evangelical Christians in our time take the Holy Bible to be the literal
Word of God as revealed to the human authors by means of revelation. Such
Christians regard Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They do so because
they believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Since Jesus is the Son of God, he
is perfectly wise and morally perfect.
I take “perfectly wise” to
mean that the moral teachings of Jesus in the Bible are infallible. By
“infallible” I mean that the teachings of Jesus cannot possibly be mistaken.
By “morally perfect” I mean that the moral pronouncements of Jesus are
infallible, and that Jesus is morally omniscient. By “morally omniscient” I
mean that there is no moral truth that Jesus does not know. Fundamentalists
maintain that we ought to worship Jesus as our Lord and Savior because he
has infallible moral knowledge and he knows all moral truths. Jesus is
thought of as morally perfect. I think this view has some serious and fatal
difficulties. I will investigate some passages from the New Testament that I
think throws credible doubt on the alleged moral infallibility and
omniscience of Jesus. A morally perfect being will be morally infallible,
morally omniscient, and always kind (do the kindest thing). I argue that
Jesus, as portrayed in the Bible, is none of these. I stipulate that I could
be completely mistaken about the historical Jesus, but I believe I am
correct about the Bible.
I shall examine some of
the comments in the Holy Bible by Jesus Christ on divorce, who is saved,
honoring one’s parents, family values, tolerance and authority, slavery,
moral reasoning, and other religions. My thesis will be that Jesus Christ
makes remarks in the Holy Bible that reflect a human being that is less than
I will begin with the
pronouncements of Jesus on the subject of divorce. In Matt 5: 32 Jesus is
quoted as saying “…whoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of
fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whoever shall marry her
that is divorced committeth adultery.” In Mark 10: 11, 12 we read “Whoever
divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a
woman divorces her husband and be married to another, she committeth
adultery.” In Luke 16: 18 we see “Whoever putteth away his wife, and
marrieth another, committeth adultery; and whosoever marrieth her that is
put away from her husband committeth adultery.”
I interpret Mark and Luke above as holding that “Whenever you divorce your
spouse it is adultery.” This means that divorcing your spouse is sufficient
for adultery. It also means that there is never any good reason to get
divorced; that when you do, it is adultery. Since adultery is wrong, divorce
is wrong always and everywhere.
If this is what these passages imply, then my criticisms will apply. Of the
three passages, only the one from Matthew mentions the exception of marital
unfaithfulness as sufficient grounds for divorce. It should be pointed out
that the Bible does not say that you have to divorce a spouse that is
I think the unquestioned,
blind adherence to these passages by uncritical and unreflective Christians
has caused a great deal of unwarranted human suffering. If these passages
imply that unfaithfulness is the only grounds for divorce, I regard this as
clearly false, unless some reason can be given for believing it. Domestic
violence, physical and psychological abuse, and basic incompatibility of
life goals and aims, are also moral justifications for divorce. Anyone who
disagrees with this has the burden of proof of showing why a married person
cannot divorce someone who is cruel to them or abuses them. These seem to me
to be morally sufficient reasons for divorce. I should point out here that
unfaithfulness can be interpreted to include abuse, but I think that the
Bible is clearly interpretable here as talking about adultery as the only
grounds for divorce. If this interpretation is not correct, then I do not
know how to take these passages. If it is correct, then Jesus was clearly
The dictum that by
marrying a divorced person you thereby commit adultery also seems to us to
be clearly false. There are several reasons why someone may have gotten into
a bad marriage, and in such cases he/she may have justifying reasons for
obtaining a divorce. To command that this person can never get remarried to
anyone again is not only morally unjustifiable, but cruel. I see no
justifying reason for such a view. Such a view prevents divorced people from
leading happy and fulfilling lives. I conclude that if Jesus really said
this, he was clearly morally unjustified in doing so, and morally mistaken.
Hence his moral teachings are not infallible.
WHO IS SAVED
In Matt 7: 13, 14 we are
told “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy,
that leads to destruction, and those that enter it are many. For the gate is
narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those that find it are
In Luke 13: 23, 24 Jesus is asked “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”
and he said to them “Strive to enter the narrow door; for many, I tell you,
will seek to enter and not be able.” We assume by “life” Jesus means eternal
life in heaven, and that few will find it. I think both of these passages,
that were purportedly uttered by Jesus, clearly imply that most of us are
going to be sent to hell by Jesus. I find this prospect difficult to
reconcile with a divine being that is supposed to be infinitely good,
morally perfect, and who loves everyone unconditionally. Anyone who would
send most human beings to eternal torment does not seem to be a candidate
for moral perfection. A morally perfect being will not send most of us to
hell. If God created us, and Jesus is God, why did he create us so we will
go to hell?
