Feb 212007

Is Jesus the Jewish “messiah”, and if so, why do more Jews not believe in him?


The first difficulty in deciding if Jesus is the Jewish “messiah” is the ambiguity of the term “messiah” in Judiasm. “Messiah” is a rather general term in the Bible meaning “anointed”. Because kings and priests were anointed with oil to set them apart, the word “messiah” can apply to any king, high priest, or other “anointed” one.  Even the pagan King Cyrus is called the Lord’s “messiah” in Isaiah 45:1.


There are a number of prophecies in the Old Testament that seem to point to one particular messiah of unique importance. The problem is that Jewish interpreters differ on just what these prophecies mean. Reformed Jews tend to interpret the “messiah” prophecies as pointing to the nation of Israel as a whole. Kabbalist Jews often interpret the messiah as an immortal spiritual force. Even among those who interpret the prophecies as indicating a unique human individual, there is disagreement about the characteristics of that individual, or even how MANY “unique” messiahs there are supposed to be. These disagreements were even more significant in Jesus’ day – when Judaism was possibly even more diverse than it is today.


In particular, there were some teachers who talked about the Messiah “ben David” (son of David) and others who talked about the Messiah “ben Joseph” (son of Joseph). Some apparently believed in the priority of one or the other of these messiahs, some believed both would come, with different roles to play.


In very general terms, the Messiah ben David was seen as a military conqueror, who would restore the Kingdom of Israel and the temple. The Messiah ben Joseph was seen as bringing spiritual renewal through personal sacrifice (much as Joseph of Egypt saved his family through his own personal ordeal). Of those who believed in both messiahs, the Messiah ben Joseph was seen as a precursor to the Messiah ben David.


If we take into account what I wrote on earlier about the different sources of the Old Testament (http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/documentary_hypothesis) these two different messiahs fit rather neatly into the agendas of the primary sources of the Old Testament – the “J” (and “P”) sources and the “E” (and “D”) sources. The “J” and “P” sources champion David and the Southern Kingdom – whereas the E and D sources are more critical of David and champion the Northern Kingdom – home of the traditional descendents of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh)


In the context of Jews arguing about whether the primary messiah is the son of David or of Joseph, Jesus’ dialogue in the temple assumes a whole new meaning:

“Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, What do you think of the Christ [messiah]? Whose son is he?They said to him, Of David.  He said to them, How then does David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying,  The Lord said to my Lord, sit on my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?  If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matthew 22:41-45 WEB)  Jesus is apparently coming down on the “ben Joseph” side of the argument. It’s also interesting that “Joseph” is traditionally the name of Jesus foster father as well.  There is no doubt that many of those who followed Jesus did so because they HOPED we was the Messiah ben David. He is often addressed by the hopeful crowd as “son of David”, and he doesn’t seem to discourage this – but there are a number of indications that Jesus did not see himself in the role of Messiah ben David. When identifying his mission, he several times refers to Isaiah 61 – a relatively gentle and compassionate picture of messiahship – more in keeping with the Messiah ben Joseph.  As Jesus reads in the synagogue:  The Spirit of the Lord is on me,because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted,to proclaim release to the captives,recovering of sight to the blind,to deliver those who are crushed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19 WEB) Other indications of how Jesus saw his role: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10 WEB) For the Son of Man didn’t come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. (Luke 9:56 WEB) I argued earlier (http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/bibliolatry) that Jesus seems to share some of Jeremiah and Isaiah’s criticism of the priestly code. It may well be that Jesus is not in agreement with the idea of the Messiah ben David.  However, it’s clear that some of the New Testament authors intend to keep that option open. Matthew and Luke both try to establish Davidic descent for Jesus, and Matthew in particular tries to mention every possible prophetic fulfillment for Jesus.  We need to candidly admit that some of these apparent “fulfillments” of prophecy are problematic. Some of them rest upon questionable translations and many of them are clearly taken out of context with regard to their primary fulfillment. Personally, I like to credit the New Testament authors with enough intelligence to realize (at least some of the time) that this is occurring.  When Matthew, for example, tells us that Jesus’ sojourn in Egypt fulfilled Hosea: “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” (Hosea 11:1 WEB) …He must certainly realize that this verse of Hosea does not appear to be a messianic prophecy of any sort. What the author of Matthew seems to be saying is that Jesus recapitulates or represents various scriptural patterns or archtypes in scripture. Jesus can be understood, in other words, in terms of scriptural themes well known to readers of the Old Testament.  As a tangent, it’s interesting that the prophet quoted here, Hosea, is a prophet of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, not Judah – and the theme of the sojourn in Egypt is most associated with Joseph, and the suffering messiah.  This having of seeing the events of one’s own time in prophecy isn’t unique to Christian apologists.  For example the promise in Deuteronomy (18:15-18) that a second Moses would arise. Many Jews today regard this as a prophecy of a still-future messiah. But many scholars believe that the Deuteronomists who collected or created the “second Moses” prophecy actually saw them as being fulfilled by their great hero, King Josiah.  Compare the wording Deuteronomy 34:10 with 2 Kings 23:25 – and remember that scholars believe both Deuteronomy and 2 Kings 23 were written by the same individual or group.  There has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom Yahweh knew face to face (Deuteronomy 34:10 WEB) Like him [Josiah] was there no king before him, who turned to Yahweh with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him. (2 Kings 23:25 WEB) Nevertheless, the idea of a “second Moses” is an idea and pattern that persisted long after Josiah, and has been applied by Christians to Jesus and by Jews to a future Messiah.  Is Jesus, then, the Messiah?  He certainly has a spiritual anointing from God, and embodies many of the patterns and archetypes of messiaship found in the Old Testament, particularly when referring to the Messiah ben Joseph. The fulfillment, however, is often in a more spiritual sense. The messianic prophecies are, in effect, symbols of what Christians see in Jesus to be spiritual realities. Christians should have no problem in seeing Jesus as “anointed” – with it’s original meaning of “set apart for God’s purpose”.  In this sense, he is the Messiah (or “Christ” as it would be rendered in Greek). Jesus does NOT meet all of the specific requirements that have been derived from the Old Testament by Jewish tradition over the centuries. This is particularly true in that there are several versions of these requirements depending on the body of Jewish tradition being discussed.  As this short essay began as a response to a particular article on the web



         there are a few specific remarks I should make in response to that article directly. The point of the article is that Jesus does not meet the requirements of a Jewish Messiah – a conclusion with which I’ve partially agreed above. A few points in the article, however, need comment.


