The following is Chapter One from John Remsburg's 1909 classic, *The Christ*:
by John Remsburg
The reader who accepts as divine the prevailing religion of our land may consider this criticism on “The Christ” irreverent and unjust. And yet for man’s true saviors I have no lack of reverence. For him who lives and labors to uplift his fellow men I have the deepest reverence and respect, and at the grave of him who upon the altar of immortal truth has sacrificed his life I would gladly pay the sincere tribute of a mourner’s tears. It is not against the man Jesus that I write, but against the Christ Jesus of theology; a being in whose name an Atlantic of innocent blood has been shed; a being in whose name the whole black catalogue of crime has been exhausted; a being in whose name five hundred thousand priests are now enlisted to keep
“Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne.”
Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus of humanity, the pathetic story of whose humble life and tragic death has awakened the sympathies of millions, is a possible character and may have existed; but the Jesus of Bethlehem, the Christ of Christianity, is an impossible character and does not exist.
From the beginning to the end of this Christ’s earthly career he is represented by his alleged biographers as a supernatural being endowed with superhuman powers. He is conceived without a natural father: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When, as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. i, 18).
His ministry is a succession of miracles. With a few loaves and fishes he feeds a multitude: “And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes. And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men” (Mark vi, 41–44).
He walks for miles upon the waters of the sea: “And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray; and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea” (Matt. xiv, 22–25).
He bids a raging tempest cease and it obeys him: “And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.... And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mark, iv, 37–39).
He withers with a curse the barren fig tree: “And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee, henceforth, forever. And presently the fig tree withered away” (Matt. xxi, 19).
He casts out devils: “And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil.... And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And when the devil had thrown him in the midst, he came out of him and hurt him not” (Luke iv, 33, 35).
He cures the incurable: “And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off; and they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed” (Luke xvii, 12–14).
He restores to life a widow’s only son: “And when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and much people of the city were with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came and touched the bier; and they that bore him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother” (Luke vii, 12–15).
He revivifies the decaying corpse of Lazarus: “Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.... Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already.... And when he had thus spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth” (John xi, 14–44).
At his crucifixion nature is convulsed, and the inanimate dust of the grave is transformed into living beings who walk the streets of Jerusalem: “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints, which slept, arose and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many” (Matt. xxvii, 50–53).
He rises from the dead: “And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.... And, behold, there was a great earthquake; for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door.... And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail” (Matt. xxvii, 59, 60; xxviii, 2, 9).
He ascends bodily into heaven: “And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven” (Luke xxiv, 50, 51).
These and a hundred other miracles make up to a great extent this so-called Gospel History of Christ. To disprove the existence of these miracles is to disprove the existence of this Christ.
Canon Farrar makes this frank admission: “If miracles be incredible, Christianity is false. If Christ wrought no miracles, then the Gospels are untrustworthy” (Witness of History to Christ, p. 25).
Dean Mansel thus acknowledges the consequences of the successful denial of miracles: “The whole system of Christian belief with its evidences, ... all Christianity in short, so far as it has any title to that name, so far as it has any special relation to the person or the teaching of Christ, is overthrown” (Aids to Faith, p. 3).
Dr. Westcott says: “The essence of Christianity lies in a miracle; and if it can be shown that a miracle is either impossible or incredible, all further inquiry into the details of its history is superfluous” (Gospel of the Resurrection, p. 34).
A miracle, in the orthodox sense of the term, is impossible and incredible. To accept a miracle is to reject a demonstrated truth. The world is governed, not by chance, not by caprice, not by special providences, but by the laws of nature; and if there be one truth which the scientist and the philosopher have established, it is this: THE LAWS OF NATURE ARE IMMUTABLE. If the laws of Nature are immutable, they cannot be suspended; for if they could be suspended, even by a god, they would not be immutable. A single suspension of these laws would prove their mutability. Now these alleged miracles of Christ required a suspension of Nature’s laws; and the suspension of these laws being impossible the miracles were impossible, and not performed. If these miracles were not performed, then the existence of this supernatural and miracle-performing Christ, except as a creature of the human imagination, is incredible and impossible.
Hume’s masterly argument against miracles has never been refuted: “A miracle is a violation of the laws of Nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable that all men must die; that lead cannot of itself remain suspended in the air; that fire consumes wood, and is extinguished by water; unless it be that these events are found agreeable to the laws of Nature, and there is required a violation of these laws, or, in other words, a miracle, to prevent them? Nothing is esteemed a miracle if it ever happens in the common course of Nature. It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die suddenly; because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against any miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit the appellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle” (Essay on Miracles).
Alluding to Christ’s miracles, M. Renan, a reverential admirer of Jesus of Nazareth, says: “Observation, which has never been once falsified, teaches us that miracles never happen but in times and countries in which they are believed, and before persons disposed to believe them. No miracle ever occurred in the presence of men capable of testing its miraculous character..... It is not, then, in the name of this or that philosophy, but in the name of universal experience, that we banish miracles from history” (Life of Jesus, p. 29).
Christianity arose in what was preeminently a miracle-working age. Everything was attested by miracles, because nearly everybody believed in miracles and demanded them. Every religious teacher was a worker of miracles; and however trifling the miracle might be when wrought, in this atmosphere of unbounded credulity, the breath of exaggeration soon expanded it into marvelous proportions.
To show more clearly the character of the age which Christ illustrates, let us take another example, the Pythagorean teacher, Apollonius of Tyana, a contemporary of the Galilean. According to his biographers—and they are as worthy of credence as the Evangelists—his career, particularly in the miraculous events attending it, bore a remarkable resemblance to that of Christ. Like Christ, he was a divine incarnation; like Christ his miraculous conception was announcedbefore his birth; like Christ he possessed in childhood the wisdom of a sage; like Christ he is said to have led a blameless life; like Christ his moral teachings were declared to be the best the world had known; like Christ he remained a celibate; like Christ he was averse to riches; like Christ he purified the religious temples; like Christ he predicted future events; like Christ he performed miracles, cast out devils, healed the sick, and restored the dead to life; like Christ he died, rose from the grave, ascended to heaven, and was worshiped as a god.
The Christian rejects the miraculous in Apollonius because it is incredible; the Rationalist rejects the miraculous in Christ for the same reason. In proof of the human character of the religion of Apollonius and the divine character of that of Christ it may be urged that the former has perished, while the latter has survived. But this, if it proves anything, proves too much. If the survival of Christianity proves its divinity, then the survival of the miracle-attested faiths of Buddhism and Mohammedanism, its powerful and nourishing rivals, must prove their divinity also. The religion of Apollonius languished and died because the conditions for its development were unfavorable; while the religions of Buddha, Christ, and Mohammed lived and thrived because of the propitious circumstances which favored their development.
With the advancement of knowledge the belief in the supernatural is disappearing. Those freed from Ignorance, and her dark sister, Superstition, know that miracles are myths. In the words of Matthew Arnold, “Miracles are doomed; they will drop out like fairies and witchcraft, from among the matter which serious people believe” (Literature and Dogma).
What proved the strength of Christianity in an age of ignorance is proving its weakness in an age of intelligence. Christian scholars themselves, recognizing the indefensibility and absurdity of miracles, endeavor to explain away the difficulties attending their acceptance by affirming that they are not real, but only apparent, violations of Nature’s laws; thus putting the miracles of Christ in the same class with those performed by the jugglers of India and Japan. They resolve the supernatural into the natural, that the incredible may appear credible. With invincible logic and pitiless sarcasm Colonel Ingersoll exposes the lameness of this attempt to retain the shadow of the supernatural when the substance is gone:
“Believers in miracles should not try to explain them. There is but one way to explain anything, and that is to account for it by natural agencies. The moment you explain a miracle it disappears. You should not depend upon explanation, but assertion. You should not be driven from the field because the miracle is shown to be unreasonable. Neither should you be in the least disheartenedif it is shown to be impossible. The possible is not miraculous.”
Miracles must be dismissed from the domain of fact and relegated to the realm of fiction. A miracle, I repeat, is impossible. Above all this chief of miracles, The Christ, is impossible, and does not, and never did, exist.