Chapter Four

Why the Gospel According to Jesus Is Not Very Good News

David Johnson

 

In his chapter on the real Jesus, Justin has invited us to sift through the various legends, myths, and scant historical facts to determine which of the many ideas about Jesus is actually true. Even Christian scholars are not in complete agreement about this. So for my part, I am going to pass on the question entirely.

Instead, I am going to take up a different question and examine the teachings of Jesus. In this way, I am completely bypassing the question of historicity and mythicism. For the sake of this exploration, let us all assume the historicity of Jesus, and the Bible as an accurate, historical account.

In fact, we will grant everything Christians say about Jesus to the extent possible. He was born of a virgin. He had an earthly ministry filled with miracles. He was crucified by the Romans. He rose from the dead. He appeared to some of his disciples after the resurrection. And some of them were on hand to accurately record his final speech and ascension into heaven.

We are not going to debate or dispute any of these things in this chapter. If we take all of Justin’s Jesus as read, we still have no reason to declare him lord of our lives. In fact, the more we look at the biblical character known as Jesus, the more we should look elsewhere for spiritual guidance.

If we just reduced the Bible to the red letters representing only the things Jesus said and did, we would find little reason to like him, let alone, love him. We would have plenty of reasons to doubt his judgement, his wisdom, his advice, and his general approach to life.

Take away the miracles, and he is not even a particularly good teacher. There is even enough in the gospels that allows one to reasonably question his morals. Here is my case for why the gospel according to Jesus is not very good news at all. In fact, it is just the opposite:

Broadway

 

Go in through the narrow gate. The gate to destruction is wide, and the road that leads there is easy to follow. A lot of people go through that gate. But the gate to life is very narrow. The road that leads there is so hard to follow that only a few people find it. Matt. 7:13-14

Whenever you encounter a street called Broadway, You will notice it has wide sidewalks for pedestrians, lots of enticing shops, and of course, a broad, multi lane street to accommodate lots of traffic, making passage as easy as possible.

That is how Jesus describes the street to hell. The road is wide and easy to follow. Jesus imagined Broadway long before the city planners of Manhattan. It’s too bad, really, considering how many people will be taking that road to destruction. It even has a wide, accommodating gate. Any casual observer would look at that street and think it was the one they were supposed to be on.

In actuality, the road to life that Jesus has prepared is described as not just narrow, but very narrow. The road that leads there is so hard to follow that only a few people find it. This should not be mistaken for unintended consequences. Jesus designed everything about the path that leads to life. He made it unattractive and excessively difficult on purpose.

So the first, and probably best reason why the gospel according to Jesus is not such good news is that it necessitates that most people will not be able to use it. The vast majority of people will be entering the destruction gate. The gospel is simply not a saving message for most people who will ever live.

At this point, some Christians might want to quibble over a detail. Let’s grant them the space for it here:

Hard to Follow, Hard to Find

 

I purposely used a translation that included the idea that the path is difficult to follow. Most only say that few will find it. Most people making this objection will know little about textual traditions. I don’t really care which reading you prefer. There is enough ambiguity so that some translators believe the passage is saying the road is difficult, as well as illusive.

But remove the bit about the road being hard to follow. And what yet remains is a road that is hard to find. At the end of the day, it amounts to the same thing. The road is hard to find. And you can’t exactly follow a road that you can’t find.

One might further object that the road is easy to find. Most people don’t find it because they are not seeking it correctly. This does not save the passage. If everyone is blind, they will not find the road. Yet they easily find and follow this other road. So comparatively speaking, the good road is made more difficult than the bad one. Most people will still be lost.

Jesus is okay with the kingdom being a tough acquisition. Remember these parables?

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure a man discovered in a field. In his excitement, he sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field—and get the treasure, too!

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a pearl merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. He discovered a real bargain—a pearl of great value—and sold everything he owned to purchase it! Matt. 13:44-46

In the first story, we can imagine land rich with oil deposits as the treasure. The man had to first be able to recognize the treasure and know how to use it. Then he had to have enough money in assets to buy it. This is very exclusive. Most people would not have qualified.

