Tag Archive: Jesus

Quote of the Day: What Do We Really Know About the Birth of Jesus?

bart ehrman

To begin with, we are extremely limited in our sources when it comes to knowing anything at all about the birth of Jesus. In fact, at the end of the day, I think we can’t really know much at all. Just to cut to the chase, I think that it is most probable that he was born in Nazareth in the northern part of what we today think of as Israel (back then, in Galilee), where he was certainly raised from the time he was a child. His parents were Jewish by birth, religion, culture. I’d assume their names were really Joseph and Mary. We don’t know anything about them other than the fact that Joseph may have been a TEKTON, which means that he worked with his hands, maybe with wood, or with stone, or with metal. Jesus also had brothers (four are named in one of our sources) and sisters, so it would have been a relatively large family and presumably living at or near the poverty line. Nazareth was an impoverished little hamlet.

Back to the sources.   Our earliest accounts are in the New Testament.  Two of the Gospels , Mark and John, say nothing of Jesus’ birth; the other two, Matthew and Luke are where we get most, but not all, of our traditions of Jesus’ birth from: the trip to Bethelehem, no room in the inn, the Shepherds, the wise men, the slaughter of the innocents, the flight to Egypt, etc. etc.   These Gospels were written over fifty years after the events they narrate, and there is nothing to suggest that they had access to eyewitness reports, or to any reliable information at all.  Both accounts contain several implausibilities, as we will see, and they are hopelessly at odds with one another on numerous points.

….

Finally, there are lots of things that we do not know about the birth of Jesus.   As examples:

• We don’t know what year he was born.  If he was indeed born during the reign of Herod the Great, then it would have had to be before 4 BCE, since that is when Herod died (creating, of course, the intriguing irony that Jesus was born four years Before Christ!)

• We don’t know what day he was born (it was not until the fourth century that Dec. 25 was chosen, so that Christmas could replace Saturnalia as the great holiday to be celebrated)

• We don’t know – as I will try to demonstrate in subsequent posts – anything about the virginity of his mother (how *could* we know?  Anyone who thinks she was a virgin does so as an act of faith, but there’s no way to demonstrate anything like that historically; in theory, even if she told people she was a virgin, that wouldn’t prove it [of course!]; and there have been lots of people who claimed to be virgins who gave birth, either because they were self-deceived, or willing to deceive others, or unknowingly violated or … other options) or whether he was actually born in Bethlehem (I’ll argue that the answer is probably not).

— Bart Ehrman, What Can We Know About the Birth of Jesus?, December 8, 2018

Songs of Sacrilege: TV Crimes by Black Sabbath

black sabbath

This is the one hundred ninety-seventh installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is TV Crimes by Black Sabbath.

Video Link

Lyrics

One day in the life of the lonely
Another day on the round about
What do they need
Somebody to love

One night in the life of the lonely
There’s a miracle on the screen
What did they see
Somebody to love

He guarantees you instant glory
Get your money on the line

Gotta send me a plastic Jesus
There’s a check in the mail today
That’s what I need
Somebody to love

We just won’t meet on Sunday
Gotta buy him a limousine
Somewhere to live
Somewhere to pray

Every penny from the people
Keeps the wolf outside the door
Shop around and find forgiveness for yourself
But he’ll give you more, yeah

Holy father, holy ghost
Who’s the one who pays the most
Rock the cradle don’t you cry
Buy another lullaby

Jack is nimble, Jack is quick
Pick your pocket, turn a trick
Slow and steady, he’s got time
To commit another TV crime
TV crime

One day in the life of the lonely
Back again on the round about
What do they need
Somebody to love

Yeah

One night in the life of the lonely
Another miracle on the screen
What did they see
Somebody to love again

A supermarket of salvation
Take a look inside the store
Shop around and find forgiveness for yourself
But he gives more

Holy father, holy ghost
Who’s the one who hurts you most
Rock the cradle when you cry
Scream another lullaby

Jack be nimble, Jack be slick
Take the money, get out quick
Slow and steady, so much time
To commit another
TV Crime, TV Crime

VeggieTales: Why is There No Jesus Character or Crucifixion Episode?

larry and bob veggietales

VeggieTales is:

an American series of children’s computer animated television shows, videos, and feature films featuring anthropomorphic fruits and vegetables in stories conveying moral themes based on Christian culture. The show is aimed at children aged three to eight. The episodes frequently retell and re-create Bible stories anachronistically reframed and include humorous references to pop culture.

