What Jesus Didn’t Say


Most of the things people associate with Jesus are things he never said. I’ll provide a few dozen examples below, but first please understand that I’m not doing this to tear anything down. Rather, I’d like to open a path away from obsolete and moribund beliefs. To do that, I’m drawing a hard line between Jesus and the apostles.

I’d very much like people to differentiate between what Jesus taught and what others taught about him. This is, however, a difficult thought, standing against centuries of assumptions to the contrary. So much so that when I first grasped this concept back in 1976, I was unable to deal with it and it slid off to the side.

I did not, however, forget it. And as I matured, this difficult thought remained with me and became clearer. I’m now convinced that it should circulate.

What Do We Call This?

So, what can we call a set of beliefs founded only upon the sayings of Jesus? I don’t know, but we can’t honestly call it “Christianity.” As you’ll see below, very many of Christianity’s core beliefs did not come from Jesus; they were added by others. However uncomfortable this may be, I really have no clearer way of expressing it, and I think its truth will become more obvious as we proceed.

But because this thought is so odd, those of you who come to agree with it (to whatever extent) will not have the comfort of a tag to place upon it; there is no category to roll it into. You’ll have to stand alone.

So, here’s my list. For convenience I’ve divided it into sections.

On the nature of God:

Jesus did not say:

God is a trinity.

God is three persons.

God is present everywhere.

On his own nature:

Jesus did not say:

I was born of a virgin.

I share the full nature of God.

I am God.

On the nature of humanity:

Jesus did not say:

Man was born into original sin.

Man is born corrupt.

Mankind is a fallen race.

On churches:

Jesus did not say:

          You should form churches.

          I will place you into congregations.

          You must obey your elders.

          Obey your leaders.

          Follow the scriptures.

          Study the scriptures.

          Study the prophecies.

          You must defend the gospel.

          You must prevent heresy.

          You should tithe.

On salvation:

Jesus did not say:

You must believe I was raised from the dead.

You must call me “Lord.”

You must surrender to me.

You must accept the Bible as truth.

You must believe and confess.

You must keep the sacraments.

You must die in a state of grace.

You must confess your sins.

On prayer:

Jesus did not say:

Pray to me.

Revere the cross.

Pray to saints.

Venerate icons.

Pray for your nation.

On Politics:

Jesus did not say:

Pray for your rulers.

Pray for your ruler to do the right thing.

Obey those above you.

Obey rulers.

Sacrifice yourself for your countrymen.

You should kill and die to preserve freedom.

You should form Christian nations.

“But if those things aren’t necessarily true, what is?”

What is or isn’t true is for you to decide. All I’m saying is that Jesus did not teach these things. And I strongly suggest that you mull that over for a while before jumping into another set of grand conclusions.

We should never have believed things because of what churches or church leaders say… not even the perfectly groomed and perfectly confident TV preachers. Nor should anyone have held such things to be true because their parents believed them. Mom, Dad, Grandma, and Grandpa may have been beautiful souls, but they were subject to misunderstanding and error just like the rest of us. We must examine things independently.

My point is this: What Jesus actually taught is quite distinct from Christianity. And in my opinion, the mix of doctrines that constitutes contemporary Christianity is at a dead end. The ideas that come directly from Jesus, however, stand to liberate and elevate the world… once they’re freed from the chains of doctrine.

What to do about this is up to you.

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Paul Rosenberg

26 thoughts on “What Jesus Didn’t Say”

  1. There is a significant chance that he never actually said anything at all, since there is a good chance that he was a fictional composite or an allegorical figure (like Mithra, Hercules, or Spider-man).
    However, accepting arguendo that this character existed, the whole “exculpate the character for the transgressions of his followers” schtick is weakened significantly by Matthew 5:17-20 in which he makes it clear that he has no desire to change so much as a single letter (or part of a letter) of the primitive, ignorant, racist hogwash outlined in Leviticus and Deuternonomy.
    So some of the trash that this dude was not going to change:
    ★ selling your daughter into sex slavery;
    ★ owning slaves;
    ★ slaughtering adulterers, homosexuals, people who mixed fabrics, and people who picked up sticks on the Sabbath;
    ★ slaughtering anyone who doesn’t mutilate their male children’s genitals;
    ★ butchering animals and splashing their blood (and burning their fat and offal) in appeasement of a genocidal Sky Maniac…
    So, y’know… hardly the sort of worldview worth emulating, given that it was supposedly articulated 400-odd years after Confucius and the Buddha (and folks like Theophrastus) said far more enlightened stuff.

