The first century AD saw an explosion of the collective imagination that goes with changes, uncertainties and the creation of myths, and not only Christian myths, although this was the most successful and longer lasting ones. Christianity does not like to think of its beliefs resting on myths produced by human imagination and work but, however, it is like this. The Christian myth was generated in a social experiment of recent beginning. The myth was about those beginnings, and the Christians saw it as history. The myth was about the importance of Jesus as the founding figure of the movement, congregation, and institutions. In the next three centuries Christians were upset to see that their myth was very similar to both Greek and Jewish mythology. They could only distinguish themselves by stressing the recent origin of their myths, and the fact that the narrative Gospels seemed to show that the myths really happened. Instead of calling Jesus’ story mythos (understood as imaginary story) or logos (used for story of Greek and pageant Gods) as it should in Greek, they used the word “pistis” (faith, faithfulness, trust, trustworthiness) that, later on, became “credo” (believe) in Latin as statement of faith. The Christian religion was the first to request that its members believe in their myths. In a socially stable society myths can be taken for granted, but if the social climate and the cultural background are changing, then the myths must be adjusted in consequence. This happened to the Christians myths too. Let us take Christ as an example. Before Constantine he was seen as the good shepherd who guided the people to the Kingdom of God; after Constantine he was depicted as the victor over death and the ruler of the world. During the medieval period the focus was on Jesus’ ascent from the cross to Heaven. Later on again, the Ghotic Christ prevailed to be replaced by the Christ of the crucifix, the man of Galilee, the cosmic Christ, and even the feminine Christ. Myths, since they are set in the past and without well-defined borders, can be rearranged to adapt to new social and cultural conditions.
At first the Jesus people imagined the society to be structured on the Greek model of a school and a teacher. At every social change Jesus had to be re-imagined by the members of the group who were also trying to adapt the social order to their beliefs. They were different from other groups of their time, some of them claiming the same traditions but with different social ideas. At first Jesus was simply seen as a Cynic-sage respected for his teaching, and not as a prophet. He was then described as the child of Wisdom, an envoy of the Divine to Israel as a prophet of his own. The conclusions of the story of Q are that the followers of Jesus were normal human beings involved in the social background of their time, trying to influence the changes in the social pattern, and creating myths as any other society in the making. Q claims that the Jesus movement was the dominant form of early group formations in the wake of Jesus. As a result, the congregations of Christ have now to be seen as a particular development within the Jesus movement. Q also shows that many mythologies of Jesus as a divine agent were possible without reference to his martyrdom. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is not necessarily required for the mythology of Jesus as an envoi of Wisdom, or even as Wisdom’s child. This myth is based on the concept of Him being a teacher. We can even have doubt about the affirmation that Christianity emerged from Judaism. Even the adoption of the epic of Israel was a strategical choice, and not a part of the primary motivation of Jesus movement. Other ideologies were involved, including Greek philosophy and the mythology of Wisdom. The new community did not want to reform any pre-existing religions, nor to create a new world religion based on new revelations, but they wanted to create a forum for new ideas, improve human values and the social conditions. They thought that their mixed group represented the best of the heritage of several ethnically exclusive cultural traditions and, as such, claimed to be a new kind of community.
The evidence of a multiethnic presence in the Q movement is very limited as the Jewish and Galilean issues had priority, especially in the social field. However non-Jews were accepted. The Q people were not the only group of people within the Jesus movement. At least five more group have been identified:
- The group whose allegiance was with Jesus’ family.
- Jesus followers who lived in Jerusalem.
- People who believed in the five miracles story as their myth of origin.
- Mark movement, keen on pronouncement story.
- Luke movement where a more human view of Jesus prevailed.
