The word about the growing words of the resurrected Jesus
by: Edward T. Babinski
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There are very few if any words of the resurrected Jesus in the earliest New Testament writings. Reports of the number of words attributed to the resurrected Jesus grew over time.
- Even conservative scholars agree that the first letter by Paul to the Corinthians was composed earlier than the Gospels. That letter only informs us that "Jesus appeared," without further description. Neither does the order of the people to whom "Jesus appeared" match later descriptions found in the Gospels.
- The next earliest writing is the Gospel of Mark. Like 1 Cor. it contains no words of the resurrected Jesus. Most scholars agree that Mark breaks off with "the women" being "afraid" and adds that they fled and "told no one" about what they had seen at Jesus' tomb. Some suggest that the Gospel of Mark originally did not stop at that point, but had verses about meeting the resurrected Jesus that were somehow lost (God couldn't stop it from being lost? God wanted it lost?), while others point out that Mark was most probably written on a scroll and it is unlikely that a scroll would have its ending lost since the ending is the most protected part when a scroll is rolled up. Whichever happened, early Christians were displeased by having Mark end with the women fleeing in fear from an empty tomb and "telling no one." Therefore some early Christians added to the last chapter of Mark FOUR DIFFERENT extended endings, all late additions.
The most widely known addition to the ending of Mark (popularized due to its inclusion in the King James Bible) features commands and promises from the resurrected Jesus such as, "Ye shall take up serpents and drink poison and they shall not harm you," and, "He who believes not shall be damned." Such words were invented by early Christians, and even today some take them so seriously as to "pick up serpents" and "drink poison" at their services.
Therefore, both of the earliest surviving church writings on the resurrection, Paul in 1st Cor., and the Gospel of Mark, lack words spoken by the risen Jesus. Such words only begin to appear in print in the last three Gospels--with their number increasing over time. Why should it require time for post-resurrection words to finally surface and then grow more numerous unless we are in fact dealing with their legendary growth?
- The Gospel of Matthew (chapter 28) contains 79 words of the resurrected Jesus. So we have finally gone from zero to 79. Scholarly consensus places Matthew after Mark chronologically, and before Luke-Acts. Matthew's crucifixion and resurrection stories parallel even the exact wording in Mark more closely than Matthew parallels Luke. Matthew, unlike Luke, also copies Mark's message at the tomb that "He has gone before you unto Galilee, THERE you shall see him," while Luke, though agreeing with Mark in other respects, has the angel at the tomb deliver a different message, and added a significant new number of post-resurrection stories, more than are found in Matthew. Here are Matthew's words of the resurrected Jesus, the earliest time such word appear in print, 79 English words in translation:
"Greetings. Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Reading the sacred 79, one can see how they mirror what the early church had already begun to teach new converts, a sort of catechism in brief, but written backwards in time and placed in the mouth of resurrected Jesus. Hardly a convincing example of post-resurrection speech. Matthew's Gospel also ends with a very brief tale about people claiming to see the raised Jesus on a mountain in Galilee, "but some doubted."
- The Gospel of Luke (chapter 24) contains 191 words (in English translation) of the resurrected Jesus, more than double the number found in Matthew! And besides those 191 words, Luke adds a story about the raised Jesus (traveling incognito) and delivering an untold number of words during a walk to Emmaus, those words are alleged by Luke to have explained where "the Christ" was mentioned in "all the Scriptures." Therefore Luke alludes to the raised Jesus being so talky that he gave an impromptu seminar "...beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." (Luke 24:27) Unfortunately not one word is preserved today of that seminar. But here are all the alleged words of the resurrected Jesus that appear in Luke:
"What are you discussing together as you walk along?... What things?... How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?"
"Peace be with you. Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have. Do you have anything here to eat? This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
Those are all the words of the resurrected Jesus in the third Gospel. That's it.
However, the Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts are a combined work and together they feature even more alleged words of the resurrected Jesus. (There is debate as to the authorship of the Book of Acts, i.e., whether a later writer edited notes/work and finished it in Luke's name. Some verses in Acts suggest the latter view may be nearer the truth. See the latest edition of Bart Ehrman's textbook on The New Testament for a discussion of which verses in Acts raise such questions, and how scholars respond to each other's questions on this issue. See also Gary Wills's work, What Paul Meant, that features an excellent summary of such questions.)
