Jesus critiques the Pharisees’ loopholes.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 January

Mark 7.6-13 • Matthew 15.3-9 • Luke 11.37-41.

So I mentioned when Jesus was accused of not washing his hands, we’re not talking about the kind of washing we do before we leave the bathroom. This was a ritual thing: Stick your arms in a barrel of water, lift them as if to pray (but prayer is optional), then go on your way… with wet hands. It was a Pharisee custom, loosely based on the ritual washing in temple. Had little to do with actual washing; it was barely hygienic. Not commanded in the scriptures either, so Jesus didn’t bother with it. His students likewise.

And when Jesus was challenged about it, he responded by challenging the Pharisees right back.

Mark 7.6-8 KWL
6 Jesus told the Pharisees and scribes, “Just as Isaiah prophesied about you hypocrites—
like he wrote, ‘This people revere me with lip-service. Their hearts keep far away from me.
7 They worship me meaninglessly, teaching human decrees as if they’re my teachings’ Is 29.13
8 —you dismiss God’s command and cling to human tradition,
washing pots and cups, and doing many similar such things.
Matthew 15.7-9 KWL
7 “Hypocrites. Just as Isaiah prophesied about you, saying,
8 ‘These people revere me with lip-service. Their hearts keep far from me.
9 They worship me meaninglessly, teaching human decrees as if they’re my teachings.’ ” Is 29.13

Matthew has Jesus say this right after his criticism about Pharisee custom, and that last line of Mark 7.8 is actually from the Textus Receptus, not the oldest copies of Mark. That’s why you’ll find it in bible footnotes and the KJV. It’s a little redundant… and probably got added by some monk who was sick of having to do the dishes every night.

Jesus is briefer in the other gospels, but he has much the same objection: Exactly like Christianists, too many Pharisees had replaced God’s commands with their customs and loopholes.

Our culture tends to presume Pharisees were legalists, so that’s what “pharisee” means to a lot of people: Someone who’s so fixated on the rules, they don’t bother with grace. And yeah, sometimes Pharisees got that way, particularly when it came to Sabbath. But sometimes the early Christians also got so hung up on rules, we forgot grace. ’Cause all humans make that mistake.

But read your bible again: Other than their spin on honoring the Sabbath day, Jesus’s critiques of the Pharisees were regularly, consistently about their loopholes. About how they claimed to follow the Law, but their elders’ rulings permitted them to bend and break it all the time. They only pretended to follow God. That’s why Jesus kept calling ’em hypocrites: Their religion was fake. The outward trappings of Yahwism with none of the real commitment—and a seriously damaged relationship with the LORD.

’Cause if they really knew the LORD, they’d’ve quickly recognized his Son. Jn 8.19 Not tried to get him killed.

So in the rest of the following article: If you happen to see a whole lot of parallels between the Hebrews of Isaiah’s day, the Pharisees of Jesus’s, and the Christians of ours, y’ought not be surprised. Times change, but people still sin, and hypocrites still try to fake true religion.

Ghosts: The human spirit.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 January

And of course some of the mythology about ’em.

Technically “ghost“ means the very same thing as “spirit.” It’s why “Holy Spirit” and “Holy Ghost” refer to the very same person.

But over the last century English-speakers have grown to think of “ghosts” as the spirits of the dead. Humans usually. Sometimes animals. Whereas “spirit” can refer to an incorporeal being of any sort. But it wasn’t so long ago the words were fully interchangeable—as y’might notice in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The “ghosts” of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come, were not dead humans; the ghost of Jacob Marley was, though.

So. Since everybody nowadays equates “ghost” with dead humans, in this article so do I.

Humans are part spirit. In our makeup, we have a spirit; a non-material, incorporeal part of ourselves. When we die, the soul ceases to exist, but this spirit continues on. When we get resurrected, it goes back into our new body, and we once again become a living soul. This spirit is what I mean when I say “ghost.”

Yeah, there are Christians who squirm at this word: “I’m a Christian. We don’t believe in ghosts.” Yeah we do. They’re in the bible.

John 19.30 KJV
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

Seems Jesus had a ghost, and when he died it left his body. And when he appeared alive to his students the next week, he wanted it to be clear he wasn’t still a ghost.