Another mythology grew in the congregations of the Christ as described in Paul’s letters. It is the mythology better known to modern Christians as it focuses on Jesus’ death as a saviour, and on his resurrection to cosmic lordship. New Testament scholars call this mythology “kerygma” or proclamation. It grew in the congregations of Jesus people in Northern Syria (Antioch) and seems to have forgotten Jesus as a teacher. This congregation used the word Christ (the Anointed one or Messiah) for Jesus, the man who was crucified and who rose. The word Christ became used during the myth making process that led to the creation of kerygma. It relates to the “Kingdom of God” of the Jesus movement, and to Jesus as the “King of the Kingdom of God” from the congregation of Christ. The Jesus movement did not require a Messiah, but the congregation of Christ needed a King, Jesus as the Christ, to rule their Kingdom. The logic of the kerygma lies in the phrase “Christ died for us”, the congregation of Christians. This notion has no Jewish root but is found in Greek tradition. The new notion of resurrection from the dead was not Greek but Jewish.
The Jesus people in Northern Syria were a mix of people that Paul classified as Jews and Gentiles. They believed in the mythical death of Jesus as martyr, and in his resurrection. As in many Greek mythologies, they also accepted that Jesus was the heir to God’s Kingdom. Jesus, the child of Wisdom, is now seen as the son of God, designated by Him to be king. From a prophet-teacher he now becomes a divine sovereign who has authority over the congregation, practically a God of his own, the ruler of God’s world, and Lord of God’s people. Jesus, as a teacher, was not needed anymore for this congregation, but this myth of Christ was more powerful that any of Jesus traditions. This new God was not Jewish anymore, and the Christ people did not believe anymore that Jesus had been killed by the Jews, or that he died for their sins. For them Christ died for the Kingdom and was raised as its King. A spirited cult was formed on the model of the mystery religions with entrance baptism, rites of recognition (the holy kiss), ritual meals, the notion of the spiritual presence of the Lord, and the creation of a liturgy. It was a new religious society celebrating freedom from cultural traditions.
It was in the Christ cult, and not in the Jesus movement, that the Christian notion of conversion emerged. Paul was now able to develop the concept of the church as the body of the cosmic Christ, and to describe the act of joining a Christian congregation in term of conversion, forgiveness, freedom, transformation, and new creation.
The differences between the Jesus movement and the congregations of Christ and their respective mythologies can be described as follow:
- In the first the teacher is important, while the later rely on the martyr’s death and resurrection.
- The Jesus movement put Jesus in epic and historical time and places, while in the Christ cult no such location and time are important compared with the spiritual world detached from the social and environmental orders.
Even if this seemed impossible at first, Mark was able to merge the kerygma with the Jesus tradition. The common concept that acted as a link between the two was the relation of Jesus to the Wisdom of God, seen as a Wisdom mythology common to both movements. Mark preferred the Jesus movement but he nevertheless took what was required from the Christ myths, and from the Jesus myths, to create a common doctrine acceptable to both sides. The author of John’s Gospel went even further in this direction and produced a better mix. Like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of John represents a community very close to a Gnostic sect. Thomas limited himself to the sayings of Jesus with the result that his Gospel was detached from the social world. John, on the opposite, developed a mythology that combined a narrative Gospel with the spiritual order created by the Christ myth. John showed Jesus as the manifestation of God’ son from the realm of light, the expression of God that created the world, but was not recognised as such until Jesus appeared.
There is a long road from Q1 to the Gospel of John but the myths created by their authors are unbelievable numerous and potent, and they created the base of the world view of the western culture.
Q’s end began when Mark wrote his Gospel; Matthew and Luke merged it with Mark’s. Mark’s Gospel was attractive because it combined the image of Jesus of the Jesus movement with the Christ myth. It also integrated in the narrative the epic past, and linked Him to well-known historical events and prophets of the past. Jesus was described as playing many mythological roles, but he was still able to take his place in public view and to talk to the people, poor or powerful. This incognito son of God attracted the people of all time and was responsible for the acceptation of the Christian epic, as told in the Bible that became the charter of the Christian Church and made Q obsolete.
