Bible,Quran & Sc. 1
Bible,Quran & Sc. 2
Bible,Quran & Sc. 3
Bible,Quran & Sc. 4
Bible, The Qur'an and Science
by Dr. Maurice Bucaille
Chapter 2: The Gospels
readers of the Gospels are embarrassed and even abashed when they stop to
think about the meaning of certain descriptions. The same is true when they
make comparisons between different versions of the same event found in
several Gospels. This observation is made by Father Roguet in his book
Initiation to the Gospels (Initiation à l'Evangile)
[ Pub. Editions du Seuil, Paris,
1973]. With the wide
experience he has gained in his many years of answering perturbed readers'
letters in a Catholic weekly, he has been able to assess just how greatly
they have been worried by what they have read. His questioners come from
widely varying social and cultural backgrounds. He notes that their requests
for explanations concern texts that are "considered abstruse,
incomprehensible, if not contradictory, absurd or scandalous'. There can be
no doubt that a complete reading of the Gospels is likely to disturb
observation is very recent: Father Roguet's book was published in 1973. Not
so very long ago, the majority of Christians knew only selected sections of
the Gospels that were read during services or commented upon during sermons.
With the exception of the Protestants, it was not customary for Christians
to read the Gospels in their entirety. Books of religious instruction only
contained extracts; the in extenso text hardly circulated at all. At
a Roman Catholic school Ihad copies of the works of Virgil and Plato, but I
did not have the New Testament. The Greek text of this would nevertheless
have been very instructive: it was only much later on that I realized why
they had not set us translations of the holy writings of Christianity. The
latter could have led us to ask our teachers questions they would have found
it difficult to answer.
discoveries, made if one has a critical outlook during a reading in
extens of the Gospels, have led the Church to come to the aid of readers
by helping them overcome their perplexity. "Many Christians need to learn
how to read the Gospels", notes Father Roguet. Whether or not one agrees
with the explanations he gives, it is greatly to the author's credit that he
actually tackles these delicate problems. Unfortunately, it is not always
like this in many writings on the Christian Revelation.
editions of the Bible produced for widespread publication, introductory
notes more often than not set out a collection of ideas that would tend to
persuade the reader that the Gospels hardly raise any problems concerning
the personalities of the authors of the various books, the authenticity of
the texts and the truth of the descriptions. In spite of the fact that there
are so many unknowns concerning authors of whose identity we are not at all
sure, we find a wealth of precise information in this kind of introductory
note. Often they present as a certainty what is pure hypothesis, or they
state that such-and-such an evangelist was an eye-witness of the events,
while specialist works claim the opposite. The time that elapsed between the
end of Jesus' ministry and the appearance of the texts is drastically
reduced. They would have one believe that these were written by one man
taken from an oral tradition, when in fact specialists have pointed out
adaptations to the texts. Of course, certain difficulties of interpretation
are mentioned here and there, but they ride rough shod over glaring
contradictions that must strike anyone who thinks about them. In the little
glossaries one finds among the appendices complementing a reassuring
preface, one observes how improbabilities, contradictions or blatant errors
have been hidden or stifled under clever arguments of an apologetic nature.
This disturbing state of affairs shows up the misleading nature of such
to be developed in the coming pages will without doubt leave any readers
still unaware of these problems quite amazed. Before going into detail
however, I will provide an immediate illustration of my ideas with an
example that seems to me quite conclusive.
Matthew nor John speaks of Jesus's Ascension. Luke in his Gospel places it
on the day of the Resurrection and forty days later in the Acts of the
Apostles of which he is said to be the author. Mark mentions it (without
giving a date) in a conclusion considered unauthentic today. The Ascension
therefore has no solid scriptural basis. Commentators nevertheless approach
this important question with incredible lightness.
Tricot, in his Little Dictionary of the New Testament (Petit
Dictionnaire du Nouveau Testament) in the Crampon Bible, (1960 edition)
[ Pub. Desclée and Co.,
Paris.], a work
produced for mass publication, does not devote an entry to the Ascension.
The Synopsis of the Four Gospels (Synopse des Quatre Evangiles) by
Fathers Benoît and Boismard, teachers at the Biblical School of Jerusalem,
(1972 edition) [ Pub.
Editions du Cerf, Paris],
informs us in volume II, pages 451 and 452, that the contradiction between
Luke's Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles may be explained by a 'literary
artifice': this is, to say the least, difficult to follow ! .
probability, Father Roguet in his Initiation to the Gospel, 1973,
(pg. 187) has not been convinced by the above argument. The explanation he
gives us is curious, to say the least:
as in many similar cases, the problem only appears insuperable if one takes
Biblical statements literally, and forgets their religious significance. It
is not a matter of breaking down the factual reality into a symbolism which
is inconsistent, but rather of looking for the theological intentions of
those revealing these mysteries to us by providing us with facts we can
apprehend with our senses and signs appropriate to our incarnate spirit."
How is it
possible to be satisfied by an exegesis of this kind. Only a person who
accepted everything unconditionally would find such apologetic set-phrases
interesting aspect of Father Roguet's commentary is his admission that there
are 'many similar cases'; similar, that is, to the Ascension in the Gospels.
The problem therefore has to be approached as a whole, objectively and in
depth. It would seem reasonable to look for an explanation by studying the
conditions attendant upon the writing of the Gospels, or the religious
atmosphere prevailing at the time. When adaptations of the original writings
taken from oral traditions are pointed out, and we see the way texts handed
down to us have been corrupted, the presence of obscure, incomprehensible,
contradictory, improbable, and even absurd passages comes as much less of a
surprise. The same may be said of texts which are incompatible with today's
proven reality, thanks to scientific progress. Observations such as these
denote the element of human participation in the writing and modification of
Admittedly, in the last few decades, objective research on the Scriptures
has gained attention. In a recent book, Faith in the Resurrection,
Resurrection of Faith
[ Pub. Beauchesne, Coll. 'Le
Point théologique'. Paris. 1974]
(Foi en la Resurrection, Resurrection de la foi), Father Kannengiesser, a
professor at the Catholic Institute of Paris, outlines this profound change
in the following terms: "The faithful are hardly aware that a revolution has
taken place in methods of Biblical exegesis since the time of Pious XII"
[ Pious XII was Pope from
1939 to 1959]. The
'Revolution' that the author mentions is therefore very recent. It is
beginning to be extended to the teaching of the faithful, in the case of
certain specialists at least, who are animated by this spirit of revival.
"The overthrow of the most assured prospects of the pastoral tradition," the
author writes, "has more or less begun with this revolution in methods of
Kannengiesser warns that 'one should not take literally' facts reported
about Jesus by the Gospels, because they are 'writings suited to an
occasion' or 'to combat', whose authors 'are writing down the traditions of
their own community about Jesus'. Concerning the Resurrection of Jesus,
which is the subject of his book, he stresses that none of the authors of
the Gospels can claim to have been an eye-witness. He intimates that, as far
as the rest of Jesus's public life is concerned, the same must be true
because, according to the Gospels, none of the Apostles-apart from Judas
Iscariot-left Jesus from the moment he first followed Him until His last
come a long way from the traditional position, which was once again solemnly
confirmed by the Second Vatican Council only ten years ago. This once again
is resumed by modern works of popularization destined to be read by the
faithful. Little by little the truth is coming to light however.
It is not
easy to grasp, because the weight of such a bitterly defended tradition is
very heavy indeed. To free oneself from it, one has to strike at the roots
of the problem, i.e. examine first the circumstances that marked the birth
Historical Reminder Judeo-Christian and Saint Paul
majority of Christians believe that the Gospels were written by direct
witnesses of the life of Jesus and therefore constitute unquestionable
evidence concerning the events high-lighting His life and preachings. One
wonders, in the presence of such guarantees of authenticity, how it is
possible to discuss the teachings derived from them and how one can cast
doubt upon the validity of the Church as an institution applying the general
instructions Jesus Himself gave. Today's popular editions of the Gospels
contain commentaries aimed at propagating these ideas among the general
the authors of the Gospels have as eye-witnesses is always presented to the
faithful as axiomatic. In the middle of the Second century, Saint Justin
did, after all, call the Gospels the 'Memoirs of the Apostles'. There are
moreover so many details proclaimed concerning the authors that it is a
wonder that one could ever doubt their accuracy. 'Matthew was a well-known
character 'a customs officer employed at the tollgate or customs house at
Capharnaum'; it is even said that he spoke Aramaic and Greek. Mark is also
easily identifiable as Peter's colleague; there is no doubt that he too was
an eye-witness. Luke is the 'dear physician' of whom Paul talks: information
on him is very precise. John is the Apostle who was always near to Jesus,
son of Zebedee, fisherman on the Sea of Galilee.
studies on the beginnings of Christianity show that this way of presenting
things hardly corresponds to reality. We shall see who the authors of the
Gospels really were. As far as the decades following Jesus's mission are
concerned, it must be understood that events did not at all happen in the
way they have been said to have taken place and that Peter's arrival in Rome
in no way laid the foundations for the Church. On the contrary, from the
time Jesus left earth to the second half of the Second century, there was a
struggle between two factions. One was what one might call Pauline
Christianity and the other Judeo-Christianity. It was only very slowly that
the first supplanted the second, and Pauline Christianity triumphed over
number of very recent works are based on contemporary discoveries about
Christianity. Among them we find Cardinal Daniélou's name. In December 1967
he published an article in the review Studies (Etudes) entitled. 'A New
Representation of the Origins of Christianity: Judeo-Christianity'. (Une
vision nouvelle des origines chrétiennes, le judéo-christianisme). Here he
reviews past works, retraces its history and enables us to place the
appearance of the Gospels in quite a different context from the one that
emerges on reading accounts intended for mass publication. What follows is a
condensed version of the essential points made in his article, including
many quotations from it.
Jesus's departure, the "little group of Apostles" formed a "Jewish sect that
remained faithful to the form of worship practised in the Temple". However,
when the observances of converts from paganism were added to them, a
'special system' was offered to them, as it were: the Council of Jerusalem
in 49 A.D. exempted them from circumcision and Jewish observances; "many
Judeo-Christians rejected this concession". This group was quite separate
from Paul's. What is more, Paul and the Judeo-Christians were in conflict
over the question of pagans who had turned to Christianity, (the incident of
Antioch, 49 A.D.). "For Paul, the circumcision, Sabbath, and form of worship
practised in the Temple were henceforth old fashioned, even for the Jews.
Christianity was to free itself from its political-cum-religious adherence
to Judaism and open itself to the Gentiles."
Judeo-Christians who remained 'loyal Jews,' Paul was a traitor.
Judeo-Christian documents call him an 'enemy', accuse him of 'tactical
double-dealing', . . . '"Until 70 A.D., Judeo-Christianity represents the
majority of the Church" and "Paul remains an isolated case". The head of the
community at that time was James, a relation of Jesus. With him were Peter
(at the beginning) and John. "James may be considered to represent the
Judeo-Christian camp, which deliberately clung to Judaism as opposed to
Pauline Christianity." Jesus's family has a very important place in the
Judeo-Christian Church of Jerusalem. "James's successor was Simeon, son of
Cleopas, a cousin of the Lord".
Danielou here quotes Judeo-Christian writings which express the views on
Jesus of this community which initially formed around the apostles: the
Gospel of the Hebrews (coming from a Judeo-Christian community in Egypt),
the writings of Clement: Homilies and Recognitions, 'Hypotyposeis', the
Second Apocalypse of James, the Gospel of Thomas.
[ One could note here that all
these writings were later to be classed as Apocrypha, i.e. they had to be
concealed by the victorious Church which was born of Paul's success. This
Church made obvious excisions in the Gospel literature and retained only the
four Canonic Gospels.]
"It is to the Judeo-Christians that one must ascribe the oldest writings of
Christian literature." Cardinal Daniélou mentions them in detail.
not just in Jerusalem and Palestine that Judeo-Christianity predominated
during the first hundred years of the Church. The Judeo-Christian mission
seems everywhere to have developed before the Pauline mission. This is
certainly the explanation of the fact that the letters of Paul allude to a
conflict." They were the same adversaries he was to meet everywhere: in
Galatia, Corinth, Colossae, Rome and Antioch.
coast from Gaza to Antioch was Judeo-Christian '"as witnessed by the Acts of
the Apostles and Clementine writings". In Asia Minor, the existence of
Judeo-Christians is indicated in Paul's letters to the Galatians and
Colossians. Papias's writings give us information about Judeo-Christianity
in Phrygia. In Greece, Paul's first letter to the Corinthians mentions
Judeo-Christians, especially at Apollos. According to Clement's letter and
the Shepherd of Hermas, Rome was an 'important centre'. For Suetonius and
Tacitus, the Christians represented a Jewish sect. Cardinal Daniélou thinks
that the first evangelization in Africa was Judeo-Christian. The Gospel of
the Hebrews and the writings of Clement of Alexandria link up with this.
essential to know these facts to understand the struggle between communities
that formed the background against which the Gospels were written. The texts
that we have today, after many adaptations from the sources, began to appear
around 70 A.D., the time when the two rival communities were engaged in a
fierce struggle, with the Judeo-Christians still retaining the upper hand.