Luke 24.36-43 KWL
36 As they said this, Jesus stood in their midst and told them, “Peace to you.”
37 They were freaked out and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost.
38 Jesus told them, “Why are you agitated, and why do disputes arise in your minds?
39 See my hands and my feet!—for I am him.
Touch me and see!—for a ghost doesn’t have a body and bones like you see I have.”
40 Saying this, Jesus showed them his hands and feet.
41 Yet in their joy and wonder they still distrusted him.
Jesus told them, “Does anyone here have food?”
42 They gave Jesus a piece of roast fish, 43 and Jesus took and ate it before them.

Ghosts, said Jesus, don‘t have a body. Don’t have bones. Don’t eat. He wasn’t just accommodating their myths; he’d just been dead, and knew what dead people are and aren’t, can and can’t do. Whereas Jesus can do what ghosts can’t, ’cause he’s alive.

Of course the ability to appear and disappear makes people wonder about Jesus. But Philip did that later in Acts, Ac 8.39 so it’s not wholly outside the realm of God-empowered ability. Getting resurrected didn’t necessarily grant Jesus superpowers. But that’s a pretty big digression, so let’s go back to ghosts.

A definition of Christianism.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 January

I frequently use the term Christianism on TXAB to describe people who practice the trappings of Christianity, but don’t follow Christ Jesus all that much. I didn’t coin the word; I got it from conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan. I first saw it in a piece he wrote for Time Magazine in 2006. I adopted it immediately.

His article is now behind Time’s paywall. So I decided to post the whole of it here.

“Biblical principles” and extrapolating new commands.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 January

In my early 20s I went to a conference presented by youth pastor turned lifestyle guru Bill Gothard. (He didn’t present ’em in person; we watched videos.)
Bill Gothard. Wikipedia
His organization, the Institute in Basic Life Principles (formerly Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, formerly Campus Teams) goes round the United States to teach young people “basic biblical principles” which would keep them on the straight and narrow. Gothard ran it till 2014, when he stepped down ’cause of molestation accusations. Since the statute of limitations means he’s not getting prosecuted, it looks like he’s quietly slipping back into ministry as the scandal fades from everyone’s memory.

Gothard is hugely popular among Fundamentalists, who promoted him ’cause his teachings are right in line with conservative Christian culture. He doesn’t just teach people to memorize bible verses, pray, and go to church. He claims the bible says we should obey our parents no matter what, women should obey their husbands no matter what, and everyone should respect authority. Plus rock music is of the devil, public schools are hopelessly corrupt (so homeschool your kids), Christians need to dress conservatively, Christians should have loads of kids, and Christians should never borrow money.

I’m picking on Gothard a lot in this article, but he’s far from the only guru who does this. Financial gurus like Dave Ramsey claim they also gets their ideas from the bible. Leadership gurus like John Maxwell say much the same thing. Political activists on both the Christian Right and Left claim the basis of all their thinking comes from bible. Hey, if you’re an Evangelical, our ideas should be grounded in bible, right? (And even if we’re not Evangelical.)

Because of Gothard’s never-borrowing teachings, I actually wound up leaving my Fundamentalist church. ’Cause the church wanted to take out a loan so they could hire two pastors. It was a bad idea for lots of reasons, but Gothard had convinced me borrowing was a sin, so I was outraged when the congregation voted for the idea. “Well they’re not following God,” I concluded, shook the dust off my feet, and started going to my sister’s church.

Where in the bible are we commanded to never borrow? Well we’re not. In fact we’re commanded to treat people fairly and graciously when they borrow from us, Ex 22.25, Lv 25.37, Dt 15.8, 24.10, Lk 6.35 which implies God considers borrowing to be acceptable behavior, under most circumstances.

So how’d Gothard convince me it’s not acceptable? He claims it’s a biblical principle, an idea which isn’t explicitly stated in the bible—there’s no command which says “Thou shalt not borrow”—yet the bible teaches it anyway. If we read between the lines.

Not one of the “biblical principles” of Christian gurus are biblical commands. ’Cause if they were, the gurus could simply say, “The LORD commanded”—same as they do when they point out the LORD forbids murder, theft, and adultery. But, claim these gurus, there are tons of proof texts which suggest the authors of the bible, even though they never stated these ideas outright, believed these principles. So maybe we should believe these principles.