Q continued to be read along with Mark’s until at least the end of the first century AD. However when Matthew and Luke integrated Q into their expanded version of Mark’s, it lost much of its attraction. Mark’s narrative Gospel integrated a small part of Q but his description of Jesus as a teacher of private and esoteric knowledge was his own. On the other hand Matthew and Luke were able to merge Mark and Q.
It is difficult to understand the disappearance of Q after its absorption in Matthew and Luke since Jesus was still known as a teacher, and Q is a collection of his Sayings, the base of his teaching. And why was it not included among the canonical books of the New Testament loosing, in this way, a direct testimony of Jesus teachings as collected during the first years of Christian history?
The selection of the canonical books to be included in the New Testament started in the middle of the second century and lasted until the fourth when Constantine made Christianity the State Church. The texts regularly in use at that time became the biblical canon of the Church. Q was probably not used anymore, and this explains why, with hundred of other forgotten documents, it was not included in the canon. The four Gospels, seen as accounts of Jesus’ life written by the Apostles, were chosen to be part of the New Testament because they also provided a history of the origin compatible with the institutional claim of Christianity as the church. The Gospels were also important for three main reasons:
- While maintaining the mythic role of Jesus as the son of God, they portray him as appearing at a given time in human history.
- The meaning of Jesus’ appearance is shown as deriving from its relationship to the epic of Israel.
- They describe Jesus as preparing his disciples for leadership of the church he founded.
From this narrative the church created the dogma of a tradition linking Jesus to the epic tradition of Israel in the past, and from Jesus to his disciples, as the Apostles of the Church and their successors, the bishops, in the future. In this view the Apostles, and their successors, are commissioned by Jesus to represent Him in their missions to disseminate the faith, open churches, and lead the Christian community. In this way the Apostles, and through them the bishops, could present themselves as the only guarantors that the teaching of the Church was derived from Jesus. Mark was assumed to have obtained his information from Peter, and Luke from Paul who, although not a disciple, was regarded as an “apostle”, since he received some revelations from the risen Jesus. Matthew and John are assumed to be the apostles known under these names.
The bishops soon started to write letters on many subjects related to the faith, the dogma, and as a mean to give orders and instructions to their congregation. Some of the more important letters are included in the New Testament. These letters were very important at the time and, as a result, the documents dealing with the teaching of Jesus like the narrative Gospels and Q were left somehow in the shadow. Jesus was still considered as the guarantors for the truth of the Church’s instructions, but it was not anymore necessary for the bishops to attribute all instructions to Him. The bishops’ authority was derived from Jesus, the founder-teacher, but the bishops’ instructions could be drawn from the Jewish Scriptures, the writings of Paul, Greek philosophy and Wisdom, as well as from the bishops’ own teaching. The letter known as “First Clement” is a good example as well as the “Didache”; in this case, the fact that it was written by a bishop could explain why it was kept out of the New Testament.
Q was not used anymore not only because the narrative Gospels told a better story, one that put Jesus in the Jewish epic history, but also because the instructions contained were outdated. Q was superseded by later mythologies that were not centred only on Jesus. It also lacked references to the disciples that served as guarantors of the apostolic tradition. Peter, the founder of the first church in Jerusalem before going to Rome, and Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles who also went from Antioch to Rome, were the two more important Apostles at the base of the church’s myth of succession. Luke, by writing the “Acts of the Apostles” that was included in the canon of the New Testament, was the main author of this myth. Luke saw the importance of uniting the church under the only authority of the bishop of Rome. He also realised the necessity to merge Peter’s Jewish Christianity, with its roots in the Jesus tradition, and Paul’s Gentile Christianity, with its roots in the Christ cult.
We still have to explain why the four Gospels, and only the letters from only five apostles, were chosen for the New Testament. A vast literature was produced in the second century, but it reflected mainly local tradition and not the general interest for the universal Catholic Church. Some were signed by the authors, some were attributed to well-known disciples and other were anonymous. The process of selection was not an easy one. The documents selected include:
- Those of the Jewish-Christians James and Matthew.