With the Jewish war and the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. the situation was
to be reversed. This is how Cardinal Daniélou explains the decline:
the Jews had been discredited in the Empire, the Christians tended to detach
themselves from them. The Hellenistic peoples of Christian persuasion then
gained the upper hand. Paul won a posthumous victory. Christianity separated
itself politically and sociologically from Judaism; it became the third
people. All the same, until the Jewish revolt in 140 A.D.,
Judeo-Christianity continued to predominate culturally"
A.D. to a period sometime before 110 A.D. the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke
and John were produced. They do not constitute the first written Christian
documents: the letters of Paul date from well before them. According to O.
Culmann, Paul probably wrote his letter to the Thessalonians in 50 A.D. He
had probably disappeared several years prior to the completion of Mark's
the most controversial figure in Christianity. He was considered to be a
traitor to Jesus's thought by the latter's family and by the apostles who
had stayed in Jerusalem in the circle around James. Paul created
Christianity at the expense of those whom Jesus had gathered around him to
spread his teachings. He had not known Jesus during his lifetime and he
proved the legitimacy of his mission by declaring that Jesus, raised from
the dead, had appeared to him on the road to Damascus. It is quite
reasonable to ask what Christianity might have been without Paul and one
could no doubt construct all sorts of hypotheses on this subject. As far as
the Gospels are concerned however, it is almost certain that if this
atmosphere of struggle between communities had not existed, we would not
have had the writings we possess today. They appeared at a time of fierce
struggle between the two communities. These 'combat writings', as Father
Kannengiesser calls them, emerged from the multitude of writings on Jesus.
These occurred at the time when Paul's style of Christianity won through
definitively, and created its own collection of official texts. These texts
constituted the 'Canon' which condemned and excluded as unorthodox any other
documents that were not suited to the line adopted by the Church.
Judeo-Christians have now disappeared as a community with any influence, but
one still hears people talking about them under the general term of 'Judaïstic'.
This is how Cardinal Daniélou describes their disappearance:
they were cut off -from the Great Church, that gradually freed itself from
its Jewish attachments, they petered out very quickly in the West. In the
East however it is possible to find traces of them in the Third and Fourth
Centuries A.D., especially in Palestine, Arabia, Transjordania, Syria and
Mesopotamia. Others joined in the orthodoxy of the Great Church, at the same
time preserving traces of Semitic culture; some of these still persist in
the Churches of Ethiopia and Chaldea".
Sources and History
writings that come from the early stages of Christianity, the Gospels are
not mentioned until long after the works of Paul. It was not until the
middle of the Second century A.D., after 140 A.D. to be precise, that
accounts began to appear concerning a collection of Evangelic writings, In
spite of this, "from the beginning of the Second century A.D., many
Christian authors clearly intimate that they knew a. great many of Paul's
letters." These observations are set out in the Introduction to the
Ecumenical Translation of the Bible, New Testament (Introduction à la
Traduction oecuménique de la Bible, Nouveau Testament) edited 1972
[ Pub. Editions du Cerf et Les
Bergers et les Mages, Paris.].
They are worth mentioning from the outset, and it is useful to point out
here that the work referred to is the result of a collective effort which
brought together more than one hundred Catholic and Protestant specialists.
Gospels, later to become official, i.e. canonic, did not become known until
fairly late, even though they were completed at the beginning of the Second
century A.D. According to the Ecumenical Translation, stories belonging to
them began to be quoted around the middle of the Second century A.D.
Nevertheless, "it is nearly always difficult to decide whether the
quotations come from written texts that the authors had next to them or if
the latter were content to evoke the memory of fragments of the oral
140 A.D." we read in the commentaries this translation of the Bible
contains, "there was, in any case, no account by which one might have
recognised a collection of evangelic writings". This statement is the
opposite of what A. Tricot writes (1960) in the commentary to his
translation of the New Testament: "Very early on, from the beginning of the
Second century A.D., it became a habit to say "Gospel' meaning the books
that Saint Justin around 150 A.D. had also called "The Memoirs of the
Apostles'." Unfortunately, assertions of this kind are sufficiently common
for the public to have ideas on the date of the Gospels which are mistaken.
Gospels did not form a complete whole 'very early on'; it did not happen
until more than a century after the end of Jesus's mission. The
Ecumenical Translation of the Bible estimates the date the four Gospels
acquired the status of canonic literature at around 170 A.D.
statement which calls the authors 'Apostles' is not acceptable either, as we
As far as
the date the Gospels were written is concerned, A. Tricot states that
Matthew's, Mark's and Luke's Gospels were written before 70 A.D.: but this
is not acceptable, except perhaps for Mark. Following many others, this
commentator goes out of his way to present the authors of the Gospels as the
apostles or the companions of Jesus. For this reason he suggests dates of
writing that place them very near to the time Jesus lived. As for John, whom
A. Tricot has us believe lived until roughly 100 A.D., Christians have
always been used to seeing him depicted as being very near to Jesus on
ceremonial occasions. It is very difficult however to assert that he is the
author of the Gospel that bears his name. For A. Tricot, as for other
commentators, the Apostle John (like Matthew) was the officially qualified
witness of the facts he recounts, although the majority of critics do not
support the hypothesis which says he wrote the fourth Gospel.
however the four Gospels in question cannot reasonably be regarded as the
'Memoirs' of the apostles or companions of Jesus, where do they come from?
in his book The New Testament (Le Nouveau Testament)
[ Pub. Presses Universitaires de
France, Paris, 1967],
says of this that the evangelists were only the "spokesmen of the early
Christian community which wrote down the oral tradition. For thirty or forty
years, the Gospel had existed as an almost exclusively oral tradition: the
latter only transmitted sayings and isolated narratives. The evangelists
strung them together, each in his own way according to his own character and
theological preoccupations. They linked up the narrations and sayings handed
down by the prevailing tradition. The grouping of Jesus's sayings and
likewise the sequence of narratives is made by the use of fairly vague
linking phrases such as 'after this', 'when he had' etc. In other words, the
'framework' of the Synoptic Gospels
[ The three Gospels of Mark,
Matthew and Luke.] is
of a purely literary order and is not based on history."
author continues as follows:
must be noted that the needs of preaching, worship and teaching, more than
biographical considerations, were what guided the early community when it
wrote down the tradition of the life of Jesus. The apostles illustrated the
truth of the faith they were preaching by describing the events in the life
of Jesus. Their sermons are what caused the descriptions to be written down.
The sayings of Jesus were transmitted, in particular, in the teaching of the
catechism of the early Church."
exactly how the commentators of the Ecumenical Translation of the Bible
(Traduction oecuménique de la Bible) describe the writing of the
Gospels: the formation of an oral tradition influenced by the preachings of
Jesus's disciples and other preachers; the preservation by preaching of this
material, which is in actual fact found in the Gospels, by preaching,
liturgy, and teaching of the faithful; the slender possibility of a concrete
form given by writings to certain confessions of faith, sayings of Jesus,
descriptions of the Passion for example; the fact that the evangelists
resort to various written forms as well as data contained in the oral
tradition. They resort to these to produce texts which "are suitable for
various circles, which meet the needs of the Church, explain observations on
the Scriptures, correct errors and even, on occasion, answer adversaries'
objections. Thus the evangelists, each according to his own outlook, have
collected and recorded in writing the material given to them by the oral
position has been collectively adopted by more than one hundred experts in
the exegesis of the New Testament, both Catholic and Protestant. It diverges
widely from the line established by the Second Vatican Council in its
dogmatic constitution on the Revelation drawn up between 1962 and 1965. This
conciliar document has already been referred to once above, when talking of
the Old Testament. The Council was able to declare of the latter that the
books which compose it "contain material which is imperfect and obsolete",
but it has not expressed the same reservations about the Gospels. On the
contrary, as we read in the following.
can overlook the fact that, among all the Scriptures, even those of the New
Testament, the Gospels have a well-deserved position of superiority. This is
by virtue of the fact that they represent the most pre-eminent witness to
the life and teachings of the Incarnate Word, Our Saviour. At all times and
in all places the Church has maintained and still maintains the apostolic
origin of the four Gospels. What the apostles actually preached on Christ's
orders, both they and the men in their following subsequently transmitted,
with the divine inspiration of the Spirit, in writings which are the
foundation of the faith, i.e. the fourfold Gospel according to Matthew,
Mark, Luke and John."
Mother, the Church, has firmly maintained and still maintains with the
greatest constancy, that these four Gospels, which it unhesitatingly
confirms are historically authentic, faithfully transmit what Jesus, Son Of
God, actually did and taught during his life among men for their eternal
salvation until the day when He was taken up into the heavens. . . . The
sacred authors therefore composed the four Gospels in such a way as to
always give us true and frank information on the life of Jesus".
an unambiguous affirmation of the fidelity with which the Gospels transmit
the acts and sayings of Jesus.
hardly any compatibility between the Council's affirmation and what the
authors quoted above claim. In particular the following:
Gospels "are not to be taken literally" they are "writings suited
to an occasion" or "combat writings". Their authors "are
writing down the traditions of their own community concerning Jesus".
Gospels are texts which "are suitable for various circles, meet the needs of
the Church, explain observations on the Scriptures, correct errors and even,
on occasion, answer adversaries' objections. Thus, the evangelists, each
according to his own outlook, have collected and recorded in writing the
material given to them by the oral tradition". (Ecumenical Translation of
quite clear that we are here faced with contradictory statements: the
declaration of the Council on the one hand, and more recently adopted
attitudes on the other. According to the declaration of the Second Vatican
Council, a faithful account of the actions and words of Jesus is to be found
in the Gospels; but it is impossible to reconcile this with the existence in
the text of contradictions, improbabilities, things which are materially
impossible or statements which run contrary to firmly established reality.
the other hand, one chooses to regard the Gospels as expressing the personal
point of view of those who collected the oral traditions that belonged to
various communities, or as writings suited to an occasion or
combat-writings, it does not come as a surprise to find faults in the
Gospels. All these faults are the sign that they were written by men in
circumstances such as these. The writers may have been quite sincere, even
though they relate facts without doubting their inaccuracy. They provide us
with descriptions which contradict other authors' narrations, or are
influenced by reasons of religious rivalry between communities. They
therefore present stories about the life of Jesus from a completely
different angle than their adversaries.
already been shown how the historical context is in harmony with the second
approach to the Gospels. The data we have on the texts themselves
definitively confirms it.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW
is the first of the four Gospels as they appear in the New Testament. This
position is perfectly justified by the fact that it is a prolongation, as it
were, of the Old Testament. It was written to show that "Jesus fulfilled the
history of Israel", as the commentators of the Ecumenical Translation of
the Bible note and on which we shall be drawing heavily. To do BO,
Matthew constantly refers to quotations from the Old Testament which show
how Jesus acted as if he were the Messiah the Jews were awaiting.
Gospel begins with a genealogy of Jesus
[ The fact that it is in
contradiction with Luke's Gospel will be dealt with in a separate chapter.].
Matthew traces it back to Abraham via David. We shall presently see the
fault in the text that most commentators silently ignore. Matthew's obvious
intention was nevertheless to indicate the general tenor of his work
straight away by establishing this line of descendants. The author continues
the same line of thought by constantly bringing to the forefront Jesus's
attitude toward Jewish law, the main principles of which (praying, fasting,
and dispensing charity) are summarized here.
addresses His teachings first and foremost to His own people. This is how He
speaks to the twelve Apostles "go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no
town of the Samaritans [
The Samaritans' religious code was the Torah or Pentateuch; they lived in
the expectation of the Messiah and were faithful to most Jewish observances,
but they had built a rival Temple to the one at Jerusalem.]
but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matthew 10, 5-6).
"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel". (Matthew 15,
24). At the end of his Gospel, in second place, Matthew extends the
apostolic mission of Jesus's first disciples to all nations. He makes Jesus
give the following order. "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations"
(Matthew 28, 19), but the primary destination must be the 'house of Israel'.
says of this Gospel, "Beneath its Greek garb, the flesh and bones of this
book are Jewish, and so is its spirit; it has a Jewish feel and bears its
basis of these observations alone, the origins of Matthew's Gospel may be
placed in the tradition of a Judeo-Christian community. According to O.
