Keith Campbell

Apr 162013

OneWayIs Jesus Christ essential to the salvation of humanity? If so, how? One verse in the Bible in particular is often quoted by Christians to suggest that no one who does not explicitly believe in Jesus can be saved:

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.1

On it’s face, this seems to be pretty bad news for anyone who hasn’t known about Jesus during their lifetime. Billions of people have lived and died on earth and never heard the name “Jesus”.  Among these were some very good people – some probably better than the average Christian. Among these were some very sincere people, who tried to follow the truth as they understood it – possibly trying harder than the average Christian. Would God really deny someone entry into heaven simply because they hadn’t heard of Jesus, while allowing someone to enter who was less moral, less sincere – but who said a “sinner’s prayer” and used the name of Jesus?

In spite of all attempted defenses or explanations of this by Christians, we all know deep down that something’s wrong with this picture. When our deepest moral intuition conflicts with our understanding of a particular scripture – we need to at least ask ourselves if we have possibly misunderstood the scripture.

The Gospel of John, in addition to the above scripture, includes many similar “I am” scriptures in which Jesus claims great power and authority, for example:

And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. 2

Or… Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 3

Or… Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. 4

Critical readers may be willing to simply dismiss all these saying of Jesus as later additions by Christians who had developed a much more elevated Christology than Jesus originally claimed. And they have a point. But let’s follow this train of thought a little further.

Remember what God told Moses his name was from the burning bush? “I AM that I AM”. 5 “I Am”, in other words, is one of the names of God, and it is no accident that Jesus is portrayed in John as constantly using it. In the last scripture quoted, Jesus claims to be the “light”, not simply of his disciples, or his town, or the Jews in general… but of the entire world – including, by implication, people who had NEVER HEARD OF HIM. This echoes a similar set of statements earlier in John’s gospel:

In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not…the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 6

Who is this “He” who is the “light of the world”? John identifies it as the “Word” (“logos” in Greek). This “Word” is coequal with God himself. The “Word” is eternal, and creates all things. In the Greek philosophies, “logos” was used to speak of the underlying reality of the universe – the animating power, the supreme truth. John implies that this “Logos” is, in fact, Jesus. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”.

It sounds almost like we are talking about two different beings. In other gospel accounts, particularly earlier ones, Jesus (although a miracle worker) seems very human in many respects. He was born, suffered, and died. He didn’t know who touched him in the crowd. He asked God to save him from suffering. He was hungry and thirsty. Then there are these statements in John about the eternal, uncreated, omnipotent, omniscient Logos of God. What is the relationship between these two descriptions?

The answer worked out and agreed to by some Christians (after centuries of squabbling) is that Jesus Christ had TWO completely different “natures”. He had a human nature (let’s call that one “Jesus”) and he had a DIVINE nature as the Logos of God (let’s call that one “Christ”) and these two natures were seamlessly united in one person. In eastern or New-Age terminology – one might say that Jesus was an “Avatar” – a person completely united with the Divine Nature so as to be an incarnation of God. Others believed Jesus had a nature that was single, but was human AND divine at the same time. These distinctions (over which people killed each other in an earlier age) are probably not that important to modern Christians. The key point is that in some way, Jesus is united with a particular aspect of God, called The Logos.

This helps us to understand some of the otherwise incomprehensible claims of John. How, after all, could Jesus – one individual man – be the light which enlightens EVERY SINGLE PERSON who comes into the world? (even those who’ve never heard of him). The answer is that it is the Logos of God who enlightens all people.

As the Logos, Jesus created everything 7. Even invisible spiritual realities such as angels 8 And all human beings have this Logos inside them giving them life 9 All people, in other words, have access to the underlying Reality of the cosmos. All of them are connected to the creative energy which animates the universe. All of them have access to the universal Truth at the root of all things. All people who have ever lived are immersed in the Logos. All people are enlightened by “Christ”, even if they have never heard of “Jesus”. Only in THIS way can Christ be the light of the world, and enlighten all.Such a statement fits in Jesus’ mouth only because he is united with the Logos of God.

