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Jun 30 2008

The Messed-Up Teachings of Jesus

Jesus_blessing
There’s a common trope among many progressive Christians (and among many progressives who aren’t Christian but who want to be ecumenical).It goes something like this:

“I’m not a fundamentalist. I don’t believe in every word of the Bible. But I do believe in the teachings of Jesus. They’re so full of love and peace and tolerance. That’s where I get my divine inspiration from.”

I’ll grant that the philosophy of the Jesus character in the New Testament is, in many ways, an improvement over the Old Testament. It’s a lot lighter on the genocidal brutality and violence, for one thing. And some of the ideas in the Gospels are pretty decent ones.

But it’s a very mixed bag indeed. And while a mixed bag is okay if you’re just talking about human ideas — every one of the thinkers I admire have some ideas I think are coo-coo or messed up or just plain wrong — it’s a lot more problematic when you believe that the ideas in question come straight from the mouth of a perfect God.

There are some seriously screwed-up ideas in the Gospels. And they’re ideas that run counter to some of the most treasured principles of most modern progressives… including progressive Christians.

I want to list them here.

A few quick ground rules:

I’m talking here about my own opinion about what is or is not a screwed-up idea. But I am going to focus on ideas that most modern progressives agree are screwed-up (or would, if the ideas hadn’t come from Jesus).

Biblefire
I’m not going to cite references to hell and damnation. I do think that’s one of the most profoundly messed-up ideas in the Gospels, and it’s one of the most prevalent; but I’ve already catalogued it previously.

And I’m not going to cite the self-aggrandizing “I am God” stuff, as it seems like a rhetorical dead-end. After all, the whole question of whether Jesus was or was not God is exactly the point on which Christians and I disagree, so pointing to it as an example of a problematic philosophy is a bit too circular for my taste. Instead, I’m going to focus on ideas in the Gospels that most progressives would find troubling… completely apart from the question of Jesus’s divinity (or, indeed, his existence).

I will, however, talk about both the hell stuff and the “I am God” stuff when it points to some other troubling aspect of the Jesus philosophy… such as the oft-repeated “Believing that I am God and following my teachings is the only right way to practice religion” trope.

Cursing_of_fig_tree
I’m also not going to bother with factual errors (like “there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom”), or internal contradictions (such as the whole “Should you do your good Christian works openly or secretly?” question), or instances of Jesus just being a jerk (like blighting the fig tree, and the whole “dissing his mother and brothers” thing). And I’m not going to nitpick every little idea in the Gospels that sort of bugs me.. I’m just going to talk about seriously troubling ethical and political ideas.

When a verse is repeated almost word for word from one book to another, I won’t repeat it in this list, unless for some reason it seems to bear repeating. (Which is why there’s a lot more from Matthew than any of the other four books.) And I’m quoting from the Revised Standard Version.

Here we go!

Coexist
Matthew 5:18: “Whosoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

The first in a long line of “You have to do exactly what I tell you” teachings. None of this “Different people find God in different ways” ecumenical crap for Jesus. No, sir. My way or the highway.

Firstamendment
Matthew 5:21-22: “You have heard it said that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.”

So now we have thought crimes? Being angry is as bad as as killing, and as deserving of punishment? Not to mention speech crimes. Insulting people and calling them fools makes you deserve to be burned in fire? I don’t think the ACLU would look very kindly on this one.

Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’”

Ditto above. Thought crimes. Thinking about prohibited sex is as bad as having it. Nice. Plus, we have the whole idea of prohibited sex and consensual sex crimes in the first place. Not to mention the sexist and heterosexist assumption that only women get looked at with lust… and only men’s lust counts.

Divorce without court
Matthew 5:31-32: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I way to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

So now divorce is out, too. Not only do we have the idea that the consenting (if often dishonest) act of adultery is a sin. We now have the idea that marriage must be permanent, and divorce is tantamount to adultery.

Unless, of course, the woman is unchaste. Then divorce is okay.

What happens if the man is unchaste isn’t mentioned.

Martin-Luther-King-1964-leaning-on-a-lectern
Matthew 5:38: “But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

So much for Martin Luther King; the abolitionists; the resistance movement in Nazi Germany. They weren’t following Jesus’s teachings, I guess. After all, they didn’t just stand there and let themselves get hit. They resisted one, or ones, who were evil. Bad move, apparently.

Matthew 7:24-27: “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.”

Yet another in the “You have to do exactly what I tell you and follow all my teachings” trope. Again, not exactly the spirit of groovy progressive ecumenicalism.

Graves
Matthew 8:21-22: Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

Sheesh, dude. How callous can you get?

Okay, he’s making a point about how you should focus on life and not death, or something. But he’s not going to let his disciple off to go to his dad’s funeral? Even heartless multinational corporations let you off to go to your dad’s funeral. Even heartless multinational corporations recognize that a big part of honoring life is acknowledging death and grief. That is some fucked-up shit right here.

Matthew 10:14-15 (said to the twelve disciples, instructing them on how to spread his word): “And if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”

Well, I like the part about not pestering people to death about your beliefs. In fact, I wish a lot more Christians would take that to heart. But yet again, we have the theme of “anyone who doesn’t listen to my teachings and believe them is doomed.” Nice. Very tolerant.

Symbols_of_Religions
Matthew 10:32-33: “So every one who acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Once again, it’s the “You have to believe in me if you want to be saved” theme.

This theme comes up a lot in the words of Jesus, and I don’t have a snarky comment for every single instance of it. But it is (a) an unbelievably common theme, and (b) a theme that runs completely counter to the tolerant, ecumenical, “there are lots of different ways to find God” values of progressive Christianity… not to mention the tolerant, diversity-loving values of progressivism generally. So I’m going to list every single clear-cut instance of it that I can find.

PEACE
Matthew 10:34: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Let’s hear it for peace and unity!

You know, considering that the one message progressive Christians hammer on about more than any other is “peace on earth,” I find it very interesting that the Jesus character actually said, in actual words, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth.” (This is a point I’ve made before — liberal Christians can be just as bad about cherry-picking as conservative ones.)