Culmann, this community "was trying to break away from Judaism while at the
same time preserving the continuity of the Old Testament. The main
preoccupations and the general tenor of this Gospel point towards a strained
also political factors to be found in the text. The Roman occupation of
Palestine naturally heightened the desire of this country to see itself
liberated. They prayed for God to intervene in favour of the people He had
chosen among all others, and as their omnipotent sovereign who could give
direct support to the affairs of men, as He had already done many times in
the course of history.
of person was Matthew? Let us say straight away that he is no longer
acknowledged to be one of Jesus's companions. A. Tricot nevertheless
presents him as such in his commentary to the translation of the New
Testament, 1960: "Matthew alias, Levi, was a customs officer employed at the
tollgate or customs house at Capharnaum when Jesus called him to be one of
His disciples." This is the opinion of the Fathers of the Church, Origen,
Jerome and Epiphanes. This opinion is no longer held today. One point which
is uncontested is that the author is writing "for people who speak Greek,
but nevertheless know Jewish customs and the Aramaic language."
seem that for the commentators of the Ecumenical Translation, the origins of
this Gospel are as follows:
normally considered to have been written in Syria, perhaps at Antioch (. .
.), or in Phoenicia, because a great many Jews lived in these countries.
[ It has been thought
that the Judeo-Christian community that Matthew belonged to might just as
easily have been situated at Alexandria. O. Culmann refers to this
hypothesis along with many others.]
(. . .) we have indications of a polemic against the orthodox Judaism of the
Synagogue and the Pharasees such as was manifested at the synagogal assembly
at Jamina circa 80 A.D." In such conditions, there are many authors who date
the first of the Gospels at about 80-90 A.D., perhaps also a little earlier.
it is not possible to be absolutely definite about this . . . since we do
not know the author's exact name, we must be satisfied with a few outlines
traced in the Gospel itself. the author can be recognized by his profession.
He is well-versed in Jewish writings and traditions. He knows, respects, but
vigorously challenges the religious leaders of his people. He is a past
master in the art of teaching and making Jesus understandable to his
listeners. He always insists on the practical consequences of his teachings.
He would fit fairly well the description of an educated Jew turned
Christian; a householder "who brings out of his treasure what is new and
what is old" as Matthew says (13,52). This is a long way from the civil
servant at Capharnaum, whom Mark and Luke call Levi, and who had become one
of the twelve Apostles . . .
agrees in thinking that Matthew wrote his Gospel using the same sources as
Mark and Luke. His narration is, as we shall see, different on several
essential points. In spite of this, Matthew borrowed heavily from Mark's
Gospel although the latter was not one of Jesus's disciples (O. Culmann).
takes very serious liberties with the text. We shall see this when we
discuss the Old Testament in relation to the genealogy of Jesus which is
placed at the beginning of his Gospel.
inserts into his book descriptions which are quite literally incredible.
This is the adjective used in the work mentioned above by Father
Kannengiesser referring to an episode in the Resurrection. the episode of
the guard. He points out the improbability of the story referring to
military guards at the tomb, "these Gentile soldiers" who "report, not to
their hierarchical superiors, but to the high priests who pay them to tell
lies". He adds however: "One must not laugh at him because Matthew's
intention was extremely serious. In his own way he incorporates ancient data
from the oral tradition into his written work. The scenario is nevertheless
worthy of Jesus Christ Superstar.
[ An American film which
parodies the life of Jesus.]"
not forget that this opinion on Matthew comes from an eminent theologian
teaching at the Catholic Institute of Paris (Institut Catholique de Paris).
relates in his narration the events accompanying the death of Jesus. They
are another example of his imagination.
behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and
the earth shook, and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened, and
many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out
of tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to
passage from Matthew (27, 51-53) has no corresponding passage in the other
Gospels. It is difficult to see how the bodies of the saints in question
could have raised from the dead at the time of Jesus's death
(according to the Gospels it was on the eve of the Sabbath) and only emerge
from their tombs after his resurrection (according to the same
sources on the day after the Sabbath).
notable improbability is perhaps to be found in Matthew. It is the most
difficult to rationalize of all that the Gospel authors claim Jesus said. He
relates in chapter 12, 38-40 the episode concerning Jonah's sign:
among the scribes and pharisees who addressed him in the following terms:
we wish to see a sign from you. But he answered them, "An evil and
adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it
except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three
nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and
three nights in the heart of the earth."
therefore proclaims that he will stay in the earth three days and three
nights. So Matthew, along with Luke and Mark, place the death and burial of
Jesus on the eve of the Sabbath. This, of course, makes the time spent in
the earth three days (treis êmeras in the Greek text), but this
period can only include two and not three nights (treis nuktas in the
Greek text [ In another
part of his Gospel Matthew again refers to this episode but without being
precise about the time (16, 1-4). The same is true for Luke (11, 29-32). We
shall see later on how in Mark, Jesus is said to have declared that no sign
would be given to that generation (Mark 8, 11-12).]).
commentators frequently ignore this episode. Father Roguet nevertheless
points out this improbability when he notes that Jesus "only stayed in the
tomb" three days (one of them complete) and two nights. He adds however that
"it is a set expression and really means three days". It is disturbing to
see commentators reduced to using arguments that do not contain any positive
meaning. It would be much more satisfying intellectually to say that a gross
error such as this was the result of a scribe's mistake!
from these improbabilities, what mostly distinguishes Matthew's Gospel is
that it is the work of a Judeo-Christian community in the process of
breaking away from Judaism while remaining in line with the Old Testament.
From the point of view of Judeo-Christian history it is very important.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MARK
the shortest of the four Gospels. It is also the oldest, but in spite of
this it is not a book written by an apostle. At best it was written by an
Culmann has written that he does not consider Mark to be a disciple of
Jesus. The author nevertheless points out, to those who have misgivings
about the ascription of this Gospel to the Apostle Mark, that "Matthew and
Luke would not have used this Gospel in the way they did had they not known
that it was indeed based on the teachings of an apostle". This argument is
in no way decisive. O. Culmann backs up the reservations he expresses by
saying that he frequently quotes from the New Testament the sayings of a
certain 'John nicknamed Mark'. These quotations. do not however mention the
name of a Gospel author, and the text of Mark itself does not name any
paucity of information on this point has led commentators to dwell on
details that seem rather extravagant: using the pretext, for example, that
Mark was the only evangelist to relate in his description of the Passion the
story of the young man who had nothing but a linen cloth about his body and,
when seized, left the linen cloth and ran away naked (Mark 14, 51-52), they
conclude that the young man must have been Mark, "the faithful disciple who
tried to follow the teacher" (Ecumenical Translation). Other commentators
see in this "personal memory a sign of authenticity, an anonymous
signature", which "proves that he was an eyewitness" (O. Culmann).
Culmann considers that "many turns of phrase corroborate the hypothesis that
the author was of Jewish origin," but the presence of Latin expressions
might suggest that he had written his Gospel in Rome. "He addresses himself
moreover to Christians not living in Palestine and is careful to explain the
Aramic expressions he uses."
has indeed tended to see Mark as Peter's companion in Rome. It is founded on
the final section of Peter's first letter (always supposing that he was
indeed the author) . Peter wrote in his letter. "The community which is at
Babylon, which is likewise chosen, sends you greetings; and so does my son
Mark." "By Babylon, what is probably meant is Rome" we read in the
commentary to the Ecumenical Translation. From this, the commentators then
imagine themselves authorized to conclude that Mark, who was supposed to
have been with Peter in Rome, was the Evangelist . . .One wonders whether it
was not the same line of reasoning that led Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis in
circa 150 A.D., to ascribe this Gospel to Mark as 'Peter's interpreter' and
the possible collaborator of Paul.
this point of view, the composition of Mark's Gospel could be placed after
Peter's death, i.e. at between 65 and 70 A.D. for the Ecumenical Translation
and circa 70 A.D. for O. Culmann.
itself unquestionably reveals a major flaw. it is written with a total
disregard to chronology. Mark therefore places, at the beginning of his
narration (1, 16-20), the episode of the four fishermen whom Jesus leads to
follow him by simply saying "I will make you become fishers of men", though
they do not even know Him. The evangelist shows, among other things, a
complete lack of plausibility.
Roguet has said, Mark is 'a clumsy writer', 'the weakest of all the
evangelists'; he hardly knows how to write a narrative. The commentator
reinforces his observation by quoting a passage about how the twelve
Apostles were selected.
the literal translation:
went up into the hills, and called to him those whom he desired; and they
came to him. And he made that the twelve were to be with him, and to be sent
out to preach and have authority to cast out demons; and he made the twelve
and imposed the name Simon on Peter" (Mark, 3, 13-16).
contradicts Matthew and Luke, as has already been noted above, with regard
to the sign of Jonah. On the subject of signs given by Jesus to men in the
course of His mission Mark (8, 11-13) describes an episode that is hardly
Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from
heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, 'Why does
this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to
this generation.' And he left them, and getting into the boat again he
departed to the other side."
be no doubt that this is an affirmation coming from Jesus Himself about his
intention not to commit any act which might appear supernatural. Therefore
the commentators of the Ecumenical Translation, who are surprised that Luke
says Jesus will only give one sign (the sign of Jonah; see Matthew's Gospel)
, consider it 'paradoxical' that Mark should say "no sign shall be given to
this generation" seeing, as they note, the "miracles that Jesus himself
gives as a sign" (Luke 7,22 and 11,20).
Gospel as a whole is officially recognised as being canonic. All the same,
the final section of Mark's Gospel (16,1920) is considered by modem authors
to have been tacked on to the basic work: the Ecumenical Translation is
quite explicit about this.
final section is not contained in the two oldest complete manuscripts of the
Gospels, the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus that
date from the Fourth century A.D. O. Culmann notes on this subject that:
"More recent Greek manuscripts and certain versions at this point added a
conclusion on appearances which is not drawn from Mark but from the other
Gospels." In fact, the versions of this added ending are very numerous. In
the texts there are long and short versions (both are reproduced in the
Bible, Revised Standard Version, 1952). Sometimes the long version has some
Kannengiesser makes the following comments on the ending. "The last verses
must have been surpressed when his work was officially received (or the
popular version of it) in the community that guaranteed its validity.
Neither Matthew, Luke or a fortiori John saw the missing section.
Nevertheless, the gap was unacceptable. A long time afterwards, when the
writings of Matthew, Luke and John, all of them similar, had been in
circulation, a worthy ending to Mark was composed. Its elements were taken
from sources throughout the other Gospels. It would be easy to recognise the
pieces of the puzzle by enumerating Mark (16,9-20). One would gain a more
concrete idea of the free way in which the literary genre of the evangelic
narration was handled until the beginnings of the Second century A.D."
blunt admission is provided for us here, in the thoughts of a great
theologian, that human manipulation exists in the texts of the Scriptures!
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE
Culmann, Luke is a 'chronicler', and for Father Kannengiesser he is a 'true
novelist'. In his prologue to Theophilus, Luke warns us that he, in his
turn, following on from others who have written accounts concerning Jesus,
is going to write a narrative of the same facts using the accounts and
information of eyewitnesses-implying that he himself is not one-including
information from the apostles' preachings. It is therefore to be a
methodical piece of work which he introduces in the following terms:
as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been
accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from
the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to
me also, having informed myself about all things from their beginnings, to
write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may
know the truth concerning things of which you have been informed."
very first line one can see all that separates Luke from the 'scribbler'
Mark to whose work we have just referred. Luke's Gospel is incontestably a
literary work written in classical Greek free from any barbarisms.
a cultivated Gentile convert to Christianity. His attitude towards the Jews
is immediately apparent. As O. Culmann points out, Luke leaves out Mark's
most Judaic verses and highlights the Jews' incredulity at Jesus's words,
throwing into relief his good relations with the Samaritans, whom the Jews
detested. Matthew, on the other hand, has Jesus ask the apostles to flee
from them. This is just one of many striking examples of the fact that the
evangelists make Jesus say whatever suits their own personal outlook. They
probably do so with sincere conviction. They give us the version of Jesus's
words that is adapted to the point of view of their own community. How can
one deny in the face of such evidence that the Gospels are 'combat writings'
or 'writings suited to an occasion', as has been mentioned already? The
comparison between the general tone of Luke's Gospel and Matthew's is in
this respect a good demonstration.
