The Bad Jesus Is On Full View in the Gospels

So why is there anybody left in church?

To keep up sales and profits, when you have a deeply flawed product, you have to be clever, cunning, shrewd—and determined. You have to work extra hard to disguise the flaws. The resurrection of Jesus comes to mind especially. Robert Conner, here on the Debunking Christianity Blog, 8 September 2017, wrote:


“The Evangelical Resurrection Industrial Complex (ERIC) has churned out scores of scholarly tomes, hundreds of erudite disquisitions in professional journals, dissertations and commentaries, as well as debates and conferences beyond numbering, and the tsunami of dishonest verbiage shows know sign of receding.”


This intense effort is required because the Easter morning gospel accounts—the Empty Tomb stories—cannot be reconciled, no matter how hard the apologists try. But they face an even bigger challenge trying to rub out the obvious negatives about Jesus that anyone can find. As soon as folks encounter Luke 14:26, for example, why don’t they head for the exit? How is there anybody left in church?  


“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”


Hatred of family and life itself should be a deal-breaker. This is sick religion.


Scholar Hector Avalos, who died earlier this month, brought considerable skill and energy to the analysis of Christian efforts to divert attention from—essentially to cover up—the bad Jesus. Avalos’ precision and scholarly honesty will be sorely missed. 


While Robert Conner mentioned ERIC, Avalos spoke of an Ecclesial-Academic Complex. In his 2007 book, The End of Biblical Studies, he wrote that academic biblical studies is


“…primarily a religionist apologetic enterprise, despite its partial integration of secularist epistemologies. The majority of biblical scholars in academia are primarily concerned with maintaining the value of the Bible despite the fact that the important questions about its origin have either been answered or cannot be answered…[biblical academia] despite claims to independence, it still part of an ecclesial-academic complex that collaborates with a competitive media industry.” (p. 15, The End of Biblical Studies)


“…maintaining the value of the Bible.” That’s the primary agenda. Most Christian Bible scholars were religiously motivated to enter this career, and it is hard to escape religious bias. Upholding Jesus is of paramount value, which is hard to do if the Bible itself is devalued. But Bible scholars have learned too much, as Avalos has pointed out:


 “Modern biblical scholarship has demonstrated that the Bible is the product of cultures whose values and beliefs about the origin, nature, and purpose of our world are no longer held to be relevant, even by most Christians and Jews.


“…we have indeed discovered much new information about the Bible. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the enormous archaeological treasures found in the ancient Near East in the last one hundred fifty years or so have set the Bible more firmly in its original cultural context. However, it is those very discoveries that show that the Bible is irrelevant, insofar as it is part of a world radically dissimilar to ours in its conception of the cosmos, the supernatural, and the human sense of morality.” (pp. 16-17, The End of Biblical Studies)


“…the Bible is irrelevant…”  Even Christians themselves, unwittingly—and without daring to say so out loud—acknowledge that the Bible is irrelevant, as Avalos points out:


“Indeed, if we went verse by verse, Christians are probably not reading or applying some 95 percent of all the verses in the Bible. Of course, what they do apply may be of great consequence, but it remains the case that Christians are using or applying only a fraction of the Bible, and probably would not miss major portions if they were removed.” (p. 320, The End of Biblical Studies)


Most Christians would be keenly interested in bypassing, overlooking the Bad Jesus who is so conspicuous in the gospels. “How can there be a Bad Jesus?” many Christians would na├»vely ask. Avalos has provided the documentation in his important book, The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics. Its fourteen chapters include those titled, The Unloving Jesus, The Violent Jesus, The Suicidal Jesus, The Anti-Jewish Jesus, The Misogynistic Jesus, and The Magically Anti-Medical Jesus. 


And Luke 14:26 receives full attention in the second chapter, 39 pages on The Hateful Jesus. Avalos notes that the Ecclesial-Academic Complex knows full well the implications of this verse for the reputation of its holy hero:


“Discussions of Lk.14.26 within New Testament scholarship show how denial of Jesus’ ‘hate speech’ usually does not reckon fully with the nature of the linguistic evidence. Often these discussions reflect theological rationales that are being substituted for linguistic and historical ones…Although the text seems as clear an expression of literal hate as any text found anywhere, Christian apologists have attempted to erase or lessen its negative connotations.” (p. 51, The Bad Jesus)


Laypeople who come across Luke 14:26 may recoil in disbelief: “Well, Jesus couldn’t have meant that.” So too devout scholars have suggested that the text can’t be taken literally; they “…assume that ‘hate’ in that verse cannot be understood in its harshest sense and offer no detailed exegetical reasons why they believe so. As such, these scholars do not differ much from so-called fundamentalist Christians who also believe it is not literal.” (p. 53, The Bad Jesus) Avalos notes that The Good News Bible resorts to mistranslation to correct Jesus! “…it erases the word ‘hate’ altogether, and renders the verse as follows, ‘Whoever comes to me cannot be my disciple unless he loves me more than he loves his father and his mother, his wife and his children, his brothers, and his sisters, and himself as well.’” 


