Alleged Human Faults
and Failings of Jesus
By George Desnoyers
There is nothing unusual about people not seeing any faults or failings in Jesus. Throughout history, whenever a man has been elevated to the position of a god, and that has not been a rare occurrence, there have always been people who could not recognize any faults in the man. There are at least two reasons for this.
First, there's the ability people have to rationalize, and to arrive at an answer they would prefer. Simply stated, when what would ordinarily be considered faults were displayed by a person elevated to the status of God, those people who thought the person was divine rationalized ways to “explain them away,” i.e., to put any faults “out of existence."
Second, love covers a multitude of faults. This point is recognized in the Bible, in 1 Peter 4:8, which says, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” That means that when you love someone – the clearest example is two young people intensely in love and perhaps about to be married – you tend to be blind to his or her faults. You just can’t see them! Many parents have seen their children in this condition and scratched their heads in wonder over what was happening. How could their son or daughter be so blind??!!
Being anti-Jesus, anti-Christ, or anti-religion is not required to see human faults in Jesus
People who suggest that Jesus had faults, or failings, are not necessarily anti-Jesus or anti-Christ. One can be a Christian, i.e., a follower of the noble and virtuous teachings and example of Christ as related to us in the Bible, and still believe he had only one nature, that of a human being, a nature with inherent imperfections. We know from the accounts of church councils that many early Christians believed exactly that way.
Also, it doesn’t require any antagonism toward religion in general to cause people to try to identify faults or failings in Jesus. It’s simply that some well-known principles become applicable to Jesus considering the claims made about him. First, there is the rule that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence in order to be believed. Second, there is the rule that the more extraordinary the claims regarding an individual, the greater the skepticism is likely to be toward those claims, and the greater the scrutiny that the individual’s life is likely to receive.
However, it is true that many people who have attempted to list and categorize the faults of Jesus have been antagonistic toward Christianity. As a result, many allegations made against Jesus are downright silly and not worth mentioning. I agree with only about one-third of the points made in C. Dennis McKinsey’s book, “The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy,” and with even a smaller fraction of the charges McKinsey makes directly against Jesus. McKinsey, to my mind, demonstrates the opposite of “love covers a multitude of faults.” When you despise a figure (it could even be a fictional character, as Jesus may be to McKinsey), it becomes very easy to “see,” or imagine, faults in the person which really are not there.”
Jesus may not have said some of the words attributed to him in the Bible
As scholars from the Jesus Seminar have shown, Jesus is very unlikely to have spoken some of the words attributed to him in the Bible. Those words may have found their way into the Bible after becoming a part of the oral story told by sincere admirers and followers of Jesus, but they could hardly have reflected what Jesus really said and may not accurately reflect what he thought. Accordingly, some care should be taken to avoid charging Jesus with faults or failings based on words attributed to him in the Bible which he most likely did not really speak.
Context is important
The contexts in which Jesus spoke, and the audiences to whom he was speaking, should be considered. There are things attributed to Jesus that he may well have said; but, if he said them, he most likely said them to Jews familiar with the teachings of the Essenes. The Dead Sea Scrolls have shed important light on some sayings attributed to Jesus in the Bible. It isn't that Jesus belonged to the Essene community, but only that he understood and accepted some of its teachings (for example its teachings on the virtue of poverty), and his listeners most likely also had some knowledge of the Essenes.
Examples of alleged faults or failings in Jesus
So many allegations have been made of "faults" and "failings" in Jesus, they could not all be discussed, or possibly even listed, in a short article. And perhaps most are so silly that they are not worth mentioning. However, it might be well to look at some examples from among those cited most frequently. Here I'll give nine examples of alleged “faults” or “failings” of Jesus which some people think are revealed by the Bible.
The first alleged “failing of Jesus” I’ll mention is one extremely important to Muslims and others who revere Jesus as a prophet but don’t believe he was divine. Scripture tells us that Jesus was not all-knowing. Keep in mind that, when one is purported to be divine, one’s not being all-knowing becomes a fault, or failing, even though it wouldn’t be a fault or failing in ordinary humans. After all, ordinary humans are not supposed to be all-knowing; it is only God who is supposed to be all-knowing.
Look at Mark 13: 22-32, especially the last verse, v. 32: “For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things. But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near: So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”
Orthodox Christianity says Jesus was fully man and fully God, with two separate and distinct natures which did not merge within him to form a new [single] nature. But, according to both orthodox Christianity and Islam, God is all-knowing. If Jesus were truly God, there could not be something he didn’t know. Accordingly, when one is said to be divine, the failure to know something has to be seen as a failing.
The second alleged “failing,”
also having to do with Jesus’ degree of knowledge, is that he is presented in
scripture as believing that the world was soon to end. In fact, it is said he
believed the generation then alive would witness the final events.
