Photo Credit: Eran Menashri

It’s time for Mormons to talk about Jesus

A lot has happened in religious scholarship over the past 100 years, but the LDS Church doesn’t officially talk about it (yet).

More than a decade ago, I decided to read the Old Testament the whole way through in a summer.

Discovering Jesus

Several years ago, I had a Sunday School teacher who recommended a series of books to me about recent New Testament scholarship. He also taught this content openly in his Sunday School class, which consistently brought some of my most spiritually profound moments that year.

MLK was initially troubled by religious scholarship, but eventually used his knowledge to help others. Photo: Creative Commons
At some level, whenever we open the Bible we’re reading work influenced and interpreted by scholars. Photo Credit: Tamara Menzi

We have to recognize that when it comes to reading the Bible, in all cases we’re trusting scholars. The people who translated the KJV were scholars; the people who analyze biblical passages today are scholars. The difference is that contemporary scholars have far greater access to manuscripts and metadata than scholars during the reign of King James did.

Compiling the Gospels

To really understand how the New Testament came to be, we must travel back much further than the 1600s. We must understand how the Gospels themselves were compiled.

  • Matthew: 70–80 AD
  • Luke: 70–80 AD
  • John: 90–100 AD

More Than Literal Meaning

The only way forward is to keep in mind that the Gospels weren’t meant to be pure historical documents and so finding the exact truth about what happened isn’t what is most critical. In reality, each Gospel writer had an agenda and therefore each Gospel contains large portions that are metaphorical rather than factual.

1. Visions and Dreams

In the ancient world, when people wanted to tell a story about someone they believed was larger than life, they invented a birth narrative that involved the gods. For instance, Caesar Augustus (the emperor of Rome during the early life of Jesus) was said to have been conceived when Apollo impregnated Augustus’s mother, Atia, as she slept. Then Atia’s husband dreamed that the sun would rise from her womb, a dream that several other people claimed to have had as well.

The nativity carries metaphors from other traditions—metaphors we’re generally not aware of today.

2. Blood in Gethsemane

The idea that Jesus bled from every pore in the Garden of Gethsemane powerfully illustrates his inner torment. The only problem is that it isn’t found anywhere in the Gospels.

3. Metaphor Became Doctrine

When Augustus defended the Roman Empire from civil war, people called him the Son of God and the Savior of the World. They even said that he brought with him the good news, the euaggelia in the Greek (which is the same root word for gospel in modern English). A governor in Ephesus even went so far as to say that Augustus “restored order when everything was disintegrating and falling into chaos and gave a new look to the whole world, a world which would have met destruction with the utmost pleasure if Caesar had not been born as a common blessing to all.”

Augustus was said to be the literal Son of God—far superior to mere mortals. His admirers thought it was impossible for someone so great to not be born of the gods.

The Beauty of the Truth

Why does any of this matter?

Writing about religion, philosophy, and politics on Medium. Also: UpliftKids.org.

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