Beyond the Book
Who was Jesus? According to popular concepts Jesus was, at the very
least, a wandering prophet, a mystic teacher, a political rebel.
Faithful Christians, of course, also believe that Jesus was the Son of
God, who fulfilled prophecies, performed miracles and literally rose
from the dead. These images of Jesus come to us from the Gospels, but
the Gospels are not the earliest writings about Jesus. Traditional and
mainstream biblical scholars take the approach of viewing the Gospels
as a record of the earliest accounts of Jesus, while largely
disregarding the Christian writings that were actually written before
the Gospels. This much is acknowledged even by biblical scholars
the gospels may be understood as corrections of this creedal imbalance,
which was undoubtedly derived from the view espoused by the apostle
Paul, who did not know the historical Jesus. For Paul, the Christ was
to be understood as a dying/rising lord, symbolized in baptism (buried
with him, raised with him), of the type he knew from the hellenistic
mystery religions. In Paul’s theological scheme, Jesus the man played
no essential role."
- The Five Gospels:
What Did Jesus really Say; Funk, Hoover, The Jesus Seminar
When traditional and mainstream biblical scholars do address the
earlier writings about Jesus, they tend to interpret those writings
through the lens of the Gospels. This perspective is reinforced by the
arrangement of the books in the Bible itself, as the books in the New
Testament were arranged by early Christians in what they believed was
roughly the chronological order of the subject-matter of the material.
We now know, however, that the order of the books in the New Testament
is nothing like the order that the books were actually written. In
fact, the order of the books in the New Testament is almost the
opposite of the order they were written in.
When we look at the earliest writings about Jesus, the image of Jesus
that emerges is quite different from what we find in the Gospels. In
pre-Gospel Christian writings we find only the Lord Jesus Christ, a
powerful eternal heavenly being who is worshiped because he will bring
judgment upon the world in its final days - a being who has overcome
death, who will bring eternal life to the righteous and destroy the
ungodly. This is how Paul describes Jesus:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;
16 for by him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things
visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or
powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He
himself is before all things, and by him all things hold together. 18
He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the
firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in
everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things,
whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his
There are no teachings ascribed to Jesus in the pre-Gospel writings,
there are no deeds or actions. There is no account of a person’s life.
There are, to be sure, a handful of passages that give the impression
that Jesus was a person, but even these are extremely narrow in their
focus, saying things like he was “of the seed of David”, or that he was
“born of a woman”. All of the information about Jesus presented in the
pre-Gospel writings is relayed on the basis of revelation or scriptural
Traditional and mainstream biblical scholars explain this by saying
that after Jesus died his followers believed that he was in heaven, so
they were worshiping his heavenly form. The problem, however, is that
there is no explanation in the pre-Gospel writings about why these
people would believe that some person had taken on this powerful
heavenly form. Indeed, when we look at the pre-Gospel writings in their
own context, without superimposing later Gospel ideas on them, we are
left with the impression that the Jesus those people were worshiping
was an eternal heavenly deity, that they believed had been revealed to
them through mystic interpretations of the Jewish scriptures.
This interpretation of the pre-Gospel writings has been put forward by
biblical scholars since at least the 19th century, but it has always
been denounced by traditional and mainstream biblical scholars. The
first major publication to present this view was The Christ Myth by
Arthur Drews in 1909, though Drews was not the first to propose it.
Then, as now, the primary counter-argument to the idea that Jesus was
not a real person was the claim that the Gospels provide credible
evidence that Jesus was a real person. The argument goes that, even if
the Gospels are exaggerations of the life of Jesus, they are at least
loosely based on the life of a real person.
the Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed focuses on the
Gospels to prove that the Gospels are not based on the life of a real
person. This is achieved through the emerging field of intertextual
analysis, which applies text mining and other analytic approaches to
identify the literary sources used by the Gospel writers. The
traditional Christian view is that the Gospels are direct accounts of
the life of Jesus, written by eyewitnesses to his life or secondhand
accounts from eyewitnesses. The modern mainstream view of biblical
scholarship, recognizing that the Gospels are not eyewitness accounts,
is that the Gospels are records of an oral tradition that goes back to
the original followers of Jesus the man. They aren’t eyewitness
accounts or secondhand accounts, but they are records of the legends
that developed among a community of people who knew the man. They are
perhaps sixth or seventh-hand accounts, etc.
According to the mainstream hypothesis that the Gospels are records of
an oral tradition that goes back to witnesses of Jesus’ life, the
similarities between the Gospels are explained as a product of multiple
writers independently recording these oral accounts. According to the
oral tradition hypothesis, the writers of the Gospels weren’t
inventive, and they didn’t build complex narratives, they were merely
like field-reporters who wrote down what other people told them.
According to this hypothesis the scenes of the Gospels are based on
untraceable oral stories, not literary references. But the oral
traditions hypothesis is falsifiable, and it has actually been
falsified for decades. Yet the falsification of the oral traditions
hypothesis has gone largely unnoticed outside of a small circle of
“bible geeks”, and the implications of this falsification have gone
unappreciated by mainstream biblical scholars.
the Gospels presents the intertextual evidence that
falsifies the oral traditions hypothesis and explores the implications
of these findings. As the name implies, Deciphering the Gospels
focuses on analysis of the Gospels. But what about the pre-Gospel
writings? Some pre-Gospel writings about Jesus, primarily from Paul,
are addressed in the book, though less extensively. So, let’s go beyond
the book here, to more fully explore what the pre-Gospel writings of
the New Testament have to say about Jesus.
Every pre-Gospel writing about Jesus refers to Jesus as “the Lord”, as
the following examples show:
|1 Corinthians 1:7
||as you wait for the
revealing of our Lord
|2 Corinthians 4:5
||we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord
and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake
|2 Thessalonians 2:8
||the lawless one will be
revealed, whom the Lord
Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth
||we always thank God, the
Father of our Lord Jesus
||in accordance with the
eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord
||the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
by which the world has been crucified to me
||Now may the God of
peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the
great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant
||do you with your acts of
favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?
||our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ
||The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
||every tongue should
confess that Jesus
Christ is Lord
||the free gift of God is
eternal life in Christ
Jesus our Lord
As we shall explore, the reasons for worshiping Jesus provided in these
early writings have nothing to do with any teachings from Jesus. Jesus
is worshiped because of his godly powers and because he is believed to
have died and risen from the dead. The problem with the view that Jesus
was some wandering preacher or rabble-rouser is that none of the
pre-Gospel writings give any indication that this is who Jesus was.
