Have Christians misunderstood Jesus?

Many Christians are extremely insulting about Hinduism and other religions. They call us ignorant, dumb, followers of Satan and mock our beliefs and practices. They tell converts that they should not associate with non-Christians, and sometimes even incite violence, trickery, deception, and destruction of shrines. You only have to look at some of the comments by Christians on this blog to see the degrees of hatred. These Christians honestly believe that this is what their religion teaches.

In contrast, many Hindus believe that Jesus was a guru, and that his teachings do not incite this type of behaviour. I have looked at the teachings of Jesus and I have come to the conclusion that many Christians have misunderstood the real meaning of the teachings of Jesus. In short, what the many missionaries teach is not in accord with the true teachings of Jesus.

Jesus as a Guru

If Jesus is seen as a guru, and the gospels as the teachings of Jesus become clear. When Jesus says to Thomas In John 14:6-7

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.

This is an explanation of the Guru student relationship. Many gurus would say the same thing to their students, but this would not exclude the possibility of other gurus. Many sayings that are taken as instructions to be exclusive and divisive by the Christian Right are in reality simply instructions to keep firm to the guru-shishya relationship.

Jesus’s words on Other Faiths

From the way that many modern Christians behave you would expect Jesus to be full of condemnation, insults, and irreverence for the Roman and Greek gods. In fact, Jesus never said anything negative about these beliefs. Having queried this on a Christian board someone eventually came up with two passages from Jesus:

(Mark 16:15 NKJV) And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. (16) He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

and

(Luke 24:46 NKJV) Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, (47) and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

First of all, compared to the vitriol that comes from many modern Christians this is pretty mild. Even so, they do appear to be quotes from Jesus himself giving what appears to be a message of exclusivity, so I investigated further.

The translations of the Bible into English come from Greek gospels, which are considered to be the oldest and most authentic representation of the gospels, that is closest to the true story of Jesus. Looking up Mark 16:14-17 in one of the online interlinear bibles we can see that the word that is translated as “does not believe” is ajpistevw, which can also be translated as “to betray a trust, be unfaithful” or to have no belief, disbelieve“. This means that the verse could equally be translated as”but those who are not true to their beliefs will be condemned“, or “but those who have no belief will be condemned“. Suddenly this is sounds much more like something a guru would say, and the message of divisiveness is gone.

Looking at Luke 24:46 In the interlinear bible, Luke 24:46 is talking about fulfillment of prophecy. The “should” in the NKJV version is not in the original Greek. In fact even later Christian transaltions acknowledge this,  in the NIV as it is translated as:

46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

In context this is obviously about fulfilment of prophecy, and is not an instruction to preach. Of course there is the implication that it will be preached, but nothing about denigrating other paths. The most that could be taken from this is to spread the word to those who are willing to hear, and without the imperative to condemn other religions. You could see this as an instruction to act like the Swaminarayan or Chinmaya organisation, spreading the word and respecting those who want to hold to other beliefs.

What Jesus doesn’t Tolerate

Jesus does show intolerance for people who profess to faith but are really filled with self-importance. He also condemns those who use religion as a pretext to make money. He was so angry about this that he turned over the money-changer’s tables in the temple. This intolerance is important for two reasons. Firstly it shows that the lack of any condemnation of the Roman or other religions is significant. It shows that Jesus is willing to express anger, even when it is dangerous to do so.

Secondly, this intolerance is perfectly in line with what we would expect from a guru. Satyam or truthfulness together with putting the spiritual above material wealth are core Hindu values. Jesus’s message again is in concordance with Hindu truths.

He who is not with me is against me

This is often used to justify intollerance and division. The context is (Matthew 12:30-32):

30 He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. 31 And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Jesus is talking about blasphemy of the holy spirit. Many Christians say that this means deliberately saying what you know to be holy is caused by the devil. In this context it means not speaking for what you know to be right is being against that thing, and is not divisive.

That this is not a general statement is confirmed by the fact that the opposing sentiment “He who is not against us is for us” is spoken by Jesus in two gospels:

(Mark 9: 38-41) 38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

and

(Luke 9:49-50) 49 And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.

50 And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.

This could easily be seen as a reference to other gurus with teachings that do not oppose but give the common truth.

What Christianity Should have Been

From what I have seen there is much more evidence to show that Jesus was a guru than that he preached exclusivity and hatred towards others. Many of Jesus’s words are exactly what you would expect an enlightened guru to say. I would recommend “The Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta” by Swami Prabhavananda as an example of the true teachings of Christ.

Christianity should have been a religion of peace and inclusivity. Just as Jesus never condemned other faiths neither would Christians. Christians would, of course, have been true to their own guru and tradition. The rules of love thy neighbour, and love God with all your heart as a condensation  of the Old Testament commandments would have been central to this true Christianity. There would have been emphasis on devotion (bhakti) and karma yoga (the parable of the lilies of the field tells people not to worry about the fruits of their labour). All the genocides, killings and violence that Christianity brought throught history would not have happened, the very idea would have been abhorrent to the followers.

Could someone follow Jesus as a guru today? Well, there are a few exceptional people who have seen Jesus’s message of peace despite the teachings of the church, so It is possible. If anyone felt called to that path I would not say it was wrong. But there are dangers, so much of the modern teaching takes people away from the true message of Jesus, and there is so little of the original to go on. I would say to someone, if you really want to understand Christianity, look at Hinduism.

17 responses to “Have Christians misunderstood Jesus?

  1. I really couldn’t have put it better myself. 🙂

    Great post!

  2. Pingback: Did my posts miss the mark? « Western Hindu

  3. Pingback: Christians, friends of Hindus « Western Hindu

  4. This is so true. When I left New Life Fellowship Church and started reading Swami Vivekananda, this is what I felt, in fact I had blogged on this topic as well. You just spoke my heart. If Jesus is to be understood one needs to read Upanishads and Gita and if not all that at least Swami Vivekananda. Only a Hindu can understand the spirit of Jesus for his theology propagated to the commoners was a condensation of Qualified Monism and Dualism of the Vedas and the theology he practiced for himself was pure Advaita philosophy (Monism) – I and My Father are One. Unfortunately he preached among the lowly people who did not have an inquisitive and analytical mind like the Hindus; so misinterpreted the entire concept of Christ. But that’s how God works for goodness is deeper but its expansion is lesser. No matter how many people turn to Christianity they will remain shallow and never reach Christ unless he is read from the Vedic point of view

  5. Jesus represents advaita whe he says ‘ Father is in me ”

    Jesus says “I am the way” That means it is His way of doing, love one another unconditionally and be forgiving. Instead Christians have idolized Jesus not giving importance to his way of life.

  6. (bangs head against the wall)

  7. @kodanda, me also ,,,,,, (not head). I don’t understand one thing . why the f . they can’t accept that , their scripture is wrong, their concept is wrong and start following the right path..

  8. I am saving this link. This was very good, thank you for sharing. I have felt the same. I feel whatever way helps you get a relationship with god is the best way to go

  9. Christianity traditionally has been the Trojan Horse of white imperialism, and anyone seeking to convert us or our children to Christianity must be given the same treatment as someone trying to sell drugs to us, or as someone attempting to have sex with our minor children. Moderate Christian sects like Catholic or Presbyterian are fine because they merely leave the door open to individual converts.

    Whenever Jehovah’s Witnesses or evangelicals try to preach to me, I openly tell them that if they persist in harassing me I will call the police. Religious persecution or harassment is an offense just like sexual harassment.

  10. Nonsense. I am rather dismayed by the false ecumenism and ignorance that is often at the heart of all these analyses of Christianity. You likely come from a Protestant background because you seem to interpret the Gospel as you please, reading in whatever you’d like to see there, with no reference to tradition. Christians have not misunderstood Christ, or at least the RCC hasn’t, given that it is virtually the only Church holding to tradition-informed interpretation. You have split Christ from the Old Testament, but Christ is incomprehensible without the OT (b/c he is the answer to original sin, and not just a guru walking around giving good advise). You have cherry-picked the Bible to backup your own desire to “get along” at the expense of the truth. Now, you don’t have to be a Christian, but to distort Christianity because it doesn’t sit comfortably in your adopted worldview is silly and intolerant. I understand that many Christians may be un-Christian, but many Hindus are un-Hindu. That is just a matter of human fact, so please don’t commit the very crime you complain about. The opposite of one error can very well be another error.

    Christ makes it abundantly clear who he is and what he is here for. To call him a guru seems like a cheap way to overcome a little bit of cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, we have here a wise man, on the other he’s claiming to be the Son of God, and if you’re Hindu, you may think “well, he’s wise, but he makes claims that, if he’s right, would shake my faith, so let’s just say he’s being figurative in his speech, preserving the wisdom he gives and saving my faith from being undermined; let’s call him a guru, one of many.”

