Introduction to the New Testament


Ways of reading the New Testament 1

First Century Background. 5

Social Forces in the First Century. 9

First Christians from the outside. 10

Reconnecting This Generation with Jesus. 13

The Jesus of History: His Conduct and Message. 20

Family and some immediate context 21

John the Baptist 23

Jesus’ sense of his role. 25

Choice of disciples and its cost 27

Social engagement by disciples. 32

The arrival of the rule of God and Jesus. 33

The Rule of God and forgiveness. 40

The Rule of God and Healing, Exorcism, and Miracle. 44

The crowds. 51

Jesus the sects of Judaism.. 52

Ethics and economics. 66

Ethics and the way of wisdom.. 69

Ethics as interpretation of Torah. 69

Ethics and moral seriousness. 78

Jesus and Jerusalem: His Fate and Resurrection. 79

Jesus of History: His Resurrection. 84

The Community of Paul 89

General Letters of the New Testament 106

The Synoptic Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. 110

Mark. 110

Matthew.. 114

Luke-Acts. 120


Ways of reading the New Testament

                Studies of the New Testament suffer from the isolation that many scholars have consigned it, an isolation that includes refusing to acknowledge the context of the Roman Empire, Hellenism, and first century Judaism, as well as forgetting the later history of the church. In one sense, although form-critical methods have lifted up history as their objective, those who practice it have generally not placed their work in the larger cultural context in which real people wrote and read the documents of the New Testament. We need to meditate and reflect upon the question: What was it like to become and be an ordinary Christian in the first century?

                The historical and critical method of reading the New Testaments gives priority to the question of what the text meant to the original writer and reader. It means learning about a time and place far removed from one’s own. This approach allows the text to say something unfamiliar, strange, and possibly true. It assumes some willingness to discern the truth contained in the text. It also represents a commitment to the basic foreign character of the text. It also tends to seek an objectivity to the study of the text that is, in practice, unattainable.

            Sociology and cultural anthropology have introduced further refinements to the historical and critical study of the New Testament. Such studies seek an account of the social environment of the New Testament. Therefore, it will describe occupations, tools, houses, roads, means of travel, money and economic realities, architecture, villages, and cities, laws, social classes, markets, clothes, and so on. Some will analyze the social setting in terms of class conflict. Another approach emphasizes the complex patter of thought and behavior that constitute culture. The social historian addresses to religious texts questions that seek to extract from them something different from their obvious content or intention. One danger of this approach is that it can dilute the religious and theological content of the New Testament. Yet, I am not comfortable with theological reductionism either. Theological reflection does not occur in a vacuum, suggesting that social and cultural studies can enlighten theological discourse, even if it cannot replace it. Interpreters of religious cannot limit themselves to explicit meanings if they have the objective of discovering what life was like as a believer. Human beings are more than their religious dimension. I am interested in what early Christians believed and said, but I am also interested in what else they did and what they did by means of what they said. I want to understand a set of phenomena that occurred at the end of the first century AD. This means rejecting the application of one social theory, and instead having some openness to the elements of any modern social theory that might illuminate the text and the life of early Christianity.

            Society is a process, in which personal identity and social forms are mutually and continuously created by interactions that occur by means of symbols. Culture consists of webs of significance, according to Clifford Geertz. There is some real but complex relation between social structure and symbolic structure, and religion is an integral part of the cultural web. Religion is a system of communication that exists as a subset within the multiple systems that make up the culture and subcultures of a particular society. The sort of questions we ask about the early Christian movement are those about how it worked. The comprehensive question concerning the texts is not merely what each one says, but what it does. Such an understanding may help theologians do their task.         

            The sociology of knowledge suggests a symbolic world, a system of shared meaning that enables us to live together as a group. The symbolic world shared by a group can be discerned from the things that are understood. This symbolic world shapes the customary actions of the group, while customary actions of a group shape the symbolic world. A symbolic world interprets my experience after the fact. A symbolic world also gives people the capacity to perceive, to have experiences in the first place. Symbols shape experience.