Matthew 10:35-37: “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter- in- law against her mother- in- law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Some nice family values you got there. Peace, unity, brotherhood? I don’t think so. And again, we have the “You have to follow me or else” theme. Only now we’re starting to see the “at the expense of your family and everything else in your life” side of it. Sometimes, the guy sounds like Jim Jones or the Bhagwan Rajneesh.

Matthew 11:21-23 (said to crowds in cities, for not repenting when they saw his miracles): “Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

And again: Anyone who doesn’t believe in me and follow me will burn in hell.

Power of Diversity
Matthew 12:30: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”

Again with the “If you’re not totally on my side, you’re hosed” theme. You can’t get it much plainer that this, actually.

Matthew 12:31-32: “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

And again. In possibly the harshest language of all. This is the thing that the Blasphemy Challenge is all about — the idea that blaspheming against the Holy Spirit is the one unforgivable sin.

I’m not going to talk here about the idea of an unforgivable sin. There are people who I’ll probably never forgive — George W. Bush comes to mind — and I’m more or less okay with that. So I’m going to say this instead:

If you were going to pick one sin to be unforgivable, would you pick “denying Jesus’s divinity and blaspheming against the Holy Spirit”? Wouldn’t you pick, say, torture, or genocide, or child molestation? This, in my opinion, is Jesus at the absolute peak of his intolerance.

Matthew 19: 9: “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.”

Again with the “nix on divorce” theme. Very much not in keeping with modern progressive values. And again with the “female unchastity being the one acceptable excuse for divorce” thing. Nice.

Unity
Matthew 22:35-39: And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” And he said to him: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Okay. The “love your neighbor as yourself” part, I’m down with.

But note, please, which of these Jesus clearly says is the most important. According to Jesus, it is less important to love your neighbor than it is to believe in God. It is less important to treat other people well than it is to be true to the tenets of your religion.

Pretty much the exact opposite of what progressive Christians say they believe. And very much the exact opposite of most modern progressive ideals.

Mark 4:28-29: “Truly I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemies against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

And again with blasphemy against the Holy Spirit — and not believing in Jesus’s divinity — being the one unforgivable act. The single worst thing you could possibly do. Yuk.

Question authority ask a librarian
Mark 8:11-12: The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation need a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.”

This is a theme that actually comes up more than once in the Gospels, although it’s rarely stated so baldly as it is here. The theme: You should believe in Jesus — in his divinity, in his miracles — without any signs or evidence. The people who believe in him because they saw his miracles, they’re pretty cool… but the people who believe in him without having seen any miracles, they’re totally awesome.

Which very much runs counter to the modern progressive ideals of (a) valuing truth, (b) not just believing what you’re told, and (c) not getting taken by charlatans.

To be fair, in other places Jesus is happy to point to his miracles as proof of his divinity. But I said I wasn’t going to get into internal contradictions, so I’m not going to. If I did, we’d be here all day.

Mark 10:2-12: And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away.” But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

And again with the ix-nay on the ivorce-day. The prohibition on divorce comes up in every one of the four Gospels. I’d just like to point that out. Plus we have the homophobia of the “God made them male and female” bit…

Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

Yet again with this familiar trope. ‘If you believe me and do what I tell you, you’ll be fine. If you don’t, you’re screwed.”

Unthinking respect
Luke 7:46: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,” and not do what I tell you?”

And again. Obedience to Jesus: good. Independent thought: bad.

The parable from Matthew 7:24-27, about the wise man who built his house on a rock and the dummy who built his house on sand, is repeated at this point, so I won’t list it again. But the line about doing what we’re told is so baldly stated here in Luke that I couldn’t resist.

Luke 10:38-42: Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who say at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Maybe I’m being nitpicky here. Maybe this just bugs me because I’ve thrown a lot of dinner parties, and if my sister sat in the living room listening to some guru while I did all the work myself, I’d get annoyed, too.

But to me, this seems like yet another example of the “Listening to Jesus is more important than helping the people in your life” principle. It’s another example of “Loving God is more important than loving other people and treating them well.” And that’s ain’t right.

Family
Luke 9:61-62: Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Another in the “Geez, callous much?” category. It fits right in with the “Can I at least go bury my father first?” story of Matthew 8:21-22 (and in fact, that story is repeated here as well). Again, we have the “It’s more important to follow your religious leader than it is to be kind and thoughtful to your family” theme. And again, we have the creepy, cult-leaderish, “You’re not worthy if you’re not willing to abandon your family for me” theme.

These aren’t the values of anyone I know. And there’s a reason for that.

Luke 15:26: “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

Nice. Do I have to say it again? Obedience to Jesus over affection and respect for your family; the dividing of people from their families to a degree that’s creepy and cultish. Ick.

Luke 18:29-30: And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Again with the “abandon your family, treat the people who love you shabbily, in order to follow me and obey my teachings” trope.

No fear
John 6: 53-54: So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Yet again, with the “you won’t have any life — i.e., eternal life — unless you believe in my divinity and follow my religious practices.”

(FYI: This sort of stuff is all over John, and it’s after midnight as I write this and I want to go to bed; so I’m only going to list the more egregious examples of it from now on.)

John 8:29: “I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.” (“He” meaning the Messiah/ Son of God.)

And again. The only way to salvation is through a specific religious belief. All other beliefs are incorrect, and nothing else can save you.

John 12:48: “He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.

And again. Reject Jesus and his sayings, and be judged — no matter what else you do in your life. (I told you: this stuff is all over the book of John…)

Celebrate diversity
John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”

And again. Just one way to God. Jesus’s way.

Consumer reports - ethanol myth
John 20:24-29: Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, I will not believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

This story has always, always bugged me.

I think Thomas was completely reasonable. If someone told me that my dead friend had come back to life, I’d bloody well have to see them and put my hands on them before I believed it was really them. But Jesus has to get all snarky about it, and give Thomas a hard time for not believing the wildly improbable without having some actual evidence. Again, the message: Blind faith good. Independent thought bad.

Finally.

