How do we know that the 27 books of the New Testament are the right ones? How do we know that we haven’t left out any books that should be in the New Testament? What would happen if we found a lost epistle of Paul?

These questions have to do with the canon of Scripture. The word canon comes from the Greek kanon, which means a “standard or ruler.” In early Christianity the word came to mean “the established list of authoritative Scriptures.”

Characteristics of the Canon

The early church didn’t create a black and white list of criteria for determining which books belonged in the New Testament. The books that were generally accepted by the church, however, did have certain characteristics. The early church believed that the 27 books of the New Testament were inspired by God because of these intrinsic characteristics.

Apostolicity: The most important characteristic is that the books had to have apostolic authority. This means that each book had to be written by an apostle or by an associate of an apostle. During Jesus’ ministry, he gave the apostles authority to carry on his teaching (Mark 3:14-15). Also, the books had to be written during the apostolic age, i.e. before the end of the first century.

Orthodoxy: This characteristic has to do with the teaching in the book. The book’s teaching had to cohere and agree with the doctrines of Jesus and the other apostles. For example, the book of Hebrews was included into the canon because it’s teaching agreed with the Scriptures that were undisputed by the church.

Widespread Usage: Inspired books had to be widely used in the church. These books would have been read in church services and considered to be relevant to the church at the time. If only one church regarded a book as authoritative while the majority rejected it, then the book wouldn’t have made it into the canon.

Inward Authority: The early church recognized that the New Testament books had a self-authenticating quality to them. This quality differentiated them from all of the other books that were written at the time. This means that neither the church nor the church councils determined which books were authoritative. Instead, the church discovered the books that were already inspired by God.

The Biblical Witness

Were the New Testament authors aware that they were writing God’s inspired words? There are three lines of reasoning to think that they were.

Jesus:

Jesus expected his disciples to remember and record his life and teachings. Referring to the Holy Spirit, Jesus said

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27).

Jesus told his disciples that they would later testify of what he did and said. This would include the disciples’ speech as well as their writings.

NT Authors Themselves:

Certain passages indicate that the authors themselves believed that they were writing Scripture. For example, Paul claims

“The things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized” (1 Corinthians 14:37-38).

Paul considered his own writing to be a direct command from the Lord. Paul also believed that if someone rejected his words, then they shouldn’t be recognized as believers. Also, the author of Revelation includes a blessing (1:3) and a curse (22:18-19) from God Himself, indicating His divine approval of the book.

Other NT Authors:

In two places, the New Testament writers quote other New Testament writers as Scripture. In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul writes

“For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’”

The first quotation is from Deuteronomy 25:4 and the second is from Luke 10:7. Here we have Paul putting Luke’s Gospel on the same level as Deuteronomy and labeling them both as “Scripture.”

The second example comes from 2 Peter 3:15-16, which reads

“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”

In this passage, Peter confirms that multiple letters of Paul are equivalent to the other authoritative Scriptures.

Early Lists of New Testament Scripture

What did the early church have to say about the New Testament writings? From very early on, Christians began to quote from these books and considered them to be authoritative. Norman Geisler and William Nix chart out this information in their book From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible. I have shortened the chart to include the information that I find most important:

NT Canon List Reduced

(Note: The chart places Jerome to the left of Athanasius even though his list comes later. The authors originally ordered the chart based on the first date in each section, which in Jerome’s section is around the year he was born).

As you can see, the testimony of these books is very widespread in the writings of the early church:

  1. In the first century, one of Paul’s letters was already considered to be inspired by God, and nine other books were alluded to or cited.
  2. The Muratorian Canon, a fragment dated around AD 170-200, lists 22 of the 27 books as authoritative.
  3. In the second century, Irenaeus considered 17 of the 27 books to be inspired. In addition, he alludes to or cites from 6 of the other books. This leaves only four that he doesn’t mention.
  4. By the second century, a core collection of books was already functioning as Scripture. Most of the debates on which books were canonical centered around a few books like James and 3 John.

