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How Jesus Became Perfectly Sinless: Guest Post by Jeff Siker

Here is the second guest post by Jeff Siker on how Jesus came to be thought of as completely sinless in early Christianity, a view that probably no one entertained while he was still living.   It’s intriguing and important stuff.

This particular post is available to everyone; to see most of the posts on the blog, and the other posts on this topic itself by Prof. Siker, you will need to join.  Won’t cost much.  Will pay huge dividends.  And all money goes to those in need.  So what’s the downside?  

 

Jesus and Sinlessness, Part 2: From Retrospection to Retrojection

In the first blog post I showed how the earliest Christians were forced to make sense of the death of Jesus in light of belief in his resurrection.  Why had the one they “had hoped” would redeem Israel died at the hands of the Romans by means of crucifixion?  To answer this question the early believers turned both to their Jewish scriptures and to their ritual life associated with the Jerusalem Temple and its sacrificial cult.  In scripture they found echoes that resonated with their experience, especially such passages as Isaiah 53 in relation to the death of Jesus, and Psalm 110 in relation to their conviction that Jesus had been raised to the right hand of God.  Appeals to specific proof-texts also led to generic assertions that the death and resurrection of Jesus was to be found in scripture.

So Luke could have the risen Jesus simply assert (24:45-47): “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.’”  The problem is, of course, that nowhere is this written in the Jewish scriptures.  Nevertheless, their conviction that God had raised Jesus from the dead became the central key to unlocking the true meaning of both Jewish scripture and Jewish ritual as harbingers of a crucified messiah whose death atoned for sin.  (Perhaps ironically, only Luke does not make the connection between the death of Jesus and atonement for sin.  Rather Luke casts Jesus as the first martyr whose triumphant resurrection vindicates his tragic death.)

The retrospective theologizing of the earliest Christians that resulted in a perfectly sinless Jesus led inexorably to a process of retrojection, whereby the Gospel writers told and retold the story of Jesus in the firm belief that he had lived a perfectly sinless life, a divine life, the life of a divine man, the selfless son of God who gave himself for others. The process of retrojecting a sinless Jesus can be seen in a variety of places within the Gospel traditions, but nowhere more clearly than in the baptism and birth stories.

The story of Jesus’ baptism is recounted in all four of the canonical Gospels.  But the differences between the accounts reflect a significant reworking of the base tradition about Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist.  The account presented in the Gospel of Mark is rightly viewed as representing the earliest version of the tradition.  The account is very straightforward.  John the Baptist has been preaching a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus comes and is baptized by John, after which the Spirit of God descends upon Jesus as a dove and a heavenly voice declares that Jesus is God’s Son, echoing Psalm 2:7.  Most scholars recognize Mark’s baptism scene as the anointing and adoption of Jesus as God’s Son.

That Jesus might have been perceived as submitting to a baptism of repentance from sin does not concern Mark at all.  But it bothers Matthew in the extreme.  Matthew famously adds material to address two problems with the tradition he received from Mark.  First, Matthew must deal with the problem of having Jesus submit to John the Baptist at all, making Jesus appear subordinate and inferior to John.  Matthew accomplishes this by having John the Baptist object to baptizing Jesus, and by having the Baptist clearly subordinate himself to Jesus (Mt 3:14): “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But, secondly, Matthew must also deal with the larger problem of why Jesus is getting baptized by John at all.  Jesus cannot be perceived as seeking baptism for forgiveness of sins.

And so Matthew introduces a rather curious rationale to explain why Jesus is getting baptized by John (Mt 3:!5): “But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he [John] consented.”  As is well known, the motif of righteousness if prominent throughout Matthew’s Gospel, and Matthew invokes it here in the baptism scene to explain why Jesus is getting baptized.  It is not for anything to do with forgiveness of sin.  In this way Matthew sanitizes Mark’s potentially troubling story by retrojecting a sinless Jesus back into the baptism story.  The baptism story apparently was such a strong tradition that there was no way to avoid it, but that didn’t mean the evangelists could reshape it.  And reshape it they did.

The Gospel of Luke reshapes John the Baptist right out of the story!  This is yet another way to put distance between Jesus and John the Baptist’s preaching a baptism for forgiveness of sins.  Luke famously takes the story of John’s arrest that is narrated later in Mark 6 and moves it to immediately before the baptism of Jesus in Luke 3.  The baptism story is told in the passive voice, and John the Baptist is conspicuously absent.  This was Luke’s creative solution to dealing with the dual problems of inferior submission and sin inherent in Mark’s telling of the baptism story.

The Gospel of John goes one better than even Luke by simply not having a baptism of Jesus at all.  Of course there is great doubt that Luke knew any of the Synoptic Gospels in their written form, but John seems to know enough about the traditions to reduce John the Baptist to a mere witness to the Spirit coming upon Jesus, quite apart from any baptism.

The birth narratives about Jesus presented in Matthew and Luke also demonstrate a process of retrojecting a perfectly sinless Jesus coming into the world in divine fashion. In Matthew’s account, much modeled on the birth story of Moses and his escape from Pharaoh, Joseph is portrayed as a righteous man who plans to divorce Mary since she is found to be pregnant before they consummate their marriage.  This can only mean, of course, that Mary has sinned and is guilty of adultery.  But Joseph receives a vision that the child is from God, and that Joseph is to name the child Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.”  Already in the birth narrative, then, the purpose and destiny of Jesus finds articulation.

The implication is clear.  How will he save his people from sin?  By dying as a ransom for many on the cross.  Thus the significance of the death of Jesus in light of the resurrection is retrojected all the way back to the birth.  To safeguard Mary as well as Jesus, Matthew also goes out of his way in the genealogy to enlist the help of four women (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah) to invoke stories that show how the appearance of sexual scandal can in reality be God’s righteousness at work.  Just as Matthew sanitized the baptism story of Jesus, so he retrojects a sinless birth story for both mother and son in light of early Christian belief in the resurrection of the crucified messiah.

Luke’s approach to the birth of Jesus differs significantly from Matthew’s, but still gets rid of any scandal associated with the pregnancy of Mary or the birth of Jesus.  Unlike Matthew, Luke makes no reference to Mary’s pregnancy being a problem.  Rather, the birth of Jesus occurs amidst the inhumanity of having to travel and give birth in an animal stall.  Songs of praise are offered to God throughout Luke’s birth narrative.  Jesus’ lowly birth will set the stage for the motif of reversal that dominates the rest of the Gospel.  Just as Jesus will identify with sinners and prostitutes in Luke, so he will offer salvation to a thief on the cross next to him.  Luke shares the vindication of resurrection faith in the reversal stories that characterize his Gospel as a whole (e.g., Jesus’ sermon in Luke 4, the woman of the city in Luke 7, tax collectors in Luke 18 & 19).

The retrojection of perfection onto Jesus carries over into the Gospel of John’s pre-history of Jesus as the Word who was in the beginning with God, and through whom all things were made.  Similar motifs can be found in hymns to Christ in Colossians 1 and in the book of Revelation’s heavenly choirs who give praise to the victorious lamb, who conquered through his blood.  Elsewhere, Christian tradition continued to grow after the Gospels were written, for example, in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas with its perfect divine child.  Somewhat later the apocryphal Gospel of the Hebrews (as quoted by Jerome) has Jesus respond to the suggestion that he should get baptized by John the Baptist by asking, “what sin have I committed that I should go and be baptized by him?”

In the next post I will explore how the Christian tradition utterly subordinated any vestige of human weakness in Jesus to such a degree that not only didn’t Jesus sin, but that as the Son of God he did not have the capacity to sin.


Was Jesus Perfect? Then How Was He Human?? Guest Post: Jeffrey Siker
An Eyewitness to the Crucifixion? Another Modern Forgery

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    godspell  May 19, 2019

    The baptism story really does show the evolution of how Jesus was perceived by early Christians with particular clarity, since it’s in all four gospels, albeit in greatly different forms. Jesus must have told the story of his vision after the baptism many times, and made clear his reverence for John, who had made it possible.

    Could Mark have believed Jesus was sinless (having previously sinned) only after his baptism by John? That the baptism was a necessary part of his becoming Messiah, to shed the last of his human sinfulness? No concept of original sin deriving from Adam and Eve, since that is a later Christian concept (like the Virgin Birth). Mark’s Jesus still seems to consider himself imperfect, but he has ascended to a higher plane than other humans, because of the Holy Spirit, which could not have entered him until he was made pure.

    This worked fine for the earliest perceptions of Jesus, shaped by people who had known and loved him as a man. Mark wrote early enough to be shaped by those perceptions, but just barely.

    The later evangelists were shaped more by those like Paul, who hadn’t known Jesus, and therefore idealized him to a much greater extent, considered him to varying extents a divine being in human form–and therefore without sin. A bit illogical, mind you, since Christians later told stories about how angels had sinned and been driven from heaven–well, there’s always plot holes in any story that gets overly complex. Hope everyone enjoys the Game of Thrones finale tonight. 😉

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    • Jeffrey Siker
      Jeffrey Siker  May 20, 2019

      It’s rather difficult to know _what_ Jesus said about his baptism experience. Luke simply tells it in the passive voice. Many scholars argue (rightly, I think) that Jesus must have been a follower of John the Baptist. As one who embraced John’s message, wouldn’t Jesus have been baptized at the outset of joining John’s disciples? It’s clear from the Gospel of John that in retrospect the Baptist was viewed by early Christians as a competing leader who had to “decrease” in relation to Jesus, who must “increase.” It makes sense to me that the whole baptism story has been reworked a great deal after the fact. Did Jesus in fact have a revelatory experience at his baptism? And how would one really now? Or did early Christians see in Psalm 2:7 (“you are my son…”) a kind of echo of the baptism story that they now understood as God’s adoption of Jesus as God’s son? The parallels to Mk 9 and the transfiguration story also raise many questions about the degree to which both sets of material have been completely reworked to reflect the Christian community’s developing beliefs about the crucified and risen Jesus. As for whether Mark considered Jesus “sinless” in the sense that he later came to be viewed as “perfect,” Mark certainly saw him as a holy person, but I’m not at all sure that the category of “sinlessness” that developed later was at all operative for Mark.

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      • Avatar
        godspell  May 22, 2019

        I absolutely believe Jesus was a follower of John, but I don’t think the baptism would have been so heavily emphasized–or remembered at all–if Jesus hadn’t told his disciples about it, and more than once–if he hadn’t made it clear that he’d had an awakening after it. We can be quite sure some key moments in Jesus’ life before his ministry–nearly all of them–are not dealt with in the gospels.

        I don’t assume it happened the way it’s described in Mark, but then again–this is a man who clearly did have visions, and ultimately inspired them (still does). It might have happened precisely that way. Jesus is reported to have fasted, sometimes for long periods of time. John was himself clearly a deeply charismatic preacher. Why WOULDN’T Jesus have believed he had a personal revelation after being baptized by such a man?

        We can’t say “The reason Jesus became seen as God is that his followers had real-seeming visions of him resurrected” and then seriously doubt that Jesus himself had visions that would have seemed just as real, and moved him to take on a dangerous and exhausting spiritual quest that ultimately killed him.

        One problem that historians will always have with him and others like him is that historians, by and large, are not visionaries. Visions are, it’s fair to say, detrimental to the objective study of the past. But what if the past you are studying involves those who do have visions, whose reality is not the same as ours, who see things others don’t? And what if sometimes those visions come to life? A great deal of history is based on the unreal being made real by people who saw things others couldn’t. Nor is that always a good thing. But it’s a real thing.

  2. Avatar
    Omar Osama  May 19, 2019

    professor bart do you think the writers who lied in their books
    lied about saying the christ is the god
    and he is in real a prophert

    • Bart
      Bart  May 20, 2019

      No, I don’t think they lied. They were telling what they thought was the truth. A lie involves a false statement that a speaker knows is false.

  3. Telling
    Telling  May 19, 2019

    While studying Acts (19:1) I ran into a curiosity regarding John the baptist, where Paul runs into some men in Ephesus who were baptized by John but know nothing about Jesus. Shortly before that (Paul not present in the narrative) Acts tells of another man, Apollos (18:24) , teaching in the Ephesus synogogue who “spoke and taught very fully concerning Jesus, but he knew only the baptism of John.” Two of Pauls Ephesus followers then take him aside “and fully showed him the way of the Lord.”

