This is something I wrote Spring 2004. Please forward as you think

appropriate. -John B. Hodges.

------------------------------------------------------------------

 

The Ethics of Jesus.

 

 

I set out to do the following: Search the four Gospels for everything

Jesus says about what we should DO. Skip the miracle stories, the

biography, the travelogue; collect only the ethical teachings. Once they

are collected, step back and see what we've got.

 

I recommend this exercise. If anybody thinks my presentation of Jesus'

teaching is inaccurate, I urge you to do the same exercise, and see for

yourself.

 

I've come to conclusions, some of which which I will reveal up front.

 

First, the "synoptic" gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are strongly

similar to each other, and the fourth gospel, John, is very different.

Essentially all of the ethical teachings are in the first three. What

little ethics there IS in John is remarkable more for what it does NOT

say. The first three have a lot of common quotations and stories, John

has no quotations in common with the others. For this reason I am first

going to cover the ethics taught in the first three gospels, and then

discuss John.

 

Second, The ethics of Jesus, as presented in the synoptic gospels, is

very difficult, very challenging. But there is an underlying logic to

it: the ethics of Jesus are apocalyptic.

 

Jesus is reported to have believed and taught that the world as people

then knew it was coming to an end; he was an apocalyptic preacher.

Matthew chapter 24, Mark chapter 13, Luke chapter 21, all speak of an

apocalyptic end time, with earthquakes, famines, wars, with false

prophets and religious persecutions, with mass deaths and turmoil. He

stresses that no one knows when this will happen, so we should keep

ourselves ready at all times. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke he says "This

generation will not pass away till all these things take place." Though

he says no one knows the day and hour, he apparently thinks it will be

"soon", within the lifetime of those hearing him speak. In Matthew 10:23

he says:

When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly, I say

to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before

the Son of man comes.

 

Given that he thought the world was ending, the Day of Judgement was

coming when all would be sorted into the saved and the damned, going to

Heaven or Hell respectively (Matt. 25:31-46), it makes perfect sense

that his ethics were utterly unworldly, radically unworldly. He put no

value on earthly wealth, fame, power, or family. He urged his followers

to forsake all of these to focus entirely on purifying their own

character, doing good works, and spreading the gospel. You are not

seeking to have a pleasant or successful life on Earth, you are applying

to get into Heaven when the Earth is destroyed.

 

In Matthew chapter 16 for example he says

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any man would come after me, let

him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever

would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake

will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole

world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his

life? 27 For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of

his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done. 28

Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste

death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom."

This passage is repeated in Mark chapter 8.

 

An even more clearly unworldly teaching is Luke 14:26-33,

26 "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother

and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own

life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross

and come after me, cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring

to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he

has enough to complete it? ... 33 So therefore, whoever of you does not

renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

 

Regarding wealth, for example, he says not to accumulate any. (Matt. 6)

19 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust

consume and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for

yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and

where thieves do not break in and steal.

24 "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and

love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

You cannot serve God and mammon. 25 "Therefore I tell you, do not be

anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor

about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and

the body more than clothing?

 

If you have already accumulated some wealth, Jesus says to get rid of

it. In Luke chapter 18 (and Matt. 19, and Mark 10) a rich man asks Jesus:

18 And a ruler asked him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit

eternal life?" 19 And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No

one is good but God alone. 20 You know the commandments: `Do not commit

adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor

your father and mother.'" 21 And he said, "All these I have observed

from my youth." 22 And when Jesus heard it, he said to him, "One thing

you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and

you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." 23 But when he

heard this he became sad, for he was very rich. 24 Jesus looking at him

said, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of

God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle

than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

 

In Matthew 13:44-46 he again talks of selling all that you have; the

kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, or like a pearl

of great price, and the wise man sells all that he has to buy it.

 

In Matthew 5 and Luke 6 he says to give extra to those who steal from

you, give to all who beg from you, lend without expecting repayment. In

Luke 12 he says to beware all covetousness, "sell your possessions and

give alms", to provide yourself with treasure in Heaven. In Luke 14,

"when you give a feast, do not invite the rich, lest they invite you in

return, and you be repaid. But invite the poor, the maimed, the blind,

and you will be blessed, for they cannot repay you. You will be repaid

at the resurrection of the just."

