Gary, Please Don’t Throw Jesus Out with the Bathwater!

Be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater - OpusXenta

I received this comment from a Christian in the “feedback” section of my blog recently :

Thanks for your honest and earnest story. For what it’s worth, I have read Ehrman (Misquoting Jesus and various articles in BAR) and listened/watched his lectures on BAR media. He’s a smart, nice, articulate guy, who values truth and people too. I see his unbelief as a natural consequence of his linking the Bible with fundamentalism.

Given his experience, the link would be hard to break. It was for me. He has taken the fundamentalist ultimatum (Either you believe every word is literal history and/or the word of God, or you may as well be an atheist) to its logical conclusion.

One of the problems we face in determining the truthiness (Computer science actually uses that word) of the Bible is the diversity of “true religions,” which implies at least most of them are false. Another problem we face is the hubris exhibited by dogmatists, exceeded only by their intransigence. One must wonder how the Bible can be true or even useful when it is subject to such disparate readings. This oversimplifies the issue, but I think we are bound to miss the import, if any, of the Bible and of Jesus’ story until we notice that Jesus was more secular than people of his time and people ever since have wanted him to be.

He claimed that his purpose was to set people free (Luke 4:18 – 21), not burden them with a new religion. Martin Luther and the other reformers were heroes, but their goal was to correct mistakes apparent in the medieval church. Going back to the Bible is more than fixing up the ceremonies, doctrines, etc., but rediscovering what the radical Jesus showed and taught of the Kingdom of God.

Taking Jesus as a genuine, secular man opens the possibility of discovering his way, apart from the encrusting barnacles of religion. However, his outrageous claims of his identity demand either acceptance, at some level, or repudiation. Of course, some repudiate the claims because they think his followers invented them. That opinion and its opposite separate honest people. On supernaturalism, one can misread the Bible as an intentional maximalist or an intentional minimalist. Either bias can be extensively confirmed. A more innocent way of reading is to suspend one’s preferred frame of reference and absorb the story and its implications.

Of course, we must consider the ways that ancient people perceived and interpreted their experiences. No law of God or Nature requires us to assume their cultural position, but neither should we assume we can’t make sense of anything they said. I am convinced you can escape fundamentalism while following the way of Jesus. Bathwater and baby…

Gary’s response:

Jesus (allegedly) said the following:

Now large crowds were traveling with him [Jesus]; and he turned and said to them,  

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.  …So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

–the Gospel of Luke, chapter 14

If someone today made such a statement I’m sure you would agree that such a person is not dealing with a full deck. He is mad. Yet you believe a man living 20 centuries ago, making similar mad statements, is worthy of your discipleship and even worship. Why??

Sorry, my Christian friend, you are not being rational. Your emotions are preventing your brain from using critical thinking skills. The claims attributed to Jesus are the claims of a delusional mad man.

Yes, I will throw Jesus out with the bathwater!

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End of post.

26 thoughts on “Gary, Please Don’t Throw Jesus Out with the Bathwater!

  1. He or she doesn’t give much info on what they actually believe, but I wonder how he builds his version of Jesus if he doesn’t believe in an inerrant, historically accurate bible – does he take just the parts about Jesus he likes? How does he know Jesus said or did the things that make up this person’s view that Jesus was more secular than people of his time thought. How does he know Jesus actually said his purpose was to set people free.
    You get called a rube if you reject the Bible because it is not innerrant or infallible, but then you told instead that you should believe in a Jesus that is a certain way, because, well, because the Bible tells us he is. Oops, other parts also tell us he is not that way, but ignore those parts because they don’t give us the Jesus we want.

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    1. Exactly. Moderate Christians don’t read the Bible literally except when it claims that a dead corpse came back to life and levitated into outer space. They are not using critical thinking skills.

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  2. Well, ok, here I am commenting. I couldn’t resist, Gary. 🙂

    Good grief, I mean doesn’t this sound like a literary technique of hyperbole to you? I mean reason and common sense tells me that Jesus is not literally thinking that people should hate their parents. Among other things, this would violate the Mosiac law.

    I mean do we think that He would want people to physically and literally pluck out their eyes to prevent lustful thoughts???

    Here is a link that I felt shared good insights. It certainly made sense to me.

    https://trystanowainhughes.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/jesus-and-hyperbole/

    Going away now, back into lurk mode. 🙂

    Have a wonderful and safe holiday, Gary. Every blessing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Becky, this is one of the fallacies of the Christian religion. It’s OK to believe this but for all intents and purposes, don’t pay any attention to that because it was just hyperbole to promote the “true” story. And the bystander asks: “Which is…???”

