Friday, August 9, 2013

Damage Control

The resurrected Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, to two disciples who did not recognize Him, and to the Eleven Disciples (some of whom had doubts).

According to John, Jesus also appeared to a group of seven disciples who had been on an overnight fishing trip. Jesus appeared on shore, helped them be successful at fishing, and then hosted a breakfast of fish and bread on the shore. None of the disciples dared ask Him "Who are you?". This study picks up as a continuation of that appearance.

Damage Control
The Gospels, as we know them today, came into their final forms decades after Jesus had died. Decades. Besides making it challenging to memory to recall exactly what was said, when, where, and by whom, this time lapse also created other problems, and opportunities, for advancing the Christian cause. As the Gospel of John wraps to a close, we come to a couple examples of how this lag was leveraged for advantage.

Peter's Fate
After a beach breakfast of bread and fish, John 21:15-17 recorded that Jesus had a conversation with Peter, where Jesus famously asked Peter if he loved Him and told him to feed His sheep three times. This appears to be granting Peter special significance among all of the other Disciples. This is similar to, yet very different from, how Matthew 16:17-19 granted that significance to Peter, which you may remember from a previous study.

In John 21:18-19, Jesus continued on to tell Peter:
"I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then He said to him, "Follow Me!" NIV
It does seem odd that this information is juxtaposed next to Jesus' instructions to feed His sheep, as it would be difficult to feed anyone's sheep when you are dead, and hardly sounds like a reward for all of that sheep feeding! ;-)

More significant, though, is that the language used here, that extra clarification of what Jesus meant, suggests a "fulfilled prophesy", not one that was yet to be fulfilled. In other words, Peter was likely already dead by the time that the author wrote those words. The other three Gospels were also likely written after Peter's death, at least in the form we recognize them today.

Based on the information available, it appears that Peter was killed around 64 AD, and that he likely died on a cross as well, but upside-down. The legend is that Peter requested that configuration, but soldiers carrying out crucifixions were known to occasionally nail people up in non-standard ways as a form of twisted entertainment for themselves. Regardless of which reason is more likely, we should recognize that it is entirely possible that Peter was crucified upside-down.

In looking back over the Gospels, and even ahead into Acts and some of the Epistles, Peter's prominence permeates the pages more so than any other Disciple, except, perhaps, for the later addition of Paul. I believe that it is important to consider this in attempting to piece together the puzzle of early Christianity. To that end, I submit the following theory:

Peter was a zealous believer. He did not "die for a lie", because he wholeheartedly believed in the resurrected Jesus without a trace of doubt. His zeal and confidence were inspirational to other believers, especially the new ones who had not witnessed Jesus personally. However, Peter was not the brightest light in the chandelier. He may have been a "fool for Christ" in a couple senses of the words.

So we find that the story of Peter assembled after his death becomes a tale of him acting and speaking rather foolishly at times while he was with Jesus in the Gospels, but eventually portrayed more as a champion of the faith after the Resurrection, and particularly after the receiving of the Holy Spirit. While Peter was (in my opinion) a real person, his story became that of a mythologized martyrdom; a flawed and foolish soul who became purified and perfected through faith in Jesus and the reception of the Holy Spirit. Peter became the banner, the rallying cry, that we mere mortals could hope to become like when the perfections of Jesus seemed a little too out of reach. His story was powerful, inspirational, and effective, and John leveraged that tool to persuade and encourage his flock of believers.

It should be noted that, while, in Peter's mind, he did not "die for a lie", that does not mean that it was true, especially given the other disciples' doubts after seeing the resurrected Jesus. Peter may have just been credulous, especially if his foolish nature recorded in the Gospels bears any resemblance to what was his true character. As it happens from time to time in life, we sometimes discover that that which we had resolved as real turns out to be a product of our own delusion.

The Beloved Disciple's Fate
As the story continues in John 21:20-23, it seems that that "Follow Me!" command Jesus gave Peter was literal, not figurative. They started walking somewhere, and Peter noticed that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. Peter mentioned that to Jesus, but Jesus deflected his concern in an awkward, problem-creating way. In John 21:23, we read:
Because of [how Jesus replied], the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; He only said, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?" NIV
This is an interesting verse for a several reasons.

First, we should consider that this rumor was strong enough that John felt the need to explicitly counter it in the Gospel.

