Peace Off

angels

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Luke 2.14 as rendered by the King James Bible.

Whatever happened to that peace? There hasn’t been peace on earth ever since the angels were made to herald Christ’s birth with these words. Some of that absence of peace – the conflicts and wars – has been the result of religion, including that of Jesus himself. Then again, he did contradict the angels when he said he hadn’t come to bring peace but a sword and for once, he was right (Matthew 10.34). So what can the angels have meant? More to the point, what can those who created these words to put in the mouths of non-existent beings have been thinking? Is their declaration a promise? A prophecy? Something to look good on Christmas cards?

Other translations of Luke 2.14 avoid the whole peace on earth shtick by watering down the statement: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests’ reads the NIV. Now only those whom God ‘favours’ are granted peace, which presumably means only Christians, and it’s now a vague sense of well-being (complacency? smugness?) that isn’t of much use to the world at large. Certainly other New Testament writers, the creators of John’s gospel and the letter to the Ephesians for example, interpret ‘peace’ in this very limited way.

And yet, in Isaiah, in verses applied to Jesus (especially at this time of year; they were read out in the carol service I attended last night) we find him descibed like this:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9.6)

Apart from the fact this is a specifically Jewish prophecy that has nothing to do with Jesus – which is why most of the titles don’t really apply to him (nobody has ever called him ‘Wonderful Counselor’ or ‘Everlasting Father’) – there again is the idea that he’s somehow connected with capital-letter Peace. He’s a Prince of it, no less.

But wait – there’s more:

Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (9.7)

Of course; it’s all end time stuff! We should’ve guessed. Long term peace on the Earth, predicted by the angels and, ostensibly, by Isaiah is going to be in the future, after Jesus returns to establish God’s Kingdom on earth.

Have you noticed how it’s always in the future? Everything Christianity offers is going to happen later: heaven, eternal life, the second coming, the rapture, resurrection, God’s Kingdom, the lion lying down with the lamb, the end of war, everlasting peace. Not in Jesus’ own time as he thought; not in Paul’s, not in the gospel writers’, not any time since, but always just around the corner, any time now, soon. Never in the here and now. Peace on Earth, like all those other promises, is always just out of reach, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – the closer you think you might be to it, the further it moves away.

A friend added one of those clever posters to Facebook recently. It said, amongst other things, that it wasn’t okay to ‘shame’ religion. I couldn’t disagree more. Scams must be debunked and the sham of religion’s empty promises held up to the light of reality. None of the things that the Bible says will happen is going to; not now, nor in an ever-elusive future.

A happy and peaceful Christmas to both my readers.

It’s Baby Jesus time again

Nativity2It’s that time of year again, when we’re expected to worship the baby Jesus and thank God for sending him. I do usually go to a church carol service with friends and sing along for nostalgic reasons, while marvelling at folk’s willingness to believe the fairy story. Plus, there’s always a drink or two afterwards to look forward to.

What would Jesus have made of it? The stories of his miraculous birth have been tacked on to the beginning of two of the gospels but even in Matthew and Luke there is no indication that he was aware of them. Neither he nor his mother mention them when it looks like aspersions are being cast on his legitimacy (eg: Mark 6.3; John 8.41). You’d think one or other would have done so as sure-fire proof that he was an emissary from God. In fact, apart from the two conflicting accounts in Matthew and Luke there are no other mentions of his spectacular nativity in the Bible; Paul, writing closest to Jesus’ lifetime, doesn’t refer to it even when he’s arguing in 1 Corinthians 15.42-52 that Jesus came from Heaven.

How do we account for this? The obvious answer is that the nativity narratives are much later inventions. We know they were not included in Matthew and Luke’s shared source material because the two are significantly different (as I discuss here). However, by the time these gospels were being compiled, in the 80s and 90s, such stories had begun to circulate – then as now, people liked origin stories for their super-heroes – and two such tales were incorporated into their accounts. The birth stories are invention, heavy with symbolism and designed to show that Jesus was not illegitimate but spawned by God in a supposed fulfilment of prophecy.