Underground_railroad
Throughout every book of the four Gospels, we have verse after verse after verse after verse about servants. I’m not even going to list them all. And from what I understand, “servant” should more accurately be translated as “slave.” In some verses it actually says “slave.” Slavery was a widespread reality in Jesus’s day. And not only did he not speak out against it — he used it to illustrate points. He even used the beating of servants and slaves to illustrate points. Ew.

*****

I’m not saying there’s no good content in the Gospels. There is. I’m not even saying that the bad verses outweigh or outnumber the good. I don’t feel like doing a tally right now of which verses I think are cool and which I think are messed-up. Some other time, perhaps… but it’s really beside the point.

Red letter bible
The point is this: The bad stuff — the stuff that runs completely counter to the most important values of most progressives I know, including progressive Christians — is not hard to find. It’s all over the place. I basically just spent a few hours with a Bible in one hand and my laptop in the other, and came up with this rather frighteningly long list. And it’s not like these are the minor teachings, either — some of them are among the most famous and beloved teachings of everything Jesus supposedly said.

Now. Again. The fact that the philosophy of the Gospels is flawed and inconsistent would not be a problem if you saw Jesus simply as a person: a far-seeing person with many important and indeed radical ideas, but one who was also somewhat limited by the culture in which he lived. If that’s how you saw the Gospel teachings, you could easily take what you need and leave the rest… just like you would with any other thinker you admired.

But when you believe that Jesus was/is the divine Son of God, and that the Gospels are a more or less accurate representation of his teachings… then you’re in trouble.

Christ Pantocrator Meister_von_Daphni_002
Yes, the Jesus character in the Gospels spoke of love and respect and humility, healing the sick and taking care of the poor. But he also spoke of the wickedness of thought crimes, and the sinfulness of divorce; of the value of surrendering rational thought, and the nobility of abandoning family and responsibility to pursue a religious practice. He spoke with approval of the calm acceptance of evil and oppression in this world. And he spoke — over and over like a broken record — about the all-importance of believing that he was God, and obeying his commands. He spoke again and again about how there was just one right way to practice religion, and how doing this was a far greater priority than being a good person in the world.

If you believe that it’s normal and healthy to think about things that you would never actually do; that expressing anger is often useful and healthy; that good people should resist evil and oppression; that people’s sexual and marital lives are nobody’s business but their own; that people of different faiths, perhaps even of no faith at all, can still be good people; that you shouldn’t just believe what you’re told; that women and men should have equal marital rights; that actions speak louder than words and beliefs; that religion shouldn’t divide people; that fact-checking is a valuable skill; and that it’s more important to treat each other well than to have the exact right religious doctrine… then good for you. I think so, too. But if you believe that the Gospels reflect the reality of his life and teachings, then apparently Jesus didn’t.

43 comments

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  1. 1
    lunalelle

    Among all the other things you’ve pointed out, the one on the idiocy of believing without proof (and in fact, it being better to believe without proof), has grated on me recently. I wrote a small blog post on why a miracle a generation shouldn’t be too much for God, if that’s what it takes. If he truly loved the world and wanted us all to be with him, WHY WOULDN’T HE? Jesus talks about the faith of a child, but the faith of a child also leads to believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy unconditionally. What children have isn’t faith, it’s ignorance, and as we grow older, theoretically we put away childish things. Adult faith can’t and shouldn’t be like child faith.
    Here’s the part of my blog post that I’m just going to copy and paste because I don’t want to write it over again: “Besides, Christians argue, even if God were to give everyone a sign now, it would be forgotten or disregarded a couple of generations later. Well, what of it? God is omnipotent – he shouldn’t get tired of it. And if he gets frustrated, why did he make things so that his existence was so faith-based? If he created humans to praise his name, why did he make it so difficult for many to know him? If a miracle a generation is what it takes, why the hell not? The sheer number of people in hell according to the judgment of the Bible proves how much he failed in that respect of making his name and his glory known. Sure, the God of the Bible supposedly gave us free will, but he seems to have forgotten adequate proof. Since proof isn’t in a feeling and anecdotal evidence is inadmissible, we’re left with faith. And faith is illogical. If God requires belief only through faith, he cannot expect constant and widespread praise. It would be ridiculous to pretend the emperor has clothes when he’s naked, but even more ridiculous to swear fealty to an emperor one does not even know exists.”
    It comes down to: if God loves us so much, why doesn’t he make it as easy as possible to come into heaven? If God loves us so much, why are so many people predestined to not believe in him? If God loves us so much, why did he only focus his questionable mercy on one little spot in the world?

  2. 2
    Blue Linchpin

    Matthew 12:30: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”
    Whoa!
    Who said this? Jesus? Does that mean Jesus was a Sith Lord?
    Erk…nerd joke, excuse me. ;P
    Great read, definitely passing this on and pointing friends to your post. Well written and really points out how Christians are, well, full of crap.

  3. 3
    nightshadequeen

    Dang. The more I learn about Christianity, the more I think that Mao is Jesus 2.0
    A couple of quotes from Mao:
    “Father is close, Mother is close, but neither is as close as Chairman Mao.”
    “Where there is a will to condemn, there is evidence.”
    And the worst: “The more books you read, the more stupid you become.”

  4. 4
    Mary

    Great post – It just shows how much picking and choosing goes on in Christian theology.
    Just one additional thought – as you may well know the gospels were not written during Jesus lifetime (if he did in fact live), and were written by folks who had AGENDAS. Mark is generally considered the first gospel written and has the fewest embellishments (by no means a small amount, however). Many in the Jesus movement were striving against what they saw as a liberal creep in Judaism because of Roman influence and their texts reflect that idea.
    In fact, Gospel scholars can point to “Old Testament” inspired Jesus quotes as easily as they can point to the Old Testament verses that inspired Jesus’ miracle birth story.