Dr. Michael J. Kruger has argued that the earliest complete list of the New Testament books comes from the writings of Origen (dated around AD 250). The list is not accepted by some modern scholars, but Dr. Kruger argues that we have good reasons to affirm its historicity.

If Origen’s list is not authentic, then the first complete list of all 27 books comes from the church father Athanasius in AD 367. In one of his letters he wrote:

“Again it is not tedious to speak of the [books] of the New Testament. These are, the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Afterwards, the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (called Catholic), seven, viz. of James, one; of Peter, two; of John, three; after these, one of Jude. In addition, there are fourteen Epistles of Paul, written in this order. The first, to the Romans; then two to the Corinthians; after these, to the Galatians; next, to the Ephesians; then to the Philippians; then to the Colossians; after these, two to the Thessalonians, and that to the Hebrews; and again, two to Timothy; one to Titus; and lastly, that to Philemon. And besides, the Revelation of John.”

The finalized list of the 27 New Testament books was also confirmed by the council of Hippo in AD 393 and the council of Carthage in AD 397.

In summary, the vast majority of the 27 New Testament books weren’t disputed from the beginning. The few books that were doubted by some believers came to be accepted as Scripture by the universal church. These 27 books alone found a permanent place in the New Testament canon. Ever since then the books have been closed.  

5 Points to Remember

  1. The early church didn’t decide which books made it into the canon. Instead, the church recognized that certain books were already inspired because of their intrinsic characteristics.
  2. Jesus expected his disciples to record his life and teachings and the NT authors considered their writings to be Scripture.  
  3. By the end of second century, the church recognized a core collection of NT books as Scripture. Ultimately, the few disputed books also came to be accepted as Scripture.
  4. The first two complete lists of the 27 NT books come from Origen around AD 250 and from Athanasius in AD 367.
  5. The universal church came to recognize that the 27 NT books alone were inspired by God.

 


Sources:

Geisler, Norman L., and William E. Nix. From God to Us: How Got Our Bible. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers. Print

Kruger, Michael J. “Another Look at the Earliest Complete List of the Canon of the New Testament.” Canon Fodder. 12 July 2016. Web. 14 July 2016.

Powell, Doug. Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics. Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2006. Print.

Schaff, Philip. “NPNF2-04. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Web. 14 July 2016

16 COMMENTS

  1. In the above table are you able to clarify the difference between an ‘X’ and an ‘O’?

    I was surprised to see a suggestion that 2 Peter was referenced by the earliest witness. I had thought it was one of the very last books to be included and lacked early witnesses.

    I was always perturbed to find the similarity between Jude and 2 Peter. Most scholars conclude that 2 Peter is dependant on Jude rather than vise versa.

    • Thanks for the comment Peter. That’s a great question!

      Geisler and Nix don’t go through each one, unfortunately, but throughout the book they mention certain qualities that would distinguish the two.

      From my understanding of the book, an “X” would be where a passage from that book is either quoted from or alluded to, but where the author doesn’t really imply that the book that contains the quotation is meant to be authoritative in the church or not. An “O” would be where the book was cited and there is something in the text to imply that the book was meant to be accepted by Scripture or as binding on the church. Occasionally, the writer quotes a passage from a book labeling it as “Scripture” or something similar. So there is an “O” beside Clement of Rome’s use of 1 Corinthians because in 1 Clement 34:6-8, Clement writes, “For the scripture saith” and then quotes from certain passages, ending the chapter with a quotation of 1 Corinthians 2:9.

      This could also be where the author states that the book was meant to be binding on all Christians and or read in all of the churches. So for the Muratorian Canon fragment, the unknown author differentiates between which books were received/counted/used by the catholic (universal) church and which books should not be received by the catholic church.

      Yes, you are right in the earliest witness of 2 Peter. They list it in the chart because of the possible allusions of 2 Peter. Clement certainly never quotes it directly. The possible allusions are from 1 Clement 23.3, which reads “Let this scripture be far from us where He saith, ‘Wretched are the double-minded, which doubt in their soul and say, “these things we did hear in the days of our fathers also, and behold we have grown old, and none of these things hath befallen us.” This could be taken as an allusion to 2 Peter 3:4, which reads “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” Both have to do with false teachers and their impending judgment. There are also two places where Clement uses phrase that are only found in 2 Peter in the New Testament.

