Arguably, two of the favorite verses of fundamentalists and antitheists alike are:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).
It is generally thought that Jesus agreed with everything standing in the Old Testament, like the genocide of the Amalekites, the wives of dead soldiers being killed by the Israelites being forced to marry the murderers of their husbands, adulterers being put to death, and so on and so forth.
I don’t view the Bible as a set of truths having fallen from Heaven, but as a human book describing the experience (or lack thereof) of real people with God. But they wrote down their thoughts and experiences using their worldview and their Ancient-Near-Eastern understanding.
Without denigrating these people, it is a fact they were both materially and morally primitive. Before judging the moral character of an individual, it is always indispensable to study his or her worldview and to delve into the historical context she led her life. Many self-righteous indignation about the deeds of Mahomed stem from the unwillingness to follow this basic principle.
Now, back to our present concern. I believe that in Jesus, God lived, died and rose from the dead. But in order for him to be fully human and not some kind of super-spirits like many Gnostics thought, he had to give up his all-power, his omniscience (all-knowledge), also with respect to spiritual and moral issues. I know this might sound blasphemous to quite few of my readers, but asserting the contrary would turn Jesus into a super-human.
As a human being, Jesus shared the worldview and presuppositions of the conservative Jewish society where he was raised.
This is why his treatment of women, while quite normal for our modern minds, was truly revolutionary in his particular context.
When trying to judge Jesus’s moral character, most Skeptics tend to interpret literally what he said in order to make it sound as negative as possible, even if it contradicts other verses.
Let us assume, for the sake of the argument, that Jesus really said these very things mentionned at the beginning of the article. Some theologians think the passage might have been added by Mattew to fit the needs of the early Jewish Christian communities, but I think this text is at home in the context of the sermon on the mount.
According to most antitheists, the litteral interpretation is the right one, and Jesus wished adultery women and disobedient children to be stoned, and thought genocides could be great.
But why did the same Jesus also say:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44″But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.…”
After all, he was referring to the very same Mosaic tradition he allegedly considered to be inerrant.
One possibility is certainly that Jesus was inconsistent and contradicted himself: he didn’t realize the consequences of holding fast to the Torah as he preached.
To my mind, a better interpretation is that Jesus saw the love for God and for one’s neighbor as being not only the highest command of the law, but its fulfillment, its very reason of being.
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
In that respect, Jesus was very progressive if he thought that certain aspects of the Law didn’t promote this high goal.
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended.
When all his sayings are considered, it seems likely that Jesus meant that higher purpose as the accomplishment of the law.
Of course, it is also probable that the conservative Jewish context he grew up in prevented him from entertaining the thought that the Torah (and other non-canonical traditions) contained mistakes, but this is debatable.