GOOD NEWS OR JUST BAD WRITING?
The lack of detailed teachings in the Gospels is an indication there never were any
When Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon opened the tomb of King Tutankhamun, the first words allegedly spoken were from Carnarvon to Carter asking if he, ahead of him, could see anything. To which Carter replied, “Yes, wonderful things.” Now imagine that's all we ever got from a find of this significance. Imagine the story trailed off into how the servants and hired hands moved “glorious, wonderful” objects out and put them on display for all to be astonished. And everyone gasped at the wonders of ancient Egypt.
If told like this, the writer would be ostracized for not sharing in these wonderful things. The author would be torn apart for not describing all the contents of King Tut's tomb. We'd have to conclude that either the author didn't know about any of the items or there never were any glorious and wonderful items to start with.
What if the story continued? These wonderful things were moved from city to city, put on display. They wowed the crowds who saw them. The unique treasures amazed the masses and the elders and experts were all astonished at what they saw.
A lack of detail in a story is an indicator there is no story. In other words, the author is expecting the reader to fill in the gaps he couldn't provide. And it's an example of bad writing. It's all telling, no showing. A rule, or at least, a high recommendation for writers is that when telling a story, one should show as much as possible. Failure to do so suggests there isn't anything of substance and is an indication of lazy writing. And it's rampant in the gospels.
The gospels say on numerous occasions things like "and he (Jesus) went out and preached and all were amazed". Well what did he preach? What did he say? We're left with lame parables but the "amazing" stuff is never shown.
When an author omits details, it's usually because he doesn't have any. It's cheating. In the story, audience reactions are used in place of real material. The reader doesn't get to experience the shock or revelation on their own, because the information, is missing. Because of this, the gospel author's solution was to tell us he did great things but they had no idea how to show us something so great that would sway reader opinion. I believe this is because the gospel authors couldn’t think of anything wowing enough to show so they hoped the reader would be amazed based on audience reaction. In other words, there is no good news. Just bad writing.
What would Plato's Dialogues be without the dialogues? We don't know if Socrates ever said the words that Plato recorded but to demonstrate the wisdom of his hero, Plato put something into Socrates' mouth. Plato chose to show us the great things his teacher said. Imagine if, instead, Plato's Republic went like this: “And Socrates went out to Glaucon and Adeimantus and Thrasymachus and many men of Athens and those from foreign lands, and he amazed them with words of justice and education and the roles of men.” This would be bad writing and completely forgettable. This is telling, not showing. And yet, this is exactly what the gospels record of Jesus' teaching.
Let's examine a bit of Mark. The experts suspect Mark was the first gospel that Matthew, Luke and John later borrowed and copied from. So the origin of the canonical gospels begins with Mark. And although I'll be primarily using mark, I argue the same problem persists in all of them. Bad writing.
After Jesus is baptised, he begins his ministry by coming to Galilee and proclaiming the “good news” of God, that the kingdom of God is near to coming. He orders those who hear this to repent and believe in, again, the “good news”. He then goes to Capernaum, enters a synagogue and teaches. And it says they were astounded at his teaching for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. (Mark 1:22). This is where my writer hat throws a red flag. What did he teach? What was so great? Why couldn't the author show it, spell it out? I'm predicting it's because the author couldn't think of anything that would match the astonishment of those in the synagogue.
The gospels are littered with accounts like this. Jesus teaches and astounds his audience but we never get to read these astonishing teachings. The best we're given are the parables. This is a very poor substitute because the parables, while some nice poetry, are nothing that would woo crowds of elders, scribes and high priests. So the “teachings” that are left undefined must be different. In fact, the author of Mark seems to say this very thing.
In Mark 4:10-12, Jesus takes his disciples off to the side and says, about the parables, “To you has been given the secret of the Kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables.” And he does this, he explains, “In order that they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand.” So the parables can not be the same as the undetailed teachings. If his all tell, no show teachings can't be understood and are confusing, how are they amazing crowds?
No, what the author of Mark has done is thought of nothing but the clever parables. The secret teachings of the Kingdom of God are missing because the author either couldn't think of anything wowing enough to amaze his readers or, there never were any wowing teachings in the first place. The other possibility is that the author of Mark just didn't know and only heard of them.
If one gospel, that of Mark, were like this, maybe he could be forgiven. But as I mentioned above, the other three canonical gospels do the same thing. They lay out parables but as for those amazing teachings, we're left to guess.
