Christian Deceptions 6: Ignore & Distort the NT


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    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.

    Reputable 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.

    No 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.

    Destined for Hell


    Again, theteachings of the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican and Protestant Churches on married bishops all defy the New Testament:

    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 not suit:


    Poverty. Jesus was definite about the importance of poverty.

    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 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).

    In 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 today.

    For 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.

    Even 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.


    FamiliesThroughout 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 father:

    But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.
    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' purpose:

    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 10:21

    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 family6.

    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 in public,
    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




    Food 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.



    Turning 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.

    Again, 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.




    If 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.



    Swearing Oaths 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 was forbidden.

    Following 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.



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    1. At the time 1 Timothy was written there may not have been any distinction between priests (elders) and bishops (overseers). But this only opens up the possibility that all priests should be married to one woman, not just bishops. Rather disingenuously the Jerusalem Bible uses the word "elder", pleading in a footnote that the Greek word episkopos had not yet acquired the meaning of "bishop" when this was written.

    2. Different versions of the disciples abandoning their fishing nets are given at Matthew 4:21-22, Mark 1:19-20 and Luke 5:10-11.

    3. That (Simon) Peter was married is shown by reference to his mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14, Mark 1:29-30 and Luke 4:38). According to Protestant versions of the Bible Peter (= Cephas) took his wife with him on his travels, but in Catholic versions he did not (1 Corinthians 9:5).

    4. The Gospel of St Thomas, Saying 55.

    5. The Gospel of St Thomas, Saying 103. (The Secret Teachings of Jesus, p 37, gives a politically correct gender-free version.) Elsewhere Jesus announces that he has come to bring domestic conflict, as well as fire, sword and war, Saying 16.

    6. Don Cupitt, in (ed. John Hick) The Myth of God Incarnate, pp 133-4.

    7. Statutes in the time of Hadrian made castration without official permission a capital offence, presumably because of its unacceptable popularity. St Justin Martyr in his 1st Apology refers with approval to a young man who wanted to be castrated. Origen of course castrated himself.

    8. Eusebius for example mentions with approval one Basilides who was martyred having "insisted that he was unable to swear an oath in any circumstances". Eusebius The History of the Church, 6:5.



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