Dr. Sergey Zagraevsky
NEW CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY
original was published in Russian: ALEV-V Publishing House,
The religious worldview of the people, who belong to the European civilization (of course, that means also Americans, Russians, Australians etc.), is inseparably connected with Christianity within last two thousand years. The East has its analogues, but we shall start the examination of the practical expressions of the moral imperative from Christianity – it will be more vivid and effective.
It is possible to select a quote from the New Testament even to almost each condition of “Mainstream” (about which we have spoken in the previous chapter), and by that, we turn the system of concepts from the “abstract” humanism (or from the general-philosophic moral imperative) to the Christian spirituality, which is deeply implanted into the human consciousness.
Of course, repeatedly there were attempts to “replace” Christianity with something “new”. Let us remember the French Revolution’s slogan “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” or the Communist’s: “To work by the capabilities and to consume by the needs”. In actual fact, all that proved to be an usual speculation.
Christ’s teaching was and remains that basic system, on which the overwhelming majority of European philosophers created their doctrines. The breakup with Christianity started to be declared by many of them (Voltaire, Feuerbach, Marx and Schopenhauer are most well-known in this respect) only since the second half of the 18th century, i.e. in comparison with two thousand years of Christianity – quite recently.
We know to what that led. The Marxist social utopia in
The moral imperative, “purified” from Christianity, for the time being proves to be a fertile field for political speculations. Anarchists and military juntas also use ideas of good and justice in their goals.
In this respect, the historical destiny of the teachings of philosophers of so called “Russian religious Renaissance” is indicative. They managed to turn the catatonic using of the Christian understanding of the moral imperative by the European philosophers into the deliberated and structured forms. That is the great significance of the philosophy of N.Fyodorov, V.Solovyov, S.Frank, N.Lossky, N.Berdyaev, L.Karsavin...
But their teachings, which were tightly connected with Russian Orthodoxy, faced the tragic destiny – these philosophers were the contemporaries and actual opponents of Lenin and Plekhanov.
The philosophers of the “Russian religious Renaissance” did not organize parties and did not propagate the victory of socialism in any country, but they based their doctrines on much more longstanding and implanted traditions – on the teaching of Jesus Christ. And the bitter nonsense occurred: when in the beginning of the 20th century the teaching of Christ came into the collision with the teaching of a secondary German philosopher, Christianity lost, and that led to a number of “lost generations” not only in Russia.
It may seem strange. Christianity and Marxism are the teachings, which are commensurable neither by the significance, nor by the scale. But, nevertheless, in 1917 the overwhelming majority of “Orthodox” Russian people followed Marxists and started to raid churches with enthusiasm.
The fact that there was a speculative substitution of Christianity by another subconsciousness expression of the moral imperative – by the ideas of social justice – is understandable, but that is not an irrefragable explanation. Doesn’t Christianity contain the same ideas?
What did then happen in the beginning of the 20th century?
We have to work at this terrible historical lesson repeatedly. Now,
after many decades of the prohibition of such researches in
And not only Russians.
In the beginning of 1930s,
And the present day situation poses the moral problem with an unexampled actuality. The point is that the humanity never in history could be destroyed (at least in theory) by one successful nuclear terrorist.
Yes, atomic weapons have a great number of protection systems. Yes, it
is not simple to provoke a nuclear war. But, nevertheless, let us remember the
accident at the
There was neither a catastrophic explosion nor a complete blowout of the
nuclear fuel in
It is impossible to underestimate the potential danger of the nuclear self-destruction, which threats the mankind since 1960s. I suppose that it is time to recover from the “illness of geocentrism” (of the consideration of the mankind as the single and immortal civilization) of a number of philosophers, who allowed themselves to disregard or even deny the Christian moral positions.
Unfortunately, the death of the population of the Earth will be scarcely seen by the population of other planets of the Universe.
All ideas of the ascension of the humanity to either scientific-technical achievement must be constantly checked by a moral “tuning fork”, otherwise at any time the self-destruction of our civilization may take place. And this will happen with such “existential commonness” as in the novel “The Plague” by Albert Camus.
Vulgar Materialism, seeming to be a funny literature toy in the hands of Marquis de Sade, became an ideological bomb, which brought to dictatorships a half of the world, in the hands of Lenin. The extremes of “Islamite fundamentalism” lead to explosions not only of ideological bombs, but also of real ones. And with what philosophic system will a potential nuclear terrorist be equipped?
That is why let us not “play with fire” and let us not try to replace Christianity with something “new”. Alienating ourselves from the extremely dangerous doctrine of the “nuclear containment”, let us say: there is a time-approved instrument of the “moral containment”, and in this book, we shall work only with it.
Of course, let us not fall into such extremes of the “Russian religious Renaissance” as the following: “Philosophy must be a servant of theology, but not its slave” (L.Karsavin). It is absolutely incorrect to use the concepts “a servant” and “a slave”, which differ only in the form of payment, for the definition of the interrelations of philosophy and theology.
Let us say in another way: Christian religion is the shank of European philosophy, its moral (ultimately, personal) basis, and theology is a science, which researches that basis.
In the light of this point of view, the question, which science – philosophy or theology – is more important, is as abstract as the question, which color is more important – white or red. On the one hand, red color in respect to physics is a component of the white, but on the other hand, nominally there is no white color in nature, because this color consists of seven colors of the rainbow…
So, we shall not go deep into a dispute, what is more important – philosophy or theology. Let us declare the equal existence of both disciplines and address ourselves to their objects – the moral imperative and religion.
First of all, we must analyze the right of European philosophy to base on the Christian understanding of the moral imperative.
Bluntly speaking, is all, that we know about Christ, the truth? Are the Gospels – the historical evidences about him – authentic? Is the New Testament authentic as a whole?
May be, it is even necessary to thank the Marxists, because, having declared Christ a legend, they corrected the ancient mistake of mankind?
However, the Marxists’ palm in this “achievement” is doubtful: even Voltaire did not accept the historicity of Jesus, and in the beginning of 19th century these ideas were developed by Arthur Drevs and David Strauss. But this does not change the essence.
And with a view to show the validity of Christianity as the spiritual base of the European understanding of the moral imperative, we shall have to analyze the authenticity of the New Testament and the information, which contains in it.
Let us start from the historical-biographic review – there we shall highlight key-points at a number of fundamental things which we shall need both for the determination of the New Testament authenticity and for the following theological research.
At first, let us briefly remember the 1st century’s chronology, which is connected with Christianity.
It is officially considered that Jesus Christ was born between the end of 1 BCE and the beginning of 1 CE. Anyway, the calendar is hold in such a way, and on December 25, 2000 (in Russian Orthodox calendar – January 6, 2001), we were to celebrate two thousand years of Jesus’ birthday.
But let us remember the well-known fact: Jesus was born in the time of the Judaic king Herod the Great, who, having heard from the “wise men” about Christ’s’ birthday and having considered it as a threat for his power, ostensibly ordered to kill all children in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1-16).
Herod the Great died in the spring of 750 AUC (from Latin “ab urbe condita” – “from the
foundation of the city”, i.e. of
Converting to Dionysius’ calendar, which we use until now, Herod the Great died in 4 BCE (let me remind the rules of converting: 1CE – 754 AUC, 1 BCE – 753 AUC, 2 BCE – 752 AUC etc). Consequently, Christ was born in the spring of 4 BCE at the latest.
A calendar paradox turns out: the two thousand years’ jubilee of Christ took place before 2000. And let us mention how absurdly sounds the phrase: “Christ was born minimum four years before Christ”.
Let us try to understand what it is all about. Dionysius, the compiler of the first collection of 401 ecclesiastical canons, actually one of the creators of “Canon law”, could not make such a simple mistake in the year of Christ’s birth.
Let us start from the determination of the date when Christ was crucified, because about his execution we know much more than about his birth.
All the Evangelists agreed that Christ was crucified on Friday (Matt. 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:14). But on what Friday particularly?
That Friday was one of the days of Jewish Passover. The first Passover’s day is 14th of “Nisan” (the first month in the Jewish calendar), – “in the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord’s passover” (Lev. 23:5).
All the Evangelists, except John, were evidence of that the Last Supper was in the first day of Passover: “Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover (Paschal lamb, – S.Z.) must be killed” (Luke 22:7). Matthew and Mark said the same (Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:12). Consequently, the Last Supper took place on Nisan, 14, and Christ was crucified on the next day, i.e. on Nisan, 15.
The words of John about the day of the crucifixion, – “It was the preparation of the passover” (John 19:14), – contradict to a number of other Evangelists’ evidences about the Paschal character of the Last Supper. That is why it is most likely that here some philological inaccuracy took place – John could speak about the preparation as about one of the Paschal days.
Of course, it would have been possible to dispute on that (the Orthodox and Catholic Churches are still doing that), but even in the middle of 2nd century John’s disciple Polycarp of Smyrna noticed that inaccuracy in the fourth Gospel and disputed on this item against Anicetus, the bishop of Rome. Let us notice that Polycarp did not defend the point of view of his teacher John and accepted the dating of Matthew, Mark and Luke, whom he did not know personally. This fact confirms Polycarp’s objectivity to a great extent.
As a result, thanks to Polycarp of Smyrna we can accept the dating of the Last Supper on 14th, and of the crucifixion on 15th.
It remains to compare the Jewish calendar with the Roman one and look in
what year Nisan, 15 was Friday. Dionysius did that, having set as a limitation
the well-known fact that Christ was crucified in the time of Pontius Pilate
(even Tacitus and Josephus Flavius confirmed that), and Pilate was the prefect
In that years there were only two Fridays on Nisan, 15: 30 and
So, 30 or 34 CE?
In the early Christian times, there was a legend that Pilate was called
But we know the character of Emperor Tiberius and, of course, he would not have ever deposed the prefect for any execution, especially of some preacher. Moreover, Roman emperors had no respect for new religions and worships.
Nevertheless, in the Middle Ages it was customary to conceive bloody rulers to be “rough but just”, and it is no wonder that Dionysius had an intention to choose the date of crucifixion closer to the discharging of the “evil” prefect by the “good” emperor.
And further Dionysius probably used the well-known tradition of “Christ’s age”.
Let us notice an important evidence of Luke: “Now in the fifteenth year
of the reign of Ti-be’ri-us Caesar, Pontius Pilate
being governor of
Then John the Baptist began to baptize people. In some time (what exactly, Luke did not specify), Jesus was baptized and that meant the beginning of his ministry.
Then Luke said: “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age...” (Luke, 3:23). Consequently, Jesus was about 30 years old not earlier than in the 15th year of Emperor Tiberius’ ruling.
The previous emperor, August, died in 14 CE, so it turns out that Jesus was about 30 not earlier than in 28 CE.
Christ’s ministry was most minutely described by John the Evangelist. Jesus began his ministry some days before the Jewish Passover (John 2:12), and later three more Passovers were mentioned (John 5:1; 6:4; 11:55). So, 3 years passed since the first Passover until the last (tragic) one. The famous concept of “Christ’s age” originated from that: thirty years before baptism (by the Gospel according to Luke) plus three years after (by the Gospel according to John). Thirty three years.
So, Dionysius (and we also) faced the problem: if we choose 30 CE as the year of crucifixion, then Christ’s ministry did not keep within 3 years, even if he would have been baptized in 28 CE, when John the Baptist started his activity.
But if we choose 34 CE, there is even the large “reserve”, because Jesus could have been baptized later than 28 CE. For example, John began to baptize in 28, and Jesus was baptized in 31. Why not?
And Dionysius chose 34 CE. According to his calculations, everything was quite normal – if Jesus had been born between 1 BCE and 1 CE, in 34 CE he would have been full thirty-three years old.
And concerning the fact of Jesus’ birth in the time of Herod the Great, – Dionysius could forget about it. May be, he did not know the date of Herod’s death. May be (and that is most likely) he preferred to direct his attention to the evidence of the 15th year of the Tiberius’ ruling and to the date of the discharging of Pilate.
But we must not forget anything, and our research must go on.
As we know, Jesus was born in the time of Herod the Great, i.e. in 4 BCE at the latest. Are we able to determine the “lower limit” of his date of birth?
There is a little, very little Gospel information about Christ’s birthday. Some researchers even tried to base on the evidence of the “Bethehem star” (Matt. 2:2), using the contradictory information about comets, star showers and “planet parades”. But such astronomic events take place almost every year. Can something else help us?
There is one more important evidence of Luke: “And it came to pass in
those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first
made when Cy-re’ni-us was governor of
The taxation censuses in the
So, the evidence of Augustus’ decree on taxation can not help us: the dispersion is too wide – plus-minus five years.
We know that there was no “Cyrenius, governor
And the year of the crucifixion?
Accepting 34 CE, we do not keep within “Christ’s age”: if Jesus had been born in 4 BCE, in 34 CE he would have been 37 years old (for anyone who would like to check these calculations, I remind that there was no “zero” year; 1 CE follows 1 BCE, and if we “cross” the beginning of “Christian era”, we must decrease the calculations by 1 year).
It seems to be necessary to accept 30 CE as the year of the crucifixion. But what shall we do with Luke’s evidence of the beginning of Christ’s ministry in 28 CE, the 15th year of the ruling of Tiberius (Luke, 2:1-2)?
Christ’s ministry does not keep within 2 years. Moreover, then “Christ’s age” will turn out to be thirty-two, and if in 28 CE he was thirty, then he was to be born in 3 BCE (haven’t you forgotten to decrease the age by “zero” year?) But we have found out that he could not be born later than 4 BCE. What to do?
Nothing but to read once more “The Life of Twelve
Caesars” by Svetonius. Tiberius
became the co-ruler of August not in 14, but in 13 CE! Moreover, he was
responsible exactly for provinces, i.e. for
So, we have “found” the insufficient year. Let us calculate:
In 27 CE, Jesus was about thirty. We accept without “about” – thirty.
He was crucified in three years, i.e. in 30 CE, so at the day of the crucifixion he was 33 – in “Christ’s age”.
We subtract 33 years of 30 CE, take into consideration “zero” year and come to 4 BCE, to the birthday in the time of Herod the Great. That is the result, and we can say with confidence: Christ’s birthday – 4 BCE, his crucifixion – 30 CE.
In actual fact, it is possible to say more precisely. Even in the beginning of the 19th century, it was calculated by the astronomical tables that Nisan 15, 30 CE corresponded with April 7.
Then Jesus could be born both in the second half of 5 BCE and in the beginning of 4 BCE. In each case the death, as it is written in obituary notices, “followed at the 34th year of life”, though the words “death” and “obituary notice” are scarcely applicable to Christ. So, we can even obey the tradition and conditionally accept the common date of Christmas: Catholic – December, 25; Orthodox – January, 6.
Thus, the most exact and compromise both in historical and in theological aspects are the following dates of Jesus’ life: December 25, 5 BCE (January 6, 4 BCE)–April 7, 30 CE.
The exact date of crucifixion, April 7, 30, may be considered as a completely proved historical fact.
Let us count the years once more: if Jesus was born in the end of 5–beginning of 4 BCE, then he was 1 year old between 4 and 3 BCE, 2 – between 3 and 2 BCE, 3 – between 2 and 1, 4 – between 1 BCE and 1 CE, 5 – between 1 and 2 CE etc. As we can see, it is necessary to add 3 years to calculate his age in any year of our era. Between 29 and 30 CE he was thirty-three, and between 1996 and 1997 he was 2000.
However, the majority of people still consider as something taken to mean that Christ was born some years before Christ, and that his jubilee was to be celebrated between 2000 and 2001. The strength of traditions is really great...
To understand, on what traditions of the Old Testament Christ based in his activity, let us remember that the basis of Judaism was the faith in God’s help not to a separate human, but to the Jewish people as a whole.
But within many centuries the generations of Jews lived in the grip of
conquerors and died, having received from God no help in the struggle against
occupants. In 6th century BCE,
In the time of Christ, the enduring sequence of the rebellions against
the Roman grip began (it is considered that Barabbas, who was freed by Pilate
instead of Jesus, was one of rebel’s leaders). In 70 CE, after one of
rebellions, the Roman commander Titus destroyed the
It is no wonder that the decay and downfall of the state made in the Jews’ consciousness a certain spiritual vacuum, which could be filled only with the hope for the future saving of the endless slavery. It led to a very specific result – to the expectation of the Messiah (from Hebrew “mashiah” – “anointed”, in the context of the Old Testament – the Savior, and the latter word is translated into Greek as “Christ”).
The books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and “Twelve Minor
Prophets”, which are most probably written in the 8th–6th centuries BCE, are
partly devoted to the coming of the Savior. Let us note that prophetical
The prophecies about the coming of Messiah were quite specific, even approximate terms were mentioned. The latter ones left open space for disputes, but the Messiah, doubtlessly, was to:
– be a Hebrew (Gen. 22:18; Num. 24:17);
– be named Jesus (Zech. 3:1);
– descent from King David (Is. 11:1; Zech. 13:1);
– be the Son of God, conceived by a virgin from God (Ps. 2:7; Is. 7:14);
– be named the Son of man (Dan. 7:13-14);
– be born in
– become an object of the worship of wise men (Is. 60:3);
– be in
– be related to
– commit wonders and cure people (Is. 29:18; 61:1-2);
– ride into
– be tortured and executed (Is. 53:5; Jer. 11:19; Dan. 9:26; Ps. 21:17-19);
– resurrect and rule the world (Ps. 2:8);
– bring the New Testament to the world (Jer. 31:31-33);
– judge the peoples (Is. 42:1-4);
– save the people of
We see the ready scheme, to which the Messiah was to conform. And if Jesus had not conformed to at least one of the “demands”, which were cited above, his identity with the Messiah would have been called into question.
