Rejecting hell

In a book I’m reading, I came across the story of an evangelical woman who one day realized she didn’t believe in hell. I found this interesting, particularly because a former student recently emailed me that he had come to the conclusion that there is no hell, and had in fact been drifting away not just from evangelical but Christian orthodoxy.

Now, clearly hell, and other nasty bits in monotheistic traditions, bother many people. Some occasionally decide they can’t believe in all that any more. I’m not sure how to interpret such events, however. I can see it as a kind of secularization, in that there’s a kind of individualism and dropping out of organized religion involved. But people who let go of hell typically don’t give up on supernatural convictions. A more common result seems to be drifting in the direction of an individualized spirituality, keeping God but rejecting hell, and maybe the Devil.

I guess in the long term, the result may be more secularization. After all, hell does have its place in the monotheistic intellectual economy. Without hell, there’s less of a motivation to believe at all costs, or, more importantly, to evangelize others. An individualized smattering of supernatural beliefs is less easy to reproduce in the next generation. Certainly it’s hard to make a coherent political force out of a diffuse, newagey supernaturalism. But I can also see this sort of pick-and-choose spirituality remaining as a kind of social default. I don’t know.

In any case, rejecting hell alone doesn’t turn anyone into any sort of nonbeliever. This is one problem I have with moral critiques of religious doctrines in general. The obvious solution is to make up a kinder and gentler religion. Which is fine with me, but it has no bearing on the truth of anything.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05275899305949454964 hardindr

    In a book I’m reading, I came across the story of an evangelical woman who one day realized she didn’t believe in hell.

    Is it The Fall of the Evangelical Nation? If it is, I would love to hear your thoughts about it when you are finished.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03859046131830902921 Mark Plus

    But if hell doesn’t exist, and we can’t go there when we die, then how can life have any meaning? ; )

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Hardindr: “Is it The Fall of the Evangelical Nation?”

    Yes. I just finished it, and I’ll post something on it soon.

    (How did you guess?)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05868095335395368227 vjack

    Very interesting. I just added a link to this post to a recent one I wrote about the subject of hell and Christian morality. You provided me with just the example I was looking for.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05275899305949454964 hardindr

    Taner, I bought the book, and though I haven’t read it yet, I did skim it and I remembered the story.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    My moral objection to the doctrine of hell, along with my moral objection to a God who would allow the murder of millions of innocent civilians in WWII, were major factors in my decision to reject Christianity, and in my decision to reject belief in God (i.e. an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good person).

    Once such moral objections take hold, it is difficult to maintain belief in the divine inspiration of the Bible, and once that cornerstone of Evangelical thinking comes down, the rest of the building soon collapses, and one is left, like Descartes, needing to rebuild one’s worldview from the foundations up.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    “In any case, rejecting hell alone doesn’t turn anyone into any sort of nonbeliever. This is one problem I have with moral critiques of religious doctrines in general. The obvious solution is to make up a kinder and gentler religion. Which is fine with me, but it has no bearing on the truth of anything.”

    As a sociological or psychological comment, this may well be correct. However, rejection of hell does have some important logical implications.

    If there is no hell, then either the New Testament puts words into Jesus’ mouth that he never spoke, or Jesus was mistaken about hell.

    If the NT put words into Jesus mouth that he never spoke (esp. on a matter of such theological importance), then we have good reason to doubt the historical reliability of the NT, and thus reasons for believing that Jesus is the Son of God are seriously undermined.

    On the other hand, if the NT correctly reports Jesus’ words confirming the doctrine of hell, then (assuming there is no such thing as hell) Jesus cannot be the divine Son of God. If he is not the Son of God, then both the NT and the teachings of Jesus must be rejected, or at least stripped of all divine authority and treated like any other bit of fallible human thinking.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 RickLannoye

    I'm a former Evangelical who has rejected the doctrine of Hell. I've written a short book on the topic–Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There's No Such Place As Hell. Much of the reason people cling to this belief has to do with the idea that "every word" of the Bible is inspired by God. But this is impossible. Take Luke 9:51-56 in which he gets quite upset with his disciples for merely suggesting that they should pray to God to burn to death an entire village of people who had rejected Jesus. The passage describes his diappointment with them for not understanding he had come to save and heal. Surely, then, this very same Jesus who was appalled at the idea of subjecting people, even though they had rejected him, to a few moments of torment by fire until death, would be even more appalled at the idea that he, himself, would torture billions of people, with fire, forever.

    Clearly, the idea of Hell was later inserted into Christian writings and placed on Jesus' lips to give it some false credibility.

    PS: If anyone would care to read more on this point, my book is available as a free pdf download at ricklannoye.com

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Rick said…

    "Clearly, the idea of Hell was later inserted into Christian writings and placed on Jesus' lips to give it some false credibility."

    No, this is far from clear.

    If Jesus did not teach the doctrine of Hell, then the Gospels are unreliable sources of the words of Jesus (which you probably agree with in any case). Thus, the words attributed to Jesus in Chapter 9 of Luke are also subject to doubt. What makes you think those words in Luke are authentic words from the historical Jesus?

    Furthermore, Jesus was probably an apocalyptic prophet. He believed in God & Good Angels vs. Devil & Bad Angels (demons)engaging in supernatural warfare, a soon-to-occur Judgement Day, the resurrection of the dead, etc.

    The apocalyptic worldview helped Jews to explain the problem of evil, esp. in view of domination of Jews by other nations and peoples.

    Heaven and Hell fit into the apocalyptic worldview quite nicely, and thus the general shape of Jesus' belief system argues in favor of him holding and teaching the doctrine of Hell and eternal punishment.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    For Bradley,

    Well, yes, if by "clear" one means "scientifically verifiable proof of what the historical Jesus actually said."

    But when it comes to ancient history, we are limited to piecing together as best as we can what took place, on the basis of what written documents exist, their relative reliability and artifacts. When I used the word "clearly," I meant it in the latter context.

    Of course, as you say, it's possible that the core message of the historical Jesus was focused on apocolyptic prophesies, and there are a considerable number of written traditions that make him out that way, and some of them made their way into the 4 gospels.

    However, I side with the analysis of theologians like John Dominic Crossan who conclude Jesus was most likely a Jewish peasant version of the Cynical philosophers, and that the larger weight of the evidence we have from the 4 gospels as well as from all the apocryphal ones, leans toward the belief in God's empathy for the suffering as Jesus' core message.

    Is suppose one could argue that someone else originated this thread, and it was later incorporated into the body of writings that eventually came to be accepted as the 4 gospels.

    But my point here is not that the gospels are all factual reports, but that the portions alleging Hell to exist and God's intention to put people there are quite inconsistent with most of the rest, and most likely, adulterations that came with the Greek takeover of the early Church.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Did Jesus believe in Hell?

    Jesus did not leave any books, essays, or letters, so we have to rely on other sources for the words and teachings of Jesus. The Gospel of John is a very unreliable source for the words and teachings of Jesus, so it should just be set to one side and the focus should be placed on the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke).

    Most NT scholars believe that Matthew and Luke both used Mark as a source and also a collection of sayings of Jesus known as Q. Roughly speaking, Q is the common material between Matthew and Luke that does not derive from Mark. Q was probably written a decade or so earlier than Mark.

    So, the earliest major source of the words and teachings of Jesus is Q. An important question to consider, therefore, is: Does Q indicate that Jesus believed in Hell? If so, then that is strong evidence supporting the view that Jesus believed in Hell. It appears to me that Q indicates that Jesus believed in Hell, although there is room for alternative interpretations.

    In Q, Jesus spoke of great rewards in heaven for the righteous (Luke 6:22-23 & 6:27-35). Of course belief in rewards in heaven does not logically demand belief in punishment in hell, but hell is a natural parallel to heaven, so this provides some support for the view that Jesus believed in hell.

    In Q, Jesus teaches "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven." (Luke 6:37). This implies that those who, contrary to Jesus' advice, continue to judge, and to condemn, and to fail to forgive others, will themselves be judged and condemned by God, and not forgiven. This does not prove that Jesus believed in the eternal punishment of the wicked, but it does indicate that Jesus believed in some kind of divine judgment and punishment.

    In Q, Jesus spoke ominous threats about judgment day for the people of certain cities where his preaching was not well received (Luke 10:8-12, 10:13-15, and 11:29-32). Luke 10:15 is particularly relevant to the question at issue:

    And you, Capernaum,
    will you be exalted to heaven?
    No, you will be brought down
    to Hades.
    (New Revised Standard Version)

    In my HarperCollins Study Bible, the footnote on this verse states: "Hades (Hebrew Sheol), originally the shadow realm of all the dead (see Is. 38:10); here the place of eternal punishment for the wicked."

    In other words, Q has Jesus warning the people of Capernaum that they were in danger of eternal punishment in the afterlife, i.e. Hell.

    So, according to Q, Jesus believed that the righteous would receive rewards in heaven, and that the wicked would receive some sort of dreadful punishment on judgment day, and that Jesus warned some people that they were in danger of being sent to Hades (Hell) as a punishment for their failure to repent of sin.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    Bradley,

    You make an excellent case for the idea that the collection of Jesus' sayings which many scholars believe was the source for the 3 synoptic gospels (known as Q from the German "Quelle," meaning "source") contains many passages putting Hell on Jesus' lips.

    There's just one problem. Even the most conservative estimates as to when Q was written and distributed (except, of course, by Fundamentalist scholars who clearly have an agenda to claim far earlier dates for the New Testament writings than what dispassionate secular scholars have estimated) would come after the seige and fall of Jerusalem in 68/70 C.E., a full generation after Jesus' death, and when the Church had already become largely a Greek Gentile movement. So we would expect by the time of Q's writing there to have aleady been a large Greek influence on which sayings were accepted as originating with Jesus, but accepted according to the loosy-goosy standards of that time.

    We need only consider the children's game of Telephone to understand just how fragile the oral traditons were long before the Greeks came to dominate. After decades had passed, and Jesus' original disciples who heard him first hand were all dead, there was plenty of time for his words to become quite adulterated.

