(Translated by stillwaters in 2006 from 葛理翰牧師的夢魘 which I wrote in 2003 in Chinese)
Billy Graham is a retired pastor. He served God all his life and is considered amongst the most faithful of God’s servants. There are even people who say he is the most successful preacher in American history, and that when he dies and goes to heaven, he will surely share a table with Martin Luther of the Reformation, partaking in the glory of God and His son Jesus. But all this to a Parkinson’s patient who is in his last days seems to bear no more importance now. Billy nowadays often sits in a rocking chair in his backyard, idly staring at the withering lilies. He only wants to live a few more months, to enjoy the glory of Cuban cigars some more.
This day, Billy is sitting as usual and finds himself zoning out. But then the thunder roars, and he sees the skies open, and there is the spirit of God, descending like a dove, but after but an instant, it spirals down as an eagle. No, more like a giant ball, falling from the sky. At the same time, Billy hears a voice from the sky, saying, “Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased…” And another cloud appears before him, sweeping him into the giant ball.
Billy takes one last look back to the yard, but sees his body still sitting in that rocking chair. He recalls in the Bible that the prophets who have been taken to heaven bodily, such as Moses and Elijah, went to heaven whilst in their physical bodies, and as for his experience, which to him looks right like an out-of-body experience, it’s simply unheard of. But then when he thinks of how the Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways men cannot understand, he feels relieved; his lifelong habit lets him know to wholly accept God’s plan for him.
The ball has a door-like entrance, and at the entrance stands a green midget waving at him. Billy feels a bit apprehensive, because he has never seen an angel, and is not sure if this is one of them. At least, the one before him neither wears white garments nor sports wings, completely unlike the angels one would see on TV. Plus, it’s so ugly that you wouldn’t really want to compliment its form. Even then, Billy still respectfully bows at him.
The green angel begins speaking to Billy, and his voice is as shrill as two metal bars striking against each other. Billy is a little nervous, hearing the language of heaven, but instantly he realizes that while he doesn’t recognize the language, he is able to comprehend the meaning of the speech. The angel basically tells him to relax and go to the main hall for some rest.
Billy walks past a long hallway, and hears a commotion past the corner. As he turns, he finds himself in a gigantic Hollywood-movie-set-like hall, with thousands of people, though it doesn’t feel crowded at all. Billy looks around, almost bumping into two weird men bickering. One of them is wearing traditional Mongol clothes, dressed a little like Genghis Khan as depicted in history books, and the other wears exquisite traditional Chinese clothes, sort of like he is some ancient Chinese emperor. Billy doesn’t understand Mongolian or Chinese, but clearly understands what they’re arguing about; they’re squabbling about Mongols taking over Chinese territories.
Billy takes a few steps forward, and greets two people dressed like Amazon native chieftains. A few more steps forward, and he meets someone who looks just like Albert Eistein, though Billy is not sure if he’s just a pretender. Most despicably, though, this man pretends he can’t speak good English and mocks him in a heavy accent, and his eccentric behaviour makes him appear like some mad scientist who just immigrated from Germany to the US. He takes another steps forward, and sees a bunch of Europeans making a circle. Within the circle is an Italian man named Colombo, snatching at and beating up another Italian man. He listens carefully and realizes the one being beaten is named Amerigo Vespucci, and it sounds to him like he stole the thunder from Columbo, having had the Americas named after him.
Now after all that, Billy starts to doubt his own judgment. “These people look like they might be real ancients, and if this is heaven, then God and His son Jesus surely have the power to let these people come back to life easily…” Always confident that he is destined to be in heaven, Billy thinks to himself.
Billy can’t stand violence and noise, so he chooses to leave the crowd. Toward the far corner, he sees two people quietly sitting by the wall. The older one holds a goblet, drinking wine, and Billy decides to go and chat with them. When Billy gets near them, another goblet instantly appears on the ground, and he naturally sits down and picks it up. And in just a wink in time, he finds the container filled with red wine, and his hand, which normally trembles, now holds the drink firmly, completely in control and not spilling a single drop. Billy reasons to himself, if this waiting area is already as good as this, when I really get to heaven, the wonders would surely be beyond mortal comprehension.