According to the Gospel of Luke, the resurrected Jesus appears to the apostles, all of them at once, eats some fish to prove he's "not a spirit" but has "flesh and bone," and then "led them as far as Bethany" to a mount near Jerusalem, and rose into the sky. But the Book of Acts expands the time that the physically resurrected Jesus remained on earth making it "40 days" before Jesus rises into the sky. That means that the Book of Acts alludes to EVEN MORE alleged words spoken by the resurrected Jesus. So the story of the number of words allegedly spoken by the resurrected Jesus continued to grow, even counting from Luke's Gospel to the Book of Acts.
And, as in the case of the "seminar on prophecy" that the raised Jesus allegedly delivered "on the road to Emmaus" (per the Gospel of Luke), no words of the "40 days" of preaching by the raised Jesus exist, except for the very last ones with which Acts 1:3 begins, "After his suffering, he showed himself to the Apostles whom he had chosen, and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. Once when he [the resurrected Jesus] was eating with them, he commanded them . . .
"Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. . . It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
Is anyone supposed to believe that the apostles' memories--from Peter (whom early church fathers claim told Mark what to write in his Gospel), and Matthew (whom early church writers allege obtained his stories from apostles as well), and Luke, ALL turned up blank pages when it came to remembering or wishing to record a host of addresses by the resurrected Jesus? (At least in the case of the "prophecy seminary" alluded to "on the road to Emmaus" in Luke it's possible that such dialogue would have been a problem to produce because the Scriptures DO NOT state in unequivocal terms that "the Christ must die and then after three day arise." In fact there are no clear Scriptural proofs concerning a Christ who must die and then must rise after three days.)
But how is anyone supposed to believe that it was only in such a LATE Gospel as Luke that stories first arose concerning the raise Jesus speaking wordy dialogues? And why aren't those dialogues preserved? Note that these same Gospel authors cribbed from one another, relying mostly on Mark's and Q's collection of logia, to form the later Gospels, Matthew and Luke. And the latter two Gospels differ most in the very sections where they could not follow Mark, infancy and resurrection stories. But what the latter two Gospels lacked in originality (reproducing over 90% of everything in the earliest Gospel, Mark, including incidental connecting phrases), they apparently tried to made up for via imaginative allusions to so-called previously unrecorded conversations with the raised Jesus that mouthed creeds already believed and provided a "40 day" period duing which the raised Jesus, still on earth per Acts, allegedly answered many Scriptural questions. Though no one knows what if anything the raised Jesus actually said since there's only the merest allusion to such matters in Luke-Acts.
Contra Luke-Acts, I suspect that the words of anyone who was dead and came back, and whom I got to spend several weeks with, would stick with me a bit more. Same thing goes for all the lost words of others who allegedly returned from the dead, like the Gospel of Matthew's "many raised saints who entered the holy city and appeared to many," or Lazarus in the Fourth Gospel who allegedly returned from the dead.
Also keep in mind that there are no FIRST PERSON stories anywhere in the N.T. concerning Jesus or those whom he allegedly raised from the dead. Neither Jesus nor the "many raisd saints," nor "Lazarus," wrote anything (though some Christians strain to argue that Lazarus is the unnamed author of the Fourth Gospel!). The only FIRST PERSON story in the entire N.T. comes from Paul in 1 Cor., who wrote that "Jesus . . . apeared to me." That's all the FIRST PERSON reporting in the N.T. Everything else is second, third, fourth hand reporting, or more.
- As stated earlier, not only the Gospel of Luke but also the companion volume, Acts, features additional alleged sayings of the resurrected Jesus. I've mentioned a few of them above, but there are others I have not yet mentioned, namely words that the author of Acts says were spoken to Paul by Jesus. But Paul himself in his letters never mentions hearing so many words. Never mentions a single word spoken by the resurrected Jesus. And these words in Acts read like a late expansion or legendary elaboration that partisan religious believers of all sorts are prone to concocting after a story is repeated, perhaps they were invented to "spell it out" for the reader. One need only compare the endless words a conservative pastor can squeeze out of a single verb even today once he starts sermonizing upon it. Here is the preachy version of what Paul allegedly heard, not as recorded in Paul's own letters nor even in Paul's own words, but as told by the author of the book of Acts, chapter 26:
"'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting'. 'Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'" (117 words)
Total number of alleged words spoken by the resurrected Jesus in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts combined? 397 words (depending of course on your particular English translation). But, minus the long didactic speech of Jesus to Paul on the road to Damascus: 280.
