Jesus was a victim of his own popularity. He was never more than a potential potentate, a king without a kingdom or a throne. In the end, everyone deserted him, even his God.
His success as an “Last Days” or eschatological prophet during Passover generated the possibility of his messiahship. The crowd of emotionally charged pilgrims hailed him as their king in hopes of sparking a political revolt and the overthrow of Roman oppression. Jesus heartily accepted their nomination and eagerly awaited miraculous Yahweh’s intervention to inaugurate his kingdom and install him upon the throne of Israel. HIs brashness before the Jewish hierarchy and Pilate sealed his fate. The Jews were unwilling to endorse him and risk Roman retaliation, while Pilate would not risk the threat of Jewish autonomy and his governance.
Jesus had only to rescind his kingly claim and he would be set free. He refused.
1”Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. 2So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.” (Matthew 27:1,2)
11Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.” (Matthew 27:11)
Jesus secret trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin and public trial before Pilate are well known among Christians. Jesus arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane after Judas betrays him by “a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people” (Matt. 26:47). He is brought before the high priest Caiaphas to be interviewed.
59The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.” (Matthew 26:59,60)
Eventually he is bound and taken to Pilate who conducts his own interrogation. Jesus answers to the charge of claiming to be “king of the Jews.” Finding no basis for execution, Pilate attempts to release him but is coerced by the Jewish leaders, who have “stirred up the crowd” (Mk. 15:11), to release Barabbas instead of Jesus. At their behest Pilate has Jesus crucified.
24When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:24,25)
It would be easy to take this as gospel fact, as Christians do, but many questions arise which suggest this is more propaganda than history.
First and foremost, we must always consider the historical context in which this was composed. It is several years after the fall of Jerusalem and “the messiah” is no where to be seen. The Jewish branch of Christianity is struggling to make sense of Jesus protracted delay in light of his messiahship and the recent destruction of the holy city. Certain his arrival is imminent, the gospel writers attempt to quell fears and stoke hope by offering their perspective.
Confronting these writers were several facts that could not be ignored. First, Jesus had already been declared messiah which carried inescapable obligations. He was expected to restore Israel and usher in an age of peace and prosperity. Second, Gentile Christianity is thriving under the ministry begun by the apostle Paul (who has recently died). His philosophy was predicated on a brief and temporary period on Gentile inclusion. Third, the catastrophic events of 68-70AD were seen as the most opportune time for the physical initiation of God’s kingdom. The leaders of Jewish Christianity had gone all in promising Jesus’ return which had as of yet not come. The gospels were compiled and composed with these essential elements in mind.
Our methodology and purpose
The inerrancy, infallibility, divine inspiration and authority of the Bible is not only a doctrinal issue. There is the internal argument (factual and logical consistency), the external argument (historical and archaeological accuracy) and the pragmatic argument (how it affects the lives of those who adhere to it).
This article will explore the events leading up to Jesus’ death on the cross particularly his arrest by the Jewish leaders and trial before Pontus Pilate. Our method is to assume the inerrantist hypothesis to determine the validity of the Bible’s credibility. As we investigate the text we will identify those issues which undermine divine infallibility and authority. Logic dictates if two things which are both deemed true contradict one another, at least one must be false. Perfection is the standard of inerrancy.
The moment you surrender absolute biblical inerrancy, the Bible becomes imperfect. Once you adopt this position, you can no longer make definitive claims about anything affirmed in the Bible including the resurrection of Jesus. This is the all or nothing theory of inerrancy. Conceding absolute biblical inerrancy means one must relegate all teaching to human origin thus reducing it to opinion and making its truth relative.
There is tremendous value in studying the traditions of Judaism and Christianity as contained in each Bible. Believers are of course free to embrace these but only insofar as they acknowledge the cultural and societal limitations inherent within them such as the subjugation of women, suppression of the homosexual lifestyle, condoning of slavery, religious elitism and exclusivity.
Most evangelicals or conservative Christians theoretically espouse the doctrine of biblical inerrancy but practically violate it by not striving to live up to its teachings. They pick and choose which teachings to enforce on others and which to ignore in their own lives. For instance, divorce, premarital sex, materialism and pornography pervade American evangelicalism but are seldom attacked unlike abortion and homosexuality which are frequent targets. Biblical selectivity betrays their true lack of true commitment to this doctrine. It is for reasons such as these, we endeavor to unseat the source of this authority — the credibility of the Bible as divinely inspired.
Here is the point:
Evangelicals live their lives as if the Bible is not inerrant.
