (NAB)] that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians, 4:1, KJV)

Here pseudo-Paul concurs with inequality in the Christian community. Compare these last two quotes with authentic Paul’s opinion from his authentic Galatians above.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond [slave (NAB)] nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, KJV)

Women

In First Timothy, which according to Crossan was written after 120 CE (p. 433), pseudo-Paul writes,

“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. (1 Timothy 2:11–12, KJV)

Again, compare this with authentic Paul’s opinion from his Galatians:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond [slave (NAB)] nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, KJV)

Moreover, the author of First Timothy sounds nothing like the Paul in his authentic Romans, which according to Crossan was written in 55–56 CE (p. 427), where he writes,

“I commend unto you Phebe our sister [fellow Christian], which is a servant [deacon (NAB)] of the church which is at Cenchrea [a seaport in Corinth]: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints [God’s people], and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer [helper] of many, and of myself also.” (Romans 16:1-2, KJV, emphasis mine)

Notice the clause “that you receive her.” So, it seems that it was a female deacon who hand-carried Paul’s letter to the various Christian communities/houses in Rome.

Furthermore, does the above passage from First Timothy sound anything like the Paul, who wrote the following in the same Romans?

“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives [Jews] and my fellow prisoners; they are prominent among the apostles and they were in Christ [Christians] before me.” (Romans; 16:7, NAB, emphasis mine)

So, Junia was a female apostle. How about that?

According to biblical scholar John Crossan, Andronicus and Junia were probably husband and wife (Crossan & Reed, p. 115); albeit biblical editors, over the years, tried to interpret her name as belonging to a male by changing it to “Junias”—talk about manipulating Holy Scripture.

For example, here is the Douay-Rheims version, which is based on a translation of the conventional Latin Vulgate.

“Salute Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and fellow prisoners; who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” (Romans 16:7, DRC).

The New American Bible comments on this verse as follows.

“The name Junia is a woman’s name. One ancient Greek manuscript and a number of ancient versions read the name ‘Julia.’ Most editors have interpreted it as a man’s name, Junias.” (Romans 16:7n)

I’ll pose this question to the reader now. Which of these two versions of treating women and slaves does the reader think is God’s word—God’s desire? Which one does the reader think was Jesus’s teaching? Does the reader think that later Christian generations were right in changing authentic Paul’s teaching? Finally, which manuscript or translation would be God’s word?

Preaching

In another undisputedly authentic letter, First Corinthians, Paul writes:

“Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.” (1 Corinthians 11:4–5, KJV, emphasis mine)

Disregard, for the present discussion, the covering or non-covering of the head—it is irrelevant to my discussion here. This passage seems to assume that women did lead prayers and preach to the church assembly (“every woman that prayeth or prophesieth”) like men did.

(Now, according to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, the word ‘prophet’ comes from two Greek words: pro meaning ‘for’ and phanai meaning ‘to speak.’ Thus a prophet is ‘one who speaks for’ God: not necessarily one who foretells the future, as is commonly understood by the word nowadays. Since presumably only God can foretell the future, it was later in time that the word adopted this meaning.)

However, later on in the same letter, First Corinthians, we read,

“As in all churches of the saints [God’s people], let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” (1 Corinthians 14:33–36, KJV)

Notice the condescending tone toward women. Did Paul change his mind in the process of writing this letter?

According to the New American Bible, it so happens that, in the original language (Greek) this letter was written in, we find, in these last-quoted verses, differences in vocabulary and style. (Every writer has a characteristic vocabulary and style.) Moreover, in some manuscripts, these verses are transposed to the end of chapter 14: that is, they are not found in the same location—they are placed four verses ahead. Although these verses seem to be present in all available manuscripts, they “are often considered an interpolation, reflecting the discipline of later churches.” (NAB: 14:33b–36n) Alteration (tweaking) of documents by copyists, to conform to their own later beliefs, was quite common in antiquity.

Tell me now—which one would be God’s word regarding women preaching/speaking publicly in church; the former (Paul’s) or the latter (pseudo-Paul’s)? Whichever one the reader chooses is immaterial: if the Bible were truly the infallible word of God then it would, at least, have been consistent, not contradictory.

Judas’s Death

In Matthew’ gospel, written around 90 CE (Crossan, p. 430), we have the following account of how Judas Iscariot (Jesus’s traitor) died.

“He [Judas Iscariot] cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, ‘It is not lawful for [us] to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.’ And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, ‘The field of blood,’ unto this day.” (Matthew 27:5–8, KJV, emphasis mine)

In Acts, written after 120 CE (Crossan, p. 430), the original apostles’ leader, Peter, also described Judas’s death while addressing the first Christian community gathered in Jerusalem.

“This man [Judas Iscariot] purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, ‘Aceldama’ [Akeldama], that is to say, ‘The field of blood.’” (Acts 1:18–19, KJV, emphasis mine)

So, how did Judas die? Did he commit suicide by hanging himself; or did he die of a bad fall? Or did both evangelists (Matthew & Luke) simply want to portray Judas coming to a tragic end for his betrayal of Jesus? And who bought the field, the chief priests or Judas? Why, one may ask, is God’s word so sloppy with the details?

Aware of this discrepancy, the Douay-Rheims Version manipulates the translation of the first verse of the last quote, trying to cover up the obvious biblical contradiction by conflating both methods described for Judas’s death; it has,

“He indeed hath possessed a field of the reward of iniquity, and being hanged, burst asunder in the midst: and all his bowels gushed out.” (Acts 1:18, DRC).

However, that is not what the original text says. Out of 27 translations there is only 1 translation mentioning hanging in this verse: https://biblehub.com/acts/1-18.htm; besides, there is no mention of hanging in the original Greek text: https://biblehub.com/interlinear/acts/1-18.htm.

John the Baptist

In Luke’s gospel, which was written in the 90s CE (Crossan, p. 431), we read that John the Baptist was related to Jesus. Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, and Mary, Jesus’s mother, were supposedly cousins or (at least) relatives.

“The angel [Gabriel] answered and said unto her [Mary], ‘The Holy Ghost [Spirit] shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest [God] shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing [child] which shall be born of thee shall be called the “Son of God.” And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.’” (Luke 1:35–36, KJV, emphasis mine)

On the other hand, in John’s gospel, written after 100 CE (Crossan, p. 431), we read that John the Baptist never knew Jesus.

“The next day John [the Baptist] seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, “After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.” And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.’ And John bare record, saying, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he [God] that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, “Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost [Spirit].”’” (John 1:29–33, KJV, emphasis mine)

Strictly speaking, it is possible that John the Baptist was related to Jesus and at the same time never knew Jesus, but it is highly improbable because of the following additional biblical texts.

According to Luke’s gospel, Mary and Elizabeth were close enough relatives (“cousins”) that the former went to assist the latter during the last three months of her pregnancy (see Luke 1:39–40, 56). It also seems Elizabeth was aware of Jesus’s greatness for the evangelist writes,

“It came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost [Spirit]: and she spake out with a loud voice, and said, ‘Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.’ … And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.” (Luke 1:41–44, 56, KJV, emphasis mine)

How is it possible that Elizabeth had never spoken of Jesus and Mary to her son, John the Baptist? That is, unless, of course, Elizabeth died while John the Baptist was still very young. Admittedly, she could have died while her son was very young because she was advanced in years when she bore him (see Luke 1:7).

However, it would still be hard to explain why Mary never told Jesus about John the Baptist, never went to see Elizabeth and/or Zechariah again, or told John the Baptist anything about Jesus: that is, not even that they were related. Why? Because, again according to Luke’s gospel,

“Now his [Jesus’s] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.” (Luke 2:41–42, KJV, emphasis mine)

Consequently, it is very improbable that Jesus’s family went to Jerusalem every year for at least twelve years, and probably through Jesus’s adolescence and adulthood (see Luke 2:51–52; 3:23), but never visited John the Baptist who lived near Jerusalem: since his father, Zechariah, was a priest at the Jerusalem Temple (see Luke 1:5, 8–9).

Before I end this section I would like to address the different Bible translations of verses 31 and 33 in John’s first chapter. For example, the New Living Translation renders verse 31 as “I did not recognize him as the Messiah” and verse 33 as “I didn’t know he was the one.” There are also a handful of translations that render the two verses as “I did not recognize him.” However, some two-dozen translations render these two verses as “I did not know him” or “I knew him not,” including the Berean Literal Bible: see https://biblehub.com/john/1-31.htm and https://biblehub.com/john/1-33.htm. No doubt, the “I did not recognize him” translations are influenced by a desire to resolve the apparent biblical contradiction and are not faithful translations. Moreover, in my opinion, trying to fudge the translation of this couple of verses is a tacit admission of a genuine contradiction.

Faith and Works

A much-debated theological question among Christians is whether good deeds or simple faith in Jesus Christ is required for ‘salvation.’ Lutherans and Calvinists uphold the concept of justification by faith alone, which precludes salvation being earned by the good deeds in one’s lifetime. They contend that good deeds should only follow as a result of a strong faith, but good deeds as such, without faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice, are ineffective in acquiring salvation.

“According to Protestants this justification is by faith alone – not through good deeds – and is a gift from God through Christ”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justification_(theology).

In Ephesians, probably written posthumously in Paul’s name after 80 CE (NAB, p. 293), we read,

“By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of [good] works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, KJV)

However, the author of the letter of James (I shall keep calling him James for simplicity) contradicts pseudo-Paul’s theology above; he writes,

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26, KJV, emphasis mine)

In my opinion, if it’s dead, it does not produce any results. While discussing these two opposing concepts in their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s?, Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that they only apparently contradict each other; they actually complement each other if one considers the context in which they were said. They attempt to reconcile this apparent conflict in biblical texts by pointing out that pseudo-Paul was speaking to converted Jews, who believed that obeying the Mosaic Law minutely made them righteous people: that is, people pleasing to God and deserving of salvation, or heaven. Jehovah’s Witnesses insist that,

“We can never become righteous—and thus deserve salvation—by our own works [good deeds], for we are inherently sinful. We can only be saved by faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice.” (p, 91)

They also cite Paul’s authentic Romans to strengthen their argument.

“Therefore as by the offence of one [Adam] judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one [Jesus] the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” (Romans 5:18, KJV, emphasis mine)

However, they contend, James only seemingly disagrees with this doctrine because he was speaking to Christians in general—not to converted Jews. I must admit that their explanation, that the two quotes were addressed to different audiences, is an interesting interpretation.

They add that James makes a crucial point: namely, that if one’s faith is not complemented by acts of love, kindness, and generosity, it is worthless; they add,

“An inactive faith is a dead faith and will not lead to salvation. … No work [good deed], however, that a Christian can do … will earn him the right to everlasting life. This is “the gift God gives” (Romans 6:23, John 3:16) to those who exercise faith.” (p. 92, emphasis in original)

What they are in effect saying here is that they agree with both pseudo-Paul and James, even though they seem to contradict each other. Pseudo- Paul says one must have faith to be saved; James says that if one does not help others, one does not have faith and therefore cannot be saved. Let us go along, for a moment, with the interpretation that both faith and good deeds are required for salvation.

However, if one were to insist that faith in Jesus is a requirement for salvation, we find that it does not jibe with the following passage in Matthew’s gospel, which portrays Jesus telling his disciples,

“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat [food]: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.’ Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?’ And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat [food]: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.’ Then shall they also answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?’ Then shall he answer them, saying, ‘Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.’ And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” (Matthew 25:31–46, KJV, emphasis mine)

Notice, at the beginning, that the passage speaks of “all nations,” not just Christians; and there is absolutely no mention of any faith in Jesus being required of them here: in fact, those saved or damned did not need to know who this “Son of Man” was. Now, most ‘Son-of-Man’ passages elsewhere in the Gospels refer to Jesus: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Son_of_man_(Christianity). (But see my article on “Son of Man.”) So, how can one explain this passage? It does not jibe with the above quote from Ephesians that we absolutely need faith in Jesus for our salvation, and that whatever else we do for others is basically ineffective unless we believe in Jesus.

Now, recall that Ephesians is not one of the undisputed Pauline letters. True, the above verse from Romans (5:18) seems to portray Jesus as the world’s (everyone’s) Redeemer (“all men”), not just those who profess faith in him; however, the text in Romans is not exclusive of ‘good deeds’ to merit salvation. In fact, authentic Paul also writes later in the same Romans:

“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet’; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8–10, KJV, emphasis mine)

So, according to authentic Paul, the fulfilment of the Mosaic Law is love. Ultimately, it seems that pseudo-Paul was wrong in his assessment of the importance of our faith in Jesus: he overrated it. And so did Martin Luther and other Protestant followers possibly because of this couple of verses in Ephesians. I believe that Jesus’s mission from God was only to set us a perfect, living example of brotherly love not to redeem us from sin, which boils down to following the Mosaic Law. In fact, Matthew portrays Jesus saying,

“Verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot [speck] or one tittle [dot] shall in no wise pass from the [Mosaic] law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:18, KJV)

I think being good to others is more important for salvation than believing that Jesus is the Son of God or that he ransomed us from original sin. In any case, I show clearly in my article “Adam and Eve—Original Sin,” that the account of the Fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis seems to be an adaptation of a prior pagan myth and bears no relation to reality; that is, it never happened: thus, the concepts of both original sin and redemption from original sin become meaningless.

Therefore, I contend that anyone belonging to any faith can be ‘saved’ simply by loving one’s neighbor: that is, following one’s conscience—which is imprinted, like God’s signature, onto every human alike. God loves everyone and wants everyone to be saved. God is not partial to anybody, as Acts portrays the original apostles’ leader, Peter, saying during the conversion of the centurion Cornelius and his family.

“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, ‘Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth [respects] him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with [by] him.’” (Acts 10:34–35, KJV, emphasis mine)

Notice the phrase “in every nation.”

In short, therefore, I think that pseudo-Paul’s statement in Ephesians (2:8–9) contradicts Matthew’s passage (25:31–46). (Indeed, in my article on the “Son of Man” this speech, most probably, originated from Jesus himself.) Pseudo- Paul says that faith in Jesus is absolutely necessary for salvation, while Matthew says it is not: good deeds are what earn us salvation. Interesting interpretations (like Jehovah’s Witnesses’) do not trump what the Bible text says.

To add weight to my argument here, in his book God and Empire (pp. 152–53), biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan sheds further light on the subject of ‘faith and works’; he gives a plausible explanation for Paul’s (or his followers’) apparent insistence on faith rather than works. To start with, Crossan discloses what seems to be another subtle biblical contradiction: between what Paul says and what Luke says. He points out that, unlike what Luke says in Acts, Paul did not first preach to the Jews and then to the gentiles (see Acts 13:46): in his authentic Galatians, Paul clearly states that he preached exclusively to the gentiles (see Galatians 1:15–16; 2:8–9). (The reader may want to check out these citations—they are very convincing.)

Crossan then explains that Luke also introduces a group to whom Paul preached and considered gentiles, the God-worshipers—or God-fearers, as Acts calls these people throughout (see Acts 10:2, 22, 35; 13:16, 26). (Jesus described God as “our Father.” Should we ‘fear’ our Father? Should we consider this another biblical contradiction?)

Anyway, these God-worshipers presumably believed in one God: they did not think much of Greek or Roman polytheism. So, they were sympathizers of the Jewish religion: they helped the Jewish communities financially, but they did not adopt all their beliefs, and they certainly were not circumcised like the Jews. This is probably why Paul might have had a problem with works without faith: in fact, in Romans he writes, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23, KJV) He did not like people sitting on the fence, neither here nor there: he wished them to become totally committed and involved in their faith (Crossan, p. 158). However, this does not mean, as Luther thought and taught, that whoever believes in Jesus will be saved, and whoever doesn’t will be damned.

Luther’s conclusion that we can never do enough good deeds to deserve salvation and that Jesus did it all for us is totally false. He was interpreting Paul’s letters (including the inauthentic ones) almost fifteen hundred years later when their true meaning was blurred or lost; and he was making a common mistake of his time (and ours): that is, assuming every verse in the Bible constitutes a portion of God’s word. In actual fact, biblical texts can even be contradictory: as this article and the next show clearly.

Moreover, in his book God and Empire, Crossan states,

“It is certainly correct … to call Jesus’ death—or in fact the death of a martyr—a sacrifice, but substitution and suffering are not the point of a sacrifice. Substitutionary atonement is bad as theoretical Christian theology just as suicidal terrorism is bad as practical Islamic theology. Jesus died because of our sins, or from our sins, but that should never be misread as for our sins. In Jesus, the [non-violent] radicality of God became incarnate, and the normalcy of civilization’s brutal violence (our sins, or better, Our Sin) executed him. Jesus’ execution asks us to face the truth that, across human evolution, injustice has been created and maintained by violence while justice has been opposed and avoided by violence. That warning, if heeded, can be salvation.” (pp. 140–41, emphasis in original)

So, according to Crossan, the biblical concept of Jesus atoning for our sins is totally skewed.

Finally (what I consider the strongest argument), if it were only faith in Jesus that ‘buys’ us ‘salvation,’ then out of the current world population of 7.9 billion people, only 2.4 billion people can possibly be ‘saved,’ the other 5.5 billion people will be lost eternally in a ‘fiery hell.’ If this were truly the case, then Satan (evil) has defeated God (good) throughout the ages—hands down!

Both God and Son of God

John’s gospel starts with the verse,

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1, KJV, emphasis mine)

Later, in the same chapter, it has,

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, KJV, emphasis mine)

Therefore, there is no doubt, from this last quoted verse, that the “Word” in the previously quoted verse refers to Jesus, who became man.

So, basically, in the first chapter of his gospel, the evangelist John is saying that Jesus is “God.” However, toward the end of his gospel, he also writes,

“Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (John 20:30–31, KJV, emphasis mine)

Notice, therefore, that in the same book, John’s gospel, the Bible says that Jesus is “God” and at the same time he is also the “Son of God.” How can one reconcile these two statements? The two clauses: “the Word [Jesus] was God” and “Jesus is … the Son of God” simply do not jibe: as I explain in the next paragraph, he cannot be both God and the Son of God.

We naturally assume that the son of a dog is a dog, so the son of God should be a god, no? But not in the case of God because God is the first cause; the Son of God cannot be the first cause. By “God,” we normally mean “God the Father” of Jesus; Jesus cannot be both “Father” and “Son”: it’s a contradiction in terms. (See my article on “The Trinity.”)

Not to mention that, according to Isaiah 45:5: “I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me” (KJV), there is only one God. Ultimately, therefore, we have another Bible contradiction—if not a real mess.

Jesus’s Genealogy

Following is the evangelist Luke’s version of Jesus’s genealogy as far back as King David—a summary is given after the two biblical texts (Luke’s & Matthew’s) for comparison purposes.

Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli, which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Janna, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Amos, which was the son of Naum, which was the son of Esli, which was the son of Nagge, which was the son of Maath, which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Semei, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Juda, which was the son of Joanna, which was the son of Rhesa, which was the son of Zorobabel, which was the son of Salathiel, which was the son of Neri, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Addi, which was the son of Cosam, which was the son of Elmodam, which was the son of Er, which was the son of Jose, which was the son of Eliezer, which was the son of Jorim, which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Simeon, which was the son of Juda, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Jonan, which was the son of Eliakim, which was the son of Melea, which was the son of Menan, which was the son of Mattatha, which was the son of Nathan, which was the son of David.” (Luke 3:23–31, KJV, emphasis mine)

However, this doesn’t agree with the evangelist Matthew’s version of Jesus’s genealogy—a summary is given after the biblical text.

“David the king begat [begot] Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias; and Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; and Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; and Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; and Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; and Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon: and after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; and Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; and Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; and Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.” (Matthew 1:6–19, KJV, emphasis mine)

For example, the father of Joseph (Jesus’s foster father) was “Heli” according to Luke and “Jacob” according to Matthew.

Here’s a summary of Luke’s version:

Jesus, Joseph, Heli, Matthat, Levi, Melchi, Janna, Joseph, Mattathias, Amos, Naum, Esli, Nagge, Maath, Mattathias, Semei, Joseph, Juda, Joanna, Rhesa, Zorobabel, Salathiel, Neri, Melchi, Addi, Cosam, Elmodam, Er, Jose, Eliezer, Jorim, Matthat, Levi, Simeon, Juda, Joseph, Jonan, Eliakim, Melea, Menan, Mattatha, Nathan, David.

And here’s a summary of Matthew’s version for comparison purposes:

Jesus, Joseph, Jacob, Matthan, Eleazar, Eliud, Achim, Sadoc, Azor, Eliakim, Abiud, Zorobabel, Salathiel, Jechonias, Josias, Amon, Manasses, Ezekias, Achaz, Joatham, Ozias, Joram, Josaphat, Asa, Abia, Roboam, Solomon, David.

Bible inerrantists argue that one genealogy is Joseph’s and the other is Mary’s. However, that’s not what the gospels say. Both genealogies are those of Joseph (Jesus’s foster father): in Luke 3:23, we read, “Jesus … being as was supposed the son of Joseph”; and in Matthew 1:16, we read, “Joseph the husband of Mary”—they both refer to the same person. So the Bible text is clearly contradictory.

Despite this blatant biblical contradiction, the Revised English Version (REV) contends that Matthew 1:16 should read “Joseph the father of Mary”—not “the husband of Mary”: thus, attributing the error to a scribe not to the biblical author or God. It comments on Matthew 1:16 as follows.

“The Greek … anēr (ἀνήρ) … means ‘an adult human male.’ Anēr is generally assumed to mean ‘husband’ in this verse, but that cannot be the case. For one thing, the list of the three sets of 14 generations that go from Abraham to Christ (vs. 2–16), makes this impossible. If Joseph is the husband of Mary, there would only be 13 generations in the last list of ‘14 generations.’ Also, the Aramaic text reads differently in this verse than it does in verse 19, and in verse 19 Joseph is unmistakably referred to as the ‘husband’ of Mary. The difference in the vocabulary indicates a difference in the relationship. The Gospel of Matthew contains the genealogy from David to Jesus via his mother Mary. In contrast, the Gospel of Luke contains the genealogy from David to Jesus via his adopted father, Joseph. There has been a lot of controversy about the genealogy of Jesus because at first reading, both Matthew 1:16 and Luke 3:23 seem to indicate a genealogy that comes through Joseph, which is confusing. For one thing, Joseph ends up with two different fathers, ‘Jacob’ (Matthew 1:16) and ‘Heli’ (Luke 3:23), and Mary, who is the blood link between David and Jesus, ends up having no genealogy in the Bible. … It was very important that Matthew portray a pattern of three sets of 14 generations. We know that because if we count the actual generations, there were more than just 42 people (3 times 14) from Abraham to Christ. To make the pattern fit, some people had to be left out of Matthew’s list [why on earth?]. When the genealogy in Matthew is compared with the other genealogies in the Bible, it is clear that there are people missing from Matthew’s genealogy. For example, in Matthew 1:8, between Jehoram and Uzziah, there are actually three unmentioned generations. ‘Jehoram begat Ahaziah’ (2 Kings 8:25), ‘who begat Joash’ (also called Jehoash; 2 Kings 11:2, 21), ‘who begat Amaziah’ (2 Kings 12:21) [so, we have more biblical contradictions]. These three names do not appear in Matthew, and there are some other unmentioned names as well [biblical contradictions never end]. … Thankfully, the Aramaic text of Matthew has good evidence that Matthew 1:16 should read ‘father.’ In the Greek text, both Matthew 1:16 and 1:19 use the word anēr (‘man’ or ‘husband’). Matthew 1:19 clearly refers to Joseph as the ‘husband’ of Mary because it speaks of Joseph thinking of divorcing her. However, the Aramaic text of Matthew does not use the same word in Matthew 1:16 and 1:19, but has two different words, and thus makes a distinction between the two men. In Matthew 1:16, the Aramaic word is gavra, which means ‘mighty man,’ ‘father,’ or ‘husband,’ while in Matthew 1:19 the word is bala, which is ‘man’ or ‘husband.’ Thus the Aramaic text preserves the truth that there is a difference between the ‘Joseph’ of verse 16, the ‘mighty man’ of Mary, and the ‘Joseph’ of verse 19, the ‘husband’ of Mary.” (https://www.revisedenglishversion.com/Matthew/chapter1/16)

In my opinion, however, God should have somehow inspired the translator of Aramaic to Greek that he was making a mistake: he should have protected the authenticity of his ‘word’ for us; besides, the canonical version of Matthew’s gospel is strictly the Greek—that’s our official version. In other words, it still does not vindicate the biblical error; that is, unless ‘anēr’ is translated as ‘father’ in verse 16—as in the Revised English Version (REV).

Now, according to tradition (the “Protoevangelium of James”), Mary’s parents were Joachim (not Joseph) and Anna; ever since I was a child I was told this. However, while Matthew’s gospel was written around 80 CE (NAB, p. 10), according to religious scholar Willis Barnstone, this ‘Christian Apocrypha’ was written after 150 CE (p. 384). By then the Jerusalem Temple (where male birth records for Levites [since priests inherited their office] and Davidic descent [to track the Messiah’s ancestry] were kept) had been destroyed and burnt (in 70 CE) for over 80 years: so it cannot be relied on; not to mention that the Gospels should take precedence over apocrypha.

Penitent Criminal

Luke’s gospel portrays one of the two “revolutionaries” (Mark 15:27, NAB) or criminals, crucified on either side of Jesus, asking for a favor.

“He [the criminal] said unto Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.’ And Jesus said unto him, ‘Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:42-43, KJV, emphasis mine)

So according to Luke’s gospel, Jesus was going to be in paradise/heaven (together with the criminal) that same day he died. But, according to the Apostles’ Creed,

“Jesus Christ … was crucified, died and was buried; He descended into hell; on the third day He rose again from the dead.” https://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=220 .

So, since Jesus was in “hell” for three partial days, he couldn’t possibly also be in paradise/heaven the same day he died. However, someone might object saying that the Apostles’ Creed is not part of the Bible and is therefore not infallible. True, but check this out. In First Peter, we read:

“Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by [brought to life in (NAB)] the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by [from] water.” (1 Peter 3:18-20, KJV, emphasis mine)

Regarding the phrase “those spirits that were in prison” the Douay-Rheims Bible comments as follows:

“See here a proof of a third place, or middle state of souls: for these spirits in prison, to whom Christ went to preach, after his death, were not in heaven; nor yet in the hell of the damned: because heaven is no prison: and Christ did not go to preach to the damned.” (DRC: 1 Peter 3:19n)

So, according to Douay-Rheims interpretation of First Peter, Jesus went to purgatory, not to hell, for three partial days. But, in any case, this still contradicts the statement that Luke made, namely, that the penitent criminal was going to be with Jesus in heaven, or “paradise,” the same day they died.

Moreover, apparently Luke himself forgot what he had written in his own gospel when he wrote his second book, Acts. At the very beginning of this book he writes,

“The former treatise [Luke’s gospel] have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost [Spirit] had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: to whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of [by] them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. … And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up [to heaven]; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel.” (Acts 1:1–3, 9–10, KJV, emphasis mine)

So, according to Acts, Jesus went up to heaven about 43 days after he was crucified and died—not the same day he died. We have no evidence, in the New Testament, that he zig-zagged back and forth between heaven and earth.

However, it seems that the above apparent contradiction can be reconciled, even though it seems airtight at first blush. Most apologetic explanations I encountered (on other issues) are tortuous and unconvincing, but the following explanation I am willing to concede.

One of the best defenses, I found, to apparent biblical contradictions in general, concerns the above verse of Jesus’s promise to the penitent criminal.

“Jesus said to him [the criminal], ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’” (Luke 23:43, NKJV)

In their booklet Heaven & Hell, the United Church of God came up with the following explanation of this verse:

“The placement of the comma after ‘you’ and before ‘today’ would certainly seem to indicate this [i.e., going to heaven that same day]. However, notice how an entirely different meaning is conveyed if the comma is placed after ‘today’ rather than before.” (p. 38)

It would read, “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.” Their booklet then adds that, in the Bible’s original texts, there were no punctuation signs: which is undeniably true.

I referred to 27 other Bible translations of this verse; although none of them renders the verse in question with a comma after the word “today,” (or the phrase “this day”): https://biblehub.com/luke/23-43.htm, still, one must admit that the United Church of God could be right. It is not messing around with interpretations: it is only presenting facts about the original text. It might interest the reader that also Jehovah’s Witnesses, in their New World Translation, render this verse in a similar manner.

