Help! Words/Miracles of Jesus - literally true?


#1

Hi,

I am attending a course on the Bible and the lecturer says that Jesus did not literally say certain phrases e.g. “the Father and I are one” and “I am the way, the truth and the life” - it was the writers of the Gospels who attributed those words to Jesus because they believed He was the Messiah. The writers “put these words into the mouth of Jesus” to convey the message that Jesus was the Messiah. Our lecturer says that this is a literary device used by the writers of the Gospels. She says that we must look to see what message the writer of the Gospel wanted to convey as opposed to believing that what is written in the Gospels was literally said by Jesus. Is this a correct approach?

Most of my class are now confused because it seems that the stories of the miracles of Jesus (e.g. walking on water) and words attributed to Jesus are not literally true. She says they are ‘true’ i.e. they contain an important message but not ‘literally true’. Another example is that most Biblical scholars believe (our lecturer says) that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem but in Nazareth. She says the Gospel writers wrote that Jesus was born in Bethlehem because this was in an Old Testament prophesy. She says that the Gospel writers wanted to convey the message that Jesus was Messiah and therefore wrote that He was born in Bethlehem.

Is the above view correct in relation to the study of the Gospels? It doesn’t necessarily take away the fact that Jesus was the Messiah but it does cast doubt on the accuracy of the Gospel accounts. How do I refute the above view (if it is incorrect)?


#2

I hope that this course you are taking is not sponsored by a Catholic Parish. If it is I would strongly protest that they are using a speaker who is not teaching Catholic doctrine.

If I were to challenge this speaker I would take the following approach:

  1. What evidence do you have to back up your claim that Jesus did not speak the words attributed to him in the Gospels?
  2. What hard statistics do you have to back up your claim that “…most Biblical scholars do not believe Jesus was born in Bethleham…” That statement might be true for a subset of scholars, or the scholars that the lecturer believes are “real” scholars, but I doubt that a true majority of Biblical scholars believe that statement. Although it may be true that a majority of Biblical scholars believe that it **might be possible **that Jesus was born in Bethleham, that is very different from saying that the majority believe he was **not **born in Bethleham.

As far as point number 1 is concerned, I am not aware of any hard evidence to back up the lecturer’s assertion. There is alot of conjecture and guessing but there is no one who can definitively say “No, Jesus did not say that.” I would further ask this teacher:
If Jesus did not say what was attributed to him, why are there no writings that challenge this? After all, the synoptics were written within the lifetimes of the Apostles so there were people alive when the Gospels were written who actually followed Jesus and listened to him…they were called disciples. How come none of the disciples contradicted the written Gospels. Finally, what authority or reason can we have, 2000 years later, to question the eye witness accounts of the Apostles?

I hope this helps.


#3

Thanks very much for your help DallasCatholic.

Just a few other questions that someone might know the answer to:

  1. Is it true/does the Catholic Church hold that the writers of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke had a copy of the Gospel of Mark in front of them and a source called Q and their own private sources when writing their Gospels?

  2. Is it true that they gave themselves the pseudonyms ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’ because they wanted to be linked to the actual disciples of Jesus who included Matthew and Luke.

Would anyone know of a Catholic writer / website which would give a Catholic perspective on interpreting the literal truth of the Bible? I think the Church teaches that the Bible is free from “theological error” but that the facts in it aren’t necessarily literally true e.g. different accounts of the number of hours Jesus was on the cross in the Gospels.

Thanks in advance for your help!


#4

There are theories that are neither rejected nor accepted by the Church, as far as the actual authorship and the closeness to evidence of the authors of the Gospels are not denied.

The Q theory has been around for a long time (over 100 years) and is AFAIK still quite popular in Bible scholarship, though there are also some important scholars (the Anglican N. T. Wright comes to mind) who challenge it. I’m far from being an authority on Bible scholarship trends though…

  1. Is it true that they gave themselves the pseudonyms ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’ because they wanted to be linked to the actual disciples of Jesus who included Matthew and Luke.

No. They were identical with the apostle Matthew, originally called Levi, and with Paul’s cooperator, the Greek physician Luke, who also wrote Acts.

(You may ask then, why on earth the writer of a Gospel would take the pseudonym of some obscure Greek Christian like Luke who never saw Jesus, when he could have taken a much more prestigious name like “Peter” or “James”??)

Would anyone know of a Catholic writer / website which would give a Catholic perspective on interpreting the literal truth of the Bible? I think the Church teaches that the Bible is free from “theological error” but that the facts in it aren’t necessarily literally true e.g. different accounts of the number of hours Jesus was on the cross in the Gospels.

