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Was Jesus A Great Moral Teacher? A Blast From the Past

A few days ago, in response to a question, I reposted on the problem of fundamentalism; looking back on the blog some six years, I see that at about the same time another related question appeared.  This involves fundamentalists who object to calling Jesus a “great moral teacher” since, for them, he is actually God himself.   It will take two posts to reply to that view, first, in this one: was Jesus in fact a great moral teacher?  The answer might seem obvious but, well, not so much.

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QUESTION:

Do you think Jesus was a great moral teacher?   If you think this is the case would you mind blogging about it?  Fundamentalists are using C.S Lewis approach in this matter. Apparently they are happier if people call Jesus a lunatic vs. a great moral teacher.

 

RESPONSE:

I think this question is going to require at least a couple of posts: one on Jesus as a moral teacher and one on the claim by C. S. Lewis and others that if it’s true that he was a great moral teacher then we cannot very well think he would flat-out lie about the most important aspect of his teaching: his personal identity as God. (That latter is what lay behind the end of the question.)

So first, Jesus as moral teacher. As it turns out, this is a complicated question. The short answer, of course, is that Yes, Jesus was a great moral teacher. The complicating factor is that Jesus was not a great moral teacher in the sense that people today think of great moral teachers. That’s because the basis for morality for Jesus – the very heart of why he taught morals – is completely different from what people today think of as the basis of morality.

So let’s start with today. Most people today who teach morality teach it for the sake of all of us and for the good of society. If people were to behave morally, the thinking goes, society will be better for all of us for the long haul. There would be no hateful and harmful activities toward others if we all behaved in the way we should, not murdering, stealing, betraying, harming, screwing the other person to get ahead, and so on. If we all behave morally, we will all get along for the long haul, and life will be better for us both as a society and as individuals within it.

None of that has anything to do with Jesus’ teaching of morality.   Jesus did not teach that we should all be moral so as to get along for the long haul.  For a very simple reason.  Jesus didn’t think …

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If Jesus Wasn’t God, Was He Necessarily Either a Calloused Liar or a Raving Lunatic?
Readers’ Mailbag 1/20/2019: The Only Story of Jesus as a Boy in the New Testament

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    ajh22  January 21, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman, how are Jesus’ teaching moral if he preached an imperialistic kingdom, commanded his followers to give up everything and leave their families which probably left women and children abandoned, taught to not worry about tomorrow; don’t save, don’t plan, preached that the poor are blessed which encouraged poverty along with making his followers poor by having them give up everything, was hypocritical in that he was ok with wasting very expensive perfume on his feet and not selling it for the poor, preached victimization with turn the other cheek, he called gentiles dogs, etc. If Jesus was not moral in a way that we can subscribe to today, then how can we call him moral?

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    • Bart
      Bart  January 22, 2019

      Certainly not moral, in these areas, by modern standards!!

      • Avatar
        ajh22  January 22, 2019

        Then why do you think people revere Jesus as the pinnacle of morality? These teachings I described you admit would today not be considered moral and the few moral teachings Jesus had were not original to him.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 23, 2019

          Because they focus on his central teachings of the need to love others as oneself.

          • Avatar
            ajh22  January 29, 2019

            But many people before and after Jesus taught this “golden rule” mentality, which is the only moral principle Jesus taught. I think people overlook the fact that the vast majority of Jesus’ teachings were immoral, as mentioned in my first comment. They focus on the supposed “divine” aspect of Jesus and fail to recognize the human qualities of Jesus. I think one of your future books should focus on these immoral teachings of Jesus and make people realize that he wasn’t the pinnacle of morality that society makes him out to be, similar to Hector Avalos’ book “Bad Jesus.”

  2. Avatar
    godspell  January 21, 2019

    I don’t think we can assume Jesus didn’t believe in morality for its own sake. Obviously many good people had lived and died across the centuries, without seeing the Kingdom, and they are no less blessed in the eyes of God–he must have known a number of them who had already passed.

    But the people he refers to as goats kept preventing the sheep from making the world better. Great moral teachings have little effect on the immoral (maybe they get a chuckle out of them), and often disadvantage those who are moral.

    The question isn’t really how should we behave, since we already know. The question is motivation, and “It’s for the common good” has never been much of a motivator, as is evidenced by the world around us, and he saw a similar world then, though with far less technology. The End of the World as we know it isn’t just some visionary’s dream now.

    Some people behave much better than the average. Others much worse. Most of us are somewhere between the two, and no one is perfect. This is the point. Which side are you on? Which road will you travel?

    Much as I agree Christianity jettisoned much of the underlying message, because it became untenable (due to the Kingdom not coming, and the goats flocking into the fold when Christianity became popular), the real truth is still there in the gospels, and those who are able to receive it still do–and it strengthens them. I know these people–can’t claim to be one–and I see how it gives them encouragement at times when the world is telling them they’re suckers.