    But all those considerations aside, what we can do is use a little "higher criticism" to see if the various sayings attributed to Jesus in the synoptic gospels are consistent with each other. Examined in this way, the answer is definitely, "No!"

    So again, while one might argue that it's the anti-Hell sayings and vignettes, such as Luke 9:51-56, which were added later, and the pro-Hell ones that Jesus actually uttered, I argue that it's much more likely to be the other way around.

    There were a lot of other prophets and healers running all over Judea who were contemporaries of Jesus, but something made him stand out, especially among the peasantry. Had Jesus chimed in with the Jewish religious leadership who represented God as cruel and condemning and favoristic, it's not likely the downtrodden would have responded to him so enthusiastically.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Some more evidence from Q:

    In Q, Jesus tells parables that involve a threat of divine punishment and banishment:

    Luke 12:41-48
    Luke 12:57-59
    Luke 13:22-27
    Luke 14:15-24

    In Q, Jesus tells parables that encourage people to be ready for judgment day:

    Luke 12:35-38
    Luke 12:39-40

    In Q, Jesus warns about the possibility of being excluded from the Kingdom of God, and facing the coming wrath of God:

    Luke 13:28-30
    Luke 17:22-37

    In Q, Jesus warns people to avoid a punishment that is worse than physical death:

    "I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him whom after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!" Luke 12:4-5 (New Revised Standard Version)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    In The Five Gosepels by Funk, Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, Q is put forward as coming into existence sometime between 50 and 70 CE, with Mark dated around 70 CE (see diagram on p.18).

    In Jesus at 2000, Marcus Borg comments that "The Q Gospel is the earliest written source of the Gospels. It may be as early as the 50s of the first century." (p.133).

    I don't consider Funk or Borg to be fundamentalists. These men are intelligent, critical thinking, well-informed scholars.

    So, where did you get your dating of Q from?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    Bradley,

    See my other post about all the changes that likely occurred to the various oral traditions which went into the writing of Q.

    (By the way, I wouldn't lean too heavily on the comments in the HarperCollins Study Bible, which is heavily prejudiced by Evangelical commentators.)

    But that said, let me also point out something I go into much more detail in my book–the fact that much of what is passed off for Jesus' speaking about Hell, is really referencing the earthly judgment of the Messiah.

    I'll readily concede that the historical Jesus, though not an advocate of the idea of an eternal Hell, may very well have advocated the teaching that the Messiah would separate out those Jews who were not faithful to God, and relegate them to a peasant status in the coming Kingdom, instead of high positions, "reigning with him."

    This is why there are so many passages speaking of being "first" or "last" in the coming kingdom, a point completely lost if "kingdom," means "Heaven," and being "left out" is "going to Hell."

    Sure, Q is a better source than the synoptics and certainly far better than the Gospel of John, but you have to discern which of Q's passages are the most likely to have originated with Jesus and not simply assume they all did. If so, then you have to go to great lengths to dismiss the meaning of so many passages in order to make them conform to the meaning of others because this otherwise leaves a lot of contraditions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    Well, for the sake of argument, let's even go so far as agreeing that Q was written in 50 C.E. That's still almost 2 decades after Jesus' death, and quite a number of years after Greeks had already begun to pour into the movement.

    Without the benefit of tape recorders or video cameras, without the relative reliability of typed documents, but word of mouth only, the odds are pretty good that even within a few weeks of Jesus' death, a lot of what he said could have gotten very distorted.

    One of the reasons our laws have statutes of limitations is because human memory is so faulty. Over a period of years, having an accurate recollection of what someone said is pretty tough, and that's if no one passing on an oral rendition has an agenda. Factor in a few rascals who wanted to use the popularity of a glorified martyr to gain favor for their pet views, and you have a recipe for even greater distortion.

    This is why I would suggest focusing more on the context of each of the sayings found in Q, and judge the passages independently, rather than working backword from the weak presumption that all that's recorded there must have been accurate quotes of Jesus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    In The Historical Jesus by John Crossan there is an appendix listing historical sources chronologically. Crossan places Q in the earliest stratum: 30-60 CE (p.427-429). Crossan states that the Sayings Gospel Q was "Composed by the fifties…" (p.429)

    Since you follow Crossan's views of Jesus as a non-apocalyptic Cynic sage, I assume that you wouldn't consider Crossan to be a fundamentalist.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    In The Historical Jesus by Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, there is a chapter on "Christian Sources about Jesus" which includes these comments on Q:

    "Reliable statements can at best be made about the final redaction, by concentrating on the composition as a whole and the selection and linking of the different themes. Thus Q certainly came into being before the Jewish War and the destruction of the temple, as the coming of the Son of Man is expected at a time of profound peace, and the threat is uttered that God will leave the temple. The temptation story has clear allusions to the surmounting of the Caligula crisis (39/40 CE). The image of the Pharisees as persecutors of Christians is to be located historically in the 40s and early 50s; the same goes for the preaching and mission oriented on Israel which is presupposed in Q. Q was probably composed in Palestine." (p.28-29)

    Gerd Theissen is definitely NOT a fundamentalist.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    Sure, but I think you're missing the point.

    It's not that Q is a "bad" source, it's about the best we can do.

    Unfortunately, Q is not a realtime recording of Jesus' words.

    So, the next step is to take each of the sayings and vignettes that made their way into Q and WEIGH them independently, to assess which are most likely to have originated with Jesus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    Well, I fear that if any lay person managed to follow this thread thus far, we're gonna lose the last one if we begin to debate which theologians are "fundamentalist" or not.

    While I would disagree, not even a date for Q's collection and writing as early as 50 C.E is pivotal to my point which is, once more, that it's the CONTEXT of any given saying or vignette, more than anything else, that best helps us determine if it's more or less likely to have originated with Jesus.

    The fact is even if we had a time machine to go back and get a fresh copy of Q from it's original author before the ink was dry, we would STILL find the many contraditions of the teachings contained therein all attributed to Jesus. At this point, one must use higher (or contextual) criticism to determine which of the sayings are the most and which are the least reliable.

    Of course, we want to BEGIN with the earliest document available (and by and large, that would be Q), but we should not stop there and assume, as the Fundamentalists do, that every word contained therein is a exact quote of Jesus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    "Allison himself thinks his Q1 probably appeared in the 30s, with final Q in the 40s or 50s."

    Christianity in the Making: Jesus Remembered by James Dunn, p.159

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    "A lost document called Q, containing sayings of Jesus, probably was used by Matthew and Luke. … All these documents antedate the Gospels. They probably took shape between 30 and 60 C.E."

    An Essential Guide: The Historical Jesus by James Charlesworth (p.41)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Funk, Borg, Crossan, Theissen, Allison, and Charlesworth give earlier datings of Q than what you assert to be "the most conservative" of estimates.

    None of these scholars is a fundamentalist, so I take it that your claim (below) is false. Do we agree on this point? Or do I need to find more counterexamples to your claim?

    "There's just one problem. Even the most conservative estimates as to when Q was written and distributed (except, of course, by Fundamentalist scholars who clearly have an agenda to claim far earlier dates for the New Testament writings than what dispassionate secular scholars have estimated) would come after the seige and fall of Jerusalem in 68/70 C.E., a full generation after Jesus' death, and when the Church had already become largely a Greek Gentile movement."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Moving on…

    Rick said:

    "the larger weight of the evidence we have from the 4 gospels as well as from all the apocryphal ones, leans toward the belief in God's empathy for the suffering as Jesus' core message."

    [...]

    "…my point here is not that the gospels are all factual reports, but that the portions alleging Hell to exist and God's intention to put people there are quite inconsistent with most of the rest, and most likely, adulterations that came with the Greek takeover of the early Church."
    ===========

    God's empathy for the suffering certainly appears to be a theme in Jesus words and teachings. I'm not sure I would agree with the claim that it is his "core message".

    I agree that this view of God is inconsistent with the idea of a God who would send people to Hell to be tormented eternally.

    But such contradictions have been embraced by Christian believers from dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of different cultures over the past two thousand years.

    Do you seriously think that Jesus and his disciples would have been free of such ubiquitous human failings as doublethink, hypocrisy, and moral blindness? If so, your argument seems hopelessly naive to me. Perhaps I have misunderstood your point.

    Billions of Christians have soaked in such doublethink, hypocrisy, and moral blindness from the Christian tradition, and Jesus presumably soaked up doublethink, hypocrisy, and moral blindness from his own religious tradition.

    The OT is filled with such moral contradictions. The command "…you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Lev. 19:18) came from Moses, not Jesus. The command "…you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt" (Lev. 19:34) also came from Moses.

    This is the same Moses who ordered his people to commit bloody genocide:

    "When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you—the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you— and when the LORD your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy." (Deut. 7:1&2)

    "But as for the towns of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the LORD your God has commanded …" (Deut. 20:16&17).

    Do you think a person raised from birth to honor and admire such a Moses would be likely to avoid doublethink, hypocrisy, and moral blindness? It would take a miracle to do so.

    Since Jesus is not reported to have burned a copy of the Torah or pissed on one, I infer that his head was filled with the same crap that filled the heads of his fellow Jewish believers.

    In short, your assumption that Jesus would have been morally consistent in his thinking is not only naive, it is clearly contrary to any reasonable expectation of what we should expect, prior to an examination of specific factual data about the words and teachings of Jesus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    Glad to see we're back on topic.

    Sure, the historical Jesus might have been a nut case, and no different than any cult leader we see today.

    He may have been inconsistent in what he taught, on some occasions making God out to be kind and loving, and on others, cruel as can be.

    The problem is we don't know, and we will never know for sure.

    All we have to go on are some sayings and vignettes that were finally written down long after his death (10 years, 20 or 100, I'm not debating, who many years, we're talking YEARS here).

    So, Luke 9:51-56 may or may not be an accurate story of the historical Jesus. BUT if it was not the actual Jesus, it was someone who came up with the IDEA that God is against torturing people with fire, and attributed that idea to Jesus.

    And enough people found that idea credible enough to repeat the story as if it were true.