I also find this passage
incompatible with Romans 9: 11-13 that says “The Scripture says, “No one who
believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between
Jew and Greek; the same Lord is the Lord for all who call upon him. For, “
everyone who calls upon the Lord shall be saved.”
F. F. Bruce argues that in
saying “the many” are destroyed Jesus may be speaking of his ministry when
he spoke to his followers. He spoke to those who were alive then. Bruce
points out that Paul (Rom 5: 15,19) speaks of “the many” as those who
receive the benefits of the work of Jesus. However, I do not see any
necessary connection between these two passages. Jesus could just as well
have condemned most of us in one place, and changed his mind in another.
I think it is an unnecessary kindness to see Jesus as being consistent here.
Bruce points out that another writer said “ignorance, incapacity,
perversity, the sheer human capacity for error are sufficient to ensure a
high failure rate.”
My interpretation is a
plausible alternative to that of Bruce. However, I will not insist that the
quote be taken in the most unfavorable way. It is enough to point out that
it is problematical.
Another way of resolving
this conflict is to say that everyone CAN be saved, but few actually are
going to be saved. Since God is omniscient, and presumably knows this ahead
of time, I have difficulty reconciling this with His goodness and love for
us. If God is good, and loves us, he would want us to be saved. Since He is
all powerful, why would he not bring it about that we are saved?
theologian John Hick agrees with this. He says that unending torment cannot
be a good end. Hell is a concept that raises the problem of evil, and a
theology that opts for a place like hell is at variance with any plausible
theology. Hell is better construed as a symbol of the responsibility our
freedom gives us towards God.
Since God allegedly created man as free and responsible agents, we should
have the wherewithal to avoid doing wrong and bad things. A good God would
offer us the option of Hell, but that option need not be actually realized
for responsible and rational beings. This is how I read Hick.
Since Jesus is portrayed
in the Bible as clearly advocating that some, or most, people deserve to go
to hell, I maintain that the Bible fails to portray a being that is morally
perfect. Jesus threatens people with hell fire and eternal torment
throughout the New Testament. In Matt 11: 20-24 Jesus condemns entire cities
to dreadful deaths and eternal torment in hell just because they do not care
for his teachings.
HONORING YOUR PARENTS
In Matt 15: 4 we are told
by Jesus “For God commanded, ‘Honor you father and your mother,’ and, ’He
who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die.’” I do not find
such a remark to be an example of what a morally perfect being would say.
Similar sentiments are to be found in Exodus 21: 13, Lev 20: 9, and Deut 21:
Then there is
this: “Do not think I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to
bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her
mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be that of his own household. He who
loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves
son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take
his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matt 10: 34-38)
If this is taken
literally, (and it need not be), I find this to be anti-family and a
rejection of the very family values that conservative Christians espouse.
Similar remarks can be found at Luke 12: 51-53.
Bruce points out that this
saying comes in the context of Jesus speaking of the conflict between the
realm of good and evil. Those who wish to follow God must follow Jesus.
Otherwise, we are on the side of the enemy.
However, I find this dichotomy to be an oversimplification of the human
condition, where we do not always have either or choices; either follow
Jesus and his teachings or side with evil. Such disjunctive thinking is far
Bruce argues that when
Jesus spoke of tension and conflict in a family, he spoke from personal
experience. There are indications that some of his own family did not
sympathize with him. When Jesus said he had come to bring “not peace but a
sword” he meant this would be an effect of his coming, not the
purpose. I regard this as an alternative explanation that would
ameliorate the remarks of Jesus. I cannot comment on its plausibility, but
it comes as a welcome relief.
In Luke 14: 16 we are told
“If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and
wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he
cannot be my disciple.” A very kind interpretation of this passage would be
that a disciple of Jesus should renounce all else. However, this passage is
readily interpreted to be contrary to family values that Christian
conservatives avidly espouse.
There is reason to believe
Jesus was intolerant. In Matt 12: 30 Jesus says “He who is not with me is
I find remarks like that to display an intolerance for those who may
question or disagree with the teachings of Jesus. Such intolerance is hardly
a moral virtue, let alone a sign of moral perfection. The above is
consistent with the remark Jesus makes that “unless you turn and become like
children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18: 3) This can
be interpreted as commanding us not to question, think critically, or try to
use reason to educate ourselves morally. I find such authoritarian remarks
to be contrary to what a mature moral agent ought to be.
More importantly, Jesus is
engaging in crass authoritarianism. You either do what he says, accept him
as your Lord and Savior, and obey him, or you will go to hell. Everyone is
either good (because they obey and worship Jesus), or bad (because they
don’t). Everyone is either saved or unsaved. Jesus explicitly says so in
Mark 16: 16 “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that
believeth not shall be damned.”
