Certain basic ideas are grounded in fact but become mired in fiction. Sometimes I feel like a broken record. I tell people a fact, but it just doesn’t register.
Here are some examples:
- My most frequently stated fact is this: Jesus was born a Jew, lived the life of a committed Jew, and died a Jew. He had no conception of Christianity. During Jesus’s, Paul’s, and the disciples’ lifetimes, the word Christian didn’t exist. No one knows exactly when the word was first used to describe followers of this new religion, but it had to have been after the Jesus movement split from Judaism.
I restated this fact the other day, and within fifteen minutes, someone suggested that Jesus had “Christian ideas.” Yikes! How can a Jew who never heard the word have Christian ideas?
- I’ll probably receive numerous emails telling me that the word Christian is mentioned in three places in the New Testament—Acts 11:26 and 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16—which brings me to my second most frequently repeated fact.
The New Testament tells the events of Jesus’s life as if they just happened. In reality, the first stories about Jesus never appeared in written form until about 70 CE, when the Gospel of Mark was written. This was about forty years after Jesus died. (I don’t count Paul as an accurate source about Jesus. Paul, who ministered between the thirties and sixties CE, never met Jesus. But he did invent lots of fiction about Jesus.)
The Gospel of Matthew was likely written between 80 and 90 CE, fifty to sixty-five years after Jesus died. The author of Luke and Acts likely wrote his “history” of Jesus and the early church between 80 and 110 CE. Although Acts uses the word Christian, that book wasn’t written until maybe fifty to eighty years after the very Jewish Jesus died. Scholars estimate that 1 Peter (not by the disciple Peter) was written sometime in the second century. The word Christian was never used until decades after Jesus died.
In my classes, I use a visual aid (see photo above). On one side, it says, “BCE to 33 CE” (33 CE is the date I use for Jesus’s death). On the other side, it says, “After 33 CE to now.” So, if I quote from the New Testament or talk about Jesus during his lifetime, I use the “BCE to 33 CE” side. However, if I talk about when the story was written, I turn the panel over to the “After 33 CE to now” side.
For example, if I quote Mark 1:9, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan,” I’m talking about an event during Jesus’s lifetime, so the sign says, “BCE to 33 CE.” However, when I then talk about how Mark knew about this event, I turn the panel over to “After 33 CE to now” No one followed Jesus around taking notes and photos. The stories about his ministry came from oral tradition, which circulated for about forty years before being written down. Can you imagine how much those stories changed during that interval?
My broken record keeps trying to convince people that a huge time gap exists between what Jesus did or said and when those words and actions were written down. Gentiles and literalists seem to have lots of trouble absorbing this concept, let alone the fact that Jesus was Jewish.
Do you believe Jesus was Jewish and had no conception of Christianity?