Consider Matthew 24:29-34, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”
For one purported to be God, to be off by at least close to two thousand years in the timing of the last days is seen to be a failing. This is one of those cases to which I referred above, in which some elaborate and inventive rationalizations have been offered to show that Jesus was not wrong. But the consensus among modern Bible scholars who believe Jesus actually said those words appears to be that he was mistaken, and that it wasn‘t an unusual mistake for his time. In support of the idea that Jesus believed the end was near, a large number of Jesus’ teachings, such as, “take no thought for the morrow” (Matthew 6:34), and “…go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Matthew 19:21), are said to be connected with his belief that the end was near and that it would be witnessed by the generation then alive.
A third alleged “fault” or “failing” of Jesus is that he sometimes claimed, or at least implied, that the scriptures (for his day, a large portion of our Old Testament) said something which is not found anywhere in the Old Testament. That accusation is made with respect to Matthew 5:43 which records Jesus as having said, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy.” No such law can be found in the Old Testament.
Related to that is a fourth alleged “fault” of Jesus, that he sometimes misrepresented the weight given to a teaching by the Old Testament as a whole. Consider Matthew 5:38, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:” It’s true that the eye for an eye principle, also called “the law of recompense,” is stated in three places in the Torah (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21).
However, later books of the Old Testament suggest that the “law of recompense” is not necessarily a law be applied, and give the same kind of noble advice Jesus appears to be presenting as a “new” teaching when he continues in verses 39-47 to say, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?”
Isaiah 50:4-11 and Lamentations 3:24-30 are two examples of the Old Testament expressing some of the loftier sentiment that Jesus expresses in Matthew 5:39-49.
Matthew 5:27-28 is another example where [allegedly] Jesus presented a teaching as though it were brand new even though it appears in the Old Testament and in other writings known to the Jews of his day. There it says, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” It is claimed that Jesus here either appears not to know, or at least fails to acknowledge, that the sinfulness of lust was covered multiple times in the Old Testament; he was really not giving a new teaching. In Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21 it says, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife.” In Proverbs 6:25 it says, “Lust not after her beauty in thine heart.” In Ecclesiastes 9:5,8 it says, “Gaze not on a maid… gaze not on another’s beauty.” Interestingly, the Talmud says, “Whosoever regardeth even the little finger of a woman hath already sinned in his heart” (Berachot 24:1). The Talmud, although compiled after the time of Christ, recorded oral teachings of Judaism which were centuries old. Someone might claim that that portion of the Talmud came from Jesus, but it’s very unlikely. The Jews did not think much of Jesus, and in the first two centuries were trying their best to extinguish the idea that Christians were a sect of the Jews.
A fifth alleged “fault” is that
Jesus was a fanatic (or “zealot”) who encouraged fanaticism in others. See, for
example, Matthew 5:11-12 which says, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you,
and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my
sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for
so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
Rejoice when we are persecuted like the prophets before us? Many people have asked, “Is not that fanaticism?” It is this kind of advice that prompts religious zealots, even today, to seek persecution in order to find happiness, and to antagonize people and provoke angry & violent reactions which can even result in death, considered “martyrdom.” The spirit of martyrdom, the misguided desire of people to sacrifice their physical lives in order to reach some promised benefit in the afterlife, has led thousands (maybe millions) through the centuries to take actions equivalent to suicide. Many of the "suicide bombings" we see in the Middle East today are the result of religious fanaticism.
Luke 17:33 says, “Whosoever shall
seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall
preserve it.” Jesus is saying here that people must not try to save their
natural lives for fear of losing their [spiritual after-] lives. And Matthew
10:21-22 says, “And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the
father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and
cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's
sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.”
Is it really wrong to try to save one’s natural life? Isn't the breakup of families currently thought of as a prominent characteristic of dangerous cults? Should we really expect to be hated of all men for Jesus’ sake? Is it any wonder that some folk would allege Jesus was a fanatic?
A sixth “fault” of Jesus, at least according to his own teaching, is that he was a name-caller. Matthew 5:22 says, “…whoever shall say to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” But Matthew 23:17 records Jesus as saying to the Pharisees, “Ye fools and blind.” In fact, in Matthew 23:13-33 (KJV), just twenty-one verses of Jesus’ angry tirade against the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus calls them “fools” twice, “hypocrites” six times, [spiritually] “blind” five times, “serpents” once, “generation of vipers” once, “full of hypocrisy and iniquity” once, and “like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness” once. And those are just some of the insults Jesus hurled in those verses!
There probably has been only a
very tiny percentage of people in the world who have reached mature adulthood
and who never called someone a fool, or some equivalent. Certainly, as far as
scripture tells us, Jesus didn’t pull it off. According to Matthew 5:22 and
Matthew 23:17, Jesus was in danger of hell fire. One might also look at Luke
12:20, which says, “God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be
required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?”
Although this is from a parable, it appears as though the Holy Spirit does not
believe that even God could obey the exhortation to not call people “fools.”