The older one looks at Billy and laughs. “Are you new here? Don’t fear. You’ll get used to it after a while.”
Billy sees that this man is truly old, with only a few strands of silvery hair on his head, and the yellow teeth still left in his month, he could count with one hand.
Billy asks him, “Here are full of great people in history, and that really makes me feel uneasy. Don’t you feel like we’re like mere toads squatting amidst a bunch of magnificent white cranes? Oh, right, you two wouldn’t happen to be some great people in history, would you?”
The old man snorts at that and says, “I’m not some damned great person, only an expert at being imprisoned. Look at these people around you. To be honest, I hardly know any of them, except this fellow on the right there wearing the laurel, that’s Julius Caesar. I’ve seen him in Rome.”
“Ah! You’re an ancient Roman!”
“Pshaw! The blasted Romans kept me in prison for so many years. I don’t care about the Romans… but to be honest, though, I was actually a Jewish Roman citizen,” the old man says. “I used to preach the salvation of Christ with other disciples of Jesus, but then the accursed Romans thought we were rebels and persecuted us like we were traitors to the government.”
“Ah! You’re an early persecuted Christian!” Billy asks, “Which colosseum did you die in? Were you killed by a lion or crushed by a chariot?”
“Pshaw! Do I look dead to you?” the old man says. “Before being lifted up here, I was still laying on my prison bed, and I almost thought it was the Second Coming of Christ. And after talking to these heathen gentiles, I realized there was no Christian or any of my companions here. Would Christ let this corrupt, superstitious lot into heaven? But you’ll never understand. You don’t look like you’re a believer.”
“Look at this youngster beside me. He’s like me, a Jew from under Roman rule. But he doesn’t believe the time of the new convenant and salvation has come, and insists man needs the Torah and good works to be saved, not by the blood of Christ. I was just arguing with him over this.”
Billy looks to the young man, and finds him unremarkable. He has black hair, dark brown eyes, and a crooked nose, and would almost look like a traditional Jew walking on Brooklyn Street if he had a Judenhut on. But his face is filled with scars, like he just had the snot beaten out of him by some Manhattan thugs.
Billy says to the young man, “Young man, this wise man here and I, the amount of salt we’ve tasted alone is much greater than the amount of bread you’ve eaten. You should listen to the elderly more. Did the Bible not say, in the ancient is wisdom, and in length of days, prudence.? Besides, the Jesus he preached is the Son of God, and has been with God since the beginning, together with the Holy Spirit forming the Trinity. Trinity means that while there are three, they are all one and the same God. This principle you’ll understand when you’re older.”
The old man looks to Billy, amazed. “You’re a Christian! But I see you’ve stepped into heresy. I know there’s a sect of heretical Christians, influenced by Greek philosophy, who think Jesus was just a normal man, and another heretical sect even thinks Jesus is God himself, like yourself. You need to understand that what I preach is the truth. Our Jesus was just a prophet, who died on the cross to save humanity, and for this God revived him, raising him to sit at His right hand, giving him the authority to judge humanity. If I did not suddenly get trapped in here, one day I’d surely see the glory of Christ’s coming. Did Christ not tell us thus? ‘Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.'”
Billy says, “What a pity. You were but a step away, not believing that Christ is God. No matter how ardently you preached, you shall not go to heaven for this. Oh, right. Jesus said he would come before this generation passed, but it’s been two thousand years, and he still hasn’t come. In reality, modern scholars have an understanding that the ‘genea’ referred to in the Bible should be explained broadly: basically a generation meaning a lot longer than it sounds to us. So Jesus really wanted to teach us the importance of waiting patiently.”
