The Lazarus Stunt

The Lazarus Stunt February 19, 2018

Editor’s Note: If you want to hear the unvarnished truth about the Bible, you can count on a Clergy Project member and atheist biblical scholar to clue you in. It helps if the writer has a sense of humor and a way with words. The following is reposted with permission from Debunking Christianity. / Linda LaScola, Editor


By David Madison

Theology-Soaked Fiction
My biggest problem with Jesus in John’s gospel, one I sensed in my distant youth as a critical Bible student, is that he simply isn’t real. Jesus here is an artificial, contrived figure—a tediously written, poorly developed character in an inferior novel. But if we grant that John got it right, that this is what Jesus was really like, then the case can be made that our exaggerated hero was sometimes a real jerk.

This becomes obvious when we read John 11 without rose-colored glasses. How can even the most pious Jesus fans not be taken aback by the story of Lazarus in this chapter? This is one of the most famous episodes in the gospels, with one of the most stupendous miracles. Yet Matthew, Mark and Luke, writing much earlier, somehow never got wind of it. The shortest verse in the Bible (at least in most English versions) is here, verse 35:

“Jesus wept.”

And of course, this gets a lot of mileage as proof of Jesus’ compassion.

But that’s not quite the whole story: Jesus knew that Lazarus was sick—he received a message from Lazarus’ sister—but delayed going to his bedside. He let him die so that he could pull a stupendous stunt to boost his own reputation and get people to believe! John makes this explicit in verses 14-15:

“Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’”

He’s glad he wasn’t there? Please, if you’re going to take this story at face value, then admit that this is obnoxious behavior.

And, in fact, Martha, Lazarus’ sister, gets in a zinger, upbraiding Jesus for his neglect. If you’d been here, Lord, he’d be alive. Sure, yes, I believe you’re “the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (11:20-27).

When Mary arrived on the scene, she also complained, (v. 32):

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Maybe even John himself sensed that Jesus had been callous in not showing up sooner, and thus makes a point of telling his readers how upset Jesus was that Martha and Mary were distraught:

“When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. And said, ‘Where have ye laid him?’ They said unto him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept” (11:33-35).

This was a voice-activated resurrection (11:43-45):

Jesus “cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’”

We are not told if Lazarus was as annoyed as Martha and Mary had been that Jesus had let him die.

When this story is taken at face value, Jesus is a seriously compromised hero. The story is much less of a burden if we acknowledge that it is theology-soaked fiction: The only reason that John includes the story is to give Jesus a dramatic occasion for pronouncing:

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Don’t forget that this is the gimmick of the Fourth Gospel: the promise, made repeatedly, that the faithful will get out of dying if they just believe.


David Madison, a Clergy Project member, was raised in a conservative Christian home in northern Indiana. He served as a pastor in the Methodist church during his work on two graduate degrees in theology. By the time he finished his PhD in Biblical Studies (Boston University) he had become an atheist, a story he shares in the Prologue of his book, published in 2016: 10 Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith.

>>>Photo Credits: By James Tissot – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2007, 00.159.182_PS2.jpg, Public Domain, ; By Duccio di Buoninsegna – Kimbell Art Museum, Public Domain,

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • alwayspuzzled

    It is odd that such a flawed story should have such a long shelf life – 1900 years. We know, of course, that Christians are gullible and stupid. But does that by itself account for the story’s longevity?

    • Jim Jones

      People like stories. Even stupid ones live on. The bible is full of them.


      Many years ago, the son of a wealthy family was saved from drowning in a Scottish lake by a farm boy named Alex. The parents, in gratitude, offered to sponsor Alex’s otherwise unaffordable medical school education. Alex graduated with honors and in 1928 discovered that certain bacteria cannot grow in certain vegetable molds.

      In 1943 when the same wealthy son, now a man, became ill in the Near East, amazingly once again Alexander Fleming saved the life of Winston Churchill, this time with his discovery, penicillin.