That concept of Jesus is only introduced in the Gospels. The problem
for “Jesus historicists” is explaining how it is that a homeless
preacher who was executed by the Romans would come to be worshiped as
“the Lord and Savior” of the world immediately following his death.
There isn’t one single detail provided in any pre-Gospel writing that
explains why an actual person would be worshiped in this way.
The explanation provided in the pre-Gospel writings for why the Lord
Jesus is worshiped is that he acted as a final sacrifice and overcame
death through resurrection (though this explanation is not given by
James, who provides no clear explanation). Every pre-Gospel writing
that explains why Jesus should be worshiped gives his resurrection from
the dead as the reason. Yet secular, and even some Christian, Jesus
historicists do not believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead. So,
the one reason that pre-Gospel Christians say they worshiped Jesus,
modern scholars don’t believe actually happened. So how do modern
biblical scholars explain the worship of Jesus? They explain it by
looking to the Gospels and pointing to the teachings of Jesus in the
Gospels - it was Jesus’ teachings that they claim inspired worship of
But if the worship of Jesus was inspired by his teachings, then why
don’t any of the pre-Gospel writings pass on any teachings of Jesus or
say that they were inspired to worship him because of his teachings?
Mainstream scholars point to teachings present in pre-Gospel
writings that match things Jesus is quoted as saying in the Gospels and
claim that these are examples of the pre-Gospel writers passing on
Jesus’ teachings. The problem, however, is that there is not one single
case in the pre-Gospel writings where anyone says that those teachings
came from Jesus. It is obvious that the later Gospel writers used the
pre-Gospel writings as source material, putting teachings
from early Jesus worshiping leaders into the mouth of the
Jesus character in their stories. But these teachings did not actually
originate from Jesus, they are just presented as Jesus’ teachings in
the Gospels, though they are actually teachings of Paul, James, and
other early epistle writers.
This is the paradox that mainstream scholars have gotten themselves
into. They claim that a community of Jesus followers maintained an oral
history of the life and teachings of the real Jesus without writing
that information down (or that what was written down was lost after the
Gospel writers used it), while that same community simultaneously
produced a bunch of preserved writings about the heavenly Lord Jesus.
The issue is not simply that some time passed between the supposed
death of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels, it is that prior to the
writing of the Gospels around a dozen preserved writings about
Jesus were produced, but none of them record anything about Jesus the
That 30 or 40 years would pass between the death of Jesus and recording
his life would not be unusual and does not raise any suspicions. The
issue is that many writings about Jesus were produced in the 20 to 40
years prior to the writing of the first Gospel, by at least five or
more different people, and none of those people talked about Jesus the
person or passed on teachings attributed to him.
Listed below are examples of teachings found in the pre-Gospel epistles
that are not attributed to Jesus:
||Care for orphans and
||The rich are to be
despised and will wither away
||The poor will inherit
||Control your tongue
(don't speak ill of others)
||Righteousness for the
||It is only for God to
judge, do not judge your neighbor
||Worldliness is the enemy
||Do not swear by God,
answer only Yes or No
||Whoever stops another
from sinning will save their soul
||1 Corinthians 1:22
||The Jews demand signs
||1 Corinthians 13:13
||Love is the greatest gift
||1 Corinthians 15:35-50
||How are the dead raised?
||1 Corinthians 9:19
||Paul says he has made
himself slave to all
||1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
||No one knows when the
final days will come
||Love your neighbor as
yourself is the greatest commandment
||Live by the Spirit, not
the desires of the flesh
||Pay taxes to whom they
are due, etc.
||Love your neighbor as
yourself is the greatest commandment
Anyone can read the pre-Gospel epistles and see that nothing in them
describes Jesus as a prophet, teacher, or political figure. So, if the
pre-Gospel writings don’t describe Jesus as a prophet, then how do they
describe him? Aren’t there statements in the early epistles that
indicate Jesus was a real person?
Dating the works of the New Testament is controversial in and of
itself, however there is one relatively simple way to roughly determine
when various works were written, and that is their relationship to the
First Jewish-Roman War of 67-73 CE. It is relatively easy to determine
if a work was written before or after the war, because the war was such
a huge event that we can expect any writings produced after the war to
reference the war or features of the post-war community in some way.
Below is a catalog of the works of the New Testament categorized by
their relationships to the First Jewish-Roman War.
|Letter of James
||Provides no description
of Jesus, referring to him only as the Lord. Lays out extensive
teachings, but none are attributed to Jesus. Describes the coming of
Jesus as some future event as if it has not yet occurred. Does not say
that Jesus died or suffered.
|Letter of Jude
||Provides no description
of Jesus, referring to him only as the Lord. Attributes no teachings to
Jesus. Talks about prophecies and mythic works such as the Book of
Enoch. Does not say that Jesus died or suffered.
|Letters of Paul
||These 7 to 8 letters
provide no concrete description of Jesus. They contain a mix of
statements that have been interpreted by some as indicating that Jesus
was a real person and other statements that contradict such a notion.
It is well established that some of the content of the letters was
altered by later scribes and does not reflect what Paul originally
wrote. The letters of Paul contain many teachings, though Paul dos not
attribute any of them to Jesus. The letters of Paul are the first to
directly mention crucifixion of Jesus.
thought to have been written by Paul, but are now thought to have been
written by different authors. Some may have been written after the war.