    1. I think you’re trying way too hard to find things to hate about Jesus. And, BTW, you are assuming that the Bible is a perfect record of what was said. I don’t. You’re being far more of a fundamentalist than I am.
      And do you remember “he that is without sin, let him cast the first stone.”? By that Jesus overturned the entire class of commandments you mention. But I’m not going to continue this line of argument. You seem bent on dismemberment, and seem to enjoy it.
      On Jesus existing, however, I think that’s pretty well beyond question. There is simply far too much evidence that he did. Nearly all scholars agree on at least that much.

      1. “Nearly all scholars agree on that much.”
        Forgive him Paul, he isn’t a scholar. And he has obviously been influenced by the misinterpretations of who Jesus was and what he said, which you address in your article. I presume that much of the antipathy among good people towards Christianity, and by extension, toward Jesus himself, can be traced to misrepresentations of who Jesus was and what he taught by Christian scholars who profess him and their cohorts in governments around the world..

          1. You might guess that Ned and I are friends (dog, bicycle, and love of God-given Rights).

      2. How can someone who claimed that they would not change a jot or tittle of the Law, “overturn” an “entire class of commandments”?
        Also… name a work written by a non-apologist (i.e., a researcher who was not a member of the three Abrahamic cults) that gives a solid evidentiary basis for the existence of the dude in question (I won’t even require the the evidence has to support the narrative as written in the Synoptic Gospels(although those are internally inconsistent anyhow- they tell different stories, which is key evidence that they were independently invented after the fact).
        Just one. One “scholar”.
        I can give you twenty volumes by disinterested (i.e., non-partisan) researchers including ‘believers’, that show a complete lack of contemporary textual, archaeological and historiographical evidence for the putative existence of the character in question; and that refute key putative dates for events detailed in the (post-hoc) narrative.
        Go ahead and quote the forged interpolation in the Slavonic Josephus – I dare you – it would be a pleasure to tear the heart out of that sordid forgery (which has the same factual basis as the Deed of Constantine).
        As to babies and bathwater – it makes zero sense to bother retaining the fragments of the New Testament that are not morally reprehensible, because every single ‘interesting’ thing was said by someone else, 500 years or more before ‘Jesus’ is claimed to have said it.
        “Scholars say” – people can’t get away with that sort of nonsense anymore. Name the scholars, and link to their work – so we can all see that when you say “scholar’, you actually mean “partisan hack who is prepared to shoehorn a narrative onto a vanishingly-thin slick of pseudo-evidence that simply does not pass scientific scrutiny“.

        1. “Scholar up” with Monty Python in Life Of Brian (showing all the respect you have earned from me)

    2. You sound like the kind of fella that vilifies T. Jefferson for being rabid racist (look at how he treated Haiti, FI) and so throw the baby out with the bathwater. Hey, I don’t even do that with Saul Alinsky, a commie slimeball if ever there was one. Disciples are what could grasp the significance of the vast departure from pro-Roman go-along-to-get-along demoncraps of today and, so, grouped together imperfect men. One thing the Christ said was that “None is good but God.”. That MUST include the humans we are talking about. Grow up, sir.

      1. It would have taken you 15 seconds to establish my opinion of Thomas Jefferson – he was the least-worst of the founders, but he wasn’t a patch on Thomas Paine.
        The fact that you’re too lazy to do so, and would rather just pull an opinion out of your ass untested… well, that is part of the reason why you’re gullible enough to fall for schlock like “scholars say” (hint: it’s only partisan Jesus-freak ‘scholars’, who are to scholarship what Catholic priests are to child protection).
        “None is good by God”? Have you read the Old Testament? it’s the only place where the invisible Sky Maniac actually features and interacts with the world… and Yahweh the Foreskin-Obsessed Sky Maniac exhibits behaviour that makes Charles Manson look sane by comparison.
        You know, the whole “by their fruits ye shall know them” – well, the dude that your mythical Jeebus was talking about, founded a self-worship race cult based on genital mutilation (and the [fictional] founders of the race cult were an incestuous couple – Sarai and Avram had the same father).
        You keep on believing nonsense that would not pass the critical scrutiny of a modern 12 year old… the rest of the world is going through the process of sloughing off primitive drivel.

        1. Christ was responding to a person stating that He was a good man. As to your view of the OT God, Christ changed that by telling the crowd “He that is without sin, throw the first stone”. Ned Netterville brings out this point in this discussion and that would take you 15 seconds to establish. Ned and I are in-person friends from when he still collected mail near Signal Mountain, Tenn.

