Did Jesus make mistakes?

D

Asher Norman lists a number of alleged errors and contradictions in the teachingof Jesus which he says show that Jesus was not sinless and perfect.  We will examinethese in this section.

These are the issues:

1.  Jesus or the Gospel writers made mistakes, therefore He was not omniscient.   (clickthis title for relevant section)

  1. Giving Zechariah the wrong father (Berechiah in Matthew 23.35)
  2. Calling Abiathar the high priest instead of Abimelech.  Mark 2.25-6.
  3. Saying ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water’ (John 7.37-8) is a quotefrom the Jewish Bible when it is not.

2.  Jesus said or did things which were wrong.   (click this title for relevant section)

  1. Jesus lied to the High Priest.  John 18.20
  2. Jesus sinned by destroying the fig tree.  Matthew 21.18-19
  3. Jesus sinned in relation to the command to honour father and mother.  Luke 14.25-6.
  4. Jesus should not have said ‘leave the dead to bury the dead’.  Matthew 8.21-23.

3.  Jesus made problematic statements.   (click this title for relevant section)

  1. Bring those enemies of mine … and slay them Luke 19.27.
  2. Jesus told his disciples to buy two swords. Luke 22.36.
  3. Jesus called Gentiles dogs?

These alleged imperfections of Jesus are often used by opponents of Christianity.There are answers to those who care to look for them.  For the answers click onthe title above.  

I.   MISTAKES IN RELATION TO THE JEWISH BIBLE

A.  Matthew 23.35.  Zechariah the son of Berechiah.

Jesus said, ‘that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth from theblood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Berechiah whom you murderedbetween the sanctuary and the altar.’

Objection:

 Zechariah was the son of Jehoiada not Berechiah (2 Chronicles 24.20-12).

This is a much used argument against Jesus and the Gospels in Jewish circles.  Wedo not deny that it creates a problem, but not an insurmountable one. Certainly 2Chronicles 24.20-22 does describe the murder of Zechariah son of Jehoiada in thedays of King Joash and Zechariah 1.1 does describe the prophet Zechariah as the sonof Berechiah.  

Michael Brown in his book ‘Answering Jewish objections to Jesus’ (Volume 4, page111-116) offers a number of possible answers to this.

1. Zechariah the prophet was in fact martyred and Jesus was referring to this event.This is quite a weak argument and the Bible does not record how Zechariah died.

2. There was another Zechariah who was the son of Berechiah and this Zechariah wasmartyred.  Again this is quite a weak argument and Jesus was referring to a knownevent.

3. Zechariah son of Jehoiada also bore the family name, ‘son of Berechiah’, probablymeaning the grandson of Berechiah.  Interestingly the Targum to Lamentations 2.20which in the Hebrew text reads, ‘Should priest and prophet be killed in the sanctuaryof the Lord?’ makes reference to the killing of ‘Zechariah the son of Iddo the highpriest and faithful prophet’.   Zechariah the prophet is described as the ‘son ofBerechiah, the son of Iddo’ in Zechariah 1.1, but as the son of Iddo in Ezra 5.1and 6.14.   This raises two possibilities.  The biblical prophet was murdered andboth the New Testament and the Targum bear witness to this.  Zechariah the son ofJehoiada was also known as Zechariah the son of Berechiah (as Zechariah the prophetwas also known as the son of Iddo).  Berechiah meaning ‘the LORD is blessing’ isa common name in the Tenach with at least six other people sharing this name (see1 Chronicles 3.20, 6.39, 9.16, 15.23, 2 Chronicles 28.12, Nehemiah 3.4).  

4. An error may have crept into the New Testament when a scribe substituted the morefamiliar name of Zechariah son of Berechiah for Zechariah son of Jehoiada.  Thereare some Greek manuscripts of Matthew which preserve the reading Zechariah son ofJehoiada.  There is also a statement from Jerome (331-420 CE) stating that the Nazarenes(Jewish followers of Jesus) had a Hebrew text of Matthew that read here Zechariahson of Jehoiada.  There are numerous statements from the early church pointing toan original Hebrew version of Matthew. 

Michael Brown points out that anti-missionaries pour scorn on this passage in Matthewbut would never attack Rabbinic writings for errors of much greater magnitude. Hegives the example of Genesis Rabbah 64.5 where reference is made to Jezebel’s persecutionof the prophets in the days of Jeremiah’s father Hilkiah.  Jeremiah and Hilkiah livedcenturies after Jezebel.  

B. Mark 2.25-26.  Abiathar the high priest.

Jesus said ‘How he (David) entered the house of God in the days of Abiathar the highpriest and ate the showbread.’

Objection:

 Ahimelech was High Priest at that time not Abiathar.  1 Samuel 21.2.

The implication here is that Jesus made a mistake and did not know the Old Testamenttext and was therefore not divine. There is also the possibility that Mark or Peter,the generally agreed source of Mark’s Gospel, made a mistake in reporting what Jesusactually said.

