A.L. De Silva
FACT AND FICTION IN THE LIFE OF JESUS
The single thing which makes Christianity what it is, the foundation on which it rests, is Jesus Christ, or rather, claims about Jesus Christ. Christians are always making the most exaggerated claims about this man: "Jesus was the only man in history to claim to be God"; "Only faith in Jesus can give a person peace and happiness"; "Either Jesus was God or he was the greatest liar in history"; "Thousands of witnesses saw him rise from the dead so it must be true"; "Jesus was the most perfect human being who ever lived"; etc, etc, etc. These claims all sound very impressive until we look at the evidence.
Prophecies about and by Jesus
Every time there is a change in the turbulent politics of the Middle East, Christians will sift through their Bibles and loudly proclaim that the newest crisis has been prophesied. A prophecy is a prediction in the Bible which is supposed to foretell events which will take place in the future. These so-called prophecies are bandied about for a while and then quietly dropped when they do not come to completion in the way they are supposed to.
Christians claim that many of the events which are happening in today's world were long ago prophesied in the Bible. When one actually asks to have a look at these 'amazing prophecies' one can see that they are usually so broad and general that they could be interpreted to correspond to any event. For example, they will say that the world is going to end soon because the Bible prophesises that in the last days "There will be wars and rumours of wars" (Matt 24:6). The problem with this prophecy is that it could refer to any period in world history because there are always a few wars occurring somewhere. Christians also claim that all the events in Jesus' life were prophesied in the Bible long before he was born and that the fact that these prophecies came true proves that he really was the Messiah . So let us have a look at some of these supposed prophecies and see if there is any truth in this claim. In the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament it says:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called 'Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace'. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. (Is 9:6-7).
This is supposed to be a prophecy foretelling the birth of Jesus. But does it? Other than being born no event mentioned here happened to Jesus. The government was not on his shoulders, he was never called nor did he call himself by the titles mentioned here and there has been no more peace since he was born than there was before. This is a fairly good example of the 'amazing prophecies' upon which Christianity is based. Before Jesus' birth an angel is supposed to have prophesied that
The Lord God will make him a king, as his ancestor David was, and he will be the king of the descendants of Jacob forever (Lk 1:32-33).
But if what the Bible says is true David could not possibly have been Jesus' ancestor because God, not Joseph, was Jesus' real father. Also David was a king in a political sense, while Jesus never became a king in this way or in any other way similar to David. Finally, the descendants of Jacob (i.e. the Jews) never accepted Jesus as their king - politically, spiritually or in any other way - and have refused to accept him as such even to this day. So as before this prophecy is wrong on every point. Again in Isaiah it says:
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. (Isa 53:3-5).
This is supposed to prophesise that when Jesus was attacked by his opponents he would not retaliate. But in the Gospels Jesus is portrayed as robustly defending himself against criticism and loudly condemning his enemies. He cursed and criticized the Pharisees when they opposed him and according to John 18:33-37 he was anything but silent at his trial.
When the Romans crucified people they would nail them to a cross, let them hang there for some time and then finally break their legs, thereby increasing the poor victims' pain and killing them. According to the Bible, when the Romans came to break Jesus' legs he was already dead and so they did not bother (Jn 19:31-34). This, so Christians claim, is another remarkable example of biblical prophecy, for in Psalms (34:20)it says that God will not let even one bone of the Messiah's body be broken. Unfortunately the Christians have overlooked a very important fact. Although the bones in Jesus legs may not have been broken, the bones in his feet definitely were. When the nails were driven into Jesus feet they must have broken or at least cracked one or several of the metacarpals.
Christians claim that Jesus died and on the third day rose from the dead. And of course they claim that this was prophesied before it happened. The supposed prophecy says:
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matt 12:40).
However, like most Christian prophecies, this is wrong . Jesus is supposed to have died on Friday (Good Friday) and risen from the dead early on Sunday morning (Easter Sunday). Even a schoolchild can see this is not three days and three nights - but one day and two nights. Another problem is that just before Jesus died he turned to the two criminals crucified with him and said "I assure you, today you will be in Paradise with me." (Lk 23:43). Yet Jesus was supposed to be in the tomb for three days before ascending into heaven, so how could he assure the two criminals that they would be in heaven on the day he died? But it is not just prophecies about Jesus that are wrong, the prophecies he himself made were also wrong. Christians are always claiming that the end of the world is coming soon. Where do they get this bizarre idea from? They get it from Jesus. He believed and explicitly taught that the world would end within his own lifetime or very soon afterwards.
