A week ago, a friend of mine sent me this meme comparing “Colonizer Jesus” and “Historical Jesus” and told me that it was spreading among his friends. After hearing that, I felt like it was worth responding to and decided to write a blog post about it. So here it is!
There’s a lot to respond to in this meme, and the statements on both columns, “Colonizer Jesus” and “Historical Jesus”, also reveal a lot about the maker of the meme, who is undoubtedly a liberal (I do respect liberals, and have many liberal friends whom I love but I respectfully disagree with them on several issues!).
The concise Christian response to this meme is that there’s only one Jesus Christians worship and that’s the Jesus of the gospels. The Jesus of the gospels is not “Colonizer Jesus” and neither is He “Historical Jesus”. Both portraits of Jesus in the meme contain errors. A number of statements in “Colonizer Jesus” are also true . I am also uneasy about some of the true statements made in “Historical Jesus” such as “friend of sinners & outcasts” and “critiques religious people” because although they are true, I suspect there are behind these statements, unstated erroneous understandings of Jesus.
So in the end, I will relate the two Jesus’ of this meme to the real Jesus — the Jesus of the gospels. As a Christian, I will respond to this meme on thirteen points — clarifying, affirming and debunking different statements in it.
Christians know that Jesus isn’t white but it’s typical for artworks to depict individuals according to their culture. This is why Christian artwork in Korea or Japan will depict Jesus with Asian characteristics while Christian artwork in Africa will portray Jesus with dark skin.
An artwork, after all, is typically created to cater to the culture it was produced in. It has to be relatable with the people, its audience. As a result, artists around the world have taken liberties to change Jesus’ appearance to better match their culture.
In the case of Europeans living in the Middle Ages in particular, can we really fault them for portraying Jesus as white if they, and virtually everyone around them, was Caucasian? In addition to what I’ve said already, people in the Middle Ages also did not have the privilege of travelling around the world like we do and they didn’t possess the degree of familiarity we have about other cultures. Globalization didn’t occur yet and people were enclosed in their own cultural bubbles.
I don’t understand why the maker of the meme makes this into an issue, mentioning “patriotic” as though it were a bad thing. Patriotism, loving and appreciating your nation, is a good thing and Jesus was patriotic.
As Israel’s Messiah, Jesus loved the Jewish nation. He was also well aware of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, and that the Jew’s were God’s chosen people. This is why Jesus chose Twelve apostles for His inner circle, to represent the Twelve tribes of Israel. It is also why Jesus’ priority during His ministry was to reach out to the lost sheep of Israel (Matt 10:5-6) before ordering his disciples to reach out to the Gentiles at a later time. Jesus’ Messianic mission initially prioritized the Jews, His own people, for it was to these people that the covenantal promises were first made.
Lk:7-10 is another passage that indicates Jesus’ patriotism. In the passage, Jewish Elders successfully persuade Jesus to go to a centurion’s house and heal his servant. How did they persuade Jesus? They told him that the centurion “loves our nation, and he is the one who built our synagogues”. In this passage, Jesus was positively moved by the love and service this man had for the Jewish people.
Other passages also indicate Jesus’ love and appreciation for His nation.
In Jhn 4:22, Jesus tells a pagan woman that “salvation is from the Jews”, since God chose to reveal Himself first to the Jewish people. Salvation is then the gift of the Jews to the world because it is through the Jews that man came to know God and enter into a relationship with Him.
In Matt 23:37-39, Jesus laments the hypocrisy and hard hearts of the Jewish religious leadership. This lamentation (“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…”) stems from a love and concern for His native land and its people.
Of course, this does not mean that Jesus only cared about his own people, Jesus cared about all men. This is why He preached a love that was total, radical and universal in scope (Mk 12:29-31, Matt 5:43-48, Jhn 13:34 and Lk 10:25-37) and instructed His disciples to spread the gospel to “all nations” (Matt 28:19-20). However, it is also clear that Jesus loved the Jewish people. He was patriotic. If He weren’t, then He’d be a lousy Jewish Messiah.
Of course Jesus was a Jew but the movement He founded eventually broke away from second temple Judaism.
Christianity differed from Judaism in belief and practice (Christians believed that Jesus was the Messiah and God Incarnate, believed that they were bound by a new covenant established by Jesus, which fulfilled the old covenant of Moses, had their own sacred writings in the New Testament, etc). By and large, early Christians also began establishing and attending their own places of worship.
Yes, Jesus and the disciples were Jews but for theological and historical reasons, the early Christians began to identify themselves not as Jews but as members of a movement that followed Jesus. When this happened, the parting of ways had begun.