Luke? An attempt has been made to identify him with the physician of the
same name referred to by Paul in several of his letters. The Ecumenical
Translation notes that "several commentators have found the medical
occupation of the author of this Gospel confirmed by the precision with
which he describes the sick". This assessment is in fact exaggerated out of
all proportion. Luke does not properly speaking 'describe' things of this
kind; "the vocabulary he uses is that of a cultivated man of his time".
There was a Luke who was Paul's travelling companion, but was he the same
person? O. Culmann thinks he was.
of Luke's Gospel can be estimated according to several factors: Luke used
Mark's and Matthew's Gospels. From what we read in the Ecumenical
Translation, it seems that he witnessed the siege and destruction of
Jerusalem by Titus's armies in 70 A.D. The Gospel probably dates from after
this time. Present-day critics situate the time it was written at .circa
80-90 A.D., but several place it at an even earlier date.
various narrations in Luke show important differences when compared to his
predecessors. An outline of this has already been given. The Ecumenical
Translation indicates them on pages 181 et sec. O. Culmann, in his book,
The New Testament (Le Nouveau Testament) page 18, cites descriptions in
Luke's Gospel that are not to be found anywhere else. And they are not about
minor points of detail.
descriptions of Jesus's childhood are unique to Luke's Gospel. Matthew
describes Jesus's childhood differently from Luke, and Mark does not mention
it at all.
and Luke both provide different genealogies of Jesus: the contradictions are
so large and the improbabilities so great, from a scientific point of view,
that a special chapter of this book has been devoted to the subject. It is
possible to explain why Matthew, who was addressing himself to Jews, should
begin the genealogy at Abraham, and include David in it, and that Luke, as a
converted Gentile, should want to go back even farther. We shall see however
that the two genealogies contradict each other from David onwards.
mission is described differently on many points by Luke, Matthew and Mark.
of such great importance to Christians as the institution of the Eucharist
gives rise to variations between Luke and the other two evangelists.
[ It is not possible to
establish a comparison with John because he does not refer to the
institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper prior to the Passion.]
Father Roguet notes in his book Initiation to the Gospel (Initiation
à l'Evangile) page 75, that the words used to institute the Eucharist are
reported by Luke (22,19-24) in a form very different from the wording in
Matthew (26,26-29) and in Mark (14,22-24) which is almost identical.
contrary" he writes, "the wording transmitted by Luke is very similar to
that evoked by Saint Paul" (First Letter to the Corinthians, 11,23-25) .
have seen, in his Gospel, Luke expresses ideas on the subject of Jesus's
Ascension which contradict what he says in the Acts of the Apostles. He is
recognized as their author and they form an integral part of the New
Testament. In his Gospel he situates the Ascension on Easter Day, and in the
Acts forty days later. We already know to what strange commentaries this
contradiction has led Christian experts in exegesis.
Commentators wishing to be objective, such as those of the Ecumenical
Translation of the Bible, have been obliged to recognise as a general rule
the fact that for Luke "the main preoccupation was not to write facts
corresponding to material accuracy". When Father Kannengiesser compares the
descriptions in the Acts of the Apostles written by Luke himself with the
description of similar facts on Jesus raised from the dead by Paul, he
pronounces the following opinion on Luke: "Luke is the most sensitive and
literary of the four evangelists, he has all the qualities of a true
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN
Gospel is radically different from the three others; to such an extent
indeed that Father Roguet in his book Initiation to the Gospel
(Initiation à l'Evangile), having commented on the other three, immediately
evokes a startling image for the fourth. He calls it , different world'. It
is indeed a unique book; different in the arrangement and choice of subject,
description and speech; different in its style, geography, chronology; there
are even differences in theological outlook (O. Culmann). Jesus's words are
therefore differently recorded by John from the other evangelists: Father
Roguet notes on this that whereas the synoptics record Jesus's words in a
style that is "striking, much nearer to the oral style", in John all is
meditation; to such an extent indeed that "one sometimes wonders if Jesus is
still speaking or whether His ideas have not imperceptibly been extended by
the Evangelist's own thoughts".
the author? This is a highly debated question and extremely varying opinions
have been expressed on this subject.
and Father Roguet belong to a camp that does not have the slightest
misgivings: John's Gospel is the work of an eyewitness, its author is John,
son of Zebedee and brother of James. Many details are known about this
apostle and are set out in works for mass publication. Popular iconography
puts him near Jesus, as in the Last Supper prior to the Passion. Who could
imagine that John's Gospel was not the work of John the Apostle whose figure
is so familiar?
that the fourth Gospel was written so late is not a serious argument against
this opinion. The definitive version was probably written around the end of
the First century A.D. To situate the time it was written at sixty years
after Jesus would be in keeping with an apostle who was very young at the
time of Jesus and who lived to be almost a hundred.
Kannengiesser, in his study on the Resurrection, arrives at the conclusion
that none of the New Testament authors, save Paul, can claim to have been
eyewitnesses to Jesus's Resurrection. John nevertheless related the
appearance to a number of the assembled apostles, of which he was probably a
member, in the absence of Thomas (20,19-24), then eight days later to the
full group of apostles (20,25-29).
Culmann in his work The New Testament does not subscribe to this
Ecumenical Translation of the Bible states that the majority of critics
do not accept the hypothesis that the Gospel was written by John, although
this possibility cannot be entirely ruled out. Everything points however
towards the fact that the text we know today had several authors: "It is
probable that the Gospel as it stands today was put into circulation by the
author's disciples who added chapter 21 and very likely several annotations
(i.e. 4,2 and perhaps 4,1; 4,44; 7,37b; 11,2; 19,35). With regard to the
story of the adulterous woman (7,53-8,11), everyone agrees that it is a
fragment of unknown origin inserted later (but nevertheless belonging to
canonic Scripture)". Passage 19,35 appears as a 'signature' of an
'eyewitness' (O. Culmann), the only explicit signature in the whole of
John's Gospel; but commentators believe that it was probably added later.
Culmann thinks that latter additions are obvious in this Gospel; such as
chapter 21 which is probably the work of a "disciple who may well have made
slight alterations to the main body of the Gospel".
It is not
necessary to mention all the hypotheses suggested by experts in exegesis.
The remarks recorded here made by the most eminent Christian writers on the
questions of the authorship of the fourth Gospel are sufficient to show the
extent of the confusion reigning on the subject of its authorship.
historical value of John's stories has been contested to a great extent. The
discrepancy between them and the other three Gospels is quite blatant. O.
Culman offers an explanation for this; he sees in John a different
theological point of view from the other evangelists. This aim "directs the
choice of stories from the Logia
recorded, as well as the way in which they are reproduced . . . Thus the
author often prolongs the lines and makes the historical Jesus say what the
Holy Spirit Itself revealed to Him". This, for the exegete in question, is
the reason for the discrepancies.
It is of
course quite conceivable that John, who was writing after the other
evangelists, should have chosen certain stories suitable for illustrating
his own theories. One should not be surprised by the fact that certain
descriptions contained in the other Gospels are missing in John. The
Ecumenical Translation picks out a certain number of such instances
(page 282). Certain gaps hardly seem credible however, like the fact that
the Institution of the Eucharist is not described. It is unthinkable that an
episode so basic to Christianity, one indeed that was to be the mainstay of
its liturgy, i.e. the mass, should not be mentioned by John, the most
pre-eminently meditative evangelist. The fact is, he limits himself, in the
narrative of the supper prior to the Passion, to simply describing the
washing of the disciples' feet, the prediction of Judas's betrayal and
contrast to this, there are stories which are unique to John and not present
in the other three. The Ecumenical Translation mentions these (page 283).
Here again, one could infer that the three authors did not see the
importance in these episodes that John saw in them. It is difficult however
not to be taken aback when one finds in John a description of the appearance
of Jesus raised from the dead to his disciples beside the Sea of
Tiberias (John 21,1-14). The description is nothing less than the
reproduction (with numerous added details) of the miracle catch of fish
which Luke (5,1-11) presents as an episode that occurred during Jesus's
life. In his description Luke alludes to the presence of the Apostle
John who, as tradition has it, was the evangelist, Since this description in
John's Gospel forms part of chapter 21, agreed to be a later addition, one
can easily imagine that the reference to John's name in Luke could have led
to its artificial inclusion in the fourth Gospel. The necessity of
transforming a description from Jesus's life to a posthumous description in
no way prevented the evangelical text from being manipulated.
important point on which John's Gospel differs from the other three is in
the duration of Jesus's mission. Mark, Matthew and Luke place it over a
period of one year. John spreads it over two years. O. Culmann notes this
fact. On this subject the Ecumenical Translation expresses the following .
synoptics describe a long period in Galilee followed by a march that was
more or less prolonged towards Judea, and finally a brief stay in Jerusalem.
John, on the other hand, describes frequent journeys from one area to
another and mentions a long stay in Judea, especially in Jerusalem (1,19-51;
2,13-3,36; 5,1-47; 14,20-31). He mentions several Passover celebrations
(2,13; 5,1; 6,4; 11,55) and thus suggests a ministry that lasted more than
of them should one believe-Mark, Matthew, Luke or John?
SOURCES OF THE GOSPELS
general outline that has been given here of the Gospels and which emerges
from a critical examination of the texts tends to make one think of a
literature which is "disjointed, with a plan that lacks continuity" and
"seemingly insuperable contradictions". These are the terms used in the
judgement passed on them by the commentators of the Ecumenical
Translation of the Bible. It is important to refer to their authority
because the consequences of an appraisal of this subject are extremely
serious. It has already been seen how a few notions concerning the religious
history of the time when the Gospels were written helped to explain certain
disconcerting aspects of this literature apparent to the thoughtful reader.
It is necessary to continue, however, and ascertain what present-day works
can tell us about the sources the Evangelists drew on when writing their
texts. It is also interesting to see whether the history of the texts once
they were established can help to explain certain aspects they present
problem of sources was approached in a very simplistic fashion at the time
of the Fathers of the Church. In the early centuries of Christianity, the
only source available was the Gospel that the complete manuscripts provided
first, i.e. Matthew's Gospel. The problem of sources only concerned Mark and
Luke because John constituted a quite separate case. Saint Augustine held
that Mark, who appears second in the traditional order of presentation, had
been inspired by Matthew and had summarized his work. He further considered
that Luke, who comes third in the manuscripts, had used data from both; his
prologue suggests this, and has already been discussed.
experts in exegesis at this period were as able as we are to estimate the
degree of corroboration between the texts and find a large number of verses
common to two or three synoptics. Today, the commentators of the
Ecumenical Translation of the Bible provide the following figures:
common to all three synoptics -------------- 330
verses common to Mark and Matthew ------------ 178
verses common to Mark and Luke ----------------100
verses common to Matthew and Luke ------------ 230
verses unique to each of the first three Gospels are as follows: Matthew
330, Mark 53, and Luke 500.
Fathers of the Church until the end of the Eighteenth century A.D., one and
a half millenia passed without any new problems being raised on the sources
of the evangelists: people continued to follow tradition. It was not until
modem times that it was realized, on the basis of these data, how each
evangelist had taken material found in the others and compiled his own
specific narration guided by his own personal views. Great weight was
attached to actual collection of material for the narration. It came from
the oral traditions of the communities from which it originated on the one
hand, and from a common written Aramaic source that has not been
rediscovered on the other. This written source could have formed a compact
mass or have been composed of many fragments of different narrations used by
each evangelist to construct his own original work.
intensive studies in circa the last hundred years have led to theories which
are more detailed and in time will become even more complicated. The first
of the modem theories is the so-called 'Holtzmann Two Sources Theory',
(1863). O. Culmann and the Ecumenical Translation explain that, according to
this theory, Matthew and Luke may have been inspired by Mark on the one hand
and on the other by a common document which has since been lost. The first
two moreover each had his own sources. This leads to the following diagram:
SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS 
(1) Synopse des quatre Evangiles
criticises the above on the following points:
work, used by both Luke and Matthew, was probably not the author's Gospel
but an earlier version.
diagram does not lay enough emphasis on the oral tradition. This appears to
be of paramount importance because it alone preserved Jesus's words and the
descriptions of his mission during a period of thirty or forty years, as
each of the Evangelists was only the spokesman for the Christian community
which wrote down the oral tradition.
how it is possible to conclude that the Gospels we possess today are a
reflection of what the early Christian communities knew of Jesus's life and
ministry. They also mirror their beliefs and theological ideas, of which the
evangelists were the spokesmen.
latest studies in textual criticism on the sources of the Gospels have
clearly shown an even more complicated formation process of the texts. A
book by Fathers Benoit and Boismard, both professors at the Biblical School
of Jerusalem (1972-1973), called the Synopsis of the Four Gospels (Synopse
des quatres Evangiles) stresses the evolution of the text in stages parallel
to the evolution of the tradition. This implies the conquences set out by
Father Benoit in his introduction to Father Boismard's part of the work. He
presents them in the following terms:
.) the wording and form of description that result from a long evolution of
tradition are not as authentic as in the original. some readers of this work
will perhaps be surprised or embarrassed to learn that certain of Jesus's
sayings, parables, or predictions of His destiny were not expressed in the
way we read them today, but were altered and adapted by those who
transmitted them to us. This may come as a source of amazement and even
scandal to those not used to this kind of historical investigation."
alterations and adaptations to the texts made by those transmitting them to
us were done in a way that Father Boismard explains by means of a highly
complex diagram. It is a development of the so-called 'Two Sources Theory',
and is the product of examination and comparison of the texts which it is
not possible to summarize here. Those readers who are interested in
obtaining further details should consult the original work published by Les
Editions du Cerf, Paris.
basic documents-A, B, C and Q-represent the original sources of the Gospels
(see general diagram). Page 76.
