The more I read the Gospels, the more I’m struck by the vivid and provocative teaching style of Jesus. He never merely imparts information: he makes people think.
This certainly gives the lie to ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ (as commonly understood) and to the picture of our Lord as the ‘pale Galilean’.
But it also catches the unwary, or the careless, reader. Or, indeed, the reader who is simply looking for trouble. (Just as there were listeners like that in Jesus’ day, so there are readers like that today).
But what are we to make of the claim that, over and again, Jesus uttered things that should make his friends utterly ashamed of him.
Sceptic Steve Wells made this claim some while ago, and seeks to support it with the following scriptural references:
- He told his followers to hate their families, Luke 14:26
- He came to break apart families, Matthew 10:35-36; Luke 12:51-53
- He insisted that his followers love him more than anyone else (including their families), Matthew 10:37
- He encouraged people to abandon their home and family for his name’s sake; Matthew 19:29, Mark 10:29-30, Luke 18:29-30
- He was rude to his own family, Matthew 12: 47-49, Mark 3:31-34, Luke 8:20-21
- He was dismissive of other people’s feelings toward their families, Matthew 8:21-22, Luke 9:59-62
- He discouraged marriage, Luke 20:35
- He was a hypocrite. He told his followers not to call anyone a fool, Matthew 5:22. Yet he often called his critics and disciples fools, Matthew 23:17, 19; Luke 11:40; Luke 24:25
- He encouraged his followers to mutilate themselves to avoid hell, Matthew 5:28-30; 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-48
- He encouraged men to castrate themselves, Matthew 19:12
- He approved of God’s killings in the Bible, Matthew 10:14-15; 24:37; Luke 17:26-32; John 3:14
- He believed in the Old Testament’s stories, Matthew 24:37, Luke 17:27,29-32; Matthew 12:40
- He accepted Old Testament laws, Matthew 5:17
- He criticized the Pharisees for not killing parent-cursing children, Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10
- He and his dad plan to torture billions of people forever after they die, Matthew 7:19; 10:28; 13:49-50; 25:41, 46; Mark 16:16; Luke 12:5
- He implied that all Jews are going to hell, Matthew 8:12
- He was a false prophet, Matthew 10:23; 16:28, Mark 9:1, Luke 9:27; Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32; Revelation 3:11, 22:7, 22:11, 22:20
- He was a warmonger, Matthew 10:34, Luke 12:51-53; Revelation 19:11
- He was a megalomaniac, Mark 8:38; John 3:18, 36; 15:16
- He condemned cities to dreadful deaths and to the eternal torment of hell because they didn’t care for his preaching; Matthew 11:21-24; Mark 6:11; Luke 10:10-15
- He called an entire generation perverse, evil, adulterous vipers, Matthew 12:34-39, 16:4; 17:17
- He invented George W. Bush’s false dichotomy; Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:230
- He approved of torture; Matthew 18:34-35
- He inspired the Republican Tea Party, Matthew 13:12, Mark 4:25; Matthew 25:29
- He believed in an unforgivable sin, Matthew 12:31-32, Mark 3:29, Luke 12:10
- He spoke in parables to confuse people so he could send them to hell, Mark 4:11, Matthew 13:10-15
- He believed in a God (himself?) who had his enemies slaughtered in front of him, Luke 19:27
- He believed in devils, evil eyes, and unclean spirits, Matthew 10:5-8; 17:18; Mark 3:11-12; Mark 7:22-23; Matthew 6:23, Luke 11:34; Mark 1:23-25; Matthew 10:1; Matthew 12:43-45, Luke 11:24-26
- He was a bit of a racist; Mark 7:26-27, Matthew 15:22-26
- He condemned people to hell for things that their ancestors supposedly did; Matthew 23:31-35
- He got kind of gross sometimes; Mark 7:33; 8:23; John 6:53-57
- He approved of slavery (or at least didn’t object to it) and said that God is like a slave owner who beats his slaves and sells families to pay for debts; Luke 7:2-10; 12:47; Matthew 18:23-25
- Someday he’ll fight against people with a sword sticking out of his mouth, Revelation 2:16; 19:15, 21
- He threatens to kill children (with death), Revelation 2:23
- He’s going to kill billions of people with his sickle, Revelation 14:14-20
- He unnecessarily killed 2000 pigs, Matthew 8:30-32; Mark 5:12-13; Luke 8:33
- He killed a fig tree by cursing it, Matthew 21:19; Mark 11:13-14
- He didn’t know much about Biology, Mark 4:31-32
- He lied about prayer, Matthew 17:20; Mark 11:23-24; John 14:13-14, 15:7, 15:16, 16:23; Matthew 21:21-22; Luke 17:6
- He said some stupid things, Mark 9:23; Luke 10:19; 16:15; 21:16-18; 21:23; John 7:38; 9:39; 12:25
- He talked complete nonsense about the end of the world, Mark 13:8, 24-25, Matthew 24:3-30, Luke 21:10-11
- He said that everyone who lived before him was a thief and a robber, John 10:8
- His neighbors rejected him, Matthew 13:55-57, Mark 6:3; John 6:42
- Many that saw him up close and personal thought he was mad and possessed by a devil, John 10:20
- His family didn’t believe in him, John 7:5
- His friends thought he was insane, Mark 3:21
- He said that his true followers would cast out devils, speak in tongues, handle snakes, and drink poisons, Mark 16:17-18
- He said that disbelievers will be tormented forever in hell, Mark 16:16
- He dresses kind of funny, Revelation 1:13-16; 2:18; 19:12-16
- He is the living dead with keys to hell and death, Revelation 1:13-16
This list attracted comments such as:
‘This is just so fantastic’
‘This sort of morbid idiocy always leaves me in utter confusion… really, have any of the religulous (sic) people even read the Bible? And if they have, how does a sane person believe in that fluff? Oh wait…. sane people don’t. Never mind.’
‘This post that Steve has put together really helped me to solidify why I need to let go.’
My initial thoughts
This is an indiscriminate and undiscriminating mixture of texts in which
- An archaic translation (AV) is used.
- Contexts are completely ignored.
- There is a complete lack of sensitivity to genre, figures of speech and other rhetorical devices.
- No awareness shown of cultural factors.
Some of them are based on the a priori assumption that Jesus cannot have been the divine Son of God.
Others are clear and demonstrable misunderstandings of what Jesus was saying.
This leaves just a few which constitute genuine challenges to Christian faith, and which warrant a response.
Given the type and amount of prejudice suggested by this list, it would seem that its author is completely closed to seeing things any other way than his own.
If this the best that sceptics can do, then it’s high time they became a little more sceptical about their own scepticism.
My Bible Study Notes offer more detailed discussion of these texts, where discussion is necessary.