I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened (Lk 21:25-33).
By "this generation" he was obviously referring to the people he was addressing. On another occasion he again told the people who stood listening to him that some of them would still be alive when the end of the world came.
I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom (Matt 16:28).
On every one of these points Jesus' prophecies proved to be wrong. The people who lived at his time have been dead for 2000 years and the world has not ended nor has Jesus returned. Jesus' disciples finished going through all the cities in Israel within a few years of Jesus' death and he has still not returned.
These and other examples prove that most of the supposed prophecies about Jesus and by him are false. But even where a prophecy seems to be true this does not necessarily mean anything. It can be demonstrated that whoever wrote the Gospels deliberately invented events in the life of Jesus to make them fit into supposed prophecies. We will examine one well-known example of this. Several hundred years before Jesus the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek, the language of the day. When a passage in Isaiah which says that the Messiah will be born of a young woman (Is 7:14) was translated, the word for young woman (almah) was mistranslated as virgin (parthenas) changing the meaning of the prophecy considerably. When the authors of the Gospels read this they thought that to qualify to be the Messiah Jesus' mother had to be a virgin and so they fabricated the story of the virgin birth. In fact it only became necessary to invent this story because of a misunderstanding. So it is not that prophecies foretold events in Jesus' life but rather that events were fabricated to fit into prophecies.
The Birth of Jesus
We will often hear Christians boast that no one has ever found a mistake in the Bible, just as we will often hear them claim that the Bible is the inspired word of God and therefore infallible. Considering how carefully Christians pick through the Bible text it is difficult to know how such claims can be made, much less believed.
Let us have a look at what the Bible says about the birth of Jesus. First we are told that news of Jesus' impending birth was conveyed to Joseph, Jesus' father, in a dream (Matt 1:20). Then we are told that the news was given to Mary, Jesus' mother, by an angel (Lk 1:28). Which of these two stories are true? Was it Joseph who got the news or Mary? Christians will say that they both got it. Then why does the Gospel of Matthew fail to mention the angel appearing to Mary and the Gospel of Luke fail to mention Joseph's dream? On one hand we are told that Jesus' parents went on a journey before the baby was born (Lk 2:4-7) and on the other that they went on a journey after the birth (Matt 2:13-14). Which of these true stories is true? When we come to where Jesus was actually born we meet with more contradictions. Was Jesus born at home (Matt 1:24-25) or was he born in a manger at the back of an inn (Lk 2:7)? Next we come to Jesus' ancestry. We have two lists of all Jesus' ancestors on his father's side, but when we look at the names in these we find almost no correspondence between them. They do not even agree about the name of Jesus' grandfather. One says his name was Jacob (Matt 1:16) and the other says his name was Heli (Lk 3:23). Moreover, it is ridiculous to talk about Jesus' ancestors on his father's side and Jesus being related to King David (Matt 1:1), when not Joseph but God is supposed to be Jesus' real father.
Was He A Good Teacher?
At the time of the Buddha there was a religious sect called the Niganthas which fell apart soon after the death of its founder Nataputta.
And at his death the Niganthas split into two parties, quarrelling and disputing, fighting and attacking each other and using a war of words......You would have thought that they were disgusted, displeased and repelled when they saw that the doctrine was so badly presented, so poorly laid out and so ineffective in calming the passions because it had been taught by one who was not fully enlightened and was now without guide or arbiter (Digha Nikaya, Sutta No.29).
Interestingly enough, this was exactly what happened as soon as Jesus died and for exactly the same reasons. Jesus is justly famous for the parables he used to illustrate his ideas but at the same time he often failed to make his meaning clear. Sometimes this was because he himself was not clear about his ideas and at other times it seems that he was just a poor communicator. What is even more strange is that Jesus even admitted that he deliberately obscured his message.
And when his disciples asked him what the parable meant, he said; to you it has been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom of God: but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand (Lk 8:9-10; Mk 8:17-18).
But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, that they could not perceive it: and they were afraid to ask him about this saying (Lk 9:45).
Add to this deliberate obscurity the numerous contradictory ideas in Jesus' teachings and it is not hard to imagine why his disciples fell into disagreement as soon as he died. In the Epistles there are constant references to the bickering and squabbling between the various factions amongst the early Christians. Paul complained that all the churches in Asia turned against him (2 Tim 1:15) and that they refused to take his side in some theological argument (2 Tim 4:14-16). He tells us of his squabble with Peter and the elders of the church in Jerusalem (Gal 2:11-13), of how he was snubbed by the church at Philippi (1 Thess 2:1-20), and of course he accused his rivals of not having real faith (2 Thess 3:1-3), of teaching 'another Christ' and of not really knowing God (Tit 1:10-16). John bitterly complained that his opponents threw those who supported him out of the church (John 1:9-10). Paul made a desperate but futile appeal for harmony between the early Christians.