      Mr Rogers’ Oldsmobile sedan was stolen while he was babysitting for his grandson. After looking over papers and props he had left in the car, the thieves apparently realized who the owner was. Mr. Rogers found the car parked back in front of his house a day or so later. Taped to the steering wheel was a note of apology for the theft.


      Neither of these stories is true. Welcome to the bible.

      • mason

        The continuing mass popularity of stories and movies that are about zombies, supernatural heroes and villains, werewolves, vampires, demonstrates the public interest in fantasy stories. Even the stupid bible stories keep getting produced for TV & theaters.

    • Linda_LaScola

      I think that in some cases, it’s in the telling.

      When the story is told from the altar and presented as a miracle from God, listeners probably aren’t as critical as they would be if they were taking notes in a literature class.

      I know that I let such stories roll right over me without thinking about them much.

      We weren’t expected to think about them– just to believe them.

      • “listeners probably aren’t as critical as they would be if they were taking notes in a literature class” ….which is precisely why faith thrives: people really don’t pay attention. And they don’t want anything to puncture the comfort that religion supposedly brings.

        • mason

          Blind, unquestioning, uncritical, unthoughtful, unverifiable faith is the hot air that fills and floats the bubble. One moment of reactivation the uns, is the needle prick that pops the bubble.

          • Hi Mason, I LOVE the first sentence. But not sure what this means: “One moment of reactivation the uns” is there a typo here?

      • viaten

        It was a little different for me. I was somewhat critical. But when the stories came from the pulpit, I figured I best believe they are somehow true and set aside any questions that arose in my mind which I figured I would have understandable answers to when I got older.

    • mason

      The longevity of the Christ myth, like all such religious indoctrinations, is primarily due to a culture which promulgates delusional religious indoctrination into the credulous hapless undeveloped brains of very young children, who will believe anything that parents and authority figures tell them.

      There are all types of Christians today, some, like Jefferson, don’t believe in anything supernatural. To say all are gullible and stupid would be an extreme characterization. Most are victims of childhood mental abuse or mild brainwashing (in the case of liberal), and millions acquire the intellectual fortitude to discard the delusional belief nonsense foisted upon them.

  • When I was still a believer sometimes I secretly thought that Jesus was sometimes a jerk but knew better than to voice such an opinion. And God himself? I thought he was a mean bully. I was afraid of him. We were told to love God because he loved us, but I had a hard time seeing the love in all the smiting and threats of hell.

    • mason

      Yep, I did the rationalizing of my savior, the wacko, often an asshole or worse, Jesus. But then like the wife who quits making excuses for her abusive husband, I too relegated the Jesus myth to the dump heap of bad and absurd ideas I once fell for as a kid.

    • Linda_LaScola

      Guess I was lucky — I didn’t think much about Jesus and God one way or the other. I just dutifully memorized the catechism in Sunday School and translated English to Latin during the mass. It helped that none of what I heard in church was reinforced at home

      • mason

        There’s Religion Original, Religion Lite, and Religion Extra-Lite. Lucky you got the latter. 🙂

  • Kevin K

    Aside from the moral/ethical implications of deliberately delaying yourself in order to perform a magic trick, there’s also on top of that the moral/ethical implication of raising someone from the dead (stinking dead — notice in the picture the guy in the yellow robe covering his nose), and then leaving him to die again.

    All of the resurrections in the bible (OT and NT — apparently it’s quite an easy thing to do), resulted in someone who died for some reason that probably had to do with an infection or cancer or some-such (never decapitation, FWIW) … and then what happens to those people? Why, sometime in the not-to-distant future, they DIE AGAIN.

    What’s the point of a resurrection if it’s only temporary?