According to 1 Samuel 21 Ahimelech was killed after David ate the showbread on theorders of Saul along with his sons and only Abiathar escaped.   Abiathar fled toDavid in the cave of Adullam and went on to function as a priest during the 40 yearsof David’s reign.  

For a lengthy study of this issue go to http://bible.org/article/mark-226-and-problem-abiatharand http://www.tektonics.org/tsr/abby.html The authors, Daniel B Wallace and J PHolding give a thorough examination of a number of explanations.  

The words ‘in the days of’ can mean ‘in the time of’ Abiathar which is not the samething as saying that he was the one involved in the episode in question.  The Bibleuses a general time frame on occasions to show the period in question for exampleLuke 4:27 (‘in the time of Elisha’), Luke 3:2 (‘in the time of the high priest,Annas and Caiaphas’).  

William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) 116 proposesthat Mark’s intention has been misunderstood in the translation of the passage. Thesame grammatical construction occurs in Chapter 12:26, where it must be translated’have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage concerning the Bush, howGod spoke unto him…?’ The construction is designed to call attention to the sectionof a biblical book where the reference is found… In Chapter 2:26 Mark may have insertedthe reference to Abiathar to indicate the section of the Samuel scroll in which theincident could be located.

J P Holding writes about this: ‘To begin, the description of Abiathar as “high priest”is not titular. Neither Ahimelech nor Abiathar are ever given the title in the OT,though it is clear that Abiathar served as a leading priest (along with Zadok) andAhimelech may have ranked highly as well.  The word for “high priest” is archierus,a combination of hierus, or priest, and arche, a word most often meaning “beginning”but also meaning supreme in rank or order.  It does not mean Abiathar was “high priest”but indicates that he was a great priest, a renowned priest.

Abiathar served David for the entirety of his reign of 40 years and had the privilege,along with Zadok, of carrying the Ark of the Covenant, the most sacred Jewish religiousobject. As a renowned priest, it is expected that in his days, the Law would be correctlyobserved and his name would invoke the honouring of the law.

Jesus mentions Abiathar in order to say, in effect, “In the time of Abiathar, whoas a renowned priest was a real stickler for the law, and in whose days we wouldexpect the law to be followed, David and his friends were allowed to do this; yetyou say now that we can’t do something similar? Are you a better judge of the lawthan Abiathar and his contemporaries were?”

Bringing Abiathar into the picture — and his composite record of service in theentirety of the OT, by implication — was therefore a subtle polemic against thePharisees’ authority.’   J P Holding http://www.tektonics.org/tsr/abby.html

C. John 7.37-8.  Rivers of living water.

Jesus said ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  He who believes inme as the scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’

Objection:  

Asher Norman says the Christian Bible does not give a citation for this‘quote’ for the very good reason that there is no such scripture in the Jewish Bible.

While there is no direct quote that does say the exact words used by Jesus thereare a number of passages, a number of which refer to the Holy Spirit and speak ofthe Lord as the fountain of life, the source of cleansing / living waters.  Jesusintended this statement to be the substance of a number of statements in the scripturesrather than a verse which can be referred to by chapter and verse.  Here are someexamples:

Isaiah 44.3:  ‘You shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whosewaters do not fail.  

Isaiah 58.11: ‘For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dryground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants.’

Isaiah 12.3: ‘Therefore with joy shall you draw water from the wells of salvation(salvation = Yeshua, the Hebrew name for Jesus)’  

Psalm 36.8-9: ‘They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, andYou give them drink from the river of Your pleasures. For with You is the fountainof life; in Your light we see light.’  

Jeremiah 2.13: ‘(The LORD), the fountain of living waters’

Ezekiel 36.25: ‘Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean.I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will giveyou a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone outof your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you andcause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.’

The Lord is the ‘fountain of living waters’ and the Holy Spirit is the life givingsource of spiritual renewal and cleansing which is what Jesus is promising when Hesays: ‘He who believes in me as the scripture has said, out of his heart shall flowrivers of living water.’ Jesus promised the disciples that they would be ‘baptised’in the Holy Spirit in Acts 1.4-8, ‘baptised’ being a term meaning immersed in water.The fulfilment of this is the gift of the Holy Spirit at Succoth (Pentecost) inActs 2 which is the realisation of the promise given in John 7.   

The work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer who repents of sin and receivespardon and spiritual renewal through the gift of the Spirit is described is laterdescribed by Paul in terms of ‘washing’ of water: ‘But when the kindness and thelove of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness, whichwe have done, but according to His mercy He saved us through the washing of regenerationand renewing of the Holy Spirit whom He poured out on us abundantly through JesusChrist our Saviour.’  Titus 3.4-6.