While the adult Jesus was a egotist who thought he was going to the end the system in which he lived (Matthew 24.34-35) and then rule the world with his mates (Matthew 19.28), he didn’t require that his followers worship him. It’s true that, like any other cult leader, he accepted others’ adulation when it was offered, especially when it was offered by women; one anoints him with expensive perfume in John 12.13, while another Mary – they were evidently short of female names back then – fawns over him in Luke 10.41-42. However, he doesn’t make it part of his mission to demand the worship of others. When early Christians started to think of Jesus as a supernatural-being worthy of adulation, they devised statements about how marvellous he was (Colossians 1.15-20 may be one such) but worshipping him through song does not appear to have been part of their agenda.

Modern Christians’ use of hymns and songs to tell Jesus how much they love him is, then, alien to the faith as it was originally practised, and to Jesus himself. The carols that’ll be sung this Christmas have no equivalent in Jesus’ life nor in that of his earliest followers. Even if he were hanging around in Heaven somewhere, which of course he isn’t, the last thing he’d want to be subjected to would be some badly sung Victorian carols telling him what a great guy he is. He was in no doubt about that when he was alive.

Talking Jesus

Harvest

The Church of England published its report, Talking Jesus, last week. It finds that, rather than interesting others in Jesus, Christians only put them off when they talk about him. What a dilemma! To evangelise or not when all it achieves is the opposite of what’s intended. Christians must feel their hands are tied.

Not that this will stop them doing it, more’s the pity. But why? What drives some Christians to talk about their beliefs at every opportunity? What makes them think others haven’t heard of Jesus already? Do they honestly think that in England and other places where the Anglican church holds sway, people have never heard of him? Let’s have that show of hands: if this is the first time you’ve heard about Jesus, raise you hand. Or admit to being a Jesus-virgin in the comments.

That’ll be no-one then.

Please – we know about Jesus! And, what’s more, most of us would be happy if we didn’t. While some feel duty-bound to treat him with respect (God knows why when they don’t do the same for Father Christmas or Julius Caesar) most recognise him for the myth he is and trust their instinct not to get involved.

Here in the West it’s almost impossible to escape him, especially as Christmas approaches. Church leaders, with free access to the media, burble on about him, Christian web-sites number in the hundreds of thousands, and songs about his miraculous, fabricated birth will soon be everywhere. At any time of year, armies of street preachers invade our town centres, shouting about how we all need him, while Jehovah’s Witnesses hawk their version at a front door near you. And if we’re really unlucky, a friend or colleague will feel it their duty to tell us all about him at work or school or in the pub.

But, Christians, this isn’t how you’re meant to ‘make disciples of all the world’. The Jesus of the gospels (though that should be ‘Jesuses‘, plural) tells his followers how it should be done. Not by ambushing others to tell them how much they need him but by letting your lights shine (Matthew 5.16). Your ‘good deeds’ and sacrificial love are what should mark you out and impress others; Jesus says so himself. Actions, not words, are how to demonstrate your faith in him, if that’s what you feel you must do.

But they don’t, and that’s why we’re not interested when you’re subjecting us to your fantasy and dogma. If you lived the life – the really radical life Jesus advocated – forsaking wealth, spending yourself on others, going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, giving and forgiving, loving everyone sacrificially – then we might just be persuaded there’s something to this Jesus cult after all (then again we might not). As it is, talking the talk without walking the walk, is – how does the Bible put it? – just the empty noise of clanging cymbals.

 

You’re not as saved as you think

God2So now you’re a Christian. You’ve listened to the street preacher or that Christian at work and you’ve accepted Christ. You’re saved and going to Heaven when you die.

Or are you? You’re not going to Heaven that’s for sure, because Heaven isn’t on offer – as we saw here, the Bible doesn’t promise an eternal life in Heaven. But are you even saved? Has ‘the most important decision of your life’ really made you one of God’s own?

If you think you’ve chosen God, you’re wrong. You don’t choose God, he chooses you (or not, as the case may be). And if he hasn’t chosen you, then any decision of yours is of no consequence. You can shout all you like about how you’re now saved, born again and a follower of Jesus but if God says you’re not, then you’re not.

How do we know this? Because the Word of God™ says so:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will… (Ephesians 1. 3-5)

In other words, you’re only saved if God decided you were going to be right back at the beginning of time. And if he didn’t, well, you can talk the talk and even walk the walk, but it will all be for nothing.