  5. 5
    Michael

    One disagreement I tend to have with most atheist critiques of the Bible is that these arguments tend to simply dismiss the whole “Old Testament” as some hateful vile document as if it was one unified philosophy.
    If you read the OT from cover to cover you’ll see that there are a whole range of traditions interwoven in there from the atrocious to the sublime. And virtually all the “good stuff” said by Jesus is actually continuing the Jewish prophetic tradition that criticised social injustice etc. (whilst going off in numerous eschatological tangents just like the NT)

  6. 6
    Steve Caldwell

    Greta,
    There are a few things to be careful about when reading the Gospels.
    As best we can tell, Jesus was born between 7 and 4 BCE. He died around 30 CE (give or take a year or two).
    Of the Gospels in the Bible that are accepted as “canonical,” the earliest (Mark) was written around 70 CE (around the time of the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem). Matthew was written around the year 85 CE. Luke and Acts were written around 90 CE. John was written between 80 and 100 CE (an earlier “signs” gospel that John’s author borrowed from was written between 60 and 80 CE).
    And there are non-canonical writings as well like the Gospel of Thomas — a collection of sayings that has no birth story, no crucifixion, and no story narrative at all.
    So — you’ve got a long period of poorly document sources between the time of the Jesus’ life and the gospel writers putting pen to papyrus. It’s possible that there was an intermediate source that was a collection of sayings that scholars call the “Q” document (“quelle” or “source” — they think this was one of the two common sources that Matthew and Luke copied from — the other source being Mark).
    You’ve also got every copy of the gospels prior to Gutenburg’s Bible being different from every other copy due to human errors accidentally changing the text during hand-copying (not to mention the intentional changes due to copyists with their own agendas).
    This copyist agenda doesn’t even get into the theological agendas of each gospel author.
    So — in this poorly preserved collection of fan fiction, one asks what in the collection of stories and sayings looks like something that is historically and authentically in the life of the historical Jesus.
    The problem here is how do we untangle the pre-Easter “Historical Jesus” from the post-Easter “Christ of Faith.” It’s highly likely that they are not the same person.
    The answer to what is authentic Jesus in the gospels is very little — for example, the Jesus Seminar scholars think that nothing attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John was actually said by Jesus.
    And large parts of the “red letter” words in the other gospels are considered to be later additions by the fan fiction authors.
    One final link here — I wrote a sermon several years ago on the Jesus Seminar research and what it might mean to folks who are not Christian. You can read that online here:
    Jesus: Icon or Iconoclast?
    http://members.aol.com/uuwebman/jesus.htm

  7. 7
    Alexis Kauffmann

    Hi, Dear!
    I do love your writings. It’s a pleasure to read this blog’s feed – I saved in my “Thoughts” directory. I really admire your atheist thoughts as you shed light on obscureness and obscurity – so much that I must say I wish my daughter, to be born a few months from now, cultivates an intellectual independence and boldness just like yours!
    But I must also say that, this time, you made a “non sequitur”. The fact that Jesus said stupid things doesn’t prove that he was not God. You must take into account that he was talking to very, VERY stupid people. And even a perfect omnipotent God might face a limit to his infinitude in human stupidity.
    I may testify this from my 14 year experience as a university professor. Although I never pretended to be God, most of the time I had to say the most stupid things just to get a chance a couple of my students would not miss the point.
    Now, imagine you were limitlessly intelligent but had to tell something to an amoeba… You sure wouldn’t sound so brilliant.
    Be happy,

  8. 8
    Paul Crowley

    If Jesus had not said those things, we probably would never have heard of him. If at the same time in the same place another man was preaching “You don’t NEED to follow ME, You don’t NEED to follow ANYBODY! You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re ALL individuals!” – it’s rather unlikely that his name would have survived 2000 years in the same way.
    In other words, Christianity is popular not because it is backed by evidence nor because it is nice; memetic fitness trumps both of these characteristics.
    Fantastic post, I enjoyed it very much, many thanks!

  9. 9
    Caio

    Alexis, I admire the fact that you can approach the Bible critically, but I’m afraid you misrepresented Greta’s argument. She was not arguing against the divinity of Jesus, only pointing out the teachings that didn’t quite square with progressive Christianity.
    Also, you seem to be saying that everything Greta transcribed is a “dumbed-down” version of Jesus’ true morality. But even if you consider it to be simplified, you can’t possibly interpret Jesus as saying, think for yourself, don’t have slaves, don’t have sexual hang-ups, welcome women and homosexuals as equals, and there is more than one way to God, because he tells them to do exactly the opposite of that. So if you accept Jesus’ divinity, it seems like you either have to accept that he really meant those things, or that his moral prescriptions for mankind have actually changed, which makes you kind of a relativist which, as far as I can tell, would be a big problem for Biblical morality. Unless, of course, you’re going to be skeptical about the accounts themselves, in which case, you really need to rethink accepting the divinity of Jesus.

  10. 10
    OrneryPest

    Here’s Jesus. His girlfriend Martha has invited him over for lunch. While she’s in the kitchen fixing stuff, her sister Mary comes over and starts smooching with Jesus. Martha catches them smooching and gets upset, so Jesus lips off at her. And so we’re supposed to hold some sorta high esteem for a clod who treats his girlfriend like that.

  11. 11
    John B Hodges

    I did a similar study, the main point I would add is that a lot of Jesus’ odder teachings make logical sense if you understand that he thought and taught that (1) the world was ending soon, Judgement Day was imminent, and (2) very few would be saved. So, you are not trying to have a happy or successful life on Earth, you are applying to get into Heaven when the Earth is destroyed. See my essay at http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/JesusEthics.htm

  12. 12
    VorJack

    Honestly, I think this whole “Historical Jesus” discussion is a non sequitur. We have no more access to the historical Jesus than we have to the historical Socrates. But if we start critiquing the philosophy of Socrates, no one pops up to say, “Well, the REAL Socrates probably never said that …”
    We’re stuck with the Jesus of the gospels – or the Jesus of Faith if you prefer. Greta is critiquing Jesus as he is presented to us by the early Christians and as he is understood by the majority of believers. That’s the Jesus of Faith, and that’s the only Jesus we have to work with. Saying, “well, that’s not the real Jesus …” is just evading the question.