Undeniable proof of biblical inerrancy begins with the morally blameless lives of those professing absolute allegiance to its teachings. Conversely, nothing argues more strongly against inerrancy than evangelical lives marked by complacency and hypocrisy. Throughout this and other articles the interplay of theory versus practice will be discussed.
The gold standard of righteousness
22”You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
1”Follow God’s example [‘mimetai,’ be “imitators” or “mimic” God], therefore, as dearly loved children 2and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. a 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7Therefore do not be partners with them.
8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10and find out what pleases the Lord. 11Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.” (Ephesians 5:1-12)
29”If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right [‘righteousness’] has been born of him.” ( 1 John 2:29)
These are a few of the many passages showing the distinct difference between the saved and unsaved, the righteous and the wicked, believers and non believers, true and false followers of Jesus. The New Testament writer’s NEVER call Christians to change society but to change themselves thereby changing society. Jesus used the imagery of salt and light.
13“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16)
Today, American evangelicals primary purpose seems to be shifting responsibility off of themselves and onto society. The passage below could just as well describe the current state of American evangelicalism.
1”But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
I have made the case in previous articles most evangelicals or Christians in general are reluctant to sacrifice or “give up” too much of the pleasures, indulgences and riches of life on earth. If it requires a significant adjustment to their lifestyle they resist. For example, regardless of clear biblical exhortations to abstain from sexual immorality or the pursuit of earthly riches, most have little difficulty accumulating wealth or watching sexually explicit material. Engaging in active Christian service to help those in need rarely extends beyond a few hours a week. Prayer and Bible study seldom amounts to more than a few minutes a day while recreational activities are frequently engaged in. Modesty, denial, humility, gentleness and meekness have been replaced with pride, greed, lust and avarice.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21, see also Colossians 3:1)
The primary reason most evangelicals simply “play at” their faith, mostly on Sunday, is not because they want to be righteous examples to point the world to Jesus, but because they hope to one day go to heaven. So rather than abandon the faith and risk eternal perdition, they cling to it for security like a heavenly life-raft. And rather than focus on personal piety they instead attack others thereby shifting responsibility. It is much easier to judge others than oneself. This is the heart of Phariseeism.
1”Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
5“Everything they do is done for people to see…” (Matthew 23:1-5a)
Our study of Jesus’ final week on earth rises above mere intellectual curiosity. The intent is to expose and analyze with unflinching criticism the sacred texts. Fear of divine reprisal will be non existent in our pursuit. Most Christians will not even consider this for the sake of intellectual satisfaction for fear this attitude alone seems “rebellious.” Presumptive infallibility is groundless. If the Bible is to be regarded as a divine document it will have to earn this right by demonstrating unequivocal cohesion, textual congruence and logical consistency. If God is its author, we should not expect less.
Who recorded the gospel accounts?
Before we begin exploring specific texts, it is important we step back and ask this question. “Who is responsible for providing the details contained in the four gospel narratives?”
Evangelicals will answer eye witnesses in the case of Matthew and John, and first hand knowledge from Peter in Mark and from Paul in Luke. If in the case of Matthew and John, they have such lucidity with regard to the significance of Jesus crucifixion and resurrection before they occur, why were they not at his tomb expecting it? Second, as will be shown in this article, there are numerous private conversations that take place where no disciple is present. Who recorded these?
Most Christians are familiar with the infamous story of Peter denying the Lord (Jesus) three times to a servant girl. Perhaps he has been unfairly criticized, however. While he was surreptitiously tracking Jesus after his arrest, the other disciples had fled. Interestingly, John includes “another” disciple who is “known to the high priest.” He is allowed in with Jesus and is able to then bring Peter in with him to the courtyard (Jn. 18:15,16).
Historically, part of this story is probably true. Peter feared being recognized and possibly being arrested along with Jesus so he lied about his identity. This is exactly the type of behavior one would expect from a man who saw Jesus as a human prophet and not the divine son of God. If Jesus had performed the miracles he is alleged to have done, none of his disciples would have left him. The other disciple was likely inserted by John as many would wonder who recorded this secret trial.
31Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
“ ‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ [Zechariah 13:7]
32But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” (Matthew 26:31,32, also Mark 14:27,28)
The above passage contains some interesting details. The appeal to Zechariah as prophetically fulfilled by the scattering of the disciples after Jesus’ arrest provides wonderful imagery but is not the original intent of the author.
As it appears in Zechariah:
7“Awake, sword, against my shepherd,
against the man who is close to me!”
declares the Lord Almighty.
“Strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered,
and I will turn my hand against the little ones.
8In the whole land,” declares the Lord,
“two-thirds will be struck down and perish;
yet one-third will be left in it.
9This third I will put into the fire;
I will refine them like silver
and test them like gold.
They will call on my name
and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’ ” (Zechariah 13:7-9)
Plucking a verse out of context is a common practice of New Testament writers. It is not done deceptively but from a belief in allegorical and hidden meanings in the inspired (‘God breathed’) text. By merely looking at the original quote, we can see God’s is judging (‘strike’) the shepherd. Furthermore, the “sheep” are the people of Israel not the disciples “two-thirds” of whom will perish while “one-third” are spared.
Equating this shepherd to Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” (John 10:1-18) seems to contradict its use in Zechariah where the evidence suggests he is “worthless” (Zech. 11:17) and thus deserving of divine punishment. Evangelicals are loathe to accept this designation because of the ramifications on Jesus so they contrive any interpretation which presents this individual as messianic while ignoring key textual markers. To the gospel writers this deeper meaning took precedence over the literal historical meaning whatever that might be.
Note the final verse (Matt. 26:32) where Jesus once again explicitly announces his impending resurrection which the disciples will immediately forget. We will revisit this in our article on the resurrection specifically.
Peter’s denial of Jesus ( Matthew 26:33-35, 69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:55-62, John 18:15-18, 25-27)
The benefit of having four accounts of the same event is direct comparison. Such is the case with Peter’s denial(s). We remarked in the previous article, like Judas’ betrayal, it was essential for the writers to include Jesus’ prediction of both so as not to appear as being at the mercy of their actions. Jesus’ death had to be presented as part of God’s sovereign plan with these men as mere unwitting participants or instruments being used to implement it.
34“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” (Matthew 26:34)
30“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” (Mark 14:30)
34Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows twice today, you will deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:34)
The differences in Jesus exact wording is minor but its importance to verbal plenary (each word is inspired and perfectly preserved in the original autographs) inspiration is massive. We could safely assume Jesus did not speak three different times to explain the differences. Nor is it plausible to suppose Jesus original words were a conflation of these three verses into one containing each detail. For instance,
“Truly I tell you, Peter, Jesus answered, today —yes, this very night, tonight — before the rooster crows twice today, you yourself will disown me three times, you will deny three times you know me.”
The writers were then free to select whichever words they chose. This would satisfy most inerrantists. However, the biblical text is not so accommodating and tells a different story.
Note the underlined word “twice” in Mark’s verse. Textual tradition is somewhat split on its authenticity but stronger in favor of its inclusion. Mark’s narrative supports this because it mentions it again vs. 72. Also attempts were made to add an additional “rooster crowed” at the end of vs. 68. All this suggests the early Christian scribes were aware of these discrepancies and attempted to resolve them.
It would be easiest to place the four narratives in columns beside each other for comparison but this is not necessary. The reader may avail him or herself of this opportunity. No one denies minor incongruences exist. For instance to whom did Peter deny the Lord each time, one servant or two, both females or one male, or bystanders? Or the description, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter” (Lk. 22:61).
The general consensus to the various discrepancies is sheer romanticism. Commentators in an effort to preserve the integrity of textual authority argue in the confusion of the moment, various observers would hear and remember details slightly differently. While this is a perfectly acceptable natural explanation, divine inspiration is not bound by noise and confusion. God hears perfectly well and can “inspire” his authors to record with equal precision. Furthermore, as we shall show, much of the narrative was unaccessible to any disciples begging the question, “How did they know the details?”
The bigger question is who were the original sources of these narratives. The content suggests at least two probably three. Whomever they were, if we believe the stories, they had intimate and exact information about Jesus death and resurrection but were not at the tomb. Conversely, if these traditions were created post Easter, they are exactly as we would expect. Traditions which arose after the resurrection story in an attempt to place it on the lips of Jesus. He predicted it and welcomed it as the path his Father had chosen for him (see Jn. 18:11 below).
Following is the four gospel accounts of Jesus arrest. Peter has just cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear.
52“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
55In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.” (Matthew 26:52-56)
48“Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? 49Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” 50Then everyone deserted him and fled.” (Mark 14:48-50)
52”Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.” (Luke 22:52-54)
2”Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. 3So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers [a cohort consists of about 600 soldiers] and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.” (John 18:2,3)
11”Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” 12Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people. (John 18:11-14)
There are obvious similarities and differences among the accounts, as well as important details.
