Beyond Belief: a Buddhist Critique of Christianity

Chapter 5:
Fact and fiction in
the life of Jesus
Part 1

The single thing which makes Christianity what it is, the foundation on which it rests, is Jesus Christ, or rather, claims about Jesus Christ. Christians are always making the most exaggerated claims about this man: "Jesus was the only man in history to claim to be God"; "Only faith in Jesus can give a person peace and happiness"; "Either Jesus was God or he was the greatest liar in history"; "Thousands of witnesses saw him rise from the dead so it must be true"; "Jesus was the most perfect human being who ever lived"; etc, etc, etc. These claims all sound very impressive until we look at the evidence.

Prophecies about and by Jesus

Every time there is a change in the turbulent politics of the Middle East, Christians will sift through their Bibles and loudly proclaim that the newest crisis has been prophesied. A prophecy is a prediction in the Bible which is supposed to foretell events which will take place in the future. These so-called prophecies are bandied about for a while and then quietly dropped when they do not come to completion in the way they are supposed to.

Christians claim that many of the events which are happening in today's world were long ago prophesied in the Bible. When one actually asks to have a look at these 'amazing prophecies' one can see that they are usually so broad and general that they could be interpreted to correspond to any event. For example, they will say that the world is going to end soon because the Bible prophesies that in the last days "There will be wars and rumours of wars" (Matt 24:6). The problem with this prophecy is that it could refer to any period in world history because there are always a few wars occurring somewhere. Christians also claim that all the events in Jesus' life were prophesied in the Bible long before he was born and that the fact that these prophecies came true proves that he really was the Messiah . So let us have a look at some of these supposed prophecies and see if there is any truth in this claim. In the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament it says:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called 'Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace'. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. (Is 9:6-7).

This is supposed to be a prophecy foretelling the birth of Jesus. But does it? Other than being born no event mentioned here happened to Jesus. The government was not on his shoulders, he was never called nor did he call himself by the titles mentioned here and there has been no more peace since he was born than there was before. This is a fairly good example of the 'amazing prophecies' upon which Christianity is based. Before Jesus' birth an angel is supposed to have prophesied:

The Lord God will make him a king, as his ancestor David was, and he will be the king of the descendants of Jacob forever (Lk 1:32-33).

But if what the Bible says is true David could not possibly have been Jesus' ancestor because God, not Joseph, was Jesus' real father. Also David was a king in a political sense, while Jesus never became a king in this way or in any other way similar to David. Finally, the descendants of Jacob (i.e. the Jews) never accepted Jesus as their king - politically, spiritually or in any other way - and have refused to accept him as such even to this day. So as before this prophecy is wrong on every point. Again in Isaiah it says:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. (Isa 53:3-5).

This is supposed to prophesy that when Jesus was attacked by his opponents he would not retaliate. But in the Gospels Jesus is portrayed as robustly defending himself against criticism and loudly condemning his enemies. He cursed and criticized the Pharisees when they opposed him and according to John 18:33-37 he was anything but silent at his trial.

When the Romans crucified people they would nail them to a cross, let them hang there for some time and then finally break their legs, thereby increasing the poor victims' pain and killing them. According to the Bible, when the Romans came to break Jesus' legs he was already dead and so they did not bother (Jn 19:31-34). This, so Christians claim, is another remarkable example of biblical prophecy, for in Psalms (34:20) it says that God will not let even one bone of the Messiah's body be broken. Unfortunately the Christians have overlooked a very important fact. Although the bones in Jesus legs may not have been broken, the bones in his feet definitely were. When the nails were driven into Jesus feet they must have broken or at least cracked one or several of the metacarpals.

Christians claim that Jesus died and on the third day rose from the dead. And of course they claim that this was prophesied before it happened. The supposed prophecy says:

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matt 12:40).

However, like most Christian prophecies, this is wrong. Jesus is supposed to have died on Friday (Good Friday) and risen from the dead early on Sunday morning Easter Sunday). Even a schoolchild can see this is not three days and three nights - but one day and two nights. Another problem is that just before Jesus died he turned to the two criminals crucified with him and said "I assure you, today you will be in Paradise with me." (Lk 23:43). So according to the prophecy Jesus would go to heaven three days after he died, according to the gospels he went to heaven two days after he died, and according to Jesus, own words he went to heaven on the day he died. But it is not just prophecies about Jesus that are wrong, the prophecies he himself made were also wrong. Christians are always claiming that the end of the world is coming soon. Where do they get this bizarre idea from? They get it from Jesus. He believed and explicitly taught that the world end within his own lifetime or very soon afterwards.

I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened (Lk 21:25-33).

