Leading Progressive Christian endorses murder: a closer look at Brian Zahnd

progressive christianity Sep 10, 2023
Okay, yes, slightly clickbait title, and no, this is not about abortion. This is an unavoidable logical consequence drawn from one of Zahnd's articles, which is repeated in his book Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God.
The article in question is Jesus is What God Has to Say.
And, without further ado, let's get to the article, starting with how Zahnd must, according to his interpretation, endorse murder.
"The Old Testament is not on par with Jesus. The Bible is not a flat text where every passage carries the same weight. This is why Jesus says, “You have heard it said, but I say to you…” When the church tries to embrace Biblicism by giving the Old Testament equal authority with Christ, the Father thunders from heaven, “No! This is my beloved Son! Listen to him!”
So if Moses says to practice capital punishment, to stone adulterers and other sinners, God says, “Listen to Jesus!” And Jesus says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”"
This seems to be his central thesis, from which most of the rest of the article is either introduction or further examples. But it really falls apart if you just go through the passages.
First, a quick point: why is Zahnd contrasting capital punishment with sacrifice? Is he implying that the Old Testament endorsed human sacrifice? Really?
Now, for my main point. I've heard this line before, and it ALWAYS falls apart once you actually read the text: Zahnd argues that "but I say to you" is somehow refuting or correcting the Old Testament.
Okay, let's test that out with the first one:
Matthew 5:21–22 (ESV) -“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
Okay, so, according to Zahnd's interpretation, Jesus was correcting or refuting the Old Testament, right? So, to correct or refute the Old Testament saying "do not murder," what position do you have to take?
Yeah, exactly. There is no option. If Zahnd still believes that murder is always wrong, then he CANNOT hold the interpretation that Jesus was correcting or refuting the Old Testament. Instead, however he ultimately interprets it, he has to incorporate Jesus affirming the original teaching.
So, what do I think is a better interpretation? Jesus was affirming the Old Testament, but also expanding it. While the Old Testament set a restriction over the act, Jesus expands it to include issues of the heart.
We can see very similar in the next "but I say to you:"
Matthew 5:27–28 (ESV) -“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Jesus doesn't appear to be correcting or rebuking "do not commit adultery"; indeed, He says that lust is also committing adultery. So it seems clear that Jesus does affirm the Old Testament but is expanding it, making it stricter: it is not just the act that is wrong, but the heart behind the act.
Let's keep going through Zahnd's misuse of Christ.

"The Pharisees in their desire to condemn sinners to death can quote the Bible and cite Moses. But Jesus says something else."

Let's see what Jesus actually said:
John 5:45–47 (ESV) -Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
Hey, would you look at that! Jesus endorsed Moses! Explicitly! Not partially, not minimally. He endorsed Moses without qualification.  But, let's keep going. When John the Baptist doubted, what happened?
Matthew 11:2–6 (ESV) -Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
Would you look at that... Jesus cited Isaiah as defense of who He is.
In other words: you don't have Jesus as the Messiah without Isaiah or Moses. It's not a "choose your own adventure."
The reason we believe that Jesus is the Messiah is because we believe that the Old Testament prophets spoke the truth. In fact, we don't even have a messiah for Jesus to be without the Old Testament telling us who the Messiah is and what He would do. Jesus Himself effectively teaches this, saying that Moses wrote about Him and citing Isaiah to prove He is the Messiah. But if the Old Testament authors spoke the truth and Jesus speaks the truth, why would anyone try to pit Jesus against them?
But wait, there's more!!!!
Jude 5–7 (ESV) -Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
To me, this is very clear: the first generation of Jesus's disciples (Jesus's brother, if you accept traditional authorship) believed that Jesus was not just prophecied by the Old Testament, but a very part of the events! But what does Brian say of this passage?
Well.... nothing. Not on his website, anyway. Maybe in his books somewhere?
So, there you have it: if we take Zahnd's interpretation seriously, we must conclude that he endorses murder. If he doesn't, and if he believes that Jesus didn't endorse murder, then we have to question why he keeps trying to pit Jesus against "thou shalt not murder" via "but I say to you."