It is possible Jesus was arrested by a large number of Roman soldiers anticipating he might be with those who followed him by day. However, without Pilate’s approval, it is implausible they obey the request of the Jewish leaders without informing their governor. This detail certainly adds to the poignancy of the moment and the Jesus legend but it must be unhistorical.
Though included in all four gospels, we must assume Peter never actually struck this servant cutting off his ear though he may have had a sword. Had he wounded this man he would surely have been arrested or struck down. Why Peter would be armed is curious given Jesus’ consistent preaching on peace and non violence. These two portraits of Jesus seem incongruent. His view may have changed once he received the nomination of messiah and its attending political responsibilities. Jesus and his followers may have been preparing for an inevitable revolt (see Lk. 23:2, 14 below). The fact those who came to arrest Jesus were well armed suggests they anticipated possible resistance. Faced with overwhelming odds, Jesus’ disciples “fled.”
2″And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.” (Luke 23:2)
13”Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him.” (Luke 23:13,14)
Next, Matthew and Mark refer to scripture being fulfilled where no such reference is to be found. The Hebrew writings do not contain anything approximating what transpired in the Garden of Gethsemane. What the writers had in mind remains a mystery.
Those adhering to strict verbal inspiration are again forced to account for four different versions. Each word must be true in all four. This means Jesus uttered every word exactly as recorded and the writers chose from this “pool” of dialogue. Or some (Matthew and John) heard Jesus’ actual words while Mark and Luke borrowed from another source. This brings us back again to the bigger question, “Who had this great wealth of information and why were they not at the tomb?”
The other explanation offered by evangelicals amounts to inspired dictation. A writer could “create history” under the influence of God’s holy spirit. He becomes a human conduit through which the divine word flows. This was the prevailing view of the church Fathers. This theory however reduces the writers to passive repositories of revelation though the writings are hardly literary masterpieces suggesting God accommodated their human weakness.
As usual the natural explanation is the simplest and answers all questions. There were many traditions circulating from which the writers could select and edit to suit their literary needs. Also, some may have truly believed God was illuminating their minds with what to write. Belief in the spirit of prophecy was robust during this eschatological time (see Joel 2:28,29).
Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin
The Sanhedrin served as the highest court of justice in ancient Israel. It was a body of religious leaders overseen by the high priest. Traditionally, they have bee villainized by Christian writers for their complicity in Jesus death from the start. Despite the Romans actually carrying out the crucifixion, Rome is often portrayed as yielding to the demands of the Jewish hierarchy.
I believe Jesus was arrested that fateful night by order of the Sanhedrin. Further, I believe they bribed Judas to find his location among the myriads of pilgrims packing Jerusalem. And I believe this was carried out at night to avoid reprisal from his daytime followers who gathered to hear him preach. I also believe had they the power of capital punishment (Jn. 18:31), they would have executed Jesus themselves. Finally, I think their actions saved the lives of countless Israelites (Jews).
45Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.[‘ethnos’]”
49Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people [‘laos’] than that the whole nation [‘ethnos’] perish.”
51He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation [‘ethnos’], 52and not only for that nation [‘ethnos’] but also for the scattered children [‘tekna’] of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53So from that day on they plotted to take his life.” (John 12:45-53, note also 18:14)
These cryptic words (vs. 49,50) are alleged to have been spoken by the high priest Caiaphas. The author then adds his own editorial remarks (vs. 51,52). The question we must ask is, “Who was there to record this meeting?” This pattern is found throughout the narratives and demands an appeal to “direct revelation” to resolve. God vouchsafed much of the material we find here to his writers. However, this may reflect a well known tradition surrounding Jesus’ arrest and handing over to Roman authorities.
Caiaphas is speaking of Jesus death saving the lives of the “whole nation” (Israel). In other words, if Jesus were to continue unchallenged, he would garner an even greater following resulting in Roman intervention (vs. 48). The deaths of tens of thousands of Jews would ensue. They saw the potential damage which could occur and chose to stop it before it did. Rome on the other hand would watch and wait for justification to intervene.
From the standpoint of the author, the destruction of Rome had already taken place, so he knew the severity of Rome’s response to insurrection.
Had Jesus been allowed to continue his quest to claim the throne, Rome would have been forced to take action. I believe many of those who hailed Jesus as “king of the Jews” were politically motivated. Their interest was purely to shed the shackles of Roman oppression.
These words reflect the actual motives of the Sanhedrin who should be applauded for avoiding a senseless slaughter by exposing Jesus as a pretender. This of course assumes Jesus was a false messiah disillusioned with dreams of securing the throne.
