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Jesus the Great Moral Teacher

Over the years the more closely I have paid attention to what the Bible actually says, the more puzzled I have become by the claim that Jesus was a great moral teacher.    Many of the teachings attributed to Jesus are obscure and confusing.  And some are simply horrific.  Here are a few random observations.

  • “For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Mark 4:25)   I’ve been reading the Bible my whole life and I have no idea what he means here.  Is he endorsing the Paul Ryan budget proposal?
  • And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Luke 12:10)   This is the famous unforgivable sin passage.  But Jesus never really defines what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit.  It seems that if there were only one sin that could send a person to hell for eternity, it would be nice to have a really clear and detailed explanation of what that sin is.  Instead, we are left in the dark.
  • Several times in the gospels Jesus  says that his teachings will result in tearing asunder the parent-child relationship.  “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.” (Mark 13:12-13)     See also Matthew 10:34-39.
  • Many people say that they prefer the loving God of the New Testament over the vindictive portrayal of God in the Old Testament.  Yet it is not until the New Testament that we get a doctrine of hell as a place of eternal torment.  It all comes from Jesus.  In Mark 9:48,  he describes hell as a place where “the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched.”  In contrast, the apostle Paul does not mention hell at all, which potentially suggests that the teachings about hell were put in Jesus’ mouth after the time of Paul in an attempt to intimidate and control members of the early church.

I will pick up this topic again in the next post where I will briefly explore what people really mean when they say they find the teachings of Jesus inspiring.

  1. April 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    What about the poor fig tree? Jesus shriveled it up for not bearing fruit out of season. How is that the fig tree’s fault? God is the intelligent designer, right? So why should Jesus take it out on the fig tree for God’s screw up of not making a tree in perpetual bloom?

    • April 9, 2012 at 6:00 pm

      Good point about the fig tree! And in the same vein there’s the story of Jesus drowning a herd of pigs. I always wondered about the unfortunate pig owner. There went his livelihood.

  2. Gary Williams
    April 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    When I first read the Gospels (coming from a non-religious background), my impression was that Jesus was really cranky and severely pissed about what was going on around him, in particular, wrt to the religious community. He seemed to like hanging with non-believers more than believers. When I mentioned this in church no one seemed to ‘get it’, so I gave up. The church never seemed to notice this stuff.

    And the gospel of John was as much an outlier for me as Revelations.

    • April 9, 2012 at 5:58 pm

      Yes, Jesus is particularly cranky in Mark. Matthew and Luke seem to be in part efforts at spin control to soften his image up a bit. As for John, hardly any saying attributed to Jesus in John sounds like anything he said in the synoptic gospels.

  3. Laura C.
    April 9, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    Even the bits of the Gospels that are supposed to be nice and lovey-dovey have some really twisted passages. The Sermon on the Mount, for example, heavily implies (and, in some translations, explicitly states) that anger and lust, which are both natural, unavoidable human emotions, are sins on par with murder and adultery. That same speech also promotes self-harm and decrys self-defense. I’m amazed that I didn’t realize how horrible some of this stuff was until recently.

  4. Andrew
    April 13, 2012 at 3:20 am

    Jesus actually mentions “Gehenna” in Mark 9, a reference to the Topheth in Jeremiah. Not being Jewish, Mark probably had no idea what/where “Gehenna” was, but since it was referenced as a bad place in the Prophetic Books, then it made sense to him to have Jesus warn against it. Harmonizing Gehenna with “Hell” is a late medieval innovation.

  5. Andrew
    April 13, 2012 at 3:24 am

    Jesus is a great teacher if you’re an anti-Semite. The supposed words of Jesus are actually just the words of the second century proto-orthodox church fathers, projecting their own ideas back into the past to create the illusion that the revered church founder had the same ideas that they expounded. This is a typical mind control game played by all cults ancient and modern.

    • Inquirer
      April 15, 2012 at 7:42 pm

      This is a puzzling statement, since many of the recorded words of Jesus were recorded before the second century even took place. Most of the Gospels were written between 50 and 90 CE, which means that by definition, they weren’t determined by anyone from the second century. It’s also not clear how one can possibly say, as a generalization, that the Gospels are antisemitic. First of all, at least one author thought Jesus’ purpose was only to speak to the Jewish people. This was part of why the inclusion of non-Jews in early Christian communities created controversy. Second, though I would agree that there are some rather destructive texts (for instance, “our blood be upon us and on our children forever”), I don’t think those represent the broader character of the Gospels or of the other New Testament texts. While the second-century church (if my history is correct) began to accept an antisemitism that enveloped it for centuries, that belief is not thoroughly grounded in the texts themselves.

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