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CNN Says Jesus Was Not Perfect

August 03, 2020
CNN Says Jesus Was Not Perfect


Dr. Craig responds to a CNN statement and an atheist blogger on whether Jesus was perfect.

KEVIN HARRIS: Boy, Dr. Craig, the blogosphere sure lit up when CNN said that Jesus wasn’t perfect. We got an article[1] here about that, that happened on CNN with a CNN reporter. It is written by The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta. He has a very popular atheist blog. He kind of gives his take on this.

During a handoff segment on CNN Monday night, anchor Don Lemon was making the point that a lot of people who are revered in our country — the Founding Fathers, President Lincoln — weren’t perfect and we need to acknowledge their imperfections when considering their legacies.

That’s where they were going. It brings up another issue you may want to comment on a little bit, and that is all the statues that are coming down in our cancel culture and in this cultural shift that's going on right now. Any thoughts on all these statues coming down?

DR. CRAIG: Well, let me say that there are two issues here to interact with: Don Lemon’s remark but then also this Hemant Mehta’s take on the Christian reaction to Lemon’s remark. However mistaken I think Don Lemon was in saying that Jesus was not perfect (that is to say, that Jesus was not sinless), nevertheless the point that Lemon was trying to make is a very, very good one, and that is that many of the people that we rightly revere in our country weren't perfect, and that we can acknowledge their imperfections honestly when we consider their legacies. He mentioned the founding fathers, Abraham Lincoln. One could mention as well Martin Luther King who is universally revered and yet was a plagiarist (he plagiarized his doctoral dissertation) and an adulterer (he was unfaithful). And yet his contributions to civil rights are still rightly honored. So we can recognize that people like George Washington or Christopher Columbus or Andrew Jackson or Theodore Roosevelt weren't perfect, had blind spots, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't honor them for the positive contribution that they did make to American culture and society.

KEVIN HARRIS: So all these statues that are coming down – Christopher Columbus in Chicago – that would relate to what you're saying as well. The history isn't perfect but we need to try to separate the issues?

DR. CRAIG: What we need to do is to recognize that all people are imperfect, have blind spots, and can be criticized. But that doesn't mean that they shouldn't be honored and remembered for the enormous positive contributions that they did make to our country.

KEVIN HARRIS: Here is what Don Lemon said about Jesus:

… Jesus Christ… if that’s who you believe in, Jesus Christ admittedly was not perfect when He was here on this earth. So why are we deifying the founders of this country, many of whom owned slaves?

That was the remark. As you can expect, there was a lot of outcry. Pastor Robert Jeffress at First Baptist of Dallas said that CNN was being heretical. Mike Huckabee said that it was blasphemous to say this. Anyway, you get the idea.

DR. CRAIG: Right, and Mehta takes great umbrage at this even though technically Jeffress and Huckabee are correct in what they say. I don't know why Lemon says that Christ “admittedly” was not perfect. Those who do believe in him admit nothing of the sort. Jesus is regarded as sinless. So I don't understand why he would say that this was something that Christians or others would admit. But this Mehta then is so angry that Christians should be offended at this remark that he himself begins to attack the personal character of Jesus and to argue that Jesus is a morally flawed individual.

KEVIN HARRIS: We could probably get technical and chase a little bit of a rabbit about this – the philosophical difficulties of perfection, of whether something is actually perfect. We often say that Jesus was blameless, and that he perfectly fulfilled the law, and he perfectly followed God, and he was the perfect sacrifice, and so on. But when we start talking about how people are perfect – is God perfect? Did he make the world perfect? and things like – then you have a lot of rabbits to chase there.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah. I wasn't going to go there, but it does seem to me that the only way in which Lemon could defend the accuracy of his remarks is to say that while Jesus was indeed sinless (and as you put it blameless) nevertheless he was admittedly not perfect in the sense that the Scriptures affirm that Jesus was perfected through suffering. This is what the book of Hebrews says. The idea there is that in his humanity – in his human nature – Jesus grew in knowledge and in virtue as he grew older from boyhood and assumed his ministry. And then through the life of suffering that he endured the author of Hebrews says he was perfected in his human nature in that way. So if you do want to get theologically technical, Lemon's remark is defensible, and he did not mean it in the sense that Mehta takes it, namely that Jesus was a morally flawed and sinful person.

KEVIN HARRIS: Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist, lists a couple of things here to show that Jesus was morally flawed. Let’s go through them real quick. He said, number one, “Jesus once got so angry he flipped over tables and benches.”

DR. CRAIG: This is almost embarrassing. He's referring here to Jesus cleansing the temple of the money changers and those who were selling sacrificial animals in the temple precincts. Jesus in his zeal for the holiness of his Father's house drove them out of the temple. This was a righteous indignation. There's no reason to think that this was sinful.