But now let us re-examine our problem scripture: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” But does this refer to the human nature “Jesus”? Does it refer to the preacher of Nazareth, born in Bethelem and crucified in Jerusalem? Or does it refer instead to the divine nature of “Christ”, the light of the world?

If it refers to “Christ” the Logos – then the whole puzzle is solved. We might imagine a person worthy of heaven who didn’t know the name “Jesus” – but can we imagine a person in heaven other than by the path of universal truth and light? Everyone who comes to the Father comes through the Christ principle – but many of them do not know the name of Jesus.

Paul says that when Moses made water come from the Rock, that the Rock was really Jesus. 10. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says:

“Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up a rock, and you will find me” 11

If Jesus is in everything. If he was in the symbol of a rock, where else might he be? Might he be in the hearts of everyone, urging them toward God? Might he be in the lives of millions of people every day who are examples of forgiveness, and gratitude, and joy?


Every person who has ever lived is in touch with the Christ principle. It lives at the core of every soul.  It enlightens the world’s great religions, and inspires all the world’s great saints.  Every good deed is done through Christ. Every beautiful thing expresses Christ. Every truth embodies Christ.  And it is through Christ the Logos that God is approached.

I’ve quoted it several times here, but one of my favorite passages on this is from the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. In “The Last Battle”, a soldier who worships a demon (named “Tash”) meets Aslan (Jesus) in a final judgement. He is accepted into heaven, and is confused, because he has served Tash all his life. Aslan explains to him:

For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou shouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.

  1. John 14:6 KJV
  2. John 6:35 KJV
  3. John 11:25 KJV
  4. John 8:12 KJV
  5. Exodus 3:14
  6. John 1:4-9 KJV
  7. John 1:3
  8. Col 1:16
  9. 1 Cor 8:6
  10. 1 Cor 10:4
  11. Thomas 77
Apr 062013

moses (1)In the last installment, we saw that the idea of everlasting punishment is not compatible with a God of love. But isn’t a a hell of everlasting punishment taught in the scriptures? No, but they have been aggressively mistranslated and misinterpreted to make you THINK they do.

Let’s start with the Old Testament. When Moses and the prophets gave the law, they warned people that whoever broke God’s laws would suffer in hell forever. Oh no wait. They didn’t say that at all. The curses for breaking the law included famine, sickness and war, but NOT eternal torment. 1

But doesn’t the Old Testament mention hell? No. The Old Testament uses the Hebrew word “Sheol”, which means the grave or the place of the dead. Both the righteous and the unrighteous go to Sheol. But the translators of Bibles like the King James pulled a trick on us. They knew that whenever Christians hear the word “hell” they think of eternal flames. So whenever the Old Testament mentioned wicked people going to Sheol, they translated the word as “hell”, and whenever it mentions righteous people going to Sheol, they translated it as “the grave” – even though they are the same Hebrew word. It’s simply the place of the dead. There is no mention of screams and torment in Sheol. In fact it was called a land of silence 2
This is similar to the use of the Greek word “Hades” in the New Testament. As you may remember from Greek mythology, Hades was simply the underworld. Like Sheol, it was a place of the dead, good or evil. But Jesus does use another word that is translated as “hell”. Most of the images of flames and punishment come to us from Jesus’ use of the Hebrew or Aramaic word “gehenna” or “gehinnom”. For example:

“If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out! It is better to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell (Gehennah), where their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched.” 3

So what exactly is “Gehenna”. It sounds like a punishment of everlasting fire. But is it? Well, it turns out that it’s actually a valley just outside of Jerusalem. Depending on which historians you read, this valley was either a dump where the garbage was burned, or a valley of tombs, or the place where in ancient times they sacrificed to the god Molec. Perhaps all three of them. It’s also a place where Isaiah claimed God would burn the bodies of the wicked after a great last battle. In fact, Jesus is quoting Isaiah when he mentions it. Here’s what Isaiah says.

