Correcting Jesus: 2000 Years of Changing The Story

How is it possible that Jesus’ words have been utilized to justify both pacifist and prowar agendas? Historian Griffith (The Gardens of Their Dreams) is not an iconoclast, but he is not afraid to examine the various ways that Christianity has interpreted Jesus for two millennia. The author wastes no time grappling with some of the most contentious religious issues, such as the role of women in the Church, nonviolence, the celibacy requirement for some clergy and differing notions of what freedom means. Griffith calls it as he sees it throughout history: individuals and groups have twisted Jesus’ message to suit their own points of view. The author is a thorough independent scholar, and his concise writing makes historical facts engaging and relevant. His most important take-home message: it is not verboten for people of faith to ask why beliefs and practices developed in a specific way. In fact, it could even be considered an obligation for healthy, committed believers to do so.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Correcting Jesus: 2000 Years of Changing The Story

  1. Review

    As I looked over Brian Griffith’s Correcting Jesus, I thought here is another critique of the Church.  It is a critique of how the Christian Church has strayed from the teachings of Jesus.  It turned out to be that and much more.  He presents an excellent history of how those changes occurred.  He traces the history of the roles of the Jewish religion, forgiveness, and respect for women, freedom, equality, non-violence and compassion in Christianity and how they moved from the teachings of Jesus to the positions of the Church today.

    Griffith is not a theologian or religious scholar.  He is an independent historian.  This allows him to bring a new perspective to the material.  His use of the historical method to buttress his arguments was excellent.  Griffith ties changes in the Church both to movements internal to the Church and to social change in the society as a whole.

    The analysis of the change from the Church being rooted in Judaism to becoming anti-Jewish is excellent.  The spread of the teachings of Jesus outside of Judea and the increasing recruitment of Gentiles began to change the nature of what was to become Christianity.  Internally conflict had emerged in Christianity concerning the following of the Torah.  At the same time there was pressure to conform to the norms of the Roman Empire.  Eventually, the norms of the empire won out with Constantine and later empowers making Christianity the state religion.  Christianity was no longer a minority religion but the dominate religion of the empire that it opposed when Jesus was alive.  

    Investigation of the role of social class could have improved our understanding of those changes.  The teachings of Jesus were developed by a landless itinerate Rabbi and preached to the same class.  This is not just a case of equality or compassion but of justice.  I am not implying that he says nothing about this issue, for he does.  For example, he discusses how Social Darwinism was incorporated into the much of the Church around the turn of the 20th century.  Even the oppositional idea of the same period-the Social Gospel- was rooted in the middle class.  While Social Darwinism was used to argue that if you were doing well God had blessed you, the Social Gospel was used to argue that the rich should help the poor.  I believe that an analysis of the make up of the social class composition of the leadership would have added an addition level of support for his argument.

    As noted above, I believe this is an excellent history of social changes that moved the Christian Church away from the teachings of Jesus.  I recommend this book for anyone interested in that history.  Besides, it is an enjoyable read.

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