What do we say of the criticism that the sayings of Jesus are not original?


“the main precepts of the Sermon on the Mount were all there beforehand.”

“Christianity is a copy of every Jewish moral idea.”

“the doctrine of forgiveness for injuries was common to Greeks and Romans before the Gospels were compiled.”

“From the duty of giving alms freely—which is repeatedly laid down in the Old Testament—to that of the sin of concupiscence and the wrongness of divorce for trivial causes, every moral idea in the Sermon (on the Mount) had been formulated alike by Jews and Gentiles beforehand.”

“That the Gospel ethic is non-original…”

And therefore the critic concludes that the Gospels cannot be historical.


I like your question but behind this thought is the real question being ask, Is everything that Jesus said an original idea? I ask not to derail the thread but because I have thought the same.
I would very interested in your critics citing their sources as you listed quite a few questions that could easily be topics by themselves.
I think most of these criticisms are generalities and are supported by available historical writing and are viewed with a western bias.
One example that comes to mind is the word “grace” it is not a Christian word it was a common word in the 1st century and would have been understood my everyone as gift from a benefactor that required the beneficent to praise the greatness of the gift and the greatness of the giver who gave without any expectation of receiving anything in kind. Here is link that sheds a little light on my thoughts.

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Hi @Jimmy, thanks for your reply. It is from an old book I came across in the internet called "The Historical Jesus: A Survey of Positions by John M. Robertson, 1916. The author’s skepticism is extreme! :slight_smile: And I think most of these skeptical ideas have formed the foundation for today’s skeptics.


Thank you. I was not familiar with Robertson and like you I like to kick the tires of derogatory views of the Christian faith. According to wiki he was an advocate of the Christ myth theory one of his sources for his position was this Jesus Pandera. He argued the that the story of Jesus Pandera a polemical Jewish writing from the Toldot Yeshu as evidence to support his position because it had an early BC date. Most scholars today date the this story as much later perhaps the early middle ages. Here is a link to the text in question.


If you are interested in a modern day discussion of the topic of Jesus, who he was, what was his agenda and why did he die, I recommend this book.

This book is a book that looks at Jesus as the secular world wrote and viewed him.

Thanks again for the info.


Thanks for the references. :slight_smile:


Hi, @Armando! I hope you are well. :slight_smile: Thanks for opening up this line of questioning! I have a similar question to @Jimmy_Sellers for the skeptic who would use this line of reasoning. Jimmy asked, ‘Is everything that Jesus said an original idea?’ and I would further ask, ‘Does Jesus’ teaching need to be original for the Gospels to be ‘historical’? (whatever that means…) I think that if one concludes that, yes, the teachings do need to be original in order for the source to be historical, then I question their ability to read history properly at all. Historicity is not tied to originality.

I would also contend that Jesus (the man, who lived for a specific period of time in a specific place) wasn’t concerned with being original; he was counter-cultural. He was a rabbi who brought fresh perspectives on the old law; he was not bringing something completely new. He did usher in a new age of spirituality and communion with God, but the Old is its foundation.

Another line of questioning to take would be to ask what the skeptic means by ‘original’. Because I would contend that Jesus, as the second person of the Trinity, was the origin of all things before He came in the flesh. As John writes in his Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.


Hi KMac! Thanks for your reply. I was trying my best to understand what the critic was saying and it seems to me that his main critique is that the Gospels are just a compilation of moral standards already formulated by earlier cultures. He asserts that the Gospels are not historical, they were only made up stories and he goes to prove this by showing that the christian ethic, especially the contents of the sermon on the mount are recycled material. But like you said, that the christian ethic is “non-original” does not make the Gospel stories non-historical. He was responding to an essay by a certain Canon Inge which he quotes:

" We have a considerable body of sayings which must be genuine because they are far too great to have been invented by His disciples , " (Canon Inge, art. “St. Paul” in Quarterly Review , Jan., 1914, p. 45.)

It’s really old material, 1914. :smile:

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Ah, gotcha. That helps put things into context a bit, thanks! Robertson’s writing is pretty typical for that time, which saw the rise of what’s referred to as Biblical (or ‘Higher’) Criticism. The wikipedia article on that movement notes that…

Biblical criticism began as an aspect of the rise of “modern” culture in the West. Some scholars claim that its roots reach back to the Reformation, but most agree it grew out of the German Enlightenment.

I’m sure there are some academically-sound, ‘conservative’ critiques of this movement and the more ‘liberal’ theological strands that inspired it and developed from it, but I do not know of any off the top of my head. One thing interesting I did come across was this lecture/essay written by CS Lewis with his thoughts on the topic.

Can any @Interested_in_Theology people weigh in with some thoughts? :slight_smile: