Considering that Christianity promises redemption and immortality for any and all who are baptized and take Communion, is it any wonder that it has been the dominant worldwide religion in the past two millennia and today boasts 2.2 billion followers? The faith is based exclusively on four gospel accounts of the life, ministry, and martyrdom of God’s son, which reversed the sin and capital sentence of God’s original son, Adam.
Because only the Bible provides details of Jesus’s life, some historians question his existence. But most affirm it, especially in view of two independent sources. The Roman citizen, Josephus, mentions “Christus” briefly in his Antiquities of the Jews, as does Tacitus in his Annals.
However, some scholars—even the devout—argue that there is no independent written or archeological proof of the Old Testament patriarchs Noah, Abraham, Moses, et al. Even so, based on Exodus (34:27), many believe that God dictated the Pentateuch to Moses: “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”
Though none of the four New Testament apostles claimed actual divine dictation, St. Paul declared that their accounts were “inspired” by the Almighty. Unlike the first three books, the Synoptics, the fourth and final Gospel of John reveals its evangelical intent in telling a different story: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
When analyzing a possibly partisan history with little or no independent verification that is presented as divinely dictated or inspired, religious scholars often use the Criterion of Embarrassment, or the Criterion of Authenticity. If in an account of an event an evangelist provides details he might ordinarily be inclined to omit or alter for fear of shaking faith, then it is more likely to be true.
Whether from embarrassment or not, the apostle John, an early Christian, omits many details provided by his Jewish predecessors: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He omits all Jesus’s parables, replacing them with eschatological lectures. He makes no mention of the beheading of John the Baptist. He says nothing about the exorcisms of Legion and other “unclean spirits.” He expunges Christ’s killing of the fig tree as well as his “no peace but the sword!” call to arms for the Kingdom of Heaven. And the evangelist does not repeat the disturbing stories about Jesus’s “take this cup from me” despair in the garden, as well as his climactic “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?” lament on the cross.
John, however, includes events nowhere to be found in the accounts of his predecessors. Notably, Jesus’s resurrection of Lazarus; the Roman soldier1 stabbing him in the side postmortem; Thomas, the doubting disciple, demanding to touch his wounds; and Jesus repeatedly identifying himself as the exclusive savior—“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except me” (John 14:6). Considering the faith-leavening importance of these alleged events, especially the Lazarus resurrection, how could Matthew, Mark, and Luke have possibly forgotten or overlooked them?
Due to the significant differences between the Synoptics and John, how could all four accounts have been divinely inspired, hence inerrant? Addressing the question, Christian theologians, ancient to modern, have struggled to rationalize and minimize discrepancies to arrive at what they call “Gospel Harmony.”
Harmony proponents assert the unimpeachable authority of all based on the claim that Matthew and John were eyewitness disciples, that Mark was Peter’s companion, and Luke was St. Paul’s. But today’s scholars generally agree that the first two were not disciples, and some or all the gospels had multiple authors and editors. St. Paul called Peter and John “unschooled men” (Acts 4:13), meaning they were likely illiterate, as were other rural Galilean disciples, save the urban Judean, Judas. Moreover, unlike the Old Testament written in Hebrew for Jews, the New Testament—though Jesus spoke Aramaic—was written in educated Greek primarily for a gentile audience.
Composition dates further complicate Gospel Harmony because, presumably, the more contemporaneous to Jesus’s life, the more reliable. Mark is said to have been composed about the time the disciples were being martyred, between 65 and 75 CE; Matthew and Luke between 80 and 100; and John between 90 and 110, or even later.
Despite the composition time span and the differences in focus, do the gospels complement one another or conflict regarding the most fundamental issue: Jesus’s identity and his earthly mission?
