Christians say God is love. There may be something about this love the church fathers found troubling and did not want us to know. If you know what it is, Jesus’ deeds might make more sense. 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 wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians around 54 AD. It 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
Paul says love is more important than faith and good works. But why? Christians believe that God 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. Scholars think the Apostle John didn’t pen down the Gospel of John. That same unknown person may also have written the First Epistle of John, where he 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.
God loving us and sending His one and only son into the world to die as a sacrifice for our sins does not appear to make sense. Christians claim that Adam sinned and that we are all cursed for that, but then came Jesus, who saved us by his crucifixion. 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 ordered Abraham to offer his son, and Abraham was about to comply, God called it off. So what could have motivated Jesus?
Jews and Muslims do not believe that God has a son. They do not think that Adam’s transgression justifies such sacrifice. When God allegedly ordered Abraham to offer his son, and Abraham was about to comply, God called it off. So what happened to Jesus? 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 Christianity is the religion of love. Ephesians gives a possible clue (Ephesians 5:25):
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Christians believe Jesus married the Church. Only the Church did not exist when Jesus lived. That is inconsistent in time, so a historian would call it an anachronism. It is like saying that Cleopatra married Napoleon Bonaparte even though she lived 1,800 years before him. Jesus marrying a church that didn’t yet exist points to 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 as in 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. And men should do the same for their wives.
It sheds a different light on Jesus’ views on marriage. Jesus said 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 he was not planning to abolish Moses’ law. Jesus’ followers argued that it would be hard for men to love their wives this way. Jesus replied: ‘Not all men are able to do this, but only those to whom it has been given.’ Concerning marriage, Jesus appeared to have promoted a high standard. 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 of Jesus’ time. 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.
Over time, Christianity grew increasingly patriarchal. Scholarly analysis of the letters of the early church fathers supports this assumption. For instance, biblical scholars think 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 addition is that several manuscripts have it at the end of the chapter instead of its usual location. Textual critics see this as a sign that a scribe copied a note into the body of the text.2
If you ask yourself how scribes could justify falsifying their scriptures, here lies a possible answer. It happened in small steps that appeared reasonable to those involved. You might not consider adding a note a falsification. And once the comment is there, it becomes part of the context of the text as a clarification. And once it is part of the context and has become an instruction to read the passage in that particular way, it might not appear a falsification to include it in the text itself. In this way, a few generations can make an astounding difference. The First Epistle to Timothy reads (1 Timothy 2:11-15):
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
Most scholars now believe that Paul never wrote this letter, even though the letter claims otherwise. An unidentified Christian scrivener probably penned it down more than fifty years after Paul had died. Scholars can find that out by comparing the wording used in this epistle to Paul’s letters. The passage above suggests that women spoke publicly and felt they had authority over men. Otherwise, the author would probably not have written it. The nature of these frauds indicates equality of the sexes or perhaps even a prominent position of women in the early Christian movement.
Rather than God is love, you might better say Jesus is love. He appears to have sacrificed himself for God’s love, while God didn’t seem to care for Jesus. That is a troubling tiding. If correct, why should God care about you? And indeed, history proves that God cares little for people like you and me. So, if another man ever finds himself in the same position as Jesus once was, he might not be enthusiastic about the proposition but realise that he has no choice. And it is easy to fall in love with someone who has taken you hostage and has control over you. That is a natural reaction known as Stockholm Syndrome.
Latest revision: 14 March 2023
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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.