“Jesus Never Talked About X”

December 29th, 2009

So, Jesus was a Jew.  He didn’t come to begin a religion; he came as the culmination of the Old Testament, in its prophecies & promises.

With that in mind, does anybody really think Jesus had to repeat everything from the Old Testament in his teachings–or we can dismiss it?  That would be a pretty odd expectation.

And yet, modern religious discussion seems to have a new trump-card:  ”Jesus never talked about ______.”  If Jesus never talked about [insert traditional/conservative/disliked belief], then supposedly it has no place in true Christianity–it’s just man-made.  (The argument also has a more reasonable form, which I’ll talk about below–but first I want to look at the dismissive form.)

It might be used against any view seen as “traditional”–anything part of widespread assumptions about Christianity.  As an experiment, I googled “Jesus never talked about”.  Six of the first ten results were on homosexuality.  Another says that all sex-related rules are just man-made.  (That one’s odd, since Jesus did talk about sexual morals.)  Another says that Paul can’t be legit, because Jesus never talked about him.  I tried again, excluding “homosexuality” from the results, and came up with:  Original sin, “saying The Prayer”/”becoming a Christian”/”salvation”, legislating morality, and purgatory.

The Problems

Does anyone really think that if Jesus didn’t explicitly, directly mention something, it’s not sin? Did he talk about rape?  Child abuse?  Did he mention the common infanticide practiced in the Roman Empire?  Did he mention bestiality?

We know he spoke about murder, and sexual immorality in general.  But we don’t know that he ever mentioned these.  Does that mean he condoned them?

So where does this thinking go wrong?

The first problem:  The written gospel accounts don’t pretend to record everything Jesus said.  We can’t say, “Jesus never mentioned X.”  We can only say, “The gospel writers didn’t include anything about it.”  Each gospel writer included and emphasized different portions of Jesus’ teaching; they don’t claim to include all of it. (On the contrary.)

Even if Jesus himself actually did directly mention every moral issue during his time on earth, we don’t have everything he said.

The second problem: Red-letter Christianity.

Sometimes, modern printings of the Bible put the words of Jesus in red letters.  And some people view the red letters as the only part that’s really Scripture, really God’s word.  Oddly, people will reject Jesus’ own view of the Scriptures.  He appealed to the Old Testament as the word of God; he affirmed Moses and the Psalms and the prophets.  They spoke by the Spirit of God–the same Spirit by whom the apostles & prophets of the New Testament spoke.

If you try to separate Jesus from the Scriptures, reading only the red letters, you can’t get very far.  You have to excise all the red letters that talk about Scripture and the Holy Spirit.  (That’s exactly what Marcion tried to do.)

And that takes us back to the third problem: Jesus didn’t come to create a new religion.  He’s not dropping in out of the blue and starting with a blank slate.  Jesus is a Jew; Christianity continues & builds on Judaism.  And according to Jesus, he didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.

Jesus’ birth in Israel wasn’t an accident of history.  He’s not a moral teacher who just happened to appear in Israel, and when he spoke about the Law he wasn’t simply commenting on the prevailing morality of his surroundings–he certainly wasn’t affirming some and discarding the rest.  (It’s not as though he set out to ratify the valid parts of Old Testament morality and ignore the parts he didn’t like.)  The Law was from the Father, with whom Jesus is one.  When he criticized the prevailing morality, it was because they departed from the Law for the sake of man-made traditions.  But the Law itself was the word of God.

If we take Jesus in the gospels seriously, we have to take the rest of the Bible seriously.  Jesus, the Word of God, affirmed Scripture as the word of God.  You can’t separate its teachings from his.

On The Other Hand…

More reasonably, “Jesus never mentioned ___” does raise a question about importance and emphasis.  It’s silly to assume that Jesus mentioned every moral issue and theological truth, but he did specifically teach about his purpose in coming, the kingdom of God, and the central meaning of the gospel.  So it seems reasonable to expect that the main things would show up coming from Jesus himself.

It’s a slippery question, but at least it raises food for thought.

Aside from that, the criticisms people are making might still be valid, even though “Jesus never mentioned X” is a bad argument.  Going back to the list from Google, I certainly agreed with some of the critiques–against purgatory, against some forms of legislating morality, against “praying-the-prayer”-as-magical-words-that-grant-eternal-security.

But to make a valid critique on anything, you need a lot more than this argument from Jesus’ supposed silence.

To Sum It Up

Saying “Jesus never talked about ____” isn’t a good trump card.  It doesn’t do much, though it can raise food for thought.

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2 Responses to ““Jesus Never Talked About X””

  1. Kris says:

    Good post. I probably won’t win a debate with this point I’m trying to make, but I’ll throw it out there:

    I agree with your summation certainly. Jesus, though, was a subversive. He was unlike any other teacher of his time. He did not claim to be a messiah, merely speaking from the Jewish tradition from which he came. He claimed to be God, which he was tried and found guilty for. The Jewish tradition did not expect a messiah figure to be God, so this was against the Jewish religion. What else did Jesus do that was against Jewish religion / tradition? Well, I think you know there are many things, such as healing on the Sabbath and forgiving the sins of men. So your argument that Jesus was all about the fulfillment and continuation of Jewish law/tradition/religion is reasonable, but only to a certain extent. I think in more ways than not, Jesus did not create a new ‘religion’ but a new faith in God. He broadened scope of the people of God to include the gentiles, not just the Jews. Along the same lines of being a subversive, and broadening who is holy and chosen of God, I think you can err on the side of love and inclusion here on the topic of homosexuality in terms of orientation and relationships. I would grant that Paul speaks unkindly of the practice, but research what the practice was back then. Now there are more acceptable paths a homosexual can take to live out their orientation in a more biblical way by being in a committed relationship. This is getting into the nitty-gritty, so I’ll stop here and just leave this as food for thought.

  2. Mark says:

    Kirk, your argument that one can err on the side of love and inclusion is misguided. Jesus taught against fornication and homosexuality is fornication. Paul did not merely “speak unkindly of homosexuality.” He said that homosexuals would not inherit the kingdom of God.

    No matter how reasoned your argument is, the Bible taken as a whole teaches that the practice of homosexuality is a sin.

    Yes, God is a God of love, but he hates sin. Because He is love does not mean He condones sin. He loves homosexuals just as He loved all sinners (me included) enough to send His only begotten Son to atone for our sins. The Bible plainly states that the practice of homosexuality is sin.

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