Next, given the rumor's strength and the need to counter it, this beloved disciple was likely dead, or pretty close to being so, by the time that this Gospel was written. Based on available information, it appears that John died in 100 AD, and, as it happens, most scholars believe John to have been written in the 90-100 AD time frame.

Following those lines of thought, we should ask how it would be possible for a rumor to be that strong after so much time when it would have had plenty of chance for correction by the Disciples? A possible, if not probable, answer is that everyone thought that the rumor was a true statement, but the events of time forced John to re-evaluate reality to curtail the damage to the faith that this beloved disciple would enact upon his death.

Finally, we need to consider the divine aspect here. Jesus, if He was God and had omniscience, would have known how His words would be misconstrued to cause this rumor to be circulated. So for Jesus to have given that reply makes Him appear negligent with His word choices.

When you consider this claim of Peter's death as prophesy and a passage that would mitigate the damages potentially caused by the beloved disciple's death, it appears that John is making an effort to handle the delayed Second Coming to the best of his advantage. Without any of the other three Gospel to back him up, there are doubts as to whether or not this event happened, or if John simply dreamed up this scenario to bolster the faithful and to control a once-promising, now-damaging, "rumor".


  1. Hi TWF,

    you said: "Decades. Besides making it challenging to memory to recall exactly what was said, when, where, and by whom..."

    John have admitted so far that with out supernatural intervention what you say is true.

    Look at John 14:26:
    "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you."

    That is a perfect excuse. I have the holy spirit, don't worry my story is true :))

    But since John's memory is refreshed by God, than his version must be absolute true, which makes all the reset of the gospels who contradict his version false.

    That is what we can't have, do we? ;)

    Kind regards.

  2. Ha! agema-makedonin, you know, I had read that verse before, and remember thinking along the same lines, but for some reason it dropped off my radar screen. It is really unfortunate, too, because I could have used it in a debate I was having recently! Thanks for bringing it up!

    Although, I would even push it further, and consider 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

    All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. NIV

    Between those two, all of the Gospels have to be 100% accurate! Unless... unless it is not true. ;-)

  3. Love the story of the mythologizing of Peter -- again, not something I had thought about. I love coming to Sunday school here.

    Concerning 2 Tim --> pseudo-Paul may have had a different anthology of scriptures than modern Christians. Perhaps his were indeed all God-breathed?

  4. Thanks Sabio!

    Regarding the 2 Tim quote, you are absolutely right. The Scriptures pseudo-Paul was referring to were likely the Old Testament, as the New one had not yet been formally compiled. The argument must be made by extension that the New Testament also became included within the "truth" of those words when it became canonized. Indeed, some Christians do take it that way, but others do not.

  5. I've always leant toward the Jesus didn't exist school of thought. Doesn't this topic suggests that there may have been a historical (if not divine) Jesus.

  6. Hi Anonymous,

    It all depends on what you mean by "Jesus". ;-)

    I have seen a number of arguments claiming that Jesus never existed; that instead Jesus was completely fabricated by blending myths of other religions with the Messianic prophesies of Judaism. One of the best researched sites I have seen on that theory is here.

    I cannot say that I know for sure one way or another, but through my studies, I have come to believe that there was, indeed, a historical Jesus. This guy was not quite as advertised through the Gospels, but I do get the sense that he was a bit outspoken against the religious elite of his time and that he had a misunderstanding of what Judaism was really about. The quickest analogy I could make is that Jesus was to Judaism what modern liberal pastors are to Christianity.

    That is not to say that Jesus was a liberal in the religious observance sense. In fact, he was probably pretty conservative in many ways. Rather, Jesus ignored (or may not have even known or understood) parts of the Torah which did not seem Godly to him, and let his feelings be known to others, including the religious elite. The basic doctrinal mistakes in Jesus' positions in the Gospels, to me, suggest a real person.

    Jesus' contentious behavior likely resulted in his death, which, I feel, is reasonable to consider that it was by crucifixion, though not necessarily. That could have been a later addition.

    Something then had to happen to get the Jesus-resurrected myth off the ground from there. I suspect that someone claimed to be Jesus after his death. Some disciples were credulous, while others doubted. The power of wanting to believe often allows people to accept facts as supporting those desires when they actually do not, such as with an imposter. There would have been many who wanted to believe that Jesus came back, especially if they had given up their lives to follow him. So maybe there was an imposter, but maybe one or two lead Disciples just claimed to have seen him, and (some of) the others believed it.

    That is my best guess at this time, but I am still working the theory, so take it for what it is worth, which is not much! :-)