The meme says that Jesus was a “Jew” as if this were a striking fact but it isn’t. Christians, of course, know about this, just as they know that Jesus was a brown Middle-Eastern man. The Christian response to this part of the meme is “Of course, nothing new here”.
4. “Died For Your Sins”
Jesus did die for our sins. This is essential to Christian belief and it’s right there in the New Testament (1 Cor 15:3, Gal 2:20 and Jhn 3:16). Jesus’ sacrifice is also properly understood in the context of Jewish culture and history, in which animals were sacrificed to atone for sin (Lev 4:35). This practice was well-known and ubiquitous. This is why John, knowing that Jesus died for sins, equated Jesus to a lamb in his gospel (Jhn 1:29).
Jesus dying for our sins is also embedded in the narrative of the New Testament. Jesus Himself predicted His death in the gospels several times (Mk 9:30-32; 10:32-34; 14:3-9) and as He told Peter, this had to happen (Mk 8:31-33). He knew what His mission was and it was to “give His life for the ransom of many” (Matt 20:28). This explains His institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper (Mk 14:22-24), His agony at Gethsemane (Lk 22:39-43), His lack of resistance during His arrest (Matt 26:47-56), His calm and silence during the trial (Mk 14:53-63) and one of His final words on the cross: “It is finished” (Jhn 19:30).
If Jesus didn’t die for our sins, then the gospel becomes incomprehensible.
5. “Friends of sinners and outcasts”
Jesus was certainly a friend to sinners and outcasts but he reached out to these individuals precisely to lead them away from sin. As Jesus said: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Lk 5:31-32). This intention of Jesus is also well expressed in His Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matt 18:12-14), in which a shepherd leaves his flock of ninety-nine sheep to look for one sheep that lost his way.
So yes, Jesus loved sinners BUT He did not approve of sin. He guided others, gently but firmly, away from sin. As Jesus told the adulterous woman: “Now go and sin no more” (Jhn 8:11).
Now why did Jesus guide people away from sin? He did so precisely because He loved them. Sin harms the soul and to love means to will the good of the beloved, including and especially his or her soul. This is why it is loving to guide others away from sin. It is done out of concern for others — with their spiritual well-being in mind.
6. “Endorses Church and State”
Jesus did endorse “Church and State”.
Jesus Himself founded one Church, the Catholic Church, on St. Peter and His apostles. Jesus also promised that this Church would be guided and protected until the end of time:
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:16-19).
First, Jesus renames Simon as Peter in the passage. Name changes in the Bible are significant and indicate a new purpose or vocation God has for that individual. For example, God renamed Abram (“Father”) to Abraham (“Father of Nations”) because He intended Him to be the Father of the Jewish people. Afterwards, God blesses Abraham and Sarah with Isaac and the rest is, well, history. Likewise, Jesus renames Simon to Peter (“Rock”) because he intends Peter to be the rock or foundation of His Church: “you are rock (Peter), and on this rock I will build my Church”.
Second, Jesus gives Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” as well as the power to “bind and loose”. When Jesus does this, He is recalling Isaiah 22:20-23, in which Eliakim is named the royal steward. In Isaiah 22:20-23, Eliakim is told that he was being given “the keys of the kingdom” and that whatever he “close[s], no man will open” and that whatever he “open[s] no man will close”. In ancient Israel, the royal steward was second in command to the King. It was his duty to take care of the Kingdom while the King was away. In Matthew 16, by giving Peter the keys, Jesus, the Messianic Davidic King, names Peter His Royal Steward, making Peter in charge of His Church in His absence. By giving Peter the authority to “bind and loose” (mirroring the opening and the closing of doors in Isaiah 22:20-23), Jesus is also giving Peter administrative power. “Binding and loosing” were common words among rabbis and judges. Binding refers to the ability to make laws while loosing meant the ability to release others from laws. Ultimately, in these verses, Jesus establishes the Petrine office, or the Papacy. As Steve Ray, a teacher of biblical studies and well-known convert to Catholic Christianity, notes:
“After establishing Peter as the ‘Rock’, Jesus promises to give Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” – a reference to the steward’s keys in Isaiah 22. The Davidic throne had been vacant since the Babylonian captivity (586 BC). The archangel Gabriel announced to Mary her Son Jesus would be given ‘the throne of his father David’ (Lk 1:42). As Jesus, the new King of Israel, re-established the Davidic throne he appointed Peter to the office of royal steward to rule ‘over the house’ of the king (cf. CCC 553). Keys represent exclusive dominion and this authority was granted to Peter alone. The office of royal steward was successive in Israel. Familiar with their history, the Jews certainly understand that the office of Peter would be filled by successors as was the royal steward’s office in Judah. The steward may die, but the office continues”.
