Evaluating Jesus’ Teaching
Introduction to this Essay
Our series of Essays on the “Old Religions” includes one Essay on Taoism/Zen, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam; plus three Essays on Christianity. In these Essays, we try to demonstrate each Religion’s Strengths and Shortcomings. We’ve also added an Essay titled, “Modern Cults & Unusual Paths, where we look at 46 Modern Cults & Unusual Spiritual Paths, including the Amish, The Celestine Prophecy, Falun Gong, the Gaia Movement, the Moonies, “New Age,” Opus Dei, Positive Thinking, QAnon, and Scientology.
Every spiritual movement is comes about in reaction to the problems of its day. Our own Spiritual Path — Continuing Creation: Finding Life’s Meaning & Purpose — in Nature, Reason, & Science (without any myths or miracle stories), is no exception: it is written to find life’s meaning and purpose in Nature, Reason, and Science; without any myths and miracle stories.
Today, we find the Old Religions to be out of date scientifically and morally. We will search out each one’s inconsistencies with science, history, and human character. We will also point out each Old Religion’s shortcomings relative to modern morality, tolerance, and the rule of law. We will uncover their primitive attitudes toward women, death, purity, creativity, health, war, slavery, and the purpose of life.
What should then be done with the famous texts of the Old Religions? The best course would be to leave the outdated and incorrect verses in place, while color-coding or labeling each one with the words “mythical,” “outdated,” or “metaphor only.” Annotations and/or footnotes could be added to explain the metaphorical significance of each myth.
Our Essays on the major religions also look at each religion’s strengths and say how the Book of Continuing Creation incorporates and improves upon those strengths.
A Review of Why Religions Arise
The main reason for the rise of a religion is human suffering and dissatisfaction with life. Humans endure hunger, war, natural disaster, oppression, crime, disease, old age, and inevitable death.
In addition, humans suffer from the psychological traits of fear, worry, and desire – the urge, regardless of their life conditions — to want “more” and “better.”
Religion also helps explain natural events, like lightning. Our natural human curiosity leads us to seek explanations for natural phenomena we don’t understand. But curiosity is likely not strong enough, by itself, to give rise to a new religion.
If people are distressed by one or more of real-life adversities of the human condition, they can seek relief in the following ways:
A. Practical Real-World Solutions:
Achieve a better life here and now through revolution or conquest.
Achieve a better future through creativity and technology.
Achieve rescue by a better king, a more enlightened country, or a helpful international agency.
Achieve higher morality, more justice, and more prosperity through individual reform.
Achieve higher morality, more justice, and more prosperity through social and political reform.
B. Mental-spiritual Solutions – i.e. Invent a Supernatural Religion or a Spiritual Path:
Envisioning gifts from a supernatural being;
Envisioning rescue by a messiah (could be a ‘practical solution’), and/or
Envisioning a promised second life in a supernatural heaven, and/or
Offering an escape – mental or social withdrawal — from conditions here on Earth.
The various “solutions” in A and B above boil down to the “three F’s and one R:”
List A = “Fight or Fix.”
List B = “Flee or Rescue.”
A group of co-located, socially/ethnically unified people who are distressed may well invest an organized movement to seek betterment through items from the Lists A and B above. A political revolution is an example of an organized movement that draws mostly from List A. A religion is an example of a movement that draws mostly from List B.
There are Two Christianities… and we have written Three Essays about them.
The Essay you are reading now, Evaluating Jesus’ Teaching, is about The Religion taught by Jesus (which we also call the Religion of Jesus). It consists of what Jesus-on-Earth actually did (his example) and what he actually said (his preaching). Only this first Christianity — the Religion of Jesus — contains Jesus’ authentic guidance for living. Of our three Essays on Christianity, the first Essay (this Essay) is far more important for Students of Continuing Creation, because it is the real story of an important advance in human social thought.
Then we have the Religion Preached by about Jesus by his believers after his death, “Early Christianity: From Jesus’ Death to 312 C.E.” This is the mythical Christianity created around a supernatural, sensationalized, deified figure of Jesus after the human being named Jesus had died. When we read the Gospels, Epistles, and Bishops’ treatises in the order they were written, we can see how the preaching of Jesus-the-Earthly-Prophet is converted into a fictional and magical religion about the “Son of God,” who rises from the dead. This deification process, whereby a human founder of a religion is transformed by subsequent writers into a divine being, is common in the history of religions. We will discuss this process largely in our second Essay. The resulting religion is the Christianity promulgated by the Roman Catholic Church starting from the rule (306 to 337 AD) of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, who converted to Christianity in the year 312.
Our third Essay, Medieval Catholicism to Protestant Reformation, considers Christianity from the year of Emperor Constantine’s conversion in 312 CE, to the year 1660. In the year 1660, the Protestant Reformation flowered when Martin Luther nailed his “95 theses” for reform to a church door in Zurich Switzerland.
The Religion Taught by Jesus drew mostly on two items from our List “A” above, namely individual moral/attitudinal reform and socio-political reform – both from List A: “Fight or Fix.”
The supernatural religion created about the person of Jesus, discussed in the next Essay, offers a key additional feature: a second life in the supernatural paradise called heaven for persons that would declare a true belief in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior. This feature, a mental-spiritual solution from our List B, “Flee or Rescue,” was added when the long-expected Messiah (whether Jesus or another) never appeared and never freed Judea from Roman rule.
The new Christianity around Jesus – Roman Catholic Christianity (and Greek Orthodox Christianity) — provided an “easier, softer way” to enter heaven, in case the disciplines of moral reform and good works prove to be too hard. One need only sincerely accept official Christian doctrine, be Baptized, and be Confirmed as a true believer in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As we shall see, during the early Middle Ages this additional feature becomes dominant in Roman Catholic Christianity.
There should never be a supernatural, unscientific, sacred version of the Book of Continuing Creation. The Book of Continuing Creation must be kept consistent with science and with actual historical events.
The Religion Taught By Jesus
We will look at the Religion Taught by Jesus first, in this Essay. We’ll leave the supernatural, fantastical Religion Preached about Jesus for discussion in the second Essay.
Social Conditions Leading to Jesus’ Teachings
Before looking at what Jesus did and at what Jesus said, it is helpful to know the social, political, and religious conditions of his time.
Male-dominated, Old Desert (Abrahamic) Religions
Going back thousands of years, to the time of the ancient Semitic Tribes, the Middle East has been inhabited by male-dominated cultures. All three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – are paternalistic.
Perhaps this is because arable land was limited and bordered by desert. Crops did not grow without irrigation, and there were few bountiful harvests to celebrate. In these conditions, life was a struggle and Nature was seen as the enemy of man. Ethnic tribes (including the Israelites) continually went to war to gain and occupy the limited arable lands.
Religiously, it was hard for people in the Middle East to attribute spiritual power, creative power, to Nature. Gentle, beneficent power could not be attributed to trees, animals, and brooks. Rather, a stern and masculine Warrior-Father-God was needed to rescue to destroy enemy tribes, to rescue people and lead them out of the desert to a “promised land.”
In the time of Jesus, Palestine included Galilee in the north and Judea in the south. The Romans had conquered Palestine sixty-three years before Jesus’ birth. The Hebrew people suffered under harsh Roman Rule. Taxes were high, and crucifixion was a common punishment. Crucifixion and/or impalement was used by Persians, Carthaginians, and Macedonians. The Romans used Crucifixion to punish slaves, pirates, and enemies of the state. It was considered the most shameful and disgraceful way to die. 1
Resistance to Roman Rule
The people of Jesus’ time and place desperately wanted relief from harsh Roman rule. They wanted a way out of a stratified class structure where Pharisees had all the social status and wealth, and the common people were locked into poverty. They wanted hope for a future free of hunger and disease.
When oppressed populations are under such [high] stress, they tend to produce predictions of an apocalypse – cataclysmic overthrow of the old political and social order, a Final Judgment conducted by a God-anointed (God-appointed) emissary, and a new Kingdom on Earth led by God’s agent in which all people live in righteous and prosperous peace according to God’s law. 2
Considerable apocalyptic literature had previously been written by Jewish prophets in the Old Testament books of Joel, Zechariah, and Isaiah, when Israel was ruled by foreign powers before the rise of the Romans.
In Jesus’ time, a number of new Jewish preachers were continuing to predict an apocalypse in which a God-anointed Messiah would overthrow the Roman Rule of Emperor Augustus and his Governor in Judea, Pontius Pilate. The Messiah would conduct God’s Judgment of every person, and then usher in a Jewish theocracy in which the Israelites would live on Earth in peace, righteous obedience to Jewish law, and economic plenty. 3
Jesus was also an apocalyptic preacher, but with a new an important emphasis, as we shall see below.
Of course, by the time Pontius Pilate ordered Jesus crucified at age 33, no apocalypse had yet taken place. The religio-political movement for Jewish independence continued, however, culminating in the The Great Revolt, or First Jewish-Roman War, which began in 66 CE, thirty-odd years after Jesus’ death. By 70 CE, The Roman had put down this revolt and destroyed the Second Jewish Temple, in Jerusalem.
Social Stratification in Judea
At the time of Jesus, Jewish society was highly stratified, with vast differences between the rich and the poor. Jesus was concerned about this extreme division into classes of wealth and influence.
The influential classes were also divided into antagonistic religious factions. The main camps were the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Zealots, but also included other less influential sects.