Jesus too is quite clear that it isn’t up to you whether or not you’re one of God’s chosen few. Here he is the middle of one of his tiresome parables about the Kingdom of God, where the King has told his slaves:

“Go… into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” His slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22.9-14)

So, how do you know if you’re one of the special few hand-picked by God himself and not just one of those poor suckers who’s been invited along only to be thrown out? You don’t. Your capricious God won’t tell you till after you’ve died and you meet him face to face. There’s every possibility you’ll find out then that you’re not saved, because only a few of those called actually are. And then where will you be? Hell, that’s where. You’ll be no better off, according to the Bible anyway, than those who’ve not been duped by all of this nonsense.

So, you can believe all you like that God loves you. You can make all the right noises, study your Bible, pray, imagine you hear God’s voice in your head, go to church, sing the right songs and defend God’s standards, but there’s still a very good chance you’re not saved.

Jesus again:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 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 deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.” (Matthew 7.21-23)

But don’t worry, you were never ‘saved’ in the first place, nor lost, nor in need of Jesus; none of this mad fairy tale is real. Your only mistake – and it was a big one – was to think it was.

Idiotic Stuff Jesus Said 13: We Don’t Need No Educashun

MegaBut you are not to be called rabbi (teacher), for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:8-12

Evidently these words were put into Jesus’ mouth by the community that produced Matthew’s gospel and reflect the egalitarianism and communism that characterised it. The phrase that gives away their origins is ‘you have one instructor; the Christ’. ‘The Christ’, as we know, was a creation of the early church and it is highly unlikely Jesus would have referred to himself in such a way. In the synoptic gospels he is reticent even about claiming the Jewish title of Messiah for himself. In any case, the reference is patently to a third party, and is by an author or interpolator who subscribes to the later, supernatural Christ.

In the unlikely event, then, that these words emanated from Jesus himself, all they achieve is to demonstrate his lack of understanding of human psychology. Even as ‘Matthew’ set about recording them, the newly founded church was already ignoring them, which is perhaps why he felt the need to have Jesus say them. Here’s Ephesians 4.11, written by someone pretending to be Paul round about 80-100CE, contradicting them:

Christ gave (us) the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers…

The imposter who wrote 1 Timothy (5:17) up to a hundred years after Jesus’ death goes further, endorsing the exaltation of those who teach and rule others:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching.

Why? Because human beings like hierarchies. Almost all human societies are hierarchical in nature and groups invariably arrange themselves hierarchically. There will always be people who see themselves as leaders and teachers and still others who look to those who’ve set themselves up as authorities to tell them what to do.

Despite what Jesus or ‘Matthew’ might have preferred – everyone being equal while those who ‘exalt’ themselves are humbled – it just doesn’t happen in human culture. It certainly wasn’t happening in the movement that emerged following Jesus’ death, in the church that existed by the time Matthew was making Jesus say that the only authority Christians should recognise was God’s and his own. The institution that was appearing in place of the end of the age – an institution that Jesus neither anticipated nor instigated – could not function effectively as the simple band of ‘brothers’ he is made to suggest. It was in need of structure, and a hierarchy was it.

And so it was that, before long, the first popes emerged – ‘pope’ deriving from the Latin for ‘papa’. Each of these exalted figures would come to be referred to as ‘Holy Father’, a title still in use today. With complete disregard for Jesus’ instructions, other priests (meaning ‘elders’) in the Catholic church also assumed the title ‘father’. Evangelical churches, lest they think the Catholic church is the only guilty party, have their ‘pastors’, meaning ‘shepherds’, who, by definition, lead others. A common or garden ‘clergyman’ is a ‘learned man’, while a bishop is one who ‘looks down from above’. An archbishop is chief look-downer and exalted indeed. Elsewhere, showmen preachers in mega-churches ‘teach’ with a mixture of anecdote, wild conjecture and stuff they make up as they go along; tune into TV’s God channels for a taste of this particular brand of humility. The church in all its manifestations has, from the beginning, been hierarchical from top to bottom.

Jesus, however, didn’t want there to be a top or bottom; if Matthew 23.8-12 is to be believed, he commanded there shouldn’t be. He envisaged his followers living in harmony with everyone equal under his and God’s authority. No-one was to set themselves up as teacher or leader; no-one was to exalt themselves above others. If any did, they would need to be humbled. But this isn’t how human beings organise themselves, and never how the church has conducted itself. Shouldn’t he have known that?