Regarding Jesus as a prophet, the site says:


Ø      Prophecy can only exist in Israel when the land is inhabited by a majority of world Jewry, a situation which has not existed since 300 BCE.


While this may be a Jewish tradition, it is, biblically, completely ad-hoc. No such rule is apparent from scripture.


Ø      The Messiah must be descended on his father's side from King David (see Genesis 49:10, Isaiah 11:1, Jeremiah 23:5, 33:17; Ezekiel 34:23-24). According to the Christian claim that Jesus was the product of a virgin birth, he had no father — and thus could not have possibly fulfilled the messianic requirement of being descended on his father's side from King David.


Actually, none of the scriptures cited actually SAYS this. They only mention Davidic descent.

 > The Messiah will lead the Jewish people to full Torah observance. The Torah states that all mitzvot remain binding forever, and anyone coming to change the Torah is immediately identified as a false prophet. (Deut. 13:1-4)

Actually, that’s not what Deut 13:1-4 says. It says a false prophet is identified by the fact that he… well, makes false prophecies. In point of fact, the authors and editors of Deuteronomy – Jeremiah very likely being one of them, believed that many of the priestly laws were not God-given at all.

 “For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: “(Jeremiah 7:22 KJV)

>Throughout the New Testament, Jesus contradicts the Torah and states that its commandments are no longer applicable. For example, John 9:14 records that Jesus made a paste in violation of Shabbat, which caused the Pharisees to say (verse 16), "He does not observe Shabbat!"

Only rarely does Jesus contradict the Torah – or more specifically attribute a commandment of the Torah as being of human origin. What he does do on a regular basis is apply a very spiritual, humanistic interpretation to the Torah. Jesus does not believe that making paste to heal a blind man on the Shabbat violates the spirit of Shabbat. It certainly doesn’t violate scripture – only the traditional accretions piled on top of scripture. Jesus would have a few words to say regarding anyone who feels that leaving someone blind honors God.

> Of the thousands of religions in human history, only Judaism bases its belief on national revelation — i.e. God speaking to the entire nation. If God is going to start a religion, it makes sense He'll tell everyone, not just one person.

This national revelation has not prevented the existence of various “branches” of Judaism with different beliefs and practices, including different beliefs about the Messiah.

(from the footnotes)

Ø      Saying that God assumes human form makes God small, diminishing both His unity and His divinity. As the Torah says: "God is not a mortal" (Numbers 23:19).

Focusing on God’s transcendence and totally ignoring his immanence, on the other hand, can make God distant and unapproachable. Jewish mysticism doesn’t seem to have a problem with the immanence of God. To quote J. Abelson from “Jewish Mysticism”

“ALL finite creatures are, in divergent senses and varying degrees, part and parcel of the Deity. Creatio ex nihilo is unthinkable, seeing that God, in the Neoplatonic view, is the Perfect One, 'an undivided One,' to whom no qualities or characteristics can be ascribed, and to whom, therefore, no such idea as that of intention or purpose, or change or movement, can be applied. All existences are emanations from the Deity. The Deity reveals Himself in all existences because He is immanent in them. But though dwelling in them, He is greater than they. He is apart from them. He transcends them.”

There are also several criticisms of Jesus descent based on the problems of Joseph being only his adopted father, and of Mary and Joseph’s Davidic line as being tainted.

While I regard the genealogies of Matthew and Luke as primarily symbolic, it seems to me that the criticism is misplaced. If we allow that God being the father of Jesus (rather than Joseph) is absolutely literal, then we are dealing with a totally unique situation, and it seems difficult to argue that any conventional laws of adoption or descent apply. How can being the Son of God “disqualify” someone for any honor whatsoever? If the critic is going to concede that Jesus is literally the Son of God, then proper messianic descent is the least of the critic’s issues.

If the critic assumes this is figurative, but still wants to calculate ancestry, then there is no reason not to consider Joseph’s genealogy.

As to the Jeconiah curse, an excellent job of refuting it is done by the Jews for Jesus


In brief, there are good arguments that the curse was reversed due to Jeconiah’s repentance, and the site in fact quotes a number of rabbinical opinions that it is specifically through Jeconiah’s line that the Messiah WILL come!

Jan 312007

Is Jesus Christ essential to the salvation of humanity? If so, how? One verse in the Bible in particular is often quoted by Christians to suggest that no one who does not explicitly believe in Jesus can be saved:

 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.  (John 14:6 KJV)

 On it’s face, this seems to be pretty bad news for anyone who hasn’t known about Jesus during their lifetime.  Billions of people have lived and died on earth and never heard the name “Jesus”. Among these were some very good people – some probably better than the average Christian.  Among these were some very sincere people, who tried to follow the truth as they understood it – possibly trying harder than the average Christian.  Would God really deny someone entry into heaven simply because they hadn’t heard of Jesus, while allowing someone to enter who was less moral, less sincere – but who said a “sinner’s prayer” and used the name of Jesus?

 In spite of all attempted defenses or explanations of this by Christians, we all know deep down that something’s wrong with this picture.  When our deepest moral intuition conflicts with our understanding of a particular scripture – we need to at least ask ourselves if we have possibly misunderstood the scripture.