They provide no concrete description of Jesus and ascribe no teachings
to Jesus. They describe the coming of Jesus as a future event.
|Letter to the Hebrews
||Has been dated to both
before and after the war, but was likely written before the war as it
makes no recognition of the destruction of the temple. The earliest
letter to explicitly lay out a theological case for Jesus taking on the
form of flesh. Describes Jesus as a heavenly High Priest who descended
from the upper heavens to become a final sacrifice. "Quotes" from Jesus
by referring to ancient Jewish scriptures and describes Jesus as a
being revealed from ancient writings.
|Gospel of Mark
||First writing to
describe Jesus as a literal human being, put him in a historical
setting, and ascribe teachings to him. The story of Mark is heavily
based on literary references to other texts. The character and
teachings of Jesus in the story are based on the letters of Paul. The
overall narrative is based on the story of Elijah and Elisha from 1 and
2 Kings. Many scenes are based on literary references to passages about
how God will destroy and abandon the Jews because they have displeased
him. Multiple points of evidence indicate that the story was written
after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE.
|Gospel of Matthew
||The Gospel of Matthew is
largely copied from the Gospel of Mark, with the addition of a birth
narrative to the front of the story and a post-resurrection narrative
to the end of the story. Additional dialog is also added throughout the
|Gospel of Luke
||The Gospel of Luke
shares many of the same features as the Gospel of Matthew, but with
some alterations and additions.
|Gospel of John
||The Gospel of John
shares elements of each of the three prior Gospels. It does not contain
a birth narrative. The Gospel of John has additional theological
elements not found in the other Gospels and also its own unique "signs"
narrative that describes Jesus performing various miracles unique to
|Acts of the Apostles
||Written by the same
author as the Gospel of Luke, this is a pseudo-historical account of
what supposedly happened shortly after Jesus died. The material is
based on several sources and appears to have two distinct parts.
|Letters of Peter
||First Peter still
presents Jesus as a being revealed by prophets and scriptures and does
not attribute teachings to him but reflects some ideas found in the
Gospels. Second Peter however, now thought to have been written in the
late first or early second century, clearly references passages and
ideas from the Gospels.
|Letters of John
||The letters of John are
now thought to have been written in the late first or early second
century. They use language and references from the Gospels and reflect
a conflict between Christians who believed that Jesus had come to earth
in the flesh and those who did not.
|Timothy & Titus
||The letters addressed to
Timothy & Titus appear to be late first or early second century
writings that show knowledge of the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles.
|Revelation of John
||The Book of Revelation
may be a composite work, complied in the late first century from a mix
of different writings, some of which had been produced prior to the
First Jewish-Roman War. The letter contains a mix of passages
indicating both that the temple had not yet been destroyed, along with
other passages indicating it was written after the destruction of the
temple. In this letter, Jesus is generally a heavenly figure revealed
through visions. Jesus is not presented as a teacher and no teachings
are attributed to him.
So if we take “pre-Gospel” to essentially mean “pre-war”, we can see
that prior to the First Jewish-Roman War there is no discussion at all
of Jesus being a prophet or teacher of any kind. The only references to
Jesus being “real” in the pre-war writings are vague statements,
typically made on the basis of scripture. It is only after the war, and
the writing of the Gospels, that we see other writings describe Jesus
as a person in a historical setting and attribute teachings to him.
Those descriptions of Jesus and his teachings all show dependency on
the Gospels stories.
There are, of course, other non-canonical writings about Jesus that
aren’t found in the Bible. Such works are addressed directly in Deciphering the Gospels
so I will not go into detail about them here. In Deciphering the Gospels
evidence is presented to show that non-canonical works, such as the
Gospel of Thomas, the Egerton Gospel, the Gospel of Peter, etc., show
dependency on the Gospel of Mark or other canonical works.
Let’s focus here on the pre-war works of the New Testament to show that
those works not only fail to establish that Jesus was a real person,
but they actually give strong reasons to doubt that he was. First let’s
start with the Epistle of James.
The Epistle of James is, in my opinion, one of the strongest pieces of
evidence showing not only that Jesus wasn’t a real person, but also
that the Jesus of the Gospels is really a figure based on the writings
of Paul. The Epistle of James has traditionally been attributed to
“James the brother of Jesus,” though the letter itself makes no claim
that the author is a brother of Jesus. Not only does the letter of
James give no indication that it was written by a literal brother of
Jesus, the letter gives no indication that the author even viewed Jesus
as a real person. Beyond that, it is difficult to imagine how the
person who wrote this letter could have conceived of Jesus as figure
that resembled the Jesus of the Gospels in any way, for the letter
makes many statements that are extremely difficult to reconcile with
having come from someone who knew of Jesus as a person who had a
following and had recently been crucified.
The letter only uses the name Jesus twice, once in the greeting of the
letter and once more when the author asks his readers if they truly
believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. (James 2:1) The letter provides no
description of Jesus at all. But furthermore, the author espouses many
teachings, though he attributes none of them to Jesus. The author says
that salvation does not come from faith alone, it requires works. The
author then uses figures from the Jewish scriptures, not Jesus, as
examples of people who achieved salvation through works. (James 2:21-26) The author talks
about suffering, but instead of describing the suffering of Jesus the
author points to the suffering of the prophets of old! (James 5:10) The author even uses
Elijah as an example of “a human being like us,” who was able to affect
the world through the power of prayer. (James 5:17-18) With all this the
author tells his audience that, “the coming of the Lord is near.” (James 5:8)
How this letter can be reconciled with a human Jesus is beyond me. For
all the world this is clearly a letter written by someone who had no
conception of the Lord Jesus as a real person who had recently been
crucified to death in Jerusalem. It requires special contortion to
interpret the letter of James as anything other than a letter from
someone whose concept of Jesus was an all-powerful eternal heavenly
being who had never come to earth and indeed may never even have
undergone any form of mythic suffering or sacrifice, much less
Don’t just take my word for it, read the Epistle of James yourself.
Then ask yourself, how could someone who had personally known of Jesus,
who had either heard his teachings directly or heard of them from
others, who knew that he had been torturously crucified in Jerusalem,
and who had at least heard legends of his resurrection, write this
The Epistle of Jude opens by stating that the author is, “a servant of
Jesus Christ and brother of James.” The letters is thus traditionally
viewed as having been written by a literal brother of Jesus, because it
is traditionally believed that James was a literal brother of Jesus. In
fact, however, the letters of James and Jude are just more evidence
that James was not actually a literal brother of Jesus.