Idiotic Stuff Jesus Said 12: My words will never pass away

AndersonThe premise of my first ‘Jesus’ book* is that while Christians profess to believe in Jesus, they choose to ignore most of what he taught while he was alive. While they claim a vapid super-hero Christ as personal saviour, they replace what the human Jesus had to say with words of their own choosing. In reality, they have about as much time for Jesus’ ‘eternal words’ as the average non-believer or atheist. You don’t have to look very far to see how much his words have already ‘passed away’:

Jesus said, ‘Don’t judge so that you won’t be judged’ (Matthew 7.1). Our representative Christian says, ‘LGBT people are filthy and wrong.’

Jesus said ‘Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5.44). Our representative Christian says, ‘I’m gonna pray a transgender person dies and goes to Hell.’

Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12.31). The Christian says, ‘The way to show love is to tell other people they’re going to Hell.’

Jesus said, ‘sell all you have and give to the poor’ (Mark 10.21). The Christian is concerned about where to buy jewellery: ‘…somewhere other than Tiffany’s, because Tiffany’s is gay friendly.’

Jesus said, ‘Forgive those who sin against you so you can be forgiven yourself’ (Matthew 6.14). Our believer rants, ‘LGBT people should be executed.’

Jesus said, ‘Don’t commit adultery and don’t get divorced’ (Matthew 5.27-28 and 19.9). Significant numbers of Christians , including our own Stephen Green, say, ‘that doesn’t apply to me.’

See what I mean? Christians regard the words of their saviour, not as having everlasting value, but as if they’re nothing more than worthless bits of fluff. Even if God were real, every word of the Bible true, every aspect of the Great Salvation Plan genuine, it wouldn’t change the fact that believers treat as optional almost everything Jesus commanded and live as if he never had.

 

* Why Christians Don’t Do What Jesus Tells Them To …And What They Believe Instead is available from Amazon worldwide (UK here, US here) but not, alas, from Tiffany’s.

The picture shows the deplorable Pastor Steven Anderson (linked above). He knows better than Jesus ever did.

 

 

 

Idiotic Stuff Jesus Said 11: Build Your Lives on the Things I Say

WhoDoJesus demanded you base your life on his teaching. It’s the only way, he said, that you’re going to find meaning, as well as the principles you’ll need when the going gets tough:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock (Matthew 7.24-25).

And what exactly were those words of his? Here’s what he taught:

  • The Son of Man was coming to the Earth to establish God’s Kingdom within the lifetime of his original followers (Matthew 16:27-28; Matthew 24:27, 30-31, 34; Luke 21:27-28, 33-34);
  • His own people needed to be more ‘righteous’ in order to be part of this Kingdom (Matthew 5.20; Matthew 6.33; Matthew 13.49 etc);
  • Being righteous entailed some extreme behaviour; loving your enemies, giving away all you had, turning the other cheek, forgiving repeatedly, being perfect (Matthew 5.44; Matthew 5.42; Luke 6.29; Luke 6.37; Matthew 5.48; Matthew 19.21);
  • It was crucial to obey Jewish law, even if some of it could be reinterpreted (Matthew 5.17-18; Matthew 12.1-7);
  • Once the Kingdom arrived Jesus himself would be King of the world, aided and abetted by his pals (Matthew 19.28; Luke 22.30);
  • His followers would do even greater miracles than he did himself. Given he controlled the weather, healed the sick and raised the dead, that’s going some (John 14:12).

Anybody know anyone who believes all of this or lives this way? Anyone who operates on these exacting principles? I don’t know of anyone and never have. I didn’t even when I was Christian myself. Jesus demands are impossible. No-one can live according to them. ‘Of course not,’ say Christians. ‘You need supernatural help to live like this.’ So why don’t they, when they have God’s spirit living within them (John 14.16-17)? Why don’t we see Christians who perform spectacular miracles, who constantly go the extra mile, who give away everything they have, who are, as Jesus tells them they should be, perfect?

We don’t because no-one can live as Jesus insisted they should. Nor do we see Christians who believe his prophecies either, particularly the one about the Son of Man bringing God’s Kingdom to Earth two thousand years ago. Christians pretend he didn’t really say it, or if he did, that he meant something else entirely. They’ve changed his very words – the ones they should be building their lives on – to claim Jesus himself will be returning any time now (the synoptic gospels are confused about whether Jesus is this Son of Man, or someone else). When he does, they say, true believers will be going with him to Heaven. Never mind that Jesus teaches nothing of the kind and there’s absolutely no foundation for these beliefs in his words. As such, they’re the faith built on sand he tells them is worthless:

And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall! (Matthew 7.26-27).

