Beyond Belief: a Buddhist Critique of Christianity
Fact and fiction in
the life of Jesus
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
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
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?
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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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
- 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
Go to Beyond Belief: Fact and fiction in the life of Jesus. Part 2
Back to Table of Contents