Christians believe that God is love. There may be something about this love that the church fathers found to be so troubling that they did not want us to know about it. If you know what it could be, Christianity suddenly makes more sense, and you may be able to guess what the future religion will look like. Love is such a central theme in Christianity that this religion came to be known as the Religion of Love. According to the Gospel, Jesus said we should love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30-31).
To understand the following paragraphs, you may read the following:
Paul is the author of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. It probably was written around 54 AD. There is little doubt that Paul wrote most of this letter himself. This letter is one of the earliest written sources of Christianity. It contains a remarkable poem (1 Corinthians 13):
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.2
According to Paul, love is more important than faith and good works. But why? Christians believe the answer is that God so loved the world so much that He gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus may have died on the cross but Christians believe he still lives. The author of the Gospel of John, who probably was not the Apostle John according to several scholars, may also have written the First Epistle of John, but scholars do not agree on that either. In this epistle the author shares his views on the love of God (1 John 4:7-10):
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
You might wonder why people believe this? The idea that God loves us, and the proof being that God sent His one and only son into the world to die as a sacrifice for our sins, does not make sense. Christians claim that Adam sinned and that we are all cursed for that, but then came Jesus, who allowed himself to be crucified to save us. Humans have a religious nature, so we easily believe things that do not make sense.
Jews and Muslims do not believe that God has a son. They also do not think that Adam’s transgression justifies this sacrifice. When God allegedly ordered Abraham to offer his son, and Abraham was about to comply, God called it off. So what happened? There may be something about the relationship between God and Jesus that is not in the scriptures. The odds are that it has something to do with love because that is what Christianity is about. Ephesians gives a possible clue: ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’ (Ephesians 5:25).
Christians believe that Jesus was married to the Church. Only, the Church did not exist when Jesus lived. It is inconsistent in time, so a historian would call it an anachronism. It points at inaccurate recounting or fraud. Fraud seems more likely in this case. If it were true, the bride would still be in the Gospels. The verse suggests that it was love like in a marriage. And it asks husbands to love their wives just like Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her. That is as close as it gets. Jesus was married, and he gave himself up for his bride.
It may shed some light on Jesus’ views on marriage. Jesus may have believed that marriage is a bond forged by God. He said, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said: ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)
Here, he departed from Moses’ law: ‘Because of your hard hearts, Moses allowed you to divorce your wives. It was not like that from the beginning.’ (Matthew 19:11) That is remarkable because Jesus also said that he was not going to abolish Moses’ law. Jesus’ followers argued that it would be hard for men to love their wives in this way. Jesus then replied: ‘Not all men are able to do this, but only those to whom it has been given.’ Jesus appeared to have had a high standard on marriage that men cannot adhere to unless they are overwhelmed by love. It would be better to live in celibacy than not to meet this standard, Jesus added.
Surviving records of Jesus’ words and teachings suggest that Jesus believed women to be equal to men. The equality of the sexes is at odds with the patriarchal society Jesus lived in. Paul also saw women as equal partners in the Christian movement. The Didache, an early Christian text dating from the first century, implies equality of the sexes.
At some point, patriarchy was re-established. Scholarly analysis of the letters of the early church fathers supports this assumption. For instance, scholars think that 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is a later addition.1 It claims that the man is the head of the family. The same applies to 1 Corinthians 14:34–35. It orders women to be silent in the churches. A reason for suspecting that the latter passage is an interpolation is that several manuscripts have it at the end of the chapter instead of its canonical location. Textual critics see this as a sign that a note has been copied into the body of the text by a scribe.2
The First Epistle to Timothy argues not to permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man and that women must be quiet (1 Timothy 2:12). Paul most likely never wrote this letter, even though the letter claims he is the author. It probably is written after Paul’s death by an unknown author. The nature of these frauds suggests equality of the sexes in early Christianity.
A woman might like to see a man sacrifice himself for her love. That may be what God’s love is about. God did not seem to care for Jesus, so why should God care about you? That is indeed a troubling tiding. And, if another man ever finds himself in the same position as Jesus was, he might at first not be enticed by the proposition until he accepts that he has no choice. And, it is not hard to love someone who has taken you hostage and has complete control over you. It is a natural reaction known as Stockholm Syndrome.
Latest revision: 2 April 2022
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1. Forgery and Counter forgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics. Bart D. Ehrman (2013).
2. The Oxford Bible Commentary. John Barton; John Muddiman, eds. (2001). New York: Oxford University Press. p. 1130. ISBN 978-0-19-875500-5.