By the time of Jesus’s birth, Israel had been under Babylonian, Persian, and Seleucid control. Now in the Roman yoke, it was still awaiting a messiah. According to Ezekiel and Isaiah, when this liberator arrived, all Jews would regain their homeland, the Temple would be rebuilt,2 and an age of peace and prosperity would dawn. During Pontius Pilate’s Palestine governorship, there were more than a few Jews who preached, healed, and strived to be recognized as this very messiah.3
The first prophet to deliver the Jews from bondage was Moses. After killing a pyramid slave-driver, the former adopted Egyptian prince fled to the desert and encountered a burning bush that ordered him to free his kinsmen. The fugitive shepherd ventured, “Who shall I say sent me?” “I am that I am,” came the reply from the fire, “the God of your forefathers” (Exodus 3:6–13). To “convince” him, the Almighty performed three miracles: He turned Moses’s staff into a serpent, diseased then healed his hand, and finally offered to turn Nile water to blood. The subsequent marvels—the twelve plagues on Egypt, the parting sea, the raining manna, etc.—dispelled doubt among most Israelites.
Even so, skeptics and golden calf infidels remained, so the “jealous” god found it necessary to put them to death.4 Afterward, He admitted to lapses of affection due to “sudden angry impulses of the moment … but now I have pitied you with a love which lasts forever” (Isaiah 54:7–10). Proving his sincerity, the Almighty assured the Jews: “I am the Lord your God, The Holy One, your Savior … You are honored and I love you … and there is no Savior besides Me” (Isaiah 43:3–4). But soon after reassuring His nation during the Second Temple period, centuries after Moses, he apparently abandoned his protectorate.
When the job was taken over by Jesus, the Jews posed the same questions to him as had Moses to his father: Who are you? And what miracles will you perform to prove yourself? In Matthew (12:38–40), condemning the “wicked and godless” Pharisees for challenging him, Jesus said that the only sign he would give was that of Jonah, delivered after three days and nights in the whale. In John (5:45), by contrast, he scolds them for disbelief, saying, “Your accuser is Moses” who had predicted his arrival: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth” (Deuteronomy 18:15).
Nevertheless, Jesus went on to perform wonders, inspiring the faith of many. According to the Synoptics, after he healed lepers, the lame, the blind, and the mad, he ordered them to “tell no one.”5 In this way, he distinguished himself from the “whitewashed tomb” Pharisees who did everything “for show.”6 He even told his followers to keep their own charitable acts and prayers secret as well. “Do not announce an act of charity as hypocrites do … Your good deed must be secret and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you … . Pray to your Father in a secret place” (Matthew 6:2–6).
But in John (7:3–6), Jesus abandoned his nondisclosure policy after his brothers urged him to showcase his miracles because “no one can hope to be in the public eye if he works in seclusion.” In keeping with its Christian evangelism, the last gospel identified Jesus as the messiah and son of God in the very first chapter. The Galilean prophet went on to advertise himself as “the resurrection, the truth and the life” and was impatient with anybody who questioned this.7
In the Synoptics, on the other hand, the first to confirm the former carpenter’s divine identity were the devil-possessed who cried, “What do you want with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God!” (Mark 3:11, 5:8), a fact perhaps omitted by John as demonic and, hence, embarrassing. The Synoptics did not return to the issue until Jesus, late in his ministry and in private, asked his disciples, “Who do men say I am?” When Peter identified him as the messiah, he gave the twelve “strict orders not to tell anyone.”8
When, just before the crucifixion, Pilate asked if he was King of the Jews, Jesus equivocated in the Synoptics, saying, “The words are yours.”9 But, in the evangelical gospel, he clarified, “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (John 18:36). So, for lack of a definite answer, initials were nailed to his cross—INRI: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. The crowd taunted, “If you are really god, save yourself!” but he declined.10 In Gethsemane the night before, suffering “horror, dismay, and grief … sweating clots of blood,” he had prayed to God to “take this cup from me.”11 The last gospel amended this dispiriting detail by having him declare instead, “‘It was for this [fate] that I came. Father, glorify Thy name.’ And a voice sounded from heaven: I have glorified it!” (John 12:28).
Finally, the most dramatic discrepancy in the gospels: Jesus’s last words on the cross:
“My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:35).
“Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
“It is accomplished” (John 19:30).
The first statement was originally uttered by King David (Psalms 22:1), after God cursed him for marrying Bathsheba and arranging her husband’s battlefield death: “I will bring calamity on you … before all Israel, and in broad daylight” (2 Samuel 12:11).
Because Jesus had committed no such sin, Christian theologians have tried for centuries to rationalize why, in his final moment, he echoed David’s lament. Some theologians have argued that he felt forsaken for taking on the sins of man, though it was God’s will. Others argue that he was voicing a negligible instant of doubt borne of pain. If so, why didn’t Matthew and Mark conclude with the uplifting words of John to set the minds of the faithful at ease? Likewise, if Jesus did indeed feel forsaken, why would John omit these last words if not out of evangelical embarrassment?
A partial answer may lie in the two opposing ideas—Jewish and Christian—of what a messiah was and the kind of salvation and heavenly kingdom he would bring.
After the division and fall of Israel in 720 BCE, the oppressed prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zachariah, and Daniel repeatedly predicted the restoration of the kingdom by a House of David messiah. Fulfilling the prophecies, the Synoptics traced Jesus’s genealogy forty-two generations back to the great king, through Joseph. Isaiah (7:14), however, predicted the savior would be born of a virgin, voiding Jesus’s blood relation to Joseph. Still, all the prophets agreed with Daniel (9:24–27): “The Anointed One,” after cleansing sin, would “restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” The apostle Luke (2:26) agreed: “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever.”12
Priestly, upper-class Sadducee Jews—afterlife deniers but Sheol (Hell) believers—interpreted Daniel’s prediction literally: Repent and the divine Hebrew nation would rise from the ashes. Inspired by Isaiah (26:19)—“Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise!”—some Pharisees took the prediction figuratively: Repent and inherit a kingdom more rewarding and lasting: Heaven. By Jesus’s time, Israel, less insular than in David’s era, had been strongly influenced by the otherworldly beliefs of their Persian and Hellenistic overlords.
Was Jesus, then, a universal spiritual messiah bringing “redemption and salvation to the world,” as John wrote? Or was he a Davidic national leader who came to free the Jews from the Romans and restore the Kingdom of Israel alone to glory, as the Synoptics suggested? Or, as the most optimistic may have hoped, could he be both?
The question, then, becomes: Who did Jesus say he came to save? In the three Jewish gospels, he declines to heal the mad son of a Canaanite woman, saying: “I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, and to them alone” (Matthew 15:24). Later, when sending the disciples out to preach, he warned them “not to take the road to Gentile lands” (Matthew 10:5–6). But, in John (10:16–17), he reverses himself: “But there are other sheep of mine, not belonging to this fold, whom I must bring in. There will then be one flock, one shepherd.”
The idea of a reborn physical Kingdom of Israel is supported by Jesus’s predictions of its arrival. Relentlessly questioned about this, he said it would be before the “current generation” passed away, so ordered everyone to “keep watch.” Might the failure of the prediction have made both his followers and him feel “forsaken”?
But what exactly was the Kingdom of Heaven?
In John, Jesus replied to this other critical question with abstractions mostly lost on his rustic audience. In the Synoptics, he replied with parables that they found equally perplexing.13 When the disciples asked him why he spoke in parables, his reply was even more puzzling: “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven has been given to you, but not to them … Seeing they do not see, hearing they do not hear” (Matthew 13:10–13). This may have been true of his many close-minded Sadducee and Pharisee critics, but of his followers, too? Indeed, even his own disciples seemed bewildered by many parables. So, why bother preaching by any means at all, much less intentionally mystifying the audience?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus minimizes both the parables and the theological talk, preaching simply and directly about things his flock could easily understand. Speaking of God’s perfection and infinite mercy, he said: “Look at the birds of the air. They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? … Do not ask anxiously, ‘What are we to eat? What are we to drink?’ … Your father knows you need them … So, do not be anxious about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:26–34).