And we, calling Jesus by the name of Christ, thereby acknowledge him as the Messiah, acknowledging all the Old Testament’s prophecies at that.
Jesus followed his “earthy” father’s profession, and until the beginning
of the ministry worked as a builder (Mark 6:3; according to the majority of
translations of the New Testament – as a carpenter). In spite of such a
“proletarian” profession, he was descended from King David. That was a quite
often case in
Jesus was born it
There were no last names in the Eastern part of the
Having passed to another region, people usually obtained a name of the
native town in addition to the first name. The name, which was written on the
table put on the cross – “Jesus of Nazareth” (John 19:19), is from here. Let us
note that there was the consonance “
Christ mostly often called himself, according to the Old Testament’s tradition, as “the Son of man” (Matt. 10:23; 16:28; Luke 9:56; 19:10 etc.)
It is understandable why Jesus began his ministry relatively lately, being thirty years old. In that time the thorough study of the Old Testament took much more time than in our days, – comments were mostly verbal and tangled. And it was not enough for Jesus to know only Mosaic Law. He needed exact references to a number of prophets and prophecies, since he declared himself the Messiah – the Savior of the Jewish people.
The bitter historical paradox: his people never acknowledged that. In spite of the Old Testament’s prophecies, that the Messiah would be executed at first (Is. 53:5; Jer. 11:19) and only then would resurrect and rule the world, the overwhelming majority of Jews in the beginning of our era had the stereotype of the Messiah as of some kind of Archangel, who would lay hated Roman occupants waste with fire and sword.
But Jesus of Nazareth was “only” the son of a carpenter, and he died the shameful death. I would like to accentuate that the crucifixion was much more shameful for the Jews than for the Romans, because “he that is hanged is accursed of God” (Deut. 21:23).
And when Jesus was crucified on April 7, 30 CE, his cause had a
little chance for the historical triumph. Therefore there is no bewilderment in
his prayer to God in
Jesus really had reasons to doubt in future. He had few disciples, and neither of them had the organizing talent or “charisma”.
Peter, the first disciple, besides his little education (he was a professional fisherman) had the weak character. Do you remember how he denied Jesus thrice? (Matt. 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:56-61; John 18:15-27).
John, the Son of Zebedee (John the Evangelist), scarcely had the organizing talent though later became an outstanding writer.
James, the brother of Jesus, probably had neither Jesus’ “charisma” nor his knowledge. He is often confused with Apostle James, the elder son of Zebedee, but in fact he joined the “movement” only after the crucifixion of his brother and held the high place in the Christian community merely as the “Lord’s brother” (Gal. 1:19; Acts 12:17).
Nevertheless, Peter and James became the successors of Jesus. Actually,
the Christian Church became a Judaic sect, one of a number of that existed in
Moreover, just at that time the strict Judaic canon was being formed –
it was necessary to unite the Hebrew people in confrontation with the mortal
danger, not less than in
But James and Peter considered firmly that it was necessary to preach
But in the beginning of 30s, Apostle Paul appeared on the historical scene.
Paul was not one of Twelve Apostles, did not know Jesus personally and even took part in the stoning of Stephen (Acts, 7:58). But some time later he accepted the Christian ideas, devoted himself to Christ and declared himself an Apostle.
Exactly Paul managed to create the powerful Christian organization and
to spread Christianity to almost all the territory of the
In spite of the declarative denial of the rigorous obeying to Mosaic Law, Christ’s image in the theology of Apostle Paul does not essentially differ from the Old Testament’s Messiah (Rom. 14:26; 15:8-12; 1 Cor. 16:22; Heb. chapter 1; 8:8-9). The only serious difference is that Jesus Christ, according to Paul, was to save not only the Jews, but also the humanity as a whole (Rom. 3:29; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:14).