The phrase used for ‘out of his heart’ in the verse in John 7.38 (Authorised Version- Out of his belly) is used in scripture for what is in the midst of something, thecentre or heart. This means that the Holy Spirit will be placed within the believersand flow out from them to others.  Ezekiel 36.25-27, quoted above, speaks of theLORD putting the spirit within the person, again typified by cleansing water. Thisis the true experience of the Holy Spirit which Jesus was promising to the disciplesand is still available to all true believers today.

2.    ALLEGED SINS OF JESUS

A.  Jesus lied to the High Priest.

Asher Norman quotes Numbers 23.19 ‘God is not a man that He should lie’ and 1 Samuel15.29 ‘The Strength of Israel (God) will not lie.’  He then says that Jesus liedto the High Priest after his arrest.  This is based on a supposed conflict betweenJohn 18.20 where Jesus says ‘I spoke openly to the world.  I always taught in synagoguesand in the Temple where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing’and Mark 5.43 where we read ‘But he (Jesus) commanded them strictly that no one shouldknow it.’  This was the occasion of a miraculous healing of the daughter of the rulerof the synagogue (Jairus).  Whatever Jesus’ reasons for not wanting this event spreadare not made clear in the Gospel but it can hardly be said that he was acting deceitfully.He had just performed a miracle of healing which no doubt Jairus was overjoyed about.A possible reason for this reticence to publicise the event was that He did notwant a huge crowd to gather at that moment.  

I am surprised that Asher Norman does not quote Matthew 16.20 in this connectionwhich fits in more with his allegation that Jesus was not telling people everythingabout his mission:  ‘Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no onethat He was Jesus the Christ (Messiah).’  The most probable explanation for thisis that at this point the disciples themselves did not fully understand the natureof Jesus messianic mission as is evidenced by the following verses:  ‘From that timeJesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer manythings from the elders and chief priests and be killed and be raised the third day.’Since this does not fit in with the disciples’ expectation of the Messianic programme,Peter responds by saying ‘Far be it from You, Lord, this shall not happen to You!’for which statement He is roundly rebuked by Jesus.  In His resurrection appearancesJesus explains the significance of the events that have just taken place:  ‘And Heopened their understanding that they might comprehend the Scriptures.  Then He saidto them, ‘Thus it was necessary for the Christ (Messiah) to suffer and to rise fromthe dead the third day and that repentance and remission of sins should be preachedin His name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem.  And you are witnesses of thesethings.’  He told them to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit which would enduethem with power to bring this message into all the world.

When Jesus said, ‘I spoke openly to the world.  I always taught in synagogues andin the Temple where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing’ (John18.20), He was telling the truth.  The Gospels record times when He did this in thehearing of the Scribes and Pharisees, including occasions when He was questionedand examined by them (Matthew 22, John 7-10).  To accuse Jesus of lying on this pointis unfair and untrue.

B.  Jesus sinned by destroying the fig tree.

Objection:   According to Matthew 21.18-19 and Mark 11.12-14 Jesus cursed a fig treebecause it did not have fruit, which caused it to wither and die. ‘Now the next day,when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry.  And seeing from afar a fig treehaving leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He cameto it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  In responseJesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.”

Asher Norman says: ‘Mark 11.13 informs us it was not even the season for figs.  Thisact by Jesus directly violated the Torah’s prohibition against destroying fruit trees,even those of an enemy in time of war (Deuteronomy 20.19).’   

As a point of information the Tenach actually describes an incident where Elisha(a mighty prophet of the LORD) went against this teaching.  In 2 Kings 3.19 (afterthe ‘hand of the LORD came upon him’) he gave a word by prophecy that the Israelitearmy ‘shall cut down every good tree and stop up every spring of water’ in Moab.Rashi comments on this verse:  ‘Even though it is stated ‘You shall not destroyits trees’ (Deuteronomy 20.19), here He permitted it for you for this is a contemptibleand insignificant nation before Him.’

Coming back to the event recorded in the Gospel, the timing of it was a few daysbefore Passover, therefore in late March or early April.  At this time fig treeswould be in leaf and the buds of the figs would be visible, but not edible untilabout six weeks later. Writing about this W. M. Christie, a Church of Scotland ministerin Palestine under the British Mandate wrote:  ‘The facts connected with fig treesare these.  Toward the end of March the leaves begin to appear, and in about a weekthe foliage coating is complete.  Coincident with this and sometimes even beforethere appears quite a crop of small knobs, not the real figs, but a kind of earlyforerunner.  They grow to the size of green almonds, in which condition they areeaten by the peasants and other when hungry.  When they come to their own indefinitematurity they drop off.’  

So when Mark says that the time for figs had not yet come he meant it was not timefor the figs to be edible, but if they appeared without any buds, there would beno fruit, so the tree was going to be fruitless.  Matthew, writing primarily of Jews,does not give this information, but Mark writing for Gentiles does.  

