Five Gospels

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Overview

* Did Jesus claim to be the Messiah?
* Did he promise to return and usher in a new age?
* How did Jesus envision the kingdom of God?
* Did he commission his disciples to convert the world and establish a church?

The Five Gospels answers these questions in a bold, dynamic work that will startle traditional readers of the Bible and rekindle interest in it among secular ...

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Overview

* Did Jesus claim to be the Messiah?
* Did he promise to return and usher in a new age?
* How did Jesus envision the kingdom of God?
* Did he commission his disciples to convert the world and establish a church?

The Five Gospels answers these questions in a bold, dynamic work that will startle traditional readers of the Bible and rekindle interest in it among secular skeptics. In 1985 the Jesus Seminar, a distinguished group of biblical scholars led by Robert W. Funk and John Dominic Crossan (co-chairs), embarked on a new assessment of the gospels, including the recently discovered Gospel of Thomas. In pursuit of the historical Jesus, they used their collective expertise to determine the authenticity of the more than 1,500 sayings attributed to him. Their remarkable findings appear in this book.

Each saying attributed to Jesus is color-coded and presented in a completely new translation of the Greek and Coptic texts. In the judgment of the Jesus Seminar:

* only those sayings that appear in red type are considered by the Seminar to be close to what Jesus actually said;

* the words in pink less certainly originated with Jesus;

* the words in gray are not his, though they contain ideas that are close to his own;

* the sayings that appear in black have been embellished or created by his followers, or borrowed from common lore.

According to the Seminar, no more than 20 percent of the sayings attributed to Jesus were uttered by him.

This book contains illuminating commentary and notes on the text of the gospels and rigorously explores the historical and literary factors behind the Seminar's findings. The enlightening introduction by Robert W. Funk, founder of the Jesus Seminar, sums up two hundred years of gospel scholarship and provides a rare insight into the workings of the Seminar. The Five Gospels is a major work of biblical scholarship that gives new dimensions to the historical Jesus.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars who have attempted to locate the authentic words of Jesus, made headlines two years ago by reporting that, of the entire Lord's Prayer as found in Matthew, the only words that could conclusively be attributed to Jesus are ``Our Father.'' In this book they have published their results. This new translation of the four gospels, augmented by the noncanonical Gospel of Thomas, presents Jesus' words printed in colored code: red for words Jesus almost certainly spoke, pink for his probable locutions, gray for the less than likely, and black for the implausible. The translation itself is far more colloquial than most. More germane, though, is that the four levels of authenticity were determined by the casting of ballots, which the editors admit is problematic and represents the fundamental weakness of the book. Whether Jesus actually spoke certain words matters little in the long view of Christianity, making this book a theological curiosity and religiously superfluous.-- W. Alan Froggatt, Bridgewater, Ct.
Ilene Cooper
Based on the work of the Jesus Seminar, which brought together a group of biblical scholars, this new translation of and commentary on the five Gospels offers an answer to the perennial question, What did Jesus really say? The group not only surveyed all the surviving ancient texts for words attributed to Jesus, but also examined the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. Then, juxtaposing the Synoptic Gospels against John and Thomas, the seminar scholars began a long and arduous process to see if they could discover which sayings are close to what Jesus said, which might have originated with Jesus, those that are not his (though the ideas may be), and those that were created by his followers or borrowed from folklore. The story of how the scholars put together this translation is fascinating in its own right, but even more so is the color-coded New Testament itself, bolstered by enlightening commentary that explains why and how category decisions were made. A strong addition to religion collections.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780025419490
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 12/28/1993
  • Pages: 640
  • Product dimensions: 7.52 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.28 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Gospel of Mark

1 The good news of Jesus the Anointed begins with something Isaiah the prophet wrote:

Here is my messenger,
whom I send on ahead of you
to prepare your way!
A voice of someone shouting in the wilderness:
"Make ready the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight."

So, John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness calling for baptism and a change of heart that lead to forgiveness of sins. And everyone from the Judean countryside and all the residents of Jerusalem streamed out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan river, admitting their sins. And John was dressed in camel hair [and wore a leather belt around his waist] and lived on locusts and raw honey. And he began his proclamation by saying:

"Someone more powerful than I will succeed me, whose sandal straps I am not fit to bend down and untie. I have been baptizing you with water, but he will baptize you with holy spirit.

During that same period Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. And just as he got up out of the water, he saw the skies torn open and the spirit coming down toward him like a dove. There was also a voice from the skies: "You are my favored son -- I fully approve of you."

And right away the spirit drives him out into the wilderness, where he remained for forty days, being put to the test by Satan. While he was living there among the wild animals, the heavenly messengers looked after him.

After John was locked up, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming God's good news. His message went:

"The time is up: God's imperial rule is closing in. Change your ways, and put your trust in the good news!"

God's imperial rule. Jesus' disciples remembered his public discourse as consisting primarily of aphorisms, parables, or a challenge followed by a verbal retort. Since Mark 1: 15 does not fall into any of these categories, it drew mostly gray and black votes from the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar. The form of the saying was not, however, the only factor considered by the Fellows; they also examined the content of the words and phrases.

In exploring the ideas expressed in this saying, the Fellows concluded that some but not all of the ideas are Mark's own. Except for the phrase "God's imperial rule," which Jesus probably used, the words and phrases employed in this summary of Jesus' message are characteristic of Mark's language.

