Teachings of the Historical Jesus and A Course in Miracles
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.
can these two be the same figure?
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...
Jesus himself may have been quite different
than the stories and images that grew up
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
Jesus of the synoptics (Matthew, Mark
& Luke) says little about
himself. His focus is on the kingdom of
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.
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.
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
Sayings Gospel Q
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:
material has a consistency—it
consists almost entirely of sayings
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.
Greek of these sayings in Matthew
and in Luke is extremely similar,
even though some of it is very idiosyncratic.
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."
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?
of Thomas Found
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.
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.
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.
has been a real hot spot for Jesus research
now for the last 30 years.
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,
story of the lost sheep,
admonitions to turn the other cheek
and go the extra mile,
lilies of the field, and
other of Jesus' most profound and influential
what does Q say? For
the sake of brevity, I'll just include
the first discourse ...
raising his eyes to his disciples he
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.
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
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.
the way you want people to treat you,
that is how you treat them.
you love those loving you, what reward
do you have? Do not even tax collectors
do the same?
merciful even as your Father is merciful.
not pass judgment, so you are not judged.
For with what judgment you pass judgment,
you will be judged.
a blind person show the way to a blind
person? Will not both fall into a pit?
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
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.
good person from one's good treasure
casts up good things, and the evil person'
from the evil treasure' casts up evil
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
With The Course
I think they are stunning. These almost
sound like someone trying to explain
the Course! Compare them with this passage
from the Course:
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
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."
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
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
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
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.
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.
are told to love our enemies and bless
them that curse us.The world assumes
that friends are to be loved and enemies
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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."
an exceptionally clear and inspiring guide to the modern
spiritual classic A Course in Miracles by one of
its most respected teachers.
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.