I find such a simplistic final solution to the complexities and subtleties
of the human condition to be a major affront to the dignity of thinking
human beings everywhere. The biblical Jesus makes it simplistic at Matt 12:
30, and Mark 16: 16. Human beings are complex creatures with multiple
variables influencing their personalities and behavior. Such an
authoritative and simple solution to the problems facing human beings is for
the uneducated among us who need authoritative guidance, but not for people
who can think intelligently about what they should do, and what is right and
good. This sort of authoritativeness can easily be looked at by some as an
insult to the dignity of thinking and morally sensitive human beings
In Mark 14: 21 we are told
that “woe to the man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would be better
for that man if he had not been born.”
I do not know what betraying Jesus amounts to, but it is this sort of threat
to anyone who questions Jesus can easily be looked at as a mean sort of
crass authoritarianism. It is not for the thinking people among us.
In John 3: 17, 18 we see
“For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the
world may be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned: he
who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in
the name of the holy Son of God.” This seems to make people of other
religions, such as Muslims and Hindus, condemned to hell. I find such
passages to be unfairly exclusivist and intolerant of others who do not
share Christian beliefs. The same applies to John 3: 36 which reads “He who
believes in the Son has eternal life: he who does not obey the Son shall not
see life, but the wrath of god rests upon him.” I regard such threats as
unworthy of any religion or creed.
In John 8: 23, 24 it says
“He said to them “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this
world, I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins
unless you believe that I am he.” Again, I find such threats to be
insensitive. Another, similar passage is in Acts 3: 23, where it says “And
it shall be that every soul that does not listen to that prophet shall be
destroyed from the people.”
I will now quote from Luke
12: 45-48: “But if that servant says to himself, ’My master is delayed in
coming,’ and begins to beat the maidservants and menservants, and to eat and
get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not
expect him and put him with the unfaithful. And the servant who knew his
master’s will, but did not make ready according to his will, shall receive a
severe beating. But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating,
shall receive a light beating.”
An unkind interpretation
of this passage would be that Jesus advocated beating of slaves when they
are unruly. A kinder interpretation is that Jesus did not disapprove of
having servants or slaves when he had the opportunity to do so. I find this
to be consistent with the fact that slavery is approved of elsewhere in the
Bible, and that Jesus did not disapprove of slavery or servitude. I find
this to be incompatible with the view that Jesus is morally omniscient, thus
morally perfect. Since slavery is immoral whenever and wherever it occurs, I
find this to be another reason to question the moral sagacity and perfection
of Jesus Christ as portrayed in the Bible. It appears that Jesus failed to
disapprove of slavery. The fact that in no other place in the Bible does
Jesus disapprove of slavery, and the fact that he had an opportunity to do
so in Luke 12: 45-48, but did not, is evidence that Jesus did not officially
disapprove of slavery. Since slavery is always morally wrong, there was at
least one moral truth that Jesus did not know. Thus Jesus was ignorant of at
least one important moral truth.
Another possibility is
that Jesus may have known of slavery, but had reason not to condemn it. I
find this possibility to be poor judgment for a fully morally perfect
being. Still another possibility is that Jesus was sent to save us, not to
reform all our doings on earth. But, then in what sense was He morally
In the New Testament Jesus
rarely gives any reasons for his moral commands. He just expects everyone to
accept him as a moral authority without question, and he simply issues
directives and commands. In the rare places where he engages in any kind of
reason giving, or moral reasoning, his reasoning is poor and defective. For
example, in Matt 23: 29-36 we read:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of
the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had
lived in the days of our fathers, we would NOT have taken part in all the
shedding of blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves,
that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets, Fill up then, the
measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to
escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men
and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will
scourage in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, that upon you
may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent
Abel to the blood of Zechariah…whom you murdered between the sanctuary and
the alter. Truly, I say to you, all this will come upon your generation.
It seems fair to interpret
this passage as saying that the scribes and Pharisees would have taken part
in the persecution of the prophets BECAUSE their ancestors did. In addition,
BECAUSE their ancestors persecuted the prophets, they will now do the same.
And in addition, BECAUSE their ancestors are guilty of wrongdoings, the
present descendants of those ancestors are guilty of the same wrongdoings of
the ancestors. All of these conclusions and assertions that are alleged to
follow the above “becauses” are gross non sequiturs. All these inferences
are unwarranted, and all three inferences are examples of poor reasoning.