      And yes, the relationship between 2 Peter and Jude is one of the most difficult issues for the NT authors. I want to look deeper into the issue as I have time. Perhaps I’ll comment back here once I study it more.

  2. I make no comment about the choice the Church made but it clearly was a choice.

    Carey – You say “The early church didn’t decide which books made it into the canon. Instead, the church recognized that certain books were already inspired because of their intrinsic characteristics.”

    Iow, the new officially-sanctioned Church decided what books should be included. For a good choice it would have been necessary for both the texts and the choosers of the texts to be divinely inspired. Perhaps they were but I haven’t seen this claimed.

    For non-historians it may not matter much. The texts speak for themselves, canonical or not. If we believe what these texts tell us simply because they are canonical then we are betting the farm on the editorial committee’s judgement.

    • Thanks for the comment Peter. I am not sure what you mean by “the new officially-sanctioned Church decided what books should be included.” Can you clarify please? I want to make sure I am understanding you.

      I don’t think that the early church has to be inspired themselves when recognizing the inspiration of a book. The view presented here is the idea of a functional canon, where the qualities of these books impressed themselves upon the church.

      Dr. Kruger explains it well here: http://michaeljkruger.com/ten-basic-facts-about-the-nt-canon-that-every-christian-should-memorize-8-the-nt-canon-was-not-decided-at-nicea-nor-any-other-church-council/, specifically when he says that the “regional councils did not just ‘pick’ books they happened to like, but affirmed the books they believed had functioned as foundational documents for the Christian faith.

      In other words, these councils were declaring the way things had been, not the way they wanted them to be. Thus, these councils did not create, authorize, or determine the canon. They simply were part of the process of recognizing a canon that was already there.” He also quotes Ehrman as saying “The canon of the New Testament was ratified by widespread consensus rather than by official proclamation.” So it is more of the church recognizing which books were Scripture rather than them voting on the ones they liked best.

      • I do not share your view, Carey, but there’s little purpose in arguing about it. You will know more of the history than I do but at least I know that it is not clear and there is room for disagreement, Some historians share my view so I feel it is reasonable, correct or not. I will stick to my belief that the Bible committee did not have the expertise to identify divinely-inspired texts, which is not say they didn’t do their best, since it was the gnostics who claimed that human beings could acquire the knowledge required to do this. . .

        To me the history is a side-issue and it would be the doctrine that matters. Each gospel has its qualities but Thomas’ is the most clear and helpful in my opinion, and I feel that the church makes a mistake in marginalising him, just as they did when they burnt down the old churches and banned Mary’s gospel.

        I’m well aware that this is one possible view among a few. It seems telling to me that Thomas’ teachings would bring Jesus into line with the Upanishads, the Buddha, Lao Tsu and ‘A Course in Miracles’, and that this interpretation of Jesus, although possible, is not so strongly suggested by the canonical gospels. It was thrown away with the Gnostics, the baby in the bathwater – and some of it certainly was bathwater. .

        There is no need for us to agree about this, thank the Lord. I commented to suggest another view is possible. There really do seem to be two strong camps on these issues,.

        • Okay Peter, fair enough. Thank you for being up front!

          Have you written on this issue or can point me to maybe an article online that explains your view in more detail? I won’t argue with you about it or anything, but I am interested in learning more and understanding your view better. Thanks!

          • Well, I do write a bit about Christian doctrine but nothing immediately relevant here, and I’m certainly no expert on its history. My view comes partly from reading the gospels (canonical and otherwise) and making comparisons with the Upanishads and Buddhist, Taoist and Sufi teachings, and also from books on the early church and the Gnostics by Elaine Pagels. Sean Martin, Keith Ward, Bernard Simon, Stefan Hoeller and others, also from the sayings of the Desert Fathers, Echkart, the pseudo-Dionysius, more recently ‘A Course in Miracles and other texts. I say this just so you know I’m not dabbling.

