Our Historical Jesus - Extra Materials

5. Jesus’ Identity and Mission

The impression of Jesus found in the Gospels did contain much truth; but it also contained  exaggerations, misrepresentations, stories copied from the OT and other dubious elements.  Jesus was Jewish his whole life and he tried to reform Judaism to make it more compassionate.  He said that he had “come not to abolish the Law or the prophets but to fulfill it” (Matt 5.17).

5.1       Identifying Jesus by his Titles

Christians describe the NT Jesus with these titles and more: Christ, Messiah, Son of Man, Son of God, Son of David, Savior and Prophet.  The word usage counts for these words and phrases in the NRSV version of the NT are: Christ (468), Messiah (68), Son of Man (85), Son of God (39), Son of David (16), Savior (25) and Prophet (5+). We don’t discuss his more ordinary titles like Teacher, Rabbi, and Lord Jesus (or Lord Jesus Christ); the latter occurs 72 times in Paul’s letters, and 30 times in the rest of the NT.

His ultimate fate, as understood by Christians, best matches the role of Isaiah’s suffering servant, described in Isaiah 52.13-53.12.  This passage uses phrases such as “he shall be exalted and lifted up,”  “he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities,”  “by a perversion of justice he was taken away,”  “although he had done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth”, and “yet he bore the sin of many; and made intercession for the transgressors.”  While the suffering of Jesus is mentioned many times in the NT, the phrase ‘suffering servant’ does not appear in the NT at all.

Interestingly, Luke’s story of the virgin birth contains five of the titles for Jesus:

“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David” [hence, he is a kingly Messiah] (Lk 1.32).  “Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God” (Lk 1.35).  “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” [RSV text: who is Christ the Lord]. (Lk 2.11)

Christ is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew ‘anointed one’, or Messiah.  The primary idea for the Messiah was a kingly Messiah, descended from King David, and born at Bethlehem like King David, who would restore independence and self-government to the Jewish land of Israel.  A secondary idea for the Messiah was the priestly Messiah, a High Priest who would restore purity and a renewed righteousness to the Jewish people.  The Letter to the Hebrews is largely written as an exposition of the exalted Jesus as a high priest.  In both concepts, the messiah is just a human being and has no divinity.   Matthew Novenson  shows the diversity of the Davidic messiah concept [PF3, 212-3]:

  • Rom 1.3-4 shows Paul’s Davidic messiah who dies and rises from the dead;
  • Hebrews 7.11-17 has a Davidic messiah who is himself a priestly messiah;
  • 1 Qumran Scrolls IX, 11 has a Davidic messiah who is an assistant to a priestly messiah;
  • 2 Esdras 7.28-29 has a Davidic messiah who dies but does not rise from the dead.

(2 Esdras, also known as 4 Ezra, is a noncanonical apocalyptic book which is told through the person of the lawgiver Ezra.  It is included in the Slavonic Bible and the Latin Vulgate Bible apppendix [Bible,vii]).

The NT word counts show two interesting results, which both come from ‘Messiah’ being a Hebrew word and ‘Christ’ being a Greek word: The four gospels use ‘Messiah’ 52 times but ‘Christ’ only 5 times, likely because the gospels are more Jewish in orientation.  On the other hand, Paul’s letters use ‘Christ’ 382 times compared to just once for ‘Messiah’, because Paul’s orientation is to the Greek-speaking Gentiles.

The title, Son of Man, requires some discussion [Bdict, 984], [ZIBD, 1383].  The Hebrew phrase is ben ’adam, meaning son of Adam, and since Adam just means humankind, this is a generic ‘son of man’, and therefore not capitalized.  When used as a title for Jesus, it is capitalized.   Note the usage in the passages below.

OT References

In the OT, this title can refer to a prophetic figure (Ezek 2.1, 3), to the end-time judge expected to arrive on the clouds of heaven (Dan 7.13-14), or simply to a mortal human being.

The OT references are to Ezekiel, Daniel and Psalms.  In each case, the older versions of the Bible (KJV and RSV) use ‘son of man’ but it is replaced, in the NRSV by ‘mortal’ with ‘son of man’ sometimes appearing in a footnote.

The first OT reference is Ezekiel 2.3:  “He said to me, Mortal [‘son of man’ in the footnote] I am sending you to the people of Israel, …”  Ezekiel is addressed this way by God or an angelic messenger eighty times in older versions of the bible (KJV and RSV) but the word mortal replaces it everywhere in the NRSV.