It is important to stress neither the religious leaders nor the people of Israel were opposed to a messiah, in truth they wanted and were expecting one, but they considered Jesus a pretender. If they backed him but God did not endorse him, they would be at the mercy of the full weight of Rome’s army, a position they would only take with certainty. In this respect, by turning Jesus over before things escalated, the Jewish authorities were heroes not scoundrels as portrayed.
The last phrase is especially curious because it introduces the concept of unification of the nations with an interplay on the two words “nation” and “people.” Remember this is John editorializing based on his current experience as a Jewish Christian among Gentile Christians (“other sheep,” Jn. 10:16). The universalism of his gospel which is well documented is expressed here. He cleverly implies, unbeknownst to Caiaphas’ his actual wish to kill Jesus to save “the whole nation” carried far more prophetic weight than he realized.
9“Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him.” (Mark 15:9,10)
Jesus death physically saved thousands of Israelites while at the same time spiritually united Israelites and Gentiles far and wide. Herein, the motives of the religious leaders are laid bare while God’s greater purposes were accomplished through them. The religious leaders were protecting their own self interests knowing only pain and suffering would result from Jesus’ misguided zeal. Like the revolt to come, Rome would take away their religious privileges and their city. In hindsight, they were right.
Because Jesus trial was private and therefore its contents were a secret, speculation as to what was said could be customized to suit the writer’s narrative. As with most accounts of the same event, the gospels vary somewhat in details.
63b”The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
64“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:63b-64)
61b”Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
62“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
63The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. 64“You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”(Mark 14:61b-63)
66”At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and the teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 67“If you are the Messiah,” they said, “tell us.”
Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”
70They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”
He replied, “You say that I am.”
71Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.” (Luke 22:66-71)
33”Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
36Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
37“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
38“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” (John 18:33-39)
7”The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
8When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, 9and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.” (John 19:7-9)
A common misconception among Christians involves the multiple meanings of the phrase, “Son of God.” Many read 4th century trinitarian theology into it supposing it means the second person of the trinity. Such thinking would be entirely foreign at this time. The popular usage would be synonymous with “messiah” (Matt. 16:16; 26:63, Mk. 14:61), harkening back to 2 Samuel 7:14, where God’s vice regent on earth was considered his “son” (Psa. 2:7; 89:27).
The Jewish leaders who questioned Jesus are said to take great offense at Jesus claiming this title. The second time Pilate brings Jesus out before the crowd (Jn. 19:4), an interesting twist is introduced by John. Here Jesus is thought to have committed a crime deserving of death based on Jewish law. The law in view is unknown. Blasphemy against God which was punishable by death (Lev. 24:16) may be John’s intent. Simply claiming to be the messiah, however, is hardly blasphemous.
Once again we must step back and look at context and the evolution of Christology to this point. During Jesus earthly life he may have run afoul of the religious leaders for his attacks on their failure to accept his prophetic perspective. It is unlikely this antipathy ever amounted to seeking his death. All this changed during Passover and especially after the resurrection story.
As previously discussed, the prospect of Jesus as messiah carried immense consequences during the festival. Emotionally charged pilgrims who had flooded the city were susceptible to mob mentality especially if political agitators were present. During the day Jesus probably attracted swarms of curious onlookers among whom were those hoping to spark a revolt. The religious leaders knew Rome showed little tolerance for a potential uprising. Their own well being and that of the city were at high risk. It was these fears which were behind their efforts to have Jesus executed when he refused to recant his claim to the throne. Yet the gospel writers were not privy to this information at the time suggesting something more.
Once the resurrection story gained traction and made its way into Jewish society, the religious leaders were confronted with a “new” Jesus, the heavenly Christ. This Jesus had divine characteristics owing to his unprecedented ascension to the very throne of God.
32”God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
35until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.” ’ [Ps. 110:1]
36“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:32-36)
55But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56“Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55-56)
By the time these accounts were written, Christians were propagating the belief Jesus was equal to God in essence though not in stature. Such a claim would amount to blasphemy. The tradition which saw Jesus as himself making this claim before his accusers would cement it as originating in him. Establishing Jesus’ Messianic and deistic credentials was one of these early Christians highest hurdles to clear. Grounding it in these historical moments helped establish Jesus credibility and connect the earthly and heavenly personae.
The synoptics choose to highlight the apocalyptic aspect of Jesus as “the son of man” (see above texts). It should be noted this promise made by Jesus failed to materialize. John, on the other hand, includes two separate meetings first with Annas, the father in law to Caiaphas, the high priest (Jn. 18:13,19) and then to the high priest himself (Jn. 18:24). No such double trial is mentioned in the other accounts.
The phrase “son of man” like “son of God” has a twofold meaning. And like the latter carries divine as well as human import. Jesus likely referred to himself with this term as was used by the prophet Ezekiel over ninety times to represent the ideal representative of man. Its apocalyptic use in Daniel was hijacked by Christians and applied to Jesus as a readymade reference to his heavenly position as seen in the above texts. Again helping to establish Jesus new role as prophesied in the ancient Israelite texts.
Once again we must stress the writers emphasis on life after the cross. If these accounts are true, Jesus is making no secret of his future return and hence resurrection. How his disciples failed to remember this only hours later is the real mystery of Christianity.
59”The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.
Finally two came forward 61and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’ ” (Matthew 26:59-61)
This accusal against Jesus promising to destroy the temple is most certainly a fiction inserted as a veiled prophetic reference to his resurrection and the prophet Jonah. While it offers graphic imagery, it is nonsensical because it is both impossible and non threatening. First, a man could not singlehandedly destroy a structure as prodigious as the Temple and then subsequently rebuild it. Second, what would the purpose be to destroy it only to rebuild it three days later? If Jesus said this he would be more guilty of insanity than blasphemy.
Furthermore, it would seem if someone wanted to invent false charges, there would be a host of better more believable ones than this. The motives of the original source or gospel writer is readily transparent, however.
Jesus on trial before Pilate
Jesus is now led to Pilate by the Jewish leaders who had hoped he would rescind his kingship. The dialogue recorded during that private meeting is purely speculative as it is here with Pilate. We should not put much credence in what is recorded because no one was there to witness it. Conservative Christians who maintain this is verbatim what was said must answer the obvious question, “How could it be?”
These narratives were crafted by Christians to advance and support the prevailing attitudes of the day. It was based on the conviction Jesus was the heavenly messiah therefore everything had to conform to this. Also, Jerusalem had just fallen and the nation suffered enormous casualties as a result of the revolt. It was generally believed this was the direct result of Israel’s rejection of Jesus as messiah (see Matt. 22:7, Lk. 19:41-44).
It is easy to vilify Pilate today as cowardly and easily manipulated by Jewish leaders. This is a false narrative without support except the biblical text. It is equally wrong to castigate the Jews for their role in arresting Jesus. Both positions assume Jesus was who he said he was. What if he was not?
Christians could ill afford to offend the Roman authorities. They had made no attempt to assist in the defense of the city and were demonized by Jews for it. This mutual antipathy is evident in the gospels where frequent attacks are made on the Jewish leadership for failing to recognize Jesus. Pilate, on the other hand, is presented as making every effort to release Jesus and eventually washes his hands of responsibility when the crowd insists on Jesus’ crucifixion (Matt. 27:24).
If we believe the biblical text, Pilate repeatedly tries to release Jesus. He resorts to a “tradition” which has no extra biblical support and seems completely implausible. He willingly releases a known insurrectionist and murderer at the behest of a crowd of Jews. A Roman official would never submit to the will of the people he was tasked with governing. He had the authority to release Jesus without the consent of the Jews. However, there is another possibility.
If we believe the narrative and accept the tradition of releasing a prisoner at Passover, would there be any justification for releasing Barabbas and keeping Jesus? One distinct possibility is the Jewish authorities and the people they persuaded to demand Jesus crucifixion viewed Jesus as a danger to their lives, their families, their Temple and their city. Only a handful of Jews, relatively speaking, supported Jesus as shown by their desertion. The remaining Israelites understood the potential danger in Jesus pursuing the throne and acted to prevent it.
If indeed Passover was Jesus’ grand celestial unveiling as divine messiah, where were the thousands (or more) of Jesus followers demanding his release? His disciples were so fearful they fled rather than risk being arrested. Does this sound realistic given Pilate’s unwillingness to execute Jesus? What had he done to make them this afraid?
As previously mentioned, no one was there to hear this dialogue so Jesus’ followers had great latitude in how they composed their narratives. The origin of each is unknown. They may have heard an oral tradition which they inscripturated and modified. Or they may have written under what they thought was the direct influence of the holy spirit to “guide their pens.” This is referred to as “creating history” because God who knows all vouchsafed to his authors all pertinent information.