Then the young man interrupts, “You two keep saying God this, God that, whichever god are you talking about? We Jews have only one God, there’s no such thing as the ‘son of God, and really God himself’ or some such rotten talk. And whatever was that about that Holy Spirit? We know only of evil spirits and angels. Truly I say to you, even though I am but a rustic teacher from the countryside, the message of heaven I teach came from John the Baptist. This Christ you mention, sounds like he stole a whole lot from John’s message. John also said the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Billy says, “And that’s why I say you’re wrong. John the Baptist came to pave the way for Christ. Ah, I forget you’re speaking the vulgar Middle-eastern language Aramaic and probably don’t understand big words. The word Christ is Greek, which in Hebrew is the Messiah, which means the redeemer and saviour. The gospel of John says, ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ So that is why we ought to walk the earth, preaching the gospel, letting people of all nations have the chance to go to heaven. But this John who wrote the gospel was not John the Baptist, but John the Apostle.”
“What nonsense,” the young man says. “We Jews have awaited the Messiah for hundreds of years. Would you know more about the Messiah than I do? The prophets told us again and again, a king is to be given to the offspring of Abraham and Jacob, that’s the Israelites. Truly I say to you, the salvation of God will only come to his chosen people.”
He continues, “Messiah means the anointed. The anointed king will save the Jews from the ravage of barbarian invasions. In the beginning, we waited for the Messiah to save us from the Assyrian Empire. After Israel was conquered by the Babylonians, prophets told us the Messiah would destroy Babylon and create a new nation of Israel. Then there were the Persians and Alexander of Macedonia, and now the Messiah’s target is the Roman Empire. I’ve never heard such nonsense that the Messiah would save gentiles. Would the Messiah save the Romans, even? How ridiculous.”
The old man says, “No, you’re so very wrong. We Jews failed to accept Christ as a prophet, so God gave us an era of the new covenant, to spread salvation to gentile lands. Thus, no longer do we depend on good works, sacrifices, and circumcision as in the Tanakh to be saved, but by faith alone. This is called ‘Sola fide’. As long as the Romans believe in Jesus, the Messiah would surely redeem them as well.”
Billy nods in agreement, “That’s what I was saying. The Jews crucified Jesus on the cross, and no longer deserved salvation…”
The young man asks, “You say this Christ was crucified by Romans?”
Billy says, “Don’t interrupt, it’s impolite. I said ‘the Jews’ crucified Christ, not ‘the Romans’. What was I saying again? Ah, the Jews hated Jesus because he revealed the divine mystery hidden from ages past, like the Apostle Paul said in the Book of Ephesians, ‘This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in…'”
The old man asks, “You say you know of this Paul?”
“What, you’re interrupting too now?” Billy says, “How would I not know Paul? The entire New Testament of the Bible, apart from the four gospels, is almost entirely composed of Paul’s letters, like the Book of Romans, the First and Second Books of Corinthians, et cetera. This Paul really was something. I suppose Jesus didn’t think the twelve disciples he picked up were enough, and specifically came down after his ascent to heaven to choose Paul too. You see, the most important aspect of Christian theology, the Trinity, and principles like the original sin and so on, these were all invented by Paul. In comparison, Peter, hand-picked by Jesus, the so-called rock on which Jesus would build his church, was much less impressive.”
“Paul… became the central personality in Christianity?” The old man says, “I’d never have thought…” He sighs. “The Jerusalem church was originally headed by Peter; he made the crippled walk and the bedridden stand, and even raised the dead. I was always quite in awe of him. Even though he wasn’t happy with me preaching to gentiles, disagreed with me baptizing uncircumcised gentiles, forbade us from eating unclean food, and lastly expelled me from the Council, I was still very impressed by him, and always forgave him in the love of Christ.”
The old man then adds, “By the way, we ought to be humble in Christ. Don’t say such things like me inventing the concept of the original sin; it was revealed to me by God. As for that Trinity deal, I already explained very well to you. That’s heretical, and not what I taught.”
Billy says, “I was talking about Paul, not y– Ah, you, can it be? You’re not Paul, are you?”
