XFiles Friday: He who is without sinSeptember 4, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 13.)
It’s almost time for Geisler and Turek to do their “answering the critics” schtick, but before we get to that, there’s just one or two loose ends they’d like to tie up. According to G&T, Jesus proved his deity by “three unparalleled proofs,” namely fulfilled prophecy, a sinless life, and resurrection.
We’ve already given evidence regarding the messianic prophecies, Jesus’ miracles, and his resurrection. But what about the idea of Jesus being sinless? Jesus himself said, “Which one of you convicts Me of sin” (John 8:46, NASB)? Moreover, his disciples, who spent three years with him day and night, claimed that Jesus was sinless…
Because of course it would never have occurred to those disciples that their own authority was derived from Jesus’ perceived authority, and therefore it was in their own best interests to make Jesus sound as virtuous and authoritative as possible. Right?
I can’t help thinking back to the early parts of this book, when Geisler and Turek were examining the scientific evidence for evolution, how high and strict their standards of proof were. Apparently, no conclusion is to be believed unless each and every premise, prediction, and principle were rigorously and exhaustively documented, such that no question remained and no alternative explanation were conceivable.
But those standards only apply to verifiable, real-world facts, of course. When it comes to the stories told by early Christian evangelists, the merest suggestion, once committed to ink and paper, is sufficient to establish the Gospel beyond all possibility of critical refutation, even if it doesn’t actually say what the apologists claim it says. Geisler and Turek, in a fit of scholarly diligence, go far beyond these minimum requirements, though, citing a whole four different places where different NT writers claimed that Jesus had no sin (I Pet. 2:22, I John 3:5, 2 Cor. 5:21 and Heb. 4:15). Way to show Darwin how it’s done, guys!
It turns out, however, that Jesus did not pull off this feat of sinless living by abstaining from behaviors like cursing, violence, taking things that did not belong to him, and saying things that turned out to be untrue. Rather, because he was assumed to be God by his followers, all of his behaviors became, by definition, “not sin.” Even when he did things that violated the Law of Moses, like teaching his disciples that they were permitted to harvest grain on the sabbath, the Christian interpretation of his actions was that they were not sinful.
In this, Jesus is actually rather following in God’s footsteps, as the Old Testament records. If anyone else had commanded the utter genocide of the Amalekites, Jews and Christians alike would agree that it was a sinful act, but because God allegedly did it, it somehow does not count as a sin. Likewise if anyone other than Jesus were to pick up a whip of cords, and go into a church, and start beating and attacking the ushers when they tried to take up the collection, they’d be accounted a criminal and a sinner, but because Jesus was supposed to be holy, he could walk into the temple yard and launch a violent attack on unsuspecting money changers, and somehow it just doesn’t count as being sinful.
Now, I know that Christian tradition teaches that “they deserved it” (though the only evidence of their guilt is the accusation itself), but that’s rather beside the point. Even if the money-changers were charging “too much” for their services, you can’t go around taking the law into your own hands and just beating people because you don’t approve of their business practices. What kind of society would that be, if you couldn’t go to work in retail without having to worry about being physically assaulted any time someone thought your services weren’t worth what you were charging?
Jesus’ allegedly sinless life is really an artifact of the Christian assumption that Jesus cannot sin, and therefore even his violent and misleading actions were not sinful. I can live a sinless life too, as long as you assume that everything I do is holy and virtuous and sinless regardless of whether or not they would be sinful for anyone else to imitate. That’s a piece of cake. Heck, pay me, and I’ll gladly do it for a living!
Meanwhile, Geisler and Turek try to bolster their case by claiming that even non-Christians called Jesus sinless.
But it wasn’t just his friends who affirmed his supreme character. Christ’s enemies couldn’t find fault with him either. The Pharisees, who were actively searching for dirt on Jesus, could find none (Mark 14:55).
You see what I mean about Geisler and Turek’s dramatically lowered standards of academic rigor. Sure, Mark’s gospel does say that the Pharisees could find no evidence against Jesus, but that’s Mark’s claim, not the Pharisees’. Mark was one of the four Christian evangelists; of course he is going to say there was no evidence against Jesus. Mark also records that the Pharisees brought in many witnesses to testify against Jesus, so it wasn’t the Pharisees who were claiming that there was no evidence against him. This is strictly a Christian claim of Jesus’ alleged innocence.
Even after all the efforts of the Pharisees to pin some charge on Jesus, Pilate found him innocent of any wrongdoing (Luke 23:22).
Of course, just to put this in perspective, a jury also found OJ Simpson innocent. Will Geisler and Turek now tell us that OJ must also have lived a sinless life, since the result of the trial said he was innocent?
Pilate was not charged with determining whether or not Jesus was sinless, he was holding the hearing in order to determine whether or not Jesus was guilty of any crime deserving capital punishment. But under Geisler and Turek’s incredibly lax academic standards, that counts as Jesus’ enemies testifying that he lived a sinless life.
Of course, the elephant in the bedroom here is the question of whether or not Jesus claimed to be God. Geisler and Turek just spent the whole chapter arguing that Jesus did explicitly make claims to possess personal deity, which was technically blasphemy according to the Law of Moses, especially as interpreted by the Pharisees. It wasn’t until the third century that the councils of the Christian Church put together a (failed) justification for claiming that Jesus and Jehovah could both be God at the same time. Calling that interpretation “retroactive” doesn’t change the fact that, at the time Jesus actually spoke, his pronouncements would necessarily have to be classified as the sin of blasphemy.
According to the Law of Moses, it was a sin deserving of death for anyone to urge people to worship other gods. You could try and get around this by saying that Jesus was God, but in these pre-Trinitarian times, you’d have to end up saying that Jesus must therefore have been the God Who declared it a capital offense to urge the worship of other gods. Jesus, however, urged the people to worship “the Father,” whom he treated as being someone other than himself. Thus, this other worship, centuries before the development of Trinitarianism, would have to violate the Mosaic prohibition against worshipping other gods. You can build an explanation (or rather, a rationalization) on top of the prior foundation of Trinitarianism, but that was still far future from where Jesus was. At the time he spoke, it was blasphemy for Jesus to endorse worship for both himself and some other divine person.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: it’s not fair to judge Jesus according to the Law of Moses. After all, how could Moses possibly have anticipated the theological developments of Christian church councils in the third century AD? It’s not like he could have gone up on Mt. Sinai and come down with a Jewish Law that would have had the proper provisions for letting an incarnate deity announce Himself without sinning against His own commandments. Give the guy a break!
Sure, if we’re going to declare that Jesus was sinless because, by definition, nothing he did was sin, then it would at least have a certain self-consistency to also claim that there was nothing wrong with claiming to be a God himself, separate and distinct from the One God of Jewish/Pharisaic worship. But stickler that I am, I do have to point out that if Jesus was indeed God, then he is necessarily guilty of issuing a definition of blasphemy that would make him a sinner when he violated it. Count the score however you will, Jesus still comes up short.
Next week, Geisler and Turek take on what they would like us to believe are the skeptical objections to the deity of Jesus. Stay tuned.