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Why the Gospel is Stupid

Lies are normally clean. In other words, they make sense, especially when they are well thought out. Kids are different. Kids lie in tremendous ways. We often laugh about lies kids tell because their imaginations get the best of them too quickly. The ol’ “the dog ate my homework” lie is a good example. A little toddler may blame their messed-up room on “Freddy,” their imaginary friend, but when adults lie, they are normally more sophisticated and believable. “Why were you late for work?” your boss asks. “Traffic” is your deceitful response. Why traffic? Because it makes sense. We normally would not lie by reverting back to our childish ways, saying, “I was late because I died in a car accident and suddenly reappeared in the lobby thirty minutes later.” Why don’t we lie in such ways? Because that lie would be too far fetched to believe. Lies need to fit into the structure of the way things are. Lies need to be believable.

Ironically, when stories that sound too tremendous come from adults, we tend to believe them more. We say, “Why would someone tell a story that crazy if it were not true?” More than that, when the stories are incriminating and non-productive, they are even more believable. One of the greatest series of commercials ever produced was by Washington Mutual in the late nineties. They were describing the honesty and integrity of their lending officers. This supposedly inspired the company’s customers to be honest as well. In one commercial, a customer is seen arriving late to a meeting at work. He walks in to a room full of executives, throws his briefcase down on the table and says, “Sorry I was late. Was at a job interview. Nailed it . . .” His response was comical because in real life, very few people would incriminate themselves in such a way. His honesty was non-productive towards keeping his current job (in the off chance his prospective interview was not really “nailed”!) Another example is the drunk driver who gets pulled over. The policeman says, “Sir, have you been drinking?” to which the drunk driver says, “Yes, officer. I am really drunk.” The officer has every reason to believe this guy. After all, why would he lie? His admission is completely non-productive and self-incriminating. People normally don’t do this. People’s lies normally make sense, are believable, and don’t incriminate themselves. Otherwise, there is no reason to lie.

The Gospel is interesting in this regard. In fact, it is stupid. What I mean is that it is not really believable, it does not make sense, and it is incriminating (from the perspective of the culture to which it was first delivered). You see, for adults to make up a story so extraordinary is curious to say the least. A story in which the teller knew someone who publicly performed miracles, claimed to be God, was killed, rose from the grave, and then showed himself to hundreds of people does not fit into the normal pattern of lies. Its grandiosity only grows when dates, times, geography, and witnesses’ names are added.

As well, the Gospel is incriminating at every turn. Not only are the details within the stories themselves incriminating (as they make the witnesses look rather incompetent and hard-headed), the main points of the story lack appeal in every way. The two key points would be repulsive at all levels to the audience to whom the story was first told. At its very center, the Gospel is about God dying on a cross and rising from the dead. If this was a lie, not only was it tremendous, it was about the stupidest lie that could ever be told. It is completely non-productive. To the Jews, to have God die on a wooden cross is reprehensible. “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” (Deut 21:23). Why would someone make up a story such as this in a community that would be completely offended by this claim? God dying on a tree? It simply would not make sense.

To the Greeks, it does not get any better. Greeks hated the idea of bodily resurrection. They, for the most part, believed that the physical universe was evil. Their only hope was the escape brought about by death, as the soul was released from the body. To say that God died on a cross might be fine, but to say that he physically rose from the grave and that this was our hope too would have been laughable. Why would anyone want to rise from the grave? Again, it does not make any sense to make this kind of story up.

My point is that the Gospel has none of the hallmarks of good or productive lies. It is about the last thing anyone would make up in that culture at that time. Why would someone make up something so extraordinary, unbelievable, counter-cultural, and reprehensible? In fact, it got most of those who claimed to be witnesses killed as martyrs. This alone does not make the Gospel true, but it does require some type of feasible explanation from those who claim that it is a lie. In many ways, the foolishness (or stupidity) of the Gospel ironically contributes to its feasibility.

1 Cor. 1:23
But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness.

17 Responses to “Why the Gospel is Stupid”

  1. Good thoughts here. The Gospel really is too strange to be made up. Theoretically, it could be false, but the people who first started spreading it must have thought it was true.

    I’ve made a similar point regarding the Trinity. Of course, the main reason I believe it is because the Bible seems to teach it. But I also think it couldn’t possibly be made up. While I don’t think it’s illogical, it is something that no one understands completely. If I were going to make up a religious doctrine, I would make up something I understand and can explain. I might say that there is one god or that there are three gods. I would not say there is one God in three persons. I think saying that this mysterious idea came from God makes much more sense than saying a person made it up.