The second example is the same. The character was an expert in precious jewels. He presumably had plenty of money and lots of pearls. He needed a professional’s eye to recognize the value in the one pearl. And he had enough resources to acquire it.

All of the kingdom parables are similar. In some way or another, acquiring it is extremely difficult, and requires great sacrifice. It will cost you everything to get it, including familial and social connections. So when Jesus says that the path to the good gate is narrow, he is embracing the imagery of a path that is difficult to travel, and for most, will be difficult if not impossible to find.

Poorly Marked

 

Even if you intentionally avoid the broad gate and go for the narrow one, you might still be on the wrong path. That is because there are apparently a lot of narrow gates that are the wrong path. The right one is not clearly marked. The scariest passage in the Bible speaks to this point:

Not all who sound religious are really godly people. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but still won’t get to heaven. For the decisive question is whether they obey my Father in heaven. At the Judgment many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we told others about you and used your name to cast out demons and to do many other great miracles.’ But I will reply, ‘You have never been mine. Go away, for your deeds are evil. Matt 7:21-23

This passage presents a scenario where believers have done their best to follow the correct path. They were evangelistic, and even were granted the power to cast out demons. This means that even when god is working through you to perform miracles, it is no indication that you are on the right path.

This is worth taking another pass. Jesus has made it clear that demons cannot cast out demons. That means that if demons are being cast out, it has to be god doing it. We are asked to believe Jesus is of god because of his miracles. But if genuine exorcists do not have god’s favor, why should we accept any miracle as god’s validation of the miracle worker?

The bottom line is there is no way to tell if you are on the right path. And you may not find out until after you die, having your expectations dashed by a god who declares that he never knew you. Granting the gospel all its points, the good news is still bad news for most people, including many Christians.

Coercion

 

And then he told them, “You are to go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, everywhere. Those who believe and are baptized will be saved. But those who refuse to believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15-16

That is quite the sales pitch. Believe or be condemned! I’m not sure how that differs from conversion by sword. Believe or perish! Just to add some modern context, Grant me sexual favors or be fired, might also go well on the list.

Any talk of hell renders all other motives for faith moot. If you learn of the tortures of hell as a child, you are going to do everything in your power to avoid it. If that means you have to believe with all your heart things that don’t seem to make sense, you are going to believe them with all your heart.

It doesn’t even matter if hell is real. It only matters that the victim believe it is real, and believe that it will be torturous in some way. If the price for avoiding that fate is that you must convince yourself to believe 6 ridiculous things before breakfast every morning. That is what you will do.

Another thing you might be inclined to do is convince yourself that you love Jesus. It is curious how often the Bible commands the reader to love the lord. We know from experience that love cannot be commanded, especially when there is a punishment associated with the failure to love. To say, Love me, or else, is the best method of ensuring you will never attain it.

Imagine your daughter bringing home a new fiancé that she has never mentioned. She plans to elope with him the next day. Concerned on a number of levels, you ask only one question: Do you love him?

She tells you to stop being ridiculous. Of course she loves him. After all, he said that he would beat her, and torture her, and kill her if she didn’t love him. Now, how do you feel about it?

The bride of Christ said, I do, with a gun pointed at her head. The Groom stood there, all smiles, and dashing in his tux, while his groomsmen held assault rifles with fingers on the trigger. How many of his brides would have given a different answer without the guns, and the freedom to walk away unmolested? The world will never know.

And the coercion doesn’t stop there. The manipulation continues:

If you really love Me, you will keep (obey) My commands. John 14:15

I like the way the Amplified puts it because it is more in keeping with the way we would say it today. And it makes it easier to recognize the manipulative nature of the passage. Just think of all the evil, twisted, manipulative things that started with, if you really love me.