    Sure, they could read E.M. Forster’s more secular “Two Cheers For Democracy” with its enconium to the Natural Aristocracy of the sensitive, considerate, and plucky (Forster was raised a Christian, knew the moral teachings of Jesus, rejecting his divinity in adulthood). It’s not the same. Doesn’t bolster the will to be good nearly so well. A gospel written for intellectuals. Most of the sheep don’t fall into that category (plenty of goats do).

    It’s so hard to live for others. It’s so easy to live only for yourself. Why even try? You need more than teachings, more than philosophy. You need a feeling inside you.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dg9Rc5YoCZM

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  3. Avatar
    AstaKask  January 21, 2019

    This is a bit out of your wheelhouse, but in Leviticus 18:22 we are told to “not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” Lately I’ve seen online that this was originally a prohibition against pedophilia, that the word “man” should really be read as “boy.” Is this true?

    • Avatar
      AstaKask  January 22, 2019

      Please remove my question about Leviticus 18:22. It is badly phrased and may hurt people, and I don’t want that. I don’t know what I was thinking.

      • Bart
        Bart  January 22, 2019

        It’s a very important question, so I edited it slightly. Hope you think it’s OK this way.

        • Avatar
          AstaKask  January 22, 2019

          Yeah, it’s okay. It’s too bad, but I suspected as much.
          Related: According to the gospels Jesus never spoke directly about homosexuality, which has caused some liberals to say “Jesus wasn’t against homosexuality” (illogical as that conclusion might be). Do you think he agreed with the Law in this?

          • Bart
            Bart  January 23, 2019

            Jesus absolutely does not speak against homosexuality. Ancient people had no *concept* of what we call “sexuality” or “sexual orientation.”

    • Bart
      Bart  January 22, 2019

      No, I”m afraid not. It means adults.

  4. Avatar
    saavoss  January 21, 2019

    Professor Ehrman, forgive me for not knowing this but, which of your books best deals with the question of Jesus’ disciples believing (and teaching) that he had been bodily raised from the dead, and that he was indeed God incarnate?
    That seems like a huge shift for a bunch of 1st century Jewish fisherman. Was it just the “empty tomb” (and, according to your research, why was the tomb found empty, if indeed it was), from a scholarly point of view. Why did they believe he was God incarnate, the suffering servant king, raised bodily from the dead to save is from our sins (all those kinds of “Christianity” things)?
    I’m sure you’ve written extensively about these questions, but which trade book best covers/explains these issues?
    Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 22, 2019

      Not a problem. That’s the issue I address in How Jesus Became God.

  5. Avatar
    fishician  January 21, 2019

    In re moral teachings, in Matthew 15:4 (also Mark 7:10) when Jesus is debating the Pharisees he brings up the Mosaic law that “he who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.” Do you think Jesus was advocating for this law to be enacted, or was he merely using it as a debate point, to show that some of the laws had been set aside, so there was no reason to criticize his disciples for minor infractions like not washing hands? (The other interesting thing about that passage is that Jesus criticizes them for neglecting their parents in order to give to God, and yet Jesus is on record as dismissing his own natural family in favor of his spiritual family! as in Matthew 12:46f)

    • Bart
      Bart  January 22, 2019

      My sense is that, at least in the context of the Gospels, he was not embracing the law per se, but was using it as a rhetorical device on the premise that his interlocutors *had* to agree with it, showing that their own laws of corban were contrary to the law. BUT, what did Jesus himself think about it? I suppose he accepted it, as part of the Law of God….

  6. tompicard
    tompicard  January 21, 2019

    of course, it is pretty obvious that
    >>In the kingdom there will be no war, . .
    >>In the kingdom there will be no hatred . . .
    >>In the kingdom there will be no demons or devil, . . ..
    >>In the kingdom there will be no loneliness, . ..
    >>In the kingdom there would be no injustice, . ..
    >>And so on and on.

    I am not so sure there will be no illnesses and no poverty (Matt 26:11).
    healing the sick, even if you accept the miracles as somewhat historical, demonstrates the power of God and concern of God for his people and probably show that the time for the Kingdom is very close (Matt 11:5), but does not in my mind imply all sickness is to be eliminated.

    >> the basis for morality for Jesus –
    >> the very heart of why he taught morals –
    >> is completely different from what people
    >> today think of as the basis of morality
    This speculation regarding some kind of ulterior motives for him, is both unfair and gratuitous; irregardless of an apocalyptic or non apocalyptic worldview

    you are implying more than we can properly infer
    >> Jesus thought that history had come to its final climax and
    >> that God was soon to intervene to overthrow the forces of evil and
    >> bring in a good kingdom here on earth.
    It is much more reasonable to understand that the people’s, the Jewish nation’s, ACCEPTANCE of Jesus ministry is an necessary PREREQUISITE for the coming of this ‘climactic’ intervention by God. see story of Jonah and Mal 4:6 But it would also be equally ‘climactic’ even if the Kingdom of no war and no hatred appeared without any other ‘signs to be observed’ (Lk 17:20.)