Assuming, of course, these aren’t human ideas, fleshly ideas, which God’s actually trying to oppose and get rid of. Like polytheism. Or patriarchy and sexism. Or racism and slavery. Y’do realize these ideas are easily found in the bible too, right? And other than polytheism, Christians have straight-up used the bible to teach God approves of them. But they’re not of God. They’re the worldview of the ancient middle east. So it stands to reason they’re in the bible. But their existence in the bible is not the same as their endorsement by the Holy Spirit. Same as the bad advice of Job’s friends, we’re meant to use our heads, realize this, and reject those principles.

Not that gurus really think about that. They have something they wanna teach, think they can prove it with the bible… and as demonstrated by the way they quote scripture, really don’t give a rip about historical context. It just gets in the way of the ideas they’re trying to promote.

So I’m certainly not saying there’s no such thing as biblical principles. Just that we oughta pay attention to whether the “biblical principles” we dig out of the bible are legitimately something God endorses. ’Cause if he does, you’d think he’d have explicitly said something. He’s not shy, y’know.

Jesus didn’t wash his hands before eating. Eww.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 January

Mark 7.1-5 • Matthew 15.1-2 • Luke 11.37-38.

Sad to say, your average Christian knows little to nothing about what’s in the Law, the commands the LORD handed down to Moses and the Hebrews in the desert. If they’re on a bible-reading plan, they skim the commands in Exodus through Deuteronomy ’cause they’re looking for the stories. The rest, they consider as effective a sleep aid as melatonin.

This is bad enough considering God still expects us to follow certain relevant commands. But when it comes to studying Jesus, these Christians don‘t know the difference between an actual, God-mandated command… and Pharisee tradition. So when Jesus butts heads with Pharisees ’cause he violated something, Christians regularly and wrongly assume Jesus was violating God’s commands.

In other words sinning. Which he never, ever did, no matter how much he was tempted. He 4.15 But weirdly, we imagine it was okay for Jesus to violate the Law, ’cause he was only violating the commands he nullified. The commands we ignore, ’cause didn’t Jesus come to do away with the Law? Absolutely not, Mt 5.17 but you try telling an irreligious person that Jesus expects ’em to behave themselves.

Jesus never violated a command. Never once. Never ever. For two reasons.

First, sin is defined by the Law. Break a command, even one of the little ones, and you sinned. Ro 7.7-12 And Jesus never sinned. 1Jn 3.5 Had he, he wouldn’t be able to die for our sins: He’d have to die, same as everyone, for his own sins. And if Jesus never paid off our sins, we’re never getting resurrected. When we die, we stay dead. No kingdom. No New Jerusalem.

Second, Jesus is God. The same God, the LORD Almighty, who handed down the Law in the first place. It’s his Law. Breaking his own Law goes against his very nature. He doesn’t get any special God-loophole so “it’s not a sin when Jesus does it.” If that were so, it’d be utterly meaningless when the apostles point out Jesus didn’t sin.

So let that sink in: Jesus never violated the Law. He taught us to follow his Law. His kerfuffles with Pharisees were never about breaking the Law: They were about violating the way Pharisee elders interpreted the Law. Jesus had his own interpretations—because he knew precisely what he meant when he handed down these commands in the first place. His view was the old wine, which is better. Lk 5.39 The Pharisee view was a more recent spin on the commands than the LORD’s original intent, i.e. new wine.

So today we’ll get into one of those disagreements Jesus had with Pharisees. Specifically about their custom of washing before meals.

…Which, when you think of it, is also our custom. And kind of an important one. Because we frequently eat with our hands. Apples, grapes, sandwiches, carrots, pizza, nachos, burritos… we don’t use utensils as often as we imagine. And Jesus’s culture used utensils for food preparation and serving, but eating was done with your hands. Even when you scooped out wet food… from the same bowl as everyone else. You’d better have clean hands.

But it seems Jesus was having a meal with Pharisees, and nobody saw him or his kids wash their hands. Understandably they made an issue of it. As would we. Even if it is Jesus. “Um… aren’t you gonna clean up first? I mean, you’ve been touching lepers…”

The bible “in the original Latin”: The Vulgate.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 January

Every so often, when I tell people I study the bible in the original languages (not that I go round bragging I can read the original languages; it’s just they ask me how I do bible study, so I tell them) they comment, “Ah, in the original Latin.”

Nope, not Latin. I can stumble through Latin, but the bible’s written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The very few Latin words in there, were transliterated into the Greek alphabet.

Most accept the correction. A few foolhardy few—you know the sort who’ve always gotta be right?—actually try to stand their ground. “But didn’t Jesus speak Latin? He did in The Passion of the Christ.” Yeah, that movie’s not as historically accurate as you think. The fact a white gentile plays Jesus—no matter how good a job he did—should usually tip you off.