First, Jesus tries to compel love by command and coercion. Then, he layers manipulation on top of that to force obedience in a way that perverts the very idea of love. Tying obedience to love is the recipe for making sycophants. Servile obsequiousness in a person forced to live in submission to superior power should never be confused with love. But it’s good enough for Jesus.

Bloody

 

The third reason why the gospel according to Jesus does not qualify as good news is because of all the blood required to make it work. It is one of those things that seems like a good idea until you learn the price.

Imagine yourself in a bad situation with a lender. So you go to a person based on a friend’s recommendation. The person has a reputation for being able to help people in your situation.

Taking your case, the enforcer tells you that you don’t have to worry about your debt. It is all taken care of. You are elated. And ask how he accomplished such a positive result so quickly. He tells you a story that involves horse heads, and… If you have ever seen any mob movies, you get the idea.

Fighting revulsion and nausea, you finally realize who you are dealing with. And you realize that the price was too high. In accepting the help, you have become an accessory to murder, and worse. Furthermore, you are now beholden to a monster who can easily turn against you.

Welcome to Christianity. Before signing up with Jesus, you should have read the fine print:

In fact we can say that under the old agreement almost everything was cleansed by sprinkling it with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Heb. 9:22

Try to put this into a modern context so that you can fully grasp how dark this is. What civilized culture still believes that there can be no forgiveness without the shedding of blood? How would that even work?

Two ranchers talk amicably across a fence. One says to the other, “ That tree of yours fell on my side of the fence and killed one of my sheep. I would love to forgive you for it but I am going to first have to shoot your dog. You know the rules. There can be no forgiveness without blood. ”.

For god, every offense is a death penalty offense. No matter how minor the sin, something has to die. This is what the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were all about. In god’s economy, the only thing that pays for sin is blood.

Theoretically, the New Testament does not improve the situation at all. Your sin is still eliminated by blood. The only difference is that it takes it from an animal sacrifice to a human sacrifice. The thing you have to remember about Jesus is that regardless of his godhood, he was fully human. The sacrifice of Jesus would have been meaningless had he not been fully human.

So you find yourself in court. And the judge says that he will release you from your debt. But somebody has to die. The judge is going to have to order the grizzly execution of your son. Of course that is unacceptable. So the Judge, being a good man, decides to kill his own son instead.

Father of the year.

If I really am a guilty man worthy of death, it is not a good person who offers his child in place of my guilty, no good self. Only a crazy person would do that. And the type of crazy we’re talking about is a dangerously, criminally kind of crazy.

Unfair

 

The gospel as presented by Jesus leaves most of the world unsaved and condemned. It lures victims by coercion. And it is administered by a mobster who has turned it into a bloody mess. As if that was not enough, the whole thing is completely unfair.

We start with the aspect of the good news that is intuitively wrong to our modern sensibilities:

Substitutionary Atonement

The basic idea of substitutionary atonement is that you committed a crime and someone else pays the penalty. This runs counter to our sense of what is just and fair. The whole point of a penalty is that it causes discomfort and inconvenience to the person guilty of the crime.

However, it cannot be an effective measure if someone else pays the fine for a chronic speeder. That $500 ticket means nothing as long as there is a wealthy uncle willing to foot the bill. The idea behind the fine is that the one receiving the ticket will be a safer driver. That does not happen if he suffers no penalty for his actions.

The injustice of it becomes even more apparent when we consider more serious crimes. A person who is supposed to go to jail after robbing a bank neither learns a lesson nor pays a debt to society if someone else is jailed in his place.

The situation moves from absurdity to untenable when we add capital crimes into the mix. A pedophile, rapist, murderer heads for the gallows, only to be met by a judge and set free back into the world. Someone with the superpower of being unable to die for more than three days at a time steps in to take the rope.

Not only has justice not been served, but society is in worse condition than before. It has one less good person. And a bad person has learned that he doesn’t have to pay for his crimes. There is no scenario where this is a just system. Interestingly, it wasn’t always like that.

The Soul That Sins

 

‘What?’ you ask. ‘Doesn’t the son pay for his father’s sins?’ No! For if the son does what is right and keeps my laws, he shall surely live. The one who sins is the one who dies Ez. 18:19-20

This bit of intuitive wisdom was shocking to the Jews at the time because that is not the system they were under. The following is more what they were used to:

Forgive us, even though you have said that you don’t let sin go unpunished, and that you punish the father’s fault in the children to the third and fourth generation. Num. 14:18

God was really big on punishing the children to the third and fourth generation for the sins of the father. The staggering weight of this unfair system is readily apparent. The curse would never be lifted as there would never be four generations of people who didn’t sin. No wonder people were so desperately begging for mercy.

It goes back to the creation story where two people commit a sin against god, and all of their descendants pay for that sin forever. Original sin is the ultimate generational curse. Christians are left to manage this tension of original sin and individual justice.

Before moving on, one more example of god’s philosophy of justice might be helpful:

Go and tell David, “The Lord has offered you three choices. Which will you choose? You may have three years of famine, or three months of destruction by the enemies of Israel, or three days of deadly plague as the Angel of the Lord brings destruction to the land. Think it over and let me know what answer to return to the one who sent me.”

And David said to god, “I am the one who sinned by ordering the census. But what have these sheep done? O Lord my God, destroy me and my family, but do not destroy your people.” 1 Ch. 21:11-12, 17

David had just committed the high crime of taking a census. God decided to punish David by punishing the innocent people under his rule. If you recall the tenth plague, that is just how god rolls.

David begs god to punish him and not his innocent subjects. But god’s sense of justice required him to brutally murder many of the Israelites for a crime they didn’t commit. All of this background is necessary for understanding the mindset of the gospel inventors.

The Wages of Sin

 

The problem with the one to one justice of punishing the one who sins is that everyone in the world needs to be punished. And the problem is magnified once you realize that the only punishment god recognizes for any infraction is blood. Something has to bleed and die.

That puts every person who has ever lived in the position of being guilty of a capital crime for which they/we all deserve to die. The wages of sin is death. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of god. The Christian sense of justice is so out of step with reality that the only way to make things right is for everyone to die. That is what justice demands.

So there is little wonder that the Christian reached back to original sin for the solution. If one person could bring sin and death to the world, one person could bring forgiveness and life to the world. One unfair situation was corrected the only way it could be, with another unfair situation.

If humans could get unmerited guilt, they could get unmerited grace. This means that a person who spent his life murdering and destroying can ask for forgiveness just before he dies, and he will end up in heaven. This, while another who spent her life as a good person will burn in hell because she was raised in a muslim country, unable to do anything but follow tradition in her region. What could be more unfair?

Unclear

 

The fifth reason the gospel is bad news is that it’s saving message is unclear. One only need have a cursory glance over the landscape of christendom to spot the fault lines dividing believers on substantive issues. There is a veritable civil war in the kingdom of god over issues such as the following:

       Catholicism vs. protestantism

       Calvinism vs. Arminianism

       Baptism?

o    Sprinkling

o    Pouring

o    Immersion

       Old Testament laws and observances

       Salvation by:

o    Grace alone

o    Grace and faith

o    Grace, faith, and other works

       Women in authority

       Marriage, remarriage, and divorce

       Speaking in tongues:

o    Actual language like Chinese you have studied?

o    Unknown language that only the spirit understands?

This list could expand to form a chapter by itself. Christians are divided over all these things, and more. It is not because some groups of Christians just don’t care about the will of god, or that they just don’t read the Bible, or they just want to follow after their own desires.

The divisions are over confusion about what it is Jesus and the Holy Spirit were trying to say. The Bible is a confusing mess. Christians are doing the best they can. And they can hardly be blamed for being confused. The Bible is very unclear about some of its most important teachings.

