Jesus doesn’t exist

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5: 7-10).

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“‘If you are the Christ,’ they said, ‘tell us’

Jesus answered, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer.  But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God'” (Luke 22: 67-69).

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Paul interprets Jesus’ life as a man who became perfect.  Jesus started out imperfect, experienced temptation, weakness, and ignorance.  He had to gain strength, wisdom, and ultimately perfection.  If Jesus was “God the Son”, then it appears that “God the Son” did not exist until Jesus the “Son of Man” became perfect.  A thing cannot be both coming into being and being at the same time.  So if Jesus the man was imperfect then he could not have also been perfect at the same time.  And if he was not perfect then he could not have been from the beginning what he was to become, the Word of God, “God the Son.”

Consider also what it means to be “seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”  When one is seated, one is not as active as one could be.  The distinction between seated and not seated represents first and foremost the distinction between acting and resting.  The image of being seated is static, passive, and at rest.  If Jesus is seated at the right hand of the mighty God, it sounds like Jesus is more dead than alive, though experiencing his death near to God, kept close by God, and supremely valued.

If Jesus is to come back, he will likely come into being the same way he did the first time.  Interestingly, though we are reminded by Paul that Jesus appealed to the Father to save him from death, it appears to be only possible to give him a second life if human beings allow one that has to the potential to become “God the Son” to do so.  That is, there will have to be not just another Jesus, but another Mary and another John the Baptist at a minimum.

In sum, these three things suggest that “God the Son,” or what we typically mean by “Jesus,” at the moment does not exist.  1.  Jesus as God the Son did not exist in his human form until he reached his full development.  Before that, he was becoming the Son, but was not yet in his full perfection and therefore in the beginning could not offer salvation to mankind.  2.  Jesus told us that he would be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.  The image here strongly evokes a sense of death, and Jesus showed in his subsequent petitions to the Father that he expected to die.  3.  We are told that Jesus will come again, but if he is to come again, it would seem that he would have to come by the same route that he did the first time.  So, in the same manner that he did not exist initially as the Son during his first coming, he will not have existed as the Son prior to his second coming.

The potential to exist, though, does indicate some underlying continuous existential form.  So we have to distinguish between existing as a potentiality and a form on the one hand and existing as an active and conscious entity in the material world on the other.

Why Jesus Cast out Demons

The worst, most painful aspect to the gospels is not that Jesus claims to be Christ, but that Jesus casts out demons, heals the sick, raises the dead, and all the rest of the supernatural miracles we are challenged to consider.  These are next to impossible to take seriously as actual historical events, which I think often drives them into a special cupboard in our minds reserved for irrational stuff that we want to hold on to for emotional reasons.  As someone who marvels at the depth and complexity of great literature, however, the value of the gospel narrative is far more than an unconvincing argument that Jesus was Christ because he performed miracles.  The Bible is a text, after all, and the multiple authors that contributed to it are free to use every literary tool available to form a medium of communication between God and man, if that was their genuine intention.

I am focusing on the New Testament for the time being.  The accounts from the Old Testament are also of great symbolic value, but the likelihood that Moses himself never even existed presents a much higher wall for my interpretational powers to climb.  Jesus of Nazareth, in contrast, is widely believed to have existed and to have truly, with the help of John the Baptist, founded Christianity.

I recently wrote about a few of the gospel miracles and how to access their symbolic value.  Getting the symbolism correct is important, but the first step is naturally recognizing that there is indeed symbolism there rather than just a descriptive, historical record.  The impossibility of the miracles should force us to look for symbolic value.  They should force us to ask ourselves, why the hell is this in here?

The gospel authors took on many risks in writing with literary, rather than simply journalistic, tools.  If you, the audience, believe that any of the miracles didn’t actually happen, then it seems fair to assume that probably none of the miracles did.  For many people, this possibility (and extreme likelihood) is going to be a deal-breaker and discussion ender.  The text lies, and cannot be trusted — why read it?

I can’t answer that question for anyone, at least not adequately at the moment.  I have read it, though, and I have some thoughts on how to interpret the more off-putting miracles that have to do with casting out demons.