“Was there another Paul of Tarsus?” The old man says, “The so-called New Testament you mentioned, does it say what happened to me after? Originally, I persecuted believers, and then I became one myself, even going to jail for the Christ I never met. I was always full of faith, but I waited so long, and Christ never came or released me, and stopped giving me revelations through signs. Only one Timothy served jail term with me. I was thinking Christ was not satisfied with my service and already found other disciples to work for him…”
Billy says, “The Bible only records your imprisonment in Rome, and nothing thereafter. Say, Paul, I’m really sorry about earlier, debating theology with you and all. You are my most admired idol. I truly wish I could be like you, to have travelled all over the Mediterranean, preaching how the Jews murdered Christ and the gospel of His resurrection three days after…”
“Hold a minute. What you’re saying, now there is one semantic problem and one misguided notion.” Paul points at Billy. “First, you say I am your admired idol, this is wrong. You ought to revere God alone, and believe only in Jesus who died for us sinners. Secondly, Jesus was not killed by Jews; it was the Romans who crucified him.”
Billy says, “I’m very sorry. I’m not trying to be disrespectful. Did the Bible not say that it was the priests amongst the Jews and the greatest foes of Jesus’, the Pharisees who had Jesus arrested? And the Roman governor Pontius Pilate even refused to punish Jesus, and washed his hands to proclaim himself innocent of Jesus’ blood. Jews petitioned Pilate to release Barabbases and crucify Jesus, so naturally the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death, and therefore God no longer saw them as His chosen people…”
“My dear brother, you have it all wrong. I hope you did not preach this fallacy to many that they would not be able to go to heaven.” Paul says, “It is good that you met me, which gives me a chance to return you to the right path. In life, Jesus led his disciples in the style of the traditional Messiah to guide the Jews to embrace the coming of the kingdom of heaven. At that time, the majority of the Jews, including the Pharisees, were very supportive of him. You know the disciples of Jesus never went without arms, because they used the thinking of men to appraise God. They were even so proud to believe they could overthrow the Romans with their feeble might. You see, when Jesus was arrested. did Peter not injure his captor with a sword?”
Billy asks, “Did the Bible not say, Jesus taught his disciples to love one another, and to love one’s enemies as one would love oneself? Why does it differ so much from your account?”
“This is the mystery of the kingdom of heaven Jesus repeatedly mentioned,” responds Paul. “Jesus received revelations from God, and knew that the new Israeli kingdom of heaven would not depend on violence, but descend in the midst of love. But ordinary people could not understand the mystery of heaven, and so Jesus’ movement, apparently under the banner of the Messiah’s revolutionary forces, was something else in secret. Even the disciples only had a vague idea of that, and so they often misunderstood Jesus’ parables.”
Paul adds, “Jesus believed that the key to the kingdom of heaven was the Temple of Jerusalem. He led disciples into the temple, barely meeting any resistance. He thought after ousting the merchants and cleansing the temple, without any need to overthrow the Roman authorities, the kingdom of God would come. But the kingdom of God never came, and still he was full of faith. He let most of his followers guard the temple, himself and his disciples going out of the city to hide at night, only returning to the temple in daytime to await the kingdom of heaven. But only after a few days, the crowd lost patience and started to get rowdy, and then anti-Roman rioting spread all over Jerusalem. In but two days, they were put down by Roman forces. Jesus was arrested, and his disciples scattered…”
The young man interrupts, “It wasn’t that the crowd lost patience, it was the radical Simon agitating things!”
Billy censures him, “Young one, do not argue with Paul! Paul said the crowd couldn’t wait, means the crowd couldn’t wait! Say, Paul, what you said again did not match the gospel books. The Bible did not mention Jesus leading a rebellion, only that Jesus predicted He would die and live again. It didn’t mention anything that suggests cleansing the Temple would lead to the coming of the kingdom of heaven.”
Paul shakes his head. “I don’t know what you meant by the gospel books, but the rebellion was quite certain. It’s just we disciples don’t mention it much. Especially me, preaching the good news in various Roman provinces. If I preached daily that Jesus was against Rome, do you think I’d still be alive? That’s why we tried not to mention the rebellion. Even if people asked, we would just say Jesus’ death had nothing to do with the Romans. But some Greek believers didn’t understand and tried to explain how Jesus was crucified otherwise, and then they came up with the theory that Jews wanted Barabbases released and Christ crucified. This is heresy.”
