Documenting Why the Gospels are Called, “According to So and So”
Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ ,
Hardly any one disputes that the most fundamental doctrine in Christianity is the alleged crucifixion of Jesus (peace be upon him). And as such all the four Gospel writers were “divinely inspired” to narrate the events around the alleged crucifixion meticulously. One such alleged event was the anointing of Jesus (peace be upon him) for his pre-crucifixion burial preparation. As Jesus (peace be upon him) is attributed to have said in the Bible:
“She did what she could; she poured perfume on my body to prepare it ahead of time for burial.” (Mark 14: 8)
In fact, to highlight the importance of the act, Jesus (peace be upon him) allegedly asserted that the act (of anointing) and the lady would be remembered until the gospel is preached:
“Now, I assure you that wherever the gospel is preached all over the world,what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mark 14: 9)
Thus, the event, as it turns out to be, was very crucial and of paramount importance in Christianity. However, embarrassingly, this is exactly the place where it all went wrong for it. The gospel writers, even though writing under the tutelage of the so called god -“Holy Ghost”, could not preserve a monolithic, consistent and congruent account for the all important event of their “lord and savior”!
“God” breathed contradictions
For a substantial number of New Testament scholars, Gospel according to Mark happens to be the oldest of all gospel manuscripts. It is also claimed that even Matthew copied portions for hisgospel from Mark! In the light of foregoing, the Gospel according to Mark enjoys a high level of authenticity within Christian circles.
On the foregoing, the following is Mark’s account of Jesus’ (peace be upon him) anointing:
“Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon, a man who had suffered from adreaded skin-disease. While Jesus was eating, a woman came in with an alabaster jar full of a very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on Jesus’ head. Some of the people there became angry and said to one another, “What was the use of wasting the perfume? It could have been sold for more than three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor!” And they criticized her harshly.
But Jesus said, “Leave her alone! Why are you bothering her? She has done a fine and beautiful thing for me. You will always have poor people with you, and any time you want to, you can help them. But you will not always have me. She did what she could; she poured perfume on my body to prepare it ahead of time for burial. Now, I assure you that wherever the gospel is preached all over the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mark 14: 3-9)
That was Mark’s account. Since the event was very important, “Holy Ghost” even inspired John – the darling gospel writer of Trinitarians – to record the incident. Here is John’s narrative:
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, the man he had raised from death. They prepared a dinner for him there, which Martha helped to serve; Lazarus was one of those who were sitting at the table with Jesus. Then Mary took half a litre of very expensive perfume made of pure nard, poured it on Jesus’feet, and wiped them with her hair. The sweet smell of the perfume filled the whole house. One of Jesus’ disciples, Judas Iscariot – the one who was going to betray him – said, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred silver coins and the money give to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would help himself from it.
But Jesus said, “Leave her alone! Let her keep what she has for the day of my burial. You will always have poor people with you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12: 1-8)
The two accounts of the “inspired” writers seem quite congruent on perfunctory glance, however, when observed meticulously there are appalling differences. Below we have tabulated them:
Jesus’ (pbuh) Anointing
Gospel “according” to Matthew
Gospel “according” to John
|1.||House of Simon||House of Lazarus|
|2.||Heals a skin – disease||Raises a dead|
|3.||Multiple disciples criticized lady||Only Judas chided the lady|
|4.||Perfume poured on head||Perfume poured on feet|
|5.||Act was symbolic of burial preparation||Act was not symbolic of burial preparation|
|6.||Lady praised.||No such “inspiration” of lady being praised.|
In hardly six to eight verses, we have five critical differences.
What makes it even more interesting is that even though Jesus (peace be upon him) told that the lady’s act would be remembered and preached throughout the world ever since, however, “Holy Ghost” did not feel it important enough to “inspire” Luke – the so called “historian” to record it in his gospel!