The second OT reference is Daniel 7.13-14, which was written in Aramaic: “As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being [Aramaic ‘one like a son of man’] coming with the clouds of heaven.  And he came to the Ancient One [Aramaic ‘the Ancient of Days’; i.e. God] and was presented before him.  To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.”  Once again, the King James and RSV versions of the Bible render the text as “one like a son of man”, while the NRSV translates the original Hebrew/Aramaic as “mortal” and puts ‘son of man’ in the footnote.  Both translations are for a generic person.

In the KJV and RSV, Psalm 80.17 reads “But let thy [God’s] hand be upon the man of thy right hand [the king of Israel], the son of man whom thou hast made strong for thyself.”  In the NRSV, the last phrase reads “the one whom you made strong for yourself.”

The Book of Enoch (aka 1 Enoch) is one of the most important  non-canonical intertestamental books, and was well known to the Jews at the time of Jesus.  It’s  Book of Parables (Chapters 37-71) uses the expression ‘Son of Man’ for the eschatological protagonist, who is also called “Righteous One”, “Chosen One”, and “Messiah”, and sits on the throne of glory in the final judgment.  This is the first known use of ‘Son of Man’ as a definite title and its use may have played a role in the early Christian understanding and use of the title. [BE3a, 26]

NT References

Jesus spoke about himself in the third person, as the Son of Man, eighty two times.  There are only three other uses of this phrase in the NT.  No one else, including Paul, ever called him by that name.  It is likely that the phrase was known to the Jews as coming from Ezekiel, Daniel, and 1 Enoch.  Perhaps Jesus chose it as a safe phrase, since calling himself ‘Son of God’ or ‘Messiah’ would have met with Jewish objections. [ZIBD, 1383]

Here are two of the most important NT passages about the ‘Son of Man.’

In Luke 5.20-26, Jesus claims that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”  The Bible footnote to Lk 5.24 says “Jesus indirectly claims authority on earth to forgive by identifying himself as the Son of Man.”

The most important use of the phrase may well be in Mk 9.31 (also Mt 17.22-23; Lk 9.43b-45) “for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”

There is some scholarly discussion about whether Jesus used this this title at all, and if he did use it, was it a reference to himself or a future divine person [Bdict, 984],  It is likely that some of Jesus’ Son of Man statements were later theological insertions of the early church.

These references to Jesus as the ‘Son of Man’ in the three synoptic gospels are of three types: sayings where he refers to his present ministry; sayings where he refers to his impending passion and or resurrection; and sayings where he refers to his future role as judge and savior [Bdict, 984].

Son of God

This phrase, not found in the OT or Apocrypha, is used forty times in the NT; about half of these are in the four gospels and the other half elsewhere (1 John uses it seven times). [Bdict, 982]  [Bconc].  Here are four examples:

  • In Mt 14.33, after Jesus calmed the waters “those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.”
  • In Lk 4.41, while Jesus was healing many sick people, “Demons also came out of many, shouting ‘You are the Son of God!’
  • In Jn 11.4, one of the reasons that Jesus resuscitated Lazarus was “so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
  • 1 John 8 says “The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.”

Son of David refers to any male descendant of David down to any generation, and is very similar to the kingly Messiah concept.  It is not surprising, therefore, that in the NT this Jewish concept only occurs in the three synoptic gospels: ten times in Matthew and two each in Mark and Luke.

 Savior, according to one Bible dictionary, means  “one who delivers anyone from present or future danger or distress.” [Bdict,  924].   Another Bible dictionary expands the definition to “one who saves, delivers, or preserves from any evil or danger, whether physical or spiritual, temporal, or eternal.” [ZIBD, 1293].

In the NT, the word ‘Savior’ usually, but not always, refers to Jesus.  Here are some representative NT quotations:

  • In Lk 2.11, at the birth of Jesus, the angel of the Lord said to the shepherds, “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
  • Jn 4.42b reads “. . . we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
  • Acts 5.31 reads “God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”

Savior is pre-eminently the title of the Son in the NT letters.  For example, it is used ten times in Paul’s pastoral letters alone.

  • In Phil 3.20, Paul tells the Phillipeans “But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • 1 Tim 1.1 begins with the salutation, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,”
  • 2 Tim 1.10 reads “but it [grace] has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
  • 2 Peter 1.11 says “For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.”

