Asking If the Gospels Are Historical Accounts Is the Wrong Question
Christianity is about culture, so is that what we really want?
While reading through Matthew, I began to consider the controversy surrounding the gospel accounts in the Bible. Although historical Christians believed these were written either by direct witnesses or someone who knew them, we can’t be certain.
It seems unlikely that a religious tradition with such a strong written culture would fictionalize a recent and important moment in their faith. Personally, I think it’s most likely the gospels were written down from oral traditions.
As these are not poetic stories, it would’ve been harder to commit the exact words to memory. That said, this is entirely the wrong frame of mind when approaching the Bible itself.
Religion and Culture Are Not Separate
Although I was born into a non-religious family, I did begin to explore spirituality in college. I say spirituality instead of religion here because American culture goes to great lengths to separate church and state. The goal is that religion is to be private.
However, if you look at religion around the world, it becomes difficult to see the difference between religion and culture, especially to outsiders. The state inevitably supports or even embodies the local religion. Interestingly, more centralized governments appear more secular.
But are they really?
What a lot of people don’t know about Rome is that religion there was a civil matter. Those who were privately spiritual could be accused of superstitio. It wasn’t right to go beyond your civil duty to the gods for state and family matters. This is one of the reasons why Christianity was mistrusted and persecuted (among other pagan cults at the time).
Therefore, you can’t read the gospels as a literal account, but as a cultural one. Because what we see as religion today was not religion in the past.
And indeed, the teachings of Jesus are primarily moral and intended to change the cultural practices of believers.
The Culture of the Gospels
From the outside looking in, I always found Christianity mostly correct, but also frustrating. It seemed to challenge the materialist, self-oriented perspective of the modern world. Sincere Christians were always the best people I met, but it seemed like they were missing out.
Not to mention Christianity seemed entirely at odds with the progressive upbringing I had. How could anyone justify being a Christian when the world was changing so much? It seemed rude and out-of-touch to continue believing in such an old religion.
Of course, you should notice the inherent problem with the progressive worldview in light of the materialist and self-oriented personality that is held up as the norm. No wonder so many progressives are calling for socialism — they know their “do whatever you want” philosophy will ultimately lead to hell on Earth.
So why are the gospels so important in this day in age?
Because, for the most part, people still uphold Jesus as the ultimate example of a good person. Perhaps progressives see him as flawed, but no one comes close to the paragon of his teachings. People denigrate God the Father, but Jesus? Nope. That’s a line nobody is comfortable crossing.
Because we define modern culture on the gospels.
Nobody Wants to Be Cultured, They Want to Be Kings
I think the primary problem I have with the gospels is the same problem I have with socialism. You have to be willing to sacrifice your own materialism and self-orientation to follow Jesus. With socialism, you have to be willing to let the state control daily life and work for the good of those around you.
Yet if we look at the failures of the following of both, you begin to understand something profound. Christians who identify Christ as their savior, but persist in worldly pursuits. Socialists who push their civil responsibility onto others, but expect to be pampered by the state.
This is perhaps why the concept of morality exists within both and approaches religious fervor in their fundamentalists: sin and privilege are examples of inherent immorality. Original sin is present in both frameworks, and there is fire and brimstone for those who don’t commit to the cause.
Christianity needs Christ to have a spiritual king. And socialism? It needs a dictator to prevent revolution.
I suppose the question is which culture you’d prefer.
Do you think you can have culture without religion? Let me know! If you’re interested in my exploration of the Bible, be sure to follow me and subscribe to my newsletter to find out what happens.