An Easter enquiry: ‘How are we made right with God according to Jesus?’

This Easter Christians ponder a story that has been told over and over for the past 2000 years: that the Jewish Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, made a sacrifice of his own life to make mankind right with God (variants of the story claim: Jesus obtained forgiveness of mankind’s sins through his death; Jesus achieved atonement between God and human beings by his death, on so on).

The religion of Jesus vs. the religion about Jesus

Jesus appears to have taught that his own importance lay in his teaching about the end time (see Mark 13 and passim), in his prophetic call for repentance, and the importance of keeping the central teachings of the Jewish Law as Jesus himself interpreted them. His followers were those who gave up everything to adhere to his teachings. Here are just a few examples of the religion of Jesus which he preached:

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To enter into eternal life is to keep the 613 commandments of the Torah.

Next we see Jesus teaching his followers to meticulously obey the Jewish Law:

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The scribes and Pharisees have a wrong-headed interpretation of the Law. They neglect important parts of the Law given to Moses. They should obey all of it:

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Paul of Tarsus on the other hand (who authored nearly half the New Testament books) scarcely mentions any of these things. For him what ultimately mattered was Jesus’s sacrificial death and vindication by God at the resurrection. Those who would be saved were those who had committed themselves in faith to the Christ who died and rose again. In contradiction to the vital importance of keeping the teachings of the Jewish Law in Matthew’s gospel (teachings upheld later by Jesus’s brother James, the first ‘Pope’ of the Jerusalem Church), Paul claims Jesus “abolished the Law”!

In its commentary on Matthew 5: 17-20 (yet another place where Jesus teaches obedience to the Law) the prestigious scholarly (and Christian) work the New Jerusalem Biblical Commentary states,

‘The problem arises because the plain sense of the words is that Jesus affirms the abiding validity of the Torah; but this contradicts Paul. There are contradictions within the NT on penultimate matters. Matthew 5:17-20 was written ‘against the Hellenizing Christians, particularly Paul and his followers’. p.641.

Concerning verses 17, 19 and 20, it notes that these,

‘Reflect the outlook of Jewish Christianity, which, as a separate movement, was eventually defeated by Paulinism and died out, perhaps to be reborn in a different form as Islam.’ p. 641.

This last quote is a remarkable acknowledgment that Islam has much in common with the earliest Jewish Christian faith centred in Jerusalem.  To explore this fascinating historical question further read the excellent book The Brother of Jesus and the Lost Teachings of Christianity by Lutheran minister and professor of world religions Rev. Jeffrey J. Bütz.


In light of these differences do Jesus and Paul represent the same religion? Should we follow the religion of Jesus or the religion about Jesus? Which world faith today most closely resembles the religion of Jesus?  Further discussion here.  

Categories: Christianity, Islam, Jerusalem

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5 replies

  1. It is also a strong proof that Jesus is God because he has the power to determine what this man lacks although he has met him presumably for the first time.

    He is also told to take up the cross and follow Jesus instead of continuing to seek to merit eternal life by keeping the law, which would have made more sense if your view is correct:

    Mark 10:21
    Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

    • ‘It is also a strong proof that Jesus is God because he has the power to determine what this man lacks although he has met him presumably for the first time.’

      How on earth is that a strong proof? Another later prophet, Muhammad, is recorded as doing the same thing. Prophets have this amazing God given insight into people’s spiritual needs.

      Mark 10:21 says the man lacked ONE thing: ‘Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.’

      Then afterwards follow him. You make Jesus out to be unable to count and mean two things when he says only one.

  2. Paul also taught that God will judge men according to the deeds of the law:

    Romans 2:

    6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds. 7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.

    13 For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

    Falsely slandering Paul that he is doing away with the law does not help anyone to come to the truth.

  3. What a God given opportunity for my Logos supported intellect!

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