Den of Lambs

Christian Defense of the Faith


October 2015

Jesus A Zealot?

The central argument in Reza Aslan’s book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House, 2013), is that Jesus, like other messianic figures of his day, called for the overthrow and expulsion of Rome from Israel. Jesus, according to Aslan, believed that God would empower Him to become the king of Israel and overturn the social order. Instead, Jesus’ revolt was quelled and He was arrested and crucified as a revolutionary.

Jesus ZealotAslan goes on to assert that early Christians invented the story of Jesus to make him into a peaceful and loving teacher. The reasons for this were two fold: (1) Jesus’ prediction had failed and (2) the Roman destruction of Jerusalem made Jesus’ real teachings dangerous.

Aslan does a magnificent job describing the multifaceted economic, political and religious setting of first-century Palestine (with some exceptions).

The central claim in Zealot is that of a conspiracy theory, essentially that Jesus was was a proponent of a violent revolution and that the Gospels and Paul were a cover-up. The typical approach by Aslan (as in so many conspiracies) is that any time the Gospels present evidence against the theory, it is fictional; any time the gospels present evidence in favor, it is fact. I’ll list a few examples:

Aslan asserts that Jesus never said “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), as that would be contradictory to Aslan’s theory. The idea that Jesus was “an inveterate peacemaker” is a “complete fabrication” by the evangelists.[1] According to Aslan, Jesus never said “If anyone compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matt 5:41, talking about submission to soldiers who demand labor) or “Do not resist the one who is evil” (Matt 5:39). Aslan does not deny the historicity of Jesus’ parables, but dismisses them as uniteligeble – a claim contrary to most modern New Testament scholars. The Kingdom of God described in the parables is incompatible with violent revolution and therefore dismissed by Aslan.

Aslan, though, is willing to accept the gospels’ testimony when it concurs with his theory. He accepts the historicity of sayings from Jesus such as “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34) and “the kingdom of God suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt 11:12). However, the context of those sayings, which has nothing to do with violent revolution, is completely ignored. Jesus’ arrest is dismissed as entirely fictional because Jesus stopped Peter from using a sword: “Put back your sword… For all who take up the sword will die by the sword” (Matt 26:51-52). But Aslan is quite willing to accept that Luke is correct when he records Jesus saying, earlier that evening, “Let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). This biase is a pattern that is repeated over and over in Zealot. In reality, Aslan ignores most of the evidence against his theory and asserts that he has knowledge that allows him to identify when the Gospels were fabrication and when they were factual.

Zealot also claims that the peaceful, divine Jesus was made up primarily by Paul. According to Aslan, Peter and James opposed Paul’s claim that Jesus was divine.  This is utterly ridiculous given the famous passage of Matthew 16:13-19: “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,“Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.  And I tell you that you are Peter,  and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (emphasis added)

Though the New Testament, on several occasions, does describe conflict between Paul and Barnabas, between Paul and Peter, and between Paul and James, Aslan asserts that all these arguments were about the identity of Jesus, and that Barnabas, Peter and James believed in Jesus as a human messiah against Paul’s view of a divine Christ. The disagreement between Paul and Barnabas is clearly over the inclusion of Mark in their mission team, and Paul’s disagreement with James and Peter is over whether Gentiles need to keep Jewish laws such as circumcision and food laws. Also, remember that James was not initially a follower of Jesus.  It wasn’t until after the resurrected Jesus appeared to James that became a disciple.

Again, Aslan is unfairly selective in his use of evidence. He accepts the letter of James as being authorized by James, as it assists him in emphasizing or exaggerating differences between James and Pau but he never mentions the epistles of Peter, which is conspicuous as they show that Peter is in agreement with Paul about who Jesus is. Aslan also neglects to mention that James developed an equally high view of Jesus: he is “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (James 2:1) “who will return to judge” (James 5:7).

Aslan admits that his goal is to “purge the scriptures of their literary and theological flourishes and forge a far more accurate picture of the Jesus of history… Everything else is a matter of faith.”[1] In other words, the parts of the Gospels that Aslan agrees with are historical; the parts that he doesn’t agree with are “literary and theological flourishes.” though it is impossible to ignore how arbitrary his selections are.

Despite his understanding of the field, Aslan makes a number of errors evident to even my untrained eye: (1) He seems unaware of literary analysis and textual criticism techniques in evaluating the Gospels. (2) He claims that Pilate crucified “thousands upon thousands” without trial. (3) He claims very late, unlikely dates for the writing of the four gospels. (4) He claims that ancient people did not understand the concept of history (5) He claims that Luke was knowingly writing fiction, not history (6) He claims that Mark does not describe Jesus’ resurrection. [2] These finding are contrary to mainstream New Testament scholarship.

In summation, the conspiracy theory of Zealot flies in the face of commonly held Biblical exegesis and current Biblical and New Testament scholarship. Aslan repeatedly presents highly unlikely interpretations of passages in the New Testament and ignores passages that refute his theory. As it has been said: “there is something a little bizarre about using our only historical documents about Jesus (the New Testament) to come to conclusions quite in opposition to those documents. There is a good reason to believe that Jesus claimed to be a divine king and savior who would die and rise again, and would one day return to judge the world: all four gospels, and indeed the entire New Testament make this claim. You can deny that this claim is true, but it is scholarly folly to deny that the earliest Christians believed it.” [3]

[1] Kindle edition, no page numbers included.