 The Gospel of John, in addition to the above scripture, includes many similar “I am” scriptures in which Jesus claims great power and authority, for example:

 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.  (John 6:35 KJV)


 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: (John 11:25 KJV)


 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.  (John 8:12 KJV)

Critical readers may be willing to simply dismiss all these saying of Jesus as later additions by Christians who had developed a much more elevated Christology than Jesus originally claimed. And they have a point. But let’s follow this train of thought a little further. In the last scripture quoted, Jesus claims to be the “light”, not simply of his disciples, or his town, or the Jews in general… but of the entire world – including, by implication, people who had NEVER HEARD OF HIM. This echoes a similar set of statements earlier in John’s gospel:

 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not…the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.  (John 1:4-9 KJV)

 Who is this “He” who is the “light of the world”? John identifies it as the “Word” (“logos” in Greek). This “Word” is coequal with God himself. The “Word” is eternal, and creates all things.  In the Greek philosophies, “logos” was used to speak of the underlying reality of the universe – the animating power, the supreme truth. John implies that this “Logos” is, in fact, Jesus. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. 

 It sounds almost like we are talking about two different beings. In other gospel accounts, particularly earlier ones, Jesus (although a miracle worker) seems very human in many respects. He was born, suffered, and died. He didn’t know who touched him in the crowd. He asked God to save him from suffering.  He was hungry and thirsty.  Then there are these statements in John about the eternal, uncreated, omnipotent, omniscient Logos of God.  What is the relationship between these two descriptions?

 The answer worked out and agreed to by many Christians (after centuries of squabbling) is that Jesus Christ had TWO completely different “natures”. He had a human nature (let’s call that one “Jesus”) and he had a DIVINE nature as the Logos of God (let’s call that one “Christ”) and these two natures were seamlessly united in one person.  In eastern or New-Age terminology – one might say that Jesus was an “Avatar” – a person completely united with the Divine Nature so as to be an incarnation of God.

 This helps us to understand some of the otherwise incomprehensible claims of John. How, after all, could Jesus – one individual man – be the light which enlightens EVERY SINGLE PERSON who comes into the world? (even those who’ve never heard of him). The answer is that it is the Logos of God who enlightens all people. All people, in other words, have access to the underlying Reality of the cosmos. All of them are connected to the creative energy which animates the universe. All of them have access to the universal Truth at the root of all things. All people who have ever lived are immersed in the Logos. All people are enlightened by “Christ”, even if they have never heard of “Jesus”.  Only in THIS way can Christ be the light of the world, and enlighten all.  Such a statement fits in Jesus’ mouth only because he is united with the Logos of God.

 But now let us re-examine our problem scripture: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” But does this refer to the human nature “Jesus”? Does it refer to the preacher of Nazareth, born in Bethelem and crucified in Jerusalem? Or does it refer instead to the divine nature of “Christ”, the light of the world?  If it refers to “Christ” the Logos – then the whole puzzle is solved. We might imagine a person worthy of heaven who didn’t know the name “Jesus” – but can we imagine a person in heaven other than by the path of universal truth and light? Everyone who comes to the Father comes through the Christ principle – but many of them do not know the name of Jesus.

 Every person who has ever lived is in touch with the Christ principle. It lives at the core of every soul. It enlightens the world’s great religions, and inspires all the world’s great saints.  Every good deed is done through Christ. Every beautiful thing expresses Christ. Every truth embodies Christ.  And it is through Christ the Logos that God is approached.

 I’ve quoted it several times here, but one of my favorite passages on this is from the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. In “The Last Battle”, a soldier who worships a demon (named “Tash”) meets Aslan (Jesus) in a final judgement. He is accepted into heaven, and is confused, because he has served Tash all his life. Aslan explains to him: “For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou shouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek."

Sep 292006

In an earlier piece, I argued that Matthew 5:22, which (in the King James) says we should not be angry WITHOUT CAUSE – is actually better in the modern translations, which say that we shouldn't be angry AT ALL.

Ok, so what’s actually wrong with anger? What if you’re only angry over evil things in the world that a good person SHOULD be angry about? Let’s analyze that a bit.

The root of anger is a very primitive fighting response. It is the body’s way of preparing to defend ourselves against immediate threats to our body. It causes a surge of hormones in the body, such as epinephrine, cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. These are responses to threats or danger. Depending on the threat, our disposition, our other hormonal levels, etc – this hormonal/emotional response may motivate us to fight, or to flee. We may experience fear, or anger. They are simply the two sides of the same coin – the physiological response to a threat. Their purpose is to help us to run fast… or to hit hard. In natural conditions, they are also momentary. They make brief, enormous demands on the body structures and systems for the sake of survival. The body recovers from these demands when the fight or flight is over, in the relaxation response.

These physiological responses are probably still useful, but in an increasingly limited set of circumstances. Most of us may be in a “fight for your life” situation once or twice in a lifetime. Those who are in such situations often, such as soldiers or police, learn to control their anger. While rage may help get an ordinary person survive an extreme physical conflict – in the long run it interferes with a trained, calculated response to aggression, such as a soldier or police generally needs to employ.

Unfortunately, we have a problem – the ego. Our egoic mind constructs an elaborate mental image of ourselves. And it will trigger the body’s emotional fear/anger/stress mechanisms if it perceives any threat to our elaborate self-concept. This self concept includes our imagined status, our self-appointed roles, our country, our religion, etc. This is how thousands of Muslims can find themselves in a screaming, raging hormonal stew – fully prepared by their biology to immediately defend themselves against a rogue mastodon … over an old Pope quoting some obscure Byzantine emperor from a podium.

And since the ego spends more time in the imaginary past and present than in the here and now, the egoic threats don’t even have to be actually present. We can simmer over past wrongs that are no longer a threat. We can fume over possible events in the future that may not even happen. And 99 percent of these simmerings and fumings will be about things that are no direct threat to our actual physical person at all.

Because our ego is so large and complex, and because the combination of all imagined past and imagined future pseudo-threats is so numerous – many of us spend most of our lives in a state of – if not actual anger – at least borderline fear and stress. As a result, the enormous stress demands we make on the body – which are supposed to be momentary, become chronic. And chronically high levels of fear, anger and stress hormones are catastrophic to our health. They can cause high blood pressure, impair thyroid function, and disrupt our blood sugar levels (leading to obesity or possibly diabetes). They cause impaired mental function, decreased bone density, impaired immune system. They contribute to cancer, heart disease, stroke… sound familiar? The spigot of hormones, intended to save you from immediate physical danger will, if left running, KILL you.

So is there an appropriate time for anger? Yes. When you or someone you are responsible for is in mortal peril. And that’s about it. So if you really want to believe that Jesus says only someone who is angry with his brother WITHOUT CAUSE is in danger of judgement – fine, but realize that the only proper CAUSE for anger is that your brother is running toward you with a weapon threatening to kill you. If you insist on living in perpetual anger – realize that you are in danger of judgment. If nothing else, it will be the judgment of your body, which will collapse under the strain of trying to support the need to defend your own ego.

Sep 292006

I recently ran across a “King James Only” sort who complained that one example of the evil of modern translations was the removal of the words “without cause” from Matthew 5:22. In doing so (this individual thought) these translators were trying to deprive us of our right to be righteously angry.

[img_assist|nid=125|title=Anger Management|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=83]Purely as an illustration for others, and not because I think this person will actually pay attention to a word I say, let me comment on Matt:5:22, which reads in part (in the King James)

Mt 5:22 "But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment”

Before getting into the texts, let’s notice how very UN-helpful this bit of advice is. Was there ever a violent, angry, abusive person who didn’t think they had a very good CAUSE for being angry? Many of them even manage to get their victims to enable their anger by brainwashing them into believing that they somehow had it coming – that they DESERVED the abuse. Speaking as a formally trained theologian Wink let me simply remark… this is cow dung.

Interestingly, many of the newer versions of the Bible, the ones to which some of the idolitors of the King James so angrily object Wink – word it as follows:

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court” (NASB)

“But I promise you that if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial.” (CEV)

“But now I tell you: whoever is angry with his brother will be brought to trial” (TEV)

“But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment” (RSV)

“But, I, say unto you, that, every one who is angry with his brother, shall be, liable, to judgment” (Rotherham)

“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother[a]will be subject to judgment” (NIV)

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be in danger of being judged” (BBE)

 “But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Holman)

“But I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment” (ASV)

 “But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment.” (Douay)

None of these, you will notice, uses that phrase “without cause”. Some of these, by the way, are hardly new. The Douay is almost as old as the King James. The RSV has my personal endorsement as being generally the most precisely translated version. There are a few slightly newer version which follow the KJV text on this one, such as Youngs, Darby, and versions of the KJV such as the NKJV.

Why do so many modern versions omit this phrase? Is it because they are satanically perverting the Word of God. Please…. It’s because a lot of the earliest and best manuscripts of the New Testament don’t’ have this phrase. The phrase wasn’t taken out by satanic conspirators. It was added in by scribes who just couldn’t imagine not having an excuse to get angry. This particular issue is not a new one at all. Scholars have been aware of the alternate reading for centuries. For example:

 "The Greek manuscripts do not contain sine causa.[without cause]" (Augustine of Hippo – Retractions i.19.4)

“Some codices add without cause. However, in the genuine codices the sentence is unqualified, and anger is forbidden altogether.” (Jerome on Matthew)

 Erasmus, the very scholar who PRODUCED the compiled Greek edition that the King James scholars used for their translation, noted that we must continually improve our scholarship by using the best manuscripts:

"You cry out that it is a crime to correct the gospels. This is a speech worthier of a coachman than of a theologian. You think it is all very well if a clumsy scribe makes a mistake in transcription and then you deem it a crime to put it right. The only way to determine the true text is to examine the early codices."

Yes, isn’t it ironic that Erasmus and the scholars who produced the King James were accused of doing the very same kind of tampering with scripture that current idolators of the King James accuse modern translators of doing.

There are, of course, hundreds of manuscripts of the New Testament. Many of the later manuscripts are grouped into regional “families” of texts, which tend to agree with one and other. In this case, the text family known as “Byzantine” as well as two famous codexes Bezae and Washingtonienus, include the phrase “without cause”. The two codexes are 4th to 5th century, and most of the Byzantine texts are much later.

By contrast, omitting the phrase is supported by the texts of codex Sinaitucus and Vaticanus (of the Alexandrian family), dated to the 4th century. This is supported by the remarkably early papayrus fragment P67, which dates to 200 CE and contains Matthew 3:9, 15; 5:20-22, 25-28.

In this case, removing “without cause” seems justified because the earliest manuscripts (in one case dramatically early) support removing it. It was very likely NOT in the original manuscript, and by retaining it, we would only perpetuate a scribal error or insertion. However, nearly every manuscript that omits the words has a footnote indicating that some manuscripts include “without cause”.

Jesus didn’t say it folks. Are you going to adjust your thinking to conform with what Jesus said, or adjust what Jesus said to conform with how you’d prefer to behave?

Sep 212006

In the process of looking up a few universalist writings, I ran into a very interesting bit of writing from a liberal Quaker. First, a recap of a few universalist ideas:

The basic argument for universalism is quite simple and powerful – Human beings are finite. Because they are finite, they are only capable of finite good and finite evil. To suffer in hell eternally would be an INFINITE punishment. Since God is just, he could never insist on or even allow an infinite punishment for a finite evil. To do so would be infinitely unjust.

Traditional Christianity responds by making the concept of hell a bit more sophisticated. God is not throwing us into hell or keeping us there. We reject God, and that rejection IS hell. God cannot interfere with our freedom, and so we are free to continue to reject God and remain in hell forever.

Now I quote from the Quakers:

“I had rejected the image of a wrathful, powerful God anxious to punish the wicked in the fires of hell, but I was left with a benevolent but feeble God who had no choice but to destroy the ones he loved. Hell was another Holocaust, where once again millions would be thrown into the furnaces while God stood by powerless and defeated. When confronted with the inconsistency of an all-powerful God incapable of accomplishing his desire, I drew a careful distinction between what God wanted to do and what God was able to do. God was not free.”

“I defended our freedom to reject God–but denied God’s freedom to reject our rejection. Acknowledged that God can have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and compassion on whom he will have compassion, but I quickly defined the persons and situations in which God could be merciful and compassionate. My God was shackled, powerless to act.”

“This shackled God was not the God of Jesus.”

(From If Grace Be True: Why God Will Save Every Person. Philip Gulley & James Mulholland.)

This idea that God is free to reject our rejection of him also works into their view of the crucifixion. Quoting again:

“Calvary was not the fulfillment of a divine plan. It was not the final installment on a cosmic debt. It was not necessary to satisfy some bloodthirsty deity. The crucifixion was the cost of proclaiming grace. The more insistent Jesus was on God’s grace, the more likely was his eventual death on the cross. His death was a human act rather than a divine sign. People, not God, demanded his crucifixion."

“God did something glorious in Jesus. His resurrection settled once and for all the question of God’s attitude toward his children. God has determined to love and redeem. In the crucifixion we said no to God, but in the resurrection God rejected our rejection. This is the triumph of grace”

I found this point of view quite refreshing.

Found at: http://www.quaker.org/quest/issue-9-gulley-02.htm


Sep 082006

Near the end of his life, Mark Twain said: "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” How many hundreds of hours have we spent agonizing over possible problems that never actually happened?


Ralph Waldo Emerson said it more poetically:


"Some of your hurts you have cured,

And the sharpest you still have survived,

But what torments of grief you endured

From the evil which never arrived."


The Peanut's character Charlie Brown is notorious for this kind of worrying. Eventually he said, “I’ve developed a new philosophy. I'm only going to dread one day at a time".


The Master Jesus doesn't want us to dread the future. Not even one day at a time. He wants to introduce us to the "Perfect love which casts out fear." He tells us in his teachings not to fear the future. Now the version of this we have in Matthew is a bit confused. It makes Jesus into Charlie Brown. Jesus says there, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Now I’m pretty sure that this isn’t a very good rendering of what Jesus actually said. Jesus never focused on troubles and he would hardly advise us to do so. I suppose if he had, we could make a fortune marketing the “Don’t Worry About Tomorrow” Christian day-planner. It wouldn’t have a calendar – just a page that says “Today’s Troubles”.


I suspect what happened was that some poor neurotic scribe a hundred years after Jesus read Jesus’ statement to “not worry about tomorrow” and thought “How can Jesus be serious? How can we not worry about tomorrow?? Oooohhh – it must be because there are so many horrible things to worry about TODAY!!” He apparently doesn’t notice that two verses earlier, Jesus tells us not to worry about TODAY either! Here’s how Bishop Keizer renders this entire teaching in the Simple Word of the Master Jesus:


“Therefore, do not WORRY (!) or say, what will we eat? Or, what will we drink? Or, how will we be clothed? For your Heavenly Father knows you have need of all these things. But seek first the guidance and justices of God’s INNER kingdom, and all these things shall be added unto you. Therefore do not fear the future; rather, entrust the problems of the day in prayer to the Father, and then act on Heaven’s guidance. For the transformed present will produce a transformed future.”


The Master Jesus wants our attention in the here and now. In the present moment – the only moment where we can actually change anything. The past doesn’t exist. The only contact you have with the past is in your memories – in the present moment. The future doesn’t exist. The only effect you have on the future is caused by your actions right here and now, in the present moment.


Does this mean we SHOULDN’T use an appointment calendar? No, that’s not what it means at all. It’s fine – even helpful, to use “time” for practical purposes. Who do you think worries more about tomorrow – the person who consults their appointment book and knows they have three appointments tomorrow – or the person who doesn’t HAVE an appointment book and THINKS they may have appointments tomorrow. The person without the appointment book may spend hours trying to remember where they are supposed to be and at what time, or making calls to find out.


Even if you aren’t consciously thinking about your appointments and things to do – if you don’t have a good planning and appointment system, your commitments will always be there in the back of your mind or in your subconscious, giving you a faint feeling of anxiety as your mind tries to keep track of everything. So the purpose of organizing your plans and appointments isn’t to worry about the future, it’s to NOT worry about the future. Once your mind knows that your commitments are captured in some external system that it knows you will check when you are supposed to – it can relax, and let you focus back on the present moment.


Of course, if organizing and reorganizing your day becomes your hobby – if you spend more time organizing than actually DOING, then you’ve let your organizing pull you away from the present moment.


So let’s get back to the present moment. Because the present moment is the gateway to the Kingdom of Heaven


I’m going to make a statement that may seem extreme, but I ask you to consider it carefully. Almost all of our worry, fear, stress, frustration and anxiety comes from refusing to accept the present moment as it actually is.


Next time you’re worried about a relative or stuck in a traffic jam, notice your feelings. At the bottom of your frustration you’ll find a deep feeling of resentment and hostility against the reality of the present moment. When we worry about the future, what are we really doing? We may be rebelling against the fact that our reality has uncertainties in it. Or we are unhappy with our present reality and want to focus on our plans for the future – but they’re not coming fast enough. There are too many setbacks. We’re not getting out of this terrible present situation as fast as we’d like to. Or perhaps we fixate on the past to escape the present moment. We linger in the sweet sadness of memories of a past that we prefer to our current situation.


We fight and we resist and we run away from the only thing that actually exists – the present moment.


Why do we resist it so?


Well, one thing that may worry us is an idea in the back of our minds that if we accept the present moment, and are content with our current situation – we’ll never get out of it. We’ll be stuck here. Forever. We think that with our discontent we can bribe or threaten God into changing things for us. But if we let him think we’re content – he’ll just let us languish. That doesn’t say a lot of good things about our image of God, does it? It sounds like the kind of God who if we ask for bread will give us a rock. But it is love and gratitude that open the windows of heaven, not discontent.


If we drop our resistance to the present moment, does that mean we are stagnant? That we can’t change? Of course not! It means that our change begins with an objective, loving assessment of out situation as it really is. It’s like a person who falls into quicksand. By resisting – by flailing around like a lunatic – we only sink deeper – because our activity is irrational – not productive. But if we keep ourselves calm – if we don’t resist the reality of our situation, then we can plan our escape more efficiently. And the universe will help us. Perhaps we will notice a branch nearby that we can grab. Something we wouldn’t have noticed if we were flailing around. Perhaps we can explore the quicksand and find a gentle handhold or toehold somewhere. And we make progress.


The next time you find yourself in the grip of worry, or resentment or anger some other strong negative emotion, try this exercise – completely surrender to the present moment, including all its risks and possibilities. Don’t resist. Know that everything is just as it must be for the moment. Suspend your judgment of other people, or the situation or yourself.


What you will find is that a space opens up in the spiritual atmosphere. There’s a feeling like a fresh breeze blowing away your problems. You may still feel anxiety or some other emotion – but you won’t be lost in it. You won’t BE worried – you’ll be a person aware of experiencing a feeling of worry. And that’s a much different feeling. And when you do, you’ll find that your emotions will settle down. Negative emotions like worry don’t like to be watched. They’re bashful. Be the witness of your emotions instead of being possessed by your emotions.


Let’s come back to the present moment again. There is another reason we run away from the present moment. This reason is rooted in the nature of our being. It’s a metaphysical reason. That doesn’t mean it’s weird or complicated. Just the opposite. It means it’s so basic it’s sometimes hard to see.


The Master Jesus says that the Kingdom of God – God’s dominion or God’s dimension – is within you – within each of you. If you could reach down to your innermost nature, your heart of all hearts – you will find the presence of God. Your innermost essence – is God’s essence. That is the secret of all secrets. That is the core of all mystical teaching – the root of all true religion.


But this inner kingdom is hidden from us. It’s covered up by huge amounts of emotional turmoil and mental noise. Anyone who has seriously tried to practice meditation knows that – even when you don’t want it to – the mind keeps spewing out thoughts like some unwanted television set that’s impossible to turn off.


Eckhart Tolle tells a story of sitting on a bus next to a woman who was mentally disturbed. She was talking to an imaginary person in a loud and often hostile voice. Lots of profanity. She was a running stream of conversation. Later as he washed his hands in public bathroom, Eckhart thought to himself “I’m sure glad I’m not like that woman” – and the man at the sink next to him gave him a strange look. Then Eckhart realized he hadn’t THOUGHT the phrase to himself – he’d actually said it out loud!


We’re all “crazy people”. We all have a running stream of mostly useless, mostly repetitive thought going on in our minds all the time. The only difference is that the “normal” people manage not to let it come spilling out of their mouths – at least MOST of the time.


A lot of those thoughts are hopes and plans, and especially worries, about the future. They pull us like a strong swift current away from our grounding in the present moment. And it is in the present moment, and only there – that we can find the gateway into the inner kingdom of God.


You won’t find the Kingdom of God in some grandiose plan for the future.


You won’t find it in some cherished memory of the past.


God, your inner nature – is reality. And there is only one point of contact we have with reality – that pinpoint gateway – that eye of the needle, between the remembered past and the imagined future. The doorway to the kingdom of God that fills up the reality of the present moment.


Be in the present moment. Don’t think about it. Experience it. Surrender yourself in a complete and loving acceptance of the present moment, and the door begins opens to you. And behind the door is the essence of the Godhead, the Buddha Nature, closer to you than you are to yourself.


And as you become more at home in the present moment, you realize that you ARE the present moment. It is timeless. It has no past and no future. It is only now – eternally now. Forms and manifestations come and go. They appear in the field of Now and then they disappear – but the Now remains, and YOU remain – at peace in the vibrant energetic emptiness of God – wanting for nothing, worrying about nothing.


And here’s the paradox. When you seek first God’s inner kingdom, all the rest falls into place. The universe aligns itself to your purposes because you are aligned to the universe. Just at the moment when you begin to lose your desperate grasping after the external things of the world, the things you need begin to come to you almost without effort. And you can enjoy them fully – free of worry, because when they go, as all finite things do, they don’t take a part of you with them. You are connected to the source of all manifestation.


This is the kingdom of God, and the home country of all mystics. It’s a place where worries and problems subside, because you are no longer at odds with the purposes of God manifesting in your life. Many teachers of different traditions have commented on this.


Listen to the Catholic mystic St. Theresa describe it:


Let nothing trouble you / Let nothing frighten you

Everything passes / God never changes

Patience / Obtains all

Whoever has God / Wants for nothing

God alone is enough.


The Indian Guru Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj said:


"You are all drenched for it is raining hard. In my world it is always fine weather. There is no night or day, no heat or cold. No worries beset me there, nor regrets. My mind is free of thoughts, for there are no desires to slave for."


And here’s one of the most famous quotes from “A Course In Miracles”


"Nothing real can be threatened.

Nothing unreal exists.

Herein lies the peace of God."


Put aside the unreality of your worries about the future, your longings for the past, your impatient desires. Surrender to the reality of this present moment.


And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.





















 < /p>



















































Sep 012006


In discussing Islam on another website, the argument was made that because Islam does not regard Jesus as God, and because the Bible clearly DOES teach that Jesus is God, Islam rejects the Bible. A variation of the same sort of argument is often used against various groups claiming to be Christians. Since they don't believe orthodox teaching, and since the Bible “clearly teaches” orthodoxy, then these groups are not Christians.



While I have no intention of defending everything that Islam or every heterodox Christian group believes in, the argument above is presumptuous and unhistorical.



Even using the books of the Bible that we have come to regard as canonical (our current New Testament for example) there was a tremendous battle over such questions as the divinity of Jesus. For a number of years, Arianism (which taught that Jesus was a divine, but CREATED being – inferior to the Father) was the dominant viewpoint in Christianity – and they had plenty of verses in our current New Testament to back them up. Jehovah's Witnesses believe much the same thing today.



But what we also need to realize is that our current New Testament was specifically selected by the proto-orthodox Christians. The Gospels we have (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were not the only Gospels circulating in the early Church. The epistles and apocrypha we have in our current Bible are not the only ones that could have been selected. The ones that were selected were chosen PRIMARILY because they taught the orthodox viewpoint.



There were many groups of Christians in the early Church. The range of their beliefs was even more diverse that our modern versions of Christianity. Each group had it's own collection of writings – of Gospels and epistles and apocryphas – that supported its own point of view.



One of the earliest groups in Jerusalem were the Ebionites. Their beliefs were in many ways similar to Islam. They believed Jesus was a great prophet – but only a human being. He had come to revitalize Judaism and set it on the right path.



Then there were the Marcionites, to whom Jesus was not human at ALL. He was entirely God, and his humanity was simply a facade. To the Marcionites, Judiasm was a false religion created by a false god from whom Jesus had come to set us free.



All of these groups, as well as the proto-orthodox, who staked out a middle ground on the nature of Jesus, had scriptures to support their theology. But once the proto-orthodox position became the dominant one in Rome, Rome used its political influence to not only exclude other points of view – but to create a list of scriptures that ALSO excluded other points of view. Scriptures that didn't fit the proto-orthodox theology were destroyed or hidden. In spite of this, there were enough remnants of divergent points of view left in the canonical scriptures to keep the orthodox arguing about the nature of Jesus for centuries



An excellent book on this by one of my favorite scripture scholars (Bart Ehrman) is:

Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew



The point of the proceeding is that it is circular to claim that the Bible obviously proves orthodoxy when the Bible was specifically selected and edited to prove orthodoxy. Even with the aggressive selecting and editing (and even forging) there is enough variety in the Bible to have kept Christians arguing for centuries. The nature of Jesus is not “obvious” from the Bible, and Islam, for all it's peculiarities is not “obviously” trying to be anti-biblical (much less anti-Jesus) by questioning orthodox dogma.

Jul 282006

The Synoptics

Of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, even traditional scholars agree that and that Matthew, Mark and Luke were written first, and John written sometime later. Traditional scholars also know that Matthew, Mark and Luke include a lot of the same stories, events, teachings and viewpoints. For this reason, they are called the “synoptic gospels” the word “synoptic” meaning “seeing together” or “similar view”.

But these stories and events aren’t just similar, as one might expect. In many cases, they are word-per-word identical. Now any schoolteacher, presented with three reports that use many identical phrases, knows what’s going on. Someone is copying. The question is, who is copying whom? The synoptic writers could be copying from each other, or all of them could be copying from a common source or sources. This isn’t some modern skeptical viewpoint. As early as Augustine (who was no dummy after all) careful readers knew that someone had copied. Because Augustine accepted catholic tradition, he assumed that Mark and Luke had copied from Matthew.

But modern scholars aren’t as ready to accept catholic tradition. The gospel writers don’t even identify themselves after all. The title “The Gospel of Matthew” that you read in your printed Bible is simply a traditional title. The manuscript itself makes no claim to have been written by Matthew. The traditional authorship makes some sense in terms of the emphasis of each gospel. Matthew seems to have a Jewish slant, for example. But tradition needs validation. I’ll continue to call these authors “Matthew, Mark and Luke”, but we really aren’t sure who they are.

Who Copied Whom?

Scholars try to decide which sources are earlier – not by comparing the verses where they are exactly the same, but the verses where there are subtle changes. Either through early copying errors or slightly different emphasis, there are many examples where the synoptic gospel writers are slightly different from each other. Usually, two gospel writers agree and one will have a slight variation. This usually means the variation is NOT the original. For example, if I have three versions of a phrase:

1. Bill took a nap 2. Bill took a nap 3. Bill, being tired, took a nap

I can deduce that “Bill took a nap” was probably the original and “being tired” was a later addition to version #3.

When we apply this method to the synoptics, it turns out that Mark seems to be the original. Sometimes Luke changes something, sometimes Matthew – but rarely are Matthew and Luke in agreement against Mark. And in many of the cases where they ARE in agreement against Mark, the very earliest manuscripts are different, and the agreement is a later “patch up” job.

Mark Wrote First

So it appears, and the majority of scholars (though not all) think, that the author of Mark wrote his gospel first, and that the authors of Matthew and Luke each had a copy of Mark sitting in front of them when they wrote their gospels, and used Mark as a framework. This also seems likely from the fact that Mark is the shorter gospel. Compilers of scripture tend to add to their sources, not abbreviate them. They are reluctant to throw away anything that might be precious.

Matthew and Luke each added from their own sources in the framework Mark provided. Each of them added (somewhat contradictory) information about Jesus’ birth and genealogy for example, and added material about his passion.

The “Q” Source.

One of the things that both Matthew and Luke add to Mark are a number of “sayings” of Jesus. Once again, these sayings of Jesus are so similar in wording in Matthew and Luke that there must be a common source for them. Scholars call this common source “Q”, for “quella”, the German word for “source”. However, each gospel writer puts the sayings in different contexts. The Sermon on the Mount, for example, in Matthew 5, happens on a plain in Luke 6. Jesus saying which begins “are not five sparrows sold for a (two) farthings” is used by Matthew as part of Jesus instruction as he is sending out the twelve. In Luke it is part of a teaching to a much larger gathering. Why don’t Matthew and Luke seem to agree on when and where Jesus said these things?

The reason is that the source (“Q”) that Matthew and Luke are copying from is probably a collection of “sayings”. This was a popular form of ancient literature – the collected sayings of a wise man. Proverbs is an example of this kind of collection. Matthew and Luke had a collection of Jesus’ sayings in front of them, but no clue as to exactly where or when these sayings fit in the life of Jesus. So they put them into the narrative of Mark wherever each author thought they best fit.

Layers in the “Q” Source

Further study has shown that the “Q” source may consist of several layers of tradition, based on differences in language, style and theme. The very earliest of these (Q1) is primarily a collection of Jesus’ “wisdom” sayings. They are generally short, pithy sayings and parables and don’t have a lot of explanation surrounding them. The subsequent layers (Q2 and Q3) deal largely with apocalyptic themes and judgment against those who reject him, and are more verbose. For a scholarly reconstruction of what the “Q” source may have looked like, with the layers indicated, see: http://www.cygnus-study.com/pageq.html

All of this analysis is not to say that Matthew, Mark and Luke were doing anything wrong. They are not trying to take credit for someone else’s work (in fact, they write anonymously). They are simply trying to assemble the best history of Jesus they can provide from the sources they have available. Even a conservative view of scriptural inerrancy doesn’t demand that the gospels be in exact agreement about when and where Jesus made a particular statement. It’s of no importance to anyone’s spiritual condition to know exactly what altitude Jesus was at when he taught the Sermon on the Mount (Plain).