Jesus is also a prophet since he fulfills many of the ancient prophecies, gives amazing new teachings, and performs miracles.  In fact, Christians see Jesus Christ as God’s final prophet.

Here are a few examples of different aspects of his role:

  • Mt 13.57b: “But Jesus said to them [the people of Nazareth], ‘Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.” (also Lk 4.24)
  • Mt 21.11: “The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
  • Mt 21.46: “They wanted to arrest him [Jesus], but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.”
  • Lk 7.16: After Jesus raised the widow’s son at Nain, the crowds chanted “A great prophet has risen among us!”
  • Jn 4.19: “The [Samaritan] woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet.”
  • Jn 6.14: “When the people saw the sign that he had done [the feeding of the five thousand], they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

Similarly, there are many NT passages showing that John the Baptist was also regarded as a prophet.

5.2       Jesus’ Mission and Identity

Historians of Christianity describe the mission or role of the historical Jesus in various ways.  Six of these somewhat overlapping descriptions include: apocalyptic prophet; eschatological prophet; Jewish Messiah; reformer of Judaism; Galilean rabbi; and Galilean charismatic healer.  These choices are all supported, to a significant degree, in the canonical gospels.  Note, however, that none of these historical descriptions make him divine.   We think Jesus is best understood as performing a mixture of many of these roles.

Here are typical scholarly perspectives on the role and mission of Jesus.

(1)       Jesus

  • was obedient to God;
  • had a highly developed sense of personal relationship with God as “son” that went beyond membership in God’s people;
  • has a radical lifestyle that combined itineracy, poverty, and celibacy;
  • claimed his own authority to heal, teach, and transgress religious norms;
  • felt a call as a messiah with a mission from God to die in order to save the sinful Jewish people;
  • said the blessings of the kingdom that was soon to come were for those who believed in him and who were faithful to him in word and deed.

 (2)       Jesus thought

  • What God wanted was for people to follow the very heart of his Law, the Torah, as summed up in the two commands to love God above all else and to love one’s neighbour as oneself;
  • A Kingdom of God was soon to be brought by God’s special messenger, the Son of Man;
  • The coming judgment would involve a destruction of the present order of things and a complete reversal of fortunes for the powerful and the oppressed;
  • The message was urgent, because the coming destruction and the appearance of this Kingdom were imminent.

(3)       The new religion, Christianity, came about in part because:

  • Jesus talked about God as the father of all and of himself as having a special relationship with God; his followers came to believe that he was the distinctive Son of God and eventually, they came to maintain that he was himself divine.
  • Jesus had talked about a coming resurrection of the dead at the end of the age; his followers came to believe that he was the first to be raised and, therefore, that the end had begun.
  • Jesus talked about the future judgment to be brought by the Son of Man from heaven; his followers came to believe that he had been exalted to heaven and was himself the Son of Man.
  • Jesus talked about the future Kingdom of God to be ruled by a Messiah; his followers came to believe that he was that future Messiah.

6. Detailed Notes

6.1       The Virgin Birth Story

 We have two general observations about the virgin birth story:

Virgin birth stories are common in many religions.  Here are four examples: (1) Caesar Augustus (son of the god Apollo and the human mother Atia, and the adopted son of Julius Caesar) [BW1, 218].  (2) One Zoroastrian text says that Zarathustra’s divinely given glory, in the form of two spirits, were sent down from heaven to be miraculously united with his bodily nature in his mother’s womb. [WWR, Zoroaster, 454] (3) The Second Book of Enoch contains a section, called Exaltation of Melchizedek, which says that Melchizedek was born of a virgin, Sofonim (or Sopanima), the wife of Nir, a brother of Noah [W/Mbirth].  (4) According to the tradition of the Roman Catholic church, the Virgin Mary’s parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim, were childless when an angel came to them and told them they would give birth to a daughter. During the conception of Mary, she was preserved from the stain of original sin [W/Mbirth].

A survey published by The United Church Observer (Canada) in 2011 found that only 30 % of their members believed in the virgin birth, while 50% did not, and the others had no opinion.