    I find this interesting in that I’ve read of there being present-day followers of John the Baptist who do not recognize Jesus, and they preach generally a “gnostic” message. This opens the questions of whether John the baptist had anything to do with Jesus, perhaps having his own ministry. The next question would then be whether Jesus was baptized by him or whether the event was added.

    I would be interested in your take and comments on the brief Acts mention of John the baptist, and whether we might consider that Jesus taught a gnostic message if he were indeed baptized by John.

    • Jeffrey Siker
      Jeffrey Siker  May 20, 2019

      I think it’s hard to dispute that Jesus had some relationship with John the Baptist, since he plays such a large role in the gospel traditions. I think it’s also impossible to dispute that Jesus was baptized by John, given the lengths to which the early Christians went to distance Jesus from both repenting of sin and subordination to John. It’s also clear that John continued his ministry after Jesus had begun to call disciples and preach. What I find interesting in Acts is that one of the criteria for who should replace Judas among the twelve is that it has to be someone who has been with Jesus from the baptism of John onwards (Acts 1:22). The disciples/apostles seem to have understood Jesus as a successor to John. There also appears to have been some tension between those who continued to follow John and those who confessed faith in the risen Jesus.

      • Telling
        Telling  May 20, 2019

        When we consider that the two apparently were relatives (some translations say “cousins”) that is indeed some relationship. It looks somewhat like a friends and family cult, others of the disciples too being relatives (to each other), all or most all living in the same rural region. All the more amazing how this group came to be so influential and great.

    • Jeffrey Siker
      Jeffrey Siker  May 21, 2019

      As for JB being a gnostic, I think it unlikely given his apocalyptic bent. Same for Jesus.

      • Telling
        Telling  May 21, 2019

        Well, this group Syria (now displaced, it’s said) supposedly goes all the way back to the time of JB, and their teachings are said to be of a gnostic nature. I bought the book a while back but haven’t had the time to read much of it. What I read comes across as credible.

        I’m convinced that JC taught the gnostic message, and I believe the winners of Christianity (Paul’s message) didn’t understand the elevated message of the mystics and so built on a simpleton story of a miraculous resurrection. Mystics throughout history have understood the higher teaching, and it is germane to Eastern religious philosophy. It can only be that. The Gospel of Thomas best represents the Jesus message. The Gospel of Mary is another source. Anything that came out of Paul’s message (ie: The Christian Church) is flawed. This is so obvious it is embarrassing.

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  4. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  May 19, 2019

    Thanks for the bounty of detail.

  5. Lev
    Lev  May 19, 2019

    “Of course there is great doubt that Luke knew any of the Synoptic Gospels in their written form” – didn’t Luke use Mark’s written gospel as one of his sources?

    1
    • Avatar
      Rthompsonmdog  May 20, 2019

      Not to speak for Dr. Siker, but from the context, I believe it should read, “… there is great doubt that John knew any of the Synoptics Gospels …”

    • Jeffrey Siker
      Jeffrey Siker  May 20, 2019

      Sorry – should say “John” and not Luke!

      3
  6. Avatar
    AstaKask  May 19, 2019

    “Of course there is great doubt that Luke knew any of the Synoptic Gospels in their written form,” Should this be John? Luke must have known about Mark, since he copied much of it.

    1
  7. Avatar
    brenmcg  May 19, 2019

    **Perhaps ironically, only Luke does not make the connection between the death of Jesus and atonement for sin. Rather Luke casts Jesus as the first martyr whose triumphant resurrection vindicates his tragic death.**

    I don’t think this is true. Luke 22:37 “It is written ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’ and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

    The full Isaiah prophecy about Jesus being “and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

    Luke believes in the atoning sacrifice like the rest of the gospel writers. He just wants his reader to find it for himself in the Prophets, and he tells his reader where to look.

    • Jeffrey Siker
      Jeffrey Siker  May 20, 2019

      I don’t think so. Why does Luke leave out the all important line from Isa 53 that he “bore the sin of many”? If Luke wants to show Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice, why cut this out? Also, why have the centurion at the foot of the cross say that Jesus was innocent rather than follow Mark’s “truly this was the son of God”?

      Luke wants his readers to find the Isa 53 reference for themselves?? That’s reading a bit much into Luke’s intention!