The three principal questions considered by the Seminar were:

1. Did Jesus speak of God's imperial rule or God's domain (in traditional language, the kingdom of God)?
2. Did Jesus proclaim that "the time is up"? Did this mean: the end of the age is near?
3. Did Jesus call on people to change their ways (in other words, to repent)?

The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar are convinced that Jesus did speak of God's imperial rule since that language appears in a wide array of sayings and parables in different levels and stages of the tradition. On the other hand, the majority of the Fellows do not believe that Jesus proclaimed that the end of the age was near.

The evidence of his parables and aphorisms shows that Jesus did not understand the rule of God to be the beginning of a new age, at the end of history, following a cosmic catastrophe. And he certainly did not speak of God's domain in the nationalistic sense as a revival of David's kingdom. Rather, in the judgment of the Seminar, Jesus spoke most characteristically of God's rule as close or already present but unrecognized, and thus in a way that challenged both apocalyptic and nationalistic expectations.

The popular idea that God was about to bring the age to a close, so characteristic of more radical movements of the time, was undoubtedly espoused by John the Baptist, by the apostle Paul, and by other segments of the emerging Christian movement. But some sayings and many parables attributed to Jesus do not reflect this common point of view. The best way to account for the survival of sayings representing a different view is to attribute them to Jesus, since such sayings and parables contradict the tendencies of the unfolding tradition. Oral communities tend to remember and repeat only items that suit their changing circumstances, except for memorable words spoken by a powerful voice that are carried forward as oral "debris." In other words, the transmitters of the tradition passed on numerous miscellaneous sayings and parables for which they did not have some practical application in mind.

The question of whether Jesus spoke of God's domain as something present or future is considered in greater detail in the cameo essay "God's Imperial Rule," pp. 136-37.

In the gospels, Jesus is rarely represented as calling on people to repent. Such an admonition is characteristic of the message of John the Baptist (Matt 3: 7-12; Luke 3: 7-14). Like the apocalyptic view of history, the call to repentance may well have been derived from John and then attributed to Jesus.

The Fellows concluded that the phrases that make up this saying, except for "God's imperial rule," are the language of Mark or his community. Mark has summarized in his own words what he believes Jesus said.

1 As he was walking along by the Sea of Galilee, he spotted Simon and Andrew, Simon's brother, casting (their nets) into the sea -- since they were fishermen -- and Jesus said to them: "Become my followers and I'll have you fishing for people!"

And right then and there they abandoned their nets and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, he caught sight of James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John mending their nets in the boat. Right then and there he called out to them as well, and they left their father Zebedee behind in the boat with the hired hands and accompanied him.

Fishing for people. Jesus certainly had followers, both men and women, but scholars dispute whether he actively recruited them. The reasons for such skepticism are: (1) Many Fellows doubt that Jesus deliberately set out to organize a movement by recruiting disciples; they think he was probably an itinerant sage without institutional goals (he certainly did not have it in mind to found a church like the one that eventually came into being). (2) The tendency of the early disciples was to justify their own claims by attributing statements and stories to Jesus. The practice of attributing sayings to illustrious figures was exceedingly common in oral cultures in the ancient world, and even occurs in print cultures like those of modern Western societies. For example, Abraham Lincoln is frequently credited with saying, "I apologize for writing a long letter. I didn't have time to write a short one." The saying actually originated with Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher. Lincoln has also received credit for formulating the saying "A house divided against itself cannot stand." In fact, he learned this adage from a remark attributed to Jesus (Mark 3: 25).

The metaphor of fishing for people may go back to Jesus. The saying in its present form, however, is not the sort of aphorism to have been repeated during the oral period. "Become my followers and I'll have you fishing for people" is suitable only for the story in which it is now embedded, since only a few of his followers were originally fishermen. Further, as scholars have long noted, the story of the call of the first disciples is expressed in vocabulary typical of Mark, which suggests that Mark created both the story and the saying.

1 Then they come to Capernaum, and on the sabbath day he went right to the synagogue and started teaching. 22They were astonished at his teaching, since he would teach them on his own authority, unlike the scholars.

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Table of Contents

Preface
The Scholars Version Translation Panel
The Scholars Version
Abbreviations
How To Use This Book
Introduction
The Search for the Real Jesus: Darwin, Scopes, & All That 1
The Seven Pillars of Scholarly Wisdom 2
The Jesus of History & the Christ of Faith 5
Text Detectives & Manuscript Sleuths: The Gospels in Greek 8
A Map of Gospel Relationships 9
Rules of Written Evidence 16
From the Gospels to Jesus: The Rules of Oral Evidence 25
Beads & Boxes: The Jesus Seminar at Work 34
The Gospel of Mark 39
The Gospel of Matthew 129
The Gospel of Luke 271
The Gospel of John 401
The Gospel of Thomas 471
Roster of the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar 533
Suggestions for Further Study 538
Dictionary of Terms & Sources 542
Index of Red & Pink Letter Sayings 549
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First Chapter

Chapter 1 The Gospel of Mark

1 The good news of Jesus the Anointed begins with something Isaiah the prophet wrote:

Here is my messenger,
whom I send on ahead of you
to prepare your way!
A voice of someone shouting in the wilderness:
"Make ready the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight."