So, one might ask, why do I still present it as a contradiction in the Bible? Only to show the reader that I am willing to listen to a solid or subtle argument and even change my mind—despite what the opinion of the majority might be. The reader probably knows by now what is my opinion regarding the infallibility or otherwise of the Bible: one more or one less biblical contradiction is not going to make much difference; but still, I do not want to be close-minded—I am always open to discussion.

Independent Witnesses

On the other hand, one must not go overboard trying to find discrepancies everywhere in the Bible. In their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? Jehovah’s Witnesses are absolutely right in pointing out that if two (or more) people write about an event, one would include certain details that the other leaves out and vice versa (p. 87). They also give a couple of good examples.

Their first example deals with the following narrative in Matthew’s gospel:

“When Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, and saying, ‘Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.’” (Matthew 8:5–6, KJV)

However, Luke’s gospel gives a somewht different version of the same account.

“Now when he [Jesus] had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum. And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die. And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, that he was worthy for whom he should do this: ‘For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.’” (Luke 7:1–5, KJV)

Jehovah’s Witnesses reasonably conclude that the man sent the Jewish elders to speak for him (p. 88).

Their second example treats the following incident in Mark’s gospel:

“James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him [Jesus], saying, ‘Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.’ And he said unto them, ‘What would ye that I should do for you?’ They said unto him, ‘Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.’” (Mark 10:35–37, KJV)

Again, in Matthew’s gospel, we find the same account altered slightly.

“Then came to him the mother of Zebedees’ children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. And he [Jesus] said unto her, ‘What wilt thou?’ She saith unto him, ‘Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.’” (Matthew 20:20–21, KJV)

Jehovah’s Witnesses again logically conclude that Zebedee’s sons asked their mother to make the request on their behalf (p. 89).

One must be unreasonably biased against the Bible to consider such cases contradictions. However, although this concept is a very valid one in these two cases, it is often used by Bible inerrantists as a smokescreen: to gloss over genuine contradictions—balance is the key in the search for truth.

A Biblical Scholar’s Experience

Now, I am not a biblical scholar; at the same time, I don’t want the reader to think that what I am writing is just my opinion. So, before I leave the subject of biblical contradictions in the New Testament, I would like to quote the overall, over time, experience of an expert: that of a biblical scholar. To this effect, I would like to give the reader a short account of the personal experience of a New Testament scholar nonetheless, Bart Ehrman, who was initially an Evangelical Christian and a staunch believer in the Bible’s inspiration by God himself, down to its very words (Ehrman, pp. x–xi), but is now a self-declared agnostic (Ehrman, pp. 277–78), or even an agnostic atheist https://ehrmanblog.org/on-being-an-agnostic-or-atheist/.

In the preface of his book Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know about Them), he writes about the time prior to his going to a “liberal” seminary to obtain a doctorate in biblical studies.

“I came … armed to take on all those liberals with their watereddown view of the Bible. … I was ready to fend off any attacks on my biblical faith. I could answer any apparent contradiction and resolve any potential discrepancy in the Word of God, whether in the Old or New Testament. … I was not about to learn that my sacred text had any mistakes in it.” (p. xi, emphasis in original)

Here’s what happened to him eventually.

“I did not change my mind willingly—I went down kicking and screaming. … It became clear to me over a long period of time that my former views of the Bible as the inerrant revelation from God were flat-out wrong. My choice was either to hold on to views that I had come to realize were in error or to follow where I believed the truth was leading me. In the end, it was no choice. If something was true, it was true; if not, not.” (p. xi)

Have another look at the subtitle of his book. In the final chapter of this book, Ehrman writes that he did not stop believing Jesus is a historical figure, but he came to believe the Christian religion is built on myths rather than historical facts.

“I continued to believe that Jesus himself certainly existed. … Jesus’s death was not a myth, but the idea that it was a death that brought about salvation was a myth. … The death of Jesus was, for me, an act of self-giving love. … Jesus was willing to live, and die, for the sake of others. This was an idea that I found to be both noble and ennobling. I believed that his example of self-sacrifice made Christ a being worthy of worship, and felt that his was an example for me to emulate. This was not because I could prove this self-sacrifice as a historical fact but because I could resonate with it personally.” (p. 276, emphasis mine)

What Ehrman means here, unless I am misunderstanding, is that Jesus probably ended up a victim of the church and the state of his time because of his teachings; however, this was not good enough for his followers. They came up with a ‘story,’ namely, that Jesus had to die for our sins in order to save us from damnation in hell. I discuss this further in my article on “Adam and Eve—Original Sin.”

Now, some readers might think that I should have started this article with Ehrman’s experience: to establish it more forcefully initially. However, I purposely placed it at the end because I wanted to gradually convince, rather than brainwash, my readers. I hope that, by this personal account from a biblical scholar, I have set the reader’s mind to examine the evidence I presented here, without prejudice or unreasonable bias one way or the other.

Interpreting Discrepancies

In his book, Jesus, Interrupted, Ehrman aptly asks what we are to make of these biblical discrepancies. Are they important as far as our faith is concerned? His answer,

“The discrepancies are significant because they show that the view of the Bible as completely inerrant appears not to be true. There are errors, if the Bible is looked at historically.” (p. 59)

He explains that if the details of two accounts of the same event contradict each other, one of them must be wrong (if not both); they cannot both be right, at least historically: that is, as far as to what really happened. Consequently, he asks whether we should simply discard the Bible as an outdated piece of literature. His answer,

“Not in the least. … We should continue to read, study, and cherish the Bible—but not as an inerrant historical account.” (p. 59)

The biblical contradictions are not only historical but also sociological and doctrinal. Why bother with the Bible, then? Because many of the biblical passages are inspirational: that is, conducive to our living a harmonious life together—it is our spiritual heritage. It’s not perfect, but ….

Final Note

If the reader is interested, in my book Is the Bible Infallible?—A Rational, Scientific, and Historical Evaluation, I show many ‘more subtle’ biblical contradictions, sporadically, along the whole book.

References

Attard, Carmel Paul. Is the Bible Infallible?—A Rational, Scientific, and Historical Evaluation. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2019. (ISBN: 9781532078446)

Barnstone, Willis, ed. The Other Bible: Jewish Pseudepigrapha, Christian Apocrypha, Gnostic Scriptures, Kabbalah, Dead Sea Scrolls. New York, NY, HarperCollins, 2005. (ISBN: 9780060815981) “The Infancy Gospel of James (The Birth of Mary)” pp.383–92.

Bible Hub, https://biblehub.com/.

Bible Hub: “Interlinear,” https://biblehub.com/interlinear/.

Catholic Online: “Prayers,” https://www.catholic.org/prayers/.

Crossan, John Dominic. God and Empire: Jesus against Rome, Then and Now. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2008. (ISBN: 9780060858315)

Crossan, John Dominic. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. New York, NY: HarperOne, 1992. (ISBN: 9780060616298)

Crossan, John Dominic and Jonathan L. Reed. In Search of Paul: How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2005. (ISBN: 9780060816162)

Ehrman, Bart D. Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them). New York, NY: HarperOne, 2009. (ISBN: 9780061173936)

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. (11th Edition.) Springfield, M A: Merriam-Webster Inc., 2014. (ISBN: 978087798095)

New American Bible: Revised Edition. Translated from the original languages, authorized by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, and approved by the United States Confraternity of Catholic Bishops. Totowa, NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 2010. (NAB) (ISBN: 9780899429519)

Revised English Version Bible (REV), Spirit & Truth Fellowship International, “Matthew 1:16 Commentary,” https://www.revisedenglishversion.com/Matthew/chapter1/16.

The Bart Ehrman Blog, https://ehrmanblog.org/on-being-an-agnostic-or-atheist/, posted May 23, 2021.

The Holy Bible: Douay-Rheims Version. Revised by Richard Challoner. Douay & Rheims, France, 1752. (DRC)

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Oxford, UK, 1769. (KJV)

United Church of God. Heaven & Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? Milford, OH: United Church of God, 2009.

Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? Brooklyn, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. International Bible Students Association, 1989.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Flight into Egypt”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_into_Egypt, last edited July 10, 2022.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Justification (theology)”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justification_(theology), last edited June 27, 2022.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Son of Man (Christianity)”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Son_of_man_(Christianity), last edited July 12, 2022.

Wills, Garry. Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit. New York, NY. Image Books, 2001. (ISBN: 0385494114)

Consciousness (Self-Awareness)

That’s me

So far, scientists have no clue what causes consciousness: that ‘little person’ inside your brain ‘telling’ you who you are, what you’re doing, and where everything else is. Mainstream science claims it’s the unavoidable consequence of the complexity of the brain. But is it? From our experience, do complex computers or robots become conscious? Absolutely not! So, what is the source of our consciousness? This article tries to answer this question.

Computers

Let me first distinguish between the brain and the mind. The brain consists of the physical cells at the top of our head—the machine or computer—the hardware. The mind is the operating system—the computer program that runs the brain—the software. By itself, a computer is ‘dead’; it doesn’t do anything: it just sits there without an executable program. The program alone (when on a separate disk) doesn’t do anything either: it needs a medium (a computer) to be able to express itself, and they must be compatible. The brain and the mind complement each other and are practically inseparable.

Note: If a different type of computer is used, the executable program must also be changed in order to perform the same function: it must be reformatted and recompiled to the new machine language to be able to communicate with the new computer; the BIOS (Basic Input-Output System) of this new computer would also be different from that of the original computer. All this is termed compatibility.

The brain gets its information from the surroundings as well as from the five senses in our body; the mind makes its calculations and comes up with a decision. Likewise, therefore, we can distinguish between body and soul: the body is the hardware while the soul is the software.

Now, if you ask someone, “Are computers smarter than humans?” You’ll probably get an answer like, “No, because it’s people who design computers: computers are actually stupid.” If we think a little about this last word, “stupid,” I think it needs some explanation. It’s not so clear-cut. If a student learns from a teacher, isn’t it possible for the student to become smarter than the teacher?

I have a bachelor of science degree in mathematics, so most people would probably rate me in the top-ten-percentile (10%) of humanity in general regarding mathematical ability. Yet, a $10 pocket calculator will outrun me, hands down, in making any mathematical calculation—simple or complex. So, how good must a calculator or computer be for us to stop calling it stupid? We probably wouldn’t even call a human with a mathematical ability in the lowest ten-percentile stupid. What’s so special about us? Is it just human pride?

No, it isn’t just human pride. What every one of us has that computers don’t have, no matter how sophisticated they might be, is consciousness or self-awareness: that ‘little person’ inside your brain ‘telling’ you who you are, what you’re doing, and where everything else is.

In his “Chinese Room” thought experiment, philosopher John Searle contends that computers cannot know what they are doing. Wikipedia explains Searle’s argument as follows:

“Searle’s thought experiment begins with this hypothetical premise: suppose that artificial intelligence research has succeeded in constructing a computer that behaves as if it understands Chinese. It takes Chinese characters as input [questions] and, by following the instructions of a computer program, produces other Chinese characters, which it presents as output [answers]. Suppose, says Searle, that this computer performs its task so convincingly that it comfortably passes the Turing test: [that is,] it convinces a human Chinese speaker that the program is itself a live Chinese speaker. To all of the questions that the person asks, it makes appropriate responses, such that any Chinese speaker would be convinced that they are talking to another Chinese-speaking human being. The question Searle wants to answer is this: does the machine literally ‘understand’ Chinese? Or is it merely simulating the ability to understand Chinese? … Searle then supposes that he is in a closed room and has a book with an English version of the computer program [instructions], along with sufficient papers, pencils, erasers, and filing cabinets. Searle could receive Chinese characters through a slot in the door, process them according to the program’s instructions, and produce Chinese characters as output, without understanding any of the content of the Chinese writing. If the computer had passed the Turing test this way, it follows, says Searle, that he would do so as well, simply by running the program manually. … However, Searle himself would not be able to understand the conversation. (‘I don’t speak a word of Chinese,’ he points out.) Therefore, he argues, it follows that the computer would not be able to understand the conversation either.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_room (accessed June 13, 2022).

Computers make decisions strictly on syntax: that is, the exact position of information in a command string. A computer might do fast complex calculations, but it doesn’t really know what it is doing: it follows instructions mechanically; its programmer, however, knows exactly what is going on.

Complexity

If you think about it, therefore, consciousness is only a property living ‘things’—animals, rather. So far, no man-made computer or robot has ever become conscious: no matter how complex it might have been. Mainstream scientists, however, challenge the concept that we can never make computers conscious: they contend that computers spontaneously develop consciousness at some critical point of complexity. Searle disagrees with them.

Indeed, consciousness seems to be independent of the complexity of the brain since a person with a 10% brain could still be self-conscious: https://www.sciencealert.com/a-man-who-lives-without-90-of-his-brain-is-challenging-our-understanding-of-consciousness (accessed June 13, 2022). One must admit that this case throws a monkey wrench into the cogwheels of mainstream science: namely, that complexity creates consciousness.

God or No God?

Now, what is the difference between a living person and one who just died of a heart-attack? Physically and chemically, the corpse of a person who has just died is practically the same as when it was still alive; yet there is some irreversible damage: it lost its principle of life—the soul—the software. Without software (much like a program-less computer), the body alone becomes useless. And this is where things become tricky: depending, to a great extent, on what one believes regarding the origin of life, the supernatural, and the afterlife.

I fully agree with self-declared atheist Richard Dawkins that whether God exists or not is ultimately a scientific question (The God Delusion, p. 70). Does God occasionally come into the picture or not? For example, we now know that life only comes from other life. Did inanimate matter become alive spontaneously, or did God coax the first life to emerge? Likewise, did God create the universe, or did the universe just happen?

Life

In his book The God Delusion, Dawkins claims that the first life evolved through chance combined with natural selection (or survival of the fittest); he writes,

“No indeed, chance is not the likely designer. That is one thing on which we can all agree. The statistical improbability of phenomena … is the central problem that any theory of life must solve. … But the candidate solutions to the riddle of improbability are not, as is falsely implied, design and chance. They are design and natural selection. Chance is not a solution, given the high levels of improbability we see in living organisms, and no sane biologist ever suggested that it was.” (p. 145)

In this conclusion, however, he assumes that initially a rough-and-ready replicator happened to emerge by chance alone. In his book The Selfish Gene, he writes,

“At some point a particularly remarkable molecule was formed by accident. We will call it the Replicator.” (p. 15)

Notice the phrase “by accident.” Of course, natural selection can only kick in after replication is established. But I think that this is only the wishful thinking of an atheist: he offers no specific viable chemical mechanism of how this might have happened.

The problem I have with his argument is that when it comes to inanimate matter, contrary to living organisms, according to the second law of thermodynamics, things tend to get worse, not better: entropy (or disorder) increases. So before these replicators have enough time to evolve into better replicators, they are prone to encounter what is termed an error catastrophe, become unable to reproduce and/or cease to exist.

The living cell is similar to a complex factory involving several ‘catch-22’ situations where certain complex molecules need to be present together simultaneously for it to be able to work, let alone reproduce. In his book The Greatest Show on Earth, Dawkins writes,

“The ‘Catch-22’ of the origin of life is this. DNA can replicate, but it needs enzymes [protein-based biological catalysts] in order to catalyze [aid] the process. Proteins can catalyze DNA formation, but they need DNA to specify the correct sequence of amino acids. How could molecules of the early Earth break out of this bind and allow natural selection to get started? Enter RNA.” (p. 420)

I think this is too much to ask of random mutation coupled with undirected, Darwinian evolution. In his book Signature in the Cell, science philosopher Stephen C. Meyer writes,

“If, on the one hand, [one] invoked natural selection early in the process of chemical evolution (i.e., before functional specificity in amino acids or nucleotide strings had arisen), accurate replication would have been impossible. But in the absence of such replication, differential reproduction cannot proceed and the concept of natural selection is incoherent. On the other hand, if [one] invoked natural selection late in the scenario, he would need to rely on chance alone to produce the sequence specific molecules necessary for accurate self-replication.” (pp. 275–76)

To make a long story short, Meyer calculates the odds against a bacterium (the simplest reproducing) cell happening by chance alone to be 1041000 (i.e., 1 followed by 41,000 zeros) to 1 (p. 213). Ordinary people think that anything can happen in the fourteen-billion-odd years the universe has existed, but this is simply false since time is like atoms, it cannot be divided smaller than the Plank time (~5.4×10-44 sec.) and, therefore, there is only a limited number of possible interactions (trials) between all the particles of the universe to be able to create life.

According to mathematician and philosopher William Dembski’s The Design Inference (p. 209), our universe’s total probabilistic resources are only 10150 (i.e., 1 followed by 150 zeros)—see section below. If the odds against something happening exceed this number, it means that it is, most likely, designed (like writing a book). This is far too low compared with the odds against forming a bacterial cell by chance. In other words, science is practically telling us that it was God who designed life.

I know this sounds like a god-of-the-gaps argument, but if we don’t accept probabilities, chance would become our god, and we wouldn’t need any science: chance would be a ‘theory for everything’ we cannot explain. If we are to decide whether God got into the equation or not, we must treat him like any other scientific hypothesis or phenomenon if the odds are astronomically high in his favor. Scientists usually take 5-sigma (i.e., odds of 3.5 million to 1) to be sufficient proof.

Besides, the fossil record particularly the Cambrian Explosion does not support macroevolution; not to mention the utter failure of laboratory experiments in genetic engineering and evolution to produce novel organisms.

The Universe

Regarding our universe, the argument in God’s favor is even more compelling; and in this case, there’s no question of Darwinian evolution clouding results obtained from chaos theory. In his book Other Worlds, theoretical physicist and cosmologist Paul Davies states that the odds for a starry universe (rather than a black-hole universe) happening after the big bang, assuming the current laws of physics, are 1:101030; that is, 1 followed by a million trillion trillion (1030) zeros; he writes,

“In the case of the sun, whose disorder is only one hundred-billionth-billionth [10-1020] of the equivalent black hole, the chances against the sun, rather than the [black] hole emerging from a purely random process will be roughly one followed by the same number of zeros! That is one followed by one hundred billion billion zeros [101020], which is pretty improbable by any standards. If the same argument is applied to the entire universe, the odds piling up against a starry cosmos become mindboggling: one followed by a thousand billion billion billion zeros [101030] at least.” (p. 169)

Not to mention the odds against a life-sustaining universe (1010 to 1), given by mathematical physicist Roger Penrose in the coauthored book Quantum Gravity 2.

Even the 10500 (i.e., 1 followed by 500 zeros) universes, assuming the highly questionable multiverse hypothesis, derived from the just-as-controversial string theory is a drop in the ocean compared to the odds against a starry universe, let alone a life-sustaining universe like ours.

In my opinion, therefore, life is a bridge between the natural and the supernatural: a space-permeating field like gravity or magnetism. There is no string in between pulling things to the ground, or a magnet to the refrigerator door.

In his book The Physics of Immortality (pp. 13–14), mathematical physicist and cosmologist Frank Tipler contends there is a space-permeating field that he identifies with the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, in the Nicene Creed, Christians profess/pray, “We believe in the Holy Spirit … the giver of life”: https://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=495 (accessed June 13, 2022).

When the body dies, it loses this connection with the divine (the principle of life) and the soul (consciousness) either ceases to exist (which is probably the case with animals & plants) or returns to God, if one believes in an afterlife.

The Human Soul

Consequently, I believe consciousness (and life) is a direct connection with God—a spark of the divine—and is therefore something external to the brain/mind: the latter is only the receiver and processor (transducer) of information, including consciousness as a ‘sixth sense’ or another direct input from God, who Christians believe is always present with us.

Humans might have evolved physically from apes or chimpanzees because our body is so similar to theirs, but our intelligence is astronomically superior to these animals: indeed, far superior to that of any animal, even those with a much larger brain than ours. In my opinion, therefore, this is another indication of God’s intervention to create a special species—us humans including our soul.

So, apparently, God entered the equation at least five times over time: (1) creating the universe, (2) creating the first life, (3) creating many living species/families, (4) furnishing consciousness to animals, and (5) creating the human soul. God does not seem to be an absentee landlord.

Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences

Near-death experiences (NDEs) and out-of-body experiences (OBEs) are evidence of such an entity as consciousness/soul existing external to the body.

In the interest of fairness, certain OBEs can probably be explained scientifically. According to neuroscientist Olaf Blanke, if a certain integrating area of the brain is damaged, or if a small electric current/field is applied to it, the brain introduces a phase difference (un-focus) between the physical body and its normal mental perception of the body. Consequently, the mind thinks it’s ‘seeing’ another body external to it. Related phenomena are the phantom limb sensation, and the rubber hand illusion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daUnVir0qUE&ab_channel=Science%26Cocktails (accessed June 13, 2022).  This might explain local OBE’s but not roaming OBEs, of course. Neither does the damaged brain hypothesis hold much water explaining the astronomically heightened self-awareness usually experienced by Near-Death Experiencers (NDErs), not to mention their spiritual or supernatural experiences.

However, there’s some evidence that, before they die, rats show an electroencephalogram (EEG) spike: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/04/the-science-of-near-death-experiences/386231/ (accessed June 13, 2022), whatever this might turn out to mean. Of course, it might be just an assumption (wishful thinking) by scientists trying to explain NDEs; unfortunately, I doubt whether rats will be able to tell us what they experience prior to their flat-lining.

Now, if one doesn’t believe in God, the following CIA report might offer some insight. Using the right lobe of the brain, the mind creates a hologram of the universe: it attunes itself to the energy fields (some static & some dynamic) of the universe. Using the left lobe of the brain, it creates another hologram of the individual’s memory, compares the two holograms, and comes up with a beat signal of ‘reality’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXfzxo4rumE&ab_channel=BrianScott (accessed June 13, 2022). According to this report, this gives the impression of consciousness. Our mind does a job similar to our senses; for example, the eyes block all electromagnetic frequencies they receive except the visible spectrum, that is, 4×1014–8×1014 Hz.

Quantum Physics

There’s something more fundamental than classical physics in nature, and that’s quantum physics. The Double Slit Experiment, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hB_2Qd5xNvE (accessed June 13, 2022), shows that reality ‘crystalizes’ only after observation. In a way, therefore, our thoughts create reality, thus enabling us to exercise free will. Apparently, therefore, information ‘subtends’ all of science.

In his book The Universe in a Nutshell, mathematician and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking writes,

“We cannot even suppose that [a] particle has a position and velocity known to God but are hidden from us. … Even God is bound by the [Heisenberg] uncertainty principle and cannot know the position and velocity; He can only know the wave function.” (p. 107)

This uncertainty or indeterminacy is what ‘topples’ Newtonian determinism in our universe: it’s what allows us to have free will and do whatever we like. I hate to say it, but I think that God doesn’t really know our future. Were he to know our future, we would be predestined, and no matter what we try to do to change things (live better or worse), whatever he ‘foresees’ about us will simply transpire. Were this to be the case, we wouldn’t really have any free will, right?

Conclusion

I think we’re probably missing a basic scientific breakthrough (the likes of E=mc2) that is undermining our ability to explain consciousness: for example, we didn’t know anything about software a hundred years ago. However, consciousness doesn’t seem to be solely generated in the brain/mind: it seems to be something external to the body as well, like gravitational or magnetic attraction between any two bodies. There is no string attached between a body and the earth pulling it down, but the attracting field permeates all of space; likewise with magnetic attraction. That is, unless one believes in a supernatural connection, which probability seems to suggest.

Probability

This extension is for the benefit of those readers who are not mathematically inclined to enable them to understand better the full implications of the above article.

Imagine a thief trying to open a combination safe with 3 registers of 10 digits each: 0 to 9. Imagine also, that for better security, the opening combination is changed by the bank manager every evening before going home.

There are 1,000 ways of programming the opening combination: 000, 001, 002 … 997, 998, and 999. The odds of the thief opening the safe the first time is 1,000 to 1 against him: not much of a chance. However, if he has all night, it’s a different story. If he tries two combinations, the odds against him are halved: that is, 500 (=1,000/2) to 1 against; if he tries ten combinations the odds against him are reduced ten times: becoming 100 (=1,000/10) to 1 against. So the new odds are obtained by dividing the original odds by the number of attempts. He can start systematically from 000 through 999 and open the safe. (Chance doesn’t quite work that way, however: he might get some repetitions if he tries random numbers.) Once he gets over 500 trials (half way), common sense (and science) says the odds turn in his favor.

Now, suppose the thief can try a combination in one minute; so, he can try to open the safe 60 times in an hour. Let’s say the night cleaner leaves at 10pm, and people start coming in at 6am; so that gives him 8 hours to open the safe. If it’s the weekend, it will give him 56 (=24+24+8) hours.

In 8 hours he has the opportunity of trying 480 (=8×60) times. He figures this is too close to half, so he decides to leave it for the weekend. In 56 hours he can try to open the safe 3,360 (=56×60) times: the odds are therefore 3.36 (=3,360/1,000) to 1 in his favor. That gives him ample opportunity to open the safe, so he opts to use the weekend.

The number 3,360 is termed his total probabilistic resources (assuming there are no long weekends); the number 480 is also a probabilistic resource, but it’s not the total probabilistic resources.

Now, If he could try a combination in 10 seconds, say, that is, he can try 6 combinations in one minute: then that will give him 360 (=60×6) opportunities per hour; and in 8 hours he will have 2,880 (=8×360) opportunities—which should do the job. If he uses the weekend, he would have 20,160 (=56×360) opportunities. Notice, therefore, that the total probabilistic resources depend on the time it takes to perform an operation: 1 minute as opposed to 10 seconds, in this case.

Let us now suppose the safe has 10 registers instead of 3. The odds against a thief opening it the first time is 10,000,000,000 (10 billion) to 1. Recall that when we had 3 registers, the odds against his getting it right the first time was 1,000 (= 103, i.e., 1 followed by 3 zeros) to 1. Now that we have 10 registers, we shall have 10 zeros after the 1 (i.e., 10,000,000,000 = 1010) to 1. (103 means ’10 to the power of 3,’ or 10 multiplied by itself three times; similarly, 1010 means ‘10 to the power of 10’ or 10 multiplied by itself 10 times.)

So (in this ten-register scenario), he needs at least 5,000,000,000 (5 billion) tries to have a decent chance of opening the safe. But his TOTAL probabilistic resources (at 10 seconds a trial and over the weekend) is only 20,160 (=56×360), which is far from half way (i.e., 5 billion).

In this case, the odds of his opening the safe are the original odds against him, 10,000,000,000, divided by total probabilistic resources, 20,160, which turns out to be about 496,032 to 1 (almost half a million to 1) against him. Imagine trying to pick a white marble out of half a million black marbles (blindfolded): those are his new chances of success. So he decides to stay home with his family instead.

Trying to pick a white marble among 9 black marbles (blindfolded) is quite a feat: the odds against are only 10 to 1. Trying to pick a white marble among 99 or 999 black marbles (blindfolded), you might as well give up: yet, the odds against are still only 100 to 1, and 1,000 to 1, respectively. Notice that every time a single zero is added the odds get ten times worse.

A billion is a thousand millions (=109). You need about 5 large pools (40ft x 20ft x 6ft) to fit a billion 1 cm diameter marbles. Picking a white marble among a billion black marbles (blindfolded) is nothing short of a ‘miracle’; yet a billion has only 9 zeros (1,000,000,000 = 109). A trillion is a million millions = 1012 (i.e., 1 followed by 12 zeros), and a trillion trillions is 1024 (i.e., 1 followed by 24 zeros).

Universe’s Total Probabilistic Resources

Now, physics says we cannot keep halving time indefinitely: time is not a continuum; it’s like the atoms in matter—there comes a point where you cannot split it smaller any more. Reality is like ‘slides’ of an old movie, and things happen (change) only within these slides. The time between these slides is termed the Plank time, which is about 5.4×10-44 (i.e., 5.4 divided by 1044) of a second. This means we get about 1.9×1043 such slides in one second.

The age of the universe is about 13.8 billion years, which comes to about 4.4×1016 seconds.

The total number of elementary particles in the universe is estimated around 1080.

So the total number of opportunities (the total probabilistic resources) the universe had to produce life is equal to (its total number of particles) x (the total number of seconds it has existed) x (the number of Planck ‘slides’ per second) = (1080) x (4.4×1016) x (1.9×1043) = 8.4×10139 ~ 10140 (simply add the powers, i.e., the small superscripts: 80+16+43 = 139).

Mathematician and philosopher William Dembski then takes a safety margin of 10 billion (1010), so that if the odds against something existing spontaneously exceeds 10150 it is most probably ‘designed’ by an intelligent agent—like a written book, for example. Notice that this number only takes one and a half (1.5) lines of zeros if 100 zeros (with no commas in between) fit in a line.

