Category Archives: bible

Why did Jesus die? Cosmic child abuse or the love of God?

We are coming up to Holy Week and Christians spend Holy Week thinking again of the events from Palm sunday to Easter Day.

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The hardest to grasp is Good Friday

Why did Jesus die?

I am quite often asked “Why did Jesus die?” One churchmember tackled me after church and I offer this as a very brief reply
It is not easy to answer and a short answer can be very trite. Yet Jesus’s death and the symbol of the cross has a very strong emotive power. (To some that weakens as humans are supposed to be rational not emotional. That is not true as we all have emotions, whether or not we wear them on our sleeves. We show our emotions over different things.) This can be seen in the symbol of the Red Cross and many World War graves.
We could answer the question medically, but that does not explain why Jesus’s death has meaning for so many.

In a sense there is a simple answer, summed up in the hymn “There is a green hill far away”;

He died that we might be forgiven
He died to make us good

In its simplicity this brings out two main things, first there is something wrong with humans as we are not good and need forgiving and Jesus enables that. This is summed up in the devalued word “sin”, which has lost its currency. However we need to consider human nature and sin. Francis Spufford in his excellent book Unapologetic sums this up as “the Human Propensity to **** things UP”. Earthy though that is, it is better than popular ideas which trivialise human badness as a “moment of madness” or similar euphemisms, or old ideas of breaking rules. There is something about all of us in that we have a knack of getting things wrong, even when we try to do them right. Unless we are self-righteous prigs we are aware that there is a sense of FAIL about us. Simply trying harder doesn’t seem to work.

So what about Jesus? Few would disagree that he was a good man and a great moral teacher, but the four gospels spend more words on his actual death and the main symbol of Christianity is the cross – one of the most ghastly means of execution ever devised. In a sense the Four Gospels do not tell us why Jesus died, but the accounts are incredibly moving and may reduce us to silence. Many composers have put them to music, and none are better than Bach with his St Matthew Passion and St John Passion.

At times explanations can be crude as with the view that God punished Jesus instead of us. This comes out with some popular preaching, but it makes God seem unreasonable. Far better is to see Jesus submitting to injustice on our behalf and showing that the way of suffering for and serving others is the way of hope..

Thus Paul in Philippians chap 2 vs 5-11.

1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Another one by Paul is to see Jesus as the reconciler and thus in 2 Corinthians 5 vs 16-21.

15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

These are two excellent passages to read.

Above all we see in the death of Jesus his sacrificial love for us and that we are to share that love. At best we only partially understand why Jesus died for us.


Creationist Ken Ham accused of child abuse

Poor Ken. He gets his own medicine and is accused of child abuse.

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Fair enough. He deceives so many with his creationist falsehoods and tries to convince Christians young and old, they can’t be proper Christians if they don’t beleive god created the world 6000 years ago.

I heard him once and he shouted done any who dared question him.

Not a nice guy

Answers magazine, Oct-Dec 2014 issue

via Creationist Ken Ham Freaks Out After Being Called Out For Child Abuse

How to deal with (Victorian) Creationists and win!

For the last fifty years Young Earth Creationism has been thriving and growing , first in the USA and then throughout the world. It has been opposed by many scientists and the wiser of Christians. At times some Christians have been too reticent.

And so the likes of Henry Morris and Ken Ham have called too many shots over recent years.

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I wonder if Christians today shouldn’t have been as forthright as Sedgwick and Buckland.

During the early 19th century a handful in Britain argued against the geologists with their vastly extended timescales. There has been no full-scale treatment of them , though the Answers in Genesis resident “Historian of Geology” did a Ph D on the “scriptural geologists” and published a eulogy – sorry book – on them The Great Turning Point. He seems to think they were wonderful scientists!

I have only managed to find forty to fifty who went into print and they all tried to rubbish the geologists and insist the earth was young.  Many were Anglican clergy, most notably the Dean of York , William Cockburn , whose activities you can read in my link at he end. As the early 19th century was the time of the Reverend Geologists like Rev. William Buckland from Oxford and


Rev. Adam Sedgwick from Cambridge,


who took it upon themselves to take on these scriptural geologists.

Both Buckland and Sedgwick were brilliant geologists, who made great geological contributions. Buckland was the first to describe a Jurassic mammal and introduced notions of the Ice Age to Britain. Sedgwick made a massive , if not leading contribution to the works out of the Cambrian, Ordovician Silurian and Devonian periods. Sedgwick also taught Darwin geology and took him on a Welsh field trip in 1831.