- The mainstream writings of Luke, Peter and the pseudo-Pauline letters.
- The kerygmatic letters of Paul.
- The Gnostic forms of Christianity of the Gospel and the letters of John.
Christian myths claim to be history and the members of the Church are compelled to believe that it is true. As long as there was no other alternative myths this could be acceptable; after all this has been the case for the story of Jesus for many centuries. If we come with other explanations, and the Gospels are explained as mythic, then the Christian doctrine is in trouble, and the Christians will have to review their beliefs.
Q offers a different version of the first forty years of Christianity. The Jesus movement, as documented in Q, is a more believable group of people than the disciples and first Christians described in the narrative Gospels. The narrative Gospels, and the other documents forming the New Testament, are the base of the Christian doctrine and any doubt about their content put in doubt the Church itself. These carefully selected writings were put together to conserve the earliest records of Christian beginnings. They are assumed to have been written by Jesus’ disciples who became Apostles. These witnesses recorded their experience soon after Jesus’ death and resurrection. If these records are not correct then the whole base of the Christian doctrine is to be put in doubt.
Q is a real challenge to the Church because it has been integrated in the narrative Gospels. It can not be discarded, as would be an independent text not included in the New Testament, such as the Gospel of Thomas. It could also be rejected as a mistake if it was a separate document within the New Testament, such as the letters of James. Unfortunately Q is fundamental to the composition of the narrative Gospels. If we take it out, the Gospels and their narrative, instructional, and mythological content do not make sense anymore.
The authors of the Gospels used the logic found in Q2 to link the ancient Jewish Scriptures with the Gospels and, as a result, with the New Testament. By this we mean the use of Malachi (Mal. 3:1) and Isaiah (Isa. 40:3) to introduce John and Jesus. Mark introduced John at the beginning of his Gospel, and Matthew and Luke followed and improved the story. At the beginning, Christian writings were used in parallel with the epic literature of Israel that served to show that the arrival of Jesus had been foreseen long ago by the Jewish Prophets. These Jewish Scriptures had to be read by the Christians as a story that anticipated the arrival of Christ and, moreover, it had to be linked with the New Testament. In the process of annexing the Jewish epic, the Christians changed the order of the books in the Jewish Bible, ending with Malachi’s prophecy announcing the arrival of a “Saviour”. And, as we know, the New Testament starts with John or Jesus’ voice, saying that Malachi’s prophecy has come true. It is difficult to imagine a better connection between the Old and New Testaments.
Q describes a Jesus movement that was not Christian, but it cannot be put aside as having missed the dramatic events described in the narrative Gospels. As they were present at the beginning, it cannot be said that they did not understand Jesus, His message, or the need to found His Church. Q shows that Jesus people were His followers before there was a Christian congregation, as described by Paul, and before anybody thought of writing a narrative Gospel. As we know Mark, Matthew and Luke used Q as the foundation for their new myths of origin. Q is, without doubt, the best record of the first forty years of the Jesus movements. There are other fragmentary evidences of early tradition about Jesus but they agree, in general, with Q.
The Jesus people described Jesus more as a Cynic-Teacher than a Christ-Saviour, or a Messiah who wanted to reform the Jewish society and religion. In addition to Q, the “Gospel of Thomas” and the parables demonstrate that the Jesus people were independent from the congregations of the Christ. These are clear evidences that the history of Christian origin was quite different from the description given by the narrative Gospels.