Evangelicals LOVE VeggieTales. I am sure Evangelical readers who were either children in 1990s or raised children during that era are quite familiar with Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber, Junior Asparagus, Laura Carrot, Petunia Rhubarb, and  other Veggie characters.  This is why the following find on Facebook caused me (and my wife) great amusement. Enjoy!

jesus veggietales

 

 

Sacrilegious Humor: Famous Jesus by Neal Brennan

neal brennan

Warning! Video clip contains coarse language and sexual references.

This is the fifty-fourth installment in the Sacrilegious Humor series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a comedy bit that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please email me the name of the bit or a link to it.

Today’s comedy bit is by atheist Neal Brennan. Bit starts at the 3:27 mark and ends at 6:55. The video should start automatically at the proper time mark.

Video Link

Your Own Personal Jesus

personal savior

Cartoon by Dan Piraro

Guest post by ObstacleChick

When I was growing up in a Southern Baptist church and attending Evangelical Christian school, we were told that we should strive to be like Jesus. The pastors and teachers taught us that Jesus was the perfect Son of God, that he was part of the Trinity so therefore God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit were one but separate all at the same time (for the life of me, I could never grasp the concept). Jesus was God’s Son but also God come to earth in human form to live amongst us, to suffer and die for us, to be resurrected and to ascend to heaven with his Father (and the Holy Spirit, but he isn’t talked about as much — he’s just the voice in our head…or heart). Jesus was considered to be born of a virgin, sinless, perfect, and therefore the perfect blood sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind for those who accepted his sacrifice. We were taught that Jesus was a teacher and a miracle worker. According to the Gospel of John, in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Jesus was the Word. (And here I was thinking Grease was the word according to the musical Grease).

A former member of the church in which I grew up became a pastor. I’m connected to him on social media, and he frequently posts thoughts that he posts on his church’s social media each week. Each post is intended to be instructive to Evangelical Christians. This one was interesting:

One dangerous temptation we all face is the powerful tendency to build our own Jesus. I meet the real Jesus in the Christian faith and He reveals Himself in the Bible. He convicts me to turn from sinful habits or attitudes or relationships I’m not sure I want to give up. He keeps leading me out past my comfort zone and calling me to grow in Him. So, I just take the words and the qualities of Jesus that I agree with, that seem to confirm what I already think and do, and I ignore and leave out the rest. Voila: my own Jesus, who thinks like me! My Jesus condemns your sins but isn’t too concerned about mine. My Jesus doesn’t care whether I’m faithful to his church, etc. J.D. Greear: “What we must avoid at all costs is editing Jesus, forcing Him into a mold where He answers our questions the way we like. This is not worship of God; it’s worship of ourselves. And it’s the greatest substitute for true faith.” The problem with following your Jesus is that you miss the life and joy of following the real one. Plus, the one you stand before in judgment will not be the one you created for yourself. Make sure you’re growing to look like Jesus, not just trying to make Jesus look like you.

Modern Christians’ concept of Jesus is taken from the books of the New Testament, mostly from the canonized gospels (I had never heard of the non-canonized gospels until I took a religion course in college – I was stunned that there were writings that weren’t canonized). Most modern biblical scholars believe that these gospels were written decades after the death of Jesus. Certainly there are no surviving accounts that were written in Jesus’ lifetime by eyewitnesses. Most likely the stories about Jesus were passed along by word of mouth from one person to another. Have you ever played the game “telephone” at a party? Here is how it works. A player whispers a sentence or phrase to the next player, who then must whisper the phrase to the next player, and so on, until the last player says out loud what he or she heard. It is rare for the message to arrive completely intact. In fact, this is part of the fun — to see how the sentence or phrase morphs as it is passed along from one player to another. Some players will intentionally change the phrase to make it funnier. Others just don’t hear it properly so they try to say what is closest to whatever they think they heard. If people at a party have a difficult time repeating a single phrase accurately, how much more difficult must it be to repeat an entire story accurately? So how do we know that the stories told in the Gospels reflected the “real” Jesus? And we’re not even taking into account the different ways each gospel writer presented Jesus.

Additionally, as twenty-first century citizens of a (mostly) free country enjoying creature comforts of indoor plumbing, air conditioning, and immediate access to information through technology, how can we understand what it was like to be a first century Middle Eastern man who was most likely illiterate and who didn’t even know that the world was not flat or that we live in a heliocentric solar system or even what a solar system is? Archaeological finds have shown what architecture was like, and what types of implements people used, and surviving ancient writings can give us an indication of what the educated and literate may have known, but it is difficult for us to comprehend what first century lives of ordinary people must have been like.