However, the “Holy Ghost” did discriminate to “inspire” Matthew. Here is Matthew’s version, note how it coincides with Mark’s:
“Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon, a man who had suffered from adreaded skin-disease. While Jesus was eating, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar filled with an expensive perfume, which she poured on his head.The disciples saw this and became angry. “Why all this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold for a large amount and the money given to the poor!”
“Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? It is a fine and beautiful thing that she has done for me. You will always have poor people with you, but you will not always have me. What she did was to pour this perfume on my body to get me ready for burial. Now, I assure you that wherever this gospel is preached all over the world, whatshe has done will be told in memory of her.” (Matthew 26: 6-13)
So if we were to reconstruct our table, we would have:
Jesus’ (pbuh) Anointing
Gospel “according” to Mark
Gospel “according” to John
Gospel “according” to Matthew
Gospel “according” to Luke
|1.||House of Simon||House of Lazarus||House of Simon||No “inspiration” granted|
|2.||Heals a skin – disease||Raises a dead||Heals a skin – disease||No “inspiration” granted|
|3.||Multiple disciples criticized lady||Only Judas chided the lady||Multiple disciples chastise lady||No “inspiration” granted|
|4.||Perfume poured on head||Perfume poured on feet||Perfume poured on head||No “inspiration” granted|
|5.||Act was part of burial preparation||Act was not a part of burial||Act was part of burial preparation.||No “inspiration” granted|
|6.||Lady praised.||No such record of lady being praised.||Lady praised.||No “inspiration” granted|
All of the above sheds more than significant doubt on the authenticity, internal coherence and “divinely inspired” capacity of the “New Testament”. Because how in the world could,
1. Trinitarian god himself – the “Holy Ghost” – who was allegedly controlling the minds of the evangelists give different instructions to different authors.
2. The “Holy Ghost” discriminate Luke to keep him away from recording such an important incident?
We are not merely concerned about the differences or should we say “mere differences” because we even have conceptual and ritualistic differences! Note the following:
3. According to Mark’s and Matthew’s narrative, Jesus’ (peace be upon him) being perfumed was an act of his pre-preparation for his alleged burial. So by pouring the perfume Jesus (peace be upon him) was allegedly prepared for his burial. However, John has a totally different account. According to him, Jesus (peace be upon him) asked the lady to save the perfume for later stage when he would allegedly die and then his dead body be perfumed according to the contemporary traditional Jewish practice! Thus, in John’s narrative there is nothing like pre-death burial preparation; all was to be done, in the traditional way, that is, post-death burial preparation.
4. How could the third “divine” person – Holy Ghost – miss out to “inspire” John that Jesus (peace be upon him), his co – god, has immortalized the lady. Note that John has related the above incident, however, he went absolutely silent on Jesus’ (peace be upon him) praising the lady! What is even embarrassing that Luke wasn’t at all “inspired” to record the incident including his “lord and savior” immortalizing the lady! Once the so called “divine son of God” praised the lady the way he praised, it must have become incumbent on “Holy Ghost”, John and Luke to record it since she was to be remembered for all times to come in all the world through these documents.
5. Furthermore, according to Mark and Matthew by pouring perfume Jesus’ (peace be upon him) body was made ready before hand for the alleged burial, as he himself testified. Accordingly there was no further need for a ritual of this sort.
On the preceding, celebrated Christian commentator John Gill writes that the lady was “inspired” by “Holy Ghost” to anoint Jesus (peace be upon him) at Bethany before hand, since she would not get chance to do it when Jesus (peace be upon him) is biblically crucified:
Mark 14:8 She hath done what she could,…. What she had in her heart, and in the power of her hands to do; she hath done according to her ability, and her good will; and if she had not done it now, she could not have done it at all.