The young man asks, “If you realize Jesus failed, why do you preach the good news of heaven?”
“This you do not understand,” Paul says. “In fact, Jesus, even as the foremost of the prophets, did not understand fully the mystery of heaven. The real mystery of heaven started from the forebear of humanity, Adam. Adam ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and was cast out of the Garden of Eden, and therefore all humanity bears the original sin, and none can enter paradise thereafter. I was the first one to preach this truth. But, of course, without inspiration from the Holy Spirit, I could not have come up with such a notion.”
Paul continues, “Then how are we to let God change his mind, to permit humanity into paradise again? This is where Jesus comes in. Jesus died on the cross, only obeying the will of God, but he didn’t know God was going to use his blood to wash away the original sin. This way, those who believe in him are redeemed and without sin, again able to enter heaven. Of course, God made people in His image. Whether God was only looking for an excuse, much like us mortal humans, for His shortcoming, we cannot know. But this isn’t important. All in all, human beings are able to enter heaven again. Such a significant mystery, I of course only understood through revelations from the Holy Spirit. So Jesus Christ did not fail. He succeeded! And our faith is not vain!”
Billy says, “You explain it quite well, but it differs much from the gospel books I read. Because Jesus predicted His death and resurrection in three days, and dying to save the world… If only I had a Bible, I could point it to you…”
Before he could finish his sentence, a New Testament Bible in Greek already can be seen sitting before Billy. He doesn’t have the time to guess how it appeared out of thin air, but he doesn’t find it strange anymore, because that’s how the wine appeared earlier too.
“Hmm, right, the New Testament was written in Greek…” Billy forgets that he is in heaven, where there are no linguistic barriers. He thinks, “Good that I made some effort in my youth, I should be able to understand a bit of this.”
Billy flips over to Mark 8:31 and says, “Look! It says, ‘And Jesus began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.’ And then it also says, ‘Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.’ Therefore, Jesus used his blood to wash our sin away. He already was aware of the mystery of heaven.”
“Hey, how is it that I understand this writing?” The young man says, “This squiggly writing, isn’t that the popular Greek script in the Roman Empire?”
The young man continues, “But these verses you point out speak nonsense. Whenever did I mention I would rise from the dead in three days? Not long ago, I was helplessly nailed to the cross and suffering, and why would I tell others to bear the cross with me? You think being executed is fun?”
Billy looks to the young man, astonished. “You’re not saying… You’re Jesus?”
The young man says, “My name is Joshua, but apparently the Greeks call me Jesus. Before I was crucified, Pontius Pilate sneered at me and called me king of the Jews. But then after I blinked my eye on the cross, here I was. There I was listening to you people talking about Christ, and it was sounding more and more like myself… Anyway, if that’s the case, you got a lot of things wrong.”
“My young friend, you’re not insane, are you?” Billy says, “I suppose you’re Barabbases, released by Pilate? His full name was Jesus Barabbases. You know, Jesus was really a common name…”
Jesus then opens his palms, and there are nail marks in his hands. Billy and Paul gasp, not knowing what to say.
“J-J-J-Jesus… but he h-h-had blonde hair and bl-bl-bl-blue eyes… How… can this be…”
But Billy soon realizes he is wrong. Artists are used to interpreting subjects according to their own understanding, and it was naturally a possibility that those European painters who never saw Jesus painted him as the ideal European in their mind. Black artists do the same, depicting Jesus as having dark skin and curly hair, don’t they?
It is Paul who first realizes the severity of this revelation, and he says, “You are Jesus? How are you here? We must send you back at once, or you would not be able to rise three days after and show yourself to the Twelve Apostles. Like I wrote, ‘And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.'”
“F-F-First C-C-Corinth-th-thians 15:14…. Amen…” Billy is still not fully recovered from the shock, but out of habit tries to end Paul’s sentence for him.
“But I need to test him, to make sure we are not being deceived by the devil,” Paul says. “You say, are you a man, a prophet, or the Messiah, or the Son of God, or God Himself?”