Latin was the language of the western Roman Empire—and Greek the language of the eastern. Which includes Israel. Which includes Jesus and his apostles. When Christianity was legalized in the 300s, the western Romans of course wanted a bible in their language—just like the eastern Romans did, for the Septuagint and New Testament are both in Greek. Most of the bible had been translated into Latin already, but some parts were well done… and some parts sucked. Some OT books were translations of the Septuagint (the Greek OT), not the Tanakh (the Hebrew/Aramaic OT) —so, translations of a translation. There was no consistency throughout.

In 382 Rome’s bishop Damasus (they weren’t yet called popes), tasked his personal secretary, Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus—whom we nowadays call St. Jerome—to fix the Latin-language bibles by doing a fresh retranslation of the gospels. Jerome did way more than that: He went to Israel, learned Hebrew and Aramaic, translated the entire Old Testament, and updated other parts of the New Testament. He’s largely responsible for the Latin translation we call the Vulgate 'vəl.ɡeɪt, from the term versio vulgata/“common version.” It was the bible of the western Romans—and after the Roman Empire receded to the east and historians relabeled it the Byzantine Empire, the official bible of the Roman Catholics. Until 1979, when Catholics came out with the New Vulgate.

Calling the Vulgate “the original Latin” is just as inaccurate as assuming the King James Version is the original. (Or as good as the original.) But for pagans, and newbie Christians who know nothing of church history, they don’t know any better, so of course they’re gonna make that mistake. Correct them kindly.

When Jesus loses students.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 January

John 6.59-71.

So Jesus gave this big ol’ lesson on being the living bread who wants to save us—and expects our response to be a deep commitment. You gotta eat the living bread. And no, this doesn’t mean holy communion; this means really being one with Jesus. Really following him.

Tough teaching for a classroom of people who only wanted Jesus to overthrow the Romans for them, then give ’em free bread. Tough teaching for Christians nowadays, who only wanna live worry-free lives, then go to heaven and live in mansions. God did all the work of saving us, so they figure he can do all the work of everything else in Christendom. These folks don’t wanna actually do anything for God; they want cheap grace and passive Christianism. There’s not much difference between our motives.

But there is a big difference in our responses: The Galileans left.

Whereas Christians nowadays will say yes and amen, and pretend we’re all for the idea… then go out and demonstrate by our lifestyles we don’t believe a word of it… but be back in church every Sunday morning acting as if we do. Lemme keep being blunt: Both these behaviors are forms of apostasy. The only difference between the Galileans who left Jesus, and the Christians who pretend we’re still on board, is our rank hypocrisy. The Galileans at least had the balls to admit they were outa there.

Anyway back to the text, where the Galileans are on the fence about Jesus… so Jesus gives the fence a shake.

John 6.59-66 KWL
59 Jesus said this while teaching in the Kfar Nahum synagogue.
60 So, many of his students who heard him said, “This word is hard. Who can listen to it?”
61 Innately knowing his students kvetched about this, Jesus told them, “This upsets you?
62 So what about when you see the Son of Man rise to where he previously was?
63 It’s spirit which makes you alive; flesh gets you nowhere.
The sayings I tell you are spirit—are life 64 but some of you don’t believe me.”
For Jesus knew from the beginning some didn’t believe—and one was his betrayer.
65 Jesus said, “This is why I told you nobody can come to me
unless they were given me by the Father.”
66 As a result of this lesson, many of his students went home and no longer followed him.

See, Jesus doesn’t want lukewarm followers. He wants us to be fruity. He wants people who connect with him, abide in him, pick up their crosses and follow him. Anybody who doesn’t wanna: It’d be best if they went home.

Transliteration: Because in some languages, you’re illiterate.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 January

No offense, but if you can’t read their alphabet, you are illiterate. So here’s a quick fix.

By now you’ve likely learned the bible wasn’t originally written in English. (Although good luck informing certain King James Only folks of this. Most of ’em know better, but there are some holdouts who still think God speaks in King James English.)