In the first place, just
because the ancestors of the present scribes and Pharisees persecuted the
prophets, it does not follow logically that the present scribes and
Pharisees would have done the same thing. Second, it doe not follow
logically that the scribes and Pharisees will now persecute the prophets,
just because their ancestors did, And third, it does not follow logically
that the present scribes and Pharisees are now guilty of wrongdoing, and
deserving of hell, just because their ancestors were guilty of wrongdoing.
All this is very bad moral reasoning on the part of Jesus Christ. If there
is another way of interpreting these passages, then I may be wrong, but this
seems like a plausible interpretation. The third point by itself shows a
serious defect in moral reasoning. No one should ever be blamed for what
their ancestors did just because their ancestors did something wrong. This
is defective moral reasoning. Had the Pharisees exhibited the same sort of
spirit this ancestors had, they may have been blameworthy.
A referee points out that
Jesus could have had the view that the guilt of one generation is handed on
to the next. If so, then the premise, that Jesus may have assumed is
questionable. In this case the reasoning of Jesus is not at fault.
THE GOODNESS OF MANKIND
In Mark 10: 17, 18 a man
knelt before Jesus and asked what he must do for eternal life calling Jesus
the “Good Teacher.” Jesus replied that he is not good, and that “No one is
good but God alone.” This clearly implies that Jesus is not as good as God
the Father, therefore, not morally perfect according to he very New
Testament itself. It also implies that everyone else in the world is not
good. I find this to be unsatisfactory as a moral view. Religion should not
be in the business of telling everyone that they are no good. This is
Further passages are like
this one in Romans 3: 11, 12 that reads “What then? Are we Jews any better
off? No, not at all; for I have clearly charged that all men, both Jews and
Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: None is righteous, no,
not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside,
together they have gone wrong, no one does good, not even one.” For a world
that has seen the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, Albert
Schweitzer, John F. Kennedy, and now Barack Obama, I find such Biblical
passages to be an outrageous affront to human beings everywhere. Organized
religion, and such intellectual garbage, is hardly beneficial to the human
condition and the furtherance of human knowledge and well being.
I conclude that although
there are many virtues that I have not mentioned that Jesus exemplifies in
the Bible, I have shown that Jesus is less than morally infallible, less
than omniscient, and sometimes unkind and intolerant of others. The ethical
advice Jesus is given credit for is often mistaken, even cruel. He sometimes
reasons poorly when he attempts to reason morally. In some cases, blind
obedience to the moral advice of Jesus has caused human suffering. I find
this unnecessary and avoidable by critical thinking. I recommend that people
who are considering what they ought to do try thinking, and not rely solely
on holy books. I think that total reliance on being saved by Jesus Christ
discourages such a process. The moral I draw is that good people need to
read holy books critically and reflectively, and use their ability to reason
morally in order to obtain moral truths in a reliable manner. This will not
be achieved by blind trust in any holy book, or blind faith in the Biblical
Jesus Christ for moral guidance.
Assuming Jesus is God Himself, our concept of God is of a being that
cannot make a mistake, or be ignorant of anything (omniscience).
The King James Bible, King James Version, (Thomas Nelson
I think it is safe to assume without providing evidence that Jesus
disapproved of adultery. One finds this generally true of the Bible.
The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, (Thomas Nelson and
Sons, 1952). This version of the Bible will be used in the rest of
I am assuming the writings of Paul in Romans 5 represent the views
F. F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, (InterVarsity Press,
1983), p. 204.
John Hick, Philosophy of Religion, 4th edition,
(Prentice-Hall, 1990), p. 125.
F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 155.
In context this was not a general claim, but directed to a group of
antagonistic Pharisees. Here Jesus seems to want the polarization of
his audience—for or against. I owe this point to Paul Wilson.
There are other possible interpretations of this passage. One such
interpretation is that God infinitely exceeds our cognitive powers,
and we should accept his word and obey Him without question. But
this attitude can lead to trouble if we do not read the Bible
critically. I am advocating a critical reading of the Bible.
Some later editions of this book do not contain this verse. I owe
this point to Paul Wilson.
In context this was spoken of Judas who was planning to betray
Jesus. I owe this point to Paul Wilson.
Here I am assuming that the words of Peter represent the words of
This can be interpreted as saying that we are not wholly good that
is not the same thing as saying we are not good at all. This is a
kinder interpretation. Bruce gives such an interpretation, see p.
One can argue that Jesus did not come to earth in order to fix all
the problems in society, or to give us a complete morality. He came
mainly to save us. I have no objection to this view here. I would
like to know why the Bible says most of us are going to hell, if
Jesus came to save us. I am attacking the view that Jesus was
portrayed in the Bible as morally perfect. I thank Larry Nessly for
his time and help. I also thank a moderate and more sober referee
for this journal who helped me improve the manuscript.