The Sadducees were a sect or group of Jews that was active in Judea between the second century BCE through the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. The writer Josephus identified this sect with the upper social and economic echelon of Judean society. The Sadducees fulfilled various political, social, and religious roles, including maintaining the Temple. The Romans had co-opted the Jewish upper classes – including the Sadducees and the Temple Priests — using them as administrators, traders, and tax collectors. 4
The Pharisees (“Separatists”) party emerged largely out of the group of scribes and sages. The Pharisees preserved the Pharisaical oral law in the form of the Talmud. After the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 C.E., they would become the foundation of Rabbinic Judaism. From the point of view of the Pharisees, the Sadducees wished to change the Jewish understanding of the Torah, to a more Greek interpretation. 5
These social divisions led to further unrest over and abort resentment of Roman rule. As a result, the first century BCE and first century CE saw a number of charismatic religious leaders emerge, including Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus’ teaching shows very great concern over the divisions in Jewish society, which he felt were unjust. Clearly, Jesus acted as a human prophet in the Jewish Tradition – preaching return to morality and justice, and renewal of the Covenant with God.
Formalistic, Rule-bound Judaism
In Jesus’ time, the Jewish religion was bogged down in minute rules about food and personal “purity.” These rules helped make society almost a caste system, with untouchables at the bottom.
Example of a Jewish Purity Rule: In Jesus’ time (and for Orthodox Jews today), highly observant women are required to submerge themselves in a “purifying” pool of water called the mikveh each month after menstruating has ceased, and after childbirth. Both sexes must perform mikveh after contact with a corpse or grave, eating meat from an animal that died of natural causes, by bride and groom before their wedding day, and before certain Jewish holidays. 6
Jesus preached against the religious over-regulation of Jewish life. His message of Jesus was in part a popularization of Judaism. Jesus wanted to extend the Word of God from the priests and the corrupt aristocracy out to the common people. Detailed purity rules worked to separate the “clean” upper classes from the “unclean” lower classes. By simplifying or eliminating many of these rules, Jesus wanted to popularize and democratize the faith. This theme was in line with what earlier Hebrew prophets had done down through the ages.
Note: Interestingly, Lao Tzu, (Laozi), the Buddha, and Jesus all reacted against rules and formalism. They all objected to the lack of social mobility, economic progress, and social openness in their societies.
Forerunners of Jesus
Today, the great majority of modern Christians emphasize the Godly uniqueness of Jesus’ life. “After all, there was only One Son of God,” they say.
However, almost all of Jesus’ behavior patterns (as well as his preached doctrines), were common all over the Mediterranean during the span of Jesus life.
Let’s look at people who were forerunners of Jesus, people who provided role models for Jesus’ lifestyle. We will look at three forerunners: The Greek Cynics, the Jewish Essenes, and Jesus’ mentor, John the Baptist.
The Greek Cynics
Jesus’ teaching was very influenced by the Cynics – the Greek philosophical movement founded by Diogenes, who lived from 400 to 320 BCE. In Jesus’ time (i.e., the reign of Roman Emperor Augustus, first century CE), Greco-Roman Cynicism was re-flourishing.
Jesus was a traveling sage, as were the Greek Cynics then travelling all over the Mediterranean world. The Cynics begged for their bread, and Jesus was similarly supported by donations of lodging and food from his followers. The Cynics did “street theater” among the ordinary people and were populist preachers in the marketplace.” 7
Scholar Farrand Sayre described the Cynics’ program as follows: “The Cynics sought happiness through freedom…freedom from desires, from fear, anger, grief and other emotions, from religious or moral control, from the authority of the city or state or public officials, from regard for public opinion and freedom also from the care of property, from confinement to any locality and from the care and support of wives and children….the Cynic would not appear anywhere without his wallet [knapsack or hobo’s bundle] staff, and cloak, which must invariably be dirty and ragged and worn so as to leave the right shoulder bare [remark the similarities to Buddhist monks!] He never wore shoes and his hair and beard were long and unkempt. 8
The Cynic’s behavior is strikingly similar to Jesus’ directions to his own disciples: “He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.” (Gospel of Mark 6:8)
The Cynics’ philosophy and behavior have been repeated across many cultures. As Dominic Crossan writes: “Cynicism is the Greco-Roman form of that universal philosophy of eschatology or “world-negation” (also called “end-of-world” prophesy), one of the greater fundamental options of the human spirit.” 9
Most of the patterns of Jesus life were also present in the lives of the Essenes – a sect of ascetic Jews prevalent in the Middle East between about 200 years before Christ and for 100 years after Christ. Like Jesus, the Essenes were opposed to the dominance, bureaucracy, and corruption of the Pharisees and Sadducees. 10
The Jewish historian Josephus (writing around 80 C.E.) described the Essenes as living congregated in communal life dedicated to voluntary poverty, simple dress, daily immersion, and abstinence from worldly pleasures, including (for some groups) celibacy. They devoted themselves to charity and benevolence, forbade the expression of anger, studied the books of the elders, and preserved secrets, during the time of Christ.” They shared similar mystic, messianic, and ascetic beliefs. Josephus records that thousands of Essenes lived throughout Roman Judea. 11
Josephus also says the Essenes controlled their tempers and served as channels of peace. The Essenes chose not to possess slaves, but served each other and, as a result of communal ownership, did not engage in trading.
Note the similarities between how Jesus and his disciples lived and worshipped, and how Essenes lived and worshiped. There is no clear evidence that Jesus and his disciples considered themselves to be Essenes, but they appear to have been heavily influenced by Essene practices and beliefs.
The ascetic (simple and self-denying) lifestyle of the Essenes would set an example for Christian monks and nuns centuries after Jesus’ death. The word monastic comes from the Greek word “monos,” meaning alone, and the earliest Christian monks lived alone, as hermits. The first Christian monastery was built in 346 in Egypt. (from “Early Christian Monasticism”, Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance.) The path of asceticism draws many religious people, and most large, established religions have a monastics path within them. 12
The Practice of Continuing Creation is against withdrawal from the world exemplified by the Cynics and Essenes. We teach Engagement with the world. Engagement and effort produce Progress – physical, cultural, technological, scientific, and cultural.
John the Baptist
One of the important apocalyptic preachers in first-century Palestine was John the Baptist, who preceded Jesus by several years.
John the Baptist was an apocalyptic prophet who warned that an avenging God would soon come and “overwhelm you with holy spirit and fire” [Matthew 3:7-12 and Luke 3:7-9 and 16b-17]. John the Baptist was trying to assemble a population of baptized (purified) people sufficiently large so that they would feel able to destroy Roman power and bring on the apocalypse, knowing that they could and would be saved by God. 13
The gospels speak of Jesus being baptized by John, and nearly all scholars understand Jesus to have been a disciple of John the Baptist during Jesus’ early ministry.
Baptism: Water has been seen as a purifying substance throughout human history. In our own Practice of Continuing Creation, water has a symbolic role as the medium and sustainer of all Earthly life. Note how Baptism harks back to the older Jewish “rule” prescribing the mikvah bath, described above.
However, in the 1970’s many scholars, including Dominic Crossan, believe Jesus broke away from John’s vision. We will discuss this more fully later in this Essay.
According to scripture, John the Baptist was arrested and put him to death in 28 or 29 CE by the appointed ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas, who objected John’s calls for a new Jewish State. 14
The Religion Taught by Jesus
Having discussed the social conditions leading to Jesus’ teaching, having looked at three of the philosophical and religious movements that provided models for Jesus’ work, and having discussed John the Baptist, we turn to the actual content of Jesus’ own Teaching.
The Teaching of Jesus consists of two things:
- What Jesus the man actually did (his historical example) and
- What Jesus actually said (the words he actually spoke).
We will look at these two subjects — Jesus’ example and Jesus’ words — in two separate sections.
What Jesus Did — The Events and Patterns of Jesus Life
Jesus traveled and preached. He was baptized by his mentor, John the Baptist. And Jesus was crucified by the Roman rulers of Judea, because they perceived he was a threat to Roman rule.
“In its first stage, Christianity begins not as a religion, it begins rather as the movement of people around a single charismatic teacher or preacher… I would call him a holy man who attracted a crowd of disciples who followed him and his various wanderings… as he did his teachings.” 15
Jesus was probably illiterate. The Gospel of Mark (and only the Gospel of Mark) says Jesus had been a carpenter. However, nearly all artisans working at that time, including carpenters, were illiterate. Therefore, the story in the New Testament about his arguing complex theology with the priests is very likely false. 16
In any case, Jesus was a powerful and charismatic speaker, in the tradition of many previous prophets down through Jewish history.
Below is a list of the most important real, historical events and patterns in Jesus’ life.
What Jesus Did – The Events and Patterns of Jesus’ Life
- Baptized by John the Baptist
- Traveled and preached across Galilee, Samaria, and Judea.
- Spoke in sayings that often seem cryptic, or which may have inner meanings.
- Talked about the coming of God’s Heavenly Domain, a.k.a. The Kingdom of God.
- Rejected anger and hate; advocated turning the other cheek
- Accompanied by Disciples
- Possibly Celibate; possibly had relationship with Mary of Magdalene
- Left his family (parents and brother) behind; instructed his disciples to do the same
- Adopted voluntary poverty
- Broke social taboos – e.g., broke bread with tax collectors and prostitutes.
- Welcomed all people
- Communally shared food but dined well with his disciples
- Gave freely to the poor
- Likely held his possessions in common (The Book of Acts says early Christian communities held possessions in common)
- Crucified by Judea’s Roman rulers – as mentioned by the Hebrew historian Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus.
Note that this list does not include miracle healings and resuscitations of the dead, because those are not actual events. They are magical, mythical events. Our next Essay will discuss the process by which those supernatural tales were added to the Gospels.
What Jesus Said – The Words He Actually Spoke
Now we turn from the physical patterns of Jesus’ life to his preaching – to “What Jesus Said.”
