Sam Harris: Mythunderstandings Part 6 of 7

The Two Faces of Jesus?

Sam Harris wrote:

“Most Christians imagine that Jesus did away with all this barbarism and delivered a doctrine of pure love and toleration. He didn’t. (See Matthew 5:18-19, Luke 16:17, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 20-21, John 7:19.) Anyone who believes that Jesus only taught the Golden Rule and love of one’s neighbor should go back and read the New Testament.”[fn] Sam Harris, Response to Reader Comments and Criticsm [sic] also Sam Harris, Sam Harris Takes On the Muslim Cartoon Controversy and His Critics[/fn]

His premise is very clear, the text that he cites from the New Testament will prove that Jesus did not do away with Old Testament barbarism and thus, Jesus did not deliver a doctrine of pure love and toleration.

The Two Faces of Jesus?

Sam Harris wrote:

“Most Christians imagine that Jesus did away with all this barbarism and delivered a doctrine of pure love and toleration. He didn’t. (See Matthew 5:18-19, Luke 16:17, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 20-21, John 7:19.) Anyone who believes that Jesus only taught the Golden Rule and love of one’s neighbor should go back and read the New Testament.”[fn] Sam Harris, Response to Reader Comments and Criticsm [sic] also Sam Harris, Sam Harris Takes On the Muslim Cartoon Controversy and His Critics[/fn]

His premise is very clear, the text that he cites from the New Testament will prove that Jesus did not do away with Old Testament barbarism and thus, Jesus did not deliver a doctrine of pure love and toleration.

Matthew 5:17-19 states:

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

In quoting this text Sam Harris appears to be seeking to demonstrate that the New Testament makes provision for the Old Testament Law that he finds so deplorable. However, in quoting this text he, yet again, demonstrates that he does not understand what Christianity has understood for two millennia. What he fails to understand is twofold: Firstly, the Old Testament itself offers the understanding that while God ordaining a Temple, priesthood, sacrifices with its laws, it also expressed the higher purpose that God had in mind-to convert the heart. Secondly, Jesus makes it clear, as He did.

For the first point we can look at the following Old Testament texts:

“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams” (1st Samuel 15:22).
“‘To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?’ Says the LORD. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams. And the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, Or of lambs or goats_Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies-I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting_Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow. ‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the LORD” (see Isaiah 1:11-18).
“Therefore the Lord said: ‘Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men'” (Isaiah 29:13).
“For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6, also see 2:11 & 4:6).

 


For the second, we consider the following texts that relate to the law pointing us to a future, fulfilling even and, ultimately, all was fulfilled by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross:

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming” (Hebrews 10:1).
“Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or in respect of a feast, or of the new moon, or of the sabbaths. For these are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).
“the Law has become a trainer of us until Christ” (Galatians 3:24).
“For He is our peace, He making us both one, and He has broken down the middle wall of partition between us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity (the Law of commandments contained in ordinances) so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, making peace between them; and so that He might reconcile both to God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity in Himself” (Ephesians 2:14-16).
“So when Jesus had received the sour wine [or vinegar], He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing his head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30).

Moments before His death on the cross Jesus cried out “It is finished” or “Paid in full.” The Gospel writers used the Greek word “Tetelestai,” which is the perfect tense of the word “tel-eh’-o” that is used in the New Testament to mean, finish, fulfill, accomplish, pay, perform, expire, to bring to a close, to end, passed, complete, to pay. The word “tel-eh’-o” comes from the word “tel’-os” that is used to mean, end, uttermost, finally, ending, termination, the limit at which a thing ceases to be, the last in any succession or series, that by which a thing is finished-its close. The perfect tense in Greek corresponds to the perfect tense in English, and describes an action which is viewed as having been completed in the past, once and for all, not needing to be repeated. The Bible repeats over and over that Jesus suffered once, once for all, once and for all-it is finished, it is fulfilled.