So, if Christians don’t do what Jesus tells them and don’t believe his promises or prophecies, then in what way can it be said they take his words as the foundation of their lives? Don’t they, rather, base them on Paul’s teaching, about a supernatural Christ who bears little resemblance to the zealous Jewish preacher they pretend is their ‘Lord’? Teaching that has nothing to do with that of the man who demands his pronouncements be the very basis of life? Paul doesn’t quote any of Jesus’ teaching.  The foundation Jesus speaks of is of no interest to him; so, naturally, this is whom Christians follow – not Jesus, but Paul and his mythical Christ.

Christians have no time for Jesus’ words – and who can blame them? All he offers is impossible morality, false promises and failed prophecies. Far better to go with what Paul offers, because that’s about what’s in it for them. But even Paul didn’t believe anyone was going to Heaven, so they ignore that bit in his teaching too.

Jesus v. Paul Round 2: And the winner is…

Make-overI’m re-reading Barrie Wilson’s excellent How Jesus Became Christian. Wilson makes the case that Paul’s Christianity was, and is, an entirely different religion from that of the historical Jesus. He shows how Paul’s ‘Christification’ changed the original mission of Jesus – to alert his fellow Jews to the imminence of God’s kingdom on Earth – ‘from one focused on the teachings of Jesus to one about the Christ’ (p242).

How right he is. This very the dichotomy troubled me in my own church-going days when evangelical Christianity, as it still does, consistently excluded the demanding, extreme and human Jesus of the synoptic gospels to focus instead on this illusory supernatural being. They preach sermons about him, sing hymns to him and intone creeds that skip glibly over everything Jesus said and did when he was alive. The Christ was, I came to see over time, an invention of Paul’s, the product of his strange hallucination sketchily recounted in Galatians 1.11-12 and 1 Corinthians 9.1 & 15.45. The Jesus he talks about is a sort of cosmic super-hero, a god-man of the type found in pagan religions in the first century. He has little or nothing to do with Jesus the Jew preacher and would-be Messiah, preserved – just about – in the three synoptic gospels.

So, the differences between Jesus and the Christ are profound. Here are a few of them, that I’ve drawn up, demonstrating that Christianity as we know it – essentially Paul’s ‘Christified’ version with inconvenient bits removed – bears little relation to the ‘good news’ of Jesus:

Jesus’ good news: God’s Kingdom on Earth imminent (Mark 9.1 etc)
Paul’s good news: Salvation through a dying/rising god-man (Romans 3.19-26; 4.24; 5.1-2; 5.10 etc)

Jesus presents as: Jewish Messiah claimant: ‘Son of Man’; Self-appointed judge and king in near future (Matthew 16.28; 13.41; Luke 22.30 etc)
Paul presents: Mystical saviour: The Christ, who saves those who ‘share’ in his death and resurrection; Christ as judge and ruler of mankind in near future (Romans 3.25; 6.1-11; 13.11-12; 1 Corinthians 15.20-28; Philippians 3.20)

Jesus’ qualifications: Teacher, preacher and healer; ideas rooted in Jewish prophecy; full of his own importance (Matthew 5.17; 7.12; 9.35; 25.40)
Paul’s qualifications: Builds entire religion on single hallucination; borrows heavily from pagan cults; full of his own importance (1 Corinthians 15.8; Galatians 1.15-16)

Jesus’ position: Adherent of Jewish Law; emphasises its importance (Mark 6.2; Matthew 5.19)
Paul’s position: Disregards Jewish Law; implies it is ‘dung’ (Romans 3.28; Galatians 5.6; Philippians 3.7-9)

Jesus insists on: Obedience to Jewish Law (Matthew 5.17-20)
Paul insists on: Faith in Christ and his resurrection (Romans 1.16-17; 3.22)

Jesus’ salvation requirement: Be righteous/perfect (Matthew 5.48; 13.43)
Paul’s salvation requirement: Faith (Romans 5.1; Galatians 2:15-16)

Jesus expects: Right behaviours and attitudes (Matthew 5.38-48)
Paul expects: Right belief (Romans 10.10-13)