  2. Paul, it is for this reason that some years ago I stopped thinking of myself as a Christian and adopted the mantle of “a disciple of Jesus.”
    You missed the one thing Jesus DID NOT SAY that I call the wickedest lie ever told. He did not say “you should pay your taxes (to Caesar).” Christian scholars beyond number have been telling this lie, completely misinterpreting his words, “Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” which is obviously a simple and clear statement on one’s right to own property, even if your name is Caesar, which does not need to be “interpreted” to be understood. It is a confirmation of God’s Commandment in the Decalogue, “Thou shall not steal.”
    The wickedest lie was first told in the year 150 AD by Justin Martyr, in a fawning appeal to the the concurrent Roman Emperor and his son beseeching them not to persecute Christians because they were good, obedient taxpayers whose founder (Jesus) had told them to “render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” This lie was taken up, embraced and made into Christian doctrine later, when the Church united with the Roman Empire during the reign of Constantine as Emperor, and the Church and its established hierarchy began to share in the loot from Rome’s brutal taxes. What better way to make the flock pay than to be able to say, “Jesus said you should pay your taxes.” Of course the very existence of a church hierarchy is proof that what Jesus taught was no longer part of Christianity.
    Imagine, if you will, how different the world might be today if Christians had not had this lie drilled into their heads by the Church’s teachers and preachers urging them to pay their taxes and obey secular, human, government rulers. As flawed as the Church had become, it nevertheless through many of its members who were not mislead had a profound influence on Western culture. Imagine what the Western world would look like today if the wickedest lie had not been told far and wide. If instead the truth was known: that Jesus was adamantly op[posed to the evil involved in forcibly collecting taxes, and that the “kingdom of God” he repeatedly described and preached was his alternative to violent human governments.

    1. Hey, Jim, Red and I are surviving this latest result of freezing rain followed by deep cold. I have crampons (of a sort) for our walks but Red keeps slipping. Hope Ohio isn’t like Mid-NH. See my remark supporting you above.
      AN-o-ther thing; Paul did not (NOT) tell us, in advising to ‘obey the higher powers’, that earthly rulers/murderers even approximate “higher powers”. THAT description might be limited to the Love, Charity, Visiting the Sick/Jailed, ya know, actual HIGHER aspects of human interactions. In that light, I quit having issues with Romans 13.

      1. Only one or two days and only in one or two spots did I find it so slippery as to think of putting my sorta crampons on. And only two or three times did Tink’s back legs go out from under her on ice, and rest assured I’m happy to be here than in mid NH where I experienced snow thawed and then refrozen into a surface needing crampons or staying home.
        Good evaluation of Romans 13.
        The crucial point though is that those words are Paul’s, not Jesus’. Even if what Paul claimed in Galations 1, ” I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ,” even if this is true, we can be sure that Jesus didn’t give Paul authority to contradict Jesus’ own teaching regarding paying taxes, as the words of Paul in Romans 13 appear to do. However, we must not forget that Paul added, “If you owe taxes, pay taxes.” No follower of Jesus would dispute that, and its corollary is, “if you don’t owe taxes, don’t pay taxes.” That is quite the same as as Jesus’ response to the question, “Could we pay Caesar’s tax?” The corollary of Jesus response, “Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” is, “If you have nothing belonging to Caesar, Give him that–NOTHING!”
        Keep the faith, John, and keep your fellow Quakers on the straight and narrow.

        1. FIN-a-ly gave up on ‘The Quakers’ what with their universal support of mus-slime integration. Did what I can to message the ones I personally know but now have to rely on ‘leading my own path’. In other words, I ran out of other “fellow Quakers” (unless you and Paul are included). YGF, John

      1. Thank you kind sir. I read Jeffrey Barr’s article on “Render Unto Caesar,” on Lew Rockwell’s site when it was first published. I certainly concur with his analysis, and while he supports his understanding with a few references I had overlooked, there are a great number of other supporting points regarding Jesus’ antipathy for taxes, which could not be covered in his relatively brief article.

  3. So, you are essentially saying that the Apostles made everything up, right? That Saul/Paul did not see Jesus? Why did Paul stop persecuting and killing early Christians and become one himself, building up the Church? For that matter, why were those early Christians willing to give their life to protect someone you basically characterize as a glorified teacher of basic truths?

    1. No Greg, I’m not saying that they just made things up – this is not an all-or-nothing thing to me. But the record is very clear that the apostles didn’t understand Jesus very well.