Unlike Protestant denominations, the Catholic Church can trace itself back to St. Peter and the apostles through apostolic succession, an unbroken line of succession from St. Peter (the first bishop of Rome) to Pope Francis (the current bishop of Rome and 266th successor of St. Peter). She is Christ’s one true Church.
Jesus also endorsed the State. He recognizes the authority of Caesar and the duty of the citizenry to pay taxes to the State (Mk 12:16-17).
7. “A King”
Jesus certainly is a King! The Messiah in the Old Testament is depicted as possessing three offices — King (Jer 23:5, Mic 5:2, Isa 9:6 and Zech 9:9), High Priest and Prophet. Jesus is all three.
When it comes to Jesus being a King, check out the Bible. In the New Testament, the angel Gabriel tells Mary at the Annunciation) that the “Lord God will give” her son “the throne of his father David and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Lk 1:26-38). Shortly after Jesus was born, the wise men paid their respects to Him — the King of the Jews (Matt 2: 1-2). King Herod, on the other hand, wanted to kill Jesus because he saw him as a political rival (Matt 2:3-7;12). During Jesus’ ministry, Jesus gives Peter the keys of the kingdom of Heaven (Matt 16:16-19), recalling Isaiah 22:20-23, and naming Peter His royal steward. During Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, He is portrayed as King by the gospel writers, who mention the Messianic prophecy fulfilled by the event (Matt 21:1-11). Jesus as King is also mentioned many other times during the Passion narrative: the Jews and Jesus talking with Pilate (Jhn 19:12 and Jhn 18:33-36), Roman soldiers making a “crown of thorns” for Jesus after His scourging and affixing it to his head to mock Him (Mk 15:17-19), the sign above Jesus’ cross (Mk 15:26) and the taunting by onlookers (Mk 15:32).
8. “Sends sinners to hell”
To start, I want to point out that the existence and eternity of hell is explicitly affirmed by the Bible and particularly, Jesus Himself (Mk 9:43-47, Matt 5:22; 7:13; 10:28; 23:33, 25:1-46, Lk 16:19-31 and Jhn 5:29).
If we end up in hell though, then that’s because of us, not God. God only hands out justice — whatever we deserve. If we live a life that is a “yes” to God and His laws, then we go to Heaven. If we live a life that is a “no” to God and His laws, then we go to hell. In short, we choose our eternal destiny. As C.S. Lewis says:
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened”.
Man is created with an immortal soul and is destined for eternity, particularly, to be in God’s full presence in Heaven and share in His Love (CCC 1023-1024; 1028). However, since God respects man’s free will, He allows the possibility for man to reject Him and spend eternity away from Him. Heaven and hell are logical end-states of our decisions in life. Heaven is the state of being in God’s full presence (the “beatific vision”) while Hell is a “state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God” (CCC 1033). Those who accept God and follow His laws choose Heaven and those who reject God and His laws choose hell.
Once we die, our souls become fixed on a final end that is either God or not God (i.e. sin over God). Although the orientation of a man’s soul can shift or “correct course” during his or her life, it becomes fixed upon death. God gives man sufficient grace and opportunity to repent during his or her life but upon death, this ends, and he or she will be judged.
A lot more can be said on the subject of salvation and hell. I’ll discuss these topics further in a future post. I’ll say this though, yes, the Church teaches that non-Christians can be saved, see Lumen Gentium, no. 16.
9. “Critiques Religious People”
Yes, Jesus did criticize religious people, particularly, the Pharisees, but he did not do so because He disagreed with their moral teachings, He did so because they were hypocrites (Matt 23:13-32).
Of course, we Christians can also be significant hypocrites, and if we are, then we deserve to be called out in fraternal correction for our shortcomings so we can become better Christians.
Setting aside the hypocritical behavior of the Pharisees, Jesus did affirm their moral teachings (Matt 23:1-3). This is why he instructed his audience to do as they preach and not as they do. Jesus also respected their religious position: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach”. Jesus, as a devout Jew, also preached adherence to the ten commandments (Matt 19:18-21).
10. “Subverts Empire“
I completely agree. Jesus did subvert the Empire He was born in. It’s one of the most striking aspects about Christianity. Its founder died in a lowly and embarrassing manner — crucifixion. It was also a kind of death that communicated the power of the Roman Empire. Crucifixions were public and served as a sort of billboard, not only advertising the humiliation of the crucified but also the power of the Roman authorities that were putting him or her to death.