    Most likely, the reason a story such as that caught on is because the greater body of the stories of Jesus sayings worked off the same theme, depicting the same kind of God.

    I for one am convinced that it was the actual Jesus, but even if not, the point is that the 4 accepted gospels are inconsistent. Q is inconsistent, and we need only show that the Evangelicals/Fundamentalists are wrong on one passage to show that that their claim of inerrancy is wrong, though there are many other errors.

    It is they who base the legitimacy of the doctrine of Hell on the idea that Jesus preached it, and that we have to accept what "he" said because the 4 modern accepted gospels are 100% accurate and consistent with each other, but they are not.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    In case it's not clear, my purpose in these posts is to help people who are struggling with deeply ingrained fears that Hell is real.

    For this reason, you'll have to pardon me for not being very interested in a lot of minor points that 99.9% of the people I'm trying to help could not follow.

    For the purpose of settling the main point then…

    it's really not critical to my argument whether or not "the Jesus" of Luke 9:51-56 was made up by someone else or the actual Jesus.

    Nor is it critical if it was the actual Jesus, but a Jesus who was contradicting, and therefore, not the perfect son of God, in which case any other quotation of him to garner some authority to claim Hell is real is bogus.

    There is simply no way to reconcile this "Jesus" with the one described in Revelation, for example, who heartlessly initiates and oversees the massive and indefinite torture of billions of people.

    The claim by Evangelicals/Fundamentalists that Hell is real (on the basis of the inerrancy of the gospels and therefore, the authority of a few of the quotes contained therein alleging Jesus believed in Hell), can be confidently dismissed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Thomas Sheehan (not a fundamentalist) on Q:

    "the emergence of the first written testimonies of faith (Paul's epistles and the Q-document, ca. 50 C.E., and the Gospels, ca. 70-95 C.E.)."

    The First Coming, p.21.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Bart Ehrman (not a fundamentalist) on Q:

    "Since it was used independently by both Matthew and Luke, presumably sometime in the early 80s, it must have been in circulation before then. Most scholars think it was written well before then, probably before Mark …, possibly in the 50s or 60s CE."

    Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, p. 82.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Mark Powell (not a fundamentalist) on Q:

    "even though Mark was probably the earliest Gospel, Matthew and Luke continue to be treasured by historians because they preserve sayings from Q, which was probably even earlier than Mark."

    "Mark is usually thought to have been written sometime around 70 C.E. …"

    Jesus as a Figure of History, p.37

    "The great majority of scholars, including all of the historians discussed in this book, believe that the material attributed to the Q source is among the oldest and most reliable material found in the Gospels. This material is considered especially valuable in describing the teaching of Jesus."

    Jesus as a Figure of History, p.38

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Rick said:

    "The claim by Evangelicals/Fundamentalists that Hell is real (on the basis of the inerrancy of the gospels and therefore, the authority of a few of the quotes contained therein alleging Jesus believed in Hell), can be confidently dismissed."

    We agree on this point.

    The very concept of Hell contains a self-contradiction: a perfectly good and just person imposes cruel and unusual punishment on other (less powerful) people because they fail to accept certain rather implausable and morally questionable metaphysical and ethical beliefs, without any hope of ever helping or reforming the people being punished, or of ending the cruel and unusual punishment.

    I'm pushing back on the idea that Jesus was a morally perfect person who somehow miraculously avoided the doublethink, hypocrisy, and moral blindness of his culture and religious tradition.

    Jesus may have been a couple of steps higher on the scale of moral integrity than his fellow Jews, but humankind had, and still has, many more flights of stairs to climb.

    To make Jesus into some sort of moral hero is just as much a mistake as making Moses into a moral hero.

    Both of them may have made significant contributions to the evolution of morality, but both men were a mix of good and evil, a mix of wisdom and foolishness, a mix of insight and stupidity, a mix of love and ego-centrism.

    If Jesus believed in Hell and taught this belief to others, this would be in keeping with the crap that got stuffed into his head from the OT (and from intertestamental Jewish traditions)for the first decades of his life.

    If the Synoptics gave us a hell-free Jesus, and only the gospel of John had Jesus teaching hell, then I would share your skepticism on this point. But that is not the case. The Synoptics give us a hellfire Jesus.

    If it were only Matthew and Luke that gave us a hellfire Jesus, but the earlier sources of Mark and Q gave us a hell-free Jesus, then I would share your skepticism. But that is not the case. Mark & Q, our earliest sources, give us a hellfire Jesus.

    You want to take bits and pieces from Mark and Q and declare: "This is the real Jesus, the hell-free Jesus." You want to toss out numerous sayings of Jesus from Mark & Q as inauthentic, namely those that give us a hellfire Jesus.

    Perhaps you can make a case for doing so, but this smells rather like an ideologically driven scheme, as opposed to the conclusion of an objective historical investigation.

    I'm going to borrow an argument from Dale Allison. If Mark and Q are as unreliable as you claim, then the only reasonable position is one of agnosticism.

    If our oldest and best sources of the words and teachings of Jesus are very unreliable and have introduced gross distortions of what the historical Jesus said and believed, then we simply cannot know what the historical Jesus taught.

    All the "higher criticism" in the world cannot turn a sows ear into a silk purse.

    Without a somewhat reliable historical source of the words of Jesus, we are just fumbling in the dark when we try to figure out what Jesus taught and believed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    I'm not a Christian, so I have no motive to think Jesus was morally superior or perfect, and I've never said anything of that sort.

    I do happen to be convinced that Jesus opposed the idea of Hell.

    What is naive is to think that no changes could have occurred to Jesus' original message in the "dark" period between his death and the writing of Q1. The very fact that Q1 contains so many contradictions is what we would expect, rather than insist they're all 100% accurate and it must have been the original words of Jesus which were contradictory.

    But since we can't go back in time to hear what Jesus said, exactly, our only reasonable course at this point is to shine the light of higher criticism on the surviving, earliest and most reliable texts.

    I could not differ with you more about using higher criticism to weigh the individual sayings and vignettes, and that doing so is somehow tantamount to stumbling blindly. On the contrary, rather than assuming, blindly, that all contained therein is accurate, we can take what is there and weigh them for what they, in fact, say.

    The fact that Q and the synoptics contain a core message of a loving God, in spite of being tossed in together with the "hellfire" stream is evidence that some significant support for this idea of God had to have existed among the earliest believers. And the most logical reason for that support is that it did, indeed, come from Jesus.

    Sure, I cannot prove that definitely, but if it was not Jesus himself, than it had to be someone very important in the early Jesus movement who did.

    Either way, rather than quibble about the exact number of years the earliest year Q was written, I would encourage you to examine the sayings and vignettes INDEPENDENTLY, and determine their value for what they actually say, instead of lumping them all together.

    It should then become clear that there are two, diametrically opposed streams of ideas, one, about a ruthless and cruel God, and the other, about a kind and loving one.

    It's only those driven by Evangelical/Fundamentalist ideology who insist that the two streams must be taken together and accepted as God's Word, neverminding the clear contradiction between the two.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Rick,

    Thank you for persisting and continuing in this interesting discussion with me. I have enjoyed myself and learned a few things too. I hope that we can continue
    to discuss this important issue and get beyond generalities and into more of the data and details, which is where the devil hides himself, so to speak.

    ==============
    Rick said:
    I'm not a Christian, so I have no motive to think Jesus was morally superior or perfect, and I've never said anything of that sort.

    I do happen to be convinced that Jesus opposed the idea of Hell.

    Brad responds:
    OK, point taken. So, you are open to the possibility that Jesus believed in Hell, you just think the evidence indicates otherwise.
    =============
    Rick said:
    What is naive is to think that no changes could have occurred to Jesus' original message in the "dark" period between his death and the writing of Q1. The very fact that Q1 contains so many contradictions is what we would expect, rather than insist they're all 100% accurate and it must have been the original words of Jesus which were contradictory.

    Brad responds:
    I agree that changes/corruptions should be expected to occur even in a short time-frame, such as two or three decades. (30 CE–>50 CE or 30 CE–>60CE). It is a question of degree. Your view is that the very ideas that Jesus himself opposed (i.e. hellfire and belief in a wrathful, punishing God) were put into his mouth with significant frequency in this short timeframe. That is possible, but seems unlikely and implausible, apart from specific facts and data that push us in that direction.

    My assumption is not that Q is 100% reliable, but that it gives us generally reliable information about what Jesus taught and believed. I assume that Jesus would agree with, and see his own thinking in, most of what Q states, say with 75% of the Q passages. I don't know this to be the case, and you might have some good reasons or evidence to show that this assumption should be rejected. I haven't heard any such good reasons yet, but we have not discussed much in the way of data and details, so I am open to what you have to say on this question.

    If it turns out that you have good reasons or evidence showing that Q is an unreliable source for the beliefs and teachings of Jesus, then my alternative position will be that lacking a generally reliable source of information about what Jesus taught and believed, we should be agnostic about whether Jesus believed in Hell. In other words, I am skeptical about the power of higher criticism to determine the teachings and beliefs of the historical Jesus on the basis of sources that are highly unreliable (e.g. where 50% or 60% of the sayings attributed to Jesus did not originate from him and where a significant portion of the sayings are actually contrary to Jesus' actual teachings and beliefs).

    If we ever get that far in this discussion, I will still be open to persuasion about the power of higher criticism to do this amazing feat. But I will be a bit like a person watching a magician pull a rabbit out of an allegedly empty hat. I will be looking closely for smoke and mirrors, and sleight-of-hand techniques, suspecting that the rabbit was hidden under the table or in the magician's coat.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Rick said:
    But since we can't go back in time to hear what Jesus said, exactly, our only reasonable course at this point is to shine the light of higher criticism on the surviving, earliest and most reliable texts.

    I could not differ with you more about using higher criticism to weigh the individual sayings and vignettes, and that doing so is somehow tantamount to stumbling blindly. On the contrary, rather than assuming, blindly, that all contained therein is accurate, we can take what is there and weigh them for what they, in fact, say.