The narrative Gospels are a development of the Jesus tradition with, in addition, a cautious appropriation of the Christ myth of martyrology that emerged in Northern Syria and in the Pauline churches. This myth of origin was necessary as an explanation for the members of various nationalities, races and creeds that converged in the congregations of the Christ. The myth of the death and resurrection of Jesus as the Christ was then upgraded into a symbol of a personal transformation and spiritual presence. According to Q, the congregations of the Christ have emerged from the Jesus movement, and not the opposite. Moreover the Jesus movements did not believe in Jesus as the Christ whose death, and resurrection, changed the course of history; they did not believe either in salvation by personal and spiritual transformation as Christ did.
The narrative Gospels were composed later than Q. Despite their appropriation of the Christ martyrology that became the climax of their story, the narrative Gospels must be classified as myth-making writings in the same line that the Q tradition or the Jesus movements. For the Jesus traditions, Jesus’ importance was as a founder-teacher, and not as the Christ who died on the cross and rose again. In the narrative Gospels Jesus’ portrait must be seen as an embellishment of the founder figure without any historical base.
Small adjustments of Christian origins, such as giving more importance to Jesus as a teacher than as a Messiah, are not enough. Q tells us that the story of Christian origins, as told in the Gospels, is not correct. Q tells us the earlier history of the Jesus movements, and what we are told is different. The first followers of Jesus did not know any of the dramatic events that are the base of the Gospels: the baptism of Jesus, his conflict with the Jewish authorities, their plot to kill Him, Jesus’ transfiguration, his march to Jerusalem, the last supper, his trial, crucifixion and the resurrection, and the empty tomb are not mentioned in Q. These events, with some addition of martyrology, are part of the mythology of the Christ created after the Roman-Jewish war. In conclusion Q shows that the narrative Gospels do not have any historical value. They are the product of the imagination of their authors who aim to provide the new Christian congregations with something to believe in, whereas Q was written by the early followers of Jesus who knew the real story. Will Q changes the modern view in relation to Christianity and the Gospels? Up to now the scholars and the theologians have stuck to the traditional view of Christian origins as told in the narrative Gospels. However Q offers hard evidences about early Christian beginnings that cannot be ignored. The scholars and theologians cannot really hide it as the text of Q is now available to everybody to read.
For the ordinary Christian the Gospels have been seen for centuries as a faithful account of Christian origins, the source of their views on the Divine world, a description of events that really happened in history, and a collection of symbols for meditation and they were told by the Church to believe them as part of the Christian faith and doctrine. On the other hand the Jesus of Q has no probability to be recognised in this symbolic world as Christian myth; Western culture goes in the same direction to influence the view and the judgement of the individual.
The story of Q gives us an account of Christian origins that does not rely on the narrative Gospels and, for this reason, Christian mythology can be placed among the many mythologies and ideologies of the religions and cultures of the world. In other words, the Christian myth can be studied as any other myth. Some people will find it difficult to accept it, but other will see Q’s challenge as an opportunity to understand more of our past history and origins. Q also shows us that the notion of a pure origin is a myth, and that endowing Jesus with superlative Wisdom and divinity is part of it too. Q’ Sayings sustained, spiritually, some real people fighting with and for a social vision of their world, giving them the truths and symbols required to do what they thought was right in a period of confusion. Q also shows us that all Jesus movements, Christ congregations, and Christian churches behaved in the same way at the beginning of the Christian tradition. All of them created the myths required by the new circumstances and their social vision. Christianity has been redefined many times in its history by social forces and rethinking that changed the image, not only of the Christ, but also of the Church and its world.
Q challenges Christians to see themselves and their myths, and to accept the task to create new ones more adapted to the new social circumstances, in the full understanding of the social consequences of Christian mythology. (15)
There is enough historical evidence that a man called Jesus lived around the years 4 BC and 33 AD. He was a religious man, a preacher, and a prophet that performed so-called “miracles” in the sense that he was also a healer and able to make things appear to be seen as he wanted by other people. However he was not the only one to perform these actions. At that time, when medicine was at its very early stage and education limited to very few people, many people were able to perform, or convince others, that they could perform miracles.