            Theological reading of the text recognizes the primary focus of the text as religious in content. It serves the interests of the community that still intentionally binds itself to the New Testament text. It can adopt an approach that simply serves the interests of the present religious community out of which the interpreter speaks.

            For example, a theological reading focuses on what the New Testament proclaims concerning what God has done to bring salvation to humanity. In Paul, that proclamation focuses on the facts of the death and resurrection of Christ set in an apocalyptic context that gives meaning and significance to those events. The cross and resurrection marks the transition from this evil age to the age to come. The age to come is the age of fulfillment. The importance of the statement that Christ died and rose in accord with scripture is that the fulfillment of the Day of the Lord has begun in Christ. Deliverance has already begun. The new age is here by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ, and Christ is the Lord of that new age. He will come in judgment to be in actuality the Lord that the Father intends him to be. Dodd summarizes the preaching of Paul in the following way. Christ fulfills the prophecies and inaugurates the new age. Jesus was a descendent of David. He died according the promise of scripture, bringing deliverance out of the present evil age. People buried him, thereby emphasizing the certainty of his death. He rose on the third day, in accord with the promises of scripture. The Father exalted him to the right of God as Son of God and Lord of all. He will return to bring judgment and salvation upon humanity, thereby holding individuals and communities accountable for what they have done with their lives.

            The early speeches in Acts have a similar pattern. The ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ inaugurates the age of fulfillment. They emphasize that he descended from David, that his ministry among the Jews was one of healing and power, that the guilt for his death rests upon the Jews, and that God raised him from the dead. The resurrection exalts Jesus to the right hand of God as Messiah over the new Israel. The life-giving power of the Spirit is the present assurance of the way in which God was at work in Christ. This age, the age of the church and the Spirit, will reach its fulfillment in the return of Christ. Therefore, these early speeches make the appeal for repentance and offer forgiveness, so that people can experience now the Spirit and the new community of believers as purified Israel.

            I do not find it helpful to think in terms of the “development” of such teaching. What we have found in comparing Paul and Luke-Acts ever so briefly is both difference and unity. We are on safer ground if we can understand the situation as one of several Christian communities that demonstrate diversity of theological expression, while also understanding that they speak and live with the same risen Lord. Further, I would note that the Christian writings we have testify to Jesus as Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man, Wisdom, Lord, and so on. In other words, once the disciples saw Jesus risen from the dead, many of the theological ideas circulating in Israel they applied to Jesus. If Israel has a Messiah, it is Jesus. If Israel has a Lord, it is Jesus. Such reasoning would not take long, given the theological context in Israel. Communities like those in Jerusalem, Syria, Galilee, the Pauline churches of Turkey and Greece, the Johannine churches of Turkey, all provide varying ways of expressing their common faith. In that sense, the New Testament canon represents an attempt at pluralism and an ecumenical spirit in the best senses of those terms.

            I would like to consider the possibility that the church of the New Testament rejects an over-emphasis upon future judgment and salvation for good reason. The church could have moved that direction. However, the church increasingly emphasized the significance of Jesus as Lord, Messiah, and Son and the life-giving power of the Spirit for the present life of individuals and for the community of believers. The future possibility of individuals and communities becoming accountable before God becomes a strong motivator for moral and ethical action in the present. Further, eschatology establishes a cosmic dimension to the hopes of the New Testament that re-focus the energy of believers beyond private salvation and toward what role one can play in bringing health, healing, and wholeness to others.

            I grant that believing so much of the fate of humanity and the world hangs upon what happened to one man, Jesus of Nazareth, in 30 AD in the Roman province of Judea, is a stretch for any reasonable person. However, I ask a question. If God is going to speak and act toward human beings, how else is God going to do it? I suppose one could suggest that God would speak and act directly to all persons, in the same way, and all the time. That would solve some problems. Yet, if we suppose that God honors our individuality and uniqueness, God honors our worth and dignity, then surely the fact that God would speak and act in the way the New Testament describes may not seem so scandalous after all.

            As we read the New Testament, the fundamental question is not whether particular incidents occurred in history precisely as reported. The question is whether the core affirmations of the preaching and teaching of the church remain powerful, persuasive to reasonable people, and can embed themselves in the lives of believers in relevant ways. As we read of the New Testament vision of God, humanity, Christian community, and the final accounting of humanity before God, we need to have the courage to suspend some of our modern perspectives and hear this ancient witness of the church. It may well be this ancient witness will speak a fresh word to us in this day.

            An ideological reading of the text claim to make explicit in its reading of the text what is implicit in all interpretation. This is a favorite of Marxist and feminist reading of the New Testament text. As readers, we do a disservice to the text of the New Testament when we adopt conspiracy theories for its production. Some authors suggest that the apostles and early church have so twisted their view of Jesus that they represent severe distortions of the person and work of Jesus. Crossan, in his massive study on the historical Jesus, suggested that the church represents a second betrayal of Jesus. He has reduced Jesus to little more than a political reformer on behalf of the peasants in Galilee. He attributes great cleverness to early Christian leaders in their willingness to invent a messiah that prophecies in the Old Testament fulfilled.

            Many authors from the 1970’s to 2000’s subsume the obvious religious and theological themes of the New Testament to social and political themes. The implication is that if the agenda of movement is not primarily social and political, it is an insignificant movement. I grant that for any movement to have lasting significance it will need to embed itself in social arrangements. Consequently, I do not find helpful to reduce our understanding of the New Testament to theology either. What I find most helpful is to utilize modern studies of psychology, sociology, economics, and politics to enhance our understanding of the New Testament. However, these disciplines need to serve and enhance the religious and theological themes that clearly dominate the message of Jesus, Paul, John, and other persons in the New Testament. We need to understand the New Testament as fully human productions. What we find in the New Testament is the universal struggle for meaning, to express our individual quest for worth and dignity. We need to understand the New Testament within its first-century Mediterranean setting and even more particularly in first century Judaism.

            An existentialist reading of the text suggests that the supernatural and mythological world of the text needs re-interpretation toward a basic orientation of the believer to the world. Thus, Bultmann removes the apocalyptic material of the New Testament from view in terms of the end of human history and suggests that each individual stands before God every moment. A final judgment for human history represents the crucial of the decisions we make every day. The primary question is what human life is all about, and to that question, the New Testament has a sufficient and authoritative answer, as long as one strips away the myth. This approach assumes priority to a modern view of nature and social world.

            A psychological reading assumes that certain psychological patterns remain constant across history and culture. It views traditional theological themes, such as death and resurrection, in terms of archetypes within the human mind to which these symbols give expression.

            From a literary perspective, the diversity of the New Testament writings must not blind us to the underlying unity we find in terms of subject-matter as it seeks to explain what God has done in Jesus of Nazareth. We need to take the texts as a whole as the primary source, rather than reduced to the status of sources for another body of information. As religious texts, they represent the reflections of the adherents of a religious movement. By religious, I mean experiences, convictions, and interpretations that the New Testament perceives connect with ultimate reality. This means it points to a way of being human as individuals and social creatures that refers to a ground or foundation and to a sense of infinity and eternity that directs us beyond the normal attention we give to finite things. We find pastoral theology here.

            Over the period of several centuries, Hebrew monotheism prepared the ground for emphasizing this world rather than a spiritual world. Such an emphasis can continue to assert humanism and moral values, but deny any transcendent basis for those values.

            Postmodern thought generally is negative regarding the possibility of human knowledge. However, constructive postmodernism agrees that perspectives limit human knowledge, while also insisting that it is possible to work out provisional understandings of reality that consider limitation. Based in process thought, it often rejects traditional conceptions of God.

First Century Background

Honor and shame was one of the pivotal values within this culture. Honor is the value or worth of a person in his or her own eyes combined with value or worth in the eyes of one’s social group. An enormous amount of human activated centered in the maintenance of the honor of one’s family or other group to which one belonged. To preserve honor was to avoid shame. To focus on honor and shame was to focus upon the standing of a person or group within some larger group.