    >> The massive destruction that was soon to take place
    >> would come upon
    >> all those who were opposed to God and his ways.
    >> The only ones who would survive would be
    >>those who did
    >> what God wanted them to do as laid out in his law.
    This also very unlikely a part of his teaching if you meaning is that the ones currently opposed to his ministry would somehow be annihilated. See Mark 10:31 That is, the first, now (those opposing Jesus), will at least be in the kingdom though at that time they will be the last to enter.

  7. Avatar
    doug  January 21, 2019

    What if Jesus WAS a lunatic? I wouldn’t want to think that, and it would certainly be an unpopular belief. But unpopularity is no evidence one way or the other.

    • Avatar
      Matt2239  January 23, 2019

      If Jesus were in fact a lunatic, then the implication for those guys screaming at phantoms on the street corner in sub-zero temperatures are substantial. I always try to spare some change for panhandlers. I know they’ll spend it immediately which helps the economy (instead of engaging in stock buy-back programs), and the best thing is that they never send spam e-mails asking for more.

  8. Avatar
    Pegill7  January 21, 2019

    Is there anything in the moral teachings of Jesus that cannot be found in the Old Testament? Some of the prophets called upon believers to care for the oppressed and exploited instead of offering burnt offerings and sacrifices. While most of the time they may be referring to the treatment of fellow Jews, there are instances when Scripture clearly is referring to strangers, etc. Would not God’s punishment of Jonah for refusing to warn the Assyrians that they will face judgement if they do not repent be an example of God’s mercy being extended to Gentiles?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 22, 2019

      I would say that Jesus himself understood his moral teachings to be explanations of the true meaning of the laws of Moses.

  9. Avatar
    brenmcg  January 21, 2019

    Where Matthew has “From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven”
    Mark leaves out “From now on” giving us “you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven”
    and Luke leaves out “you will see” giving us “from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God”

    Do you think this is best explained by Mark and Luke both changing Matthew in different ways after the coming of the son of man failed to materialize?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 22, 2019

      Yes, with Luke changing it more radically than Matthew obviously

      • Ali Sharifli
        Ali Sharifli  January 22, 2019

        so was Mark written earlier than Matthew if both Mark and Luke changed Matthew’s variant after the coming of the son of man failed?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 23, 2019

          Matthew and Luke changed Mark, because Mark was written earlier and was one of their sources.

      • Avatar
        brenmcg  January 23, 2019

        But I’m claiming Mark edited Matthew. If its agreed the later writers are editing the original after the son of man failed to show up then the only edits that make sense are Mark’s and Luke’s.
        If Matthew is editing Mark he’s editing it in the wrong direction.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 23, 2019

          Are you familiar with the detailed arguments for Markan priority? They are not based on just micro-instances of possible changes one way or the other, but very convincing macro-issues involved. A classic statement, nearly a century old now,, still worth reading, is B. F. Streeter, The Four Gospels.

          • Avatar
            JohnKesler  January 23, 2019

            B.H. Streeter’s *The Four Gospels* is available online: https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/book_4gospels_streeter.html

            Bart, what are your thought’s about Streeter’s proposal that John 21 contains the “lost” ending of Mark?

          • Bart
            Bart  January 25, 2019

            I think it was creative but not at all plausible. The writing style, among other things, is a a dead give away.

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  January 23, 2019

            But micro-instances are important – its where we can be the most objective in our assessments. The reason for Luke’s micro change here is obvious and should be obvious for Mark’s edit too. There’s no comparable edit elsewhere supporting Markan priority but plenty more pointing to Matthean.

            Ordering favors Matthew; arguments of priority based on roughness of Mark’s Greek are weak; coherency of thought favors Matthew, historical development of the religion from jewish core to non-law abiding gentile religion favors Matthew.

            Arguments for Markan priority can only be internal an must be overwhelming to overcome the historical arguments against it. The opposite is the case.

          • Bart
            Bart  January 25, 2019

            I’m asking whether you’ve read the compelling arguments by experts on Markan priority? They absolutely include micro-instances.

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  January 25, 2019

            well just online extracts and summaries – but I dont find them compelling

          • Bart
            Bart  January 27, 2019

            Since you’re deeply interested in the matter, I’d suggest doing some serious reading on it. You’d find it invigorating and enlightening! Maybe start with Mark Goodacre’s recent summary and then go to Streeter and from there….