Document A comes from a Judeo-Christian source. Matthew and Mark were
inspired by it.
Document B is a reinterpretation of document A, for use in
Pagan-cum-Christian churches: all the evangelists were inspired by it except
Document C inspired Mark, Luke and John.
Document Q constitutes the majority of sources common to Matthew and Luke;
it is the , Common Document' in the 'Two Sources' theory referred to
these basic documents led to the production of the definitive texts we know
today. Between them and the final version lay the intermediate versions:
Intermediate Matthew, Intermediate Mark, Intermediate Luke and Intermediate
John. These four intermediate documents were to lead to the final versions
of the four Gospels, as well as to inspire the final corresponding versions
of other Gospels. One only has to consult the diagram to see the intricate
relationships the author has revealed.
results of this scriptural research are of great importance. They show how
the Gospel texts not only have a history (to be discussed later) but also a
'pre-history', to use Father Boismard's expression. What is meant is that
before the final versions appeared, they underwent alterations at the
Intermediate Document stage. Thus it is possible to explain, for example,
how a well-known story from Jesus's life, such as the miracle catch of fish,
is shown in Luke to be an event that happened during His life, and in John
to be one of His appearances after His Resurrection.
conclusion to be drawn from the above is that when we read the Gospel, we
can no longer be at all sure that we are reading Jesus's word. Father Benoit
addresses himself to the readers of the Gospel by warning them and giving
them the following compensation: "If the reader is obliged in more than one
case to give up the notion of hearing Jesus's voice directly, he still hears
the voice of the Church and he relies upon it as the divinely appointed
interpreter of the Master who long ago spoke to us on earth and who now
speaks to us in His glory".
one reconcile this formal statement of the inauthenticity of certain texts
with the phrase used in the dogmatic constitution on Divine Revelation by
the Second Vatican Council assuring us to the contrary, i.e. the faithful
transmission of Jesus's words: "These four Gospels, which it (the Church)
unhesitatingly confirms are historically authentic, faithfully transmit what
Jesus, Son of God, actually did and taught during his life among men for
their eternal salvation, until the day when he was taken up into the
quite clear that the work of the Biblical School of Jerusalem flatly
contradicts the Council's declaration.
HISTORY OF THE TEXTS
be mistaken in thinking that once the Gospels were written they constituted
the basic Scriptures of the newly born Christianity and that people referred
to them the same way they referred to the Old Testament. At that time, the
foremost authority was the oral tradition as a vehicle for Jesus's words and
the teachings of the apostles. The first writings to circulate were Paul's
letters and they occupied a prevalent position long before the Gospels. They
were, after all, written several decades earlier.
already been shown, that contrary to what certain commentators are still
writing today, before 140 A.D. there was no witness to the knowledge that a
collection of Gospel writings existed. It was not until circa 170 A.D. that
the four Gospels acquired the status of canonic literature.
early days of Christianity, many writings on Jesus were in circulation. They
were not subsequently retained as being worthy of authenticity and the
Church ordered them to be hidden, hence their name 'Apocrypha'. Some of the
texts of these works have been well preserved because they "benefitted from
the fact that they were generally valued", to quote the Ecumenical
Translation. The same was true for the Letter of Barnabas, but unfortunately
others were "more brutally thrust aside" and only fragments of them remain.
They were considered to be the messengers of error and were removed from the
sight of the faithful. Works such as the Gospels of the Nazarenes, the
Gospels of the Hebrews and the Gospels of the Egyptians, known through
quotations taken from the Fathers of the Church, were nevertheless fairly
closely related to the canonic Gospels. The same holds good for Thomas's
Gospel and Barnabas's Gospel.
these apocryphal writings contain imaginary details, the product of popular
fantasy. Authors of works on the Apocrypha also quote with obvious
satisfaction passages which are literally ridiculous. Passages such as these
are however to be found in all the Gospels. One has only to think of
the imaginary description of events that Matthew claims took place at
Jesus's death. It is possible to find passages lacking seriousness in all
the early writings of Christianity: One must be honest enough to admit this.
abundance of literature concerning Jesus led the Church to make certain
excisions while the latter was in the process of becoming organized. Perhaps
a hundred Gospels were suppressed. Only four were retained and put on the
official list of neo-Testament writings making up what is called the
middle of the Second century A.D., Marcion of Sinope put heavy pressure on
the ecclesiastic authorities to take a stand on this. He was an ardent enemy
of the Jews and at that time rejected the whole of the Old Testament and
everything in writings produced after Jesus that seemed to him too close to
the Old Testament or to come from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Marcion
only acknowledged the value of Luke's Gospel because, he believed Luke to be
the spokesman of Paul and his writings.
Church declared Marcion a heretic and put into its canon all the Letters of
Paul, but included the other Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They
also added several other works such as the Acts of the Apostles. The
official list nevertheless varies with time during the first centuries of
Christianity. For a while, works that were later considered not to be valid
(i.e. Apocrypha) figured in it, while other works contained in today's New
Testament Canon were excluded from it at this time. These hesitations lasted
until the Councils of Hippo Regius in 393 and Carthage in 397. The four
Gospels always figured in it however.
join Father Boismard in regretting the disappearance of a vast quantity of
literature declared apocryphal by the Church although it was of historical
interest. The above author indeed gives it a place in his Synopsis of the
Four Gospels alongside that of the official Gospels. He notes that these
books still existed in libraries near the end of the Fourth century A.D.
the century that saw things put into serious order. The oldest manuscripts
of the Gospels date from this period. Documents prior to this, i.e. papyri
from the Third century A.D. and one possibly dating from the Second, only
transmit fragments to us. The two oldest parchment manuscripts are Greek,
Fourth century A.D. They are the Codex Vaticanus, preserved in the
Vatican Library and whose place of discovery is unknown, and the Codex
Sinaiticus, which was discovered on Mount Sinai and is now preserved in the
British Museum, London. The second contains two apocryphal works.
to the Ecumenical Translation, two hundred and fifty other known parchments
exist throughout the world, the last of these being from the Eleventh
century A.D. "Not all the copies of the New Testament that have come down to
us are identical" however. "On the contrary, it is possible to distinguish
differences of varying degrees of importance between them, but however
important they may be, there is always a large number of them. Some of these
only concern differences of grammatical detail, vocabulary or word order.
Elsewhere however, differences between manuscripts can be seen which affect
the meaning of whole passages". If one wishes to see the extent of textual
differences, one only has to glance through the Novum Testamentum Graece.
United Bible Societies, London, 1971]
This work contains a so-called 'middle-of-the-road' Greek text. It is a text
of synthesis with notes containing all the variations found in the different
authenticity of a text, and of even the most venerable manuscript, is always
open to debate. The Codex Vaticanus is a good example of this. The
facsimile reproductions edited by the Vatican City, 1965, contains an
accompanying note from its editors informing us that "several centuries
after it was copied (believed to have been in circa the Tenth or Eleventh
century), a scribe inked over all the letters except those he thought were a
mistake". There are passages in the text where the original letters in light
brown still show through, contrasting visibly with the rest of the text
which is in dark brown. There is no indication that it was a faithful
restoration. The note states moreover that "the different hands that
corrected and annotated the manuscript over the centuries have not yet been
definitively discerned; a certain number of corrections were undoubtedly
made when the text was inked over." In all the religious manuals the text is
presented as a Fourth century copy. One has to go to sources at the Vatican
to discover that various hands may have altered the text centuries later.
reply that other texts may be used for comparison, but how does one choose
between variations that change the meaning? It is a well known fact that a
very old scribe's correction can lead to the definitive reproduction of the
corrected text. We shall see further on how a single word in a passage from
John concerning the Paraclete radically alters its meaning and completely
changes its sense when viewed from a theological point of view.
Culmann, in his book, The New Testament, writes the following on the
subject of variations:
"Sometimes the latter are the result of inadvertant flaws: the copier misses
a word out, or conversely writes it twice, or a whole section of a sentence
is carelessly omitted because in the manuscript to be copied it appeared
between two identical words. Sometimes it is a matter of deliberate
corrections, either the copier has taken the liberty of correcting the text
according to his own ideas or he has tried to bring it into line with a
parallel text in a more or less skilful attempt to reduce the number of
discrepancies. As, little by little, the New Testament writings broke away
from the rest of early Christian literature, and came to be regarded as Holy
Scripture, so the copiers became more and more hesitant about taking the
same liberties as their predecessors: they thought they were copying the
authentic text, but in fact wrote down the variations. Finally, a copier
sometimes wrote annotations in the margin to explain an obscure passage. The
following copier, thinking that the sentence he found in the margin had been
left out of the passage by his predecessor, thought it necessary to include
the margin notes in the text. This process often made the new text even more
scribes of some manuscripts sometimes took exceedingly great liberties with
the texts. This is the case of one of the most venerable manuscripts after
the two referred to above, the Sixth century Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis.
The scribe probably noticed the difference between Luke's and Matthew's
genealogy of Jesus, so he put Matthew's genealogy into his copy of Luke, but
as the second contained fewer names than the first, he padded it out with
extra names (without balancing them up).
possible to say that the Latin translations, such as Saint Jerome's Sixth
century Vulgate, or older translations (Vetus Itala), or Syriac and
Coptic translations are any more faithful than the basic Greek manuscripts?
They might have been made from manuscripts older than the ones referred to
above and subsequently lost to the present day. We just do not know.
been possible to group the bulk of these versions into families all bearing
a certain number of common traits. According to O. Culmann, one can define:
so-called Syrian text, whose constitution could have led to the majority
of the oldest Greek manuscripts; this text was widely disseminated
throughout Europe from the Sixteenth century A.D. onwards thanks to
printing. the specialists say that it is probably the worst text.
so-called Western text, with old Latin versions and the Codex Bezae
Cantabrigiensis which is in both Greek and Latin; according to the
Ecumenical Translation, one of its characteristics is a definite
tendency to provide explanations, paraphrases, inaccurate data and 'harmonizations'.
so-called Neutral text, containing the Codex Vaticanus and the
Codex Sinaiticus, is said to have a fairly high level of purity;
modern editions of the New Testament readily follow it, although it too
has its flaws (Ecumenical Translation).
modern textual criticism can do in this respect is to try and reconstitute
"a text which has the most likelihood of coming near to the original. In any
case, there can be no hope of going back to the original text itself."
Gospels and Modern Science
The General Genealogies of Jesus
Gospels contain very few passages which give rise to a confrontation with
modern scientific data.
however, there are many descriptions referring to miracles which hardly lend
themselves to scientific comment. The miracles concern people-the healing of
the sick (the insane, blind, paralytic ; the healing of lepers, resurrection
of Lazarus) as well as the purely material phenomena that lie outside the
laws of nature (the description of Jesus walking on water that held him up,
the changing of the water into wine). Sometimes a natural phenomenon is seen
from an unusual angle by virtue of the fact that the time element is very
short: the immediate calming of the storm, the instantaneous withering of
the fig tree, the miracle catch of fish, as if all the fish in the sea had
come together at exactly the place where the nets were cast.
intervenes in His Omnipotent Power in all these episodes. One need not be
surprised by what He is able to achieve; by human standards it is
stupendous, but for Him it is not. This does not at all mean that a believer
should forget science. A belief in divine miracles and in science is quite
compatible: one is on a divine scale, the other on a human one.