The Roman period (63 BC to 410 AD) brought the vision for unified Mediterranean land under Rome's leadership.  This led to many positive benefits for the people of the area.  The Romans built roads to make for easier travel from one part of the empire to another.  Peace spread throughout the area.  They allowed local people to worship much as they chose, as long as their political allegiance was to Rome.  Several authors have aided my study of this period.  John Crossan has done so with his many references to early documents from this period.  I have also taken courses in Seminary that helped me understand the period better.  What I share now are the results of that study. 

The Roman emperor's during this period were Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, Nerva, and Trajan.  The great historian of this period was Josephus.  However, it must be remembered when reading him that he writes as a member of the priestly aristocracy.  He distrusted the lower classes.  Much of our information about the Palestine of this period comes from him. 

Crossan reconsiders the idea that “pax Romana” or “the peace of Rome,” ever existed in history.  In general, it can be said that the period was marked by peace in Rome.  However, there is evidence of rather constant warfare elsewhere in the empire ruled by Rome. The focus of Rome was power, it used power with unprecedented efficiency.

The Augustan Age was bureaucratic, focused on city life.  It was pro-military and anti-economic.  The patron and the client were essential to social organization.  This meant that the strict lines between upper class and lower class, as well as within those classes, was not observed all the time.  The client could gain the confidence of the patron and advance beyond his or her own class.  This occurred through personal knowledge and acquaintance.  It was a way of advancing beyond one's own class.  However, power and prestige still belonged to a relative few. The growth of the empire by conquest meant that already rigidly stratified culture swelled the ranks of lower classes through the displacement caused by war. War also led to increased taxation to support the empire.

Hellenistic ideals and realities concern the following. The city-state, the polis, was the first tool of Hellenization. The Greek language also brought unity among the educated classes. It also brought religious syncretism.

The pagan world receives overwhelmingly negative evaluation from Judaism and the New Testament. Many Roman and Greek moralists agreed with this negative assessment. Rootlessness, resentment, loss of personal sense of worth, lack of community, passivity in the presence of Roman power, aroused powerful religious responses in the pagan world. Hellenistic religion held prophecy in high regard, as the oracles of Delphy and Dodonna show. Religious power showed itself in miracles, and in particular healings and exorcisms. Many turned to astrology as a way of discerning the future and perhaps modifying it in some way. Magic offered an immediate way of manipulating threatening forces. Mystery cults received wider appeal during this period, as they gave adherents a sense of salvation from demonic powers at work in the structures of the world, and bound adherents to the god or goddess. Golden Ass by Apuleius is a romance, filled with fantastic and sometimes bawd tales, a spiritual journey from alienation to restoration. It reveals the craving of ordinary people for some power over their life, and some sense of identity in an alienating world. Those desires could be met imperfectly by magic and astrology. The mysteries offered much more. They offered renewal of individual life in the world and the promise of immortality. Syncretism was a general characteristic of Hellenistic religious experience.

Hellenistic philosophy also dominated the intellectual scene. Most popular was Stoicism. Philosophy became syncretistic, just as religion had become. Theoretical differences were less significant than practical results, especially in terms of shaping moral persons. The good life was the virtuous life. Cynicism represented an individualistic approach. The Cynic hero was Diogenes. Cynicism shaped the approach by Epictetus to Stoicism. Seneca was a court counselor. Musonius and Epictetus taught in schools.

The Hellenistic world readily admitted the need to take its classic texts and interpret them through allegory. Allegory helped the reader discover contemporary virtues beneath those simpler, ruder ones. In moral discourse, figures from the myths took on new dimensions in line with contemporary perceptions.

The New Testament borrows its symbols primarily from Judaism. It appropriates the themes of Judaism, while remaining critical of those who Jews who do not appreciate the re-interpretation of Judaism that the New Testament proposes. It shows steady hostility toward those Jews who remain unenthusiastic about Christian themes.

            Indeed, scholars have established the apocalyptic character of Jewish thought previous to 70 AD.

