What Jesus Didn’t Do

What Jesus Didn’t Do July 1, 2020

It is fairly easy to get a feel for the things Jesus thought were important.  His messages and actions were pretty straightforward and the things he said weren’t that hard to interpret.  2000 years of various brands of religion and the multitude of political and ideological thought certainly has created a need for libraries of books and methodologies to make sense of the layers we have piled on top of the basic things he taught.  In other words, most of our time is spent interpreting and explaining our interpretation instead of just accepting the simple things he said.

Jesus’ messages were simple: love your neighbor, love your enemies, do to others what you would want them to do to you – don’t judge, have mercy, be peacemakers – really simple, basic things.   When someone speaks simply and clearly, we often like to add things to what they say.  “You probably meant to say this…,” we assume.  I think the best writers use the fewest words, but when they do this, they often have to respond to critics assuming what they meant to say with, “No, I didn’t mean to say that.”  We often place assumptions on Jesus.

The one thing Jesus never said is, “Write this down!”

Maybe, it was because Jesus had a lot of issues with the Hebrew Scriptures.  When reciting them, he often changed the wording or just left out the violent parts.  Several different groups weaponized the Hebrew Scripture to use it against him.  He spent much time refuting and debating with these well-meaning scholars, but eventually just tells them outright, “You have heard (Scripture), but I say…” in the Sermon on the Mount.  Even though he corrected their assumptions, he never said to write down the new ones.

The writings that we associate with the New Testament like the gospels, the history (Acts) and the letters of Peter, Paul, and John were not composed for at least 30 years after his death.  If he did secretly tell them to write these things down, they ignored it for a long time.  The oral tradition, even though unreliable, seemed to be the preferred method of remembering what happened.

He also didn’t tell them to organize it in a book

Most people know that the Bible didn’t become organized into a book until about 300 years later.  The motivation behind this may have been more influenced by the Roman Emperor, Constantine, than the church.  When Constantine united the empire with the church, there instantly became a need for greater control and uniformity.   From that day forward, we have consistently spent less time trying to live the simple things Jesus prescribed and much more time arguing over the details of the book.

So how should we see the Bible?  Pete Enns shared this useful metaphor from Walter Bruggeman in his blog, The Bible:  Cookbook or Compost Pile:

The Bible Is the compost pile that provides material for new life. I do not use this figure as an irreverent metaphor to suggest that the Bible is “garbage.” Rather, I use it to suggest that the Bible itself is not the actual place of new growth. Our present life, when we undertake new growth, is often inadequate, arid, or even barren. It needs to be enriched, and for that enrichment, we go back to the deposits of old growth that have been discarded, but that continue to ferment and may contain resources for a way to new life. (Texts Under Negotiation, pp. 61-62)

Being a gardener, I understand this illustration to echo what Paul said, that the Scriptures are useful (2 Tim. 3:16).  They nourish the roots of our faith, but they are also messy and sometimes smelly and not the thing that is to beworshipped or idolized.  They help bring vibrant life to our faith, but they are not themselves the life.  Jesus said something like that once (John 5:39).  If the compost illustration is too vulgar for you, I have heard Brain Zahnd describe the Bible as the soil out of which our faith grows.

At the risk of being too simple, the Bible is about as important as we make it out to be.  If it were as important as we think, Jesus surely would have made a bigger deal about putting it together, getting it right, and making sure everyone reads it.  But, I am pretty sure Jesus never told anyone to read Scriptures either.

I still read Scripture, but not like I used to.  The Spirit really can guide us if we are open.  My hope is that in the future we do less arguing about the intricacies of the book and start living by the example of the man.  If you believe what John wrote, He is the word and the way. 

I want to focus more on the words and way of Christ and less on defending the book that Jesus never told anyone to write or read.


Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart and the soon-to-be released Tea Shop. He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary and Too Many Podcasters podcasts. He is married to his wife Laura of 32 years and has one dog named Winston. His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply!

