I have used the full gospels, not one of the shortened “authentic” versions of his words and deeds which are now available. (iii)(iv)(v)
I accept that some of the items I list were added to the gospels later and that the quotes are out of context and open to more than one interpretation. (That always has to be said about any attempt at biblical interpretation.)
I guess by being selective like this I am being polemical and trying to counterbalance the “soppy” ‘Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild’ image often promulgated by those equally selective opinion-formers in the church. I also wish to make the point that a “christian-atheist” approach to this man can’t use rose tinted glasses. If the written record indicates that he’s flawed you can’t deny it; you have to face up to it and take it into account in any appraisal you make of him.
(4) Gentiles heap up empty words in prayer (Matt 6:7); they anxiously seek material things ( Matt 6:32); and they ‘lord it over’ others (Mk 10:42, etc.)
Jesus was a liar
(1) In John 18:20 Jesus says in evidence at his trial “I always taught in synagogues and in the temple”, yet he taught on a mountain (Mt 5:1-2), on a boat (Mt 13:1-35), and on a plain (Lk 6:17-40).
(2) He added “in secret have I said nothing” , yet parables were used so those not in his group wouldn’t understand (Mk 4:12, Mt 13:11-15). Jesus admits using parables so the meaning was secret “but when he was alone with his disciples he explained everything.” (Mk 4:34, Mt 13:36-52, Lk 18:34).
That’s not just lying – it’s said at his trial so it’s perjury!
(3) Jesus said “I am not going” to the feast of the tabernacles in Jerusalem (Jn 7:8), but after his followers left he went up to the feast in secret.
(4) He tells the robber on the cross “today you will be with me in paradise.” However when he died, Jesus supposedly descended into hell (Acts 2:31) presumably resulting in one very surprised thief!
Jesus didn’t know his bible ( i.e. the Hebrew Testament)
(1) He got the ten commandments wrong. In Mark 10:19 Jesus lists “defraud not” as a commandment.
(2) Jesus gets the author of Psalm 110 wrong. (It was not King David) (Lk 20:42)
(3) In Matthew 12:39-40 he seems to believe the Book of Jonah is historical, which it is not. (vi)
(4) Jesus misunderstood who wrote the Pentateuch (first five books of the Hebrew/Old testament). The gospels refer to these books as if Moses wrote them. (e.g. Mt 19:6-8; 22:24; Mk 1:44; 7:10; 10:3-4; 12:19, 26; Lk 2:22; 5:14) (vii)
Lack of family values
In defiance of the Commandment to honour one’s parents, and at odds with 1 John 3:15 “anyone who hates his brother is a murderer”, Jesus shows by his words and deeds that he wanted the biological family to give way to a new family based on a common commitment to following God’s call. (viii). There is no record of him once speaking kindly to his mother, nor ever speaking to Joseph. Consider all the following examples:-
(1) At the age of 12 he scolded his distraught mother when she asked why he had been missing for 3 days in the city! (Lk 2:1-9)
(2) He speaks harshly to his mother at the wedding in Cana (Jn 2:4)
(3) He insultingly addressed his mother as “Woman” twice. (Jn 2:4; 19:26)
(4) A woman who praises “the womb that bore him” is coldly snubbed. (Lk 11:27)
(5) When his family turn up while he is engaged in public work, they are told peremptorily to wait. (Reference to be added.)
(6) A potential disciple who wants to say goodbye to his family before heading out on the road with Jesus is told off! (Reference to be added)
(7) (The Catholics and some Anglicans like to ignore this one!) “Do not call any man on earth ‘Father’ “.(Mt 23:9)
(8) Luke 14:36 does not often form the basis for the sermon at the 10:30 Family Service on Sunday mornings! “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters -yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.”
Sounds like the sort of fanaticism we’re so quick to deplore in other religions! As Terry Eagleton puts it (op. cit. p.xxiv) “His mission is not consensual but conflictive: he comes not to bring peace but a sword, slashing through established affinities and dividing those who have faith in the kingdom from those who do not. He is no mild-eyed plaster saint but a relentless, fiercely uncompromising activist.” Well, as a former trotskyist activist himself Eagleton should know!
Condemnation of slavery noticeably absent
After showing how pro-slavery the Hebrew Testament (Old Testament) and the epistles are, Krueger (i) comments ” Jesus himself was well aware of slavery and even talked about slaves in parables. Now ask yourself: Why didn’t Jesus condemn slavery? How odd that Jesus got angry that people were changing money in a temple, but he was obviously not angry about slavery.” Far from criticizing it, the gospels glorify slavery as a model of the relationship between God and man.