    Brad responds:
    I'm not opposed to scholars making their best effort to figure out the teachings and beliefs of Jesus based on highly unreliable sources of information. I'm just skeptical about there being a successful outcome from this effort. If the best sources of information are as unreliable as you claim, I doubt that any solid conclusions will ever be reached.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Rick said:
    The fact that Q and the synoptics contain a core message of a loving God, in spite of being tossed in together with the "hellfire" stream is evidence that some significant support for this idea of God had to have existed among the earliest believers. And the most logical reason for that support is that it did, indeed, come from Jesus.

    Sure, I cannot prove that definitely, but if it was not Jesus himself, than it had to be someone very important in the early Jesus movement who did.

    Either way, rather than quibble about the exact number of years the earliest year Q was written, I would encourage you to examine the sayings and vignettes INDEPENDENTLY, and determine their value for what they actually say, instead of lumping them all together.

    It should then become clear that there are two, diametrically opposed streams of ideas, one, about a ruthless and cruel God, and the other, about a kind and loving one.

    Brad responds:
    The idea of a loving and merciful God is nothing new with Jesus. Even the idea of God as a loving father comes from the Old Testament. Obviously there would be Jews who would accept and embrace this view of God.

    Hellfire was something new, but as I argued previously, holding wildly contradictory beliefs about God was nothing new; that also goes back to Moses and the OT.

    You still appear to me to be assuming that Jesus must have miraculously transcended his own culture and religious tradition, in which people had accepted and promoted a fucked-up concept of God for a thousand years. Christians have held an equally fucked-up concept of God for two thousand years hence, but you want me to assume that Jesus, unlike millions of fellow Jews, and billions of Christians who have lived since his day, held a pure and logically consistent view of God?

    The presumption that I would start with is that Jesus had a fucked-up and self-contradictory view of God, just like the millions of Jews that preceded him, and just like the billions of Christians that came after him. You cannot reasonably presume that Jesus must have had a uniquely rational and moral conception of God. That is something that you would need to prove with powerful evidence, in order to show that the thinking of Jesus had miraculously transcended the ideas and thinking and traditions of his era and culture.

    I don't know for sure that Jesus had a fucked-up and self-contradictory view of God, but that is the only reasonable assumption to begin with, prior to a careful examination of the evidence. I'm open to any evidence you want to present to show me that my assumption is incorrect, but again I will be justifiably skeptical of the extraordinary claim you are making. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, so I will be looking for smoke and mirrors, and sleight-of-hand motions, and trap doors, and distractions, etc.

    Let me make basically the same point in a different way. Your thinking appears to be highly anachronistic to me. From the point of view of secular thinkers living in the 21st Century, the contradiction between God as a loving father and God as a stern judge who sends unbelievers to hell to be tortured for eternity is as obvious as it can be. But what is obvious to you and me was not so obvious to devout Jews living in the 1st Century. If they were unable to see the "obvious" contradictions in Moses' concept of God, then we should not expect that they would be able to see the "obvious" contradiction between God as a loving father and God as a stern judge who condemns unbelievers to eternity in Hell.
    ==================

    I hope that we can continue this discussion, and start focusing on particular passages from Q and/or Mark, and on questions about their meaning and significance in relation to the main question at issue: Did Jesus believe in Hell?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    Skepticism is a good thing, please do keep it up.

    I do want to stay on topic, and I don't want to lose those average persons who are hopefully keeping up with this discussion.

    My point, again, is not claim there is absolute scientific proof that Jesus opposed the idea of Hell. That type of proof is unavailable to us.

    But my claim is no magic trick either. I'm only asking that we take an honest look at each of the surviving sayings and vignettes and look at them objectively, within their own contexts.

    Q was STILL a collection of sayings and vignettes, not a narrative. They're strung together.

    Rather than assume that Jesus must have believed in and preached about Hell, just because Hell is placed on Jesus lips by a relative handful of the sayings in the earliest texts we have (though they clearly contradict the majority of all the other teachings placed on his lips by those same texts), I'd say let's try to figure out where the compassionate God version of Jesus' sayings came from. If not from Jesus, from whom?

    In their own context, most of these sayings and vignettes portray a totally different type of deity than the hellfire god. The few that mix the two together are very clumsy in doing so, such as the additions "and these shall go into everlasting fire" to the story of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25. Plainly, this line was slipped in by some scribe who totally missed the point of the story.

    BTW, if you'll read my book, I explain all this.

    One would think that, were Jesus double-minded about this issue, there would some be surviving sayings and vignettes that give the two together and provide some kind of justification for doing so, however jacked up, such as what modern Evangelicals do today. But there are none!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Although many scholars (non-fundamentalist scholars) date Q early (30CE-60CE), there are some prominent scholars who date it later.

    The Catholic NT scholar Raymond Brown expresses doubt about early datings of Q:

    "In the hypothesis that Matt and Luke used both Q and Mark, it is not unreasonable to assume that Q was as old as Mark and in existence in the 60s. Some however make the unprovable claim that Q is older than Mark and is indeed the oldest Christian presentation of Jesus. There is evidence against too early a dating, since certain sayings in Q suggest that an interval has passed since the time of Jesus. One has the impression from Luke 11:49-52 that Christian prophets and apostles have been persecuted. Luke 11:39-44, 46-48 shows considerable hostility toward the Pharisees and lawyers; intense conflicts with the Pharisees probably developed later in the history of Palestinian Christians rather than earlier."

    (An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 122.)

    James M. Robinson, a leading Q scholar, gives a late date for Q:

    "…the Jewish church was made up of the immediate disciples of Jesus, all of whom were Jews, who after Jesus' death resumed preaching his sayings. The result was that small collections of his sayings were brought together for preaching purposes and in the process translated from Aramaic into Greek. These small collections were over a period of time supplemented with new material, and the whole was edited around the year 70, at about the time of the Jewish war, thus finally producing the Sayings Gospel Q."

    (The Gospel of Jesus, p.8)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Here is one of the first (opening) passages from Q:

    "He said to the crowds coming to be baptized: Snakes' litter! Who warned you to run from the impending rage? So bear fruit worthy of repentance, and do not presume to tell yourselves: We have as forefather Abraham! For I tell you: God can produce children for Abraham right out of these rocks! And the ax already lies at the root of the trees. So every tree not bearing healthy fruit is to be chopped down and thrown on the fire.
    Q 3:7-9, see Matthew 3:7-10"

    The Gospel of Jesus by James Robinson, p. 27

    These words are attributed to John the Baptist, Jesus' mentor.

    It seems clear that John was warning people to repent in order to avoid some sort of divine judgment and punishment. The urgency and tone suggests that this divine judgment is just around the corner, and could arrive any day.

    There is no explicit reference to Hell here, but associating the divine judgment with the cutting down and burning of barren trees would be appropriate if Hell was the divine punishment that John had in mind.

    Questions for Rick:

    Do you agree that this passage portrays John the Baptist as warning people to repent in order to avoid some sort of divine judgment and punishment?

    Do you think this was an important part of the preaching of John the Baptist?

    Do you think Hell was the punishment John the Baptist had in mind?

    If not, how do you interpret the meaning and historical significance of this passage from the Sayings Gospel Q?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    Maybe a better way to understand what we have in these documents is to use the term "legend."

    The story you mention is a legendary tale of John the Baptist. It's not the same as a news story, or an interview. It's a tale that was told over and over, until finally, someone wrote it down.

    So guess what? There could easily be a lot of imagination that went into the tale. That said, most legends have SOME truth to them.

    So it's better to think of the short stories or vignettes and the sayings we find in Q or the later compilations as tales which perhaps have some historical basis.

    Keep in mind that legends are like a river. They may pick up debris along the way. Several rivers may meet and begin to flow together.

    As far as the stories and sayings about John the Baptist, we get a much more unified image. There's only one stream, as it were, and his view of God is more the punitive version.

    From this one passage, one could argue that God intends to kill those who are not being faithful to him, when his Messiah comes or that he was referring to Hell. Personally, I think he's referring to the former, to the judgment of the soon to come Jewish Messiah.

    But the sayings of Jesus that we have are much more diverse, and quite contradictory! Even those which refer to the judgment of the coming Jewish Messiah have the unfaithful, not killed, but greatly humbled; punished, but not tortured.

    Read the 3 stories preceding the Sheep and the Goats story in Matthew 25. Each one talks about the importance of being ready for the Messiah, and how put to shame one would be for not being ready. But "put to shame" or "being left out," while nothing to sneeze at, is a far cry from being killed or tortured for eternity.

    Going back to Luke Ch 9, it could very well be that the disciples got their idea to have God burn the Samaritan villagers to death from some of their previous associations with John the Baptist.

    I am convinced that the historical Jesus took the message of John the Baptist to a new level. John did advocate helping the needy, but still had a harsh, contradictory view of God. But most of the Jesus stories or currents have him describing God as compassionate, patient and forgiving. It's quite possible that some of the Baptist's harsh judgment messages were superimposed onto the lips of Jesus, which were later extended from the idea of a fiery death for the disobedient to an eternal fire.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    I'm sorry for taking so long to respond. I have been travelling in California for the past two weeks, hanging out with relatives in Fresno (Dunlap actually), Santa Rosa, San Francisco, and Cambria (on central coast).

    Rick said:

    "I am convinced that the historical Jesus took the message of John the Baptist to a new level. John did advocate helping the needy, but still had a harsh, contradictory view of God. But most of the Jesus stories or currents have him describing God as compassionate, patient and forgiving. It's quite possible that some of the Baptist's harsh judgment messages were superimposed onto the lips of Jesus, which were later extended from the idea of a fiery death for the disobedient to an eternal fire."

    It is quite possible that Jesus departed from John the Baptist's views of God. My point is that Jesus chose to be baptized by John, indicating a basic agreement with the message John was preaching. Since John appears to have been preaching a message of coming divine judgment and punishment, this is evidence in support of Jesus having a similar view of God and of a coming divine judgment.

    A second point here is to note that the "contradictory" view of God implied in John's preaching would be likely to influence Jesus to also hold such a "contradictory" view of God, whether the contradiction involved belief in Hell or not.