The fact that the author of James didn’t specify that he was a brother
of Jesus can perhaps be explained away, but for the author of Jude to
explicitly identify himself as the brother of a more prominent person
and use James as the reference instead of Jesus really makes no sense
at all if Jude were a brother of Jesus.
If the letter is an authentic writing from the real Jude it clearly
indicates that Jude and James weren’t brothers of Jesus. But even if it
is a later pseudonymous letter it indicates that the idea that James
was a brother of Jesus wasn’t yet established by the time the letter
was written and attributed to Jude. Clearly if someone were falsely
writing a letter in someone else’s name to inflate the importance of
the letter they would have labeled the author as a brother of Jesus,
not James, as that would have given the letter much greater
significance. So obviously at the time the letter was written, either
by the real Jude or an imitator, the idea that Jesus had a literal
brother named James was not yet established.
Beyond that, the letter of Jude is similar in many ways to the letter
of James. It provides no description of Jesus, referring to
him only as “Master and Lord”. The letter is filled with mythic
references to angels, demons, and other legendary figures, whom the
author clearly believes are real and takes quite literally.
The letter talks about a prophecy from Enoch, a pre-Christian writing
that foretold of the coming of a Jesus-like heavenly figure who would
bring divine judgment on the world to punish the ungodly and bring
salvation to the righteous. This is yet more evidence that the Jesus
worshiped at this stage was a figure culled from legendary tales and
the interpretation of what was believed to be prophetic scriptures.
The author also tells his readers to “remember the predictions of the
apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, for they said to you, ‘In the last
time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.’” (Jude
1:17-18) The author then says to, “look forward to the mercy
of our Lord
Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (Jude 1:21) So the message is
presented as something told by prophets, not by Jesus himself. Again we
see that Jesus himself plays no prior role and has provided no
teachings. The teachings come from prophets, and Jesus’ role is purely
supernatural. Jesus is clearly not a homeless rabble-rouser or teacher,
he’s a powerful deity, whose existence is revealed by prophets.
Paul and pseudo-Pauline letters
We now come to the letters of Paul. I won’t go into too much detail
here on the letters of Paul because the letters of Paul are addressed
extensively in Deciphering
the Gospels. A few things must be repeated here, however.
First, we must note that Paul himself explicitly states that his
teachings about Jesus aren’t teachings that he is passing on from
others, they are his own personal teachings that he has received from
11 For I want you to know, brothers that the gospel that was proclaimed
by me is not of human origin; 12 for I did not receive it from a human
source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of
This is a very significant statement, but one that is often disregarded
by Christians and mainstream scholars. Most biblical scholars simply
assume that this statement from Paul is a lie or exaggeration. Why?
Because so many of
Paul’s teachings match the things Jesus is quoted as saying in the
Gospels, so the assumption is that whoever wrote the Gospels recorded
things Jesus was reported to have said by members of the Christian
community and Paul was independently passing on these same teachings
that he had learned from the Christian community as well. What I show
in Deciphering the
Gospels, however, is that this assumption is incorrect.
What actually happened is that the person who wrote the Gospel of Mark
was a follower of Paul and had read Paul’s letters. He used Paul’s
teachings for the words of Jesus. The similarity between the teachings
of Paul and Jesus aren’t because Paul and the Gospels are independent
witnesses to the same traditions passed down from Jesus, it is because
Paul’s letters serve as the source material for the dialog of Jesus.
And because Paul tells us that all of his teachings come from
revelation, “not of human origin”, it means that all the dialog in the
Gospels that matches teachings of Paul are actually things that we know
for sure didn’t come from any real Jesus person.
This is not just my conclusion, there is growing scholarly support for
this position, and it completely overturns centuries of biblical
scholarship. The following works all explore the relationship between
the letters of Paul and the Gospel of Mark: Paul and Mark ,
Paul Nadim Tarazi, 1999; Matthew,
Mark, Luke, and Paul: The Influence of the Epistles on the Synoptic
Gospels, David Oliver Smith, 2011; Mark, Canonizer of Paul: A New
Look At Intertextuality in Mark’s Gospel, Tom Dykstra,
Paul’s writings contain a mix of statements that seem to affirm the
existence of a real Jesus and statements that cast doubt on his
existence. Below is a listing of major statements that relate to the
existence of Jesus (many of these are addressed in Deciphering the Gospels).
I have classified these statements into the following categories:
• M – Implies Jesus is mythic
• SM – Strongly indicates that Jesus is
• RxM – Commonly interpreted as
indicating Jesus was a real person, but can be explained in a way that
indicates Jesus was mythic
• RxN – Commonly interpreted as
indicating Jesus was a real person, but can be explained in a way that
is neutral to the nature of Jesus
|1 Corinthians 10:1-5
||Christ was with Moses in
||Clearly a mythic
conception of Jesus.
|1 Corinthians 11:23-16
||Paul's teaching of the
||Paul states that he is
the first person to pass on this meal ritual and that he received it
from divine revelation. The author of Mark copied the passage from Paul
when writing his Gospel. Other writers then copied it from Mark with
|1 Corinthians 15:21
||Resurrection of the dead
has come through a man
||The passage goes on to
state in 1 Cor 15:46 that Jesus was a spiritual man from heaven, not a
man from earth like Adam
|1 Corinthians 15:3-11
||Statement that Jesus
died, was buried, and rose on the 3rd day, witnessed by many people
||This is a mix of later
interpolation and misreading. The resurrection is being relayed on a
scriptural basis "according to the scriptures". Verses 5-9 contain
|1 Corinthians 15:45-49
||Adam was a man from
earth, Jesus is a man from heaven
||Implies that Jesus is a
spiritual being, not a real person.
|1 Corinthians 15:50-56
||Paul says his teachings
about the kingdom of God are a mystery that had not yet been known
||Why would such a mystery
not have been made known by Jesus himself instead of being first made
known by Paul?
|1 Corinthians 2:8
||Says that Jesus was
crucified by the "rulers of this age"
||This is actually
describing a heavenly crucifixion. The "rulers of this age" are
|1 Corinthians 4:5
||Things now hidden in
darkness will come to light when the Lord comes (not returns)
||This statement gives no
indication that Jesus had ever come before to reveal anything.