By "this generation" he was obviously referring to the people he was addressing. On another occasion he again told the people who stood listening to him that some of them would still be alive when the end of the world came.

I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom (Matt 16:28).

When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly I say to you, you will not have gone through the towns of Israel, before the son of man comes. (Matt 10.23)

These and other examples prove that most of the supposed prophecies about Jesus and by him are false. But even where a prophecy seems to be true this does not necessarily mean anything. It can be demonstrated that whoever wrote the Gospels deliberately invented events in the life of Jesus to make them fit into supposed prophecies. We will examine one well-known example of this. Several hundred years before Jesus the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek, the language of the day. When a passage in Isaiah which says that the Messiah will be born of a young woman (Is 7:14) was translated, the word for young woman (almah) was mistranslated as virgin (pardhenas) changing the meaning of the prophecy considerably. When the authors of the Gospels read this they thought that to qualify to be the Messiah Jesus' mother had to be a virgin and so they fabricated the story of the virgin birth. In fact it only became necessary to invent this story because of a misunderstanding. So it is not that prophecies foretold events in Jesus' life but rather that events were fabricated to fit into prophecies.

The Birth of Jesus

We will often hear Christians boast that no one has ever found a mistake in the Bible, just as we will often hear them claim that the Bible is the inspired word of God and therefore infallible. Considering how carefully Christians pick through the Bible text it is difficult to know how such claims can be made, much less believed.

Let us have a look at what the Bible says about the birth of Jesus. First we are told that news of Jesus' impending birth was conveyed to Joseph, Jesus' father, in a dream (Matt 1:20). Then we are told that the news was given to Mary, Jesus' mother, by an angel (Lk 1:28). Which of these two stories are true? Was it Joseph who got the news or Mary? Christians will say that they both got it. Then why does the Gospel of Matthew fail to mention the angel appearing to Mary and the Gospel of Luke fail to mention Joseph's dream? On one hand we are told that Jesus' parents went on a journey before the baby was born (Lk 2:4-7) and on the other that they went on a journey after the birth (Matt 2:13-14). Which of these true stories is true? When we come to where Jesus was actually born we meet with more contradictions. Was Jesus born at home (Matt 1:24-25) or was he born in a manger at the back of an inn (Lk 2:7)? Next we come to Jesus' ancestry. We have two lists of all Jesus' ancestors on his father's side, but when we look at the names in these we find almost no correspondence between them. They do not even agree about the name of Jesus' grandfather. One says his name was Jacob (Matt 1:16) and the other says his name was Heli (Lk 3:23). Moreover, it is ridiculous to talk about Jesus' ancestors on his father's side and Jesus being related to King David (Matt 1:1), when not Joseph but God is supposed to be Jesus' real father.

Was He A Good Teacher?

At the time of the Buddha there was a religious sect called the Niganthas which fell apart soon after the death of its founder Nataputta.

And at his death the Niganthas split into two parties, quarrelling and disputing, fighting and attacking each other and using a war of words. You would have thought that they were disgusted, displeased and repelled when they saw that the doctrine was so badly presented, so poorly laid out and so ineffective in calming the passions because it had been taught by one who was not fully enlightened and was now without guide or arbiter (Digha Nikaya, Sutta No.29).

Interestingly enough, this was exactly what happened as soon as Jesus died and for exactly the same reasons. Jesus is justly famous for the parables he used to illustrate his ideas but at the same time he often failed to make his meaning clear. Sometimes this was because he himself was not clear about his ideas and at other times it seems that he was just a poor communicator. What is even more strange is that Jesus even admitted that he deliberately obscured his message.

And when his disciples asked him what the parable meant, he said; To you it has been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom of God: but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand (Lk 8:9-10; Mk 8:17-18).

But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, that they could not perceive it: and they were afraid to ask him about this saying (Lk 9:45).

Add to this deliberate obscurity the numerous contradictory ideas in Jesus' teachings and it is not hard to imagine why his disciples fell into disagreement as soon as he died. In the Epistles there are constant references to the bickering and squabbling between the various factions amongst the early Christians. Paul complained that all the churches in Asia turned against him (2 Tim 1:15) and that they refused to take his side in some theological argument (2 Tim 4:14-16). He tells us of his squabble with Peter and the elders of the church in Jerusalem (Gal 2:11-13), of how he was snubbed by the church at Philippi (1 Thess 2:1-20), and of course he accused his rivals of not having real faith (2 Thes 3:1-3), of teaching 'another Christ' and of not really knowing God (Tit 1:10-16). John bitterly complained that his opponents threw those who supported him out of the church (John 1:9-10). Paul made a desperate but futile appeal for harmony between the early Christians.

