More Jesus Quotes Christians Could Do Without, Part 3

Many of the devout would be shocked at what Jesus would do

I suspect most devout believers adore their Jesus, as he is portrayed in stained glass, great art, hymns (e.g., What a Friend We Have in Jesus)—and, of course, how is he lovingly described from the pulpit. Thus they skip careful study of the gospels. Years ago, when I was a pastor, it was a tiny minority of the congregation that attended my Bible study classes. When folks do study the gospels carefully/critically, they may notice things that seem farfetched. How many of us have heard the voice of god booming from the sky? That seems a mark of fantasy literature. In Mark, the first gospel written, this is how Jesus’ baptism is described (1:10-11): “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.’”

When Matthew copied this story from Mark, he made a couple of alterations (3:16-17): “And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw God’s Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from the heavens said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”
Mark’s “heavens torn apart” becomes “the heavens were opened to him” in Matthew, and Mark’s “You are my Son,” becomes “This is my Son” in Matthew. Perhaps Matthew realized that a voice blasting from heaven would be heard by everyone. Even so, many readers today would be skeptical about a voice from the sky. Given the level of tedium encountered in Bible reading in general, binge-watching Disney fantasies or sports seems a better choice. 
We encounter the same naivete in Mark 9, the story of Jesus glowing on a mountaintop. There the voice of Jesus’ god comes from a cloud. By the way, this clearly audible divine voice would be a big improvement—in terms of getting clear messages from god to humanity. Why hasn’t this god done it more often, consistently? When Hitler was speaking to a hundred thousand followers at a large stadium, god could have shouted, “Don’t listen to this crazy deranged fool! Get rid of him!” But, of course, that’s the way heroes in fantasy literature go about their business. It has a touch of the ridiculous.
[Article 1 in this series in here. Article 2 is here.]
But a much bigger challenge can be found in many Jesus quotes in the gospels, quotes that are out of sync with how our lives work in the contemporary world. Let’s look first at a couple in Mark’s gospel, 10:29-30, where Jesus is responding to Peter, who had pointed out that the disciples had given up everything to follow him: 
“Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the good news who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”
How does this possibly make sense? It makes sense only when we grasp that the gospel writers had a special agenda. Their purpose was to win/retain converts to the early Jesus cult, which was a breakaway Jewish sect. This quote from Mark 10 reeks of cult extremism, actually cult craziness, which is so far removed from how the devout today make their way in the world. Imagine a preacher today urging you to abandon everyone in your family—and your property—for the sake of his “good news.” With the promise that your family and property would be restored a hundredfold (what can that possibly mean?)—and eternal life is thrown into the bargain. It’s not a stretch to say that the original readers of such bizarre texts were not critical thinkers, and we can assume that the authors weren’t either.  
Which is illustrated as well by this strange Jesus-script in Mark 16:17-18:
“And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  
This is utterly foreign to how devout Christians live today. Some may believe in demons—but do they claim the power to “cast them out”? Are they talented at healing sick people by touch? Do they go out of their way to pick up snakes, and are they eager to drink poison to prove the power of Jesus’ name? It may be a relief to find out that Mark 16:9-20 is missing from the oldest manuscripts of Mark, that is, it was added later by person/persons unknown. Yet, here was an early Christian author who was sure he was quoting Jesus. But this throws a bright spotlight on the problem of the entire gospel: we have no idea who wrote it, how he came by his supposed “information” about Jesus. Given the levels of fantasy in Mark’s gospel, we can suspect that most of what he wrote came from his imagination. 
Now let’s take a close look at a few examples of Jesus-script in Matthew’s gospel. It looks like this author might have been taking a stand against the apostle Paul’s mission to the gentiles, which included dismissal of circumcision. Matthew seems to have wanted to retain the Jewish character to the Jesus sect, hence we find this text, 5:18-19:
“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
It would seem that many of the devout overlook—or divert their eyes from—this text when they seek to distance themselves from the Old Testament. For example, the story of their god’s genocide (Noah and the flood), his killing all the first-born of Egypt, his order for the Israelites to massacre the peoples they found in their way when they entered the promised land. And the many laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy regarding diet and daily life, e.g., killing people who violate the Sabbath. “Oh those are in the Old Testament, and the New Testament is our god’s new revelation.” But the Jesus-script in Matthew 5:18-19 cancels that excuse. 
There is also distressing severity in some Jesus-script, to say the least. Do we really need to hear this? —Matthew 5:27-30:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.”
No matter that this may be rationalized as metaphor—anything to take the sharp edge off it—on the face of it we suspect more cult fanaticism. The apostle Paul claimed (Galatians 5:24) that “those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Strict promoters of the cult didn’t want their followers distracted by sex. But it’s just a fact of human nature that we become aroused: that amounts to committing adultery? Give me a break. Plucking out eyes, cutting off hands. How does someone who says such things qualify as a great moral teacher? 
The severity continues, Matthew 12:36-37:
“I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
And Mark 16:16: "The one who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the one who does not believe will be condemned.”  And Matthew 5:22: “…if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” 
What a friend we have in Jesus? These words attributed to him make it hard to believe any such thing. 
It’s an uphill battle to get the folks in the pews to read the gospels, let along read them carefully/critically/skeptically. If they did, they would wonder how Jesus—whom they’ve been taught to adore—could possibly have said so many of the things attributed to him. And they might tune into the reality that the gospel authors created a Jesus that suited their propaganda purposes. Richard Carrier has stated this so clearly:
“Each author just makes Jesus say or do whatever they want. They change the story as suits them and neglect to mention they did so. They craft literary artifices and symbolic narratives routinely. They frequently rewrite classical and biblical stories and just insert Jesus into them…the authors of the Gospels clearly had no interest in any actual historical data…These are thus not historians. They are mythographers; novelists; propagandists… We have to stop thinking we can use them as historical sources.” (Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, p. 509)

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