FF Bruce in ‘Hard Sayings of the Bible’ points out that this incident is in factan acted parable:  ‘As recorded by Mark it is an acted parable with the same lessonas the spoken parable of the fruitless fig tree in Luke 13.6-9.  In that parablea landowner came three years in succession expecting fruit from a fig tree on hisproperty and when year by year it proved to be fruitless, he told the man in chargeof his vineyard to cut it down because it was using up the ground to no good purpose.In both the acted parable and the spoken parable it is difficult to avoid the conclusionthat the fig tree represents the city of Jerusalem, unresponsive to Jesus as he cameto it with the message of God and thereby incurring destruction.’

The fig tree is used as a symbol of Israel’s national life in Hosea 9.10 and Jeremiah24.  When Jesus spoke of the fig tree that would be ‘cut down’ if it did not bearfruit in Luke 13.6-9, He was speaking about Israel not bearing the fruit of God’srighteousness and rejecting Him as the Messiah.  This would result in the comingdays of judgement with the fall of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jewish people.When Jesus cursed the fig tree and caused it to wither in Matthew 21.19 this unusualmiracle (actually the only ‘negative’ miracle which Jesus did – all His other miracleswere beneficial) had a spiritual meaning – that the national life of the Jewish peoplein the land of Israel was about to wither.  Elsewhere Luke records how Jesus weptover the city’s blindness to its true well being and foretold its ruin ‘because youdid not know the time of your visitation.’ (Luke 19.41-44).

It is interesting that Jesus also spoke of the budding of the fig tree as a signof His Second Coming.  The implication of this is that the dispersion of the Jewishpeople will not be a permanent condition.  The day will come when Jerusalem willno longer be ‘trampled’ or ruled by the Gentiles and ‘the fig tree’ of Israel’s nationallife will blossom again:

‘Then He spoke to them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. Whenthey are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near.So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God isnear.  Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till allthings take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no meanspass away.”’  

The budding of the fig tree was to be a visual aid to people around the world ofa greater event which is to follow – the return of the Messiah.   Jesus makes thisclear in Matthew 24.32-33:   

‘Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tenderand puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.  So you also, when you see allthese things, know that it is near—at the doors!’  

The budding of the fig tree – the rebirth of Israel as a nation along with all theother signs of the second coming which are taking place in our time – is a wake upcall to the world that Jesus is coming back.

Concerning both the event itself and its prophetic significance the question hasto be put back to the critics, what manner of man is able to perform such miraculousacts and to give accurate prophecy of future events?

C.  Jesus sinned in relation to the command to honour father and mother.

Objection:   

Luke 14.25-26: ‘Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned andsaid to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wifeand children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”’

In Matthew 8.21-23 Jesus ordered a disciple to follow him without properly buryinghis father: ‘Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go andbury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their owndead.”  

Asher Norman says of Luke 14.26 ‘The Torah commands us to honour our father and motherand therefore Jesus’ statement is morally problematic.’  Of Matthew 8 he says, ‘Orderinghis disciple not to bury his father violated the Ten Commandments and constituteda major sin by Jesus under Jewish law.’

Hate your father and mother?

Let us look first at the passage in Luke.  At first sight it does look harsh forJesus to speak of ‘hatred’ in terms of family relationships.  In the context Jesusis talking to large crowds who were following Him at that time, many attracted bythe miracles He was doing.  What He is calling for in this verse is a radical commitmentto the Kingdom of God which would be a priority over family relationships.  The implicationis that if those family members, be they parents, wife, children or brothers andsisters, wish to come between the disciple making that commitment, then the kingdomof God should come first.  

This idea comes out more clearly in a similar passage in Matthew’s Gospel: “Do notthink that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother,and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be thoseof his own household.’  He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthyof Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And hewho does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who findshis life will lose it, and he who loses his life and he who loses his life for Mysake will find it.’   Matthew 10.34-39.  Jesus quotes from the Hebrew prophet Micah7.6 to make this point.

In practice it is very common that when a person comes to faith in Jesus (especiallyfrom a Jewish, Muslim or Hindu background), he or she will receive opposition fromclose family members.  Often they will try to dissuade them or threaten them withrejection (even death in some situations) if they carry on following Jesus.  Jesussaid the issues of commitment to Him were eternal life or death ones and if a familymember sought to prevent allegiance to Jesus, then they should be ‘hated’ in thesense of being rejected in preference to the importance of accepting the salvationto be found in faith in Jesus.  

It is interesting that in the Torah there are passages which show that allegianceto the LORD and to the Torah was to take priority over family relationships.  Inthe Ten Commandments the LORD describes Himself as a ‘jealous God’ who would punishsin as well as bless obedience.  In this He means that there should be no rivalsin commitment to Him and His Torah.  At the time of Israel’s sin with the GoldenCalf, Moses instructs the Levites:  “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Let everyman put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughoutthe camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and everyman his neighbour.’” So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. Andabout three thousand men of the people fell that day. Then Moses said, “Consecrateyourselves today to the LORD, that He may bestow on you a blessing this day, forevery man has opposed his son and his brother.”  Exodus 32.27-29.

