The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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The Sayings of Jesus

We have three negative conclusions about the sayings of Jesus in the gospels in general:

The Volume of Jesus' Collected Sayings

The collected sayings attributed to Jesus in the gospels is not very large. It has been computed that no more than seven hours are needed for someone to utter all these sayings. [1] This, by any consideration, is not a substantial collection. If Jesus did preach for a year (the maximum possible time span derivable from the synoptics), or three years (derived from John), or even a few months, he must have uttered a lot more sayings than what are extent today.

With such a small amount of his original teaching available to us, the obvious question arises: is the information available sufficient for us to comprehend his teachings and understand his personality? There is no objective answer to this question. This can be shown by the fact that even scholars give contradictory answers to this. Adolf Harnack (1851-1930), the German theologian in one of his work, The Essence of Christianity (1907) assures us that the synoptics give us:

a perfectly clear idea of the preaching of Jesus, as regards both its fundamental principles and its particular applications. [2]

Another scholar, Pierre Batifol (1861-1929), the French church historian gave the diametrically opposite view when he asserts that while the synoptics may have given the essential principles of his preachings, the teachings collected are by no means complete:

On certain points these principles are no more than suggestions, and regarding the fundamental articles of the Christian faith, even these are lacking. [3]

The only conclusion we should make here is that the collected sayings of Jesus are small. This fact must be kept in mind in the subsequent discussions.

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The Unauthentic Sayings Attributed to Jesus

There is a more fundamental question as regards to this collections of sayings of Jesus: are they authentic? Were the words attributed to Jesus in the gospels actually spoken by the Galilean nabi and preserved in the tradition by his apostles and subsequently by their followers? Or were they put into the mouth of Jesus by the early Christians who no longer had access to the original tradition?

The answer to these is that we know for certain that at least some sayings attributed to Jesus were never (or could never have been) spoken by him.

The first example of this is in the episode on divorce given in Mark 10:1-12. Here Jesus is shown as debating the Pharisees on the issue of divorce. After the debate Jesus and his disciples went to a house where they asked him for clarification on the issues debated. Jesus' reply was:

Make 10:11-12
Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.

The utterance of Jesus above, specifically the sentence italicized, makes no sense in the context of Jewish customs during that time. Palestinian women during the time of Jesus simply could not divorce their husbands. They had no such right.[4] G.A. Wells is right when he said that the utterance was:

concocted in a Christian community remote in time and place from the Palestine of AD30. [5]

The second example involves another debate with the Pharisees where Jesus was supposed to have uttered the following critique of their behavior:

Mark 7:6-8
Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites as it is written:
These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules made by men.
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.

Jesus is made here to quote a passage from Isaiah (29:13). He is made to conclude, with the support of the verse in Isaiah, that the Pharisees follow the tradition at the expense of the written law. However, the verses quoted from Isaiah is found, in the form that allows Jesus to derive this conclusion, only in the Greek translation of the Bible, the Septuagint. In the Hebrew Bible, Isaiah 29:13 differs considerably from the Greek one. Let us compare these two readings:

Isaiah 29:13 (Septuagint)
And the Lord has said, This people draw nigh to me with their mouth, and they honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me: but in vain do they worship me, teaching the commandments and doctrines of men.
Isaiah 29:13 (Hebrew Bible)
The Lord said, "Because this people draws near with their mouth and with their lips to honor me, but they have removed their heart far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men which has been taught

As the theologian, Nineham observed:

It is just the part where the Greek text differs from the Hebrew that affords the point of the quotation here- the "doctrines they teach are but human precepts" its Hebrew form the passage would hardly be relevant here. [6]

Now, it is improbable that a rural Galilean Jew would know the Old Testament in Greek. It is even more ludicrous to think that he would try to win an argument with the Pharisees (orthodox Jews!) by quoting a Greek mistranslation of Isaiah! [7] Therefore the saying attributed to Jesus in Mark 7:6-8 could not have been spoken by him. It most definitely was an addition by the early Christian tradition.

