The majority of Christians believe that the Gospels were written by direct witnesses of the life of Jesus and therefore constitute unquestionable evidence concerning the events high-lighting His life and preachings. One wonders, in the presence of such guarantees of authenticity, how it is possible to discuss the teachings derived from them and how one can cast doubt upon the validity of the Church as an institution applying the general instructions Jesus Himself gave. Today's popular editions of the Gospels contain commentaries aimed at propagating these ideas among the general public.
The value the authors of the Gospels have as eye-witnesses is always presented to the faithful as axiomatic. In the middle of the Second century, Saint Justin did, after all, call the Gospels the 'Memoirs of the Apostles'. There are moreover so many details proclaimed concerning the authors that it is a wonder that one could ever doubt their accuracy. 'Matthew was a well-known character 'a customs officer employed at the tollgate or customs house at Capharnaum'; it is even said that he spoke Aramaic and Greek. Mark is also easily identifiable as Peter's colleague; there is no doubt that he too was an eye-witness. Luke is the 'dear physician' of whom Paul talks: information on him is very precise. John is the Apostle who was always near to Jesus, son of Zebedee, fisherman on the Sea of Galilee.
Modern studies on the beginnings of Christianity show that this way of presenting things hardly corresponds to reality. We shall see who the authors of the Gospels really were. As far as the decades following Jesus's mission are concerned, it must be understood that events did not at all happen in the way they have been said to have taken place and that Peter's arrival in Rome in no way laid the foundations for the Church. On the contrary, from the time Jesus left earth to the second half of the Second century, there was a struggle between two factions. One was what one might call Pauline Christianity and the other Judeo-Christianity. It was only very slowly that the first supplanted the second, and Pauline Christianity triumphed over Judeo-Christianity.
A large number of very recent works are based on contemporary discoveries about Christianity. Among them we find Cardinal Daniélou's name. In December 1967 he published an article in the review Studies (Etudes) entitled. 'A New Representation of the Origins of Christianity: Judeo-Christianity'. (Une vision nouvelle des origines chrétiennes, le judéo-christianisme). Here he reviews past works, retraces its history and enables us to place the appearance of the Gospels in quite a different context from the one that emerges on reading accounts intended for mass publication. What follows is a condensed version of the essential points made in his article, including many quotations from it.
After Jesus's departure, the "little group of Apostles" formed a "Jewish sect that remained faithful to the form of worship practised in the Temple". However, when the observances of converts from paganism were added to them, a 'special system' was offered to them, as it were: the Council of Jerusalem in 49 A.D. exempted them from circumcision and Jewish observances; "many Judeo-Christians rejected this concession". This group was quite separate from Paul's. What is more, Paul and the Judeo-Christians were in conflict over the question of pagans who had turned to Christianity, (the incident of Antioch, 49 A.D.). "For Paul, the circumcision, Sabbath, and form of worship practised in the Temple were henceforth old fashioned, even for the Jews. Christianity was to free itself from its political-cum-religious adherence to Judaism and open itself to the Gentiles."
For those Judeo-Christians who remained 'loyal Jews,' Paul was a traitor. Judeo-Christian documents call him an 'enemy', accuse him of 'tactical double-dealing', . . . '"Until 70 A.D., Judeo-Christianity represents the majority of the Church" and "Paul remains an isolated case". The head of the community at that time was James, a relation of Jesus. With him were Peter (at the beginning) and John. "James may be considered to represent the Judeo-Christian camp, which deliberately clung to Judaism as opposed to Pauline Christianity." Jesus's family has a very important place in the Judeo-Christian Church of Jerusalem. "James's successor was Simeon, son of Cleopas, a cousin of the Lord".
Cardinal Danielou here quotes Judeo-Christian writings which express the views on Jesus of this community which initially formed around the apostles: the Gospel of the Hebrews (coming from a Judeo-Christian community in Egypt), the writings of Clement: Homilies and Recognitions, 'Hypotyposeis', the Second Apocalypse of James, the Gospel of Thomas. [ One could note here that all these writings were later to be classed as Apocrypha, i.e. they had to be concealed by the victorious Church which was born of Paul's success. This Church made obvious excisions in the Gospel literature and retained only the four Canonic Gospels.] "It is to the Judeo-Christians that one must ascribe the oldest writings of Christian literature." Cardinal Daniélou mentions them in detail.
"It was not just in Jerusalem and Palestine that Judeo-Christianity predominated during the first hundred years of the Church. The Judeo-Christian mission seems everywhere to have developed before the Pauline mission. This is certainly the explanation of the fact that the letters of Paul allude to a conflict." They were the same adversaries he was to meet everywhere: in Galatia, Corinth, Colossae, Rome and Antioch.
The Syro-Palestinian coast from Gaza to Antioch was Judeo-Christian '"as witnessed by the Acts of the Apostles and Clementine writings". In Asia Minor, the existence of Judeo-Christians is indicated in Paul's letters to the Galatians and Colossians. Papias's writings give us information about Judeo-Christianity in Phrygia. In Greece, Paul's first letter to the Corinthians mentions Judeo-Christians, especially at Apollos. According to Clement's letter and the Shepherd of Hermas, Rome was an 'important centre'. For Suetonius and Tacitus, the Christians represented a Jewish sect. Cardinal Daniélou thinks that the first evangelization in Africa was Judeo-Christian. The Gospel of the Hebrews and the writings of Clement of Alexandria link up with this.
It is essential to know these facts to understand the struggle between communities that formed the background against which the Gospels were written. The texts that we have today, after many adaptations from the sources, began to appear around 70 A.D., the time when the two rival communities were engaged in a fierce struggle, with the Judeo-Christians still retaining the upper hand. With the Jewish war and the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. the situation was to be reversed. This is how Cardinal Daniélou explains the decline:
From 70 A.D. to a period sometime before 110 A.D. the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were produced. They do not constitute the first written Christian documents: the letters of Paul date from well before them. According to O. Culmann, Paul probably wrote his letter to the Thessalonians in 50 A.D. He had probably disappeared several years prior to the completion of Mark's Gospel.
Paul is the most controversial figure in Christianity. He was considered to be a traitor to Jesus's thought by the latter's family and by the apostles who had stayed in Jerusalem in the circle around James. Paul created Christianity at the expense of those whom Jesus had gathered around him to spread his teachings. He had not known Jesus during his lifetime and he proved the legitimacy of his mission by declaring that Jesus, raised from the dead, had appeared to him on the road to Damascus. It is quite reasonable to ask what Christianity might have been without Paul and one could no doubt construct all sorts of hypotheses on this subject. As far as the Gospels are concerned however, it is almost certain that if this atmosphere of struggle between communities had not existed, we would not have had the writings we possess today. They appeared at a time of fierce struggle between the two communities. These 'combat writings', as Father Kannengiesser calls them, emerged from the multitude of writings on Jesus. These occurred at the time when Paul's style of Christianity won through definitively, and created its own collection of official texts. These texts constituted the 'Canon' which condemned and excluded as unorthodox any other documents that were not suited to the line adopted by the Church.
The Judeo-Christians have now disappeared as a community with any influence, but one still hears people talking about them under the general term of 'Judaïstic'. This is how Cardinal Daniélou describes their disappearance: