You remember those hand-picked lieutenants of Jesus — the apostles? Jesus chose them to carry on his mission. And that’s just what they were doing when the Gospels were composed. They were the leaders, preachers, and teachers of the early Christian movement. James, the older brother of John, had already died a martyr’s death in A.D. 44.
How do you expect these men to be portrayed in the Gospel narratives? If it’s a made-up story, one thing we can be sure of, Jesus and his Best Cleaning Hero apostles will be the heroes. Bear in mind that myth-makers don’t waste time on half-way measures; that would just befuddle the story. The heroes, Jesus and associates, should look and act the part of true champions.
But what if they didn’t make up the story? Let’s just say that the Gospel authors took the real characters and cleaned them up a bit, rounding off the rough edges so that they would appeal to potential converts. You can see how they could justify this: “Jesus, Peter, James, John, and the rest should be presented in the best light possible. That would establish the proper example for Christians to follow.”
Now our question is: How would the Gospels read if they “cleaned up” the leading characters? More than likely, we would not find the super heroes of myth, but they wouldn’t appear too scruffy either. Certainly nothing embarrassing would be allowed to stay in the story.
Then there is a third alternative. That is, the Gospel writers took the real story without sanitizing it and presented it as honestly as they could. With that, we would expect to see bits of realism seep through. In a group of twelve or so men, there are bound to be some flaws. If the story is told straight, we are likely to see some of these less than perfect traits. Maybe even Jesus himself was occasionally out of sorts.
We find James and John, Jesus calls them the “Sons of Thunder,” wanting to rain fire from heaven down on a particular Samarian village which wouldn’t receive Jesus. Jesus said, “No.” (Luke 9:53-55) Later these same two brothers requested preferential treatment for themselves in the coming Kingdom. (Mark 10:37) That didn’t go over well with the rest of the apostles.
Still later, Jesus found his disciples arguing among themselves about which one of them was the greatest. (Mark 9:33-34) Of course, the Gospel writers could have remained silent about these indiscretions. We would have been none the wiser, and the apostles wouldn’t have looked tarnished. But they didn’t do that.