The real question is why. Why is god having such a hard time transmitting the words of life to people who desperately want to know and understand those words? Here are just a few problems with the transmission of the message that a loving and powerful god could have addressed:

Illiteracy

 

In the paper, M. Bar-Ilan, ‘Illiteracy in the Land of Israel in the First Centuries C.E.’, we learn that the literacy rate among Jews in the Christian century would have been no higher than 3%. For a people of the book, there were precious few of them capable of reading it.

(M. Bar-Ilan, ‘Illiteracy in the Land of Israel in the First Centuries C.E.’, S. Fishbane, S. Schoenfeld and A. Goldschlaeger (eds.), Essays in the Social Scientific Study of Judaism and Jewish Society, II, New York: Ktav, 1992, pp. 46-61.)  https://faculty.biu.ac.il/Given this low rate of literacy, it is curious that god would make a highly complex and intricate set of texts the primary way god delivered his message. The vast majority of Christian truth claims can only be found in the Bible. So it is critical to understand it well.

It is somewhat ironic that the people least capable of synthesizing written information are the ones most called to do so. That situation has not changed in the modern era. Psychology Today reports that from a review of 63 studies, there is a negative correlation between religiosity and education. Again, the world’s most religious people have the least education to support it.

I place the blame for this situation squarely on the god who thought it was a good idea to hide the most important treasure in a field of words. Surely, the god of the universe knew in advance that people would not be fully literate, and capable of reading such a difficult text. Using some other method would have been within his power.

Non-academic

 

This point is not a repeat of the last. This is less about literacy, and more about higher-education. As well-educated as Justin is, he is no scientist or philosopher. Yet in his book, he makes several arguments that rely on those disciplines. To fully interact with some of his claims, one would benefit from an advanced degree in physics and philosophy.

This is true of many of the new apologists. They seek to dazzle with astrophysics, biology, archeology, and literary obscurum. They want you to be impressed by their command of what Paul would have derisively called the wisdom of this world.

While denizens of ivory towers talk back and forth to one another in a language almost completely made up of jargon, the average person is left behind. The message of Jesus has been transformed from something first delivered to illiterate peasants, to the stuff of doctoral candidates.

I have lost track of the number of times guests on Unbelievable? made faith in god sound like such an academic mountain to climb, even I became short of breath in the rarified air. If such is really required for a well-grounded faith, there is little wonder confusion reigns.

Beyond the apologetics is the Bible itself. There is a lot of academic work to do before one can declare expertise in its message. Those areas include, but are not limited to the following:

       Original languages

       Textual criticism

       Textual traditions

       Translations

       Hermeneutics

       History

Week after week, the Unbelievable program features experts in all of the above fields who range from moderate to absolute disagreement with one another. If the brightest academic luminaries of our time cannot even agree on whether the Sermon on the Mount was a real message delivered by Jesus, the average person has no chance of knowing how to apply the sermon.

False Teachers

 

How are they to call on one they have not believed in? And how are they to believe in one they have not heard of? And how are they to hear without someone preaching to them? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? Ro. 10:14-15a

Paul was living in a very different time. There was not a bible on every coffee table. In fact, there was no bible as we know it today. So the expectation was not that an unbeliever would learn of the good news from a book. God’s divine plan was that people would hear of him through preachers he had specifically sent.

Today’s world is full of preachers. Paul’s world and our world have at least one thing in common: many of those calling themselves preachers are nothing more than false teachers. We are only to listen to those true teachers who were sent by god. But god’s plan has a fatal flaw, he left us no way to tell the true teachers from the false ones.

Many false teachers are charlatans. But others were merely deceived by charlatans. Still others came to teach falsely due to misunderstanding the confusing bible they were given. As for being sent, there is disagreement on what that even means. Many accidental false teachers truly believe they were sent. They had experiences that inform that opinion.

On April 22, 2017, a show aired featuring James White vs Peter D Williams on the subject of the reformation. In classic Reform vs. Catholic tradition, two very well educated bibliophiles taught very different teachings on matters of salvation. At least one of them was a false teacher. I liked them both. Which is the false teacher? How do I choose?