    • Yes, they DIE AGAIN. And that’s a point I make with the resurrection of Jesus. The NT tells us that he ascended to heaven…which fits with the first century concept of the cosmos….heaven is just overhead, or maybe somewhere below the Moon. But now we know that there wasn’t any place for Jesus to float up to. Hence, what could be more obvious: Jesus died again (if you insist that he was resurrected). If you say, “Oh no, that can’t be!” then the only alternative is that Jesus did indeed float up out of sight and remains in orbit to this day. The Book of Acts says that Jesus ascended 40 days after the resurrection….which prompted one of my seminary professors to ask, “What is the value of a 40-day resurrection?” Because we all know that the body of Jesus never left planet Earth.

      • Kevin K

        True that … that is if he ever existed at all, that is.

        I’ve said this many times, but that’s my primary complaint with the claim that Jesus was resurrected … well then, where the heck is he? Claiming he is “alive again”, but invisible in heaven is the ultimate “the dog ate my homework” excuse.

      • carolyntclark

        and remember that his mother Mary, having been conceived without original sin, was also assumed body and soul into heaven and is also floating in a heavenly orbit.I was a child in the 50’s when the Assumption was made a doctrine. I would sky-gaze, hoping to get a glimpse of her.

        • Kevin K

          Along with Elisha (or is that Elijah — I always get them mixed up). And Mohammed, FWIW. Always and ever, I wonder “where do they go to the bathroom?”

          • carolyntclark

            depends ?

  • mason

    …”AND everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

    AHA! So all these so called Christians over the centuries and still today are fakes and frauds, because they die.

    And now it’s also clear why the millions of daily prayers offered to protect students in mass shootings are worthless; there are no true believers! This sure clears up two ecclesiastical quagmires.

    NOW, the last remaining mystery is … how did Lazarus, wrapped and bound in cloth in the total body wrap style of the day for a dead person, walk out of the tomb and then Jesus order him to be “unbound?” hmmm

    • Kevin K

      Well, I tried to find an appropriate gif — but they were all porn.

  • Gary

    Hebrews 9:27 “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:”

    According to John 11:14, Lazarus had already died his one time. Judgement Day hasn’t come yet, therefore Lazarus is still walking around. What’s he been up to?

    • mason

      His appointment got double booked? It’s apparent why the Bible, God stuff, & religion are such popular subjects on the comedy club circuit. For some great Bible based comedy (the ridiculous demands fine ridicule) here’s Ricky Gervais and Noah’s Ark

  • Keulan

    This isn’t the only case of Jesus acting like a jerk in the bible. There’s a passage where Jesus is hungry and he curses a fig tree for not having any figs even though it’s not the right season for figs.

    • XaurreauX

      I’ve always wondered about the purpose of that passage.

      • ThaneOfDrones

        Supposedly the fig tree is a symbol of Jewish rabbinical teaching.

    • mason

      A clear case of horticulture abuse. Cursing a fig tree. Really? What’s next, the apple tree for culpability with Eve?

      His Dad also had a violent history of human abuse with killing and punishing humans, his creation, for being flawed.

  • Geoff Benson

    Why did Jesus spend so much time weeping; ‘Jesus wept’ over and over?

    If he knew he could raise the dead then surely, instead of weeping, he’d just knowingly say ‘trust me, he’s only dead’, wink wink, then go and do the business.

  • viaten

    Thanks for the observations on the the Jesus/Lazarus story. There are good points I had not thought of.

    I am reminded of the story of Lazarus and the rich man where both of them die and the rich man has a discussion with Abraham (Luke 16:23-31). There seems to be a comparison between the two stories. (Is the same name just a coincidence?)

    As pointed out Jesus intends to make people believe by his raising Lazarus from the dead. That seems like it should be quite effective as Jesus suggests.

    However, in Luke 16:27-31 the rich man begs Abraham that Lazarus or someone from the dead be sent back to warn his brothers because surely they would believe a person brought back from the dead.

    But Abraham tells the rich man that if they do not hear Moses and the prophets then a dead person brought back to life isn’t going to persuade them. This is quite the opposite of what Jesus had in mind.