Here we see Moses calling for Israelite relatives who sinned to be put to death (whichgoes way beyond anything Jesus was saying).  In Deuteronomy 13.6-11 there is alsoa command to put to death your brother, son or daughter, wife or close family friendwho entices you to go after other gods.  What would Asher Norman say if a passagelike this was found in the New Testament?

In relation to the word ‘hate’ we find in the Hebrew Bible that it is sometimes usedin the sense of preferring one over another.  In Deuteronomy 21.15-17 reference toa man who has two wives, ‘one loved and the other unloved’.  Literally the word for‘unloved’ here is ‘hated’, but in the context it can be seen to mean ‘unfavoured.’In Malachi 1.1 we read ‘Yet Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated.’  Does thismean that the LORD hates every single Edomite, or that He favours Jacob?  

In reality the verse in Luke 14.26 does not mean that believers in Jesus should gohome and tell their parents how much they hate them any more than ‘hating’ one’sown life means they should commit suicide.  We see that in His teaching Jesus taughtus to love our neighbour, even to love our enemies (Matthew 5.43-48). Family membersare often against a person’s decision to follow Jesus and may treat the person whodoes so with hostility because of their commitment. However the response on the partof the believer should be one of love and a desire to keep a loving relationshipas far as is possible from his or her side.  Jesus taught us to honour our parentsand rebuked the Pharisees who were using the device of ‘Corban’ (Mark 7.11, Matthew15.4-9) to avoid providing for their parents’ needs.  Even from the cross He showedconcern to provide for His mother’s need (John 19.25-27).  

What Jesus says in Luke 14.26 can be summarised as meaning that commitment to theKingdom of God through following the Messiah should take priority over natural familyrelationships.  If parents or other family members seek to prevent you from followingJesus, do not submit to them but put the kingdom first.  

At the same time if we balance this against the rest of Jesus’ teaching we see thatHe tells us to love and honour our parents.  People around the world can testifythat, through following Jesus, family relationships, which had been broken throughprevious sins, have been healed through repentance, forgiveness and commitment tobe good husbands, parents, sons and daughters.

D.  Leave the dead to bury the dead.

In the context Jesus is speaking after large crowds were following Him due to themiracles He was doing.  He is calling for those who will not be mere spectators butwho will also go and proclaim the message of the kingdom of God.  The section ofthe Gospel begins with a man coming to Him and saying, ‘I will follow you whereveryou will go.’  (Matthew 8.18).  His point in the verses that follow is to say thatbeing a disciple of Jesus was not going to be a ‘walk in the park’ and would requirecommitment and willingness to suffer need.  

He then tells a second man to ‘Follow Me’ and the man replies ‘Lord let me firstgo and bury my Father.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury the dead, but yougo and proclaim the kingdom of God.’  First of all we have to say that what Jesussays cannot be taken as a 100% literal statement.  Obviously someone who is alreadydead and buried cannot perform a funeral!  So when He refers to the ‘dead’ He mustbe talking about someone who is spiritually dead, with no response to God or Hismessage. Clarke’s commentary of the Bible explains this: ‘Leave the spiritually deadto bury their natural dead. All the common offices of life may be performed by anyperson; to preach the glad tidings of the kingdom of God is granted but to a few.’ Those who have come alive in the Kingdom of God  should put as a priority the taskof making this message known.  

But was Jesus really telling a man whose father had just died that he had no timeto attend his burial?  Jewish burial customs today are that the deceased should beburied within 24 hours and it appears that this was also the practice in Jesus’ time.Bodies were washed, wrapped, and scented for their initial entombment on the dayof death.  We read about this in the cases of Lazarus (John 11.44) and Jesus Himself(Matthew 27.59). Relating to the incident in Matthew 8, it would be reasonable toassume that the on the day of his father’s death the man would be about the businessof burying his father not talking to Jesus.  In any case the delay of a few hoursto complete the job would hardly be that significant.  

Research has shown that in Jesus’ day there was a practice called ossilegium or ‘secondaryburial’ which took place a year later, after the decay of the body was complete,the bones of the deceased were gathered and placed in an ossuary. If this secondaryburial is in view, Jesus is telling the disciple that he cannot wait for the remainderof a year to pass, even though the secondary burial of one’s parents was an importantresponsibility in that culture.  The kingdom of God was at hand, and following theMessiah was the most urgent priority.  Another possibility put forward by John Nollandin his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel is that this disciple was seeking ‘permissionto stay behind until his aging parent (presently still in good health?) dies.’  Jesuswas telling him that the kingdom of God should have priority.  