So, John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness calling for baptism and a change of heart that lead to forgiveness of sins. And everyone from the Judean countryside and all the residents of Jerusalem streamed out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan river, admitting their sins. And John was dressed in camel hair [and wore a leather belt around his waist] and lived on locusts and raw honey. And he began his proclamation by saying:

"Someone more powerful than I will succeed me, whose sandal straps I am not fit to bend down and untie. I have been baptizing you with water, but he will baptize you with holy spirit.

During that same period Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. And just as he got up out of the water, he saw the skies torn open and the spirit coming down toward him like a dove. There was also a voice from the skies: "You are my favored son -- I fully approve of you."

And right away the spirit drives him out into the wilderness, where he remained for forty days, being put to the test by Satan. While he was living there among the wild animals, the heavenly messengers looked after him.

After John was locked up, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming God's good news. His message went:

"The time is up: God's imperial rule is closing in. Change your ways, and put your trust in the good news!"

God's imperial rule. Jesus' disciples remembered his public discourse as consisting primarily of aphorisms, parables, or a challenge followed by a verbal retort. Since Mark 1:15 does not fall into any of these categories, it drew mostly gray and black votes from the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar. The form of the saying was not, however, the only factor considered by the Fellows; they also examined the content of the words and phrases.

In exploring the ideas expressed in this saying, the Fellows concluded that some but not all of the ideas are Mark's own. Except for the phrase "God's imperial rule," which Jesus probably used, the words and phrases employed in this summary of Jesus' message are characteristic of Mark's language.

The three principal questions considered by the Seminar were:

1. Did Jesus speak of God's imperial rule or God's domain (in traditional language, the kingdom of God)?
2. Did Jesus proclaim that "the time is up"? Did this mean: the end of the age is near?
3. Did Jesus call on people to change their ways (in other words, to repent)?

The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar are convinced that Jesus did speak of God's imperial rule since that language appears in a wide array of sayings and parables in different levels and stages of the tradition. On the other hand, the majority of the Fellows do not believe that Jesus proclaimed that the end of the age was near.

The evidence of his parables and aphorisms shows that Jesus did not understand the rule of God to be the beginning of a new age, at the end of history, following a cosmic catastrophe. And he certainly did not speak of God's domain in the nationalistic sense as a revival of David's kingdom. Rather, in the judgment of the Seminar, Jesus spoke most characteristically of God's rule as close or already present but unrecognized, and thus in a way that challenged both apocalyptic and nationalistic expectations.

The popular idea that God was about to bring the age to a close, so characteristic of more radical movements of the time, was undoubtedly espoused by John the Baptist, by the apostle Paul, and by other segments of the emerging Christian movement. But some sayings and many parables attributed to Jesus do not reflect this common point of view. The best way to account for the survival of sayings representing a different view is to attribute them to Jesus, since such sayings and parables contradict the tendencies of the unfolding tradition. Oral communities tend to remember and repeat only items that suit their changing circumstances, except for memorable words spoken by a powerful voice that are carried forward as oral "debris." In other words, the transmitters of the tradition passed on numerous miscellaneous sayings and parables for which they did not have some practical application in mind.

The question of whether Jesus spoke of God's domain as something present or future is considered in greater detail in the cameo essay "God's Imperial Rule," pp. 136-37.

In the gospels, Jesus is rarely represented as calling on people to repent. Such an admonition is characteristic of the message of John the Baptist (Matt 3:7-12; Luke 3:7-14). Like the apocalyptic view of history, the call to repentance may well have been derived from John and then attributed to Jesus.

The Fellows concluded that the phrases that make up this saying, except for "God's imperial rule," are the language of Mark or his community. Mark has summarized in his own words what he believes Jesus said.

1 As he was walking along by the Sea of Galilee, he spotted Simon and Andrew, Simon's brother, casting (their nets) into the sea -- since they were fishermen -- and Jesus said to them: "Become my followers and I'll have you fishing for people!"

And right then and there they abandoned their nets and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, he caught sight of James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John mending their nets in the boat. Right then and there he called out to them as well, and they left their father Zebedee behind in the boat with the hired hands and accompanied him.

Fishing for people. Jesus certainly had followers, both men and women, but scholars dispute whether he actively recruited them. The reasons for such skepticism are: (1) Many Fellows doubt that Jesus deliberately set out to organize a movement by recruiting disciples; they think he was probably an itinerant sage without institutional goals (he certainly did not have it in mind to found a church like the one that eventually came into being). (2) The tendency of the early disciples was to justify their own claims by attributing statements and stories to Jesus. The practice of attributing sayings to illustrious figures was exceedingly common in oral cultures in the ancient world, and even occurs in print cultures like those of modern Western societies. For example, Abraham Lincoln is frequently credited with saying, "I apologize for writing a long letter. I didn't have time to write a short one." The saying actually originated with Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher. Lincoln has also received credit for formulating the saying "A house divided against itself cannot stand." In fact, he learned this adage from a remark attributed to Jesus (Mark 3:25).

The metaphor of fishing for people may go back to Jesus. The saying in its present form, however, is not the sort of aphorism to have been repeated during the oral period. "Become my followers and I'll have you fishing for people" is suitable only for the story in which it is now embedded, since only a few of his followers were originally fishermen. Further, as scholars have long noted, the story of the call of the first disciples is expressed in vocabulary typical of Mark, which suggests that Mark created both the story and the saying.

1 Then they come to Capernaum, and on the sabbath day he went right to the synagogue and started teaching. 22They were astonished at his teaching, since he would teach them on his own authority, unlike the scholars.

