The Jesus Sutras (Part 4): Orthodoxy Established

(For an introduction to this series, read Part 1.)

All parenthetical chapter/verse references in this post, unless otherwise specified, are from what is known as the “First Sutra,” or “The Sutra of the Teachings of the World-Honored One.” The translation is Martin Palmer’s and can be read in full in his book The Jesus Sutras.

The First Sutra is the most orthodox of all the Jesus Sutras. It affirms, for example, the doctrines of original sin and penal substitutionary atonement:

As a lamb goes silently to be slaughtered so he was silent, not proclaiming what he had done, for he had to bear in his body the punishment of the Law. Out of love he suffered so that what Adam had caused should be changed by this. (4:18-19)

The sutra also proclaims the resurrection of Jesus, and by virtue of that, the resurrection of the saints. Just as God raised Jesus from the dead, so will he raise us, if we trust in him:

While his Five Attributes passed away, he did not die but was released again after his death. Thus is it possible for even those who fail to live after death. (4:20-21)

Those who believe will be raised after death from the Yellow Springs [Underworld], every one of them. (6:14)

He died, but after three days he escaped from the hold of death, through the action of the World-Honored One’s qi. (6:21)

The Risen Lord by He Qi

He Qi, The Risen Lord, 2001. He Qi draws on the folk art traditions of his native China to paint scenes from the life of Christ.

Related to this idea is the teaching of salvation by grace through faith. This sutra acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah, the “Anointed One” of God, a title that indicates his divine favor. It is by Jesus’s merit alone, and by his gracious act on the cross, that we can enter into the presence of God.

Through the holy wonders of the Messiah all can escape becoming ghosts. All of us are saved by his works. You don’t need strength to receive him, but he will not leave you weak and vulnerable, without qi. (4:22-24)

You may have been taught that people cannot save themselves. This is why the Heavenly Honored One sends the spirit force to all places to save everyone. It goes to all that live and teaches the truth. This is different from what the various deities and spirits do. (7:36-39)

You’ve probably noticed the frequent mentions of qi, or chi. This term refers to one’s life breath, a force that animates and strengthens and stabilizes and that must be attended to continually. The concept of chi comes from ancient Chinese philosophy; today it is especially popular among Taoists, martial artists, and practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, who strive to preserve and circulate their chi through various practices and techniques. In an effort to contextualize Christianity to their host culture, the Persians (who wrote these sutras) use the term often in place of “Holy Spirit,” which may be an effective comparison in some respects but in my mind falls far too short of communicating who the Spirit is—not least of which is that s/he is a s/he, not an it. The identity of the Holy Spirit is, however, clarified in other places, where s/he is ascribed personhood and divine status alongside the other two persons of the Godhead.

Woman at the Well Chinese

Hsu San Ch’un, Christ, the Universal Savior, 1930s. It might be said that the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 became “enlightened” when Jesus revealed himself to her personally.

This sutra, like all the others in the corpus, presents Jesus as a bodhisattva who helps show others the way to liberation by shining a light on reality.

To show enlightenment he descended from Heaven and taught the true religion so truth would prevail. (7:12)

Notice how this verse specifies that Jesus descended from Heaven. This detail sets him apart from other buddhas, who start out on earth and “ascend” (realize their Buddha-nature) only after intensive psychophysical discipline. Jesus has always been all-knowing, all-wise, and in fact he had to lay aside certain aspects of his divine nature so that he could become human and open up the path to God by dying on a cross. The Jesus of the Jesus Sutras is not just one of many great teachers or awakened ones who came before; rather, he is the only true path to enlightenment, and all people are morally obligated to follow him:

Those who wander from the True Way are sinful and follow not the path of the One Sacred Spirit, but rather a false way. (8:12)

Shakyamuni Buddha said that there are 84,000 paths to enlightenment. But Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, emphasis added).

Read Part 5: The Five Skandhas.

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One Response to The Jesus Sutras (Part 4): Orthodoxy Established

  1. Pingback: The First Jesus Sutra | cdavis3blog

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