Odds against Life’s Emergence

As mentioned above, through chemical analysis, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer calculates the odds against the simplest reproducing cell (a bacterial cell) arising spontaneously by chance alone to be 1041000 (i.e., 1 followed by 41,000 zeros) to 1.

If we divide this by the universe’s total probabilistic resources we get: 1041000 divided by 10150, which equals 1040850 (simply subtract powers, i.e., 41,000-150 = 40,850). This means that the odds against life happening in the fourteen-billion-odd years the universe has existed is 1040850 (1 followed by 40,850 zeros) to 1. So, far from everything can happen in fourteen-billion-odd years.

Recall that a billion has only 9 zeros; this number has 40,850 zeros—it’s humungous. Also remember that every time you increase just one zero, the odds worsen 10 times: so 10 zeros mean 10 billion. A number with 40,850 zeros is unimaginable to the human mind: the zeros would take more than 408 lines (i.e., more than 8 pages with 100 zeros per line, with no commas in between, and 50 lines per page) to write fully.

Odds against a Starry Universe

As if this were not bad enough, when it comes to the existence of our universe, the odds are even more mind-bogglingly in God’s favor.

As mentioned above, from chaos theory, it’s possible to calculate the odds against forming a universe containing stars (rather than only black holes) after the big bang. Chemical elements larger than hydrogen and helium such as carbon (the basis of life) and oxygen (which we breathe) are only formed in stars. So for any life form to spring to existence, stars are indispensable. According to theoretical physicist and cosmologist Paul Davies this turns out to be 101030 (i.e., 1 followed by a million trillion trillion zeros) to 1. Dividing this number by the universe’s total probability resources (i.e., 10150) doesn’t even budge this number (subtracting 150 zeros from a million trillion trillion zeros doesn’t change it by much). Such a number would take 200 trillion trillion (2×1026) pages consisting of 50 lines and every line containing 100 zeros (with no commas in between) to write fully. Not to mention that our universe is not only a starry universe, but a life-sustaining universe as well: many species live in it.

Finally, I think the reader will now realize how small the number of other alleged universes in the questionable multiverse (10500, i.e., 1 followed by 500 zeros) is compared to these astronomical odds: it only takes 5 lines of 100 zeros per line to write fully—compared to trillions upon trillions of pages.

References

Blanke, Olaf. “Out-of-Body Experiences” on YouTube: Science & Cocktails, posted November 4, 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daUnVir0qUE&ab_channel=Science%26Cocktails.

Catholic Online: “Nicene Creed”: https://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=495.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion; New York, NY: Mariner Books, 2008. (ISBN: 9780618918249.)

Dawkins, Richard. The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. New York, NY: Free Press, 2010. (ISBN 9781416594796.)

Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene: 30th anniversary edition.New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006. (ISBN: 9780199291151.)

Davies, Paul. Other Worlds: Space, Superspace and the Quantum Universe; London, UK: Penguin Books, 1990. (ISBN: 9780140138771.)

Dembski, William A. The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2005. (ISBN: 9780521678674.)

Hawking, Stephen. The Universe in a Nutshell. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2001. (ISBN: 9780553802023.)

Isham, Christopher J., Roger Penrose, and Dennis William Sciama. Quantum Gravity 2: A Second Oxford Symposium; Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1981.

Lichfield, Gideon. “The Science of Near-Death Experiences: Empirically Investigation Brushes with the Afterlife” in The Atlantic, April 2015: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/04/the-science-of-near-death-experiences/386231/.

Meyer, Stephen C. Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. New York, NY: Harper One, 2009. (ISBN: 9780061472794.)

Radin, Dean. “Consciousness and the Quantum” on YouTube: Institute of Noetic Sciences: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hB_2Qd5xNvE&ab_channel=InstituteofNoeticSciences.

Science Alert: “Meet the Man Who Lives Normally with Damage to 90% of His Brain”: https://www.sciencealert.com/a-man-who-lives-without-90-of-his-brain-is-challenging-our-understanding-of-consciousness.

Scott, Brian. “The CIA on Time Travel and the Holographic Reality—The Gateway Process” on YouTube, posted July 24, 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXfzxo4rumE&ab_channel=BrianScott.

Tipler, Frank Jennings. The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead. New York, NY: Anchor Books, 1995. (ISBN: 9780385467995.)Wikipedia s.v. “Chinese Room”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_room, last edited June 13, 2022.

End Times

Tsunami

Assuming the alleged prophecy in the Old Testament book of Daniel, Jesus thought the kingdom of God would transform the world, as we know it, and start a ‘new age.’ Moreover, he thought this was going to happen within his generation, by 100 CE, say. As it turned out, however, he was wrong by two millennia and counting.

What did the book of Daniel prophesy? In Daniel, the protagonist supposedly had this vision:

“I [Daniel] saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days [God], and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13–14, KJV, emphasis mine),

So Jesus envisioned a worldwide ‘kingdom’ in which God would ‘rule’ supreme in the mind and ‘heart’ of humans: a kingdom of justice, sharing, love, equality, truth, and peace. He jump-started this kingdom and, indeed, it took some roots according to the Acts of the Apostles:

“All that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat [food] with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour [goodwill] with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:44–47, KJV).

However, it stalled.

As mentioned, Jesus thought this kingdom of God would be in ‘full bloom’ within his generation; for example, in Mark’s gospel, we read,

“He [Jesus] said unto them [his disciples], ‘Verily I say unto you, that there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.’” (Mark 9:1, KJV).

Jesus also thought that the inauguration of this kingdom of God would spell the end of the world, as we know it, and initiate a new world order—a ‘regeneration’ of the world. Unfortunately, things didn’t happen as Jesus supposedly foretold: his initiation of God’s kingdom, for some reason fell through.

Let’s first look at what Jesus is portrayed predicting in Mark’s gospel.

The Great Tribulation

“As he [Jesus] went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, ‘Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!’ And Jesus answering said unto him, ‘Seest thou these great buildings? There shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down.’ And as he sat upon the Mount of Olives over against the temple, [his apostles] Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?’ And Jesus answering them began to say, ‘Take heed lest any man deceive you: For many shall come in my name, saying, “I am Christ”; and shall deceive many. And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows. But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. And the gospel must first be published among all nations. But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost [Spirit]. Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains: And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house: And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment. But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter. For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days. And then if any man shall say to you, “Lo, here is Christ”; or, “lo, he is there”; believe him not: For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things. But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; when her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near: So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.’” (Mark 13:1–32 emphasis mine)

Let me summarize the above passage for the benefit of the reader. Jesus first supposedly foretells the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. The four apostles ask him for the signs preceding the destruction of the temple. Jesus replies that after the wars in Jerusalem and elsewhere, there will still be some time left before the end-times. The wars will be followed by earthquakes and famines on earth; after which, Jesus’s followers will be harshly persecuted. The end-times will be extremely near when an imperial shrine (or a pagan altar) is erected in the Jerusalem Temple. At that time, great tribulations will occur, and false messiahs will appear; after which there will be a bout of cosmic upheavals. The “Son of Man,” whom the evangelist later identifies with Jesus (Mark 14:62), will then come to earth (his Second Coming), and he will execute universal judgement. All this was supposed to happen within the then-living generation. Admittedly, Mark adds that we cannot know the exact time when this will happen—a cautious insertion; but, of course, he was way off by two-thousand-odd years. Christians are usually amazed that a prophecy Jesus supposedly made didn’t transpire. They are even scandalized if you dare say that Jesus was wrong in this instance. But those are the facts according to the gospel text!

Now, as the reader probably knows, if a single star were to fall on earth, it would incinerate the earth before it arrives—nothing would be left of the earth but ‘dust’—and there wouldn’t be anybody left alive to “see” anything. Surely, not a single star has fallen on earth prior to 100 CE, or ever. Can we then still insist that Jesus was scientifically right as well here? Jesus, or rather the evangelist, went by the paradigms of his time. But, technically, that makes Jesus wrong in what he supposedly ‘said.’

We have similar accounts in Matthew 24:1–36 and Luke 21:5–33. According to all three synoptic gospels, therefore, Jesus was wrong in his predictions both scientifically and historically. Indeed, two of the synoptic gospels admit that he didn’t know when the end-times would occur:

“But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” (Mark 13:32, KJV, emphasis mine)

“But concerning that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels of the heavens, nor the Son, except the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36, BLB, emphasis mine)

Luke, conveniently, omitted this verse.

Still, Jesus, or rather the synoptic evangelists, persisted in predicting that the destruction of the temple, the great tribulation, the cosmic cataclysms, the end-times, and the kingdom of God would happen in Jesus’s generation. The only thing that transpired was the destruction of the temple, which happened in 70 CE; that is, prior to the first gospel written, Mark’s. So much for biblical prophecies!

Book of Revelation

In his book God and Empire, biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan points out that although Mark’s gospel separates the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple from Jesus’s supposed return, he clearly indicates that the latter will follow very shortly afterward—and certainly within the lifetime of his listeners. Moreover, Mark’s ‘Little Apocalypse’ precedes Jesus’s return. By inference, therefore, any violence God may have had to perform to renew the earth will be over by the time Jesus comes again: so, in effect, Jesus could not possibly promote any warfare during his return (pp. 216–17). This is diametrically opposed to what Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, predicts in 19:11–21:

“I [John of Patmos] saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called ‘Faithful and True’ [Jesus], and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called ‘The Word of God’ [Jesus]. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords’ [Jesus]. And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, ‘Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great.’ And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse [Jesus], and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse [Jesus], which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.” (emphasis mine)

It portrays Jesus as an armed conqueror to which Crossan (p. 223) strongly objects:

“To turn the nonviolent resistance of the slaughtered Jesus into the violent warfare of the slaughtering Jesus is, for me as a Christian, to libel the body of Jesus and to blaspheme the soul of Christ.” (Pp. 234–35).

Talk about biblical contradictions: so much for biblical consistency!

The Rapture

Since Jesus was taken away so suddenly from his followers, early Christians believed that he would come back a second time to finish what he had started: the Messiah (Hebrew for ‘Christ’) would return to earth and transform it totally in the end-times. This belief persists even today: after two millennia.

They also believed, however, that the second time around he would not come to suffer and die; he would come victorious to rule the whole world: just as a first-century victorious emperor would visit a city in what was termed Parousia. In fact, in the Nicene Creed, Christians profess,

“He [Jesus] will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” (“The Nicene Creed” accessed May 7, 2022)

In my opinion, this is pure and simple wishful thinking.

As mentioned, the early Christians also thought he would come back in their generation. Almost two thousand years later, he has not come back yet. Could it possibly be the case that they were wrong, and that also we are wrong?

Both biblical scholar John Crossan and New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman contend that John the Baptist, Jesus of Nazareth, and Paul of Tarsus believed that God was going to clean up the world single-handedly in a swift violent action very shortly; that is, in their own generation. Indeed in Matthew’s gospel, we read,

“As the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matthew 24:27, KJV)

In one of the alleged messianic passages, Isaiah has,

“Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 9:7, KJV, emphasis mine)

Notice, especially, the last clause: “the Lord of hosts will perform this.”

In his book God and Empire, Crossan argues that both Jesus and Paul believed that God had already started cleaning up the world of its evil, and that this cleanup would be completed within the then-living generation’s lifetime: they were both quite wrong, of course (p. 207).

As it happened, just prior to Paul’s writing First Thessalonians in the early 50s CE, many of the Thessalonians had experienced harsh persecution and some even suffered death. This upset many of them considerably. Why? Crossan explains that since they assumed Jesus was going to return in their own lifetime, their immediate question was: would the martyred Thessalonians miss out on something, simply because they were already dead? (p. 207). After all, it was the dead who had suffered most for the benefit of the Christian community. Paul tries to console them by assuring them that this is not the case: he, therefore, parallels Jesus’s Second Coming to an emperor’s Parousia, which was a happy, quite possibly, once-in-a-lifetime event. So, in his (authentic) First Thessalonians, Paul writes,

“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17, KJV, emphasis mine)

This couple of verses has caused so much controversy among the various Christian denominations.

There are many movies, https://creepycatalog.com/movies-about-the-biblical-rapture/ (accessed May 12, 2022), such as the “Left Behind” series, which are based on the following couple of verses in Matthew’s gospel:

“Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.” (Matthew 24:40–41, NKJV; see also Luke 17:35–36)

However, this is how Crossan explains the background for Paul’s verses:

Inhabitants of ancient cities, naturally, did not bury their dead inside the city walls; they buried them just outside the city along any of the major roads. So, as one approached the city, one first allegorically ‘met’ the city’s dead and later the living. Now, the technical term Parousia involved the arrival of the emperor, a conqueror, or an emissary at a city. Such important personalities were first greeted outside the city gate and then escorted into the city. Thus, it is ludicrous to think that the city inhabitants met the imperial figure outside the gate and then departed with him to where he came from, leaving their city deserted. That was not the background of the metaphor used by Paul here (Crossan pp. 204–6).

So, Paul tried to explain that, at his Second Coming, Jesus would first ‘meet’ with the dead Christians outside the ‘city’ (“in the clouds,” or “in the air,” not “in heaven”) and bring them back to life—resurrected. The living would then also join them there, and everyone would enter inside the ‘city’ (i.e., back on earth) in a great celebration, and live in a just and nonviolent earthly ‘paradise’ where Jesus would reign forever—in the ‘kingdom of God.’

The phrase “caught up” is variously translated as ‘taken up,’ ‘snatched up,’ or ‘raptured’; but, following the metaphor, we will not be taken up to heaven: we will return to earth, if anything. This is the real explanation of the so-called ‘Christian Rapture’; it is a complete misunderstanding of Paul’s metaphor: as happens often, its intended meaning has been completely lost over time (Crossan, p. 208).

To me, the Second Coming seems more like wishful thinking on the part of the early Christians—nothing more. In fact, I believe Crossan would agree with me, for he writes:

“The Second Coming of Christ is not an event that we should expect to happen soon violently … [or] literally. The Second Coming of Christ is what will happen when we Christians finally accept that the First Coming was the Only Coming and start to cooperate with its divine presence” (pp. 230–31).

The Second Coming of Christ will happen when the Mystical Body of Christ (i.e., his Church) becomes totally Christ-like—if that will ever happen.

Scare Tactics

The above so called biblical prophecy keeps many Bible believers on edge: to the point of giving them sleepless nights. All it shows, however, is that the Bible is neither a truth factory, nor is it able to foretell the future.

In their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to predict that the present condition of the world will soon come to an end; and that Jesus will be coming back shortly afterward to rule the new world order. Jehovah’s Witnesses have this to say about the subject. They contend that, starting in 1914, the beginning of the First World War, the world started on a downhill roll to complete annihilation. They claim that this alleged Bible prophecy is currently being fulfilled and that it will even be consummated in our time—maybe not mine. I wish I had a dollar every time I heard the prediction that the end of the world is near: I would probably be filthy rich by now. John the Baptist said it; Jesus of Nazareth said it; Paul of Tarsus said it; all four evangelists said it; John of Patmos said it: practically every modern evangelist on television preaches it; Jehovah’s Witnesses preach it, and so many others.

The reader might find it strange that also Jesus said so, but after predicting the end of the world as we know it, in Matthew’s gospel, he is portrayed saying,

“Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till ALL these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Matthew 24:34–35, KJV, emphasis mine)

Presumably, Jesus’s generation is all dead, but the great tribulation never happened; yet, heaven and earth are still here: and so also will Jehovah’s Witnesses’ predictions turn to dust.

The biblical passage they reference in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 24:1–51) portrays Jesus foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple followed, shortly after, by the end of the present world order—or disorder, rather.

It is undoubtedly true that there were several false messiahs prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 CE. However, the evangelist Matthew knew all about them because he wrote his gospel around 80 CE, so it was not really prophecy, was it?

In their book, Jehovah’s Witnesses go through a whole list of wars, famines, earthquakes, plagues, and ‘wild beasts’ (metaphoric: violent, predatory people) to prove that starting in 1914 evil has increased exponentially, and that the end of the world must therefore be near (pp. 134–48). May I ask, however, could it perhaps be the case that nowadays we get to know more news than in the past since communication has also increased exponentially in the last century?

Now, as I already pointed out above, whatever else Jesus allegedly prophesied about the end of the world should have happened before Jesus’s generation had passed away—not in our time—the gospel text itself says it! (Matthew 24:34–35) So clearly, Jehovah’s Witnesses are here interpreting the above passage in Matthew out of context. Whatever they say is all irrelevant because, even according to Matthew’s gospel itself, what was allegedly prophesied should have happened within Jesus’s generation (Matthew 24:34–35). It is ludicrous to try to assert that a ‘God-inspired’ prophecy would happen centuries after the time limit clearly spelled out in the prophecy itself. All bets are off by now.

I was thinking to myself: why do Jehovah’s Witnesses leave out such an important detail in their treatment of this alleged prophecy? Do they translate the relevant Bible verse the same way? So, I decided to check it out; and the answer is yes, they do translate it the same way. The verse in their New World Translation reads,

“Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things happen.” (Matthew 24:34, NWT, emphasis mine)

It makes one wonder therefore why they do not reveal the whole truth; but then scare tactics have always been the favorite method used by all religious institutions to control their followers: it’s understandable because they have no police force.

These are the people who, in their book, pride themselves to be an “outstanding example of human behavior” (p. 181), the “most honest … tax payers,” and most exemplary citizens (p. 182); not to mention that they also claim to possess “accurate knowledge [of] the Bible” (p. 178).

Had I believed in God’s inspiration of the Bible, I would have thought that God inserted this gospel verse in there simply to tell us to disregard such nonsense as predicting the end-times. As if inserting it once were not enough, it seems that God wanted to make sure we got the message right by inserting it in the Bible, not just once, but three times—in three of the four gospels—the synoptic gospels. (Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30 & Luke 21:32)

Jehovah’s Witnesses then refer to the gospel being preached before the end of the world arrives, as stated in the following verse from Matthew’s passage:

“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Matthew 24:14, KJV)

They claim they are the ones currently doing this work supposedly prophesied by Jesus: it seems they made this their agenda by preaching door to door; they seem to be doing their utmost to make this ‘prophecy’ come true single-handedly. Should not prophecy happen spontaneously rather than forcefully? They remind me of the evangelists who made up accounts corresponding to ancient so-called prophecies.

They claim they are the ones being persecuted, hated, and prosecuted because of this; as is supposedly foretold in the following verse from Matthew’s passage:

“Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.” (Matthew 24:9, KJV)

They don’t realize their ‘persecution’ stems from holding on to outdated biblical concepts. They claim that they are the final bearers of Christianity’s banner by their good works and love of neighbor. They describe all of Christendom (Catholics & Protestants alike) as mere failures, stating that their “religion is all but dead” (pp. 146–47). I suppose they have in mind another alleged prophecy in Luke’s gospel:

“Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8, KJV).

They seem to follow the gospels meticulously except that they do not show any love for their fellow Christians (pp. 25–36, 146), which is what Jesus said would be the distinguishing feature of a Christian (pp. 134–89). Recall that in John’s gospel Jesus presumably says,

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35, KJV).

This verse does not mean that we should just love fellow believers; it means we should love everybody: recall the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:30–37) Are they also trying their best to make another Matthean verse, “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” come true? (Matthew 24:12, KJV). It is easier to be charitable to someone living a block away than to one’s next-door neighbor.

In his lifetime, Jesus did denounce the Pharisees and the Sadducees of his time for focusing their efforts on exterior behavior without giving any importance to love of God or neighbor. I suppose Jehovah’s Witnesses think they have the right to take over Jesus’s job condemning everyone else. However, Jesus was God’s Son, and he was beyond reproach.

For Jehovah’s Witnesses to condemn everyone else they too must be beyond reproach; otherwise criticisms are going to flow back and forth between religious organizations—resulting in religious division. As it was in Jesus’s time, there probably are no religious institutions worth joining—including Catholics and Protestants. All religions should be looking for God; they should therefore draw us closer to God and unite us—not separate us.

I am totally against violence stemming from different religions or religious denominations. I detest divisive attitudes among religious institutions because of different beliefs or opinions. I think the various religions and religious denominations should do their utmost to inspire us to love God and neighbor, and to stop bickering and pointing fingers at other religious institutions: this “I’m holier than thou” attitude among all religious people must stop.

When all is said and done, the above Jehovah’s Witnesses’ end-times prediction in our generation is all smoke-screening. The key question here is: why do they insist this was a prophecy for our times when it is clearly stated, in three gospels nonetheless, that it should have happened within Jesus’s generation? It seems Jesus thought the end of the world would come in his generation, but it didn’t: the alleged prophecy therefore did not transpire—end of story.

References

Catholic Online: “The Nicene Creed”: https://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=495 .

Creepy Catalogue: “Movies about the Biblical Rapture.” https://creepycatalog.com/movies-about-the-biblical-rapture/.

Crossan, John Dominic. God and Empire: Jesus against Rome, Then and Now. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2008 (ISBN: 9780060858315).

Holy Bible: New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. Wallkill, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc., 2013.

The Holy Bible: Berean Literal Bible (BLB). Bible Hub, 2016: https://literalbible.com/.

The Holy Bible: King James Version (KJV). Oxford, UK, 1769. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? Brooklyn, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. International Bible Students Association, 1989.

Son of Man

Judgement

If you were to ask a Christian, or rather a gospel-reading Christian, who the ‘Son of Man’ is, invariably, you will get the answer that he is Jesus. As this article will show, what is surprising is that the very early Christians did not believe that Jesus was the Son of Man. In fact, one never finds the phrase in any of Paul’s writings, whose authentic letters span the fifties CE. Moreover, despite what the gospels say, reading between the lines, in all probability, Jesus thought the Son of Man was someone else. Furthermore, there is serious doubt whether the Son of Man actually exists or ever existed.

Human Being

The phrase ‘son of man’ appears roughly 200 times in the Bible, about 70 of which appear in the gospels. Ordinarily, it means ‘human being,’ and it always has this meaning in Ezekiel, where it appears about 90 times. For instance, in Ezekiel chapter 2 alone it appears 4 times:

“And he [God] said unto me [Ezekiel], ‘Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.’ And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me. And he said unto me, ‘Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day. For they are impudent children and stiffhearted. I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, “Thus saith the Lord God.” And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them. And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. And thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear: for they are most rebellious. But thou, son of man, hear what I say unto thee; be not thou rebellious like that rebellious house: open thy mouth, and eat that I give thee.’ And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein; And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe.” (Ezekiel 2:1–10, KJV, emphasis mine)

All 4 occurrences of the phrase “son of man” in this passage mean ‘human being’ and it is not a title of any sort.

Gospels

In the gospels, however, most of the time, it refers to Jesus, and it is a sort of title. Some of the verses are very clear who the phrase refers to; to give a few examples:

“When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, ‘Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?’” (Matthew 16:13, KJV, emphasis mine)

Note the all-telling phrase “I the Son of man.”

“For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40, KJV, emphasis mine)

Jesus was the one buried for three partial days.

“As they [the apostles Peter, James, and John] came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, ‘Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.’” (Matthew 17:9, KJV, emphasis mine)

Jesus was the one who resurrected.

“And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples [apostles] apart in the way, and said unto them, ‘Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death.’” (Matthew 20:17–18, KJV, emphasis mine)

Jesus was the one who was betrayed by his apostle Judas and consequently sentenced to death.

But there are several exceptions in the gospels where it’s not so obvious who the phrase refers to; for example:

“Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me [Jesus] and of my words in this adulterous [unfaithful] and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38, KJV, emphasis mine)

Notice the word “also,” which gives the impression that the “Son of Man” is someone other than Jesus. Luke’s gospel, written around 90 CE, twenty-odd years after Mark’s, gives the same verse almost word for word, except that it strategically leaves out the word “also”—presumably, not to leave any doubt in the reader’s mind.

“Whosoever shall be ashamed of me [Jesus] and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26, KJV, emphasis mine)

Biblical Scholarship

Mark’s version (the one that includes the word “also”), however, passes the ‘criterion of dissimilarity’: something embarrassing Christians would not make up—like Jesus’s crucifixion or baptism—but which has the ring of truth. This means that it is, most probably, what Jesus said originally. Recall that Mark’s gospel was the earliest gospel written (around 70 CE) and so probably the most authentic. Luke’s version is what later Christians (who wanted to extol him higher than he claimed to be) started to believe in Jesus. New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman explains this much better in his book Did Jesus Exist?

“The sayings in which Jesus talks about himself as the Son of Man cannot pass the criterion of dissimilarity. But the sayings in which Jesus seems to be talking about someone else do pass the criterion: surely Christians who thought Jesus was the Son of Man would not make up sayings that appear to differentiate between him and the Son of Man.” (p. 306)

Apostles’ Creed

So, what made Christians start to believe that Jesus was the Son of Man? Look at the following two gospel verses:

“Jesus said unto them [his apostles], ‘Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration [new world order] when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’” (Matthew 19:28, KJV, emphasis mine)

The ‘new world order’ corresponds to the ‘kingdom of God/heaven’—a kingdom of justice, sharing, and love—as we have seen in the last posted article by the same title.

“That ye [apostles] may eat and drink at my [Jesus’s] table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:30, KJV)

Now, if the apostles were going to judge the tribes of Israel, it stands to reason that Jesus (as their master) would judge the whole world. In fact, in the Apostles creed, which can probably be traced back to the first century CE, we still pray,

“From there [heaven] He [Jesus] will come to judge the living and the dead.” (Catholic Online: “The Apostles’ Creed,” accessed April 11, 2022)

Now, look at this verse from Matthew’s gospel:

“As therefore the tares [weeds] are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:40–42, KJV, emphasis mine)

In this passage, again it is uncertain whether Jesus is referring to himself: but the “Son of Man” seems to be a ‘cosmic’ character sent by God to judge the whole world at the ‘end-times’; that is, prior to the inauguration of the ‘kingdom of God’ (or ‘kingdom of heaven’). In fact, it hardly seems that Jesus is referring to himself here: throughout his life, he always tried to convert, not eliminate, sinners. It sounds more like a warning than a threat.

Let me start our discussion of this subject by first quoting New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? Regarding the kingdom of God, he writes,

“The future kingdom [of God] would be brought by a cosmic judge whom Jesus called the Son of Man.” (p. 305)

In other words, according to a biblical scholar, the phrase ‘Son of Man’ does not seem to refer to Jesus himself. I must admit I was quite astonished when I first read about this concept: I always thought that Jesus simply referred to himself by the phrase ‘Son of Man.’

Book of Daniel

But who could this cosmic judge be if not Jesus? We find the answer in the Old Testament book of Daniel. The protagonist of the book had the following vision:

“I [Daniel] saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days [God], and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13–14, KJV, emphasis mine)

So, according to Daniel, a world-wide kingdom of God was transferred to this “Son of Man” to rule it indefinitely. Jesus, of course, never questioned scriptures; so, he assumed the existence of this cosmic ruler, the Son of Man, in his speeches and teachings.

It seems, therefore, that Daniel’s vision was a future one: the Son of Man was supposed to come in the ‘end-times’ to judge everyone prior to establishing God’s kingdom on earth. So, it’s not clear whether the Son of Man, in fact, existed during Daniel’s vision. Notice also that there is absolutely no indication that this Son of Man was supposed to suffer at all, nor die as the gospels suggest above. Have a look at this verse, which is much clearer:

“For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.” (Luke 17:24–25, KJV)

Of course, such verses are made-up nonsense by the evangelists: it doesn’t jibe with Daniel’s portrayal of the Son of Man.

Now, Daniel was written around 165 BCE (although its author claims he wrote it around 600 BCE); but in any case, there is no doubt that Jesus, as a human being, was inexistent when this book was written.

However, because of the many gospel verses identifying Jesus with the Son of Man, and assuming that the Son of Man existed in heaven at the time of Daniel’s vision, Christians reasoned that it was Jesus who appeared in Daniel’s vision. Indeed, they believe Jesus existed prior to his birth, from the beginning of the universe, as God’s “Word.” In fact, in John’s gospel, we read,

“In the beginning [of creation] was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1, 14 KJV)

Some Christian denominations, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, believe that Jesus is Michael the Archangel in human form. (Reed, accessed April 12, 2022) So, Jesus is supposedly ‘God’s Word,’ the ‘Son of Man,’ and Michael the Archangel; not to mention also ‘Son of God’ and even ‘God.’ All this confusion clearly shows that from the Bible one cannot tell who Jesus really is. I like to keep things simple: I do believe Jesus was born of a sperm donated directly by the Holy Spirit to his mother, Mary; but I also believe that he was inexistent before his birth (i.e., around 5 BCE) like all of us.