Jesus was a Jew who spoke Aramaic. He always behaved socially and religiously according to the Jewish religion and culture. He followed the teaching of the Torah, participated to all the Jewish religious feasts, and behaved in all aspects as all the other persons of his age and time in Palestine.
He did not really create a new religion but he was the leader of a new Jewish sect. This behaviour was tolerated by the orthodox Jewish religious authorities as long as the new sect was following the main requirements imposed by the Torah. Whereas the mainstream of the Jewish movement was still waiting for the Messiah, he preached, and his followers believed, that he was the expected Messiah that the Prophets of the Old Testament proclaimed would come on earth one day to save the elected people of Israel. This aspect alone of his teaching put him on a collision road with the Orthodox Jewish authorities and led to his end.
The early Christians were recruited among the Jews and they followed all the Jewish customs: they were circumcised, they feasted the Sabbath, they followed the eating habits imposed by the Old Testament, … The only difference between the Orthodox Jews and the Jewish Christians was that the firsts were still expecting the Messiah and the latter believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Gentiles were accepted among the early Christians but only if they first joined the Jewish faith, accepted and followed the Jewish customs, and were circumcised.
Later on, mainly due to St Paul, the Christian religion moved out of the Jewish faith and became autonomous. One immediate effect was that the Gentiles did not have to be converted to the Jewish faith first. Little by little the Christian religion lost all links with the Jewish faith as most of its members were Gentiles living outside Palestine. This autonomous Christian church was on its way to become a universal faith accepting among its members’ people of all races, colour and previous faith.
To-day Christians have very little to do with Jesus’ followers for many reasons:
i- As we have seen, Jesus and his direct followers were all Jewish. They believed that Jesus was the expected Messiah whereas the Orthodox Jews were still -and still are- waiting for Him. They were most reluctant to accept Gentiles among them and, finally, relented their opposition on condition that the Gentiles join first the Jewish faith and accept their customs. St Paul was one of the first to open the door to the new religion to Gentiles without any pre-condition. As a result there was a contradiction in the new Church. In Jerusalem the Christian Community accepted only Jewish candidates, whereas in the remaining of the Roman Empire the Gentiles were fully accepted in the new church as they were. Very soon the Jewish Christian Church of Jerusalem founded by Jesus disappeared while, at the same time, the open-to-all Christian movement elsewhere was in full expansion.
ii- The Gentile Christian Church has also changed with time and has become fundamentally different of the religion of Jesus Christ. The roots of the present-day Christianity can still be traced to Jesus, it may still speak in his name, but it is, however, a religion with a distinction of its own.
iii- Christianity has also fostered denominationalism, being more concerned by theology that by religion, more friendly to theory that truth. As a result the religious leaders and the scholars have created their own denomination one after another. The Christian family is now divided in hundred of fractions, each of them divided by different interpretations of some parts of the Bible.
iv- Christianity, in some ways, bears some responsibilities in the spread of materialism due to its extensive church and other property building programme, as well as by the show of wealth. Materialism only concerns itself with things that can be touched and seen, everything else having, at best, secondary importance. This philosophy of to-day, the love restricted to material objects, is in contradiction with the teaching of the real church.
On the other hand Christianity, as it exists these days, is not doing a certain number of things that were implicit in the early Church:
a- Christianity has not given peace to mankind even if, in words, it holds peace as its ideal for men. On the other hand Christianity stands passively in front of war, when it does not directly or indirectly participate in them.
b- Christianity has not united the Christian world. There are as many types of Christianity in existence to-day that there are other religions, if not more, and each claims to have a monopoly on truth. Christianity tries to satisfy all men instead of having all men satisfying God.
c- Christianity has not made the development of personality its main objective. To survive, any great religion had to base its beliefs on the teaching of its founder who must be a superior personality. No religion can survive if it does not keep its founder alive with its teaching, and character, still influencing mankind. This happened within the Christian religion. As long as it kept Jesus’ personality as its central figure it produced great disciples that followed in the footsteps of their leader. When Jesus’ image was put in the background, as it is the case now, the Church lost its power to pursue its main objective, that is, the development of superior types of persons and personalities. By loosing sight of the value of human personality in favour of materialism, Christianity became a religion without Jesus instead of a religion about Jesus. This lack of personal leadership is such that most people today do not know where religion is going.
