On Donald Morgan's, "Was Jesus a Hypocrite?"

Prominent Secular Web author Donald Morgan seems a man of few words. I was asked to take a look at his articles, and found mostly the standard lists of Bible contradictions and atrocities that we have already covered.

This being the case I will just take the time to focus on one of Morgan's items, titled "Was Jesus a Hypocrite?" This one actually seems to now be off the Secular Web, but it has been kept alive by others who have copied it.

Veteran readers will find nothing new in this article, and we will only find it necessary to import material from previous works. For other reasons I think this is not because Morgan is unprincipled or dishonest, but because he is simply not aware of the depth of material available answering his charges.


FAITH AND BELIEF

Jesus taught: "With God, everything is possible" (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27), and: "All things are possible to him who believes" (Mark 9:23). He went on to say: "if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed [which is certainly very little faith] you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you" (Matthew 17:20; Luke 17:6 is similar).

Yet, allegedly because of the unbelief of others, Jesus himself was sometimes unable to perform any miracles (Matthew 13:58; Mark 6:5).

Morgan's argument is based on an improper understanding of what is going on in these passages. The unbelief or lack of faith of these people prevented Jesus' work. Why?

We've seen a lot of skeptics quote these verses , saying that it indicates that Jesus was a charlatan who needed people to have "faith" and excused away ability to heal real diseases as a lack of faith. The word "unbelief" here is apistia, meaning a lack of pistis. In light of our better understanding of pistis, the problem is indeed not with Jesus but with the lack of loyalty and trust by those who reject Jesus. Like the ungrateful client in the client-patron relationship, the people rejected Jesus as a patron in spite of his acts of grace, thereby dishonoring him. To reject a gracious act was the height of dishonor.

Jesus could not heal these people not because of a lack of power, but because of ingratitude and a rejection of his gracious patronage. A rejected patron could and would never force his gracious gifts upon a client who didn't want them.

Hopefully Morgan does not think that these verses assume that God is capable of doing that which is logically impossible -- in this doing favors for those who reject them. Simply put these people had no faith (loyalty/trust) at all.

Even more surprising is the apparent lapse of faith that Jesus seems to have experienced during his ordeal on the cross when he cried out: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).

Morgan here works with what is again an errant definition of pistis. Even so, as we have noted elsewhere, one of the long-standing customs of Hebrew thought and language is to refer to a particular prayer, Psalm, blessing, etc. by the first word(s) of the prayer, Psalm, blessing, etc. When Jesus cried "My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?", He was drawing the attention of the Jews who were present at the crucifixion to Psalm 22. In effect, Jesus was saying that He is the fulfillment of Psalm 22, a Psalm which the Jews had always seen as a Messianic Psalm. As the Messiah, Jesus was not only concerned with fulfilling the role of the Messiah but also with making His identity known to His followers.

In this regard, Jesus drew the attention of the Jews to Psalm 22 while He was hanging on the cross. The observant Jew immediately knew what Jesus was referring to. The observant Jew also knew that Psalm 22 was a Messianic Psalm. Furthermore, Psalm 22, although it begins with despair, concludes on a note of triumph which reflects the vindication the Psalmist anticipates:

But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion's mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the LORD'S: and he is the governor among the nations. All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul. A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.

It is our argument, then, that to even regard Jesus' quote as one of lack of faith (even in the modern sense) is to completely misunderstand what the cry was all about. It is not the cry of a victim, but -- along with the earthquake, the darkness, the rending of the Temple veil -- an eschatological sign, not merely a prayer.

THE "GOLDEN RULE"

In spite of the fact that the so-called "Golden Rule" had been around in different forms for a long time before Jesus, Jesus has nevertheless come to be remembered as its originator.

Morgan is right about our ethnocentrism here, but really, no one otherwise claimed it was original. "So whatever you wish that people would do to you, do so to them" (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31), or "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," are probably not often thought of without also thinking of Jesus.

