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Why No One Understands Jesus

More books have been written on Jesus that anyone else in history, but, ironically, virtually no one understands what he was even talking about! The reason is that most people view Jesus through Christian eyes. They interpret his sayings through Christian theology.

We “understand” what Jesus was on about – but really, we aren’t grasping the essence of Jesus’ teachings at all, we are espousing Christian doctrine. For instance, many Christians would say that Jesus came to do away with the Jewish Law. But they are not quoting Jesus, they are quoting the Apostle Paul, or worse, Calvin or Luther. The exact opposite is true: Jesus himself kept the Torah and commanded his disciples to keep it too. He insisted that not the smallest letter in the Torah would be done away with.

In order to understand Jesus of Nazareth, we need to do three things.

1. Put aside Christian theology

We need to forget everything we have been taught about Jesus, and put Christian presuppositions aside and try, so far as we are able, to come to the teachings of Jesus without any preconceived ideas. It is almost certain that when we read the words of Jesus without a Christian presupposition that we will discover that Jesus wouldn’t have agreed with many things that are taught in his name.

For example, almost everyone believes that Jesus condemned the Pharisees because they legalistically kept the Jewish Law. But in fact, the exact opposite is true. Jesus criticised the Pharisees because they didn’t keep the Law well enough! This is why Jesus says: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom” (Matthew 5.20). On another occasion Jesus criticised the Pharisees, not because they were too legalistic, but because they didn’t obey the Torah. He asked them: “Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake out your tradition?” and said that their traditions “make void the law of God” (Matthew 15.3, 6). To take one more example, Jesus said:

Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the Torah – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former!

Christianity has taught for two thousand years that un curso de milagros pdf gratis did away with the Jewish Law and condemned the Pharisees for their legalism. But if we put these preconceived ideas to one side and actually read what Jesus said, it is clear that Christians have simply got it wrong: Jesus criticised the Pharisees for their failure to keep the Law!

The primary reason why Christianity has failed to perceive Jesus’ true message has been that it has followed the Apostle Paul and not Jesus of Nazareth. Paul, and not Jesus, was the true founder of Christianity.

If we are to understand the teachings of Jesus, the most important thing we can do is to put Paul’s teachings to one side and read the words of Jesus without Paul’s theology leading us astray.

And if we are to discover the authentic teachings of Jesus, we need to stick with the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke. The Gospel of John, most scholars agree, represents the theology of the author and do not necessarily record the historical words of Jesus of Nazareth. And, without a doubt, the two most important Gospels are Matthew and Luke, that complement each other and give us valuable records of what Jesus taught.

2. Understand Jesus in the context of First Century Judaism

Jesus wasn’t a Christian, he was a Jew. And a first century Jew.

Everyone lives in a certain context. Gandhi, for example, needs to be understood in the content of the struggle of India to be independent from British rule. Martin Luther King’s context was segregation in the southern states of the USA.

The only way that we can understand Jesus to understand him in the context of first century Judaism. To give but one example, Jesus healed a woman who touched the fringes of his garment (Matthew 9.20). If we read the story as westerners living in the 21st century, we might think that the woman merely touched “the hem of his garment”. But if we try to put ourselves into the Jewish context of his day we would realise that Jesus was wearing tzittzit, the tassels that orthodox Jews wear on their prayer shawls. Jesus was wearing a prayer shawl, or a a garment that had >tzittzit on them. Which shouldn’t surprise us – of course he was! He was an observant Jew, and this is what all observant Jews wear.

Many of the teachings of Jesus only make sense if we understood him in this light.

3. Understand Jesus in his social context of oppression and occupation

There have been a number of important studies in the last 30 or so years that understand the Jewishness of Jesus, such as Geza Vermes’ excellent book “Jesus the Jew”. But few scholars have investigated the social context, which is equally important.Jesus was born in a society that was occupied by Rome and in which there was a significant divide between the masses, who were impoverished, illiterate peasants and a small number of rich, literate rulers. Jesus’ audience, of course, were mainly poor, oppressed peasants who suffered under the burden of taxation, landlessness, unemployment and injustice.This, more than anything else, is the key to understand Jesus’ teaching and, for example, his denunciation of the Pharisees. Remember, in the passage I have already quoted, that Jesus’ primary complaint against them was that they had “neglected the more important matters of the Torah – justice, mercy and faithfulness”. Jesus is speaking to members of a wealthy, literate class who were implicated in the oppression of the peasants whom Jesus spoke for.If we do not understand the conflict between rich and poor, then we cannot understand the message of Jesus. This is why Christianity has by and large failed to perceive it.But imagine that you are a first century Jew. You have lost your land. You have no income but have to pay three sets of taxes. Perhaps your parents or your children have been murdered by the Romans. You wander from town to town, begging and looking for work. You have not eaten in days and your children are starving. Then, you hear someone say this:The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim for the prisoners,and recovery of sight for the blind,to release the oppressed,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4.18-19) The message is one of hope for the oppressed, liberation for the poor. This is the central foundation of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus can be understood, but only if we follow these three simple principles:

1. Put Christian theology aside (and ignore Paul).2. Understand Jesus as a first century Jew, and

3. Understand the social context of oppression and injustice which informs all of Jesus’ teachings.

 

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