Now right there in their synagogue was a person possessed by an unclean spirit, which shouted, "Jesus! What do you want with us, you Nazarene? Have you come to get rid of us? I know you, who you are: God's holy man!"

But [Jesus] yelled at it, "Shut up and get out of him!"

Then the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions, and letting out a loud shriek it came out of him. And they were all so amazed that they asked themselves, "What's this? A new kind of teaching backed by authority! He gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him!"

So his fame spread rapidly everywhere throughout Galilee and even beyond.

Get out of him! Jesus undoubtedly made remarks during the exorcism of demons. Because they were not incantations or magical formulae, the disciples did not preserve his actual words. As a consequence, scholars conclude that words such as those found in v. 25 represent the storyteller's idea of what Jesus would have said in expelling a demon.

1 They left the synagogue right away and entered the house of Simon and Andrew along with James and John. Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her right away. 3 He went up to her, took hold of her hand, raised her up, and the fever disappeared. Then she started looking after them.

In the evening, at sundown, they would bring all the sick and demon possessed to him. And the whole city would crowd around the door. On such occasions he cured many people afflicted with various diseases and drove out-many demons. He would never let the demons speak, because they realized who he was.

And rising early, while it was still very dark, he went outside and stole away to an isolated place, where he started praying. Then Simon and those with him hunted him down. When they had found him they say to him, "They're all looking for you."

But he replies: "Let's go somewhere else, to the neighboring villages, so I can speak there too, since that's what I came for."

So he went all around Galilee speaking in their synagogues and driving out demons.

That's what I came for. The narrative in Mark 1:35-39 is probably Mark's own creation. It does not record a specific memorable incident in Jesus' life, but rather depicts what he may have done typically: withdrawing from the crowds, praying. Mark has used this occasion to summarize what, for him, was Jesus' purpose (v. 38): to carry his message to neighboring villages.

The saying is to be understood as an integral part of this narrative summary, created to express Mark's notion of the mission of Jesus. Mark's idea of this mission is more primitive, to be sure, than Luke's (as explained in the note on Luke 4:42-44), since Mark sees Jesus' mission as extending only to "neighboring villages." Luke will extend that mission to the whole inhabited world: "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8); Matthew has likewise universalized Jesus' mission (Matt 28:1820). In the evolution of these statements we can observe how the scope of the primitive Christian sense of mission grew.

1 Then a leper comes up to him, pleads with him, falls down on his knees, and says to him, "If you want to, you can make me clean."

Although Jesus was indignant, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and says to him, "Okay -- you're clean!"

And right away the leprosy disappeared, and he was made clean. And Jesus snapped at him, and dismissed him curtly with this warning: "See that you don't tell anyone anything, but go, have a priest examine (your skin). Then offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as evidence (of your cure)."

But after he went out, he started telling everyone and spreading the story, so that (Jesus) could no longer enter a city openly, but had to stay out in the countryside. Yet they continued to come to him from everywhere.

Okay -- you're clean! Like the words attributed to Jesus in the cure of the man with an unclean spirit (1:21-28), the words ascribed to Jesus in vv. 41 and 44 are a part of the storyteller's craft: the storyteller creates dialogue for the characters in the narrative suitable for the occasion.

The statement ascribed to Jesus in v. 44 has long been recognized as the second reference to Mark's theory of the messianic secret (the first is found in Mark 1:34). To the question "Why did people not recognize Jesus as the Anointed during his lifetime?" Mark gives the answer: "Because he told everyone who did recognize him not to tell anyone else." Mark 1:44 belongs to the narrative strategy of Mark, but it has no basis in Jesus' life or thought.

2 Some days later he went back to Capernaum and was rumored to be at home. And many people crowded around so there was no longer any room, even outside the door. Then he started speaking to them. Some people then show up with a paralytic being carried by four of them. And when they were not able to get near him on account of the crowd, they removed the roof above him. After digging it out, they lowered the mat on which the paralytic was lying, sWhen Jesus noticed their trust, he says to the paralytic, "Child, your sins are forgiven."

Some of the scholars were sitting there and silently wondering: Why does that fellow say such things? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins except the one God?"

And right away, because Jesus sensed in his spirit that they were raising questions like this among themselves, he says to them: "Why do you entertain questions about these things? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, pick up your mat and walk'?" But so that you may realize that [on earth] the son of Adam has authority to forgive sins, he says to the paralytic, "You there, get up, pick up your mat and go home!"

And he got up, picked his mat right up, and walked out as everyone looked on. So they all became ecstatic, extolled God, and exclaimed, "We've never seen the likes of this!"

Power to forgive. Stories of Jesus curing a paralytic are found in all four narrative gospels. The Johannine version differs substantially from the synoptic accounts, yet the stories have enough in common to suggest that they stem ultimately from a common (oral) tradition.

The dispute that occurs in Mark 2:5b-10 over the forgiveness of sins appears only in the synoptic version (Matthew, Mark, Luke). The controversy interrupts the story of the cure -- which reads smoothly if one omits vv. 5b-10 -- and it is absent in the parallel in John. Scholars usually conclude, on the basis of this evidence, that Mark has inserted the dispute into what was originally a simple healing story.

The Johannine version also involves a controversy, but in John the argument is about whether one is permitted to carry a mat around on the sabbath day (John 5:10).