Often, the people supposedly possessed by demons are out of their minds.  They are tortured, they convulse, they scream, they ache.  Jesus is able to cast out the person’s demons when that person has faith.

The first move we need to take here is to abstract away from the details, and ask what is the structure of what’s going on here?  Someone has pain, and the person’s faith in Jesus takes the pain away.  The pain is a result of something inside that has a mind of its own (the demon), something that is self-destructive.  The demon talks, it recognizes who Jesus is, it begs for mercy.

The second move we need to take is to ask what does this structural pattern correspond to in our own personal experiences?  Have I ever had a “demon?”  Has my faith ever expelled this “demon?”  Well, if one is to recall ever acting possessed, the first place to look is at close personal relationships that have soured.  The pain brought about by love that has been mismanaged, misunderstood, mistreated is terrible.  Some call it emotional pain, I think it is emotional, but goes quite a bit deeper than that.  The pain is spiritual.  Does it have a mind of its own?  It does.  It drives us to think, to feel, and to behave in ways that are against our better judgment.  It compels us to inflict pain on those that hurt us, and to punish ourselves in cases where we view ourselves as responsible for the ruining of the relationship.  Voices inside constantly suggest this or that.  They disagree with each other, they fear, they worry, they hope, they desire.

Is this what the gospel writers have in mind?  Why not?  The ambition of the gospels is clearly aiming at laying out a moral teaching that will improve the lives of those who accept it.  They are clearly worried about the harm that people cause to themselves and to each other.  And they clearly believe that the only way to fix all of this is to flip the whole table over and persuade people to believe in a better way of life.

This probably was the message of Jesus that the gospel writers are packaging and presenting more or less on his behalf (he apparently didn’t write anything down himself).  The change has to be ambitious, it has to be radical, or the demons inside of us are going to stay active in us, and we’re going to continue to suffer.  The argument is that faith in Jesus and his teaching will cast the demons out, it will heal the sick, it will raise the dead.  It will inspire us to love each other, to support each other in such a way that is so different than our current practices that our entire world can change permanently for the better.  People will have less sickness, less poverty, less premature death.

Does it work?  That’s another key question that I can’t adequately answer right now.  What I think is worth noting is that, if you want to truly change the world for the better, and purify the motives and hearts of human beings, getting them to love each other better, then the miracles told of in the gospel might be necessary, and the language of demons might be highly appropriate.  Maybe we need to think about what our own “demons” might be to better understand the nature of human imperfection.  Maybe it helps to view others’ imperfections as alien to their true nature underneath it all, and that any hatred we have should be directed away from the person and towards those specific imperfections that we might consider inhuman.  Is there a better way?

Miracles in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew

I have been reading the gospels lately, and have gotten through Mark, John, and yesterday finished reading Matthew.

Although I’ve read them before, this time has been especially exciting.  In particular, I have a few thoughts on how Mark stands out.

It has to be understood first something about the authorship of Mark and its relation to the other gospels.  Likely, Mark was written first, though it used to be thought that Matthew was first (and Matthew appears first in the ordering of the Bible).  Mark is shorter, and the theory is that Matthew and Luke were both based on Mark, as much of Mark appears in both of them (but not each other).  These three are called the synoptic gospels, because they all tell similar, frequently overlapping, accounts.

Mark also may have been an eyewitness as a boy.  There is mention of a boy toward the end of his gospel, with no other apparent significance or purpose other than perhaps some sort of self-identification on the part of the author.

But the substance of Mark is where things get especially interesting.  It is an open question as to whether Jesus truly was divine, or if he actually performed miracles.  Mark is the most hazy as to whether miracles were actually performed.  This even seems to include the Resurrection.  The New International Version of the Bible that I am reading notes that after the scene when Jesus’s body is discovered to be missing from its tomb, the earliest manuscripts of Mark end with Mark 16:8: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb.  They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (The End.)

So, no witnessing of a resurrected Jesus in the earliest manuscripts of the earliest gospel.