Jesus is also often credited with having been the originator of "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27) although this was, in fact, an Old Testament precept which he borrowed (Leviticus 19:18).

True again, but of no concern. Bear in mind that for the ancients, the idea of a "new" precept or teaching would have been extraordinary anyway. Honor was bestowed upon those who knew and used the old teachings, which were regarded as authoritative.

Less well remembered is his teaching: "Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you" (Luke 6:27, 6:35; see also Matthew 5:44).

In his own behavior, however, Jesus seems to have had considerable difficulty putting these precepts into action. He showed little regard for his gentile neighbors, for example, and equated them with "dogs" Mark 7:27, once instructed his disciples to "go nowhere among the gentiles" (Matthew 10:5), and even at first refused to heal a gentile child, finally doing so only after the child's mother came up with a clever saying (Matthew 15:21-28).

Jesus often accused the Pharisees (and others who did not share his opinions) of being "vipers" or "hypocrites" ( Matthew 12:34, 15:7, 22:18, 23:27, 23:33; Mark 7:6 as well as previously listed references). He even went so far as to call some of them "fools" after having specifically admonished others not to use this term, warning that to do so would make them liable to the "fire of hell!" (Matthew 5:22, 23:17).

This one is full of misconceptions. The core issue is what "love" or agape actually means. A key difference in understanding the meaning of agape is to recognize that our culture is centered on the individual, whereas ancient Biblical society (and 70% of societies today) are group-centered. What is good for the group is what is paramount. Hence when the NT speaks of agape it refers to the "value of group attachment and group bonding" [Malina and Neyrey, Portraits of Paul, 196]. Agape is not an exchange on a personal level and "will have little to do with feelings of affection, sentiments of fondness, and warm, glowing affinity." It is a gift that puts the group first.

With that in mind, what of the passage which tells us to "Love your enemies"? How is this reconciled with places where Jesus calls the Pharisees names? Given the definition of "group attachment" above, it may be best to understand agape as a parallel to another known concept of today -- not love, but tough love.

For the sake of popular culture awareness I will allude to perhaps the most famous example of such "tough love" known today -- the New Jersey high school principal Joe Clark (whose story was told in the movie Lean on Me) who cleaned out his high school and made it a safe place for those who wanted to learn.

Clark was no soft sentimentalist. He kicked those out of school who disrupted the learning of others. He used physical compulsion to do it as needed. He used a bullhorn to get people's attention. Is this agape? Yes, it is! It is the Biblical form of agape in which Clark valued what was best for his students as a whole versus what the individual wanted.

Now consider this understanding in light of, for example, Jesus' confrontation with the Pharisees and others. It will take a complexity of emotion we find foreign, but conceptually, it is certainly possible to love one's enemies, and yet also attack them; and the same for one's disciples or allies. Like Clark's disruptive students, the Pharisees were a threat to the well-being of others; so likewise Peter when he made his error. They spread deception and falsehood and kept others from entering the Kingdom of God with their deceptions; or else led people down the wrong path and away from spiritual maturity. In such a scenario, not only is it right and proper, for the sake of agape, to confront and confront boldly; it may be the only responsible thing to do to keep the "disease" or error from spreading and afflicting more souls! (In the ancient world, and even today, insults and polemics were a way to shame and discredit an opponent; see here.)

So agape does include verbally attacking and discrediting one's opponents, or confronting other believers, when they are in the wrong. Jesus speaks to these men not as his enemies, but as enemies of the truth. There is no indication that he speaks to them as personal enemies, for all of his comments reflect their deception of others; the personal relationship between the parties does not even come into the picture. They were enemies for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

By comparison, one would hardly suppose that Matthew 5:44 would restrict one from joining an army and fighting in a war against a Hitler or a Stalin. This becomes a case of having agape for the greater number, and generally innocent, at the expense of the lesser who are guilty. Jesus' situation with the Pharisees and others attacked was very much in this category, since their actions imperiled the eternal fate or the spiritual maturity of others.