    I don’t say this to be mean, I say this because this is Christianity. You don’t have to like it, or believe it, and perhaps you need to account for it somehow, but at least look at what the tradition says, one which extends to the OT, and from Christ onward. Without that tradition informing you, you will fall prey to what Protestants are doing (all 40,000 denominations of them). Every uneducated ignorant rube reading in whatever he wants to. Luther revolted, tossing tradition, and in effect created a heretical religion pretending to be Christianity. The Vedas or Upanishads require study. So does Scripture.

    • I understand what you are saying, but this is really based on your assumption that your view is correct. Ultimately the “reference to tradition” you speak of is just saying that you believe that what a succession of popes have said is right and what Vivekananad and Ramakrishna say is wrong. Don’t forget that these “traditions” have been changed by decree; the recent abolition of limbo being an example. Likewise it is unlikely that the current Pope would sanction the genocide of a pacifist non-Catholic movement, though pope Innocent III did just this in the crusade against the Cathars.

      but Christ is incomprehensible without the OT (b/c he is the answer to original sin, and not just a guru walking around giving good advise).

      This is almost laughable, because the concept of original sin is not in the Old Testament. You ask any Jews if they believe in original sin! It is overlayed theology that you attempts to justify.

      Now, you don’t have to be a Christian, but to distort Christianity because it doesn’t sit comfortably in your adopted worldview is silly and intolerant.

      Personally I am quite happy to say that it is a possible interpretation of what Jesus said, and if Christians are right that he supported original sin, the view of a few elect who are destined to be “saved” and the rest eternally punished then Jesus was just wrong.

      Christ makes it abundantly clear who he is and what he is here for. To call him a guru seems like a cheap way to overcome a little bit of cognitive dissonance.

      If it were “abundantly clear” than the “tradition” that you talk about would not be necessary to understand it. In fact most of what he said is entirely consistent with a guru talking to his disciples. You can look at it in the tradition of Catholicism and see one thing or Hinduism and see something else. The difference is that if the Catholic interpretation is wrong then that means the whole of Catholicism is wrong (likewise for other denominations), whereas if Hinduism’s interpretation is wrong it Just means Jesus wasn’t a guru.

      I don’t say this to be mean, I say this because this is Christianity. You don’t have to like it, or believe it, and perhaps you need to account for it somehow, but at least look at what the tradition says, one which extends to the OT, and from Christ onward. Without that tradition informing you, you will fall prey to what Protestants are doing (all 40,000 denominations of them). Every uneducated ignorant rube reading in whatever he wants to. Luther revolted, tossing tradition, and in effect created a heretical religion pretending to be Christianity. The Vedas or Upanishads require study. So does Scripture.

      I think you misunderstand what I am saying. I am not saying Christianity is wrong, but there is a chance that Jesus was a guru and most Christians misunderstood it.

      • Bingo!!

        Exactly. I can choose to imagine the existence of an omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent mickey mouse living somewhere out there in deep space but the fact still remains that im choosing to make that assumption.

        I respect the freedom to believe in what we feel is right. People are free to make their assumptions. But I have a problem when these people open their mouth in support of these “assumptions”.

  11. George Nicholas Abdulnour

    It is evident to any devotee of Christ, with spiritual clarity and intellectual honesty, that the teachings of Jesus have been taken LITERALLY by His followers, as well as by His enemies. The symbolism and metaphors, were lost on them. Thus they completely misunderstood what He had taught.

    Later on, the Roman influence on the Church, completely corrupted the spirit of Christ’s teachings. Furthermore, the Christian Church entered, wholeheartedly, into the greedy and violent avenues of power, thus turning into a worldly, imperialist institution.

    Christ was a man who became divine through total submission to the will of God. He was able to do that through the power of God’s spirit, the Holy Ghost, ( which is falsely taught to be a separate personage of the Trinity, which in itself, is a False Doctrine, and was never preached by Christ), and through his extreme intelligence, and drive, that enabled Him to focus 24/7 on spirituality, and on Godly matters.

    Christ wanted all of us to be the sons and daughters of God. Just like He became. Instead, we became the sons of daughters of corrupt and competing churches, numbering in the thousands, that teach us to hate everybody else, who is different than us. Those churches have turned into organized and efficient hate groups.