These two observations, while giving cause for concern about the story, of course prove nothing.  However, there are four specific reasons to doubt the NT story of the Virgin Birth of Jesus:

  1. The virgin birth story has been taken to be the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. The two translations for this verse are “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Look, the (1) young woman OR (2) virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”  As the Bible footnotes [Bible], Jodi Magness [JJI, 105-6], and others have noted, the original Hebrew word was alma or almah, meaning ‘young woman’.  The Hebrew word betulah, used elsewhere in Isaiah, is the word that means “virgin.  But the Greek Septuagint version translated almah as parthenos, which is a Greek word meaning either ‘young woman’ or ‘virgin’.  Another Greek word for young woman is neanis  [PF3, 214, n16].  The Christians, reading the Septuagint, chose the ‘virgin’ meaning as a justification for the story of the virgin birth.

The Septuagint was the first Greek version of the OT (finished circa 200 BCE).  However, the three later Greek versions of the OT (the second century CE versions of Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion) translate almah correctly as neanis, or ‘young woman.’  [GV2, 186-7].

As shown in Isa 7.1-9, Isaiah’s prophecy was made to King Ahaz of Judah (743-727 BCE) in a crisis.  Jerusalem was surrounded by Judah’s enemies, the northern tribes of Israel and their allies, the Syrians.  This siege was to be broken after a young girl had a child named Immanuel.  The prophecy was fulfilled with the asassination of the two kings (2 Kings 16).  It is a time-and-place-specific prophecy, not intended to be applied to the birth of Jesus seven hundred years later [DA1, 458-9, n17].  Thus, based on both linguistics and history, Isa 7.14 does NOT predict a virgin birth for Jesus.

  1. Of the 27 NT books, the virgin birth story is only found in two: Matthew 1.18-2.23, and Luke 2.1-40.  Even Matthew and Luke never again give any indication of the divine incarnation apart from the initial birth story.  In the rest of the 25 NT books, there is no indication that anyone knew about the virgin birth, including Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Jesus’ siblings, his disciples or anyone else!
  2. Paul did not believe in the virgin birth.  In Rom 1:3-4, Paul wrote “the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,”   Since Paul’s letters were all written between 49 and 65 CE, and Matthew and Luke were written ca 85 CE, it is not surprising that Paul did not mention the virgin birth – he never heard of it before he died circa 67 CE.
  3. Mary was informed by the angel Gabriel that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” (Lk 1.26-38).  Joseph was also informed by an angel in a dream that “the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Mt 1.20).  Since Mary and Joseph both knew that Jesus was a divine child, why did they not show any understanding in the following two situations:

(1) When Jesus was presented in the Temple for the circumcision ceremony, a holy man named Simeon described him as “ ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’ And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.”  Luke 2.33 (partly based on Isa 49.6).
(2) At age 12 Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem talking to the teachers.  “And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.  When his parents saw him they were astonished; . . He said to them ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?  But they did not understand what he said to them.”  Luke 2.47-50. 

There are two more reasons, apart from the virginity issue, to doubt the birth stories:

  1. The so-called wise men from the east, or magi, were astrologers, possibly Zoroastrian or Arabian [ZIBD, magi, 877].  They were said to be following a moving star.  The gifts of the magi are the same as in Zoroastrian myth.  Pope Benedict has said that this story, only found in Matthew, is likely not historical.
  2. The two birth stories have a discrepancy about where the family went just after the circumcision of Jesus in the Temple. Matt 2:13-21 says the family fled to Egypt to avoid Herod finding and killing the baby, but Luke 2:39 says that they returned to Nazareth.  Herod’s massacre of all children near Bethlehem under age two (Mt 1.18-2.23) may be a fictional story modeled after the story of the Pharaoh’s massacre of children at the time of Moses.  This is discussed in our page, NT Links to the OT.

6.2       Jesus’ Threats and Warnings.

In some of his preachings, Jesus was a fanatic.  Here are five examples of the NT threats and warnings of Jesus:

  • Mt 10.14-15: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”  Lk 10.12 is similar.
  • Mt 12.36-37: “I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
  • Mt 13.40-43: “Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”  Mt 13.49-50   tells a similar story about good and bad fish, instead of crops and weeds.  This story is similar to the Gospel of Thomas, v. 8, where the little fish are thrown back and the big ones are kept.
  • Lk 12:49–53 (parts): Jesus said “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! … Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division!  From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two … father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, …”  Mt 10.34-36 is similar but brings ‘a sword’ in place of ‘fire’.
  • Luke 14:26: “Jesus said to the crowd, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate [i.e. put aside] father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”  Mt 10.37 is similar:  “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

6.3       Jesus’ Conflicts with the Jewish Leaders

Jesus got into serious trouble with both the scribes and Pharisees, whom he contradicted, and the Saducees, who dominated the Sanhedrin and didn’t want anyone around who might cause trouble with the Roman rulers of Judea, especially during passover.  Jesus’ controversial personal claims are discussed in Section 5, Mission and Identity.