She is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying; or, “as if it was to bury me”, as the Syriac version renders it. Christ signifies by this, that he should shortly die, and that this woman came before hand to anoint him, and, as it were, to perform the funeral rites before he was dead; it being revealed to her by the Spirit, that Jesus would quickly die, and she should not be able to perform this good work when dead, and therefore came to do it before; or, at least, she was directed by the Spirit of God, because she would be prevented doing it afterwards;See Gill on Mat_26:12. (John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, Mark 14:8)
Yet defying the injunctions of Jesus (peace be upon him) and the inspirations of the “Holy Ghost”, the lady again tried to anoint the alleged dead body of Jesus (peace be upon him) after his alleged crucifixion:
“The women who had followed Jesus from Galilee went with Joseph and saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was placed in it. Then they went back home and prepared the spices and perfumes for the body.” (Luke 23:55-56)
We can reconcile the above in two ways:
(i) Either Jesus’ (peace be upon him) anointing was incomplete at Bethany or
(ii) The lady decided to anoint the body twice.
However, both the above reconciliations have problems:
(i) If we accept that Jesus’ anointing at Bethany (pre-crucifixion) to be incomplete then it would beg questions that:
(a) Jesus (peace be upon him) couldn’t possibly had praised and immortalized the lady for an incomplete act.
(b) It contravenes the fact that it was divinely destined, as John Gill confirms, that Jesus’ (peace be upon him) alleged dead body would not be anointed. Thus, his anointing at Bethany must have been complete and final.
(ii) If we accept that the lady decided to anoint the body twice, then we need to see in which Jewish tradition were the dead bodies anointed twice. As of date, we couldn’t find any such proof.
So much for the claims of internal coherence of the Bible written over the period of thousands of years by scores of authors!
At this particular point we will take another set of problems with the subject passages, namely, the gradual evolution of the Bible and “Christology”. Consider the following:
A. Healing a skin-disease cannot possibly stand near quickening a dead body; no wonder in Mark’s and Matthew’s version, which is older than John’s we find Jesus (peace be upon him) at Bethany healing the skin disease. However, as Bible evolved and people wanted to embellish the status of Jesus (peace be upon him), John claimed that he was raising the dead at Bethany. The low profile skin-disease was now replaced by miraculous quickening of the dead!
To further prove that John’s narrative (substitution) was a mere act of embellishment, he goes on to write the impact of Jesus’ (peace be upon him) raising the dead:
“A large number of people heard that Jesus was in Bethany, so they went there, not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from death.” (John 12: 9)
Note the reason(s) why “large number of people” gathered! It is not too hard to realize that Jesus (peace be upon him) couldn’t have had a similar impact and consequent large gathering by merely healing the leprosy as compared to quickening the dead! Thus, John in order to embellish the status and accomplishments of Jesus (peace be upon him) exchanged the act with a more awesome one!
B. Another very important biblical evolution or let us say damage control polemics written by John was with regards to the critics of the lady.
According to Jesus (peace be upon him), the act of lady was a commendable as such John felt it inappropriate that other disciples of Jesus (peace be upon him) except Judas – the unfortunate one – would misconstrue and chide the lady for her act. Eventually, John aptly writes that it was only Judas who chided her, implying others were in perfect harmony with Jesus (peace be upon him) as his true disciples!
This theory further gets corroboration from the fact that where Mark and Matthew felt no need to explain why disciples (plural) scolded the lady other than that they wanted the money of perfume to be given to poor, John somehow got “inspired” and felt it necessary to “explain” that because Judas was wicked traitor and wanted to embezzle the money owned by selling perfume that he lambasted the lady. Re-read this:
“One of Jesus’ disciples, Judas Iscariot – the one who was going to betray him – said, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred silver coins and the money give to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would help himself from it.” (John 12:6)
In fact, ever since John’s extremely negative, exclusive and biased portrayal of Judas, Christian commentators left no stone unturned to chide him and pass all the bucks upon his shoulder alone:
“Judas, who cared only for money, seized the position according to his own interest. He saw, not the preciousness of Christ, but the desires of the scribes. His sagacity was of the enemy, as that of Mary was of God.” (John Darby’s Synopsis, Mark 14:1-72)
No fair person would claim that Judas was the only person “seizing position” especially when, not one, but two equally, if not more, “inspired” gospel writers have written that multiple disciples chided the lady.