As for the other points: See Why was Jesus harsh with the Syro-Phoenician woman? Matthew 10:5 it is hard to see teaching "non-love" even by modern definition since it is only setting a geographic limitation on the apostolic service. This is no more "unloving" than assigning charity to certain cities first.

ANGER

Jesus also spoke out against anger: "Anyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment" (Matthew 5:22); in fact, the context equates anger with killing. It is surprising, therefore, to find that, on several occasions, Jesus displayed his own anger.

"He looked around at them angrily" (Mark 3:5), angrily "cleansed" the temple (Matthew 21:12-15; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-47; John 2:13-17 ), and angrily "cursed" a fig tree when it failed to yield fruit OUT OF SEASON (Matthew 21:19; Mark 11:12-14), reacted with noticeable anger to the accusation of being "demon possessed," or crazy (Matthew 12:22-31; Mark 3:20-30), "cursed" the inhabitants of several cities who were not sufficiently impressed with his "mighty works" to believe what he taught (Matthew 11:22-24; Luke 10:13-15), and seldom if ever responded politely to those who differed with his teachings or objected to his behavior.

The problem with Morgan's analysis? Not one of these persons was Jesus brother -- one within his own ingroup. Otherwise the anger falls under the rubric we have stated above.

HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER

Jesus seemed fond of repeating the Old Testament commandment: "Honor your father and mother" (Exodus 20:12; Matthew 15:4, 19:19; Mark 7:10, 10:19;Luke 18:20). It is apparent, however, that Jesus did not always treat his own earthly father and mother with the respect that he should have, and his eccentric behavior sometimes brought dishonor to them.

There are no biblical references whatever to indicate that Jesus ever spoke to his earthly father, Joseph.

True. But hopefully Morgan is not trying to say this is "positive" evidence for his case.

There are only a few instances given where Jesus spoke to his mother, Mary.

True as well, yet we might point out that the purpose of the Gospels was not to record personal conversations between Jesus and his parents. This is also non-evidence. In at least one case, Jesus was curt if not actually rude, reprimanding his parents for seeking him at all--after he had, at the age of twelve, been missing for several days. "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I had to be in my Father's house?" was his retort when his parents came looking for him (Luke 2:49).

I have to wonder how Morgan is able to detect "curtness" or "rudeness" without hearing Jesus' tone of voice.

However, that said, Malina and Rohrbaugh in the Social Science commentary [299] note that if anything, it was considered proper for a son to "talk down" to his mother at this age. This was "the first indication of a break with biological family" which was expected of young men. By comparison one may consider cultures where to do otherwise would be to be a "momma's boy". Morgan is not approaching the text with ancient values and mores in mind.

There are several biblical references to the contempt and ridicule which were heaped upon Jesus both by the populace and by the religious leaders of his day. On at least one occasion, even his own family tried to restrain him when he appeared to be acting rather strangely (and as a consequence, had attracted quite a bit of attention): "And when his family heard about it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, 'He is beside himself [crazy]. He is possessed by Beelzebul'" (Mark 3:21).

Morgan needs to know in context what it is that was considered strange -- Jesus' devotion to his mission. If Jesus us strange here than so is the marcher at Selma who locks arms with a black man. And nowhere does it say the attention Jesus attracted was because of the strange behavior.

His disgraceful death on a Roman cross could only have brought dishonor to his mother and father "...for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree'" (Galatians 3:13). (See the "Living Bible" version of Galatians 3:13 and Deuteronomy 21:22-23 for the full significance of death upon the cross.)

True. But what of the other people executed by the Romans, some of them innocent? Indeed this amounts to a proof for Christianity -- see here.

HONESTY

Jesus taught: "Let what you say be simply 'yes' or 'no"' ( Matthew 5:37 ) thereby implying the principle of honesty. He often prefaced his statements with "Truly, truly, I say to you" as if to emphasize his own commitment to honesty. On some occasions, he went even further saying such things as: "My testimony is true" (John 8:14), "I am the truth" (John 14:6), and "I was born... to bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37). He equated lying with evil (Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:22) and called the Devil "the father of lies" (John 8:44).