    John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This core idea contains both the concept of God as loving and forgiving, and the concept of God as a wrathful judge:

    "John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
    Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." (Luke 3:7-9, NIV)

    Whether "the fire" is a reference to hell or to some lesser form of divine punishment, John combines the ideas of love and mercy with the ideas of wrath and punishment. God is loving and merciful and thus willing to forgive those who have a sincere change of heart and lifestyle. But this implies that there are also those who will not repent, who will not be forgiven, and who will therefore face the wrath of God.

    Two primary influences on the thinking of Jesus (that we know about) are John the Baptist and Moses. John the Baptist combined the idea of a loving and merciful God with the idea of a wrathful punishing God, and so did Moses. So, I see no reason to be surprised by or to take any special notice of the teachings of Jesus containing similarly contradictory notions about God.

    Although Moses did not talk about or believe in Heaven and Hell, he did combine the idea of a loving and merciful God with the idea of a wrathful and punishing God. The five books traditionally attributed to Moses are filled with this contradictory concept of God. Read Deuteronomy chapters 28 through 32, and you will see Moses putting forward the same confused concept of God that was preached by John the Baptist.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    Sure, there were elements of compassion in Moses, the prophets and John the Baptist. But for the most part, God comes across as quite the jealous, vindictive and demanding Cosmic Dictator.

    The sayings of Jesus, by contrast, are the opposite. Most of them represent a compassionate and forgiving and parental being. The passages which have him portraying God as angry and vindictive are in the minority, and often, clumsily placed.

    Again, I would point to the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25. The clauses placing, "and these shall go into everlasting fire," stick out like sore thumbs, just like those the Christian monks added to the legend of Beowulf.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    THE CARROT & THE STICK

    In Deuteronomy chapters 28-34, there is a clear theme: Love & obey God and he will bless you and your offspring, or Hate & disobey God and he will curse you and your offspring.

    Blessings include health, prosperity, security, peace, peace-of-mind, pleasure, satisfaction, happiness, and longevity ("Live Long and Prosper"). Curses include disease, poverty, insecurity, war, fear, pain, suffering, misery, sorrow, and death.

    In short, Moses was the ultimate used-car salesman, or snake-oil promoter. He promoted his laws, principles, beliefs and practices on the basis of the carrot and the stick, an appeal to our basic desires and fears. So, although Moses did not preach heaven and hell, we can see the roots of these ideas in Deuteronomy.

    In the New Testament period the carrot got sweeter (heaven: eternal life of happiness, peace, health, and prosperity) and the stick got bigger (hell: eternal pain, suffering, and misery). But the same basic human motivations are being tapped into in order to promote an ideology or way of life.

    The modern intellectual form of this appeal is expressed in Pascal's Wager: We have the possibility of gaining an eternal life of bliss and of avoiding the possibility of eternal suffering and misery by adopting faith in God (and other dogmas of Christianity), so belief in God is pragmatically justified.

    In terms of the deal Moses offered, there are a few basic problems: (1) most people fail to follow all of the Ten Commandments all of the time, even when they try to do so, (2) bad things often happen to good people, and (3) good things often happen to bad people.

    As Paul noted, all have sinned. As Jesus noted, God causes the rain to fall on both the good and the wicked. Moses was clearly aware of the first issue, and thus there is a clear reference to sin, repentance, and forgiveness in the five books of Moses, along with the frequent reference to the wrath and punishement of God.

    Repentance and forgiveness are a necessary element of the package presented by Moses. If his message was limited just to "Obey and prosper or disobey and suffer", then people would quickly leave the fold, because once you break a law or commandment from God, you are "bad" and deserve punishment, and thus your motivation to love and obey God goes away. There is no more promise of happiness and prosperity to keep you on the path of righteousness, only the dread of God's coming punishment for your sins.

    Moses had to introduce repentance and forgiveness in order to provide a motivational system that could hold up over time under actual, unavoidable, circumstances (most people will fail at the attempt to obey all the laws all the time).

    Given this understanding of the thinking of Moses, the fact that John the Baptist, a devout 1st Centrury Jew, preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins seems a perfectly natural message. The five books of Moses were an important influence on the thinking of devout Jews, esp. in 1st Century Palestine.

    The message of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins is a two-sided coin; it implies both the idea of divine punishment and reward, and the idea of divine love and mercy.

    Both elements are central and essential parts of the message of John the Baptist, and both elements can be traced directly back to the leading prophet of Judaism: Moses.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    I'd say you hit the nail on the head!

    The message of John the Baptist was a capstone for all that preceded, from Moses through the prophets…which is why the Jesus Movement was such a radical departure.

    From Moses to the Baptist, God's compassion was only one part of his nature, his Carrot side, as you say. But that was probably the springboard from which Jesus took God's nature in a new direction.

    This would explain why so many of the sayings of Jesus contain statements of his befuddled disciples: "How many times should I forgive?" "Are you NOW going to remove the Romans and set up your earthly kingdom?" "Shall we rain fire on this village?" He certainly had a LOT of prejudice to over come. No wonder the Stick View of God made it's way back into the gospels to some extent!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Q passages S1 through S20

    Looking at the first twenty passages of Q (from Q Parallels by John Kloppenborg, 1988), it appears to me that eleven support my view of Jesus, eight support neither my view nor Rick's view, and only one supports Rick's view. So, at least for about one-third of Q, Rick has a lot of explaining to do. Of course, Rick is likely to view some of the passages that I put in my column or in the neutral column as actually supporting his view of Jesus, but this is at least a starting point for further discussion:

    N = neutral between Brad's view and Rick's view of Jesus
    B = supports Brad's view of Jesus
    R = supports Rick's view of Jesus

    Incipit & The Preaching of John
    N S1 Incipit: [no text]
    B S2 The Coming of John the Baptist: Luke 3:1-4
    B S3 John's Preaching of Repentance: Luke 3:7-9, 10-14
    B S4 John's Preaching of the Coming One: Luke 3:15, 16-17
    B S5 The Baptism of Jesus: Luke 3:21-22

    The Temptation of Jesus
    N S6 The Temptation of Jesus: Luke 4:1-13

    Jesus' Inaugural Sermon
    N S7 Introduction: Luke 6:12, 17, 20a
    B S8 Blessings and Woes: Luke 6:20b-26
    R S9 On Retaliation: Luke 6:27-35
    B S10 On Judging: Luke 6:36-38
    N S11 Blind Guides, Teachers and Pupils: Luke 6:39-40
    N S12 On Hypocrisy: Luke 6:41-42
    B S13 Good and Evil Men: Luke 6:43-45
    B S14 The Parable of the Builders: Luke 6:46-49

    John, Jesus, and this Generation
    N S15 The Centurion's Son: Luke 7:1-10
    B S16 John's Inquiry: Luke 7:18-23
    B S17 Jesus' Eulogy of John: Luke 7:24-28
    N S18 The Kingdom Suffers Violence: Luke 16:16
    N S19 John and the Tax Collectors: Luke 7:29-30
    B S20 The Children in the Agora: Luke 7:31-35

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Q passages S21 through S26

    Looking at the next section of passages from Q (S21 to S26), it appears to me that five support my view of Jesus, one supports neither my view nor Rick's view, and none support Rick's view.

    The current score is sixteen passages from Q supporting my view of Jesus and only one passage supporting Rick's view of Jesus (nine passages supporting neither view). So, the early passages of Q (S1 through S26) overwhelmingly support my view of Jesus, and provide little support for Rick's view of Jesus.

    Rick has a lot of explaining to do, so I think I will hold off on analyzing more passages from Q, until Rick makes an attempt to explain a number of the sixteen passages from Q that appear to support my view of Jesus.

    It looks to me like Rick may be guilty of cherry picking the evidence. So far, the bulk of passages from Q appear to present a Jesus who emphasized divine judgment, both rewards in heaven, and divine punishment in the next life (i.e. "unquenchable fire" and "Hades"). Jesus identifies with the fire-breathing preacher John the Baptist, and like John calls for repentance and warns of the coming wrath of God.

    So far, very few passages from Q have Jesus preaching a kinder, gentler non-judgmental deity of love.

    N = neutral between Brad's view and Rick's view of Jesus
    B = supports Brad's view of Jesus
    R = supports Rick's view of Jesus

    Discipleship and Mission
    B S21 Three Followers of Jesus: Luke 9:57-62
    B S22 The Mission Speech: Luke 10:1-12
    B S23 Woes on the Galilean Towns: Luke 10:13-15
    B S24 The Authority of Missionaries: Luke 10:16, 17-20
    B S25 Thanksgiving for Revelation: Luke 10:21-22
    N S26 Blessings on the Eye-witness: Luke 10:23-24

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    Well, actually, I've been explaining.

    The problem is with your method of determining what was, most likely, the actual words of Jesus.

    Let me try, yet another, analogy to help explain the difference between yours and mine.

    Let's say we're detectives trying to figure out how a traffic accident occurred. There are, let's say 10 witnesses, who claim to have been close enough to see what happened. You are convinced that, because the 10 witnesses were all within 30 yards, then everything they report must be true. Regardless of how many of their stories contradict each other, you assume they must all somehow be true, and that we just have to take them altogether.

    I would say that's a little naive. First, I'm not as convinced as you that they were all as close as you say, but even if they were, I am looking at what each one says happened and looking more deeply at their stories. I would say that it's far more likely that some are more accurate than others, and that we have to look for other clues, in the stories themselves, to figure out which are more likely accurate than the others.

    By the way, I never have argued that Jesus was never angry, frustrated or stern. My contention all along was that he taught that GOD is merciful, patient, caring, compassionate and forgiving.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    Actually, in this instance, cherry picking is really not too bad of a metaphor.

    Indeed, if you want to get at what Jesus actually taught, you do have to be selective.

    What you're insinuating is that the BASIS for my particular selection has to do with some ideology, but I have never suggested that anyone WEIGH any of the sayings/vignettes/stories of Q in such a manner.

    Going back to the metaphor I suggested, you are simply lumping together what all the alleged, close up, eye witnesses of a car crash claim, without evaluating the worth of their statements. One says the car swerved. Another that it rolled. Still another that it flew straight up, did a 360 and landed upright.

    So based on your logic, the car did all three!!! It swerved, rolled and then flew up in the air and did a 360 landing! Possible? Sure. But what is MUCH MORE LIKELY?

    More likely, the car did only one of the described manuvers, not all three.

    You're also, now, chunking together the sayings of Jesus about the temporal, Jewish Messianic judgment with the ETERNAL torture of later Greek dominated Christianity.

    It's quite possible that Jesus supported the idea that God chastens or disciplines the disobedient, largely, that the disobediant Jews would not be given active roles in the administration of the coming, earthly Messiah King. For that, you could make a good case. But that's a very far cry from then twisting those sayings into condemnations to an eternal Hell.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Rick said:
    Going back to the metaphor I suggested, you are simply lumping together what all the alleged, close up, eye witnesses of a car crash claim, without evaluating the worth of their statements. One says the car swerved. Another that it rolled. Still another that it flew straight up, did a 360 and landed upright.

    So based on your logic, the car did all three!!! It swerved, rolled and then flew up in the air and did a 360 landing! Possible? Sure. But what is MUCH MORE LIKELY?

    More likely, the car did only one of the described manuvers, not all three.
    =======
    Bradley responds:

    Your analogy seems a poor fit for this situation.

    First, our "eye witnesses" (i.e. our primary historical sources) are in AGREEMENT. Both Mark and Q (our best historical sources) agree that Jesus preached both a God of judgment and a God of love and mercy. Correcting your analogy to fit this situation, we would have two eyewitnesses
    to a car crash who were in agreement that the car swerved and also rolled.

    Second, you are assuming that the combination of reported events is intrinsically improbable, but I have argued that there is nothing improbable about the combination of (a) Jesus preaching a God of judgement/wrath/punishment and (b) Jesus preaching a God of love/kindness/mercy.

    In my view this combination of events is intrinsically probable, since Moses and John the Baptist were presumably key influences on the thinking of Jesus, and they preached both a God of judgment/wrath/punishment and a God of love/kindness/mercy.

    In terms of your analogy, two different car-crash events that are reported by eyewitnesses should be a natural combination. Contrary to your assumption, swerving and rolling are such a natural combination; there is nothing intrinsically improbable about a car swerving and then rolling. In fact, if a car has rolled it is highly likely that the driver swerved just prior to the car rolling.

    Do you agree that out of the first twenty-six passages of Q there are sixteen that support my view of Jesus and only one that supports
    your view of Jesus? If that assessment is correct, doesn't that make my view more likely to be correct than yours? How do you explain away those sixteen passages?

    If Q portrays Jesus as an apocalyptic preacher when his views were actually opposed to apocalyptic thinking, then how can we rely on any quotations of Jesus in Q? If Q (our best historical source on Jesus' teachings) frequently and fundamentally distorts Jesus' basic message, then how can we ever discover what Jesus taught and believed?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    "Agreement"???

    Hardly! The main stream of the sayings have God showing mercy, compassion and forgiveness.

    Then, interspersed, is another, altogether different message, a God who is determined to torture billions of people for an eternity.

    Sure, you can try to say that Jesus was very conflicted, perhaps had a duel personality, and depending on his mood, imagined God to be a sort of Cosmic Nazi, and then when he was in a good mood, forgot about all that, and portrayed God as never giving up until the last, lost sheep was safely back in the fold.

    I don't think so. Much more likely is that this other stream was superimposed over the original messages by people who had an agenda and/or those who had imported these ideas of harsh, unpredictable gods, who not only poured out their wrath to kill people, such as the harsh, traditional Jewish Yahway, but who then proceed to torture them for eternity, such as the Greek converts.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    In his book From Jesus to Christianity (2004), L. Michael White (not a fundamentalist) makes this comment about Q:

    "…scholars usually date it between 50 and 60 CE…"
    (p.133-134)

    The Q scholar John Kloppenborg (not a fundamentalist) makes this comment on the dating of Q:

    "In the 1911 edition of Julius Wellhausen's Einleitung in die drei ersten Evangelien, Wellhausen mounted and argument against von Harnack, trying to show that Q was post-Markan and even that it was composed after the first Jewish revolt. While Wellhausen did not succeed on either account, he did show that Q was not the pristine source of Jesus' sayings that von Harnack had thought it was."

    (The Sayings Gospel Q and the Quest of the Historical Jesus, Harvard Theological Review 89:4,1996, p.313-314)

    The fact that Wellhausen failed to establish a late dating of Q does not, however, preclude somebody else from showing this to be the case.

    Here is Kloppenborg's judgment on the dating of Q:

    "…Q scholarship since Luhrmann… has not been concerned primarily with the historical Jesus but with a document twenty to forty years later…"

    (The Sayings Gospel Q and the Quest of the Historical Jesus, Harvard Theological Review 89:4,1996, p.322)

    So Kloppenborg (not a fundamentalist) places the composition of Q between 50 and 70 CE.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    So far, I have found one dozen non-fundamentalist scholars who date Q prior to 70 CE:

    Dale Allison
    Marcus Borg
    James Charlesworth
    John Crossan
    James Dunn
    Bart Ehrman
    Robert Funk
    John Kloppenborg
    Mark Powell
    Thomas Sheehan
    Gerd Theissen
    L. Michael White

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Rick said:

    Jesus "taught that GOD is merciful, patient, caring, compassionate and forgiving."
    ==============

    Bradley responds:

    I agree. This is about as firm a claim as can be made about what Jesus taught.
    This claim is not based on just one or two alleged sayings of Jesus, but is based on a theme that is present in a number of sayings found in our earliest and best sources (i.e. Mark & Q).

    One important qualification: the idea that God is "merciful" and "forgiving" should be understood in the context of the preaching of John the Baptist and the books of Moses, especially the story of the Commandments revealed by God to Moses on Mount Sinai (found in Exodus and Deuteronomy).

    John the Baptist preached about a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Why should anyone bother to travel out into the wilderness to seek John and to be baptized by him? To be forgiven.

    Why should anyone care whether God forgives him/her? Failure to follow all of the laws and commandments of God results, according to Moses and John the Baptist, in divine wrath, judgment, and punishment. Disobedience results in a multitude of divine curses and also in the loss of a multitude of divine blessings. Forgiveness is a way out of the terrible fate that Moses described in Deuteronomy chapters 28-32.

    Before Moses brought the first set of commandments down the mountain to the Israelites, they were already busy violating the commandment against worshipping other gods (Deuteronomy chapter 9, NIV):

    15 So I turned and went down from the mountain while it was ablaze with fire. And the two tablets of the covenant were in my hands. 16 When I looked, I saw that you had sinned against the LORD your God; you had made for yourselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that the LORD had commanded you. 17 So I took the two tablets and threw them out of my hands, breaking them to pieces before your eyes.

    18 Then once again I fell prostrate before the LORD for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD's sight and so provoking him to anger. 19 I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me.

    Moses destroyed the first set of stone tablets, then pleaded with God to show mercy on the Israelites, and met God again on Mount Sinai to receive a second copy of the commandments:

    4 So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the LORD had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. 5 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."
    8 Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. 9 "O Lord, if I have found favor in your eyes," he said, "then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance."
    It is from the God who "does not leave the guilty unpunished" and who "punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation" that forgiveness and mercy is to be sought. This story in Exodus and Deuteronomy is the primary context in terms of which the concepts of "merciful" and "forgiveness" are to be understood when we hear these words coming from John the Baptist and from Jesus, two devout Jews who viewed Moses as the supreme prophet of God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    I think you're right about John the Baptist; he was preaching in the shadow of Moses.

    But Jesus actually rejected a LOT of what Moses said. Yes, he had to be careful, and was not very overt, you might even say he was covert about it.

    But he found a way to say what Moses said was NOT what God says. For example, Jesus said, "Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of your hearts." Well, actually, if you read the OT passage he's discussing, it's in the context of a bunch of "Thus saith the Lords." Jesus worked around the unquestioning adherance to Moses, because he really rejected the type of God Moses presented.

    This is another reason why we find so many passages where the disciples are confused and seemingly deaf to Jesus' message, "How many times must we forgive?" "Are you NOW going to take over the world?" And so on. They had trouble getting past the vindictive Yahweh.

    But Jesus tried again and again to promote forgiveness, meaning the offenders did not having to pay for what they did wrong, and the offended not getting revenge. This was a remarkable change in direction from Moses, and the Baptist.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    I neglected to give the reference for the second biblical passage quoted about Moses meeting God on Mount Sinai: Exodus chapter 34.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Rick also said (these are somewhat stronger claims):

    "…Q and the synoptics contain a core message of a loving God…"

    "The main stream of the sayings [of Jesus found in Mark and Q] have God showing mercy, compassion and forgiveness."

    "…the belief in God's empathy for the suffering" was "Jesus' core message."

    ============

    Bradley responds:

    There is definitely a theme in Mark and Q about God being loving, but being a theme does not necessarily make this idea "a core message". I'll grant this was a key idea, but it seems to me that Jesus had a number of key ideas, and I'm not so sure that God being loving was at the center or foundation of the other key ideas. Perhaps it is, but I need to be persuaded of this (What were the other key ideas, and how does God being loving fit with or support those other key ideas?)

    The phrase "The main stream of sayings" seems to beg some important questions. This language suggests some interpretive assumptions that I don't necessarily buy into. If Jesus had a number of key ideas, including both "God is loving" and also "Repent to avoid the coming wrath and judgment of God" and if Mark and Q accurately reflect the range of Jesus' key ideas, then calling the one idea "The main stream" seems misleading, at best. If Jesus had various key ideas and if these were just two of a number of such ideas, then it might be a distortion to characterize one of many key ideas as "The main stream" of Jesus' sayings or teachings.

    The term "stream" also suggests the notion of historical development/traditions. This implies that one can pickout seperate historical sources/traditions in Q and determine that some sources are more reliable than others. That sort of analysis makes sense with the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, but I'm not sure it makes sense to do this with Mark and Q.