The focus of the story in its synoptic version -- derived from Mark -- is the controversy about who can forgive sins. Verse 10 can be interpreted as words spoken by Jesus, or it can be understood as a parenthetical remark of the narrator, addressed directly to the reader. The Scholars Version elects the second option. If the words are to be attributed to Jesus, v. 10 may represent a bold new claim on Jesus' part that gives the authority to forgive sins to all human beings (children of Adam as bearers of the image of God: Gen 1:26; Ps 8:4-8). If so, it is just possible that Mark 2:10 preserves early tradition. Matthew's unparalleled comment on the saying (9:8) lends support to this interpretation ("The crowds...glorified God, who had given such authority to humans.")

Most of the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar, however, think "son of Adam" in this verse refers to an apocalyptic figure, and attribute these words and the dispute story to the Christian community or to Mark (the cameo essay "Son of Adam," pp. 76-77, sketches the ways in which this phrase can be understood). The early church was in the process of claiming for itself the right to forgive sins and so would have been inclined to claim that its authorization came directly from Jesus as the messianic figure, "the son of Adam." In that case, v. 10 would be the product of the Christian storyteller, who is reading the convictions of the later community back into an incident in Jesus' life. Since the Fellows took v. 10 to be a remark of the evangelist, the associated words in vv. 9-10 were also voted black.

Jesus' pronouncement in effecting the cure, v. 9, is repeated in v. 11 and cited again (indirectly) in v. 12:

2:9 "Get up, pick up your mat and walk."
2:11 "Get up, pick up your mat and go home!"
2:12 And he got up, picked his mat right up, and walked out as everyone looked on.

The remarkable thing about these words is that they also appear in the story in the Gospel of John, although in a slightly altered form:

5:8 "Get up, pick up your mat and walk around."
5:9 He picked up his mat and started walking.
5:10 "You're not permitted to carry your mat around."
5:11 "Pick up your mat and walk around."
5:12 "Pick it up and walk."

In copying Mark's story, Matthew and Luke have also reproduced Jesus' words to the paralytic, although as usual they have modified Mark's words slightly:

* Matthew and Luke shorten Mark 2:9 to: "Get up and walk."
* Matthew and Luke reproduce Mark 2:11 but use different words for "mat."
* Matthew alters Mark 2:12 to read: "He got up and went to his house."
* Luke, who tends to be a bit more literary, revises it to read: "He stood up in front of them, picked up what he had been lying on, and went home."

In a somewhat similar story in Acts 3:1-10, Luke has Peter say to the lame man: "[Get up and] walk." The words in brackets have probably been added by an early scribe (they are not in several ancient manuscripts) in order to "harmonize" them with other parallel expressions: the inclination of scribes, who spent their lives copying sacred texts, was to make such sayings conform to one another. So in the original text of Acts 3:6 Peter may have said to the man, "Walk," or "Start walking."

The striking thing about all these versions of what is almost certainly the same saying is that they have a great deal in common. And because they appear in at least two independent sources (Mark and John), it is possible that these words echo something Jesus actually said. The Fellows have designated these words black, however, primarily because they appear to have been invented by the storyteller as something appropriate for the specific occasion.

2 Again he went out by the sea. And, with a huge crowd gathered around him, he started teaching.

As he was walking along, he caught sight of Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the toll booth, and he says to him, "Follow me!"

And Levi got up and followed him.

Follow me! The call of Levi (or Matthew) is comparable to the call of other disciples in Mark 1:16-20; Matt 4:18-22; John 1:35-51; Luke 5:1-11; and John 21:1-14, except that it is briefer.

As indicated in the comments on 1:16-20, scholars dispute whether Jesus actually recruited disciples as though he were organizing a new movement. It is nevertheless clear that he was frequently accompanied by followers as he moved about.

It is conceivable that "Follow me!" arose as an isolated injunction of Jesus. If so, it was probably coined in connection with a saying like the one recorded in Luke 9:59: Jesus says "Follow me!" to someone who first wants to go and bury his father. However, the same phrase turns up in John 1:43, also in connection with the recruitment of disciples, this time the call of Philip. The same admonition to follow appears in the story of the rich man (Mark 10:21) and in the unique account of Jesus' conversation with Peter during one of his appearances to the disciples (John 21:19, 22). Fellows of the Jesus Seminar have designated the phrase black in this story, although it may have arisen as part of a saying like that in Luke 9:59 and was then transferred to stories about the active recruitment of disciples. As a consequence, the same words can be black in one context, as in Mark 2:14, and pink in another, as in Luke 9:59.

2 Then Jesus happens to recline at table in (Levi's) house, along with many toll collectors and sinners and Jesus' disciples. (Remember, there were many of these people and they were all following him.) And whenever the Pharisees' scholars saw him eating with sinners and toll collectors, they would question his disciples: "What's he doing eating with toll collectors and sinners?"

When Jesus overhears, he says to them: "Since when do the ablebodied need a doctor? It's the sick who do. I did not come to enlist religious folks but sinners!"

Able-bodied & sick. The saying about the able-bodied and sick is a secular proverb, which Jesus may have quoted. The version found in Gospel Fragment 1224 5:2, a fragment from an Unknown gospel, is considered the earliest because it is the simplest form: "Those in good health don't need a doctor."

The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar were almost evenly divided on whether to include this secular saying in the database for determining who Jesus was. The reason for the divided opinion was that while Jesus may have repeated this remark on one or more occasions, it is a proverbial saying for which there are numerous secular parallels. The attribution of a proverbial remark to Jesus tells us nothing in particular about him, except that he may have been familiar with such sayings. On balance, however, the Fellows decided that the saying sounded like Jesus, although it did not originate with him.