            It is an heretical view for some but it has a lot of support. It would say that Jesus taught the non-dual doctrine that is known as the ‘perennial’ philosophy or ‘mysticism’. This would be why there is so much traffic between Buddhism and Christianity, that they would shed light on each other as the same teachings expressed in different languages and concepts. I am far from alone in abandoning Christianity for Buddhism only to find myself coming back with a new enthusiasm and appreciation of the teachings, but rather at odds with the church’s interpretation. .

            Gnosticism as it is described today is an odd phenomenon and I have little no interest in it, but gnosticism, the idea that we are all sparks of God and can attain to this knowledge, even a divine state of being, in this life is a different matter. This would be my belief, and it seems to me that this is what Jesus taught. This would be the significance of Mary’s gospel, that if it is genuine it indicates a deep esoteric element in the teachings that was not seen even by all the disciples and has since been almost entirely lost in the Roman tradition, but maybe not in the Orthodox church. .

            Again, not arguing, just explaining where I’m coming from. It allows me to syncretise all the main religious traditions as deriving from the same basic truths about Reality, and it would make Jesus an enlightened master, a ‘True Man’ in the parlance of the mystics, but not unique as a teacher. Jesus would be an aspect of our own being, a state to which we can aspire, with one foot in the mundane world of space-time and the other planted firmly in Heaven. This would be the ‘nondual’ interpretation of the Holy Cross, Man at the junction of the temporal and non-temporal worlds. the horizontal and vertical bars, and the Holy Grail would be the experience that brings this knowledge and with it an awareness of our own immortality. . .

            For what it’s worth this would be my position. I find the topic fascinating and am always happy to chat about it as long as it’s not causing offense. After forty years of scepticism it was Buddhism that brought me back to Christianity so I see no problem in these ideas, but many people do.

            In terms of your essay, adopting this view would mean that judging the authenticity of Thomas or Mary’s gospels would be a matter of examining what they say, not who wrote them or when they were written. Regardless of its provenance the esoteric Christian is likely to find Thomas more useful than the canonical gospels. You suggest it contains contradictions but I don’t know of any.

            Too many words, Sorry. It’s a hobby-horse for me. Would you be sympathetic or horrified?

          • No I am not horrified at all Peter, thank you for taking the time to communicate your views! I am enjoying the conversation, although I am having a hard time understanding your view, to be honest. I guess because there are a lot of terms that I am unfamiliar with. I do have one question that will help me better understand what you are saying:

            Do you think that the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) accurately describe what Jesus said in did? Would you hold them on the same level as the other Gospels, like Mary and Thomas? So that all of these Gospels (and maybe other texts?) give us a fuller understanding of Jesus? I think this will help me a lot.

            Thanks!

          • I’m well aware of the possibility of error, Carey, in case you’re wondering, but for me the NT gospels would be authentic and I’d assume that they represent Jesus pretty accurately. It’s the profundity of the teaching that seems to be lacking, for we are given the the Sermon on the Mount and suchlike, the parables, the stories and sayings, the living example of a great teacher, but we seem to miss out on what some call the ‘inner’ teachings, the deep stuff that Thomas, Mary and others discuss. Without this I feel the doctrine does not quite make sense.

            Its a fabulously contentious issue whether we should adopt the esoteric or exoteric interpretation, but for me it would be former that does Jesus justice. This may be partly because I am a metaphysician, and bound to go for the view that makes most sense in logic. It also brings most religious traditions into line with each other. But each to his own. I have a friend who thinks I should be burnt at the stake but I like to think that all authentic teachers teach the same doctrine since it would be true. Otherwise we have the problem that all these great teachers who claim to know what’s true don’t agree with each other on what it is. This massively undermines the credibility of religion and makes it difficult to defend against sceptics.

            I don’t think Orthodox Christians have a problem with this view but it is a rejection of much of the Roman version. Simply put, I think Rome got it wrong when they broke away from the other bishoprics, and would choose to follow Eckhart rather than Billy Graham.

            Emotive stuff though. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this approach to the teachings.