While most contemporary Christians believe that all Jesus Bible saying were actually said by him, modern Bible scholarship shows otherwise. To know the Religion Taught by Jesus, we must first separate Jesus’ own words from the words written after Jesus’ death and falsely ascribed to him. 17
In the 1980s and 1990s, The Jesus Seminar, a group of about 150 scholars from major American and European universities labored to identify Jesus’ actual sayings, using 200 years of prior scholarship, knowledge of all the original languages, and techniques of textual analysis.
They asked questions such as “Is the verse in more than one gospel?” and “Is it true to in Jesus ‘folksy,’ spoken-Aramaic style.” The Jesus Seminar’s method is fully described in their introduction to The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say; and summarized in Professor Bart Ehrman’s book, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, pages 88-98. 18
After intensive analysis, the Jesus Seminar Scholars divided all the quotations attributed to Jesus into four categories: (See: The Five Gospels, p 36):
- Jesus undoubtedly said this.
- Jesus probably said something like this.
- Jesus did not say this, but the ideas contained in it are close to his own.
- Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition.
The Seminar Scholars concluded that 82% of the verses ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him. Most of Jesus’ sayings in the New Testament were added later, decades and centuries after Jesus’ death. 19
The Gospel of John fared even worse than the synoptic gospels (i.e., Mark, Matthew, and Luke). The Seminar Scholars concluded that nearly all the sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John were never actually said by Jesus. 20 The reason why Jesus’ sayings in John vary widely from Jesus’ saying in the Synoptic Gospels is because John was written after the other Gospels. John’s author modified Jesus’ sayings to reflect the New supernatural theology that had been created around Jesus this long (about 100 years) after Jesus’ death.
Note: The dates of the major events after Jesus’ death, including the writing of the Books of the New Testament, see the timeline at the end of our Essay, Early Christianity: from Jesus’ Death to 312 C.E. On average, the Jesus-sayings in the Synoptic Gospels (i.e., Matthew, Mark, and Luke), were originally written down between 50 CE and 80 CE, while the Gospel of John was written 90-100 CE.
Jesus Never Called Himself God, Son of God, The Messiah, or Son of Man
1. Jesus did not Call Himself “God” or “The Son of God” anywhere in the Synoptic Gospels.
As Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman wrote, (in his major and highly respected book of 2014, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee) nearly all respected scholars agree that “Jesus did not spend his ministry declaring himself to be divine.” 21
The Pattern of Continuing Creation tells us that The Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Universe is an interacting set of processes, not a person, nor even a disembodied mind. Nor do we think that the Processes ever “decides” to fully inhabit a human being or take human form as an “angel.” However, some humans do have closer connections to Continuing Creation than others, and in some of these cases the connection becomes apparent to everyone around them. We understand that Jesus, Lao Tsu, the Buddha, St. Francis of Assisi, and many other spiritual leaders were humans of this kind.
Note: The Synoptic Gospels have Jesus performing miracles, but this does not imply divinity. In the Old Testament, the Prophets Elijah and Elisha performed fantastic miracles – including healing the sick and raising the dead – through the power of God — and in the New Testament so did the Apostles Peter and Paul 22. Scholars regard the miracle stories about Jesus as tales that were added later, as part of the mythical exaltation of Jesus from human into Christ, and the Book of Continuing Creation agrees.
2. Jesus did not call himself “The Messiah” Anywhere in the Synoptic Gospels.
Jesus’ disciples call Jesus both Messiah and Son of God in the Gospel of Matthew, (e.g., Matthew 16:16). Of course, that is not the same as Jesus calling himself by those titles.
After Jesus rises from the dead, he does say that he has fulfilled “the promise of the Messiah.” However, modern scholars (and the Book of Continuing Creation) set aside Jesus’ alleged after-death sayings because they are fictional: people do not rise from the dead. The rising from-the-dead story (Resurrection) is an important step in the process of portraying making Jesus as divine, as we discuss in our next Essay, Early Christianity: From Jesus’ Death to 312 C.E.)
3. Jesus never explicitly called himself “Son of man” anywhere in the Synoptic Gospels, although he sometimes implies that he is. In any case, it is unclear what Jesus meant by the phrase “Son of Man.”
According to Jesus, The Son of Man Would Lead the Apocalypse and the Last Judgment.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” (Matthew 25:31-33)
Two important and related questions remain:
- Although Jesus did not explicitly call himself God, Son of God, Son of Man, or Messiah, did Jesus believe that he was any of those four things?
- What did Jesus (and others) mean by Son of Man? What did they mean by Messiah?
What Did Jesus (and Others) Mean by Son of Man? What Did they Mean by Messiah?
But what did Jesus mean by the phrase “Son of Man,” or the appellation “Messiah? The Torah and later books of the Old Testament are very imprecise about these expressions. “Son of Man” meant “a man of Israel,” a human whom God adopts as his right-hand man, a human who becomes an angel who comes out of heaven. “Messiah” has meant a human general who overthrows the foreign rulers of Israel and sits next to God. Sometimes Son of Man and Messiah were synonyms. Sometimes Son of Man meant the fighting General, while Messiah meant the God-chosen human (or angel) who governed the Kingdom of God after the General has won the battles.
For readers who are interested in the confused imprecision of these definitions, below are some additional bullet points.
Note: We have indented and bullet-pointed these pieces of evidence because they are not central to the Book of Continuing Creation. In particular, non-Christians may regard these issues as minor and could elect to skim over them.
- In the Old Testament, Son of Man is a translation of the Hebrew phrase Ben Adam, literally meaning “Son of Adam.” Therefore, Son of Adam simply means means “Human Man” or possibly “Man of Israel.” 23
- The Common English Bible translates Matthew 9:6 as referring to Jesus as the “Human One” rather than the “Son of Man.” “Human Man” or “Man of Israel” is clearly what God means by Son of Man when he repeatedly addresses the Prophet Ezekiel as Son of Man in the Old Testament Book of Ezekiel; and what the angel Gabriel means when he calls Daniel Son of Man in the Book of Daniel, Chapter 8:17.
- On the other hand, Daniel 8:7 in the Old Testament portrays the Son of Man “coming out of the clouds,” as if he were not a man but an angel.
- The word Messiah is not present in the Torah (the first five Books of the Old Testament), it appears in the Age of the Prophets. There, The Messiah was a human – a King or a High Priest — who would lead a violent overthrow of whatever foreign power was oppressing the Jews at the time (i.e., the Romans in Jesus’ time). This is still the concept of Messiah in most of Judaism today. 24
- Dr. Ehrman also writes that by the time of Jesus, the Son of Man concept of Man had evolved since that Old Testament. It had become a title most Jews regarded as an alternative title for Messiah. 25
- Jesus often speaks of the Son of Man – the figure who will overthrow the old order and conduct the Great Judgment. But when Jesus speaks of the Son of Man he seems to be describing someone other than himself. (e.g., Mark 8:38)
- But maybe Jesus was just being cryptic. Maybe he really thought he was the Son of Man, but never openly disclosed his true beliefs for fear of Roman arrest, crucifixion, and the end of his ministry.
- Another question: When he spoke, did Jesus mean that Son of Man is the same as Messiah? The answer is not at all clear.
- In the New Testament’s Gospel of Mark, Jesus preaches that the Son of Man will lead the immanent Apocalypse and Judgment, using God’s divine power (Mark 13:26, and 14:62).
- Jesus also says the Son of Man will be killed, and then will rise after three days. (Mark 8:31). Ehrman argues that Jesus, having no idea that he would rise from the dead, was not talking about himself as the Son of Man. Instead, Jesus thought the Son of Man would be someone other than himself. 26
- Besides, Jesus was a pacifist (“love thine enemies”) – so it would be out of character for Jesus to raise and army, wield violent divine power, or apply Judgment as would the Son of Man.
So, Dr. Ehrman concludes that Jesus did expect to be the Messiah, whom Jesus regarded as a different person than the Son of Man. Jesus believed that he, as Messiah, would be the God-chosen human King chosen to rule the earthly Kingdom of God after the Judgment. Ehrman supports this argument by citing Matthew 19:27-28, in which Jesus tells his 12 apostles that they will “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:27-28)
- We do know that Most or all of Jesus’ Disciples believed him to be the “Messiah,” however broadly or narrowly they defined that title. For example, in Luke 9: 18-20, Jesus asks Peter who Peter thinks Jesus is. Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.” But we don’t know if the Disciples thought that Messiah meant the same thing as Son of Man.
- In the end, of course, Jesus was arrested, prosecuted, and crucified not for leading a revolt, not for claiming he was the King of the Jews, but simply heralding an apocalypse that would have ended Roman Rule.
- Or perhaps Pontius Pilate had “learned’ that Jesus secretly expected to become the Leader of a near-future Kingdom of God from testimony (whether true or false) of Judas Iscariot. We will never know.
Reviewing our Discussion of Jesus’ “Titles,” Continuing Creation reaches these provisional conclusions:
- We hold that Continuing Creation: The Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Universe does not directly intervene in human lives, but rather affects our lives through biologic, cultural, and technological evolution. We think there is no such thing as a Human-God, an Angel, or a God-Human such as a Son of God. There are only humans, some of whom are very religious and very spiritual.
- We can never know Jesus’ thoughts, only his spoken words. We know Jesus never said he was God or the Son of God. Those titles were bestowed on Jesus by Christian writers decades after Jesus’ death, and even decades after the Synoptic Gospels were written.
- Jesus also never directly said he was the Son of Man or the Messiah, although some of his sayings perhaps imply that he thought he was the Son of Man. We don’t know whether or not Jesus thought the Son of Man was the same person as the Messiah. And we don’t know if Jesus thought he himself was the Messiah, or the Son of Man, or both.