How do you?

How does anyone?

Exaggerations, Errors, and Additions

 

I’m not going to suggest that the gospels are full of lies. But gospel writers were prone to exaggeration. If there had been only a single gospel account, we would have less reason to suspect error. But because there are four of them for comparison, we know there are errors, as they conflict in a number of places.

In addition to exaggerations and conflicts, there are additions to the text that shouldn’t be there. These additions seem to be completely made up stories after the fact, and later inserted into the text. These additions are practically undisputed by New Testament scholars. With so much tinkering with the message, it is hard to know which parts are authentic.

I would describe the writer of Matthew as a chronic exaggerator. The most egregious of his offenses can be found in Matthew 27:52-53:

And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised. (They came out of the tombs after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.)

Justin puts a lot of stock in the resurrection of Jesus. But he, like many others, is focusing on the wrong resurrection. They should be talking about the one where many dead saints came out of their graves in the big city, and appeared to many people. This should be the most well-attested, undisputed resurrection miracle of them all. It isn’t.

The reason why Christians do not focus on this resurrection story is because as a historical event, it is completely made up. It simply never happened. What’s more, they know it didn’t happen. And they are embarrassed by it.

One of the reasons we know it didn’t happen is that no one in that time or place seemed to know about it. It is one thing to say something miraculous happened when it was a private or semi-private experience. But when you fabricate extraordinary public experiences shared by many at once, there is an expectation of corroboration.

This wasn’t one saint being raised from a private tomb. It was many. And they did not just appear to one or two believers, but many people. That’s many times many. Such an event cannot be lost in the obscurity of historical minutiae. If it happened, we would know about it from lots of sources. We don’t.

The other damning piece of evidence is that Matthew, written long after the events, seems to be the only one of the biblical writers who knew about it. This event wasn’t prophesied. And it was covered by two short verses in the whole bible. Think about all the stories repeated by the gospel writers. This one wasn’t picked up by any others.

Then, there is Paul. He wrote long before the gospel writers. So he would have been even closer to this event. He never mentions it even in passing. There were no songs about it, no stories, no religions being created as a result of the event. It wasn’t even important enough for later Christians to pretend that Josephus wrote about it.

If there is any place in the Bible that does not require higher education, it’s this one. Even if you set aside all these other facts, just listen to the silence of preachers and scholars on the matter. No one uses this even to bolster their Christian claims. That is because modern preachers and teachers are pretending with all their might that this passage isn’t in the Bible.

It is well known that the ending of Mark is a forgery. It is still printed in bibles. But those bibles generally have a note that informs the reader that those passages probably shouldn’t be there. From Bible Gateway, this is what you find in the NIV after Mark 16:8:

The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.

The footnote at the end of the chapter reads this way:

Mark 16:8 Some manuscripts have the following ending between verses 8 and 9, and one manuscript has it after verse 8 (omitting verses 9-20): Then they quickly reported all these instructions to those around Peter. After this, Jesus himself also sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. Amen.

This is not some off-the-wall version of the Bible that is little known and less used. This is the most popular modern language bible you can buy. It is telling you as directly as it can that the passage is fake. When the chef tells you to avoid a certain menu item because it is bad, you should probably listen.

There are a number of other passages, stories, events, and sayings of Jesus hotly contested by Christian, New Testament scholars. It seems to be pretty well established that the story of the woman at the well was a fabrication. Inspiring though it may be, it never happened.

According to the findings of the Jesus Seminar, 82% of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him. Even if you dismiss some of the scholars as kooks, and you throw out most of their findings, you are still left with an unmanageable amount of gospel teachings that are counterfeit.

If you take the findings of that group seriously, this is one of the inescapable conclusions as stated by the seminar:

Jesus did not hold an apocalyptic view of the reign (or kingdom) of god—that by direct intervention god was about to bring history to an end and bring a new, perfect order of life into being. Rather, in Jesus’ teaching the reign of god is a vision of what life in this world could be, not a vision of life in a future world that would soon be brought into being by a miraculous act of god.

