Lately, I’ve been re-reading the Greek Bible (a.k.a. “The New Testament”) while listening to Prof. Luke Timothy Johnson’s lecture course, Jesus and the Gospels. Johnson is a believer, unlike Bart Ehrman. But he’s a scholarly, thinking Roman Catholic — not a knee-jerk Biblical literalist. So I’m enjoying the course far more than expected.
When William Stoddard recommended the poem “The Disciple” by Rudyard Kipling on another comment thread, I was intrigued! Better yet, I was not disappointed on reading the poem.
The Disciple Rudyard Kipling
He that hath a Gospel To loose upon Mankind, Though he serve it utterly– Body, soul and mind– Though he go to Calvary Daily for its gain– It is His Disciple Shall make his labour vain.
He that hath a Gospel For all earth to own– Though he etch it on the steel, Or carve it on the stone– Not to be misdoubted Through the after-days– It is His Disciple Shall read it many ways.
It is His Disciple (Ere Those Bones are dust ) Who shall change the Charter, Who shall split the Trust– Amplify distinctions, Rationalize the Claim; Preaching that the Master Would have done the same.
It is His Disciple Who shall tell us how Much the Master would have scrapped Had he lived till now– What he would have modified Of what he said before. It is His Disciple Shall do this and more….
He that hath a Gospel Whereby Heaven is won ( Carpenter, or cameleer, Or Maya’s dreaming son ), Many swords shell pierce Him, Mingling blood with gall; But His Own Disciple Shall wound Him worst of all!
In the years that I’ve been studying the history and texts of early Christianity, I’ve grown to love and appreciate the Gospels as literature. They’re rich, complex, and philosophical. I’ve also developed some sympathy for Jesus — as much as I disagree with every bit of his preaching — because his message was so quickly and wildly distorted by his followers. To use Bart Ehrman’s language, there’s a gap between the religion proclaimed by Jesus and the religion about Jesus. And it’s huge.