There are some around but I don’t know any personally. Others may help you…


#5

There is a popular theory that Q was a complete written Gospel, somewhat on the lines of the Gospel of Thomas. For this, there is no supporting evidence.
What witnesses there are to Q seem to show no fixed order of text.
The most likely form which Q had was then an assortment of pamphlets, probably comtemporaneous scribblings of a scribe, who was present for much of the mission. The most likely scribe would be Matthew, who was trained as a tax collector and census keeper.
It is of note, that the record keeping device used was probably the Roman wax tablet, a pair of cedar wood panels about 8mm thick, and 100mm x 150mm, each hollowed out to a depth of 4mm, leaving a 100 boundary, and the cavity filled with bees’ wax. The two panels were hinged together with twine, and a metal pin, sharpened to a point at one end, and shaped like a spoon at the other, served to hold the panels closed to protect the wax, and the sharp end was the stylus point, and the spooned end, the eraser.
About 20 lines of 20 characters of Roman text could be written on each leaf. This is about the length of the majority of text units found in Q.


#6

Quite likely in some cases. There was probably a list of “sayings of Jesus” which were written down first, some may refer to this as the “Q”. (Q is short for Quelle, German for source)

Our lecturer says that this is a literary device used by the writers of the Gospels. She says that we must look to see what message the writer of the Gospel wanted to convey as opposed to believing that what is written in the Gospels was literally said by Jesus. Is this a correct approach?

I dont see them as necessary mutually exclusive. Having said that, yes, we must understand “the author directly expresses”. That is, what is he trying to tell us. This is what is known as the “literal sense”, and is the basis of all other senses of scripture. We must get this right first. One arrives at this by careful analysis of the text in its historical and literary context.That is, the time place, as well as the genre and type of text.

Most of my class are now confused because it seems that the stories of the miracles of Jesus (e.g. walking on water) and words attributed to Jesus are not literally true. She says they are ‘true’ i.e. they contain an important message but not ‘literally true’.

This is a leap! I dont think she will be knocked over in the rush for scripture scholars wanting to support her go this far. What next, doubt the resurrection? I can name a few theologians who ended up having a fireside chat with the CDF for making such claims. Schillebeecx for one. I wouldnt swallow this one, and you will easily find top level scholars to support that they did factually happen when it comes to your essay. Let me know if you need some names.

Another example is that most Biblical scholars believe (our lecturer says) that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem but in Nazareth. She says the Gospel writers wrote that Jesus was born in Bethlehem because this was in an Old Testament prophesy. She says that the Gospel writers wanted to convey the message that Jesus was Messiah and therefore wrote that He was born in Bethlehem.

Well, certainly there is prophesy pointing to Bethlehem, but this doesnt exclude it from being true. If prophecies didnt come true, we all might as well pack up our stuff and be atheists.
A world expert on the Infancy Narratives is “Mark Coleridge”, now Archbishop of Canberra-Goulburn. If you could find something written by him it would certainly be worth quoting him.

Is the above view correct in relation to the study of the Gospels? It doesn’t necessarily take away the fact that Jesus was the Messiah but it does cast doubt on the accuracy of the Gospel accounts.

The view is roughly correct, although I wish you had a lecturer who was a little more careful at some of the propositions she touts. Anyway, no-ones perfect, I am sure she is doing her best.
No, it certainly doesnt cast doubt on Christ! Although, I agree, it is easy to wonder if some might. Remember, the scriptures are in the context of the faith community, never in isolation to it. The faith of the Church confirms the scriptures, and the scriptures confirm the faith of the Church.

How do I refute the above view (if it is incorrect)?

Well, presumably you have an essay to write at the end? You will have a chance to crystalise your views after you have learned the important stuff you are learning.

Dont feel too bad for being challenged, I had a terrible suspiscion of scripture for about 6 months, but then it all fell into place, and I recaptured my love for it, but on a deeper level.

Let me know if you need some GOOD books to read on all this, I will try to give you some names of worthy scholars.


#7

This is a very reasonable theory that the Church does not take a position on.

  1. Is it true that they gave themselves the pseudonyms ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’ because they wanted to be linked to the actual disciples of Jesus who included Matthew and Luke.

Also a theory, but one that is almost universally accepted.

Would anyone know of a Catholic writer / website which would give a Catholic perspective on interpreting the literal truth of the Bible? I think the Church teaches that the Bible is free from “theological error” but that the facts in it aren’t necessarily literally true e.g. different accounts of the number of hours Jesus was on the cross in the Gospels.

Yes - you to need read “And God Said What?” by Margaret Ralph (a Catholic director of Adult Religious Education) avaliable from Amazon, etc. at a very reasonable price.


#8

Many parish bible courses such as yours use the book “*And God Said What” *by Margaret Ralph which clearly explains all the concerns you have mentioned. Most of what you have said is acceptable but you need to understand what a “gospel” is, who they were written for, and what the Church’s documents on interpretation say.


#9

*Dei Verbum *from the Second Vatican Council says:

  1. It is common knowledge that among all the Scriptures, even those of the New Testament, the Gospels have a special preeminence, and rightly so, for they are the principal witness for the life and teaching of the incarnate Word, our savior.

The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin. For what the Apostles preached in fulfillment of the commission of Christ, afterwards they themselves and apostolic men, under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, handed on to us in writing: the foundation of faith, namely, the fourfold Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.(1)

  1. Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven (see Acts 1:1). Indeed, after the Ascension of the Lord the Apostles handed on to their hearers what He had said and done. This they did with that clearer understanding which they enjoyed (3) after they had been instructed by the glorious events of Christ’s life and taught by the light of the Spirit of truth. (2) The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explaining some things in view of the situation of their churches and preserving the form of proclamation but always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus.(4) For their intention in writing was that either from their own memory and recollections, or from the witness of those who “themselves from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word” we might know “the truth” concerning those matters about which we have been instructed (see Luke 1:2-4).

It used to be enough for people to just not do what Jesus commanded, now they want to claim He did not say what He said.

For a refreshing overview of these issues read No Apology from the New Apologists by Karl Keating.

These “scientific” truths come and go. They are not more certain than the Church, so they can be watched with interest but need not cause any anxiety. When they are correct they will validate the truth of the Scriptures; when they disagree with the Scriptures they are just wandering in the brush and we can wait for them to make their way back to the path.

Spiritus Sapientiae nobiscum.

John Hiner


#10

Thank you to John Hiner, patg, cialovesyou, Voco proTatiano and lumendelumine for your help particularly the quote from Dei Verbum:
Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven.

I suppose I wonder if some/any/none of what is in the Gospel is poetic licence i.e. the Gospel writers saying Jesus did
something because it would show He was the Messiah. The lecturer would say that she has no problem with the phenonomen of the resurrection as something clearly happened to the disciples after the death of Jesus that made them believe that Jesus was the Christ. She says that the title ‘Christ’ was only attributable to Jesus after his death. I’m afraid to bring up the passage of Scripture when Peter says ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ and Jesus replies ‘It was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven’ because she can turn around to me and say: The Gospel writers put that in because they believed Jesus was the Messiah and put these details in so people would believe. How would I respond to that? If I quote Scripture she can easily turn that around and say ‘Christ never said that’. If I say that what is in the Bible is literally true she can quote me the fact that there are different versions in the Gospels of how long Jesus was hanging on the Cross to back up her point that Scripture is not literally true.
As Catholics do we believe that Jesus literally walked on water and cured lepers etc. Is there anything that, as Catholics, we believe that a particular circumstance is symbolic or an allegory and didn’t literally happen? Some people might say that the story about Jesus putting the demon into the pigs and all of them charging down the cliff is a bit extreme - why would Jesus destroy someone’s livelihood. How could I respond to that?

(Thanks so much for all your help so far, it’s much appreciated)


#11

Sadly, it seems that some of the claims that your lecturer makes are similar to those that the Jesus Seminar makes

(If you do not now what that is, The Jesus Seminar is a reseach team of scholars who try and ‘debunk’ the Gospels to seek the ‘Historical Jesus’.

They also sadly think that the Empty Tomb and the Resurrection is fiction Some of them even think that Jesus’ Corpse was fed to the dogs] and they were just formulated by the ‘Visionary Experiences’ of Peter, Paul and Mary not that folk-music band :smiley: ])

If someone says ‘Jesus never said that’, why not just turn and say ‘How did you know? Were you there when he did(not) say or did that? How did scholars know that Jesus never did those things? How could Jesus not do them?’ :smiley:


#12

Beautiful! We are always so worried about trying to prove something that we sometimes forget to challenge the challenger.