Jesus was, in the eyes of the world, thoroughly defeated. Yet in time, as agnostic historian Tom Holland put it, His life and death would “completely upend” the assumptions of the Empire upon which he was born. Although the Romans executed Jesus, His life and death would end up dramatically changing the Empire’s values and theological assumptions. In his book, “Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World”, Holland lays out the many ways Christianity radically transformed ancient pagan society, particularly in terms of morals. I also lay out many of these changes in part 4 of my Christianity: Builder of Civilization series.
In our morals today, we are not Greek or Roman, we are Christian. The Christian revolution transformed our world and it all started with Jesus, who subverted the assumptions of the Empire he was born in.
11. “Upholds the traditional family unit.”
Jesus does affirm the traditional family unit. Jesus says that marriage is a lifelong and sexually exclusive union between one man and one woman (Mk 10:5-12).
12. “Homeless man and child refugee“
Child refugee is right but “homeless man” needs to be clarified. Jesus had a home in Nazareth. His family were not beggars (though they were lower class) and his father, Joseph, was a carpenter.
During Jesus’ ministry, however, He traveled to a lot of places throughout Palestine. As an itinerant preacher, He relied on the generosity of others during this period. He would stay in the homes of others as a guest as He traveled with His disciples from place to place. Sometimes, however, this was not always possible and He wouldn’t have a place to sleep in (Matt 8:20).
13. “Had half siblings“
Jesus didn’t have half-siblings. The “brothers” of Jesus described in the Bible refer to his cousins.
In ancient Jewish context, the Greek word for brother (adelphos) and sister (adelphi) could be used as a synonym for close relatives such as cousins.
Both the gospels and early Christian writers attest that the “brothers” of Jesus were his cousins, particularly, that they were the sons of Joseph’s brother, Clopas, and his wife, who was also named Mary (Mary was a common name during the period. There are, for example, multiple Marys in the gospels). For a detailed explanation on how the brothers of Jesus in the gospels are his cousins see footnote 5.
But sure, for the sake of argument, let’s grant that Jesus had half-siblings, meaning that Joseph and Mary had marital relations after Jesus was born (because “even if” arguments are great). This still would not mean that Jesus endorses the intentional creation of non-traditional family units.
One, as mentioned earlier, Jesus’ teachings on marriage and family are clear (Mk 10:5-12).
Two, in this scenario, Jesus’ half-siblings would not be born out of marriage but within marriage (between Joseph and Mary). As for Jesus, although he was not conceived in the traditional way, His conception was not the result of pre-marital sex or marital infidelity — it was the result of divine intervention. Furthermore, Jesus was intentionally placed in a traditional family unit, with Mary being His biological mother and Joseph (whom God intended to be Mary’s spouse) being His adopted father. Think about it. Jesus could have entered the world through Mary alone. A man is not needed for the Incarnation. Yet, Joseph was still chosen to be Jesus’ adopted father, with God sending an angel to tell Joseph in a dream to take Mary as his wife, and that, through the Holy Spirit, Mary will bear a child, who they would name Jesus (Matt 1:18-25). Here, we see God affirming the traditional family unit, with Jesus being placed under the care of one father and one mother in a lifelong, sexually exclusive union.
If there’s one good thing that this meme brought about it’s this, it’s important for us to know who the real Jesus is. Today, Jesus can be politicized by different groups of people to promote their ideology or worldview. As a result, it’s important for us to get our picture of Jesus right by reading the gospels. This way, we will be aware when someone is politicizing Jesus and know the errors in their portrait of Him when they do so.
To guard against the politicization of Jesus, I recommend reading Trent Horn’s book, Counterfeit Christs: Finding the Real Jesus Among the Imposters. This book debunks several common and false portraits of Jesus today. These false portraits make it seem like Jesus supported certain beliefs and ideologies when an understanding of the Jesus of the New Testament shows that He did not.
Before this article ends, there’s one more message I want to communicate, in light of the common perception of Jesus today as an affirming 60s hippie. The real Jesus is incredible (read the gospels and find out!) but contrary to what modern man thinks or wants him to be, He wasn’t easy or convenient. He was demanding and challenging. Jesus urges us to walk the narrow path (Matt 7:13) and encourages us to carry our cross (Lk 9:23). He loves us and calls us to love others radically, and because He was all about love, He would not approve our sins or the sins of others — because He cares about the good of our soul.