This entire process has no factual or logical basis. Rather it uses deductive reasoning fueled by faith. It works backward from the hypothesis Jesus is the heavenly Christ to his earthly life by creating assumptive links to join the two. These links are invented (prophetic hindsight) or presumed based on the inexorable conviction of Jesus resurrection. In short, believers “knew” the start and end points. All that remained was creating a series of theological dots and joining them.
Jesus seems less than definitive before Pilate about his kingly claim. For decades this puzzled me considering the gospel writers could have presented it differently. I realized when these narratives were composed (several years after 70AD), neither Jesus nor his kingdom had arrived. It would seem strange for Jesus to have been anything but ambivalent regarding his messiahship. He appears to be in messianic limbo. He is a king in chains without a throne, kingdom or followers. It is not surprising the gospel writers introduce the “son of man” and spiritual kingdom concepts.
Each author inserts these into his narrative to change and push Jesus’ messianic role. He goes from an earthly king waiting for his kingdom to one who had to undergo death and resurrection to return later as the heavenly king. However, the survival of Jewish Christianity hinges on Jesus’ return within a reasonable time after 70AD. Either he’s coming back soon, or he isn’t coming back at all.
Gentile Christianity was not only not bound by prophetic restrictions but could rationalize this new spiritual direction of the gospel because of Israel’s continued rejection of Jesus. Once Christianity severed its Jewish parentage, it was free to evolve and redefine itself.
Recalibrating our understanding of the Bible
Even those who do not practice Christianity, still accord the Bible and Jesus a more than human level of respect. Jesus is considered a great and loving moral teacher. Most people believe the Bible is not simply a human book — it is only a human book!
In a previous article we discussed the need for a paradigm shift in how we read and view the Bible. We must resist the temptation to assume everything Jesus said and did was blameless. Also we must stop considering “prophets” as actual mouthpieces of God. They were religious fanatics who projected their own religious bigotry on “God” and then imposed these ideas onto others as divinely ordained.
Both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles are religious propaganda intended to illicit a faith response from their readers. At the time of each’s composition, this was essential for the survival of the faith. The writers may have been sincere but they were also religious bigots.
The other option is to accept the Bibles as God mandated. If this is the case, Israel is the chosen people, Jesus is the Savior of those who believe in him, miracles exist, creationism is true, demon possession is real, all other religions past and present are false and its adherents hell bound. Either the Bible is fantasy fiction or it is the timeless, enduring, infallible word of God.
Pick a philosophical lane.
The blind men and the elephant
There is a compromise as to how we view the Bible. There is a story about four blind men and an elephant. Each man is at a different spot examining the elephant. One feels the tail and describe it as thin, short and hairy. Another feels a leg and describes it as thick, round and rough. The third feels the nose and describes it as curvy, tapered with holes in the end. The final man feels a tusk and describes it as hard, smooth and pointed.
The question: Which of them knows what an elephant is?
The answer: All of them and none of them knows.
Each understands only a piece of what an elephant is based on their experience. If asked, each may claim to definitively know “the elephant” and be able to describe in some detail their experience. They may mock and deride the others for professing to have exclusive knowledge of the elephant based on their convictions.
No one knows definitively whether God(s) exists or what he/she/it/ they is/are. Perhaps the many religions are merely a sample of what “God” is with each having a small taste of the divine. Whether this is true or not, one thing is definite: If God exists, he is not the God of the Bible. Therefore, as a corollary nothing in the Bible should be elevated to the position of divinely sanctioned. We may sympathize with the desperate mind of ancient men as they struggled to make sense of a confusing and cruel world. The god concept was the natural answer to mankind’s many dilemmas: earthquakes, famine, pestilence, wind, fire, floods, galactic phenomena, disease and of course death.
God made sense of a mysterious and frightening world. It is time we realize we have outgrown our need for god like a child with a teddy bear. Relying on some heavenly deity to comfort and sustain us is only feasible if it brings peace and community to the world. A God who is sectarian and fiercely tribal is not worth serving.
Religion has helped countless souls endure life’s struggles but this is a testimony to the power of one’s faith in an outside entity greater than oneself. It gives people the confidence in “someone” else to overcome but lack in themselves. The multiplicity of religions and belief systems has testified to this for thousands of years. The one constant in this is the faith experience. However, the mutual exclusivity and incompatibility of many of the world’s religions put them in opposition to one another and render them contradictory. Either they are all true, all false or all minutely true.
6”Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
Either this statement is true or it is false. If true, mankind is constrained by it and must conform to the consequences. Christians should be living exemplary lives providing the unbelieving world with unmissable evidence of the reality of God in their lives. Furthermore, their one and only mission should be to bring salvation to an unsaved world (Matt. 28:19,20). If not, it is the height of presumption and arrogance for Christians to claim theirs is the only true faith and only “way” to heaven. Such thinking could be excused two thousand years ago, but such elitism today is pathetic and naive.
I will make this point repeatedly. Rationally attacking the Bible is far more than an academic exercise. It is an unbridled attempt to expose the many weaknesses in Christian doctrine beginning with its theological legitimacy. Without prophetic anchoring in the Hebrew Bible, Christianity is delegitimized. The early Israelite followers of Jesus recognized this and quickly jettisoned their belief in him as messiah. Jews resistance to Christianity for nearly two thousand years despite at times aggressive evangelism efforts is proof of this.
Christianity should have died before the close of the first century, and would have was it not for a Pharisee turned upstart Christian.
Paul salvaged Christianity due largely to self interest. Both Judean Jews who thought him a defector and Jewish Christians who suspected a spy didn’t trust him so he turned to Gentiles. To this heretofore untapped mission field he offered all the ancient promises free of charge (legal requirements). We should note this was not a sudden change in the direction of the gospel but one of deliberate stages.
It began with Peter’s conversion of Cornelius’ household. Prior to this circumcision was a prerequisite for Gentile proselytes. By foregoing this requirement, the gospel took its first step away from its legal restraints. For Paul this opened the door allowing all Gentiles to pass through without any adherent to the ancient laws. Though facing stiff opposition from the Jerusalem (Jewish) church, Paul was able to use his superior training in the Hebrew writings to justify this new faction of Christianity. The largely illiterate disciples of Jesus were no match for his rhetorical skills and his Gentile audience were entirely at the mercy of his knowledge.
In addition to this was the pressing financial strait in which the Jerusalem brethren found themselves. Pragmatic expediency transcended theological urgency and Paul was allowed to promote his new gospel among Gentile pagans. They flocked to Christianity in droves eager to avoid judgment and partake of the ancient promises and inherit eternal life, and have continued to do so for two millennia.
Many of the biblical stories are so engrained in our culture anything that diverges seems automatically or reflectively wrong. Christians have inflicted a synthetic perspective on the Hebrew Bible to validate and support their faith. They boast of finding Jesus on every page of “the Old Testament.” As a result, few even attempt to unearth the original meaning behind Christological texts and if they do it is considered secondary in importance.
You don’t look for answers if you think you already have them.
It has been my experience when talking to non Christians, they may not accept the Bible as the word of God but they also have no idea what to think of it. Usually they have a simplistic or naive understanding of its origin and an idealized view of Jesus. Generally, it is considered impolite and insensitive to disparage those with religious beliefs. THIS MUST CHANGE! As long as these believers justify their actions to rob others of their freedoms (LGBTQ community, women’s advocacy groups, minorities, immigrants, the environment etc…), we should be allowed to attack the source of their beliefs — the Bible.
These articles are not personal attacks on evangelicals, who are unknowing victims of their own beliefs, but a rational attack on a pernicious ideology.
Society lacks sufficient knowledge to offer a robust intellectual challenge to Christianity allowing Christians to exploit this ignorance among the vulnerable and desperate. What passes for “biblical knowledge” today is laughable. Christian leaders smugly telling the world about “what the Bible says” amounts to the misinformed teaching the uninformed.
The Bible is historical fiction. It is a collection of ancient superstitions wrapped around historical people and events to give them credibility. It is fiction piggybacking on facts in hopes of being legitimized by the other.
These words may sound harsh and even insensitive but the reader should remember, my motives are genuine. I gave up the best years of my life in pursuit of a faith I discovered to be falsely based. For over a dozen years I poured my entire life and future into an illusory religion. Once I discovered it to be false, it would take decades of painstaking research and personal hardship to find the answers I needed for intellectual peace. Since abandoning Christianity, I have continued to dedicate my life to this singular purpose:
Providing an alternative biblical perspective which is more rational and not only does not require the existence of God but is far more reasonable without it.
My hope is to prevent the next generation of children from being forced to adopt their parents faith without a more viable reasonable alternative — humanism. For those still enmeshed in evangelicalism ideological web, these articles offer a methodical means of extricating oneself. I am persuaded, a systematic and rational deconstruction of one’s faith is the most effective way to escape without psychological damage. If evangelicalism is the monster in the closet, it is time to turn on the light and open the door.
Finally, for those on the outside who are not nor have ever been an evangelical, perhaps these articles will provide a window into the world of evangelicalism particularly the inherent dangers of this sinister ideology.