Gospel Determinism Cases: Paul G. Bretscher, Part 4


Previously I presented “Gospel Determinism: A Preview.” Then we movee from preview to the first of some cases that illustrate gospel determinism: Paul G. Bretscher.

This case does not fit into one blog post. The article is broken into five parts:

Part 1

  • The Elements in Bretscher’s Thought
  • Significance: Bretscher in the Action

Part 2

  • Lutheran Formulation

Part 3

  • Anti-Creedal Formulation (begun)

Part 4

  • Anti-Creedal Formulation (concluded)

Part 5

  • Reflections
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

Anti-Creedal Formulation

Storm Stories, Healing Stories, Etc.

Bretscher repeats that demolition-and-patch-up procedure — demotion by gospel-determined text criticism and patch-up by gospel-determined metaphorical hermeneutic — not only on a number of other “mountain-metaphors,” but also on “storm stories,” “lake stories,” “fishing stories,” “healing stories,” and “mission stories.”[1] The procedure is necessary to make Scripture witness to the pre-known covenant-sonship Gospel. The Gospel determines in advance that Scripture must witness to this. Nothing that is not Gospel can be the “Word of God” even if it is in the written Word. Covenant-sonship rules out the deity of Christ. All the evidences of deity in the Gospel text must be branded as inauthentic by text criticism. The holes left by that demolition patched by metaphor.

In Bretscher’s view, Jesus did not direct a great catch of fish. He did not walk on the sea. He did not calm a storm at sea. He did not heal a paralytic. He did not heal at the pool of Bethesda. He did not raise from the dead the young man at Nain. He did not raise the daughter of Jairus. On the way to raise Jairus’ daughter, He did not heal the hemorrhage of the woman who touched the hem of his garment. He did not deliver the Canaanite daughter from demon possession. He did not cleanse the Samaritan leper. He did not possess knowledge of the life of the woman at the well in Samaria. He did not give sight to a blind man. He did not see Nathanael under the fig tree.[2] And so on, and so on, and so on.[3]

The later church erroneously,

took metaphor to be literal-visible reality. How could Jesus do such wonders? He was God! Why did he do them? To demonstrate himself so. When Jesus’ covenant-sonship became unknown, his covenant-gospel was lost with it.[4]


The parables of Jesus also receive a new interpretation. Take, for example, the parable of the mustard seed. “His covenant-name, ‘my beloved son,’ has grown like a mustard-seed into the full tree.”[5]

Sacrifice and Atonement

Because gospel determinism denies the sacrifice of Christ as our atonement, it must do something with the Levitical sacrifices. Otherwise, how can it explain that God required the Hebrews to observe the sacrifices for hundreds of years only to finally say, “Never mind. Sacrifice really has nothing to do with salvation.”

Gospel determinism deals with that history by simply erasing it, saying the priestly scribes forged it in Moses’ hand. “Priestly scribes, descendants of Aaron, wrote detailed laws of sacrifice, as from the Lord, into documents they attributed to Moses.”[6]

Sacrament of the Altar

Bretscher says the accounts of Jesus’ institution of the Sacrament of the Altar in the upper room are loaded with inauthentic later additions. “Implications perceived later were retrojected into the memory of the meal itself.”[7]

Then there is “the blood.” Preserved manuscripts of Luke suggest that this was not in the original event, but only the bread, of which Jesus said, “This is my body.” Lk 22:19a “Given for you, … in remembrance of me, … the new covenant in my blood” — all this was written into Luke’s text later.[8]


1. We know the Gospel, and the covenant-gospel locates the gospel in the covenant-sonship and the covenant-name, and

2. The Gospel determines everything else.


3. Luke’s account locating the covenant in the blood of Christ is inadmissible.

Though contained in Scripture, the Gospel determines that it just can’t be God’s Word. The words, “Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you,’” must have been injected later.

While claiming to be a moderate form of historical-criticism of the text, this is not moderate and does not criticize the text on the basis of history. It criticizes history first, on the basis of a presupposition about what the Gospel is allowed to be, changes the history of the upper room, and then pretends to critique Scripture, Christ, the atonement, and the Sacrament on the basis of a “history” that is merely so-called. Bretscher has made himself an author of history and scripture.

Words on the Cross

Gospel determinism does not need history. It does not need the biography of Jesus. It can put our own words into Jesus’ mouth so long as the words we invent convey the Gospel we know already before we hear Jesus’ own words.

For example, the words of Jesus on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” need not be words that Jesus actually said. We can add them into the text of Luke because they are Gospel.