Personally, I am very willing to believe that Jesus cured a leper, but I
cannot accept the fact that a text is declared authentic and inspired by God
when I read that only twenty generations existed between the first man and
Abraham. Luke says this in his Gospel (3, 23-28). We shall see in a moment
the reasons that show why Luke's text, like the Old Testament text on the
same theme, is quite simply a product of human imagination.
Gospels (like the Qur'an) give us the same description of Jesus's biological
origins. The formation of Jesus in the maternal uterus occurred in
circumstances which lay outside the laws of nature common to all human
beings. The ovule produced by the mother's ovary did not need to join with a
spermatozoon, which should have come from his father, to form the embryo and
hence a viable infant. The phenomenon of the birth of a normal individual
without the fertilizing action of the male is called 'parthenogenesis'. In
the animal kingdom, parthenogenesis can be observed under certain
conditions. This is true for various insects, certain invertebrates and,
very occasionally, a select breed of bird. By way of experiment, it has been
possible, for example, in certain mammals (female rabbits), to obtain the
beginnings of a development of the ovule into an embryo at an extremely
rudimentary stage without any intervention of spermatozoon. It was not
possible to go any further however and an example of complete
parthenogenesis, whether experimental or natural, is unknown. Jesus is an
unique case. Mary was a virgin mother. She preserved her virginity and did
not have any children apart from Jesus. Jesus is a biological exception.
[ The Gospels sometimes
refer to Jesus's 'brothers' and 'sisters' (Matthew l3, 46-60 and 64-68; Mark
6, 1-6; John 7, 3 and 2, 12). The Greek words used, adelphoi and adelphai,
indeed signify biological brothers and sisters; they are most probably a
defective translation of the original Semitic words which just mean 'kin'.
in this instance they were perhaps cousins.]
THE GENEALOGIES OF JESUS
genealogies contained in Matthew's and Luke's Gospels give rise to problems
of verisimilitude, and conformity with scientific data, and hence
authenticity. These problems are a source of great embarrassment to
Christian commentators because the latter refuse to see in them what is very
obviously the product of human imagination. The authors of the Sacerdotal
text of Genesis, Sixth century B.C., had already been inspired by
imagination for their genealogies of the first men. It again inspired
Matthew and Luke for the data they did not take from the Old Testament.
straight away note that the male genealogies have absolutely no relevance to
Jesus. Were one to give a genealogy to Mary's only son, who was without a
biological father, it would have to be the genealogy of his mother Mary.
the text of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, 1952:
genealogy according to Matthew is at the beginning of his Gospel:
BOOK OF THE GENEALOGY OF JESUS CHRIST,
THE SON OF DAVID, THE SON OF ABRAHAM.
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
the time of the deportation to Babylon.
After the deportation to Babylon:
the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
was the father of
of whom Jesus was born, who
Judah and his brothers
Perez and Zerah by Tamar
Boaz by Rahab
Obed by Ruth
David the king
Solomon by the wife of Uriah
Jechoniah and his brothers
Joseph the husband of Mary
was called Christ.
the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from
David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the
deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations". (Matthew, I,
genealogy given by Luke (3, 23-38) is different from Matthew. The text
reproduced here is from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible:
when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as
was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of
Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, the son of
Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of
Naggai, the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son
of Josech, the son of Joda, the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of
Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, the sOn of Melchi, the
son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, the son of
Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of
Levi, the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of
Jonam, the son of Eliakim, the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of
Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of
Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon, the son of
Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Ami, the SOD of Hezron, the son of
Perez, the son of Judah, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of
Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, the son of Serug, the son of
Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, the son of Cainan,
the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech,
the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of
Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of
Adam, the son of God."
genealogies appear more clearly when presented in two tables, one showing
the genealogy before David and the other after him.
GENEALOGY OF JESUS, BEFORE DAVID
Matthew does not mention
any name before Abraham.
According to Luke
GENEALOGY OF JESUS, AFTER DAVID
Deportation to Babylon
According to Luke
VARIATIONS IN THE MANUSCRIPTS AND IN RELATION TO THE OLD TESTAMENT
from variations in spelling, the following must be mentioned:
genealogy has disappeared from the Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis, a
very important Six century manuscript in both Greek and Latin. It has
completely disappeared from the Greek text and also a large part of the
Latin text. It may quite simply be that the first pages were lost.
note here the great liberties Matthew has taken with the Old Testament. He
has pared down the genealogies for the sake of a strange numerical
demonstration (which, in the end, he does not give, as we shall see).
Before Abraham: Luke mentions 20 names;
the Old Testament only mentions 19 (see table of Adam's descendants in the
Old Testament section of this work). After Arphaxad (No. 12) , Luke has
added a person called Cainan (No. 13), who is not mentioned in Genesis as
the son of Arphaxad.
From Abraham to David: 14 to 16 names are
found according to the manuscripts.
From David to Jesus.
important variation is the Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis which
attributes to Luke a whimsical genealogy taken from Matthew and to which the
scribe has added five names. Unfortunately, the genealogy of Matthew's
Gospel has disappeared from this manuscript, so that comparison is no longer
CRITICAL EXAMINATION OF THE TEXTS
here faced with two different genealogies having one essential point in
common, i.e. they both pass via Abraham and David. To make this examination
easier, we shall separate the whole into three critical sections:
Adam to Abraham.
-From Abraham to David.
-From David to Jesus.
1. The Period from Adam to Abraham
began his genealogy with Abraham so we are not concerned with his text here.
Luke alone provides information on Abraham's ancestors going back to Adam:
20 names, 19 of which are to be found in Genesis (chapters 4, 5 and 11), as
has already been stated.
possible to believe that only 19 or 20 generations of human beings existed
before Abraham? The problem has been examined in the discussion of the Old
Testament. If one looks at the table of Adam's descendants, based on Genesis
and giving figures for the time element contained in the Biblical text, one
can see that roughly nineteen centuries passed between man's appearance on
earth and the birth of Abraham. Today it is estimated that Abraham Was alive
in circa 1850 B.C. and it has been deduced from this that the information
provided by the Old Testament places man's appearance on earth at roughly
thirty-eight centuries B.C. Luke was obviously guided by these data for his
Gospel. He expresses a blatant untruth for having copied them down and we
have already seen the decisive historical arguments leading to this
that Old Testament data are unacceptable in the present day is duly
admitted; they belong to the 'obsolete' material referred to by the Second
Vatican Council. The fact, however that the Gospels take up the same
scientifically incompatible data is an extremely serious observation which
may be used to oppose those who defend the historical accuracy of the Gospel
Commentators have quickly sensed this danger. They try to get round the
difficulty by saying that it is not a complete genealogical tree, that the
evangelist has missed names out. They claim that this was done quite
deliberately, and that his sole "intention was to establish the broad lines
or essential elements of a line of descent based on historical reality."
[ A. Tricot, Little
Dictionary of the New Testament (Petit Dictionnaire du Nouveau Testament in
"La Sainte Bible", Desclée, Pub. Paris)]
There is nothing in the texts that permits them to form this hypothesis. In
the text it says quite clearly: A was the father of B, or B was the son of
A. For the part preceding Abraham in particular, the evangelist draws
moreover on the Old Testament where the genealogies are set out in the
had lived n years, he became the father of Y . . . When Y had lived n
years, he became the father of Z. . . .
There is therefore no break.
The part of Jesus's genealogy according to Luke, which precedes Abraham, is
not acceptable in the light of modern knowledge.
2. The Period from Abraham to David.
two genealogies tally (or almost), excepting one or two names: the
difference may be explained by copiers' errors.
mean that the evangelists are to be considered accurate?
situates David at circa 1000 B.C. and Abraham at 1800-1860 B.C.: 14 to 16
generations for roughly eight centuries. Can one believe this? One might say
that for this period the Gospel texts are at the very limit of the
3. The Post-David Period.
It is a
great pity, but unfortunately the texts no longer tally at all when it comes
to establishing Joseph's line from David, and figuratively speaking, Jesus's,
for the Gospel.
aside the obvious falsification in the Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis
concerning Luke, let us now compare what the two most venerable manuscripts
have to offer: the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus.
genealogy according to Luke 42 names are placed after David (No. 35) down to
Jesus (No. 77). In the genealogy according to Matthew 27 are mentioned after
David (No. 14) down to Jesus (No. 41). The number of (fictitious) ancestors
given to Jesus after David is therefore different in the two Gospels. The
names themselves are different as well.
tells us that he discovered how Jesus's genealogy split up after Abraham
into three groups of 14 names; first group from Abraham to David; second
from David to the deportation to Babylon; third from the deportation to
Jesus. His text does indeed contain 14 names in the first two groups, but in
the third-from the deportation to Jesus-there are only 13 and not 14, as
expected; the table shows that Shealthiel is No. 29 and Jesus No. 41. There
is no variation of Matthew that gives 14 names for this group.
himself to have 14 names in his second group, Matthew takes very great
liberties with the Old Testament text. The names of the first six
descendants of David (No. 15 to 20) tally with the data in the Old
Testament, but the three descendants of Ioram (No. 20), given in Chronicles
11 of the Bible as Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah, are suppressed by Matthew.
Elsewhere, Jechoniah (No. 28) is for Matthew the son of Josiah, although
Kings II of the Bible tells us that Eliakim comes between Josiah and
It may be
seen from this that Matthew has altered the genealogical lines in the Old
Testament to present an artificial group of 14 names between David and the
deportation to Babylon. There is also the fact that one name is missing in
Matthew's third group, so that none of the present-day Gospel texts contains
the 42 names mentioned. What is surprising is not so much the existence of
the omission itself (explained perhaps by a very old scribe's error that was
subsequently perpetuated), but the almost total silence of commentators on
this subject. How can one miss this omission? W. Trilling breaks this pious
conspiracy of silence in his book The Gospel According to Matthew (L'Evangile
selon Matthieu) [ Pub.
Desclée, coll. 'Parole et Prière', Paris.]
by devoting one line to it. It is a fact which is of considerable importance
because the commentators of this Gospel, including the Ecumenical
Translation and Cardinal Daniélou among others, stress the great symbolical
significance of Matthew's 3 x 14. This significance was so important for the
evangelist that he suppressed Biblical names without hesitation to arrive at
his numerical demonstration.
this hold good, commentators will, no doubt, construct some reassuring
statements of an apologetic nature, justifying the fact that names have been
craftily suppressed and carefully avoiding the omission that undermines the
whole point of what the evangelist was trying to show.
COMMENTARIES OF MODERN EXPERTS IN EXEGESIS
book The Gospels of Childhood (1967) Les Evangiles de l'Enfance)
[ Pub. Editions du Seuil,
Daniélou invests Matthew's 'numerical schematisation' with a symbolic value
of paramount importance since it is this that establishes Jesus's ancestry,
which is asserted also by Luke. For him Luke and Matthew are 'historians'
who have completed their 'historical investigations', and the , genealogy'
has been 'taken down from the archives of Jesus family'. It must be added
here that the archives have never been found.
[ Although the author assures us
that he knows of the existence of these supposed family archives from the
Ecclesiastic History by Eusebius Pamphili (about whose respectability much
could be said), it is difficult to see why Jesus's family should have two
genealogical trees that were necessarily different just because each of the
two so-called 'historians' gave a genealogy substantially different from the
other concerning the names of those who figure among Jesus's ancestors.]
Cardinal Daniélou condemns out of hand anyone who criticizes his point of
view. "It is the Western mentality, ignorance of Judeo-Christianity and the
absence of a Semitic outlook that have made so many experts in exegesis
loose their way when interpreting the Gospels. They have projected their own
categories onto them: (sic) Platonic, Cartesian, Hegelian and Heideggerian.