        1. It just so happens that I have a list of references from issue 44 of the subscription letter. 🙂
          Do ye not yet understand, neither remember? … How is it that you do not understand?
          Matt. 16:9, 11
          Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?
          Mk. 4:13
          Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?
          Mk. 4:40
          Then are you also without understanding?
          Mk. 7:18
          Do you not yet perceive or understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? How is it that you do not understand?
          Mk. 8:17-18, 21
          Does this offend you?
          His disciples said… by this we believe that you came from God. Jesus answered them, Do you now believe?
          Jn. 16:31
          I have many things to say to you, but you are not able to bear them now.
          John 16:12

          1. I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to reply to this discussion. Yes, I am a slow thinker….
            First, though, I find it interesting that the Bible is the reference point for demonstrating that the Apostles didn’t understand Jesus. The books of the Bible were written or orally passed down by the very same people that didn’t understand. How does that work?
            Second, there are plenty of things that I don’t understand when I am first presented the information. However, as I study and reflect, I can usually come to a greater understanding. Is it possible that the Apostles and subsequent Christians have continued to come to a greater understanding of Jesus, his heavenly Father, and his mother?
            Third, I turn to one a recent homily of Bishop Robert Barron for an even better rebuttal:
            Finally, God is Love. What the Christ’s Church (which He directly founded via St. Peter) has been doing for the last 2,000 years is to define what it means to truly love all of God’s children in all aspects of life. Doctors of the Church, like St. Thomas Aquinas, have been clarifying and expounding on those definitions for centuries (and they are still doing it–see St. John Paul the Great’s “Theology of the Body”).
            If one is going to be a true disciple of Jesus, to be a true Christian, it takes more than just a superficial reading of the Bible. It’s a radical departure from modern culture today (and always has been). Now that doesn’t mean that Christians who profess to follow Jesus’ teachings are always upright and correct. Rather, we are all sinners. Instead of looking at those sinners as the problem with Christianity as a religion, look to the saints as a model to which all of us should aspire.

          2. Greg, I appreciate thoughtful responses. I’ll have to be a bit brief (sorry), but here are two responses:
            1. The text: Every significant text requires interpretation, and all the more so ancient texts. But this text cannot be take as “God’s perfect rulebook,” simply on the basis of the text itself. But again, this isn’t an all-or-nothing to me: I’ve gotten a lot out of the book; I think it is crucial. I’ve gone through this in FMP #44, 69, 77 and 89, and I simply can’t recount it here.
            2. Love: Yes, this is the bottom line. My experience is that people would much rather argue about doctrine that build actual love into their lives: It’s far less challenging.
            So, if you’re working on building love into your life, you have my full support. And I’m convinced that if we both labor on those lines our disagreements will fall away over time.

          3. No need to apologize for brevity. The best minds always know how to succinctly make a point…
            I agree with your conclusion; love will make all disagreements fall away over time. Of course, none of us can truly love another unless we deliver the truth. On the flip side, truth delivered without love is plainly cruel.
            With regards to the Bible, as a devout, practicing Catholic, I certainly do not believe in the idea of sola scriptura. There are plenty of non-Biblical works from the early Church fathers that inform our faith and guide Christianity to this day. I encourage all to read them as I am endeavoring to do the same.
            While I am not a subscriber, I am an admirer of your work. I believe you and some of your readers are closer to Catholicism than you would like to believe…

  4. How would we survive as Christians without the “intellectual” input from those who are anti-something. There are serious Bible scholars who have studied, considered, researched and done the labor to establish Bible accuracy and the doctrines found there. If you do not care to accept scripture, believe it and even trust it, then why bother others with negatives that have been repeated for centuries? Granted, religion is the problem but the Bible cannot be blamed for that; just the interpreters who pick and choose that which they do not like. Factually, we do not know what Jesus said apart from what his disciples said he said. The Bible declares that Paul was in the desert for several years where he received teaching from Christ.
    The good bit though is that we are all going to die and will discover yes/no. Of course if the Bible is untrue which is all we have to go on, then we will know nothing. IF it is true, then you might need a really excellent lawyer.

  5. What Jesus DID ‘say (by inference)’ is, ‘don’t pay tribute to Caesar (because ALL belongs to God, therefore NOTHING belongs to Caesar)(also see Luke 23, 2). He said to obey the commandments INCLUDING the First which precludes being a citizen of an earthly nation. C’mon, folks, if you vote, pay “taxes” or style yourself an earthly national, you are bearding God, not fearing Him as you should.

  6. Jesus – unless the Catholic Church is hiding the truth – a SERIOUSLY LIKELY SCENARIO – didn’t write down anything. Everything relied on the memories of folks who wrote decades after being with him, and the Council of Nicaea in 325AD decided which gospels would be included in the critical teachings, which would be left out completely, and god only knows what other critical changes they made to secure their own power and control over those professing to be Christians. Then there are all the translations (all of which are quite subjective). Taking ANY of it on face value is a mistake….not that there aren’t valuable teachings in what is “allowed” to be shared. Spiritual leaders of other religions (especially Hinduism and Buddhism), who have had profound spiritual experiences, have written down their teachings in great detail, etc. ALL share a common core of beliefs with ALL major religions.

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