There was never anything by the wit
of man devised, or so sure established, which in continuance
of time hath not been corrupted.
Preface to the Book of Common Prayer
The Bible contains many rules and regulations. Unfortunately
it is not always clear for whom they are intended. The Jews
always imagined that the scriptures were meant for them, and
so did the earliest followers of Jesus, which is not surprising
since Jesus and his followers were all practicing Jews. As we
have seen, later gentile Christians were able to select the
rules and regulations they liked by attributing ambiguous authority
to the Old Testament. One might expect there to be less scope
for such selectivity in the New.
In this section we will concentrate on New Testament passages
that give directions about how to live: laws, injunctions and
examples. In many cases a few sects follow the teaching, while
mainstream churches do not. In other cases the mainstream Churches
once followed the teaching but have now abandoned it, or they
have traditionally rejected it and later adopted it.
For many centuries churchmen taught that laughter was evil
and sinful. Roman Catholic, Protestant and Puritan alike could
all quote Luke 6:25 " ...Woe unto you that laugh now! for
ye shall mourn and weep". As they pointed out, there is
not a single example of Jesus laughing or even smiling in the
Bible. This sort of interpretation is no longer popular, and
the passage from Luke is rarely heard today.
Church leaders often teach the exact opposite of what the New
Testament says. For example, the reason almost invariably given
for Jesus' use of parables is that he was trying to make it
easy for everyone to understand his message. In fact the gospels
quote him as saying that the reason he uses them is exactly
the opposite so that only certain people will understand,
and others will not be able to. According to Luke 8:9-10 Jesus
was asked by his followers about the parable of the Sower:
And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of
the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing
they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.
The wording is different, but the meaning the same, in Matthew
13:10-13 and Mark 4:10-12. Parables were not used to help people
understand, they were used to prevent people from understanding.
matter how explicit the text, Churches feel free to adopt teachings
directly contrary to it. For example Hebrews 6:4-6 says quite
clearly that God will not forgive apostates, but the mainstream
Churches knew better and accepted them back into the fold. Not
only that, but these same Churches actually persecuted as heretics
a third century sect, the Novatians, whose heresy was to agree
with the Bible about the readmission of apostates.
Biblical injunctions are also ignored on grounds of fashion.
According to 1 Timothy 2:9 women should not braid their hair
or wear gold or pearls, nor expensive clothes. Yet this is routinely
ignored. Today bouncers are employed in Southern Europe to stop
women going into some churches wearing shorts or with bare arms
which are not banned by the Bible yet they allow
in women with braided hair, gold brooches, pearl earrings, and
expensive clothes, all of which are banned by the Bible.
theteachings of the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican
and Protestant Churches on married bishops all defy the New
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife
1 Timothy 3:2, cf. Titus 1:6
The Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches contravene it by insisting
on episcopal celibacy: Anglicans and Protestants contravene
it by permitting episcopal celibacy. Once again, the meaning
of the passage is ignored1.
It does not seem to matter how clearly a teaching is stated,
or how often, or whether it is confirmed by both Old and New
Testaments. If it is inconvenient, it will be quietly ignored.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the very words reportedly uttered
by Jesus are widely ignored. The following are a few notable
examples of injunctions not taken up, rules not applied, examples
not followed, Jesus" words disregarded because they did
Poverty. Jesus was definite about the importance
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,
than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Mark 10:25
cf. Matthew 19:24
Even if he actually said rope rather than camel
in the original Aramaic, the meaning is much the same. Jesus
said that it is not enough merely to keep the Commandments.
To get to Heaven one must sell everything one has (Mark 10:17-25,
Luke 18:18-25, cf. Matthew 19:16-24).
the Middle Ages, when the Church had become the richest organisation
in the world, and its leaders extremely wealthy, this teaching
became an embarrassment. Medieval Church leaders therefore invented
a more acceptable interpretation. The story they invented was
that a narrow gate in the walls of Jerusalem was known as the
Needle's Eye. According to this story a camel might
experience a little trouble in passing through this gate, but
not enough to cause concern to the rich. There is no evidence
that any such gate ever existed, yet the fiction is still repeated
a while, a group of Franciscans did try to follow Jesus"
teaching and advocated absolute poverty. Known as Spiritual
Franciscans, they were declared heretical in 1323 for holding
that Jesus and the apostles had not owned any property. Pope
John XXII , the richest man in the world at the time, handed
over more than 100 of them to the Inquisition to be burned.
The rest were persecuted into oblivion.