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree with one another that there may be no divisions between you and that you might be perfectly united in mind and thought (1 Cor 1:10-12).
What were the early Christians squabbling about? One of the numerous points of disagreement seems to have been on the issue of whether it was necessary to be circumcised or not (Rom 2:25-29, Gal 5:2-12, Gal 6:12-15, Phil. 3:2-4, Col. 2:11-13). Paul was against it and called those who disagreed with him "dogs" (Phil 3:2), said that he hoped that they would go all the way and castrate themselves (Gal 5:12) and he warned other Christians to keep away from them (Tit 1:10). Sadly, all this is reminiscent of modern Christians. While claiming that they alone have the truth there is so much disagreement between them about what that truth is that they have split into hundreds of denominations, sects, cults and churches and refuse to worship the same God together. Like the early Christians there is much ill-will and jealousy between them with one group accusing the other of not being 'true Christians', of not understanding the Bible properly and of being misled by Satan. For Buddhists and other non-Christians this is all very bewildering. If it is true that Jesus' message of salvation was so clear and if it is true that God communicates with and guides Christians through prayer why is it that there is so much disagreement and mutual hostility among them?
The Last Supper
The Bible gives us almost no information about the life of Jesus until he started teaching at about the age of 30. And even after his public ministry started there is great confusion about what happened and when. For instance, the Gospel of John claims that the cleansing of the temple took place at the beginning of Jesus' ministry (Jn 2:13-14), but the Gospel of Luke claims the cleansing took place at the end (Lk 19:45-46). On one hand we are told that Jesus stayed in Peter's house and then healed a leper (Mk 1:29-45), on the other we are told that he healed the leper and then went in Peter's house (Matt 8:1-2, 8:14). On one hand we are told that the centurion spoke personally to Jesus (Matt 8:5); in a complete contradiction to this we are told that the centurion sent people on his behalf to speak to Jesus (Lk 7:1). In the Gospel of Mark we are told that Jesus left Tyre and passed through Sidon on his way to the Sea of Galilee (Mk 7:31). A look at any map of Israel will show that this is quite impossible as Sidon is in another direction altogether.
Christians will reluctantly admit these mistakes but say that they are minor and of no significance. Perhaps so, but they do prove that the Bible is not infallible, and if the Bible makes mistakes about what Jesus did, it could just as easily make mistakes about what Jesus said. But even when we look at very important events in Jesus' life we find confusion. Let us have a look at the Last Supper. According to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus' Last Supper took place on the Jewish holy day of Passover (Matt 26:17-20, Mk 14:12-17, Lk 22:7-14). The Gospel of John on the other hand claims that the Last Supper took place on the day before Passover (Jn 19:14). Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were supposed to be among the disciples who attended the Last Supper with Jesus. They are also supposed to be the disciples who remembered and wrote down all Jesus' teachings. If they couldn't even remember the day of the Last Supper how do we know that they remembered Jesus' teachings correctly?
Now we will have a look at that most important event in the life of Jesus, his trial. As described in the Bible the trial is predictably full of contradictions, but it also raises many questions which are difficult to answer. The trial and the events leading up to it are usually described by Christians like this - Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey to the acclaim of the population of the city. He was arrested by the henchmen of the Jewish priests who beat him and handed him over to the Romans. The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, could find no guilt in Jesus but the Jewish priests kept insisting he was guilty. Unable to make up his mind, the Roman governor decided to ask the crowd what they wanted, either the release of Jesus or a Jewish rebel. The crowd cried out for the release of the rebel and the crucifixion of Jesus. So Pilate reluctantly had Jesus executed.