3.  PROBLEMATIC STATEMENTS BY JESUS

Asher Norman lists a number of statements by Jesus which he says are ‘morally problematic.’He says these statements have ‘supported European Christian anti-Semitism and violenceagainst Jews and others.’  We strongly condemn anti-Semitism and violence againstJewish people and deeply deplore the fact that such actions have been taken in thename of Jesus (but in opposition to what He really taught).  The texts used by AsherNorman in this section of his book are either taken out of context or misapplied.

A.  Kill your enemies?

The first one is Luke 19.27, a verse which concludes the parable of the talents (minas):‘But bring those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them and slaythem before me.’  Asher Norman says that this parable was directed against the Jewishpeople who rejected Jesus as king.  ‘Through their rebellious refusal to accept thenobleman’s kingship, the Jews were considered as enemies.  Jesus, the king in theparable, decreed a time of judgement on the unfaithful and disobedient.  Luke’s Jesusdemanded that those who rejected his rule be killed in his presence.’

He couples this verse with John 15.6: ‘If anyone does not abide in Me, he is castout as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire,and they are burned.’  He says, ‘This statement reinforces the previous statementand demonstrates that Jesus treated those Jews who did not wish to follow him ashis enemy and threatened violence against them. This terrible statement was laterused by the Catholic Church to justify their practice of burning non-believers atthe stake.’  

As a point of information the Inquisition of the Catholic Church and burning at thestake was directed against those it considered heretics.  Jews were victims of thecruelty of the Catholic Church, but so were believing Christians who protested againstthe false religious Roman Catholic system.  They included men like Tyndale who translatedthe scriptures into languages people could understand.  The source of hatred andpersecution by this church against Jews and Protestants was not the words of Jesusrecorded in the Gospels.  It was the fruit of a rejection of his teaching and a submissionto an apostate religious structure which disgraced Christianity.  I consider my spiritualancestors to be the victims of these atrocities, who were true believers in Jesus,not the perpetrators of them.

In reference to the two passages Asher Norman refers to here, neither should in anyway be interpreted to mean that Jesus taught his followers to put to death thosewho reject Him.  Neither passage mentions Jews specifically either.  The verse inLuke is in the context of a parable which deals with the issue of using the giftswhich God gives in order to bring in the Kingdom of God.  The one who invests hisgift is commended and rewarded, the one, who neglects it, is condemned and suffersloss. The parable also deals with the issue of judgement. The final verse about theking slaying those who reject his authority speaks of the final judgement of thosewho are not admitted to the Kingdom of God.  

The issue of Jesus having the authority to judge the world is at the heart of theother verses which Asher Norman finds objectionable in this section. He quotes John3.36:  ‘He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believethe Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.’  He compares thiswith the Talmud which says, ‘The righteous of all nations have a share in the Worldto Come’ and says, ‘The theology of Judaism not Christianity represents universalsalvation.’  

So did Jesus have authority to judge the world and is salvation to be found throughHim alone or is there a universal salvation through coming to God by whatever religionyou choose or are born into?  

The answer to this depends on how you answer the questions which we have looked atelsewhere on this website.

  • ‘Is Jesus the Messiah?’  
  • ‘Did He come from God to bring salvation to the Jewish people and the whole humanrace through His death as a sacrifice for our sins and resurrection from the dead?’
  • ‘Will He judge the world in righteousness at the final judgement and have authorityto cast unbelievers into hell and bring believers into heaven?’  

From the teaching of the New Testament the answer to all these questions is ‘Yes.’Jesus claims authority to do this in John 5.22-29. “For as the Father raises thedead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. For theFather judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all shouldhonour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son doesnot honour the Father who sent Him.  Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears Myword and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come intojudgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, thehour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God;and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has grantedthe Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgmentalso, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is comingin which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who havedone good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrectionof condemnation.’

From the point of view of rabbinic Judaism and Asher Norman in his book the answerto the questions above and the coming judgement is ‘No’ and so Jesus has no rightto make these statements of himself.   Nevertheless whatever answer is given to thequestion of the final judgement, Jesus taught his disciples to love their enemiesand not to use force to spread His message.

B.  Two swords?

On this subject Asher Norman claims that ‘Clearly Jesus desired a physical kingdombecause if he only claimed a ‘heavenly’ kingdom his followers would have no reasonto sell their clothes to buy swords.  To back up this statement he quotes from Luke22.36:  ‘And he who has no sword let him sell his garment and buy one.’  

He links this to Matthew 10.34 ‘Think not that I have come to send peace to the world.I come not to send peace but the sword.’  His analysis says:  ‘This statement wasnot allegorical.  At Jesus’ arrest one of his disciples cut off the high priest’sservant’s ear with a sword.  Therefore Jesus’ instructions were followed by at leastone of his disciples who actually carried and then used a sword. (Matthew 26.51).