In case you were thinking “I’ve never noticed a parable about slaves” it could be because you were using the evangelical NIV translation of the bible which “renders the Greek word for slave, doulos, as “servant” to try to minimise the pro-slavery slant in the New Testament.” (Krueger again, op.cit. p.34) Or for that matter the King James Version, the Revised Standard Version, the J.B. Phillips modern English version, and the New English Bible also omit the word slave.
Here are examples where Jesus refers to slaves (Scholars’ Version translation, “The Five Gospels”, Jesus Seminar, Harper 1993):-
(a) Matt 18:23 ” This is why Heaven’s imperial rule should be compared to a secular ruler who decided to settle accounts with his slaves…”
(b) Matt 25:14 “…it’s like a man going on a trip who called his slaves and turned his valuables over to them.” (Mk 13:34 similar)
(c) Lk 12:43 “Congratulations to the slave who’s on the job when his master arrives…cut to pieces….flogged severely…. flogged lightly…”
(d) Lk 17:8 “He wouldn’t thank the slave because he did what he was told to do, would he?”
Jesus was short-tempered
Aren’t true believers ever embarrassed by Jesus’ impetuosity and irritability? I mean, he’s meant to be divine for God’s sake. The story of his temper tantrum over a tree in Mark 11:12-21 says it all:- “He was hungry. Seeing a fig-tree in leaf he went to see whether he could perhaps find anything on it. When he came to it he found nothing but leaves for it was not the season for figs.” (i.e. it was winter) “He said to it ‘May no-one ever eat fruit from you again’.And his disciples heard him say it.” “In the morning as they passed by they saw the fig-tree withered away to its roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, look! the fig-tree you cursed has withered!’ ”
When the leper in Mark 1:40 challenges Jesus to heal him, practically saying “You could heal me if only you would dare,” Jesus is so angry he snorts with indignation. (xiii)
In Mark 3:5 (part) “He looked round at them in anger, and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts…” , “the strong language describing Jesus’ rage is unparalleled in the New Testament.” (xiv)
Jesus is arrogant
In Mark 2:23-28 “it appears they (i.e. Jesus and the disciples) cut through a field trampling grain in order to ‘make a way’. They then stripped the fallen plants to eat the grain. Jesus’ ingenuous defence claims the precedent of David’s assertion of his kingly right to violate the law when he and his followers were in need and essentially commandeer bread. The point would seem to be that that the disciples have a right to commandeer grain because they too are on a campaign with Jesus, who will later be revealed as superior to David.” (xv)
Mark will use the same terminology when Jesus commandeers an ass on his way to Jerusalem.
Jesus endorses Jehovah’s cruelty
Jehovah’s cruelty is described elsewhere on Zingcreed. Genocide, cannibalism, murder of civilians in war-time, kidnap and rape – it’s all there in black and white in the Hebrew Testament (i.e. the Old Testament) for all to read. These acts were not merely legal in Jehovah’s eyes they were THE LAW and the Jews had to do what their God told them to do. Does Jesus reject this notion of compulsory inhumanity?
Au contraire, in Matthew 5:17 we read a ringing endorsement : “I have not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfil. For truly I say unto you until heaven and earth pass away not one jot nor one tittle will pass from the law until it is accomplished.”
Jesus contradicted himself
(1) He said lying was wrong yet he did it repeatedly (see Jesus was a liar, above)
(2) He says he endorsed the commandment to honour one’s parents yet he never did. ( see above)
(3) He forbade insulting people yet he did it repeatedly. ( see below)
(4) 3 gospels mention the exhortation to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us (e.g. Mt 5:44.) Jesus contradicts himself by saying that all those who are not for him are against him (Mt 12:30) i.e. they are his enemies and should be loved? Um, no. Jesus made it clear that those who were not his followers would be sent to hell.(Mt 13:41-2; 49-50.)
Jesus committed burglary
But see Mt 24:43-44, the parable where Jesus compares himself to a housebreaker!
Jesus lacked faith
In Matthew 17:20 “your faith need be no bigger than a mustard seed…nothing will be impossible for you.” Yet in Mark 8:22-25 Jesus didn’t have enough faith to heal a blind man – he had to make 2 attempts! In Mark 6:5 he likewise lacks power “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people.” This time he blames the “lack of faith” of the people.
Jesus swore at people and insulted them
He said that calling a man a fool is to risk hell. (Mt 5:22). But:-
(1) Jesus himself called people fools (Mt 23:17; Lk 11:40)
(2) He called the Pharisees “hypocrites” (Mt 15:7; 22:18; 23:15, etc.)
(3) He also called them “vipers” (Mt 11:34; 23:33.)
(4) “blind” (Mt15:14; 23:16.)
(5) and a “tomb full of dead bones.” (Mt 23:27.)
It looks like a case of “Do what I say, not what I do”!
Jesus was unoriginal
(1) I won’t go into detail here but a lot of what he preached had already been preached by the Hebrew prophets in the centuries gone by.