  3. Peter, I think I am beginning to understand your point of view better. The Gospel of Thomas is an interesting one, and it is quite different than the four canonical gospels as you know. Since it is really just a book of Jesus’ sayings, I find it interesting that the many of sayings reflect the sayings in the four canonical gospels.

    But there are some sayings in there that I think are hard to square with how Jesus is portrayed in the canonical gospels. The most obvious example to me is the last verse 114 that says “Simon Peter said to him, ‘Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said, ‘I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.'”

    To me that doesn’t sound like something the Jesus in the canonical Gospels would say since Jesus treated women with respect, including the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Also, some of Jesus’ closest friends were Mary and Martha. The Gospel of Mary I am not as familiar with.

    I guess my approach is to look more at Jesus from a historical perspective. I think that the four canonical gospels are the closest to Jesus’ life so that they are the best resources to look at when investigating Jesus’ teachings. In my opinion, the other gospels were written later and thus their historical value is more limited. But I am not saying that this means that there is nothing we can know about Jesus from the other gospels. But I understand that as you say in your previous comment, the other gospels are to be judged on their content, not who wrote them and when.

    Finally, I do think that Jesus’ view of himself in the canonical gospels puts him at odds with other religious teachers and teachings. For example, I think that Islam’s and Christianity’s view of Jesus cannot be harmonized, for Christians think Jesus is God and Muslims do not.

    But that is where I am at currently and a little bit about how I approach the person and teachings of Jesus. Just so you know, you have not caused any offence at all! I’ve enjoyed hearing your perspective so far!

  4. All good points, Carey. I can see a reason for taking the NT gospels as the safest guide to Jesus’ life. Perhaps they are. They do not seem to be the best guide to his teachings, however, since they leave open some wildly varying interpretations. Thomas seems to me to force us to normalise on one interpretation.

    Your quote is interesting but I would assume it was not a sexist comment. I cannot be sure how to read it but my instinct would be to think that his language was fit for purpose in the situation. There is sometimes a similar attitude to the sexes in Buddhism, the suggestion that the male principle is less earth-bound that the female, and it causes trouble. Perhaps the deeper message is that progress depends on transcending the male-female distinction. I don’t have view on this one.

    But I wouldn’t worry about one ambiguous quote myself, and would take a more ‘glass half full’ approach. Consider some others.

    “Blessed is he whose beginning is before he came into being!” (Thomas – V.20)

    This statement allows us to directly connect Christianity with Zen and Taoism with their constant references to ‘your face before you were born’, viz. our awareness before becoming a human being. It then allows us to connect up Islam. ,(“Die before your death.” – Mohammed)

    Jesus said, “I shall give you what no eye has seen and what no ear has heard and what no hand has touched and what has never occurred to the human mind.” (Thomas – V. 17)

    This is a clear endorsement of the esoteric teaching that ‘God’, ‘Heaven’, the ‘Divine’ or what the Hindu’s (and David Bentley Hart) call ‘Being, Consciousness,. Bliss’ would be prior to mind and its categories of thought, (thus ‘beyond the coincidence of contradictories’ – Nicolas de Cusa). This then makes sense of the legend that the Holy Grail has the power to dissolve all distinctions. It makes sense of the Jesus of ‘A Course in Miracles’, who calls this world the ‘world of opposites’, ie. the world made by the categories of thought.

    The Gnostics were an odd bunch but the idea that salvation lies in knowing oneself would be simple gnosticism. This is not so odd but is the ‘perennial’ philosophy or ‘mysticism’.

    “Jesus said, “If those who lead you say to you, ‘See, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.” (Thomas)

    “When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known…”

    To me this statement would be more important and more helpful than almost anything found in NT, such that the NT gospels would be made more clear if it were included. It immediately puts Christianity in line with Buddhism Taoism Christian mysticism Sufism, advaita Vedanta and so forth, and stops them from having to argue.