  13. 13
    katagoshi

    Excellent post, Greta, as usual ^^ I very much agree that the problem is not whether or not “everything” Jesus said (or supposedly said) is good or bad, but rather the problem lies with the fact that people are expected to accept it to the letter without any justification beyond ‘because He said so’ – and they do just that. This is not particular just to Jesus and Christianity – blind obediance and faith is dangerous, in any context, because it effectively shuts down independent, logical thought. And as the only known sentient creature on this planet, that’s all we have going for us. We’re just sheep otherwise.

  14. 14
    Donna Gore

    I heard somewhere that “It is easier to worship Jesus than to follow his teachings.”

  15. 15
    Donna Gore

    Oooo oooo wait, I just had an idea how to have some fun. The next time somebody comes at me spouting babble verses, I am going to say “My favorite bible verse is (pick any one of the above).” Then I will just smile and walk away. They’ll have to go to their bibles and look it up.

  16. 16
    Greta Christina

    Just want to say that I totally agree with VorJack. The question of which verses the historical Jesus really said is totally moot. I mean, there’s serious doubt as to whether the historical Jesus even existed… much less whether he really said anything that he’s quoted as saying in the four Gospels.
    When you start cherrypicking the verses you like and rejecting the verses you don’t by saying, “The verses I like are the ones Jesus really said, and the verses I don’t like aren’t”… well, sheesh. Who died and made you the Synod of Hippo?
    That’s why I kept using the phrase “the Jesus character.” I’m not talking about what the real historical Jesus may or may not have said. I’m not convinced the real historical Jesus existed. I’m talking about what the Jesus character in the stories known as the four Gospels said.

  17. 17
    Steve Caldwell

    On 1 July 2008, VorJack wrote:
    “Honestly, I think this whole “Historical Jesus” discussion is a non sequitur. We have no more access to the historical Jesus than we have to the historical Socrates.”
    No offense intended, but this sounds suspiciously like the young-earth creationist claims that we have no way to directly observe the “big bang” or the process of macro-evolution as a way to dismiss the work of researchers who don’t work in laboratory disciplines.
    Ethongraphy and textual analysis social science methods that are akin to the historical sciences like geology and paleontology. They are not “laboratory sciences” where folks in white lab coats can do repeatable experiments.
    Based on when a text was written, one can observe the process of the gospel authors borrowing a bit of this and a bit of that (e.g. Matthew basically copied all of Mark and blended the “Q” sayings document into his final copy).
    Modern-day ethographic studies of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures can provide some insight into past practices.
    Historical writings describing the past can also be used to describe the time and place that a hypothetical Jesus might have lived.
    Finally, one can look at the long period between when the hypothetical Jesus died and when the first words were written down.
    The types of sayings that survive oral transmission effectively are short pithy aphorisms or memorable stories that went against the grain of the prevailing culture. Longer pronouncements that one finds in the Gospel of John are almost certainly later inventions.
    One can see how the stories change over time as the humanity of the Jesus character is lost. For example, Crossan’s description of the pre-crucifixion “agony in the garden” scene is very different when one compares Mark (earlies gospel) with John (last gospel). In Mark, there’s agony but no garden. In John, there a garden but no agony. By the time this story is written, John’s Jesus shows no fear as the story moves towards his death.
    Keep in mind that none of this textual analysis is done with 100% certainty.
    But it does give a range of probability for what is more likely to be “historical” and what is more likely to be an invention of a later “fan fiction” writer embellishing the story that is loosely based on a historical character.
    Also, keep in mind that this sort of historical detective work doesn’t assume anything about the existence of God or gods.
    It also assumes that Jesus was not a god but rather a mortal man who was influenced by his surrounding culture — Galilean peasant upbringing, Jewish social justice demands to speak out against political and economic injustice, and Greek cynic philosophy.
    This has led one member of the Jesus Seminar to suggest that Jesus was a agrarian peasant Jewish Cynic philosopher. All the “son of god” stuff was a later invention of his followers after he died.

  18. 18
    VorJack

    Steve – I find your mention of the big bang interesting. The big bang was an enormous event that took hundreds of millions of years. As for evidence, everytime we look through the telescope, we see objects streaking away from us as space continues to carry out its expansion. The big bang left the entire universe literally glowing with its light.
    Jesus’ ministry was somewhat less impressive.
    And that’s the problem. I’m not suggesting that we cannot work from sources of evidence to observe the past – for the record, I’m an archivist, so that’s my frikken’ life we’re talking about. No, what I’m saying is that the quality of evidence is so low that we cannot reliably say anything. I won’t lecture; we all know that the gospels are products of faith that come to us fourth or fifth hand through a screen of redaction and canonization.
    Yes, I’m aware of Crossan. But surely you’re aware of some of his colleges who voted against every single periscope being authentic. I’m aware of the Jesus Seminar, but are you aware of the Jesus Project, which was started by Seminar members who wanted to proceed without the assumption the Jesus existed? Scholars like Earl Doherty pick apart the gospels to show how Jesus could have been just a literary creation. Robert M. Price shows how each saying or story attached to the Jesus character may have come from another source, either accidentally through confusion in the oral tradition or intentionally through midrash.
    What I’m saying is that the game isn’t worth the candle. We can use Crossan’s techniques to say that it is possible that Jesus said this or that – but not certain, never for certain – but why bother? Again, I go back to Socrates. Every one of the teachings attributed to Socrates may have been placed in his mouth by his students. We know that, yet we don’t have a “Socrates Seminar.” Why? I hold that it’s because the quality of the ideas that are important, not the author. We recognize this with Socrates, but for some reason not with Jesus.
    If an idea is bad, then it is bad whether it came from the mouth of Jesus or the pen of Matthew. If an idea is good, then it is good whether Paul wrote it or Marcion forged it at a later date. And if we say “Jesus said …” as a shorthand for “Jesus, or someone in the early Christian community, or some later redactor, or someone else, said …” what’s the harm?