(2) According to Josephus (x) there were 10 other men claiming to be the Messiah at the same time as Jesus.
(3) Common to all of them were reports of miracles, eschatological preaching, appeals to outcasts, even claims of bodily resurrection.
(4) Even love of one’s neighbour “harks back to the Book of Leviticus and was assimilated into Judaism from Hellenism.” (xi).
This is particularly pertinent to the christian atheist because we’ve already stripped Jesus of his divinity and if there really isn’t anything original in his life and teaching then we may as well give up bothering with him at all. ….watch this space!
Jesus may have been a saboteur
The everyday resistance of rural people in the Roman Empire is described in Oakman (xvi). In Galilee there would have been a prosaic but constant struggle between the peasantry and those who sought to extract labour, food, taxes rents and interest from them.
Like everyone else in Nazareth, Jesus and his family would probably have resisted by such methods as foot dragging, dissimulation, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, arson, sabotage and so forth.
Jesus was just plain wrong!
As a man of his time he would almost certainly have believed:-
(1) in astrology;
(2) that the world was about to end;
(3) that diseases were caused by evil spirits that enter the body and need to be cast out, this 300 years after Hippocrates had shown that diseases have natural causes;
(4) that what the scriptures said god said, i.e. he was a fundamentalist. The bible “is 100 per cent inspired by God. This is the way in which Jesus himself treated the scriptures of his day (Mk 7:5-13).” (xi)
(5) In his comments on Jewish purity laws, Jesus appears not to have any idea of food hygiene at all – basically he is saying ‘don’t wash your hands before eating.’ (Mk7:1-20.)
Jesus’ False Prophesies
It’s well-known that Jesus prophesied the imminent end of the world. He told his listeners that it would happen in their lifetime. (Mt 10:23; 16:28; 24:29; Lk 9:27).
Oops! Got that one wrong!
If you were one of his followers and you believed this prophecy wouldn’t it affect your morality, your lifestyle somewhat? Why worry about things, why bother, there’s no point – it’s all going to go belly up anyway. Why not imitate the lilies of the fields and the birds of the air – they have no thought for tomorrow.
Tied in with this is Jesus’ second coming, also imminent. Well, 2000 years have passed; how much longer are we supposed to wait? (xii)
Jesus didn’t have 12 disciples – he had 14!
Mark and Luke name Levi who followed Jesus, which would make 15!
The 14 are (according to the 4 gospels and Acts) : Simon Peter, Simon the Zealot, Andrew, James and John the sons of Zebedee, Philip, Thomas, Judas Iscariot, Judas the son of James, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, and Nathanael. (xvii)
Much of what you’ve read above is nit-picking. In the grand scheme of things these charges are not that important. But, believers on the whole are in denial and declare that Jesus was (or is) without sin. Well there’s so much mud here that some of it has got to stick. The Christian atheist project should be characterised by clear thinking about the texts rather than refusing to reflect on the bits we don’t like. To be in denial is to invite the fog of religion to descend into our minds.
For me it is exciting to see how flawed and HUMAN the man is. It makes him seem so much more real. So much more challenging. This exercise has confirmed me in my belief that though Jesus was not divine, he is worth listening to.
(i) Krueger, D.E. “What is atheism? A short introduction” Prometheus Books 1998
(iii) Funk, R.W. “The Gospel of Jesus according to the Jesus Seminar” Polebridge Press 1999
(iv) Ludemann, G. “What Jesus didn’t say” Polebridge Press 2011
(v) Vermes, G. “The Authentic Gospel of Jesus” Penguin Books 2003
(vi) Eagleton, T. “The gospels. Jesus Christ” introduced by Terry Eagleton Verso Revolutions series 2007 p.xxi
(vii) Loftus, J.W. “Why I became an atheist. A former preacher rejects Christianity.” Prometheus (2012) p.355
(viii) Eagleton, op. cit. p.xxiii
(ix) Josephus, F. “The Jewish War” in “Works” trans W. Whiston, London , no date
(x) Eagleton, op.cit. p.xxviii
(xi) Gumbel, Nicky “ALPHA Questions of Life.” Kingsway publications (1993)
(xii) Callaghan, Tim “Bible Prophecy: Failure or Fulfillment.” Millennium Press (1997)
(xiii) Myers, Ched “Binding the strong man” Orbis (2008) p.153
(xiv) Myers op. cit. p.162
(xv) Myers op. cit. p.159
(xvi) Oakman, D. “The Political aims of Jesus” (2012) p.72
(xvii) Sanders, E P “The historical figure of Jesus” Penguin (1993) p. 291
” The Christ of the Breadlines” by Fritz Eichenberg, The Catholic Worker portfolio (1950)
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