Jesus says, “Well… I’m not entirely sure. Certainly not God Himself! Such blasphemy, you would be stoned to death. Think about it, the Lord our God of the Jews, even a prophet as great as Moses could not see Him with his eyes, and how could the Romans humiliate Him? In ancient times, a priest was afraid the Ark of God might be damaged, and supported it with his hand, and was smote by God. Even the Ark, made of wood, was untouchable, could the Lord God have let Roman soldiers nail him to a cross?”
Jesus adds, “I always thought of myself as a prophet, but since the kingdom of heaven never came, God stopped giving me revelations. That evening, I was praying fervently in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating all over my body. And even then God did not answer me. I suppose since my followers wounded guards when we went into the Temple, God found me inadequate for the purity he hoped for, and decided not to let me witness the coming of the kingdom of heaven. Like how King David was also not qualified to build the Temple. Heh, but then I heard you two talk about this Christian faith. Sounds like I’m quite popular amongst the gentiles! Maybe you are right, maybe this was the will of God…”
Billy says, “But in the Book of J-J-John, you emphasized again and again y-y-you are God, that not through you and your blood to wash away s-s-sin, none may enter heaven. And just now Paul said he invented the idea of Christ’s blood washing away sin… I was too embarrassed to say he copied from J-J-John…”
“I copied from who? I say it’s this Johnamobob who copied me!” Paul snarls. “Don’t underestimate me, you! I was a qualified lawyer registered in Rome. I’d sue you in court! Give me that New Testament Biblamojib!”
Jesus and Paul flip through the New Testament Bible, starting from the book of Matthew, and then through Mark and Luke. Jesus nods as he reads, not realizing his acts would be recorded in writing. From time to time, he frowns when he sees factually incorrect records, but he doesn’t seem to mind. Paul, on the other hand, seems to disagree greatly, shaking his head dramatically and muttering in annoyance.
After finishing the first three books, Paul says, “These three books omit the real mystery of heaven, and spend so much effort describing the life story of Jesus. Really, what Jesus did in life was of little importance, only his resurrection after three days. That’s why I emphasized, if Christ be not arisen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”
“The books really do mention that I predicted my rising from the dead,” Jesus says. “But, I don’t recall ever saying all that…”
Paul explains, “These three books occasionally have Jesus make such prophecies, I think they were added by people afterwards. To be honest, after Jesus ascended to heaven, after a while, only at the urging of Jesus’ brother James did Peter somehow ‘recall’ that Jesus said all this. But, it was all the work of the Holy Spirit, revealing to us the true mystery of heaven.”
“Eh?” Billy asks, “Didn’t you just say, the mystery was that the blood washed away sin and that’s God’s will? How is it that it’s different now? So Peter and the resurrection were the most important aspect of it, the mystery of heaven?” Having caught Paul contradicting himself, Billy suddenly forgets about Jesus before him, and no longer stutters.
Paul censures Billy. “Stop fooling around. With Jesus here, how dare you even speak up?”
Paul adds, “These three gospel books, I’ve never heard of. They must have been written by people afterwards. Think about it, the apostles were so busy preaching, there was scarcely enough time already. Who’d have had the time to write this? Besides, apart from me and a few others, no apostle was literate. It’s simply impossible. Jesus, let us look at the fourth book.”
Jesus and Paul then look over the Book of John. Before even finishing the first chapter, Jesus and Paul already are seen sighing and shaking their heads. A few pages ahead, Jesus is still calm, but Paul is pounding on the floor, even knocking over the wine goblets around him, spilling the drink all over.
Paul yells, “This %#*&* Gospel of *#&% John, what garbage! It’s a total mess, how can it be put together with the three other books, and together called the New Testament? What’s it say, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ And then here it says, the Way is the Light, and the Light is Jesus Christ. What bull is this, heretical to the extreme.”
Jesus pats Paul on the shoulder, urging him to patiently finish the book.
With great difficulty, Paul finishes the book, and says, “The Christ described in here, it’s nothing like the Christ I had known of… Oh, Jesus. Then I only heard of you and never saw you. But I suppose you’d not be like it says in here, spouting things like, ‘My Father and my glory’ or ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’?”