|1 Thessalonians 4:15-16
||Jesus will come from
heaven in the future (not return)
||While it is possible to
reconcile this statement with a prior human Jesus (that goes
unmentioned in this letter), it is not the most direct reading
|2 Thessalonians 1:6-8
||Jesus will be revealed
from heaven in the future (not return)
||While it is possible to
reconcile this statement with a prior human Jesus (that goes
unmentioned in this letter), it is not the most direct reading
||The body of Christ is
the church. The secret mystery of Christ is revealed by the saints
||The statement that the
mystery of Christ is being revealed by the saints strongly contradicts
the idea that Jesus was a real person.
||The mystery of Christ
was unknown until it was revealed through the prophets by the Spirit
Jesus as an eternal heavenly being. Verses 3:3-5 say that he was
unknown until he was revealed by the Spirit through revelation. This is
a very difficult passage to reconcile with a human Jesus.
||Mythic telling of
Christ's descent into the underworld
||Quotes from the Jewish
scriptures to describe Christ's ascent into the heavens. Says that he
had to ascend from somewhere below and that that it was the underworld
(not the earth) that Jesus ascended from.
||Paul's gospel does not
come from any man, it comes purely from revelation
||Why would Paul stress
that his knowledge of Jesus came purely from revelation unless he
believed that revelation was the most direct form of knowledge one
could have of Jesus?
||Paul says he met James,
"the Lord's brother"
||The term "brother" is
figurative, not literal. There is extensive evidence that the James
Paul met was not thought to be a literal brother of Jesus until the
late 2nd century. See Deciphering
the Gospels pp 213-229 and A Note on James
||Discussion of mystic
rituals where images of crucifixion are used
||Describes some kind of
portrayal of a crucified Jesus that was apparently supposed to convince
people of the truth of the mystery of Jesus according to the Spirit.
||The law has been
overturned by the coming of faith, not Jesus
||Says that the revelation
of Christ and the overturning of the law is a matter of faith. Doesn't
say that Jesus declared or made any of this known.
||God's Son was born of a
woman, under the law
||The woman described is
an allegorical woman, as Paul himself states in Gal 4:24. This actually
describes an allegorical heavenly birth.
||Expectation of a Savior
from heaven, who will come in the future
||Another example of Paul
saying he expects Jesus to come to earth from heaven, while never
saying that Jesus had already been to earth.
||States that Jesus was an
earthly descendant of David
||An obvious later
addition to the letter. The original letter likely starts on verse 7 or
||How can Jews be blamed
for not believing in someone they have never heard of? Jesus is made
known by the prophets.
||States very plainly that
the Jews had no direct knowledge of Jesus. Says that knowledge of Jesus
comes from the prophets.
||Jesus Christ is a secret
mystery, now revealed through prophetic writings
||The closing of Romans
states directly that Jesus' existence has been a hidden mystery that is
only now being made known by the interpretation of prophetic writings.
This is Paul clearly stating that Jesus wasn't a person who recently
lived on earth.
As we can see, there are a number of statements in the letters of Paul
that are very difficult to reconcile with the existence of a real human
Jesus. Many of these statements are addressed in greater detail in Deciphering the Gospels.
In addition, the statements that appear to indicate Jesus was a real
person can all be explained in ways that don’t support such a
conclusion. Many Jesus historicist seem to think that a few sentences
from Paul's letters, taken in isolation, are enough to affirm that
Jesus was a real person, but this is not the case. It isn't merely the
task of "mythicists" to explain the Pauline passages that seem to
support the idea that Jesus was real, Jesus historicists also need to
explain the passages that clearly indicate that Jesus was not real.
It is a well-established fact that modifications were made to Paul’s
letters by later editors to bring them in line with later the Gospel
narratives. There is overwhelming evidence that this happened. And when
we look at many of the statements that seem to indicate that Jesus was
a person, such as those from Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 15, they are
isolated passages that contain obvious markers of Gospel influence. But
when we look at the broad themes of Paul’s letters, they clearly paint
a picture of Jesus as a hidden mystery only now being made known by
Paul and other prophets like him, through divine revelation and
scriptural interpretation. These ideas don’t come from isolated
sentences, these ideas are the driving force behind Paul’s ministry.
The whole point of Paul’s ministry according to Paul is to make the
hidden mystery of Christ known, because without him and others like
him, Jesus will remain unknown.
It must also be noted that Paul is the first known person to talk about
a crucifixion of Jesus, though every statement about the crucifixion by
Paul is vague or mythic in nature. While I don’t say this directly in
the book, it is possible that the whole idea of Jesus being crucified
comes from Paul, and that the reason the Jesus story in the Gospels
features a crucifixion of Jesus is because the writer of Mark was a
follower of Paul who used Paul’s concept of Jesus as the basis for his
story. There is growing evidence that Jesus worship was diverse prior
to the writing of the Gospels and included many different concepts of
who or what Jesus was and what role he played. Paul’s version was just
one among many, but it was Paul’s version that became enshrined in
history because it was Paul’s version that was used as the basis for
the story of Mark, which went on to inspire all other narratives about
Jesus. Clearly, we can see that there is no indication that Jesus had
even suffered or undergone any form of sacrifice in the letters from
James and Jude.
Letter to the
The letter to the Hebrews is perhaps one of the most challenging works
of the New Testament to assess and understand. This work has challenged
biblical scholars for centuries. This is also one of the most complex
writings to address from a mythicist perspective because on the surface
it appears to support the idea that Jesus was a real person, yet upon
closer inspection it actually provides some of the strongest support
for the idea that prior to the Gospels Jesus was seen as a heavenly
figure whose sacrifice was relayed on a mythic, scriptural basis, not
as a historical event. Earl Doherty argues that the letter to the
Hebrews is the “smoking gun” which proves that prior to the Gospels
Jesus’ crucifixion was described as a heavenly event.