    People must be blind indeed, to have so grossly missed the true meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Or to have missed Christ’s teachings about the futility of empty faith and empty worship, which He had repeatedly called Lip Service. He taught us that no matter how often we go to church, and babble empty words, we’ll never see the Kingdom of Heaven unless the Love of God reigns supreme in our hearts. And this love must show itself in True Deeds of Mercy and Compassion towards the poor, the sick, the incarcerated and the weak, whom He had called His Brothers.

    Christ ministered to the sinners and to the downtrodden of society. He forgave the woman who sinned and challenged the hypocrites to cast the first stone if they were truly without sin. “Instead of spotting the speck in your brother’s eye, be sure to remove the 4×4 lodged in yours”!!! Today, this powerful message is completely lost on the churches and congregations. They are racist, hate the sinners instead of loving them, and preach violence and bloodshed.

    None of the Christian Churches today, represent the true spirit of Christ’s teachings. They are simply hypocritical, corrupt, power hungry, money driven, and full of hatred. They are the New Pharisees, much like the old ones. Ghandi’s immortal words to the English missionaries, say it all: “Give me your Christ, and take away your Christianity”!

    Everyone of us is called upon to re-read the words of Christ and to re-think their true meaning, and to re-live the loving spirit behind them. Only then, we all would become the Sons and Daughters of God, just like Christ has become.

    In Christ’s Love
    George Nicholas Abdulnour,

  12. I speak for myself only and not all Christians…

    I used to be a strong Christian. If I’m honest with myself, it started with a feeling of divinity coming through the reading of the bible and to make sense of it all I decided that I’d submit totally to its teachings.

    I now see it very differently. What I was doing is quoted well by Alan Watts… “The Bible is a dangerous book, and to worship it is of course a far more dangerous idolatry than bowing down to images of wood and stone. Nobody can confuse a wooden image with God, but you can very easily confuse a set of ideas with God, because concepts are more rarified and abstract.”

    He also says a similar thing to what you mention… “Jesus Christ knew he was God. So wake up and find out eventually who you really are. In our culture, of course, they’ll say you’re crazy and you’re blasphemous, and they’ll either put you in jail or in a nut house (which is pretty much the same thing). However if you wake up in India and tell your friends and relations, ‘My goodness, I’ve just discovered that I’m God,’ they’ll laugh and say, ‘Oh, congratulations, at last you found out.”

    Please note, I don’t follow Alan Watts blindly and don’t agree with everything he says (nothing is quite perfectly said, even in the ‘Holy’ Bible or any religious text (would that insult a Hindu? Saying that their text is not absolutely perfect?))

    Anyway, have a look at what Alan Watts says on the matter and make you own unique judgement on the matter. Always think for yourself when given the opportunity (often there are times when you don’t have time to research what you truly feel for yourself, leaps of faith are sometimes required but don’t ever subscribe to a certain author or institution blindly)…
    [Tandava: inline video replaced with link http://goo.gl/26bah]

  13. George Nicolas Abdulnour

    Dear Deano
    I enjoyed reading your comments. I have not heard of Alan Watts before. I am glad he is looking at the issue from that unique angle. It takes a lot of depth for people to understand the real meaning of Christ’s words.
    Thank you and let’s keep talking. You can email me directly if you want.
    Have a great evening
    George

  14. Excellent article! I was once in the Church brain washing. Luckily, I questioned everything. I set out on my own to find ‘truth’. I studied original texts, looked up words, researched, researched and more research over 20 years. I also was lead to study all faiths. And what I found was all faiths teach the same thing with different wording.

    I know many family members and church goers have me going to hell because I do not attend church every week. If that is how they chose to judge me, so be it. I have had to learn to allow them their opinions with out trying to justify my position. It won’t do any good to try.

    I just try to remember that those going and sitting in a pew every Sunday doesn’t make them a Christian; no more than sitting in a garage would make them a car.

  15. The core error of Christianity is its teaching about “the Lamb of God,” of Jesus being a blood sacrifice for our sins. Had Jesus lived 1700 years later among the Hasidic Jews of eastern Europe, that whole doctrine would never have been invented because by then the Jewish religion had long since abandoned this whole concept of blood sacrifice. It had evolved into a superior religion of ethics, compassion and philosophy.

    This whole false doctrine about him making atonement for our sins is a vicarious form of human sacrifice. This is actually the old nonsense that a person had to be butchered in offering to a deity in order to make rainfall and come and grow the crops or such ignorance.

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