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  January 27, 2019

            Mark Goodacre’s Fatigue in the Synoptics “There is, nevertheless, something disturbing about a situation in which none of the standard text books find it easy to provide strong, textual grounds for believing that it was Mark and not Matthew who wrote first, particularly given the universal Patristic support for the opposite view. It is not necessary, however, to settle for this unhappy status quo. There is some data that points clearly to Marcan priority”

            His first two data points are incorrect. He claims Matthew’s use of Herod the tetrarch in 14:1 and “King” in 14:9 is an example of editorial fatigue – Matthew changing Mark’s incorrect “King” to the correct “Tetrarch” but forgetting the to correct again later in 14:9.
            Matthew’s use of “Tetrarch” in 14:1 is used to distinguish between this Herod and the King Herod of Matthew’s nativity – having established which Herod he’s talking about Matthew can then revert to the more colloquial “King”.
            Next his claim of a serious inconsistency in Matthew 14 is wrong – the actual inconsistency is Mark. “For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison” contradicts Marks addition to Matthew of “because Herod feared John and protected him”.

            Goodacre concludes with “Not everyone will agree that the examples adduced here are indeed examples of editorial fatigue and some will be unhappy with the solution to the synoptic problem to which they apparently point. The advantage, however, of this kind of approach is that it can only be properly answered by adducing good counter-examples, the cumulative effect of which would be to undermine the argument for the solution to the synoptic problem that is favoured here.”

            Isn’t the above son of a man verses a good counter-example to Markan priority?

          • Bart
            Bart  January 28, 2019

            How would you summarize Mark Goodacre’s view of editorial fatigue? Understanding how it works in general is the key to seeing how it can be used as evidence for a case in particular.

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  January 29, 2019

            I think for Mark Goodacre editorial fatigue is the idea that when one writer is creating a work based largely on a previously written work the changes the second writer makes will not always be done consistently throughout the entire story. An early edit which is not consistently applied later will give away the secondary nature of the piece.

            A good example of this is the story of the demon possessed man in Mark 5 and Luke 8.
            Here Mark edits Luke’s idea that “For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs” to “This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain”; but Mark fails to edit Luke’s later line that after being healed by Jesus the man appears “dressed and in his right mind”.

          • Bart
            Bart  January 30, 2019

            Yes, that’s right. But that means some kind of “inconsistency” is precisely what the theory predicts.

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  January 30, 2019

            But do you think the story of the demon possessed man in Mrk 5 and Luke 8 is a good example of editorial fatigue against Markan priority? Mark showing fatigue in editing Luke’s line about the man not having worn clothes for many years.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 1, 2019

            No, I’m afraid I don’t. Really, you love this stuff: why don’t you read the full analyses that take everything into account?

        • Avatar
          godspell  January 26, 2019

          You can claim what you like, but Mark and Matthew have very different ideas of who Jesus was, and what really happened. Not as glaringly different as between any of the synoptics and John, but different. The Mark gospel really is a work unto itself.

          Can you explain why Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism is so different? It’s not just edited. Mark is saying Jesus alone heard God say he was his son by adoption. There is no indication John the Baptist sees Jesus as his superior (quite the opposite, since he is, in fact, the one doing the baptizing).

          In the synoptics, the baptism story gets progressively more convoluted from Mark to Luke–then disappears from John entirely, replaced by The Baptizer saying Jesus is The One, you all go follow him now, my work is finished. And clearly that didn’t happen, or why did John keep preaching and keep having followers, even after his death?

          All four gospels are deeply individual works, and while I don’t have the academic creds to make the kind of arguments Bart and his colleagues do, it’s very obvious on a lot of levels that Mark’s account came first–you can see the stories and the ideas behind them evolving from book to book. Matthew and Luke didn’t ‘edit’ him, they just selectively borrowed material from whatever sources they could find, while perhaps adding some flourishes of their own.

          I’m sure you have reasons for saying this, but reading your posts, it’s very hard to discern them.

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  January 27, 2019

            *Can you explain why Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism is so different? It’s not just edited. Mark is saying Jesus alone heard God say he was his son by adoption. There is no indication John the Baptist sees Jesus as his superior (quite the opposite, since he is, in fact, the one doing the baptizing).*

            Mark, like Matthew and Luke, has John the Baptist say he is unworthy to untie Jesus’s sandals, so no difference there. The only significant difference between the three accounts is where Matthew has the voice from heaven say “this is my son…” Mark and Luke have “you are my son…’
            In Matthew’s account the Father is speaking directly to all those present at the baptism about Jesus. This however contradicts later christian beliefs that the Father reveals truths to Jesus alone who then delivers that message to humanity. Which is why Mark and Luke edit the account to have the father address Jesus alone.