Jesus’ teaching: Measure for measure morality (Matthew 6.38; 7.2; Luke 6.37); Forgive in order to be forgiven (Matthew 6.14); Show mercy in order to be shown it (Matthew 5.7); Give in order to receive (Matthew 6.38); Treat others as you wish to be treated (Matthew 7.12)
Paul’s teaching: Profess right belief (Romans 10.9)

Jesus’ commands: Love God (Matthew 22.37); Love your neighbour (Matthew 22.39); Love your enemy (Matthew 5.44)
Paul’s commands: Embrace Christ (Romans 8.35-38; Galatians 3.27); Be filled with the Holy Spirit (Romans 5.5; Galatians 5.16-18); Avoid those with different teaching (Romans 16.17; Galatians 6.6-9)

Jesus’ extremism: Give up everything you have (Mark 10.21; Luke 14.33); Give to all who ask (Matthew 5.42); Turn the other cheek (Matthew 5.39); cut off own hands, remove eyes (Mark 9.43-47); Consider castration (Matthew 19.12)
Paul’s extremism: No interest in anything Jesus taught when was alive; intolerance of Jesus’ original followers (Galatians 2.11-21)

Jesus’ guarantees: Resurrection/eternal life through demonstration of one’s personal righteousness once the Kingdom comes (Matthew 25.31-36)
Paul’s guarantees: Resurrection/eternal life for those with right belief and faith when Christ returns soon to judge mankind (1 Corinthians 15.20-28; 51-52)

Jesus’ outcomes: No Kingdom on Earth; no appearance of the Son of Man or a returned Jesus; disappearance of the movement that subscribed to Jesus’ ‘good news’
Paul’s outcomes: No appearance of the Christ; no rapture; no resurrection; no cosmic judgement

Jesus’ result: Failure
Paul’s result: Becomes mainstream Christianity; Paul wins!

As Wilson makes clear, the two are, despite some small overlap, very different belief systems. The Christ Christians worship is not the same as the Jesus they ignore. Nonetheless, they continue to pretend they are one and the same, unable to see that the join is, and always has been, a gaping hole.

 
Notes:
i) Biblical references are by no means exhaustive; there are many others that support each point and difference.

ii) Details of Wilson’s book are:
Wilson, B. (2008) How Jesus Became Christian: The Early Christians and the Transformation of a Jewish Teacher into the Son of God. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London.

The Revolution Has Been Postponed

LiteralSo we all sat down on the grass and waited for the great man to speak.

“You’re a winner,” he said eventually, “if you’re ordinary and oppressed, because one day you’re going to rule the Earth!” Everyone gasped. We were all of us just ordinary, plain-speaking folk and things like this didn’t happen to us.

“Yes, really,” he said, “because God is going to establish his kingdom on Earth. And when he does he’ll sweep away the rich and the powerful, and you’ll be in charge. This I promise.”

We couldn’t believe it – proper gobsmacked we were.

“You’re in luck too,” the teacher went on, “if you’re poor, because once God’s kingdom comes, you’ll be rich beyond measure. And as for those of you who are hungry, you’re going to be filled like you’ve never been filled before. God, you see, is going to turn everything upside. Those of you at the bottom of the heap now – and let’s face it, that’s all of you sorry schmucks – are suddenly going to find yourselves at the top. And those who are on top now will be right down at the bottom. This, I promise you, is how it’s going to be.”

I can tell you everyone was beaming. We could already feel the change in the air.
Then Eli, sitting next to me sticks up his hand. “Hey, boss,” he shouts.

“Eli,” I says to him, “don’t be disrespectful. This bloke obviously knows what he’s talking about. He’s a messenger from God.”

“Yo, boss!” shouts Eli again.

“Yes,” the man up front says to him. “What?”

“When’s all this going to happen, then?” asks Eli. “When can we expect this big change?”

“Oh,” the teacher says, “I was thinking… maybe in a couple of thousand years?”

“What?” Eli says. “What good is that to us? From the way you were talking we thought all these wunnerful things were going to happen soon. What’s the point of telling all of us, sitting here in front of you, that we’re gonna be top dog and everything if it’s not us you’re talking about.”

“Good point,” the great man says. “All right then. How about if it’s sooner?”

There’s a lot of murmuring and everybody thinks this a good idea.

