Monday 28 May 2018

Jesus 'without sin' is a red herring... Jesus was actually confrontational to the point of scathing

Pondering the Fourth Gospel has clarified that the extreme importance placed on Jesus being 'without sin' is either misleading or an error.

Jesus being without sin means that his motivations, thoughts and  actions - what he did, was wholly aligned with the Father's will. Thus, sin would be to be unaligned-with, opposed-to, God's creation and God's intentions.

This was intrinsic to Jesus's work, because he was sent by the Father and was faithful to his mission; but it is an unhelpful error to make this be about sinlessness - the idea of sinlessness seems to come from an inappropriate focus on the need for a perfect sacrificial animal in the ancient Hebrew religion - an equation is made between the sacrificial lamb being, ideally, a perfect example of its species, and Jesus being a similarly perfect example of our species - to make the sacrifice effective.

To put this interpretation at the centre of explaining the work of Jesus is to grasp the wrong end of the stick, and to refuse to let-go.

The Fourth Gospel is clear that the main thing about Jesus was his identity: who he was. It was not about what he did, but who he was.

What Jesus actually did was to prove his identity (by various means - miracles, testimony, fulfilment of prophecy) and to confront a lot of different people, in a lot of situations - and confront them usually in a confrontational manner! Just read the gospel: in almost every reported interaction, Jesus is dominant, distinctly sharp-tongued, accusing and convicting.

Most often, indeed Jesus is distinctly scathing in his comments to others!... Dismissive of the real motivations of the five thousand whom he fed, mocking about the dishonesty the Samaritan Woman, short-tempered with those who asked the same question more than once, and accusing the Pharisees of serving Satan.

Jesus went around hurting people's feelings all the time - even his disciples. The put-downs of Simon Peter are extreme, Nathanael is greeted with sarcasm, 'Doubting Thomas' is shamed... 

Jesus does not seem to have been going around Being-perfect and Not-sinning; but going around proving his identity, his love; and stating what this meant for us - what people needed to do about him.

Note added: It seems to me that, from the Fourth Gospel; someone at the time - an informed and reliable witness, if asked about Jesus and 'what is he like?' surely would never had summarised him by emphasising negative-qualities such as 'he is without sin' or 'he is perfect'... He would have talked of positive and dynamic attributes such as Jesus's natural authority, power, wisdom... the way he said and did surprising things which were then recognised as exactly right... 


Desert Rat said...

I think this post is going to be very much misunderstood. I also think you wrote it in haste. Jesus was indeed without sin as you point out very early on in that He was fully in line with God's will and nothing he did was in contradiction to this. The same most certainly cannot be said by anyone else. What modern Christians seem to overlook is that Jesus was certainly confrontational and had no problem confronting sin with criticism and denunciation as they have conflated a principled and unbending stance against sin as a sin in itself.

The big problem with Jesus's sometime confrontational stances is that some of those who follow him have used his interactions with the Pharisees or wayward disciples to justify their own truly sinful impulses and let their pride and anger run free. We have seen far too many instances of murder and oppression in the name of Jesus Christ. And all committed with a sense of self righteous justification based on the harrowing of the money changers or His statement about selling your cloak and buying a sword.

There is noting sinful about confronting sinful behavior and censuring it. There is everything sinful about inflicting pain and suffering in the name of Christ while really only indulging in the exercise of our own passions and appetites.

Chiu ChunLing said...

I'm not sure what you're saying here.

Do you mean that confronting and condemning sinful behavior is itself a sin?

Or are you merely positing that tolerating and ignoring sinful behavior would not be a sin?

If neither, then how does it make sense to assume that being sinless and perfect would be contradicted by confronting and condemning sin?

Nigel Worthington said...

Bruce - I'm not a biblical scholar, and I'm not saying you are wrong, but from my viewpoint you are speculating. Consider an alternative explanation for what you observe. Suppose the Gospel of John was written after the synoptics as scholars generally believe. Jesus says much about sin in those gospels and less about his identity, because perhaps it is attachment to sins that in a very real sense leads one to hell (the wages of sin are death) - and therefore it is an important part of his message.

Fast forward 40 years later - when scholars believe John was being written - what was likely going at that time in the Christian church (or later - indeed there is evidence the original gospels have been tampered in various ways)? Doctrinal battles over the identity of Jesus. Perhaps the tone you observe and the focus on identity was in reaction to other theological ideas in circulation at that time.

Now, if true, your typical apologist would argue that this doesn't make John any less inspired - but it suggests to me giving it priority or arguing that sinlessness is inconsequential because it isn't the focus of John is probably a mistake.

Bruce Charlton said...

@DL - The post is written quite precisely, but needs to be read in the same spirit. Misunderstanding is inevitable - so does not concern me!

@CCL - ditto.

@NW - I have considered, and rejected, this alternative explanation - for reasons I have gone into too often to want to repeat. I've been writing about the Fourth Gospel very frequently recently, and my rationale for what I am doing - for me the Fourth Gospel is the single most authoritative book of the Bible (i.e. the single most authoritative Book full-stop) - in light of which all else should be understood.

Anonymous said...

The fact of Jesus' sinlessness is not a red herring, a distraction from the main point, but rather a different point altogether.

That Jesus was tempted (Matt 4) shows he had his own desires as we do (James 4:14) and his desires and will was not always in line with that of the Father (Luke 22:42); yet he never succumbed. His sinlessness is essential for our understanding of putting off our owns desires, to put on Christ (Rom 13:14) and be led by the Spirit, as He was. And it gives proper understanding to His role as the High Priest who has compassion on His fellow man, because he too was tempted (Heb 4:13-15).

Maybe you're just having trouble by judging Jesus' actions outwardly. To me, it's no trouble. He mocked, rebuked, shamed, ridiculed, threw over tables, and even whipped people in the temple - and none of that was a sin.

Chiu ChunLing said...

I've read this post very carefully (I don't know if that's what you mean by precisely), and it is impossible to see what you could be saying here other than that there is some important difference between being sinless and confronting and condemning sin, such that one could do the former without doing the latter.

Desert Rat raises the important point that it is possible to confront and condemn sin without being sinless. And I think that is an important thing to understand that helps explain why focusing on being sinless, which includes opposition to sin, has taken precedence over mere opposition to sin, which does not include being sinless. But, speaking very precisely, you are not saying anything about that.

On the other hand, I can't see how you would be saying that Jesus is being sinful by opposing sin. There are a few people who do say that about Jesus, but I can't see that you're trying to be one of them. But it is hard to see how you can be saying anything else.

Freddy Martini said...

Thanks a lot for this, Bruce. I think one point is that Jesus never comes across as a Nice Guy. Perhaps the churches have put forth this Nice Guy image to please outsiders and the Old Church Ladies, but it is a lie. The very reason he was killed was because he angered people and was not very "nice" nor diplomatic. The narrative appears to have him deliberately irritate people to get him killed. And, this is the point of a lot of the Gospel: speaking the Truth is not easy, and people will want to kill you, and a "nice" and "respectable" guy can NEVER speak the Truth. This is the painful lesson we have to come to terms with, I think. Do we want to really speak the Truth? The Whole Truth? Then, prepare for Death!