We have looked at two examples of utterances attributed to Jesus which we are sure were not spoken by him. We will now consider a few more examples of sayings which authenticity are doubtful because they were not original and could have been easily available to the evangelists or the early Christians from a wide variety of sources.

In the seventh chapter of Matthew, Jesus was supposed to have uttered:

Matthew 7:12
"In everything do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law and the prophets."

The wording and the idea is almost exactly what is said by an earlier Jewish teacher, Hillel (b. 75BC):

What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man: this is the whole law, the rest is commentary. [8]

The striking similarity between the above two passages gives a strong indication that Matthew or his source copied the passage from Hillel and attributed it to Jesus.

Another example of an unoriginal utterance is to be found in chapter seven of John. Here we find Jesus arguing with the Jews about the Sabbath, where he was supposed to have uttered thus:

John 7:22-23
"Yet because Moses gave you circumcision, circumcise a child on the Sabbath. Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you so angry with me healing the whole man on the Sabbath?"

We find exactly the same idea adumbrated in the Talmud:

If circumcision, which concerns one of the 248 members of the body, overrides the Sabbath, shall not a man's whole body override the Sabbath? [9]

We thus have some sayings of Jesus which are definitely unauthentic and some which authenticity was doubtful. The existence of such passages mean that we cannot be certain whether any particular utterance attributed to Jesus was actually spoken by him.

Recently, from 1985 to 1997, a group of Biblical scholars got together in what was known as The Jesus Seminar[a] to try to discover the authentic sayings and deeds of Jesus. Of all the sayings attributed to Jesus, they could only count 18% as being probably spoken by him. This is 18% of all the sayings attributed to Jesus, both from canonical and non-canonical sources in the first three centuries CE. Dr. Robert J. Miller, a fellow of the Jesus Seminar, estimated that about 50% of the sayings from Mark, Luke, Matthew and Thomas probably have some claims to be derived from actual utterances of Jesus.[10] It is also interesting that almost all the sayings attributed to Jesus in the gospel of John are considered inauthentic by the fellows of the Jesus Seminar.

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The Fictitious Discourses in Matthew and Luke

Apart from individual sayings, the long discourses attributed to Jesus in the form they are presented, especially in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, are artificial. [11] For example the twelfth chapter of Luke consist wholly of a long discourse by Jesus, the form of which is definitely artificial. A quick look at the first twelve verses of that chapter will suffice to prove the point (See table A).

Matthew 10:1,5,24-34Luke 12:1-10
1. He called his twelve disciples to him and
5. These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions...
24."A student is not above his teacher not is the servant above the master.
25. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the household has been called Beelzebub, how much more will the members of his household!
26. So do not be afraid of them.
There is nothing concealed which will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be known.
27. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight, what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetop.

28. Do not be afriad of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.

Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.

29. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of the father.
30. And even the very hair of your head are all numbered.
31. Don't be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.
32. Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my father in heaven.

33. But whoever disowns me before men, I will also disown before my father in heaven.
34. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.

1. Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
2. There is nothing concealed that is not disclosed, or hidden that will not be known
3. What you have said in the dark will be heard in broad daylight, and what you have whispered in your ear behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.
4. I tell you my friends, do not be afraid of those who can kill the body and after that can do no more.
5. But I will show you whom you should fear. Fear him who, after killing the body, has the power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you fear him.
6. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.

7. Indeed the very hair of your head are all numbered.
Don't be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.
8. I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God.
9. But he who disowns me before men, will be disowned before the angels of God.

10. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
11. When you are brought before the synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say.
12. for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.
Table A: The Artificial Form of the Discourse.

There are really no connections among the various sayings, the individual blocks can easily be discerned: Luke 12:1, 2-3,4-5,6-7,8-9,10,11-12. These individual blocks are artificially strung together. However, some of the verses (Luke 12:2-9) were not strung together by Luke but probably by the compiler of Q, for Matthew 10:26-33 records the same sayings in the same sequence.