“They shall go forth, and look on the dead bodies of the men who have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” 4

But Isaiah isn’t talking about souls in hell, he’s talking about dead bodies. So many that the fires go on and on. And it’s interesting that many of the people Jesus preached to ended up slaughtered a few years later when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, and the Roman 10th Legion burned the bodies of the dead in Gehenna valley. 5

So was Jesus simply warning people about the destruction of Jerusalem? Some commentators think so. But about this time, the rabbis also began to use Isaiah’s prophecy of physical destruction as a symbol of a purification process after death. A person who had been wicked would suffer fiery pain in this spiritual Gehenna, but after their wickedness was purged, they would come out. The fires of Gehenna might continue to burn, but no one would spend more than a year in Gehenna, and some would come out much sooner, after they had paid their debt in full, as Jesus said. 6

But what about all the scriptures that talk about eternal suffering and punishment? Here’s where the biggest mistranslation comes into play.

With no exception that I can find, when the Bible mentions eternal or everlasting punishment, the word it uses is “aionios” This is derived from the Greek word “aeon”. That word probably looks familiar, because it’s where we get the word “eon”, meaning a long period of time. But in Greek it could apparently mean ANY period of time, from a week to many generations. So these “eternal” torments are actually “age-long” torments. They may last a long time, or at least seem to, but they come to an end. Also the word Jesus uses for these punishments is “kolasis” 7 which is the word used for pruning away the dead wood from a tree to improve it and help it grow. It is purification to improve a person, not endless punishment to torture them. There’s no point in pruning a tree forever. But over the centuries, theologians began to translate “aionios” as eternal and everlasting, to make the punishments seems more horrible, probably to frighten people into being obedient.

If God had wanted the scriptures to convey the idea of a hell of everlasting torment, surely he would have mentioned it in the Old Testament? Surely Jesus and the apostles would have chosen words that really meant “eternal” or “everlasting” when describing God’s purification (there are several Greek words to choose from). The idea of hell hardly appears in Paul’s writings at all.

St Augustine said that whoever interprets the scriptures in a way that doesn’t teach love – doesn’t understand them. And we’ve just seen that in order to get the Bible to teach a God who tortures most of humanity forever, you have to mistranslate and misunderstand quite a bit.

So what DOES happen to the wicked after death? There are a lot of possibilities, and we don’t need to sort it all out right now. All that’s important for this episode is that we realize that if there are punishments after death, then they are limited, and they are redemptive. As for the rest, some early Christians, as well as some today, believe that God will save everyone. This is called universalism. Some early Christians, as well as some today, believed in some kind of reincarnation. Some believe that the wickedest souls will be destroyed, rather than punished forever. This is annihilationism. You don’t have to believe any of them. Some people combine parts of all of them. I’m going to refer in the annotations to a video of my mentor Bishop Lewis Keizer where he explains the mystical Jewish view of what happens to these various parts of the soul after death. 8

But the moral of the story is that God is just and merciful. We will be punished for our sins, but only to the extent necessary to purify us so that we can move on. You can still follow Jesus without having to think God is a monster who punishes most people forever and ever.

Until next time, I’m Keith Campbell for Godsmarts. See you soon.

  1. Deut 28:16-8, Lev 26:14-29
  2. Ps 94:17
  3. Mk 9:47,48 NET
  4. Isa 66:24, WEB
  5. Gabriel Barkay, “The Riches of Ketef Hinnom.” Biblical Archaeological Review 35:4-5 (2005): 22–35, 122–26
  6. Mat 5:26, Luk 12:59
  7. See Matt 25:46
Mar 312013

Last_Judgment_Triptych_(detail)_Thirteen_1467_71Most people in the world will die and  go to hell, where they will spend an endless eternity burning in unimaginable agony with no hope of release, ever. This is what many churches teach,  often enthusiastically.

But these days, more and more Christians are secretly embarrassed by this teaching, but are afraid to question it. But perfect love, says the first letter of John, drives out fear. 1. Remember in an earlier post, we say that Jesus, Paul and St. Augustine all said that love is the real meaning of the scriptures, and if you think the scriptures are teaching something other than love, then you’ve misinterpreted them.

So is it really loving of God to condemn most of humanity to be an object lesson of everlasting pain? Of course not. Not only is this not loving, it’s not even just. The scripture says God is just 2, but I would argue that a God who dishes out infinite punishment in an infinite hell is infinitely unjust.