Again, in his book Did Jesus Exist? New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman continues,

“The sayings that make this differentiation [between Jesus and the Son of Man] are always ones that predict what will happen in the future, when the Son of Man comes in judgement on the earth. These sayings are also multiply attested in early sources …. Conclusion: Jesus appears to have talked about a future Son of Man who would bring God’s kingdom.” (pp. 306–7, emphasis mine)

The ambiguous references to the ‘Son of Man,’ therefore, always relate to his coming in judgement in the end-times. Notice that Ehrman adds, “These sayings are also multiply attested in early sources”; so, it is probably the case.

It follows, therefore, that we have another contradiction in the Bible (a subtle one, perhaps): that is, passages that say that Jesus is the “Son of Man” and passages that say (or at least imply) that the “Son of Man” is someone else.

So much also for the Apostles’ Creed where it says, “from there [heaven] he [Jesus] will come to judge the living and the dead.” Although that is what Christians believe, Jesus himself did not seem to think that he was going to be the judge of all of humanity: as far as he was concerned, the Son of Man was given that responsibility. So, oddly enough, our most ancient Christian creed is not even authentically Christian.

Not convinced yet? Here is another interesting passage from Matthew’s gospel; it portrays Jesus saying,

“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat [food]: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.’ Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?’ And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.’ Then shall they also answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?’ Then shall he answer them, saying, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.’ And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” (Matthew 25:31–46, KJV)

First, notice that in this passage, there is absolutely no mention of Jesus: the only reference is to the “Son of Man.” Second, according to this passage, all one must do to enter the “kingdom” of the “Father” (the ‘kingdom of God’ or the ‘kingdom of heaven’) and gain “life everlasting” is to do good deeds to others in need. So basically, all one must do is to observe the core of the Mosaic Law.

Probably needless to mention, this is contrary to Christian theology because one of the tenets of Christianity is to believe in Jesus’s death, resurrection, and his being the Son of God and our Savior to enter the kingdom of God (or heaven). In the above passage, the “righteous” had no clue who the “Son of Man” was, and they still entered God’s kingdom! So, the title “Son of Man,” here could not have originally referred to Jesus: because according to early (and even modern) Christian teaching, one could not possibly enter the kingdom of God (or heaven) unless one knew and acknowledged Jesus as God’s Son and one’s Savior. Consequently, the evangelist Matthew seems to have slipped here. The above gospel passage, therefore, passes the criterion of dissimilarity and, consequently, it’s most probably authentic: that is, what Jesus actually said.

Biblical Scholars

Let me now quote New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman to confirm what I just wrote here: this way, I will be more convincing. He comments as follows on the last passage from Matthew’s gospel:

“The future [last] judgement is based, not on belief in Jesus’s death and resurrection, but on doing good things to those in need. Later Christians—including … Paul … [and] other writers of the Gospel—maintained that it was belief in Jesus that would bring a person into the coming kingdom. But nothing in this passage even hints at the need to believe in Jesus per se: these people didn’t even know him. … The conclusion? The sayings of the passage probably go back to Jesus.” (pp. 312–13, emphasis mine)

Let me reiterate Ehrman’s conclusion here: “The sayings of the passage probably go back to Jesus.” This means they bear much more weight, for us Christians, than any other passages in the New Testament, including those by Paul. Consequently, belief in Jesus as well as ‘substitutional atonement’ (Savior) seem to be false doctrines. In fact, in his book God and Empire, John Dominic Crossan states,

“It is certainly correct … to call Jesus’ death—or in fact the death of a martyr—a sacrifice, but substitution and suffering are not the point of a sacrifice. Substitutionary atonement is bad as theoretical Christian theology just as suicidal terrorism is bad as practical Islamic theology. Jesus died because of our sins, or from our sins, but that should never be misread as for our sins. In Jesus, the [non-violent] radicality of God became incarnate, and the normalcy of civilization’s brutal violence (our sins, or better, Our Sin) executed him. Jesus’ execution asks us to face the truth that, across human evolution, injustice has been created and maintained by violence while justice has been opposed and avoided by violence. That warning, if heeded, can be salvation [well-being].” (pp. 140–41, emphasis in original)

Apparently, the apostles lost Jesus (a great miracle worker) so abruptly that the only way they could make sense of it was assuming it was all part of God’s plan and that Jesus had to die to deliver us from our sins. And that’s what they taught Paul when he converted to Christianity. Paul, being new to Christianity, regurgitated their then-current ‘creed’:

“I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.” (First Corinthians 15:3, KJV)

But, in fact, there are no Old Testament scriptures saying that the ‘Messiah’ (Jewish for ‘Christ’) must suffer. The Messiah was supposed to be a great Israelite king (the calibre of David and Solomon) who would rule the whole world with God’s help.

It goes without saying, that despite what Christians believe, the above theological concepts are false; they rob God of his impartiality: God gives rain to everyone—good or bad. Since modern Christians equate the kingdom of God to heaven, these doctrines condemn the majority (about 5.5 billion) of humanity to hell, possibly leaving only (about 2.4 billion) Christians who can go to heaven. If this were truly the case, then Satan has defeated God—hands down—throughout the ages.

Although, throughout the gospels, Jesus seems to refer to himself as the Son of Man, in his book God and Empire, also biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan makes it clear that he does not think Jesus adopted the title himself; he believes that the evangelists assigned it to him (p.127): basically agreeing with Ehrman that Jesus is not the Son of Man.

Purgatory

So, it seems Catholics are right in this respect: we probably all have to pay a fair price for our sins in purgatory before we can enter heaven. In other words, Jesus did not pay for our sins, as Protestants believe. Here’s another quote from Matthew’s gospel confirming this:

“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16: 27–28, KJV, emphasis mine)

In other words, Jesus thought that the coming of the kingdom of God (in which God ‘rules’ in our heart) was imminent—within his generation; he was wrong, of course, by two millennia and counting: showing that he was only human: it shows he didn’t know everything, so he couldn’t possibly also be divine (God).

Of course, I don’t believe the punishment for our sins will be eternal. (Refer to my article on “Hell” to see why.) Recall also that, in Jesus’s mind, the ‘kingdom of God’ was a kingdom on earth: in fact, in the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ we still pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth” (Catholic Online: “The Our Father,” accessed April 13, 2022, emphasis mine). See my last article on the “Kingdom of God/Heaven.”

In short, most of the time in the gospels, the phrase ‘Son of Man’ refers to Jesus because later Christians assigned this ‘title’ to him; however, in fact, the Son of Man should not refer to Jesus. Jesus himself probably believed that there would be a universal judge inaugurating the beginning of the kingdom of God.

Matthew’s gospel portrays Jesus thinking that the Son of Man will accomplish his task in one fell swoop: like lightning flashes across the sky from east to west.

“For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matthew 24:27, KJV)

This verse is repeated, almost word for word, in Luke’s gospel. (Luke 17:24)

End Times

According to the gospels, following the coming of the Son of Man, the end of the earth as we know it will ensue. In Matthew’s gospel, the above verse is immediately followed by these words of Jesus:

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. … Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” (Matthew 24:29–31, 34, KJV, emphasis mine)

So, Matthew portrays Jesus predicting the end of the earth as we know it prior to the establishment of a brand new one within the then-living generation. The same concept of the ‘end-times’ is also found in Mark’s and Luke’s gospels. (See Mark 13:24–27 & Luke 21:24–28, 31–32, 36)

Notice also that Jesus did not seem to realize that if a single star (like the sun) were to fall upon the earth, it would disintegrate the earth—the earth would not survive the conflagration. However, in those days, people taught that stars were small—the size of a fig, say. This means that, even according to gospel texts, Jesus did not know everything, especially scientific facts: which implies that he was only human; thus showing he cannot be God.

Note, however, that Jesus seems to keep himself distanced from this ‘cleansing’ action: the task is delegated to the Son of Man. Naturally, this conforms with Jesus’s totally-non-violent character.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Incidentally, Jehovah’s Witnesses (and other Christian denominations) believe there are no humans in heaven, except Jesus, because of the following verse in John’s gospel portraying Jesus telling Pharisee Nicodemus:

“No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which [who] is in heaven.” (John 3:13, KJV)

Of course, their belief crumbles all to dust if Jesus is not the Son of Man himself: in other words, if this is truly the case, not even Jesus is in heaven—by their own teaching.

Still, the Son of Man possibly only existed in Jesus’s imagination: the way he understood Scriptures as written in Daniel; it does not even follow that he really exists. For all we know, it was only a vision or a dream Daniel had: we don’t really know whether what he saw was factual. So the very existence of the Son of Man, even biblically, is questionable. The introduction to Daniel’s dream or vision goes,

“Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream.” (Daniel 7:1, KJV)

Remember also that Jesus was only human, and keep in mind that the Bible is not a truth factory, either.

Incidentally, Jesus could not possibly have said the last clause “who is in heaven” if he was referring to himself. In writing the last clause “who is in heaven,” the evangelist John seems to have forgotten, momentarily, that Jesus was supposed to be speaking in this account—not the evangelist himself: Jesus could not possibly be in heaven while speaking to Nicodemus. It may be worth clarifying what the evangelist means here. At the time his gospel was being written (i.e., some 70 years after Jesus’s death and resurrection), Jesus had presumably ascended into heaven. Since Jesus was referring to himself in the text, he could not possibly have uttered this clause while speaking to Nicodemus (i.e., while he was still alive); naturally, he only went to heaven after he died and was resurrected. Talk about ‘gospel truth’!

References

Catholic Online: “The Apostles’ Creed,” https://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=220.

Catholic Online: “The Our Father,” https://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=216.

Crossan, John Dominic. God and Empire: Jesus against Rome, Then and Now. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2008. (ISBN: 9780060858315)

Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York, NY: Harper One, 2012. (ISBN: 9780062204608)

Reed, David and Penni Reed. “I Was a JW Elder.” In Investigator 10, 1990 January: http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/JwElderDavidReed10.htm.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Oxford, UK, 1769.

Kingdom of God/Heaven

Banquet

In his book Did Jesus Exist? New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman explains how the phrase kingdom of God is used in the New Testament: it might be a little surprising to some readers; he writes,

“When people today hear the term kingdom of God, they typically think of heaven, as the place where souls go once they die. But that is not what [was] meant …. For Jesus the kingdom was an actual place, here on earth, where God would rule supreme. … The kingdom was a real tangible place, where love, peace, and justice would prevail.” (p. 305)

Ehrman then refers to a few quotes from the gospels to show this is the case.

Matthew’s gospel portrays Jesus telling his apostles that, in this new kingdom, they were all going to be rulers sitting on thrones and judging the twelve Hebrew tribes; we read,

“Jesus said unto them [his apostles], ‘Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration [new age (NAB)] when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’” (Matthew 19:28, KJV)

Of course, it goes without saying that, if his apostles were going to be rulers, Jesus would still be above his apostles: that is, he would be their head, or the ‘king,’ of this so-called kingdom of God.

Luke’s gospel portrays Jesus thinking that there would be normal eating and drinking in this new kingdom.

“He [Jesus] said unto them [his apostles], ‘with desire I have desired to eat this Passover [meal] with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.’” (Luke 22:15–18, KJV)

And again, Luke’s gospel portrays Jesus warning people that they might be left out of this new kingdom unless they measure up; we read,

“There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.” (Luke 13:28, KJV)

Jesus’s Mission

In my article “Adam and Eve—Original Sin” I argued that the story of Adam and Eve is only a myth and, therefore, no original sin was actually committed; consequently, God never expected Jesus to atone for original sin or our sins. So, what did God desire of Jesus? I believe God begot his Son, Jesus, so that he could show us, through example, the best way to live this gift of life: never to use violence and establish a personal relationship with God.

In fact, John’s gospel portrays Jesus telling the Pharisees, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10, KJV) I don’t think he was talking about riches, here. And elsewhere, the same gospel portrays Jesus telling his apostle Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6, KJV) Assuming Jesus did really utter this last clause, I interpret it as ‘through Jesus’s teachings’ because they apply to all humans: that is, not through belief that Jesus is God’s Son, nor through his intercession with the Father.

Humanity, in the time of Jesus, was completely lost: it had no sense of direction; perhaps the same as nowadays, I would dare say. God did not beget his Son to die atoning for our sins; Jesus’s death was a consequence of his mission from his Father. Let me explain why.

In one of the undisputed Pauline letters, First Corinthians, we read,

“Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:6–8, KJV, emphasis mine)

Notice the phrases: “not the wisdom of this world” and “the wisdom of God.” What, exactly, is the “wisdom of this world” and how does it differ from “the wisdom of God”?

Violence has been the drug of choice of humanity throughout all ages. Particularly, Rome’s ‘theology’ at the time of Jesus was: conquer by the violence of war, and once victory is achieved, it would be followed by ‘peace’—the famous Pax Romana, Latin for ‘Roman Peace.’ There would be nobody left in the conquered land, anyway; so, there had to be peace: everybody was killed by the Roman legions.

In this article, I shall show how God gradually guided Jesus what to teach humanity: that the kingdom of God can only come on earth through the non-violent means of justice, sharing, equality, love, kindness, mercy, and truth; followed inevitably by true peace and happiness. Naturally, the rest of the world did not have much faith in this type of behavior. In fact, Matthew’s gospel portrays Jesus saying,

“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven [i.e., kingdom of God (see next section)] suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12, KJV)

[Apparently the evangelist momentarily forgot that Jesus (and not himself) was supposed to be speaking in this verse.] What this verse means is that, since the time of John the Baptist (i.e., around 30 CE) to the time of Matthew’s writing his gospel (i.e., around 80 CE)—that is, for about half a century after Jesus died—Jesus’s opponents had been trying to prevent people from accepting the kingdom of God and to snatch it away from those who had received it by violent means. From experience we know that frequently justice is hindered and injustice perpetrated by violent means. John the Baptist’s and Jesus’s deaths were two obvious examples of such violence—not to mention Peter’s and Paul’s in the mid-60s CE.

Kingdom of Heaven

From various texts in Matthew’s gospel, one can deduce that the author’s congregation was “originally strongly Jewish-Christian” (NAB, p. 10). So, in most instances, the author substituted the expression ‘kingdom of heaven’ for ‘kingdom of God’ out of respect for the name of God, which was normally “avoided by devout Jews of the time” (NAB, Matthew 3:2n).

Let us examine one obvious case, from the synoptic gospels, just to prove the point.

Mark’s gospel portrays Jesus saying,

“Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them [his disciples], ‘Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:24–25, KJV, emphasis mine)

Luke’s gospel has practically the same thing.

“When Jesus saw that he [the would-be follower] was very sorrowful, he said, ‘How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:25, KJV emphasis mine)

But Matthew renders these verses,

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, ‘Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.’” (Matthew 19:23–24, KJV, emphasis mine)

That is, Matthew uses the phrases “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” synonymously.

As mentioned, to Jesus the kingdom of God was a kingdom of justice, non-violence, sharing, equality, peace, happiness, love, kindness, mercy, and truth. However, the phrase “kingdom of heaven” in Matthew’s gospel introduces overtones of the afterlife. This is where and how our confusion started from.

In the above verses by the three synoptic evangelists, Jesus warns us that it is much harder for rich people to join the kingdom of God, which is an earthly kingdom. Of course, he says it in the form of a hyperbole and should not be taken literally; however, it is true that rich and powerful people (addicted to money and power) tend not to play fair and to lord it over others. Obviously, such an attitude is not conducive to an environment of sharing and equality. So, the erroneous conclusion from these verses by later Christian churches (equating the ‘kingdom of God’ or the ‘kingdom of heaven’ to heaven) was that most, if not all, rich people will go to hell. But the kingdom of God (or equivalently the kingdom of heaven) was supposed to be a kingdom on this earth.

It might also interest the reader that, according to Wikipedia, there are other considerations to this rather strange last verse. It says that fifth century CE Christian church patriarch “Cyril of Alexandria … claimed that ‘camel’ was a Greek scribal typo where kamêlos (… camel) was written in place of kamilos, (… meaning ‘rope’ or ‘cable’)” (Wikipedia: “Eye of a Needle,” accessed March 4, 2022).

Still, it is rather impossible to thread a rope through the eye of a needle, but it is more in line with the verse’s exaggeration—it makes more sense.

Alternatively, Wikipedia adds:

“The ‘Eye of the Needle’ has been claimed to be a gate in Jerusalem, which opened after the main gate was closed at night. A camel could not pass through this smaller gate unless it was stooped and had its baggage removed. This story has been put forth since at least the 15th century, and possibly as far back as the 9th century. However, there is no widely accepted evidence for the existence of such a gate” (Wikipedia: “Eye of a Needle,” accessed March 4, 2022).

Personally, I tend to lean toward this latter explanation.

Something like this explanation is a classic example of how biblical concepts become tangled over time. Obviously, this verse became quite an incentive for a rich person to donate one’s wealth to the church on one’s death-bed.

Anyway, the most important point, I want to make here, is that the phrases ‘kingdom of God’ and ‘kingdom of heaven’ in the gospels are one and the same thing. They both mean a somewhat utopian ‘kingdom’ of the heart on this earth and have nothing to do with the afterlife. If the reader is still unconvinced, recall the words of the prayer commonly known as the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ or the ‘Our Father.’ It says, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”—notice my emphases.

Kingdom of God

The kingdom of God can only come on earth if everyone pitches in.

Imagine a place where people do not drive on one side of the road, they drive any which way they feel like and they have no driving rules. It would be a nightmare trying to get from one place to another. Cars will have to move much more slowly and cautiously. We would drive nowhere close to one hundred kilometers (c. 62 mi.) per hour or faster.

Likewise, think of people’s behavior in a building on fire—they push, stumble, and step on one another: with the result that hardly anyone gets out and saves oneself. Meanwhile, had they tried to organize themselves and move out rationally, and perhaps some of them tried to control the fire in the meantime, many more would be able to escape the fire.

Our solidarity in sin, has, over time, constituted dominating systems that are now equivalent to what one might call ‘powers of evil’ that one person alone cannot defeat. Besides the fact that the whole of society must realize that we must all act together, I doubt whether we can achieve this by ourselves; that is, without any direct help from God himself.

About two millennia ago, Jesus came to help us accomplish this—he jump-started things for us—but after two-thousand-odd years, it still did not happen. It looked like it was going to happen initially:

“All that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat [food] with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:44–47)

But it stalled. So naturally we expect Jesus to come a second time to finish the job. But, would a second coming make any difference?

I think a wait of two thousand years for Jesus’s Second Coming should be enough for us to reconsider our thinking. I think God is waiting for us to wake up. We need to give up our drug of choice first—violence. God will help us; but first we must realize what we are doing wrong and decide that we really want to do this together. Then Jesus will be in our midst again, not necessarily physically, but certainly in spirit: when the whole of humanity is living in a kingdom of God’s making.

We figured out that we must drive on one side of the road—that all of us must do it. We have learnt to trust what the other person is going to do on the road. But we have not yet figured out what to do in a burning building. Complete honesty and trust in God are the requirements for his special assistance. Personally, I do not think I could think and act rationally in a burning building—unless God gives me special help at that very moment. I have, however, in the past, experienced special help from God that enabled me to do things that I did not believe I could do. Perhaps the reader has too—on very rare occasions.

Let us, however, for a moment, forget about rare situations like terrorism, ideological or ethnic wars, and burning buildings; let us concentrate on everyday life and share what we have with others: practice will then enable us to do the harder things, when and if the time comes. God assures us that he will be there for us on the side of good and truth, ready to help us. He also assures us that the power of good is greater than the power of evil. Like light has an advantage over darkness: it simply cuts through darkness. He also assures us that doing good to others is contagious and spreads like wildfire or a weed. In fact, Mark’s gospel portrays Jesus saying,

“Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what comparison shall we compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.” (Mark 4:30–32, KJV)

However, it so happened that in the process of preaching the kingdom of God, Jesus got killed by the church and state of his time; he was an accusatory stumbling-block to both. Jesus (and his Father) probably knew that he was going to end up killed because of this, but he had to show us that in following him, we too will probably have to suffer. Jesus died as a consequence of our sins—because of our sins, because of the way the world had become—not to pay for our sins. It is easy to confuse these two concepts.

The sequence of what normally happens is clearly shown in John’s gospel. First the church accused Jesus.

“The Jews answered him [Pilate], ‘We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.’” (John 19:7, KJV)

Then the state accused Jesus.

“But the Jews cried out, saying, ‘If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.’” (John 19:12, KJV)

Finally, the church joined the state in accusing Jesus.

“The chief priests answered: ‘We have no king but Caesar.’” (John 19:15, KJV)

In failing to recognize a man of God and a miracle-worker, like Jesus, one might wonder where God fitted in the lives of these chief priests.

Jesus came to challenge the social paradigms of his time: proclaiming a better life. He did not come to form his own government; in fact, he apparently avoided kingship according to John’s gospel.

“When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.” (John 6:15, KJV)

He also taught that God and state are compatible.

“Jesus answering said unto them [the Pharisees and Herodians], ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’” (Mark 12:17, KJV)

God is not interested in a political kingdom: he only wants to ‘reign’ in our heart/mind.

John’s gospel portrays Jesus conversing with the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, during his trial.

“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence [here].’ Pilate therefore said unto him, ‘Art thou a king then?’ Jesus answered, ‘Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.’” (John 18:36–37, KJV)

Jesus here declares that his kingdom (the kingdom of God), unlike any other earthly kingdom, is a kingdom of non-violence and truth. He also declared that this is the reason why he was born—to be the king of such a kingdom—hence, the meaning of ‘Christ the King.’

However, Jesus, like God, wants to reign in our heart—he does not desire a political kingdom: politics and God’s kingdom are, therefore, compatible. What is a little harder to understand is the phrase “this world”; it means the world of those days—the Roman Empire: its ideology, which, as I argued, was based on war, victory, and what it called ‘peace.’

Unfortunately, over time, the here and now changed to the hereafter—getting us off the hook. The clause “but now my kingdom is not from hence [here]” may be misleading: we might think it is a kingdom in heaven. Yet, it is a non-violent earthly kingdom, which has heavenly roots: “as it is in heaven.”

Son of God

An interesting and important question is whether Jesus was aware that he had a mission from God, and that he was supposed to promote this ‘kingdom of God.’

In Luke’s gospel, we read that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit who donated a sperm to his mother, Mary; we read,

“The angel [Gabriel] said unto her [Mary], ‘… Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest [God] ….’ Then said Mary unto the angel, ‘How shall this be, seeing I know not a man [have no husband]?’ And the angel answered and said unto her, ‘The Holy Ghost [Spirit] shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest [God] shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing [offspring] which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.’” (Luke 1:30–32, 34–35, KJV, emphasis mine)

Assuming this was the case, I presume Jesus’s mother, Mary, would eventually have told him about all this. So, I would not be surprised that Jesus may have considered himself to be literally the Son of God, and that he had to do something about it. Incidentally, Mary’s acceptance of such a role (see Luke 1:38) was breathtaking: in those days, adulterers, especially women, were stoned to death (see John 8:5).

Donating a special sperm so that Mary could conceive Jesus is not such a big deal in the grand scheme of things: God can perform much greater miracles; take, for example, the ‘Miracle of the Sun’ near Fatima, Portugal. I believe that Jesus’s virgin birth did happen (see my article on “Mary’s Virginity”) and that, therefore, Jesus is the Son of God par excellence. But then I do not believe that Jesus is also God, or that he existed before his birth—as most of Christianity tends to believe—I think there is only one God, and Jesus is only human.

Roman Empire

In the New Testament, there is hardly any doubt that Jews despised their ruling Romans. For starters they hated paying taxes to Rome, and they considered native tax collectors traitors and even public sinners.

They also hated, in a special manner, the Roman legions. Here is an account of a miracle in Mark’s gospel, supposedly performed by Jesus, showing Jewish sentiments toward the Roman legions.

“They [Jesus and his apostles] came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, and cried with a loud voice, and said, ‘What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.’ For he said unto him, ‘Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit.’ And he [Jesus] asked him, ‘What is thy name?’ And he answered, saying, ‘My name is Legion: for we are many.’ And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country. Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, ‘Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.’ And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand); and were choked in the sea.” (Mark 5:1–13, KJV, emphasis mine)

I find Jesus’s alleged behavior—allowing the evil spirits to enter the swine—somewhat unbecoming of his general character. Moreover, it seems that two-thousand-odd demons’ possessing one person is unlikely. But then, a legion consisting of several thousand (c. 5,000) legionaries might have personified the devil incarnate to a patriotic Jew.

Although Jesus might have performed an exorcism of some sort, I think the account is exaggerated and shows the hatred the Jews had for Rome and its legions. Whenever a Roman colony rebelled, the Romans sent their legions, and they levelled it to the ground: they were hated and had the worst of reputations. Indeed, they also levelled Jerusalem and destroyed its temple in 70 CE. This miracle account reeks of superstitious overtones too; to the Jews of that time, inside a pig was one of the worst places one could end up in—the pig was such a despicable animal: recall the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:15–16). The Roman legionaries’ place was inside pigs. That must have triggered a chuckle.

Furthermore, Jews hated the Roman Empire: revolutions abounded in Israel. The author of Revelation, the exiled John of Patmos, writes against Rome in code form: calling it Babylon (the nation that had exiled the Jews from 597 BCE to 537 BCE), comparing it to a whore, and telling Christians to stop sleeping with the devil, so to speak (Crossan, p. 142).

“I [John of Patmos] heard another voice from heaven, saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.’” (Revelation 18:4, KJV)

Biblical scholars detect erotic language in this verse; it is crudely telling the Christian church, “Interrupt your intercourse with her lest you become infected by her venereal diseases.”

Roman Religion

In his article “Roman Religion,” ancient and medieval history teacher Donald Wasson writes that one wise policy the Roman Empire had was freedom of religion. The Romans did not force anyone to adopt their religion or any of their gods; while, at the same time, they adopted and included most foreign gods with their own—lest the deities might be offended if they did not.

Since the Jews believed in only one God, they did not participate in the worship of the Roman gods, nor did they offer sacrifices to the Roman gods or the emperor—who was declared divine—as the rest of the empire did. Jews were therefore considered ‘atheists’ of some sort by Roman standards, but still they were fairly tolerated because they were firmly established throughout the Roman Empire; albeit they might have been blamed for many a misfortune because of their, so called irreligion (Wasson, accessed March 4, 2022).

So, had the chief priests accused Jesus of claiming to be the ‘Son of God,’ Pilate would have asked them which god and probably told them to get lost. His point would have been that it was a religious matter and that, consequently, it had to be sorted out by the religious authorities.

The problem for the Jews who wanted Jesus dead was that the Romans did not allow capital punishment to be carried out by the local people: only the Roman governor had the authority to execute a death penalty. But the religious authorities wanted Jesus dead for blaspheming—claiming to be literally the Son of God. I cannot say I blame them entirely; we would probably have reacted the same way nowadays if someone were to claim to be, literally, the son of God. So, they had to somehow show the governor conspiracy against the state: a strictly religious accusation would not have been enough for Pilate to consent to capital punishment.

Jesus’s Trial

In John’s gospel, initially the chief priests tried to be elusive in their accusations, but Pilate quickly put them in their place.

“Pilate then went out unto them [the crowd], and said, ‘What accusation bring ye against this man?’ They answered and said unto him, ‘If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee.’ Then said Pilate unto them, ‘Take ye him, and judge him according to your law.’ The Jews therefore said unto him, ‘It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.’” (John 18:29–31, KJV)

True, the Jews despised the Roman colonists so much they would never have delivered one of their own to Pilate: probably not even if one was truly a revolutionary.

So that did not go too well with Pilate: they knew they could not execute him. So, they resorted to another plan: trying to explain blasphemy to Pilate.

“The Jews answered him, ‘we have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.’” (John 19:7, KJV)

But the chief priests probably also knew that this was not going to fly: Pilate could not care less about their laws or religious beliefs.

This was probably something that Jesus had claimed for the longest time. So, why did the chief priests not arrest him for it before? Because it was strictly a religious charge, and that would not have impressed Pilate at all.

They needed something more politically sensitive. Such opportunity was, apparently, given them by Judas Iscariot, who, according to the gospels, is said to have ‘betrayed’ Jesus. So, the crucial question is; when the gospels say that one of Jesus’s apostles, Judas Iscariot, betrayed Jesus: what exactly did they mean, what did he tell the religious authorities to make them think they had enough evidence to have him convicted of a capital offence? What did they pay Judas thirty silver pieces for?