I have researched Buckland on the Ice Age and Sedgwick in Wales and never fail to be amazed their geological skill. This resulted in much walking over the Welsh mountains in all weather conditions. My most energetic day was a trek over the Carneddau covering 18 miles and over 6,000ft of climbing.

Sedgwick wrote A discourse on the studies of the university in 1833 in the middle of his Welsh explorations. An Anglican cleric Henry Cole took Sedgwick to task, but Sedgwick rightfully shredded him. Then in 1844 he got the same treatment from Dean Cockburn of York Minster. I think Cockburn gets the prize for being the stupidest dean ever, though there are some competitors! I won’t say whom.

Here’s the memorial plaque to Sedgwick in Dent Church


And now read the paper to see how silly Cole and Cockburn were!!


From:K O ¨ LBL-EBERT, M. (ed.) Geology and Religion: A History of Harmony and Hostility. The Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 310, 155–170. DOI: 10.1144/SP310.18 0305-8719/09/$15.00 # The Geological Society of London 2009.

Follow this link


A Short History of Design


In the last quarter of a century Design has come back into vogue with Intelligent Design, following the work of Dembski, Behe and others . Intelligent Design has failed to gain many followers but some conservative Christians still think it a better alternative than either Young Earth Creationism or Theistic Evolution.

Rather than focus on the oft-repeated and valid criticisms I shall consider the history of design since about 1660 and show that Intelligent Design has no roots in William Paley and his classic argument of two hundred years ago.

This is a paper I gave in 2006 to a Christians in Science conference


Above is the Megatherium which Buckland thought exemplified design in 1832


History of design1

Jesus was NOT a refugee

Jesus was NOT a refugee



Over the last few years there have been many refugees and migrants coming to Europe from North Africa and the Middle East. Some come as far as Britain. No one can fail to be touched by their plight. This year we have witnessed the Rohinga refugees from Burma or Myanmar escaping into Bangladesh, with stories of child rape as well as murder. Some girls are dressed in obviously boy’s clothes for their protection.

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Not that refugees are new, but for decades there have been vast numbers of refugees who may be stuck in camps for decades.

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Then, many in our world are gripped by poverty, both in Britain, but especially in what was called the Third World.

Most of us in the affluent and effluent West need challenging over these sufferings and there is much in the New Testament and the prophets in the Old Testament to goad us.

However one pair of arguments is very appealing to many, whether Christian or not. This is the claim that Jesus was born into poverty and was a refugee as his family was forced to go to Bethlehem and then flee to Egypt. This is the stuff of much Christian writing and sermons and is found in carols;

Mine are riches, from your poverty

It is a theme in Christian art as the Rembrandt shows

To question or challenge this is to fly in the face of so many sermons and so much Christian appeal to care for those in need, especially refugees. No one with even the weakest of morals could challenge the moral appeal of this, but is it actually true that Jesus was born in poverty and was a refugee. It is good for heart-strings and goading people into action, but is it actually true?

So what about it?

Was Jesus born in poverty?

Was Jesus a refugee?


If we answer “yes” to both, we can make a powerful argument for action on both fronts. But what if neither is true? Or even not quite true.

Let’s consider them with the Birth Narratives of Matthew and Luke ever present. I shall ignore questions of historicity as then would completely derail any discussion. Many use the narratives for moral arguments but hold to varying amounts of historicity or even none. I won’t consider whether Jesus was born in Bethlehem or whether the flight to Egypt took place, or Quirinius’ census. However I will consider the moral and spiritual message of the narratives and ignore historical questions.

Was Jesus born in poverty?

The Gospels are pretty lean and mean on what they say about Jesus’s home background and wealth. Joseph was a carpenter or builder, and so they asked in the synagogue at Nazareth Matt 13vs55 “Is he not the son of carpenter?” We can argue whether tekton  means builder or carpenter. It does not matter as both are artisan skills and that indicates that Jesus’s family were at least artisan and thus not in poverty. With other incidents, like going to Jerusalem at the age of twelve Luke 2 and the wedding at Cana John 2, the evidence points to being anything but in poverty. They were probably not rich, but by no means living in a state even approaching poverty. It is best to say Joseph was comfortable and probably no more than that.

The Holy Family were comfortable by the standards of their day. They did not live in a palace, but in no sense could they be called poor. Joseph and Mary would neither have clothed their family in rags or “fine raiment”.

Was Jesus a refugee?

This needs to be considered in two parts – first the journey to Bethlehem and secondly the journey to Egypt.