Justice means that the punishment fits the crime. “An eye for an eye”. 3 As limited, finite humans, by our very nature, we can’t  commit an infinite crime, therefore, so infinite punishment is unjust.

Let’s take an example. Imagine the worst person who ever lived. Nominations vary, but Hitler is always a popular choice, so let’s use him as an example. Hitler lived for 56 years.Because of Hitler’s evil, millions of innocent people suffered horribly and died. So, let’s suppose that after death, Hitler is thrown into a hell of unimaginable suffering and torment. Let’s leave him there a good, long while.

We check back on Hitler after 20 million years. For 20 million years, he has been in unimaginable agony, screaming in incoherent torment day and night, year after year, century after century, for 20 million years. Doing some calculation, let’s suppose we find that he has suffered more than the combined total pain of all the people who suffered because of him. Adding up the pain of everyone who was tortured, everyone who starved, everyone who was gassed, everyone who was shot – or everyone who died in the war… Hitler’s agony has now exceeded that combined total. At that point, justice is satisfied.

But let’s be thorough. Let’s also add up the suffering of everyone who was affected in any way by Hitler. We’ll calculate the suffering of all the people who lost loved ones. hithell0We’ll add in all the people who suffered grief, anxiety – heck, even annoyance. We come up with another suffering calculation – and we send Hitler back to the flames.

And 200 hundred million years later, we come back. Once again, for all this time – for a time longer than recorded human history, Hitler has been screaming in agony. He has now suffered all the sufferings of everyone remotely affected by his evil and then some.

But we want to be very sure about this. After all, it’s Hitler, and early parole will be frowned upon. So we send him back to hell, and this time we take a really long vacation.

We come back in two hundred trillion years. Hitler, all this time, has been in excruciating agony – worse than any pain anyone can imagine. for every second of every day and night. He has suffered more than the combined pain of everyone who ever lived – not only on earth, but (if there is life on other worlds) every inhabitable planet. His life on earth, during which his misdeeds occurred, is less than a microscopic dot in the long, long tale of his unimaginable suffering. The whole history of human suffering is insignificant compared to the suffering of this one man.

Can ANYONE tell me that at this point – justice has not been satisfied – even for Hitler? He has paid completely out of proportion to his crimes. He has suffered so horribly that all other human suffering is a drop in the bucket. And yet, the doctrine of an infinite hell says that at this point, his suffering hasn’t even begun.

He will continue to scream in guttural anguish – on into eternity, until there is nothing to remember of his entire existence but an eternity of suffering.

Is this justice? No, it is infinite injustice. I venture that there isn’t a normal human being who, if they had to watch this,  would not have pulled even Hitler out of this kind of torment ages before this point. Are we more merciful than God? And yet millions of Christians think that not only will God continue to torment Hitler forever, he’ll also give the very same punishment of endless suffering to Gandhi, Socrates, Buddah, Hipatia of Alexandria, and anyone who hasn’t accepted Jesus, including people in now and in the past who live in areas where Christianity hasn’t reached.

The idea of infinite suffering is infinitely unjust. The God of the Bible, if he insisted on such a thing, would be worse than the most bloodthirsty god of the Aztecs. He would be worse than Molech. The Aztecs sacrificed less than 1 percent of their population every year hoping to keep their culture in favor with the gods. But by most estimates, only 7 to 14 percent of humans in the history of the world have been Christians. So God allows 86 to 93 or more percent of humanity to be sacrificed forever in hell to save 7 to 14 percent in heaven. Such a God would be such a monster that the most noble thing we could do would be to oppose him.

contempt-of-court1Now some Christians suggest that we ARE guilty of infinite sin, because our sins are against an infinite God. Just as I receive a worse punishment for insulting a judge in a courtroom than for insulting a guy on the street (because of the more exalted office of the judge)  it is said by some that ANY sin against God is an infinite sin, because God is infinite.

But this leaves out an important detail. We can only commit sin to the limit of our own capacity to understand sin. A monkey wouldn’t be found in contempt of court for making faces at a judge. Neither would a small child. They don’t understand  the seriousness of their offense (although a child might understand enough to be at least scolded).