KEVIN HARRIS: The second thing he mentioned was, “Jesus cursed a fig tree because it didn’t have anything to eat — because figs weren’t in season — and then the tree died. Jesus killed a tree because He was hangry.” I wish I had a fig for every time I've heard this brought up. I would have a figgy pudding. It's almost like people want to endow this tree with a nervous system or anthropomorphic qualities on it like it was this little innocent tree with consciousness or something.

DR. CRAIG: This is where the tree huggers just get all bent out of shape and you begin to invest vegetable life with moral value and so forth. And trees are not moral agents. Certainly I think you and I would want to agree that we do have a responsibility morally as human beings to steward the Earth, care for the environment. It's wrong to have mass deforestation and pollution and so forth. We would all agree with that. But Jesus cursing this little fig tree and saying, “You shall never bear fruit again” hardly falls into that category. This was an object lesson to his disciples. The fig tree in Scripture is a symbol of the nation of Israel, and this symbolizes God's judgment upon Israel that was about to come. I think there's a deeper theological significance to this that Mehta is impervious to.

KEVIN HARRIS: Then he says, “Jesus admitted to speaking in parables that were difficult for people to understand… and then got mad when people didn’t understand them.”

DR. CRAIG: I'd like to see chapter and verse on that one. I can't think of any example in Scripture that Jesus got mad when people didn't understand his parables. His parables were intended to be brain teasers that would provoke people to think about the message of the Kingdom of God that was breaking in in his person. They were a brilliant teaching technique. He certainly didn't get upset when people didn't understand them.

KEVIN HARRIS: This next one, he says, “Jesus got snippy when people asked Him why He didn’t wash His hands.” I think he may be accusing Jesus of being insolent. Insolence would be a sin, if you are insolent. I guess that’s what he’s accusing Jesus of.

DR. CRAIG: I did look up the chapter and verse on this one.[2] I want to read you the passage and you tell me if Jesus’ reaction to the Pharisees was snippy.

Then some Pharisees . . . came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites!

So here Jesus is showing that the Pharisees themselves were breaking one of the Ten Commandments to honor their father and mother by taking the money that should have been given to the support of one's parents and saying, “Oh, well, no, this is dedicated to God and therefore I don't have to take care of my parents.” And Jesus quite rightly rebukes these hypocritical Pharisees for criticizing the disciples because they didn't wash their hands when they themselves were breaking one of the most fundamental of the Ten Commandments: honor your father and your mother.

KEVIN HARRIS: The last one that the Friendly Atheist brings up is the death of a whole herd of pigs when Jesus cast the demons out of the man and they went into the pigs and they did the swine dive over the hill and drowned. Hemant is in good company here because Bertrand Russell complained about the same thing. He was upset as well that Jesus destroyed this herd of pigs.

DR. CRAIG: Here I think again you get the sort of animal rights people all up in arms about this. In that day, you remember, swine (pigs) were regarded by Jews as unclean animals. So when the demons are cast out of this poor demon-possessed man and beg to go into the swine, Jesus allows them to do so. They go into the herd of pigs which are unclean and then being possessed by demons that precipitates them down the bank into the sea of Galilee and they all drown. I imagine Jews, hearing the story in Jesus’ day, would have thought it was very funny to see what happened to these demons that Jesus had cast out. They were sent into these unclean swine and wound up then perishing. I don't see any reason to think that Jesus casting out the demons from this man and allowing them to enter the herd of animals is a moral failure on Jesus’ part. And that’s all he’s got. Honestly, if this is what you have to turn to to show moral flaws in the person of Christ then I think you're pretty desperate. And the tone of this article, I think, shows that there is just a lot of anger here on the part of this blogger where he's using it to accuse people of being racist and bigoted and that Jesus was a “jerk” (as he puts it). There's just a lot of anger that's behind this, and I think it's really unfortunate.

KEVIN HARRIS: Well, to wrap up today, it looks to me like this could be an opportunity for us to witness for Christ and to represent him. When CNN or any big news outlet brings up something about Jesus, and in this case his character and what he's all about, perhaps it's an opportunity for us to point to Christ and really to what was so compelling to you as a young person as well – the person of Jesus. If you get people to look at that and say, “Hey, despite what you just heard on CNN or from The Friendly Atheist, look at the person of Jesus Christ.”

DR. CRAIG: Exactly. When, as a non-Christian, I first read the Gospels, I was absolutely captivated by the person of Jesus because he was so wise, so loving, and so gentle. The ethic that he taught was so elevated. This was a man that you could follow wholeheartedly. You are absolutely right. One of the most wonderful strengths of Christianity is the character and person of its founder.[3]


[2]           Matthew 15:1-7a

[3]           Total Running Time: 15:50 (Copyright © 2020 William Lane Craig)