- The Gospel of John, the final Gospel written, contains 283 words of the resurrected Jesus. That's 92 more words of the resurrected Jesus than appeared in Luke, and 204 more words than appeared in Matthew.
Here are the alleged words of the resurrected Jesus per the Fourth Gospel:
"Woman, why are you crying?. Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?. Mary. Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"
"Peace be with you!. Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." "Peace be with you! Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe. Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
"Friends, haven't you any fish?. Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some. Bring some of the fish you have just caught. Come and have breakfast. Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?. Feed my lambs. Simon son of John, do you truly love me?. Take care of my sheep. Simon son of John, do you love me?. Do you love me?. Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. Follow me!. If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me."
The Gospel of John ends with these words, not spoken by Jesus but by that Gospel's author(s):
"And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written, every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen." (John 21:25)
"I suppose that the world could not contain..." "I suppose?" Is that any way to end an inspired Gospel, with mere "supposition?" As for the supposition itself, that the "world itself could not contain the books," the books we do have that tell of "things Jesus did," consist of only four slim "Gospels," not one of them over forty pages in length. Two of them, Matthew and Luke, even repeat over 90% of what appears in Mark including incidental phrases and passages in Greek. So the four Gospels that tell of "things Jesus did," minus the overlapping portions would be even slimmer. (And speaking of the "world" being unable to "contain the books," the Fourth Gospel writers were apparently not granted the ability to foresee that one day we might be able to store whole libraries in a laptop computer).
Among those "many other things which Jesus did," some of them can no doubt be found in the bevy of non-canonical Gospels and Acts that believers continued to write over time. It is apparent that by the time the fourth Gospel was composed such stories must have been begun circulating in droves. Otherwise why would the author of the Fourth Gospel end his Gospel with such words as it end? They certainly fit the idea that a plethora of stories abounded in the author's day. One such non-canonical Gospel that we know about was The Gospel of Nicodemus, and it's author expanded on the tale in Matthew about "the many raised saints," identifying some of them as "Adam and Eve" and including Hebrew prophets like "Isaiah!" Other non-canonical Gospel told about miracles Jesus allegedly performed in his infancy and youth. And the "Gospel of Peter" even told about Jesus stepping out of his opened tomb followed by a talking cross.
The fact that the last Gospel of the four in our Bibles had the longest number of words of the resurrected Jesus, and ended with a statement about "many other things Jesus did," and the "books if written about them could fill the world," they could only provides evidence of the fourth Gospel being written later when legends were continuing to grow.
What is "missing" is anything convincing about any of the sayings allegedly spoken by the raised Jesus. Here's the inventory once again, in the order in which these works were composed:
Paul 0 words
Mark 0 words (with FOUR endings added later to try and make up for the lack)
Matthew 79 words
Luke 191 words
Acts 208 words
John 283 words
Many of the words allegedly spoken by the raised Jesus also read like statements devout church leaders could and would have put into the resurrected Jesus' mouth to suit the early church's belief in its own heavenly centrality and broadening missionary ideals. Like when Matthew's resurrected Jesus says, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Or when Luke's resurrected Jesus says, "Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." Or when John's resurrected Jesus says, "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
Why are those blessed who believe without seeing? Because credulity pleases God Almighty? Then we should also believe the creation accounts too, as written, right? Because Jesus mentioned Adam and Eve and Noah like they were genuine folks and related to genuine events that God had a hand in, right? Where and when exactly does "not believing" or asking questions become a virtue?
“Religions promise a reward for excellence of the will or heart, but none for excellence of the head or understanding.” (Arthur Schopenhauer)
“I do not believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect had intended for us to forgo their use.” (Galileo)
“The silly fanatic repeats to me that it is not for us to judge what is reasonable and just in the divine Being. That His reason is not like our reason, that His justice is not like our justice. Eh? How, you mad demoniac, shall we judge justice and reason otherwise than by the notions we have of them? Do you want us to walk otherwise than with our feet, and speak otherwise than with our mouths?” (Voltaire)