The bible was written in three dead languages, languages nobody speaks anymore. The present-day versions of these languages are not the same. Languages evolve. Modern Hebrew uses western word order (subject-verb-object, “I go home”), and ancient Hebrew uses middle eastern word order (verb-subject-object “Go I home”). Plus the vocabulary’s way bigger, what with all the loanwords from Yiddish, English, German, Russian, and Arabic. Plus the pronunciation’s different, much like the differences between American English and British English. Modern Greek follows new grammatical rules. Neo-Aramaic speakers love to point out Jesus spoke Aramaic like them, but the Babylonian Aramaic of the bible (and the first-century Syrian Aramaic which Jesus spoke) is like saying Geoffrey Chaucer spoke English like us. He did… and kinda didn’t.

The Old Testament was written in what we call Biblical Hebrew—the older parts in Early Biblical Hebrew, and the Aramaic-influenced later parts in Later Biblical Hebrew. A few chapters were written in Aramaic, the language of the Babylonian Empire—the language Daniel put some of his visions into. After the Jews returned from Babylon, that’s what they spoke, and that’s what Jesus spoke, as demonstrated by the few direct quotes we have of him in the New Testament. As for the NT, it’s in a form of Alexandrian Greek we call Koine Greek, a term which comes from the word κοινή/kiní, “common.”

And I know; most of my readers don’t know these languages. I learned them in seminary, ’cause I wanted to know how to read the original texts of the bible. I wanted to read it unfiltered by a translator. Not that most translators don’t know what they’re doing; not that most English translations aren’t well done. They are. But if I’m gonna seriously study bible, I still wanna read the original, and go through the process of translation myself. That’s why I translate it for TXAB.

In so doing, I often need to talk about the original-language words. So I convert ’em into our alphabet so you can kinda read them. It’s called transliteration. People have always done it. Mark did it in the bible, converting some of Jesus’s Aramaic sayings into Greek characters, like so—

Mark 5.41-42 KWL
41 He gripped the child’s hand and told her, “Talítha kum” (which is translated, “Get up, I say”)
42 and the girl instantly got up, and was walking around—she was 12 years old.
They were amazed and ecstatic.

—turning the original טליתא קומי into ταλιθα κουμ for Greek-speakers who couldn’t read the Aramaic alphabet.

Until recently I’ve transliterated everything on this blog, and left the original Hebrew and Greek out. ’Cause foreign languages intimidate certain people. Throw some Hebrew-alphabet words on a page, and people flinch: “Oh no, he’s writing in Hebrew! I can’t possibly read that. I can’t possibly read anything he’s written; he’ll get too technical for me.” I know; to many of you this sounds ridiculous. But I assure you people really do get that way. And I didn’t wanna alienate readers.

I’ve lately come to realize in so doing, I’m accommodating people’s irrational fears. And shouldn’t. Such fears are wholly inappropriate for Christians. If foreign languages freak you out, you need to get over it. Need to. It ruins your ability to share Jesus with foreigners—and with anybody who has compassion for foreigners. You know, like Jesus, who includes us foreigners in his kingdom. So here on out, I’m gonna include the original text in TXAB—and relax, I’ll still transliterate it for you.

But I’ve received comments from people who aren’t sure I’m transliterating properly. Fr’instance when I write on love, I render the Greek word ἀγάπη as agápi. And they’re pretty sure I’ve done it wrong. Everybody they know spells it “agape,” with an E… and pronounces it ə'gɑ.peɪ, not ɑ'gɑ.pi.

Well, everybody they know is doing it wrong. Modern Greek speakers pronounce it ɑ'gɑ.pi, so I’m going with them.

True, ancient Hebrew and Greek is not modern Hebrew and Greek. Doesn’t matter. Today’s native speakers have the pronunciation way closer than Americans do. And for the most part Americans aren’t even trying to get the pronunciation right. They’re just repeating the way they heard other Christians and scholars say it. They’re following the crowd. Even if they learned how to pronounce these languages properly in seminary; even if they grew up in Israel or Greece! That’s just how corrupting peer pressure can be.

I strive for accuracy. So should we all. So I’ll include my transliteration scheme here, for transparency’s sake. And of course you can compare it with your favorite Greek or Hebrew dictionaries… including the mangled way they sometimes pronounce these words, which likewise bear no relation to how native speakers properly do it.

Grace. (It really is amazing.)

by K.W. Leslie, 10 January
GRACE greɪs noun. God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people.
2. A prayer of thanksgiving.
[Gracious 'greɪ.ʃəs adjective.]

Years ago I was in a kids’ Sunday school class when the head pastor visited and the kids were encouraged to ask him anything. Bad idea. We spent way too much time discussing the existence of space aliens. The pastor’s view: They’re not real, and all UFO sightings are probably devils messing with people. He was one of those dark Christians who think devils are just everywhere.

