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Did Jesus Lie?

This page is part of a wider discussion, “Did Jesus Fulfill the Law”. The point of this discussion is to test the special concession that if Jesus lied, etc. then he could not be the messiah. This is a sort of first test. It would not prove whether or not Jesus is the messiah directly, but we do expect to find that false prophets fail the test rather easily and quickly.

What would qualify as a "lie" anyway?

A lie is a statement made intentionally to deceive. Our problem with lying does not stem from the actual lie, but from the intent to deceive; often from the intent to cause harm of one form or another. This is why when God “lied” in the story of Abraham, it was okay – his intent was to protect Abraham and no one be harmed. God's intention was not to trick or deceive anyone, but to do the right thing. So here we are not interested in any kind of random 'white lie' that Jesus may or may not have told. Nor are we interested in any analogy he may or may not have told “Get thee behind me, Satan!”. We are interested in any statement intended to deceive people.

On the other hand, we do hold for the possibility that a contradiction is only apparent. The point here is really to present the most acrimonious issues and discover the proper response. And, if it turns out there is no response, to ask the questions “Why not?” and to try and understand why there is no answer, and to see what we can learn from this to make us better people, better servants of the Lord.

Why Did Jesus Go Away to Tarsis?

Let's begin with an easy one. Something light, which is easy to brush aside. I guess part of the reason for that is because I would like to point out, when this issue is inevitably brushed aside, that it was indeed brushed aside without being answered.

24 And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid.
25 For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet:
26 The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.
27 But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.
28 And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs.
29 And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter.
30 And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.Mark 7:24-30 KJV)

This narrative, and the one following (read here on casts Jesus in the role of the bumbling detective. Jesus tries to hide himself, steal away and visit someone's home in Tarsis. Who this person is, and why Jesus is visiting him, we don't know because nothing more is ever said about this person for the rest of the New Testament. It is interesting to note that Paul claims to have been from Tarsis. However it is unlikely Jesus visited Paul's house because surely then Paul would have said something other than that he had never actually met Jesus. It's just not in Paul's interest not to mention such a thing so we consider it as a bad theory.

However, the fact that Jesus is trying to hide himself alone is not necessarily unusual. He apparently doesn't want people to know who he is just yet. Even so, doing his best to steal away by himself, a random woman on the street hears that a miracle worker has arrived in town and asks him to heal her daughter! The story is doubly unusual because the woman is a Greek (not Jewish) and then Jesus goes on to say something which has stuck in the minds of millions:

“…for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (NIV)

This really has to be understood. First the narrative of Jesus as the person who can't do anything right, and couldn't even escape the common Greek population's notice that he was the Messiah casts doubt on this story, but the above line is what drives home the point that this story never actually happened. It is very important to note that the Jews were very aware of their mission as A Light to the Nations, and that many have drawn such close parallels with Jesus' take on the Law and the Oral Law that it has been credibly suggested Jesus was a student of Hillel. It is therefore inconceivable that Jesus would make such a statement.

Further, in the next story about the Deaf and Mute man, it is written: “Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.” (NIV). How is it that Jesus issues a command to these people (KJV, RSV; a charge - NRSV; an order) and yet not only did they disobey him, they disobeyed him in spades?

It would seem, that this story heavily impinges on Jesus' claim to have been the Messiah or God, by illustrating his intent to deceive people (in his goings in Tarsis), in his intent in speaking to the Greek woman in trying to get her to go away, or finally by demonstrating his utter impotence in hiding the fact that he was a Messiah in the first place. Even if it was intentional, using a kind of reverse psychology, how then could we trust anything else he said if he was known to use such methods?

Matthew's Version

Matthew's version is equally opaque:

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”Matthew 15:21-28

Although Matthew appears to have softened Jesus' words here it is still quite unbelievable that he would at first ignore her and then say that he was only sent to Israel (and not as a plan of salvation for Man). But what is even more incredible is that the woman identifies Jesus as the Messiah by calling him the Son of David. This casts incredible doubt not only on Jesus for his behavior and words but on the author of the story now as well. Are we really to believe that a gentile woman heard via rumor that Jesus the Messiah (of a different religion) would be visiting her town, make a beeline to him, and then be rejected in this manner despite the mission of the Jews as a light to the nations? Why is it that in chapter 8 verses 5 to 13, Jesus has no problem healing a non-Jew, but here he gives pause? The story has become more than just difficult to believe, it has become completely incredible.

Therefore I would ask again, who precisely Jesus wanted to visit in Tarsis. What secret was Jesus trying to contain? It certainly wasn't to preach (Matthew 10:5-6, 11:21-23, John 4:9), so, why?

The Sabbath was Made for Man

In Mark 2:27, Jesus says the following;

27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.Mark 2:27-28 (KJV)

The issue we take with this is that at first glance it appears to be an obvious mistake.

8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.Hebrews 13:8

This idea is an echo of dozens of passages fro the old testament. If we assume the best about Jesus, we therefore must admit every relevant old testament verse which speaks to this matter.

1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.Genesis 2:1-3

In Genesis 2:3, God states that the reason why he blessed the sabbath and hallowed it was expressly and solely because he rested from all the work that he had done in creation. Thus we understand that it is not even part of the Law, but just a basic statement of what happened. It is therefore as unimpeachable as the statement that God said “let there be light”. If Jesus said that God didn't say that, but that he said “Let light separate from the water”, or anything else, we would understand it to be altering the word of God. Thus we understand the nature of the sabbath to be a universal constant – and that contrary to what Jesus claimed, man was indeed made for the sabbath – to honor it as part of the covenant which made Israel a people, perpetually and forever.