It is easy to see why everything is mixed up in their minds." Plato,
Descartes, Hegel and Heidegger obviously have nothing to do with the
critical attitude one may have towards these whimsical genealogies.
search for the meaning of Matthew's 3 x 14, the author expands on strange
suppositions. They are worth quoting here: "What may be meant are the common
ten weeks of the Jewish Apocalypse. The first three, corresponding to the
time from Adam to Abraham, would have been subtracted; seven weeks of years
would then remain, the first six would correspond to the six times seven
representing the three groups of fourteen and leaving the seventh, started
by Christ with whom the seventh age of the world begins." Explanations like
this are beyond comment!
commentators of the Ecumenical Translation-New Testament-also give us
numerical variations of an apologetic nature which are equally unexpected:
For Matthew's 3 x 14:
could be the numerical total of the 3 consonants in the Hebrew name David
(D= 4, V= 6), hence 4+6+4= 14.
b) 3 x 14
= 6 x 7 and "Jesus came at the end of the sixth week of Holy history
beginning with Abraham."
this translation gives 77 names from Adam to Jesus, allowing the number 7 to
come up again, this time by dividing 77 by 7 (7x 11= 77). It is quite
apparent that for Luke the number of variations where words are added or
subtracted is such that a list of 77 names is completely artificial. It does
however have the advantage of adapting itself to these numerical games.
genealogies of Jesus as they appear in the Gospels may perhaps be the
subject that has led Christian commentators to perform their most
characteristic feats of dialectic acrobatics, on par indeed with Luke's and
and Improbabilities in the Descriptions
the four Gospels contains a large number of descriptions of events that may
be unique to one single Gospel or common to several if not all of them. When
they are unique to one Gospel, they sometimes raise serious problems. Thus,
in the case of an event of considerable importance, it is surprising to find
the event mentioned by only one evangelist; Jesus's Ascension into heaven on
the day of Resurrection, for example. Elsewhere, numerous events are
differently described-sometimes very differently indeed-by two or more
evangelists. Christians are very often astonished at the existence of such
contradictions between the Gospels-if they ever discover them. This is
because they have been repeatedly told in tones of the greatest assurance
that the New Testament authors were the eyewitnesses of the events they
these disturbing improbabilities and contradictions have been shown in
previous chapters. It is however the later events of Jesus's life in
particular, along with the events following the Passion, that form the
subject of varying or contradictory descriptions.
DESCRIPTIONS OF THE PASSION
Roguet himself notes that Passover is placed at different times in relation
to Jesus's Last Supper with His disciples in the Synoptic Gospels and John's
Gospel. John places the Last Supper 'before the Passover celebrations' and
the other three evangelists place it during the celebrations themselves.
Obvious improbabilities emerge from this divergence: a certain episode
becomes impossible because of the position of Passover in relation to it.
When one knows the importance it had in the Jewish liturgy and the
importance of the meal where Jesus bids farewell to his disciples, how is it
possible to believe that the memory of one event in relation to the other
could have faded to such an extent in the tradition recorded later by the
On a more
general level, the descriptions of the Passion differ from one evangelist to
another, and more particularly between John and the first three Gospels. The
Last Supper and the Passion in John's Gospel are both very long, twice as
long as in Mark and Luke, and roughly one and a half times as long as
Matthew's text. John records a very long speech of Jesus to His disciples
which takes up four chapters (14 to 17) of his Gospel. During this crowning
speech, Jesus announces that He will leave His last instructions and gives
them His last spiritual testament. There is no trace of this in the other
Gospels. The same process can work the other way however; Matthew, Luke and
Mark all relate Jesus's prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, but John does
not mention it.
JOHN'S GOSPEL DOES NOT DESCRIBE THE INSTITUTION OF THE EUCHARIST
important fact that strikes the reader of the Passion in John's Gospel is
that he makes absolutely no reference to the institution of the Eucharist
during the Last Supper of Jesus with His Apostles.
not a single Christian who does not know the iconography of the Last Supper,
where Jesus is for the last time seated among His Apostles at table. The
world's greatest painters have always represented this final gathering with
John sitting near Jesus, John whom we are accustomed to considering as the
author of the Gospel bearing that name.
astonishing it may appear to many , the majority of specialists do not
consider John to have been the author of the fourth Gospel, nor does the
latter mention the institution of the Eucharist. The consecration of the
bread and wine, which become the body and blood of Jesus, is the most
essential act of the Christian liturgy. The other evangelists refer to it,
even if they do so in differing terms, as we have noted above. John does not
say anything about it. The four evangelists' descriptions have only two
single points in common: the prediction of Peter's denial and of the
betrayal by one of the Apostles (Judas Iscariot is only actually named in
Matthew and John). John's description is the only one which refers to Jesus
washing his disciples' feet at the beginning of the meal.
this omission in John's Gospel be explained?
If one reasons objectively, the hypothesis that springs immediately to mind
(always supposing the story as told by the other three evangelists is exact)
is that a passage of John's Gospel relating the said episode was lost. This
is not the conclusion arrived at by Christian commentators.
now examine some of the positions they have adopted.
In his Little Dictionary of the New Testament (Petit Dictionnaire du
Nouveau Testament) A. Tricot makes the following entry under Last Supper
(Cène). "Last meal Jesus partook of with the Twelve Disciples during which
he instituted the Eucharist. It is described in the Synoptic Gospels"
(references to Matthew, Mark and Luke) . ". . . and the fourth Gospel gives
us further details" (references to John). In his entry on the Eucharist (Eucharistie),
the same author writes the following. "The institution of the Eucharist is
briefly related in the first three Gospels: it was an extremely important
part of the Apostolic system of religious instruction. Saint John has added
an indispensable complement to these brief descriptions in his account of
Jesus's speech on the bread of life (6, 32-58)." The commentator
consequently fails to mention that John does not describe Jesus's intitution
of the Eucharist. The author speaks of 'complementary details', but they are
not complementary to the institution of the Eucharist (he basically
describes the ceremony of the washing of the Apostles' feet). The
commentator speaks of the 'bread of life', but it is Jesus's reference
(quite separate from the Last Supper) to God's daily gift of manna in the
wilderness at the time of the Jews' exodus led by Moses. John is the only
one of the evangelists who records this allusion. In the following passage
of his Gospel, John does, of course, mention Jesus's reference to the
Eucharist in the form of a digression on the bread, but no other evangelist
speaks of this episode.
surprised therefore both by John's silence on what the other three
evangelists relate and their silence on what, according to John, Jesus is
said to have predicted.
commentators of the Ecumenical Translation of the Bible, New Testament,
do actually acknowledge this omission in John's Gospel. This is the
explanation they come up with to account for the fact that the description
of the institution of the Eucharist is missing: "In general, John is not
very interested in the traditions and institutions of a bygone Israel. This
may have dissuaded him from showing the establishment of the Eucharist in
the Passover liturgy". Are we seriously to believe that it was a lack of
interest in the Jewish Passover liturgy that led John not to describe the
institution of the most fundamental act. in the liturgy of the new religion?
experts in exegesis are so embarrassed by the problem that theologians rack
their brains to find prefigurations or equivalents of the Eucharist in
episodes of Jesus's life recorded by John. O. Culmann for example, in his
book, The New Testament (Le Nouveau Testament), states that "the
changing of the water into wine and the feeding of the five thousand
prefigure the sacrament of the Last Supper (the 'Eucharist')". It is to be
remembered that the water was changed into wine because the latter had
failed at a wedding in Cana. (This was Jesus's first miracle, described by
John in chapter 2, 1-12. He is the only evangelist to do so). In the case of
the feeding of the five thousand, this was the number of people who were fed
on 5 barley loaves that were miraculously multiplied. When describing these
events, John makes no special comment, and the parallel exists only in the
mind of this expert in exegesis. One can no more understand the reasoning
behind the parallel he draws than his view that the curing of a paralyzed
man and of a man born blind 'predict the baptism' and that 'the water and
blood issuing from Jesus's side after his death unite in a single fact' a
reference to both baptism and the Eucharist.
parallel drawn by the same expert in exegesis conconcerning the Eucharist is
quoted by Father Roguet in his book Initiation to the Gospel (Initiation à
l'Evangile). "Some theologians, such as Oscar Culmann, see in the
description of the washing of the feet before the Last Supper a symbolical
equivalent to the institution of the Eucharist . . ."
difficult to see the cogency of all the parallels that commentators have
invented to help people accept more readily the most disconcerting omission
in John's Gospel.
APPEARANCES OF JESUS RAISED FROM THE DEAD
example of imagination at work in a description has already been given in
the portrayal of the abnormal phenomena said to have accompanied Jesus's
death given in Matthew's Gospel. The events that followed the Resurrection
provided material for contradictory and even absurd descriptions on the part
of all the evangelists.
Roguet in his Initiation to the Gospel (Initiation à l'Evangile),
page 182, provides examples of the confusion, disorder and contradiction
reigning in these writings:
of women who came to the tomb is not exactly the same in each of the three
Synoptic Gospels. In John only one woman came: Mary Magdalene. She speaks in
the plural however, as if she were accompanied: 'we do not know where they
have laid him.' In Matthew the Angel predicts to the women that they will
see Jesus in Galilee. A few moments later however, Jesus joins them beside
the tomb. Luke probably sensed this difficulty and altered the source a
little. The Angel says: "Remember how he told you, while he was still in
Galilee . . .' In fact, Luke only actually refers to three appearances . .
."-"John places two appearances at an interval of one week in the upper room
at Jerusalem and the third beside the lake, in Galilee therefore. Matthew
records only one appearance in Galilee." The commentator excludes from this
examination the last section of Mark's Gospel concerning the appearances
because he believes this was 'probably written by another hand'.
facts contradict the mention of Jesus's appearances, contained in Paul's
First Letter to the Corinthians (15,5-7), to more than five hundred
people at once, to James, to all the Apostles and, of course, to Paul
this, it is surprising therefore to find that Father Roguet stigmatizes, in
the same book, the 'grandiloquent and puerile phantasms of certain
Apocrypha' when talking of the Resurrection. Surely these terms are
perfectly appropriate to Matthew and Paul themselves: they are indeed in
complete contradiction with the other Apostles on the subject of the
appearances of Jesus raised from the dead.
from this, there is a contradiction between Luke's description, in the Acts
of the Apostles, of Jesus's appearance to Paul and what Paul himself
succinctly tells us of it. This has led Father Kannengiesser in his book,
Faith in the Resurrection, Resurrection of Faith (Foi en la
Resurrection, Resurrection de la Foi), 1974, to stress that Paul, who was
'the sole eyewitness of Christ's resurrection, whose voice comes directly to
us from his writings [
'No other New Testament author can claim that distinction', he notes.],
never speaks of his personal encounter with Him Who was raised from the
dead-'. . . except for three extremely , 'he refrains moreover from
describing discreet references . . . it.'
contradiction between Paul, who was the sole eyewitness but is dubious, and
the Gospels is quite obvious.
Culmann in his book, The New Testament (Le Nouveau Testament), notes
the contradictions between Luke and Matthew. The first situates Jesus's
appearances in Judea, the second in Galilee.
should also remember the Luke-John contradiction.
1-14) relates an episode in which Jesus raised from the dead appears to the
fishermen beside the Sea of Tiberias; they subsequently catch so many fish
that they are unable to bring them all in. This is nothing other than a
repetition of the miracle catch of fish episode which took place at the same
spot and was also described by Luke (5, 1-11), as an event of Jesus's life.
talking of these appearances, Father Roguet assures us in his book that
'their disjointed, blurred and disordered character inspires confidence'
because all these facts go to show that there was no connivance between the
evangelists [ It is
difficult to see how there could have been!],
otherwise they would definitely have co-ordinated their stories. This is
indeed a strange line of argument. In actual fact, they could all have
recorded, with complete sincerity, traditions of the communities which
(unknown to them) all contained elements of fantasy. This hypothesis in
unavoidable when one is faced with so many contradictions and
improbabilities in the description of of events.
ASCENSION OF JESUS
Contradictions are present until the very end of the descriptions because
neither John nor Matthew refer to Jesus's Ascension. Mark and Luke are the
only one to speak of it.
(16, 19), Jesus was 'taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of
God' without any precise date being given in relation to His Resurrection.
It must however be noted that the final passage of Mark containing this
sentence is, for Father Roguet, an 'invented' text, although for the Church
it is canonic!
remains Luke, the only evangelist to provide an undisputed text of the
Ascension episode (24, 51): 'he parted from them
[ i.e. the eleven Apostles;
Judos, the twelfth, was already dead.]
and was carried up into heaven'. The evangelist places the event at the end
of the description of the Resurrection and appearance to the eleven
Apostles: the details of the Gospel description imply that the Ascension
took place on the day of the Resurrection. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke
(whom everybody believes to be their author) describes in chapter 1, 3
Jesus's appearance to the Apostles, between the Passion and the Ascension,
in the following terms:
he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to
them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God."
placing of the Christian festival of the Ascension at forty days after
Easter, the Festival of the Resurrection, originates from this passage in
the Acts of the Apostles. The date is therefore set in contradiction to
Luke's Gospel: none of the other Gospel texts say anything to justify this
in a different way.
Christian who is aware of this situation is highly disconcerted by the
obviousness of the contradiction. The Ecumenical Translation of the
Bible, New Testament, acknowledges the facts but does not expand on the
contradiction. It limits itself to noting the relevance the forty days may
have had to Jesus's mission.
Commentators wishing to explain everything and reconcile the irreconciliable
provide some strange interpretations on this subject.