Paul was an idealist but a practical man (as we see, that were quite compatible concepts even at that time), and he understood that any complication of Jesus’ image would be harmful for the Church. It was quite convenient for him to interpret Christ as the Savior, the Messiah, anointed by God and holding in the heavenly hierarchy the place higher than the highest Archangels, on the right hand of God (Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3).
According to the teaching of Paul, the first coming of Jesus confirmed
that the Old Testament was fulfilled. Jesus expiated our sins by his suffering
(Rom. 3:24; 5:9; Heb. 1:3), and our spiritual world is now ruled not by Mosaic
Law, but by the faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. chapters 5-7), i.e. by the faith in
the fact that Jesus is our Savior (Rom. 6:8; 10:9; 2 Cor. 3:14-16). And it is
necessary to carry out, first of all, Christ’s Testament – to love each other
and to commit good (
By the way, having referred to that, Paul declared Judaic circumcision as non-obligatory for Christians (1 Cor. 15:1; Gal. 5:2). The practical Apostle understood that for baptizing Gentiles that was too burdensome, and, what is more, this procedure was too painful in the adult age...
Further, as Paul taught in the full accordance with the Gospels, Christ, having ascended into heaven, gave us some time to obtain the faith in him and begin to live by his covenants (2 Thess. 2:2-11), and then he would come for the second time and begin to rule the world (1 Cor. 15:24-25).
Let us note that Paul managed to convince Christians that the “Second Coming” may take place not today and not tomorrow, and possibly not during the life of this generation or the next one (1 Thess. 5:1-3; 2 Thess. 2:2-11).
But in view of that Paul had to overpass the resistance not only of Roman and Judaic authorities, but also of his “very chiefest” (2 Cor. 11:5) colleagues in the Church, primarily of Peter and James. None of them accepted Paul’s idea that the Christian teaching of love and good together with the Judaic concept of single and invisible God would have the widest resonance just in the spiritually decayed the Gentile world. It is most probable that they even did not acknowledge Paul’s right to be named an Apostle.
Paul told the following:
“But when Peter was come to
We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:11-16).
As we see, Paul’s position was stated simply and logically in this short
episode. His conflict with Peter was more ideological than political or
material, and after the debates, Paul went away to preach in
Moreover, there is a Churches’ legend that Paul convinced Peter of his
right, and the latter became the head of the Church in
According to another legend, Apostle Paul during Emperor Nero’s
persecution of Jews (64-65 CE) was decapitated. That looks like truth, since
Romans had no right to crucify him – he was a Roman citizen, though a Jew. The
It is important to remember that Apostle John the Evangelist (in the
Western tradition – John the Divine, in the Eastern one – John the Theologian)
more or less safely went through the persecution of the 60s and escaped with an
Disputes about the order of the Gospels and on their authorship do not stop even nowadays.
The Gospel according to Matthew was the most “unlucky”. In the 19th-20th centuries, it was often considered that it was scarcely not a fruit of a collective creative work of the beginning of the 2nd century. A number of references to the Old Testament, which proved the identity of Jesus and the Messiah, were the main ground for that. If some Matthew was even acknowledged as an author, he was considered as not Apostle Matthew.
In view of that, it is often claimed that the first Gospel was the shortest one – the Gospel according to Mark, and later the professional historians-theologians Luke and Matthew wrote on its base their Gospels, which were “colored” by details and references to the Old Testament.
In actual fact, everything is much more simple. I consider that many contemporary historians quite unjustly acknowledge Matthew’s incapability for the fundamental analysis of the Old Testament. As we know, Matthew was a publican (Matt. 9:9-10), and publicans were highly educated, since they were given an employment not by Judaic authorities, but by the Roman. And the latter were good experts in the personnel. The caste of publicans was closed and privileged, brought up in the spirit of the devotion to the Roman emperor and law. Matthew was the most educated disciple of Christ, and only he was able to write down his Gospel “close in the tracks”.
It is likely that it is the reason of a certain “economic deviation” of Jesus’ parables in Matthew’s interpretation, and of a certain “anti-Semite” orientation of the first Gospel – for example, of the concerted cry of the crowd in Jerusalem: “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). However, these words may be interpreted in different ways, and it is doubtful that a crowd cried such a complicated and articulate phrase.
But in each case, publicans did not love people, and people did not love publicans. The similar situation takes place today with the majority of tax inspectors. Let us note that Matthew quickly disappeared from the historical scene after Jesus’ crucifixion.
