Sayings… Lost and Found

Many church historians have written about the origins of Christianity. Unfortunately, most have merely repeated the early works and confessions of church leaders who had an agenda of their own, namely, maintaining order and authority in a growing religion, congregations that had minimum communication with each other and were threatened by both a Greco/Roman culture and the evolving counter-religion of Islam.

The first four centuries were indeed fearful times for early Christians. Emperor Constantine finally gave them some peace by supporting Christianity as the religion of the Empire. This encouraged church leaders to take more control and gather their teachings into formulated creeds which the Christian Church still recites to this day.

What Christianity teaches is generally well know today. The narrative of Christ Jesus (who he was, what he accomplished on the cross, and what he will do when he returns) is taught around the world. Too often, these teachings and other related doctrines have led certain Christians to conclusions which separated themselves from each other and sometimes even destroyed each other for what they believed was a just cause.

For the most part, what Jesus actually taught and said cannot be found in the Christian confessions. The narrative and creeds spun about his life and its contrived saving purpose have all but erased his real gospel message of a loving Father’s Kingdom. He claimed this Kingdom was already present where humans of all cultures, races, and religions accept and forgive each other, and generously care for those in need, just as God accepts, forgives and cares for them. This is a picture of mercy, not sacrifice. There is no room for payback or punishment in this Kingdom of Love proclaimed by Jesus.

To help us understand how a misrepresentation of his message could have happened, recent scholarship has revealed how the original sayings of Jesus, which they call “the Source,” were nearly lost in the stories of Jesus’ life.

After Jesus’ demise and from 40-50 A.D., there were three groups of Jesus followers. 1) There were those in Jerusalem who followed the disciple Peter who had returned to many of the separatist teachings of Judaism. Many of these teachings such as One God, Heaven, Hell, Satan, Judgment Day, Resurrection, and others found their roots in Persia during the Judean captivity under Darius and his state religion of Zoroastrianism. 2) There were the followers of Jesus’ oral (unwritten) sayings on living in the Kingdom. They were found in the hill country villages of Galilee and were not at all interested in Jesus’ narrative or what was happening in Jerusalem. 3) There were the followers of Paul in Syria and beyond, mostly Gentiles and the first to be called followers of the Christ-Messiah and resurrected Savior of the world. Paul was able to succeed in convincing Peter and his followers to join him in practicing a more free religion, but one still centered around the Christ-Messiah. The Jewish/Roman war and destruction of the Temple, Jerusalem, and surrounding Jewish settlements about 70 A.D. scattered these groups.

After the Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed, the writer Mark built his story plot around Jesus’ life being a symbol of the Temple’s destruction. About 80 – 90 A.D., the writers Matthew and Luke borrowed Mark’s plot and with some variations of their own, such as Luke’s virgin birth claim and Matthew’s eternal punishment claim , they also added the original sayings of Jesus from an unknown source. Perhaps local scribes had finally written them, but these simple sayings have never been found except in Egypt, included in the recently discovered Gospel of Thomas.

About 100 -110A.D., the writer John, not the disciple, took another tack. His claim was that Jesus was the Son of God from the beginning of time. This was very similar to the Roman claims for their heroes. He may have been the same John who recorded wild visions of destruction in his apocalyptic book of Revelation, also a dream of Judaism and the Eastern wisdom religions. At this time, Luke also constructed his book of Acts of the Apostles, stories with a flair that had been told for at least two generations among the early congregations.

The preaching of the supposed meaning of Jesus’ life from the four “gospel” plots mentioned, and Paul’s connecting his Christology concepts to the fulfillment of the Old Testament Torah (Law of Moses) finally smothered the followers of Jesus’ sayings. But when today’s scholars remove Mark’s plot from Matthew’s and Luke’s narratives, those sayings of Jesus stand out loud and clear on their own, especially in Matthew. Simple and clear, Jesus’ original sayings have no connection with his life as it was told in those narratives nor with an apocalyptic future of the world, much less endless sacred things, rituals, and doctrines added later. Even his sample prayer to his Father says: May your name be honored among us. May your kingdom spread among us. Give us our daily bread. Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors. Keep us safe from injustice… That’s it! Much less than we have memorized.

Obviously, the ONLY thing sacred according to Jesus is a son/daughter of humanity, as he called himself,  who honors the Father as his Creator/Provider and who accepts and forgives another human just as their loving Father forgives and accepts them. And the only thing we have to fear is the injustice of another human, not the judgment and punishment of our loving Father whose justice is forgiveness and whose judgment is acceptance, just as Jesus taught in his stories.

Henry Hasse ~ September 19, 2010

Published in: on September 18, 2010 at 6:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

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