Paul adds, “Look at this Gospel of John, it says Jesus said things like… ‘I and Father are one’, ‘ye would love me’, ‘continue in my word’, “in my name”, ‘if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins’, ‘I am the good shepherd’, ‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me’, ‘He shall glorify me’, ‘and now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee’, ‘my peace I give unto you’, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’, ‘I am the bread of life’, ‘I am the light of the world’, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’…. Some of these I agree with, but most of them just seem awful to me, and read completely wrong…” Paul thinks for a while, and says. “Well, it’s just awkward, but I can’t say why.”
“Truly I say to you what is wrong.” Jesus points to the New Testament. “Look at the first three books, the accounts are at least adequately accurate. The parables I taught, the kingdom of heaven I preached, there aren’t too many differences, with a few extra words put in my mouth, I’ll not worry about them too much.”
“What I preached about was God, the law of Moses, and the coming of the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus says. “But this Gospel of John said I preached the truth of the cross, and wanted followers to worship me, praise me, and called me a shepherd, tending to the sheep, and that I’m the true vine, and people are my branches. What is this? The kingdom of heaven is at hand. How would we have time to tend to people? Grapevine of course bears branches, and fruit too! I ask you, do the first three books say any of these?”
Billy happily says, “Ahah! Finally there are things you do not understand. I can explain. The famous theologian Alfred Loisy said, ‘Jesus taught of the kingdom of heaven, but what resulted of it was the church.’ Christ never came in those two thousand years, and neither did the kingdom of heaven, but Paul’s local church kept on setting up more churches, and the number of believers in the first two hundred years rapidly increased. During this long time, the church naturally had to have strict order and hierarchy to govern the multitude of believers. The elders managing churches are like shepherds, tending to the believers. In the church organization, up top there are the bishops, elders, and deans, and down there there are ordinary believers and such, like a tree with its trunk, branches, and leaves. The church, naturally was established by Jesus yourself, and therefore you are the top shepherd, and the true vine.”
Paul says in relief, “I’d never have thought, those little churches I set up could have held it on their own and grown so much. But I’ve never heard of these gospel books in my churches… These books, whoever wrote them? And who put them in this so-called New Testament Bible?”
Billy is happy to share his vast religious knowledge. “The Book of Mark was the earliest, about a decade or so after your letters. Matthew and Luke, a few decades after. John was the last, around a hundred years after our Lord.. er… you, Jesus. It’s said that the Book of John was written by your beloved disciple John, but I have my doubts… At that time, the average life span was thirty years, and beyond fifty was considered venerable. Even if John was the youngest of your disciples, he was probably at least over ninety by then. Such an old man probably couldn’t see with his eyes, or even hold a quill. How could he have written a gospel book? Some say the Book of Revelations was also written by the same John, and it was over a decade after. That’s over more far-fetched…”
Billy adds, “Actually, at that time, it was because everyone had their own ideas and kept arguing amongst each other, until Emperor Constantine changed everything and stopped the tradition of persecuting Christians, declaring Christianity to be the state religion, and he himself as the first Christian emperor, holding both state and church power to govern the Roman Empire. At that time, Christianity already broke into various sects, and in the year 325 of our Lord, Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicea, calling church leaders from all over the Empire to re-organize the fragmented Christian faith. The most important part was that the bishops voted to decide upon the divinity of Jesus. Jesus, you almost were voted out as an ordinary man. Fortunately, the emperor favoured the Trinitarians, and decided you and God are one. The Nontrinitarianists went against the decision, and their sect didn’t end too well.”
Billy continues, “Since they decided on the principles of Christianity, a few hundred books and letters not conforming to the new truth, such as the Book of Philip, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Barnabas, and so forth, were burnt. The books left, in the year 397 of our Lord, were made the New Testament by the Council of Carthage, and that’s the book you see here.”
“How would my church support such a decision?” Paul asks, astonished. “Could it be that Peter’s and my churches lost influence? If so, why were my letters included in the New Testament?”