To commit a great sin requires greater understanding. To commit an INFINITE sin requires INFINITE understanding, and no human being is capable of infinite understanding. No human being can even understand the nature of an infinite sin, far less commit it.

Even so, there are some people who are willing to accept God being more cruel than Molech if that’s what the Bible says. Even though Jesus, Paul and St. Augustine all say that only loving interpretations of the scriptures are correct ones. But is that really what the scripture says?

We’ll take that question up in our next episode. Spoiler alert – the answer is NO. The picture is a lot less grim.

Until next time, this is Reverend Keith for Godsmarts.

  1. 1 Jn 4:18
  2. 2 Thes 1:6
  3. Exodus 21;24
Mar 192013

Christian Contradictions

Why is it that people who claim to follow Jesus act in such contradictory ways? I’m not talking about people who fail to live up to their own standards of behavior. All of us do that. I mean people who honestly, sincerely seem to have completely opposite views about what it means to follow Christ?

For example:

  • Some people believe that being Christian means violence.  Others believe it means trying to stop violence.

  • Some people are inspired by Christianity to hate people. Others are inspired to serve people.
  • Some Christians attack people of other beliefs.  Others respect people of other beliefs.

Most of these Christians claim they’re just following what the Bible says. How can Christians be so confused? Why can’t there be a simple way to figure out what the Bible really means and what Jesus really wants? Well, as it turns out, there is.

The Most Important Thing

First, a little quiz. What is the most important quality you can have as a Christian? Most Christians would probably say, “faith in Jesus”. Wrong. Most of the hating, violent, intolerant people in the groups I just described have faith in Jesus, or at least they think they do.

loveThe apostle Paul says that after everything else is gone, three things remain. Faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is… love. 1 Not faith. In fact, Paul says that you can have enough faith to move mountains, and if you don’t have love – your faith is completely useless. 2

The Great Commandment

Jesus said the same thing earlier. There aren’t just 10 commandments in the Old Testament. According to Jewish scholars, there are 613, and arguments were common about which of them was the most important. When they asked Jesus for his answer to that question, it was simple. Love God with all your heart, soul and mind. And the second was love your neighbor as yourself. 3 And just in case we want to make the category of neighbor as small as possible, he makes it clear it includes our enemies 4.  Then he says something interesting. He says on this idea of love “hang all the law and the prophets”. hanging

Missing the Message

In other words, if, at any time, you think that God is telling you to do something other than love people, you’ve missed Jesus whole message. If you think your faith in Jesus requires you to do something other than love people, you’re completely wrong.  Two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, made this mistake when a Samaritan village refused to receive Jesus. These two thought they knew what to do about unbelievers. They knew their Bible, and they knew that the prophet Elijah had called down fire from heaven to burn up the unbelievers. They asked Jesus’ permission to do the same to the Samaritans. But according to Jesus, all the law and all the prophets hang on love. And Jesus told them they had missed the whole spirit of his message. “You don’t know what spirit you are. For the Son of Man didn’t come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” 5

In fact, the first letter of John says that God is love. Not that he has love or exemplifies love. God and love and one and the same thing. “Whoever lives in love” it says, “ lives in God, and God in them.” 6

Getting Practical

Of course, we can make excuses for hateful behavior in the name of love. We can tell ourselves that by burning heretics at the stake, we’re actually saving their souls, which is really loving. Or that by shouting slogans and waving signs, we’re loving the sinner, but hating the sin. Or we can try to have vague happy feelings about people in general but do nothing to help people individually.

This is why Jesus makes love a very practical thing, and we have come to call it the Golden Rule. “In everything,” Jesus says, “do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” The entire law and all the teachings of the prophets boil down to this – treat people with love. Treat them as you’d like to be treated. The great rabbi Hillel, who lived at about the time of Jesus, was once taunted by a gentile who said he would become a Jew if Hillel could teach him the whole Jewish law while the gentile stood on one foot. Hillel answered “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn” 7.

blog_god_hates_2If you were a heretic, what would you prefer people do to you? Burn you at the stake to save your soul, or try to persuade you with real love and friendship? If you were living an immoral life, what kind of approach would you prefer people use to help you improve? Would it involve signs and slogans, or genuine concern?