When he finished this sermon, “the crowds were astounded” (Matthew 27:8). But were they astounded by his “authority” (Matthew 7:29) or by his seeming divorce from their onerous reality? His crowd did not include well-to-do Sadducees or Pharisees but the poor, the downtrodden, the diseased, the starving—those who had surely prayed for God’s mercy but never received his manna or “daily bread.” Jesus dedicated himself, above all, to healing epidemic human suffering. How, then, could he claim God was perfectly gracious and beneficent and his Creation the same?
He went on to tell his followers that his greatest Commandment was to “love one another” as he had loved them (John 3:34). Turn the other cheek, he urged. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, he went on, appealing to self-welfare and preservation, rather than to doing good for good’s sake. Preaching in this manner, he fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that he be called “Prince of Peace.”
But at other times, Jesus’s words were less peaceful. “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34; Luke 12:51). “He that hath no sword,” he went on, “let him sell his garment and buy one” (Luke 22:36). Declaring that “He who is not for me is against me” (Matthew 12:30), he continued: “As for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence” (Luke 19:27).
Emphasizing Jesus’s love above all, the apostle John expunges these statements not only due to their violence but to the implication that the Kingdom of Heaven might indeed be a physical one requiring armed revolution. However, in John 18:10, the evangelist confirms the Synoptic account—Mark 17:47, Luke 20:50—of Peter cutting off the ear of the high priest’s slave with his sword.
Despite Jesus’s “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” exhortation (Matthew 11:44), he lashed out, “Unbelieving and perverse generation, how much longer must I endure you?” (Matthew 17:17). When his favorite disciple, Peter, objected to his prediction of martyrdom, his temper again flared: “Away with you, Satan. You think as men think, not as God thinks!” (Mark 8:33). A week before his martyrdom, he angrily killed the fig tree for not fruiting out-of-season, crying, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”14 Days later, he drove the moneylenders from the Temple with a whip.15
In establishing his credentials, Jesus emphasized that “No one knows the Father but the Son, and no one knows the Son but the Father” (Luke 10:22). When the Pharisees objected that he was basing his claim on his own authority, he told them: “I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me … bears witness of me” (John 8:12–19). Later, he went further still, proclaiming: “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30–33).
Again, some Synoptic passages challenged this equation. “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked a follower. “No one is good except God alone.”16 The statement may have been confusing to his flock since earlier, during the Sermon on the Mount, he had preached: “Be perfect, therefore, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
At this time, the gospels had of course not yet been written. Jews relied exclusively on the authority of the Torah where the Almighty was called “jealous” and “wrathful”—less than lovingly compassionate and perfect. While in the Old Testament, “the beginning of wisdom was fear of God,” as the wise Solomon pointed out, in the New Testament the beginning of wisdom was the love of a compassionate god.17
After abandoning his protectorate of Israel, the Lord, though immutable, suspended his tough love policy. The transition could only be accomplished by a heaven-to-earth, spirit-to-flesh intermediary: “the son of man” and of himself. By virtue of his humanity, Jesus would understand the frailties of the flesh, feel man’s sufferings in his own heart and judge accordingly and gracefully. The god of Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets had been too distant, too unapproachable, too incomprehensible, and too implacable. Not only had Yahweh declined to say anything about himself other than I AM, he refused to reveal anything but his “hindparts” to his chosen people lest he—“a pillar of consuming fire”—incinerate them. In their weakness and ignorance, what mortals needed was a go-between—a fellow human whom they could see, touch, and talk to.
To save man from Adam’s original sin and death sentence, God did more than divide. He triangulated. Through the Passion, his son was transformed from a mortal body to the immortal Holy Ghost. So, St. Paul called Christ “the second Adam,” claiming that his Eden predecessor was an “animal body” made from dust while he, Jesus, was a spirit “made in Heaven.” Was Christianity’s chief salesman and architect forgetting both Mary’s participation in the nativity and the first Adam’s life-giving ingredient—God’s breath?
In any event, after the resurrection, Jesus became the trinity focal point, all prayers ending with “In Jesus’s name, Amen.” His worshippers went on to make graven images of him, which Jews and Muslims condemn as a Second Commandment violation.18 Monotheistic purists, the Jews and Muslims rejected the trinity idea too. Realizing they might indeed be seen as flirting with pagan polytheism, Church sophists explained God’s triangulation as a three-in-one/one-in-three package deal.19 For the next 1,500 years, dogmatists debated trinity fine points in mind-numbing detail, some being excommunicated for trivial improvisation or burnt for challenging the equation.
Unpacking original sin, St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:22: “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Jews and Muslims reject this doctrine as well, believing that God’s death sentence applied to Adam and Eve alone, not to all future generations. For them, a man’s good deeds and repentance from sin are enough to earn him immortality, making a universal savior unnecessary. But, for St. Paul and God’s original doctrinal A-Team—Saints Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas—the lustful body is innately sinful, rendering the idea of a purely good man an impossibility. As it had been written long before by Solomon, who boasted 700 wives and 300 concubines: “There is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).20
In exempting Jesus from original sin, the Church felt compelled to exempt his mother, the Holy Virgin, as well. But the dispensation presented a problem: it washed away the humanity of Mary, the “New Eve,” making her and her son wholly divine. If man is definitively imperfect but Jesus is perfect, how then can he be man and an intermediary? Jews and Muslims reject immaculate conception, too. But Pope Pius IX made the doctrine dogma in 1854, declaring ex cathedra and infallibly: “Mary’s privilege … was the result of God’s grace and not of any intrinsic merit on her part.”
According to Kabalistic legend, Adam’s third son, Seth, returned to Eden, the site of the fall. By this time, the Tree of Life had grafted to the Tree of Knowledge with its fatal fruit. The cherubim guards gave Seth three seeds and ordered him to plant them in the mouth of his deceased father. From the seeds sprouted Moses’s burning bush, his magic wand, and the tree from which Jesus’s cross was made.
In tying Eden to Golgotha, Christian philosophers created an unprecedented mortal allegory.21 God’s first son, Adam, falls and dies after violating his will; God’s second son, Jesus, rises and conquers death after fulfilling his will and sacrificing himself on the Tree of Life cross. In the Old Testament, fearful men sacrificed their firstlings to a wrathful god; in the New Testament, a loving god sacrifices his firstling to man.
In short, the Old Testament god of judgment and death became a New Testament god of forgiveness and life.
The cross, with or without the body of Christ, became the most powerful icon in the history of religion. The instrument of torture became the centerpiece in every church and now hangs from a billion necks as a faith or fashion statement. Others simply use sleight of hand as did early Christians such as Tertullian who said: “We Christians wear out our foreheads with the sign of the cross.”
Among the most ancient symbols, the cross represents the intersection of the earthly horizontal with the heavenly vertical. In no other faith is a god suspended on a vertical rack between two thieves surrounded by a mocking crowd. “If you are really God, save yourself!” they taunted. So why didn’t Christ do so? His Passion was not only the ultimate self-mortification leading to an out-of-body experience, but his suffering proved the depth of his forgiveness of those who inflicted it on him.
Ultimately, Christ didn’t die on the cross but was born on the cross. Was the sacrifice of his earthly life, then, really a sacrifice or was it a welcome release from mortality? Though it may have been an act of holy giving, surely Jesus preferred a heavenly eternal life to an earthly life of Roman tyranny over suffering subjects—the hungry, the sick, the crippled, the blind, and the mad. As Jesus told his disciples in the last days: “He who hates himself in this world will be kept safe for eternal life” (John 12: 26). When he drove the moneychangers from the Temple, saying, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13), he surely knew this could be the last straw and that the attack might result in his arrest and execution. Indeed, some biblical scholars call the event the pre–Good Friday “trigger.” Might some of his followers have believed this was the beginning of the revolution?