The point is not to provide a full-throated endorsement of the Jesus Seminar’s findings. Rather, it is to show that if we are wrong about the authenticity of the gospel’s most cherished passages, it can radically change the message Jesus was trying to present.

The good news is not so good because it is not so clear. There are good reasons why so many good people come up with conflicting versions of the gospel according to Jesus.

Wrong

 

There may be an even better reason the gospel according to Jesus is not very good. Here are the reasons we have covered so far:

1.      It leaves out the majority of people

2.      It is coercive in the worst kind of way

3.      It is incredibly bloody

4.      It is profoundly unfair

5.      It is terribly unclear

Looking over the list, it seems gratuitous to pile on even more. But there is room at the top for at least one more. The gospel according to Jesus is just plain wrong. It is intuitively, factually, and practically incorrect. If you are a 1st century fisherman lacking the tools and inclination for fact-checking, it’s just fine. Otherwise, it is just wrong, and should not be taken seriously.

The Smallest Seed

 

There is no need to quote it here. We all know the saying about the mustard seed. Jesus was making a point about the kingdom, and highlighted the mustard seed as the smallest seed of them all. In fairness, this is exactly what any Palestine man might have said who knew anything about botany.

The problem is that the statement was factually incorrect. Orchid seeds are much smaller. Either Jesus didn’t know about orchid seeds. Or he was counting on the fact that his audience didn’t know. To be factual, he could have said that the mustard seed was one of the smallest in the world, or the smallest in this region. But he made a factually incorrect statement instead.

This is a petty point. And I am almost ashamed to bring it up. But Jesus didn’t have to say it. Let’s consider the possibility that Jesus knew it wasn’t factual. What are the excuses for him saying such a thing?

       Jesus only meant that it was the smallest seed in that region. Nevermind the fact that if that is what he meant, he could have easily said it.

       Jesus was supporting the people in a false notion they had about their local plants because he wasn’t teaching a botany lesson. And they had some local pride about it.

       Jesus was just exaggerating to make his point punchier. It is called poetic license.

Christians use all of these excuses to explain away the problem. But Jesus didn’t have to use the mustard seed as an illustration. He could have used something else to make his point. If it were any other speaker, we would say he made a minor, and understandable error. Christians have a hard time accepting that Jesus made a factual error. But he did.

Financially Illiterate

 

When people demonstrate that they know nothing about the basics of personal finances, we say they are financially illiterate. Yet even the person in your life who is the worst with finances has a higher financial literacy level than Jesus. Almost everything he had to say about money was the exact opposite of good financial advice.

One of the easiest examples is this little nugget:

Give to everyone who asks and don’t ask people to return what they have taken from you. Luke 6:30

A shorter and surer road to poverty, I have never seen. There is no context where any part of this advice makes sense. And Christians know it. Not one of them lives this way. Watch how I improve this advice just by saying the opposite:

Don’t give to everyone who asks for a handout. And when you are robbed, file a police report.

Now I’m no great sage or financial advisor. But Almost everyone you know, including you, follows my version of that advice and not the one from Jesus. It is not because you are a willful sinner. It is because you are not a fool. And no matter how you want to defend Jesus, you know he is wrong. He has more bad advice to offer:

Sell your material possessions, and give the money to the poor. Make yourselves wallets that don’t wear out! Make a treasure for yourselves in heaven that never loses its value! In heaven thieves and moths can’t get close enough to destroy your treasure. Luke 12:33

Again, there is no scenario where this is good advice. Not only did Jesus give it to an individual, he said the same to a crowd. The above is his general preaching. Watch as I improve it:

Take good care of your material possessions. Put your money in a good bank. And for those possessions you keep in your home, get a good alarm system.

