I want to tell you a story of an ancient sage who changed the world.
This wise man fought for justice, championing the cause of the poor and the oppressed. He rejected organized religion, showing tolerance — not judgment — for the outcast and the socially marginalized. He promoted universal love and the brotherhood of man. His unflinching commitment to speak truth to power cost him his life, but his legacy lives on. He is a model for us today of love, acceptance and inclusion. His name is Jesus of Nazareth.
That is the story, in sum. It’s a noble tale, to be sure. But it’s a falsehood, a fiction, an urban legend. Though the story is parroted like a mantra by multitudes — even echoed reflexively by otherwise sound spiritual leaders who ought to know better — no such Jesus ever existed. Rather, taken as a whole, this version of Jesus is just another example of another Jesus bringing another gospel like the ones the apostle Paul anathematized to the Galatians.
This is not the first legend about Jesus, of course. Paul chastised the Corinthians — somewhat sarcastically — for their own cavalier embrace of teachers fabricating a false Christ generated by a false spirit bringing a false gospel:
For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully. (2 Cor. 11:4)
The Corinthians were being led astray by the serpent’s crafty deceptions, Paul said, just as Eve was (v. 3) — abandoning simple devotion to the genuine Jesus for an alluring invention, an alternate Christ.
The trend would continue in the future, Paul warned, with the church turning their ticklish ears from truth to myths — legends — choosing man-made fictions over doctrinal facts (2 Tim. 4: 3-4). Jesus himself warned of future interlopers, imposters masquerading as messiahs who would mislead many (Matt. 24:24).
Times have changed, but the trend has not. New “Jesus legends” abound: the legend of Jesus, the (mere) itinerant moral teacher; the legend of Jesus, the prophet of Allah; the socialist Jesus legend; the legend of the Gnostic Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas; the legend of Jesus, the universal Christ; the LDS legend of Jesus, the spirit brother of Lucifer; the New Age Jesus-the-Hindu-guru legend. Et cetera, et cetera.
The remaking of the Jewish Messiah from Nazareth into a progressive advocate of social justice is just the latest example of the tendency people have to fashion Christ in their own social/spiritual/political image.
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