The Desert Sanctuary Website 

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25 responses to “What Jesus Didn’t Do”

  1. Your thoughts seem heartfelt and well-meaning, but I must disagree that Jesus’ teachings are simple, straightforward or easily interpreted. For example, when He withers a fig tree because it doesn’t have any fruit for Him to eat — even though figs aren’t in season and He, as an all-knowing god, should know that. What are we to make of such odd behavior from a divine being? Or when he says in Matthew 5:17-18: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Does that mean that biblical laws about slavery still should be in force? Heaven and earth have not disappeared, after all. So, as in Exodus 21:2-7 , if a slave’s master gives him a wife and she bears sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and slave shall go out alone. And when a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not “go out” as the male slaves do. Do those things still apply? It’s very confusing that Jesus told us the law wouldn’t change. Another example: Jesus never taught about Hell; He spoke about Gehenna, which is a very different thing. Should we believe that souls go to eternal torture after death or not? Does St. Paul’s opinion (Romans 1) that homosexuals deserve death apply? I agree with you that there are some nice sayings about love and peace in the Bible, but there are numerous incomprehensible, horrible, immoral and just plain false teachings as well. I don’t mean to be confrontational, but I feel the need to call Christians out on the nasty parts of the Bible.

  2. To me, when He says things like “all the law and prophets” is contained in Love God and Love others, it gets very simple. The trouble is we start with too many assumptions from reading the rest of the Bible, namely we have a vague assumption that it might be more accruate than it is. When we try to make it more true that it was inteded to be, We don’t just take Jesus teaching at face value and we assume that all the Scripture that deals with Him are totally accruate (after a couple of generations of oral tradition. I’m definately not defending the Bible.

    I appreciate your input. Thanks for the thoughtful reply and thanks for reading!

  3. “Maybe, it was because Jesus had a lot of issues with the Hebrew Scriptures.”

    Maybe, like the majority of people of his era, Jesus was illiterate (agrammatos), as were most of his followers. Maybe, like the majority of Jews of his era, Gospel Jesus doesn’t have much time for Gentile “dogs”: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.” (Matt. 10:5) Maybe part of the problem is that the first gospel was written decades after Jesus’ death and events are selectively remembered. There is, as you’re aware, a whole list of “maybes” surrounding the gospel as history, as clumsy apologetic, etc.

  4. That’s good. Thank you, Karl. I do think much of what Jesus said wasn’t simple. For example, did he really instruct people to be a peacemaker? No. He said peacemakers would be blessed but that’s different. He also said He came to bring a sword and conflict within families. The more I read about Jesus the more he seems like someone who went out of his way to piss off certain people.

  5. This argument undoes itself. If you say that the Bible is not necessarily reliable then how can you claim to focus of the words and works of Jesus, because how do we know what those words and works are other than by how they are recorded in the Bible?

  6. Amen! The last few years for me have been about letting go of ask the accretions people have added over the centuries to Jesus life and teachings and getting to the essence of his like and message which you have captured. Franciscan Father Richard Rohr’s teaching, Peter Enns book, The Sin of Certainty” and Marcus Borg’s “Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time “ have all helped in this process, but it was triggered by the blatant judgment, lack of compassion and self interest of many Americans Christians that haveBright to light by events of recent years. I no longer worry about getting every thing Jesus said and did figured out or reconciling inconsistencies in the Bible; seeking to receive, return and share God’s great love is enough!

  7. why would He, He told us over and over, “have you not read, seen or heard, It is Written”, so Christ said “if you believe not Moses or the Prophets, how will you believe me, for they spoke of me”, it seems that is you who is missing the simple words of Christ, as He commissioned His followers to “go into all the World, to preach, teach, heal, cast out unclean-spirits baptize, then the end would come”, the whole Book OT & NT is the Word of God, you really think God didnt oversee it, so you wanna pick at it, you have some cherished sin you just cant relinquish, what did Christ tell Satan in the wilderness, “man does not live by bread alone, but by how many (EVERY) word that proceeds out the mouth of God, God came to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable, and it seems you may just be a bit to comfortably, but you tell me…

  8. Jesus is the Word of God. The rest I said in the article. And, I don’t have a cherished sin that I know of. I don’t know about comfortable, but I am very much at peace. Since I stopped attending church and trying to defend the Bible. I feel compfortable communing with the God inside me.

  9. You pose a common argument, so if you want, look up some responses to that online. How did they survive for 30 – 50 years before it was written down? the oral tradition and the Spirit. How did they survive for about 300 years without a book? They still followed the Way of Jesus and, in fact, lived in the way of Jesus muuch more purely than we do. Jesus way was so simple, LOVE, GRACE, MERCY, that it was easy to remember and follow. It only got more complicated when we thought we had a rule book that no one could follow.

  10. and the sword was not an actual sword. But, he wasn’t afraid to provoke change. Peace is not the absence of turmoil, it is the presence of justice to quote a famous peacemaker.

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  13. Thank you for sharing l have always been so confused everytime l start reading the bible. The way you have explained Our Lord’s words is so much better how l would enjoy.

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