C. Also notice the glaring embellishment that the lady in Mark and Matthew is portrayed to “anoint” or prepare Jesus’ (peace be upon him) burial by anointing his head. However, in order to adorn the status of Jesus (peace be upon him), John aggrandized that the young lady massaged Jesus’ (peace be upon him) feet with her hair (1.).
D. While all of this was happening, “Holy Ghost” had his own reasons not to “inspire” Luke. Or may be on the foregoing biblical chaos, Luke preferred to remain silent.
The commonest “explanation” which a Christian (apologist) might give is that these are merely “scribal errors”. However, this would be utterly weak reconciliation because:
I. How possible is it that while copying the scribe copied “Simon” as “Lazarus”! Such an “explanation” opens door for copying errors to the degree of copying Allah (SWT) as lord and savior in place of Jesus (peace be upon him).
II. How possible it is that the copyist wrote leprosy in place of raising the dead so on and so forth.
Technically “scribal error” is the error in spelling but nothing of that sort is found above.
We might take a concordant to approach to assume that such “errors” are possible, however:
1. So many of them in merely 6-8 verses even though “Holy Ghost” was monitoring!?
2. What about the capacity of errors! Simon as Lazarus, Leprosy as death?
3. Was John’s divinely “inspired” polemics that only Judas berated lady – also an error!?
We could also expect a “reconciliation” wherein it would be proposed that the differing accounts of Mark and John are separate incidents. Nevertheless, such an explanation would have severe negatives implications on Christ (peace be upon him) and Christianity. And so, any Christian (apologist) thinking of it, should immediately drop it.
The truth of the matter is Bible is more a literature of history which underwent all sorts of manipulations from emotional to political to Christological influences. As such leading New Testament scholar Kenneth Cragg notes:
“There is a condensation and editing, there is choice production and witness. The Gospels have come through the mind of the church behind the authors. They represent experience and history” (The Call of the Minaret, pp. 277, Kenneth Cragg. As quoted in Before Nicea, The Early Followers of Prophet Jesus, pp.33, Abdul Haq al-Ashanti and Abdur-Rahman Bowes)
Thus, the claims that the Bible has been divinely “inspired” to evangelists and is “purely God breathed”, sounds hollow. Subsequently, for a non – Christian believer it becomes extremely difficult to accept it as a divine unchanged word of God; to rely upon for fate and salvation.
We couldn’t have better ended this paper than quoting Christian Scholar Dr. Doddridge commenting candidly on the subject passages. He says:
“It appears to me more probable,” says Dr. Doddridge, “that Matthew and Mark should have introduced this story out of its place – that Lazarus, if he made this feast (which is not expressly said by John), should have made use of Simon’s house, as more convenient – and that Mary should have poured this ointment on Christ’s head and body, as well as on his feet – than that, within the compass of four days, Christ should have been twice anointed with so costly a perfume; and that the same fault should be found with the action, and the same value set upon the ointment, and the same words used in defence of the woman, and all this in the presence of many of the same persons; all which improbable particulars must be admitted, if the stories be considered as different.” The rebuke which Judas received from Christ at this unction determined him in his resolution to betray his Master; and therefore Christ’s rebuke, and Judas’s revenge, are united, as cause and effect, by Matthew and Mark. (Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge, Mark 14:8)
Thus, as expected, we have differing accounts by different “inspired” authors and as such we find it quite prudent and logical that sincere Christian scholars have entitled the Gospels as “according to so-and-so”. It makes sense.
- Unless otherwise mentioned, all biblical texts are taken from Holy Bible, Good News Edition, Today’s English Version.
- Any emphasize not matching with the original is ours.
(1.) Christians may portray Jesus (peace be upon him) the way they like, however, in Islam, we cannot even assume that the honored, historical Jesus (peace be upon him), the son of Mary, could possibly would have allowed a young lady to touch his body, let alone, wipe his feet with her hair!