So, the very heart and soul of Jesus’s life was in his willful death, his martyrdom. More than an execution, crucifixion is a prolonged public torture. Among the most terrifying and agonizing ends, death on a cross is a thanatophobic nightmare. Why didn’t the gospel authors omit or soften the details? For the past 2,000 years, far from concealing the horror of the Passion out of “embarrassment,” Christians have commissioned artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, and Matthias Grunewald to create countless images of the nailed, thorn-crowned Christ—body stripped, speared, and contorted. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, crucifixion scenes far outnumbered nativities, miracles, and even the martyrdom of saints.
The roots of Christ’s martyrdom are found in the Jews’ Day of Atonement scapegoat ritual, described in Leviticus 16:21–22 and performed since the Exodus. Also practiced in ancient Syria and Greece, the rite entails the symbolic transfer of community sins to a kid, which is then driven into the wilderness to die and absolve wrongdoers. Added to this was Communion, which also had ancient roots. Celebrating the self-mutilation death and resurrection of the god of vegetation, Attis, Greeks held the annual Day of Blood, followed by the Days of Joy and Relaxation (Hilaria and Requietio). As it was written in Leviticus 17:11–12: “The life of the flesh is in the blood.” For this reason, God forbade Moses and the Israelites from drinking it.22
Nevertheless, preferring the spirit of the law to the letter, Christ introduced the first Communion at the Last Supper for atonement and salvation. The Supper was a Passover seder in memory of the Jews protecting their own children by smearing lamb’s blood on their doors while God was executing all Egyptian firstborn. Jesus improvised with wine, saying it, like the bread of his body, was convertible. The Church confirmed this with its doctrine of Transubstantiation. It prescribed two simple acts for any man to reap the immortal fruits of the Messiah’s sacrifice: the purification of baptism and the Eucharist transfusion.
For a faith based on the idea that every man, no matter how sinful, is saved if only he repents, how is it that Christianity denies forgiveness to only one mortal in history: Judas? After learning that his master would be crucified, Judas tried to return his bounty money to the priests, crying, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4). Then, in despair, he hanged himself. Moreover, his betrayal was presented not as an act of free will but of divine predestination “that the scripture may be fulfilled,” as Jesus told the disciples (John 13:18). Regardless of predestination, “woe is upon him … [he would] have been better unborn” (Matthew 26:23–25).
But why was Judas’s identification of Jesus even necessary? A celebrity preacher, he was well-known throughout Judea; neither was he in disguise in Gethsemane when Judas kissed him. Furthermore, he had already told Judas that he would betray him (John 6:64, Matthew 26:25), so why didn’t the disciple abort or at least delay any such plan? Some speculate that a bounty of a mere thirty pieces of silver wasn’t what motivated him but an impatience for Jesus to at last smite his opponents with swords (Luke 22:38, 22:50) and bring the Kingdom of Heaven, which he had promised to be imminent. The Gnostic Gospel of Judas—rejected by the Church as heretical—precisely made this case.
Had “Satan not entered into Judas” (John 13:27) as preordained, would there have been a crucifixion and, with it, mankind’s redemption? On the cross, Christ even prayed for his executioners: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Did Judas, the pawn in the martyrdom, not deserve the same mercy? After all, didn’t Jesus even forgive the disciples who deserted him (Matthew 26:56) and Peter who denied him three times (Matthew 26:75)? Didn’t he forgive Saul for not only “savagely persecuting” his followers and their church (Galatians 1:13) but for stoning to death the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen (Acts 7:57), then deputizing the vigilante as St. Paul (Acts 9:1–22), the Church’s first evangelist? So, does only a heretic wonder: Who was the first scapegoat without whom humanity would never have been forgiven and saved?
These mysteries aside, Jesus’s death unquestionably remains the most famous in history. Other historic legends of dying and rising gods—Osiris, Attis, Dionysus, Adonis, Tammuz—pale by comparison. Jesus’s is the only crucifixion story in the Bible, otherwise rife with lesser, but still horrific, ends—Samson’s, Saul’s, Absalom’s, John the Baptist’s, etc. The incomparable power of Christ is that no other prophet endured the same suffering for the love of humanity. After seeing the Promised Land, Moses died of old age at 120. Elijah departed Earth in a flaming chariot. Mohammad, sixty-two, ascended to paradise after a brief fever. Buddha passed serenely at age eighty.