  2. Of course, this is a false dichotomy. It doesn’t have to be a lie in order for it to be untrue. For instance, no one would make up the idea of a dying Messiah… from scratch. However, if the person they believed to be the Messiah died… Well then they have two options: Either stop believing he was the Messiah (a pretty horrifyingly costly option since many had given up everything they had to follow the man), or come up with some way to fit it into the story. Every failed prophetic and messianic movement is faced with these two choices, and there are plenty of examples to point to both contemporary and historical.

    Of course the gospel isn’t a lie cut out of whole cloth. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be true either. I’m not saying you have to accept the above explanation, but you at least have to enter it into consideration, or else you are just presenting a false dilemma.

    • Dan, like I said, this alone does not make it true, but it does make these elements that were counter-cutural to be curious at best. Why have your Messiah die on a tree. Of course, we may say that he just died on a tree and then rose. But why not make up the story that he just never died. This would be much more acceptable as it avoids the stumbling block. This seems to be what Islam did with Christ. If one were going to say that they made up the rising, then why not skip the death as well? They made the death and the resurrection both public events so it could not be because one actually happened and the other did not.

  3. Could the same case be made for Islam? Mohammed came out of his cave claiming divine revelation that was totally the antithesis of the pagan culture of which
    he was a part. Just asking.

    • zhansman, I would have to have you flesh this out a bit. But as far as I know, Mohammed’s vision was in private. This would be a lot easier to make up, would it not? As well, monothesism was not anything extraordinary in Mohommed’s day. He, like so many since him, have tried to modify some of the more extraordinary doctrines of Christianity by making them more believable. The doctrine of the Trinity would be one. Later, the death of Christ is called into question. This would seek to rationalize the faith of Abraham.

  4. In the hearing of the gospel, faith (genuine faith) is created. Romans 1:16.

    There is NO biblical faith apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    It certainly is foolishness to those who have not heard it (really heard it).

    ____

    Islam is in the same boat as every other religion in the world. it’s just man-made, or devil inspired religion with NO faith in the One who saves us from sin, death, and the devil.

    Can’t prove any of this. But the Lord has given me faith to believe it.

  5. Any analysis of the Gospel, and why the early Jews converted to Christianity, without mentioning the Old Testament, is incomplete.

    1 Corinthians 15:4: and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures

    Galatians 3:8: And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.”

    2 Timothy 3:15: and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

    “Scripture”, “Scriptures”, and “Holy Scriptures” references refer to the OLD TESTAMENT.

    Just as the Old Testament is incomplete without the New Testament, the reverse is also true.

    Without the foundation of the Old Testament and prophets, there is no Christian Church today, 2000 years after Christ.

    @zhansman, this is one of the MANY differences between Christianity and Islam: the Holy Scriptures pointed toward the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Nothing pointed toward Mohammed.

    • I think that the theme that the Gospel is a stumbling block and foolishness is the theme that I was getting at here. In the cultural ethos of the day, for the Jew or the Greek, this was not a good story to make up. This is why Paul grounds it in the Old Testament. But even Paul refers back to the curse of the tree when referencing Christ’s death in Gal.

  6. They wouldn’t make up the story that he never died because he obviously did die. They couldn’t get around that fact. Facts are stubborn things. The fact that your beloved leader was publicly crucified, doubly so.

    Moreover, I don’t think they were trying to make anything up. We have every reason to believe that some of Jesus’ followers really did believe that he rose from the dead. The fact that they believed it does not make it true.

    Again, you don’t have to accept my explanation of the facts at hand, but I am suggesting to you that you’re thinking about the dilemma too simplistically, as though the choice were between a deliberately fabricated lie tailor-made to sway the religious sentiments of the public at large, and a bona fide historical fact. There is a middle ground here, and it’s the one that is most widely accepted among those scholars who do not accept the historicity of the resurrection (I’m leaving out the mythicists here).

    If you want to talk about why the narratives of Jesus’ death and resurrection take the shape that they do, you can’t afford to ignore this.

    • Dan, we have every reason to believe that these believed he rose from the grave is the humble point of this post. They were not lying. I am not trying to say anything more. Lies normally don’t come in such a variety by such a large group of people. In fact, I would venture to say that they never do and never have.

