How to Make
For ages, people have found Jesus to be an uncomfortable figure. He claimed honors belonging properly only to God (John 5:22, 23), held Himself out as the only solution for sin (Matthew 20:28), and accepted worship as God (John 20:28). What’s even more threatening, He backed up these claims by a succession of unequaled miracles (John 15:24), climaxing in His own bodily resurrection (Matthew 12:39, 40).
Like many of Jesus’ other ideas, these claims are clearly "incorrect," politically and socially. Worse still, they’re unpopular!
Not to worry! If you don’t like the Jesus of the Bible, you can make your very own "Jesus." Here’s how to do it, in six easy steps.
Begin with demolition work. First, paint the Gospels as fundamentally unreliable, unhistorical, and biased. Now, this will mean rough going, for several reasons. If you are to pull this off, your audience has to be unaware of the last hundred years of New Testament (NT) studies. Otherwise, they will know that every attempt to discredit the NT has failed miserably. They will remember that archeological, linguistic, and historical studies have systematically shown the NT to be factually reliable in every testable area. If they know the facts, it could hurt your theories. So. . . .
Second, flash some impressive academic degrees. This might inspire people to reason thus: "He must be right — after all, he’s a [doctor, professor, what-have-you]!" Pull this off, and you can wave aside the Gospel histories as "biased." With your degree, your hearers will forget that you, too, are biased. They won’t wonder too loudly what your biases are. They won’t even note how neatly your conclusions match your biases.
Third, stress the fact that the NT writers were believers in Jesus, as if this consideration in itself totally disqualifies them as witnesses of history. With any luck, this will strengthen your case for "bias." Maybe only the lawyers will notice that your reasoning is akin to telling a defendant, "Now, you can only call witnesses who believe that you are guilty!" Besides, probably over half of your audience won’t remember that the NT writers did not, in fact, start out as believers. Therefore, they won't realize that these writers' minds were changed by the evidence. Maybe those who do remember will not throw back at you, "Then what you are saying is invalid, too, because you are a dis-believer! Bias is bias!"
Fourth, make a great deal of the fact that the Gospels were written after the events. Imply (against all evidence) that nobody in the first century ever took notes, or knew how to memorize. Your readers may be unaware that the hard evidence does not demand a date of final publication more than ten to forty years later than the resurrection. You go ahead and talk as if it were vast, yawning geological epochs later. Maybe no one will notice. So few actually read the Bible today, that they are unlikely to recall that the Gospels embody eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:1-4; John 21:24, 25). If someone brings this up, simply shout, "Are not, are not!" — and maybe wave your diploma again.
With luck, your hearers won’t reflect on the fact that they all implicitly trust in history-books written centuries, or even millennia after the events. With a lot of luck, they won’t point out that you yourself live a full two millennia after the gospel events, and that (even if true) fifty or sixty years is much closer than two thousand.
Fifth, claim to be using "the scientific method." Actually, it doesn’t much matter what method you employ; people are not too analytical these days. Dust off the radical whimsies of nineteenth-century Tübingen, or the fantasies of Rudolph Bultmann. Shred logic to confetti. Who thinks rationally or logically today, especially about religion? You can recycle negatively-biased methods and arguments that have already been answered decisively, dozens of times, in print, for decades — as the perpetrators of the Jesus Seminar and the book The Five Gospels just did! It doesn’t matter. Simply intone, reverently, "Science...science...science," tap your diploma meaningfully, and hope for the best.
Sixth, nuke all those nasty things Jesus said. Clear your throat and announce that He never claimed, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). Proclaim that Jesus never invited anyone to "come to Me, all who labor and are heavily-burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:26). Use a little verbal "white-out" on Jesus’ predictions that He would give His soul as a ransom-price for many (Mark 10:45), that He would be crucified and buried, and would rise again on the third day (Luke 9:22), and that He would physically return to set up His kingdom on earth (Matthew 24 — 25). Declare that Jesus never really said that the one who rejects Him as God incarnate will perish in his sins (John 8:24).
You see, this way you have taken that frightening, still-living character who treads through the Gospels, and whittled Him down to something much more bite-sized. Trash the facts, and you can make Jesus into whatever you want Him to be! "Discover" that He was really an environmentalist, and declare that He only made lovely little remarks about lilies, fig trees, and grape vines. "Learn" that Jesus was a social activist, and retain only the sections about poor people. Folks will love you for it! Publishers will actually print your notions! Without any icky facts in your way, you can play with Jesus like a lump of clay!
Isn’t that nifty? Think of it: when Jesus’ contemporaries wanted Him out of the way two millennia ago, they had to have Him actually put to death. (That worked out poorly, however, since He apparently did not coöperate by staying dead.) It’s so much less messy, now!
All we have to do today is snag a degree, and write a book.
[NOTE: written as an article for a daily newspaper, skewering "the Jesus Seminar," its pompous pronouncements, and its book The Five Gospels, by means of parody.]
Copyright © 1997 by Daniel J. Phillips; All Rights Reserved
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