 

This is a repeating theme, that you should do good works without

expecting any return, in fact you should take care to avoid getting any

return. If you receive any reward here on Earth, you will not receive

reward in Heaven. This is apparently HOW you lay up treasures in Heaven:

do things worthy of reward, and DO NOT TAKE THE REWARD HERE ON

EARTH. A just God will see that you get what you deserve; if you haven't

gotten any reward on Earth, he will reward you in Heaven.

 

Regarding fame, In Matthew 6 for example he says "beware of practicing

your piety before men in order to be seen by them, for then you will

have no reward from your father who is in Heaven." He says to give alms

in secret, pray in secret, fast in secret. If you let yourself be seen,

so that men praise you for your piety, you have an earthly reward and

will not get a heavenly one. He condemns the scribes and Pharisees for

seeking honor among men, for making their piety a means of gaining

earthly status. He says: "Truly, I say to you, they have received their

reward."

 

Regarding power, he says not to seek it, but instead seek to be of

service. In Matthew 20 and Mark 10:

42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those

who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their

great men exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among

you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and

whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.

In Matthew 18,

3 and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like

children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles

himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

In Matthew 23,

10 Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. 11 He

who is greatest among you shall be your servant; 12 whoever exalts

himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

 

Besides not seeking power, remember Matthew 5,

39 But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one

strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; 40 and if

any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as

well; 41 and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

 

It would be very hard to maintain earthly power if you did not resist

those who attacked you. In Luke 6,

27 "But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who

hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29

To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him

who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.

 

In short, if someone robs you or enslaves you or even kills you, that is

their problem, not yours. You keep your eyes on the prize, which is

Heaven. Do not let yourself be tempted into fighting for some piece of

this Earth.

 

Regarding family, he says that your earthly family is to be abandoned.

Your true family is your fellow believers. Matthew chapter 8:

21 Another of the disciples said to him, "Lord, let me first go and bury

my father." 22 But Jesus said to him, "Follow me, and leave the dead to

bury their own dead."

A very similar passage is Luke Chapter 9

59 To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go

and bury my father." 60 But he said to him, "Leave the dead to bury

their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." 61

Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to

those at my home." 62 Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to

the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Matthew Chapter 10:

34 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not

come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man

against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a

daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man's foes will be

those of his own household. 37 He who loves father or mother more than

me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is

not worthy of me; 38 and he who does not take his cross and follow me is

not worthy of me.

Matthew Chapter 12: (also Mark chapter 3, and Luke chapter 8)

46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his

brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 47 But he replied to the

man who told him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" 48 And

stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my

mother and my brothers! 49 For whoever does the will of my Father in

heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother."

Matthew Chapter 19: (also Mark chapter 10)

29 And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father

or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a

hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.

 

A possible exception to this is your spouse, if you already have one. In

Mark and Luke, Jesus does not allow divorce and remarriage for any

reason, ever. In Matthew 19 he allows divorce only for "unchastity". It

is not stated whether you can divorce without remarrying, or abandon

your spouse without divorce. His disciples say "if such is the case, it

is not expedient to marry", and Jesus tells them that those who are able

to make themselves eunuchs should do so. "He who is able to receive

this, let him receive it."

 

Making yourself a eunuch sounds extreme, but Jesus says you should do

whatever it takes to live a sinless life, even cut off body parts that

tempt you to sin. Matthew 5:

27 "You have heard that it was said, `You shall not commit adultery.' 28

But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has

already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye

causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you

lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.

30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it

away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your

whole body go into hell.

 

There is one member in particular that might tempt you to sin, but it

would be vulgar to mention it in a speech, so Jesus speaks instead of

the eye and hand. But he seems to really mean it, when he speaks of

making yourself a eunuch for the kingdom of Heaven's sake.

 

Living a sinless life involves, among other things, following the entire

Law of Moses. In Matthew chapter 5 he says:

17 "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I

have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. 18 For truly, I say to

you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass

from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then relaxes one of

the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called

least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them

shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you,

unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you

will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

In Luke chapter 16 he says:

16 "The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news

of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently. 17

But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one dot of

the law to become void.

 

In fact he goes further; we should not only follow the Law, we should

overfulfill it, seeking to follow the spirit of it as well as the

letter. Matthew chapter 5 explains this clearly. We should not only

abstain from adultery but also from lust. We should not only abstain

from killing but also from anger. We should practice forgiveness, mercy,

reconciliation, and peacemaking. We should not only abstain from

swearing false oaths, we should abstain from swearing oaths at all. The

law says "an eye for an eye", but Jesus says to abstain from

retaliation; do not resist evil, turn the other cheek, do good to those

that hate you.