Jesus criticised the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites.  He also had teachings and actions that were a necessary part of his effort to reform Judaism, but which contradicted how most Pharisees interpreted Torah.

Criticising the Pharisees

Jesus disputes with the Pharisees. From the Bowyer Bible, Botton Museum, England. Photo by Phillip De Vere. Wikimedia Commons.

Jesus made the opposition of the Pharisees stronger by his harsh criticism of them.

  • In Mt 23.13-29, Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites six times in a row.
  • Lk 11.39-40 reads “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.  You fools!  Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?”
  • Lk 11.42 says “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.”  Two more criticisms follow this one.
  • Lk 12.1b reports “He [Jesus] began to speak first to his disciples, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy.”

Teachings Extending Torah

Often Jesus confirms Torah but extends it with further moral prohibitions.

  • Mt 5.21-22: Refering to the commandment, “You shall not murder,” Jesus says “but I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment;”
    Regarding Adultery and Divorce:
  • Lk 16.18 (also Mk 10.11-12): Jesus said “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”
  • 10.12 applies the same thing to a woman: “And if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
  • Mt 5.27-28. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

In all these quotations, Jesus goes beyond Torah, which does not mandate divorce, but simply permits it.

Teachings and Actions contrary to Jewish Laws and Practices

Ritual Purity Laws 

  • In Mark 7:19b, Jesus declared all foods clean.
  • In Lk 11.37-41 (also Mk 7.1-15) Jesus dines with a Pharisee without first washing his hands; but to wash before dinner was a matter of ritual cleanliness and obedience to the law, not mere hygiene.  In Mt 15.20 Jesus says “to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
  • Jesus’ touching the bier (coffin) of the widow’s son, in Lk 7.14, was a dramatic act, violating Jewish purity laws found in Num 19.11&16.
  • In Mk 1.40-44; (also Mt 8.2-3; Lk 5.12-14), a leper approached Jesus, saying “If you choose, you can make me clean.’  Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose.  Be made Clean!’  Immediately his leprosy left him, and he was made clean.”  The Bible footnote to Mk 1.40 says that Leprosy was regarded as a contagious, ritual impurity (Lev 13-14), curable only be divine power (2 Kg 5.70); a leper was subject to banishment. (2 Kg 7.3-10).

Other Issues 

  • In Mk 3.1-6 (also Mt 12.9-14; Lk 6.6-11), Jesus healed the man with the withered hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath, with the Pharisees watching and criticizing. They thought this was contrary to Torah (Ex 20.8-11), since healing is work, and work is forbidden on the Sabbath.  Others did not have the same interpretation of Torah.
  • Luke 6.1-5 has the best version of the story of eating grain on the sabbath (but see also Mk 2.23-28; Mt 12.1-8). “One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them.  But some of the Pharisees said, ‘Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’  Jesus answered, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?’  Then he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.’”  The Bible footnote says “Plucking a neighbor’s grain with the hands (but not harvesting with a sickle) is explicitly allowed in Deut 23.45, but harvesting on the sabbath is forbidden in Ex 34.21.
  • In Lk 5.30-32 (also Mt 9.10-13; Mk 2.15-17), the scribes and Pharisees asked his disciples “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus answered, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repent.”  The Bible footnote says “To eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners was especially offensive in Israel, where food laws separated the properly observant from sinners.”
  • In Lk 5.33-39 (also Mt 9.14-17; Mk 2.18-21), Jesus’ disciples did not fast when the disciples of the Pharisees and John the Baptist did.  Jesus explained that “you cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you?”  He was referring to himself as the bridegroom.  Fasting was seen as a sign of contrition and an act of piety.


  • Bdict      Powell, Mark Allen, general editor.  HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed., New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011.  Text references are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible.  The approach is more liberal and scholarly. 

