Do the Gospel traditions abound in material unpalatable to Christians?

  • Our question

    Throughout the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, do we find things being said or intimated which, as far as historians can tell, would be quite unpleasant to Christians. Is it material that Christians would have wished was not true, even if the felt forced in the end to admit it?

  • What historians are saying

    • Eugene Lemcio: “The hardest available evidence from the gospels has confirmed the thesis that the Evangelists produced narratives about Jesus of Nazareth that were free of blatant attempts to infuse and overlay this story with their own later and developed estimates of his teaching, miracles, passion, and person [The Past of Jesus in the Gospels (Cambridge, 2005), 108-109.]
    • Barry Schwartz: “Theories that dismiss the Gospels as screens on which church leaders projected their agendas are instances of intellectual dandyism … but since they resonate with the taste of a cynical age, their burden of proof is light.” [“Christian Origins” in Memory, Tradition, and Text, ed. Kirk (Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), 53.]
“Yes, after all…
  • [E.g. The Gospels spew strenuous commands]

    [Brackets] mean "Forthcoming"1

    1. Craig Blomberg: “Much of Jesus' ethical instruction as portrayed in the Gospels is so challenging that it is unlikely that it would have been invented. … The list [of strenuous commands] is so extensive that one recent book on Jesus' ethics is understandably entitled Strenuous Commands The entire history of the church is one of its inability to come to grips with these stringent teachings, so it is not likely to have created them.” [“Where do we start studying Jesus?” in Jesus Under Fire, eds Wilkins & Moreland (Zondervan, 1995), 32-33.]
  • [Some Gospel content put Christians in danger]

    [Brackets] mean "Forthcoming."1

    1. There is plenty to discuss here, but consider Jesus's cleansing the Temple:
      Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary: "That Jesus did in fact place the act of cleansing the temple (i.e., driving money changers and merchants of sacrificial birds and animals from the temple court) is solidly probable in the light of the indices of discontinuity and originality. Respecting discontinuity with the early Church: even the most primitive account, that of Mark, has toned down a dangerous memory, probably for fear of otherwise allowing hearers to misconstrue Jesus’ act as that of a revolutionary." [Vol. 3, 790.]
  • Gospels spew church-embarrassing content

    The Gospels-Acts include several self-embarrassing details in their reports.

    This page analyzes 5+ arguments

    • The Gospel-depiction of Jesus embarrassed.
    • The Gospel-depiction of the apostles embarrassed.
    • E.g. The ostensibly false claims embarrass.
    • E.g. Christians: “Women first witnesses stigmatizes us!”
    • E.g. Christians: “Women-tomb stuff subverts evangelism”.

    This is relevant because embarrassing info subverts (inconvenient) apologetics and evangelism, which was of great importance to them.1

    1. John Meier: “The fact that embarrassing material is found as late as the redaction of the Gospels reminds us that besides a creative thrust there was also a conservative force in the Gospel tradition. Indeed, so conservative was this force that a string of embarrassing events (e.g., baptism by John, betrayal by Judas, denial by Peter, crucifixion by the Romans) called forth agonizing and varied theological reflection, but not, in most cases, convenient amnesia.” [Marginal Jew, 1:170]
  • Gospels spew overtly suboptimal content

    A man with a Bible for a head is pushing away candy.

    The Gospel traditions abound in material irked Christians in virtue of being frustratingly suboptimal, i.e. stuff that would've seemed several spoiled opportunies.

    A full page on this will discuss:

    • Gospel traditions didn’t help resolve church debates.
    • Didn’t clearly present the Gospel on Jesus’s lips.
    • Gospel traditions didn’t aggrandize its leaders.
    • Gospel traditions didn’t satisfy curiosity on key issues.
    • Gospel traditions didn’t narrate exciting events.
    • The Gospels lack significant evidence.
    • Gospel traditions forgo theological adornment/embroidery.
    • Gospel traditions forgo apologetic/polemical ammunition.

    This is relevant because this would have naturally annoyed Christians (i.e. it would've been unpalatable).