As for the other miracles, the most explicitly symbolic seems to me to be the Feeding of the 5,000, followed by the Feeding of the 4,000.  In each of these events, Jesus has thousands of people gathering near him.  These people need food, and there is a question for Jesus and the disciples as to whether these people should be sent away so that they might find food for themselves.  In each case, Jesus insists to the disciples that the crowd not be sent away, and that the few loaves of bread and couple of fish they have with them should be split up and shared.  After the crowds are invited to sit down, Jesus gives thanks to heaven, and their food is passed around.  There are so many leftovers of crumbs and broken pieces that several baskets are filled (they end up with much, much more than they started with).  An apparent miracle!

But what else could explain this passage?  Well, Jesus of course is a teacher and knowledge is the type of thing that, when shared, can easily accumulate without diminishing whatsoever.  If these events are to interpreted symbolically, then that would seem to be an obvious, straight-forward explanation.  But should this be interpreted symbolically?

One clue is that this odd event occurs twice, the first time with 5,000 people and the second time with 4,000.  The numbers seems to be different, not out of empirical accuracy, but only so that the reader might see that this is not the same event being told twice, but rather is two distinct occurrences.  The reader should not disregard or skip over either of these events, but rather focus on them all the more for their emphasis by way of recurrence.

Let’s keep reading for more context.  Following the first Feeding, Jesus walks on water.  The water-walking event is explicitly connected to the Feeding, with Mark stating that “Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down.  They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:51-52).

Mark says that the disciples were amazed because “they had not understood about the loaves.”  But what was there to understand?  In particular, what could be understood such that seeing Jesus walking on water would not inspire their amazement?

Thankfully, we get more insight into the meaning of the Feeding events later, following the Feeding of the 4,000.  The text reads as follows:

“The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus.  To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven.  He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign?  I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it'” (Mark 8:11-12).

What?!  No sign?!  If the Feeding of the 4,000 (or the Feeding of the 5,000 that comes earlier) is meant to be read as a literal miracle, then it would be pretty odd to immediately follow the event with Jesus insisting that “the truth” is that no “miraculous sign . . . will be given.”

We have to therefore consider that the Feedings are not necessarily included as literal miracles in order to demonstrate Jesus’s divinity (which could not fail to always inspire amazement), but rather are representing the potential value of what Jesus has to offer (a kind of knowledge or teaching).

So is Jesus walking on water also a symbolic event?  Well, Jesus in that event is not explicitly trying to demonstrate his divinity, but is instead explicitly helping and providing the disciples with strength.  Just as the 5,000 needed food, and Jesus gave them something of symbolic meaning, a similar thing is happening here.  “He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them . . . Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down.  They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves” (Mark 6: 48, 51-52).  A clear connection: the loaves are symbolic, and if you understand the loaves, you understand the point of Jesus walking on water as also being symbolic.

Their faith gets the disciples through the rough waters, and Jesus appearing on water is just a laughably accommodating mechanism for inspiring their too-easily-shaken faith.  If they had understood about the loaves, they would not have needed to see Jesus on the water.  Their faith alone could have strengthened them, if they believed.  The reader is implicitly encouraged to be better than the disciples.

That’s how the events go in the Gospel of Mark.  Now, compare Matthew, which is actually far more explicit about the Feeding of the 5,000 and of the 4,000 as being symbolic: “Don’t you remember the five loaves and the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking about bread?” (Matthew 16:8-11).

Now, look and see the differences in Matthew’s telling of the walking on water event compared to Mark.  (In both gospels, the events proceed in roughly the same order, with the water walking event happening somewhere between the two Feedings.)  Matthew adds the details that while Jesus is out on the water, Peter actually gets out of the boat, walks on the water himself, and approaches Jesus.  Peter loses faith, however, and begins to sink: “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.  ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’  And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.  Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.'”

So, catch some of the differences?  Matthew does not follow Mark in explicitly relating the water walking event to the earlier Feeding event and the miraculous loaves of bread.  Instead, for Matthew, the water walking event has as its primary purpose something different.  By having Peter fail to walk on water as well as Jesus does, the emphasis is more on showing us the type of person Peter was–his desire to be like Jesus and his relative inferiority, which he never really overcomes (remember the cock crowing).  The emphasis is not, as in Mark, simply on Jesus’s ability to strengthen all those who would have faith in what he offers.

I’m not saying the Matthew version lacks value, but it does seem to care less than the Mark version about providing the reader a means of interpreting the gospel miracles symbolically.