Does Jesus Judge the Wrong People? Or is it Still A Bit Silly to Disagree With Him?

disciplesWas Jesus overly judgmental? Did he ever look at someone and condemn them when ought to have welcomed and affirmed them? Did he ever call something evil, which was really good? Did he say that some things were unacceptable in the sight of God that really were acceptable in the sight of God?

To most orthodox Christians (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant), the confession of Jesus as Messiah, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, would rule that sort of thing out. I mean, Scripture clearly says he is without sin in a number of places. Beyond that, it’s part of the logic of the Gospel itself and a key to the salvific efficacy of his representative humanity on our behalf.

I bring this up because of an interesting post by J.R. Daniel Kirk on ‘Disagreeing With Jesus.’ It’s apparently a follow-up to Robert Gagnon’s piece at First Things piece praising Fuller’s decision not to offer Kirk tenure because of some of his views about Christ, as well as his evolving views on same-sex marriage. In it, Gagnon basically says that had Fuller done otherwise, they would have been allowing and opting for a position on sexuality squarely at odds with Jesus’ view on the matter per Mark 10:2-12 and Matthew 19:3-9.

Kirk’s response is basically to point out that we all disagree with Jesus on a number of issues:

I disagree with Jesus about some of the opinions of Jesus that he stated:

  • Moses wrote the Pentateuch
  • The truly final eschatological judgment would arrive within a generation of his life
  • My divorced and remarried friends are living in adulterous relationships

I disagree with Jesus about some of the opinions he probably had but didn’t state:

  • The world is flat
  • The world is 3,000 or 4,000 years old (in the first century)
  • The earth is at the center of the universe and the sun revolves around it

I agree with Jesus in some areas where many (or most) Christians disagree with us:

  • To understand Jesus best we have to understand his ministry as that of God’s faithful human representative (the son of humanity/the Human One)
  • Jesus didn’t know everything that God knows (like “the day or the hour”)

I also agree with the church about things that Jesus didn’t think or say:

  • Gentiles get to be part of the people of God without becoming Jewish
  • I’m not guilty of sin when I break the Sabbath every single Saturday

The idea, apparently, is that since many obviously disagree with Jesus on all sorts of issues, Gagnon’s argument is just a rhetorical ploy and not a serious, theological argument. Good disciples can disagree with Jesus at certain points without much of a Christological problem.

Now, I don’t really want to comment on the Fuller situation, nor even the same-sex issue. The Christological claims made in this short piece, however, seem very problematic. Since Kirk’s piece was brief, I’ll try to keep this as short as I can.

First, a number of the things Kirk says he disagrees with Jesus about assumes positions that are by no means foregone conclusions in Gospel scholarship. The old thesis about Jesus’ mistaken view of the coming, final day of judgment within a generation is one that is highly debatable. Another is his judgment that Jesus viewed divorce and remarriage as necessarily sinful, especially given the historic witness in Matthew 19:9 of Jesus giving at least one legitimate exception.

Second, that throwaway bit about germs is rather odd. As Adam Nigh pointed out in the comments, that’s just a historically focused version of the general problem of evil: why didn’t God use any number of supernatural or human means to tells us about germs or a half-dozen other medical insights Jesus failed to pass on? Quite frankly, bringing it up like it’s a serious, moral challenge is a bit silly.

Third, the idea of “disagreeing with Jesus” seems to suffer a bit when we get into counterfactual about what thoughts Jesus didn’t think and didn’t say. Kind of seems like we’re padding the list of disagreements for effect.

Fourth, and more importantly, Kirk mixes up a number of different categories of Jesus’ beliefs into a jumble. We’ve got Jesus’ (potential) views on the age of the earth thrown in with Mosaic authorship as well as his views on eschaton. But that’s really a questionable logical and “rhetorical ploy.” It seems plausible to make a distinction between Jesus knowing according to his human nature the age of the earth and a bit of geography, versus the onset of the coming kingdom of God, doesn’t it? Mixing all them up together just muddies the waters.

To sharpen this, let’s come back to the questions I opened with above. There’s nothing inherently sinful about Jesus not knowing certain cosmological questions. I’m fine with admitting a limitation to Christ’s total knowledge of random facts according to his human nature. That’s not sin. That’s just finitude. There’s nothing Christologically-riding admitting Christ was finite according to his human nature. Indeed, that’s Chalcedonian logic.

But what about his allegedly mistaken views about divorce and remarriage? In this case, Jesus is making a significant, moral judgment about the aims and intentions of the Creator regarding the most basic of all relationships. What’s more, given his own Messianic, self-understanding and his explicit statements about the binding authority of his own words as the Son of Man, making a judgment about this kind of thing isn’t a morally insignificant thing. Jesus getting divorce and remarriage wrong–saying it’s immoral when it really isn’t immoral–condemns as sinners those whom God doesn’t condemn as sinners. He morally binds those who shouldn’t be bound–the very sin Jesus criticizes in the Pharisees.

Let’s be clearer. The implication here is that the very Logos of God, sent to reveal the heart of the Father to the world, would be grievously misrepresenting God’s will for the world. That’s actually a lot more serious that Kirk lets on. For my money, I think we ought to be a bit less cavalier about admitting we disagree with Jesus on the aims and intentions of the one he called Father.

It’s a bit difficult to say, “Lord, you have the words of eternal life” with Peter and then add on, “except for on marriage, the eschaton, etc.” Seems like the sort of thing a disciple shouldn’t do.

Soli Deo Gloria

13 thoughts on “Does Jesus Judge the Wrong People? Or is it Still A Bit Silly to Disagree With Him?

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful critique. There is a big difference between “taking every argument captive to Christ” and saying “Jesus was wrong about lots of things–we know better than he regarding all kinds of things.”

  2. Spot-on, fantastic. Wondering, where you take the time from to write a piece well thought-through as this. Anyways, it’s great to have it. I admire Kirk and his writing, always keeps my head moving and working, he does. You do too, thanks alot. MBH

  3. Is there a danger that in disagreeing with some of Dr K’s statements you are overlooking the fact that he is employing oversimplification as a rhetorical device, in order to illustrate that our understanding of Jesus’s statements are sometimes also employing oversimplification as a rhetorical device.

    Straightforward disagreement is less thought through than engagement with the context, in order to try to understand the point being made, so that it can be applied relevantly in different contexts.

    This applies to Dr K’s method, the point he was making, and Jesus’s communication.

    Taking something as straightforwardly self evidently true is not always the point of the original statement, as you illustrate in your explanation of Jesus’s comments about Moses’ writings.

    • I suppose that’s a danger. And if it, clarification would be nice. I do think, though, that this post he wrote is of a piece with other things he’s written suggesting that we might have to move beyond Jesus, theologically, so to speak on these or related issues. So, there’s that.

  4. So many times throughout 2,000 years of history many people have disagreed with Jesus only to be demonstrated wrong, time after time. The things some say he got “wrong” today are of course true.

    God is not a man that he should lie. Jesus was a man and at the same time God. He told no lies. Even his parables were true stories.

    Jesus referred to Genesis One as a true Creation story, and Jesus should know. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. Not “a god”, the Word was God and still is. “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

    If you don’t believe the Word is true front to back in a straightforward way that makes Christophobes shrink away, you should read this one:
    “To the word and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, there is no light in them”.

    The Word of God says there will come a falling away in the End times, when the falling away crowd starts doubting his coming back, or doubting that God created the universe (light, Earth, stars, life, man) in six days like he said he did.

    Physicists today scoff at the triune nature of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and then turn around and says light is both a wave and bunch of particles that act differently depending on which way you observe them.

    Biologists (and some Christians!) scoff at Special Creation of kinds (as such) while believing that a digital computerized coded set of complete instructions for all living things sprang from water, dirt, and sunlight all by itself. (Or aliens did it). Some Christians are intimidated by such ridiculous idiotic vain imaginations like the Drake Equation, the LEAST scientific and most meaningless formula in the 6,000+ history of mankind!

    And quibbles over who wrote what are just wedges of doubt from the Devil. The Pentateuch is compiled and probably paraphrased and Moses gets the credit for it. Call them books of Moses, because we know how they got to us, and if Jesus said Moses wrote it, then Moses wrote it.

    If God’s word says a great fish swallowed Jonah, we don’t need to get a yardstick to check out whether it’s true. Number One, Jesus repeated the story as truth. Number Two, if we get a yardstick out, it should be to see if the fish in Jonah’s day grew bigger than the ones that exist today!

    Thank God for the truth that we have our salvation by grace. How do we know? The Bible says so, that’s how! Saved from death and hell!

  5. Whatever do you mean by “at least one exception” with regard to divorce and remarriage. It is pretty clear there is only one exception, and many scholars believe the exception was not original to Jesus. I think both you and Dr. Kirk are taking what Jesus said in a way that was not intended. The act of remarriage would have been an act of adultery but it would have been worse to divorce again and go back to the original one

    • Whether original to Jesus, the exception carries the authority of Jesus since all of Jesus’ words are through the Apostles or by Apostolic ratification (so to speak). Remarrying not being adultery would reasonably follow as an implication of the exception rule for sexual infidelity, which act would have been seen as breaking and destroying the marital covenant. Hence remarrying in that case would not be seen as adultery.

      • Rich,

        So in that case Paul should have authority so to provide yet another exception – abandonment. And so there potentially there could be other cases as well – abuse, neglect. Also what about unfaithfulness? Does not this also break the bond?

      • Right. Abandonment surely, abuse or neglect perhaps negotiable. Not sure what kind of unfaithfulness you are envisioning. The point of Jesus’ declaration being that divorcing in order to remarry is equivalent to adultery. A complex issue in any case.

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