      3
      • Avatar
        brenmcg  May 21, 2019

        I think the idea is that the disciples didn’t understand the scriptures while these things were taking place and luke wants his reader to have the same experience.
        He doesn’t explain the meaning of the crucifixion because Isaiah will do it for him.
        He tells people that the “numbered with the transgressors” prophecy in Isaiah is about Jesus and that everything written about Jesus in Isaiah will be fulfilled. So just continue reading this passage and you’ll find the meaning of the crucifixion.
        Otherwise we’d have to say Luke believes the insignificant “numbered with transgressors” prophecy is about Jesus but not the very next line – a line which just so happens to be to the central message of the other three gospels.

        Re “son of god”, its not Mark’s “son of god” its Matthew’s. Unlike Mark, Luke realizes if you remove the lines about a earthquake and the dead rising from their graves you cant have a terrified centurion and he cant say truly this was the son of god. Luke changes it Mark incorrectly keeps it the same.

        • Avatar
          Iskander Robertson  May 22, 2019

          “Otherwise we’d have to say Luke believes the insignificant “numbered with transgressors” prophecy is about Jesus but not the very next line – a line which just so happens to be to the central message of the other three gospels.”

          this assumes luke agrees with “central message of the other three gospels”
          you also have to assume that luke INTERPRETED “bore sins” (NOT SLAIN for sins) just as the other three.

          Bart Ehrman says that their is no evidence that luke sees Jesus as “slain for sins”

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  May 25, 2019

            Isaiah says “he made intercession for the transgressors.” ie he bore their sins as an act of mediation for their punishments.

            The septuagint, which is what Luke was probably reading, has “he was given over to death,and was counted among the lawless because he carried the sins of many, and was given over because of those sins.”

            Luke has Jesus say,referring to this passage in Isaiah, “this must be fulfilled in me. Yes what is written about me is reaching fulfillment” – ie Luke believes Jesus was “slain for sins”.

          • Avatar
            Iskander Robertson  May 26, 2019

            quote:
            Isaiah says “he made intercession for the transgressors.” ie he bore their sins as an act of mediation for their punishments.

            thats just prayer, nothing about being slain for sins for atonement of sins. “bearing” here does not mean having sins transferred and injected into a body, “bearing” here means the pain, abuse and insult

            quote:
            He was despised and rejected by others;
            a man of suffering[a] and acquainted with infirmity;
            and as one from whom others hide their faces[b]
            he was despised, and we held him of no account

            there is no idea about the item being a sin offering.

            quote:
            The septuagint, which is what Luke was probably reading, has “he was given over to death,and was counted among the lawless because he carried the sins of many, and was given over because of those sins.”

            luke never sees jesus as one who is a sacrifice for sins.

            quote:
            Luke has Jesus say,referring to this passage in Isaiah, “this must be fulfilled in me. Yes what is written about me is reaching fulfillment” – ie Luke believes Jesus was “slain for sins”.

            do you really think the author of luke was thinking to himself that EVERY verse in isaiah 53 was being “fulfilled” in jesus or was luke selective in what is being fulfilled and here specifically prayer for the wicked is being fulfilled?

            there is no idea IN isaiah 53 that jesus is seen as a LEVITICAL sacrifice and i don’t think luke sees it either.

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  May 27, 2019

            Its the same word as Isa 53:4 “he took up our pain and bore our suffering”. It can only mean took the suffering and the sins from us and upon himself.
            Isa 53:10 “it was to Lords will to crush him and cause him to suffer and make his life an offering for sin”.

            The question is not whether Isaiah 53 refers to someone or something bearing the sins of others and being made a sacrifice for sin, the question is ‘does Luke believe it refers to Jesus’.

            Luke says “all” things written about Jesus would be fulfilled. Luke 22:37 is just a pointer of where to look.

            Luke’s Jesus is numbered with the transgressors and Luke’s Jesus will bear the sins of many and make intercession for their transgressions.

          • Avatar
            Iskander Robertson  May 29, 2019

            Quote :
            Its the same word as Isa 53:4 “he took up our pain and bore our suffering”. It can only mean took the suffering and the sins from us and upon himself.
            end quote
            where are you getting “it can only mean” ? there is no idea of a TRANSFERENCE of sins .
            the hebrew WORD does not even mention the word “sin”
            ills and pains does not mean he carried sins.
            the speaker is not even god here, it is realization of the people that their mistreatment of the object was wrong.
            ills and pains does not mean “transference of sins”
            you are christianizing the text.
            you turning the victim of abuse, hate and insult into a “sin sacrifice” is abusing the text.

