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My Take: Jesus was a dirty, dirty God
January 5th, 2013
10:00 PM ET

My Take: Jesus was a dirty, dirty God

Editor’s note: Johnnie Moore is the author of Dirty God (#DirtyGod). He is a professor of religion and vice president at Liberty University. Keep track of him @johnnieM .

By Johnnie Moore, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Jesus was a lot more like you than you think, and a lot less clean cut than this iconic image of him that floats around culture.

You know the image. It’s the one where Jesus is walking like he’s floating in robes of pristine white followed by birds singing some holy little ditty. He’s polished, manicured, and clearly – God.

But despite the Christian belief that Jesus was both fully God and fully man, Jesus was a rather dirty God.

He was the “earthly” son of a carpenter, and life in the first-century was both more lurid and unfinished than our collective religious memory seems to recall.

To that end, I suggested recently to several astounded colleagues of mine that Jesus actually had to go to the bathroom, perhaps even on the side of the road between Capernaum and Jerusalem.

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What tipped them over the edge was when I insinuated that Jesus, like almost every other human being living in the rural world in that time, might have even had dysentery on an occasion or two.

Someone said, “You mean that Jesus might have had severe diarrhea?”

“Yep,” I replied, “That’s exactly what I mean.”

It seems like an obvious statement if you believe that Jesus was “fully God” and “fully man” (as most evangelicals believe and call the Incarnation), but to some of us it seems in the least, inappropriate, and at the most, sacrilege, to imagine Jesus in this way. We might believe that God was also man, but we picture him with an ever-present halo over his head.

But, actually, the Jesus of the Bible was more human than most people are conditioned to think.

I call this the dirty side of Jesus. He was grittier, and a lot more like us than maybe we believe, and that’s one of the reasons why so many thousands of people followed him so quickly.

They could relate to him.

He was the teacher from a small town who knew and understood the economic insecurity that was common in the first century. Times must have been rather tough for Jesus at points in his life, for he even spoke of being homeless, having to sleep on the ground with no roof over his head.

He also knew what it was like to have his message rejected and how it felt to be misunderstood. Jesus was regarded with such little significance in his hometown that one of his critics once remarked sardonically, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” Jesus eventually had to move to different city (Capernaum) because his teachings so infuriated the people living in his hometown that they drove him out of Nazareth and even tried to throw him off a cliff.

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The real Jesus had dirt underneath his fingernails and calluses on his hands. He probably smelled badly from sweating profusely in the Judean sun on his long hikes to Jerusalem, and Jesus was, without a doubt, rumored to be a hypocrite or absolutely mad for all the time he spent with prostitutes and those afflicted with leprosy.

Not exactly have a clean-cut image.

He had a rather shady reputation.

Some people thought he was a revolutionary. The religious leaders called him a heretic, and others even accused him of being a drunkard and a glutton - in no small part because of the vagabond group of disciples he had with him. No serious religious leader of his day would have ever recruited such people.

For his core 12 disciples, Jesus included a tough-as-nails, bombastic fisherman (Peter), a chief tax collector named Matthew (the most hated popular figure of the time), an eventual traitor who was stealing money out of the offering bucket (Judas), a prolific doubter (Thomas), two jocks nicknamed the “Sons of Thunder” (James and John) and Simon the Zealot, a member of a radical political party which believed in using violence to kick out the Romans.

Jesus was sarcastic, too.

He often snapped back at the Pharisees with a tone fit for late-night television, and in a terribly embarrassing moment for all those around him, Jesus even called these respected religious teachers “snakes” that were probably sons of “Satan.”

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That’s not exactly the behavior of a sweet, self-help teacher with a halo over his head.

It’s the behavior of a frustrated man who might also be divine, but sure knows how it feels for annoying people to get under his skin.

Christians believe that Jesus chose to be born fully human, too, but why?

Lots of theologians have laid out opinions over the centuries, and in their opining they have tried once again to hijack Jesus’ humanity by defining it in philosophical terms. I believe it’s simpler than the philosophy and church councils and centuries of argument.

The brilliance of Christianity is the image of a God, named Jesus, arrived with dirty hands.

Jesus came in a time period when Greco-Roman gods were housed in gigantic temples and portrayed with superhuman powers and with superhuman physiques. Gods were believed to be far away from people on their mountains or hemmed up in their sanctuaries.

Jesus arrived in defiance of this prevailing imagery.

Jesus didn’t come flinging lightning bolts from a mountaintop, or playing politics in Rome. He came to live in a typical Middle Eastern village called Nazareth that was home to a couple hundred typical people. He didn’t decide to brandish his power, but to spend most of his time with the powerless and disenfranchised. And when he started a religious movement that reshaped history, he did it in the most profound and anticlimatic way:

He let himself be killed, and then he busted open a tomb.