Religious folks & sinners. The saying in Mark 2:17b is a theological interpretation of the preceding secular proverb, which in other sources is either copied or further elaborated.

"I did not come to enlist religious folks but sinners." Mark 2:17b

"Remember, the son of Adam came to seek out and to save what was lost." Luke 19:10b

Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. 1 Tim 1:15

This is another example of a saying that took on a life of its own: from the "I" saying of Mark, to the "son of Adam" version of Luke, to the final christological definition of the author of 1 Timothy, the saying develops slowly but surely toward the mature affirmation of the last version. The author of 1 Timothy repeats the confessional statement without sensing any need to attribute it to Jesus.

Even the "I" saying of Mark is a theological affirmation of the early community put on the lips of Jesus: he probably did not think of his work as a program he was sent to carry out. Nevertheless, Mark's version contains ideas that are congenial to Jesus: association with "sinners" -- toll collectors and prostitutes -- rather than with "religious folks"; yet it is cast in Christianized language. This combination merits a gray designation.

2 John's disciples and the Pharisees were in the habit of fasting, and they come and ask him, "Why do the disciples of John fast, and the disciples of the Pharisees, but your disciples don't?"

And [Jesus] said to them: "The groom's friends can't fast while the groom is present, can they? So long as the groom is around, you can't expect them to fast. But the days will come when the groom is taken away from them, and then they will fast, on that day."

Fasting & wedding. Fasting and a wedding celebration are simply incompatible, according to Mark 2:19: guests do not fast as long as the celebration is in progress (as long as the groom is around). Some form of this saying probably goes back to Jesus since it is clear that he and his disciples did not fast, in contrast to the followers of John the Baptist and the Pharisees, who did (compare Mark 2:18).

Departure of groom. The saying about fasting has been elaborated in Mark 2:20 in a Christian expansion: it justifies the subsequent return of the Christian community to the practice of fasting; Jesus is now understood as the groom who has departed (and will eventually return).

The cameo essay "Feasting and Fasting," p. 48, provides additional information about the practice of fasting.

2 "Nobody sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, otherwise the new, unshrunk patch pulls away from the old and creates a worse tear.

"And nobody pours young wine into old wineskins, otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and destroy both the wine and the skins. Instead, young wine is for new wineskins."

FEASTING & FASTING: THE DOMESTICATION OF THE TRADITION

The Custom

The Pharisee stood up and prayed silently as follows: "I thank you, God, that I'm not like everybody else, thieving, unjust, adulterous, and especially not like that toll collector over there. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of everything I acquire." Luke 18:11-12

Jesus

John's disciples and the Pharisees were in the habit of fasting, so they come and ask him, "Why do the disciples of John fast, and the disciples of the Pharisees, but your disciples don't?"

And [Jesus] said to them,"The groom's friends can't fast while the groom is present, can they? So long as the groom is around you can't expect them to fast." Mark 2:18-19

Just remember, John the Baptist appeared on the scene, eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, "He is demented." The son of Adam appeared on the scene both eating and drinking, and you say, "There is a glutton and a drunk, a crony of toll collectors and sinners!" Luke 7:33-34

The Early Community

They were worshiping the Lord and fasting when the holy spirit instructed them: "Commission Barnabas and Saul to carry out the task that I have assigned them." The whole company fasted and prayed and laid their hands on the pair; then they sent them on their way. Acts 13:2-3

But the days will come when the groom is taken away from them, and then they will fast, on that day. Mark 2:20

You are not to fast in concert with the phonies. They fast each week on Mondays and Thursdays. You should fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. Did 8:1

The custom in Jesus' day was to fast as a part of regular religious observance. In contrast to the behavior of John the Baptist and his followers, Jesus apparently did not fast, but came to be known as "a glutton and a drunk." The early Christian community immediately reverted to fasting as a religious practice, but now they are driven to distinguish their fasts from those of their Jewish counterparts by changing the days.

This process of assimilating the Jesus tradition to an earlier established custom is known as the domestication of the tradition.

Patches & wineskins. In applying the plausibility test to vv. 21-22, the Fellows adopted the context of a wedding celebration, which was suggested by the sayings in vv. 19-20. Good food, appropriate dress, and adequate wine go with a wedding feast. In applying the coherence test, the Fellows agreed that Jesus liked to eat and drink (Luke 7:33-34) and probably enjoyed weddings (he attends a wedding at Cana, John 2:1-11). The evidence shows why Jesus seemed to many of his fellow Judeans to be a "party animal."

Both sayings were undoubtedly secular proverbs, which may have been put on the lips of Jesus. The Christianized understanding equated the "old" with Judean religion, the "new" with Christianity: the two were understood to be incompatible. The version in Thom 47:3, however, makes the "old" out to be good, which means that Thomas' version has not yet been Christianized, and so may represent the earliest form of the tradition. Luke 5:39 supports this view of the "old": "Aged wine is just fine." The new/old contrast mirrors the separation of the Christian movement from its parent, Judean religion (centered in the Jerusalem temple) and later Judaism (the religion of Talmud, rabbis, and synagogue), and so belongs to the later Christian movement and not to Jesus.

2 It so happened that he was walking along through the grainfields on the sabbath day, and his disciples began to strip heads of grain as they walked along. And the Pharisees started to argue with him: "See here, why are they doing what's not permitted on the sabbath day?"

