Who wrote down the story of Jesus in the Desert?
One of the most famous stories of Jesus is his temptation by Satan in the desert. It’s told in three of the gospels – here’s the passage in Matthew.
According to the text Jesus goes out into the desert to fast and was tempted by the devil. As we know the devil was unsuccessful. It’s a great story of conquering temptation.
However I’ve often wondered who wrote down the story (with all its detail)? It seems unlikely that the devil would somehow record his failure – so seems it could only be Jesus and it seems quite a personal experience for him to be telling to people.
Interesting question. Two plausible options, I think:
1. Jesus told it, as you agreed is possible. Yes, it was a very “personal experience,” but Jesus throughout the Gospel accounts intentionally made himself vulnerable to his disciples to teach and shepherd them. The temptation in the desert was important in several different ways, so he might very well have shared it. (If Jesus was willing to be crucified naked for the lost, surely he wouldn’t mind sharing intimate personal stories?)
2. God could have revealed the story to the Gospel writer directly. Of course, this assumes that God is real and revelation is possible, but that’s a different question. (And if the events themselves happened, then God is real and therefore revelation is possible.) Christians believe that the Holy Spirit directly revealed many truths to the authors of the Scriptures; this could be one of them.
Sorry David – missed this comment 🙂
Number 1 is possible, but it’s not something I personally would expect from Jesus – “I wasn’t tempted by the devil”, feels a little like bragging – but as you say it could have happened. Number 2 is ofcourse an explanation – but it’s a “God did it” argument and I don’t find those satisfying – it’s a “get-out-of-jail-free card” for any unknown question. Another alternative explanation is that it didn’t happen or that it was a story/parable circulated by his followers – this is more plausible to me these other suggestions.
The temptation of Jesus was about more than just him resisting temptation. It was also symbolic of him being a perfect human who would obey God completely when no others had. So, just as Israel went into the wilderness and sinned (Exodus) at the start of their national life, Jesus started his public life by going into the wilderness… and not sinning. It says something about who he is. So telling his disciples about it would have had an important teaching function.
As for “God did it,” I understand why that feels like a cop-out to you. However, I’d urge you to consider this: If God does exist, then there have to be some things for which the real, actual explanation is “God did it.” Of course, people can superstitiously attribute lots of things to God which he didn’t do, but the only defensible reason for automatically rejecting all “God did it” claims is if we’re 100% sure he doesn’t exist.
Anyway, I agree with you that another alternative explanation is that the story was made up or circulated as a parable. To decide which was the best explanation, I think we’d have to look beyond the passage itself to consider bigger questions like whether God exists and whether there’s reason to think the Bible is his inspired Word. Probably bigger questions than can be addressed in a blog comment. 😉
“God did it” is an explanation – that’s true. I don’t automatically reject it, I just don’t see it having much explanatory power – given that potentially it can be applied to anything. It’s why ancient people believed the gods caused lightning. It’s also the end of an argument and doesn’t promote further discussion – it explains everything and there’s no way to really argue with it.
I do understand that whether Jesus really went out into the desert wouldn’t impact the beliefs of most Christians. These questions are more to point out potential problems with Christian theology, but also to look at epistemology – how people come to their beliefs. Most Christians would say that Jesus being tempted in the desert definitely happened – I’d just like more recognition that possibly it didn’t happen – that it could have been made up or a parable. Then we can move on to the resurrection 🙂