“I Will Give unto Thee the Keys of the Kingdom”

Matthew 15:21–17:9

LDS manual: here


To show how religious people try to shift the burden of evidence through character assassination and attacks.


I sometimes say that Jesus acts like kind of a jerk during his ministry — although “kind of a jerk” is an upgrade from the complete psycho that he was in the Old Testament. But during this lesson, Jesus really goes for it, abusing people who don’t believe in him, and even those who do.

Here are the stories we’ll be tackling in today’s lesson.

  • Jesus calls a Canaanite woman a “dog”
  • Jesus criticises people who ask for evidence
  • Jesus says he will build his kingdom on a “rock” which is either Peter, or revelation, or something or other
  • Jesus says he will come back within the lifetime of people who were alive then

Main ideas for this lesson

Jesus the racist

In our first story, Jesus calls a gentile woman a dog. Imagine: A woman’s daughter has a mental illness. She hears that there’s a guy, Jesus, who’s good at this kind of thing. Desperate, she goes to him and asks for help.

Matthew 15:22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.

Ask: What might you say to her?
Answer: I’d tell her that mental illness isn’t caused by demons, and she should consult a psychiatrist.

But Jesus doesn’t even say that; he just ignores her. Finally, she annoys the disciples.

Matthew 15:23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
15:24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

This is a really important point: Jesus only ever intended to teach Jewish people. He never meant for his message to go to Gentiles, and he would have been horrified to see modern-day goyim worshipping him. Bob the WASP out in North Dakota? Pfeh. Ignore him.

Apparently Jesus didn’t realise that this was going to be a block to future growth, and it would take people with more vision than he had to realise that gentiles would be an important growth market. Diversifying your portfolio and all that. But at the time, Jesus didn’t get it.

Matthew 15:25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.
15:26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.

Ouch! Not cool, Jesus. “Sorry, lady. Jews only. They’re the children, you’re the dog.”

Matthew 15:27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.
15:28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

There’s a saviour for you: the only reason Jesus helped her is because she was able to come up with a witty riposte. What a douche.

The bread trick again

In the last lesson, Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people on some bread and fish. Now he does it again, feeding 4,000 people.

Remember how in previous lessons, there would be composite stories — two versions of the same story, side by side?

  • The creation
  • Animals aboard the Ark
  • Abraham tells Pharaoh that Sarah is his sister

Well, now we have another example. This happens when people invent two versions of a story, and the compiler basically just leaves them both in.

Asking for evidence

There’s a well-agreed-upon rule of argumentation, and it’s called the burden of evidence (or burden of proof): If someone makes a claim, the onus is upon them to provide evidence for that claim.

Religious people — as with people with extraordinary but unsupported claims — don’t try very hard to support their claim, but they expend a great deal of energy trying to dodge the burden of evidence, and shifting this burden to others.

Here’s how Jesus responds to the burden of evidence:

Matthew 16:1 The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven.
16:2 He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red.
16:3 And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?
16:4 A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.

Ask: How does Jesus respond to people who ask for evidence?
Answer: He calls them adulterers.

Okay, so the Pharisees and Sadducees are asking for the wrong kind of evidence. They want a sign from heaven, some miraculous display. Asking for this is asking to be fooled by conjuring tricks. But asking for some kind of evidence is a normal response to a grandiose claim, and if a claimant tries to dodge this most basic responsibility, then this should serve as a warning. That Jesus responds to this perfectly reasonable request with charges of adultery tells me that he knew he didn’t have the goods.

Ask: What logical fallacy is someone committing if they say that anyone who challenges them must be committing adultery?
Answer: Click here to see the answer.

Joseph Smith used this dodge as well.

When I was preaching in Philadelphia, a Quaker called out for a sign. I told him to be still. After the sermon, he again asked for a sign. I told the congregation the man was an adulterer; that a wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and that the Lord had said to me in a revelation, that any man who wanted a sign was an adulterous person. “It is true,” cried one, “for I caught him in the very act,” which the man afterwards confessed when he was baptized. (Feb. 9, 1843.) DHC 5:268. (Teachings, p. 278)

I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn other, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives. The principle is as correct as the one that Jesus put forth in saying that he who seeketh a sign is an adulterous person; and that principle is eternal, undeviating, and firm as the pillars of heaven; for whenever you see a man seeking after a sign, you may set it down that he is an adulterous man. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 156-157)

It is, of course, outrageously ironic for Joseph Smith to have accused anyone of adultery. He was making hay with women before the so-called “sealing power” had been restored, before any “revelation” on the subject, and then lying to Emma and everyone else about it.