There is one more argument against Matthew’s authorship. Jesus called him (Matt. 9:9) after the Sermon on the Mount (Matt., chapters 5-7). So, how could he write the famous sermon in so many details? But there is also a counter-argument: Matthew most probably heard that sermon, when he was among the crowd, otherwise it is too doubtful that a publican in the line of duty threw up his work and followed an unknown preacher...
Everything is more or less understandable with the authorship of Mark (most probably a disciple of Apostle Peter – 2 Pet. 5:13) and Luke (undoubtedly a disciple of Apostle Paul – Acts, chapter 27). It is the middle of the 1st century. Reasoning from the fact that “The Acts of the Apostles”, the continuation of the Gospel according to Luke, was written in Rome shortly before Nero’s persecution (64 CE), these Gospels may be dated not later that the beginning of the 60s.
Consequently, the Gospel according to Matthew, to which both Mark and Luke refer, could be written at any time since 30 until 60 CE.
The Revelation, the most often read and interpreted book of the Bible, was written after Nero’s persecution, in the middle of the 60s. Few researchers dispute on this, since in this book there are references to the church communities acting at that time.
But in return, it is often said that the Revelation was the first book of the New Testament. We have seen that three first Gospels were written before. But many generations so violently wanted exactly the Revelation to be the first Biblical book (on its basis possible “Doomsday” dates are still calculated) that the wishful replaced the real.
The Gospel according to John belongs to other epoch – the end of the 1st
century. Apostle John, the favorite disciple of Christ (John 19:26), was a son
of a fisherman and had an insufficient basic education, but later he probably
had a possibility to get in touch with the Greek philosophy in the 60s in the
Patmos exile and then in
Conjectures that the fourth Gospel and the Revelation have different authors, both Johns, are nothing more than conjectures. The Revelation, as we have said, was written in the middle of the 60s, and the Gospel was written at least twenty-thirty years later. Enough time for the evolution of the style and worldview.
I think that we can finish our brief historical-theological review of the times of the New Testament creation and try to prove the authenticity of the New Testament. It is a necessary and enough condition of the recognition that Christ was a historic person.
So, we are about to try to prove the authenticity of the New Testament. It is a complicated task, since neither the Gospels, nor any other book of the New Testament reached us in original. The earliest manuscripts, which are known to contemporary science, date from the 3rd–4th centuries.
But as the first and the most simple proof of the authenticity of the Gospels it is possible, however paradoxically, to cite a number of contradictions in them (we have already examined some of them).
The Gospels were written by the different people many years after Christ’s crucifixion, and the presence of contradictions means the honesty of Evangelists. Of course, in the conditions of incomplete information. But if they had openly fabricated the Gospels, everything would have been quite fluent, and every contradiction would have had some arguments.
And it is scarcely probable that during some decades of the 1st century there appeared so many artistic writers of the Evangelists – the geniuses, who, hand in hand, thought out such a complicated character, as Jesus of Nazareth, agreed upon key theological problems, but at that, each of them described Christ in his own way, with many chronological and theological contradictions.
“Now that you mention it, let’s see. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are a
bunch of practical jokers who meet somewhere and decide to have a contest. They
invent a character, agree on few basic facts, and then each one’s free to take
it and run with it. At the end, they’ll see who’s done the best job. The four
stories are picked up by some friends who act as critics: Matthew is fairly
realistic, but insists on that Messiah business too much; Mark isn’t bad, just
a little sloppy; Luke is elegant, no denying that; and John takes the
philosophy a little too far. Actually, though, the books have an appeal, they
circulate, and when the four realize what’s happening, it’s too late. Paul has
already met Jesus on the road to
That was the quote of the novel “Foucault’s pendulum” by Umberto Eco (translated by William Weaver).
It is unlikely that the position of the main character of the novel, who drew the foregoing conclusions, has a support of the author himself. It is most probably that here took place Descartes’ “radical doubt”.
According to Descartes’ methodology, let us also “doubt” and suppose that Jesus Christ was fabricated. But a question arises: if he was fabricated, then by whom?
There are not so many variants, and I propose to examine each of them.
Let us assume that about the middle of the 1st century Jesus Christ was thought out by a man, who had no bearing on the Christian Church and was not mentioned in the New Testament.
But, firstly, a hypothetic fabricator was to have so wide connections in
Secondly, nobody doubts about the historicity of Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyon (abt.130–202), the analyst of the Holy Scripture and the compiler of the New Testament. As it is well known, Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna (abt.80–abt.169), and the latter was a disciple of Apostle John the Evangelist. We have the line of witnesses from Irenaeus to Jesus.