Dark Christianity is likely why this pastor punted this question: One of the kids asked him what “grace” is.

Someone had previously told her we Christians are saved by grace. Ep 2.8 So she understandably wanted to know what this “grace” substance was. She wanted to get it and be saved. Her assumption—same as that of way too many Christians—is it’s some sort of heavenly pixie dust.

Pastor’s response: “We can’t define grace. It’s a mystery. It just is.”

I know: Shouldn’t a pastor, of all people, know what grace is? Shouldn’t any Christian in church leadership? Heck, shouldn’t every Christian know what grace is?

Problem is, many Christians don’t know… because they think we’re saved by other things.

  • Saved by good karma: Be a “good person” and God’ll let you into heaven. (This is commonly called “works righteousness.”)
  • Saved by saying the sinner’s prayer.
  • Saved by getting baptized. Or taking regular holy communion. Or going to church, or by otherwise being religious. (It’s just another form of works righteousness.)
  • Saved by faith—by which they mean if they believe really, really hard they’re saved (or “have faith“ they’re saved), they are.
  • Saved by their religious faith, their belief system. If they believe all the correct things, it saves ’em. (I call it “faith righteousness.” It’s probably the most common belief among dark Christians.)
  • Saved by our relationship to some other saint, who can “get us in.”

If you imagine you’re saved by anything other than grace, stands to reason you won’t understand grace very well. You won’t care about it. You won’t practice it much; maybe with family members and certain friends, but it won’t extend to many others. Or, like Christ Jesus wants, everyone.

So since Pastor didn’t know what grace was, and I did, I explained it once he left the room. (I figured since he wasn’t clear on the concept, he wouldn’t appreciate me correcting him.)

Most of the time, I hear Christians define grace as “God’s unmerited favor.” It’s that too. But we still tend to talk about grace as if it’s a material substance. ’Cause God “pours it out” on us, or “gives” or “extends” it, or “covers us” with it. It’s a liquid, a powder, a mist, a blanket, a trinket. An object, not an attitude.

But grace is God’s attitude. He loves us despite our bad behavior, despite our rebelliousness, despite our apathy, despite our outright hostility towards him sometimes. Grace is the way God thinks of us. His attitude overwhelms and overcomes everything we totally deserve. He oughta give up on us and sweep us away with raging fire. But he forgives all, loves us regardless—even adopts us as his kids and gives us his kingdom.

That’s why we call it amazing.

Historical Jesus. (Who ain’t all that historical.)

by K.W. Leslie, 09 January

So here’s a little transcript of a discussion I once had with a skeptic. Slightly abridged.

HE. “Jesus never said that.”
ME. “Sure he did. In Mark 16.52 he clearly states….”
HE. “No, that’s what the bible says he said. I’m talking about what he actually said. Not what some Roman Christian, centuries later, claims he said.”

Where’d he get the idea the gospels aren’t historical?—that the Jesus we Christians believe in, is just ancient Christian fanfiction? This, true believers, is what we call the Historical Jesus hypothesis.

When he wasn’t staying in the White House, Thomas Jefferson used to spend his evenings at home in Virginia with four bibles (two copies each, so he could get the text from either side of the page), scissors and paste, splicing together a private book he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Nowadays we call it “the Jefferson Bible.” In Jefferson’s version of the story, Jesus does no miracles (except one or two, which Jefferson left in because he liked the lessons in those particular stories).


Displayed in Greek, Latin, French, and English—though Jefferson’s ancient-language skills were iffy, so sometimes they don’t line up perfectly. UVA Magazine

Y’see, Jefferson believed God doesn’t interfere with nature, and therefore Jesus never did miracles. He was only a teacher of morals. Miracles were added years later by supernaturalist Christians. So Jefferson literally cut out the miracles and kept the lessons. Well… the lessons he liked; not so much the hard-for-him-to-believe statements Jesus makes throughout John.

So yeah, the Historical Jesus idea isn’t new. It predates Jefferson. It stretches all the way back to the most ancient church; you see it in Marcion of Sinope. It’s based on the Jesus we know—the Jesus of the gospels and the apostles’ letters, the Jesus who still appears to people, the Jesus who’s coming back. But it’s a Jesus edited with scissors and paste, as people trim away everything they can’t or won’t believe.