Could the trial really have proceeded like this? Let us have a look. We are told that when Jesus rode into Jerusalem crowds of delighted people greeted him, laying their cloaks on the road and praising him as their king (Mk 11:8). But only a day later a huge crowd were screaming out for Jesus to be crucified (Mk 15:12-14). This sudden change from adulation to hatred is hard to explain. Next we have Jesus brought before Pontius Pilate. The Bible portrays Pilate as a man who can find no guilt in Jesus but is pushed into crucifying him by the Jewish priests. This is clearly impossible. The Romans were famous for their strong and effective government; their judicial system was known for its justice and they did not send weak, indecisive men to govern troublesome parts of the empire. Who could believe that a Roman governor would allow the people he ruled to make up his mind for him and tell him how to run his own court? The Bible says that Pilate asked the crowd whether they wanted either Jesus or Barabbas released (Lk 23:13-18), and when they said Barabbas, he was set free and Jesus was executed. Now credibility has been stretched to the limit. We are asked to believe that a Roman governor would execute a man he believed to be innocent and set free a rebel involved in murder and trying to overthrow Roman rule (Lk 23:19). The Romans did not conquer and govern Europe, Africa and the Middle East by releasing dangerous rebels. They were strong, fair and completely ruthless with all who opposed them. So the Christian account of Jesus' trial is unconvincing.
If we read what Jesus is supposed to have said at his trial we can see that all the accounts of the trial are fabrications. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus "gave no answer", (Matt 27:12) and "made no reply, not even to a single charge, to the great amazement of the governor" (Matt 27:14) during his trial. In a complete contradiction to this the Gospel of John claims that Jesus answered charges, asked questions and spoke much during his trial (Jn 18:33-37). Which of these two accounts is true? Was Jesus silent or did he speak? Like the Gospel of John, the Gospel of Luke also claims that Jesus spoke much during his trial. But if we compare John's account of what was said with Luke's account we find that almost every sentence is different (Compare Jn 18:33-37 with Lk 22:66-70). Obviously, Christian claims that the Bible is an accurate, reliable historical document are completely untrue.
What Happened to Judas?
Judas was the disciple who betrayed Jesus. After he had done this he is said to have died. But how did he die? Here, as with many other incidents, the Bible gives us several confused accounts. According to Matthew this is what happened:
When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. "I have sinned", he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood". "What is that to us", they replied. "That's your responsibility!". So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the coins and said, "It is against the law to put this into treasury, since it is blood money". So they decided to use the money to buy the potter's field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the field of blood to this day (Matt 27:3-8).
Elsewhere we are told a different story.
With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, field of blood (Acts 1:18-19).
Was it Judas who bought the field or was it the chief priests? Did Judas hang himself or did he fall down and have his body burst open?
Jesus' Last Words
Many Christian doctrines are often based on a single word or sentence which Jesus is supposed to have spoken. To prove the truth of their beliefs Christians will rush to their Bibles and point to a sentence saying, "There, that proves it". They assume that every phrase, every sentence, every word in the Bible is exactly what Jesus said. We have already seen that the Bible is quite confused about what Jesus did and said. In fact even Jesus' last words have not been accurately recorded. According to Matthew, Jesus' last words were: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt 27:46). According to Mark he just gave a loud cry and died (Mk 15:37). According to Luke he said, "Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit" (Lk 23:46). According to John, Jesus' last words were: "It is finished." (Jn 19:30). Once again we have discrepancies and contradictions which make it impossible to know what to believe.
Did Jesus really die and then rise from the dead after three days? The Four Gospels' accounts of this most crucial event are such a confused and contradictory mess that convincing any unbiased person to doubt it would be easy. At this point the reader is advised to have a Bible ready and to check the references. We will see that the four accounts of the supposed Resurrection differ in nearly every detail.
(1) When did the Resurrection happen?
All four Gospels agree that the events described took place early on Sunday morning (Matt 28:1, Mk 16:1, Lk 24:1, Jn 20:1).
(2) Who went to the tomb?
Now the problems begin. Matthew says that the two Marys went to the tomb (Matt 28:1); Mark says that the two Marys and Salome went (Mk 16:1); Luke says that the two Marys, Joanna and some other women went (Lk 24:10); and John says that Mary went alone (Jn 20:1).Christians claim that the Bible contains no mistakes but surely there are a few mistakes here. They claim that those who wrote the Gospels were inspired by God as they wrote, but apparently not inspired enough to be able to count properly.
(3) Was there an earthquake?
Matthew tells us that at that time there was a "great earthquake" (Matt 28:2), but why do the other three Gospels fail to mention it? Surely a great earthquake, especially occurring at such a significant moment, would be hard to forget. It is far more likely that Matthew just made up the story to add drama to his account, in other words he lied.
(4) How many angels?