As a result Jesus’ religion and to-day Christianity are two distinct religions. For instance we can mention that Christianity has sanctioned war and militarism for many centuries and has, very often, put peace as a second priority, whereas Jesus’ religion was peaceful and non-violent.
The religion of Jesus Christ is at the same time old and new. It is an old religion because it was born about two thousand years ago. It is still new because it still appeals to many people. The religion of Jesus is His own personal conception of God as well as its relation to Him. Jesus’ religion was different from that followed later on by some of His disciples and the churches. Jesus’ religion was positive in the sense that it was not limited to a set of rules, regulations and prohibitions. In other words Jesus was only interested in what one must do to be saved, and nearly ignored what one must not do. His religion was not made of laws to be obeyed, but was based on a life to be lived. On the other hand the present Christian religion about Jesus is negative. It is limited to a set of rules telling us what not to do, like in Judaism, and it is well known that people like to do what is forbidden.
Jesus’ religion values more the person, that is at the centre of his teaching, that the institutions. For Him a church was not a building (he never erected any), but an assembly of persons, a spiritual brotherhood. Jesus’ church is spiritual; the place of worship is not important for Him compared with the worshipping itself. If he was with us today Jesus would most certainly condemn the Christian churches because of their materialism, of their organisation as political and financial machines, and for putting the material maintenance of the organisation before the spiritual salvation of the individual.
The religion of Jesus is universal since he told his disciples to preach to the world. His Gospel is a social as well as a personal Gospel. It saves not only the individual, but also the group of which the individual is a part. For Jesus all men are created equal in the eyes of God. Christianity, in this field, has not a very good record.
Jesus’ religion is, before everything, mystical and not material in content. It suggests to give and not to accumulate wealth. Here again Christianity does the opposite. If we assume that Jesus’ religion is too mystical, then we must admit that today Christianity is too materialistic. For him it is the soul that is important, and not the body.
The religion of Jesus is also a religion of love and not of force. It practises non-resistance rather that violence, whereas Christianity arms itself with weapons, goes to war to kill, ruin, and destroy and to settle its problems by fighting with the sword. Today Jesus would be a pacifist, not a militarist. For Him love is stronger that force, his sword was spiritual and was used against sin to save, and not to kill.
The religion of Jesus is a religion of experience, whereas Christianity is a religion of reason. Christianity is theoretical and ideal, and the religion of Jesus is practical and real.
In Jesus’ day the Pharisees already sought to find God through reason. Jesus disagreed and refused to accept them among his disciples who had found God in experience and trust, without trying to prove Him. As a result they were prepared to reveal Him to others.
Christianity stresses this world by lowering itself to its level, whereas the religion of Jesus values, above all, the life hereafter. Jesus lived in this world, but he was no part of it. His ideal pointed to heaven, not to the material earth. Christianity exalts the worth of man to justify that he must be saved, whereas the religion of Jesus points to the glory of God that offered salvation to man provided he chose to be saved. Salvation according to Christianity is social; it is the result of man’s achievements, and will happen on earth, not by divine intervention. For Jesus, on the opposite, salvation is spiritual, it cannot occur without God with whom the man who wants to be saved must enter in a new relationship. The salvation of man is therefore the glory of God. For Jesus, the glory of God is the supreme thing, more important that the salvation of man.
Most religions have tried to bring some good to some people. In order to last, any religion must include ideal and a person. However most religions before Jesus Christ lasted only a short period of time because they lacked this last element. They are called Part-time Religions and, very often, they were good as long as they lasted. They were based on an ideal, the perfection of the individual soul, but this ideal was not realised in a given person, and they failed.