One might argue that the Sermon on the Mount is indeed one of the teachings I claim are missing. And after Jesus delivers it, it does record how astonished the crowds were. However, this sermon is a collection of things so vague as to be practically meaningless. It is my opinion that this was the best attempt anyone ever gave to try to make it appear Jesus had something incredible to say. What exactly does it mean to be more righteous than the scribes or Pharisees? (Matthew 5:20) If this is a message for the world, how about including the Aztecs or Native North Americans? And what does “righteous” even mean here? Or what does it mean to be poor in spirit? (Matthew 5:3) Or pure in heart? (Matthew 5:8) Also, what are we to make of the view on divorce? As recorded here, Jesus tells that it is only acceptable should the woman commit adultery. This, right here, speaks more about the common view of women two-thousand-years ago rather than a just god.
No, the Sermon is no different than anything else recorded in the gospels. It isn't anything new or wowing. It's clearly written by a very mortal man of his time. It's more parables and vague statements. Read Matthew 5:14-16 and ask yourself, is this the message of god that was wowing crowds?
We must also ask why is the Sermon only in Matthew with a sprinkle of Beautitudes in Luke? Seems the best answer is that the author of Matthew and Luke were doing their best to give Jesus something great to say. But the message in the Sermon is so very common that it gives away a very human, non-divine authorship. How about some remarks regarding germ theory and why people get sick? How about pointing out the benefits of clean teeth and a low salt, vegetarian diet? How about discussing that there's nothing to be afraid of regarding lightning? How about teaching sign language? The Sermon is indeed more of the same as anything else Jesus allegedly teaches. I suspect it is because there never was anything incredible from Jesus. Only authors trying their hardest.
There are estimated to have been dozens of other gospels that are now lost to history. And maybe these hold the great speeches and details of great impressions. But if so, why didn't the Christian community preserve them? It appears there was nothing significant to warrant preservation. Wouldn't all the words of Jesus have been as carefully preserved as Muslims have with the words of Muhammad in the Hadith?
On the contrary, we do have the Gospel of Thomas which is a collection of one-hundred-and-fourteen quotes allegedly from Jesus. No context is given, just quotes. You would think that all the great stuff would be here, right? Nope. Nothing at all in any of them is of any significance. More of the same as in the canonical gospels, more parables and quite frankly, nonsense. Certainly nothing an elder or group of people would be flocking to.
Gospel of Thomas quote number thirteen has Thomas being taken aside by Jesus and told something. And when he returns to the other disciples they asked what Jesus told him. And Thomas answered, “If I tell you one of the things which he told me, you will pick up stones and throw them at me; a fire will come out of the stones and burn you up." So here, again, more expectation that something great is being said but never put on display.
Here is another: Quote twenty in the Gospel of Thomas, the disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us what the kingdom of heaven is like." Jesus said to them, "It is like a mustard seed. It is the smallest of all seeds. But when it falls on tilled soil, it produces a great plant and becomes a shelter for birds of the sky."
This is just pure and simple bullshit. This is the same type of language a sham of a psychic would use or Silvia Browne to act like they know something when they don't. It's an indication that the author has no clue at all and is hoping this mustard seed analogy will suffice. Quite frankly, Elvis Presley fans have preserved more, memorized more, quoted more and cherished more words from that legendary singer than anyone recalled from when Jesus allegedly lived and spoke. This should be an embarrassment among Christians but for some reason, it isn't. Asking us to accept the wisdom of Jesus with the material we have would be like asking us to accept how great Elvis was if he only released a few mediocre seven-inch singles yet we kept being told he had these great hits and stage performances and even a movie career, none of which we could see.
The unity of all the gospel authors having nothing, absolutely nothing to unpack about secret teachings or what these speeches were is an indicator there were none at all. If at least one or a few gospels reported on them, then missing detailed teachings in others would not be a big deal. But the fact that no one has anything at all to put on display suggests to me there never was any big astonishing teachings and that each gospel author used the same cheat of bad writing to tell us something great was going on when it wasn't.
It would be excusable if the hidden message was revealed at the end of the gospels, if all these things Jesus was teaching that wowed the audiences were put into the reader's lap at the end of the story. It would be understandable if the gospel authors teased us until the end. But it doesn't work out like that. We never know what Jesus says. The four canonical gospels end with Jesus' death, with the author hoping that in the end the astonishing and amazing teachings will be taken for granted.