So, don’t we all create our own personal Jesus? We listen to what our pastors and teachers say about him. We read about him in the canonized gospels. We read cute memes on social media about Jesus – Jesus as a lamb, Jesus loving all the little children of the world, Jesus as the one who carries us across the sand when we’re too weak to carry ourselves, etc. Some people are drawn to the sweet, wise, meek teacher. Others are drawn to the miracle worker. Yet others like the badass Jesus, the one who got angry and ran the money-changers out of the Temple.

Let me conclude this post with the lyrics from the song Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode:

Reach out and touch faith
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who’s there
Feeling unknown
And you’re all alone
Flesh and bone
By the telephone
Lift up the receiver
I’ll make you a believer
Take second best
Put me to the test
Things on your chest
You need to confess

I will deliver
You know I’m a forgiver
Reach out and touch faith
Reach out and touch faith
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who’s there

Feeling unknown
And you’re all alone
Flesh and bone
By the telephone
Lift up the receiver
I’ll make you a believer

I will deliver
You know I’m a forgiver
Reach out and touch faith
Your own personal Jesus
Reach out and touch faith
Reach out and touch faith
Reach out and touch faith
Reach out reach out
Reach out and touch faith
Reach out and touch faith

Video Link

What was your own personal Jesus like?

Songs of Sacrilege: Jesus Christ by Brand New

brand new

This is the one hundred eighty-ninth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Jesus Christ by Brand New.

Video Link

Lyrics

[Verse 1]
Jesus Christ, that’s a pretty face
The kind you’d find on someone that could save
If they don’t put me away
Well, it’ll be a miracle

Do you believe you’re missing out?
That everything good is happening somewhere else
With nobody in your bed
The night is hard to get through

[Chorus 1]
And I will die all alone
And when I arrive I won’t know anyone

[Verse 2]
Jesus Christ, I’m alone again
So what did you do those three days you were dead?
Because this problem is gonna last
More than the weekend

Jesus Christ, I’m not scared to die
But I’m a little bit scared of what comes after
Do I get the gold chariot
Do I float through the ceiling

[Chorus 2]
Or do I divide and pull apart
Cause my bright is too slight to hold back all my dark
This ship went down in sight of land
And at the gates does Thomas ask to see my hands?

[Bridge]
I know you’re coming in the night like a thief
But I’ve had some time, O Lord, to hone my lying technique
I know you think that I’m someone you can trust
But I’m scared I’ll get scared and I swear I’ll try to nail you back up
So do you think that we could work out a sign
So I’ll know it’s you and that it’s over so I won’t even try
I know you’re coming for the people like me
But we all got wood and nails
And we turn out hate in factories
We all got wood and nails
And we turn out hate in factories
We all got wood and nails
And we sleep inside of this machine

There’s Power in the Name of Jesus

there is power in the name of jesusThere is power in the name of Jesus. Or so Evangelicals believe, anyway. I have spoken the name of Jesus tens of thousands of times, both as a Christian and an atheist, yet I have found Jesus’ name to be impotent and powerless. As a Christian, I ended every prayer with in Jesus’ name, amen. I invoked the name of Jesus countless times in my sermons, in my writing, and in my day-to-day conversations. Yet, despite my devotion to Christian faith and practice, I found Jesus’ name to be every bit as powerless as the names Tom, Dick, and Harry. As an atheist, I have written and spoken the name of Jesus thousands of times, often in blasphemous ways. Yet, the name of Jesus remains powerless. Surely, my irreverence and blasphemy are an affront to Jesus, yet he does nothing. Wouldn’t it be a great way to make a point to other blasphemers if Jesus struck dead the infamous Evangelical-preacher-turned-atheist Bruce Gerencser? Well you just wait, Bruce, your payday is coming, Evangelicals say. In an hour that you think not, Jesus — the giver and taker of life — is going to call your number and cast you into the Lake of Fire. Then you will know the power that is in the name of Jesus.