In Jesus we meet a Savior who understood the desire to sleep just a few more hours, and who had to control his temper sometimes. In Jesus we find a God we can relate to because he chose to relate to us.

He was the God who became dirty so that the world’s souls might be made clean.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Johnnie Moore.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Jesus • My Take

soundoff (7,741 Responses)
  1. Enoch

    I like that he uses the term conditioned because people are conditioned to believe this carp.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  2. Obama-Bin-Lyin

    There are lots of attention grabbing idiots in this world.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  3. Tim

    This guy lectures at the "Liberty University", a sort of Christian right-wing madrassah.
    Enough said.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • Nidal

      He teaches religion at the liberty university to dupes who take loans to pay for junk science. Then Obama bails them out, by printing more money. Zero (or less!) value added to society

      January 6, 2013 at 10:17 am |
  4. dreamer96

    Christians and their belief in Devine Creation...VS.....Atheist Scientist and their belief in Evolution....

    Christians believe in a magical supreme being always watching US..and the Atheist laugh at that idea....

    Funny how Scientist have found modern day people with amazing abilities.....
    Some can do complex math in their head...
    Some have photograph memories...can tell you any sentence from any page in a book they just scanned...even years later..

    Athetist believe man is evolution...so what are we going to evolve into if humans survive for a billion years?....
    What amazing ablities will we be able to do...Would those abilities seem God Like to us today...
    And since our Universe is Billions of years old acording to the scientist....and other forms of intelligent life probably exist out there....What could those other forms of intelligence do?....
    Seems like we are going in a big circle ..which came first the Chicken or the Egg???

    January 6, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • Notevangelical

      Actually, there are quite a few Christians who accept the scientific explanations of things, who are not young earth creationists, and are willing to accept the essential paradoxes of life. If the evidence of my eyes tells me something that my doctrines denies, then the problem is in the doctrines, not the evidence.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • dreamer96

      Notevangelical

      Well the Bible is full of references to God given man, and woma a mind, so we can use our own powers of iintelligence and reasoning to make a choice, to choose a path of good or evil....I like to think God warned Man, and woman, about eating from the tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, and man, and woman choose that path, a path of gaining knowledge...a long path to understanding the world around man and woman....will it end with finding God?...I know one thing..I sure did not make this world, this Universe with all it's complexity

      January 6, 2013 at 10:13 am |
  5. Notevangelical

    What's really ironic in this discussion is a simple fact: throughout history, when someone has dared to explore the idea of Jesus as fully human, the charge of heresy quickly follows. Whether it was Monty Python's "Life of Brian" or other, more distant writings, those who dared to propose that Jesus was actually a real human being with real human characteristics have always been in trouble with the Church. I've always enjoyed a good chuckle at the idea of Jesus as a 2 year old child just learning to talk back to his mother.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • MennoKnight

      Not true, we as young evangelicals grew up with Life of Brian, and while sacrilegious, we all laughed.

      January 6, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  6. George Busch

    People get offensive when you say something they deem as negative about the people they worship. Face the facts, he was born with dark hair, dark skin and dark eyes in a part of the world without much water. Of course he was dirty most of the time. And he took a Karpov every morning and watered the sand several times a day. I imagine he was sick a few times also and up chucked technicolor spit upon the countryside. He was a man – a man who preached a lot and they have turned him into a holy symbol. But in the end he was born, lived and died a man – nothing more.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • allenwoll

      .
      GB - This is the problem with worship.
      .
      In politics, it expresses itself by re-election.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • OpposingView

      Yes Jesus was a man but also more than a man. He was the direct manifestation of the eternal God in the flesh. In him was the spirit of the living God...

      January 6, 2013 at 10:10 am |
  7. Farrok

    Jesus would be sent to a for profit Prison it he were alive today in America and the rest of hit "gang" would have been shot dead by a SWAT team........................

    January 6, 2013 at 9:51 am |
  8. gryan

    A believer and a non believer were riding together on the train across the country when the non believer shouted "wouldn't it be awful for you if there is no such thing as heaven"....the believer responded quietly...yes, but won't you be sorry if there is. PONDER

    January 6, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Johnn

      Makes no sense to a non-believer. It's like a vegetarian saying to a hamburger eater, "wouldn't it be awful if it turned out that animals have souls"...? PONDER

      January 6, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • KobeAcquital

      Stay in school

      January 6, 2013 at 9:56 am |
  9. Gary

    This is great! We so badly need to be reminded of the real, human side of Jesus. He was human for a reason. Iin a time when it is so hard to believe, it helps me to believe.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  10. Blah

    Wow, they are really running out of things to write about in these religious article.
    Hail Satan!