The illustration on the right, taken from a manuscript, shows
four Fransiscans burned alive in Marseilles, on 7 may 1318,
for the crime of advocating Christian poverty.
today it is rare to find Christians giving away all
their wealth, though it is easy enough to find Churches and
various leaders and other personages associated with the Church
amassing it. The Anglican Church is still one of the greatest
landowners in Britain, and it is an unusual American televangelist
who is not a millionaire. Recent popes have ignored the biblical
injunction to disperse their wealth just as easily as their
predecessors. As the head of the Vatican (which has massive
investments in assets such as property, gold, and shares in
multinationals), each successive incumbent pope becomes one
of the richest men in the world. Pope Pius XII had gold door
handles fitted to his American Cadillac. Pope John Paul II managed
to find funds for his swimming pool at Castelgandolfo, his palatial
summer retreat, from where he occasionally blessed the poor.
Pope Benedict XVI used a helecopter when he could just as easily
used a bicycle. Yet without even a trace of irony, on 1 st June
2006, he told his weekly general audience that Christians should
renounce power and wealth and should choose instead to serve
others with Christ's humility.
his life Jesus had little time for families if we are to believe
the gospels. At the age of 12 he failed to return home with
his family from the Passover feast at Jerusalem. He was found
in the Jerusalem Temple three days later by his sorrowing parents,
who had returned from Nazareth to look for him (Luke 2:42-48)
not very thoughtful behaviour on the part of the exceptionally
wise and learned son of God towards his mother one might think.
The third of the seven swords through the heart of "Our
Lady of Sorrows" on the right, put there by Jesus himself,
represents Mary's sorrow at her son's inconsiderate disappearance.
Jesus was routinely dismissive of his mother and her feelings.
Mariologists have long been embarrassed by the way he spoke
to her, for example "Woman, what have I to do with thee?"
(John 2:4). The usual explanation is that translators unwittingly
introduced an element of curtness, but this is simply not true.
In any case, Jesus rejected his family more than once. When
they asked for him when he was addressing a multitude, he denied
his mother and brothers, and said that those listening to him
at the time were his mother and brothers (Mark 3:31-35 cf. Matthew
12:46-49 and Luke 8:19-21).
As the gospels clearly state, Jesus had no qualms about taking
his disciples away from their families. The brothers James and
John abandoned their father, leaving him to manage as best he
could with the fishing nets they had been preparing2.
Jesus gave a clear instruction that his followers should "call
no man your father upon the earth" on the grounds that
they had only one father and that was the one in Heaven (Matthew
23:9). According to some, Peter abandoned his wife and family
to follow Jesus3. On one
occasion a disciple asked permission to go and bury his dead
But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury
Matthew 8:22 cf. Luke 9:60
Jesus then refused another potential follower who asked permission
to say goodbye to his family before abandoning them (Luke 9:61-62).
We learn that this attitude was entirely in line with Jesus'
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father,
and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law
against her mother in law. Matthew 10:35
Jesus consistently taught that his followers should abandon
and despise their families. Everlasting life is promised to
those who leave their present homes and families (Matthew 19:29,
Mark 10:29-30 and Luke 18:29-30). The Luke author gives Jesus'
summary of his views on family life:
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother,
and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and
his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26
A similar sentiment is expressed in the non-canonical Gospel
of St Thomas4. Indeed,
this gospel goes further "Whoever recognises his father
and mother will be called the son of a whore"5.
Just before he asserts that he is come to bring not peace but
a sword, Jesus says:
And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and
the father the child: and the children shall rise up against
their parents, and cause them to be put to death. Matthew
The Church's traditional attitude towards family life has been
consistent with Jesus' views until recent times. The pinnacle
of achievement was to remain a virgin and so not have a family
at all. Converts were expected to abandon their families if
their families declined to become Christians as well. Polygamists
were required to abandon all but one wife. Priests were required
to abandon their wives and families, just as the apostles and
early Church Fathers had done. St Alexis won his sainthood by
abandoning his new bride on his wedding day. Christianity was
responsible for an untold number of abandoned wives, divided
families, and disinherited children. You can read examples of
the damage done by traditional attitudes to families here.
For the moment the key point is that in the last few decades
it has become fashionable to support family values. Since the
1960s the Churches have found it expedient to portray themselves
in exactly the opposite light to that in which they have traditionally
basked. As a leading liberal churchman has noted:
The idealisation of the family is a modern cultural creation,
which the Churches have validated, and now no modern bishop
would dream of publicly endorsing Jesus' views about
The Church has reversed its traditional teaching to agree with
modern opinion. Much creative imagination now goes into the
pretence that the gospels do not mean what they plainly say:
that followers of Jesus must hate their families. Except for
a few men and women who do abandon their families to become
hermits, anchorites, missionaries, Roman Catholic priests, monks
or nuns, there are now virtually no Christians who follow Jesus'
teaching about family life.