- So, all this conflicting evidence about titles is inconclusive. But none of this tangled confusion and argument is central to our purpose in the Book of Continuing Creation. What matters is what Jesus taught people about how to get ready for, and how to be in, the Kingdom of God. This was, in fact, the main thrust of Jesus’ teaching: He taught the correct morals, behaviors, attitudes, and emotions required of people within the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God,” or God’s Heavenly Domain
Jesus preached a great deal about “The Kingdom of God.” How did he describe it? What must the people of his time do to be included in it, and how would they behave after its arrival? How would it be brought about?
How Would the Kingdom of God Be Brought About?
The militant Zealots of Jesus’ day thought that military rebellion could overthrow the Romans and replace it with a Jewish state. The rebellion would be led by a great Jewish general – a messiah – chosen and anointed by God. The Zealots would try out their method several decades after Jesus’ death, in the Great Revolt of 66 to 70 CE. They would fail.
On the other hand, John the Baptist thought that only God could bring about an end to suffering and oppression under the Romans. And God, being all powerful, would surely go farther than a military victory followed by a new Jewish government. There would be a two-step process. First, a powerful general would still defeat the Romans militarily. Second, God would replace Roman rule and all the social ills of the time with a perfect society and government which John the Baptist and Jesus both called The Kingdom of God.
For many years, scholars understood that Jesus agreed with John the Baptist’s view. Both Jesus and John the Baptist preached that people must get ready for the Kingdom of God through confession and repentance. Only the reformed would get to enter the Kingdom of God.
These scholars, including Bart D. Ehrman (who published How Jesus Became God in 2014), say that the Gospels clearly show that Jesus preached about an immanent Judgment followed by a Kingdom of God on Earth right up until his death. These scholars say that the idea of a spiritual, internal Kingdom of God was not developed until after Jesus had died, and after the Temple in Jerusalem had fallen to the Romans in 70 CE. Only then, when it looked like military overthrow of the Romans was not in the cards, did early Christian writers argue that Jesus must have been preaching internal spiritual reform, not political reform.
But starting in the 1970’s, “new” scholars – including most of the 150 scholars involved with the Jesus Seminar — concluded that it was really only John the Baptist, and not Jesus, who preached a violent overthrow of Roman rule.
The Jesus Seminar Scholars concluded that Jesus broke with John’s view and preached that the Kingdom of God must be spiritually attained now, by each individual, here on Earth. Only then would the Son of Man be able to use God’s power to complete the Kingdom and conduct the Last Judgment. 27
As J.D. Crossan writes, “It is not enough to await a future kingdom; one must enter a present one here and now,” and “…it may well have been John’s own execution that led Jesus to understand a God who did not and would not operate through imminent apocalyptic restoration.” 28 The Practice of Continuing Creation agrees with this conclusion.
“Jesus conceived of God’s rule as all around him but difficult to discern. God was so real for [Jesus] that he could not distinguish God’s present activity from any future activity. He had a poetic sense of time in which the future and the present merged, simply melted together, in the intensity of his vision.” 29
Jesus himself told the Pharisees; “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation.”(Luke 17:20.” “It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look here!’ Or ‘Look there!’ Rather, [the Father‘s] imperial rule is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.’“ (Gospel of Thomas, 113). 30 And, “Heaven’s imperial rule is like some trader looking for beautiful pearls. When that merchant finds one priceless pearl, he sells everything he owns and buys it.” (Matthew 13:45-46.)
Of course, Jesus might have said those things to the Pharisees to hide his true views from the Romans. It’s possible Jesus was hiding his vision of political overthrow of the Romans in order to avoid arrest by the Romans. But most modern scholars believe that Jesus was sincere about the need to seek the Kingdom of God from within.
The Practice of Continuing Creation concludes — Jesus went beyond John the Baptist and preached that the Kingdom of God would be realized by and through both military action and the new spiritual reform of individuals. In other words, Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God is within each of us. This doctrine was revolutionary in Jesus’ time and place. Both (a) direct military intervention directed by God and achieved on the ground by the Son of Man, and (b) social and individual reform would be required to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth. The Son of Man would not intervene unless individuals reformed; and individuals would not be part of the Kingdom of God unless they passed Final Judgment by being morally and spiritually reformed.
Note how Jesus’ path to the Kingdom of God is very like the Buddha’s 8-fold path to achieve Nirvana, and also parallels the teaching of Lao Tzu. But the Christian Kingdom of God is a social outcome, whereas Buddhist Nirvana is an individual, personal outcome.
Note also that this interpretation of The Kingdom of God is an example of Path #B-4 on our list of Solutions to Social Ills, on the first page of this Essay, namely: “Escape – mental or social withdrawal — from conditions here on Earth.”
The Book of Continuing Creation sees the teaching of Jesus as a central and revolutionary spiritual advance in Middle Eastern theology.
The Kingdom of God as Seen After Jesus’ Death
After Jesus was put to death, the scriptures do make it clear that his followers continued to believe that the apocalypse was immanent, and that Jesus himself would return from Heaven to lead it and conduct Judgment 31.
Then, after several decades had passed, Christians realized Jesus’s teaching could be applied by believers who were now living without an expectation of immediate apocalypse.
Christian writers (including the author of the Gospel of John) began to say that Jesus himself never really expected an immanent apocalypse. Rather, they wrote that Jesus had been preaching about attaining an inner, spiritual Kingdom of God.
As we explained earlier, modern scholars such as Crossan, Ehrman, Funk and Hoover et. al. argue that the great majority of New Testament passages were written long after Jesus’ death, and do not reflect Jesus’ own preaching. They write that these passages were added to keep Christianity alive in the face of Jesus’ failure to return from the grave to lead the apocalypse, Judgment, and Kingdom of God. 32
In particular, New Testament Books such as the Gospel of John and Acts, (both believed to have been written as late 55 to 70 years after Jesus’ death), put forward a new vision of the Kingdom of God. In the new vision, the Kingdom of God can and should be achieved by individuals and congregations, here are Earth, and without expectation of an imminent Last Judgment. Jesus rebuked His disciples over their dream of an Earthly reign, and He expressly declared: “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36 & Acts 1:6-8)
So, the Kingdom of God was re-envisioned — from a Theocracy on Earth to Life after Death in Heaven. (The Practice of Continuing Creation remarks — Fortunately for the later Gospel writers, Jesus’ sayings were always vague enough to permit reinterpretation.)
The Jesus Seminar Scholars write that the gospel of John’s vision of the Kingdom of God was made Roman Catholic doctrine; and has been a key element of Christianity after Jesus for the last 1900 years. We discuss this doctrine more in our Essay, Early Christianity: From Jesus’ Death to 312 C.E.
Today, Most Christians continue to hold the view that rigorous spiritual reform is needed, now, in the lives of all Christians in order to enter Heaven after their individual deaths. The Apocalypse and Last Judgement are generally expected to only sometime in the future, likely in the distant future.
What Would the Kingdom of God Be Like?
Jesus taught that in The Kingdom of God, (sometimes translated as God’s Heavenly Domain or God’s Imperial Rule), all individuals and institutions would whole-heartedly follow God’s law. They would live in peace, health, harmony, happiness, and brotherly love. The Kingdom of God “is people under divine rule…[it] is what the world would be like if God were directly and immediately in charge.” 33
How Would Individuals Find the Kingdom of God Within Themselves?
By learning a new way to believe and live that manifests God’s power and presence within their own lives. In this view, Jesus’ Domain of Heaven is present here and now; in us and all around us. It could be brought to fruition by the moral and spiritual awakening of individuals and demonstrated by a great outward extension of universal brotherly love and radical sharing. This would then be accompanied by arrival of The Son of Man, the Judgment, and the Kingdom of God.
Steps to Achieving “The Kingdom of God”
To realize the Kingdom of God, Jesus preached that people were to give away their possessions, turn the other cheek to their enemies, love their neighbors, and extend love and compassion outward to people beyond the normal social circles, and even beyond the boundaries of tribe and nation. It was a doctrine of radical economic re-distribution, radical social leveling, non-violence (even when directly attacked), and intense social sharing and love. Jesus said that if people would begin to do these things sincerely, the Kingdom of Heaven would grow and flower as a giant mustard tree does from the tiny mustard seed. (Matthew 13:31)
Below, we will look in more detail at the steps required to achieve Jesus’ Kingdom of God.
Complete Conversion of People’s Character
To achieve the Kingdom of God, Jesus said that each person’s character must be changed. This is a central message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Way of Continuing Creation says that this amounts to a change in human nature itself.
Biblical Scholar Henry Bamford Parkes interprets Jesus to say that The Kingdom of God – a good and just society – cannot come about by passing and enforcing laws. Neither of the real-world cures for injustice – military/political revolution nor the gradual accretion of law –are going to bring about the Kingdom of God. Human attitude and behavior must be changed. 34
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12), Jesus teaches The Eight Beatitudes:
Blessed are the dispirited: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:3)
Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted. (5:4)
Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth. (5:5)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled. (5:6)
Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy. (5:7)
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God. (5:8)
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God. (5:9)
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:10)
Six of these Eight Beatitudes are character traits. (“Mourning” and “being persecuted” are not character traits.) These six are the spiritual character traits that people need to be part of the Kingdom of God.
The Way of Continuing Creation says: Human nature can’t be changed as radically as Jesus preached, because of the selfish and predatory side of our biology. Humans have two inherently conflicting biological drives: (a) To cooperate with other individuals, so that our group can achieve synergy, and (b) to compete with the other individuals in our group for dominance and reproductive rights. Because of our dual nature, we must establish checks on the dark side of our human nature. These checks include splitting up political power, compromising, securing individual rights against a tyranny of the majority, maintaining the rule of law, and preserving family units. Only this realistic and practical view of human nature is consistent with science and history.
Our Practice also says – In Taoism, the dual nature of humankind is acknowledged and represented by Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang are present in each person, and also in world politics as a whole. Charity is the ultimate expression of Yin, and War is the ultimate expression Yang. Real World political economy is a combination of the two: their inter-weaving creates social institutions as Free Market Economies and the evolving Rule of Law. Note that this combination makes the Path of Continuing Creation far more conducive to Free Enterprise and Market Economies than is Christianity. Christianity, with its doctrine of Radical Sharing, is more conducive to communal living and communism. (“Communism: The best system ever devised for making people equally poor.”)
Cease Striving, Cease Worrying, and Trust in God to provide.
“I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” (Luke 12: 22-26)
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” (Luke 12:27)
The Path of Continuing Creation Says: There is almost nothing in Jesus’ teachings of a practical nature. Unlike the Mormons and the Muslims, the Religion Taught by Jesus does not help people navigate everyday life getting food, shelter, medical aid, or finding a job. Jesus says little about child-rearing or supporting a family.
Pay Less Attention to Jewish Rituals and Purity Laws
Jesus directed his followers to break down the social barriers between rich and poor, powerful and weak. His followers should take also down many of the ritualistic barriers of Jewish law, welcoming outsiders and the “unclean.”
“In the Bible, leprosy is not only a disease; it is also a state of impurity (Leviticus 13:1-46)… A person who contracts leprosy-impurity must undergo purification rituals… to be pronounced ‘clean.’” Yet Jesus willingly touched lepers in order to heal them. 35
Crossan describes Jesus as rejecting the values and conventions of society. He writes that Jesus called for people to turn away from normal life and transcend their “disappointment, anger, sorrow, pain, and sense of abandonment.” In calling for this, Jesus is part of a grand tradition that includes “mystics, libertarians, utopians, ascetics, anarchists, and nihilists.” [Paraphrased from J.D. Crossan, Jesus, A Revolutionary Biography, pp. 52-53. [/note]
The Design of Continuing Creation says that the only cleanliness that matters is the reasonable elimination of dirt, germs, harmful substances from one’s body, clothes, home and workplace. Clothes, personal surroundings and possessions need only be unostentatious, not wasteful, and not harmful to the biosphere. However, some of the purity laws, such as washing one’s hands before eating, make perfect sense in the modern world; and not knowing if or how leprosy could be transmitted, it was probably wise, in those days, not to touch them.
Universal or Radical Love: Extend Love Beyond Your Own Family, Class, & Tribe.
Jesus preached “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” and his parable of the Good Samaritan shows he meant this to apply to “foreigners,” people of other tribes and religions, as well as to other Jews living just down the street. We can call this doctrine “Universal Love” or “Radical Love of All Humanity,” to go along with “Radical Sharing” and “Radical Leveling.”
Before Jesus’ teaching, the moral precept of Judaism had been Moses’ implicit doctrine, “love the members of your tribe as thyself.” For Moses it was okay to kill enemies such as the Philistines (located in what is now called the Gaza Strip, west of modern Israel). Moses’ commandment “Do Not Kill, was really “Do not kill members of any of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.” After Moses proclaimed the Ten Commandments, killing a member of the Twelve Tribes became murdering a member of the Twelve Tribes. In other words, the Twelve were now unified into one; and war between them was now outlawed.
Why is there this difference between the doctrines of Moses and Jesus? Because Moses was engaged in nation-building; but Jesus enlarged the scope from nation-building to “humanity-building.”
When Jesus touched lepers, he was not only breaking down Jewish purity law, he was extending the boundary of love and caring beyond family, beyond tribe, to include all of humanity.
Another example is the parable of the Good Samaritan – because in the time of Jesus, the Samaritans were very much denigrated. When Jesus said, “You shall the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your energy, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27, category 3), a man asked him, “Who is my neighbor”? Jesus replied with the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this story, it was a Good Samaritan — a non-Judean and a very much an outsider — who stops to care for a robbed and beaten man lying in the road. (Luke 10:30-35).
Until Jesus, Judaism had always been a tribal religion of the Jewish people. But Christianity is not tribal, it is universal. Almost immediately after Jesus death, the Apostles took Jesus’ message to non-Jewish areas of the Mediterranean. What caused this dramatic shift? The History of Continuing Creation tells us that Jesus was physically located in a time and a place that was a true cultural crossroads, trade route, and ethnic melting pot. There were cross-currents of Greek, Roman, Jewish, Babylonian, Persian, Phoenician, and Egyptian civilizations. Jesus could see that all people – even the generally loathed Samaritans — were oppressed by the Romans, and all were the same “in the eyes of God.”
However, Our Spiritual Practice agrees with Christopher Hitchens, who has written that Christianity is wrong when it tries to make love compulsory; when it says that we must love. Saying we must love our neighbors as ourselves is something we can’t actually do. We always fall short, and we can always be found guilty. It is as impossible as saying that we must love God while at the same time fearing God. If we fail in this twin duty of love and fear, we are seen wretched sinners and we are “condemned.” 36 The Path of G>O>D> affirms that Love is a Virtue, not a Moral obligation; with the exception that it is a moral duty to love the members of one’s immediate family, and above all one’s children.
An Interesting Side-note: A few modern scholars suggest Jesus may have learned his compassion in India. The argument says that the Three Wise Men were Buddhists from India. They arrived in Palestine not when Jesus was a newborn, but when Jesus was a young teenager. Perhaps they did this because they saw Jesus as the newly reincarnated Dalai Lama. They then took Jesus back with them to India, using the well-traveled Spice route or Silk route. In India, Jesus first studied Buddhism, and then preached it there until he returned to Palestine at around the age of thirty. The argument continues that Jesus did not die on the cross, but was resuscitated at the last minute by his followers. (Hence the empty tomb.) Then, Jesus, now a fugitive from Roman law, escaped by returning to India, where he preached until he died a natural death as an old man. Today, there is in fact a ‘tribe’ in Kashmir who claim descent from “Issa” (Jesus) and who have records of his preaching for many years in the pacifist, sharing tradition. There is even a tomb there that is said to hold Jesus’ remains, along with his alleged footprints carved in stone, complete with the marks of nails. (See, “Was Jesus a Buddhist Monk,”? BBC Documentary, 12/1/2011.) While this is an interesting tale, the evidence seems flimsy to Co-Creators in Continuing Creation. In any case, it does not change the content of Jesus’ teaching in Palestine, which remains the basis for Christianity.
The Craft of Continuing Creation (CC) says: It is well and good to extend universal brotherly love. However, brotherly love cannot be fully extended. That would be inconsistent with human biology, which tells us that love within the family is stronger than universal love for all humans, and for good reason – the maximum protection for our own vulnerable children.
Moreover, it is not realistic to love people from other cultures to the extent we love people of our own culture. Socio-biology tells us that birds of a feather flock together. Doing so has evolutionary value for the group. 37 Every individual is embedded in different circles of belonging – oneself at the center, the family as the next first ring out from the center, and then the larger and larger circles of neighborhood, interest group, nationality, profession. The bond of love to our individual family is are the strongest. No religion, not even the Christianity Taught by Jesus, is going to change that.
The Craft of Continuing Creation also says: Love may be more expansive than resources are. As a practical matter, however, our giving of love is limited by our resources of time, energy, and wealth. To have strong effect, the resources we devote to sending out love must be husbanded and concentrated. Thus, we spend (or should spend) much more time and effort showering love on our family and close friends than we do on strangers living on the other side of the world.
Even More Radical Love: Love Your Enemies
Yet, Jesus goes still further. He not only teaches his followers to love their neighbors, but also to love their enemies:
“Love your enemies… when someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other as well.” (Matthew 5:38-42)
The Pattern of Continuing Creation says: Love your enemies? Here, Jesus can perhaps be said to introduce the idea of non-violent political action into the Western World; even though Jesus seems more interested in establishing a spiritual realm than a political one. Non-violent political action has had startling success in India’s struggle for independence and in the American Civil rights movement. However, the civil rights movement was possible and successful only because the earlier Northern victory in the Civil War prepared the ground in which the civil rights movement could take root and grow. War is inherent in biology: plants have been at war with insects for millions of years. In our own bodies, the white cells of our immune systems make war against invading microbes. In human history, we have clearly had morally justified wars, including the American Civil War and World War II against Nazism and fascism.
Jesus’ Doctrine of Universal Love Led to the Idea of Universal Human Rights
Jesus’ doctrine of Universal Love has had one particular result that is vital to The Design of The Growing, Organizing, Direction. It prepared the way for the idea of Universal Human Rights. In the intellectual forge of the Enlightenment, the “iron” of Universal Love was forged into the “steel” of Universal Human Rights. Among these are the rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” the Right to Equality before the Law, and the Right to Equal Opportunity. Plus — the Universal Freedoms of Speech, Press, and Religion.
Our Practice Says Love should also be Extended to the Earth’s Biosphere
In another sense, Jesus did not extend brotherly love far enough. The Design of Continuing Creation says love must be extended to include virtually all species of creatures, and to Earth’s ecological system as a whole. That final extension requires preservation of romantic love, familial love, and brotherly love – all in balance with love for Earth as a living whole. Hinduism and Buddhism are correct in their opposition to kill any animals.
Without a healthy environment, there will be no families. Humans should have families, but only families of limited size. The Three-fold balance of Ethics in the Flow of Continuing Creation includes humanity, but a humanity in limited number.
Extend Care and Compassion beyond your own family, class, & tribe.
Now we need to move from the discussion of extending Brother Love to a discussion of extending Brotherly Care.
The Morality of Continuing Creation requires us to show our neighbors not love but care — justice, opportunity, charity, aid, and sympathetic respect, especially in times of distress. Set aside the Morality of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and follow the Morality “do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you.” It is not Morality, but Virtue that persuades Followers of Continuing Creation to show our neighbors courtesy, kindness, extended charity, and empathy.