The implication here is that Jesus was engaged in some kind of political strugglewhich would use violence to achieve its ends.   Jewish writer, Hyam Maccoby, hasput forward this view in his book, ‘Revolution in Judea.’  In this he claims thatJesus was organising a protest movement against Roman tyranny and he was crucifiedfor sedition against Rome.  I once attended a lecture Mr Maccoby gave on this subjectin which he quoted Luke 22.36 to illustrate his view that Jesus was really raisingan army to fight against the Romans.  In the question time I pointed out that inthe response to Jesus words about the swords, the disciples say “Lord, look, hereare two swords.”   Then Jesus said to them, “It is enough.”’  Luke 22.38.  I askedhim how he imagined Jesus was going to get his disciples to take on the Roman armywith two swords.

If ‘two swords’ were ‘enough’ then clearly the aim was not a battle with the Romanlegions.  The swords were simply for self-defence at this crisis moment when Jesuswas going to be arrested and the disciples scattered. Significantly Asher Normanmakes no mention either of the two swords being ‘enough’ in his book.  

Asher Norman is also being somewhat dishonest in not completing the whole accountof what happened in the incident in Matthew 26 when one of the disciples cut offthe ear of the servant of the high priest.  

Firstly Jesus does not commend this act but rebukes the disciple:  ‘And suddenly,one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struckthe servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. But Jesus said to him, “Putyour sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.’  Matthew26.51-52.  In saying this Jesus made it clear that His cause would not be servedby use of the ‘sword’. Crusades, Inquisition and the use of force in any way to spreadthe faith were forbidden by the teaching of Jesus.  That people who called themselvesChristians did such things in the name of Jesus is a testimony to their lack of truefaith in Him, not their zeal for Him.

Secondly Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus healed the man: ‘And one of them struckthe servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered andsaid, “Permit even this.” And He touched his ear and healed him.’  Luke 22.50-51.

So far from advocating violence and the use of force, the whole teaching of thisincident shows Jesus’ non violent response and his compassion for one of the peoplearresting him, bringing yet another healing miracle to pass even at such a crisismoment as this.

C.  Jesus called Gentiles dogs?

Objection:   ‘Matthew and Mark report that a Gentile woman came to Jesus to healher daughter.  Jesus told her, ‘I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the houseof Israel … let the children be satisfied first.  It is not good to take the children’sbread and throw it to the dogs.’  (Matthew 15.22).  Asher Norman compares Jesus statement‘Gentiles are dogs’ to the ‘writings in the Talmud by the contemporaneous Pharisees(rabbis) whom Jesus often maligned: ‘We are obliged to feed the Gentile poor in exactlythe same manner as we feed the Jewish poor.’  ‘Do not despise any man.’ ‘Even a Gentilewho studies Torah is equal to the High Priest.’  Jesus did not seem to measure upto the Pharisees of the Talmud in their understanding of universal kindness.

Actually this is not the whole story.  Although there are passages in the Talmudwhich emphasise the positive value placed on all human beings, there are also a numberwhich say the opposite. Rashi comments on Exodus 22.31 ‘You are to be my holy people.So do not eat the meat of an animal torn by wild beasts; throw it to the dogs.’According to Rashi this probably refers to Gentiles: ‘you shall throw it to thedogs.  He (referring to a Gentile) is also similar to a dog, or perhaps a dog ismeant literally?’  Lachs ‘Rabbinic commentary on the New Testament’ (p 249, n. 8)makes reference to b.A.Z.54b, ‘where R. Joshua compares the righteous to the guestsinvited to the king’s table, and the wicked heathen to the dogs who obtain the crumbsthat fall from there.’  

According to some traditional Jewish sources it is permitted to violate the Sabbathto save the life of a Jew, but not the life of a Gentile.  R. Johanan in the Talmudstates, ‘A heathen who studies Torah deserves death, for it is written, Moses commandedus a law for an inheritance (Deuteronomy 33.4);  it is our inheritance, not theirs’(b. Sanh 59a).

Today Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the Shas Party, has said, “Non-Jewswere born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world-only toserve the People of Israel,” Yosef said in his weekly Saturday night sermon whichwas devoted to laws regarding actions non-Jews are permitted to perform on the Sabbath.Yosef also reportedly said that the lives of non-Jews in Israel are preserved byGod  in order to prevent losses to Jews.  Yosef,  widely considered a prominent Torahsage and authority on the interpretation of  Talmud, a basic Jewish scripture, helda comparison  between animals of burden and non-Jews. “In Israel, death has no dominion overthem… With gentiles, it  will be like any person -They need to die, but God willgive them  longevity. Why? Imagine that one’s donkey would die, they’d lose theirmoney.  This is his servant…That’s why he gets a long life, to work well for thisJew.”

