Book Plunge: Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught Part 2

Were the Gospel writers trying to write history? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So Madison starts off with this section telling us the Gospel writers were more interested in writing theology and not history.

Which is apparent, since, you know, they recorded so many historical events.

His first example is Mark having two verses on Jesus going into the wilderness saying that historians wince at something like this. Unfortunately, he doesn’t name any of these historians. He says it’s because 40 days looks to parallel what happened with Israel, to which we say, “Isn’t it obvious?” Second is that who counted? (As if Jesus couldn’t tell Himself?) Third, Satan and angels are mythological figures. That’s bringing in your philosophy and theology into history to say ipso facto they’re not real.

Madison won’t cite any sources. I will.

The “forty days” recalls Moses on the mountain (Exod 24:18; 34:28), Elijah’s journey to the sacred mountain (1 Kgs 19:8), Jesus’ instruction of his disciples (Acts 1:3), and perhaps even Israel’s forty years in the wilderness (especially Deut 8:2). The word translated “tempted” also means tested, and that is probably the primary idea here. “Satan” is the anglicized form of the Greek transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning adversary. Only Mark indicates that Jesus was “with the wild animals.” Commentators divide over whether the animals were favorably disposed toward him and, therefore, symbolize the tranquility of the messianic kingdom after the defeat of Satan or whether they were hostile toward him and symbolize the forces of evil. Mark was concerned with the test itself, not its result. The intertestamental Jewish concept of the desert as the haunt of demons further supports the latter view. Mark did not indicate whether the angels “attended” or “ministered to” (RSV) Jesus during or after the temptation or whether they helped him resist, fed him, or witnessed what he did. Nor did Mark state that Jesus was victorious, perhaps because he looked upon Jesus’ entire life as a continuing struggle with Satan. Perhaps the episode was recorded partly to encourage the original readers/hearers in their trials and temptations.

James A. Brooks, Mark (vol. 23; The New American Commentary; Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 44.


For example, the story starts in the wilderness (NIV, desert), not in the holy temple of the holy city (as in Luke) or with the heavenly council of God before creation (as in John). The wilderness image would evoke all kinds of memories for those grounded in the Old Testament. For those reading from translations that refer to “the wilderness” (e.g., NRSV, REB), that word might rouse a picture from a Wilderness Society poster with a lush forest, sparkling streams, snow-capped mountains, and wild animals (buffalo roaming and antelope playing), which cause tourists excitedly to stop their cars on the highway to take snapshots. For Jews, however, the wilderness/desert called forth a host of different images. It was more than just a place on the margins of civilization; it evoked a variety of powerful biblical memories and expectations. For one, it marked the place of beginnings. It was the region where God led the people out and from which they crossed over Jordan and seized the land promised to them. It was the place to which God allured the people to win them back (Hos. 2:14). It was also the place where one went to flee iniquity. According to 2 Maccabees 5:27, Judas Maccabeus fled with nine others to the wilderness and lived off what grew wild “so that they might not share in the defilement.” According to the Martyrdom of Isaiah 2:7–11, the prophets Isaiah, Micah, Ananias, Joel, Habbakuk, and Josab, his son, all abandoned the corruption of Judah for the mountainous wilderness, where they clothed themselves in sackcloth, lamented bitterly over straying Israel, and ate wild herbs.
The wilderness was also considered to be “the staging ground for Yahweh’s future victory over the power of evil.” It was the place where some thought that the final holy war would be fought and won (1QM 1:2–3). The Christ was thought to appear in the wilderness (Matt. 26:24), and it was the haunt of messianic diviners, such as the Egyptian false prophet (Acts 21:38). The wilderness was not only God’s staging grounds for the eschatological victory, it was also God’s proving grounds for testing the people. Consequently, it was remembered as the place of disobedience, judgment, and grace.

David E. Garland, Mark (The NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 52–53.

He also says that the Sermon on the Mount could not have come from Jesus since it relies so much on the Greek of the LXX. All of this assumes that Jesus could not have spoken in Greek but even if He spoke in Aramaic, a skilled writer could interpret that in the best way in Greek. But then, his source is Carrier for this….

He points out how Jesus did miracles paralleling those of Elijah such as the feeding miracles. (Though it was actually Elisha.) Well, of course Jesus would do this just as He would parallel Israel! He would be out there showing that He was in the same mold, but He was the superior model. He also says the crucifixion was based on verses from the Psalms. Nowhere does that indicate that this was not historical and the crucifixion is one of the surest facts that can be known about Jesus.

“The fact of the death of Jesus as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable, despite hypotheses of a pseudo-death or a deception which are sometimes put forward. It need not be discussed further here.” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” Page 17.)

Christians who wanted to proclaim Jesus as messiah would not have invented the notion that he was crucified because his crucifixion created such a scandal. Indeed, the apostle Paul calls it the chief “stumbling block” for Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). Where did the tradition come from? It must have actually happened. (Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Third Edition. pages 221-222)


Jesus was executed by crucifixion, which was a common method of torture and execution used by the Romans. (Dale Martin, New Testament History and Literature. Page 181)


That Jesus was executed because he or someone else was claiming that he was the king of the Jews seems to be historically accurate. (ibid. 186)


Jesus’ execution is as historically certain as any ancient event can ever be but what about all those very specific details that fill out the story? (John Dominic Crossan

Madison says all the Gospels were also written after AD 70. No evidence is given for this. (Remember boys and girls, atheists are against taking anything on faith, except their assertions.)

Madison then goes on after quoting Randal Helms to say:

The historical Jesus is not easy to find, but even so, most secular historians accept that Jesus existed. That yes, he was a real person. But that doesn’t mean Christians can breathe a sigh of relief. Priests and preachers don’t make a habit of keeping laypeople up to date on debates raging in New Testament academia—and indeed, there has been considerable debate about what can be known about Jesus. No one has developed a reliable method for identifying genuine history in the gospels. Hence there have been many different “Jesus proposals,” i.e., who and what he actually was—and precious little agreement. Most of these scholars, bear in mind, are devout and have an emotional investment in getting to the bottom of this “Jesus problem.” Most of the folks in the pews are unaware of these problems that plague any serious Jesus study.

Madison, David. Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (pp. 103-104). Insighting Growth Publications. Kindle Edition.

That’s strange because I have been citing non-Christian scholars here to make my case. Madison has pointed to no scholarly works on the historical Jesus or made any comparisons to study of any other figures out there. Again, he likes to talk about evidence, except for when it comes to his position. Madison is still a preacher. It’s just for the other side.

I urge you to avoid knee-jerk reactions like, “Of course, Jesus existed, don’t be silly.” There is indignation at the very idea that Jesus might not have existed, but not enough curiosity. Please do some homework. Find out why there are doubts that Jesus ever lived. Bring some understanding to the debate. I’m a little suspicious of Christians who flame out on this issue but who cannot cite any of the hard facts that point to a mythical Jesus.

Madison, David. Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (p. 104). Insighting Growth Publications. Kindle Edition.

Yep. Did it already. I have read a number of mythicist works, including Carrier’s, and have debated Ken Humphreys on this issue.

Even devout scholars admit there is no contemporaneous documentation at all for anything Jesus said or did.

The teachings and deeds of Jesus—even his miracles reported in the gospels—are not mentioned in the New Testament epistles written well before the gospels.

There is so much folklore, fantasy, superstition, and magical thinking in the gospels. What are the implications of this when we’re trying to figure out who Jesus really was, on the assumption that he existed?

As of yet, no reliable methodology has been developed for identifying, for sure, which gospel stories are actually historical. Exactly where are the certain tidbits of history in the gospels? Gospel experts have arrived at no consensus.

Madison, David. Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (pp. 104-105). Insighting Growth Publications. Kindle Edition.

So let’s go through these.

For the first, this assumes the Gospels aren’t contemporary or the epistles, but even if they aren’t, the same applies to Hannibal, Queen Boudica, and Arminius who was a German leader who won a massive victory over the Roman Empire. We only have one historical source at the time describing the eruption of Vesuvius and it’s only over a century later that another historian mentions that a second city was destroyed.

For the second, yes, because the epistles aren’t written to be biographies. They assume a high background knowledge of Jesus already.

Third, this is just Ancient People Were Stupid thinking.

Fourth, this assumes that history is done in the same way other fields are done. Everyone pretty much plays by the same rules and accepts their papers to others for peer-review and writes books critiqued by others.

Finally, Madison recommends a number of mythicist authors like Price, Lataster, Doherty, Fitzgerald, and of course, Carrier.

One final point; if the Gospels were more interested in theology instead of history, I find it strange that when we get to the resurrection, we see none of that. We see no Scripture citations. We see nothing about the doctrine of the atonement or justification by faith. Surely this would be the best place for that, and yet it is absent.

Strange, isn’t it?

Next time it’s oral tradition.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)




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