Was Jesus a Jewish Liberal or a Liberal Jew?

I shared an image that came to my attention on Facebook, simply writing “Discuss” above it. People did so, fervently, in surprisingly large numbers. Here is the image:

I would indeed be interested in discussion. But first, I noted that sometimes people make a distinction between a “Christian Liberal” and a “Liberal Christian,” and so perhaps I should do the same with Jesus and Judaism, and ask whether anyone prefers the image below.

I should also share a song that I shared once before, called “If Jesus Came Today He Wouldn’t Be a Christian” with lyrics that are either ridiculous or thought-provoking, and quite possibly both:

OK, now that we’ve covered all that…Discuss!


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  • I suppose “Liberal Jew” would be one who use a liberal interpretation of Jewish theology. That’s too far from my knowledge, so I can’t comment. However, I have always seen Jesus as a liberal Jew. And it long puzzled me that so many people who called themselves Christian, were conservatives. I think they missed the message somewhere.

  • Why liberal? Liberalism is such a bastardized term. Individualism and capitalism are liberal. Sacraments and ancient teachings are conservative. I just don’t see any positive potential for the word liberal. I can call myself a progressive Christian in the sense that Christians have been in a 2000 year process of living into the destiny declared by Galatians 3:28. But there’s no inherent tie between liberalism and the justice that Jesus fights for. The only liberal thing I could find in Jesus is the fact that he often didn’t use a grammatical-historical hermeneutic of the scriptures he dealt with. He fulfilled the law and the prophets by transcending the letter and unlocking the spirit. But I don’t think that has to be called liberal as though the authority of Torah is somehow compromised in the process.

  • Erp

    To my mind ‘liberal’ as a descriptive term isn’t very useful in 1st century Judea. And it has divergent meanings in modern English (an Australian liberal is on the right).

    Radical might work as someone who is breaking with the current and past norms (or was he?) though it might be more a question of whether early Christianity became radicalized.

    As for image, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jesus_wanted_poster.jpg

    • john weightman

      I like radical. Matthew 5 turns every bit of received wisdom upside down, one by one, item by item. He gives us a pretty good world view. He is also unafraid of using the wisdom of others to describe his world view when he uses a form of the Golden Rule. The term liberal can be a difficult one in a transatlantic conversation because it has – at least in the political sense – a different meaning. In that it describes his all-embracing love – from pharisee to prostitute – I am happy so say he was liberal (adj) if non a liberal (n).

  • Yme Woensdregt

    Jesus was not a liberal … the term is anachronistic. He came as one who challenged the established status quo and pointed people towards God’s reign of love. In today’s world, perhaps, one could use terms such as conservative and liberal … but really, do we want to add more fuel to that silliness?

  • Gary

    I don’t know about Jesus, but according to Peter Beinart, “The Crisis in Zionism”, a liberal Jew is one that founded Israel, on the dream of a democracy. Those that see on the inside of the green line a democracy regardless of race or religion. A conservative Jew would be one that views it OK that a Jewish settler on the outside of the green line would be tried in a civilian court, and almost always gets off. Whereas a Palestinian on the outside of the green line would be tried in a military court, and would almost always be convicted. Occupation, and settlement in the West Bank is supported by conservative Jews, and makes it impossible to establish a Palestinian state. And of course, pg 124, …Clinton press secretary who called “Netanyahu one of the single most obnoxious individuals you’re going to come into [contact with] – just a liar and a cheat”. So now I know why there was a controversy around the 2012 Democratic platform and Jerusalem. Liberal Jews have always supported Obama, and conservative Jews support Netanyahu. Now I also see why the rhetoric from Israel is escalating about striking Iran. A liberal Jesus would be holding his ears. Good read.

  • Dr. David Tee

    He was niether. As for the lyrics of that song, it is just another distorted and misguided observation by a few people who do not meet God’s criteria for being christian and do not allow for believers to 1. make mistakes; 2. be misguided; 3. not be mature in the faith; 4. still be weeding out the false teachings they had received from their pre-christian days.
    Jesus did not say “follow other christians…” He said “Follow ME…” So stop using other people as your excuse to disobey God.

  • I must have missed the part of the bible where Jesus was in favor of statism and collectivism by force, state sponsored abortion and gay marriage, forced redistribution of wealth, globalism and crony capitalism/Socialism.

    • What a strange comment. Who suggested he favored cronyism of any sort? There is nothing explicitly anywhere in the Bible about how to apply Biblical principles to a modern democracy. But you seem to suggest that Jesus would have favored mandating particular moral principles related to marriage (even though, in his interaction with non-Jews, he never addresses the prevailing bisexualism of Greek society). But you seem to think that he would oppose moral principles related to economic justice being legislated. Are you quite certain that you aren’t projecting a particular American party’s ideology onto Jesus?