Did Jesus actually utter this [“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”] aloud on the cross, so that a witness heard and reported it? Or might some witness, in his own telling of the passion history, have had reason to put this saying into his mouth? Assuming the latter, a subsequent level of the history needs to be imagined. Why might someone, in telling Jesus’ passion, have wanted to re­port Jesus as saying this? Perhaps a shamed disciple perceived himself among those who did “not know what they were doing,” yet came to know how Jesus loved and forgave him in the dark hour of his dying. How could he testify to this briefly and yet unmistakably, so that others who “did not know what they were doing” might hear Jesus’ love and forgiveness for their comfort, too? He did so by putting into Jesus’ mouth words which reflected his heart.[9]

By this approach, the assurance of forgiveness of sins rests not on the fact that Jesus said words of forgiveness. It rests on us wanting those words and putting them into his mouth. We are making it up ourselves — all of it, history, biography, text, and doctrine. Our assurance is sheer self-assurance.

Burial and Resurrection

In an elaborate explanation spanning three and three-quarters pages,[10] Bretscher makes hash out of the burial and resurrection.

Traditional interpretation views the guards as reporting Jesus’ resurrection the next morning and being bribed to conceal it. In its original untampered unity, however, the fragment tells something very different.[11]

According to Brestcher, because Jesus was convicted of blasphemy and insurrection, He ought to have been buried in an unmarked pit in the valley of Hinnom along with other cursed people. He ought not to have been buried in a holy grave that the council had approved for Joseph of Arimathea and his family. “His illicit burial in a holy tomb was reversed that sabbath night by guards instructed to rebury him in the cursed valley of Hinnom (his descent into hell).”[12]

To accomplish this, Bretscher invents a fictitious member of the council and gives him the hypothetical name “Perez.” When this fictitious Perez learned that Pilate had granted the body of Jesus to Joseph, Perez ordered a squad of temple police to remove the body from Joseph’s tomb and rebury it in Hinnom.[13] Thus, according to Bretscher, the empty tomb is no evidence of bodily resurrection. It is only evidence that Perez put things right as he saw right.

The squad Perez sent to remove Jesus from Joseph’s tomb goofed, however, by leaving the tomb open. Perez had to concoct the story about the disciples. He had to bribe the guards to say they fell asleep. He told that story to Pilate and to the council. The council went along with the story. “That is how the lie about the empty tomb came about. . . . The young church knew about Jesus’ reburial in Hinnom all along.”[14]

St. Paul knew this, too. He paraphrased “Hinnom” for Gentile readers as Jesus “descended into the lower parts of the earth,” as low as anyone can get, lower even than crucifixion and death and burial in Joseph’s tomb. Eph 4:9

Ironically, by reburying Jesus, the council itself created the shocking first sign of his resurrection, the open and empty tomb, timed even for the literal “third day.”[15]

Lutherans teach that the descent into hell was a stage in Christ’s state of exaltation, not a stage in his state of humiliation. His actions there are in triumph over sin, death, hell, and the devil. But according to Bretscher’s Perez story, the creed is not talking about Jesus descending into hell as part of his triumph over it. It is talking about the reburial of Jesus from Joseph’s tomb to the smoldering pit in Hinnom.[16] Thus he denies Christ his triumph.

For Bretscher, there is no bodily resurrection of Jesus. Yet there is a resurrection. What resurrection? Remember the two elements of gospel determinism. First, we know the Gospel, in this case, the covenant-sonship that Jesus received at his Baptism and that God gives directly also to you. Second, the Gospel determines everything else. So, Bretscher expounds the Gospel-determined resurrection thusly:

The miracle of Jesus’ resurrection was not a resuscitated corpse. The faith and witness of the young church did not proceed from the “eyes-opened” logic of a barren “Wow!” The miracle was that the sonship-gospel Jesus embodied, which the council tried to kill by killing him, did not stay dead! It arose in the women as by the voice of angels, and in the disciples by their witness. The Jesus who appeared to them was embodied in that gospel. They saw him by that gospel! . . . Copyists, however, could conceive of his “resurrection” only as the resuscitation of his corpse.  . . . Hence, they interpolated bodily “proofs” of Jesus’ resurrection into copies they were making. Then, to explain why he was no longer being seen in his resurrected body on earth, they invented a visible bodily departure. The disciples saw him “carried up into heaven.”[17]

In other words, in gospel determinism, the Gospel literally replaces Jesus! Jesus did not bodily rise on the third day. The covenant-sonship Gospel rose on the third day.

What of the witnesses to the bodily resurrection? To save Bretscher’s Gospel of covenant-sonship, a handy metaphorical hermeneutic comes to the rescue.

“I have seen the Lord,” Mary said, as she told them what Jesus had told her. . . . Such sight and hearing is not physiological, no more than Mary’s seeing and hearing the two angels was physiological. It took the language of metaphor to express to others how the revelation broke through to her own heart.[18]

The resurrection is the resurrection of the covenant-sonship Gospel which Mary expresses in the metaphor of seeing, hearing, and bodily resurrection. The existence of two different ideas of resurrection explains the reaction of the disciples to the women’s testimony in Luke 24.

The dawning broke upon the women by the word of God. They returned from the tomb and told it to the disciples. The men, however, seeing and thinking with natural eyes only, dismissed their witness as an idle tale.[19]

Bretscher predicts that we will be like the disciples. Notice “Christianity” in quotations marks as Bretscher says,

For “Christianity” to accept that Jesus’ resurrection and appearances are not physiological but of the gospel he embodied, will be as difficult a “repentance” as it was for the authority and piety of synagogue and temple in that day to accept the resurrection-gospel of the young church.[20]

Just as the Gospel-determined metaphorical hermeneutic salvages Bretscher’s denial of bodily resurrection of Jesus, text criticism does also. “A copyist of Matthew interpolated a bodily appearance of Jesus to the women as they were running from the tomb.”[21] “‘The doors being shut, where the disciples were, for fear of the Judeans’ is a copyist’s enhancement, designed to accent the miracle of his bodily appearing.”[22]

A copyist, however, fashioned an elaborate inter­polation to show that the resurrection of Jesus was of body. Lk 24:37-43 “They were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit,” it began. “Why are you troubled and why do questionings arise in your hearts?” Jesus asks. To the copyist “in your hearts” meant “in your minds.” “Believing” meant being intellectually convinced by the miraculous. Jesus overcame their disbe­lief and questionings by offering visible proofs. “See my hands and my feet,” the copyist has him say, hands out of sleeves and feet beneath his robe. “Handle me and see” is a next level of proof, “for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see me have.” The ultimate proof is eating. “While they still disbelieved for joy and wondered, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of boiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.”[23]

For the same reason, gospel determinism demands that the story of Thomas be loaded with copyist corruptions, [24] because the covenant-sonship Gospel determines in advance that Jesus was not “raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25), we don’t need a bodily resurrection for our justification. We just need to hear and believe the Gospel of covenant-sonship like Bretscher heard it from the text of Jesus’ Baptism.

Samaritan Descent

One of the ironies of Bretscher’s historical-critical method is how incompetently it handles history. For example, Bretscher says Jesus “was himself of Samaritan descent. Jn 8:48.” The verse upon which he bases that historical and biographical claim is: “The Jews answered him, ‘Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?’” If their witness is alone sufficient to prove one half of their accusation, then why not the other half, that Jesus had a demon? Why is this charge sufficient as proof that Jesus was of Samaritan descent?

Bretscher’s Glossary

An extremely handy and useful feature of Christianity’s Unknown Gospel is its glossary. More books ought to have such glossaries. Here are some of the core entries.

Atonement. Priestly corruption, written into scrolls ascribed to Moses—that Johwah does not forgive sins simply out of his own name and character, but must be appeased by blood sacrifices administered by priests. Basis for Christianity’s doctrine.

Baptism. The crossing of a boundary from an old life to a new. In Moses, through the sea. In John, through the Jordan. In Jesus, through death into resurrection and life with him. In Judean law, how­ever, a name for various washings, with which these crossings came to be equated.

Biblical authority. In Christian­ity, the Bible as the source and se­cure authority of all doctrine. True biblical authority rests in the covenant-gospel, however, which God spoke and his people believed long before stories and testimonies to it were written down and so preserved. This gospel, when simply heard, breaks through to hearts as revelation still— no other authority needed.

Christianity. The religion in­ferred from the study of Greek docu­ments about Jesus (the Gospels and others), by scholars (theologians) who could read and write, taught to folk who could not.

Compiler. Scholar sent to find and access a library of written memories of Jesus in a Judean or Galilean church, translate each item accu­rately from Aramaic into Greek, ar­range his findings in sequence, copy them on a scroll, then bring this trea­sure back to the church which had commissioned him.

Covenant-gospel. The revelatory covenant Jesus himself heard from heaven, believed, taught, and lived by. The young church titled this the “glad news” (from Isaiah); in old English, the gospel. See Gospel.

Covenant-sonship. Rooted in Moses and the exodus history, the noble name “son of God’ is epitomized in Johwah’s word by Moses to Pharaoh, “Israel is my first-born son,” and in the voice-from-heaven word to Jesus at his baptism, “my beloved son.” Incompat­ible with Christianity’s illusion that “son of God’ for Jesus means deity.

Covenant-word. “The word of God’ (or of the Lord) is his covenant- word, not the Bible as book. Believing the Bible is incompatible with believ­ing the covenant-word of God, just as believing the Gospels is incompat­ible with believing the gospel.

Deity-believing. In Christianity, the object of believing is Jesus’ pre­sumed deity and the doctrine which theologians have inferred from it— not the covenant-gospel Jesus believed and taught, spoken by God to Israel first, but intended from the begin­ning for all nations, all peoples.

Deity-enhancement. Copyists assumed that Jesus, as the deity-incarnate son of God, had divine knowledge and power. They dictated signals of this into the copies their scribes were preparing, so that read­ers might see it in action, and so be­lieve in him.

Deity-incarnate. A familiar no­tion in Greek, Roman, and Near-Eastern cultures. Scholars in the Greek world, reading the Gospels and Paul with no awareness of Israel’s covenant-sonship, assumed that the name “my beloved son” or “son of God’ for Jesus meant incarnate-deity, and that to believe in Jesus was to believe this of him. The birth narratives, and the testimony to Jesus in John’s prologue as “the word made flesh,” were misread in that light.

Fragments. “Gather up the frag­ments left over, that nothing may be lost,” Jesus said—not crumbs of bread, but sayings of his once memo­rized, also testimonies of his disciples afterwards. People of the young church, raised by his resurrection, began to recite these from memory—then write them down, so that none would be lost.

Fragment-libraries. Independent sources of all four Gospels. “Twelve baskets” of fragments refer to random memories of Jesus, written down, gathered and treasured in towns of Judea and Galilee, then to some ex­tent copied and exchanged.

Gospels. Visible scrolls, assembled very early from fragments of Jesus-memory. Cherished in the Greek world, and studied by scholars, they were titled Gospels when the invisible gospel, God’s covenant-word to hearts, had become unknown.

Salvation. To be delivered by God from sin and death here and now, thus restored to the way of Johwah in the kingdom-now. Not a futurist kingdom or escape from evil, like dying and going to a supposedly better world or life in heaven.

Son of God. Covenant meaning: God’s people (gender-inclusive) de­riving from him as Father, dependent on him, belonging to him and he to them, formed in his image and char­acter, serving him in their bodies on earth. Jesus heard this name of him­self at his baptism and lived it even to death. Greek, Roman and Near Eastern minds missed this, however. By their own culture, they took “son of God,” in documents of Christian­ity, to herald Jesus as deity-incarnate.

Word of God, or Word of Johwah. Revelation from God, its substance the covenant-gospel, or voice-from-heaven, making known to human hearts what a corrupted psyche cannot imagine. Framed in words by prophets and communicated by disciples to the people. Christianity fell into the snare of naming its visible documents “the word of God,” however. From this ini­tial fallacy, it deduced logically the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. “The Holy Spirit cannot de­ceive,” it was said, and “The word of God cannot err.” Such authority made the Bible itself an object of believ­ing—thus rendering the authority and believing of Jesus’ own gospel un­known. See Covenant.

Word made flesh. Summary tes­timony of John’s Prologue concern­ing Jesus—that he not only heard, believed and taught Israel’s ancient covenant-word, but filled full the work of servant to which it called him in his body, even to death. Thus he was the only son of the Father, full of grace and truth, now returned to the bosom of the Father who sent him. To see and believe Jesus is to know and believe the word God spoke from the beginning, by which he created heaven and earth, and gave light to the world. To reject or deny him is to reject and deny the very covenant-word that made Israel God’s people in the first place.

[1] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 211-230.

[2] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 331.

[3] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 211-230, 236.

[4] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 214.

[5] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 233.

[6] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 43.

[7] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 245.

[8] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 245.

[9] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 61-62.

[10] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 270-74.

[11] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 271.

[12] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 6.

[13] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 272.

[14] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 273.

[15] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 274-274.

[16] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 273.

[17] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 277-278.

[18] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 280-281.

[19] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 281.

[20] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 283.

[21] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 284.

[22] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 286.

[23] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 287.

[24] Bretscher, Unknown Gospel, 287-289.

1 thought on “Gospel Determinism Cases: Paul G. Bretscher, Part 4

  1. My questions is, “Why was he not kicked out of the LCMS back in the late 1970″s? Why did JAO Preus not take action against him?”

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