A NEW JESUS STORY            

This is 'Shot at Dawn' at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. A reminder of the men and boys executed during WW1 for 'cowardice'.


According to the book of Acts, the first followers of Jesus (or rather Jeshua – ‘Jesus’ is an English word translated from the Greek, neither of which he spoke), were known as the 'Nazarenes’ or the ‘Followers of the Way’. They only became ‘Christians’ later. Jesus, and his first disciples, lived and died as Jews. The ‘Jesus sect’ existed within Judaism - alongside continuing Jewish practice – probably until the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by the Romans and the community scattered, in 70CE. Then it gradually became all about non-Jews, Gentiles. You can see the tensions between the two groups beginning to emerge throughout the New Testament.


It is therefore impossible to respond to his story in the same way as those who had previously been, or still were, Jews. Christians often use the word ‘Christ’ to refer to this historical person. ‘Christ’ was raised from the dead’ etc. That is wrong. ’Christ’ is a title ascribed to Jesus after his life, not his surname! It means ‘Messiah’, again translated from the Greek. 


If Jesus ever made such a claim about himself, and, because the gospel writers weren’t there at the time we can’t be sure he did, he would have been referring to its meaning within Judaism, not Christianity. It would have been in line with his reported quotation from Isaiah about a time of justice, peace and freedom, here, now. His self-giving death may well have been a response to his understanding of Isaiah's 'suffering servant' on behalf of the nation. But the idea of 'atonement' with God by the cross and the need to be individually 'saved' to avoid eternal condemnation, or the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity, only came later, not from Jesus.  


So if I haven’t ever been a Jew, and if ‘Jesus’ is only available to me through later writers who changed his original purpose and I don't believe in the Creeds as we have inherited them, how can I follow in his ‘Way’? In one sense I can’t. That was then and this is now. I wasn’t there either. I didn’t hear what he actually said and the gospels cannot be treated as if they are transcribed tape-recordings.


All I can do is to treat the life of this human person Jesus as a story which contains truths about what it means for me to be human too. I can ask myself, ’Why did the gospel writers (writing after Paul) tell his story in the way that they did’? ‘What kind of person emerges’? One who asked far more questions than he claimed to answer for us. Perhaps they were trying to shift the story back onto the real Jesus, about whom Paul knew little or nothing. Even if these are not his actual words, what example of humanity were they seeking to share? And can I ever hope to be a person like that?


So the new story is actually about getting closer to the original story, before 'Christianity' was invented. All we have is generalities, not specifics. What do the gospel writers agree on? His compassion. His care for the outcast and excluded. A new vision of 'God-ness'. His radical challenge to existing ways of doing things. That the ‘kingdom’, the signs of his God, were to be found in the everyday lives of ordinary people, not in the grand palaces of the powerful or the holy places of the priests.  It wasn't about creating another religion - it was about seeing this life differently. About finding hope in hidden corners, challenging the rich and their self-centreness, raising up the poor and celebrating the goodness that is all around us, in one another and in ourselves. This is Jesus' 'good news'. 


And in the end they killed him for it. Like they have killed countless others before and since. So my feeble attempt to keep the story going is to try to be on the side of those still most likely to be neglected or treated equally shamefully. I know it’s all tokenism but I can’t start my life from somewhere else or become a person I am not. But I can care. Not, of course as he did, but as I can. That, not my own alleged ‘salvation’, I genuinely believe, would have mattered far more to him.


                    Comment and feedback always welcome.


The Jesus story is a 'myth' for our times which, if looked at differently,  can still tell us a deeper truth about life and how to live it well. The Christian 'religion', however, is a set of doctrinal claims based on pre-scientific assumptions that no longer fit with modern knowledge. No wonder most people have rejected it. It may be best to leave a 'God' out of it and move on.


On this page you'll find details of how to obtain my book 'The Apostate's Creed'. PLUS a series of short essays, 'Updating the Map' on the different kinds of themes in the Bible and how we might engage with it today as historical human literature, not some kind of Divine instruction manual.


PLUS a link to a page that explains why I am not 'a Christian' and to another which suggests a new way to  tell the Jesus story. 


In Study Resources you'll find a PowerPoint (with audio) on 'Who Wrote the Bible'? This is so important and so often ignoredAnd some Discussion Notes on the classic book from the 1960s, ''Honest to God' which still raises so many key questions that have never been answered. And my own first book: humanist reflections on the Psalms from 2011: 'Walking without God'. These are all FREE.


Book Reviews suggests some reading which I've found helpful. 


Friendly Feedback is always very welcome. Please let me know if you have found my ideas interesting.


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