Had Jesus Christ been granted a similar end and had one of these holy men been crucified and resurrected instead, might he have become a messiah and the figurehead of the world’s most popular religion, promising salvation to all souls? Likely not, because this former Galilean carpenter was the only one to convince so many that he was the only eternal son of God and the only antidote to death, proclaiming only in the beatific Gospel of John (8:58): “Before Abraham was born, I am!”
1. Seeming concerned the truth of this incident might be questioned, John (19:34–35) adds vaguely: “This is vouched for by an eyewitness whose evidence is to be trusted.”
2. Forty years after Christ’s crucifixion, the Romans sacked Jerusalem and razed the Temple.
3. Over the past two millennia, many Jews and Christians have claimed to be the messiah. Among the Christians: Ann Lee, Shaker founder; Arnold Potter and William Davies, Schismatic Latter-Day Saint leaders; Sun Myung Moon, Unification Church founder; the People’s Temple Jim Jones; Marshall Applewhite of Heaven’s Gate.
4. Leviticus 10:1; Numbers 11:1, 16:35.
5. Matthew 8:4, 9:31, 12:15; Mark 1:34, 1:44, 3:12, 5:43, 7:36, 8:26; Luke 4:41, 5:14, 8:56.
6. Luke 16:15; Matthew 23:1–28.
7. John 4:26, 6:35, 8:12, 8:25, 8:58, 10:25, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1.
8. Matthew 16:14–20; Mark 8:27–30; Luke 9:19–21.
9. Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2–3; Luke 23:3–4.
10. Matthew 27:40–42; Mark 15:30–32; Luke 23:38.
11. Matthew 26:37–39; Mark 14:34–36; Luke 22:42–44.
12. Mark 13:24–31; Matthew 10:23, 16:28, 24:34; Luke 9:27, 21:32.
13. The use of parables as a teaching device had also been commonplace for the Old Testament prophets, especially Jonah, Nathan, and Isaiah.
14. Mark 11:14; Matthew 21:19.
15. Matthew 21:12; Mark 11:15; Luke 19:45; John 2:15.
16. Matthew 19:17; Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19.
17. The word fear is used 1,025 times in the Bible (https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/words/Fear) and terror 183 times (https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/words/Terror), the overwhelming examples in the Old Testament. Depending on translation, love is used between 300 and 645 times, mostly in the New Testament (https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/words/Love).
18. Christians opposed iconography until the end of the second century. The first images of Jesus appeared on sarcophagi in the catacombs of Rome. The first catacomb painting, created between 300–350 CE, depicted Christ healing a woman. Later, it was believed that his first image was in fact the Shroud of Turin. Pope John Paul II called the fourteen-foot linen veil “the mirror of the Gospel,” though experts concluded that the image was a Medieval forgery.
19. Later, the sanctity of the merciful Mary rivaled that of her son, adding another wing to the poly-mono trinity. Filling the female divinity void left from paganism, statues of the holy mother were installed in churches everywhere.
20. In the Sufi Rabi’a, the Muslims went even further than Solomon: “Your existence is a sin with which no other can be compared.”
21. Church father, Origen, identified Golgotha—or “Place of the Skull” (Mark 15:22)—as the burial place of Adam’s skull.
22. There was no such prohibition among pagan Greeks and Romans because they believed blood to be a magical cure for any and all ailments. According to Pliny the Elder, after the death of a gladiator, spectators would rush into the arena to drink his blood.
Considering that Christianity promises redemption and immortality for any and all who are baptized and take Communion, is it any wonder that it has been the dominant worldwide religion in the past two millennia and today boasts 2.2 billion followers? The faith is based exclusively on four gospel accounts of the life, ministry, and martyrdom …