As for the other post I saw about those trying to debunk the empty tomb…we have eyewitness accounts written while many eyewitnesses were still living. Many of these eyewitnesses, including almost all of Jesus’ closest associates were tortured and murdered for their profession of this historical and supernatural event. That’s good enough for me man. I don’t know about you, but while I may be willing to die for something that I absolutely positively believe, I am positive that I would not die for something that I knew was false. Let’s face it…a lot of people would have been willing to die for a lie that they absolutely knew was a lie. It’s not like they said they just saw an empty tomb. They saw HIM!!!


#13

I was reading through this topic and was just ready to ask if this was the "Jesus Seminar’.
O.P. - How far along is the class? It just makes me wonder what is coming up.
The teacher cannot prove the miracles did not literally happen, nor can she prove Jesus did not say the words attributed to Him since she was not there. It seems to me the curriculum is striving to debunk the Divine nature of Jesus. If Jesus did not do or say the things in the Gospels, why was He viewed as such a threat to have put to death on a cross?
The class seems not only non-Catholic, but non-Christian even allowing by very liberal standards. If one is going to be so liberal as to deny all the Gospel,what’s the point? What’s left but a basic Humanist ‘be good to one another’ code?


#14

She’s full of it. Christ is the Greek equivalent of Messiah, both of which mean “anointed one.”

I’m afraid to bring up the passage of Scripture when Peter says ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ and Jesus replies ‘It was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven’ because she can turn around to me and say: The Gospel writers put that in because they believed Jesus was the Messiah and put these details in so people would believe.

Ah, but what the Gospels illustrate over and over is the selfsame apostles’ inability to understand Jesus’ words to them about what being Messiah meant. In a way, they are telling potential converts, "Yes, it’s hard to credit, look what dunces we were!"
Jesus’ followers expected him to assume his role as Messiah when he rode into Jerusalem so your teacher is right that the apostles didn’t get it until after the Resurrection.

How would I respond to that? If I quote Scripture she can easily turn that around and say ‘Christ never said that’. If I say that what is in the Bible is literally true she can quote me the fact that there are different versions in the Gospels of how long Jesus was hanging on the Cross to back up her point that Scripture is not literally true.

Well, you are dealing with eyewitness testimony here, written down years after the fact. Add to this that each evangelist was writing for a different audience and they may have changed emphases or details to suit that audience.

As Catholics do we believe that Jesus literally walked on water and cured lepers etc. Is there anything that, as Catholics, we believe that a particular circumstance is symbolic or an allegory and didn’t literally happen? Some people might say that the story about Jesus putting the demon into the pigs and all of them charging down the cliff is a bit extreme - why would Jesus destroy someone’s livelihood. How could I respond to that?

To take the last first: why let someone be born blind just so Jesus could come along and cure him when he’s an adult? Why let Lazarus’s family mourn just so Jesus could show off and raise him from the dead? These things had to happen, even though they might seem cruel on some level so that people could see Jesus work miracles and believe in Him.

And what was a herd of swine doing in Judea anyway?

As for demons, well, some of the “casting out” of demons clearly refer to curing epilepsy or mental illness (IMHO) but the apostles didn’t have our medical knowledge. As an epileptic I rather cringe when I read some of these passages, esp. having had fundamentalist types tell me that I’m in need of exorcism.

Ask your teacher if she believes in miracles at all, whether miracles (if she doesn’t she’s not RC, is she?) are sometimes granted thru the intercession of saints. If so, why on Earth would she try to deny all the miracles Jesus worked during his ministry?


#15

Welcome.
Welcome to the world of Biblical Scholarship.
There are some who heard what you hear and drift away from the faith.

Like many others, I hope this is an eye-opener for you to study the Scriptures under the guidance of the Magisterium.and strengthen your Faith in Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Lord.
The Scriptures and inspired texts determined by the Church and documents of Faith for a Community of Faith.

Personal interpretation of Scriptures have led many to break away for the Catholic Chrch to form Other Christian Communities - all claiming that they have be guided by the same Holy Spirit! - what a shame.

John is a highly developed gospel, rich in themes and doctrines, in particular the “theology of the Eucharist”

E.g. Stages of the Formation of the Gospel according to Mark

  1. The Historical Event – The Birth, Life, Teachings & Miracles, Passion Death & Resurrection.
  2. Oral Tradition - The early Church – Reflecting and Interpreting the Jesus event, Preaching, Teaching, Pastoral Needs, The Liturgy.
  3. From Aramaic (Hebrew) to Greek
  4. From Oral to Written Tradition
  5. The Evangelist…

It is TRUE that the Evangelists wrote for their different Communities. For example The gospel of Mark was written for persecuted Christians with two main themes
(a) Who is Jesu?
(b) What does it take to be a disciple?

