Jesus’ “Original” Teachings

January 9, 2017 § Leave a comment

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The New York Times ran a story about Bart Campolo, son of evangelical icon Tony Campolo, headlined The Evangelical Scion Who Stopped Believing(1). Sadly, both men have gone off the theological rails, to different degrees. But noted in this article focused on Bart’s journey away from faith, both father and son preached an emphasis on what they considered the teachings of Jesus over the rest of God’s word. Bart preaches atheism these days, but back when he claimed to be a believer, his ministry had this in common with his dad’s. From the article:

“Bart’s father, Tony Campolo… founder of the ‘red-letter Christians’ movement, an effort to refocus evangelicals away from politics and back to the teachings (about poverty, love, charity) of Jesus, whose words are printed in red in many Bibles.”

“(Bart Campolo) was a role model for younger Christians looking to move beyond the culture wars over abortion or homosexuality and get back to Jesus’ original teachings.” 

There’s an increasingly popular idea that Christians engaging in culture wars, particularly about the issues mentioned above, have strayed from true Christian teaching. Theological liberals have suggested lesser credence be assigned to the Old Testament and the pastoral epistles, and a higher authority given to the words of Jesus in the four gospels. In essence, this invalidates the vast majority of scripture. If Jesus didnt say it, it doesn’t matter what the rest of scripture says about issues of homosexuality or the unborn.

So how should Christians think about contemporary issues in light of Scripture? First, are the words of Jesus in the Bible the most important parts of Scripture? Second, were “Jesus’ original teachings” unconcerned with issues like abortion or homosexuality?

Considering that Jesus often quoted many parts of the Old Testamant, and that “all scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), there is no cause to give the recorded dialog of Jesus greater authority than the rest of the Bible. Jesus didn’t, so we shouldn’t either. God didn’t put Jesus’ words in red; Louis Klopsch did in 1899 with the first printed red letter edition New Testament. To be clear, we haven’t actually printed the exact words spoken by Jesus. We have the gospel-writers’ inspired accounts of what Jesus said, which, in accordance with the practice of paraphrasing in the ancient world, vary in exact wording (yet are unified in the truth being spoken). So what red-letter Bibles are highlighting are not the exact words of Jesus anyway.

Jesus’ regard for the Old Testament scriptures and the truth of 2 Timothy 3:16 helps to answer the 2nd question: Are we right to think that Jesus didn’t condemn same-sex relationships or abortion, but His teachings were somehow different than the rest of the Bible?

In the first place, abortion and homosexuality were not in the cultural spotlight when Jesus engaged in ministry, so we shouldn’t expect to find Jesus dealing directly with those issues that Christians find themselves having to respond to today. But we know what Jesus thought about the value of human life and God’s plan for marriage because of what He affirmed from other scriptures.

In Matthew 19:4, Jesus uses Genesis 2:24 to affirm “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” Jesus’ affirmation of how God’s design for human sexual relationships (one man and one women given in marriage) simply leaves no room for other types of sexual relationships.

Jesus didn’t speak specifically of abortion either—or at least we don’t have a record of it. But we know His position on it. If asked, Jesus might have again referred back to Genesis, perhaps 1:27-28, words that would have carried as much authority as His own: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth…'” Other scriptures that teach of the value and personhood of the unborn (Exodus 21:22-23; Psalm 127:3,139:13-15, Jeremiah 1:5) would also have been regarded by Jesus as authoritative.

But don’t miss that we see from Scripture that God’s plan was for children to be born, not killed in the womb. God’s plan for marriage in Genesis 1 and 2 included the bearing and raising of children by a mother and father. God created us and He also created our fruitfulness, and neither should be destroyed. If we follow God’s plan for sexuality and parenting, then abortion should be a moot point. And God does desire us to follow that plan, which Jesus affirmed by continually doing His Father’s will (John 6:38).

There is no rational distinction or contradiction between “the original teachings of Jesus” and the rest of the Bible, whether printed in red or in black, because Jesus Himself stood firm on the scriptures written before Him.

1) Caserez, Damon. “The Evangelical Scion Who Stopped Believing” New York Times. The New York Times Company, 29 Dec, 2016 (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/magazine/the-evangelical-scion-who-stopped-believing.html)
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