This amount to punting to Matthew 10:37, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Anything, it would seem, to mute Jesus’ use of hate (miseo). However, we don’t know for sure if Matthew was trying to tone down Luke, or if Luke was trying to intensify Matthew—the dating of the gospels is uncertain. 


Avalos is blunt:  


“…it is implausible for the author of Luke to use a powerful word such as miseo, and then hope that someone would have read Matthew in order to explain what Luke meant. Rather, one would expect that Luke will use words that the audience will understand from the way that those words are used in the language of the reader. The Greek word miseo has as consistent and as strong a meaning as any word in the entire Greek lexicon. It does not vary or is not subject to as much flexibility as other words may be.” (p. 54, The Bad Jesus)


A giant portion of this chapter, The Hateful Jesus, is devoted to a detailed examination of the linguistic evidence showing that miseo does indeed mean hate in this troublesome verse: “There are no compelling linguistic or historical reasons to deny that the Greek word miseo in Lk. 14.26 means what it means everywhere else we encounter it in the Greek scriptures.” (p. 88, The Bad Jesus)


Please note that the subtitle of The Bad Jesus is The Ethics of New Testament Ethics, and this is what Avalos means:


“…New Testament scholars are still largely evading the ethical issues that are raised even if miseo means no more than the demand that followers of Jesus prefer him over their families. Those who deny that Jesus meant ‘hate’ in the most emotive and harshest sense do so because they think it would be unethical for Jesus to do such a thing. Yet, these same New Testament ethicists seem to have no problem accepting an ethical Jesus’ demand that followers bestow their total allegiance to him even in preference over their own families.” (p. 89, The Bad Jesus)


Indeed, we’re up against cult fanaticism. Even if laypeople and scholars alike cannot accept that Jesus could have said/meant hate in Luke 14:26—based, of course, on their devotion to Jesus as Lord—they still have to deal with Luke reporting that Jesus said this. Why would he do that? It seems clear that Luke was setting the guidelines for membership in the early Jesus cult. No matter the era, this is abhorrent, as Avalos points out:


“How would we judge a modern religious leader who said that we should prefer him over our families? Why would we not treat such a person as an egomaniacal cult leader who does what all cult leaders do: transfer allegiance from one’s family to him or her. In other words, that demand would be viewed as unethical in itself.” (p, 89, The Bad Jesus)


In Luke’s portrayal of Jesus,


“…Jesus was perpetuating a well-known tradition of leadership that was ultimately based on ancient Near Eastern master-servant and lord-vassal relationships, which demanded that the lord receive the total allegiance of any subordinates even at the expense of their own lives and families.


“Labeling his demand as a call to ‘radical discipleship’ appears to be another euphemistic attempt by New Testament ethicists to whitewash the hegemonic, despotic, egomaniacal and unethical view of submission that Jesus was demanding.” (p. 89, The Bad Jesus)


Is this the Jesus most of the folks in the pews want? Is this their preferred lord and savior? Of course not. A few years ago I was chatting with a devout Catholic woman who couldn’t say enough about her wonderful Jesus. After listening to this for a while, I asked her how she felt about Luke 14:26, and quoted it verbatim. She was furious that I would tell such a lie. There could be no such verse. She knew who Jesus was because her priests had told the story faithfully. 


The church—fractured thousands of ways though it may be—is a colossal propaganda engine. Priests and preachers are paid to promote the Jesus-product—with televangelists now in the mix—and in the background are the devout scholars of the Ecclesial-Academic complex determined to scrub the story clean. 


But enough is enough.


Hector Avalos was a scholar’s scholar. He is representative of secular thinkers who have mastered the techniques for detecting and exposing faith bias, and who bring their uncompromised skills as historians to analysis of scripture. He left us far too soon, at age 62, but he set a high standard for us to follow.   




David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, was published by Tellectual Press in 2016. It was reissued in 2018 with a new Foreword by John Loftus.


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