Introducing Jesus' Ministry

The Christian bible in its many books is not history. It is a faith collection, with many differences. We cannot read a Jesus of history without running into existing beliefs by believing people writing 30 to 70 years later. So any history is patchy and unreliable as history.

We study the writing about Jesus from the synoptic gospels - Mark, Matthew and Luke (Mark is the first gospel in date order) - because John's gospel is especially belief based from a particular early Christian point of view. In John's gospel, the Christ becomes Jesus. In the synoptic gospels it is the other way around, an attractive and popular Jesus achieves his full god-like qualities through the course of his ministry (although the gospels are unclear on what claims Jesus makes for himself), and through his death and resurrection, so that Jesus becomes the Christ. In the synoptic gospels Jesus is presented like the prophets Moses or Elijah in the Jewish Bible so that God has commissioned Jesus for a special task and this is the basis of Jesus' ministry.

The texts are saying that this Jesus has a ministry to bring in the Kingdom of God and give himself up (to his death) in this task. With this in mind we look at his ministry.

The issue is where to start. Do we start at his birth?

The birth stories are not part of the ministry of Jesus. They are not for the purpose, either, of saying Jesus is divine at birth. The stories reflect Jewish Bible stories of God's spirit bringing about a human birth, a holy seed. The virgin birth (Mary becomes pregnant without Joseph's involvement) is not about Jesus having God for a father and a human mother like a hybrid man-God, and indeed the claim is made that Jesus through his carpenter father is descended from King David of the House of Israel. Matthew Chapter 1, 2-16 gives Jesus' line from Abraham and King David. Luke 3, 23-38 gives the whole line of Jesus' fathers back to Adam. So the virgin birth is to suggest that the Holy One should be born of a pure maiden in the House of Israel. It is a mistranslation of Isaiah 7:14 that said a young woman, not virgin, will give birth to the messiah, just as the location has to state Bethlehem, the city of David, as in Micah. Quirinius, the governor who organises the census that takes the parents to Bethlehem at the time of Herod the Great, was not in office until after the reign of Herod the Great. However, most Christians (but not all) believe Jesus was born of a virgin in Bethlehem like the Bible states.

Then there is Jesus as a boy. He is brought up by Mary and Joseph, and perhaps he listens to the Jewish Elders, and then they might travel to Jerusalem for the Passover.

Again the story of the boy Jesus is a story. It must be the case, however, from Jesus' teaching, that he becomes absorbed in the whole Jewish tradition and Bible available at the time. He must, like everyone, have regarded the Jewish Bible as a guidebook to the past, so that he would believe in Adam as the first person, and in Noah and in all the main prophets. It is not even certain that his father, Joseph, was a carpenter. Joseph might himself have been a scholar. However, Jesus starts his ministry late, when about 30, so it is quite possible that his childhood has nothing to do with his formation into a prophetic figure. Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, was equally late to his visions and ministry (he was 40).

Click for full size map to unzip and print to A4 via Irfan View or XNViewSo the start of Jesus' ministry is best placed where Mark begins his story, with John the Baptist, a strange figure who preaches the message that the Kingdom of God is coming and that people should be cleansed of their sins in preparation. John baptises Jesus so that he is cleansed of his sins, although Christian tradition states that Jesus has never sinned. Jesus then takes up and develops John's message,, and Jesus begins to gather disciples.


  1. Do you think the birth stories are true? Give a reason or reasons for your answer (and there is no correct answer).
  2. Are the birth stories part of the ministry of Jesus? Why not, do you think?
  3. What is the special name given to the first three gospels?
  4. How much do you think the Bible is a history book? Is it a lot, a little, or is this unknown? Give a reason or reasons for your answer.
  5. Where do you think the ministry of Jesus begins? Why is this?