I should first note that the letter to the Hebrews was originally
believed to have been written by Paul, though it was recognized early
on that Paul was not the author. Nevertheless, the letter does reflect
Pauline ideas and may have been written by someone who was influenced
by Paul’s teachings. The letter also associates Jesus with Melchizedek,
who we now know was being worshiped as a mythic heavenly priest by some
Jews in the centuries leading up to the emergence of the Jesus cult.
Let’s start with the opening of Hebrews:
1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the
prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by the Son, whom
he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the
worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of
God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.
This is clearly a mythic conception of Jesus and reflects ideas from
Philo of Alexandrea about the Logos, i.e. Word of Creation. The opening
goes on to state that the Son is superior to the angels and then
provides many citations from the Jewish scriptures to support this
claim. Note that the author of Hebrews describes Jesus as a literal and
direct Son of God, a being who has existed with God in heaven from the
beginning of time.
In Hebrews 2 the authors lays out how God gave the angels dominion over
the earth, but he did not give the angels rule over a coming heavenly
world. We then see passages that seem to indicate that Jesus was a real
8 As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, 9 but
we do see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now
crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that
by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
Note that verse 9 is sometimes translated, “who for a little while was
made lower than the angels”.
This is where understanding the worldview among Jews at this time is
critical, because it is a worldview that is not commonly understood
today. At this time a common worldview among Hellenistic Jews was that
the Creation consisted of multiple levels. The highest level was a pure
spiritual realm inhabited by God. The levels of the Creation got
progressively less pure and increasingly material in nature the lower
you went, with the earth and underworld being the lowest levels of the
Creation. Heaven was thought to consist typically of between seven and
three levels. God resided in the highest level and various angels and
demons resided in lower levels. It was thought that the highest level
was purely immaterial but that lower levels of heaven contained
material beings. Pre-Christian Jewish stories, like the Book of Enoch,
talk about beings of flesh that existed in the lower heavens. It was
thought by some that angels and demons in the lower heavens controlled
the events of the material world and that earthly rulers were, in some
sense, puppets of angels or demons of the lower heavens.
Earl Doherty and Richard Carrier both argue that it is within these
lower heavens that the drama of Jesus’ sacrifice was thought to have
taken place by Paul and the writer of Hebrews. I tend to agree with
this assessment, though I’m not sure it’s entirely clear if the
crucifixion was thought to have taken place in the lower heavens or on
earth. In either case, the sacrificial event was conceived and relayed
by both writers on a scriptural basis, as an event that was known to
them through revelation. It is important to note that Paul specifically
describes Jesus’ method of sacrifice as crucifixion, while the author
of Hebrews does not directly say that Jesus was sacrificed by
Hebrews 2:11-15 goes on to discuss
why Jesus took the form of flesh and blood, but does so by quoting from
the Jewish scriptures, not by describing Jesus the person. In other
words, Hebrews states that it is ancient Jewish writings that tell us
that Jesus took the form of flesh.
Jesus is described in Hebrews as a heavenly high priest.
14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the
heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our
weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tempted as we
are, yet without sin.
This passage is often misinterpreted by Christians as talking about an
ascension of Jesus from earth up through the heavens, but clearly this
is not the case. This is talking about the descent of Jesus from the
upper heavens down to the lower heavens, or possibly earth. It is the
idea that he descended through the heavens that made him “like us”.
Hebrews 5 quotes from the Jewish scriptures to relay Christ’s
designation as a high priest. It then goes on to discuss Jesus’
suffering in the flesh.
7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications,
with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from
death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although
he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and
having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for
all who obey him, 10 having been designated by God a high priest
according to the order of Melchizedek.
While this certainly talks about Jesus in ways that seem human, the
description is still purely mythical in nature. It is unclear whether
Jesus is being depicted here as suffering in the lower heavens or on
earth, but even if it is describing an earthly period of suffering, the
entire session is mythical in nature. Furthermore, we are introduced to
the claim that Jesus is a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. This
issue by itself warrants an entire book, but I’ll address it as briefly
as I can here.
According to the book of Genesis Melchizedek was the first priest, a
person who lived during the time of Abraham. However, the Dead Sea
Scrolls contain writings about Melchizedek, which indicate that in the
time leading up to the emergence of the Jesus cult, Melchizedek was
being worshiped as an eternal heavily figure much like Jesus Christ
would later be. Writings both from Qurman and the later Nag Hammadi
library in Egypt describe Melchizedek as an arch-angel savior who would
bring judgement upon the world at the end of days.
Unlike Jesus, however, Melchizedek was viewed as a leader of the armies
of heaven. The letter to the Hebrews provides evidence to suggest that
the Jesus cult emerged as a rival off-shoot to the worship of this
celestial Melchizedek. Indeed, in the later Nag Hammadi writings Jesus
and Melchizedek are essentially represented as one and the same being.
The author of Hebrews, however, presents Jesus as the superior
successor of Melchizedek.
Based on the writings from Qumran, Nag Hammadi, Hebrews and
similarities between descriptions of Jesus and Melchizedek in the
Gospels writings, it appears that the worship of Jesus may have evolved
from the worship of Melchizedek in the following way: Melchizedek was
being worshiped as a powerful celestial war messiah from around 200
BCE. Various Jewish groups had developed stories about Melchizedek from
mystic interpretations of various ancient Jewish scriptures, in much
the same way that later stories about Jesus were developed. These
groups saw Melchizedek as a future deliverer at the end of days and
predicted a time when Melchizedek would triumph over the demonic armies
of heaven to bring an end to their reign and pass judgement on the
living and the dead when the world came to an end.
author, Melchizedek is an enormously exalted divine being to whom are
applied names generally reserved for God alone: the Hebrew names El and
Elohim. In the author’s citation of Isaiah 61:2, which speaks of “the
year of the Lord’s favor,” Melchizedek is substituted even for this
most holy name of Israel’s God. Yet more remarkably, Melchizedek is
said to atone for the sins of the righteous and to execute judgement
upon the wicked-actions usually associated with God himself. By the
power of Melchizedek, dominion of the earth shall pass from Satan (here
called Belial) to the righteous Sons of Light.