    At any rate, I'm skeptical about the strength of a case for a particular analysis of Mark or Q along such lines.

    Characterizing the idea of "God's empathy for the suffering" as "Jesus' core message" is a much stronger claim than just saying that Jesus taught and believed this idea. This is a stronger claim than saying this was a key idea among other key ideas. You are claiming this idea to be at the center or foundation of Jesus' beliefs or teachings. That claim requires a good deal of evidence and argument, more than what I've heard so far.

    My review of the sayings of Jesus in Q does not support this strong claim about the teachings of Jesus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Rick said (these are the key controversial claims):

    The "historical Jesus" was "not an advocate of the idea of an eternal hell…"

    The synoptic gospels contain "anti-Hell sayings and vignettes…"

    "…Jesus opposed the idea of Hell."

    The "idea of Hell was later inserted in Christian writings and placed on Jesus' lips to give it some false credibility."

    "Much more likely…this other stream [about a God of wrath, judgment and punishment] was superimposed over the original messages by people who had an agenda and/or those who had imported these ideas of harsh unpredictable gods…"

    =======

    These controversial claims are supported primarily by two main points: (1) there are two contradictory views or beliefs about God (God as loving vs. God of wrath, judgment and punishment) in the alleged sayings of Jesus in Mark and Q, and (2) The former view (God as loving) is present in the majority of Jesus' alleged sayings, while the latter view (God of wrath, judgment and punishment) is present only in a minority of Jesus' alleged sayings:

    "…the portions [of the gospels] alleging Hell to exist and God's intention to put people there are quite inconsistent with most of the rest…"

    "Most of them [the sayings of Jesus] represent a compassionate and forgiving and parental being. The passages which have him portraying God as angry and vindictive are in the minority…"

    "But most of the Jesus stories or currents have him describing God as compassionate, patient and forgiving."

    "…Hell is placed on Jesus lips by a relative handful of the sayings in the earliest texts we have (though they clearly contradict the majority of all the other teachings placed on his lips by those same texts)…"

    "…we would STILL find the many contradictions of the teachings contained therein [if we had the original copy of Q] all attributed to Jesus."

    "…there are two, diametrically opposed streams of ideas, one, about a ruthless and cruel God, and the other, about a kind and loving one."

    ==========

    Are these two supporting points for Rick's controversial claims true? Do these points amount to a good reason to accept some or all of Rick's controversial claims?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    I have looked at a few more passages from Q, so I have now formed an initial opinion on half of the passsages from Q (34 out of 68).

    20 passages support my view of Jesus.
    2 passages support Rick's view of Jesus.
    12 passages are neutral and do not support either my view or Rick's view.

    N = neutral between Brad's view and Rick's view of Jesus
    B = supports Brad's view of Jesus
    R = supports Rick's view of Jesus

    Here is how I evaluate the most recent set of passages:

    ON PRAYER
    N S27 The Lord's Prayer Luke 11:1-4.
    R S28 Confidence in Prayer Luke 11:5-13.

    CONTROVERSIES WITH THIS GENERATION
    B S29 The Beezelbul Accusation Luke 11:14-23.
    B S30 The Return of the Evil Spirit Luke 11:24-26.
    N S31 True Blessedness Luke 11:27-28.
    B S32 The Sign of Jonah Luke 11:16, 29-32.
    N S33 The Lamp and the Eye Luke 11:33-36.
    B S34 Woes Against Pharisees Luke 11:37-54, Luke 13:34-35.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    My "controversial claim" is NOT that Jesus (you know, the man, the actual guy who walked the shores of Galilee) was a peace-nik who never got stern or angry or upset or frustrated…but was always real mellow and never harsh with anyone. No, I've NEVER made such a claim.

    My actual claim is that the GOD (the invisible being somewhere out there, the diety) whom Jesus believed in and taught about, his VIEW of GOD, was of a being who is patient, forgiving, kind, parental. Huge difference!

    Let me illustrate by going back to one of my favorite examples, Luke 9:51-56, a situation where, indeed, JESUS (not God) gets frustrated and angry. Based on the mistaken notion that I am somehow arguing that Jesus was always mellowed out, you could easily argue that this passage does not support "my view." But that's NOT what I'm saying!

    Jesus gets angry in this vignette because his disciples have as yet to get it that GOD is NOT a wrathful killer, but one who wishes to save and heal. The sometimes angry, human Jesus, would get angry when people still didn't get it that God never loses his cool, and kills or tortures people, not for a few minutes, and certainly not for an eternity.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Rick said:

    My "controversial claim" is NOT that Jesus (you know, the man, the actual guy who walked the shores of Galilee) was a peace-nik who never got stern or angry or upset or frustrated…but was always real mellow and never harsh with anyone. No, I've NEVER made such a claim.

    My actual claim is that the GOD (the invisible being somewhere out there, the diety) whom Jesus believed in and taught about, his VIEW of GOD, was of a being who is patient, forgiving, kind, parental. Huge difference!
    =========
    Bradley responds:

    I see the distinction you are making here, but I don't think I have confused or conflated these two very different claims.

    I have not made any claims myself about Jesus' temper or emotional character, nor have I criticized or objected to any alleged claims
    by you about Jesus' temper or emotional character.

    Perhaps you are reading too much into the phrase "Rick's view of Jesus".

    When I use that phrase, what I have in mind is simply your view about the nature of Jesus' beliefs and teachings about God (e.g. "God is loving and compassionate." ).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    If you'll redraw your list to show which ones actually have Jesus saying God is going to ETERNAllY torture people, you'll find that it's actually a very short list. Be sure to distinguish between those and the ones which have Jesus saying that some people might not get prestigious appointments in the coming kingdom of the Jewish Messiah, i.e., being "left out," "last in the kingdom," "brought to shame," and so on. These are often conflated with going to Hell, but are instead just referring to the temporal, earthly chastisements of those Jews who are unfaithful.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Rick said:

    If you'll redraw your list to show which ones actually have Jesus saying God is going to ETERNAllY torture people, you'll find that it's actually a very short list.
    ====
    Bradley responds:

    I agree that there are only a few passages in the synoptic gospels where Jesus explicitly refers to Hell or eternal punsihment.

    However, that is not a decisive point. The issue is whether those few references to Hell and eternal punishment go back to Jesus or not.

    If they don't fit with the rest of what Jesus said and taught, then that would support your view that those few sayings did not come from Jesus or that it is unlikely that they reflect the thinking of the historical Jesus.

    If they do fit with the rest of what Jesus said and taught, then that would support my view that those passages did come from Jesus or that it is likely that they reflect the thinking of the historical Jesus.

    There are a couple of disagreements between us concerning the character of "the rest" of what Jesus said and taught: (1) Was Jesus an apocalyptic preacher/thinker? (2) Did Jesus preach about/believe in a God of wrath, judgment, and punishment?

    If the rest of the sayings of Jesus indicate that he was an apocalyptic preacher, and that he preached about a God of wrath, judgment, and punishment, then the sayings that refer to Hell and eternal punishment are likely to be reflective of the thinking of the historical Jesus.

    If, on the other hand, the rest of the sayings indicate that Jesus was basically a Cynic and that his concept of God was one of pure love, compassion, and kindness, then it would be reasonable to doubt the authenticity of the few sayings about Hell and eternal punishment.

    In short, we disagree about the origins of the few sayings about Hell because we disagree about the character of the rest of the sayings attributed to Jesus by Mark and Q (our earliest and best sources for the sayings of Jesus).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    Personally, I would say the passages which, one could say, portray an Apocalyptic Jesus make up a third stream.

    As I was trying to explain in my earlier post, it's important to distinguish between the Evangelicals' revisionism of the passages which refer to the coming Jewish Messiah's TEMPORAL Separation Judgment, meant as a chastisement, with a final ETERNAL judgment, meant as unending revenge.

    If you'll read my book, I explain these things in detail.

    But as another example, look at Matthew 25:31-46, normally identified as the story of the Sheep and the Goats.

    For those who never pause to consider what the lesson of this story is in order to see the glaring contradiction between Jesus simultaneously calling for the relief of earthly human suffering all the while being the cause of eternal human suffering, this passage appears to be proof positive that Hell exists, just because it places the words “everlasting fire” on Jesus’ lips. But for those who strive to be intellectually honest, this disparity sticks out like a sore thumb. Clearly, the point of the original text is that those who fail to care for the suffering will be excluded from “inheriting the kingdom on earth” (i.e., becoming a part of the ruling class of the earthly Jewish Messiah)! There’s no mention of Heaven or Hell, and neither does it say the king will actively inflict any sort of torture on the excluded. It’s only due to the additions that this earthly kingdom is taken to mean “Heaven,” and exclusion from it, “Hell.”

    These insertions are easily discernable when the passage is read in context, instead of through the prism of Evangelical doctrine. Again, the whole point of the story is that we should actively care for those who are suffering no matter who they are, even those who perhaps had done something criminal, landing them in prison. But many years after the original document was written, a scribe who was making a copy of the text (most likely, an overzealous Greek Christian) thought it might help to frighten the future readers of the Gospel of Matthew into being more empathetic toward the needs of others by adding the threat of eternal punishment to verses 41 and 46. In so doing, however, he flipped the story’s meaning on its head! Clearly, Jesus could not have said, all in the same breath, that we ought to be as empathetic toward others, no matter who they are, as we would be toward him, only to turn right around and threaten billions of people with infinite non-empathy! The context, alone, tells us Jesus was all about putting a stop to suffering, not causing it, as the additions would have us believe.

    That said, there are other reasons why we can be certain these two references to Hell were added to the parable later on. The story of the Sheep and the Goats is actually the last in a sequence of four parables in the 24th and 25th Chapters of Matthew which all have the same theme: be ready for the coming of the Jewish Messiah to rule over the existing world or else be excluded from reigning with him. However, the other three make no mention of eternal punishment for those excluded!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    I have looked at 75% of the passages in Q (51 out of 68 passages), and this has increased
    my confidence in the view of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet who believed in and preached Heaven and Hell, and who believed in a God of wrath, judgment, and punishment.