  19. 19
    Ammy

    Brilliant as usual. Thanks for making this catalog. I remember a bunch of these from my college Bible as Lit course, but oy it’s been so long, and the fundies are just so very earnest that without being able to cite chapter and verse, I usually just let them talk without bothering to contradict them. But I feel once again suitably armed the next time they come knocking at more door or the more noisome members of my family start mouthing off.

  20. 20
    absent sway

    Well written and powerful. Thank you.

  21. 21
    Ebonmuse

    Who died and made you the Synod of Hippo?
    That’s a fantastic line. :) I’ve got to remember that.
    I was going to make a comment about what Jesus didn’t say being at least as important as what he did say – he didn’t advocate the equality of women, he didn’t speak out against slavery, he didn’t encourage people to investigate the world rationally or seek freedom rather than submit to tyranny – but Greta already covered that ground. I have something else to point out instead. Greta mentioned Matthew 5:18, but there’s another part to it:
    “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”
    This verse represents an endorsement of everything in the Old Testament’s Mosaic law – that vicious legal code that allowed you to sell your children into slavery, beat your slaves to death, stone people to death for changing their religious beliefs, and more. A good person would have denounced this law code in no uncertain terms. Instead, Jesus endorses it as the word of God. Even though Christians believe he abrogated some of it, he never said there was anything wrong or immoral about any of it, only that God’s moved on to a different dispensation now. That’s a big strike against him, in my book.

  22. 22
    Yatima

    You remind me of Bertrand Russell at his most endearing :)
    “I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to history. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above Him in those respects.”
    http://users.drew.edu/~jlenz/whynot.html

  23. 23
    Luis Dias

    Great post and great blog. I’ll come back more often.

  24. 24
    Jerk

    I realize this is extremely off topic but I have to know, is your name a pseudonym?

  25. 25
    Greta Christina

    I realize this is extremely off topic but I have to know, is your name a pseudonym?

    It’s not. It’s my legal name. It’s not the name I was born with, if that’s what you’re asking — I changed my name in my twenties, dropping my family name and taking my middle name as my last name. But it was a legal name change, and Greta Christina has been my legal name for about 20 years now.

  26. 26
    Lacey Ramse

    The things you mention in this post are very much related to my decision to drop out of Christianity. I was one of those progressive Christians who believed in the “love your neighbor” bit but not in the “Jesus is the only way” bit. I got so worn out from doing mental gymnastics, trying to make obvious contradictions within Christianity and the Bible fit with each other. I felt so guilty all the time for not being perfect, too. Finally, I could no longer force myself to believe. I chose to believe in my own belief system and remove the only part that didn’t agree-Jesus and Christianity. Once I did that, I felt like everything clicked together. I took out that one piece of my belief puzzle, and I was free to think whatever the hell I wanted, dogma be damned. I am just happy to find others who reject the contradictions and know that morality not only can be present without God–it actually makes more sense. Thank you for your blog!

  27. 27
    Bertha Vazquez

    Hey, how about when Jesus said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eye causes you to be tempted, cut it out.” I sure hope nobody takes that literally. Jesus is all for self-mutilation!! I think seeing a therapist might be more effective.

  28. 28
    ToppHogg

    Isn’t it ironic that your middle name is Christina?
    RE: “I Am God”: it’s my opinion that a lot of this stuff was injected into the religion to add weight to it once Constantine adopted it. It was intended by him as the means by which he was going to cement together his religiously diverse empire through enforcing Christianity as the official religion. After all, if one was previously worshiping Ishtar, Astarte, Amon Ra, or Zeus, one would have to replace them with a single deity which had at least as much ego and sense of self-importance. It would also be necessary to bury the legitimate questions about the alleged death of Jesus (I have my theories as to how this happened – and what came of the remainder of the story) so that the absolutism of the declaration “I Am God” would overrule human thought.
    And in regard to the comment immediately above mine, there are a lot of Old Testament ideas such as the one cited which would have been intended to pay a similar role. Christianity was still considered a new and radical religion, and it wasn’t necessarily accepted by the majority as being legitimate as of yet. In order to do so, it would be necessary to reinforce the idea that Christianity was a linear descendant of the traditional Jewish belief system.
    Someday, it will be possible to read the decoded Dead Sea Scrolls, which already testify that much of what passes for “divine inspiration” is really the output of merely mortal humans. Christianity will then become merely a philosophy of living, which is what it should have been all along. The disappointment is that even this is too difficult for its so-called adherents to follow to the letter!

  29. 29
    Christina

    Even the “Love thy neighbor” bit isn’t as ecumenical as many seem to believe. Jesus did not say “Love all mankind”, he specifically said neighbor. I.e., someone in your community. Not foreigners, but those in your community. In the context of Jesus’ preaching, Jews. Oh, sure, there’s the tale of the Good Samaritan, but Samaritans were closely related to Jews. They worshiped the same deity, and had a variation of the same scriptures. So, it would be like a Protestant telling a parable of the Good Catholic. After all, Catholics are Christians too.
    Like the hypothetical Parable of the Good Catholic, the Parable of the Good Samaritan only stretched the definition of the community a little bit to include a divergent tradition. It didn’t expand it to include gentiles.

  30. 30
    Dylan

    Martin Luther King and his followers often DID “just stand there and let themselves get hit”, and it often worked in the long run.
    What bothers me is Mark 14:7 and the surrounding verses.
    “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.”
    This seems to contradict not only optimistic progressive hope for the abolition of poverty, but also all of Jesus’ other teachings on giving to the poor.

  31. 31
    Serenader317

    I was raised with these ideas and it is a disturbing and confusing thing when faced with the truth of the situation that the Truth you believe you are following, and have believed since you were a small child, is not only fiction, but harmful fiction. I never thought of myself as a stupid person or a sheep, but I really didn’t question things the way you have. Not until I was around other people who did. Maybe that does make me a sheep. I am ashamed, but I know that if I don’t admit it than I can’t really get past it. On one hand I am so sorry that fear had such a hold on me, and faith was so tempting a pillow to bury my intellect in. I could “believe” away any responsibility and of the real work that would have to come from seeing. Faith really is the easy way out of everything; problems, fear, misdeeds, life. God won’t give you anything you can’t handle! Right? But if there’s no god, then you have to get up and handle it yourself. That’s a lot more difficult.
    I just found your blog, so I’m sorry I’m late to the party. I’m a bit behind on quite a few things, I suppose. Thank you for this though. I look up to your bravery and your insight. I’m still working on it, personally. From reading the comments left here over the years, you seem to bring quite a bit of insight to many.