Joseph F. Smith continued this dodge.

What is sign seeking?
“It is a wicked and adulterous generation that seeketh after a sign. Show me Latter-day Saints who have to feed upon miracles, signs and visions in order to keep them steadfast in the Church, and I will show you members of the Church who are not in good standing before God, and who are walking in slippery paths. It is not by marvelous manifestations unto us that we shall be established in the truth, but it is by humility and faithful obedience to the commandments and laws of God.
Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine

This is a strange claim. In reality, no member could ever be sustained by “miracles, signs and visions” because these things don’t happen. If they did, it wouldn’t be possible to keep people out of the church, and there would be no need for missionaries. The church strings its members along by encouraging them to interpret ordinary events as miracles.

One related point before we move on. Many Latter-day Saints say that people shouldn’t expect to see miracles because the real convincing power comes by the Spirit / feels / emotional reasoning. This quote from the D&C Student Manual ties it all together:

When we understand this process, we can see why sign seeking is condemned. Someone who demands outward evidence of the power of God as a condition for believing is seeking to circumvent the process by which faith is developed. He wants proof without price. As with the adulterer, he seeks the results without accepting the responsibility. Thus it is a wicked and adulterous generation that seeks signs.

This is shifting the “burden of proof” all over again. Why should someone pay a “price” to come up with evidence that the claimant should be providing? Why doesn’t the claimant simply produce the evidence, instead of demanding that the listener do the work for them? Would the claimant be happy to undergo “the process by which faith is developed” for any dumb claim that anyone else chooses to bring, like Muhammad or Reiki?

This is a failure to provide publicly-available evidence, directing the listener instead to unreliable evidence and emotional manipulation. It’s the same as saying, “You have to believe it first, and then you’ll believe it,” which is a tautology. It’s very commonly engaged in by believers, and it’s no surprise that they get the idea from Jesus himself. But it’s a nasty slur, and it’s poor reasoning.

“Upon this rock”

Oh, how Mormons tap-dance around this scripture. It’s like the only time they bust out the Greek.

Matthew 16:13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
16:14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
16:15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
16:16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
16:17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
16:19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

It’s tricky because Catholics use this to show that Peter was the first pope. Jesus built the church on Peter (πέτρος, petros, “rock”), you see.

How do Mormons respond? By ignoring the whole thing about Peter, and going back to the previous sentence about “revelation”. Here’s the real Gospel Doctrine manual:

Jesus said to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the rock Jesus referred to is revelation (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 274).

Protip: If your argument involves ignoring a chunk of the text, it’s probably not very good.

I don’t have a point with this because I think it’s all silly. But, if you’re an ex-Mormon, isn’t it nice not to have to take this stuff so seriously anymore?

When was Jesus to return?

I always thought of the Second Coming as something that was always meant to happen 2,000 years after Jesus. (Coincidentally, that just happens to be the time I’m alive.) But imagine my surprise: early Christian belief held that Jesus would come back during the lifetimes of people who were living then.

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
16:28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

This scripture has caused all kinds of gymnastics, creating the myth that John the beloved is still alive somewhere, Highlander style.

But if you think Mormons have it bad, spare a thought for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who pegged the time of “some standing here” to 1914. They expected Jesus to return before the last person in that generation died. Well, Jesus had better hurry, because that was 101 years ago, and counting. (The JWs would appear to have abandoned this line of thinking.)

Additional lesson ideas

What did they leave out of this lesson?

For some reason, the lesson manual skipped this part:

Matthew 15:11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

15:17 Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?
15:18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.

Ask: Why might the LDS Church wish to downplay this scripture?
Answer: Now that the Word of Wisdom has been elevated to non-negotiable doctrine status (much worse than other sins), the idea that what you eat or drink is not that big a deal would upset the order of things.

Whatever you’re eating, drinking, or smoking, I hope you’re enjoying it. Until next week, cheers!