            *I’m sure you have reasons for saying this, but reading your posts, it’s very hard to discern them.*

            Read Matthew 10 and notice the coherency of thought throughout and how its the product of a single mind. Then look for how the various paragraphs are moved around in Mark’s and Luke’s gospel and how their edits stand out against the original material. In particular Mark moving Mt 10:17-20 to his end-times discourse (ch13) and his addition of “And the gospel must first be preached to all nations” – an addition which makes no sense in the surrounding material. but which is placed correctly by Matthew in 24:14

          • Avatar
            godspell  January 28, 2019

            Mark’s gospel never has John speaking directly to Jesus, or mentioning him by name. Why would you make such a clearly false statement?

            It is entirely likely John believed somebody far greater was coming after him, and that may well be because John believed in the Son of Man, a divine messenger of God who would usher in the Kingdom, and Jesus got this idea from him.

            Mark is probably referring to something John was known to have said when preaching, and certainly leads the reader to believe Jesus may be the one John is speaking of, but he never at any time shows John deferring to Jesus (because he never did), and of course John would not baptize the one who is greater than him, who is not a man at all but some kind of angelic being, and therefore has no sins to forgive, as all humans do, and Mark’s Jesus is fully human. Mark’s Jesus only becomes God’s son by baptism and by faith. Because he is worthy, and God has chosen him. God could have chosen someone else.

            You are asking me to read what I’ve already read–what Bart has read in the original Greek–and bow to your interpretation of it. Well, I won’t. You’ve given me no reason to, and I think you have no reason to, other than this is the interpretation you personally prefer, for reasons that have little to do with the text itself.

            It is factually untrue to say that in Mark, John explicitly refers to Jesus as the one whose sandals he is unworthy to untie. Clearly Jesus is not there when he says it. And it makes more sense to say that John is saying the same thing as Jesus–that a powerful divine being is coming to transform the world.

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  January 29, 2019

            We’re not talking about the historical John the Baptist but just Mark’s version of him. Mark’s John the Baptist is a messenger sent by God to prepare the way for the Lord (Jesus). Mark’s John tells us one is coming after him who will baptize with the holy spirit. Upon Jesus being baptized by Mark’s John heaven opens, the holy spirit descends on Jesus and a voice from heaven says you are my son. It may not be explicit but its clear Mark’s John is just obediently fulfulling his role as a messenger of god for god’s son. His individuality just gets removed going from Matthew to Mark.

            *Mark’s Jesus only becomes God’s son by baptism and by faith. Because he is worthy, and God has chosen him. God could have chosen someone else.*
            Mark’s Jesus is the ‘Lord’ of Isaiah 40:3, and the son of god. There’s no indication god has been chosen him to be his son.

          • Avatar
            godspell  January 30, 2019

            None of this lovely claptrap explains why you insisted Mark has John tell us Jesus is the one whose coming he predicted. Mark implies that Jesus may be the one John speaks of, by referring to John’s prophecy just before telling us about Jesus’ baptism, but it is most unclear whether Mark’s John himself believes that at any time before his death. Mark puts no words in John’s mouth (unlike the later gospel authors). So what you said was misleading, to say the least. Mark doesn’t like to come out and say things. Mark wants to lead his reader to the truth obliquely. (One reason I consider him a much better writer than the other three, in spite of his lousy Greek, which is no concern of mine since it’s all Greek to me).

            To believe Mark was written after Matthew and Luke, ‘editing’ them, becomes impossible to believe when you think about what that would mean. The progression from a more human Jesus in Mark to a more divine Jesus in the three subsequent gospels is quite evident. Just from comparing the baptism stories, you can see how Christians are more and more bothered by the fact that Jesus is known to have been baptized by John, since they know if Jesus was who they increasingly believe him to be, that makes no sense.

            Mark just tells the story he knows, but leaves us an opening to believe John was referring to Jesus when he said someone greater was coming after him (only Jesus came while John was still very much around, didn’t he?) Not good enough for Matthew and Luke, since a sinless divine being doesn’t need baptism, and going to John for baptism necessarily implies that Jesus 1)Was a sinner and 2)considered John his superior, at least at the time baptism took place.

            John does away with the baptism, and his Baptist simply tells everyone Jesus is the Lamb of God, a divine being. This is really a worse solution to the problem, since it was well known The Baptist still had many followers for some time after his death–but it’s not a problem for the growing number of Christians who never heard of The Baptist outside of what they read in the gospels.

            Your argument is still weak.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 1, 2019

            Good points! But can we watch the rhetoric? (!)

          • Avatar
            godspell  February 1, 2019

            Sorry if I was acerbic–it’s the Irish in me. We’ve both made our cases, and I see no reason to continue.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 3, 2019

            Not a problem. It’s my own default position as well!