Yet, in spite of his self-proclaimed honesty, Jesus did not always tell the truth.

Once, when his brothers urged him to accompany them to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Tabernacles, Jesus told them that he would NOT be going, but then he later went SECRETLY to Jerusalem by himself ( John 7:2-10 ). (Note: the words "not yet" which appear in some versions at John 7:8 are an editorial "emendation" to the original text in an apparent effort to rectify the obvious inconsistency between what Jesus said he would do and what he actually did do.)

Morgan is out of the cultural context here. Pilch and Malina in their Handbook of Biblical Social Values note that in the ancient world, control of one's speech was a paramount concern, and ritual etiquette demanded that one not give offense to others in public. In this light one may make comparison to Eastern societies today in which a person may purposely give an indirect or incomplete answer to avoid conflict. Modern Westerners consider this a vice, but the ancients did not. It was a matter of a moral hierarchy: thus for example, if speaking openly betrayed the interest of another to whom one was loyal and indebted, etiquette dictated that one should say one thing publicly and do another thing privately, or else not follow up on what was publicly stated.

In this light, Jesus' answer to his brothers, and places where he is what some have called "reluctant" to perform miracles, are a matter of his public "no" allowing him to act on terms favorable to his interests as the mediator of the new covenant, rather than the interests of others who as outsiders have no right to the information. (Pilch and Malina compare this to the modern practice of floating "trial balloons" in politics -- which is implicitly accepted even as it is criticized.)

It should be noted that not once in the Gospels is Jesus ever criticized for saying one thing and doing another -- because for the ancients, such behavior was par for the course and not considered a vice at all, but rather an honorable thing to do in circumstances such as described in John 7.

During his hearing before the high priest, Jesus said: "I have spoken openly to the world; I have ALWAYS taught in the synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together; I NEVER spoke secretly" (John 18:20). This is in direct contradiction, however, to what we find elsewhere. Not only did Jesus teach in places other than synagogues and the temple, but he himself specifically indicated that his teachings were not always open, but were sometimes INTENDED to be secret.

Incorrect. John is referring to the actual setting and physical location of Jesus' teaching, which he did publicly: in the synagogue (not, as today, a building, but any assembly of persons, which would include settings like the Sermon on the Mount, homes, etc.), in the Temple, anywhere the Jews met.

He taught on the "mount" (5:1-7:28), by the sea (Matthew 13:1), on the plain (Luke 6:17-49), and in other places. To his disciples he said: "To you has been given the SECRET of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; so THAT THEY MAY INDEED SEE BUT NOT PERCEIVE, AND INDEED HEAR BUT NOT UNDERSTAND: LEST THEY SHOULD TURN ABOUT AND BE FORGIVEN" (Mark 4:11-12).

Not quite the same thing. It might help to understand about ancient teaching methodologies to know what it is Jesus is saying here. It isn't a proclamation of private teaching, but of teaching style. The goal of ancient/Oriental teaching styles (like that of Socrates) is to cause the hearer to think and consider, with the specific design that if they are unwilling to "get the point" they will reject what the teaching implies and go away. But if you want to know more, you ask for an explanation, and a dialogue ensues.

Ancient methods of teaching featured and encouraged interaction between teacher and student, encouraging the student to "work out" the lesson themselves -- as opposed to the modern conception of teaching as a process whereby one takes notes and later regurgitates what they have learned. That's what Matthew is referring to.

CONCLUSION

If the Bible is taken to be an accurate account of what Jesus said and did, then it is apparent that Jesus did not always practice what he preached. Thus--according to the Bible--Jesus was something of a hypocrite and not perfect after all.

Our response: Morgan is unwittingly anachronistic in his objections. He has failed to make his case.

-JPH