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      1. It depends if you feel that it’s a disaster if we don’t always get it right. I certainly could be wrong in my interpretation of the Scripture. I feel like we should trust the love of God and keep moving. 🙂

        Seriously, Nan, what I’m sharing seems very reasonable and sensible to me as it does too many scholars who are far more learned and informed concerning ways of speaking and teaching in the ancient world than I ever will be.

        But, could I be wrong about this?? Of course…

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  3. So how about ‘love your enemies’ or ‘turn the other cheek’? Aren’t these hyperbole too, Becky? If you think they are not, ask yourself on what basis you’ve determined this. How do you know ‘hate your parents’ is hyperbole while ‘love your enemies’ isn’t? You really have no way of knowing beyond subjectively feeling that one is more palatable than the other.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, in a way, yes. What does it mean to show love to an enemy? Many scholars believe that when Jesus speaks of “turning the other cheek, ” He was actually speaking against retaliatory violence, ” an eye for an eye.” He was talking of going the extra mile and intentionally pursuing peace. I would not interpret this Scripture to mean we should stand still while someone beats us over the head and commits physical assault.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There seems to be confusion about what hyperbole means: it’s an exaggerated statement (not meant to be taken as a literal statement) for the purpose of emphasizing a point. It still is expressing a meaning.

        If I said, “this bag weighs a ton.” It’s not a literal statement. Hopefully no one assumes I meant that if you put the bag on a scale it would weigh a ton exactly (or anything close to it for that matter) and I somehow developed superhuman strength to lift 2000 pounds. Everyone understands the meaning of this everyday piece of hyperbole is: the bag was very heavy.

        It terms of the Luke passage, it probably doesn’t mean you have to literally hate your family members, the property element is trickier and less clear. It could mean you must give up all your possessions (i. e sell your property) or it also could mean that in order to be a true disciple of Jesus you must be prepared and be willing to subordinate or give up those things if the situation arises. we’re you have chose between them.

        For example, if your parents don’t like that you became a Christian and threaten to disinherit you, you refuse to denounce your religion and accept that you will be disinherited.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. So Jesus didn’t mean anything he said? You’re saying it’s all hyperbole, which lest we forget, meand excessive exaggeration. Would you trust any other individual who constantly exaggerated everything they said?

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    1. I wouldn’t say that, Neil. But for me, it is important to also consider things like the cultural context and literary practice of the time. I feel like that just adds more depth and richness to our understanding. My fundamentalist brothers and sisters might disagree. To them, it feels like more moderate or progressive Christians are not taking the Bible seriously. Our minds just think and reason differently. I’m not entirely certain why.

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      1. What’s your take on other religion’s scriptures. Do you take the same approach that you have described here in your comments about the Bible to the Koran or Book of Mormon?

        Liked by 3 people

        1. I certainly think it would be helpful although I’m not super knowledgable concerning the Qur’an or the Book of Morman. I did read portions at the university light years ago. 🙂

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      2. On what basis wouldn’t you say? As usual you offer no evidence for which of Jesus’ pronouncements are hyperbolic and which need to be taken at face value. How. Do. You. Know? Until you can answer this question, all you’re offering is your own (or your minister’s) subjective feeling. ‘Feeling’ some of Jesus’ commands are hyperbole means you can dismiss them as having no bearing on your life and behavior.

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        1. Well, it could mean that, but it also could mean that I’m genuinely attempting to get at the core truth of the teaching of Jesus, and sincerely want to follow Him in my life. If I’m mistaken in this, I would want to know it.

          I honestly don’t know how to share what I’m saying in a better way. To me, it truly seems self-evident.

          Give you the last word, Neil. As always, appreciate the conversation.

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          1. If it makes you feel any better, Becky, I think you made very good points in this discussion about the importance of understanding literary techniques When interpreting parts of the bible and that not everything in the Bible is meant to be taken 100% literally.

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            1. Gary, in my experience in just sharing on the blogs, talking with different people, reading the apologists, etc., I feel like evidence that is persuasive to one person is not necessarily to another. We’re not all at the same place. I’ve definitely given my faith deep thought and examination through the years. I would never want to live my life centered in a fairy tale. I mean what would be the point in this?

              On the other hand, I think you are right in that there is an element of choice involved here as well. As a Christian, I don’t feel like I have all the answers. Even the apostle Paul states, “For now we see through a glass darkly..”

              In other words, for all of us, I don’t think it’s either-or. I think many people are non-theists not just because of what they think concerning reason and science..But, often there are also emotional/experiential reasons behind their deconversion or unbelief. None of us are completely objective and unbiased.

              On the other hand, there are Christian believers who are all about reason and science, but there is still room in their worldview for the spiritual and the supernatural as well.

              Gary, you have to pursue truth as you see it right now and walk that out. You’re sharing honestly where you’re at. I respect that.

              God knows our hearts and our deepest motives. I feel very strongly that we can trust Him.