What Evangelicals fail to see is that the real power is not found in Jesus’ name, but in the myths that are built around his name — starting with the myths found in the New Testament, right down to the fanciful stories of today, told by preachers Sunday after Sunday. All the promises and all the judgments Christians hang their hats on come into play after death. Evangelicals can call fire and brimstone down upon my head, but when it doesn’t happen the retort is, just you wait. There is coming a day when you will stand before the judgment bar of God and then you will prostrate yourself before Jesus in fear. For believers, everything is offloaded to eternity. That’s where the action is; that’s where Jesus will reveal himself; that’s where God will pay off all the betting slips. Of course, believing such things requires faith. Evangelicals revel in the midst of their faith: Jesus saves, Jesus delivers, Jesus heals, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. The mere mention of his name in the alternate universe called Christianity works wonders to behold. But in the here and now, the powerful Jesus is no different from Elmer Gantry. You see, reason, skepticism, and intellectual inquiry demand evidence for the claim that there is “power in the name of Jesus.” And until such evidence is provided, I shall not believe. Jesus — the one Evangelicals say is a divine flesh-and blood miracle worker — has had ample opportunity to draw me unto himself, yet my ears do not hear and my eyes do not see what Christians say is true. Instead, I see and hear centuries of myths that have turned a dead Jewish apocalyptic preacher into a hybrid God-man who one day will return to earth on a white horse and judge the living and the dead, casting into a lake that burns with fire and brimstone all those who refused to believe the myths.

Certainly, myths play a role in the ebb and flow of human life. I don’t discount for a moment the fact that countless people find hope, purpose, and meaning in Christianity; and for these people the name of Jesus carries great power, much like the deities of other religions. If Jesus is what you need to get you through the night and into the morning light, then by all means speak his name. But don’t expect unbelievers to buy into the notion that there is power in the name of Jesus. Just saying something doesn’t make it so, and just because Evangelicals say that Jesus is this or that doesn’t mean what they say is true. Purportedly, Jesus exited stage right two thousand years ago and he has not been seen or heard from since. Christians believe that he miraculously ascended into Heaven, and will someday split the eastern sky as he returns to earth. Someday, always someday. Never today, never tomorrow, never a year from now, but someday — or so Christians say. Unbelievers are expected to bow in fealty to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings — the man, the myth, the legend, Jesus Christ — even though no one has seen him, heard him speak, or received an email from him in more than twenty centuries. Instead of clinging to the “official” story —where are Mulder and Scully when you need them? — perhaps Evangelicals need to admit that it is unlikely what they believe is true; that there’s no real power in the name of Jesus.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend

pain and suffering

Kirsten Ryken, a writer for the Fundamentalist website The Gospel Coalition, recently wrote a post titled, Why I Thank God for Chronic Pain. Ryken’s article was part personal story and part justification for God allowing her to painfully suffer. Ryken concluded her post with this:

With the eye of faith, I saw Christ on the cross. God, in a human body, taking on physical pain far greater than my own. Thorns in his head, blood dripping down his face, nails in his hands and feet, love in his face. I felt his pain in my own body, the fire in my spine intensifying as I looked at him. But I also felt him holding me like a child.

I knew in my heart in that moment that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39). I was completely overwhelmed with the knowledge that my God not only knows what’s wrong with my body even when no human doctor does, he also knows my physical pain more intimately than anyone else ever could. The loneliness of suffering and the frustration of not having answers were taken away in an instant. I felt a physical burden lifted from my body and my heart.

Until that moment, I had never understood the relevance of Christ’s death on the cross to the details of my daily life, my pains and my joys. It was only in the light of the cross that I could make sense of my own suffering. This reminder is the positive result of my pain. In moments when I feel overwhelmed, I remember Calvary. I thank God for the precious gift of my salvation, because on some (very small!) level I have begun to understand the cost of my salvation.

Chronic pain is a constant reminder that my life is not my own; it has been bought with a price.

The narrative Ryken spins is one often heard when Evangelicals try to explain pain and suffering: my suffering is next to nothing compared to the pain and agony Jesus suffered on the cross. In the minds of Christians such as Ryken, there’s no human suffering that can be compared to what Jesus faced on Calvary. This worn-out, tiresome trope gets repeated over and again by Evangelicals who never THINK about what they are actually saying. Jesus is the bad-ass suffering servant, Evangelicals would have us believe; but in fact Jesus’ suffering was minuscule compared to what countless people face every day.

Yes, Jesus was beaten and his beard was plucked from face. Yes, he was nailed to a Roman cross and suffered great indignity (that is assuming the gospel narratives are true). But how long did Jesus actually suffer? Days? Weeks? Months? Years? Nope. How about less than a day? Then he died, descended to hell and hung out with its inhabitants, and then he resurrected from the dead good as new save the nail prints in his hands and feet. Pray tell, based on what the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God says about Jesus’ suffering, how was his pain in any way worse than that which any human has ever experienced? By all means, compare Christ’s suffering to what children face when having radiation and chemotherapy treatments to eradicate cancer from their bodies. Go ahead, compare his suffering to that of people in burn units with third degree burns over most their bodies. Jesus may have faced intense levels of pain for a short amount of time, but how does his suffering compare to the pain of people who suffer with debilitating, chronic illnesses for years?