Next, Matthew claims that an angel appeared before the two women, rolled back the stone door and sat upon it (Matt 28:2). He also says that the guards were so frightened that they fainted (Matt 28:4). Mark's story is quite different. He claims that the door had already been removed before the women arrived, so they went into the tomb and saw the angel inside (Mk 16:4-5). And he doesn't mention any guards. Luke's story is even more inventive. He claims that the women went into the tomb and saw not one but two angels (Lk 24:4). Obviously someone is not telling the truth. John claims that Mary went to the tomb alone, saw the tomb open, ran to get the other disciples and when they went into the tomb she waited outside. After everyone went home Mary waited, and as she did two angels appeared to her, and then Jesus appeared although she could not recognize him (Jn 20:12-14). And it is on this garbled 'evidence' that Christianity rests.
Was Jesus God?
Christians claim that Jesus was God. Let us see if there is any justification for these claims. If Jesus really was God it is very strange that he never said so. There is not one place in the whole of the Bible where Jesus simply and unambiguously says, "I am God". Christians will object to this and say that Jesus often called himself or was called the Son of God. However, the Bible clearly shows that any person who was good and had faith qualified to be called a Son of God. For example, Jesus called Adam a son of God (Lk 3:38).
It will happen that in the very place where it was said of them "you are not my people" they will be called "sons of the living God" (Rom 9:26).
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your father in heaven (Matt 5:44-45).
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:26).
You are God's; you are all sons of the most high (Ps 82:6).
Jesus is called God's 'only begotten son' but even this is not unique. In the Psalms God says to King David, "You are my son, today I have begotten you" (Ps 2:7) In fact, Jesus said distinctly that when he called himself a son of God, he did not mean he was God or related to God in a literal sense. When the Jewish priests criticized him for claiming to be equal with God, Jesus said:
Is it not written in your law, "I have said you are gods"? If he called them "gods" to whom the word of God came - and the Scripture cannot be broken - what about one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? (Jn 10:34-36).
Christians will protest that in these quotes 'son of god' is not written in capitals but when Jesus makes his claims capitals are used thus, 'Son of God'. But capital letters to make a phrase outstanding or to give it emphasis is an innovation of modern English. In ancient Greek and Aramaic, the languages in which the New Testament was written, capital letters were never used and so the distinction between 'son of god' and 'Son of God' did not exist. Christians make an enormous fuss about Jesus' claims to be a son of God but as we can see, there is absolutely nothing unique in this claim. Christians could claim that the term 'son of God' is used in the Bible in two different ways - as a title for a particularly holy person and for the actual son of God, Jesus, who was with God in heaven before coming to earth. But even in this second sense Jesus was not unique. The Bible tells us that God had numerous sons with him in heaven who later came to earth and lived with humans just as Jesus did.
When mankind began to increase and spread all over the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; so they took for themselves such women as they chose(Gen 6:1-3)
In the Bible Jesus is called the Son of Man more than 80 times. Yet the Bible also tells us that in the eyes of God the Son of Man is nothing more than a worm (Job 25:6). How can Christians claim that the Son of Man is God when the Bible itself says that the Son of Man is nothing more than a worm?
Christians will then insist that Jesus was called the Messiah, but again it was not unusual to be called a Messiah. The Hebrew word mashiah of which the Greek translation is christos simply means 'anointed one', and refers to anyone sent by God to help the people of Israel. Even a non-Jew could be and sometimes was called a Messiah. The Bible even calls the pagan Persian King Cyrus a Messiah because he let God's people return to their homeland (Is 45:1). So just because Jesus was called the Messiah does not prove he was God. In fact, throughout the Bible Jesus goes out of his way to make it clear that he was not God. When someone called Jesus 'good teacher' he said:
Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone (Lk 18:19).
Now if Jesus was God why would he deny that he was good? We are told that Jesus prayed, but if he was God why would he need to pray to himself? And when Jesus prayed, he said to God, "not my will but yours" (Lk 22:42). Quite clearly Jesus is making a distinction between God's will and his own. Jesus says that no one has even seen God (Jn 1:18), meaning that when people saw him they were not seeing God. Again Jesus says he can do nothing without God.
I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees the Father do (Jn 5:19).
By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me (Jn 5:30).
I can do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me (Jn :28).
If Jesus was God he could do anything he wanted to do, and in these passages and dozens of others he is making it as clear as crystal that he is one thing and God another. Jesus said, "The Father is greater than I" (Jn 14:28) making it clear that he is not as great as God and therefore different from God. He says:
Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven (Lk 12:10).