    January 6, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  11. Jeb

    Not a bad article but the author forgets the emphasis that in spite of all the human limitations and 'dirtyness', Jesus was without sin. People might mistakenly believe that Jesus was 'just like us' when in fact we are fallen, imbued with sin and he was not.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • snowboarder

      i find it amazing that anyone can force themselves to believe the fable of "original sin" and the idea of an inherited "fallen" status of mankind.

      it truly is a testament to the effectiveness of religious indoctrination.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  12. mudhut

    He's all dirt now :)

    January 6, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  13. Mary

    CNN is beyond stupid for printing this insulting non-news item.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:49 am |
    • kneesus

      How is this insulting? If Jesus was the son of a carpenter, and he was a good son, he helped his dad. Have you ever seen a pristine carpenter?

      January 6, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • maine liberal

      Yet you read it.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:56 am |
  14. Nidal

    You probably are a lot more stupid than you think you are. Heard of the mythical animal that that s-its and eats its s-it again? It keeps going. That is exactly how religion works. Keeps losing value over time.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • Joe G.

      Nidal, relax... Religion is an effective philosophy and positive spiritual framework for many people. Has it been twisted and misused by some? Sure. Has it also been a force for good? Of course. Had people not fought wars over religion, they would have killed over something else. People don't fight over religion, they fight over resources. Note that if you went to school in the US, then you likely owe your alma mater to a Christian founder.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:59 am |
  15. Dana

    If you tell a lie long enough, people will think its the truth. And that is how religion began.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • Just Me

      Hmmm, sounds like the religion of atheism as well. If you keep saying there is no GOD, you will eventually accept it and fight so hard to convince others of it and will desperately try to convert others to atheism.

      Oh, btw, atheism is for lifeless and bitter people......I will never find myself be an atheist FOOL!!!

      January 6, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Dana

      Just Me, you are the fool. If atheism is a religion, then health is a disease. If you want to believe in fairy tales then go ahead. Just keep it to yourself.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • Burger

      Spoken like a true atheist.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • OpposingView

      Dana... No, that is how lies about Religion began. Lies which you have believed...

      January 6, 2013 at 10:06 am |
  16. Doug Cain

    Jesus was a real man and God at the same time. But while on earth he gave up most of his power but could ask for if needed, if it was the will of the father. But we don't think of that nor should we.
    If he was ever ill or dashed his foot on a rock then it was the will of the father. But the word never mention that, if it were important it would have. It was not so nothing said.
    Jesus did fill pain as we do. When lazarus died he was heart broken as we are when a loved one dies. "Jesus wept" Then he called on the father to give him the power to call him back from the dead.

    But it is not proper to bring up the things you did. Do you think that of your loved ones when you think of them? Of course not.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • Just Me

      So true, amen!

      January 6, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • kneesus

      I think it's great that he brought these up. People who prescribe to Jesus should be able to relate to him more knowing he bore more crosses than just the world altering ones but he suffered all the trapping of what it was like to be a normal person as well. People get too offended when you point out Jesus' human side when that was what made him great.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • snowboarder

      doug, there is absolutely no reason to believe any of that to be true.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:55 am |
  17. Anon

    In response to End Religion:

    The existence of Jesus was historical fact. Just like the Civil War. How about you prove that there is no God. There is more proof of the existence of God, than proof that God does not exist.

    You can choose to believe what you want. You are only hurting yourself. Good luck wherever the afterlife takes you.

    And don't you have anything better to do on a Saturday night than bash God? I can tell from the times on your posts that you were up last night with nothing better to do. GET A LIFE!

    January 6, 2013 at 9:47 am |
    • Dana

      You are a fool. There is absolutely no proof that god exists. There is more and more proof every day that the bible is a bunch a fairy tales. There is no after life so stop wasting your time thinking about it. You have one life so make the most of it.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Just Me

      Dana – You better be sure of what you are saying because at the end of your life when you die and realize you are wrong, what are you going to do? There is no escape from and your final judgment is done. Nothing and no one has been proven that the bible is fiction......where is your proof of that?

      January 6, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • snowboarder

      you just gotta love the cowards reason for belief. "you better be sure"

      January 6, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • OpposingView

      Dana… There always has been proof that God exist. Only not the kind of proof that people like you have been willing to accept. So who's problem is that? Yours...

      January 6, 2013 at 10:03 am |
    • snowboarder

      opposing, your proof of god is pure fiction.

      January 6, 2013 at 10:10 am |
  18. Culpepper

    I'd like to be a "Professor of Religion" like the author of this article, sure beats getting a real job and you can just spew whatever comes out of your mind to students paying $300 a credit hour for the privilege.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:47 am |
  19. Steve

    Not at all what I thought your piece would be, and I'm glad I read it. One of the axioms of Christianity has always been to mold our behavior and hearts to be more like Jesus, with the result that so many come off "holier than thou." Perhaps if we remembered his humanity more, as well as his divinity then that might not happen.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:47 am |
  20. dave

    you are insane.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:46 am |
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