Synopsis of the Four Gospels edited in 1972 by the Bibli cal School of
Jerusalem (vol. 2, page 451) contains, for example, some very strange
word , Ascension' is criticized as follows: "In fact there was no ascension
in the actual physical sense because God is no more 'on high' than he is
'below' " (sic). It is difficult to grasp the sense of this comment because
one wonders how Luke could otherwise have expressed himself.
Elsewhere, the author of this commentary sees a 'literary artifice' in the
fact that "in the Acts, the Ascension is said to have taken place forty days
after the resurrection". this 'artifice' is "intended to stress the notion
that the period of Jesus's appearances on earth is at an end". He adds
however, in relation to the fact that in Luke's Gospel, "the event is
situated during the evening of Easter Sunday, because the evangelist does
not put any breaks between the various episodes recorded following the
discovery of the empty tomb on the morning of the resurrection..."-". . .
surely this is also a literary artifice, intended to allow a certain lapse
of time before the appearance of Jesus raised from the dead." (sic)
feeling of embarrassment that surrounds these interpretations is even more
obvious in Father Roguet's book. He discerns not one, but two Ascensions!
from Jesus's point of view the Ascension coincides with the Resurrection,
from the disciples' point of view it does not take place until Jesus ceases
definitely to present Himself to them, so that the Spirit may be given to
them and the period of the Church may begin."
readers who are not quite able to grasp the theological subtlety of his
argument (which has absolutely no Scriptural basis whatsoever), the author
issues the following general warning, which is a model of apologetical
in many similar cases, the problem only appears insuperable if one takes
Biblical statements literally, and forgets their religious significance. It
is not a matter of breaking down the factual reality into a symbolism which
is inconsistent, but rather of looking for the theological intentions of
those revealing these mysteries to us by providing us with facts we can
apprehend with our senses and signs appropriate to our incarnate spirit."
JESUS'S LAST DIALOGUES - THE PARACLETE OF JOHN'S GOSPEL
the only evangelist to report the episode of the last dialogue with the
Apostles. It takes place at the end of the Last Supper and before Jesus's
arrest. It ends in a very long speech: four chapters in John's Gospel (14 to
17) are devoted to this narration which is not mentioned anywhere in the
other Gospels. These chapters of John nevertheless deal with questions of
prime importance and fundamental significance to the future outlook. They
are set out with all the grandeur and solemnity that characterizes the
farewell scene between the Master and His disciples.
touching farewell scene which contains Jesus's spiritual testament, is
entirely absent from Matthew, Mark and Luke. How can the absence of this
description be explained? One might ask the following. did the text
initially exist in the first three Gospels? Was it subsequently suppressed?
Why? It must be stated immediately that no answer can be found; the mystery
surrounding this huge gap in the narrations of the first three evangelists
remains as obscure as ever.
dominating feature of this narration-seen in the crowning speech-is the view
of man's future that Jesus describes, His care in addressing His disciples,
and through them the whole of humanity, His recommendations and commandments
and His concern to specify the guide whom man must follow after His
departure. The text of John's Gospel is the only one to designate him as
Parakletos in Greek, which in English has become 'Paraclete'. The
following are the essential passages:
love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he
will give you another Paraclete." (14, 15-16)
'Paraclete' mean? The present text of John's Gospel explains its
meaning as follows:
Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will
teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to
you" (14, 26).
"he will bear witness to me" (15, 26).
"it is to
your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Paraclete will
not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he
will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment . . ."
Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not
speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will
declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me . . ."
be noted that the passages in John, chapters 14-17, which have not been
cited here, in no way alter the general meaning of these quotations).
cursory reading, the text which identifies the Greek word 'Paraclete' with
the Holy Spirit is unlikely to attract much attention. This is especially
true when the subtitles of the text are generally used for translations and
the terminology commentators employ in works for mass publication direct the
reader towards the meaning in these passages that an exemplary orthodoxy
would like them to have. Should one have the slightest dimculty in
comprehension, there are many explanations available, such as those given by
A. Tricot in his Little Dictionary of the New Testament (Petit
Dictionnaire du Nouveau Testament) to enlighten one on this subject. In his
entry on the Paraclete this commentator writes the following:
name or title translated from the Greek is only used in the New Testament by
John: he uses it four times in his account of Jesus's speech after the Last
Supper [ In fact, for
John it was during the Last Supper itself that Jesus delivered the long
speech that mentions the Paraclete.]
(14, 16 and 26; 15, 26; 16, 7) and once in his First Letter (2, 1). In
John's Gospel the word is applied to the Holy Spirit; in the Letter it
refers to Christ. 'Paraclete' was a term in current usage among the
Hellenist Jews, First century A.D., meaning 'intercessor', 'defender' (. .
.) Jesus predicts that the Spirit will be sent by the Father and Son. Its
mission will be to take the place of the Son in the role he played during
his mortal life as a helper for the benefit of his disciples. The Spirit
will intervene and act as a substitute for Christ, adopting the role of
Paraclete or omnipotent intercessor."
commentary therefore makes the Holy Spirit into the ultimate guide of man
after Jesus's departure. How does it square with John's text?
It is a
necessary question because a priori it seems strange to ascribe the
last paragraph quoted above to the Holy Spirit: "for he will not speak on
his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare
to you the things that are to come." It seems inconceivable that one could
ascribe to the Holy Spirit the ability to speak and declare whatever he
hears . . . Logic demands that this question be raised, but to my knowledge,
it is not usually the subject of commentaries.
an exact idea of the problem, one has to go back to the basic Greek text.
This is especially important because John is universally recognized to have
written in Greek instead of another language. The Greek text consulted was
the Novum Testamentum Graece
[ Nestlé and Aland. Pub. United
Bibles Societies, London, 1971.].
serious textual criticism begins with a search for variations. Here it would
seem that in all the known manuscripts of John's Gospel, the only variation
likely to change the meaning of the sentence Is in passage 14, 26 of the
famous Palimpsest version written in Syriac
[ This manuscript was written in
the Fourth or Fifth century A.D. It was discovered in 1812 on Mount Sinai by
Agnes S.-Lewis and is so named because the first text had been covered by a
later one which, when obliterated, revealed the original.].
Here it is not the Holy Spirit that is mentioned, but quite simply the
Spirit. Did the scribe merely miss out a word or, knowing full well that the
text he was to copy claimed to make the Holy Spirit hear and speak, did he
perhaps lack the audacity to write something that seemed absurd to him?
Apart from this observation there is little need to labour the other
variations, they are grammatical and do not change the general meaning. The
important thing is that what has been demonstrated here with regard to the
exact meaning of the verbs 'to hear' and 'to speak' should apply to all the
other manuscripts of John's Gospel, as is indeed the case.
'to hear, in the translation is the Greek verb 'akouô' meaning to
perceive sounds. It has, for example, given us the word 'acoustics', the
science of sounds.
'to speak' in the translation is the Greek verb 'laleô' which has the
general meaning of 'to emit sounds' and the specific meaning of 'to speak'.
This verb occurs very frequently in the Greek text of the Gospels. It
designates a solemn declaration made by Jesus during His preachings. It
therefore becomes clear that the communication to man which He here
proclaims does not in any way consist of a statement inspired by the agency
of the Holy Spirit. It has a very obvious material character moreover, which
comes from the idea of the emission of sounds conveyed by the Greek word
that defines it.
Greek verbs 'akouô' and 'laleô' therefore define concrete
actions which can only be applied to a being with hearing and speech organs.
It is consequently impossible to apply them to the Holy Spirit.
reason, the text of this passage from John's Gospel, as handed down to us in
Greek manuscripts, is quite incomprehensible if one takes it as a whole,
including the words 'Holy Spirit' in passage 14, 26. "But the Paraclete, the
Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name" etc. It is the only
passage in John's Gospel that identifies the Paraclete with the Holy Spirit.
words 'Holy Spirit' (to pneuma to agion) are ommitted from the
passage, the complete text of John then conveys a meaning which is perfectly
clear. It is confirmed moreover, by another text by the same evangelist, the
First Letter, where John uses the same word 'Paraclete' simply to mean
Jesus, the intercessor at God's side
[ Many translations and
commentaries of the Gospel, especially older ones, use the word 'Consoler'
to translate this, but it is totally inaccurate.].
According to John, when Jesus says (14, 16): "And I will pray the Father,
and he will give you another Paraclete", what He is saying is that 'another'
intercessor will be sent to man, as He Himself was at God's side on man's
behalf during His earthly life.
to the rules of logic therefore, one is brought to see in John's Paraclete a
human being like Jesus, possessing the faculties of hearing and speech
formally implied in John's Greek text. Jesus therefore predicts that God
will later send a human being to Earth to take up the role defined by John,
i.e. to be a prophet who hears God's word and repeats his message to man.
This is the logical interpretation of John's texts arrived at if one
attributes to the words their proper meaning.
presence of the term 'Holy Spirit' in today's text could easily have come
from a later addition made quite deliberately. It may have been intended to
change the original meaning which predicted the advent of a prophet
subsequent to Jesus and was therefore in contradiction with the teachings of
the Christian churches at the time of their formation; these teachings
maintained that Jesus was the last of the prophets.
recorded here and the commentaries quoted from several extremely eminent
Christian experts in exegesis have refuted affirmations of orthodoxy
supported by the line adopted by the last Council on the absolute historical
authenticity of the Gospels. These are said to have faithfully transmitted
what Jesus actually did and taught.
different kinds of argument have been given.
quotations from the Gospels themselves show flat contradictions. It is
impossible to believe two facts that contradict each other. Neither can one
accept certain improbabilities and affirmations that go against the
cast-iron data provided by modern knowledge. In this respect, the two
genealogies of Jesus given in the Gospels and the untruths implied in them
are quite conclusive.
contradictions, improbabilities and incompatibilities pass unnoticed by many
Christians. They are astonished when they discover them because they have
been influenced by their reading of commentaries that provide subtle
explanations calculated to reassure them and orchestrated by an apologetic
lyricism. Some very typical examples have been given of the skill employed
by certain experts in exegesis in camouflaging what they modestly call
'difficulties'. There are very few passages indeed in the Gospels that have
been acknowledged as inauthentic although the Church declares them canonic.
to Father Kannengiesser, works of modern textual criticism have revealed
data which constitute a 'revolution in methods of Biblical exegesis' so that
the facts relating to Jesus recorded in the Gospels are no longer 'to be
taken literally', they are 'writings suited to an occasion' or 'combat
writings'. Modern knowledge has brought to light the history of
Judeo-Christianity and the rivalry between communities which accounts for
the existence of facts that today's readers find disconcerting. The concept
of eyewitness evangelists is no longer defensible, although numerous
Christians still retain it today. The work done at the Biblical School of
Jerusalem (Fathers Benoit and Boismard) shows very clearly that the Gospels
were written, revised and corrected several times. They also warn the reader
that he is "obliged in more than one case to give up the notion of hearing
Jesus' voice directly".
historical nature of the Gospels is beyond question. Through descriptions
referring to Jesus however, these documents provide us above all with
information about the character of their authors, the spokesmen for the
tradition of the early Christian communities to which they belonged, and in
particular about the struggle between the Judeo-Christians and Paul:
Cardinal Daniélou's work is authoritative on these points.
surprised by the fact that some evangelists distort certain events in
Jesus's life with the object of defending a personal point of view? Why be
surprised by the omission of certain events? Why be surprised by the
fictitious nature of other events described?
leads us to compare the Gospels with the narrative poems found in Medieval
literature. A vivid comparison could be made with the Song of Roland
(Chanson de Roland), the most well-known of all poems of this kind, which
relates a real event in a fictitious light. It will be remembered that it
describes an actual episode: Roland was leading Charlemagne's rear-guard
when it was ambushed on the pass at Roncevaux. The episode which was of
minor importance, is said to have taken place on the 15th August, 778
according to historical records (Eginhard). It was raised to the stature of
a great feat of arms, a battle in a war of religion. It is a whimsical
description, but the imaginary element does not obliterate one of the real
battles that Charlemagne had to fight in order to protect his frontiers
against the attempts made by neighbouring peoples to penetrate his borders.
That is the element of truth and the epic style of narrative does not remove
holds true for the Gospels: Matthew's phantasms, the fiat contradictions
between Gospels, the improbabilities, the incompatibilities with modern
scientific data, the successive distortions of the text-all these things add
up to the fact that the Gospels contain chapters and passages that are the
sole product of the human imagination. These flaws do not however cast doubt
on the existence of Jesus's mission: the doubt is solely confined to the
course it took.