On the former and taking Luke’s cryptic account in Luke 2 at face value, Joseph did not flee his adopted town of Nazareth to take refuge in Bethlehem. The reason of the journey was clear. According to Luke, the governor Quirinius had ordered all to go to their home towns for the census. With the Roman authority behind it, there was no desperate flight and would have had a semblance of order. I doubt whether the journey was enjoyable, but suspect they were with others on the journey. Further the family later returned to Nazareth. The journey would not have been pleasant for Mary, but the 70 mile walk to Bethlehem would have been a Sunday School outing compared to the Rohinga fleeing from Myanmar and many other refugees in recent years, including those in the turmoil of WWII. Though that it cannot be regarded as gospel, the Proto-gospel of James written in about 150AD supports my contentions.

And so they came to Bethlehem, where undoubtedly many of Joseph’s relatives lived. It is inconceivable to go along with the traditional story and conclude they were turned away by the inn-keeper and were shunted off into an outhouse or cave. But Luke does not say that and some argue the Holy Family were given a guestroom. If Luke were right then many, but not fleeing hordes, would have made the journey

The flight to Egypt

After the magi went, they had to flee to Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath. Matthew tells us little and so the story has been embroidered by later writers. Ignoring the embroidery there was an excellent coast road through Gaza to Egypt, which would have made the journey relatively straightforward. The road was used by Roman soldiers as a main route so would have been good.

Matthew only says they “remained there until the death of Herod.” He gave no clue to where they went, but there was a large Jewish population in Alexandria. The great Jewish thinker and philosopher Philo lived there from 25BC to 50 AD. If that is where they went, there were many fellow Jews and probably kinsmen. No one would like to uproot with a tiny baby but this is nothing like the usual ghastly situation of refugees, whether we think of Ruhinga, those crossing the Med, or the many others we have read off in the last 50 years..

We may say they took refuge but were not refugees.





We can safely conclude that Jesus was not born in poverty, nor was he a refugee in the usual sense of being caught up in an enforced mass migration simply fleeing some horror.  Yes, they were forced to go to Bethlehem and then as a family had to take refuge in Egypt

If we take the New Testament picture of the holy family, we must conclude  that Jesus’s home was “mediocre” and neither rich nor poor. By virtue of being a builder or carpenter, Joseph’s family were definitely not poor, and not suffering from poverty. Joseph and Mary would not have taken Jesus to Jerusalem when he was 12  (Luke 2) if they were in poverty. Snapshots of their family life as in the miracle of Cana in Galilee (John 2) reflect an ordinary family, neither rich nor poor. Further they – and especially Jesus, were literate and knew the Scriptures. They wore neither “soft robes” nor rags.

Jesus was NOT born into poverty

So we have lost a powerful and emotional argument to care for the most deprived.

Then what?


What can we base our appeals for action on?


It is far easier to use an emotive argument like “Jesus was a refugee” than to give the straight (boring ) Christian teaching. I wonder if the appeal to Jesus as a refugee partly stems from a general acceptance of Liberation Theology, which though rightfully emphasises the need of the poor,  butfar too quickly pushes aside any concern for the rich or even the unpoor and unrich. It also moves the centre of gravity of the Gospel from Jesus Christ to the liberation stories of Exodus. I need to add here that I started reading Liberation Theology a few years after returning from Apartheid South Africa, where I acquired the nickname Comrade Mike! I found it wanting.

To base ones practice on many issues and not only the issue of refugees and migrants, one needs a basic grasp of Christian teaching in relation to ALL people, before moving to particular groups.

First is the Second Great Commandment “you shall love your neighbour as yourself” which is the basis of all Christian behaviour.


This crops up in so much of the New Testament eg I Cor 13.

Several parables eg Good Samaritan and Sheep and Goats lead on from this

Then, secondarily,  we have aspects of the Old Testament (which must always be seen in the light of the NT. No we don’t imitate Sisera or stone homosexuals etc) There are the caring aspects of Law (Exod 23 vs1 -9, & especially vs 9 You shall not oppress a resident alien .. For you were aliens in the land of Egypt)  and prophecies i.e forthright forth-telling of the prophets (e.g Isaiah 61 vs 1 – 2 which was cited by Jesus in a Nazareth synagogue – Luke 4 vs 16ff) and many of the prophets who were FORTHTELLING against wrong-doing and injustice  and were not concerned with FORE-TELLING.


However all that was enough for getting rid of slavery in about 1800  and many other things great and small, whether education, hospitals, orphans (Barnado) , Childrens Society and so many other things right across the denominations

We need to follow the example of Jesus and his teaching on love rather than making him out to be a refugee.