A seventh alleged “fault” is that Jesus was intolerant and bigoted. Mark 16:16 says, “And he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned.” As we know, most people are conditioned in their early lives to believe what they believe in matters of religion by their family [and, in many cases, societal] upbringing. It is the unusual person who is truly able to objectively question his or her own early religious training and use his or her unfettered free will to come to radically different religious beliefs. Why should it be cruelly held against the millions of people who don’t have the ability to do that? Does that sound to you like a loving and merciful god? The belief that people must either come to one particular religious belief or else be damned for eternity has been the excuse for thousands of persecutions resulting in untold misery and bloodshed. [It should be noted that Mark 16:16 is in the 12-verse section of Mark 16 known to have not been in the Gospel of Mark as it first appeared. So, one could question the legitimacy of Mark 16:16 on that ground.]
An eighth allegation against Jesus is that he made a false promise that god would grant believing people all the petitions they asked of god in prayer. As an example, look at Matthew 21:19-22, especially the last verse, v. 22: “And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away! Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”
It would be hard to calculate the
hurt and disappointment caused by this false promise. Buckets and buckets of
tears have been shed by millions of people bringing petitions to God in sincere
prayers which were never granted. Sadly, this is a promise that is frequently
exploited by many “Christian”
preachers charlatans – including some
well-known “TV evangelists,” who have used it in various ways to become
extremely wealthy at the expense of their gullible listeners. They often
do this by emphasizing the words “if ye have faith, and doubt not" in Matthew 21:21, and
the word “believing” in verse 22, and suggesting that people make offerings as
“a sign (or ‘token,’ or ‘proof’, or ‘evidence’) of their faith.”
A ninth alleged “fault” of Jesus, and I’ll stop here, is that Jesus gave terrible advice on some topics. It’s been said that Jesus gave advice which, if followed, would certainly, or almost certainly, result in needless grave suffering. It is sometimes said that it’s a good thing that very few people have taken some of Jesus’ advice.
For an example, this is what
Jesus is recorded as saying in Matthew 6:31-33: “Therefore take no thought,
saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be
clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly
Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the
kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto
you.” Then comes verse 34, “Take
therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the
things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” If a large
number of people followed the advice in Matthew 6:34, there would be even a lot
more starvation and disease in the world than there is now. Most people know
they have to plan for tomorrow.
For at least two reasons, whenever a man has been elevated to the position of a god (not a rare occurrence), there have been people who could not recognize any faults in the man.
First, when the person’s faults were displayed, those who thought the person was divine rationalized ways to “explain them away.”
Second, love covers a multitude of faults. This point is recognized in the Bible, in 1 Peter 4:8, which says, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” That means that when you love someone – the clearest example is two young people intensely in love and perhaps about to be married – you tend to be blind to his or her faults. You just can’t see them!
People who suggest that Jesus had faults, or failings, are not necessarily anti-Jesus or anti-Christ. One can be a Christian, i.e., a follower of the noble and virtuous teachings and example of Christ as related to us in the Bible, and still believe he had only one nature, that of a human being, a nature inherent with imperfections. We know from accounts of church councils that some early Christians believed that way.
It also doesn’t require any antagonism toward religion in general to cause people to try to identify faults or failings in Jesus. It’s simply that some well-known principles become applicable to Jesus considering the nature of claims made about him. First, there is the rule that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Second, there is the rule that the more extraordinary the claims regarding an individual, the greater the skepticism is likely to be toward those claims, and the greater the scrutiny the individual’s life is likely to receive.
Many people have listed and categorized alleged faults and failings of Jesus as [supposedly] revealed by scripture. There have been far too many allegations for them all to be discussed, or even listed, in a short article.
I disagree with most of the
allegations people have made. However, in order to provide some examples, I
have briefly presented and discussed nine of Jesus’ alleged “faults” or
“failings.” The nine examples above included:
1. Lack of knowledge, a fault for one supposedly divine (see Mark 13: 22-32, especially the last verse v. 32);
2. Holding an erroneous belief (see Matthew 24:29-34);
or at least implying, that the scriptures (for his day, a large portion of our
Old Testament) said
something which is not found in the Old Testament (see Matthew 5:43);
Misrepresenting the weight given to a teaching by the Old Testament as a whole,
and b. presenting his
teaching as new when it appeared in the Old Testament (for a., see Matthew 5:38, Isaiah 50:4-11, and
Lamentations 3:24-30; for b., see Matthew 5:27-28, Exodus 20:17, Deuteronomy 5:21, Proverbs 6:25,
and Ecclesiastes 9:5,8);
fanatic, or zealot, who encouraged fanaticism in others (see, Matthew 5:11-12,
Luke 17:33, and
name-caller, thus violating his own admonition to others (see Matthew 5:22 and
7. Intolerance and bigotry (see Mark 16:16);
8. Making a hurtful false promise (see Matthew 21:19-22); and
bad advice which, if generally followed by people, would result in needless
suffering (see Matthew
July 24, 2008