A number of modern non-Christian societies confine even care and charity largely to members of one’s extended family. Among Indians and Chinese, it is far more common to give a cousin or niece seed-money with which to start a business, than it is to give money to feed homeless people in the cities. The Way of The Growing, Organizing, Direction finds this to be too limited.
The extension of care outward, beyond family and tribe, is Christianity’s main contribution to our modern civilization. The Practice of Continuing Creation embraces this Virtue.
However, It is not realistic to care for people in other countries to the extent that we care for our local neighbors.
To Respect Other Cultures, We Must First Preserve Other Cultures
If it is impractical to love all cultures, we still want to have respect for and tolerance of all cultures. That presupposes that different cultures exist, each with its own right to and means of self-preservation and enrichment.
Our Path Teaches — Absent some fantasy-level of impossible love, which would magically forgive all differences and disagreements, there must be some separation between the cultures in order for them to survive. If they are all mixed up and leveled out, the separate cultures disappear, and we are left with one giant generic “culture.” The best way to keep the cultures separated and distinct is by limiting the number of people on the planet. Only by limiting the number can people accumulate culture, leisure, technology, spiritual fulfillment. “Good fences make good neighbors.”
The Path of Continuing Creation Says — Love and Creating Are One
If we realize that Love and Creating are one and the same, we find even deeper meaning. The Bible tells its followers that Love and Creating are the same: In Judeo-Christian mythology, God’s creation of the World is an act of love. Then, in the New Testament, “God so loved the World that he gave his only begotten Son.”
For Travelers on the Path of Continuing Creation, Creating and Love are also the same. We create children because we love them; we love our children because we have created them. It is wonderful for people to love their work, and work is successive creating.
God has traditionally been seen as a “noun” – a supernatural person. But We see The Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Universe is the ongoing act of creating and nurturing. In fact, The Growing, Organizing, Direction, is the Summation of all Processes, and the Sum of all verbs. (In our next Essay, we consider how God’s mythical act of “giving” his Son might be seen as an act of creation.)
Jesus Changes the Nature of God
As Jesus preached universal love, he changed the religious vision of God’s basic nature and character.
Judaism envisioned God a stern, dictatorial father. Christianity envisions him a loving father. But he is still a father; still paternal; still controlling.
The fundamental question in Judaism had always been, “If God decided to give the power of knowledge and reason to Adam and Eve, why would God not instead act a teacher, counselor and partner rather than a judge and a punisher?” The Path of Continuing Creation would picture The Processes of Continuing Creation as a teacher, if we were required to imagine CC as a person.
In fact, Jesus’ message is so fully loving, that we must see him as a preaching what at the time would have been seen as a feminine message from God. After Jesus dies and his followers elevate him to part-and-parcel of God, Jesus feminine message becomes the feminine aspect of God. In the Middle Ages, the common people of Europe had such a need for the feminine aspect of God that the Catholic Church created a vast and powerful worship around the Virgin Mary. (See our Essay, Christianity: From Jesus’ Death to the Puritans.)
In the United States TODAY, it is typical to hear born-again Evangelical Christians say, “When I was a child, I was taught that God was demanding, angry, and vengeful. But today if know ‘My God is a kind and loving God.’” This is the essential view most Christians have of the difference between the Old and New Testaments.
We Followers of Continuing Creation concur that the Judaic evolution of God from capricious and vengeful, to contract-making and lawgiving, is a very important advance in Desert theology. Christianity continued the evolution, going from “laws to love.” Today, The Path of Continuing Creation goes further — from Love to Creating. Actually, for us, Love is Creating, and Creating is Love.
Jesus’ Doctrine of Radical Equality
Jesus also preached that realizing the Kingdom of God would require a change to “Radical Equality.”
Jesus was constantly moving from town to town. Why? Crossan says Jesus could have stayed in one place – particularly in the town of Nazareth, where his family lived, and settled into a family business of preaching and healing, with Jesus and Patron and his friends and relatives as clients. But Patronage and clientage was the normal power/social structure of that time and place. Nearly everyone depended on the favor of some wealthy or powerful patron for their livelihood. Jesus wanted to break that social system and replace it with radical egalitarianism. 38
Jesus’ doctrine of Radical Equality (i.e., Radical Egalitarianism; Radical Leveling) had four parts:
- Level out all social distinctions of rank, so that all humans have equal power.
- Share all resources and goods equally among all humans on Earth.
- Reject all forms of violence, even in self-defense. (“Turn the other cheek”)
- Love every human being equally (“love thy neighbor as thyself”)
Jesus said that if people would begin to do these things sincerely, the Kingdom of Heaven would grow and flower as a giant mustard tree does from the tiny mustard seed. (Matthew 13:31)
Note: Christianity is the largest Old Religion to espouse this five-part radical equality, but not the only one. “One of Confucius’ main rivals, Mozi, argued on behalf of the so-called “Mohists” that human beings should extend their human-heartedness to all regardless of relation. In other words, he anticipated Jesus’ emphasis on agape love, which, seeing no distinction between friend and enemy, seeks to love all equally. But Confucius, far more concerned about “family values” [as are we Followers of Continuing Creation] than was Jesus, said that “ren” [human heartedness] should be cultivated first and foremost inside the family.” 39
“For Jesus, the Kingdom of God is a community of radical or unbroken equality in which individuals are in direct contact with one another and with God, unmediated by any established brokers or fixed locations.” 40
Jesus’ vision of Christianity would be vastly changed under the all-powerful, prescriptive Catholic Church of medieval times, where all contact between believer and God would be brokered by an imperial, bureaucratic, highly formal priesthood; and where the “laity” would not be able to personally read the Bible. This happened largely because the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great converted to Christianity and infused the church with the military and bureaucratic culture of imperial Rome, as we shall see in our Essay, Early Christianity: From Jesus’ Death to 312 C.E..
There are two parts to Radical Egalitarianism: Radical Social Equality and Radical Sharing (Economic Equality), but we will talk about them together.
Jesus Preached Radical Social Equality
Jesus not only preached radical social equality in the Kingdom of God, he lived it. It is his message combined with actions that got him crucified.
This would include a radical turning away from one’s family, as Jesus directs in four different Bible verses: Gospel of Thomas 55, Mark 3:31-35, Luke 11:27-28, and Luke 12:51-53. Here is the passage from Thomas 55:
“Jesus said, ‘Whoever does not hate father and mother cannot be a follower of me, and whoever does not hate brothers and sisters… will not be worthy of me.’ ” (Gospel of Thomas 55)
Extending love and compassion in not sufficient. The existing social hierarchies, including the family hierarchy, must be broken up. Crossan believes that Jesus is doing away traditional male dominance, because the family, “since it involves power, invites the abuse of power.” Jesus’ “ideal group is, contrary to most human familial reality, an open one equally accessible to all under God.” (Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 60.)
Jesus’ statement, “blessed are the poor,” (a better translation according to Crossan would be “Blessed are the destitute”) now makes additional sense – for in a fixed and unjust social and economic power system, it is only the destitute who are completely free of corruption. Similarly, it is the “meek” – those who are bereft of all status and power – who shall “inherit the Earth.”
Crossan points out that Jesus’ radical egalitarianism is not unique. It occurs and has occurred often across cultures and historical eras. He quotes anthropologist James C. Scott, (Protest and Profanation: Agrarian Revolt and the Little Tradition: Theory and Society, (1977): 225-226), who wrote: “The radical vision to which I refer is strikingly uniform despite the enormous variations in peasant cultures [across Europe to Southeast Asia]…a society of brotherhood in which there will be no rich and poor, in which no distinctions of rank and status (save those between believers and non-believers) will exist. …[the] elimination of religious hierarchies in favor of communities of equal believers. Property is typically, though not always, to be held in common and shared.”
Jesus’ Preached Radical Sharing
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your belongings and give (the proceeds) to the poor…I swear to you, it is very difficult for the rich to enter Heaven’s domain… it’s easier for a camel to squeeze through a needle’s eye than for a wealthy person to get into God’s domain.” (Matthew 19:21-23)
“When someone wants to sue you for your shirt, let that person have your coat along with it…Give to the one who begs from you; and don’t turn away the one who tries to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:40 & 42)
Jesus’ vision of radical sharing is very reminiscent of communism – where everyone should contribute according to their ability, and yet receive according to their need.
Within the Roman Catholic Church, this concept would generate communistic communities of nuns, priests, and monks after Jesus’ death. Ironically, the monastic rejection of personal wealth enabled the monasteries as a whole to amass great wealth (and power) in Europe during the Middle Ages, because the monks were celibate. Having no children, they had no heirs who could inherit their wealth, and so all wealth remained inside the church. This may well have been the real reason, sociologically, why the Catholic priesthood insisted on celibacy in the first place.
The Path of Continuing Creation says – Jesus’ radical sharing is unsuited to today’s world, where the engines of free trade, science, and technology create a torrent of products, services, and occupations. Expanding knowledge, expanding internet access to knowledge, improving diet, health and trade – all create opportunities for the modern poor to end their poverty. Today, concentrations of family wealth seldom last beyond 100 years, and political power continually changes hands. In this respect, Jesus’ spiritual path is unsuited for our age.
Our Path Says – We reject Radical Sharing. We might want to give some of our money away to strangers, but not all of it. It doesn’t work to give away all our possessions: who would feed our children? Moreover, if all wealth were equally shared, there would not be enough concentration of wealth to fund advances in sciences, culture, technology, and knowledge.