“Great,” he says. “Then that’s settled. We’ll make it sooner, so that you guys are still around. How does that sound?”

Everybody says it sounds marvellous.

“Great,” the big man says again. “It’s agreed, then – it’ll be soon. On that, you have my word.”

That was good enough for us and so we all set off home to get ready for the big changes we’d been promised.

“Thousands of years in the future,” Eli scoffs. “What a bloody con. Who does he think he is? God Almighty?”

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 32: Jesus Is God

Res2Test your Bible knowledge and see if you can work out when it was Jesus became God:

Was it:

a) After he died?
Paul thought this was when God decided to adopt Jesus. The Almighty noticed what a good man Jesus was and decided to resurrect him. In so doing, he made him his Son:

his Son… was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1. 3-4, my emphasis)

Paul doesn’t say Jesus was God. In fact, he strongly suggests he wasn’t, both in the phrase ‘descended from David’ and in his assertion that he became God’s Son – not God – only at the resurrection. So, Jesus wasn’t God when Paul wrote Romans, round about 57CE. If, as Bart Ehrman suggests in How Jesus Became God (p224), Paul is quoting an earlier creed, it’s not what the first Christians believed either.* Paul does edge closer to a divine Jesus in other letters – Philippians 2, for example – but that’s not what ‘God revealed’ to him originally.

b) When he was baptised?
In the earliest gospel, Mark says it was when he was baptised that Jesus became God’s son:

(Jesus) saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ (Mark 1.10-11)

So in Mark, God adopts Jesus earlier in his career than in Paul’s Romans scenario. All the same, while he gets to be God’s beloved son, this doesn’t make him divine; God has many sons in the Bible and a Son of God, with or without capitals, is not the same as ‘God the Son’. Jesus himself makes this clear in Mark 10.18, where he actually denies he’s God.

c) When he was born?
Well, this is more like it. According to Matthew, Jesus is the Messiah from the time he was born. We’ve got even further back now – from Paul’s post-mortem elevation of Jesus, to his baptism, to his birth. Of course all of these can’t right. If Jesus was divine from birth – or even before – there’d be no need for him to be promoted after his death. But Matthew doesn’t actually say he’s divine; he suggests that Jesus fulfils all the prophecies of the Messiah (of course he doesn’t, but that’s what Matthew wants us to believe.) However, the Messiah, according to the very ‘prophecies’ Matthew quotes, is not divine; he’s a human warrior king. Oops.

d) When he was conceived?
Luke is determined to push it back further still. For Luke, it’s when God magically makes Mary pregnant that Jesus becomes truly and literally God’s son (Luke 1.35). Except, of course, Mary appears to have no recollection of this event later in the gospel narratives when she can’t work out why her son behaves in bizarre ways. Could Luke have made up the entire conception story? You bet.

e) Back at the beginning of time?
John’s gospel appears to say so:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1.1-5)

Or does it? John says the Word (Logos) has always existed and is part of God – but does this mean Jesus? This question vexed the church for the best part of it first four hundred years. Was the Logos the same as God and was Jesus the Logos? The council of Nicaea in 325 attempted to clear the matter up but not all bishops agreed with its conclusion – that the Son was ‘begotten not made’ (whatever that means) – and the controversy raged for another few decades.

f) When the church decided he was?
Yup, this is it. A different group of bishops decided, finally, that Jesus was God at the Council of Constantinople in 381. They re-jigged the statement made at Nicaea fifty-six years earlier, which then became the ‘Nicene creed’ that’s still said in some churches today.

So, Jesus didn’t become wholly and officially divine until 381, a mere 350 years after he lived and 300 after Paul and the gospel writers. How scriptural is that?

Jesus wasn’t divine, wasn’t God incarnate, wasn’t the Son of God with capital letters, wasn’t the Messiah, wasn’t and isn’t the saviour of the world. He was a first-century preacher and prophet whose prophecies were a disaster, whose mission to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth failed and who died and was buried. He was resurrected only in the ideas of other men, who tried and eventually succeeded in making him into something he wasn’t.

 

* I’ve not referred extensively to Ehrman’s writing in this post but undoubtedly his many books, especially How Jesus Became God, have influenced me, as has Barrie Wilson’s How Jesus Became Christian. Jonathan Hill’s Christianity: The First 400 Years, published by Christian company, Lion, was also useful.