            Judaism also existed outside of Palestine. Jews of the period were scattered throughout the empire.  There were 17 synagogues in Rome and one million Jews in Alexandria.  In Mesopotamia, the Jewish population was so large and well organized that it became the new center for Jewish scholarship and remained so into the medieval period. The Jewish population in Egypt goes back to the 500’s BCE. Some estimate that of the seven million Jews in the Roman Empire, only two million were in Palestine. Most Jews were glad to be where they were. Israel itself was overcrowded at this time. They kept their faith by continuing to meet on Saturday in the synagogue.  They sent contributions to Jerusalem.  Gentiles were drawn by the antiquity of the Hebrew Scriptures, the monotheism, and the morality. Diaspora Jews had the benefit of greater freedom in applying the Torah wherever they lived. Assimilation into the dominant cultural context is natural and understandable. Societies can demand a high price from those who choose deviance, as either individuals or groups. Some Gentiles held the Jews in high regard. Others became irritated by their difference, and this sometimes led to hostile action. The Jews had the privileges of Hellenistic culture, but shared few of the responsibilities. Regular Sabbath observance proved disruptive for the economy in a world that did not have weekends. Anti-Semitism originated in Alexandria, at the time of Ptolemy II. In a pluralistic world, a group that kept to itself and claimed exclusive possession of the truth was bound to be resented by some. People made similar charges of misanthropy and failure to mix against Epicureans and the Christians.

            There were centers of Judaism throughout the Roman Empire, notably in Egypt, where Philo resided, the greatest of what is known as Diaspora Judaism.  Another product of this brand of Judaism was the Septuagint, which became important to Jews for him Greek was the primary language.  When Christians began to use it, however, it fell into disuse among Jews.  Other works represent this movement, especially Joseph and Aseneth and Josephus, Against Apion.  II Maccabees reflects the tension between those who were open to Greek culture and those who were not, reflecting the devotional writing, legends, and tracts of Hellenistic Judaism.  Philo was the most important of these authors, living from 15 BC to 40 AD.  He even led a delegation of Alexandrian Jews to meet with the Roman Emperor Caligula to secure further rights for Jews.  He believed Judaism to be the true philosophy, Moses the ultimate lawgiver, and the patriarchs as ethical models. As a mystic, the surface meaning of the text could never be enough. Genuine religion had to do with the contemplative experience. He shows great admiration for the Essenes. If he had not been needed by the community in active role, he might have joined their Egyptian counterparts, the Therapeutae. Instead, he allegorizes the text of Torah, so that it reveals a shimmering world of symbols pointing to mystical realities. His life is as defined by the symbols of Torah as that of any Pharisee. Yet, his understanding of Torah is very different. We find nothing of the apocalyptic or the casuistic. We find no expectation of a messiah. We find nothing of martyrdom. We find immortality instead of resurrection and righteousness looks like the classical virtues.

            Christianity benefited from Diaspora Judaism as it helped make Gentiles aware of monotheism, the high moral code of Torah, and the attraction of being the people of God.

            Jewish apologetic makes a statement about the view the group has of outsiders. It presumes a world of good will and openness to rational argument. The writing of apologetic may have been the greatest oblique compliment paid by Jews and Christians to that corrupt pagan world. Something is also said about insiders. They are people open to the wider world, eager to bridge the misunderstandings separating them from others and confident that their shared culture will enable such bridge building. One addresses apologetic to outsiders for the purpose of persuasion. It also aims at insiders, persuading insiders to make themselves intelligible to others and thereby making insiders increasingly intelligible to themselves. Apologetic strengthens community identity even as it seeks to communicate it. Yet, the symbols of the community become transformed. To make our position clear to outsiders, we must use language and symbols familiar to them. Our aim is greater understanding and tolerance.

            Palestine was a culture based on the ancient concepts of honor and shame. In this way, they organized themselves for the use of their scarce resources, especially the need for marriageable women.  Human communities use a culture of honor and shame as a way of social organization for small communities to use their meager resources.              