The impracticality of Radical Sharing is probably the reason why so many people have fallen asleep during so many sermons over the centuries. It is likely also the reason why Joel Osteen, pastor of the mega-sized Lakewood Church (which bought, remodeled, and now fills the former stadium of the Houston Rockets professional basketball team with its Sunday services) gives mere lip service to the Bible, and turns all his energies to preaching a feel-good Prosperity Gospel that is unlinked to the actual words of Jesus.
Of course, Jesus’ doctrine of radical sharing makes more sense because he believed that God’s Heavenly Domain was imminent — either via society’s transformative spiritual awakening or after a just-around-the-corner Apocalypse and Last Judgment.
In any case, Jesus’ vision was a reflection of the static economy of first century Judea: the body of regional wealth remained fairly the same from generation to generation. Those that had, kept; and those that did not have, could not get. Jesus likely believed that absent the coming of Heaven’s Domain, the world would always be a world of tribalism, subsistence farming, simple crafts and trade. He knew nothing of the process of evolution and its constant weaving of competition and cooperation. He could hardly envision the agricultural, democratic, industrial, or technological revolutions that have brought real-world freedom, knowledge, and prosperity to most of the world.
Instead of giving away all our wealth and contemplating God in a commune, today’s modern Travelers in Continuing Creation would rather retain much of our wealth and use it to lead creative and productive lives, following the examples of Thomas Edison, heart surgeon Michael de Bakey, composer George Gershwin, or General Motors’ chief executive Mary Barra.
Our own teaching says — A true and practical spiritual doctrine must appeal to the creating side of human nature as well as the caring-and-sharing side of human nature. The creating side is linked to achievement, to exploration, accumulation, invention, risk-taking and building – all the elements of Yang, as contrasted to the sharing and nurturing world of Yin. The optimal Spiritual Path, the Path of the Growing, Organizing, Direction, is a combination of Yang and Yin.
Jesus’ Teaching Was Not About Family Values
In the United States today, fundamentalist Protestant Christians are dedicated to “Family Values.” It is remarkable, then, to read the New Testament and see how often Jesus opposed Family Values.
For Jesus, spreading God’s Imperial Rule (i.e., Heaven’s Domain, the Kingdom of God) was more important than taking care of family responsibilities. Jesus encouraged people to leave their families and follow him:
>> He [Jesus] said to another man, “Follow me.” But he [the man] replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-60)
>> Mark 3:31-35 — “Then his mother and his brother came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him…And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” and looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35. Matthew 12:48-50)
>> Jesus said, “Whoever does not hate father and mother cannot be a follower of me, and whoever does not hate brothers and sisters…will not be worthy of me.” (Luke 14:26. Thomas 55.) (However, some expositors suggest that “hate” is too strong a translation of the original meaning. 41
>> “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “No one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the Kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29-30)
For Jesus, then, Rome, the Jewish tribes, priesthood, and even family were all social power structures that kept people from having a direct relationship with God. He felt that these power structures inevitably lead to unequal distributions of wealth, justice and freedom.
The Book of Continuing Creation says: The words of Jesus calling for abandonment of work, of family, of money are similar to the lives of the Cynics; and to the lives of Buddhist and Christian monks and nuns. All such abandonments do little to advance the creative engine of the Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Universe. Care and cultivation of children and family life are central to the Pattern and progressive Direction of Continuing Creation.
Jesus Treated Women as Fully Equal to Men
While Jesus gave no explicit teaching on the role of women in the church, he treated every woman he met as a person in her own right. This is a vivid Strength of Jesus’ Teaching. A plain reading of Jesus’ teaching recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels indicates that Jesus forbids any hierarchy in Christian relationships, presumably including both women and men: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you.” (Matthew 20:25–26a; Mark 10:42; Luke 22:25)
Women are prominent in the story of Jesus. He was born of a woman, had numerous interactions with women, and was seen first by women after his resurrection. He commissioned the women to go and tell his disciples that he is risen, which is the essential message of Christianity. 42
The most striking thing about the role of women in the life and teaching of Jesus is the simple fact that they are there. The Judaic culture of the times required women to be excluded from religious preaching among groups of men. Yet women were present among the followers of Jesus and listened to his teaching. 43
The Gospels describe two miracles of Jesus raising persons from the dead. In both incidents the dead are restored to women—to the unnamed widow from Nain her only son (Luke 7:11–17), and to Mary and Martha their brother Lazarus. (John, 11:1–44.)
Mary of Magdalene
The woman with the largest role during Jesus’ adulthood was Mary Magdalene (i.e., Mary from the village of Magdala, on the Sea of Galilee).
According to Mark 16:9, Jesus’ cast “seven demons” out of Mary Magdalene, who then traveled with Jesus as his disciple. A minority of scholars believe that she was Jesus’ wife, because no unmarried woman would have been allowed to accompany a man in the Judaic culture of the times. The Gospels say that Mary Magdalene witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
Within the four Gospels she is named at least twelve times, more than most of the Twelve Apostles. Luke 8:2 says that she was actually “called Magdalene.” In Aramaic, “Magdala” means “tower” or “elevated, great, magnificent.” 44
Though Mary Magdalene is named in each of the four gospels in the New Testament, none of the clear references to her indicate that she was a prostitute or notable for a sinful way of life. 45 That bad reputation was given to her during spinning of Mythological Christianity in the early Middle Ages, which we cover in our Essay, Early Christianity: From Jesus’ Death to 312 C.E.
Mary, Mother of Jesus
The Weave of Continuing Creation says: A major Shortcoming of Christianity (and Judaism and Islam) is that if a religion insists on personifying God, that God should not be portrayed as purely male. It would be better to have both a male and female personification, as do the Greek and Norse Pantheons; or to be entirely asexual as “The Way” is in Taosim and in original Buddhism. As we will discuss in our third Essay, Medieval Christianity to Protestant Reformation, Roman Catholic Christianity was forced to invent the “Cult of the Virgin Mary” in order to satisfy the people’s craving for a female near-deity who could be the object of their devotion.
Saint Paul reinforced the role of women as shown in the letters (Epistles) he wrote to Christian communities around the Mediterranean after Jesus’ death. Below are examples taken from Paul’s letters to three different early Christian congregations:
“Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” (Colossians 3:19.)
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25.)
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into the name of Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29).
Jesus’ Teachings on Children and Child Rearing
There is little advice on raising children or family life anywhere in the New Testament. The cultures of the time apparently felt these questions were adequately covered by parental instinct and common custom. However, all children were to be baptized in order to become Children of God and therefore be able enter Heaven.
Mark 10:13-16 reads,
“People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.”
However, this verse from Mark says nothing about the day-to-day duty ofparental care. Crossan even says Jesus welcomed children because they were expendable at the whim of their fathers. They could be sold into slavery or forced into cruel marriages to meet a family’s needs. So, for Jesus, children were simply another class of the oppressed. 46
Christopher Hitchens also argues that the “the lilies of the field” parable is immoral as a model for raising children, because it tells people to “take no thought for tomorrow.” It teaches that thrift, innovation, and family husbandry “are a sheer waste of time.” 47 Here is the parable, from Matthew 6:26-34:
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:26-34)
Participants in Continuing Creation say: Jesus’ failure to preach the duty and skills of parental care is consistent with other New Testament verses calling for abandonment of work, family, and money. (After you give away all your possessions, there is no longer any way to feed your children; if you can even still find them).
Of course, as we have mentioned before, it is entirely possible that Jesus expected a Last Judgment to be just around the corner. So many of Jesus’ words called for impossibly impractical behaviors like this, there is little wonder that a mythical Religion about Jesus had to be erected around it, in order to bolster the faith and try to keep people from leaving the Christian flock.
Also, Science teaches the Participants in Continuing Creation that lilies of the field do toil. Their roots push into the earth, sucking up nutrients, and their leaves perform the miracle of photosynthesis. They gather the sun’s energy and use it to construct magnificent flowers, designed over eons by evolution to attract fertilizing insects who can spread the lilies’ pollen and enable them to give birth to new lilies.
However, Jesus was right when he said that the lily plants live and work without worry. Since the lilies are not self-conscious, they do not strive. Without complex nervous systems, they have no mental “attachment” to their success or failure. The lilies of the field work hard, but they do it in Zen-like quietude.
Jesus and the Environment
Still, the Lilies of the Field parable (above) does show that Jesus and the writers of the New Testament understood the interconnection between human lives and the lives of plants and animals. Here are references to additional New Testament verses dealing with this subject:
- Jesus is born in a stable and sleep in a feeding trough. This is a metaphor for humility and connectedness with Nature. (Luke 2:7)
- At the start of his ministry, he goes out into the wilderness, staying among the wild beasts (Mark 1:13)
- He compares the lives of animals to his own Itinerant life: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58)
- In the Lilies of the Valley parable, the birds of the field become a model for Nature’s provision for all creatures – each unto its own ecological niche, and all in balance with each other. “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.” “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Luke 12:6, Matthew 6:26-26)
- In the parable of the mustard seed, the mustard tree serves as a metaphor for those who make their home in the realm of God (Matthew 13:31-32).
- At the end of his ministry, Jesus enters into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (Mark 11:1-10).
- Jesus is crucified as “The Lamb of God,” giving up his own body for the redemption of creation. It is noted in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews that through Christ’s death, God no longer wanted animals to be killed through sacrifice. (Hebrews 10:8-10, CEV).
- “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God” (Luke 12:6).
- Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matthew 6:26).
- “Lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest” (John 4:35).
- “The kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but once it has grown, it is the greatest of plants” (Matthew 13:31-32).
On the other hand, we know that the Old Testament gives humankind dominion over all Earth’s creatures. This has been used as a religious excuse for humans’ rapacious exploitation of the Earth, leading to the extinction and endangerment of hundreds, perhaps thousands of species. (get the ref.) In practice, dominion has become domination.