    As for Islam’s view of Jesus, he would be a different person for the Islamic mystics, the Sufis, and for the ‘exoteric’ Islamists. All three Abrahamic religions have split-personalities. For the former ‘esoteric’ view he would be a human being and God at the same time, with the Holy Cross representing his dual-aspect nature, one foot in the space-time world, the horizontal bar, and the other in the Eternal Bliss of the Divine Present, the vertical bar, which would be Eckhart’s ‘Perennial Now’. The latter could only be achieved by the death of the former, the individual ego, on the cross of renunciation, and this would be the message of the Crucifixion.

    Jesus would be no more or less the son of God than the rest of us are in potential. As a fully realised individual and ‘True Man’ he would be a role model, a state to be emulated and achieved, rather than a unique manifestation. His manner of manifestation may be unique, who knows, but once manifest he would be an ordinary human being and thus a ‘Son of God’.

    The crucial issue here would be that this view does not depend on historical analysis. It depends on knowledge. Meditation leads people consistently to this view of Jesus since then his teachings become consistent with what we learn in practice. The more we know ourselves the more we would find that we are Jesus, that his state of being is within ourselves, and the more we would tend to assume that this is what he was trying to tell us. A book on Taoism I read recently talks of ‘awakening the Jesus within us’.

    Great discussion by the way. Often these topics are too emotive to discuss properly but we seem to be managing. I wish it was a bigger discussion within the church since I feel that organised Christianity will wither on the vine soon, as one ex-Archbishop of Canterbury predicts, if it continues to sweep this other view of the teachings under the carpet. We can choose for ourselves which interpretation of the teachings to endorse and follow but it should at least be on the menu. I have a theory that Archbishop Rowan Williams held this view of Jesus, such is his appreciation of the Desert Fathers, but he plays his cards close to his chest.

    I hope this doesn’t come across a browbeating. Passions run high on these topics. Over to you…

    • Peter, thank you again for your comments!

      Regarding the Thomas comment, fair enough. I don’t have all of the verses in the canoncial gospels worked out either!

      I would say though that myself and many Christians finds the teachings in the Gospels to be enough for faith and practice. Especially since Jesus sums it all up with “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 22:37-40). But I also regard the other books of the NT as fuller explanations on how to live this life. So in that sense I don’t just base my life on Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels alone.

      To be honest, I am having a hard time understanding some of the other quotes from Thomas and some of the phrases you use, like “perennial now.” I am also not well-versed in Buddhism or Taoism, but I don’t think you are doing a bad job explaining things. I think this paragraph was very helpful in understanding where you are coming from:

      “The crucial issue here would be that this view does not depend on historical analysis. It depends on knowledge. Meditation leads people consistently to this view of Jesus since then his teachings become consistent with what we learn in practice. The more we know ourselves the more we would find that we are Jesus, that his state of being is within ourselves, and the more we would tend to assume that this is what he was trying to tell us.”

      It seems that we go about looking at Jesus and his teachings in different ways. Could you explain this sentence a little more for me: “The more we know ourselves the more we would find that we are Jesus, that his state of being is within ourselves.” I am not sure what it means to say that “we are Jesus.”

      Thanks!

      And you have only come across as fair and kind, Peter.

  5. Carey – Thanks for another enjoyable response. I’ll risk a lot of words.

    If you find the teachings in the NT Gospels to be perfect, and enough for faith and practice, then this is because of the nature of your faith and practice. Both may be sound, but how would you check this? The NT gospels allow varying interpretations. and like yours and mine they can vary a lot.

    So, while I definitely wouldn’t argue with your view as a personal decision, and in any case I believe that (pursued diligently) all roads lead to Rome, I wouldn’t be satisfied with it myself. I don’t want faith but knowledge, and I’m too lazy to follow a practice for long without knowing that it is capable of achieving the desired results.

    This may seem like hubris and arrogance to you but if so it will only be because of the nature of your faith. You do not concede to me the possibility of knowing what Jesus knew, of being able to verify the truth of his teachings or of being able to distinguish authentic teachings from superstition and conjecture. These abilities cannot be conceded by a Christian who does not believe that they are God and who see the historical Jesus as His unique son. Irenaeus would be up in arms!