Augustine’s Rule

But what about the parts of the Bible that some Christians quote to justify hateful behavior? St Augustine had a hard and fast rule about how to interpret the Bible. “Whoever, then,” he says, “thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.” 8 In other words, if your interpretation of a particular verse of the Bible makes you act like a jerk – try again. Repeat as needed. On the other hand, Augustine says, if you interpret a verse in the Bible in a way that makes you love God and love humanity, even if it’s not what the authors actually intended, you’re still fine. When you err on the side of love – even when you’re wrong, you’re still right.


Let’s review then. Love is rule #1.  Love is more important than faith. Love is more important than any of the other commandments. Love is the very essence of God.  Love the meaning of any true interpretation of the Bible. And if your version of Christianity doesn’t put love first, then you don’t really know what spirit you are. This one rule can rescue your Christianity from all sorts of traps and pitfalls. To conclude with the words of St. John of the Cross, “In the evening of life, we shall be judged on love alone.” 9




  1. 1 Cor 13:13
  2. 1 Cor 13:2
  3. Matt 22:37-39
  4. Luke 10:36, Matt 5:44
  5. Luke 9:55,56 WEB
  6. 1 John 4:16
  7. Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat 31a
  8. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, 36:40
  9. St. John of the Cross – Dichos 64
Mar 132013

It gets harder every day to explain my spirituality to others. I am a follower of the Master Jesus, and an independent priest. But am I a Christian? Many would say no, because I have unorthodox beliefs.

C. S. Lewis argued, in Mere Christianity, that “Christian” should mean someone who claims to hold to the “Christian doctrine”. He was arguing against those who prefer to use “Christian” as a word meaning someone who is loving and charitable. Lewis would prefer us to say of a baptized scoundrel, “he’s a bad Christian” rather than “he’s not a Christian”.

But what, exactly, constitutes “Christian doctrine?” At one time, we could identify the earliest Christian creeds and doctrines and insist that a Christian must claim to believe them. But with the emergence of early Christian writings such as the Nag Hammadi texts, our view of what early Christianity looked like is changing. Early Christians were a much more diverse bunch than originally thought. From the very beginning, there existed apostolic groups with radically different notions of what Jesus message was.

I would tend to call myself a “gnostic” Christian, but this is misleading also. No Christian group actually called itself “gnostic”. This was a catch-all phrase for several groups that differed considerably with each other. There are a few common features of “gnosticism”, such as the emphasis on individual enlightenment, that are appealing. Then on the other hand are the strange cosmologies and a very negative attitude toward the material world.

“Mystical Christian”, “Esoteric Christian”, and “Hermetic Christian” are also possibilities, but seem to conjure up strange images in the modern mind.

So, what do you think is the best self-label for an “inner” Christian in the modern world?

Feb 242013

Someone recently pointed me to a web side called “The Case Against Q”. This site does an excellent job of summarizing the problems with the Q hypothesis, but ultimately I believe rejecting Q creates far more problems than it solves. First of all, let’s review the relationship of the synoptic gospels  to each other. I found the following chart from Wiki which summarized it nicely.

What we see is that Matthew and Luke share a large chunk of material (consisting of 23% of Luke and 25% of Matthew) in common. This material doesn’t simply cover the same topical ground. The similarity is often word-per-word in the Greek. How are we to explain this identical material? There are basically three possibilities. The difficulty will be in deciding which is more likely.

Possibility #1 – They simply came up with the same Greek words.
Problems: This is astronomically unlikely. Even if we assume God is inspiring the writing, it’s very clear that God allows individual styles in the writing of scripture. This is copying pure and simple.