This is what enabled the chief priests to bring out their third ace up their sleeve—the information Judas Iscariot gave them.

“But the Jews cried out, saying, ‘If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.’” (John 19:12, KJV)

Where did that come from? Jesus never declared himself king.

New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, in his book How Jesus Became God, explains what probably happened; we must read between the lines, of course. The gospels give us the impression that Judas Iscariot led the Jewish authorities to Jesus at a time when he was away from the crowds. Ehrman does not buy this explanation. He asks why they did not have him followed. Hiring an insider was totally unnecessary; he argues,

“There are reasons for thinking that in fact Judas betrayed something else. Here are two facts to bear in mind. The first is to reaffirm that we have no record of Jesus ever proclaiming himself to be the future king of the Jews, the messiah, in public context. This is never his message. His message is about the coming kingdom to be brought about by the Son of Man. He always keeps himself out of it. The second fact is that when the authorities arrested Jesus and handed him over to Pontius Pilate, the consistent report is that the charge leveled against him at this trial was that he called himself king of the Jews. If Jesus never preached in public that he was the future king, but this was the charge levelled against him at his trial, how did outsiders come to know of it? The simplest answer is that this is what Judas betrayed. Judas was one of the insiders to whom Jesus disclosed his vision of the future. Judas and the eleven others would all be rulers in the future kingdom. And Jesus would be the king. … He told the Jewish authorities what Jesus was actually teaching in private, and it was all they needed.” (pp. 121–22)

Although many gospel verses identify Jesus with the Son of Man, in the next post, by the same title, I shall show that Jesus did not think himself to be this Son of Man. The Son of Man was a character from the book of Daniel to whom was given dominion over God’s kingdom: he would judge and clean up the world in the end-times. It was a misinterpretation by the evangelists identifying Jesus as the Son of Man.

Reading between the lines of the following subtle, probing question, which in John’s gospel the chief priest asks Jesus right after he was arrested, agrees with what Ehrman contends above.

“The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine. Jesus answered him, ‘I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou me? Ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.’” (John 18:19–21, KJV)

Although the evangelist John portrays Jesus saying nothing different in private than in public, Ehrman argues that Jesus might have said something that could be misconstrued by outsiders. As we saw at the beginning of this article, he apparently told his apostles that in the coming kingdom of God they would all be judges of the Hebrew tribes, and that, by inference, he would be king of Israel. (See Matthew 19:28)

In fact, it is interesting to note that Jesus does not deny most of the Jews’ charges before Pilate. John’s gospel continues:

“Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, ‘Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, ‘Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence [here].’  Pilate therefore said unto him, ‘Art thou a king then?’ Jesus answered, ‘Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.’” (John 18:33–37, KJV)

After this discussion Pilate realized that Jesus was not a military threat: that Jesus was an idealist; he probably also thought that Jesus was just a dreamer, and so from then on he tried to release him. (See John 19:12)

In fact, he later makes a joke of the phrase ‘king of the Jews.’ After having Jesus scourged, he showed him to the crowd, also crowned with thorns.

“He [Pilate] saith unto the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ But they cried out, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’” (John 19:14–15, KJV)

Although it seems Pilate was toying with them, this last sentence must have struck him like a rock. Naturally, Pilate could not risk his career for a simple peasant; so, he went along with them in his verdict and condemned Jesus to death.

“Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was ‘Jesus Of Nazareth The King Of The Jews.’” (John 19:19, KJV, emphasis in original)

Thus, Jesus ended up the victim of church and state.

In his book God and Empire, biblical scholar John Crossan writes that people in the first century CE could hardly separate (distinguish between) church and state. The early Christians were not only religious but also political: church and state were like the two sides of the same coin. He points out, for example, that even Caesar’s coins had ‘Divi F’ inscribed, which is short for Divi Filius, meaning ‘Son of God.’ In the first century CE, church and state were synonymous, as the Church of England was a few centuries ago, or Christianity in the Roman Empire after Constantine adopted Christianity as the religion of the state. The ultimate question for the early Christians, therefore, was to whom does the world belong: God or the emperor? And how should it be run? (Crossan, p. 117) So, they adopted the Roman emperor’s titles and invested Jesus with them.

According to Unitarian Universalist Pastor Carl Gregg, in the days of the Roman Empire, it was dangerous to declare God king of the whole world because the emperor occupied that position.

“One aspect of historical Jesus studies that almost all scholars actually agree about is that a central aspect of Jesus’ ministry concerned speaking about the kingdom of God. And to speak about God being king, when Caesar had declared himself divine, was audacious to say the least.” (Gregg, accessed March 4, 2022, emphasis in original)

The phrase ‘whole world’ was synonymous to the Roman Empire.

Why is all this not clearly stated in the gospels? Well, following Jesus’s mandate to preach the gospel to the whole world, Christians wanted to infiltrate the Roman Empire (the whole world of that time). Consequently, they could not openly admit that Jesus might have been construed as an insurgent under Roman law, and that he might have been justly condemned by the Roman authorities; so, Christians blamed his death on Jewish envy of Jesus. In fact, even in the earliest gospel, Mark’s, we read, “For he [Pilate] knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.” (Mark 15:10, KJV)

The reader should not be naïve enough to think that there are no politics involved in religion. Everyone knew for whom crucifixion was reserved—revolutionaries: there was no need for the evangelists to emphasize it in their writings. Had Christians admitted that Jesus might have been condemned fairly, they would not have been able to settle anywhere in the Roman Empire. Christians tried to integrate and merge with people in the Roman Empire as unobtrusively as possible. They obviously realized they had to somehow pussyfoot around Jesus’s crucifixion in the Roman Empire.

John the Baptist

John the Baptist was also a special person—by God’s standards, I mean. If one were to believe what Luke’s gospel says, his birth was also almost miraculous; we read,

“There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course [priestly division (NAB)] of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken [advanced] in years. And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, according to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, ‘Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.’” (Luke 1:5–13’ KJV)

In short, although Elizabeth was barren and past her age of fertility, she still conceived a son—John the Baptist. As I argued above, I have no problem with miraculous (or almost miraculous) accounts; in other words, I have no reason to question this account since it does not contradict anything else in the gospels.

Now, according to Luke’s gospel, it also seems that John the Baptist and Jesus were related. Luke continues his account.

“After those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, ‘Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.’ And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, ‘Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.’ And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, ‘Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest [God]: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob [Israel] for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.’ Then said Mary unto the angel, ‘How shall this be, seeing I know not a man [have no husband]?’ And the angel answered and said unto her, ‘The Holy Ghost [Spirit] shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest [God] shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing [offspring] which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be [is] impossible.’” (Luke 1:24–37, KJV, emphasis mine)

According to Luke, therefore, Mary and Elizabeth were ‘cousins’; so, chances are that John the Baptist and Jesus knew each other. Now John’s gospel contradicts this (see John 1:31, 33), but since Luke’s gospel was written prior to John’s gospel, I shall assume the former is the correct version of the facts.

Luke continues his account.

“Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost [Spirit]: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, ‘Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her [Mary] from the Lord.’” (Luke 1:39–45, KJV)

So, it is quite clear from this gospel that Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, somehow knew quite well what was going on with Mary’s pregnancy.

John the Baptist, therefore, probably realized that God wanted something special from him, too, because, I presume, his parents told him about his almost miraculous conception and the angel’s apparition telling Zachary that “he shall be great in the sight of the Lord.” (Luke 1:15, KJV) He, therefore, started a mission of preaching repentance of personal sins and baptizing (symbolizing both cleansing and rebirth by immersion in water) people in the River Jordan: he believed there was going to be an imminent cleanup of the whole world executed by God himself.

I also presume that his mother, Elizabeth, eventually told him about Jesus and Mary: that his relative Jesus was miraculously conceived by the direct action of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, John knew that his relative Jesus was someone even more special—by God’s standards, that is.

As a result, in Mark’s gospel, for example, we read about John the Baptist referring to Jesus’s greatness.

“[He] preached, saying, ‘There cometh one [Jesus] mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.’” (Mark 1:7, KJV)

In Luke’s and John’s gospels (Luke 3:16 & John, 1:27), we read practically the same thing.

John the Baptist seems to have had a fiery personality, so he thought that God would come to clean up the whole world violently: that is, disposing of all evildoers in one swoop fell so that the righteous could live in harmony together. In Matthew’s gospel, for example, we read,

“But when he [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, ‘O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet [evidence (NAB)] for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, “We have Abraham to [for] our father”: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.’” (Matthew 3:7–10, KJV, emphasis mine).

In Luke’s gospel (3:7–9), we read practically the same thing.

But when, decades later, God did not come to clean up the world violently (simply because it is not God’s nature to do such things) all the evangelists toned down John the Baptist’s words foretelling the end of the world as we know it; they wrote that he was only preparing or announcing the coming of Jesus—the Messiah/Christ—the ‘Anointed One’ of God. But that is not quite right; John the Baptist was foretelling a violent divine cleanup of this evil world: like that described in Revelation by the exiled John of Patmos.

John the Baptist might have thought that everything hinged on Jesus, but he was still confused by Jesus’s somewhat passive nature: God’s kingdom, however, was nothing like he or anyone else had expected.

In fact, while he was imprisoned, he sent a couple of his disciples to ask Jesus, point blank, whether he was the Messiah or whether the Messiah was someone else who still had to come.

“Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ [Jesus], he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, ‘Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?’ Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in [shocked by] me.’” (Matthew 11:2–6, KJV)

Jesus here quotes John several verses from Isaiah (26:19; 29:18–19; 35:5–6; 61:1). Was it a prophecy? Possibly! Personally, I just think it was more like Isaiah’s dream-wish. Although some miracles might have happened in Jesus’s time, we know, for a fact, that all the above wonders stopped happening nowadays.

Judas the Galilean

Before I move on to Jesus of Nazareth, I would like to take a quick look at an important historical figure (also mentioned by first-century-CE historian Josephus) who came from Jesus’s backyard, so to speak, and from whom Jesus might have had inspiration.

In his books The Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus labeled Judas’s resistance a fourth philosophy; the other three being: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. Judas preached that God alone was the ruler of Israel, and therefore no taxes should be payable to Rome: in his opinion, submitting to a Roman tax census was, therefore, equivalent to substituting Rome for God. According to Wikipedia, around 6 CE Judas instigated Jews not to register for Roman tax-paying purposes, and whoever complied with the Romans had his house burned and his cattle stolen by Judas’s followers. (Wikipedia: “Judas of Galilee,” accessed March 4, 2022)

Apparently, however, he used no violence against the more powerful and radically retaliatory Romans. According to Crossan in God and Empire, Judas’s resistance was nonviolent: possibly one of the first of its kind. Judas’s followers were willing to suffer torture, martyrdom, as well as the extermination of their kinsmen; but they were unwilling to pay taxes to Rome. Crossan concludes his introduction of Judas the Galilean,

“Thus, Judas [the Galilean], not Jesus, was the first Galilean to proclaim nonviolent resistance to violent injustice in the first quarter of the first century CE.” (pp. 91–94)

I contend that Jesus, being human, might have learnt something from him.

Jesus of Nazareth

Since most of Christianity believes that Jesus is God (or some pre-existing spirit—like Michael the archangel in human form—Reed, accessed March 4, 2022) we frequently assume that he knew everything in advance. It may come as a surprise to the reader, as it was to me, that Jesus was completely human: he learned from his experience, his mistakes, and others’ mistakes. God did not reveal everything to him up front; however, it seems God provided enough happening around him to formulate a good-enough plan of action: God instructed Jesus like us—gradually.

Like John the Baptist, Jesus also probably knew that God wanted something special from him because, again I presume, Mary and Joseph probably told him about his miraculous birth by the Holy Spirit. They probably also told him about the almost miraculous birth of his relative, John the Baptist; Jesus’s first move, therefore, was to join a man of God he knew almost first hand: he went to be baptized by John.

There is hardly any doubt about Jesus’s baptism by John: all four gospels testify to it, and it sure passes the criterion of dissimilarity that New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman explains in some detail in his book Did Jesus Exist? Briefly, an incident passes the criterion of dissimilarity if it is an odd or embarrassing account that has the ring of truth—like Jesus’s crucifixion, say. (pp. 291–93) Mark simply mentions Jesus’s baptism (Mark 1:9); Matthew tries to justify it (Matthew 3:13–15); Luke practically hides it (Luke 3:21); and John only implies it (John 1:32–34). Ever since I was very young, Jesus’s baptism has always bothered me: baptism with water is presumably a figurative cleansing: so, why did Jesus have to be baptized if he was without sin? Possibly, as a ritual to join John the Baptist’s group: the same way we are first baptized to become Christians.

In God and Empire, Crossan opines that, initially, Jesus also probably thought that God would clean up the world through a swift violent action. However, when John the Baptist got arrested and God did not come to his rescue, he learnt from experience; presumably, he realized that violence was not God’s nature: God only uses conviction and conversion. So, from then on, Jesus started to think that, possibly, God’s kingdom was already present on earth, but in ‘seed form,’ and that it would grow slowly to a tree, or like a weed, to immeasurable proportions. (Crossan, pp. 114–15)

How did Jesus think God’s kingdom was being realized on earth? According to Crossan, it involved healing (especially spiritual healing), getting to know one another by eating together, and looking forward to the coming of a new, divine world order—the kingdom of God. (Crossan, p. 118)

Commensality (sharing meals) is a symbol of equality: the celebration of the Eucharist was originally a full meal. In Corinth, however, Paul still found inequalities in the celebration of the Eucharist—better known as the ‘Lord’s Supper’ or the ‘Breaking of the Bread’ in those days. (1 Corinthians 11:17–34) It consisted of three parts: (1) the breaking of the bread (1 Corinthians 11:23–24), (2) the main meal (1 Corinthians 11:25a), and (3) the passing of the wine cup (1 Corinthians 11:25b–26). The separation of bread and wine at the beginning and end of the meal symbolized the separation of Jesus’s body and blood during his sufferings. (Crossan pp. 170–71)

Crossan explains further that equality does not necessarily mean that everyone gets the same thing or the equivalent. One person might be smaller than another, and one might not require the same amount of food. However, everyone’s needs were satisfied, as usually happens in a normal family. (Crossan p. 159)

Now, I have no doubt that the power of performing miracles helped Jesus jump-start the Christian movement tremendously—especially his own resurrection from the dead. But I also think that from Judas the Galilean he learnt the importance of utter non-violence and not trying to avoid paying taxes to the Roman emperor. He also learnt, from John the Baptist, that normally God does not intervene to protect an individual—not even a good individual: like a good father, he is impartial and lets all his children sort things out among themselves.

Starting with the non-violence principle, for example, when Jesus was arrested the night before he was executed, we read the following incident in Matthew’s gospel:

“Behold, one of them which were with Jesus [Peter (see John 18:10)] stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote [cut] off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, ‘put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.’” (Matthew 26:51–52, KJV)

Jesus then proceeds to heal the servant’s severed ear. (See Luke 22:51)

And regarding paying taxes, in Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells the Pharisees and Herodians,

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17, KJV)

Both Matthew and Luke concur. (See Matthew 22:21& Luke 20:25)

Oddly enough, Mark’s gospel portrays Jesus, like John the Baptist, believing that the kingdom of God would come to earth in full bloom within his generation.

“He [Jesus] said unto them [his disciples], ‘Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.’” (Mark 9:1, KJV)

Matthew and Luke have similar verses. (See Matthew 16:28 & Luke, 9:27)

The synoptic evangelists (Mark, Matthew & Luke), and probably Jesus himself, seem to have truly believed this—and so did Paul; but they were wrong by almost two thousand years, and counting. (Crossan, p. 127) I think this is enough proof (at least as far as what the gospels tell us about him) that Jesus was only human. Needless to add, these verses pass the criterion of dissimilarity: Jesus didn’t know everything.

So, one can conclude that although Jesus may have initiated God’s kingdom on earth, he also needed a considerable amount of help from God and human experience—the same way we will need God’s help and to learn from experience to be able to bring it along. Can we bring God’s kingdom to earth by ourselves—without any of God’s help? I would say no. Yet, possibly, God might be waiting for us to make a move. But, what can we do? We do not have the power to perform miracles. What chance do we stand if even Jesus failed? Good question!

Disease is a physical ailment that can be cured. Illness is a mental ailment that can be healed: usually the result of a disease, social environment, or lack of resources. Nobody has miraculous powers to cure; however, modern medicine can cure diseases that Jesus cured—like blindness and leprosy. Moreover, everybody can heal family members and friends by a simple smile, words of kindness and understanding, or financial and physical help. In other words, God’s kingdom can still come to earth as Jesus envisioned it. However, all of us must start from the little things; God will then help us achieve the rest. Matthew’s gospel portrays Jesus saying,

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33, KJV)

Religion, patriotism, racism, and sexism all tend to be divisive and, consequently, detrimental to the coming of the kingdom of God. We still have much to learn: especially organized religion, which should be in the forefront promoting human equality.

Finally, Jesus learnt something else from his association with John the Baptist. He also realized that when John was arrested, the latter’s movement stalled and eventually ceased; so, he made sure that the growth of God’s kingdom did not solely depend on him: to Jesus, the concept was more important than its leader. The evangelist Mark describes an interesting incident to this effect.

“John [Jesus’s apostle] answered him [Jesus], saying, ‘Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part.’” (Mark 9:38–40, KJV)

Luke relates the same incident, almost word for word. (See Luke 9:49–50) Anybody is welcome to promote God’s kingdom: the more there are of us the better are its chances of success.

John of Patmos

According to Crossan in God and Empire, we have a difference of opinion in the Bible between Jesus and John of Patmos. According to Revelation, John of Patmos also believes that the kingdom of God already existed in his time, but in heaven—not on earth. (Crossan, p. 228) Now, according to Revelation, the kingdom of God will come on earth after the current wicked earth is destroyed by God, and a new one is created; he writes,

“I [John of Patmos] saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, [the] New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.’ And he that sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And he said unto me, ‘Write: for these words are true and faithful.’” (Revelation 21:1–5, KJV, emphasis mine)

Notice the clauses: “the first earth … passed away,” “the former things are passed away,” and “I make all things new.”

Crossan concludes that, according to Revelation, the kingdom of God will come from heaven to earth, but only after the earth is destroyed—not reformed: that is, by completely replacing the current corrupt earth. On the other hand, Crossan also adds, both Jesus and Paul believed the new world would come about non-violently: that is, by our cooperating together and adopting God’s recommendations of justice and love. (Crossan, p. 230) Thus, even in the first century CE, Jesus’s followers diverged: Paul of Tarsus accepted Jesus’s method of radical nonviolence; John of Patmos did not. (Crossan, p. 142)

John of Patmos, in the last book of the Bible, believed that God must act violently to get rid of all the evil on earth prior to establishing a new divine world order. So, many Christians ended up waiting for God to act violently; while God is probably waiting for us to participate and cooperate with him to change the world non-violently. The Bible, therefore, again contradicts itself in this matter: leaving it wide open to an individual’s or a church’s interpretation.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

To inculcate the last point I make in the previous paragraph, even people who follow the Bible to the point of calling their congregation place the ‘Kingdom Hall,’ Jehovah’s witnesses believe something completely different from mainstream Christianity, either way (i.e., coming from heaven or originating on earth).

According to Jehovah’s witnesses, God’s kingdom on earth will be ruled by 144 thousand people from heaven—with Jesus as king there. Only the righteous will be left on earth, and they will live harmoniously forever in an earthly paradise: very much like the original garden of Eden in Genesis.

The righteous will be granted immortality: that is, resurrected from the dead never to die again. The wicked will die permanently after being punished for their sins in fire. Jesus will then supposedly rule God’s kingdom for a thousand years and then give it back to his Father—God. (Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, “Good News from God!” pp. 14–15)

Conclusion

In the Lord’s Prayer, we Christians pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth daily; but most of us, early Christians included, do not know or follow what Jesus preached.

References

Crossan, John Dominic. God and Empire: Jesus against Rome, Then and Now. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2008. (ISBN: 9780060858315)

Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York, NY: Harper One, 2012. (ISBN: 9780062204608)

Ehrman, Bart D. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. New York, NY: Harper One, 2014. (ISBN: 9780061778186)

Gregg, Carl. “What Is the Gospel According to You? Three Meanings of ‘Good News’ in Mark 1” in Patheos (posted January 14, 2012): https://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlgregg/2012/01/what-is-the-gospel-according-to-you/.

Josephus, Flavius Titus. Antiquities of the Jews. c. 94 CE.

Josephus, Flavius Titus. The Jewish War. c. 75 CE.

New American Bible: Revised Edition (NAB). Totowa, NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 2010. (ISBN: 9780899429519)

Reed, David and Penni Reed. “IWas a JW Elder” in Tripod (posted January 10, 1990): https://ed5015.tripod.com/JwElderDavidReed10.htm.

The Holy Bible: King James Version (KJV). Oxford, UK, 1769.

Wasson, Donald L. “Roman Religion” in World History Encyclopedia (posted November 13, 2013): https://www.worldhistory.org/Roman_Religion/.

Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. “Good News from God!” Georgetown, ON: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Canada, 2012: https://www.jw.org/en/library/books/good-news-from-god/.

Wikipedia s.v. “Eye of a Needle”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_of_a_needle (last edited February 24, 2022).

Wikipedia s.v. “Judas of Galilee”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judas_of_Galilee (last edited January 13, 2022).

Mary’s Virginity

Birth of Jesus

A Christian doctrine that has been heavily attacked is whether Jesus was born of a virgin: in other words, that he had no human father but was divinely conceived. According to two of the canonical (official) gospels, Matthew & Luke, God donated a sperm, directly, to his mother Mary—through the Holy Spirit, “the giver of life” (The Nicene Creed). Jesus thus qualified, literally, as the ‘Son of God.’ Indeed, in one of the undisputed Pauline letters, Galatians, we read, “It pleased God … to reveal his Son in [to (ESV)] me.” (Galatians 1:15–16, KJV, emphasis mine) Now, recall that Paul was a contemporary skeptic of Christianity and persecuted Christians prior his conversion; so there is enough reason to believe what he says here. Moreover, according to the New American Bible, Galatians was possibly written as early as around 50 CE (p. 283); it is therefore one of the most reliable New Testament scriptures. Furthermore, even though the Jews kept track of the male descendants of King David (and Levites, i.e., priests), there’s hardly any doubt that Jesus’s father is unknown. But what if Mary was raped, say, by a Roman soldier, as detractors of Christianity claim? One must admit that if the father is unknown, it is much more likely that the mother was raped rather than that a virgin conceived a child: in practice, the latter case requires nothing less than a ‘miracle.’

Jesus’s Virgin Birth

In Luke’s gospel, we read that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit’s donating a sperm to Jesus’s mother, Mary; we read,

“The angel [Gabriel] said unto her [Mary], ‘Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest ….’ Then said Mary unto the angel, ‘How shall this be, seeing I know not a man [have no husband (WNT)]?’ And the angel answered and said unto her, ‘The Holy Ghost [Spirit] shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing [offspring (WNT)] which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.’” (Luke 1:30–32, 34–35, KJV)

Assuming this was the case, I presume Jesus’s mother, Mary, would eventually have told him about all this. So, I wouldn’t be surprised that Jesus may have considered himself to be literally the ‘Son of God,’ and probably thought that he should do something about it. Incidentally, Mary’s acceptance of such a role (Luke 1:38) was breathtaking: note that, in those days, adulterers, especially women, were stoned to death (see John 8:5).

Now, is there any historical evidence supporting this belief—Jesus’s virgin birth or divine conception—outside the gospels? One must admit that there is hardly any evidence for it; in fact, there is evidence against it. In the Jewish Talmud, which is a collection of rabbinic discussions completed around 500 CE, we read that Mary conceived Jesus of a Roman soldier named Tiberius Julius Abdes Panthera (or Pantera). However, according to historian, Christian apologist, editor, and academic Edwin Yamauchi, this was only the result of a false ‘rumor.’ Still, in a strange kind of way, it suggests that there was something unusual about Jesus’s birth. It seems to be a case of “methinks thou doth protest too much.” (Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene II) As investigative journalist and author of several books Lee Patrick Stroble rightly points out in his book The Case for Christ, had everything been normal, regarding Jesus’s birth, there would have been no such controversy. So, we only have indirect evidence supporting Jesus’s supposed virgin birth (Strobel, p. 86). Let us now take a closer look at this contrary evidence.

In his book The Bible Fraud, author of several other religious books Tony Bushby writes,

“The Talmud writers mentioned Jesus’ name twenty times and quite specifically documented that he was born an illegitimate son of a Roman soldier called Panthera, nicknamed the ‘Panther’. Panthera’s existence was confirmed by the discovery of a mysterious tombstone at Bingerbrück in Germany. (Bushby, “Just Who Were the Parents of Jesus,” accessed November 23, 2021) The engraving etched in the headstone read:

“Tiberius Julius Abdes Panthera, an archer, native of Sidon, Phoenicia, who in 9AD was transferred to service in Rhineland (Germany).” (Smith)

Most modern historians preclude the possibility of miracles; but, as I show in my book Is God a Reality?, miracles do happen—albeit rarely. (Attard, Is God a Reality?, pp. 283–324) New Testament scholar and pastor, Ben Witherington, reviewing religious studies professor James Tabor’s book The Jesus Dynasty, deplores this assumption by modern historians; he writes,

“I must confess that one of the things that bothers me about some modern historical reconstructions of the life of Jesus is that there is no openness at all to what we would call the miraculous, or it might be better to call it divine irregularity. I see no reason why divine intervention should be ruled out of the equation ‘ab initio’ (i.e., from the beginning). It is not a good historical principle to rule out causes of events in advance of examining the evidence (Witherington, accessed November 23, 2021).

Of course, he adds, we should not go to extremes and interpret everything supernaturally; as, for example, attributing every ailment or disease to an evil spirit: all evidence should be evaluated critically but with an open mind. He continues,

“I might add as well that the assumption ‘miracles cannot happen and therefore do not happen’ is equally a faith assumption. It is not based on empirical evidence or a careful study of history. There are thousands of credible testimonies to the contrary even in our own era. (Witherington, accessed November 23, 2021)

Witherington then proceeds to challenge the above calumny against Jesus’s mother, Mary; he writes,

“[The] story first appears in a work written by a Greek philosopher named Celsus (circa A.D. 178) … [and] the earliest Jewish [Talmud] text which includes this idea is … certainly not a first century text at all, and indeed it was written at a time when the polemics between early Christianity and early Judaism were in high gear. The same can be said about the text from Celsus, only in that case the debating partner is a pagan. … These stories about Pantera are the later rebuttals to the claim that Jesus was born of a virgin. … The names Tiberius Julius suggest that this soldier was a slave who became a freedman and a soldier. [Emperor] Tiberius came to rule in A.D. 14 so he [Pantera] cannot have received this name before that time. Presumably he received the name and the Roman citizenship for his service in the army, which again places that service after A.D. 14. Now the gravestone also mentions that this soldier’s unit was the first cohort of archers and we also learn that this man served some 40 years in the army, dying at the age of 62. … This in turn would mean he became a soldier at the age of 22.” (Witherington, accessed November 23, 2021)

Now, according to historian Adolph Deissman, Pantera died around 50 CE; if this be the case, Pantera would have been born around 12 BCE. So, Panthera was only about seven years old when Jesus was born around 5 BCE. Witherington concludes,

“Pantera was not a Roman soldier in 2-6 B.C. the period in which Jesus was born …. If indeed this Cohort of archers went to Dalmatia in A.D. 6 and then on to the Rhine in A.D. 9, as Tabor avers (p. 69), then our man Pantera was not even yet with them it would appear, or if he was, he had only just become a solider in the first decade of the current era [A.D. 1–10/1–10 CE], not in the period 2-6 B.C. In other words, the calculations are off by a least a decade if not more. … I would say there are too many weak links in this whole line of thinking …. What is troubling about this suggestion in any case is that it ignores that Mary grew up in a strict honor and shame culture and every indication we have is that she was exceedingly young when she became betrothed and pregnant—probably, as Tabor suggests, barely a teenager.” (Witherington, accessed November 23, 2021)

Naturally, this begs the question of how a thirteen-year-old girl could have met Pantera in a different province, Phoenicia, forty-odd miles away when he was not yet a soldier. But then, some skeptic might still argue that it might have been another Roman soldier who impregnated Mary. It is not unheard of that Roman soldiers raped Jewish women in the first century CE. However, still, young girls, in those days, were watched very closely and never allowed to be alone with a strange man—let alone a pagan.