    This is the stumbling block that makes the discussion difficult in Christianity. My view is bound to seem heretical or even just plain lunacy to anyone holding yours.Hence these discussion usually go horribly wrong. .The same division is easy to see in Islam. The main body of the church dismisses the Sufis as heretical or mad and gaily crucifies them for it on occasion, while the Sufis call themselves the ‘true followers of Mohammed’. We are discussing perhaps the most divisive internal issue in all of religion.

    For my Christianity Jesus would be a human being. However, as a fully realised (enlightened if you like) being, he could truly be called ‘Son of God. The person we call ‘Jesus’ would not be there at all. There would just be God. There would be no ‘Jesus-ego’ standing between God and His worldly words and actions. They would be God’s words and actions.

    ‘Realisied’ here would mean that Jesus was well aware of this. He would have known that Consciousness is One, that the universe is a Unity, such that all individuation is illusion.

    About the Cross.

    Time and space would be conceptual as they are for physics, such that ‘God’ or the ultimate state of consciousness would be Eckhart’s ‘Perennial Now.’, the Reality beyond space and time. This would be immortality, the Heaven that lies within our own consciousness and that is its source. This would explain how Eckhart, Jesus, Buddha, Al-Halaj, Lao Tsu and so forth could know about it. To know is to be, so knowing would mean becoming.

    Hence the idea that we can become Jesus. A mystic might say ‘Jesus-nature’, indicating a state of being rather than a person. There is a book called ‘Awakening the Buddha Within’, but it could as well be titled ‘Awaking the Jesus Within’.

    In short, Thomas’ teachings depend on there be no final separation between human beings. They would all be God. It would be just that some people know it, some suspect it, some have an intuition, some doubt it and some hate the idea. Erwin Schrodinger’s contracted publisher refused to publish one his books on grounds of heresy. Why? Because Schrodinger proposes that all of us are God. Even in the 20th century this idea is rejected by the church. Yet Schrodinger thought he was endorsing Jesus. Funny old world.

    — ”I am not sure what it means to say that “we are Jesus.”

    Those who go deep into their own consciousness and reach the bottom come back with reports that everything is God. They say there is only one truly real phenomenon. In his ‘Vision of God’ Nicolas de Cusa denies the reality of all distinctions They would be conceptual. It would follow, if we want to do the logic, that you and I and Jesus are one. But only at the limit, at the base level of metaphysics and consciousness. Often the metaphor used is waves on the surface of an ocean. Becoming enlightened would be becoming Jesus, an idea made explicit in some Taoist writing, which would be why enlightened people exhibit similar behaviour. The Sufis strive to become Mohammed, to equal his achievement, not to remain faithful but unrealised members of his flock.

    What this means in term of the topic at hand is that the NT gospels would be just fine, but because they do not deal with metaphysics they would be enhanced by reference to Thomas, Mary, de Cusa, Eckhart and so on, or by reference to Buddhism and the Indian Upanishads . This view has immense healing powers as well as the power to divide. islam and Christianty may be at war but the Christian and Islamic mystics are in full agreement about everything and always have been. These people check the facts and do not argue about opinions and conjectures.

    Note that of the two interpretations of Jesus we are discussing one has a sound metaphysical; foundation and one does not. For me this alone would be enough to decide the matter.

    I believe that these issues could be sorted out once and for all in metaphysics, simply by doing the sums, but nobody wants to do metaphysics. It is disliked by atheists and theists alike. (The view I would endorse, I should make clear, is not atheism or theism. These would be extreme views in metaphysics thus wrong in Buddhism and inconsistent with the the esoteric interpretation of Jesus.) For this view it would not even matter whether Jesus was an historical person, for even if he were not the teachings were still written by someone and they would still be true, and his life, now fictional, would still serve as an example and source of understanding. (It’s fun to see how completely this view confuses atheists.)

    Thus we may disagree strongly about this and that but can agree that Jesus is the man! The mystics have a problem with the church but never with its founder.

    Peace and love.
    Pete

    • Pete,

      Thank you for taking the time to dialogue with me. I think I better understand your view after our discussion and I hope I explained where I am coming from clearly. And I agree, Jesus is the man! You are always welcome to respond on my posts on ACL. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation!

      Sincerely,

      Carey

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