References and Footnotes
- This portion of the write-up was verified by Faithful Philosophy in personal correspondence. For those who want to learn more on how Christianity broke away from Judaism, see Daniel Boyarin’s paper, The Christian Invention of Judaism (2008).
- Steve Ray, “Peter & the Primacy in the New Testament”, par. 5. Retrieved from: https://catholicconvert.com/blog/2020/06/30/peter-the-primacy-in-the-new-testament/
- C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce.
- Cameron Bertuzzi interview with Tom Holland (2021). “Why Science and Secularism Come From Christianity”. Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/Lehk-ZSsbpI?t=2409
5. In ancient Jewish context , the Greek word for brother (adelphos) and sister (adelphi) could be used as a synonym for close relatives such as cousins.
Both the gospels and the early Christian writers attest that the brothers of Jesus mentioned in the gospels were his cousins. To begin our discussion, let us look into Matthew’s mention of the “brothers” and “sisters” of Jesus in Matthew 13:53-57 (though only the brothers are named in this passage):
When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him.
Matthew names James, Joseph, Simon and Judas as Jesus’ brothers.
The gospels, however, also mention that two of these so-called brothers were Jesus’ cousins. Matthew notes that James and Joseph were sons of another Mary (Matt 27:55-56), who was also present at Jesus’ entombment by Joseph of Arimathea (Matt 27:59-61). John identifies this Mary as “Mary the Wife of Clopas” and mentions her being present at Jesus’ crucifixion (Jhn 19:25). See the following quotes below:
Many women were there [at the cross], watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons (Matt 27:55-56).
Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb (Matt 27:59-61).
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25).
As seen in the above verses, the gospels identify two of Jesus’ brothers, James and Joseph, as sons of Mary, the wife of Clopas. Moreover, John 19:25 is further proof that the gospel writers used “adelphos” and “adelphi” broadly, because it is highly unlikely that Mary would have had another sister named Mary: “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas…”. However, this would not be surprising if Mary the wife of Clopas were a close relative, and as we shall see shortly, Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary the wife of Clopas were sisters in law.
Outside of the New Testament we also have evidence from the early Christian writers regarding “Jesus’ brothers”, illuminating this issue further.
First, Christian historian Eusebius, draws on an earlier Christian historian, Hegesippus (Hegesippus was the first person to write a “history” of the Church in the 2nd century), who attests that James and Simon (another one the four “brothers of Jesus” in Matt 13:53-57) were cousins of Jesus and states that Simon was the “son of Clopas”. He also says that Simon succeeded James as leader of the Jerusalem Church because like James, he was also a cousin of the Lord. Two, Hegesippus also attests that Clopas was the brother of Joseph. This means that Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary the mother of James, Joseph and Simon were sisters in law. Three, Hegesippus also says that Judas (another one the four “brothers of Jesus” in Matt 13:53-57) was another cousin of the Lord (as Eusebius says, “another so-called brethren”) and says that he lived a long time, surviving Roman persecution under the reign of Domitian. See the following quotes below:
“After James the Just had suffered martyrdom for the same reason as the Lord, Simeon (Simon), his cousin, the son of Clopas was appointed bishop, whom they all proposed because he was another cousin of the Lord” (Church History 4.22.4).
“After the martyrdom of James and the capture of Jerusalem which immediately followed, the story goes that those of the Apostles and of the disciples of the Lord who were still alive came together from every place with those who were, humanly speaking, of the family of the Lord, for many of them were then still alive, and they all took counsel together as to whom they ought to adjudge worthy to succeed James, and all unanimously decided that Simeon, son of Clopas, whom the scripture of the Gospel also mentions, was worthy of the throne of the diocese there. He was, so it is said, a cousin of the Saviour, for Hegesippus relates that Clopas was the brother of Joseph” (Church History 3.11-12).
“The same writer says that other grandsons of one of the so-called brethren of the Savior named Judas survived to the same reign after they had given in the time of Domitian the testimony already recorded of them in behalf of the faith in Christ. He writes thus: “They came therefore and presided over every church as witnesses belonging to the Lord’s family…” (Church history 3.32.1-6).
In the end, the gospels and the early Church fathers identify the “brothers of Jesus” — James, Joseph, Simon and Judas as his cousins. With at least three of them — James, Simon and Joseph, as being sons of Cleopas, the brother of Joseph, and another Mary.
Lastly, the fact that Jesus entrusts Mary, his mother, to John at the cross (John 19:25-27), is also evidence that he was the only child because if Jesus had siblings, then this action would have been extremely disrespectful.
See scholar Brant Pitre’s book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary: Unveiling the Mother of the Messiah, pgs. 116-126