What I think clinches this argument is the Nazoreans website’s pointing to a couple of anachronisms in the engraving on Panthera’s headstone; it has,

“The term AD [i.e., anno Domini] was not in use until Pope Gregory XIII (1502–1585) and the term Rhineland was not in use during that time frame [first century CE].” (Nazoreans, accessed November 24, 2021)

The anno Domini (Latin for “in the year of the Lord,” i.e., Jesus) time-scale was conceived by a sixth century CE monk; that is, five-hundred-odd years later. (Wikipedia s.v. “Anno Domini,” accessed November 24, 2021) The engraving, therefore, must have been a fake. The Nazoreans website opines further,

“The inscription may have been made by someone during the Middle Ages who had knowledge of the true identity of the Gospel Jesus garnered [collected] from Jewish documents burned by the Church during the 15th century.” (Nazoreans, accessed November 24, 2021)

The Talmud, therefore, only repeats Celsus’s calumny that Mary had an illegitimate child; but that was one-hundred-and-eighty-odd years later: at a time when there were probably no more records in existence.

Now, the Jews despised the ruling Romans extremely; so, the Talmud authors did not just say that Jesus was illegitimate, but that he was the son of a Roman soldier: to denigrate him even further in Jewish eyes. In other words, it has the ring of a fabrication: recall that Jews and Christians were enemies for centuries. Of course, the raping and impregnating of Jewish girls by Roman soldiers were quite common in first-century Israel: so, it was easy to sell without one’s asking for more evidence. Still, this calumny against Mary did not arise until late in the second century CE: thus, it seems to have been merely an attempt to combat the concept of a virgin birth given in the gospels.

Now, according to Pastor Wayne Jackson, there seems to be compelling evidence that genealogy records were kept in the Jerusalem Temple, at least for the descendants of Levi, (the priests because they could only inherit their offices) and for the descendants of David (since the Messiah was supposed to have Davidic ancestry). The Jews did not seem to keep track of women—only men. However, these records seem to have all been destroyed in 70 CE: that is, when the Romans destroyed most of Jerusalem including its temple by fire. (Jackson, accessed November 24, 2021) Still, if this be the case, then up until 70 CE, the records should have shown whether Joseph was Jesus’s father or not because Joseph was of the line of David. Apparently, the records did not show that Joseph was Jesus’s father; so, no one could come up with a name for Jesus’s father at the time of Jesus or a few decades later. That is why, earlier in this article, I pointed out that there seems to have been something unusual about Jesus’s birth.

In fact, both Matthew’s (1:1–17) and Luke’s (3:23–38) gospels give us a genealogy of Jesus even though they were written significantly later, namely, around 80 CE and 90 CE respectively (NAB pp. 10, 96): that is, about three generations after Jesus’s birth. Apparently, these records the evangelists referred to did not show that Joseph was Jesus’s father; unless, of course, they were both lying through their teeth.

Despite this, so-called negative evidence, I am still willing to concede that such evidence is not strong enough to prove, without the shadow of a doubt, that Jesus was conceived directly by the Holy Spirit. So then, why do I still believe that he is truly the Son of God?

There is compelling evidence for Jesus’s ‘divine’ conception and his resurrection from the dead in Paul’s undisputed letters as well as Jesus’s reputation of a miracle-worker in first-century-CE historian Josephus’s writings—as I have shown in my book, Is God a Reality? (Attard, pp. 306–24) To me, this triple evidence proves, satisfactorily, that Jesus was a special person—by God’s standards, that is. This is where, in my opinion, faith parts from reason: when there is enough compelling evidence. If you personally see a miracle, do you still not believe it is a miracle? However, most of the time, our faith is what we’ve been told even though it goes against reason, and if you look closely, it boils down to superstition.

Donating a special sperm so that Mary could conceive Jesus is not such a big deal in the grand scheme of things: God can perform much greater miracles; take, for example, the ‘Miracle of the Sun’ near Fatima, Portugal (Attard, pp. 284–95). I do believe that the Jesus’s virginal conception did indeed happen and that, therefore, Jesus is the Son of God, literally—the same way a human father conceives a son. But then I do not believe that Jesus is also God, or that he existed before his birth—as most of Christianity tends to believe. I think there is only one God, and Jesus was only human. Technically, we are all ‘sons of God’ since God created all of humanity (directly or indirectly); but Jesus is the ‘Son of God’ par excellence.

Mary’s Perpetual Virginity

When one uses the term ‘virgin birth,’ one refers to Jesus’s virginal conception through the miraculous action of the Holy Spirit. When one uses the term ‘perpetual virginity,’ one refers to Mary’s subsequent virginity after the birth of Jesus, her firstborn (Luke 2:7). In his book Papal Sin, Catholic historian Garry Wills tells us that around the end of the fourth century, both Christian theologians Augustine and Jerome cast a dark shadow on sex: almost everything sexual became taboo—a kind of necessary evil. Consequently, celibacy and virginity became the ideal way of Christian life. Mary, presumably being the perfect Christian, was therefore claimed to be a virgin too—a perpetual virgin, of course. In the Middle Ages, Christians even claimed Mary’s hymen was miraculously unbroken in giving birth to Jesus: thus preserving also her physical virginity. (Wills, p. 209) But by virginity one also normally means never having had sexual intercourse, and this is the only meaning I shall adopt in this article.

Although it is a Catholic ‘dogma’ (obligatory belief), the problem with the concept of Mary’s perpetual virginity is that the New Testament does not seem to support it. Following are several quotes saying that Jesus had brothers and sisters. The word used in the Greek original is adelphos.

“When the sabbath day was come, he [Jesus] began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, ‘From whence hath this man these things? And what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother [adelphos] of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? And are not his sisters [adelphai] here with us?’ And they were offended at him.” (Mark 6:2–3, KJV, emphasis mine; see also Matthew 13:54–57)

“While he [Jesus] yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren [adelphoi] stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, ‘Behold, thy mother and thy brethren [adelphoi] stand without, desiring to speak with thee.’” (Matthew 12:46–47, KJV, emphasis mine; see also Luke 8:19–20)

“After this he [Jesus] went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren [adelphoi], and his disciples: and they continued [stayed (ESV)] there not many days.” (John 2:12, KJV, emphasis mine)

“After these things Jesus walked [went about (ESV)] in Galilee: for he would not walk [go about (ESV)] in Jewry [Judea (ESV)], because the Jews sought to kill him. Now the Jew’s feast of tabernacles was at hand. His brethren [adelphoi] therefore said unto him, ‘Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world.’ For neither did his brethren [adelphoi] believe in him.” (John 7:1–5, KJV, emphasis mine)

Even Paul confirms this in his undisputed letters.

“Then after three years I [Paul] went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother [adelphon].” (Galatians 1:18–19, KJV, emphasis mine)

“Have we [apostles] not power to lead about [take along (ESV)] a sister, a wife, [a Christian sister as our wife (WNT)] as well as other apostles, and as the brethren [adelphoi] of the Lord, and Cephas [Peter]?” (First Corinthians 9:5, KJV, emphasis mine)

Besides confirming it in his gospel, the evangelist Luke confirms it in his Acts of the Apostles.

“When they [the apostles] were come in, they went up into an upper room, where [they (ESV)] abode both [?] Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes [the Zealot (ESV)], and Judas the brother [son (ESV)] of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren [adelphois].” (Acts 1:13–14, KJV, emphasis mine)

So, in my opinion, there is hardly any doubt that, according to the New Testament, Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters (plural); it seems, therefore, that Mary had at least six more children after Jesus.

Still, the Catholic Church denies this, saying that Jesus had cousins or relatives not brothers and sisters. Yet, one can clearly see in the above quotes, that the Greek original uses adelphoi (sing. adelphos) and adelphai (sing. adelphe) respectively for the English words ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters.’

Now, according to the (Catholic) New American Bible, in Semitic languages, the words ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ not only apply to full-siblings but also to half-brothers, half-sisters, nephews, nieces, and cousins. (NAB, Mark 6:3n; see also Genesis 14:16, 29:15 & Leviticus 10:4) Although one should not explain away an unusual usage of a Greek word by referring to its Semitic usage, there is some justification in taking such latitude in meaning because the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) often renders the Hebrew ’āh as adelphos (e.g., the Old Testament verses cited above). Still, the New American Bible ends its note with,

“The question of meaning here would not have arisen but for the faith of the church in Mary’s perpetual virginity.” (NAB, Mark 6:3n)

In other words, the Catholic Church is stretching the meaning of the Greek word adelphos to conform to its dubious doctrine, which, incidentally, the Protestants no longer adhere to, although the Orthodox Church still does.

There are several passages in the New Testament where the Greek word adelphos most probably means full-siblings, which no one questions. For example,

“Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren [adelphous], Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother [adelphon], casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. … And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren [adelphous], James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother [adelphon], in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them.” (Matthew 4:18, 21, KJV).

However, in all fairness, the Greek adelphos is also used for half-siblings, even in the New Testament.

“Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren [adelphous].” (Matthew 1:2, KJV)

Jacob (or Israel) had twelve male children (the twelve tribes of Israel) through four wives/concubines (Wikipedia s.v. “Jacob,” accessed November 25, 2021); so the word adelphous is also used for half-siblings in this New Testament text. Similarly,

“Herod [Antipas] himself had sent forth and laid hold upon [seized (ESV)] John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother [adelphou] Philip’s wife: for he had married her.” (Mark 6:17, KJV)

Philip the tetrarch was the half-brother of Herod Antipas. (Wikipedia s.v. “Philip the Tetrarch, accessed November 25, 2021)

On the other hand, in the New Testament we find a different Greek word for ‘cousin,’ namely, anepsios. (Douglas Jacoby, accessed November 25, 2021) In Colossians, we read,

“Aristarchus my [Paul’s] fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son [cousin (ESV)—anepsios] to Barnabas, (touching [concerning (ESV)] whom ye received commandments [instructions (ESV)]: if he come unto you, receive him).” (Colossians 4:10, KJV)

I think this last verse clinches the argument that the above quotes concerning Jesus’s brothers and sisters are not talking about cousins but of full-siblings or half-siblings. Technically, they could only be half-siblings since Jesus was presumably conceived by the Holy Spirit, and they can only be Mary’s children—not Joseph’s. In other words, if one believes the Bible is God’s Word and that it is infallible, they must be Mary’s children. But if, for the sake of argument, they were half-siblings to ‘outsiders,’ so to speak, for Mary to remain a virgin, they must have been Joseph’s children. If they were Joseph’s children from a previous marriage, they would all have been older than Jesus since Jesus was Mary’s ‘firstborn’ (Luke 2:7). Naturally, if they were Mary’s children through Joseph, they would all have been younger than Jesus.

In its article “Was Joseph Married before Mary?” the Got Questions website unequivocally opines,

“The suggestion that Joseph was married previous to being mentioned in Scripture as Mary’s betrothed is completely fictional. … There is no scriptural evidence, or even a subtle suggestion, that Joseph was married to anyone but Mary.” (Got Questions, accessed November 25, 2021)

I think the article also makes a good case that the scriptural evidence strongly suggests the opposite. Let me try and follow it here. The article first refers to the verse,

“But he [Joseph] did not consummate their marriage until she [Mary] gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name ‘Jesus.’” (Matthew 1:25, NIV, emphasis mine)

The article contends that the word “until” in this verse implies “a change to the first action” (Got Questions, accessed November 25, 2021): in other words, that their marriage was consummated afterwards.

The website also contends that the verse,

“she [Mary] brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger,” (Luke 2:7, KJV)

suggests that Mary had more children than one.

However, the New American Bible argues that,

“The Greek word translated ‘until’ does not imply normal marital conduct after Jesus’ birth, nor does it exclude it.” (NAB, Matthew 1:25n)

And the phrase “first born son” does not necessarily imply that Mary had other children after Jesus was born; it only happens to be a legal description indicating that Jesus possessed the rights and privileges of a firstborn son. (NAB, Luke 2:7n)

Where, I think, the website article wins the argument is the circumstantial evidence we find scattered in the Gospels.

(1) First, had Joseph any children, they would most probably have been mentioned in the couple’s trip to Bethlehem mentioned in Luke’s gospel (Luke 2:1–20); although, according to Wikipedia Joseph’s children did not have to be present, but then neither was Mary’s presence required.

“Every paterfamilias [Latin for ‘father of the family’] had to appear in person before the [Roman] censors. … First he had to give his full name … and that of his father … and he was likewise obliged to state his age. He was then asked, ‘… do you have a wife?’ and if married he had to give the name of his wife, and likewise the number, names, and ages of his children, if any.” (Wikipedia s.v. “Roman Censor,” accessed November 25, 2021)

Still, Luke ‘makes’ Mary, despite being close to delivering baby Jesus, go for the census with Joseph: thus enabling Jesus to be born in Bethlehem (c. 158 km away) as supposedly prophesied by Micah (5:2, KJV).

(2) Second, in Matthew, we read about the couple’s flight into Egypt:

“When they [the magi/wise men] were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for [King] Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.’ When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod. … But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life.’ And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.” (Matthew 2:13–15, 19–21, KJV)

The article points out that there is absolutely no mention of any children in this passage (Got Questions, accessed November 25, 2021); they could not possibly have been left behind alone for several years if Joseph was their father: such a scenario is implausible, to say the least.

The final possible scenario is that Joseph married his first wife when he was very young, at age fifteen, say; had six children, and his wife died at the last childbirth: this brings Joseph to age twenty-one, say. Allowing fifteen-odd years for all his children to reach adulthood and leave home, brings Joseph to about thirty-six years of age when he was betrothed to Mary, who was about fifteen years old, say. It was not unheard of, in those days, that older men married much younger women, so I must concede that this scenario is plausible.

However, according to John’s gospel, we read that right after the wedding at Cana,

“He [Jesus] went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren [adelphoi], and his disciples: and they continued [stayed (ESV)] there not many days.” (John 2:12, KJV)

Had Jesus’s brethren been living with their wives in their own homes for some thirty-odd years, why would they go to Capernaum with their mother/step-mother for a few days? Their wives are not even mentioned here either. I think the text implies they were still living with their mother.

On the other hand, the account also makes one conclude that Joseph was not around any longer; meaning, he was probably dead: which suggests that he either was somewhat older than Mary or that he died quite young.

According to Wikipedia, the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity stands on “shaky scriptural foundations,” consequently most modern Protestants reject it. (Wikipedia s.v. “Perpetual Virginity of Mary,” accessed November 25, 2021).

Roman Catholics, generally, believe what they are told: namely, that Mary remained a virgin after Jesus was born, but the majority of biblical scholars think otherwise. The Gospels only say that Jesus was born of Mary through the Holy Spirit (not through Joseph) but they do not say that Mary and Joseph never had sexual relations despite being married. The indications in biblical texts, reading them candidly without any preconceived notions, are that Joseph and Mary had six or more children together after Jesus was born. Of course, whether Mary remained a virgin or not, does not mean that she did anything wrong, either way, since she was married to Joseph.

References

Attard, Carmel Paul. Is God a Reality?—A Scientific Investigation. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2017. (ISBN: 9781532012228)

Bushby, Tony. “Just Who Were the Parents of Jesus?” Excerpts from: The Bible Fraud: An Untold Story of Jesus Christ. https://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/biblianazar/esp_biblianazar_7.htm.

Bushby, Tony. The Bible Fraud: An Untold Story of Jesus Christ. Brisbane, Queensland, Australia: Pacific Blue Group, 2001.

Catholic Online; Prayers: “The Nicene Creed.” https://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=495.

Celsus. On the True Doctrine. c. 178 CE.

Center for Online Judaic Studies (COJS): “Tosefta Hullin 2–24 Rabbi Eliezer and the Heretic.” http://cojs.org/tosefta-hullin-2-24-rabbi-eliezer-and-the-heretic/.

Douglas Jacoby: “Linguistic Insight: Adelphos,” posted 2000. https://www.douglasjacoby.com/linguistic-insight-adelphos/.

Got Questions: “Was Joseph Married before Mary?” last updated April 26, 2021. https://www.gotquestions.org/Joseph-married-before-Mary.html.

Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Colorado Springs, CO: Biblica, 2011.

Jackson, Wane. “The Importance of Messianic Genealogy” in Christian Courier. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1556-the-importance-of-messianic-genealogy.

Nazoreans: “Problems with the ‘Bible Fraud’ Timeline.” http://nazoreans.com/bible_fraud_timeline.html.

New American Bible: Revised Edition (NAB). Translated from the original languages, authorized by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, and approved by the United States Confraternity of Catholic Bishops. Totowa, NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 2010. (ISBN: 9780899429519)

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. UK, c. 1600.

Smith, Morton. Jesus the Magician. New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1978.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998. (ISBN: 0310209307)

Tabor, James. The Jesus Dynasty. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2006.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (ESV). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016.

The Holy Bible: King James Version (KJV). Oxford, UK, 1769.

Weymouth New Testament (WNT). Translated by Richard Francis Weymouth, and edited by Hampden-Cook. New York, NY: Baker & Taylor Company and London, UK: James Clarke & Company, 1903. Revised by James Alexander Robertson in 1929.

Wikipedia s.v. “Anno Domini,” last edited November 21, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anno_Domini.

Wikipedia s.v. “Jacob,” last edited November 23, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob.

Wikipedia s.v. “Perpetual Virginity of Mary,” last edited November 20, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual_virginity_of_Mary.

Wikipedia s.v. “Philip the Tetrarch,” last edited November 4, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_the_Tetrarch.

Wikipedia s.v. “Roman Censor,” last edited August 16, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_censor.

Wills, Garry. Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit. New York, NY: Image Books, 2001. (ISBN: 0385494114) Witherington, Ben. “Did Jesus Found a Dynasty?—James Tabor’s New Book” in Beliefnet, posted April 13, 2006. https://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/bibleandculture/2006/04/did-jesus-found-a-dynasty-james-tabors-new-book.html.

Gospel

Gospel according to John

No doubt, we often hear the word ‘gospel,’ but, personally, I must admit that, for decades, I didn’t really understand what it meant. As I’ll also show in this article, even before the writing of the Gospels, Paul’s authentic letters used the same word but with a different meaning, thus creating even more confusion to the Bible reader. This article aims at clarifying its intended meanings.

In his article “What Does ‘Gospel’ Really Mean?” Christian apologist James Warner Wallace explains,

“The word ‘gospel’ is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word, ‘godspel’, or ‘good story’ and was substituted for the original Greek word ‘euaggelion’ [pronounced ‘euangelion’] which first signified ‘a present given to one who brought good tidings’, or ‘a sacrifice offered in thanksgiving for such good tidings having come’. In later Greek uses, it was employed for the good tidings themselves.” (Wallace, accessed November 1, 2021)

Probably needless to add, from the Greek word euangelion, we get the English word ‘evanvelist’ for a ‘gospel author.’

Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation Carl Gregg elaborates,

“According to scholars of ancient Rome, gospels in the Roman Empire were typically ‘Roman propaganda.’ Recall that the Greek word we transliterate as ‘gospel’ literally means ‘good news.’ Thus, Roman gospels would herald the good news of a Roman ‘military victory … or of the ascension to power of a new emperor.’ Imperial subjects in the Roman empire, would be all too familiar with Roman gospels because it was in Rome’s interest to spread Roman military and political propaganda in order to keep the famous peace of Rome, the so-called Pax Romana.” (Gregg, accessed November 1, 2021, emphasis in original)

Good News

In the four canonical (i.e., church-recognized/official) Gospels, the concept of ‘gospel,’ or ‘good news,’ was originally coined by the evangelist Mark: his gospel was the first to be written, around 70 CE. Mark’s gospel has the opening statement “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1, KJV) What did the evangelist Mark mean? What was this supposed good news? What exactly was he referring to? Mark himself explains, later in his first chapter, what this good news was all about. He writes,

“Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.’” (Mark 1:14–15, KJV, emphasis mine)

The Jesus portrayed in the Gospels (like John the Baptist before him and Paul of Tarsus after him) believed that this kingdom of God was imminent; in fact, Mark portrays Jesus saying, “The time is fulfilled”: that is, “the time allowed us by God is over.”

The kingdom of God is not a political kingdom; it is supposedly a kingdom of justice, sharing, peace, non-violence, love, kindness, mercy, truth, and happiness: in which God ‘rules’ the world in our ‘hearts, so to speak, through love of neighbor. In his book Did Jesus Exist? New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman affirms that John, Jesus, and Paul all thought that God was going to accomplish this feat single-handedly—very soon. (Ehrman, pp. 298, 302, 304) Truly, it was tidings of great news!

The evangelist Matthew agrees with Mark’s definition of ‘gospel’; following are some verses from Matthew’s gospel.

“Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.” (Matthew 4:23, KJV, emphasis mine)

Again,

“Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.” (Matthew 9:35, KJV, emphasis mine)

And again:

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Matthew 24:14, KJV, emphasis mine)

In this last quote, notice the reference to the “end” of the world as we know it—the present violent word.

Surprisingly enough, the evangelist Luke never explains exactly what he means by the word ‘gospel,’ and, even more surprisingly, the evangelist John never even mentions the word ‘gospel.’

Minister Gregg proceeds to explain the controversial, if not subversive, nature of the use of this Greek word euangelion, translated in English as ‘gospel.’

“When trying to understand the Gospel of Mark’s first-century perspective from our twenty-first century context, we cannot remind ourselves too often of the historical event surrounding Mark’s writing. In the middle of the Roman-Jewish War, Mark uses the genre of gospel—a genre typically associated with glad tidings from the battlefield regarding Roman military victories or with the good news of a new Roman emperor—to tell the subversive good news of Jesus, a Jewish peasant whom the Roman had crucified decades earlier. As I said earlier: breathtaking.” (Gregg, accessed November 2, 2021, emphasis in original)

According to Wikipedia, the first Jewish-Roman war took place between 66 and 73 CE; in 70–71 CE the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its temple. (Wikipedia, “First Jewish-Roman War,” accessed November 2, 2021)

Son of God

Observe also that, in the first verse of Mark’s gospel, Jesus is given the title ‘Son of God.’ Now, this was a usurpation of the Roman emperor’s title. Several emperors in the first century CE were given the title Divi Filius, Latin for ‘Son of God.’ According to Wikipedia,

“Divi filius … was a title much used by the Emperor Augustus …. The title … was also applied to some of Augustus’s successors, notably Tiberius, Nero, and Domitian.” (Wikipedia, “Divi Filius,” accessed November 2, 2021)

In 42 BCE, almost two years after he was killed, Julius Caesar was officially recognized as a god by the Roman Senate. He was thus given the title Divus Julius, Latin for ‘God Julius.’ So, his grand-nephew, Octavian, whom Julius had adopted as his own son, thereafter called himself Divi Filius, or ‘Son of God.’ When he became Rome’s first emperor, in 27 BCE, the Roman Senate conferred on Octavian the title of Augustus Caesar, Latin for ‘Venerable Caesar.’ Several other emperors, after Augustus, were also deified, but only after their death: namely, Tiberius, Nero, and Domitian. (Wikipedia, “Divi Filius,” accessed November 2, 2021)

Admittedly, according to the New American Bible, in various major manuscripts the phrase “the Son of God” does not appear in the first verse of Mark’s gospel. (Mark 1:1n, NAB) However, if this phrase was introduced early enough in Christian manuscripts, it would surely have been a challenge to Roman sensitivity: the followers of a condemned criminal of the state (Jesus) were trying to take over the emperor’s title. Christians usurped the titles ‘Son of God’ and ‘Savior of the World’ (English for Salvator Mundi) from the emperor, and they also usurped his official propaganda phrase for any type of good news: the official name of his ‘newspaper,’ so to speak. This boiled down to subversion, to say the least, if not treason: Christians were taunting the Roman authorities. In his book God and Empire, biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan states,

“Christians were not simply using ordinary titles applied to all sorts of people. … They were taking the identity of the Roman emperor and giving it to a Jewish peasant.” (Crossan, p. 28)

No wonder Christians were considered enemies of the Roman Empire; especially when one considers that Emperor Augustus was, in general, considered a good emperor across the empire.

Kingdom of God

As a matter of fact, according to Minister Gregg, in the first-century (BCE/CE) Roman Empire, it was even dangerous to declare God as the king of the whole world: the phrase ‘whole world’ was synonymous to the Roman Empire. He writes,

“One aspect of historical Jesus studies that almost all scholars actually agree about is that a central aspect of Jesus’ ministry concerned speaking about the kingdom of God. And to speak about God being king, when Caesar had declared himself divine, was audacious to say the least.” (Gregg, accessed November 2, 2021, emphasis in original)

The reader may now start to realize why Jesus ended up condemned and crucified as a revolutionary by the state, and why Christians were ‘persecuted’ in the Roman Empire.

This is why Pilate asked Jesus, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” (John 18: 33, KJV) Jesus tried to explain to him that it was not a political kingdom and it involved no military force.

“Jesus answered, ‘my kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence [the same kind].’” (John 18:36, KJV)

After ascertaining Jesus was no military threat, Pilate tried to release him.

“From thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, ‘If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.’” (John 19:12, KJV)

Hearing this, Pilate was not going to risk his political position for a Jewish peasant; so, he decided to condemn him anyway.

“Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was ‘Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.’” (John 19:19, KJV)

The trouble was that Jesus used the word ‘kingdom.’

Jesus, and later his apostles, did jump-start the ‘kingdom of God,’ but, unfortunately, it eventually stalled. According to the Acts of the Apostles, about three thousand persons converted to Christianity after the speech made by the apostles’ leader, Peter, at Pentecost—right after the descent of the Holy Spirit on the first Christian community. (Acts 1:13–14; 2:1–41) These converts decided to live a communal life together:

“All that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted [shared] them to all men [everybody], as every man [person] had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread [Eucharist] from house to house, did eat their meat [food] with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:44–47, KJV, emphasis mine)

Paul of Tarsus

There are thirteen New Testament letters that are attributed to (Saint) Paul in their internal text, but biblical scholars are of the opinion that only seven of them were written by Paul (mainly in the fifties CE); the other six were probably written by his disciples/followers in his name. I shall confine this section to the seven undisputed Pauline letters (i.e., Romans, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, First Thessalonians, and Philemon).

The Greek word euangelion or ‘gospel’ appears more than sixty times in the seven authentic Pauline letters, but it has a different meaning from that in the Gospels: in these letters Paul did not associate the ‘good news’ with ‘God’s kingdom.’ The New American Bible defines ‘gospel’ as follows:

“In Greek, this word signifies good news, and specifically the good news of the kingdom of God (Hebrews 4:2; Matthew 4:23). Saint Paul uses the word to indicate his preaching; later the same word will be applied to the accounts of Christ’s life (First Corinthians 9:16; Romans 1:3).” (NAB, “Bible Dictionary” p. 418)

So, the New American Bible shows clearly that the use of the word ‘gospel’ in the Gospels differs significantly from that in Paul’s letters; however, I tend to disagree somewhat with its definition in Paul’s case. Please notice my emphases in the following Pauline quotes and see whether you come to the same conclusion I arrive at.

In the first chapter of his Romans, Paul writes,

“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” (Romans 1:1–4, KJV, emphasis mine)

And later in the same chapter he writes,

“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16, KJV, emphasis mine)

In the next chapter of the same letter, he writes,

“In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.” (Romans 2:16, KJV, emphasis mine)

In the first chapter of his First Corinthians he writes,

“Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” (First Corinthians 1:17–18, KJV, emphasis mine)

And in the last chapter but one of the same letter, he writes,

“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.” (First Corinthians 15:1–2, KJV, emphasis mine)

Finally in his Second Corinthians, he writes,

“But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.” (Second Corinthians 4:3, KJV, emphasis mine)

In my opinion, therefore, Paul’s ‘good news’ consisted of the bodily resurrection (like Jesus) and subsequent eternal life of all those who believed in Jesus Christ—while all the others who did not believe in Jesus were going to perish. This is the age-old solution to humanity’s problem: how to defeat death and achieve immortality. Truly it was great news!

This is probably why the early Church Fathers came up with the dictum, “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” Paul and the Church Fathers were wrong, of course: God is impartial and loves everyone; just as Paul was wrong about the imminent Second Coming of Jesus. (Incidentally, also Jesus was wrong about the imminent coming of the kingdom of God.)

