“We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists,
select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus…
There will be found remaining the most sublime
and benevolent code of morals
which has ever been offered to man.
I have performed this operation for my own use,
by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book,
and arranging the matter which is evidently his,
and which is as easily distinguishable
as diamonds in a dunghill.”
– Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), from a letter to John Adams (October 12, 1813)
I have been hearing of late from people who wonder how we can distinguish what Jesus likely said from the corruptions of His words that followed His death. Then last week we performed a bit of analysis on something I had thought He likely hadn’t said, but now it seems that He probably did say it. And that prompted even more people to ask how I ever was able to figure that out! I want to empower you as much as I can, so I am happy to share with you how I continue to seek and to find an ever better understanding of the genuine Jesus.
First, of course, I should acknowledge that I have spent considerable time in self-education:
So I have known from the age of twenty that we can’t take the Gospels at face value. And furthermore, Miss Corwin (I think that was her name) seems to have transformed me into a radical. She was adamant that her students must internalize her own sense of outrage at the grievous sins against the teachings of Jesus that were committed by the early church councils, and especially by First Nicaea. She was the first person I ever knew who was separating Jesus from Christianity at all, and never mind her defending Him against what I used to think was His very own religion!
With all of that said, let’s look at some Gospel passages and see where this level of analysis takes us. I have included here just four examples from Appendix I of Liberating Jesus:
“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (MT 16:18-19).
This is an easy one! “Petros,” meaning “rock,” would have been a pun in Greek, but Jesus spoke Aramaic. Jesus intended to abolish religions and teach us to relate to God on our own, and He never spoke about or even hinted at wanting to found a church. There is no Hades. And of course He never would have given “the keys of heaven” to human beings of limited understanding, with the added authority to bind even God! From beginning to end, this is nonsense.
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds” (MT 16:24-27).
This is one of many examples of the handiwork of Councilors who may have built their nonsense into things that Jesus actually said. But for Jesus to mention a cross here is a frank anachronism, and that reference to Him coming in glory and judging us is end-times nonsense of much later origin.
‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (MT 28:18-20).
The Great Commission is likely something Jesus actually said, but the words in italics are anachronistic. It was well after the Lord’s death that the notion of a Trinity came along and the Last Supper became a sacrament. But for First Nicaea and the other religion-builders, adding it here made this a charge for His disciples to go out there and spread a religion that during the Lord’s lifetime did not exist! Simply remove those words. Fixing this one is easy.
And finally, the whole of Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21:8-36 is devoted to end-times and other anachronistic nonsense. All of this was added soon after the Lord’s death, and much of it was probably added even before First Nicaea in 325. All we can conclude is that the earliest religion-builders wanted to tie the end-times prophesies that were in wide circulation during that period of Christian persecution directly back to Jesus, so they cribbed some of their own ideas into His Gospels. When Jesus came to teach us how to use our many earth-lifetimes to ever better grow toward spiritual perfection – when His mission was so far-seeing – it is beyond nonsensical that He ever would have said, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (MT 24:14). Or “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (MT 24:34).
The fact that those who try to strengthen our belief in Christianity are called “apologists” should tell us something! It is their unenviable task to directly address all the criticisms of Christianity, and to show practicing Christians how they can answer those objections for themselves and for others who might question the religion. One of the articles by Keith Giles linked above gives you the six primary attacks against the religion that Christian apologists must try to address; and here, by way of example, is a very good apologist explaining why the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross doesn’t say anything negative about God. I get it, but I am not convinced. I doubt that you are, either. But still, Christian apologists play a useful role. They encourage us to engage with the religion in a non-superstitious way, and the fact that their explanations really don’t answer the core questions helps us to further see the religion as bankrupt. But there is one institution that, even beyond Christianity, is not only bankrupt but also allowing its stubborn adherence to useless ideas to do immense harm now to all of humanity. We’ll talk about that next week.
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I
have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.”
– Jesus (John 14:12)