  7. Also, as a side note: To say that the resurrection was a public event is a stretch. The gospels have Jesus appearing to a select group of his most devoted followers. This hardly sounds public to me.

    • I suppose that if you put public against private, you will see what I mean. It was public in the sense, as Paul says, these things did not happen in a corner. It was not simply the testimony of one person. If it were, then I don’t think we would have much historic warrant to believe it. But, more importantly, it would not have spread the way it did as its claims are easy to test and falsify.

  8. But Jesus answered them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God”…

    “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, haven’t you read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’

    God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” -Jesus

    “Most certainly I tell you, there are some standing here who will in no way taste death until they see the Kingdom of God come with power.” – Jesus

    Our redeemer lives, the Kingdom is here and now. For decades you couldn’t have told me that and had it mean anything, but it’s us that won’t give Him the benefit of the doubt. It’s like He said, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you. This requires just enough faith to try, and He does prove faithful.

    “…but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

    I’ve worked out and debated enough theology to always “be ready to give an answer,” and that’s invaluable. However, it’s proven not to be enough for a world that can wholly dismiss everything you say and think. Besides, it seems God had something better in mind.

    “My speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith wouldn’t stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”

    I’ve learned one thing that makes this more true to me than ever, is that people are in fact out there, right now, preaching the Gospel, loving people, healing the sick, casting out demons, and generally confirming the Word with signs that follow. The church, in response, nit-picks and searches for errors (to excuse it’s own inaction) in spite of Mar 9:39-41.

    Classic reactions to street healing (language!):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E62EgXvqfrc

    Massive collection of youtube videos demonstrating God’s power:
    http://fallen4jesus

  9. Last link got cut off…

    http://fallen4jesus.com/healing/

    Guys, this foolishness backs the Gospel like only God can do. We really need to cast aside anything that keeps us from doubting His reality or His power, especially in light of what I’m sharing with you. He’s assured me of this, and he’ll do the same for you.

  10. Cast aside common sense? What was that??? U serious Poof? You and your claims makes it so hard to not sin here. Bless you, and grow up.

  11. Dan, I’m not saying anything new so forgive me if you already have heard these arguments. But if you consider the lives of the individual apostles and then of Paul as a separate case – and the testimony of the 500. Then look at how the new movement spread in the very city largely controlled by its foes and where Jesus would have been buried – an actual resurrection makes the most sense out of the facts.

    We can be almost certain they aren’t lying. Then what events could have transpired to different people at different times, sometimes as individuals, sometimes as groups, multiple times ot the same poeple, to make them believe Christ was bodily resurrected against what they would be pre-conditioned to believe (unless Jesus himself foretold it)? And what prevented the Jewish leadership from disproving his resurrection by providing the body to his growing set of followers in Jerusalem?

    The only argument against and actual resurrection as the explanation is that it was unprecendented and unlikely. But short of saying we know for certain that it is impossible it is the best explanation.

  12. Too quick there, Casey. It’s not the best explanation.

    First, most scholars believe the gospels were written between 50-80 years or so after Jesus’ death, from 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. hand accounts. These books were not authored by eyewitnesses, are not regarded by any serious historian as historical accounts, freely borrow and copy from one another, and read more like literature than history. Jesus’ crucifixion isn’t disputed by historians, but the number of eyewitnesses – as well as Jesus’ alleged resurrection – certainly is.

    The point is, it’s easy to make dubious claims in books written 50-80 years after the events they describe. Witnesses/places named could easily be fabricated without refutation, since many of the individuals who were present aren’t around to contest it.

    Jesus could have simply been a charismatic preacher who acquired devoted followers whose passion later persuaded some to convert to christianity. Paul’s addition to the apostles certainly helps spread/further develop Christianity, owing to his status as a classically educated man. But how difficult would it really be to convince folks already inclined towards supernaturalism to adopt a new religion? And did you know this explosive growth of Christianity wasn’t that explosive? It grew at an average rate between 3-6 percent a year (numbers aren’t exact but approximate) until 300 A.D. Not exactly explosive and unprecedented. How about these alternative explanations? Why are these less likely than yours? Does a resurrection guarantee the person performing it is God? Weren’t egyptian sorcerers able to produce miracles like Aaron in the Old Testament?

    In Matthew 27:52, Jesus allegedly wakes the spirits of saints, who reveal themselves to many in Jerusalem. I imagine this kind of event would have found it’s way in an extra-biblical historical document.

    You are free to believe, but I would caution against overstating your case to those who prefer well-defined questions over…

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