  • BBE3a    Ehrman, Bart D.  How Jesus Became God: the exaltation of a Jewish preacher from Galilee.  Course guidebook. Chantilly, Virginia: The Great Courses  www.thegreatcourses.com,  2005.  Dr. Ehrman is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina.

  • BE7            Ehrman, Bart D.  From Jesus to Constantine: a history of early Christianity.  course guidebook. Chantilly, Virginia: The Great Courses www.thegreatcourses.com, 2004.

  • Bency         Cornfeld, Gaalyhu, editor, assisted by Bible scholars, historians and archaeologists. Pictorial Biblical Encyclopedia: a visual guide to the old and new testament.  NY: The Macmillan  Company, 1964.

  • Bible           Harper Collins Study Bible.  NY, NY: HarperOne an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.  Based on the New Revised Standard Version Bible, 1989.  All our Bible quotations are from this version.

  • BW1           Wilson, Barrie.  How Jesus Became Christian.   Random House Canada, 2008.  Dr. Wilson is a professor of humanities and religious studies at York University in Toronto.

  • CApol         Campbell, Campbell-Jack, & Gavin J. McGrath, eds., New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics.   Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2006.  The publisher is “closely linked with the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship.

  • CE1            Evans, Craig A.  Jesus and his World: the archaeological evidence.  Westminster: John Knox Press, 2012.  Prof. Evans is at Acadia Univ, Nova Scotia.

  • DA1            Akenson, Donald H.  Surpassing Wonder:the invention of the bible and the talmuds. University of  Chicago Press, 1998.  Professor Akenson is at Queens’ University, Kingson, Ontario.

  • GV2            Vermes, Geza.  Christian Beginnings: from Nazareth to Nicea, AD 30-325.  Penguin Books, 2013.  First published by Allen Lane, 2012.  Dr. Vermes (1924-2013) was Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies in the University of Oxford, and has authored many books.  He was an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls and early Christianity.

  • ISBE           Orr, James,  General Editor.  The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,  Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 6 volumes published over 1915 to 1939.  Now in the public domain in the USA.  Available in paper under the Scholar’s Choice imprint.  The online version, at www.internationalstandardbible.com has all the articles but not the Tables of Contents or the seven indexes.  The 200 contributors are Protestants, and the articles represent ‘a reasonable conservatism.’

  • JDC2          Crossan, John Dominic.  Jesus: a revolutionary biography. HarperOne. 1994.

  • JJI               Magness, Jodi.  Jesus and his Jewish Influences.  course guidebook. Chantilly, Virginia: The Great Courses, www.thegreatcourses.com,  2015.

  • JPM1          Meier, John P.  A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the historical JesusVol. 5. Probing the Authenticity of the Parables.  Anchor Bible Reference Library Series. New York: Yale University Press 2016.

  • LTJ2           Johnson, Luke Timothy.  Early Christianity: the Experience of the Divine.  Course guidebook. Chantilly, Virginia: The Great Courses www.thegreatcourses.com,  2002.  Dr. Johnson, once a Roman Catholic monk, is now a professor at Emory University.

  • LTJ3           Johnson, Luke Timothy.  The History of Christianity: from the Disciples to the Dawn of the Reformation. Course guidebook. Chantilly, Virginia: The Great Courses www.thegreatcourses.com,  2012.

  • PF2             Fredriksen, Paula.  Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity (New York: Knopf [Random House], 1999).  Dr. Fredriksen is an historian of ancient Christianity, teaching at Boston University.

  • PF3             Fredriksen, Paula.  When Christians were Jews: the first generation.  Yale Un. Press, 2018.

  • QHJ            Schweitzer, Albert.  The Quest of the Historical Jesus.  Published in German in 1906, and in English translation, London, 1910.  The 1913 second German edition added two new chapters to counter some of his critics.

  • RDStory     The Bible Through the Ages. Pleasantville, NY: The Reader’s Digest Association. 1996.

  • Sage            Flusser, David with R. Steven Notley.  The Sage from Galilee: rediscovering Jesus’ Genius.  Fourth expanded English edition.  Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

  • W/Mbirth   Wikipedia article, “Miraculous Births.”

  • WWR         Hinnells, John, editor.  Who’s Who of Religions.  Penguin Books, 1991.

  • ZIBD          Douglas, J.D. and M.C.Tenney, editors.  Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary.  Revised by Moises Silva.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Academic, 2011 edition.  Text references are to the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible.  The approach is more conservative and evangelical.