 

He sums up the spirit of the law with the famous Two Greatest

Commandments. Matthew 22:36

36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" 37 And he said

to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with

all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first

commandment. 39 And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as

yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets."

This is repeated in Luke chapter 10:

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying,

"Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 He said to him,

"What is written in the law? How do you read?" 27 And he answered, "You

shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your

soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your

neighbor as yourself." 28 And he said to him, "You have answered right;

do this, and you will live."

 

Having also read a lot of the law of Moses, I think Jesus is mistaken

about the spirit of it, but that is beside the point here. Jesus

continues his theme of overfulfilling the law in Matthew 5:43-48:

(repeated in Luke 6:32-36)

43 "You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and

hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for

those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who

is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and

sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who

love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the

same? 47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing

than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore,

must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 

Nevertheless, he does say the letter is to be observed as well. Matthew 23:

1 Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 "The scribes and

the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; 3 so practice and observe whatever

they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.

22 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint

and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the

law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without

neglecting the others.

 

The major exception seems to be the dietary laws, which Jesus says to

ignore. Mark 7:

15 there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile

him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him." 16 And

when he had entered the house, and left the people, his disciples asked

him about the parable. 17 And he said to them, "Then are you also

without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from

outside cannot defile him, 18 since it enters, not his heart but his

stomach, and so passes on?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 19 And

he said, "What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. 20 For from

within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft,

murder, adultery, 21 coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy,

slander, pride, foolishness. 22 All these evil things come from within,

and they defile a man."

 

This story is also in Matthew 15. It could be argued that this is a

contradiction; he says not one iota of the law will ever become void,

but he also says not to bother with ritual cleanliness of your food. I'm

not concerned with that here; I'm not trying to criticize Jesus' ethics

here, just trying to see what they are.

 

According to the Jesus described in the Gospels, our concern with the

law of Moses is supposed to be with obeying it ourselves, not with

enforcing it on others. We should be concerned with purifying our own

character, to perfection. Matthew 7:

1 "Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you

pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the

measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's

eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you

say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there

is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of

your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of

your brother's eye.

Matthew 18:

20 Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother

sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" 21 Jesus

said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

These are repeated in Luke 6 and 17.

 

Summing up so far: Abandon all your Earthly ambitions. Forsake your

Earthly family and give your loyalty to God and your fellow believers.

Sell everything you own and use the money to do good works. Avoid

getting any Earthly reward for your good works. Follow the Law of Moses,

both the letter and the spirit of it. Abstain from all sin, inside and

out; abstain from covetousness, abstain from anger, abstain from lust.

Do WHATEVER YOU NEED TO DO to abstain from lust. Practice strict

nonviolent pacifism; do not resist evil, do not strike back, do good to

those who hate you. Practice mercy and forgiveness and peacemaking. Do

not judge others, that is not your job, Judgement Day will come soon

enough. Seek to purify your own character, strive to "be perfect, even

as your father in Heaven is perfect."

 

This is asking a lot. Is all of this necessary? In Matthew chapter 7,

Jesus says that admission to Heaven is very selective.

13 "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy,

that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For

the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those

who find it are few.

21 "Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom

of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On

that day many will say to me, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your

name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in

your name?' 23 And then will I declare to them, `I never knew you; depart

from me, you evildoers.'

In Luke Chapter 13:

23 And some one said to him, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?"

And he said to them, 24 "Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I

tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.

 

What might disqualify you? What would keep you OUT of Heaven? To start

with, failing to follow Jesus' teachings. Matthew Chapter 7: (also Luke

chapter 6)

24 "Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be

like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; 25 and the rain fell,

and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it

did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And every one

who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a

foolish man who built his house upon the sand; 27 and the rain fell, and

the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it

fell; and great was the fall of it."

 

In the history of Christianity there was a long debate over whether we

were saved by faith or by works. The first three gospels come down

squarely on the side of works. What will get you into Heaven, or keep

you out, is what you DO, not what you believe.

 

Being rich will make it very hard to enter Heaven. Not following the

Mosaic Law will keep you out; "unless your righteousness exceeds that of

the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven."

Holding grudges, refusing to forgive, will definitely keep you out. Sins

of any kind will count against you. Denying that you are a follower of

Jesus will keep you out. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will keep you

out. Pride will keep you out. "Unless you turn and become like little

children, you will never enter the kingdon of Heaven. Whoever humbles

himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven."