Possibility #2 – Either Matthew copied Luke or (more probably) Luke copied Matthew. This is the “two-gospel” hypothesis, which seems to be the solution of the “Case Against Q” website.
Problems: Many. Summarizing:
1.    Matthew and Luke have drastically different version of Jesus birth, genealogy, and resurrection events. These are not only different, but appear contradictory. Perhaps these have legitimate reconciliations, perhaps they don’t. But the issue is, neither Matthew or Luke make any effort to harmonize these apparent discrepancies. This is very hard to explain of Luke was using Matthew as a source.
2.    There are a number of cases in the Triple Tradition where Matthew adds some important detail to Mark’s account and Luke doesn’t copy his additions.
3.    There are places where Matthew has apparently “blended” another source (Q?) with Mark. Luke has the other source (Q?) material, but without the blends. This suggests he’s adding the material on his own, without Matthew’s guidance.
4.    Matthew has a number (10 or 11) peculiar phrases he likes to use “son of David”, “this was to fulfill…” Luke and Mark never use them. Can Luke be using Matthew and manage to NEVER use his trademark phrases?
5.    Matthew has added some things to the double tradition (Q?) that Luke doesn’t copy (for example, Matthew adding “in spirit” to “blessed are the poor”. If Matthew is the source, why doesn’t Luke copy these additions?
6.    Luke and Matthew put pieces of the double tradition (Q?) in entirely different contexts. Part of Matthew’s sermon on the mount takes place on the plain, etc. It looks very much like they are adding fragments of Jesus tradition with minimal guidance on where to put them.
7.    Luke and Matthew have a number of doublets. These are cases where they report the same event or saying twice. Once copying Mark, and once from another apparent source. This suggests that each of them is using two different sources, Mark and “Q”.
8.    The double tradition material in Matthew and Luke seems to have a certain philosophy and style (such as a preference for the Deuteronomist sources) that Matthew and Luke by themselves don’t share.

Possibility #3  – They are both copying from some common source. This is the “Q” hypothesis.
Problems: The ones listed on “Case Against Q” website.
1.    “Q” is a hypothetical document without any real examples or outside citations.
2.    There is some sequence in “Q”
3.    In the triple tradition, there are some agreements, major and minor, against Mark.
4.    In the double tradition, Luke show a fatigue toward Matthew’s version.

For those following along with the website, I believe the author is stretching things a bit to make it come out to 10 reasons.  I’ve conflated reasons 1 and 2 into my reason 1. Original reason 4 isn’t really a reason, but an introduction to reasons 5, 6 and 7, which I’ve conflated into my reason 3. Reason 9 is ad hominem and reason 10 is irrelevant.

It seems to me that 1 is a reasonable argument. The case for Q would be much stronger if there were an actual example or patristic citation. There are, however, a few hints. The page dismisses the Pappius fragments with a “no true Scotsman” fallacy (no REASONABLE scholar contends..). Since some scholars DO contend that Pappius referred to something similar to “Q”, I’m very much interested in why this is unreasonable.  Furthermore, the Gospel of Thomas itself lends credence to the existence of Q – being itself a “sayings” gospel of very early date.

I don’t see any merit in argument #2. No rule is broken if Q turns out to have SOME narrative sequence to it. It would simply be a fragmentary sequence.

Argument #3 is also a good one. However, most of this is simply explained. Mark is written in very poor and primitive Greek. The writers of Matthew and particularly Luke are much more educated. It’s not unreasonable that two learned authors correcting the bad writing of another would make many of the same corrections. Some of the other agreements also turn out to be later scribal redactions. Matthew and Luke didn’t agree until later scribes MADE them agree, and the agreement is missing from the earliest documents. Furthermore, there are places where the triple tradition may overlap with the “Q” material. In this case, Matthew and Luke may BOTH follow the earlier Q documents in preference to Mark.

Argument #4 (fatigue) seems convoluted to me. If Luke is trying to edit AWAY from Matthew, what is his source for those changes? It seems just as  likely that Luke is including additional material, but fatigues toward Q instead of toward Matthew.

So, we end up having to choose which set of problems is the least bothersome. One of these three answers (or some variation of it) is the explanation for the double tradition in Matthew and Luke. To me, the list of problems in the Two-Gospel hypothesis is really overwhelming, and require only common sense to recognize. If Luke had a copy of Matthew in front of him, he sure made some bizarre choices about things he decided NOT to explain.

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