Again, everyone you know, including yourself, follows my advice. There is no Christian financial advisor who would offer the advice given by Jesus. Even if you focus on the part about the poor, it is still wrong. The worst thing you can do is hand a bunch of money to the poor. That is not the best way to help them. And you already know that. Jesus didn’t.

Jesus also wasn’t big on savings:

Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” Luke 12:16-21

Ask yourself: What did the man in the story actually do wrong? Was it the fact that he had worked hard and done well for himself? Was it the fact that he could retire with confidence and enjoy the rest of his life without excessive labor? What was his real crime? It was that Jesus thinks savings are bad because one is relying on his own work, and not god’s providence. He says as much:

Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing.

And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.” Luke 12:22-23, 29-31

Allow me to improve these texts:

Be mindful of your bills and basic necessities like food, clothes, and shelter. Get a job. Spend wisely. Live within your means. And save money for a rainy day.

I win again. How do I know? Because my advice is what you tell your kids when they go off to college. The advice of Jesus is what you offer to no one. Jesus was not offering deep thoughts about money. He was offering bad advice. On every level, in every situation, Jesus was just plain wrong about money.

“Turn the Other Cheek”, and Other Stupid Sayings

 

When Jesus said to turn the other cheek, my imagination abandons me as I try to come up with something even stupider to say. Even if you don’t want to tell a person to fight back and defend yourself, here are a few other things one could try:

       Run like the wind.

       Fall to the ground. Curl up in a ball. And cry like a baby.

       Beg for mercy.

       Start praying for your enemy right there on the spot.

Are any of these great pieces of advice? Probably not. But they are all infinitely better than defiantly turning the other cheek so that it makes an easy and inviting target for further assault. What Jesus says on this matter can get you killed. Do not do it at any time, for any reason.

Do you have two eyes and two hands? Jesus might wonder why. He famously said that if your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it right out of your head. And if your right hand causes you to sin, chop it off with a sharp blade. Why are there so few one-eyed, one-armed Christians who have self-mutilated? Because they are not stupid enough to follow the advice of a mad man.

Did you know that if you as much as looked at a woman with sexual desire in your heart, Jesus deems it the same as the physical act of adultery? That was a particularly incendiary thing to say in a place and time when adultery was a death penalty offense.

Did you know that hating a person is the same as physically murdering a person? It is to Jesus. He said so. Do I even need to say more about the moral intuition of a person who can’t work out the difference between hating and killing?

Conclusion: The Real Jesus

 

Justin calls for the real Jesus to please stand up. While Justin spent most of that chapter battling the straw man of mythicism: a view most atheists don’t hold, he failed to say anything substantive about the actual teachings of the Jesus of scripture.

Justin failed to mention that the way of Jesus is narrow, hard to follow, and most people will not be able to find it. He also left out all the coercive measures Jesus uses to gain converts. Justin left out all the bloody bits. And he was fine omitting the parts that were unfair and unclear. Worse yet, Justin didn’t talk about all of the things about which Jesus was not just wrong, but dead wrong, embarrassingly wrong.

What I have provided you is a brief portrait of the real Jesus of the Bible. You don’t have to take my word for it. You can pick up any bible in the world, look up the passages I have quoted, and see for yourself. There’s more. I could have made this chapter twice the length.

Jesus claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life. Those are lofty claims for a man history-locked to first century Galilee. For his claims to be meaningful, he has to be more than that. We have to examine his claims in light of the text we are given.

As the way, he is hard to find and hard to follow. As the truth, he is dead wrong about a lot of basic things. And as the life, he leaves more burning in hell than rejoicing in heaven. The way? The truth? The life? Not very likely.

The real Jesus cursed a fig tree when it wasn’t the season for figs because he had a fit of pique. The real Jesus said he did not come to bring peace, but a sword. The real Jesus brought us the eternal fires of perdition. The real Jesus has a dark side.

So before you crown him king of your life, ask yourself one question: If you wouldn’t follow his ridiculous financial advice, why would you trust him with anything else?