Jesus > Jesus was just a good moral teacher

If you asked a typical New Yorker to list some of the world's greatest teachers, Jesus Christ would certainly make many respondents' short list. Even people who know very little about Jesus and Christianity are familiar with some of his teachings, like his exhortation to turn the other cheek and the idea that the meek will inherit the earth. And it is certainly fair and accurate to say that he lived his life based on his teachings. For example, he admonished his disciples to "love [their] enemies and pray for those who persecute [them]"1 and even while he was dying an extraordinarily painful and unjust death, he was recorded as praying "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing."2 Jesus famously said "...I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."3 That teaching has influenced many people to spend their money and time caring for the poor and the marginalized. This is just a small sample of some of the beautiful and life giving teaching of Jesus.

However, there is an aspect to Jesus' teachings that could be characterized as disturbing and negative. In the same passage in Matthew 25 where Jesus is talking about our care for the marginalized, he gives a frightening and seemingly unfair picture of what happens when you aren't generous: "depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."4 At two points in two of the biographical books of Jesus' life, Jesus refers to his students as "evil."5 Also, his standards for what it means to follow him are pretty costly:
"... 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? '"6

But what should most alarm a casual student of Jesus' teachings is what he taught about himself. In the book of John, Jesus says "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."7 Not only does Jesus teach that he is the only way to God, he teaches that he IS God:
" 'Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.' 'You are not yet fifty years old,' the Jews said to him, 'and you have seen Abraham!' 'I tell you the truth,' Jesus answered, 'before Abraham was born, I AM!'"8 (emphasis added)
And again, in Mark 8: "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."9

What are we to make of Jesus' teachings then? On the one hand he promotes concepts that are inspirational and have universal appeal, like love, peace and forgiveness. On the other, he talks about judgment and wrath and claims to forgive sin and accept worship, two things that are usually reserved for God. How do we reconcile these seemingly contradictory aspects of Jesus' teachings? It seems that there are only two basic approaches. On the one hand if Jesus really did believe that he was divine and that he was worthy of worship and also had the power of life and death at his disposal, would it really be safe to trust his wisdom about other things? Why would I trust a deluded megalomaniac about how to treat my enemy (turn the other cheek)? Why would I privilege his wisdom over my own?

The other option is to consider that perhaps Jesus really was who he said he was. It seems more intellectually honest (and fairer to Jesus himself) to either take him at his word, or reject him all together. A comprehensive reading of Jesus' teaching reveals that the moral force of his wisdom and ethics are tied directly to his claim to be the divine author and embodiment of all truth. His teaching represented a manifesto of a complete way of life that was ultimately tied to trusting that he was both the Savior and King of the world. Therefore we are left with the words of C.S. Lewis who wrote:
"A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg - or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us." 10

1 Matthew 5:44
2 Luke 23:34
3 Matthew 25:35-36
4 Matthew 25:41
5 Matthew 7:11 and Luke 11:13
6 Mark 8:34-37
7 John 14:6
8 John 8:56-58
9 Mark 8:38
10 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity : The Case for Christianity, Christian Behaviour and Beyond Personality (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco 3 Edition, 2001), 52

Jesus as Teacher

By Rev. David Bisgrove

If you asked a typical New Yorker to list some of the world's greatest teachers, Jesus Christ would certainly make many respondents' short list. Even people who know very little about Jesus and Christianity are familiar with some of his teachings, like his exhortation to turn the other cheek and the idea that the meek will inherit the earth. And it is certainly fair and accurate to say that he lived his life based on his teachings. For example, he admonished his disciples to "love [their] enemies and pray for those who persecute [them]"1 and even while he was dying an extraordinarily painful and unjust death, he was recorded as praying "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing."2 Jesus famously said "...I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."3 That teaching has influenced many people to spend their money and time caring for the poor and the marginalized. This is just a small sample of some of the beautiful and life giving teaching of Jesus.

However, there is an aspect to Jesus' teachings that could be characterized as disturbing and negative. In the same passage in Matthew 25 where Jesus is talking about our care for the marginalized, he gives a frightening and seemingly unfair picture of what happens when you aren't generous: "depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."4 At two points in two of the biographical books of Jesus' life, Jesus refers to his students as "evil."5 Also, his standards for what it means to follow him are pretty costly:
"... 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? '"6

But what should most alarm a casual student of Jesus' teachings is what he taught about himself. In the book of John, Jesus says "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."7 Not only does Jesus teach that he is the only way to God, he teaches that he IS God:
" 'Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.' 'You are not yet fifty years old,' the Jews said to him, 'and you have seen Abraham!' 'I tell you the truth,' Jesus answered, 'before Abraham was born, I AM!'"8 (emphasis added)
And again, in Mark 8: "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."9