Now, I don’t want the reader to think that I am the only one who defines Paul’s use of the word ‘gospel’ given above; so, to confirm my conclusion here, I quote theology graduate Happy Riches’s answer to the question “What Exactly Did Paul Mean When He Used the Word ‘Gospel’ Throughout His Epistles?” in Quora,

“The good news (Gospel) is that Jesus rose from the dead and there is a resurrection—the redemption of our bodies to which we can look forward to being included. … Many think the gospel is merely the forgiveness of sins. But the good news is that not only have our sins been forgiven, but we have a hope of eternal life wherein we will receive redeemed bodies that will have no imperfections or be subject to death.” (Riches, accessed November 2, 2021, emphasis mine)

References

Crossan, John Dominic. God and Empire: Jesus against Rome, Then and Now. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2008. (ISBN: 9780060858315)

Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York, NY: Harper One, 2012. (ISBN: 9780062204608)

Gregg, Carl. “What Is the Gospel According to You? Three Meanings of ‘Good News’ in Mark 1 (A Progressive Christian Lectionary for January 22)” in Patheos, posted January 9, 2018: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlgregg/2012/01/what-is-the-gospel-according-to-you/.

New American Bible: Revised Edition (NAB). Totowa, NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 2010. (ISBN 9780899429519)

Riches, Happy. “What Exactly Did Paul Mean When He Used the Word ‘Gospel’ Throughout His Epistles?” in Quora, posted November 23, 2016: https://www.quora.com/What-exactly-did-Paul-mean-when-he-used-the-word-gospel-throughout-his-Epistles.

The Holy Bible: King James Version (KJV). Oxford, UK, 1769.

Wallace, James Warner. “What Does ‘Gospel’ Really Mean?” in Cold Case Christianity, published January 15, 2018: http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/what-does-gospel-really-mean/.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Divi Filius” (Latin for ‘Son of God’) last edited July 18, 2020: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divi_filius.

Wikipedia, s.v. “First Jewish-Roman War,” last edited October 12, 2021: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Jewish%E2%80%93Roman_War.

The Eucharist (Holy Communion)

‘Consecrated’ Bread and Wine in Tabernacle

One of the most mindboggling Christian doctrines is that of the Eucharist (also known as Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper). This article challenges the blind-faith teaching of Christ’s real presence under the Eucharistic species: it irons out the wrinkles in the various New Testament texts concerning this sacrament, and finally gives the true symbolic meaning Jesus really intended when he instituted it.

Catholic Doctrine

I shall use the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church as a representative for the various Christian beliefs on the Eucharist in general. For the benefit of the reader who might not be familiar with the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist, after the priest pronounces the exact words of consecration at Mass, the bread and wine supposedly turn into the real body and blood, respectively, of Jesus Christ. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

“The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as (p. 296 ¶ 1374) ‘the consummation of the spiritual life, and the end of all of the sacraments.’ (Aquinas, Summa Theologica III, 73, 3c) ‘In the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really, and  substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ.’ (Council of Trent, sess. 13, can. 1, http://www.thecounciloftrent.com/ch13.htm, accessed September 10, 2021) ‘This presence is called “real” not to exclude the idea that the others are “real” too, but rather to indicate presence par excellence, because it is substantial, and through it Christ becomes present whole and entire, God and man.’ (Paul VI, Misterium Fidei, 39)” [emphasis in the Catholic Catechism]

The Church admits, without any hesitation, that nothing changes, physically or chemically, in the bread and wine after the priest’s ‘magical’ words; nonetheless, Jesus becomes wholly present in each of them. This is a classic example of blind faith—against all odds, so to speak.

It is not only Catholics who believe in the ‘real’ presence of Jesus in the Eucharist; several other Christian denominations believe practically the same thing, with minor nuances: including the Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Methodists, but not Calvinists, Baptists, and Pentecostals. In this article, I contest this official teaching of the Catholic Church.

The Naked Emperor

Most famous author Hans Christian Andersen tells a tale of an emperor who was excessively fond of new clothes and cared about nothing else but wearing and displaying them. Two rogues, pretending to be weavers, claimed that they knew how to make the most beautiful clothes from a fabric that was invisible to anyone who was either unfit for one’s office or extraordinarily stupid. The emperor liked the idea of having such knowledge of his subjects, so he hired them. They pocketed the money, and pretended to work earnestly at producing this imaginary fabric. Of course, his ministers could not see the inexistent fabric but pretended to see it for fear of appearing either unfit for their position or extraordinarily stupid; and the emperor acted likewise. Finally the swindlers reported that the emperor’s suit with this special fabric was ready; they mimed dressing him up, and he marched in procession naked before his subjects. The townsfolk played along with the pretense, for the same reason as the ministers and the emperor. Then a little child in the crowd blurted out that the emperor was naked, and the cry was taken up by all the people watching. Naturally, the emperor was vexed, knowing that they were probably right, but he thought the procession must go on, so he kept on pretending. (Andersen, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” pp. 58–63)

The story describes a situation where one thinks that everyone else believes something, so one forces oneself to pretend to believe it too: even though one does not believe any of it. I’m sure the reader can see the parallelism of this tale with the Eucharist.

Awakening

I used to believe very strongly in the Eucharist, so much so, there was a period of several years in which I used to spend fifteen to thirty minutes, daily, ‘talking’ to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament after work; but I started questioning my belief in the last decade or so.

Compare the following scenario to the doctrine of the Eucharist. Suppose someone tells you that, literally, the Eifel Tower moves from Paris, France, to Toronto, Ontario, and vice-versa the Canadian National (CN) Tower moves from Toronto to Paris after a magician utters some ‘magical’ formula. “Not unless I can see it happening,” you would naturally retort, no? “But unfortunately,” the claimer continues, “there would be no evidence of this taking place: the Eifel Tower would still be visible in Paris and the CN Tower would still be visible in Toronto, but, in reality, the Eifel Tower would be physically in Toronto and the CN Tower in Paris: one has to believe it.” Would you believe something crazy like that? I simply cannot imagine God (or Jesus) expecting this kind of utterly-unreasonable, blind faith from us.

Notice also how Andersen’s tale ends: the emperor, rather than coming clean, decides to continue the charade. Unfortunately, this is, very often, the case with the Catholic Church and its dogmas. It gets in waters that are too deep and cannot come back out. I strongly believe the Church should come clean and revise, or even reverse, some of its teachings from time to time: whenever it finds out it was wrong, or there are no longer enough valid reasons for believing something any more—just like science does occasionally. I say this, not because of any animosity against the Church, but because the Church should be on God’s side, and God is definitely on truth’s side.

Interestingly enough, philosopher and theologian Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033–1109) was probably the first who thought that faith should be based on reason: “He defined theology as ‘faith in search of reason’”; (Wright, p. 59) yet, for some strange reason, he never questioned the alleged transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist—termed transubstantiation. It shows the power of conditioning: tie a baby elephant’s leg to a peg in the ground as soon as it is born, and it wouldn’t try to unearth it in adulthood when it is strong enough to do so.

However, some might still insist that in transubstantiation a miracle happens, in which, through the power Christ gives to the Church, which is subsequently transmitted to the priest, the bread and wine are really changed to the body and blood of Jesus. Is there enough evidence for such a stance?

After I came to my senses and jolted out of my lifetime conditioning, I did not just stop believing in the Eucharist: I embarked on a thorough search for the whole truth. In this article, I shall take the reader through my journey contesting the possibility of such a miracle taking place by playing in the Church’s own home court—the Bible—particularly the New Testament.

Holy Scripture

Because of the centrality assigned to the Eucharist by many Christian denominations (especially Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Methodists), before proceeding further in this article, I would like to state my position regarding the Bible so there is no misunderstanding. In both my books Is the Bible Infallible? and Faith and Reason, I prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the Bible is not God’s Word. It fails both ‘litmus’ tests: namely, there are many contradictions in its own texts, and its prophesies never transpired. It simply consists of writings by humans who, admittedly, cared about God and morality. I concede that, at times, people might be inspired to write something by God, but most of the time, like Anselm, one cannot think outside the box of one’s then-current beliefs. (Wright, p. 55) Many times the biblical authors got things right, but often enough they got things totally wrong too. Therefore, I treat the Bible as I treat cultural wisdom: like the sayings or proverbs of a nation, say. One might think I am cherry-picking what I like and leaving out what I don’t like in the Bible; but I believe one should read the Bible with intelligence, using one’s reason and honestly judging for oneself what is good in it and what is not: one should not accept all it says blindly. I believe that there is no other way of reading the Bible because of the numerous textual contradictions and failed prophecies I have listed in the chapters on “Bible Contradictions” and “Bible Prophecies,” respectively; otherwise, one might as well discard the Bible. I suggest the reader keep this in mind during my ensuing discussions.

Transubstantiation, or equivalently Luther’s proposed consubstantiation, is a matter of blind faith alone; however, to me, faith is more of a trust in someone or something one knows well: not a blank check. Naturally, Science can hardly say anything if a Church, of its own accord, claims there is no change in the physical or chemical properties of the bread or wine after transubstantiation or consubstantiation. For this reason, I shall henceforth play strictly on Christianity’s own turf: I shall quote the New Testament without questioning what is written.

New Testament

Keep in mind that the New Testament so-called ‘books’ were not all written at the same time; certain books were written before others, and the earlier books tend to be more authentic than the later ones: later authors normally tend to mythologize their heroes (like Robin Hood or Zorro), over time, in an effort to make them look better than they really were. Moreover, as time goes by, the number of eyewitnesses who could challenge their writings decreases because they happen to die.

In this article I shall be referring to five New Testament books; so, before I start my discussion, let us have a quick look at the approximate time when they were written—according to biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan, as given in his book The Historical Jesus. (1) The undisputedly authentic First Letter of (Saint) Paul to the Corinthians was written in 53 or 54 CE, (2) The Gospel according to Mark was written between 70 and 79 CE, (3) The Gospel according to Matthew was written around 90 CE, (4) The Gospel according to Luke was written between 95 and 99 CE, and (5) The Gospel according to John was written between 100 and 105 CE—some parts in John’s gospel were added between 120 and 125 CE. (pp. 429–32) So, from what I said in the previous paragraph, the most reliable is Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, then Mark’s gospel, and so on.

Bread and Wine Eucharist

Let us therefore first look at what Paul has to say regarding the institution of the Eucharist at Jesus’s Last Supper. I shall use the Berean Literal Bible version for this earliest text to be as close as possible to the original words Paul wrote.

I received from the Lord [Jesus] that which also I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and having given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you [apostles/disciples]; do this in remembrance of Me.’ Likewise also the cup after having supped, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you might drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you may eat this bread and may drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He should come.” [1 Corinthians 11:23–26 (BLB) emphasis mine].

It is interesting to note that Paul says he had “received” this information directly “from the Lord,” that is, from Jesus himself. It is clear from the above text that Paul wanted to pass on Christianity to his churches just as he had received it: in other words, to do exactly what Jesus had instructed him to do. Recall that Paul was a Pharisee who persecuted Christians prior to his conversion; so, for him to be able to change so drastically, I believe he was sincere and convinced of Christianity. This is also why I believe he is the best source of information about authentic (early) Christianity.

Another obvious observation from this passage is that Jesus clearly wished to be remembered by his disciples after his death: his request “do this in remembrance of Me” occurs twice.

At first blush it does seem that Jesus’s words imply he turned the bread and the wine, miraculously, into his body and blood, respectively; and this is probably why many generations of Christians later believed it to be so: they trusted Jesus’s (or rather the biblical author’s) words.

Presumably, he did turn water into wine early in his ministry in Cana, Galilee, but the transformation was visible and palatable to everyone around (see John 2:1–11). At the Last Supper, however, the bread (visibly and palatably) remained bread and the wine remained wine: evidently, therefore, there was no obvious miracle. Presumably, with his power, Jesus could have changed them to flesh and blood, as he had changed water into wine, no?

Needless to mention, it sounds somewhat repulsive to eat someone’s flesh and drink someone’s blood: it has overtones of cannibalism and vampirism; but that’s exactly the point I’m trying to make before proceeding with my analysis: it’s probably not what Jesus had in mind.

So, if not cannibalism and vampirism, what was Jesus trying to convey by this ‘non-miracle’? It seems Jesus wanted us to remember him by means of an outward sign, which delivered a deeper meaning—termed sacrament. Take baptism, for example—the introduction into Christ’s Church: in the old baptismal rite, the convert’s immersion under water signified the death and burial of the old, wicked self, and the subsequent emergence from the water signified the birth of a new, good person. In the Eucharist, therefore, I contend that Jesus wanted to convey some symbolic meaning as in baptism. The person being baptized does not, in actual fact, die nor is he really born again: it’s all symbolic.

For the longest time, I thought that by the clause “took bread, and … broke it”, Jesus was symbolizing his crucified (or ‘broken’) body, but lately I started to think that Jesus would not want us to remember his suffering. His suffering was a gift to us: he would not want to brag about it, over and over again, every time we met in his name. He would like us to remember him, yes, but not his suffering. So, now I believe the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the wine was his way of recommending commensality (eating together) among his followers: which is what he did with his apostles/disciples throughout his lifetime. Sharing meals has always been one of the best ways of making new friends and maintaining old relationships.

Incidentally, I am positive that during the Last Supper, some bread crumbs must have fallen on the table, on the recliners, and possibly even on the floor: which I presume nobody picked up. If Jesus truly meant to change the bread to his body, he would probably have asked his apostles/disciples to pick up the crumbs; just as he had asked for the scraps of bread to be picked up after his miracle of the multiplication of bread and fish (see Mark 6:43; Matthew 14:20; Luke 9:17; John 6:12–13). His body is more precious than leftover bread, no? Yet Paul and the Gospels don’t even hint at anything like that during the Last Supper.

Now, we need to read Paul’s text in the context it was written. It was an ancient Greek custom to indulge in drinking a little wine after supper. Greek influence spread throughout the Roman Empire— including Israel—in Jesus’s time. In fact, the entire New Testament was written in Greek. Notice, however, that no wine is mentioned in Paul’s text above; however, a few verses before, in the same letter, he does hint at its being wine by the phrase “gets drunk” in the following verse:

“So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk.” [1 Corinthians 11:20–21 (NIV) emphasis mine]

The ancient Greeks had another custom: namely, making a libation (see 2 Timothy 4:6) prior to certain religious ceremonies. According to Wikipedia, it consisted of

“a ritual pouring of a liquid, or grains such as rice, as an offering to a deity or spirit, or in memory of the dead. … Various substances have been used for libations, most commonly wine or other alcoholic drinks, olive oil, honey, and … ghee. … The libation could be poured onto something of religious significance, such as an altar, or into the earth.” (Wikipedia: “Libation,” emphasis mine, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libation, accessed September 12, 2021)

Pouring a portion of the wine onto the ground, “in memory the dead” is probably what Jesus had in mind. Presumably, Jesus knew he was going to die and naturally wished to be remembered by his followers, but more importantly he wanted them to stay united together through commensality. Wikipedia continues,

“After [some] wine was poured [out] … the remainder of the … contents was drunk by the celebrant.” (Wikipedia: “Libation,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libation, accessed September 12, 2021)

Apparently, Jesus did not drink all the remainder of the wine himself but shared it with his apostles/disciples—his mystical body—the Church. So, the celebrant in the Eucharist is the Church, not Jesus. Likewise, during Mass nowadays, the priest (in Jesus’s place) represents the community—not Jesus himself. The priest is only supposed to lead the community in the Mass ritual. Wikipedia then adds,

“The Greek verb spéndō … “pour a libation”, also “conclude a pact”, derives from the Indo-Eurpean root *spend-, “make an offering, perform a rite, engage oneself by a ritual act”. The noun is spondê (plural spondaí), “libation.” In the middle [i.e., both active and passive] voice, the verb means “enter into an agreement”, in the sense that the gods are called to guarantee an action.” (Wikipedia: “Libation,” emphasis mine, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libation, accessed September 12, 2021) Notice the clauses “conclude a pact,” “engage oneself,” and “enter into an agreement.”

Now, with this background in mind, Paul’s rather strange phrase “the new covenant in My blood” makes much more sense. As a Pharisee, Paul must have known the Hebrew Scripture in and out; so, he was probably also alluding to the ancient rite of the old covenant (or agreement) the Hebrews ostensibly made with God, as described in Exodus—what we nowadays call the Old Testament. (Technically, the following account was a ratification, by Moses, of the older covenant with Abraham—which I also quote below under “New Covenant.”)

“Moses wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early in the morning, and builded [built] an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars [engraved slabs], according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which [who] offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basons [bowls (DRC)]; and half of the blood he sprinkled [poured (DRC)] on the altar. And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, ‘All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words.’” [Exodus 24:4–8 (KJV) emphasis mine]

Notice that Moses poured half of the blood of the sacrificed animals onto the altar (compare with the wine libation) and sprinkled the other half upon the people (compare with sharing the wine). Jesus shared the rest of the wine with his apostles/disciples ostensibly to seal the new covenant of the Church with God through his Son, rather than through the prophet Moses or the patriarch Abraham. Observe the parallelism of the Last Supper with the Exodus covenant account given here. So, to Paul, the blood Jesus shed on the cross constituted a new covenant, which we nowadays call the New Testament, of Jewish-Christians with God. The gentiles (non-Jews—the rest of humanity) were later also invited to join in this new covenant with God and indeed Paul had a prominent part in doing this.

It is also most important to note that, according to Paul’s account, Jesus never said the words, “this is my blood” while handling the wine cup, as he definitely said, “This is my body” while handling the bread. This is very significant, as I’ll soon show more clearly.

Note also Paul’s final sentence: “For as often as you may eat this bread and may drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He should come.” This was (and is supposed to be even now) the whole idea of the ritual. Notice also that Paul does not say: “as often as you may eat this body and may drink the blood” but he says: “as often as you may eat this bread and may drink the cup.” Keep in mind that this text from Paul’s letter is the earliest and most important New Testament record regarding the institution of the Eucharist, but also remember that this was already twenty-odd years after Jesus’s death (refer to the dates when the New Testament books were written, given above).

Moreover, we do not really know what Jesus was alluding to while handling the bread. Was he referring to himself when he said, “This is my body” or to his apostles/disciples? For all we know, he could have been showing the whole congregation when he said it. Paul teaches that the Church is Jesus’s mystical body. In his undisputedly authentic First Corinthians, he writes,

“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond [slaves] or free; and [we] have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, ‘Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body’; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, ‘Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body’; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were [would be] the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were [would be] the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were [would be] the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, ‘I have no need of thee’: nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: and those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour [clothe with the greatest care (NLT)]; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness [are treated with special modesty (NIV)]. For our comely parts have no [such] need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked [it]. That there should be no schism [division] in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether [if] one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or [if] one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” [1 Corinthians 12:12–27 (KJV) emphasis mine]

Try to remember the clause “we have been all made to drink into one Spirit”: I shall come back to it later. Recall that “spirit” is synonymous to ‘life,’ and the Holy Spirit is the ‘life’ of the church. But why did Paul use the word “drink”? Why not use “inhale,” “breathe in,” “take in,” or something similar?

Now, where did Paul get the ‘mystical body’ symbolism from? Could it have come from Jesus himself? If so, it is possible that Jesus might have been referring to his apostles/disciples while he was handling the bread. Take a look at this quote, from John, which happened right after Jesus had cast the sellers out of the Jerusalem Temple.

“Then answered the Jews and said unto him [Jesus], ‘What [miraculous (NLT)] sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?’ Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Then said the Jews, ‘Forty and six [46] years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear [build] it up in three days?’ But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.” [John 2:18–22 (KJV) emphasis mine]

Notice the clause, “he spoke of the temple of his body,” which Jesus never explained to his apostles/disciples. Most of us, nowadays, would not have understood what Jesus was talking about had not the evangelist explained it. A temple is made of many stones, like a body is made of many parts. This shows that Jesus was no shallow person by any standard.

I think I’ve said just about enough, for now, to throw serious doubt, at least, on the Catholic Church’s doctrine of transubstantiation. Indeed, several Protestant Churches, like the Calvinists, Baptists, and Pentecostals, got it right: namely, that it is a symbolic ritual. But let us continue our biblical investigation anyway, and try to see exactly what Jesus had in mind when he instituted the Eucharist.

I shall continue by examining the New Testament Eucharistic text that was written next: that is, Mark’s gospel account. Keep in mind that Mark was written about twenty years after Paul’s Eucharistic passage in First Corinthians (just discussed); that is, some forty-odd years after Jesus’s death, and that there was probably no communication between the two authors; he writes,

“As they [the apostles/disciples] did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, ‘Take, eat: this is my body.’ And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, ‘This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’” (Mark 14:22–25 (KJV) emphasis mine]

Notice the addition of the clause “This is my blood” in Mark’s text; so, one can already see a radical change from Paul’s passage: Paul never quotes Jesus saying, “This is my blood.” This probably happened because a significant amount of time had elapsed—about forty years from Jesus’s death—during which time there was no other gospel written to refer to. Moreover, Mark’s gospel was written in a different location from Paul’s Eucharistic passage in his First Corinthians: according to the New American Bible, Mark was written in Rome, Italy (NAB p. 69), while First Corinthians was written in Ephesus in modern Turkey (NAB p. 243). Mark’s gospel was initially transmitted by word of mouth, so inaccuracies understandably crept in. Furthermore, most eyewitnesses were already dead, by then, so there was hardly anybody who could possibly correct these inaccuracies. So, later Christians, reading Mark’s ‘official’ gospel and trusting the evangelist blindly, misunderstood Jesus’s intention at the Last Supper.

One also notices the concept of “shed” blood crept in; which is a remnant of the ancient Greek custom of libation I described above: that is, the pouring of some of the wine onto the ground before the ceremony. Compare this with Moses’s pouring half of the sacrificed animals’ blood onto the altar during the Hebrews’ covenant with God (see Exodus 24:6).

This is where wine (“the fruit of the vine”) is clearly mentioned for the first time. If we did not know of the ancient Greek custom of drinking wine after supper, technically, we would not even know for sure, from Paul, whether Jesus used wine at the institution of the Eucharist. But this ancient Greek custom, Paul’s hint about participants “getting drunk,” combined with Mark’s (the earliest gospel) text should be enough corroborating evidence.

At this point, I would also like to quote biblical scholar John Crossan’s book The Historical Jesus to show that the above ideas are not simply my own opinion, farfetched interpretations, or mere fantasy. I’m quoting him after my discussion, rather than before, in an effort not to brainwash the reader beforehand. With reference to the above two passages in Paul and Mark, he writes,

“The ritual [in Mark] is, as in Paul, explicitly connected with Jesus’ passion both in its timing as a last supper and in its bread and wine, body and blood symbolism, and especially in the far greater emphasis given to cup/blood than to bread/body. It is now, however, a Passover [Jewish feast] meal as well. And, even though the ritual now seems completely separated from the Greco-Roman formal meal tradition, with, for example, no mention of the wine-cup ‘after supper’ as in Paul, the phrase ‘poured out [shed]’ appropriates the libation moment of the Greco-Roman sequence even more precisely than does Paul.’ (pp. 365–66, emphasis mine)

Let us now have a look at Matthew’s text of the institution of the Eucharist.

“As they [the apostles/disciples] were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’” [Matthew 26:26–29 (KJV) emphasis mine]

Matthew practically copied the text from Mark; consequently, although at least another decade had passed from Mark’s gospel, we hardly read any difference. The gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke are very similar—termed the synoptic Gospels.

Finally, Luke’s version of the institution of the Eucharist, written possibly ten-odd years after Matthew’s text, reads,

“He [Jesus] said unto them [the apostles/disciples], ‘With desire I have desired to eat this passover [meal] with you before I suffer: for I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.’ And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.’ Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.’” [Luke 22:15–20 (KJV) emphasis mine]

Surprisingly enough, Luke’s version is much closer to Paul’s version than to the other two synoptic evangelists’. Note that, just like Paul’s version, Luke’s version does not portray Jesus saying “this is my blood” while handling to the wine cup. Although Luke is one of the synoptic Gospels, and Luke certainly had access to Mark’s gospel, he still follows Paul’s version. Notice also that Luke mentions the wine twice: reminiscent of a libation before the ceremony as well as the other Greek custom of having wine after supper; likewise, in the Old Testament, Moses poured half of the sacrificed animals’ blood on the altar and half on the people. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why Luke mentions the wine cup twice.

Even though Luke’s gospel was written after both Mark’s and Matthew’s, apparently Luke also had access to information from Paul; if indeed they were not travelling companions as tradition holds according to the New American Bible (NAB, Acts 16:10–17n). In fact, Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, which deals mainly with Paul’s missions to the gentiles. Given the two versions (Pauline and synoptic), Luke noticeably omits the clause “this is my blood” while Jesus was handling the wine cup, which both Mark and Matthew inserted, and leaves only “this is my body” while Jesus was breaking the bread. Like both Mark and Matthew, Luke mentions wine (“the fruit of the vine”) and also the shedding of blood.

Bread of Life Discourse

Although John’s gospel has an extremely long description of the Last Supper—taking five full chapters—strangely enough, it does not even hint at the institution of the Eucharist as described in the above four New Testament books. However, elsewhere, it has an important passage that needs to be addressed seriously. It is commonly known as the ‘Bread of Life Discourse.’

“Jesus answered them [the crowd/Jews] and said, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat [food] which perisheth, but for that meat [food] which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man [I] shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed [(with) approval (NIV)].’ Then said they unto him, ‘What shall we do, that we might work [do] the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on [in] him whom he hath sent.’ They said therefore unto him, ‘what [miraculous (NLT)] sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? What dost thou work [do]? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”’ Then Jesus said unto them, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which [who] cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.’ Then said they unto him, ‘Lord, evermore give us this bread.’ And Jesus said unto them, ‘I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on [in] me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, that ye also have seen me, and [still] believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which [who] hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which [who] seeth the Son, and believeth on [in] him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.’ The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, ‘I am the [living (DRC)] bread which came down from heaven.’ And they said, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that he saith, “I came down from heaven”?’ Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, ‘Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come to me, except the Father which [who] hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall be all taught of [by (NIV)] God.” Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me. Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which [who] is of God, he hath seen the Father. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on [in] me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.’ The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ Then Jesus said unto them, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, except [unless (NIV)] ye eat the flesh of the Son of man [my flesh], and drink his [my] blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth [feeds on (ESV)] my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat [food] indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth [feeds on] my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth [feeds on] me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth [feeds on] of this bread shall live for ever.’ These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum. Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, ‘This is an [a] hard saying; who can hear [listen to] it?’ When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, ‘Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man [me] ascend up where he [I] was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth [gives life (NIV)]; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, ‘Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of [by] my Father.” From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve [apostles], ‘Will ye also go away?’ Then Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.’ [John 6:26–69 (KJV) emphasis mine]

If one looks only at the clause “unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you,” it does indeed look like Jesus is literally asking us to eat his body and drink his blood—presumably, transubstantiated or consubstantiated bread and wine. But those days of quoting one verse out of context are gone.

In the first place, when this incident happened, the Eucharist had not been instituted yet: recall that it was instituted at the Last Supper, that is, at the very last day of Jesus’s life. Therefore, if Jesus were referring to transubstantiated or consubstantiated bread and wine, how were his disciples (not to mention the crowd) supposed to understand what he was talking about? When he heard them asking, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” and saw them abandoning him, why didn’t he explain to them how he was going to do it, or at least tell them that they would understand later? Again, why did he then turn to the “twelve” apostles and ask them, “Will you also go away?” Why would he not elaborate a little and give them some details as to how he was going to achieve this? It was because he was talking in another sense, nothing to do with the Eucharist, a meaning that they were supposed to understand. Here’s the background needed to understand this passage.

The Bible makes a very close connection between ‘breath,’ ‘life,’ ‘soul,’ ‘spirit,’ and ‘wind.’ Without breathing there is no life; breath is a kind of wind; a spirit is intangible, somewhat like the wind; and the word for ‘soul,’ nephesh in Hebrew, means ‘breather.’ For example, in the Book of Genesis we read,

“The Lord God formed man [Adam] of the dust [slime (DRC)] of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul [nephesh].” [Genesis 2:7 (KJV) emphasis mine]

Moreover, “bread” is a common metaphor used for the physical body’s sustenance of life; but there is also another important requirement in life: namely, spiritual sustenance. In fact, Matthew’s gospel portrays Jesus, in the desert after his first temptation to turn stones into loaves of bread, telling this to the devil.

“But he [Jesus] answered and said, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”’” [Matthew 4:4 (KJV)] Jesus (or the evangelist Matthew) was here quoting Deuteronomy 8:3.