Sam Harris also alluded to Luke 16:17 for which our response is the same as above, “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.”
Next on the list is 2nd Timothy 3:16:

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

He appears to be grasping at straws here, we suppose that his point is that if all scripture is meant to do what the verse states then every word of it applies to every situation forever.
Sam Harris referred to 2nd Peter 20-21 and we cannot tell what he is referring to since he appears to have overlooked citing the chapter.

He then cites John 7:19, “Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law? Why do you seek to kill Me?”

Again, Sam Harris is ignoring the context, which is that Jesus had healed someone on the Sabbath day and so the religious leaders wanted Him killed for violating the Sabbath. Jesus points out that if they circumcise on the Sabbath what could possibly be wrong with healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath. Also, Sam Harris again misses another opportunity to commend Jesus for boldly confronting religious hypocrisy. Note also that in verse 24 Jesus states, “Do not judge according to sight, but judge righteous judgment.” It would appear a violation of the Sabbath day to perform a circumcision, yet it was to be done on the eighth day after birth-what if the eighth day landed on a Sabbath? Is this a contradiction? Or an obviously poorly though out man made law? No, rather, as Jesus stated, “The sabbath came into being for man’s sake, and not man for the sabbath’s sake” (Mark 2:27). We should not judge circumcision on the Sabbath to be wrong simply because it appears to violate the letter of the law. Likewise, neither should we judge it wrong to heal a man on the Sabbath.

The following text brings further clarity to this issue:

“At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the sabbath day. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck the heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw, they said to Him, Behold, your disciples do that which it is not lawful to do on the sabbath day. But He said to them, Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him, how he entered into the house of God and ate the showbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath and are blameless? But I say to you that One greater than the temple is in this place. But if you had known what this is, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned those who are not guilty. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the sabbath. And when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. And behold, a man having a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbaths? This so that they might accuse Him. And He said to them, What man among you will be, who will have one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the sabbaths, will he not lay hold on it and lift it out? How much better is a man then than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days” (Matthew 12:1-12).

 


Lastly, we would like to point out that a statement by Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, a prominent religious leader and renowned Hebrew scholar:

“Jesus taught the Law ‘as one who had authority’ (Mark 1:22), that is, not as the Rabbis taught it; not, for example, as Hillel taught it, in accordance with a generally accepted technique of Halachah employed in the Schools, but as a prophet would have taught it, mi-pi Ha-Geburah, on direct authority received from God. All the apocalyptists spoke in the name of revelation. Jesus saw his role as that of a prophet announcing the approach of the Millennium. He accordingly did not feel himself restricted to the Pharisaiac technique of interpreting the Torah. It was generally accepted that with the coming of Messianic times prophecy would return to Israel. In fact, the return of prophecy would be one of the signs heralding the coming of the Messiah. A prophet was assured privileges under the Law which were not possessed by any other religious teacher. No prophet, of course, could advocate the abrogation of any fundamental Biblical law, such as the prohibition of idolatry, without branding himself a false prophet, deserving of death. But a prophet had considerable leeway in other matters. A prophet whose credibility was well established could, for example, order the temporary suspension of any law of the Torah (short of idolatry) in order to meet an emergency, and the people were obligated to obey him.[fn] Maimonides, Hilch. Yesode Ha-Torah, 9:3; San. 90a
[/fn] Jesus evidently sought to exercise this prophetic privilege, but only in his exposition of the Law, for he announced no new laws nor did he attempt to abrogate any existing laws, and he never questioned the authority of the Torah as such. When he told his disciples, ‘Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him?’ (Mark 7:18), he was directing himself specifically to the criticism made by the Pharisees against some of his disciples who ate with hands unwashed, thus violating ‘a tradition of the elders’ (Mark 7:2-3). The law of the washing of the hands was not a Biblical law and was not in common practice among the people.”[fn] Abba Hillel Silver; who was for many decades one of America’s foremost spiritual leaders, Where Judaism Differs. An Inquiry into the Distinctiveness of Judaism (Collier Books-New York: Macmillan Publishing Co. and London: Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1987), pp. 94 & 92[/fn]