Now if Jesus and the Holy Spirit were the same, to blaspheme one would be the same as blaspheming the other. In the Bible we are told that no one born of a woman can be pure (Job 25:4). Jesus was born of a woman, his mother Mary, so he likewise must have been impure. Now if Jesus was impure how could he be God? We are told that Jesus was dead for three days before ascending into heaven. How can God possibly die? Who was looking after the universe while he was dead? Jesus said that at the end of the world he would be sitting at the right hand of God to judge the world (Lk 22:69). If Jesus and God are the same being, how is this possible? Quite clearly the two are separate and different. And again David is described as sitting on the right hand of God, so to do this one does not have to be a god (Ps 110:1). We are told that Jesus stands between God and man.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5).
This passage clearly states that Jesus is not God, for if he was, how could he stand between God and men? It also specifically calls Jesus a man (see also Acts 17:30-31). In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (Matt 1:16, Lk 3:23) we are given the name of Jesus' father, his father's father, and so on, back through many generations. If God was really Jesus' father, why does the Bible list all Jesus' ancestors on his father's side? Christians are forever claiming that Jesus is God and at the same time that he is the son of God. But how is this possible? How can a father be his own son and himself all at the same time? And to make matters more confused, the Holy Spirit is brought in and we are asked to believe that Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit are different and yet the same.
The claim of Christians that Jesus is God contradicts what the Bible says, it goes against common sense and it raises numerous logical problems. Whereas if we see Jesus as he was, a reformer and prophet, none of these problems arise.
Was Jesus Perfect?
If a religious teacher were perfect we would expect the behaviour of such a person to be unfailingly blameless, their teachings to be humane and practical and for there to be consistency between what they preached and how they behaved. Jesus of course, denied that he was perfect (Lk 18:19) but despite this denial and all the evidence in the Bible, Christians continue to claim that Jesus was perfect. They have to do this because they mistakenly believe that Jesus was God - and how can a God be imperfect? Buddhists believe that Jesus was a good man as were the founders of the other great world religions but because he was not enlightened like the Buddha he was certainly not perfect. Like other unenlightened people he sometimes did wrong, some of the things he taught were impractical, and sometimes he failed to practise what he preached. Let us examine the evidence.
Jesus' ethical teachings are often described as 'sublime', 'lofty', 'utterly perfect' etc. But were they? Let us look at his teachings on divorce. In the Old Testament divorce was allowed under certain circumstances, which of course when a couple no longer love each other or when they are incompatible, is the most humane thing to do. But Jesus took an extreme position on divorce, saying that it was allowable only on the grounds of adultery:
It has been said, "Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce". But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to commit adultery, and anyone who marries a woman so divorced also commits adultery (Matt 5:31-32).
This terrible teaching has meant that until recently in Christian countries millions of couples were trapped in unhappy and loveless marriages, unable to get a divorce. It also meant that countless women who did manage to get a divorce from their husbands even without committing adultery were branded as adulterers if they married again. This teaching of Jesus alone has caused untold misery and heartbreak. Another example of the far from perfect teachings of Jesus is his attitude to money. Jesus seems to have a deep resentment for the rich:
But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger (Lk 6:24-25).
While it is true that the rich are sometimes greedy and thoughtless (as are the poor) no mention is made of this. The rich are condemned simply because they are rich. Once when a young man pressed Jesus for an answer to the question of how he could have eternal life he finally said:
If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give it to the poor and follow me and you will have treasure in heaven (Matt 19:21).
Jesus even went so far as to say that it is virtually impossible for a rich person to get to heaven.
Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Again, I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God (Matt 19:23-24).
Christians of course, have never taken any notice of these sayings of Jesus, but if they did the economies of most Christian countries would collapse and all the good qualities that honest entrepreneurship can engender would disappear. This rather impractical and unfair teaching of Jesus contrasts very sharply with the Buddha's attitude to wealth. He recognized that wealth honestly earned can be a source of happiness.
What is the happiness of ownership? Herein, a householder has wealth acquired by energetic striving, won by strength of arm and sweat of brow, justly and lawfully won When he thinks of this, he feels happiness and satisfaction.
And what is the happiness of wealth? Herein, a householder has wealth justly and lawfully won, and with it he does many good deeds. When he thinks of this, he feels happiness and satisfaction.
And what is the happiness of freedom from debt? Herein, a householder owes no debt large or small to anyone, and when he thinks of this, he feels happiness and satisfaction (Anguttara Nikaya, Book of Fives, Sutta No.41).
He also understood that with the right attitude the wealthy can do great good with their money.