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                1. Gary, it must seem to you like I’m always trying to weasel out of some of these questions. But, I can’t help it. My mind just doesn’t think in the same way.

                  For me, it’s not a matter of your god vs. my god. Well, to back up..I’m thinking of that verse of Scripture that states something like..”He that comes to God must believe that He is and is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him.”

                  I mean someone has to believe that there is a creator, something rather than nothing before coming to any kind of more specific faith. Would you agree?

                  I feel like all religions reveal ways that people are seeking and open to the divine. It seems to me that all in some measure connect to the same stream and reveal truth. Obviously, all cannot be equally true, though, if some claims appear contradictory. Also, I do think that sometimes truth can be shown in mythic or non-literal ways as well. That’s another topic, I guess.

                  For me, the apostolic witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ validates the reality of the incarnation. It is Jesus who fully shows who God is, what He is like. “He is the image of the invisible God,” as the Scripture states..

                  So, I suppose evidence would have to center around the reality of the empty tomb. You have studied this in great depth and we’ve discussed it before together. For me, the evidence is sufficient to support my faith in Jesus Christ. For you, it is not.

                  This is a faith statement, but I feel like God called me through the covenant of baptism, and as an adult, I chose to trust and follow Him as Lord.

                  So, I’m persuaded intellectually by evidence, but I’ve also made a choice. I certainly would not follow Jesus if I became persuaded that the apostolic witness was a hoax, or based on delusion or mass hallucination.

                  Obviously, the very genesis and continuing existence of the Christian church means that many people have also become persuaded and moved by the claims of Christ and the apostolic witness as well.

                  Give you the last word, Gary. Blessings and encouragement in all your research and study. I’ve always thought that you should become a Bible scholar and teach at university or seminary.

                  Pax.
                  Sincerely
                  Becky.

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                  1. For me, the apostolic witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ validates the reality of the incarnation.

                    We have zero undisputed testimony from even one of Jesus’ original disciples claiming to have seen a walking, talking resurrected body. But even if we could be certain that the Gospels of Matthew and John were written by persons claiming to have seen a walking, talking resurrected body, why on earth would you believe them? If two people today claimed to have seen a walking, talking resurrected body but one claimed to have seen it in New York, while the other claimed to have seen it in California, would you believe these people??

                    Come on! Don’t be so gullible, Becky.

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            2. That reminds me of a Great Courses lecture series on Jesus and the Gospels by Luke Timothy Johnson. I took it out of the library and unfortunately didn’t have time to watch all of it, but I did watch the first couple intro lectures and Johnson took the position that trying to find the historical Jesus is not possible. You wind up with an apocalyptic scary Jesus who was obviously wrong about the end and isn’t much use to anyone. Or you wind up with a hippie Jesus with feel good messages, or a couple other variations. People wind up discovering the kind of Jesus they want. What you don’t get from a strictly historical study is a useful Jesus.
              Johnson was not a fan of the Jesus seminar for these reasons.

              Instead, he felt the way to approach the stories came down to the Church community’s interpretation of the Gospels – the literary Jesus. To me that says the Jesus of faith. To be fair I didn’t watch the lectures where he goes through each gospel, but I can’t see any other way.

              That’s all fine on the one hand, believe whatever you want whether it’s true or not, but when people start acting like they really know about God and Jesus and what they are really like -loving, trustworthy, righteous, etc, and the history of the Church’s actions throughout history, right down to today’s politically active Christians, it becomes a problem for society and those of us who actually want to know what reality is, rather than what we wish it were.

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  5. I feel like I should add one thing here. In Dr. Ehrman’s personal case, I don’t think his scholarship had a thing to do with his abandonment of the Christian faith. HIs type of scholarship relating to the Biblical text is pretty much standard fare in every mainline seminary. (Although not all would agree with his conclusions.) I understand that even his own mentor, Dr. Bruce Metzer who was an orthodox, believing Christian had no real issue before his death with much of Ehrman’s work.

    What led this man away from the Christian faith was his struggle with the whole idea of the love of God and human suffering. He thought how can a loving God allow an innocent child to starve to death every five seconds?

    IMO, this is really the only argument that I think holds any strong merit at all supporting atheism or at least deism. It is the problem of evil.

    Well, know everyone can’t agree, but I’m sharing my honest and what I hope is a thoughtful opinion.

    Wishing everyone here the best holiday possible. Every blessing fill your lives.

    Pax.

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  6. A word that Jesus’ defenders have used in their responses here is ‘literary’. Hyperbole, they say, quite correctly, is ‘a literary device’.
    I’m pleased to see Becky and the others admit that what Jesus is made to say is literary in form and structure. We can safely conclude from this that the entire Jesus narrative, in all four versions, is nothing more than a literary construct. In other words, a story.

    Liked by 1 person

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