            1
          • Avatar
            Iskander Robertson  May 29, 2019

            quote:
            the list maker has reversed Isaiah completely — as if it speaks of a person who “bears the sins” of others when in reality it is the gentile nations speaking of one who they had thought was rejected by G-d. The gentile nations despised the one they had thought to be subhuman and sickly (think lepers who were isolated from others in a quarantine) — but now realize that the perception was tainted and that the servant was mistreated badly by THEM.
            “Isa 53:10 “it was to Lords will to crush him and cause him to suffer and make his life an offering for sin”.”
            there is no mention of sin sacrifice in isaiah 53:10. the persecuted (wronged one) is not an animal sacrifice for sins.
            “God desired to oppress him and He afflicted him; if his soul would acknowledge guilt he would see offspring and live long days and the desire or HaShem would succeed in his hand.” Isaiah 53:10
            the person has to ACKNOWLEDGE his own guilt. if he does x he will get reward y and z. this is clearly not talking about human life being shed for sins. luke didn’t see this and neither did isaiah .
            its strange that christians like to use “asham” as “asham sacrifice” when in reality “asham” can be bloodless and have absolutely nothing to do with sacrifice. why make prophecy out of such ambiguous texts?

            1
          • Avatar
            Iskander Robertson  May 29, 2019

            “The question is not whether Isaiah 53 refers to someone or something bearing the sins of others and being made a sacrifice for sin, the question is ‘does Luke believe it refers to Jesus’.”
            he clearly doesn’t
            “Luke says “all” things written about Jesus would be fulfilled. Luke 22:37 is just a pointer of where to look.”
            luke did not see jesus as a sin sacrifice. there were enough places he could have made that connection, but what he does is to show jesus was martyred because of the wrongs of his killers , not that sins were poured into him and then he was sacrificed for them .
            “Luke’s Jesus is numbered with the transgressors and Luke’s Jesus will bear the sins of many and make intercession for their transgressions.”
            quote :
            7 For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.”
            there is no “bear the sins” and “sacrificed for sins” in luke. luke did not INTERPRET isaiah 53 like you are doing.

            1
          • Avatar
            brenmcg  May 31, 2019

            Hi Iskander – ive replied to your comments in a forum post if you’re interested.

            https://ehrmanblog.org/forum/the-new-testament-gospels/did-luke-understand-the-crucifixion-as-an-atoning-sacrifice/#p8453

            thanks

      • Avatar
        Iskander Robertson  May 21, 2019

        is it not that “bearing sin” does not imply “slain for sins” ? In semitic languages , if i slap someone for no reason, then can it be said that the object bore my act/sin? Another example “the earth bears our sins”

  8. Avatar
    brenmcg  May 19, 2019

    If Mark is not concerned with Jesus receiving a baptism for the forgiveness of sins then the idea of a sinless Jesus must come after Mark, which can’t be true.

    For Mark the baptism is an anointing and John is the priest. But the priest is not greater than the anointed so John baptizing Jesus causes no embarrassment for Mark.

    The historical embarrassment of early christians with regards to the baptism, which is explicitly addressed by Matthew “let be so for now … “, gets ignored by later christians when it is recast as Jesus’s anointing. Which is why Mark removes Matthew’s explicit reference from his version.

    • Jeffrey Siker
      Jeffrey Siker  May 20, 2019

      The idea of a sinless Jesus comes after the life and death of Jesus in light of resurrection faith. Both Mark and Matthew are writing a generation later.

      2
      • Telling
        Telling  May 21, 2019

        A sinless person is someone who puts the needs of the community (others) ahead of, or at least equal too, himself. There is no mystery to that and anyone can obtain it. It’s not even righteousness, it is merely an understanding of the interconnection between all humanity. It is knowledge — gnosis, and will come naturally as this inner knowledge is digested.

        The hokum about this one perfect man is, well, hokum.

        Would you agree?