With wealth acquired by energetic striving, won by strength of arm and sweat of brow lawfully and justly, a noble disciple makes himself, his mother and father, his wife and children, his servants and workmen and his friends and acquaintances cheerful and happy - he creates perfect happiness. This is the first opportunity seized by him, used for good and appropriately made use of (Anguttara Nikaya, Book of Fives, Sutta No.41).
So rather than dismissing the rich wholesale from the religious life as Jesus did. the Buddha taught them to earn the money honestly and to use it for the benefit of themselves and the general community.
But the teaching of Jesus which has caused more problems than any other is the claim that he and he alone can give salvation (Jn 14:6). It follows axiomatically from this that all other religions lead to the only alternative to salvation - hell - and are therefore evil. Sadly, this claim by Jesus is the root of that most characteristic of all Christian traits - intolerance. Christianity has always equated disbelief in Jesus with evil and has castigated non-believers as godless, wicked, stubborn, pagan, scoffers, followers of false prophets, idol worshippers (see e.g.
I Pet 2:1-22).
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? (2 Cor 6:14-16).
What, Paul asks in this passage, can a Christian have in common with, for example, a Buddhist? For Paul as for fundamentalist and evangelical Christians the fact that the Buddhist may value and practise love, compassion, charity, patience, humility, and truthfulness just as he does, counts for nothing. For the Christian the single fact that the Buddhist does not believe that Jesus is God automatically puts him on the side of wickedness and darkness; he is an idol worshipper who should be shunned and who deserves to go to hell.
This is the great tragedy of Christianity - the stronger the Christian's faith in Jesus the more partisan, bigoted and intolerant he usually becomes. What a relief it is to be able to Take Refuge in the Buddha and still be able to respect and admire Lao Tzu, the Prophet Mohammed, Krishna, Guru Nanak, etc. How pleasant it is to be able to communicate with others without the need to be always trying to convert them. How nice it is to be able to be happy when one sees others happy with their religion. Christianity is intolerant because it is obsessed with Jesus and excludes everyone who does not accept him. Buddhism is tolerant because it treasures wisdom and compassion and can embrace anyone, whatever their religion, who is developing these qualities.
Some of the most bizarre things about Jesus were the miracles he is said to have performed. One of the most famous of these was bringing Lazarus back from the dead. Lazarus had been dead for at least four days and was presumably in heaven, while his family were heartbroken and grieving. In raising him from the dead, Jesus certainly demonstrated his power but what did Lazarus and his family get out of it? Lazarus was removed from heaven and brought back to "this vale of tears" only to have to die all over again some time in the future while his family would also have to go through grieving and distress all over again (Jn 11:1-44).
To the Buddhist this miracle, if it even really happened, seems to be unnecessary, and even cruel. How much more practical and humane was the Buddha's approach to death. On one occasion a young mother named Kisagotami came to the Buddha with her dead son, deranged with grief and pleading with the Buddha to give her son medicine. Full of compassion the Buddha told her to go and get a mustard seed from a house where no one had ever died. In the process of looking for such a seed, Kisagotami gradually came to realize that death is an integral part of life and she overcame her grief (Dhammapada Atthakatta, Book 8,13). Jesus performed showy miracles which seemed to leave people much as they were, the Buddha gently and skilfully led people to understanding. This is what the Buddha meant when he said that education is the highest miracle (Digha Nikaya, Sutta No.11).
Another miracle where Jesus seems to have given little thought to the consequences of what he was doing was the one he supposedly performed at Godara. A man was possessed by devils, and just before Jesus exorcized them the devils asked Jesus if he would send them into a nearby herd of pigs. Jesus obliged, sending the devils into the pigs, which then rushed screaming down the side of a cliff into a lake where they drowned (Mk 5:1-13). The man who had been possessed by the devils must have been very grateful for this but one wonders what the owners of the pigs would have thought. The loss of their animals would have caused them great financial hardship. Not surprisingly, we are told that after this incident the people from the nearby village came to Jesus and begged him to leave their territory (Mk 5:17). Note that Matthew tells this same story but he exaggerates it, claiming that not one but two men were exorcized (Matt 8:28-32).
This supposed miracle also highlights Jesus utter disregard for nature. He could simply have expelled the devils but instead he chose to do it in a most cruel way by driving to their deaths a large number of completely harmless and innocent animals. On another occasion he used his miraculous powers to kill a fig tree simply because it could not bear fruit (Matt 21:18-20). Apparently he never considered that animals could have eaten its leaves, birds could have nested in its branches, travellers could have rested in its shade and its roots would have helped prevent erosion of the soil by the rain and the wind - which probably explains why the tree had been left growing. No advantage at all came from killing the tree - it was little more than an act of wanton vandalism.