What are we to make of Jesus' teachings then? On the one hand he promotes concepts that are inspirational and have universal appeal, like love, peace and forgiveness. On the other, he talks about judgment and wrath and claims to forgive sin and accept worship, two things that are usually reserved for God. How do we reconcile these seemingly contradictory aspects of Jesus' teachings? It seems that there are only two basic approaches. On the one hand if Jesus really did believe that he was divine and that he was worthy of worship and also had the power of life and death at his disposal, would it really be safe to trust his wisdom about other things? Why would I trust a deluded megalomaniac about how to treat my enemy (turn the other cheek)? Why would I privilege his wisdom over my own?

The other option is to consider that perhaps Jesus really was who he said he was. It seems more intellectually honest (and fairer to Jesus himself) to either take him at his word, or reject him all together. A comprehensive reading of Jesus' teaching reveals that the moral force of his wisdom and ethics are tied directly to his claim to be the divine author and embodiment of all truth. His teaching represented a manifesto of a complete way of life that was ultimately tied to trusting that he was both the Savior and King of the world. Therefore we are left with the words of C.S. Lewis who wrote:
"A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg - or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us." 10

1 Matthew 5:44
2 Luke 23:34
3 Matthew 25:35-36
4 Matthew 25:41
5 Matthew 7:11 and Luke 11:13
6 Mark 8:34-37
7 John 14:6
8 John 8:56-58
9 Mark 8:38
10 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity : The Case for Christianity, Christian Behaviour and Beyond Personality (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco 3 Edition, 2001), 52

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About Dr. Timothy Keller


Timothy Keller was born and raised in Pennsylvania and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He was first a pastor in Hopewell, Virginia. In 1989 he started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan with his wife, Kathy and their three sons. Today, Redeemer has more than five thousand regular Sunday attendees and has helped to start nearly two hundred new churches around the world. Also, the author of Generous Justice, Counterfeit Gods, The Prodigal God, and the New York Times bestseller, The Reason for God, he lives in New York City with his family.

About Rev. David Bisgrove


David Bisgrove has lived in New York City since 1988, the year he received his MBA and MPH from Columbia University. After working nine years in Healthcare Administration and Finance, David joined the Redeemer staff as Director of Finance and Operations in 1999. He was ordained in 2004 and now oversees the areas of Prayer, Evangelism, Worship, Stewardship, and Family Ministry. He lives on the Upper West Side with his wife Alice and their two daughters Mary Claire and Charlotte.

About BL Jenkins


BL Jenkins is the President and Founder of The Park Forum, a nonprofit that creates curriculum to help urban professionals read the Bible daily. Prior to founding The Park Forum, BL worked at the New York Stock Exchange, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. House of Representatives. BL received her JD from Columbia Law School, her MA from The George Washington University, and her BA from Baylor University. She enjoys running in Central Park and makes her home on the Upper West Side.

About Jason Garber


Jason Garber never set foot in a church service until September 2008 when he walked into Redeemer and was shocked to find that there were people in 21st century Manhattan that actually worshiped Jesus. Intrigued by this odd phenomena, Jason hung around Redeemer in order to observe this strange counterculture. Due to God's irresistible grace (and the free cookies after the service), Jason fell in love with the beauty of the Gospel and placed his trust in Jesus Christ as his Savior.

About Dr. Tuck Bartholomew


Tuck Bartholomew is the organizing pastor of City Church. Tuck holds a PhD in Sociology. Prior to coming to Philadelphia he served on the pastoral staff of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.



About Us

Redeemer Presbyterian Church is a community committed to, among other things, engaging in respectful dialogue with those who are curious about the historic Christian faith. We recognize that there are many people in our community who aren't sure what they believe about Jesus and his claims as they are found in the Bible. Therefore we have created this site to help individuals process their doubts and questions. We seek to do that through individual's stories, talks you can listen to, and papers you can read.

The site is designed in a way that we hope helps you in your particular journey, allowing you the freedom to explore the particular questions you may have. On the home page you'll find videos that feature questions and perspectives of both Christians and non-Christians. Those videos take you to one of three main areas of interest: 1) Common Questions, 2) Jesus and 3) Christianity. In each of the three sections you will find papers to read, talks to listen to and other videos to watch. If you wish, you can return to the home page at any time from any of these sections.

We are grateful for your interest in Jesus and his community and trust that this resource will help you discover more fully what it means to know Jesus and to be part of his family.

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