Undoubtedly, one of the most important doctrines of Christianity is the moral purity of Jesus. The missionary would have one believe that Jesus lived a perfectly sinless life, which makes him the spotless Passover lamb. This doctrine must be taken on faith, of course, because none of the witnesses to Jesus saw the entirety of his life. Moreover, only God knows a person’s heart, wherein Jesus may not have been pure. If Jesus were morally perfect, he certainly would have been a remarkable man, worthy of respect and admiration, though not worship. But, perhaps he was not perfect; perhaps he was a man just like any other with his own temptations and human frailty. How can one know? One way to scrutinize this claim of the missionary is to analyze how Jesus’ hometown received him. In so doing, one will see that it is highly unlikely that Jesus was morally perfect or even as wise as the missionary would have one to believe.
In two of the gospels, Jesus returns to Nazareth, his hometown, some time after his ministry has already begun. It appears his mother and brothers may have brought him home, because they approach him a little before his trip to Nazareth. The people of Nazareth are nonplussed after hearing Jesus teach in the synagogue. They wonder from where he gets his wisdom and power. They identify him as a carpenter’s son, the son of Mary; they know his family. They cannot understand from where Jesus gets the ability to teach with such authority or perform miracles. And because of the disbelief of Jesus’ townsfolk, he is unable to do great works, only minor ones. (Matthew 13:54-58 and Mark 6:1-6)
A similar story is told in Luke, but his version comes earlier in Jesus’ career. He has Jesus begin teaching at home before he leaves Nazareth. In Luke’s version, he reads an Isaiah scroll and says it has been fulfilled. They marvel at “Joseph’s son”. He angers them, and they become so enraged that they are prepared to throw him off a cliff. Of course, he escapes, and then he begins his ministry outside Nazareth. This seems to be the same incident only moved in time. It is not impossible that they were two separate events, but it is hard to believe that Jesus went back home to Nazareth to try again after they already wanted to pitch him off a cliff. Also, in Luke, Jesus’ mother and brothers come to see him, but he does not go to Nazareth afterward as in Mark and Matthew. (Luke 4:16-30)
In all three stories, Jesus has an explanation for why the townsfolk do not accept him: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house” (Mark 6:4). Jesus’ explanation appears totally reasonable. The people closest to one see all his faults and weaknesses. He does not appear special. He is ‘one of us’. The Nazarenes’ familiarity with Jesus has bred contempt.
But this explanation only appears to be reasonable; let the reader consider:
If Jesus was a morally perfect human being, he must have been anything but too familiar to the people. Rather he must have always seemed otherworldly. He would be known for his tremendous integrity and honesty, his patience and forbearance. Jesus is to have never committed even a minor infraction. He is to have been eminently loving, always concerned with the well being of others. Even as a child, he is assumed to have been morally perfect, not even exhibiting the selfishness and self-centeredness usual for a child. His speech was never coarse. And, if he lived according to the standard he later preached, as is reasonable to suppose, he always did more than was asked of him. Such a person would be noted for his goodness.
One can understand that not everyone would love such a person. Standing next to a morally perfect person, it would be quite understandable if some people felt uncomfortable around him. His perfection would draw attention to their own imperfection. In some people, this might even inspire hate, resenting all the time this man who never made the slightest moral miscalculation, who was never petty, never selfish.
Others would have loved him. Moved by his goodness, they might seek to be around him. Or they might wish to do kind deeds out of their love for him. Rather than resentful of his perfection, some would admire him. They might come to him for comfort or aid, knowing they would receive it. He would inspire gratitude in people. Some would bear him great affection, wanting to perform acts of kindness for this good man.
It is unfeasible, however, that they thought of him as nothing more than the carpenter’s son. Though among them, he would never exactly be one of them. He would never be just another Nazarene. It is beyond belief that such a figure would be scorned for his background. The Nazarenes should have known better than anyone just how different he was. To no one more than they should Jesus’ calling have made sense.
When one considers that Jesus was supposed to have been astoundingly wise as well, their reaction makes even less sense. They ask from where Jesus got his teaching as if they had never before noticed how perceptive he was. Remember that at the age of 12, according to Luke, Jesus taught in Jerusalem, asking amazing questions and giving incredible answers to difficult questions. Surely the people who watched Jesus grow up noticed that he was exceedingly wise, exceedingly insightful. Surely they noticed his wonderful grasp of Torah. And surely they noticed the way in which he could see into their own souls. How is it possible that they thought of Jesus as nothing more than the son of a carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, another Nazarene?
Yet when Jesus begins teaching the people who must have been most aware of his ethereal qualities, his otherworldly goodness, his transcendent wisdom, they show shock, expecting nothing of the sort from a carpenter’s son. Their confusion reflects no inherent greatness in Jesus but mundanity. To them, there was nothing special about him.
This suggests that the NT has exaggerated his moral purity and wisdom. It is unlikely that Jesus was a morally perfect person. If so, his fellows would have commented on that, not on his parentage. The fact that they think of him as a carpenter’s son suggests that they did not think of him as a fellow that never sinned, whose kindness excelled that of other human beings, and whose wisdom was beyond compare. It is reasonable to think that Jesus did sin, just as other men do, that at times he lost his temper or acted selfishly. It is reasonable to believe that, even if he was a very fine fellow, he was not perfect. It is reasonable to conclude that he was not ‘spotless’.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal