Where Did Christ Come From?

Gary Lenaire

 

Before the internet, history was handwritten, rewritten, copied, discussed, forgotten, remembered, and insisted upon by people in positions of power. Before digital photos, videos, and internet accountability, the victorious pens authored ancient stories. Histories. In those days both uncut truth and selfish bullshit were muddily mixed on hieroglyphs, statues, parchments, stained glass, and coins.     

The word Christ is not a name but a title derived for the Greek word christos, a term analogous to the Hebrew expression meshiah, “the anointed one”. Many ancient Jewish people hoped that the former glory of Israel would be restored by a newly anointed son of King David, and they used the Messiah title to refer to this restorer. 

The Gospel of "Q"

In order to understand the history of the New Testament Bible canon we must look at some key events that took place from the time of Jesus’ death (30-33 C.E.) to the Council of Nicaea (324 C.E.). 300 years is a long time in terms of political and religious change. It seems fitting to me that we examine some of those changes to better understand how Christianity and the Bible took shape. Many people in biblical religions are benighted to the origins of their faith. The road from Jesus to the Christian religion that finally emerged in the fourth century is a long and windy one. Please remember that the Bible was not written in the linear order that is currently edited.

 

In the 19th century German theologians Christian Hermann Weisse, Paul Wernle, and Heinrich Julius Holtzmann (among others) noticed some interesting patterns in the Synoptic gospels. A different gospel emerged: The Q gospel. Q is from the German Quelle or “source.” It got its name from scholars who recognized that certain passages in Luke and Matthew formed a unified source of material for the two gospels. In other words, Luke and Matthew were both reading from a common manuscript(s) that is not in the current Bible. Because hundreds of books were excluded (rejected) from the final Bible, the Q manuscripts could have been destroyed, lost, or simply excluded from the final canon. The first disciples of Jesus who produced Q were very different from the later communities.

 

Early church fathers referred to the gospel of the Ebionites (Ebionites rejected the divinity of Jesus), the gospel of the Hebrews, and the gospel of the Egyptians. They accepted those books as valid. Those gospels, however, were rejected from the final Bible canon and have all been lost or destroyed. Any of the many lost gospels could have been the sources of Q. In the same manner, we see verses in the Bible referring to the Apocryphal books. Apocryphal books were also rejected and are not in the Bible. We do know that once the 1st canon was issued in 324 C.E. many of the heretical (rejected) books were destroyed. Some were simply never copied again and dissolved in time. The primary reason we have any of the Gnostic writings is due to the fact that the Gnostics hid and preserved their books from the “orthodox” leaders. If a plaintiff and defendant are going to a trial, then all the evidence should be heard; not simply the evidence that the defense wants to be heard. Historically, the witnesses (rejected gospels) who might have offered contradictory testimony to the four traditional (Bible) gospels were excluded from the record.

 

“If one reads the Q gospel without imposing the developed theology of later trajectories, a clear picture emerges:

  • Q is not a narrative gospel like the synoptics, but rather a collection of Jesus’ sayings. Q is a codification of the oral tradition and tells us Jesus’ words rather than anything about his life.

  • The Q community emphasized the coming of God's rule; yet there is a clear absence of the Risen Christ theology of the Pauline kerygma. In fact Jesus’ death is not even mentioned at all.

  • Jesus is seen as a wisdom teacher as in the Gospel of Thomas.” -James Still, Who Was the Historical Jesus   

 

It was later Christian theology that influenced millions of people into thinking that the earliest Jesus believers were Christians. The first groups of “Q” believers were not Christians at all. They were known as the Jesus Movement. The term Christ had nothing to do with this movement. These groups started between the 30s and 40s C.E. The various groups of the Jesus Movement placed very little emphasis on history. They were not interested in preserving many detailed records of the historical Jesus. The Jesus Movement was more interested in the teachings of Jesus as a school of thought. As a result of this, the historical record of Jesus as a person is not known. What we do know of Jesus is inferred from the teachings of these early groups. They were interested in the miraculous and the spiritual. However, this movement did not believe that Jesus was a son of God or proclaim a resurrection. In short, the Jesus Movement puts us as close as we will come to a historical Jesus. -Burton Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament

As a result we will need to keep their teachings in mind as we examine the mixture of their documents with later Christian documents. This mixture is now known as the New Testament.   

 

The groups within the Jesus Movement all had differing ideas. For instance, the Kingdom of God was a teaching that was different from common Jewish tradition. It called for change. The emphasis, however, was very practical. The Kingdom of God, according to most of the groups within the Jesus Movement, was a practical lifestyle; not simply a spiritual experience or doctrine. It is very important to note that most of those early groups did not think of Jesus as the Christ nor did they call themselves Christians or a church. Some referred to themselves as The Way. They were followers of an earthly rabbi who apparently had very insightful and controversial ideas. Jesus is portrayed differently in these groups, primarily due to the leadership. Each teacher had a different spin on Jesus, if you will. As a result, the teachings of Jesus were made to mirror the characteristics of those different teachers. This transformation of ideas, by the way, can be seen in almost every religion in history.

 

It is very important to note that the Jesus Movement, the first group of Jesus believers, did not teach regarding a resurrection or divinity of Jesus. Those divine concepts of Jesus were added by people known as the Christ Cult. The Jesus Movement did not view Jesus as a christ or a messiah, and definitely not as the celestially begotten Son of God. Jesus was known as a rabbi or a prophet. He was seen as a wise teacher, cynic, and sage; he rebuked the current religious order. It is possible that the Jesus of history taught things that were highly controversial; that could be the reason he was crucified, if he was crucified at all. Historically, the Romans did not take kindly to people causing political controversy.

 

Over a period of about 25 years the Jesus Movement underwent some extreme changes. Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70 C.E. sending the Jews to scatter throughout the world. In northern Syria and throughout Asia Minor the Christ Cult emerged from the Jesus Movement. The manuscripts now referred to as Paul’s Epistles were of the first to evidence this group. They were different from the Jesus Movement in two primary ways. One was the focus on Jesus’ death. This was a teaching that highlighted martyrdom, resurrection, and the transformation of Jesus to the divine. The other change was that of spirituality; hymns, prayers, meals, and rituals were now customary. The “spiritual presence” of Christ was taught. The Christ Cult, combined with the very spiritual and other-worldly teachings of the Gnostics produced a revised view of who Jesus was. Many of the Gnostics did not believe that Christ was ever a physical person. 

 

The Pauline Epistles were written before the traditional gospels. The four Bible gospels articulate an earthly messiah; a Jesus Christ messiah, born into this world. Paul is almost silent regarding an earthly Jesus, and for good reason; the earthly Jesus history had probably not yet been written (or discussed). Paul never mentions the virgin birth, even though it would have strengthened his arguments in several places. Instead, where Paul does refer to the birth, he says that Jesus “was born of the seed of David” (Rom 1:3) and was “born of a woman,” not a virgin (Gal 4:4). Had he been privy, much of that Jesus information would have been very useful to the doctrinal points Paul was making in the Epistles. Paul almost never mentions the teachings of Jesus. The earthly Jesus and spiritual Christ had not yet been fused as we read in the later written gospels. The later edited (compiled, rewritten, and copied) gospels bridged the gap from Jesus Movement to the Christ Cult. One might ask, “Where did the people of the Christ Cult get the idea to make Jesus into the dying and rising Son of God?” We get some answers when we examine the Historic Jesus.