Jesus Quotes—Among Many—Christian Could Do Without, Part 2

Many believers just ignore what Jesus would do

If we are sliding toward American Theocracy—there are many super religious folks pushing hard to make it happen—we’re in for a lot of stress and pain. But why should nonbelievers be the only ones to suffer? We should hold Christians themselves to high standards. If they’re going to be calling the shots, let’s require they be experts in their own religion. Let’s push for a federal law that all professed Christians must show proof that they’ve read the four gospels carefully—and that they do this on an ongoing basis. We want them to be experts on the teaching of Jesus. Proof of this expertise would include a written test—by federal law. There could be a Department of Verified Bible Study.
But I suspect the clergy would be last to endorse this requirement. They, above all, know very well that there are a lot of Jesus quotes in the gospels they don’t dare mention from the pulpit. And the last thing they want is for the laity to discover many Jesus quotes that are so hard to explain. In fact, many defy explanation. Many of the severe Jesus quotes play into the hands of aggressive, angry Christians, but many of the devout would be shocked if they read them all—and might head for the exit. As David Fitzgerald has noted: “It is no coincidence that the Christians who study the Bible the hardest are also the most likely to become ex-Christians.” (Jesus: Mything in Action, Vol, 1, p. 28)
By my count, these are 292 Jesus quotes that are not what we would expect from a great moral teacher. In an article here 19 January 2024, I discussed ten of them. Let’s look at a few more.
Mark 1:14-15
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.’”
Devout folks who read/study Mark’s gospel—that is, really focus on it—will discover there’s very little ethical teaching in this gospel. The author’s main agenda was to proclaim that the kingdom of his god was about to be set up on earth. One of the most embarrassing verses—as it turns out—is 14:62, in which Jesus promises those at his trial that they will see him coming on the clouds of heaven to inaugurate the kingdom. Mark’s frightful chapter 13 (discussed in detail in the first article in this series) is a description of the brutal, grim reality of the kingdom’s arrival.
As the decades followed—and no such kingdom arrived—Christian theologians had to make up new stuff. Hence we find this surprising text in Luke’s gospel, 17:20-21:
“Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is within you.’”
What does that even mean? It’s classic theobabble designed to disguise the fact that an earlier theologian had made a big mistake. I suppose it has a nice ring to it—the kingdom of god is within you—but I doubt many laypeople could elaborate convincingly on how this is true, i.e. that the kingdom of god is within people. Those suffering from cancer, heart failure, crippling mental illness—enduring chronic pain from so many conditions—would have trouble believing that the kingdom of god is within them. Nor could they come up with explanations for the failure of the kingdom to arrive on earth, outwardly, obviously, as Mark claimed it would. Any serious study of the horrors of human history falsifies claims that a good, powerful god is paying attention, let alone has set up a divinely governed kingdom on the earth.   
Mark 2:1-12
Such a famous story! Ideal for children’s books about Jesus. There’s a big crowd around a house where Jesus is teaching, so to get access to Jesus, a paralytic is lowered through the roof: he lands right in front of Jesus, who heals him by forgiving his sins. The religious bureaucrats present are offended (because “only god” can forgive sins). Jesus responds, “Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’?” (v. 12) 
It doesn’t take much thought to recognize that this is bad theology, based on profound misunderstanding of pathology—and the simplistic notion that a god afflicts people with suffering, illness, and misfortune to punish us for sinning. The scientists who analyze diseases to discover the causes and figure out cures don’t ask those suffering what kinds of sinning they’ve been up to. We do know, of course, that heavy smokers can end up with lung cancer. That’s because of the carcinogens in smoke—and those with this bad habit may be filled with regret. But it’s another thing entirely to proclaim, “Aha!...god is getting even for this nasty sin.” We have enough understanding of the world to know that the Jesus-script in this story is simply wrong. 
Mark 3:28-29
It is not uncommon to find Jesus quotes that are stunningly harsh; they qualify as too severe. As is the case here:
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin.” 
This reflects the belief that Jesus’ god pays close attention to everything humans do, say, believe. After all, it was assumed that his throne was not too far away, above the clouds, and thus he was in a position to spy on everyone. This also reflects cult fanaticism, that is, there are a few things that are considered especially nasty, egregious—one of which is blasphemy against god himself, in this case, one of his manifestations, the supposedly holy spirit. How can this meanness, this vindictiveness not qualify as bad theology. Does god really hold such severe grudges? 
Mark 4:10-12
Devout scholars have agonized about this text for a long time. What was Mark thinking? Jesus had told a parable to a “very large crowd,” after which his disciples were curious:

“When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret [or mystery] of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything comes in parables, in order that ‘they may indeed look but not perceive,  and may indeed hear but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’” 

How does that possibly make sense? Christians today cherish so many of the parables precisely because they convey positive lessons about how to live, e.g. the Parable of the Good Samaritan. What could have motivated Mark to include this puzzling, counterintuitive Jesus-script? The reason probably was that he was trying to give a boost to the cult mentality: we’re a very privileged group. We have inside knowledge of god, we are entrusted with divine secrets and mysteries: look how special we are! 

What religion doesn’t have these tendencies? Ours is the One True Faith. Thus Christians are sure they’re right—as opposed to Mormons and Muslims, for example. Even some Christian brands hold other Christian brands in contempt: we’ll never see Southern Baptists settle their differences with Roman Catholics, and become one big happy family! “We have the inside track to divine truth” is reinforced by Mark’s claim that parables are a key to grasping secrets and mysteries known only to a few.

Mark 12:30

We read in this chapter that Jesus was asked about which divine commandment was the first, the best, the most important. This is it: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Many devout readers have no problem saying, “How nice, such a good idea.” But there are a couple of major flaws here. 

(1)  What kind of divine ego does this presume? Again, when these ancient authors wrote, the god they imagined was above the clouds (somewhere up there, below the moon), and was modeled after jealous monarchs or tribal chieftains (Yahweh’s bad behavior in so much of the Old Testament derives from this model). But we now know that there are hundreds of billions of galaxies, countless trillions of planets—and who knows how many sentient beings on those planets. Does it make sense that the creator god in charge of this all—presuming there is one! —craves/demands to be loved and worshipped by everyone in the cosmos? That kind of inflated ego is, in fact, an argument against such any such deity. You’re not doing your god any favors by pursuing this idea.  

(2)  Loving god with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? Is this how even the most devout Christians make their way in the world? There may be some who retreat to monasteries and convents to make the effort (do they really succeed, however?), but most Christians, whom we might call ordinary, have jobs, families, hobbies, favorite sports, vacation destinations—hopes and dreams for their futures. Realistically, these would exclude loving god at the all, all, all, all level that this commandment stipulates. Again, heard from the pulpit, it may sound nice. But it is another example of theobabble, in which the gospel authors specialized.  If laypeople really thought about the implications/requirements of this commandment, they’d admit: “No, this beyond what I am prepared to do.” 

Devout Christians face tough decisions. They can embrace such Jesus quotes—enthusiastically or not—or they can pick and choose when to follow or not. But there is an even better way to bail. We now know that there is no way whatever to verify anything Jesus said—as “reported” in the gospels. These were written decades after Jesus died (provided, of course, that he was historical as opposed to mythological), and taking on faith that what their authors wrote—that is, all the Jesus-script they came up with—is not the way history is written. Many devout scholars claim that there was “reliable oral tradition,” but that’s probably wishful thinking. We can be sure there were no stenographers following Jesus around, and most of the people in the crowds that followed him were illiterate. We can suspect that Jesus-script came from imaginative theology of the gospel authors. So, this is an entirely legitimate way for believers to bail from the common claims about what Jesus said. 

David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, now being reissued in several volumes, the first of which is Guessing About God (2023) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). The Spanish translation of this book is also now available. 
His YouTube channel is here. At the invitation of John Loftus, he has written for the Debunking Christianity Blog since 2016.
The Cure-for-Christianity Library©, now with more than 500 titles, is here. A brief video explanation of the Library is here