Consequently, nobody “outside of the Church” could think Christ out.
Then let us assume that Christ, together with the whole “line of witnesses”, was thought out by Irenaeus.
But Irenaeus was not the first bishop of
Consequently, the bishop of
Because of the same reason, Christ could not be thought out by Polycarp of Smyrna – the Church already existed and lions were already set on Christians in the 2nd century.
Christ could not be fabricated also in 80–90s CE by John the Evangelist.
In 111 CE Emperor Trajanus already answered the
inquiry of the writer Pliny the Younger, the governor of
It is also doubtful that John in his hypothetic fabrication gave so important role to Apostle Paul. If John had organized the Church himself on the basis of his fiction, then, undoubtedly, he would have taken a leading role in the whole New Testament, including the Acts and the Epistles. Or, at the minimum, he would have shown himself as the mediator between Jesus and Paul. Otherwise, it turns out that if John had thought out Christ and founded the Church, he would have undermined his own authority.
Consequently, Christ was thought out neither by John the Evangelist nor in the second half of the 1st century.
Then let us assume that Jesus Christ and the whole New Testament were thought out in 30–40s CE by Apostle Paul, who later founded the Christian Church and theology on the basis of his fabrication.
Another variant is possible: somebody of Paul’s friends thought Christ out and invited Paul to take part in the falsification, and later Paul “moved” his friend aside and represented himself in the New Testament as playing the leading role.
But Paul wrote that he communicated with people who new Jesus personally
(Peter, James and other Apostles). He also described Christ’s apparition by his
So, if there had been a falsification then the “Apostle of Gentiles” knew everything and took an active part in it. And there is no importance if someone helped him or not. We can even assume that John the Evangelist knew about the fabrication, was satisfied with the role, which Paul gave him, and went on with the “game” after Paul’s death.
The chronology of Paul’s hypothetic falsification practically coincides with his missionary activity, and it is difficult to object to this item. There are stronger arguments that Paul could not think Christ out and write four Gospels on behalf of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Firstly, if to think out a founder of the teaching, it makes sense to put his life to remote ages, otherwise the probability of the disclosing of the falsification increases greatly – is it possible that people of Galilee and Jerusalem would not have been outraged, knowing that there had been no Jesus of Nazareth ten years before? Paul could have better used Prophet Isaiah for his purposes. Basic ideas of Isaiah are similar to Christianity in many aspects, there was even a legend about his martyr death.
Secondly, it is unlikely that Paul thought out the story about the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58), having presented himself in a very dubious light. The same concerns his conflict with Peter and other Apostles.
Thirdly, if Paul had thought out Jesus of Nazareth as his contemporary,
he would have declared the personal acquaintance with Jesus and would not have
told an unconvincing mystic story about Christ’s apparition to him by his way
Consequently, Apostle Paul could not fabricate Christ.
Then the hypothesis of the character of Umberto Eco’s novel remains: the fabricators were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And later Paul believed them and actively joined in the “movement”.
But, firstly, we are prevented by Apostle Peter from the accepting of this hypothesis. It is impossible to cast doubt on Peter’s historicity, because we can read about him in the Epistles of Paul, whose honesty we have already proved.
Peter is shown in the Gospels as the first disciple of Christ, i.e. if Matthew and the other Evangelists had thought Jesus out, Peter was to be their accessory.
But if Peter knew about the falsification or even was its organizer, is it possible that he let represent himself in such an unfavorable light? I mean the story with three denies (Matt. 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:56-61; John 18:15-27).
Secondly, as we remember, the “doubting” Eco’s character said that four Evangelists briefly discussed the plot and wrote the Gospels individually. Indeed, this explains more or less the common subject (the life of Jesus Christ) and the contradictions in the Gospels. But there are not only the contradictions, there is a great number of practically parallel places. So, the Evangelists were to edit the «fabricated» Gospels together. But then they could not leave so many contradictions.
Consequently, nobody could fabricate the New Testament as a whole.
Within two thousand years of Christianity, some minor additions, substitutions and interpreters’ inaccuracies in the New Testament took place time and again, and we shall face such facts even in our research. But as a whole, the New Testament is authentic, i.e. Jesus of Nazareth is a historic person.
Consequently, we can base our philosophic system on Christianity by right.
Sergey Zagraevsky © 2004