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree with one another that there may be no divisions between you and that you might be perfectly united in mind and thought (1 Cor 1:10-12).

What were the early Christians squabbling about? One of the numerous points of disagreement seems to have been on the issue of whether it was necessary to be circumcised or not (Rom 2:25-29, Gal 5:2-12, Gal 6:12-15, Phil 3:2-4, Col 2:1113). Paul was against it and called those who disagreed with him "dogs" (Phil 3:2), said that he hoped that they would go all the way and castrate themselves (Gal 5:12) and he warned other Christians to keep away from them (Tit 1:10). Sadly, all this is reminiscent of modern Christians. While claiming that they alone have the truth there is so much disagreement between them about what that truth is that they have split into hundreds of denominations, sects, cults and churches and refuse to worship the same God together. Like the early Christians there is much ill-will and jealousy between them with one group accusing the other of not being 'true Christians', of not understanding the Bible properly and of being misled by Satan. For Buddhists and other non-Christians this is all very bewildering. If it is true that Jesus' message of salvation was so clear and if it is true that God communicates with and guides Christians through prayer why is it that there is so much disagreement and mutual hostility among them?

The Last Supper

The Bible gives us almost no information about the life of Jesus until he started teaching at about the age of 30. And even after his public ministry started there is great confusion about what happened and when. For instance, the Gospel of John claims that the cleansing of the temple took place at the beginning of Jesus' ministry (Jn 2:13-14), but the Gospel of Luke claims the cleansing took place at the end (Lk 19:45-46). On one hand we are told that Jesus stayed in Peter's house and then healed a leper (Mk 1:29-45), on the other we are told that he healed the leper and then went in Peter's house (Matt 8:1-2, 8:14). On one hand we are told that the centurion spoke personally to Jesus (Matt 8:5); in a complete contradiction to this we are told that the centurion sent people on his behalf to speak to Jews (Lk 7:1). In the Gospel of Mark we are told that Jesus left Tyre and passed through Sidon on his way to the Sea of Galilee (Mk 7:31). A look at any map of Israel will show that this is quite impossible as Sidon is in another direction altogether.

Christians will reluctantly admit these mistakes but say that they are minor and of no significance. Perhaps so, but they do prove that the Bible is not infallible, and if the Bible makes mistakes about what Jesus did, it could just as easily make mistakes about what Jesus said. But even when we look at very important event in Jesus' life we find confusion. Let us have a look at the Last Supper. According to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus' Last Supper took place on the Jewish holy day of Passover (Matt 26:17-20, Mk 14:12-17, Lk 22:7-14). The Gospel of John on the other hand claims that the Last Supper took place on the day before Passover (Jn 19:14). Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were supposed to be among the disciples who attended the Last Supper with Jesus. They are also supposed to be the disciples who remembered and wrote down all Jesus' teachings, If they couldn't even remember the day of the Last Supper how do we know that they remembered Jesus' teachings correctly?

The Trial

Now we will have a look at that most important event in the life of Jesus, his trial. As described in the Bible the trial is predictably full of contradictions, but it also raises many questions which are difficult to answer. The trial and the events leading up to it are usually described by Christians like this - Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey to the acclaim of the population of the city. He was arrested by the henchmen of the Jewish priests who beat him and handed him over to the Romans. The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, could find no guilt in Jesus but the Jewish priests kept insisting he was guilty. Unable to make up his mind, the Roman governor decided to ask the crowd what they wanted, either the release of Jesus or a Jewish rebel. The crowd cried out for the release of the rebel and the crucifixion of Jesus. So Pilate reluctantly had Jesus executed.

Would the trial really have proceeded like this? Let us have a look. We are told that "when Jesus rode into Jerusalem crowds of delighted people greeted him, laying their cloaks on the road and praising him as their king (Mk 11:8). But only a day after a huge crowd were screaming out for Jesus to be crucified (Mk 15:12-14).

This sudden change from adulation to hatred is hard to explain. Next we have Jesus brought before Pontius Pilate. The Bible portrays Pilate as a man who can find no guilt in Jesus but is pushed into crucifying him by the Jewish priests. This is clearly impossible. The Romans were famous for their strong and effective government; their judicial system was known for its justice and they did not send weak, indecisive men to govern troublesome parts of the empire. Who could believe that a Roman governor would allow the people he ruled to make up his mind for him and tell him how to run his own court? The Bible says that Pilate asked the crowd whether they wanted either Jesus or Barabbas released (Lk 23:1318), and when they said Barabbas, he was set free and Jesus was executed. Now credibility has been stretched to the limit. We are asked to believe that a Roman governor would execute a man he believed to be innocent and set free a rebel involved in murder and trying to overthrow Roman rule (Lk 23:19). The Romans did not conquer and govern Europe, Africa and the Middle East by releasing dangerous rebels. They were strong, fair and completely ruthless with all who opposed them. So the Christian account of Jesus' trial is unconvincing.