The comparison with the different contexts in which these eight verses occur in the two gospels serve to further reveal the artificiality of the discourses. For both evangelists had these verses inserted between completely different utterances! [b] In Luke 12:22-34 is a part of the discourse that deals with the freedom from earthly cares. This same portion is used in Matthew but not in the same diatribe but in an earlier one (Matthew 6:25-34) and in a different context.

Table B shows the last six verses of chapter twelve of Luke. We find the elements in the sermon given in Luke to have been given by Matthew as been spoken by Jesus on two separate and different occasions.

Luke 12:54-59; 13:1Matthew 16:1-4Matthew 5:23-27

54. He said to the crowd: "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, 'it's going to rain,' and it does.
55. And when the south wind blows, you say, 'It's going to be hot,' and it is.
56. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearnace of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don't know how to interpret this present time?
57. Why don't you judge for yourself who is right?
58. As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate try hard to be reconciled with him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge and the judge will turn you over to the officer, and the officer throws you into prision.
59. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

1. Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galilean whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
1. The Pharisees and the Saducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.
2. He replied, "When evening comes, you say, 'it will be fair weather, for the sky is red,'
3. and in the morning, "Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.
You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the sign of the times.
4. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will given it except thesign of Jonah." Jesus then left them and went away.

23. "Therefore if you are offering your gift at the altat and there remember that you brothers have something againts you.
24. Leave your gift in front of the altat. First go and be reconciled to your brothers, then come and offer your gift.
25. Settle quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge may hand you to the officer, and you may be thorwn into prison.
26. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

27. You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commite adultery.'
28. But I tell you that anyone who looks lustfully at a woman had already commited adultery with her in his heart.
Table B: More Discourses

This artificial form is also evident in the famous "Sermon on the Mount" (Matthew chapters 5 to 7). We find in this sermon some sayings and group of sayings that are repeated in Luke's "Sermon on the Plain" (Luke 6:17-49). However, they are given here in a different order:

Matthew 5:38-42
Matthew 5:43-48
Matthew 7:1-5
Matthew 7:12
Luke 6:29-30
Luke 6:27-28,32-36
Luke 6:37,38,41,42
Luke 6:31

Other portions from Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount" appear elsewhere in Luke under different contexts:

Matthew 6:9-15
Matthew 6:19-21
Luke 11:1-4
Luke 12:33-34

We can therefore conclude that the discourses of Jesus as they are presented in Matthew and Luke are not historical. They are inventions of the evangelists who did so by stringing the logia together like beads to make a necklace. The discourses are merely collections of various unrelated sayings attributed to Jesus by tradition. [12] As Guignebert commonsensically pointed out (regarding the "Sermon on the Mount" and the "Sermon on the Plain"):

It is obvious that nobody took notes and that it would have been impossible to remember from merely hearing them the one hundred and seven verses of the discourse in Matthew, or even the thirty verses of that of Luke. [13]

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a.The Jesus Seminar generated a lot of controversy, both in the press and among the lay public, not so much because of the content of its findings but because they did their debates and discussions in public. Many of the things "discovered" (such as Jesus didn't speak some of the sayings attributed to him) are not new. But critical historical scholars of the Bible (as opposed to fundamentalists apologists) had in the past failed to make their findings known to the general public. This was a first crucial step in the right direction.
b.It is simply not probable to assume that Jesus spoke almost exactly the same verses within different discourses. Unless, like the modern politicians, Jesus was reading from written notes or had a ghost writer!


1.Guignebert, Jesus: p233
2.quoted in Guignebert, Jesus: p232
3.quoted in Guignebert, Jesus: p233-234
4.Nineham, Saint Mark: p266
5.Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus: p13
6.Nineham, Saint Mark: p195
7.Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus: p13
8.Maccoby, Revolution in Judea: p266
9.Quoted in Maccoby, Revolution in Judea: p267
10.Miller, The Jesus Seminar and its critics: p76
11.Guignebert, Jesus: p236
12.Ibid: p237
13.Ibid: p237

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