    On Anxiety
    N S35 Hidden and Revealed – Luke 12:1-3
    B S36 Appropriate Fear – Luke 12:4-7
    B S37 On Confessing Jesus – Luke 12:8-9
    N S38 Blasphemy of the Spirit – Luke 12:10
    N S39 The Spirit's Assistance – Luke 12:11-12
    B S40 Foolish Possessions – Luke 12:13-21
    R S41 Earthly Cares – Luke 12:22-32
    B S42 Heavenly Treasure – Luke 12:33-34

    Sayings on the Coming Judgment
    B S43 Watchful Servants – Luke 12:35-38
    B S44 The Householder and the Thief – Luke 12:39-40
    B S45 Faithful and Unfaithful Servants – Luke 12:41-48
    B S46 Fire and Division on Earth – Luke 12:49-53
    B S47 Signs of the Times – Luke 12:54-56
    B S48 Agreeing with One's Accuser – Luke 12:57-59

    Two Parables of Growth – Luke 12:57-59
    N S49 The Mustard and the Leaven – Luke 13:18-21

    The Two Ways
    B S50 The Narrow Gate and Closed Door – Luke 13:22-27
    B S51 Gentiles in the Kingdom – Luke 13:28-30

    B = supports Brad's view of Jesus.
    R = supports Rick's view of Jesus.
    N = supports neither Brad's view of Jesus nor Rick's view of Jesus.

    Here is the score to date:

    32 passages support my view of Jesus.
    3 passages support Rick's view of Jesus.
    16 passages are neutral, favoring neither my view nor Rick's view.

    There are ten times as many passages in Q that support my view of Jesus as compared to passages that support Rick's view.

    Furthermore, in my opinion the three passages that support Rick's view of Jesus are compatible with my view of Jesus. I concede that the three passages in Q contradict the belief in Hell, but this is no different in principle than the contradictions that were already embraced by devout Jews for over a thousand years, and is a contradiction that has been embraced by devout Christians in dozens of different cultures for two thousand years.

    The fact that there is a logical contradiction at the heart of a religious belief system is not a good reason to doubt that Jesus accepted and advocated that belief system.

    I have started reviewing the Gospel of Mark, and it does not appear that the story will be much different there than with Q.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15771612313060169125 Rick Lannoye

    I hate to repeat, but I suppose I'll have to.

    There are quite a number of different "streams" of ideas that flow through the synoptic gospels. One of the reasons we are in agreement about limiting our search for the original message of Jesus to Q or Q1, the basis for the synoptics, is because even MORE streams, giving us even more versions of Jesus appear after them!

    So it's not at all unreasonable to think that the somewhat fewer streams or versions of Jesus in Q are not ALL accurate.

    Second point. AGAIN, don't confuse the stream which makes Jesus out to be the fulfillment of the EARTHLY Jewish Messiah with the ETERNAL Jesus of later Christianity. You can't just toss them together and assume that a temporal, earthly chastisement is the same as an ETERNAL torment, though Evangelicals are particularly fond of doing so.

    Thirdly, you cannot go by the sheer number of passages in the extant texts and simplistically conclude that gives them the greater weight of accuracy. The number of texts may be a sheer coincidence of the rages of time.

    So please, the scorecard you've made should not be between 2 streams only. Yes, the passages supporting a Jesus as Temporally Chastizing Jewish Messiah are numerous, IN Q!, but my contention all along has been that this stream of passages is laid on top of the Compassionate Forgiving Jesus, which were then, both buried under a layer of an Eternally Condemning Jesus.

    Once more, it's the CONTEXT, which ultimately tells us what is most likely pointing to the original Jesus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Sorry for the long silence. I have been on vacation in France, but am now back home.

    I finished reviewing the final passages of Q while on vacation, so I will have give my overall evaluation soon.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Rick said (these are the key controversial claims):

    The "historical Jesus" was "not an advocate of the idea of an eternal hell…"

    "…Jesus opposed the idea of Hell."

    The "idea of Hell was later inserted in Christian writings and placed on Jesus' lips to give it some false credibility."

    "Much more likely…this other stream [about a God of wrath, judgment and punishment] was superimposed over the original messages by people who had an agenda and/or those who had imported these ideas of harsh unpredictable gods…"

    =======

    These controversial claims are supported primarily by two main points: (1) there are two contradictory views or beliefs about God (God as loving vs. God of wrath, judgment and punishment) in the alleged sayings of Jesus in Mark and Q, and (2) The former view (God as loving) is present in the majority of Jesus' alleged sayings, while the latter view (God of wrath, judgment and punishment) is present only in a minority of Jesus' alleged sayings:

    "…there are two, diametrically opposed streams of ideas, one, about a ruthless and cruel God, and the other, about a kind and loving one."

    "…the portions [of the gospels] alleging Hell to exist and God's intention to put people there are quite inconsistent with most of the rest…"

    "…Hell is placed on Jesus lips by a relative handful of the sayings in the earliest texts we have (though they clearly contradict the majority of all the other teachings placed on his lips by those same texts)…"

    "Most of them [the sayings of Jesus] represent a compassionate and forgiving and parental being. The passages which have him portraying God as angry and vindictive are in the minority…"

    "But most of the Jesus stories or currents have him describing God as compassionate, patient and forgiving."

    =======

    Having reviewed each of the 68 passages of Q, I have confirmed my suspicion that Rick's basic premise about the sayings of Jesus is false. It is not the case that the majority of the sayings attributed to Jesus in Q represent God as loving and kind, nor is it the case that there are fewer sayings (attributed to Jesus in Q) that represent God as an angry judge who punishes people for their sins.

    In fact, the very opposite of Rick's premise is the case. Of the passages in Q that imply or suggest one or the other view of God, the majority represent God as an angry judge who punishes people for their sins and the minority represent God as loving and kind.

    This is exactly what one would expect based on the fact that Jesus was a devout Jew, and the fact that the main prophet of Judaism (Moses) put forward such a view of God, and based on the fact that Jesus was a follower of John the baptist, and the fact that John represented God as an angry judge who would punish people for their sins.

    Given that Rick's basic premise is false, I see no good reason to reject the traditional view that Jesus embraced both the idea of a God of love and kindness, and also the idea of a God of wrath, judgement, and punishment. This is a contradiction that was embraced by Jews for a thousand years prior to Jesus, and a contradiction embraced by Christians for two thousand years after Jesus. So, the embrace of this contradiction by Jesus should be no surprise to anybody.

    If Jesus embraced both of these ideas of God, then there is no good reason to doubt the historicity of the passages in Mark and Q that have Jesus preaching about, and thus believing in, hell, the eternal punishment of the wicked by God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Final tally on the 68 passages in Q:

    40 passages (59%) support Brad's view of Jesus.

    5 passages (7%) support Rick's view of Jesus.

    23 passages (34%) support neither view of Jesus.

    Since about 1/3 of the passages in Q do not support either view of Jesus (because there is no clear implication of one concept of God or the other in those passages), it makes sense to compare just the relevant passages (total of 45). In that case 89% of the relevant passages support Brad's view, and only 11% support Rick's view.

    I'm going to turn Rick's argument on its head now:

    1. The majority (about 6 out of 10) of passages in Q support the view that Jesus believed in a God who was an angry judge who would punish people for their sins.

    2. Only a small handful (about 1 out of 14) of passages in Q support the view that Jesus believed in a God of love and kindness who was not an angry judge who would punish people for their sins.

    3. A large portion (about 1 out of 3) of passages in Q support neither view of Jesus, and do not suggest or imply one view of God or the other.

    All three of these points support the conclusion that it is unlikely that the historical Jesus rejected the traditional jewish concept of God as an angry judge who would punish people for their sins.

    Even the fact that nearly 1/3 of Q passages support neither view of God provides evidence for this conclusion, because if the historical Jesus had rejected the traditional jewish concept of God in favor of the concept of God as purely loving and kind, then we would expect to find a larger portion of Jesus' sayings to deal with and defend his his radical and anti-traditional concept of God.

    I assume that Q is a generally reliable source of the teachings of Jesus, which leaves room for the possibility that the few sayings about Hell are corruptions and do not go back to the historical Jesus. But if Q is generally reliable, then the historical Jesus did not reject the traditional Jewish view of God as an angry judge who will punish people for their sins.

    Given this conclusion about Jesus' general concept of God, there is no good reason to doubt that the sayings about hell in Mark and Q represent teachings of the historical Jesus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Here is my evaluation of the final 17 passages from Q:

    B = supports Brad's view of Jesus
    (i.e. Jesus believed in God as an angry judge who would punish people for their sins, and who was also merciful and forgiving towards those who repent of their sins).
    R = supports Rick's view of Jesus (i.e. Jesus believed in a God of love and kindness, and who was NOT an angry judge who would punish people for their sins).
    N = supports neither view of Jesus (i.e. there is no clear implication or suggestion of one conception of God or the other)

    THE TWO WAYS
    B S52 Lament over Jerusalem Lk 13:31-35
    N S53 Livestock in a Pit Lk 14:1-6
    N S54 Exalting the Humble Lk 14:7-12 & 18:14
    B S55 The Great Supper Lk 14:15-24
    B S56 Being My Disciple Lk 14:25-27 & 17:33
    N S57 Savorless Salt Lk 14:34-35

    MISCELLANEOUS SAYINGS
    R S58 The Lost Sheep Lk 15:1-7
    R S59 The Lost Coin Lk 15:8-10
    N S60 God and Mammon Lk 16:13
    B S61 The Kingdom, Law and Divorce Lk 16:16-18
    B S62 On Scandals Lk 17:1-2
    N S63 Forgiveness Lk 17:3-4
    N S64 On Faith Lk 17:5-6

    THE ESCHATOLOGICAL DISCOURSE
    N S65 The Presence of the Kingdom Lk 17:20-21
    B S66 The Coming of the Son of Man Lk 17:22-37
    B S67 The Parable of the Talents Lk 19:11-27
    B S68 Judging Israel Lk 22:28-30