And he says to them: "Haven't you ever read what David did when he found it necessary, when both he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, and even gave some to his men to eat. No one is permitted to eat this bread, except the priests!"

And he continued:

The sabbath day was created for Adam and Eve,
not Adam and Eve for the sabbath day.
So, the son of Adam lords it even over the sabbath day.

Lord of the sabbath. The couplet in Mark 2:27-28 could have circulated independently: it is aphoristic in style and memorable. In the couplet Jesus gives a radical reinterpretation of the creation story (Gen 1:26; Ps 8:4-8): the dominion God gave humankind over all earthly beings is extended even to the sabbath day. The phrase "son of Adam" in v. 28 is generic: it is parallel with "Adam and Eve" in v. 27 and means the same thing -- a member of the human race.

Mark, of course, understood "son of Adam" to refer to the messianic figure of Dan 7:13 (other interpretations are given in the essay "Son of Adam," pp. 76-77), as did Matthew and Luke, who copied him. For that reason, they have suppressed the first half of the couplet and retained only the second half, which they take to mean: Jesus, the Anointed, has authority over regulations governing the sabbath day.

The narrative context in which this saying is preserved may well be the invention of the community. In any case, the additional words ascribed to Jesus in vv. 25-26 are an integral part of the story and so never circulated independently. As a consequence, they tell us nothing reliable about what Jesus may have said.

3 Then he went back to the synagogue, and a fellow with a crippled hand was there. So they kept an eye on him, to see whether he would heal the fellow on the sabbath day, so they could denounce him. And he says to the fellow with the crippled hand, "Get up here in front of everybody." Then he asks them, "On the sabbath day is it permitted to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?"

But they maintained their silence. SAnd looking fight at them with anger, exasperated at their obstinacy, he says to the fellow, "Hold out your hand!"

He held it out and his hand was restored. Then the Pharisees went fight out with the Herodians and hatched a plot against him, to get rid of him.

Man with a crippled hand. The words ascribed to Jesus in this story were created as part of the narrative. Specific injunctions like "Get up here in front of everybody" and "Hold out your hand" would not have been remembered and passed around during the period the Jesus tradition was being shaped and transmitted by word of mouth. The story suggests, however, that Jesus did engage in controversy regarding sabbath observance.

3 Then Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a huge crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard what he was doing, a huge crowd from Judea, Sand from Jerusalem and Idumea and across the Jordan, and from around Tyre and Sidon, collected around him. And he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him on account of the crowd, so they would not mob him. (After all, he had healed so many, that all who had diseases were pushing forward to touch him.) The unclean spirits also, whenever they faced him, would fall down before him and shout out, "You son of God, you!"

But he always warned them not to tell who he was.

Then he goes up on the mountain and summons those he wanted, and they came to him. He formed a group of twelve to be his companions, and to be sent out to speak, and to have authority to drive out demons.

And to Simon he gave the nickname Rock, and to James, the son of Zebedee, and to John, his brother, he also gave a nickname, Boanerges, which means "Thunder Brothers"; and Andrew and Philip and Bartholomew and Matthew and Thomas and James, the son of Alphaeus; and Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas Iscariot, who, in the end, turned him in.

Preface to Mark 3:20-35. Mark has assembled disparate materials to form the story known as the Beelzebul controversy, Mark 3:20-35. Mark's version overlaps with one Matthew and Luke have taken from the Sayings Gospel Q. The similarities and differences in these clusters demonstrate that the same stories and sayings could be put together in different ways.

In 3:20-21, Mark introduces Jesus' family, which anticipates the closing scene in 3:31-35 and the saying on true relatives. The theme "he is out of his mind" (v. 21) anticipates the charge by the scholars that Jesus is demon possessed. Mark has thus created an envelope structure (3:20-21, 31-35) to frame a cluster of sayings.

The complex of sayings ascribed to Jesus in Mark 3:22-30 consists of three parts. In the first, the charge is made that Jesus is under the control of Satan (v. 22). Jesus replies that since governments and households cannot survive if they are divided, neither can Satan (vv. 23-24). In a second part, he cites the analogy of the powerful man (v. 27). Finally, Mark has appended sayings on the subject of blasphemy (vv. 28-29).

The Q version of this complex had incorporated the three groups of sayings found in Mark, plus additional sayings (Matt 12:27-28, 30; Luke 11:19-20, 23), to form a somewhat longer sequence of materials. The Beelzebul controversy is one of the few longer complexes that was formed prior to the gospels.

The evidence from the Gospel of Thomas indicates that several of these sayings once circulated independently: Thomas has parallels to the analogy of the powerful man (v.27//Thom 35:1-2), to the pronouncements on blasphemies (vv. 28-30//Thom 44:1-3), and to the saying about true relatives (vv. 31-35// Thom 99:1-3), but in Thomas these items are not brought together in a cluster. Yet the evidence provided by Mark and Q demonstrates that a complex of these sayings had been formed already in the earliest decades of the Jesus movement.

3 Then he goes home, and once again a crowd gathers, so they could not even grab a bite to eat. When his relatives heard about it, they came to get him. (You see, they thought he was out of his mind.) And the scholars who had come down from Jerusalem would say, "He is under the control of Beelzebul" and "He drives out demons in the name of the head demon!"

And after calling them over, he would speak to them in riddles: "How can Satan drive out Satan? After all, if a government is divided against itself, that government cannot endure. And if a household is divided against itself, that household won't be able to survive. So if Satan rebels against himself and is divided, he cannot endure but is done for.

"No one can enter a powerful man's house to steal his belongings unless he first ties him up. Only then does he loot his house.

"I swear to you, all offenses and whatever blasphemies humankind might blaspheme will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the holy spirit is never ever forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin."

(Remember, it was they who had started the accusation, "He is controlled by an unclean spirit.")

Satan divided. Jesus probably did exorcise what were thought to be demons, and he may well have been accused of being demon-possessed (this charge is brought against him in John 8:48, 52; 10:20). Jesus' response to this charge may be understood as a piece of ordinary, everyday wisdom (divisions bring defeat), or it may be understood as ironic (he makes them say something they did not intend to say when they leveled the accusation that he was mad): Jesus adopts the logic of his opponents (you claim I cast out demons in the name of the head demon) and, by pressing that logic to its conclusion (the head demon drives out his own demons), makes them say the opposite of what they intended. "You are actually saying," he concludes, "that if Satan casts out Satan, he is defeating himself."

Fellows of the Jesus Seminar were about equally divided on which of these interpretive options was the more persuasive. The version in Mark fell just short of a pink designation, as did the parallel in Matthew; only the Lukan version made it into the pink category. (The difference of one or two words, or a subtle nuance, often results in different ratings for parallel passages.)

Powerful man. In its present context in Mark and Q, Jesus employs this bold analogy to underscore the point that no one can invade Satan's domain (of demons) without first overpowering Satan. It is difficult to conceive of the early Christian community attributing this robust and colorful figure of speech to Jesus if he did not, in fact, say it. In addition, the saying is attested in three independent sources, one of which is Thom 35:1-2, where it appears without narrative context. This means that it can be traced back to the oral period preceding the written gospels.

Blasphemies. There are three distinct versions of the saying about blasphemy: Mark, Luke 12:10 (Q), and Thomas 44:1-3. All three agree that blasphemy against the holy spirit will not be forgiven, but they do not specify what blasphemy of the holy spirit means.

According to Mark, the blasphemy against the holy spirit refers to those who claim that Jesus was being controlled by an unclean spirit (v. 30). The saying is a severe reprimand of them; it is also probably a retrospective claim that the holy spirit could not lie when witnessing to Jesus.

A version of this saying preserved in the Didache (a manual of Christian instruction compiled early in the second century) rebukes those who seek to restrain "inspired speech" by subjecting it to examination (Did 11:7): "You are not to test or examine any prophet who is speaking under the influence of the spirit. Understand, every other sin will be forgiven, but this sin will not be forgiven."

All these options look back on Jesus from the perspective of the later community, which sought to set limits on its ecstatic leaders without inhibiting intrusions of the spirit.

3 Then his mother and his brothers arrive. While still outside, they send in and ask for him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they say to him, "Look, your mother and your brothers [and sisters] are outside looking for you."

In response he says to them: "My mother and brothers -- who ever are they?"

And looking right at those seated around him in a circle, he says, "Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God's will, that's my brother and sister and mother!"

True relatives. What does this incident tell us about the historical context in which it was told? The answer to this question will determine where it is located chronologically.

The contrast between Jesus' blood relatives and his followers is taken by some scholars to reflect the contrast between Judeans and pagans: the former, who rejected Jesus, are not his true relatives; the latter, who accepted him, are his real family. This understanding of the text was undoubtedly common in the 80s and 90s of the first century.

Another interpretation is that the contrast reflects the tension between Jesus' blood relatives, some of whom were leaders in the Palestinian movement, and the disciples who were not biologically related to Jesus. This reading could reflect the situation in the Christian community prior to 70 C.E.

A third option assigns the contrast to the tension between Jesus and his family as a consequence of his mission.

Jesus' seeming rebuke to his mother is not likely to have been invented by the early community, in the judgment of scholars who recommend the third option (note the commandment to honor parents, Exod 20:12). However, Jesus' remark about his relatives may have been ironic: he responds to the notice that his mother is outside by referring to God, who is his Father, and by identifying his disciples as brothers, rather than as sons, as one would expect of a teacher. The dialogue thus calls two conventional sets of relationships into question: son to mother and siblings; teacher to disciples. Further, the dialogue contrasts those who are "outside" with those in the inner circle around Jesus, who are "insiders." Jesus may be raising both questions from a literal to a metaphorical level. Such moves are characteristic of Jesus' style.

Fellows of the Jesus Seminar were torn between the evidence that locates this exchange in the Christian community and the interpretation that assigns it to Jesus. Weighted averages for Mark and the parallels fell just on either side of the dividing line between pink and gray. Since the Fellows were divided in their views about the historical context for this saying, they also differed about whether or not it originated with Jesus.

Preface to Mark 4:1-34. In the Gospel of Mark, the sower is the first element in a collection of parables and aphorisms (4:1-34) that was either formed prior to Mark or created by him. The collection does not go back to Jesus. Parallels to these sayings are distributed randomly throughout Thomas, while Matthew and Luke follow Mark at some points but not others.

This collection of parables is the first of only two long discourses in Mark. The second is the apocalyptic discourse in 13:1-37; it, too, was formed subsequent to Jesus. These discourses emphasize two common themes: one has to do with persecution, the other with defection.

Copyright © 1993 by Polebridge Press, Inc.

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