- The Dead Sea Scrolls
a New Translation; Wise, Abegg Jr, Cook, 2005 (pp 591)
Perhaps when this failed to happen a rival narrative emerged to account
for the failings of Melchizedek, evidenced by the fact that the end of
days had not come.
In this scenario, the narrative that developed was that due to the
failings of Melchizedek, the Son of God himself was forced to descend
from high heaven into the lower heavens to take on the task that
Melchizedek was unable to complete. Whereas Melchizedek was a powerful
war leader, the Son of God was a suffering servant. He succeeded where
Melchizedek did not precisely because he suffered “like us”. Whereas
Melchizedek was to defeat the armies of Belial/Satan by force, Jesus
triumphed by becoming a sacrifice. According to Paul, Jesus was
crucified by the demons of heaven (the rulers of this age), after which
he overcame death and rose more powerful than ever. Whereas Melchizedek
remained immaterial, Jesus took on the form of flesh to undergo
suffering. The letter to the Hebrews presents Jesus as the final high
priest of heaven juxtaposed against Melchizedek, the first high priest
This may have just been one narrative among many, but indeed it does
seem that there is an inherent connection between the cult of
Melchizedek and the emergence of the cult of Jesus. The purpose of the
letter to the Hebrews is to explicitly position Jesus as the successor
to Melchizedek, to make the point that Jesus was superior to him. Based
on the writings from Nag Hammadi it seems that other cults were
worshiping both Melchizedek and Jesus together and indeed some later
Christians taught that the Gospel Jesus was the incarnation of
For more information on Melchizedek see:
Melchizedek: Angel, Man or Messiah?
Melchizedek, Michael, and War in Heaven
In Hebrews 7 we see the type of mythical recasting that is used in the
writings of Qumran.
1 This “King Melchizedek of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met
Abraham as he was returning from defeating the kings and blessed him”;
2 and to him Abraham apportioned “one-tenth of everything.” His name,
in the first place, means “king of righteousness”; next he is also king
of Salem, that is, “king of peace.” 3 Without father, without mother,
without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life,
but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.
Here the author uses quotes about Melchizedek from Genesis, but
reinterprets them to apply them to an eternal heavenly Melchizedek as
opposed to a Melchizedek person. The writer interprets “king of Salem”
to mean “king of peace” as opposed to king of an actual city. He then
clarifies that Melchizedek is an eternal being, without father or
mother, like the Son of God - Jesus.
This also clarifies the author’s concept of Jesus. It is clear that
Jesus is understood as the literal Son of God who came into existence
in the heavens at the beginning of time directly from God himself,
without ever having been born.
The writer of Hebrews then goes on to explain the role of Jesus and why
he is the successor of Melchizedek.
23 Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they
were prevented by death from continuing in office; 24 but he [Jesus]
holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25
Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God
through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
26 For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled,
separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27
Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day
after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people;
this he did once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law
appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the
word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has
been made perfect forever.
1 Now the main point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high
priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the
Majesty in the heavens, 2 a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent
that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up. 3 For every high priest
is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for
this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he
would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who
offer gifts according to the law. 5 They offer worship in a
sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one;
These passages from Hebrews 7 and 8 explain the mythic role of Jesus
the heavenly high priest. Most important, Hebrews 8:4-5 clarify that
Jesus is a heavenly priest and verse 5 in particular provides important
insight into the worldview of the writer. You see, this talks about a
worldview that imagined the earth as a sort of corrupted copy of the
pure realm of the heavens. In this view, like the view of Paul
the apostle as well, there is a Jerusalem in heaven that is a perfect
model for the imperfect Jerusalem on earth. The temple on earth is an
imperfect copy of the perfect temple in heaven. That’s what the author
is talking about when he says that the sanctuary on earth is a “sketch
and shadow” of the heavenly one.
Hebrews 9 goes on to clarify that Jesus’ sacrifice itself took place in
11 But when Christ came
as a high priest of the good things to come, then through the greater and perfect
tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation),
12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of
goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal
redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling
of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so
that their flesh is purified, 14 how much more will the blood of
Christ, who through the
eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God,
purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!
15 For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those
who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a
death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the
This clarifies that Jesus’ sacrifice was made in the heavenly tent, not
on earth. It states that Jesus came as a high priest and we were just
told that if Jesus were on earth he would not be a priest at all.
Furthermore, the statements about Jesus being pure and unblemished,
here and throughout Hebrews, indicate that Jesus is unborn and thus
uncorrupted. There is no talk here of immaculate conception, a later
rationalization for how an earthly Jesus could have remained
uncorrupted. The fact that the immaculate conception of Mary had to be
developed clarifies that prior to such a rationalization there was no
explanation for an uncorrupted Jesus, which would only have made sense
if Jesus were purely heavenly, never having been corrupted by having
been born to an earth mother in the line of the supposedly corrupted
This also tells us why it is that Jews wouldn’t have worshiped a real
human Jesus to begin with, as a real person would obviously have been
seen as inherently corrupted.
23 Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be
purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need
better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary
made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into
heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our
behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high
priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his
own; 26 for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the
foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at
the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Here again we see that Jesus’ sacrifice took place in heaven. The
sanctuary is where the sacrifice is performed, and it is plainly stated
that this was a heavenly sanctuary, not an earthly one. We then see
talk of an “appearance”. What is this appearance? This is a mystic
vision, the sort of which was described in many Jewish stories of this
time. This “appearance” isn’t talking about the life of some real
person, this is a vision of the descended heavenly Christ. We know that
there were Christians who clearly held this view of Jesus, as such
views are described as heresies by later Christians.
Close on their
heels follows Apelles, a disciple of Marcion, … The Law and the
prophets he repudiates. Christ he neither, like Marcion, affirms to
have been in a phantasmal shape, nor yet in substance of a true body,
as the Gospel teaches; but says, because He descended from the upper
regions, that in the course of His descent He wove together for Himself
a starry and airy flesh; and, in His resurrection, restored, in the
course of His ascent, to the several individual elements whatever had
been borrowed in His descent: and thus-the several parts
of His body dispersed-He reinstated in heaven His spirit only. This man
denies the resurrection of the flesh.
