More Jesus Quotes Christians Could Do Without, Part 4

Maybe Jesus himself could talk you out of Christianity

Where would theology be without human imagination? The gospel authors show just how true this is. Matthew came up with dystopian fantasy when he reported (Matthew 27:52-53) that many dead people came alive in their tombs at the moment Jesus died, then wandered around Jerusalem on Easter morning. This detail is missing from the other gospels, whose authors didn’t imagine it. Likewise Matthew reported an earthquake when the women arrived at the tomb on Easter morning: an angel descended from heaven to roll back the stone, then sat on it. This also was beyond the imagination of the other gospel authors. In John’s gospel we find the story of the voice-activated resurrection of Lazarus (i.e., a magic spell)—which the other gospels authors knew nothing about. John’s imagination ran wild: his gospel is so different from the others. Elsewhere I have accused John of theology inflation.
Sometimes theological imaginings are simply tedious. Again, Matthew provides an example: the New Testament doesn’t open with an attention grabber: verses 2-16 of his first chapter are a listing of Jesus’ ancestors, back to Abraham. Luke wasn’t satisfied with this; in his third chapter verses 23-38, he lists Jesus’ ancestors back to Adam—and it’s a different set of ancestors. 
Contemporary theologians/apologists try to make sense of all this delusional creativity, but I suspect that most of the laity don’t even notice. As they fail to notice just how much of the Jesus-script in the gospels is contrary to their way of life, and their understanding of how society functions. 
This is my fourth article here on this topic; these are the links to the others:  
Number 1      Number 2       Number 3
My focus today is a few samples of Jesus-script in Matthew. 
It doesn’t take too much digging on Google to find out that 20-25% of American Christian marriages end in divorce, and many of those separated get remarried. Thus a teaching of Jesus is ignored, considered irrelevant:
Matthew 5:31-32:
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
This is restated in Matthew 19:9:
“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
It should be noted, by the way, that when Matthew copied this text from Mark, he added the words, except for sexual immorality. In other words, he tampered with the text to bring it in line with his theology. Maybe the Christian divorcees who violate this Jesus teaching pray for forgiveness, but the Catholic Church has invented convoluted ways to subvert this pronouncement on divorce. I know a devout Catholic man, married for many years, father of three children, who was able to purchase an annulment from the church. Jesus teaches, but the church makes a few bucks by evading the clear meaning of this text.   
Matthew 5:38-39:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you: Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also…”
How many devout Christians, since the very beginning of this religion, have become pacifists in obedience to this teaching? So many Christians have marched fiercely off to war, to clobber evildoers. Some Christians have waged savage wars against other Christians whom they perceive to be evildoers. Dr. Martin Luther King put himself at the forefront in combatting racial hatred. And how do evangelical Christians justify their aggressive campaigns against gay people, feminists, and abortion advocates—if they follow Jesus’ command not to resist evildoers? 
Matthew 5:40-42, this quote continues:
“…and if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, give your coat as well, and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
Of course, “go the extra mile” has become a cliché for being especially helpful—and that’s perfectly fine. But Matthew’s text may have been a reference to the practice of Roman soldiers commandeering local peasants to carry burdens for them. In that case, go the second mile seems a more onerous requirement. Verse 40 is especially hard to take. I suspect we’re unlikely to find Christians who, upon being sued, would be willing to hand over more than they were sued for. “Do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you” is also likely to be ignored, especially if money is involved. According to Matthew’s imagination, it seems Jesus was an itinerant preacher who expected the kingdom of his god to arrive soon, so common human concerns could be set aside. 
Matthew 10:5-8:
Speaking of the kingdom—we find this text:
“These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Do not take a road leading to gentiles, and do not enter a Samaritan town, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick; raise the dead; cleanse those with a skin disease; cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.’” 
Bearing Matthew 5:17-20 in mind especially (i.e., not a single Old Testament law can be ignored), it is likely that this author was resisting the influence of the apostle Paul, who wanted to bring gentiles to this new sect—a breakaway Jewish sect. Hence Matthew’s Jesus was focused just on the lost sheep of Israel. “Do not take a road leading to gentiles, and do not enter a Samaritan town…” Of course Christian missionaries have always ignored this text, because Matthew wrote different Jesus-script for the resurrected Jesus:  
Matthew 28:19:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 
Here Matthew’s imagination has wandered into cult fanaticism: “We have the one true religion, so make sure everyone in the world knows about it.” That is, convert them to our faith, “…make disciples…baptize.” This text has caused so much suffering. David Stannard’s book, The American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World, is an account of European arrogance upon encountering the native peoples of the Americas:
“Following Columbus, each time the Spanish encountered a native individual or group in the course of their travels they were ordered to read to the Indians a statement informing them of the truth of Christianity and the necessity to swear immediate allegiance to the Pope and to the Spanish crown.” (Kindle, p. 65)
In Matthew 10:5-8 above, the author was influenced by ancient miracle folklore, i.e. Jesus ordered his disciples to raise the dead and cast out demons. So we cannot be surprised at this Jesus-script in the Sermon on the Mount, another layer of superstitions, which is hard for contemporary laity to notice. This is the proper way to pray:
Matthew 6:9-10, “Our Father in heaven, may your name be revered as holy. May your kingdom come. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Father: How can it possibly make sense to assign a human gender category to a god? Of course, religions had been doing this for a long time before Christianity came along. And Catholicism couldn’t resist the temptation to add a female counterpart, namely The Virgin Mary. She became the Queen of Heaven, a softer, gentler, kinder representation of god. Your name is holy: Even today, Christians commonly say, “In Jesus’ name we pray.” This too is a magic spell, i.e., a name has special power. In heaven: which was thought to be above the clouds, where this god’s throne was located—and Jesus would go to take his seat beside his father god. May your will be done on earth: why does a god need to be constantly reminded to make this happen? Given so much horrendous suffering in the world, this plea makes no sense: why has god delayed so long to enforce his will on earth? This highly cherished prayer begins with such pathetic theobabble. 
We can’t be too surprised that the Vatican still has a staff of specially trained exorcists, given this text in Matthew 12:43-45. Again, the author’s imagination was influenced by common superstitions of the time:
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it returns, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.”
There may be many contemporary Christians who believe in demons, while few specialize in casting them out. Penetrating analysis of causation hasn’t caught on.
One final text to consider, Matthew 18:3-4:
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Here again, the author was stressing the ground rules for the cult. Critical thinking was not allowed. We can suspect that Matthew himself didn’t know what that was. This text is a good match for Jesus-script in John’s gospel, in the story of Doubting Thomas. Once Thomas got the chance to touch Jesus’ resurrected body, he gave up doubting that Jesus had risen, but he got a scolding from Jesus: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29) Not too long ago an elderly Christian woman told me that the priests had advised their young charges not to think about what they’d learned in catechism. I suppose it’s a charming idea: be naïve and accepting as children are: that’s the ticket to heaven! But the primary casualty of that approach is the failure to adopt critical thinking. And thus hundreds of religions have thrived in human history—until the absurdities finally become all too obvious. 
There is so much Jesus-script in the gospels that can prompt awareness of the absurdities. 
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