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  February 2, 2019

            *None of this explains why you insisted Mark has John tell us Jesus is the one whose coming he predicted….*

            I didn’t insist John tells us Jesus is the one whose coming he predicted. The original point was just about whether John sees Jesus as his superior in any way. I took it as read that John sees Jesus as the Messiah in all the gospels. For example Mark.moves to the beginning the line “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” to be part the baptism story and removes most of John’s personality in his version. The impression being given in Mark, more so than Matthew or Luke, is that John has been sent by god with explicit instructions to tell people about the coming of his son, the messiah.

            *To believe Mark was written after Matthew and Luke, ‘editing’ them, becomes impossible to believe when you think about what that would mean. The progression from a more human Jesus in Mark to a more divine Jesus in the three subsequent gospels is quite evident*

            There is no progression in the synoptics – Jesus is human and divine in all three gospels. In Marks gospel Jesus is the son of God, the Lord who will cut short the days of the end times, who at the end of time will come with great power and glory sending his angels and gathering his elect from the ends of the earth to the end of the heavens. There’s no development in Jesus divinity through the synoptics which can be used to support Markan priority.

            *Just from comparing the baptism stories, you can see how Christians are more and more bothered by the fact that Jesus is known to have been baptized by John….*

            There’s certainly development in the gospel of John’s but there’s no change in the baptism account between Mark and Luke. Matthew’s does have a conversation betweeen Jesus and John ibut this is an explicit admission that the baptism places John in a superior position to Jesus. Which would serve as an explanation for why Mark and Luke would remove it. Matthew and Luke both have John send his followers to ask Jesus “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”. An account absent in Mark. The development here going the wrong way for Markan priority.

          • Avatar
            godspell  February 3, 2019

            Responding briefly and non-acerbically–

            Matthew and Luke both believed Jesus’ baptism by John was too well known to just remove it–John clearly didn’t care if his account matched the others, if he even read them. He was charting his own course. Matthew and Luke wanted to reach the mainstream of the cult, such as it was. So they’re trying to ‘fix’ the problems in Mark, which are in the main, problems with actual living memories of the real Jesus.

            Mark’s Jesus is the most human because Mark’s account is the one closest to what really happened–to the memories of those who knew and loved him, and could never have believed him to be God, never heard him say he was divinely conceived, sometimes probably saw him squat by the roadside on a long journey.

            You can never convince me, and I think you’re mainly trying to convince yourself. Okay, maybe a little acerbic. I won’t respond again, so it’s up to you if you want to go on.

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  February 5, 2019

            OK – thanks for the replies

    • Robert
      Robert  January 22, 2019

      brenmcg: “Do you think this is best explained by Mark and Luke both changing Matthew in different ways after the coming of the son of man failed to materialize?”

      Once again, you really shouldn’t be trying to defend Matthean priority by looking at individual minor agreements. You need to look at all of the issues globally and assess the strengths and weaknesses of the various source-critical theories based on how well each theory deals with all of the evidence that needs to be accounted for. For example, if you want to suggest here that Mark and Luke independently redacted Matthew’s original text, then you cannot easily handle the problem of order, in which Mark should be the middle term. You also must contend with the secondary nature of the great majority of minor agreements and of Matthew and Luke in general when improving upon Mark’s relatively rough Greek.

      • Avatar
        brenmcg  January 23, 2019

        *You need to look at all of the issues globally and assess the strengths and weaknesses of the various source-critical theories based on how well each theory deals with all of the evidence that needs to be accounted for.*
        Sure, but we need to also assess each bit of evidence in isolation to see which way it points. And the above should be a tick in the Matthean priority column.

        *For example, if you want to suggest here that Mark and Luke independently redacted Matthew’s original text, then you cannot easily handle the problem of order, in which Mark should be the middle term.*
        I’m not sure why? I think Luke was probably written second and in this example both are editing Matthew in a different way but for the same reason.

        *You also must contend with the secondary nature of the great majority of minor agreements and of Matthew and Luke in general when improving upon Mark’s relatively rough Greek.*
        The minor agreements are assumed to be secondary based on Markan priority, but theyre not demonstrated to be. The usual explanations are that they are irrelevant or coincidental, or that there corruptions by later scribes, not that theyre shown to be secondary independent of the presumption of Markan Priority.

        If Matthew and Luke are improving Marks rough Greek then they’re secondary. However if Mark is editing Matthew and Luke then he’ll be editing them with his own rough Greek. He has no choice, the argument is weak. Bad writers tend to copy from good writers.

        • Robert
          Robert  January 25, 2019

          brenmcg: “I’m not sure why?”

          I think you missed the protasis of my statement.

          brenmcg: “The minor agreements are assumed to be secondary based on Markan priority …”

          No, it is not merely an assumption. Try not to mischaracterize the arguments of scholars that you have not even read.