While some of Jesus' miracles were pointless others seem to have verged on the ridiculous. Once Jesus was invited to a wedding. After some time there was no wine left to drink so Jesus turned several large jars of water into wine (Jn 2:1-11). No doubt the host must have appreciated not having to go out to buy more alcohol, but it does seem a bit incongruous. that God should incarnate as a man, come to earth and use his powers just so that people wouldn't run out of drinks at their parties.
What we have said above indicates that while some of Jesus' teachings were good, others were cruel, impractical , and in some cases just silly. And perhaps it is not surprising that not only have Christians often failed to practise Jesus' teachings, but he often also failed to practise them himself. He taught that we should love our neighbour but he seems to have problems doing this himself. He believed that his teaching could lead people to heaven and yet he specifically instructed his disciples not to preach the Gospel to anyone but his own people, the Jews.
Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel (Matt 10:5-6).
When a poor distressed woman came to Jesus begging for help he refused to help her simply because she was not Jewish. Teaching the Gospel to Canaanites was, he said, like taking food from children and throwing it to dogs.
A Canaanite woman from the vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession". Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us". He answered: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel". The woman came and knelt before him, "Lord, help me!" she said. He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs" (Matt 15:22-26)
It was only after strong urging from his disciples that Jesus finally decided to help the woman. So much for loving one's neighbour. Jesus taught that we should love our enemies, but again he seemed to have difficulties doing this. When the Pharisees criticized him he responded with a tirade of curses and insults (e.g. Jn 8:42-47, Matt 23:13-36).
Jesus said that we should not judge others (Matt 7:12) and claimed that he himself judged no one (Jn 8:15). But despite this he was constantly judging and condemning others, often in a harsh and sweeping manner (Jn 8:42-47, Matt 23:13-16)
In conformity with the Old Testament Jesus taught that we must honour our mother and father (Matt 19:19) but on other occasions he taught and practised the exact opposite.
If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Lk 14:26).
This demand that to love Jesus we must be prepared to hate others, even our own parents, seems to be very much at odds with the idea of honouring parents - let alone with the idea of loving our neighbour. Once Jesus' mother and brothers came to see him while he was preaching only to be rudely rebuffed.
And his mother and brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting about him, and they said to him, "Your mother and brothers are outside, asking for you". And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, "Here are my mother and brothers!" (Mk 3:31-35).
Once when his mother spoke to him, he snapped at her: "O woman, what have you to do with me?" (Jn 2:4). And yet while he acted like this to his parents he condemned the Pharisees for their supposed hypocrisy over the law to honour mother and father (Matt 15:3-6, Mk 7:10-13).
In some instances, it is difficult to accuse Jesus of failing to practise what he preached for the simple reason that he taught contradictory things. Christians are used to thinking of him as "gentle Jesus meek and mild", because of his commands "to turn the other cheek" and to "not resist an evil person" (Matt 5:39). And indeed Jesus seems to have acted like this sometimes. But at other times he clearly saw his role as a violent one.
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace but the sword. I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, a man's enemies will be the members of his own household (Matt 10:34-36).
Certainly he saw nothing wrong with using violence when he thought it was necessary. When he saw the money changers in the temple he lost his temper and lashed out with violence.
So he made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple areas: he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables (Jn 2:15).
Before his arrest Jesus was expecting trouble so he told his disciples to prepare themselves by getting weapons.
If you do not have a sword sell your cloak and buy one (Lk 22:36).
When he was arrested there was a fight during which "one of Jesus' companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear" (Matt 26:51). It is very difficult for the Buddhist to reconcile such behaviour with the idea of being perfect. To retaliate against one's accusers, to lose one's temper and to encourage others to carry weapons and use them seem to negate the whole idea of moral perfection.
At this stage it might be good to point out that while most of Jesus' teachings are inadequate and ill-conceived, some are excellent. His teachings on love, forgiveness, humility and service to the sick and poor are worthy of the highest praise. However, none of this is unique. Such ideas are to be found, sometimes more fully, in the teachings of the Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Mahavira, Guru Nanak etc, most of whom lived centuries before Jesus. What is good in Jesus' teachings is not unique and what is unique is not particularly good.
Christians have great difficulty understanding why Buddhists and other non-Christians cannot accept Jesus as the Lord and saviour as they themselves do. But when we read the life and teachings of the Buddha - a man who smiled at abuse, remained calm when provoked and who always discouraged violence - the reason for their rejection becomes clear.
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