But having these educated guesses about the gospel sources is of help in analyzing other materials, particularly the Gospel of Thomas


The tentative dates, then, for these gospels and their sources is thought to be something like this:

Q1 – the mid 50’s AD Q2 – 60 to 70 AD Q3 – the mid 80’s AD Mark – 65 to 80 AD Matthew – 80 to 100 AD Luke – 80 to 130 AD

Jul 282006

I thought it might be helpful to give one small example of how independent textual traditions can point back to what appears to be a common source in the historical Jesus. When I say these textual traditions are “independent”, I mean that scholars have concluded, based on differences in wording and grammar, that they did not simply copy from each other. Let’s look first of all at the Gospel of Thomas. The first layer, at least, of the Gospel of Thomas dates back to as early as 50 CE, according to Crossan, and internal evidence suggest the apostle James may have collected this first layer.

Here is Thomas 2 (Lambdin translation)

Jesus said, “Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the All.”

Several other citations from Thomas have a similar theme:

(92) Jesus said, “Seek and you will find.”

(94) Jesus said, “He who seeks will find, and he who knocks will be let in.”

Several of the earliest Church fathers quote from a very early version of the gospel called “The Gospel of the Hebrews”. Unfortunately, no copy of this gospel survives, but based on analyzing the quotations, scholars believe this is an independent source written as early as 50–80 CE. The following fragment is quoted by Clement of Alexandria:

“He who seeks will not give up until he finds; and having found, he will marvel; and having marveled, he will reign; and having reigned, he will rest.”

Moving to more familiar territory, we come to the “Q” source – a reconstructed text of Jesus’ sayings used by Luke and Matthew. The earliest strata of “Q” dates back to the 50’s, CE. Here is the quotation from the earliest strata of Q, as found in Luke 11:9–10

“And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”

This is basically copied verbatim in Matt 7:7–8, with Matthew quoting independently from the Q source.

A very similar sentiment is expressed in Mark (who did NOT apparently use the Q source). Mark, as the earliest surviving gospel, dates back to as early as 65 CE. Here it is in Mark 8:1–10

“Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.”

Matthew, in Matt 12:22, copies Mark basically verbatim.

The dialogue of the Savior, is a document which dates to much later (perhaps 120 CE) but which contains portions of a much earlier “sayings” gospel within it – apparently independent of these earlier texts quotes Jesus . It quotes Jesus as saying: “The Lord said to them, “He who seeks […] reveals […].”

Finally, the Gospel of John, while later (90–120), has several citations which are independent of the previous:

“And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” (Jn 14:13–14)

“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” (Jn 15:7)

“Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” (Jn 15:16)

“And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (Jn 16:23–24)

So here we have quite a number of independent sources, all quoting Jesus as saying something similar (each having a slightly different “take” on the theme). These sources are as early as 50 CE, perhaps as little as 17 years after Jesus, if not earlier. The fact that they are independent points to the fact that there is an even earlier source, probably oral, dating to the time of Jesus himself. By far the most likely explanation of this is that there WAS a historical Jesus, and that one of the more memorable themes of his preaching was something like “Ask and you shall receive. Knock and it shall be opened”

Jul 282006

Did Jesus teach tolerance? There are certainly a number of scriptures that suggest that Jesus was tolerant, compassionate and forgiving.

Mat 5:7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Mat 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

Luk 6:37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:

Joh 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Joh 8:11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

Luk 9:54–56 And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? (55) But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. (56) For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.

Mat 9:13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Luk 7:47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

Mat 11:19 The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.

Luk 10:33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him (the hero in the story is a Samaritan – a heretic as far as the Jews are concerned)

Mat 8:13 And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour. (Jesus helps a Gentile, and a leader of an occupying army).

There are also scriptures that show Jesus being angry and judgmental. I will argue later that some of these are not original with Jesus, but if we start by taking the gospels at face value, it’s instructive to note the people and circumstances that arouse Jesus’ ire.

People who are more interested in religious rules than compassion. (Mark 3:1–5)

People concerned with outward religious show (Matt 6:2,5,16)

People concerned with evangelism, tradition and religious legalism, but not with compassion, justice and mercy and living spirituality (Matt 23:13–29)

Corrupt politicians (Luke 12:32)

People who hurt children (Matt 18:6)

People making money from religion (John 2:14–17)

His own disciple when he tried to prevent Jesus from fulfilling his mission (Matt 16:23)

  • People who reject his message (Matt: 11:20–24) [More on this in a moment]

On the other hand, the people he was remarkably tolerant of and compassionate toward included:

Sinners, prostitutes, adulterers, outcasts, women, children, heretics (Samaritans), pagans (Romans), the sick and the poor.

I think we can see some interesting patterns here. Jesus is mainly judgmental of the judgmental, and intolerant of the intolerant. He has little patience for those who ought to know better, and those who think they ARE better. He is particularly concerned with anyone putting barriers between people and God, in the form of onerous regulations, hateful judgments, or monetary considerations.

Regarding Jesus condemnation of those who reject his message – scholars have long believed that many of these scriptures condemning those who do not receive the message are expressing the frustrations of early Christian missionaries, who did not have the success they would have liked, and who consoled themselves by putting harsh words about unbelievers into Jesus mouth. I think it’s pretty plain that this did in fact occur. Contrast Jesus approach, for example, in these two scriptures:

Luk 9:54–56 And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? (55) But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. (56) For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.


Mat 10:14–15 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. (15) Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.

Even if we want to pretend that the condemnation scriptures are authentic, there is an important distinction. ‘Jesus’ particularly condemns those cities and people where mighty miracles were performed, and still did not believe. In other words, those who knew better. This is in contrast to such people as Samaritans and Romans, who “know not what they do”.

In summary, if we are looking to Jesus for our guideline of behavior, we will be tolerant of those who do not follow our beliefs or standards, particularly if they appear to be sincere in their beliefs. We will also be compassionate with human imperfections and weaknesses and have mercy on the oppressed, the helpless and the downtrodden. Against religious hypocrites in particular, we appear to have more latitude 😉

Related Posts with Thumbnails