  32. 32
    PeteMObie

    Hi Greta,
    I enjoyed your post immensely as it highlights what we all do as believers, emphasise your key verses then place less emphasis on the rest that contradicts them. All believers do this to some degree. During my Theology Degree at Uni, being an academic course, there was a huge range of interpretations and theories across the entire spectrum of belief, from Jesus was a Zealot Political Revolutionary, to being God, and everything in between. Some hypotheses were more plausible than others. As most Atheists will appreciate, no two believers believe exactly the same things. Every believer has an internally personalised version of “the gospel”.
    Steve makes an excellent point abut the search for the Jesus of History compared with the Jesus of Faith, since all three Quests for The Historical Jesus by Theologians, basically interpreted Jesus according to the culture of the Theologian’s day. We can therefore never really know the Jesus of History. Before any Atheists think of making “If Jesus ever existed” or similar claims, then do I need to remind you of Tacitus, Josephus or Suetonius, all respected historians from the first century AD?
    Where Steve and I differ in opinion (note that it is just opinion) is concerning the dating of the gospels, their literary dependency (if any) and their transmission accuracy. Steve only mentions one of several main theories regarding the various attempts to identify source materials for the synoptic gospels. I once went with a 4 Document Hypothesis, an expansion of Steve’s. Today I’m in the “I give up” camp as it is impossible trying to explain the similarities and differences between the synoptic writings, as the writers had differing target audiences and agendas, so arranged their source material accordingly.
    The disciples were aging, Jesus had not yet returned so the early church tried to capture as much authentic material from eye witnesses as they could, before they passed away, either naturally or “assisted” by Roman executioners. Not many people realise that most of the disciples were executed/murdered for their faith. Some executions took place at the very same Colosseum you go to visit and marvel at the architecture! I wonder if we’ll be visiting Auschwitz in 2000 years time to marvel at the architecture! So if you think the religious right of today are “intolerant” of Atheists, just try being a Christian around 50-70 AD where public executions of thousands of believers took place throughout the Roman Empire.
    That’s why I can identify immediately with an Atheist’s anger at being persecuted and unfairly treated by society. I share your sense of outrage that significantly less numerous groups of society get vastly disproportionate representation within society. I see parallels between Atheism coming out and Christianity coming out of Judaism, but you won’t have to pay with your life for what you believe, unless these extreme fundamentalist christians start murdering Atheists en mass as well as Pro-Abortion doctors.
    The claim “you’ve got a long period of poorly document sources between the time of the Jesus’ life and the gospel writers” and similar claims that “the gospels were written in the second century AD” are not well supported by the evidence. The first Christian writings were Paul’s Letters to the Thessolonians written about 42-44 AD, that’s only 12-14 years after the Crucifixion of Jesus (assuming 30 AD) which is hardly a “long period”. A significant number of scholars maintain that all 4 gospels were written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, beginning with Mark around 55-60 AD. So thats 25-40 years after the Crucifixion. Again not a “long period”.
    The earliest surviving Christian document is P52, a fragment of John 18 in Coptic (Egyptian) held in the John Rylands Library at Manchester University, England, and dated around 125 AD. That is 35 to 55 years after the original gospel was written. Comparing the earliest Christian manuscripts against other ancient literature, there is about half a millennium between Homer and the earliest surviving copies of his Iliad. Although there are hundreds of lines in doubt, my guess is that you will believe you are reading a perfectly transmitted, 100% accurate, error free, rendition of Homer’s Iliad as originally written, and translated perfectly from Classical Greek into English. I suspect selective skepticism is at work for most Atheists, just as believers rely on their selective gospel verses.
    I’m sorry this is more like a Greta length piece, but after all the good work you’ve done presenting such an excellent case that what I believe is so messed up, it would be a shame to give believers like me holes in your debating points to latch on to.

  33. 33
    Eclectic

    PeteMObie, I respect your points, but no, I don’t believe I’m reading a 100% accurate rendition of the Iliad, and it doesn’t matter. It’s basically a work of fiction. Heinrich Schliemann’s quest to find a historical Troy was considered quixotic, and even though he succeeded, nobody seriously thinks that Homer’s story is true in all, or even most particulars.
    It’s a fable spun around an actual event, just like many pieces of history. Consider the stories of Spartacus, William Tell, Pocahontas or Lady Godiva; it’s human nature to embellish stories and lionize heroes.
    King Arthur stories are fun, but I’m not sure any such dude actually existed. And if there’s any truth to the stories at all, I’m quite sure it’s very sparse.
    As a work of fiction, I expect Homer’s works have been distorted by successive copying, but they’re still more Homer’s work than anyone else’s.
    For a work of fiction, that’s good enough.
    With the Gospels, far more weight is put on their particulars, and they have been subject to vastly more political pressure.

  34. 34
    Ray

    I think it’s quite possible that a brilliant and enlightened teacher existed, and had his persona co-opted and his message perverted. He may not have even identified himself as a diety. Thomas Jefferson rooted through the Bible (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jefferson_Bible) trying to separate out what he thought was authentic. Modern scholar Stephen Mitchell did something similar (http://www.stephenmitchellbooks.com/nonFiction/gospel.html), though likely in a better informed way. Ultimately it’s not an endeavor one can be certain to have gotten correct. But that doesn’t mean this scenario (Jesus being a brilliant, enlightened “mystic” or teacher of ethics whose messages were corrupted) is necessarily false. Something to consider. We could be throwing babies out with bathwater.

