I am struck by how little is known around the world of the basic teachings of Christianity ─ or even the sayings of Jesus. Especially is this true in the Middle East, where people have little or no access to any tradition of spiritual value. It’s not a question of the theology, or familiarity with the library that is the Bible, or even the first-hand narratives of the new Testament. These are a luxury too far.

Let us begin at the beginning with the sayings of Jesus. Here are five:

  1. My kingdom is not of this world.[1]
  2. Inasmuch as you do it until one of the least of these, you do it unto me.[2]
  3. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.[3]
  4. The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath.[4]
  5. It is not what goes into a man’s mouth that the defiles him, but what comes out of it.[5]

All of these teachings directly and explicitly resolve everyday problems of current practice as keenly today as they did when they were first uttered. A great deal of time and trouble could be saved if they were better known, if they circulated and were accepted into customary understandings by the general population.

But I am struck, too, by how certain key, integral Christian teachings were actually uttered, not by Jesus himself, but by Saint Paul. To me, this is evidence of the reality of Paul’s encounter with the risen Jesus, just as he said it was. But then Christianity is always renewing itself and there is a Third Testament,[6] in the title of Malcolm Muggeridge’s excellent book that deals with subsequent Christian authors and saints (he instances Augustine, Blake, Pascal, Tolstoy, Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky), some of those who have continued the tradition of direct inspiration and revelation.

Let us see what Saint Paul contributes:

  1. It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.[7] (It was Jesus however who said, The truth shall make you free.[8])
  2. The letter of the law killeth, but the spirit giveth life.[9]
  3. In Christ there is neither gentile nor Jew, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female.[10]

These are the archetypal statements of human spiritual unity (though “in Christ”, Guardian-readers please note), non-literal interpretation in religion and spiritual autonomy. No mean achievement.

Moreover, there is another absolutely cardinal statement of religious truth, this time from St John in the first of his pastoral letters:

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”[11]

In terms of a spiritual survival kit, these nine statements encapsulate a great deal of what one will ever need. They comprise touchstones or reference points, lodestone and bedrock, for the existential, moment-by-moment quandaries of daily existence.

Given that the Christian churches have spent 2000 years refining, formulating and promulgating such teachings, it does not seem a tall order that we should endeavour to pass on such essential wisdom in the original words in which they were uttered by Jesus and those whom he immediately inspired.

[1] John 18:36.

[2] Matthew 25:40.

[3] Matthew 4:4.

[4] Mark 2:27.

[5] Matthew 15:17-18.

[6] Or see: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Third-Testament-Wanderings-Bonhoeffer-Kierkegaard/dp/1570755329/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1268682460&sr=1-1

[7] Galatians 5:1.

[8] John 8:32.

[9] 2 Corinthians 3:6.

[10] Galatians 3:28.

[11] 1 John 4:16.