Jesus knew that his time of suffering would be short and sweet, and then he would die. Imagine a body wracked with pain day in and day out, years on end, with no relief in sight. I suspect such people might be willing to suffer what Jesus did if they knew afterward their bodies would be free from pain. I know I would. I would trade places in a heartbeat with the “suffering” Son of God if it meant come Sunday morning my body was no longer wracked with pain. And I suspect I am not alone in my blasphemy.

I don’t think for a moment that my short post will change Christian thinking on this subject. Ryken desperately needs a suffering Jesus to make sense of her own pain. Without Jesus, she is left with what? Shit happens? And to that I say “yes.” None of us is guaranteed a pain-free life. Genetics, environmental factors, personal choices, and yet-unknown factors go into what diseases we contract and what pain we suffer. The late Christopher Hitchens was right when he said in his book Mortality, ” . . . To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not? . . .”  Why me, indeed.

Christians invoke the suffering Jesus because it covers up the fact they suffer just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, and that their God, much like the cosmos, yawns with indifference. Jesus, then, becomes the hospice nurse who holds their hands as they face cruelties, indignities, and sufferings beyond imagination. Jesus has promised Christians that he will never leave or forsake them, and he will never allow them to suffer more than they are able. Thus, whatever pain and suffering comes their way, God means it for their good, either to chastise them or teach them a lesson. If Christians will but endure what comes their way, words in an ancient religious text promise that they will be given pain-free bodies after death. Better to think this, many Evangelicals say, than to believe we live in a cold, heartless universe. Why, such a belief leads to despair! Christians say. To that, I reply, maybe for you it does, but it doesn’t have to.

I find comfort in the fact that shit happens, and chronic illness and intractable pain afflict rich and poor, young and old, religious or not. I know that I am not special, and that countless other people are going through pain and suffering as bad as mine and worse. I am not owed a pain-free existence. I have been given life — just one — and it is incumbent upon me to live life to its fullest. I embrace my suffering, not looking to a mythical deity for inspiration or help. I find comfort in the fact that my wife, children, and friends deeply care about me and do what they can to lessen my pain. And I try to do the same when dealing with others who are facing troubles and trials, physical or not. Is there any more any of us can do for each other?  A kind word, a thoughtful action, a tender embrace, these are enough. It is humanism, with its goal of lessening suffering, that shines the brightest. Christianity says endure, promising a divine payoff in the sweet by-and-by. Humanism says we only have one life, let’s do all we can to lessen pain and suffering. Christianity says pain and suffering have a higher purpose, be it correction or testing. Humanism says alleviating pain allows people to live happy lives, and in this cold universe of ours, that’s the best any of us can expect. Despite my pain, or perhaps because of it, I choose Humanism.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: We Exist to Prop Up Jesus’ Self-Esteem

jesus

The Holy Spirit is inspiring Paul to polemicize this idolatrous practice by making something abundantly clear: Christ is the Creator and Lord of the angels. They exist for Him. He is by right of being the Creator more worthy of worship. It is Christ who created the archangel Michael, it is Christ who created Satan. They exist to glorify Him. Paul ends this section by making it clear, no matter how high and wonderful any created thing might be it only exists to serve the Son. Thus all thing made by Him are made for His pleasure.

….

We are not the center of our own lives, that position belongs to Christ. If mighty angels exist at the whim of Christ to serve him and bring him glory what do you think of your life? Are you more holy, beautiful, or powerful than the angels? Are you of a purer heart? If they are able to stand before God what is your life? We are not even worthy to see God because of our sin! Do we think we exist for any greater purpose? Every other purpose we make for ourselves fail in comparison to bringing Christ praise.

Do not have lofty thoughts of yourself, you exist to glorify Christ and for nothing else. You will inevitably glorify Christ. You will either bring Him glory by displaying His grace poured out on repentant sinners or you make know the glory of His righteous wrath poured out on the wicked in the eternal fires of hell.

— Robert Nelsen, Reformation Charlotte, You Exist to Glorify Christ, July 20, 2018

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Former Atheist Howard Storm Says Atheists Are Ignorant

howard storm

This is the one hundred and eighty-second installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism features a video clip of atheist-turned-Evangelical Howard Storm talking about an out-of-body experience that took him to hell. Storm spins a fantastical story, yet he thinks atheists are the ignorant ones?  Storm says if atheists will just ask Jesus if he is real and sincerely ask him to come into their lives, he will indeed show us that he is real and come into our lives. Go for it! atheist friends.

Video Link