In the Christian religion, Jesus Christ was this person who came on earth to save the world from sin and to bring the people closer to God. The coming of Jesus created a kind of revolution on earth because, finally, the ideal was personalised, and we have one of the few All Time Religions.
As it was said before, Christianity evolved from the religion of Jesus. Instead of keeping Jesus, it has made the doctrine about Jesus as its source, loosing at the same time the eternal value of the personality of Christ among its assets for the temporal value of a doctrine. As a result Christianity has become a Temporal Religion that is not here to stay for ever, but is only good for the present time.
The religion that will save the world must be eternal or, in other words, an all time religion. If Christianity wants to last for ever it must go back to Jesus, and replace the doctrine about Jesus by his personality and spirit. By going back to the religion of Jesus Christianity will save mankind for ever. (35)
Before anything else we must define what we mean by religion, and this is not easy. It is, in fact, a very old problem that has never received a definite answer. It is even possible that there is none, in the sense that the definition of religion changes with time.
It is easier to define what it is not:
- Religion is not a creed. In the sermon on the Mount Jesus Christ already condemned those who accepted the Laws of Moses as only a creed, that they only repeat without taking into consideration the supernatural and divine character that lay behind the external content of the Laws.
- Religion is not ceremony and ritual, as the Jews believed until Jehovah put them on the right track again. Before that, they regarded their feasts as ceremonial acts of worship. They over stressed the value and meaning of these feasts and underestimated the consequences of their sins. They believed that their sins would be forgiven if only they followed dutifully the ceremonial foreseen for the feasts given in God’s honour. In the same way, to-day, church services are made up mainly of ceremony. In their church meetings people engage in some sort of ritual and ceremony, and believe that they have done their duty to God.
- Religion is not morality or ethics. Religion must be ethical but it is not only a code of moral, or human conduct, even if the two walk together most of the time.
In conclusion religion is not either creed, ceremony, or morality. It is true that religion contains some of these elements, but it cannot be identify with anyone only. Religion is much more that any of these elements taken one by one.
It is now possible to define what religion is, even if it is not easy, and many religious people will disagree with our conclusions as they disagree between themselves.
Religion can be broadly defined as a personal experience or, in other words, as a psychological experience, since ecclesiastical and theological approaches are inadequate to-day. Religion could be defined as a personal and psychological experience of God. The word “personal” has been used instead of “individual” because religion, at its highest level, has a person, and not an individual, as its subject. In this definition an “individual” is any individual self, whereas a person is a self, a well-defined human being. Any ordinary self, or individual, cannot be truly religious, but a given person can realise the highest values and the highest type of religious experience.
The person is the subject of this sort of experience. The object is, of course, the Supreme Person that is called God. In this sense religion is the direct contact of the Person with the Supreme Person.
The experience of the person, or soul, with God can reach three levels:
- In the first, or primitive stage, known also as the period of discovery, the person discovers God in his life.
- The second, and higher level, is called the progressive stage. It is known as the period of trust because, during this period, the person confides in God and entrusts his life in Him.
- The third and highest stage, also known as the perfect stage, is called the period of expression because those who reach it have made God a complete part of their life. God is behind all their actions. Religion, at that stage, is the way of assimilating God, it is the way to the eternal life.
Religion is not only the experience of one person, but it is also the experience of mankind. Man is naturally religious, whether he likes it or not. The religious spirit is transmitted from generation to generation. Religion is then not only a personal experience of God, but it is also the experience of the human society with God. In other words, it is social as well as personal, making the experience of one man the experience of all men.
In conclusion we can now more easily propose the following definition of religion:
- In its personal aspect, it is the experience of the human person in discovering, trusting, and assimilating the Divine Person, God.
- In its social aspect it is mankind’s increasing awareness of God.
And, moreover, these two aspects of religion are one. (35)