8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.Exodus 20:8-11

In Exodus 20, God states explicitly “For (because of the fact that)… but rested…; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.”

12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.Deuteronomy 5:12-15

In Deuteronomy 5, Moses reminds the Israelites what God says again, and explicitly, that the sabbath is a sabbath to the Lord, and that (they) should remember that, (due to all these things, the Exodus, etc.) therefore the Lord our God commanded them to keep the sabbath day.

In Exodus 31, the Sabbath law and it's rationale is explained further;

12 The Lord said to Moses: 13 You yourself are to speak to the Israelites: “You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. 14 You shall keep the sabbath, because it is holy for you; everyone who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people. 15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. 16 Therefore the Israelites shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.”Exodus 31:12-17

In Exodus 31 (above) God states that the sabbath is holy to the Lord, and that Israelites shall keep the Sabbath (by hallowing it) as a sign of the eternal covenant between Israel and God. It is a sign “forever”, that the Lord created the universe – and is thus a special, important commandment which protects against idolatry. If the sabbath is profaned or mis-hallowed, it would be tantamount to idolatry in the sense that the Israelites would have forgotten the basic fact that God created the universe. That is the mission and the purpose of the sabbath in the covenant, which is described as perpetual and eternal.

12 Moreover I gave them my sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, so that they might know that I the Lord sanctify them.Ezekiek 20:12

The idea is echoed in many other passages, too numberous to mention, but including Ezekiel 20 (above).

Standard Response (#1)

The standard Christian answer is that “The Sabbath was made for man's convenience and blessing, and so Jesus, who was complete and perfect manhood, was Lord of it.” (ex. ref). But this is obviously not correct given the above Old Testament passages.

Second to this, it just doesn't make any sense. If one claims Jesus was here to abrogate the law by fufilling all of it, why is a case where he clearly broke that law somehow excused by saying he didn't have to keep it? So while this answer seems correct at first, it really is not; when someone fails the prophet test, it is not because they are God and can do whatever they want; it's because they are a false prophet. So another answer is needed.

Response #2: Jesus was only referring to the law

Then we might say that Jesus was only referring to the commandment to keep the sabbath holy. In that sense it is certainly true that the commandment to keep the sabbath holy was a commandment given to Israel, for them to do so as a sign between them and God. Then, it was indeed given to man, for man's benefit, technically speaking. This seems an easy way out of Mark 2:27, at least initially, and it is also true that Jesus' argument was that the apostles were hungry:

3 Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?”Luke 6:3-4

“Therefore,” he says, that man is lord over keeping the sabbath. This is a convincing argument, but it is not actually true. The question of the rabbis was never that they were merely eating; it is that they were reaping and threshing the grain, collecting it and possibly even preparing food with it. Second to this there may have been the idea that they had eaten for themselves without giving an offering (Leviticus 23:14; cf. Deuteronomy 23:25; II Kings 4:42). However, this is not alluded to, only the rubbing in the hands which is known to have been expressly forbidden:

…his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them.Luke 6:1

So the problem is that rubbing in the hands was forbidden. They certainly could have just eaten the grain off the husk, or perhaps gone somewhere else to eat; certainly if it came down to breaking a rabbinic injunction and thus breaking the Law, which Jesus himself instructed people to keep (see Mat. 23 below), Jesus could have just created food, or fasted; indeed in Mark 2 just prior to this story, fasting is mentioned. Thus the question is easily raised, since Jesus and his disciples clearly were not starving as a matter of course, and could have fasted, and did not need to rub the grain in their hands, what is the point of telling this story and using King David's showbread as an example?

The issue here is that even if the apostles are breaking a rabbinic injunction, they are doing so willingly. This is forbidden by Jesus in Matthew 23:

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.Matthew 23:1-3

In Matthew 23 we see this astounding passage in which Jesus instructs all his followers to follow the rabbinic injunctions – yet apparently, does not do so himself in Mark 2 (etc). Thus in once sense or the other, Jesus seems to be claiming a sort of dominion over the sabbath which he clearly does not posses, which is clearly outside of his domain, as stated in the Old Testament. Not by breaking the sabbath, but in stating it was made for man.

No Clear Answer

Such a crime against God and such a penalty were so important to God, and so required of full understanding by Israel, that an example was given in Numbers 15:

32 Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. 33 And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. 34 They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him.

35 Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” 36 So, as the Lord commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died.Numbers 15:32-36

We therefore see that God's will is very clear on this matter. The man who was gathering firewood on the sabbath was clearly doing so out of a need. He needed to build a fire, presumably to cook food. To fully understand his violation one must consider that God had on many occasions told them that on the sixth day they are to gather double; or that God would provide double on the sixth day, or even for the jubilee year that God would provide a double harvest in the sixth year. It is important to note this story is phrased as “Now whhile the children of Israel were in the wilderness…” which means it was during the time they were being tested by God and receiving mana. Thus, these examples are connected, and relevant, and there does not seem to be an easy way out for the idea that the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.


In a best case scenario, where we admit that yes, Jesus would be lord of the sabbath – if we could show he is God. But in such a case we know he wouldn't change it in this manner, in light of God's purpose for creating the sabbath and instituting the sabbath law. God would never change the purpose of his sabbath, nor break a perpetual, eternal covenant. God is Eternal, beyond time, and does not change His mind.

Therefore the fact that Jesus uses the idea that God is the master of the sabbath as an excuse to break the sabbath law appears to be a clear violation of adding and removing from the torah, with no easy way out from a Christian perspective.

13 If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;

14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Isaiah 58:13-14

did_jesus_lie.txt · Last modified: 2018/03/11 19:16 by serena