Feb 23

Jesus was not a Christian

Saying that Jesus was not a Christian seems so counterintuitive, but it’s a statement that I think is both true and very significant. Tell your average Christian this and they may say, “Well, he was a Jew at the time, but of course he prepared the way for everyone to be saved through Christianity so it represents things he believed.” Not so fast. Let’s consider a few problems.

1. The New Testament is largely devoted to the writings of Paul and a variety of known forgeries (I’m looking at you letters of Peter, and so on). None of these authors met Jesus. And the only author who met someone who met Jesus was Paul, but he tells us almost nothing about the life and teachings of Jesus. Christianity and its theology were created out of these other (largely forged or anonymous) writings to a large extent. We really only have two stories of Jesus—the one told by the three synoptic gospels and the somewhat different story told by John.

2. The information we do have about the teachings of Jesus does not indicate this whole other religion or much of a significant departure from Judaism of the time. Many of the sayings that are considered most likely to have actually originated from Jesus are not terribly different from other 1st century figures, like Hillel the Elder. And these others are still considered Jewish figures. The only way to make this connection to Christianity is to read more modern theology back into the teachings of Jesus. I don’t think a straightforward critical reading, as one would do in literary analysis that is not religiously charged, is very kind to this theological interpretation.

3. Jesus only seems to set himself apart from Judaism in a significant way in the Gospel of John. However, John is a very unreliable gospel and likely contains many fabrications to reflect the mood of the blossoming Christian church toward Jews at the time it was written. This is not just a matter of a different perspective of an eyewitness. The language and stories are completely different.

4. The irony continues when you consider what the religion of the disciples was like after Jesus. It was very different from modern Christianity and would likely consider many modern beliefs to be heresies. Yet, these were the people much closer to the actual teachings and life of Jesus. If you’re a Christian, it should make you very uncomfortable that the actual followers of Jesus did not share many of your religious beliefs.

So, Jesus was not a Christian. He was Jewish and did not provide much reason to think he wanted to start something different. This is backed up by his own actions, as far as we can really tell, and the actions of his direct followers. Modern Christianity is based on later cultural shifts, people who never met Jesus, and unreliable writings and forgeries.

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