We also see that many modern-day fundamentalist Christians reject the idea that the biosphere is just as valuable as humanity. (See, https://arcapologetics.org/culture/subdue-earth-bible-says-environment/.) These Christians still hold humanity above nature, because only humans were supposedly “created in God’s image.” It follows that these Christians reject the idea of “Deep Ecology,” a doctrine which we Followers of The Growing, Organizing, Direction wholeheartedly support:
Deep Ecology is an ecological and environmental philosophy promoting the inherent worth of living beings regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs, plus a radical restructuring of modern human societies in accordance with such ideas. Deep ecology argues that the natural world is a subtle balance of complex inter-relationships in which the existence of organisms is dependent on the existence of others within ecosystems. Human interference with or destruction of the natural world poses a threat therefore not only to humans but to all organisms constituting the natural order.” (See the Wikipedia article, “Deep Ecology,” online, accessed 12-13-17.)
On an optimistic note, the following beautiful verse from Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) tells us that many Christians down through the ages have and still do extend Jesus’ doctrine of universal love outward beyond humans to encompass all the creatures of the Earth, and even to Earth herself and to the Cosmos of all Creation.
Saint Francis of Assisi:
“Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
who is the day and through whom you give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour;
and bears a likeness of you, Most High.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather
through whom you give sustenance to your creatures.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night, and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.”
— (Saint Francis of Assisi, Canticle of the Creatures, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, New York-London-Manila, 1999, pp 113-114. Quoted by Pope Francis I in Laudato Si, his Encyclical on The Environment and Human Ecology. See, https://laudatosi.com/watch )
So: Weighing all the above verses and theological principles, can we say that all the above verses are enough to show that Jesus was an environmentalist?
Co-Creators in Our Practice say: Yes and No. They do show appreciation for the plants and animals of the Earth. And Moses’ rejection of worshiping specific animals (or idols of animals) shows a fledgling understanding of interconnected ecology. But nothing was really known at the time about our present day need to preserve the existence of and balance of the living creatures of Earth. Jesus even implies that human lives are more precious than the lives of the lilies (Matthew 6:28-30), which we do not believe is true. So, while we can extrapolate Jesus doctrine of love to cover those concerns, that is insufficient. We need new and modern spiritual literature which has the preservation of Nature as a major focus.
An Aside: Noah might be a better exemplar of environmentalism than Jesus, because he fictionally saved all of Earth’s animals from environmental disaster – the Great Flood. Of course, this story is so outlandish that it can only be taken metaphorically. Alas, Noah did not save any plants – the true creators of life of Earth (via photosynthesis), so one wonders what the animals had to eat when they got off the ark.
As we mentioned earlier, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all “desert religions.” All three of them evolved in a biological environment that is particularly hostile to humans. Consequently, these religions depict God as a person, a power, that is outside of and separate from nature. Life in “the desert” is often seen as God’s punishment: life is harsh because God is harsh, and God is harsh because people are so sinful.
In Beyond Geography, Frederick Jackson Turner, Professor of the history of the American West, argues that the goal of desert people has always been to find a land of “milk and honey,” whether in this life or in heaven. 48
This is very different from “God” as conceived in more plentiful biological environments – in Greece, in Celtic communities, in India, in Native American communities living east of the Mississippi. For these cultures, God is integrated into nature and the religions were often Earth-centered.
An Aside: The science fiction work, The Windup Girl, about a post-hydrocarbon world of engineered foods and endemic plagues, features a new fictional religious doctrine called “nichetheology,” (niche-theology), which proclaims that every living creature’s ecological niche is sacred. In the novel, this new faith exalts Noah to a place alongside Jesus. (This work by Paolo Bacigalupi won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for science fiction in 2009.)
Jesus and Slavery
Slavery in the Roman Empire was a fact of life. Most people of that time could not imagine a society without slaves. Some people did speak out against the mistreatment of slaves, and there were slave revolts, but no abolitionist movement existed.
Neither Jesus, nor St. Paul, nor any other Biblical figure is recorded as saying anything in opposition to the institution of slavery. Slavery was very much a part of life in Judea, Galilee, in the rest of the Roman Empire, and elsewhere during New Testament times. The practice continued in the British Empire until the early 19th century, and it continued in the U.S. until the last half of the 19th century.
In Matthew 18:25, Jesus uses slaves in a parable and has no qualms about recommending that not only a slave but also his wife and family be sold. In other parables Jesus recommends that disobedient slaves should be beaten (Luke 12:47) or even killed (Matthew 24:51).
The most famous slave in the New Testament epistles (the Letters to congregations written after Jesus death) is Onesimus, the slave of Philemon. In a short letter, Paul implores Philemon to receive Onesimus as “a beloved brother” (Philemon 16). However, whether Paul intended freedom for Onesimus is a matter of debate because Paul never explicitly requests his freedom. Other New Testament letters forcefully instruct slaves to obey their masters (Ephesians 6:5-8, Colossians 3:22-24, 1Timothy 6:1-2, 1Peter 2:18, Titus 2:9-10). Some passages tell masters to treat slaves better—an indication that some Christians treated their slaves poorly (Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 4:1).
Followers of Continuing Creation say — There is no place in today’s spiritual texts for a tolerance of slavery. Slavery must be condemned in every historical time and place, and eliminated and outlawed in every modern time and place. Every verse in old religious texts that tolerates slavery should be color-coded or lined through to show that slavery and bonded servitude are no longer acceptable doctrine.
A Last Thought
Life is difficult, and if Christianity works for you, we have no desire to turn you away from it. But if you seek a different path, or if you have questions, consider Our Practice of Nature’s Continuing Creation.
- Nadav Sharon, Judea under Roman Domination: The First Generation of Statelessness and Its Legacy, 2017, SBL Press
- Tord Olsson, in Apocalypticism in the Mediterranean World and the Near East, David Hellholm, ed. Tubingen: Mohr,Siebeck, 1979; Quoted in John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, 1994, HarperCollins, p. 29.
- John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, pp. 40-41.
- Julius Wellhausen, The Pharisees and the Sadducees, 2001, Macon: Mercer University Press. ISBN 978-0-86554-729-2.
- Oxford History of the Biblical World, Michael D Coogan, Editor, 1999, Oxford University Press, p. 350.
- “Jewish Practices & Rituals: Mikveh. History and Archaeology,” Encyclopedia Judaica, 2008, Thomson Gale.
- John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, 1994, Harper Collins, p. 116.
- Farrand Sayre, The Greek Cynics, 1948, Furst. Quoted in Crossan’s Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 115.
- John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, 1994, Harper Collins, p. 117.
- F.F. Bruce, Second Thoughts on the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1956, Paternoster Press.
- Flavius Josephus, History of the Jewish War against the Romans, 75 CE.
- Robert Louis Wilken, The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity, 2012, Yale University Press.
- Robert L. Webb, John the Baptizer and Prophet: A Socio-historic Study, 1991, Sheffield Academic Press.
- Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, 1994, Harper San Francisco, pp. 33-34.
- Shaye I.D. Cohen, Professor of Judaic Studies, Brown University, “From Jesus to Christ,” on Frontline, PBS, Dec. 2020, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/
- Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 25
- R.W. Funk, R.W. Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say, 1993, Polebridge Press, pp.1-34.
- Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, 2014, HarperCollins, pp. 88-98.
- The Five Gospels, p. 5.
- The Five Gospels, pp. 10-15.
- Bart Ehrman, How Jesus Became God, p. 88.
- Bart Ehrman, How Jesus Became God, p. 127.
- Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, 1994, Harper, pp. 49-50.
- Tracy R., Rich, www.jewfaq.org/mashiach.htm.
- Bart Ehrman, How Jesus Became God, pp. 65-66.
- Bart Ehrman, How Jesus Became God, pp. 106-7.
- Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? 1993, HarperCollins, p.40.
- John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 46.
- R.W. Funk, R.W. Hoover, et al., The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? 1993, HarperCollins, p.40.
- Gospel of Thomas 113, quoted in The Five Gospels, p. 136.
- Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God, p. 111.
- Funk, Hoover, et al., The Five Gospels, pp. 6-8.
- Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 55.
- Henry Bamford Parkes, Gods and Men: The Origins of Western Culture, 1964, Alfred A. Knopf, p. 141.
- Paula Fredriksen, “Did Jesus Oppose the Purity Laws?”, Bible Review, June 1995, pp 20-25. Also, see Mark 1:40-45.
- Christopher Hitchens, quoted in “30 Writers Speak About God,” Dr. J. Pararajasingham, editor, 2011, on You Tube, http://www.youtube.com/user/JPararajasingham#grid/user/1548E4F5E1B15D46.
- Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, 2012, Pantheon Books, pp. 190-192.
- Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, 1994, Harper, pp. 99-100.
- Stephen Prothero, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World, 2010, HarperCollins, p. 116.
- Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 101.
- John Darby, Synopsis of Luke 14, at https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=drby&b=42&c=14. See also Crossan 58-60.
- W. Forster, Palestinian Judaism in New Testament Times, 1964, Oliver and Boyd, London, p.124.
- Stanley Grenz, Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry, 1995, InterVarsity, p.71.
- Marvin Meyer, with Esther de Boer, The Gospels of Mary: The Secret Traditions of Mary Magdalene the Companion of Jesus, 2004, Harper. Esther de Boer provides an overview of the source texts excerpted in an essay, “Should we all turn and listen to her? — Mary Magdalene in the spotlight”. pp. 74–96.
- Ken Doyle, “Apostle to the Apostles: The story of Mary Magdalene,” Catholic Times, 11 September 2011.
- Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 64.
- Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great, 2007, Twelve Hatchette Book Group, p. 118.
- Frederick Turner, Beyond Geography: The Western Spirit Against the Wilderness, 1980, Rutgers, pp. vii-273.