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          godspell  January 26, 2019

          How is Luke ‘editing’ Matthew, when his account of Jesus’ conception, birth, and early life is entirely different, and considerably more detailed? Editors are supposed to make a book shorter, not longer. That’s pretty creative editing, you ask me. 😉

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          godspell  January 29, 2019

          Mark was anything but a bad writer. To me, his gospel is far and away the best written, even if the Greek is rough–if you think polished syntax is everything, you don’t know much about writing. It’s a complete and harmonious work, that resonates in ways the others don’t, because it’s much less BUSY–it isn’t trying so hard to be all things to all men. Mark knows his theme, and he knows what he wants to say. It’s a more balanced narrative, and particularly in its original ending, where the reader is left in suspense, wanting to know more.

          I’m a connoisseur of writers, and much as I admire many elements in the other three gospels, the only one I admire as an organic whole is Mark. It’s the only one that brings tears to my eyes, because it’s the one that shows me the man behind the myth. A doubting suffering mortal, like the rest of us. Only with a capacity for caring and understanding that is quite rare.

          If he was a divine omniscient immortal, the story loses meaning for me, because he had nothing to lose. What difference would a few hours of suffering make? A momentary diversion, is all that was.

          He’s the Messiah, Mark believes–but a human Messiah, who risked everything to change the world, and for all his faith, was capable of crying out to God in anguish, begging for a sign that he hadn’t done it for nothing.

          There is nothing to equal this in Matthew, Luke, or John (except perhaps the story of the woman taken in adultery, and John didn’t write that).

          He was the first gospel author, at least the first we have. And the story grew with later tellings–but only in size. Not in heart.

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  January 29, 2019

            But Matthew’s passion is an almost exact match for Mark’s? What’s true for Mark’s Jesus is true for Matthew’s here.
            One difference is the response to being asked if he’s the Messiah. Matthew’s has Jesus say “you have said so”, Mark’s Jesus says the “I am” (pobably derived from Luke’s “you have said that I am”). Isn’t Matthew’s account more in keeping with the rest of the passion narrative?
            Matthew’s gospel is about Jesus Christ the son of David, Mark’s is about Jesus Christ the son of God.
            Matthew makes up a nativity story about Jesus being born in Bethlehem because he’s concerned with Jesus fulfilling Jewish Messianic prophesies; like early Christians. He invents a genealogy because he’s concerned that Jesus is descended from David; like early christians. Mark removes both of these because they aren’t his concern; like later christians.
            Matthew is concerned with the law fulfillment, Mark isn’t. Matthew has Jesus say he was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel, Mark removes the offending line. Historically speaking Matthew is the far better fit to be first, Mark is the one that shows cultural and theological development.

          • Avatar
            godspell  January 30, 2019

            Mark unquestionably believed Jesus was Messiah, so it makes sense for him to have Jesus say that (but only when no believer is present to hear him say it, meaning that of course he could not possibly know Jesus said it).

            He did NOT believe Jesus was a direct descendant of David through Joseph (but at the same time not descended from Joseph, because he was divinely conceived by the Holy Spirit). It was important to Matthew, as you say, because Matthew wanted to say Jesus was the fulfillment of what Matthew considered Old Testament prophecy regarding the Messiah (most of which probably had nothing to do with the Messiah).

            Mark’s gospel is the shortest, the simplest, the least adorned, the more crudely (but powerfully) written, and it shows us a Christian church that still thinks of Jesus as a man, however remarkable. There are many textual arguments for arguing its primacy, but I’m not qualified to comment on those, and I doubt you are either. I am, however, quite good at figuring out the evolution of a story, and to me it seems obvious that Mark’s version came first (of the stories we have), and was added to over time.

            Whatever Jesus says when only unbelievers are around to hear it must be considered an invention of the gospel writers, since there would be no remotely reliable witnesses. It’s not like they could request a transcript of the hearing. I understand your point regarding primacy, but I don’t think it’s a valid one. It doesn’t prove what you want it to prove.

  10. Avatar
    darren  January 21, 2019

    Not sure if you will address this in the next post, but you mention a switch from belief in following Jewish law because the kingdom was at hand to belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Was this evolution a result of the message going out to non-Jews who didn’t know or didn’t care about Jewish law? Or were Jewish followers the ones who led this transition?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 22, 2019

      Jewish followers came up with the idea, before Paul himself (who was also Jewish, but pushed the point especially hard).

  11. Avatar
    mikezamjara  January 21, 2019

    Dr Ehrman:

    When I discuss or hear discussions about the bible there is one sentence that always comes out. Always someone brings the sentence “Most scholars think this or think that”. On what method or source could anyone verify what “most scholars” think, Do they make public statements, statistics, surveys or are there documents of their meetings or congress or consensus? I think it is rather important and I would not like to make false statements on “what most scholars think”

    • Bart
      Bart  January 22, 2019

      No, it’s almost always a rhetorical ploy meant to convince you, based on no evidence. Really the only ones who have any idea what “most scholars” say or think are scholars widely familiar with the field. And even *they* may be either guessing or exaggerating or expressing their own opinions under the guise of authority.