The New American Bible, commenting on John’s Bread of Life Discourse, opines that in verses 27 through 50, the phrase “bread of life” is a metaphor for the person of Jesus (i.e., God’s revelation to us), and in verses 51 through 58, the phrase refers to the Eucharist. It has,

“Up to v. 50 ‘bread of life’ is a figure for God’s revelation in Jesus; in vv. 51–58, the eucharistic theme comes to the forefront. There may thus be a break between vv. 50–51.” [NAB, John 6:35–59n]

I contend the first meaning holds throughout the passage: in other words, the Eucharist has nothing to do with the entire passage.

God revealed himself to humanity, historically, in the person of Jesus. Through him we got to know how God thinks and how he would like us to behave in our life and toward one another: how to live a ‘spiritual’ (or ‘godlike’) life as opposed to living by the laws of evolution governing all the other animals, namely, survival of the fittest. With this in mind we can easily see that, basically, what Jesus is saying in John’s passage here, is that we can only find God through him; by meditating on him and imitating him in our life. The evangelist John contends that this is the only way we can attain “everlasting” or “eternal” (i.e., ‘godlike’) life coupled with immortality after the final resurrection; otherwise, he believes, we will simply die—like all other animals.

Elsewhere in John’s gospel, we read that Jesus’s character is identical to his Father’s—God’s.

“Jesus saith unto him [Thomas], ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also.’” [John 14:6–7 (KJV)]

With the above explanations in the background, let us now go through some rather strange verses in the above Johannine passage.

(1) “Labour not for the meat [food] which perisheth, but for that meat [food] which endureth unto everlasting life.” (2) “For him [Jesus] hath God the Father sealed [with approval].” Both these statements are now perfectly understandable: “look for spiritual sustenance by modeling your life on mine (Jesus’s).”

(3) “I [Jesus] am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on [in] me shall never thirst.” Obviously, here Jesus is not referring to eating and drinking, in the ordinary sense, transubstantiated bread and wine: because there is no doubt that we do get hungry and thirsty again after we eat and drink them.

There is a parallel verse, in John’s gospel, where Jesus tells the Samaritan woman,

“Whosoever drinketh of the water that I [Jesus] shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” [John 4:14 (KJV)]

This means that if we focus our attention on the person of Jesus, this contemplation, this studying of the person of Jesus, will enable us to grow spiritually and live a godlike (“everlasting” or “eternal”) life. The metaphor of the spring (a source of water that never fails) explains why we will never thirst again if we keep learning from Jesus, modelling our life on his.

Similarly, the metaphor applies to Jesus, as our spiritual food (typified by bread) in the verse we are considering, “I am the bread of life”: the phrase “of life” means ‘spiritual’; so, “I am the spiritual bread.” Our contemplating and imitating Jesus’s life becomes a source of spiritual food—it becomes a seed that always grows inside us.

(4)I [Jesus] am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” If we substitute “living” with ‘spiritual’ and “flesh” with ‘person’ this verse becomes easily understandable: “I am the [spiritual] bread which came down from heaven: if any man eats of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my [person], which I will give for the [spiritual growth] of the world.”

(5) “Except [Unless] ye eat the flesh of the Son of man [my flesh], and drink his [my] blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth [feeds on] my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat [food] indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” This is the crucial verse I started my discussion with in this section. Here again the phrase “my flesh” refers to the ‘person’ of Jesus, the phrase “my blood” refers to his ‘life,’ and the word “everlasting” means ‘godly.’

In the Bible, blood was considered the ‘seat’ of life: “the life of the flesh is in the blood,” according to Leviticus 17:11 (KJV). So again, the metaphors of eating and drinking are to be understood as spiritual sustenance.

We can therefore paraphrase this verse as: “Unless you sustain yourself [spiritually by contemplating my person and my life], you shall not [grow spiritually]. He who sustains himself [spiritually contemplating my person and my life] possesses [godly] life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For my [person] is [spiritual] food indeed and my [life] is [spiritual] drink indeed.”

(6) “It is the spirit that quickeneth [gives life]; the flesh profiteth nothing.” This makes perfect sense given that “spirit” and “life” are synonymous.

(7) “The words that I [Jesus] speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” This is the clinching verse: the verse that explains the entire discourse. Notice how hard Jesus (or the evangelist) tries to clarify things at the end of his speech! In other words, Jesus is here clearly telling them (and us) that his words are not to be taken literally but metaphorically: that is, in the spiritual sense not in the physical sense.

John’s gospel then adds that as a result of this speech, many of his former disciples abandoned Jesus. Ever since I was very young I heard priests (including a close friend) say that had Jesus not mean this passage literally (that is, actually eating his flesh and drinking his blood in the Eucharist), he would have called them back and said something like, “Wait a minute, you misunderstand me, let me explain.” But he did not, so he must have meant them literally. I am not so sure of this explanation; a case in point, the earliest gospel written (Mark’s) gives the following account:

“When he [Jesus] was alone, they [the disciples] that were about him with the twelve [apostles] asked of him [about] the parable. And he said unto them, ‘Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: ‘That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.’” [Mark 4:10–12 (KJV); see also Matthew 13:10–15; Luke 8:9–10] Jesus (or the evangelist Mark) was here quoting Isaiah 6:9–10.

I don’t think Jesus was that mean-spirited; but that’s how the evangelist Mark perceived Jesus’s behavior when, occasionally, he did not explain things clearly. The synoptic evangelists, Matthew and Luke, then followed suit.

The New American Bible comments on the similar passage in Matthew 13:10–15,

“Since a parable is figurative speech that demands reflection for understanding, only those who are prepared to explore its meaning can come to know it. To understand is a gift of God, granted to the disciples but not to the crowds. In Semitic fashion, both the disciples’ understanding and the crowd’s obtuseness are attributed to God.”

The hypothesis is that humans are themselves responsible for their own obtuseness: very often, they are totally disinterested in spiritual things and do not spend any (or enough) time reflecting on them. So, Jesus leaves the crowd (the majority) in their own blindness. I doubt this was indeed the case: I don’t think God, or Jesus, treats people like morons, but, anyway, that was what the synoptic evangelists and Isaiah probably thought. So, according to this logic, Jesus might have simply let his disciples go after trying to explain what his words meant.

Finally, Jesus turns also to his twelve apostles and asks them if they wanted to abandon him too. But Peter tells him that they had come to believe that Jesus had the words of “eternal” (i.e., godlike) life and to trust him completely, even though, at times, they could not quite understand his words. And the Catholic Church (as well as the Orthodox and most Protestant denominations) still has not understood these words after close to two millennia! This begs the question, why has the Church allowed this to happen?

My guess is that priests like the idea of being able to perform ‘miracles’ like Jesus and his apostles. It gives them a ‘power trip’: it separates them from the rest of the believers, and it buys them the believers’ respect. Similarly, regarding the sacrament of reconciliation (confession), it supposedly gives priests divine powers to forgive sins; while, in fact, God forgives anyone’s sins if truly repented.

When did Jesus ever hint at the concept of priesthood? There were no Christian priests in Jesus’s time; there were only Jewish priests—Levites: they belonged to one of the Hebrew tribes, that of Levi. The religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees, even ostracized Christians from the Jerusalem Temple and their synagogues.

As if the modern concept of the Catholic priesthood were not bad enough, according to Catholic Church historian Garry Wills, it was probably women who served the Eucharist in private homes in early Christianity (Wills, p. 116): and yet, mind-bogglingly enough, they are now completely cut off from this function in Catholicism.

In early Christianity, Holy Communion, as the name implies, was a symbolic meal, more like a ceremony, where bread was shared and wine was served, after some of the wine was poured onto the ground as a libation in memory of Jesus’s death: all this emphasized and sustained Christian unity. There was no cannibalism or vampirism intended in the ceremony: it was a simple getting together over a meal, remembering the founder of what was supposed to become the religion of love.

Some people, especially Catholics, might think that my explanations above are farfetched or even bizarre; but, in my opinion, the concept of eating a man’s flesh and drinking his blood is much more bizarre. What I am trying to explain is that the Johannine passage above should be understood metaphorically not literally, as the text itself suggests: “The words that I [Jesus] speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” In other words, they must be understood in a spiritual sense not in a literal sense.

True Meaning

But what, exactly, was the intended symbolic meaning of the ritual Christ instituted? Some might still insist that even according to authentic Paul, Jesus presumably said, “this is my body”: even if he did not say, “this is my blood.” So Jesus might have intended an actual miracle transforming the bread into his body. And if this be not the case, if he did not perform a miracle; what did Jesus have in mind when he instituted the Eucharist at his Last Supper?

Until very recently, two aspects of the Eucharist always bothered me: the ‘cannibalism-vampirism’ aspect and the apparent ‘bragging’ concerning Jesus’s suffering. I thought there had to be a deeper symbolism (as in baptism) Jesus had in mind that we have lost over time. Imagine eating someone’s body and drinking someone’s blood: it is disgusting by any standard to practically everybody, and I’m sure first-century Christians didn’t feel any different (see John 6:52). The cannibalistic-vampiric aspect of the Eucharist I have practically ruled out in the previous section. So, in this section, I shall discuss the bragging aspect and thereby shed further light on the cannibalistic-vampiric aspect for the benefit of those readers who are still unconvinced.

I always found it rather strange that Jesus would have intended to keep reminding us of his suffering; his suffering was a gift to us: normally, one does not keep reminding one’s wife or one’s family of a great gift one has given them. Jesus had more class than to brag about his sacrifice for us and give us a guilt trip every time we meet in his name. But then what exactly is the symbolism he wished to convey in his institution of the Eucharist?

The answer to this question eluded me for decades. I finally got the answer after reading Paul’s verses from his authentic Romans and First Corinthians for the hundredth-odd time. One is prone to miss the connection because they are, textually, somewhat disconnected from the institution of the Eucharist. In his undisputedly authentic Letter to the Romans, we read,

“So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” [Romans 12:5 (NIV) emphasis mine]

Bread, being made up of many grains of wheat crushed, kneaded together, and baked is a symbol of the mystical body of Jesus Christ— his Church. This is what he explains in his First Corinthians.

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. … For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” [1 Corinthians 10:16–17; 12:13 (NIV) emphasis mine]

Naturally, red wine resembles blood, but what does the blood symbolize? What does it stand for in Christ’s Church? As mentioned in the previous section, blood was thought to be the seat of life in Jesus’s time: that is, what keeps the body alive. “The life of the flesh is in the blood,” says Leviticus 17:11. And what keeps the Church alive? The love between its members is what keeps Christ’s Church alive. So, the blood of Jesus in the Eucharist symbolizes our love for one another.

It also explains Paul’s strange use of the word “drink” in reference to the Holy Spirit, who is the life of the Church: rather than use some other verb like ‘inhale,’ ‘breathe in,’ ‘take in,’ or something similar. So, in the Eucharist, Jesus was not asking us to remember his suffering, but to strengthen our unity in him through love and commensality.

In fact, in his letter to the Trallians, Ignatius (c. 50 CE–c. 110 CE), first–second century bishop of Antioch in modern Turkey, once wrote that we Christians are created again in faith, which is the Lord’s flesh, and love, which is Jesus Christ’s blood; he writes,

“Recapture, then, your gentleness, and by faith (that’s the Lord’s flesh) and by love (that’s Jesus Christ’s blood) make yourselves new creatures.” [Ignatius of Antioch, “Letter to the Trallians,” 8, trans. Cyril Richardson (emphasis mine), https://www.orderofstignatius.org/files/Letters/Ignatius_to_Trallians.pdf, accessed September 14, 2021]

This is the key to the Eucharistic symbolism! And we had the right answer since the turn of the second century. So, according to Ignatius of Antioch, our faith is Jesus’s mystical body, and our love for one another is Jesus’s mystical blood. Christian love is what keeps Christ’s mystical body alive. This is the true symbolism Jesus wanted to convey in his institution of the Eucharist. It is as rich in symbolism as baptism.

Moreover, according to Catholic historian Garry Wills, at the turn of the fifth century CE, theologian Augustine of Hippo still believed that

“the faithful [is] the stuff that is transformed by the Eucharist. He [Augustine] never mentions … the power of the priest to consecrate … it is the faithful recipients who make the body of Christ present by becoming it.” [Wills, p. 141, emphasis in original]

In Augustine’s opinion, what makes the Eucharistic transformation actually take place in someone is the participant’s unity with the Church and God, not the priest’s magical words. He totally rejected the concept that Jesus’s physical, albeit-resurrected body could be in many places at once. Therefore, whenever we say that Jesus is in different locations at the same time, it must be symbolic: we mean his mystical body, the communities gathered together in Christ’s name. In Augustine’s own words,

“If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery [symbol (Wills, p. 141)] that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery [symbol] that you are receiving! You are saying ‘Amen’ to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear ‘The body of Christ’, you reply ‘Amen.’ Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your ‘Amen’ may ring [become] true!” [Early Church Texts, “Augustine on the Nature of the Sacrament of the Eucharist,” emphasis mine https://earlychurchtexts.com/public/augustine_sermon_272_eucharist.htm , accessed September 14, 2021]

Indeed, Wills points out, Augustine explicitly rejected the concept of our actually eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ: (Wills, p. 141) commenting on John 6:50, Augustine writes,

“This, then, is the bread that cometh down from heaven, that if any man eat thereof, he shall not die.’ But this is what belongs to the virtue of the sacrament, not to the visible sacrament; he that eateth within, not without; who eateth in his heart, not who presses with his teeth.” [Augustine, In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus, tr. 26 § 12, trans. Gibb & Innes in Schaff, ed., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, p. 279, https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf107.ii.html, accessed September 14, 2021]

It makes one wonder why these words of Augustine—one of the most revered Christian theologians—were forgotten. To their credit, however, Calvinists (the Reformed Churches) have adopted Augustine’s doctrine of the Eucharist.

Commensality is undoubtedly one of the best ways to make new friends and nurture old friendships. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Jesus would have liked his Church to continue the legacy he had started with his apostles and disciples. In sharing bread and wine he was asking us to remember that we are a unity and that our unity depends on our love for one another. He was not asking us to keep remembering his sacrifice and suffering for us. For the longest time—decades—I got this wrong. Although his writing was not very clear, authentic Paul had the right concept of the Eucharist, but a couple of the evangelists missed the boat later on. Recall that even the first two gospels written, Mark’s and Matthew’s, went wrong.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that we misunderstood the Eucharist: a couple of the evangelists misled us. Probably, over many years, Protestants have had better biblical scholars than us Catholics; consequently, they seem to have hit on the right concept of the Eucharist: that Jesus’s words at the Last Supper are to be taken allegorically or symbolically rather than literally. I hate disappointing Catholic priests here—I was going to be one of them.

As I pointed out at the beginning of this article, the above discussion on the Eucharist is all academic, of course, since the Bible is not God’s Word: I just wanted to convey the various concepts in the New Testament for the benefit of those Christians who still insist on believing that the Bible is a divine book.

New Covenant

Like Paul, all three synoptic evangelists (especially Matthew who was writing for a Jewish-Christian community) also believed that Jesus was instituting a new covenant between God and all of humanity through his death on the cross, similar to the one God had ostensibly made with the Hebrews through Abraham: that Jesus’s death on the cross substituted the animals cut in half in the following rather strange ritual given in Genesis.

“He [God] said unto him [Abraham], ‘Take me an [a] heifer [cow (DRC)] of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. … And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram [Abraham], saying, ‘unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.’” [Genesis 15:9–10; 15:17–18 (KJV)]

According to the New American Bible,

“Cutting up animals was a well-attested way of making a treaty in antiquity. Jeremiah 34:17–20 shows the rite is a form of self-imprecation in which violators invoke the fate of the animals upon themselves. [NAB, Genesis 15:9–17n]

Passing between the animals cut in half signified invoking the animals’ fate on any party that breaks the agreement. This is where our concept of the New Testament (agreement or covenant) comes from: of course, it was especially important to the Jewish-Christians like Paul and Matthew.

Bread and Fish Eucharist

Commensality, or eating together, is probably the most intimate human experience, barring sexual intimacy, of course. When a couple starts dating, this is what they do: they go out for dinner or lunch together. In his lifetime, Jesus practiced open commensality with his disciples, where everyone at table, male or female, Jew or gentile, slave or free was treated equally. A common Mediterranean diet at the time of Jesus was, and still is, bread and fish; as attested by the multiplication of loaves and fishes described in all four gospels (see Mark 6:33–44, 8:1–9; Matthew 14:13–21, 15:32–38; Luke 9:10–17; John 6:1-15). Indeed, in his book The Historical Jesus, biblical scholar John Crossan opines that

“It was … open commensality during his [Jesus’s] life rather than Last Supper before his death that was the root of any such (bread and wine identified with his own body and blood) ritualization. This is confirmed by the bread and fish Eucharists in the early tradition. … For me, then, two different traditions, one of bread and fish, another of bread and wine, symbolically ritualized after his death, the open commensality of Jesus’ lifetime. That disjunction possibly represented a Jewish Christian and a Gentile Christian development.” (pp. 398–99)

There are two narratives of bread and fish ‘Eucharists’ in the Gospels, one in Luke and one in John. I shall start with John’s narrative (even though it was written later and therefore less reliable) because it’s more straightforward. According to John’s gospel, this narrative happened after Jesus’s resurrection.

“After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on [in] this wise [way] shewed he himself. There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. Simon Peter saith unto them, ‘I go a fishing.’ They say unto him, ‘We also go with thee.’ They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. Then Jesus saith unto them, ‘Children, have ye any meat [fish (NIV)]? They answered him, ‘No.’ And he said unto them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find.’ They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’ Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea. And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits [c. 300 ft.],) dragging the net with fishes. As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. Jesus saith unto them, ‘Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.’ Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an [a] hundred and fifty and three [153]: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. Jesus saith unto them, ‘Come and dine.’ And none of the disciples durst ask him, ‘Who art thou?’ knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.’ [John 21:1–13 (KJV) emphasis mine]

Notice how the clause in the last sentence, “taketh bread, and giveth them,” resembles the words used by Jesus during the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. The New American Bible is of the same opinion, stating, “This meal may have had eucharistic significance for early Christians.” [NAB, John 21:9, 12–13n]

This narrative portrays Jesus continuing his previous commensality with his disciples, even after his death and resurrection: showing that he was physically present among them. Was it only wishful thinking on the disciples’ part? Possibly! Personally, I do believe this account did really happen for two reasons: firstly, because Paul believed Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his apostles/disciples alive again (see 1 Corinthians 15:4–8), and secondly, because this narrative does not contradict anything else in the Gospels; so there is no reason for me to disbelieve it.

Thus, Holy Communion (eating together) may have come to signify a real, resurrected presence of Jesus among his followers, even though he had died: because, of course, he had risen from the dead. Naturally, Jesus is not present physically during Mass nowadays, although he is presumably present mystically—in his Church. To have him present physically as well is only wishful thinking: such wishful thinking might have misled the early/later Christians to come to the wrong conclusion concerning the Eucharist.

With this in mind, we now move to the other bread and fish ‘Eucharist’ narrative, in Luke’s gospel, which again happened after Jesus’s resurrection.

“Behold, two of them [the disciples] went that same day [Jesus resurrected] to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore [60] furlongs [i.e., 7.5 mi.]. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that, while they communed [discussed] together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden [restrained] that they should not know [recognize] him. And he said unto them, ‘What manner of communications [discussions] are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?’ And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, ‘Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?’ And he said unto them, ‘What things?’ And they said unto him, ‘Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which [who] was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people: and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. But we trusted that it had been he which [who] should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done. Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which [who] were early at the sepulchre [tomb]; and when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which [who] said that he was alive. And certain of them which [who] were with us went to the sepulchre [tomb], and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not.’ Then he said unto them, ‘O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. But they constrained him, saying, ‘Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.’ And he went in to tarry with them. And it came to pass, as he sat at meat [table] with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.’ And their eyes were opened, and they knew [recognized] him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?’ And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven [apostles] gathered together, and them that were with them, saying, ‘The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon [Peter].’ And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of [recognized by] them in breaking of bread. And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, ‘Peace be unto you.’ But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, ‘Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.’ And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, ‘Have ye here any meat [food]?’And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an [a] honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them.” [Luke 24:13–43 (KJV) emphasis mine]

Notice how close the clause “he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them” is to the institution of the Eucharist. Notice also the clause “how he was recognized by them in breaking of bread.” Obviously, they were used to this; they had dined with Jesus many times before. The bread and fish ‘Communion’ is therefore completed when Jesus is given a piece of fish and he eats it with them. He purposely interrupts their Communion at Emmaus, half way, to bring all his disciples together physically; then he continues the other half when they were all together.

Again we have the concept of togetherness and of the resurrected Jesus being physically present with his disciples while they shared a meal: nostalgically, perhaps, the same way they did before his death. Jesus’s followers wanted to keep remembering him the way he was: sharing a meal with them, a meal of bread and fish to the Jewish Christians.

Needless to mention, in a bread and fish Eucharist, there is no wine; consequently, unlike a bread and wine Eucharist, there is hardly a question of a physical conversion of the fish into the blood of Christ.

Moreover, when one really thinks about it, these Eucharistic narratives are a far cry from an actual miracle happening during Mass: that is, miraculously changing the bread and wine to the physical body and blood of Jesus. The early/later Christians seem to have misinterpreted the institution of the Eucharist, possibly because of wishful thinking: wishing Jesus to continue being present with them in their gatherings even after his resurrection.

Theologically, we believe God is omnipresent, that is, he is present everywhere in space as well as outside space in a fourth (timeless) dimension. Now, since Christians believe Jesus is also God, some might argue that he must also be present in the bread and wine, no? But one must appreciate the difference here: Jesus, as God, would be present in the bread (the host) and in the wine the same way he would be present in the pyx (container of hosts), or in the altar, or in one’s shoes for that matter: no miracle is required for that. Anyway, personally, I do not believe Jesus is God; I believe he is the Son of God—I shall stop here because it’s quite a complex subject that I deal with in my article on “The Trinity.”

Now, Matthew’s gospel portrays Jesus telling his disciples,

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” [Matthew 18:20 (KJV)]

However, to me, Christ is present in Church only mystically, as the Church—the mystical body of Christ—whenever we pray to God together: he is not physically present; as Augustine contends, the resurrected Jesus cannot be in more than one place. The most important thing to keep in mind is the communion, the gathering together, of Jesus’s followers to commemorate the Son of God’s historical presence among us humans, being one of us, and sharing meals with us; perhaps also to recall and appreciate, at times, his undeserved death. When a group of people (two or more) meet in God’s or Christ’s name, in a spirit of love (ideally also sharing a meal together) the spirit of Christ is among them. And when a group of people help one another, sharing and giving freely some of their abilities or possessions to whoever might need them badly: that would be the mystical body of Christ alive. We, though many members, become like one organism, working as a whole unit with an aim in mind: a better life here on earth, not just in the afterlife—as we pray in the Our Father: “Thy kingdom come … on earth as it is in heaven.”

Recall that in his authentic First Corinthians, Paul writes,

“We being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” [1 Corinthians 10:17 (KJV)]

A loaf of bread is made from many grains, but it becomes one loaf when ground, mixed, and baked: similarly, we Christians, although we are many, should act as one body. I believe this will be Christ’s Second Coming: when all of humanity acts as one body, everyone caring for everyone else. I don’t expect Jesus to come to earth physically a second time around.

A little later in the same letter, Paul writes,

“That there should be no schism [division] in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether [if] one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or [if] one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” [1 Corinthians 12:25–26 (KJV)]

This should be the spirit in Holy Communion. Unfortunately, we have reduced Christ’s wonderful idea of commensality and Holy Communion to a bizarre meal and a gossip session.

Finally, as an aside, I must disagree with Crossan’s possible implication at the beginning of this section: that the Eucharist was probably instituted during Jesus’s lifetime through commensality rather than at the Last Supper. Authentic Paul (as well as all three synoptic gospels) describes Christ’s institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Especially Paul’s opening statement, “I received from the Lord” [1 Corinthians 11:23 (BLB)], I think, clinches the argument, despite the evidence Crossan gives in his book; otherwise we would be belying Paul. But I do agree with Crossan on his main concept, that open commensality was the root of the Eucharist: total equality and serving one another while eating together was an everyday thing with Jesus and his disciples.

Eucharistic Fast

Something I never understood is why Catholics, under pain of mortal sin, are obliged to fast for one hour from any food or drink prior to receiving the Eucharist. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (p. 299 ¶ 1387),

“A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine.” [“Code of Canon Law,” can. 919 §1, https://www.vatican.va/archive/cod-iuris-canonici/eng/documents/cic_lib4-cann879-958_en.html , accessed September 18, 2021]

According to the Society of Saint Pius X website,

“It would be committing the mortal sin of sacrilege to receive communion voluntarily [deliberately] without fasting, unless in danger of death or in the necessity of preventing the profanation of the sacrament.” [https://fsspx.news/en/news-events/news/eucharist-11-eucharistic-fast-47178, accessed September 18, 2021]

Other Christian denominations, like the Orthodox and Anglicans, have even stricter Eucharistic fasting rules—overnight fasting. We are usually told it is out of respect for our Lord who is about to enter our body. But if one were to eat right after receiving Holy Communion, wouldn’t ‘Jesus’ end up in one’s stomach mixed with all the other food anyway? Inconsistencies!

Moreover, if we look closely at our Christian roots this Eucharistic fast did not exist. In his authentic First Corinthians, Paul actually encourages the early Christians to have their regular meal before celebrating the Eucharist with other Christians, especially if they were heavy eaters: this way everyone could have a fair share of the Eucharistic meal; he writes,

“When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? what shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.” [1 Corinthians 11:20–22 (KJV) emphasis mine]

Notice Paul’s rhetorical question “have you no houses to eat and to drink in” before you come to participate in the Lord’s Supper? He is indeed encouraging them to eat before celebrating the Eucharist, which back then consisted of an ordinary meal. Given the fact that our founders had no problem eating and drinking prior to the Eucharistic meal, to make fasting prior to receiving Holy Communion mandatory, under pain of mortal sin, deserving eternal punishment in hell fire is puzzling to me.

Why do priests, very much like the Pharisees in the Gospels, try to make life so difficult for us believers—don’t we have enough problems and suffering in our life? Incidentally, the same thing applies for the Sunday obligation to go to church (Catholic Catechism, p. 448, ¶ 2181, p. 450, ¶ 2192) and to abstain from work on Sundays, (p. 449, ¶ 2185, p. 450, ¶ 2193) the Friday obligation to abstain from meat, together with the seasonal fasting (p. 421, ¶ 2043): all under pain of mortal sin.

If God were to go by what the Catholic Church says, it would be doing him more harm than good, because according to Christian theology, no amount of good deeds and self-sacrifice can make up for a single mortal sin a person commits: a mortal sin is supposedly an infinite offence since it is committed against an infinite being—God. Luckily, the Church is not a truth factory. Whatever happened to Jesus’s call in Matthew’s gospel?

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  … For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11:28, 30 (KJV)]

Naturally, on the other hand, I am not recommending one gets drunk before receiving the Eucharist: that would be disrespectful to the Eucharistic celebration.

Barring Sinners

I also do not understand why people in mortal sin aren’t allowed to receive the Eucharist? (Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 304, ¶ 1415) Christ was always kind and understanding toward sinners, and, to the amazement of the Pharisees, he was also very often seen in their company. He always desired their changing their ways and turning back to God, of course, but he never tried to cut them off completely from the community. And if the Eucharist truly is, as the Church claims, spiritual food, why is a spiritually sick person deprived of the food that can nourish and heal him? Inconsistencies!

Paul’s authentic First Corinthians is often misquoted to justify this inconsiderate, discriminating, and cruel Church law.

“Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation [judgement (DRC)] to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” [1 Corinthians 11:27–29 (KJV)]

However, if one reads his entire letter, one would see what kind of abuse of the Eucharistic meal Paul found in Corinth: namely, dining separately, eating and drinking excessively, and assuming positions of rank.

As I argued above, Jesus is not inside the bread or the wine; however, if Jesus were truly inside the bread or the wine, no human could ever be worthy of receiving the body or the blood of the Son of God anyway; so why not sinners? Jesus never drove sinners off in his lifetime. Again, I think several of our Protestant friends got this right too, namely, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians.

Conclusion

Holy Communion is a showing of mutual love among Christians, which is the life of the Church—symbolized by the wine (blood was considered to be the ‘seat’ of life)—spiritually united with Jesus in the Church, his mystical body—symbolized by the bread (made of many grains). The ‘real’ presence of Jesus is an illusion stemming from early Christians’ nostalgic wishful thinking and later Christians’ misunderstanding of the New Testament texts.

References

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