Some people seem to believe that if the mortal Jesus were invited to coach or quarterback one of the Super Bowl teams, He’d be unstoppable. Such enthusiasm for the skills and talents of the mortal Jesus is misplaced, and the truth is that He’d get His ass handed to Him on a plate. Thus, I call this notion that the mortal Jesus was superlative in every way “The Jesus/Super Bowl fallacy.”

It strikes me as odd that many people refuse to countenance anything that implies that Jesus ever did anything that was less than superlative. To be sure, Jesus was morally perfect, but do the rigors of moral perfection really require that He was the absolute finest carpenter in the world?
I recently mentioned that Jesus’ advice to the rich to divest themselves of their riches has helped the lot of poor people less than the expensive, materialistic habits of the idle rich. Jesus could hardly be expected to know that the wholesale forfeiture of one’s property doesn’t actually help poor people, because He didn’t have access to the economic knowledge developed during and after the enlightenment.

One commenter said something in jest that was doubtless on the tip of several people’s tongues; viz., “Jesus–an all-knowing deity–had a perfect knowledge of market-based economics.” But, of course, He didn’t.

Yet it’s perfectly understandable how such an attitude develops. In fact, we see it in the gospels. According to the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), it wasn’t obvious to anyone who Jesus was. Legends of the awesomeness of the mortal Jesus didn’t arise until much later, and the author of the later Gospel of John records the tales that subsequently arose. In John, Jesus merely motions to his followers, and they drop everything to follow Him, like the senior grifters in The Sting who respond to Gondorf’s summons to put together a con. Given the more mundane accounts in the earlier gospels, John’s fantastic stories of Jesus’s renowned awesomeness are surely embellishments. Even the author of John seems to be guilty of the Jesus/Super Bowl Fallacy.

It’s because of the Jesus/Super Bowl Fallacy that people maintain that there couldn’t possibly be any moral flaws in Jesus’s teachings. Thus, my fellow perma-blogger Dan Ellsworth, acknowledges that Christ’s teachings contain “head scratchers that we gloss over in our Church classes…,” but still seeks to reconcile these flaws in Christ’s moral teachings with his Godhood. Still others refuse to see any flaws at all.

Over my years of participation in the Bloggernacle, I’ve outlined the flaws in Jesus’ teachings in many places. These include (in no particular order):

  1. Christ’s teaching that his second coming in glory would occur shortly after his death.
  2. Christ’s reactions of vitriolic rage against those who disagree with him (e.g., Matthew 23:33)
  3. Christ’s continual polemic against the family throughout the gospels (e.g., Matthew 10:35-37)
  4. Christ’s teaching that giving all of one’s property to the poor would help the poor.

There are other flaws, but these are the ones that I remember off the top of my head. Rather than turn this into a debate with Jesus apologists, let’s just suppose for the sake of argument that these are legitimate flaws in Jesus’ teachings. The question arises: which of these flaws in Jesus’ teachings constitutes a sin, and therefore violates the perfection required for an effective atonement.

In my opinion, the only real problems arise with #2 and #3. As luck would have it, these teachings are likely the result of later interpolations by Christians wishing to differentiate themselves from Jews in order to avoid the substantial persecution that the Romans were heaping upon Jews after their final rebellion.

Regarding #1 and #4, there’s nothing inconsistent with such mistakes and moral perfection. Jesus was a product of his time; viz., the first century AD. Back then, nobody knew that the best for the poor is a reasonably regulated and mature market economy (I realize that one can argue over how much regulation is “reasonable regulation,” but on this topic, Christ’s teachings are utterly silent).

There’s nothing heretical at all about believing that Jesus was sometimes wrong. Whether Christ says it or not, moral agency and moral accountability require that we evaluate it using our own judgement, and in the end, quoting Christ’s teachings does not end an argument. Moral agency, the most stubborn aspect of God’s plan for us, isn’t nearly so easy to extinguish.