The Teachings of the Historical Jesus and A Course in Miracles

By Robert Perry

A Course in Miracles claims to be written by Jesus. But this "Jesus" is so different from the traditional Jesus that it is hard to imagine that they are the same person. In the case of the traditional Jesus, the focus is on Jesus himself, on his birth, his death, his resurrection, his nature as the Son of God, and his role as the savior of humanity. Yet in the Course, even though the author claims to be Jesus, the focus is quite obviously not on himself. Rather, it is on his teachings.

How can these two be the same figure?

The only way they could be the same is if the historical Jesus, the man who walked the earth in Palestine 2,000 years ago, was significantly different than our traditional image of Jesus Christ. This, actually, is highly probable. For 200 years scholars have been searching for the historical Jesus, trying to separate him out from what the gospels say about him. At that time, the concept was born that was before then unthinkable...

that Jesus himself may have been quite different than the stories and images that grew up around him.

This became increasingly likely as scholars concluded that the gospels were written between 40 and 70 years after he died. In other words, there was roughly a lifetime in which the story of Jesus could have grown, and changed, in the telling. Early on in this search, scholars virtually discarded the gospel of John—often called "the spiritual gospel"—as a source for information on the historical Jesus. Why? Because they realized that it stood on one side and that the other three gospels—called the "synoptics" which means they "see alike"—stood on the other side. Respectively, these two bodies of material presented two very different portraits of Jesus, so different that both couldn't be true.

The Jesus of the synoptics (Matthew, Mark & Luke) says little about himself. His focus is on the kingdom of God.

The Jesus of John, however, talks on and on about himself (John is where we get the famous "I am" sayings—the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life, etc.), and barely even mentions the kingdom of God.

The Jesus of the synoptics speaks in short sayings and in parables.The Jesus of John speaks in long discourses and—you may find this surprising— utters no parables. Scholars decided that they had to choose which portrait was more historical, and they resoundingly chose that of the synoptics. The question then became, what material in the synoptics more or less goes back to Jesus and what material was added by his later followers? In this process, they had to work out the relationship between the synoptics—Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Who borrowed from whom? The three books shared so much material between them that someone must have been copying someone else.

By 1900 most scholars had decided that both Matthew and Luke were based on Mark, which was deemed to be the earliest gospel. Both borrowed their narrative framework, their basic storyline, from Mark. Having done that, scholars found something very significant. When they took all of Mark out of Matthew and Luke, some of the leftover in Matthew was unique to Matthew, and some of the leftover in Luke was unique to Luke. However, there was a large amount of material in that leftover that both Matthew and Luke shared. They didn't get it from Mark, because this material wasn't in Mark. Neither got it from the other—the majority of scholars believe that Matthew and Luke didn't know about each other.

The Sayings Gospel Q

In 1838, a scholar named Christian Weisse hypothesized that both Matthew and Luke were copying from the same document. Why the same document, rather than the same general body of oral tradition? There were a number of reasons:

  • The material has a consistency—it consists almost entirely of sayings of Jesus.
  • A significant portion of these sayings are in the same order in Matthew and Luke, even though they appear in different contexts. It's as if the two authors dropped particular sayings into different places in the storyline they borrowed from Mark, yet in doing so, often preserved their original order.
  • The Greek of these sayings in Matthew and in Luke is extremely similar, even though some of it is very idiosyncratic.

Scholars began calling this hypothetical document (no copy of the document has ever been found) "Q" for the German Quelle, which means "source," simply because it was a common source for both Matthew and Luke.However, the awareness slowly emerged that this isn't just a bunch of sayings, just source material for a real gospel. Instead, it is a gospel in its own right, the earliest Christian gospel (the original portions were probably written in the 50's, just 20 years after Jesus). For this reason, it is now commonly called "the Sayings Gospel Q."

