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Posted June 13, 2006

Book: The Gospel According to Jesus: A New Translation and Guide To His Essential Teaching for Believers and Unbelievers
Author: Stephen Mitchell
HarperCollins Publishers. New York. 1991. Pp.310

The Gospel According to Jesus is a dazzling new presentation of the life and teachings of Jesus by the eminent scholar and translator Stephen Mitchell. In this book, Mr. Mitchell does for the Gospels what he did for the Tao Te Ching: he uncovers in a great spiritual classic a depth, clarity, and radiance which have until now been obscured.

At the center of the book is a new translation, from the Greek, of what might be called the Essential Gospel. Gospel means “good news.” While the Gospels according to Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John are to a large extent teachings about Jesus, Mr. Mitchell has compiled a Gospel that is the teaching of Jesus: what he proclaimed about the presence of God: good news as old as the universe. Following the example of Thomas Jefferson’s The Jefferson Bible, and using the best of modern scholarship, Mr. Mitchell has retained only the authentic sayings and doings of Jesus, and has omitted the passages added by the early church. Gone is the “Jesus” who preaches hellfire and damnation, in contrast to the authentic Jesus’ teaching about God’s absolute forgiveness and love. Gone are the passages which call Jesus the sone of God, in contrast to Jesus’ teaching that all people can become sons (or daughters) of God, as they become like God — generous, compassionate, impartial, serene. What is left is an immensely provocative and moving image of Jesus as a real person and as a great spiritual teacher, an image that will challenge and delight readers of any religion, or of no religion.

The Essential Gospel is preceded by a long meditation on Jesus’ life and teachings, and is followed by Mr. Michell’s detailed commentary on the text, which draws on his own Judeo-Zen background and on illuminating parallels from the Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Sufi, and Jewish traditions.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Fulfilling the Law

“You have it heard that it was said, You shall not perjure yourselves. But I tell you, don’t take any oaths at all. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’.

Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’: “The mature person values sincerity above all things,” as Confucius’ grandson Tzu-ssu (482-403 B.C.E.) tells us in his wonderful treatise The Central Harmony:

“Confucius said, “Sincerity is the way of heaven; arriving at sincerity is the way of man. The sincere person does the right thing without trying, understands the truth without thinking, and acts always in keeping with the Tao.”

Sincerity is the fulfillment of our own nature, and to arrive at it we need only follow our true self. Sincerity is the beginning and end of existence; without it, nothing can endure. Therefore the mature person values sincerity above all things.

Sincerity is not only the fulfillment of our own being; it is also the quality through which all beings are fulfilled. When we fulfill our own being, we become truly human; when we fulfill all beings, we arrive at true understanding. These qualities — humanity and understanding — are inherent in our nature, and by means of them we unite the inner and the outer. Thus, when we act with sincerity, everything we do is right.

Table of Contents:

He begins to teach
The first disciples
At Capernaum
First healings
He heals a leper
The Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God [2]
The Kingdom of God [3]
The inner light [1]
With the wicked
The twelve
He heals a paralytic
The Beatitudes
The Inner Light [2]
Fulfilling the Law
The Inner Light [3]
You receive exactly what you give
The narrow gate
Hearing and doing
Jesus’ family [1]
Accusations of sorcery
Jesus’ family [2]
Two hearings
Rejection in Nazareth
The Syrophoenician woman
He heals a deaf man, a blind man
An Exorcism
You must become like children [1]
The Good Samaritan
The lost sheep and the lost coin
The Prodigal Son
You must become like children [2]
The rich man
Let the dead bury their dead
First days in Jerusalem
The tax to Caesar
The greatest commandment
The woman caught in adultery
The arrest
Peter’s denial
The trial before Pilate
The crucifixion

Appendix 1: On Jesus
Appendix 2: On Healing
Appendix 3: On miracles