Billy responds, “You never mentioned that Jesus was God in your letters, Paul, but neither did you emphasize his humanness. Therefore, the Council of Carthage decided your letters did not go against the core beliefs of Christianity, and besides, your churches always held great influence… Actually, to be honest with you, the most vocal Trinitarian advocates were your churches.”
Paul asks, “What of Peter and James and the Council of Jerusalem?”
Billy shakes his head. “The Romans quelled another rebellion in the year 70 of our Lord, sacking Jerusalem and burning the Temple. The Jews were beaten terribly there, and the church disbanded. Peter and James both were martyred, and Christianity disappeared from Judea.”
“This James…” Jesus asks Paul. “Is this the James you mentioned, my brother? He was always against my ministry, how would he be martyred?”
Paul says, “Jesus, after your resurrection, not only your brother James, your entire family joined the Jerusalem church. James and Peter both led the church. I’d never had thought it’d come to this in the end…”
Billy continues, “Paul’s version of Christianity spread amongst the gentiles. Since the teachings were different from those of the original Council of Jerusalem, there were a great many religious inconveniences. Greek and Roman bishops forced members of the Jerusalem sect all over to change their views. The Pope even searched for Jesus’ family, using the excuse that Jews murdered you, to eradicate them. Your family was called the ‘Desposyni’, meaning ‘of the lord’ in Greek. Some of your family went into hiding, and rumours say they moved to modern-day France, receiving protection from a secret organization to this day.”
Jesus asks, “Then… what happened to my wife Mary?”
“What? Your wife?” Billy is astonished. “You had a wife, Jesus?”
“Eh?” Jesus says, “Didn’t your New Testament Bible say? Mary watched me get crucified and watched over my tomb…”
Billy points to Jesus, mouth wide open, speechless. He puts his hand down after a while. “Y-y-you mean Mary Magdalene? You cast evil spirits out of her… her… her… that Mary? Is that for r-r-real, Paul?”
Paul says, “What? Everyone knows that. What’s so surprising about it?”
“O-o-of course it’s surprising…” Billy says quickly. “The Twelve Apostles and J-J-Jesus… weren’t they all single? How could holy men marry? How could you, Jesus, treat yourself such, letting that disgusting sexuality pollute your d-d-divinity?”
Jesus asks, puzzled. “Sexuality is dirty since when? Did God not say to be fruitful and multiply? Truly I say to you, the institution of marriage was created by God; it is the most holy thing. I can’t believe how you Christians end up believing such nonsense.”
“If I weren’t this short, and bald, I’d really love to have a wife,” Paul says, shrugging. “Honestly, for an unmarried man past twenty years of age like me, we’re considered incomplete amongst the Jews, and can’t be said to be righteous men. It was good that you, Jesus, died for our sakes, so that we could be justified through faith, and so that I could be an old righteous man. The notion of holy celibacy might be viable amongst the Greeks, but that’s punishable by death in Jewish society.”
Jesus says, “Think about it. My disciples wander around most of the year. If they didn’t have wives with them to take care of trivial matters, how could we have any time to preach about the kingdom of heaven? Besides, there were many women believers amongst us. How could you have a bunch of single men teaching to women? How could that be appropriate?”
Paul mumbles, “Say, Jesus, but your child really was lost…”
Jesus asks, surprised, “My child! What child?”
Billy screams, “And a ch-ch-child t-too?”
Paul says, “When you were crucified, Jesus, Mary was two months into her pregnancy…”
“This is… t-t-too much, too much! Paul, you little….” Billy howls. “I can’t t-t-take it anymore! Am I dreaming? I-i-if only this were but a dr-dr-dream…”
With his tongue twisted into a knot, Billy rubs his eyes firmly, blinks, and finds himself still in his backyard, calmly in his rocking chair. Before him, he still sees the few withering lilies. The cigar in his hand is only half-smoked, too. He sighs in relief, and picks up the cigar for a deep puff, and raises the other hand to wipe sweat off his forehead. But then the wine goblet, still in his hand, smashes into his face and wine spills all over his face. Perhaps he left the dream too hastily and forgot to return the goblet to Paul and Jesus…
(Translated by stillwaters in 2006 from 葛理翰牧師的夢魘)