Initially, scholars unconsciously assumed that this couldn't have been an actual gospel, for it is simply not a complete account of Jesus. There is no birth story, and even more significantly,there is no crucifixion or resurrection story. And the whole question of who Jesus is receives very little attention and development; there is very little in the way of Christology. Instead, Q is just a series of sayings of Jesus. How could this be a gospel?

Gospel of Thomas Found

But then, in 1945, the Gospel of Thomas was discovered. It, like Q, is simply a series of sayings of Jesus. Like Q, it has no birth story, no crucifixion, and no resurrection. Like Q, it focuses on Jesus as a wisdom teacher, not as the dying and rising divine savior.Significantly, it even shares a substantial amount of material with Q—many of the same sayings are in both Thomas and Q. Many scholars began to hypothesize that Thomas and Q were on-the-scene snapshots of the early Jesus movement.

Scholars slowly realized that, like Thomas, Q was the gospel of a particular community of followers of Jesus. This, for them, was their view of what was most important about Jesus. And what was most important? His teachings. Furthermore, this community was not just any community. Scholars believe that the sayings gospel Q was written in the villages of lower Galilee, which, of course, is where Jesus lived and taught. Here, then, we have the earliest gospel, portions of which were written 20 years before Mark, 40 years before John. And it was written in the places where Jesus lived and taught.

This gospel is probably as close as we'll ever get to both the time and the place of the historical Jesus. Indeed, this may be why no copies of Q have been found. Some theorize that this is because Q represented an early Jewish Christianity focused on the teachings of Jesus, and that this died out with the success of Gentile Christianity, which was focused on his death and resurrection. At that point, Q was only "safe" if it was incorporated into larger gospels that expressed the Gentile Christian outlook.

Q has been a real hot spot for Jesus research now for the last 30 years. It contains most of those teachings of Jesus that have exerted a powerful influence over the centuries. The Sermon on the Mount, for instance, where we get....the Beatitudes,

the Golden Rule,
the story of the lost sheep,
the admonitions to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile,
the lilies of the field, and
many other of Jesus' most profound and influential teachings.

So what does Q say? For the sake of brevity, I'll just include the first discourse ...

"And raising his eyes to his disciples he said:

Blessed are you poor, for God's reign is for you. Blessed are you who hunger, for you will eat your fill. Blessed are you who mourn' for you will be consoled.

Love your enemies and pray for those persecuting you, so that you may become sons of your Father, for he raises his sun on bad and good, and rains on the just and unjust.

The one who slaps you on the cheek, offer him the other as well; and to the person wanting to take you to court and get your shirt, turn over to him the coat as well.

And the way you want people to treat you, that is how you treat them.

If you love those loving you, what reward do you have? Do not even tax collectors do the same?

Be merciful even as your Father is merciful.

Do not pass judgment, so you are not judged. For with what judgment you pass judgment, you will be judged.

Can a blind person show the way to a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?

A disciple is not superior to one's teacher. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher.

And why do you see the speck in your brother's eye, but the beam in your own eye you overlook? How can you say to your brother: Let me throw out the speck from your eye, when you do not see the beam in your own eye? Hypocrite, first throw out from your own eye the beam, and then you will see clearly to throw out the speck in your brother's eye.

No healthy tree bears rotten fruit, nor on the other hand' does a decayed tree bear healthy fruit. For from the fruit the tree is known.

The good person from one's good treasure casts up good things, and the evil person' from the evil treasure' casts up evil things.

Why do you call me: Master, Master, and do not do what I say? Everyone hearing my words and acting on them is like a person who built one's house on bedrock; and the rain poured down and the flash-floods came, and the winds blew and pounded that house, and it did not collapse, for it was founded on bedrock. And everyone who hears my words and does not act on them is like a person who built one's house on the sand; and the rain poured down and the flash-floods came, and the winds blew and battered that house, and promptly it collapsed, and its fall was devastating."