[2] The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20
[3] Author unknown


Jesus and Buddha Parallels

Jesus-Buddha In his book Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings, New Testament scholar Marcus J. Borg proposed that both religious founders taught a “world-subverting wisdom that undermined and challenged conventional ways of seeing and being in their time and in every time.” Borg claimed that both were teachers of wisdom, not only regarding “moral behavior, but about the ‘center,’ the place from which moral perception and moral behavior flow.” Both, according to Borg, “were teachers of the way less traveled. ‘Way’ or ‘path’ imagery is central to both bodies of teaching.”1

Are there parallels between Jesus and Buddha?  Due to the confusion surrounding Buddha’s life (primarily because it took nearly 500 years before there was a complete biography) several myths were propagated.  Apparent parallels and their refutations are as follows:

1. Buddha was born of the virgin Maya.Buddha-Jesus

Buddha’s mother was not a virgin because she was a married,2 whereas Mary, mother of Jesus was betrothed to Joseph.  When Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, “Joseph, her fiance, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 1:19-20 Mary and Joseph did not consummate their marriage until after Jesus was born.

2. Buddha was pronounced ruler of the world at his birth.

Buddha was not prophesied to be a king, as his father wanted, instead, he was prophesied to be a holy man. Jesus was pronounced king of the Jews.

3. Buddha’s life was threatened by a king “who was advised to destroy the child, as he was liable to overthrow him.”

The king (actually a clan leader) that threatened Buddha’s life was his father and it was because he wanted a son to succeed him but it was predicted that Buddha would not follow that path but instead become a holy man.

Other similarities are ad hoc and spurious.  More interesting, however, are the disanalogies:

  1. Jesus started his ministry on earth after being baptized by John the Baptist – Buddha either walked and spoke at birth; basically announcing his knowledge of the cycle of reincarnation or found enlightenment after leaving his wife and children and meditated under a bodhi tree.
  2. Jesus was crucified – Buddha died of old age, when he was eighty years old after eating wild mushrooms.
  3. Jesus had a bodily resurrection on the third day after his crucifixion – Buddha was cremated
  4. Jesus came to atone for sin – Buddha didn’t believe in sin.
  5. Jesus believed that He and God were one – Buddha either believed that there are many gods (Tibetan) or that there is no god (Theravada)
  6. Jesus taught eternal life with the Father – Buddha taught reincarnation
  7. Jesus taught assurance beyond the grave – Buddha taught no assurance beyond the grave.

Finally, the Future Buddha called Maitreya or “The Friendly One” will be born as a human and revive the religion bringing peace to the world. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

As anyone can see there is no way to equate Buddha with Jesus. No way. They are too different. Too dissimilar and even disagree and conflict. They both can’t be right. Each of us must evaluate the evidence and decide which if either is true. I challenge everyone to do that. I’ve done that and the only logical conclusion is that Jesus is everything the Bible says He is!

[1] Marcus Borg, ed., with coeditor Ray Riegert and an Introduction by Jack Kornfield, Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings (Berkeley: Ulysses Press, 1997), 8–9.

[2] Buddha and Christ by Zacharias P. Thundy (1993), ISBN 90-04-09741-4, pp. 95–96

Why Youth Are Leaving The Church (II)

A few years ago, in David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith (Baker 2011),  Kinnaman argued that there are at least six reasons why men and women between 18-30 leave the faith behind.

Youth Leaving2Here, I will examine the final three reasons.

Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.

Pop culture has legitimized an attitude of immediate gratification which has manifested not only in premarital sex but also extramarital sex (including homosexual acts) which, in the Christian worldview, are illicit and immoral.  There is a strong reluctance to say that it is wrong to engage in these acts for fear of being labeled exclusionist or intolerant. This is just very, very unpopular today. It’s difficult for Christian kids to reconcile what the church teaches and what their culture and their friends tell them, as well as what their sin nature drives them toward.

Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.

What lies behind religious pluralism is the idea that religious belief is not a matter of fact, it is a matter of preference or fashion.  People don’t think of religious belief as objective matters of fact. Therefore this kind of exclusivity they find offensive, just as if I were to condemn your taste in art or your taste in fashion and say that my tastes alone are correct. If religious belief is just a matter of taste then these claims to exclusivity are indeed absurd and offensive.

Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

I’ve seen it in my own kids that they erroneously feel that their doubting friends may not be welcome or treated well so they are reluctant to bring their doubting friends to church. They don’t feel they will get a friendly reception.  Ironically, they can’t site examples of this type of treatment but nevertheless assert that this is how they will be received.

Also, I have a friend that was invited to church by her in-laws.  She said she felt judged and unwelcome and therefore not only has refused to return but has been driven away.

I believe that pastors must simply take these reasons into strong consideration, address them responsibly and seriously, and empower staff members and lay persons in their church to develop creative ways of addressing these burning issues. The answers are there but in prayerful consideration we must ask God to show us the way.

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