Praying in public. The Gospels very firmly prohibit
praying in in public in any circumstances. According the the
text Jesus himself forebade it:
Jesus explicitly prohibited praying
but almost all Churches ignore this injunction
(the next verse incidentally removes any possibility that
praying in a church might be permissible)
Praying in public - Catholic Christians
Praying in public - Pentecostalist Christians
Praying in public - Catholic Christians
and Clothing Jesus said that his followers did not
need to work. God, knowing their needs, would clothe and feed
them (Matthew 6:25-32 and Luke 12:22-30).
In view of the thousands of Christians who die of exposure
and starvation every year, a non-believer might be sceptical
about this, but Christians do not have the option of scepticism.
The overwhelming majority wilfully defy the words of Jesus by
working to provide for themselves and their families.
Giving Judgement. Jesus is reported to have taught that we
should not judge others: "Judge not, that ye be not judged"
(Matthew 7:1 cf. Luke 6:37). Yet few Christians take this seriously.
Christian countries still establish courts of law. Christian
judges have no qualms about judging others. Mainstream Churches
even have their own ecclesiastical courts in which, in
the past, they have prosecuted and condemned Quakers for following
New Testament injunctions. It may be argued that to do away
with the courts would be impractical. And this may or may not
be true, but the practicality of it is irrelevant. The fact
is that according to the gospels Jesus told his followers not
to pass judgement. His directive covered all courts and all
of his followers.
the Other Cheek. Jesus' teaching on this matter
is well known: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil:
but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him
the other also. Matthew 5:39 cf. Luke 6:29
Hardly anyone follows this teaching when it affects themselves.
Christians have been happy enough not to resist evil when the
evil has been done to others, but rarely when it has been done
to them. Christians say all manner of things about the depth
and beauty of Jesus' injunction, but few ever attempt to
put it into practice. Throughout history Christian Churches
have carried out a great deal of smiting, but it is difficult
to find examples of cheek turning when there was an alternative
course of action. Critics of Christianity routinely receive
death-threats from the more devout followers of Jesus.
Jesus is reported to have said:
Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow
of thee turn not thou away. Matthew 5:42
He also said not to try to recover stolen goods (Luke 6:30).
There are few Christians who give whatever is asked, or lend
whatever is asked, or fail to try to recover property stolen
when they know who stole it. Many probably do not realise that
they are expected to do these things, because no one has ever
mentioned it to them.
Thine Eye Offend Thee ...There is no reason to believe
that Jesus was speaking metaphorically when he recommended cutting
off limbs and plucking out eyes that have caused sin (Mark 9:43-47).
On the contrary, the choice is clearly between physical pain
now, and everlasting torment in the fires of Hell. Believing
in this straight choice, some early Christians castrated themselves7,
arguing that their genitals caused lust; and lust was sinful.
In line with this idea, for centuries severe mortification
of the flesh was held to be highly praiseworthy. Now mortification
of flesh is generally recognised as thinly disguised Sadomasochism,
and is therefore practised in secret by the devout. One can
imagine the outcry if a modern bishop were publicly to recommend
a wholesome round of dismemberment and self-mutilation for sinners.
Yet if he did so he would be doing no more than echo the words
of Jesus and of his followers up until the nineteenth century.
According to the 1983 Roman code of canon law, "an oath
is the invocation of the divine name as witness to the truth"
(canon 1199), and most denominations would agree with this definition.
Jesus said explicitly that his followers should not swear oaths:
But I say unto you, Swear not at all; ... But let your communication
be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these
cometh of evil. Matthew 5:34-37
Early Christians accepted this and refused to swear oaths in
any circumstances, even though they were liable to be executed
for their refusal8. Most
sects now ignore the prohibition, and do not bother themselves
about the fact that by swearing oaths they are inviting damnation,
which is the penalty promised in the Bible (James 5:12). Some
Churches have adopted a position diametrically opposed to that
of the Bible. Since 1184, when Pope Lucius III published Ad
abolendum, the refusal to take an oath has been automatic
confirmation of heresy in the Roman Church. Pope Innocent III
confirmed that those who took Jesus' teaching on this matter
literally were heretics, and that they deserved to die. Later,
in the Church of England, it became an article of faith that
Jesus had not meant what he said, for the last of the 39 Articles
of the Anglican Church asserts that a man may swear when a magistrate
requires it. It claims that Jesus and James had only forbidden
vain and rash swearing, but that is patently not true. All swearing
Jesus' words, the Quakers refused to swear oaths. They were
persecuted and imprisoned for refusing to take oaths such as
the Oaths of Supremacy and Allegiance. They knew, as anyone
who read the Bible would know, that all swearing of oaths is
forbidden. Any Christian who swears an oath as a witness in
court, or on signing a deposition, or on taking up public office,
or for any other reason, is promised damnation to eternal hellfire.
Baptists and Quakers still interpret this passage as forbidding
all oaths, including those oaths traditionally taken
in courts of law, which is of course exactly what its wording
implies. Nearly all other Christians routinely ignore Jesus'
clear teachings as set out in the gospels.