      • Avatar
        Gary  May 24, 2019

        Doesn’t the fact that Paul was writing about a sinless Jesus in the mid to late 50’s throw a wrench into the idea that a “sinless Jesus” concept developed after the Gospel of Mark was written?

        “God made him who had no sin to be sin[b] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

        –2 Corinthians 5

  9. Avatar
    nbraith1975  May 19, 2019

    That is one of the arguments I like to make when Christians say that Jesus was “tempted” yet never sinned. I give Christians the benefit of agreement that, based on the trinity doctrine, if Jesus is in fact God incarnate, he couldn’t sin if he tried. I also quote James 1:13 to them – “for God cannot be tempted by evil.”

    I sum up my argument by saying that I find Jesus’ sinless life to be not such a big deal; given that if Jesus is God, I wouldn’t expect anything less.

    I also find Jesus’ miracles to be of little significance for the same reason. I mean really, the creator of all things could actually turn water into wine and heal a sick person? Even bringing someone back from the dead seems so pedestrian for the great creator.

    4
    • Jeffrey Siker
      Jeffrey Siker  May 20, 2019

      It does raise important questions about how “human” Jesus truly is. If in Christian tradition Jesus is “fully human,” then what exactly does this mean?

      • Avatar
        nbraith1975  May 21, 2019

        The first chapter of Revelation explicitly explains that Jesus is NOT God.

        John clearly identifies Jesus as a mortal man in verse 5 when he states that Jesus was “the firstborn of the DEAD.” Mortals die. This is in contrast to how John identifies God, when he states that God is “who is and who was and who is to come.” God is eternal.

        John’s accounting of his revelation begins with a face-to-face encounter with Jesus, where Jesus clearly tells John in verse 18 that he “was dead.” Again, mortals die – God doesn’t.

        This passage begs a question which can’t be logically answered: Which Jesus appeared to John – the “fully God” Jesus or the fully human” Jesus?

        4. John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him [YAHWEH] who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, 5. AND from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, THE FIRSTBORN OF THE DEAD, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

        17. When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18. and the living One; and I [Jesus] WAS DEAD, and behold, I am alive forevermore

        • Avatar
          brenmcg  May 21, 2019

          There are two deaths in Revelation. Only the second death is extinction. One can still be eternal and suffer the first death.

          Revelation 22:3,4 “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” *his/him* are all in the singular.

          Revelation 22:5 “for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” *they will reign* is plural.

          Revelation has a unity/plurality within its understanding of God.

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    Bewilderbeast  May 20, 2019

    Can’t imagine much worse than being ‘perfectly sinless’! Some of my best moments have been doing things that at least SOMEONE would have frowned at . .

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    RonaldTaska  May 20, 2019

    Wow! Fascinating. I have often wondered how anyone, who is fully human, could have lived a sunless life, especially during childhood. The concept of the “retrojection of perfection onto Jesus” is very helpful. Here are some times where Jesus at least appeared to be unkind which I think is a sin:
    1. Jesus refuses to heal a sick child (Matthew 15:22-28);
    2. Jesus contends that he has come not to bring peace but a sword and turn people against each other. (Matthew 10:34-45;
    3. Jesus said to gouge out an eye. (Matthew 5:29). Unfortunately, I once had a patient who followed scripture and actually did this to himself. Ugh!
    4. Jesus seems to encourage castration (Matthew 19:12).

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      meohanlon  May 23, 2019

      To add to the list, you could also say
      5. He dishonored the 5th commandment at least once, in the temple as a child (Luke) or when his family thought he’d gone mad and attempted to pull him away from the crowd he was preaching to (Mark)
      6. He destroyed someone else’s property (a sin in Jewish law) by cursing the fig tree.
      7. Breaking the sabbath law or allowing his disciples to do it (and for just reasons arguably, but by rigid Jewish standards of the time, still a sin)
      8. He might’ve caused real harm to the livelihood of poor Galileean peasant families by pulling their able-bodied members away to make disciples of.
      9. “let the dead bury the dead” he says to a man whose main priority is to uphold the 5th commandment vs. becoming his disciple.