 

Most graphically, failure to do good works will keep you out. In Matthew

Chapter 25:

31 "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him,

then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered

all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a

shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will place the

sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. 34 Then the King

will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father,

inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me

drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you

clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came

to me.' 37 Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see

thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? 38 And when

did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee?

39 And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?' 40 And

the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of

the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.' 41 Then he will say

to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal

fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you

gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a

stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me,

sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' 44 Then they also will

answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or

naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?' 45 Then he

will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the

least of these, you did it not to me.' 46 And they will go away into

eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

 

----------------------

 

I've read that Bible scholars generally agree that Mark was the earliest

gospel written, Matthew and Luke were based partly on Mark and partly

on other material, and John was the last one written, no earlier than

100 AD.

So far I have been describing the ethical teachings of the Jesus

described in the first three gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The Jesus

described in the gospel of John is very different.

In the Synoptic gospels, Jesus speaks of a fiery Hell and eternal

punishment; in John he makes no mention of either. If all you had read

was John, you could think that those not saved would simply die. In the

Synoptics, Jesus often "casts out demons", to cure the many ailments

caused by demon possession; in John he never does this, and never

says anything that would imply he believes in the existence of demons.

In each of the first three gospels there is an apocalyptic chapter, where

Jesus warns of the end of the world, with disasters and wars and mass

death and turmoil, followed by Judgment Day, coming soon. There is no

apocalyptic chapter in John. At the end of John he speaks of his own

future "coming", apparently the "second coming", but gives no apocalyptic

warnings or descriptions. There is no hint that the second coming will be

anytime soon.

 

If you go through the gospel of John and collect only the ethical

teachings, skipping everything else, you will find that there are very

few. The Jesus described in John never says to help the poor, much less

does he say anything about selling your possessions. The only time he

mentions the poor, he says "the poor you always have with you." He never

says to follow the Law of Moses, never says to abstain from all sin and be

perfect, never says to cut off body parts that tempt you to sin. He

never says to be humble.

 

What DOES he say? He says three things over and over. "Believe in me",

he who believes will get into heaven. "Eat my body and blood", those who

take communion will have eternal life. And "Obey me, keep my

commandments." Those who do not believe and do not obey will be

condemned. But there are only two commandments mentioned in the entire

book. He does say to practice forgiveness; In chapter 8 there is the

story of the woman caught in adultery, and Jesus says "let him who is

without sin cast the first stone." Other than that, the only commandment

he gives is to "love one another". In other words, love other

Christians. John 13:

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I

have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will

know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

 

In the first three gospels he was described as saying that to love those

who loved you was nothing remarkable, gained you no real credit; even

the gentiles, even the tax collectors do the same. There, he said to go

beyond this and love your enemies. In John, there is no word about

loving your enemies.

 

That is all: "believe in me", "eat my body and blood", and "love one

another". Do that and you get into Heaven. The Jesus described in John

is not an ethical teacher, he is a sacrificial lamb. We are not saved by

his teachings, we are saved by his blood. We don't have to renounce

anything of our Earthly life, all we have to do is believe, take

communion, and be nice to other believers. There is nothing hard in the

gospel of John; the gate is wide and the way is easy.

 

Personally, I think that the gospel of John was written by church

leaders who found the existing gospels to be inconvenient. It was at

least 70 years after the time of Jesus, and the apocalypse had not come;

it had become an embarrassment. They wanted to have large congregations,

they wanted a gospel that would have mass appeal. So they did an

apocalypsectomy. They took out the apocalyptic prophecies, then had to

take out most of the ethics also, because the ethics make no sense

without the apocalypse.

 

Put plainly, I think the gospel of John was a late forgery, a

revisionist theology that praised Jesus to the skies while burying what

he taught. I think the gospel of John bears as much resemblance to the

historical Jesus as "Twas the Night Before Christmas" bears to the

historical Nicholas. Legends about Jesus grew until the historical

figure was eclipsed by the legend, and his drastic, demanding,

apocalyptic teachings were ignored. May he rest in peace.

--

 

John B. Hodges, jbhodges7@ @verizon.net

Do Justice, Love Mercy, and Be Irreverent

Views: 1859

Tags: Christianity, Ethics, Jesus

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Comment by John B Hodges on July 14, 2012 at 10:54pm

I do not see, or feel, the need to deny the existence of some man who suffered from the delusion that Judgment Day was imminent, and concluded the best approach to that prospect was to do the things that Jesus is reported to have told his followers to do. By analogy, despite Santa Claus being an obvious fictional character, I don't see the need to deny the existence of the historical Nicholas. 

I also think that Christians are likely to simply dismiss conspiracy theories about Paul and the Gospel writers simply making up Jesus and presenting him as historical. They will claim that several major early Christian evangelists were martyred, and no one dies for something they know is a lie. 

Since the writing of the Gospel of John, many Christians have believed that salvation is easy; essential that it is a free gift, bought for us by Jesus' blood, and all we need do to get a free ticket to Heaven is to BELIEVE that Jesus has given us one. This I call the "Tinkerbell Theory of Salvation", by analogy to the original stage-play version of Peter Pan, in which there is a scene where Tinkerbell is injured and dying, and Peter appeals to the audience, "All those who believe in fairies, CLAP!" They clap, and the hidden light bulb brightens, Tinkerbell is healed. So, if people BELIEVE in fairies, then they will exist. If people BELIEVE that they are saved, then by that fact they will be. 

My major point in this essay is that this does not remotely resemble what Jesus is reported to have taught in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The gate is narrow, and the way is hard, and you are saved, if at all, by DOING all the things that Jesus told his followers to do. And by the way, Jesus was wrong about the Apocalypse, so perhaps he was not a Divine personage after all, just a lunatic, who made a big splash because he was the first of the doomsday preachers.

Comment by Frank Wall on July 14, 2012 at 6:02am

John - Have you considered another alternative:  That the Jesus character was a wholesale invention of the early Christians, Paul, and the Gospel writers.  Even if there was an historical Jesus we know nothing about him because all the info we do have comes from the Bible.  Extrabiblical sources are limited to Josephus, who wrote his Antiquities of the Jews in 93 or 94 AD, at least 60 years after Jesus' alleged death.  And the mentions of Jesus and Christians have been determined by mainstream Biblical scholarship as, in the very least, partially inauthentic.  Some Biblical scholars believe the entire passages that refer to Jesus were either inserted by later Christian scribes in an attempt to provide historical backing for Jesus' existence and messiah status or refer to other men named Jesus (it was not an uncommon name, given that it's a variant of the Old Testament, and likely fictional, hero Joshua).  

What can realistically be gleaned about an historical Jesus from gospel accounts that are obviously fictionalized accounts written by those who had no first-hand knowledge of Jesus?  Then there are the Biblical books known to be forgeries: 1 & 2 Peter, 7 of "Paul's" epistles, James, and more, and, though not forged, all four gospels are written by anonymous authors.  Why should we trust what any of these writers have to say about the Jesus character?  Even Paul's genuine letters indicate that he had no contact with a living Jesus, but rather believed that Jesus spoke to him in visions and via revelation.  None of this supports the case for an historical Jesus.

Comment by booklover on May 27, 2011 at 7:46am
I never have understood why people think the jesus story is so wonderful or where they get the "family-values" stuff out of the bible.  The churches just made it all up, just like the bible.
Comment by John B Hodges on February 23, 2010 at 10:14pm
Further comment on the gospel of John, stuff I didn't think was relevant to the ethical teachings of Jesus. In the Synoptic gospels, Jesus speaks often of Hell and eternal punishment; in John he makes no mention of either. If all you had read was John, you could think that unbelievers would simply die. In the Synoptics, Jesus often "casts out demons", to cure the many ailments caused by demon possession. In John he never does this. There is a place where OTHER people ask him about demons, but in John, Jesus never says anything to indicate that HE believes in the existence of demons. In the first three, the ritual of Communion is for purposes of remembering Jesus' life and work; it is like Veterans Day or Presidents Day. In John, Communion is MAGIC, drinking that cup will give you Eternal Life. (Imagine a vampire saying, in full Transylvanian accent, "Drink my blood and live forever!") These are not small differences.
Comment by John B Hodges on February 23, 2010 at 10:04pm
So, Bill, you think he was BOTH an apocalyptic nutter AND a con artist? I figured, from the synoptic gospels, that he was sincerely expecting the end of the world and Judgment Day soon, and essentially saying "Listen folks, we'd better get serious about following what Moses taught, because final exams are coming up!" He was wrong, deluded, but I don't see that he was a conscious fraud. Of the "Lord, Liar, Lunatic" trilemma, I pick lunatic. But you prefer Liar, or perhaps both Liar and Lunatic. (For Moses, I'd pick Liar, myself.) I'd be interested to see your essay, it's not hard to post it as a blog entry on Atheist Nexus.

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