      • Lev
        Lev  January 22, 2019

        I would guess if a scholars’ bibliography in the back of their book / paper was substantial, then it would indicate they knew the opinion of most scholars on that subject – but then again, without knowing how much of their bibliography represents the totality of scholarship on that subject, it’s difficult to know.

        I’ve occasionally seen scholars present a table which lists the scholars of one opinion in one column and the scholars with a different view in the next and so on. That seems very helpful as the reader can verify the claim.

        Bart – do you detect any appetite amongst biblical scholars for regular surveys that ask for their opinions on popular subjects such as date and authorship of the gospels, how many of the epistles are authentic, whether Jesus was crucified on Passover or the day before, etc?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 23, 2019

          No, none at all. There are many thousands of scholars, and it would be hard to know who to include, and not include, in survey, even if one were to be done.

  12. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 22, 2019

    Lunatic, liar, Lord? How about a lot legendary and embellishment?

  13. Avatar
    JohnKesler  January 22, 2019

    “The two greatest laws of the Torah, for Jesus, were to love God with all one’s heart soul and strength (Deut. 6:4) and to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Lev. 19:18).”

    Perhaps it was just a typo, but the commandment in Deuteronomy is 6:5; 6:4 is the Shema.

  14. Avatar
    maryn  January 22, 2019

    What is the origin of Jewish apocalypticism? Did it arise with Daniel or come from more ancient apocalyptic thinking–perhaps from Persia? Do most or even all other religions include apocalyptic thinking? Last Sunday I presented a class on apocalypticism at our church, based primarily on your book on Jesus, an Apocalyptic Prophet and your New Testament text. These questions came up.
    Thank you for this excellent blog–thought provoking.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 23, 2019

      It was an internal development within Judaism in the years leading up to the Maccabean revolt; I argue in my forthcoming book that it probably was *not* because of Persian influence (in part because the “Persian” period of dominance over Judea happened over a century before we start seeing apocalyptic thought emerge) (also we don’t have any Zoroastrian texts attesting a view of resurrectoin, say, that can definitively be dated prior to 1 Enoch and Daniel)

  15. tompicard
    tompicard  January 25, 2019

    Do you think Jesus believed the coming of the Kingdom would ensue some kind of metaphysical, even magical, alteration of human character so that
    > In the kingdom there will be no hatred,
    ?
    so that his moral teachings were somewhat superfluous?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 25, 2019

      I don’t think so, though that is definitely what Paul thought.

      • Avatar
        JohnKesler  January 25, 2019

        Do you have an opinion about why Jesus wouldn’t have thought this, since the Hebrew Bible clearly teaches it (Ezekiel 36:26-27, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Deut. 30:6)?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 27, 2019

          As you know, virtually every passage of the Bible is disputed in terms of interpretation, and many seem to stand at odds with others. So it’s almost never a matter of finding “the” teaching of the Bible on most anything…

  16. Avatar
    JohnKesler  January 25, 2019

    JohnKesler January 23, 2019:
    B.H. Streeter’s *The Four Gospels* is available online: https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/book_4gospels_streeter.html
    Bart, what are your thought’s about Streeter’s proposal that John 21 contains the “lost” ending of Mark?

    Bart January 25, 2019:
    I think it was creative but not at all plausible. The writing style, among other things, is a a dead give away.

    JohnKesler January 25, 2019:
    Could not someone have taken material originally found at the end of Mark and reworded it?

    There are connections between Mark’s gospel and John 21 in addition to the predicted appearance in Galilee:
    1) Reference to the son(s) of Zebedee (Mark 1:19-20; 3:17; 10:35)–absent in John 1-20 but in 21:2
    2) Identification of the disciples as fisherman (Mark 1:16-17)–absent in John 1-20 but in 21:3f.
    3) In Mark 1:16, Simon and Andrew cast a net into the sea; in John 21:7, Simon Peter casts himself into the sea.
    4) Peter’s three professions of love for Jesus (John 21:15-17) counter the three denials (Mark 14).

    • Bart
      Bart  January 27, 2019

      If he completely reworded it, then there’s no evidence it was written by someone else! The four points you make are not just connections of John and Mark: they are traditions found in all the other Gospels.

      • Avatar
        JohnKesler  January 28, 2019

        Are you saying that John 21 is so different that it *couldn’t* have been written by the same person who wrote Mark? Even though some of the same information is found in Matthew in Luke, the difference is that Mark 16:7 predicts an appearance in Galilee, which is never narrated unless John 21 is that narrative. Matthew has his Galilean appearance in 28:16-20, and Luke24/John 20 are Jerusalem-centered.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 29, 2019

          No, I’m saying there’s no evidence that it was written by Mark. Just as there is no evidence, say, that the book of Acts was written by him.

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