      Now the gospels can claim that Jesus, either by being God incarnate or his representative, given special authority, can override the commonsense objections above, that would’ve been raised against him – or that the definition of a sin depends also on the cultural context,, or that while he did cause a lot of problems for people of his generation, they didn’t count as sins, since he gets off the hook by doing it for a greater cause that is still acknowledged by the more liberal Jewish leaders of his day, like Hillel perhaps. The idea of sin was originally equated with missing the mark when it comes to God’s law, not causing offense to his peers or even current sensibilities.

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    sladesg  May 20, 2019

    I’ve very much enjoyed Dr. Siker’s guest posts. I am equally fascinated by his thoughts and understandings on the Gospel writers’ obvious retrojection of early Christian themes back into the Gospels, along with (what I can tell from a nominal Google search) the fact he’s still a believer. And a pastor at that! Not that I’m complaining. I suppose I simply wonder how one can work for years at seeing all the problems that the Gospels contain, and yet still be a believer. I’m truly interested, because there’s a part of me I think that still hasn’t shed all belief (or at least is still open to persuasion), and it makes me wonder if I’m missing something that others have, ones that know the Gospel limitations and yet still believe…

    • Jeffrey Siker
      Jeffrey Siker  May 20, 2019

      Yeah, still a believer. Of course the question is what that actually means! I never had to make the journey that Bart did from a view of scripture as a veritably divine and infallibly true document to a realization that the NT writings were written by humans with all the imperfections and contradictions that this entails. I suppose another way to put it is that being able to see how the sausage was made didn’t put me off sausages! I can see how and why the gospel writers told the story as they did (at least with some degree yof confidence), but it doesn’t destroy what I consider to be the “truth of the gospel.” What is that truth? At the risk of utter simplicity, I believe that the message and mission of Jesus was (and is) about God’s redemptive embrace of human suffering, and that ultimately God is one who brings life from death. I do have a fairly low christology (no surprise there!), and there are plenty of Christians who would not share my vision of Christian faith, especially my conviction that Jesus didn’t die an atoning sacrificial death for human sin (sorry Paul!), but that Jesus died as a result of human sinfulness. And yet I believe that Jesus trusted in God’s faithfulness even in the face of death. But now we’re getting at Jesus’ self-consciousness, which I think is not really accessible with much confidence given how Christians have told and retold the story.

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    fishician  May 20, 2019

    For many years I did not question it, but now it seems strange to me to suggest that the solution to humanity’s sins is for us to commit the greatest sin of all: killing God’s own sinless son. It’s like telling a thief to carry out one last big heist so that all the previous thefts can be paid back.

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    • Jeffrey Siker
      Jeffrey Siker  May 20, 2019

      Interesting analogy. The early Christians had to make sense of Jesus’ death somehow in light of their belief that God had raised Jesus from the dead. They struggled to do this by rereading their scriptures and by reflecting on their ritual life, as I have suggested. The notion of sacrificial death and of noble death were certainly options at hand, and they employed these in the service of the scandalous story of a crucified messiah.

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    robgrayson  May 20, 2019

    I’m thoroughly enjoying these posts. They’re putting flesh on the bones of something I’ve wondered about for a while.

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    Zak1010  May 22, 2019

    So Luke could have the risen Jesus simply assert (24:45-47): “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer…..’ Did Jesus say this?

    ‘By dying as a ransom for many on the cross’; Ransom? Who and to whom? Ransom paid/offered to who by whom?

    The retrojection of perfection onto Jesus carries over into the Gospel of John’s pre-history of Jesus as the Word who was in the beginning with God, and through whom all things were made. Wasn’t this verse omitted from the Gospel according to John in the 1970’s?

    • Jeffrey Siker
      Jeffrey Siker  May 25, 2019

      On Luke 24:45-47, Luke certainly puts these words into the mouth of the risen Jesus. Luke seems to believe that there is such a scripture that has been fulfilled, even though it’s not at all obvious to what this passage refers.

      As for ransom — this is really Mark’s language (10:45), suggesting that Jesus’ death paid the price for human sin (since Jesus was sinless). Some theories say the ransom is paid to God; others say it’s paid to the devil; others say the whole notion is an affront to the very notion of a loving God (that God would mandate his own Son’s death).

      I’m not sure to what you’re referring about John 1. The text is pretty straightforward — the Word was in the beginning with God and all things were created through the Word. What do you mean that it was omitted from John’s Gospel in the 1970’s?

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