If we read what Jesus is supposed to have said at his trial we can see that all the accounts of the trial are fabrications. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus "gave no answer", (Matt 27:12) and "made no reply, not even to a single charge, to the great amazement of the governor" (Matt 27:14) during his trial. In a complete contradiction to this the Gospel of John claims that Jesus answered charges, asked questions and spoke much during his trial (Jn 18:33-37). Which of these two accounts is true? Was Jesus silent or did he speak? Like the Gospel of John, the Gospel of Luke also claims that Jesus spoke much during his trial. But if we compare John's account of what was said with Luke's account we find that almost every sentence is different (Compare Jn 18:33-37 with Lk 22:66-70). Obviously, Christian claims that the Bible is an accurate, reliable historical document are completely untrue.

What Happened to Judas?

Judas was the disciple who betrayed Jesus. After he had done this he is said to have died. But how did he die? Here, as with many other incidents, the Bible gives us several confused accounts. According to Matthew this is what happened:

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. "I have sinned", he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood". "What is that to us", they replied. "That's your responsibility!". So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the coins and said, "It is against the law to put this into treasury, since it is blood money". So they decided to use the money to buy the potter's field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the field of blood to this day (Matt 27:3-8).

Elsewhere we are told a different story.

With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, field of blood (Acts 1:18-19).

Was it Judas who bought the field or was it the chief priests? Did Judas hang himself or did he fall down and have his body burst open?

Jesus' Last Words

Many Christian doctrines are often based on a single word or sentence which Jesus is supposed to have spoken. To prove the truth of their beliefs Christians will rush to their Bibles and point to a sentence saying, "There, that proves it". They assume that every phrase, every sentence, every word in the Bible is exactly what Jesus said. We have already seen that the Bible is quite confused about what Jesus did and said. In fact even Jesus' last words have not been accurately recorded. According to Matthew, Jesus' last words were: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt 27:46). According to Mark he just gave a loud cry and died. (Mk 15:37). According to Luke he said, "Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit" (Lk 23:46). According to John, Jesus' last words were: "It is finished." (Jn 19:30). Once again we have discrepancies and contradictions which make impossible to know what to believe.


Did Jesus really die and then rise from the dead after three days? The Four Gospels' accounts of this most crucial event are such a confused and contradictory mess that convincing any unbiased person to doubt it would be easy. At this point the reader is advised to have a Bible ready and to check the references. We will see that the four accounts of the supposed Resurrection differ in nearly every detail.

  1. When did the Resurrection happen? All four Gospels agree that the events described took place early on Sunday,' morning (Matt 28:1, Mk 16:1, Lk 24:1, Jn 20:1).
  2. Who went to the tomb? Now the problems begin. Matthew says that the two Marys went to the tomb (Matt 28:1); Mark says that the two Marys and Salome went (Mk 16:1); Luke says that the two Marys, Joanna and some other women went (Lk 24:10); and John says that Mary went alone (Jn 20: 1).Christians claim that the Bible contains no mistakes but surely there are a few mistakes here. They claim that those who wrote the Gospels were inspired by God as they wrote, but apparently not inspired enough to be able to count properly.
  3. Was there an earthquake? Matthew tells us that at that time there was a "great earthquake" (Matt 28:2), but why do the other three Gospels fail to mention it? Surely a great earthquake, especially occurring at such a significant moment, would be hard to forget. It is far more likely that Matthew just made up the story to add drama to his account, in other words he lied.
  4. How many angels? Next, Matthew claims that an angel appeared before the two women, rolled back the stone door and sat upon it (Matt 28:2). He also says that the guards were so frightened that they fainted (Matt 28:4). Mark's story is quite different. He claims that the door had already been removed before the women arrived, so they went into the tomb and saw the angel inside (Mk 16:4-5). And he doesn't mention any guards. Luke's story is even more inventive. He claims that the women went into the tomb and saw not one but two angels (Lk 24:4). Obviously someone is not telling the truth. John claims that Mary went to the tomb alone, saw the tomb open, ran to get the other disciples and when they went into the tomb she waited outside. After everyone went home Mary waited, and as she did two angels appeared to her, and then Jesus appeared although she could not recognize him (Jn 20:12-14). And it is on this garbled 'evidence' that Christianity rests.

Go to Beyond Belief: Fact and fiction in the life of Jesus. Part 2
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