The Unbearable Good News

A classic Joe Sobran column has recently been posted on his web site: The Words and Deeds of Christ. The column makes for some elevated Holy Week reading. It’s not a meditation on the Passion, mind you, but the “lapsed atheist” (as I once heard him describe himself) has put his finger on one of Christ’s most arresting aspects: the fact that, after 2,000 years, people still hate Him and find His utterances unsettling. The words of Jesus “still provoke resistance,” just as His Church does — which fact may explain why the Roman Pontiff is so singularly held up for scorn and derision this Holy Week.

What greater proof of his divinity could there be than the fact that he is still resisted, even hated, after 2,000 years? Nobody hates Julius Caesar anymore; it’s pretty hard even to hate Attila the Hun, who left a lot of hard feelings in his day. But the world still hates Christ and his Church.

Yes, Sobran does go a bit deeper than your average Joe.

He also makes for quite the apologist, a great writer who appreciates that the great Non-Writer, Christ, could say, without any fear of contradiction: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” The implications concerning Sola Scriptura are plain:

But all this raises a question (and here I apologize for offending our Protestant readers). If the Bible is to be our sole guide, why didn’t Christ himself write it? Why didn’t he even expressly tell the Apostles to write it, as far as we know? Why did he leave so much to chance?


Christ’s words, in [the Apostles’] minds, were inseparable from his deeds. He had founded an organization, which we call the Church, and he had told and shown the Apostles how to go about their mission when he was no longer visibly present. It seems to me fatally anachronistic to suppose that distributing literature, in the form of what we now call the Bible, was to be a prominent part of this mission; that was impossible before the printing press, surely a great technological advance but one that had no role in the life of the Church before the fifteenth century. The Apostles had — and could have — no conception of books as we know them, easily mass-produced and cheaply purchased. Before Gutenberg, every book had to be copied by hand, carefully preserved, awkwardly used. Reading itself was a special skill.

The life of the Church, as prescribed by Christ, was sacramental. He never told the Apostles to write books; he told them to baptize, to preach the Gospel, to forgive sins, and to commemorate the climactic moment of his ministry before the Passion, the Last Supper. He delegated his own authority to them and left much to their discretion, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That is why Catholics give so much weight to tradition; we aren’t privy to all his instructions to the Apostles, but we trust that they knew what they were doing when they formed the Church in her infancy.

In one respect Catholics are more fundamentalist than the fundamentalists. We take the words “This is my body” and “This is my blood” very literally. So did the first hearers who rejected the “hard saying” that eating his flesh and drinking his blood was necessary to salvation; he didn’t correct the impression that he meant exactly what he seemed to be saying. Even a current writer, the professedly Catholic Garry Wills, rejects the traditional Catholic doctrine that the priest who consecrates bread and wine converts them into the very body and blood of Christ. Christ’s words, as I say, still provoke resistance. And this is why I believe them.

Joe Sobran is not in good health these days, I hear. Please pray this Holy Week, that this one-time SBC conference speaker, a man we were honored to have as a guest, will forever relish the Word whose words he so appreciates.