—Against All Heresies;
Tertullian, 3rd century
We know that second century Christians like Apelles and Marcion viewed
the teachings of Paul and writings like Hebrews as compatible with
their view of Jesus. Marcion taught that Jesus was an immaterial being
who only “made appearances” on earth. Apelles taught that Jesus was
truly of flesh, but that he “appeared” on earth directly from heaven,
unborn. This view of Apelles’ is certainly reflected in the letter to
What second century Christians like Apelles and Marcion were doing was
attempting to reconcile the Gospel narratives with pre-Gospel views of
Jesus. The group that became the Catholics essentially re-interpreted,
misinterpreted, overlooked, or dismissed pre-Gospel views of Jesus as a
heavenly being, whereas other second and third century sects were
trying to reconcile the Gospel Jesus with the pre-Gospel heavenly Jesus
of Paul and others.
Back to Hebrews, in Hebrews 10 it says that Christ “came into the
world,” (Hebrews 10:5) which is typically
taken as “evidence” that Jesus was a real person on earth, but the
passage goes on to “quote” Jesus by quoting from scripture.
This could be talking about an earthly appearance of Jesus or
“the world” could mean the entire Creation including the
heavens. But assuming that “the world” does mean earth, this is still a
mythic telling. This is an event relayed on the basis of scriptural
interpretation not observed history.
In Hebrews 12 the cross of Jesus is mentioned.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that easily distracts,
and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2
looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who instead of
the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its
shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
This passage and those that follow basically tell the reader to ignore
the distractions of pleasures to focus on the goal of attaining a holy
life. In the reference to the cross it is implied that “enduring the
cross” was a choice made by Jesus, not something forced upon him. This
was a task that he chose to undertake when he descended from high
heaven. Christ’s “enduring of the cross” was of course a teaching from
Paul, who acknowledged it as a source of shame and mockery by
some. The idea that the messiah would endure shame and mockery was
actually well established among messianic Jews at this time, often
based on interpretations of passages from Isaiah in the Jewish
scriptures as well as various psalms.
We are then told not to become like Esau, who was distracted by
16 See to it that no one becomes like Esau, an immoral and godless
person, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 You know that
later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he
found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with
Clearly the author of Hebrews had no knowledge of the Gospel story of
Judas selling-out Jesus for silver, for that would have been a much
more fitting and powerful example to use here than the example of Esau.
In Hebrews 13 we find a refence to Jesus suffering “outside the city
gate” that is often cited as evidence that the writer of Hebrews was
talking about Jesus in a historical context, but this is clearly not
10 We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no
right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought
into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned
outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city
gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. 13 Let us then
go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. 14 For here
we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to
This is allegorical language, not a historical account. Going to him
“outside the camp” is a call to proselytize to those who do not worship
or know of Jesus and to endure the types of abuses that Paul talked
about in his letters, that he endured by those who mocked his
teachings. That Jesus suffered “outside the gate” “in order to”
sanctify the people, is talking about how the heavenly Jesus left the
security of the upper heavens to endure suffering in the flesh. “The
city gate” is not a literal city gate, it is the sanctuary of high
Finally, the author tells his readers to “obey your leaders.”
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch
over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and
not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you.
This again betrays the character of the Gospel Jesus, who is a rebel
against the leaders. How possibly could someone who knew of Jesus as
someone who was executed by the Jewish leadership for having cursed and
prophecied against them, tell his readers to “obey your leaders and
submit to them”? The call of the Gospel Jesus was certainly not submit
to the Pharisees. Why would the Jews be told to submit to the very
people responsible for killing Jesus? Clearly, there was no concept of
such a Jesus for the writer of Hebrews.
And so with this we see not only that all of the pre-Gospel writings
about Jesus fail to provide evidence that he was a real person, they
actually provide powerful evidence to the contrary. How then is it that
Christians and so many biblical scholars have failed to recognize this?
It has actually been an issue of contention since the dawn of
Christianity. And in fact, many biblical scholars do hold very similar
interpretations of these writings to those that have been outlined
here, it’s just that they also believe that the Gospels provide
credible evidence for Jesus the person. As the introductory excerpt
from the Jesus Seminar notes, many biblical scholars acknowledge that
the earliest writings about Jesus are mythic in nature, they just
rationalize this by claiming that these mythic writings reflect the
fact that Jesus had “died and gone to heaven.” But this is a post-hoc
rationalization that comes from the assumption that the Gospels are an
account of a narrative about the life of Jesus that pre-dates the
The model of mainstream biblical scholarship essentially states that
the Gospel narrative about Jesus formed before the writing of the
pre-Gospel epistles, but, for some unexplained reason, was not actually
preserved in the Gospel format until much later. However, a growing
body of scholarship shows that this is not the case. The evidence
presented in Deciphering
the Gospels shows that the Gospel narrative is an entirely
post-war narrative that was developed in total after the First
Jewish-Roman War and is dependent upon the pre-Gospel writings. This
finding is supported by multiple scholars, some of whom have previously
been listed. So while many biblical scholars acknowledge the mythic
nature of the pre-Gospel writings, few entertain the larger
implications because they still hold to the idea of the Gospels as
historical accounts of a narrative that pre-dates the earliest
writings. Those who do acknowledge the implications, like Richard
Carrier, Thomas Brodie, and Robert M. Price (all of whom have academic
backgrounds in biblical studies), conclude that Jesus wasn’t a
historical person and are then ostracized from the field on the basis
of their conclusion.
Ironically, it is devout Christians, not modern secular scholars, that
have put forward the most rational argument for the worship of Jesus.
Devout Christians have always maintained that the idea of Jesus as a
mere wandering prophet was untenable, because it provides no
explanation for why anyone would have worshiped Jesus as the Son of
God. Devout Christians have always rightly claimed that no one would
have worshiped a mere mortal who was executed as a blasphemous
criminal. This argument has been used against the claim that Jesus was
a mere mortal who never rose from the dead for centuries and the
argument is completely correct. What devout Christians have failed to
understand, however, is that the Jesus who rose from the dead was a
heavenly myth envisioned by prophets, not a real person.