Parallels With The Course

Personally, I think they are stunning. These almost sound like someone trying to explain the Course! Compare them with this passage from the Course:

"You cannot enter into real relationships with any of God's Sons unless you love them all and equally. Love is not special. If you single out part of the Sonship for your love, you are imposing guilt on all your relationships and making them unreal.You can love only as God loves. Seek not to love unlike Him, for there is no love apart from His." (T-13.X.11:1-5)

In both Q and the Course, the logic is exactly the same: God loves totally without discrimination or preference. Therefore, act like His Son, and love like He does, without any discrimination or preference.

For example, a comment about the Beatitudes ("Blessed are you…"). Most of us have been unconsciously influenced by both Matthew and by common sense to see these as saying essentially, "Blessed are you who are virtuous." It makes sense that a religious text would say that it is those who are inwardly virtuous, as opposed to those who are outwardly prosperous, that are the truly blessed. And that is how Matthew rendered the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor in spirit….Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness."

Yet scholars feel that Luke's version actually captures the original Q text best. "Blessed are you poor…you who hunger… you who mourn." "Blessed are you" can also be translated "fortunate are you," or simply "Congratulations!" In this light, the Beatitudes become truly puzzling. Why congratulate someone for being poor, for being hungry, for being in mourning? The reason is right there in the Beatitudes themselves: because God's kingdom is for you, and He will console you and prepare a feast for you. In other words, no matter how bad off you are, you are still blessed, because there is One who sees your need and will answer it. He will lift you up out of the mire and into His kingdom. There is no need to feel shame about your circumstances. Whatever they are, you can hold your head high. You are not lowly in your Father's eyes; you are absolutely precious. No matter what, you are blessed indeed.

There is so much that strikes me about these sayings. One thing is the emphasis on teaching—the focus on a student aspiring to become like his teacher, on the teacher having enough sight to keep from leading his charges into a ditch, on the importance of listening to and following the teaching. Clearly, what counts here is following the teaching. Four of the thirteen paragraphs above concern the issue of following a teacher.

What strikes me most, however, is the radical system of values in these sayings. I'll let the great scholar of religions, Huston Smith, speak for me here. Nearly 50 years ago in the classic The Religions of Man, Smith captured well how at odds these sayings are with conventional life.

"People who heard these stories for the first time were moved to exclaim, 'Never spake man thus!' They were astonished. And small wonder….If we could recover their original impact, we too would be startled.Their beauty would not cover the fact that they are 'hard sayings,'a scheme of values so radically at odds with those by which we live that they would rock us like an earthquake.

We are told not to resist evil; we are to turn the other cheek. The world assumes that evil must be battled by every means available.

We are told to love our enemies and bless them that curse us.The world assumes that friends are to be loved and enemies hated.

We are told that the sun rises on the just and unjust alike. The world resents this, feeling that the sun ought to rise only on the just. It is offended when the wicked go unpunished, and would prefer to see them living under perpetual clouds.

We are told the publican and the harlot go into heaven before many who are outwardly righteous, whereas the world assumes that the good people, the respectable people, the people who fulfill the norm and have nothing to be ashamed of, will lead the heavenly procession.

We are told that the path and gate that lead to salvation are narrow. The world, wrapped in conformity, assumes that it is safest to follow the crowd.

We are told to be as carefree as birds of the air and lilies of the field. The world assumes that we should take infinite care to build our security.

We are told that it is as difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom as for camels to go through the eye of a needle. The world esteems wealth above all.

We are told that the happy people are those who are meek, who weep, and are merciful and pure in heart. The world assumes that it is the rich, the powerful, the wellborn who are happy.

There blows through these teachings, a wind of freedom and liberty that frightens the world and makes it want to deflect them by postponement; not yet, not yet!

H. G. Wells was evidently right; either there was something mad about this man or our hearts are still too small for what he was trying to say."



Path of Light by Robert Perry is an exceptionally clear and inspiring guide to the modern spiritual classic A Course in Miracles by one of its most respected teachers.




H. G. Wells was evidently right; either there was something mad about this man or our hearts are still too small for what he was trying to say.


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