  35. 35
    Rob Squires

    Greta,
    I love your blog and this is a great article. However, you left out one serious humdinger, and that’s Luke 14:23 – “And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel [them] to come in, that my house may be filled.”
    If you read the parable that’s connected with this verse, you’ll see that it clearly gives approval to force (i.e. “compel”) people to enter the church once it becomes clear that they’re not responding to mere preaching. Indeed, this is how the pre-Enlightenment church, including (Saint) Augustine and others, understood this (rather unambiguous) parable and verse for centuries…so I just wanted to share.
    Keep up the good work!
    Rob

  36. 36
    Timmer D

    “You don’t NEED to follow ME, You don’t NEED to follow ANYBODY! You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re ALL individuals!”
    A man named Socrates did say these things. Another man named Plato wrote them down.

  37. 37
    DA

    Uh, Timmer, my friend, have you ever actually READ any Plato? He may have been the most totalitarian major philosopher in the Western tradition, which is really saying something. The Republic is a blueprint for a society where individuality is ruthlessly surpressed.

  38. 38
    Francis

    Matthew 5:38: “But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

    I believe that that (and going the extra mile) are passive resistance guidelines for countries under Roman occupation. If someone strikes you on the right cheek while wearing a toga (or even just in a toga-wearing culture) they are doing it backhanded with the side of the hand that uses the knuckles. That is a far more contemptuous gesture than striking open handed with the palm on the left which, I believe, is what they would do if seriously pissed off with an equal rather than massive social inferior. So by turning the other cheek you force them to acknowledge you or to stop slapping you. (And I believe Going the Extra Mile is about the Roman Army being allowed to force civillians to carry their packs for one mile but no further. So if you took it a second the soldier would be punished – or would chase you down begging you to stop.)

    I’ve never found doubts on the existance of the historical Jesus of Nazareth that interesting. There were so many apocalyptic preachers there at the time that it makes no sense to me to make one up.

    That said, the argument that Saul of Tarsus started writing letters about Jesus of Nazareth less than a score of years after his death is irrelevant for one simple reason. Saul of Tarsus never actually met Jesus himself. (Completely different from Socrates’ student Plato.) And no one cares if the Iliad is accurate (although being in verse helps it hold its form through oral transmission). What we know is that someone wrote it – and it was transmitted from there.

  39. 39
    Stonyground

    Excellent essay that would be a good companion to Thomas Paine’s ‘Examination of the prophesies’, together they make Christianity untenable.

    I know that you said that you weren’t going to go into the contradictions but the one about refusing to give a sign has always bugged me.

    “Only wicked cynical people demand a sign, I know that this country is absolutely heaving with would be messiahs but all of them are false and I’m the real deal so just believe it OK. So you are not getting a sign. Well apart from turning water into wine, walking on water, raising the dead, curing blindness, lameness and leprosy with a touch, catering by magic and dying and coming back to life, that is, but apart from that, no signs OK”.

    I would also suggest that the human tendancy to believe stuff without credible evidence is natural and has led to some of the most terrible outcomes in history. If Jesus had condemned that one thing and insisted that people were far more careful about what they believe he could have done far more good in the world.

  40. 40
    Harry

    Bookmarked for the next time my mum’s feeling evangelical.

  41. 41
    thomascaldwell

    Where can I buy that Divorce for Dogs book?

  42. 42
    grumpy112

    Christina, You wrote that Jesus never spoke against slavery. How do you know that? John 21:25 reads that Jesus did many other things that are not documented. I suspect that what is documented about Jesus is less than 0.1% of what He said and did.

  43. 43
    Wang Chun Hui

    Truly, I say to you, read and understand the CONTEXT of the verses you said are contradictory. There are NO contradictions in the Bible. Sometimes it might not make sense on the first read, but slow down. The original languages of the bible (Hebrew and Greek) are so rich that, 1 word can drastically change your understanding.

    Just starting with your first 3 verses to show you how reading verses / chapters too literally misconstrues the original intent.

    Matthew 5 is a chapter where Jesus teaches about the law. As you have rightly pointed out, it is impossible to meet. WHAT? JUST THINKING ANGER / LUST IN YOUR HEART IS A SIN TOO? Yes, according to the definition of the Bible. The law is defined in such a perfect, and impossible to achieve manner that its SOLE purpose is to show people how they can never be “sinless”. Of course, you may argue that you don’t think this applies to you. But I challenge you to to ask yourself if you’re absolutely guilt free too, even based on your actions-only sin definition? The answer is no, because we all fall short, have the natural propensity to think badly of others…

    But the good news is that Jesus, the only man who is absolutely sinless even based on the strict definition of the Bible, has come to take your place of punishment, and give you his identity of perfect citizen – so that we may be free, grateful, deemed righteous. It is akin to a situation where, on your 1st day at work, your supervisor comes to you and says, “Greta, here is 1 year’s worth of salary and bonus” – absolutely unearned, undeserved brand of righteousness. If you are to finish the book of Matthew, you will understand this.

    As a writer, surely you wouldn’t pick out individual sentences or chapters to say a book doesn’t make sense. See it in its totality.

    Think Jesus is a dictator that is “my way or the highway”? Precisely because he has given you free choice, you are able to have a different opinion!

    Think Jesus makes it difficult for people to believe him? All it takes, is to simply consent. You need do nothing else. Think about the situation where someone tries to sell you an exercise machine, or anything for that matter where the results are not immediately apparent. You may demand for some “signs” that proves the effectiveness of the machine, but nothing can really prove its effectiveness for you until you consent to TRYING IT OUT. Of course, you can always change your mind and ask for your money back. The same for believing in Jesus. You can always change your mind.

    In fact, you mentioned that in Mark 8, Jesus said “I will not give this generation any such sign”, thus making him sound really obnoxious and hard to believe in. But that is simply not true. Right before that scene, Jesus used 7 loaves of bread and fed 4000 men – how is that not a sign? Bear in mind that he was speaking to Pharisees, people who will see him heal the sick and then say he is of the devil. That is how blinded and unbelieving they are, saying a flower field stinks even when the best scent breezes on their faces.When such people DEMAND for a sign, which sucker will give a sign knowing it will fall on deaf ears anyway? Not Jesus.

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