I cannot help but to recommend you to begin a study with the Book “Discovering the Gospels - Four Accounts of the Good News” by Dr Margaret Nutting Ralph.


#16

my experience was similar, I already had a (orthodox) Catholic-college level knowledge of scripture, including the pros and cons of modern biblical theology and exegesis, and grad level courses on “the historical Jesus” movement and the historical-critical method. I took whatever bible study courses were offered in my Catholic parishes as an adult, and thought I knew how to rebut the Jesus Seminar types.

When I started to teach PSR we were required in my diocese to take basic catechist certification courses. The very first course, basics of the Catholic faith, was taught by a notable priest from a neighboring diocese, who had his own column in the diocesan newspaper and a radio show. In that course we–beginning catechists mind you–learned that John’s gospel is a poetic fantasy, most of which never happened. Mary and John were not present at the crucifixion (most of the gospel details of which are fabricated), the miracles were allegorical not real et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

That course roused my anger to a degree I don’t like to remember. I actually challenged the priest in class because the other people found what he was saying so disturbing. For a cradle Catholic with 12+ years of Catholic schooling to do so is not easy. I determined to find an alternative, found the Franciscan University summer catechetical conference in Steubenville, made sure the other class members knew about this alternative, and pestered the bishop about changes to the catechist certification classes. We did get a new bishop (Thomas Tobin), we did get better classes, and my certification from Steubenville was finally accepted.

Let this be the start for you of a whole new critical look at what is taught, by whom, and most important, WHY, in your parish. there is ALWAYS an agenda. Identify it, expose it, and fight against it.


#17

Dear Dublingirl:

A short document that you might want to review is the list of errors condemned by Pope Pius X in 1907. Many of the “theories” being asserted by your instructor seem to be on the list – or at least the list will aid you in finding your bearings in resisting the errors in what your teacher is claiming.

Remember, the statements in this list are condemned – they are the things that are not true. The document is called Lamentabili Sane.

Spiritus Sapientiae nobiscum.

John Hiner


#18

Here’s the problem with the “Q” document theory:

The Theory:

  1. The synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) have virtually identical passages, which indicates some of the writers copied from the others.

  2. The Gospel of Mark is shorter than Matthew and Luke, and its Greek is cruder. This leads to a suspicion it was earlier than Matthew and Luke.

The Problem:

There are passages in Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark, that are indentical.

The Solution:

Matthew and Luke must have had some other document that they copied from. This document is called the “Source” (the German word “Quelle,” or “source” led to it being called the Q document.)

The Problem with the Solution:

There is no Q document. The original proponents of the theory were never able to identify such a document, and no ancient writer mentions any document that might fill the role of the Q document.

The Q document was invented to make the Mark-first theory work. It therefore violates Ockham’s Razor (“Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity” or “Don’t invent things. Go with the simplest solution.”)

The simplest solution is that Matthew wrote first. Mark (or Peter) had access to Matthew’s work, and Mark used that for his Gospel. And Luke, as we know, said he used earlier writings to compile his Gospel.


#19

Most of my class are now confused because it seems that the stories of the miracles of Jesus (e.g. walking on water) and words attributed to Jesus are not literally true

I had a good catholic education and I was taught that not everything in the gospels is true or attributable to the Lord.

I was told what texts were considered by the Church as untrue but I cannot remember them now. I know for certain that ‘Jesus walking on water’ was taught as a metaphor, that it did not in reality happen.

A very plausible one I was told: when Jesus said ‘it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven’, I thought that was a really silly example the Lord used. But my teacher [a priest] told me that what Jesus actually said was 'it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.

Note: not ‘an’ eye of ‘a’ needle but ‘the’ eye of ‘the’ needle!

‘The needle’ I was told was a small hole in the wall around Jerusalem. It was large enough for a man and a small camel to get through but not a large camel. Now that makes Jesus words and teaching all the more credible. It is not impossible for a camel to get through the eye of the needle, but it is very difficult. Simlarly it is not impossible for a rich man to get into heaven but it too is difficult.:slight_smile:


#20

Matthew and Luke must have had some other document that they copied from.

Simlarly I was taught that the original gospel was Mark, that Luke and Matthew relied heavily on Mark.

I was also told that St Clement was St Peters scribe, that he scribed for Peter in 1 Peter but that he actually wrote 2 Peter based on what the apostle taught him.

I was also told that some Acts were written by Luke

I have no idea if that is right.


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