I know what you might be thinking. Each gospel does reveal what the good news, what the message is. The end itself, the death and resurrection is it and so was revealed. I beg to differ. If Jesus went around astonishing audiences and elders with a story that his life was going to end with a death and resurrection, the author would have just written this. Besides, the first time in Mark Jesus tells his disciples about his forthcoming death and resurrection, he tells them in Mark 8:31-33 about it and tells them to keep it to themselves, don't tell anyone. So this is clearly not what he'd been teaching to the crowds. And in Mark 1:22, Jesus is said to have taught the crowds as one having authority and not as the scribes. So his teachings to the elders and high priests are something different than bragging he's about to pull the greatest magic trick in human history. I suspect, however, that if he was talking about his predicted death and resurrection, the audiences wouldn't have been amazed and astonished. They would have laughed him off and returned to their business. Unless we are to assume ancient audiences of priests and scribes were fools and easily swayed by a bunch of talk like this, the teachings about the coming resurrection don't make sense. So in place of missing great teachings and messages, the gospel authors direct us away with stories about curing illnesses which Jesus specifically told people not to talk about.
Which is interesting. In the beginning of Mark, Jesus at Mark 1:40-45, heals a leper and forbids him from telling what happened. But the former leper runs right out and is apparently so happy to be healed, he starts telling everyone. This happens numerous times, Jesus heals, forbids from telling anyone, and yet, it gets out causing Jesus no privacy.
So Jesus tells people not to describe their healing but concentrate on his teachings and yet, the gospels record numerous healings and never any detail at all about his teachings.
Can we garner from the pieces what the great, astonishing teachings were? Were they about the good news, the Kingdom of God, which is how the gospel of Mark starts with the reason Jesus shows up? Doubtful, as already addressed in Mark 4:10-12 Jesus didn't tell the masses about it. He told the disciples only. And what did he tell them about the Kingdom of God? In Mark 4:30-34, (and quote number twenty in the Gospel of Thomas) Jesus decides to tell what the Kingdom is like and the best he (the author of Mark) can say is that it's like a mustard seed and must be carefully attended to if it's going to grow proper.
What? Seriously? This, again, is a bunch of nothing. My writer hat has sprouted dozens of red flags that what we're dealing with is bad writing. The author couldn't think of anything to make his reader feel the power of something like the Kingdom of God so he cheats. He goes lazy and gives a silly parable that is meaningless. And then, to rub it in, Mark 4:33-34 the author says that Jesus only explains everything in private to his disciples and speaks in parables to everyone else. Again, more lazy in the shadows.
The bottom line is that if Jesus really had anything great to say, no one bothered to record it. And if it was ever recorded, no one bothered to preserve it. And if that's the case, I can only conclude that the life of Jesus and what he had to say isn't worth anything more than the stories of other mythical characters.
Paul seems to confirm this. His writings are the earliest Christian writings which we have preserved. And he never talks of anything other than the death and resurrection. He knows nothing of these healings or Jesus' ministry or how he wowed crowds. He never quotes from Jesus' astonishing teachings (or even the parables) to give direction for the early church. You'd think he would pull from the words of the founder to assert his authority. But when he wants to quote anything to make a point on how things should be run, he goes back to the Old Testament. The one and only time he quotes the words of Jesus are his words at the Last Supper. But he tells the reader in 1 Corinthians 11:23 that he got it directly from Jesus, whom he never met. So he admits up front it came from a revelation (a dream or hallucination or something akin to a shamanic meditation). He admits he didn't get it from another person or from a written record of the event. Paul's only concern is of the death and resurrection which, like the Last Supper information, he specifically tells us in Galatians 1:12 that it was not taught to him by any man but discovered through revelation.
This is a major red flag. If Paul, the earliest of writers, tells us that he knows what he knows because Jesus told him through revelation and that he didn't get anything from anyone who was there, that's a big indicator there was nothing there in the first place. It appears that everything we're looking at is made up.
If Jesus taught anything amazing, whether in public to vast crowds or in private to the initiated inner circle, no one bothered to preserve it. Simply said, there's just nothing of significance in the gospels which leads me to conclude there never was and the authors cheat, using the lazy tactic of making us think there's something based on audience reaction in the story.
Imagine losing the Theory of Relativity short of total war. That's what we have to believe if we believe we lost Jesus, the Son of God's, teachings less than a couple decades after his death. Would the Word of God be lost so easily if there was one? I challenge that instead, there never was any. No teaching, no message, nothing. Just bad writing.