Jesus in His time

Why do so many people insist, against all likelihood, that the Apostles were usurpers who refashioned Christianity into something totally different from what Christ had left it?  It’s because the Apostolic witness is the main evidence against their dream religion.  The dream religion is about three centuries old now, but it’s always getting updated to suit the longings of its adherants.  It imagines that the real Jesus Christ was nothing like the character in the Gospels.  He never made Messianic or divine claims for himself; he never mentioned Hell, sin, or divine anger; he certainly didn’t set us something as ghastly as a church.  Rather he was a perfect 21st (or 20th, or 19th, or 18th) century liberal, come into this world to preach the joys of dogma-free religion, socialized medicine, gay marriage, or stuff like that.

I don’t understand why people who don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God should care so much what His true teachings in 1st century Palestine were, but let’s look at this claim anyway.  What’s the evidence for it?  Nothing.  To get around this, adherents of the dream religion make much of certain 2nd-3rd century syncretistic gnostic writings that they find more agreeable than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Even if these gnostic writings had any historical reliability (which they don’t), they wouldn’t testify to the Jesus of the dream religion.  What’s the evidence against the dream religion?  The united testimony of early Christian writings and traditions that have been preserved for us.  This is addressed by wild claims about Apostolic fabrications.  “The actual witnesses aren’t telling us what we want to hear.  Therefore, they must be lying!”

As I said before, the authority of the Apostles given from Jesus is the single most certain thing about the early Church.  Even if we don’t believe this, though, and we discard the whole New Testament as a scam, we’d still run up against the second most certain thing about the historical Jesus:  He was not a modern-type liberal.  I speak here not as a believing Christian, but simply as a man with a little historical sense.  Whatever Christ’s true opinions were, they were a lot closer to what’s recorded in the New Testament than to the opinions of contemporary celebrities and the U.S. Democratic Party.

No one denies that Jesus was a 1st-century Jew.  There were indeed areas of disagreement among 1st century Jews (c.f. Pharisees vs Sadducees), but there was also wide agreement.  All Jews agreed that God exists, that He loves justice and hates sin, that He had made a special covanent with Israel, that idolatry is an abomination, that sodomy is an abomination, that adultery is an abomination, etc.  Questioning these ideas just wasn’t on their mental radar screens, and it wouldn’t be for millenia.  Anyone who tried to start a movement dedicated to free love and homosexuality (as some now like to imagine Jesus did) could never have built up a significant following, certainly not one that would quickly become the most morally strict sect in the Roman Empire.

Liberals imagine that their beliefs are universal common sense, but in fact they are as socially conditioned as any others.  Deep down, they must know this.  If today you grabbed an eight-year old boy at random in Afghanistan, do you think he would believe in Western-style absolute sexual equality?  Finding a 21st-century liberal among 1st-century Israelites would be even more unlikely.  For such an astounding claim, we would need strong evidence.  Instead, we are given wishful thinking.  The Gospels, on the other hand, present a man and a movement that definitely fit in their historical-cultural context.  The recorded sayings of Jesus at least have this in their favor:  they’re the sort of things a man in that culture might have said.

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