This one verse in Luke is certainly not the whole story of Jesus’ attitudes to Gentilesor dealings with them. We find a number of incidents in the Gospels showing an inclusiveview towards non Jews:

  • Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus contains two Gentile women, Rahab a Canaanite womanand Ruth a Moabitess. (Matthew 1.5).
  • In Matthew 8.5-13 Jesus commended a Roman centurion for his faith and healed hisservant.
  • In John 4 Jesus reached out to a Samaritan woman and stayed in Samaria to ministerto the people there.
  • In the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.29-37) Jesus commended the Samaritanas an example of the one who fulfilled the command ‘You shall love your neighbouras yourself.’
  • When Jesus healed ten lepers (Luke 10.29-37) he notes that only one of the men returnedto give him thanks – a Samaritan, whom he then commends.

In the context of both Matthew 15 and Mark 7 we find that this account follows theincident in which Jesus has a debate with some Pharisees and teachers of the lawwho had come down from Jerusalem to Gennesaret (Galilee) where Jesus had been performing miracles (Matthew 14.34-36), healing all who were diseased.  Instead of giving thanks for these miracles the Pharisees found fault with Jesus’ disciples saying ‘Why doYour disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash theirhands when they eat bread.”  

This triggered a rebuke from Jesus for their observance of man-made traditions whichgot in the way of obedience to God’s word.  He then explained to them that what reallydefiles is what comes out of a man, not what goes into a man. ‘Do you not yet understandthat whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated?  But thosethings which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts,false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat withunwashed hands does not defile a man.’ Matthew 15.16-20.

Both Matthew and Mark record that after this incident Jesus left the region of Galileeto go to the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon (today in southern Lebanon).  The resultof this long journey is the healing of this Gentile woman’s daughter. This womanacknowledges Jesus as the Messiah, calling Him ‘Son of David’, in contrast to thePharisees who can only find fault despite seeing miraculous signs taking place.  Shepleads to Him for mercy since her daughter was ‘suffering terribly from demon possession.’Firstly Jesus does not answer her, testing her faith.  The disciples urge him tosend her away, to which Jesus says: ‘But He answered and said, “I was not sent exceptto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Matthew 15.24.  

This was the state of things at this point in Jesus’ ministry.  Following His resurrectionHe instructed His disciples to go ‘into all the world’ and bring the message of repentanceand forgiveness of sins to be preached in His name to all nations (Luke 24.47)’.But at this point in the Gospel account, He had come as the Messiah of Israel tominister to the Jewish people.

Despite this apparent discouragement from Jesus, the woman persists: ‘Then she cameand worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”  

At this point Jesus speaks the apparently offensive words:  ‘But He answered andsaid, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall fromtheir masters’ table.”  Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is yourfaith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that veryhour.’  Matthew 8.25-8.  

Jesus commends the woman for her ‘great faith’, a phrase only used elsewhere in Matthewin chapter 8.10 where He says to the Roman centurion, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, Ihave not found such great faith, not even in Israel!’ This leads into his commentsabout a great ingathering of Gentiles while many Jews would not make it into thekingdom (Matthew 8.11-12).  

Michael Brown (‘Answering Jewish objections to Jesus’ Volume 4, page 176) says thatJesus was giving an object lesson to the disciples in what is clean and what is unclean.‘Jesus was pointing to the fact that the Gentiles were no longer to be considered‘unclean’ if they put their trust in Him.  As  articulated later by Paul, ‘For theScripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 28.16)For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all isrich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall besaved.” (Joel 2.32).  So then in terms of salvation, Jesus the Messiah broke downthe wall of separation so that in this respect, ‘there is no difference between Jewand Gentile.’  

Michael Brown points out that

  1. Jesus put this woman through a test to draw out – and thereby demonstrate her great faith, granting her request and, in the process, continuing to display his power to heal as the Messianic Son of David.
  2. He went many miles out of his way to give a practical illustration about ‘clean’ and ‘unclean.’
  3. Ultimately he went many miles out of his way to heal a needy woman’s daughter.
  4. He used the occasion to highlight, ‘great faith’ existing outside the people (or borders) of Israel.  

So what about his words about taking the bread and giving it to the ‘dogs’?  Theword used is ‘kunarion’ which can refer to household dogs rather than wild dogs whichto a certain extent lessens its harshness.   The woman in fact grasped the pointJesus was making in the reference to ‘dogs’ – that He was sent to the house of Israelat that time.  But while Israel came first, and were to receive the promises of Godin the Messiah,  the Gentiles could still get the ‘leftovers’.   These words werespoken by Jesus for a specific time and purpose and should not be an occasion forstumbling – either to Jews or Gentiles.  He did not say, ‘You lousy Gentile dog,I’ll never help you.’  He did what no ordinary man could do – healed her daughterand blessed both mother and daughter with new life and deliverance.  No doubt theirresponse to this mercy was to thank God and bless the name of Yeshua, Jesus.  

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