People responded to the strict hierarchy of the Augustan age in several ways. Bryan Wilson and Vittorio Lanternari have written on religious movements of protest among third world peoples.  The poverty and rigidity of such a system led to response among the people to overcome their poverty and to have more freedom.  Those movements that focused on the self and subjectivity were conversionist (God will change us), manipulationist (God calls us to change perception), and Thaumaturgical (God will grant particular dispensations and work specific miracles).  Those movements that focused on the world and objectivity were revolutionist (God will overturn the world), introversionist (God calls us to abandon the world), reformist (God calls us to amend the world), and utopian (God calls us to reconstruct the world).  In particular, in the first century it would have been difficult to withdraw from Greco-Roman civilization.  Cynic and Stoic teaching substantially merged at this time, and became a favorite among lower classes as a form of withdrawal.  Christianity can be viewed as building upon this movement as it gained in appeal among the people. The movement of cynics and Christianity were largely conversionist responses to the social order.

            One response was that of scribal millenialism.  This was the theology of the upper class.  It believed in the concept of a perfect age to come brought about by God's intervention.

            A second response was the peasant protester.  The peasant is defined by the outside powers that appropriate their surplus wealth.  The peasant protester caused trouble for the upper class by passive resistance most of the time.  There are seven recorded strikes in this century.

            A third response was the charismatic prophet.  This person was a wonder­worker, not tied to any established religious institutions or ritual.  Yet, this person felt free to dispense forgiveness and miracles.  It represents the conflict between personal power and institutional power.  There were ten such peasant prophets, most of whom carried the millennial dream combined with a return to the desert, symbolizing the desert wanderings of Israel, with all its political implications.

            A fourth response was the bandit and the messiah.  The social bandits have support of the peasants.  There were eleven cases, especially in 52 AD, and this movement lead to the Zealots.  There were five reported cases of messiahs, who led revolt against Rome.

            A fifth response was the rebel and revolutionary.  The sicarii were from the retaining classes.  This class led revolt against the empire from throughout its lands.  However, leadership passed to the zealots, who were from the peasant class.           

Social Forces in the First Century


            The following material is gleaned from Josephus with the help of John Dominic Crossan,  Historical Jesus.

            Lenski divides human societies into hunting arid gathering, simply horticultural, advanced horticultural, agrarian, and industrial societies.  Agrarian societies have nine classes, but there is a great gulf separating the five upper classes from the four lower ones.  The ruling class enjoyed significant property rights on all the land in the domain and received 25% of the national income.  The governing class was only one percent of the population, but received 25% of the national income.  The retainer class averaged around 5% of the population and ranged from scribes and bureaucrats to soldiers and generals.  Their function was to serve the political elite.  The merchant class confronted the governing class on the level of market rather than political authority.  They evolved from the lower classes, managing to acquire a considerable portion of the wealth, and in rare instances some political power.  The priestly class could own a substantial amount of land, around 15% in some societies.  The lower classes were subdivided as well.  The peasant class was the vast majority of the population.  The upper classes viewed this class with suspicion, trying to keep them economically at the point of barely providing the necessities of life so that they would not rebel.  The artisan class was around 5%, with their income generally slightly less that the peasant.  The unclean and degraded class were those whose origins or occupations separated them from the peasants and artisans.  The expendable class, often 5% to 10% of the population, included petty criminals and outlaws, beggars, underemployed itinerant workers, forced to live by their wits or by charity.  This class was created by the fact that in agrarian societies usually produced more people than the upper classes found it profitable to employ.

            Bryan Wilson has written a fascinating study on religious movements of protest among tribal and third world societies.  He proposes a sevenfold typology based on the diverse ways in which people respond to the world when salvation from evil is no longer found adequately within the standard religious resources of their tradition.  First, there are subjectivists who place the primary emphasis on response.  Conversionists believe that "God will change us." The world is too corrupt to change, so the only means of salvation was through a transformation of the self.  Manipulationists believe that God calls us to change perception, to view the world differently than they did before.  Thaumaturgists believe that God will grant particular dispensations and work specific miracles.  Salvation is particularistic, personal, local, and magical.  Second, objectivists place more emphasis on response to the world.  Revolutionists believe that God will overturn the world, presuming divine and imminent action, with or without human participation. Introversionists believe that God calls us to abandon the world, since it is so irredeemably evil that one must withdraw completely.  Reformists believe that God calls us to amend the world, similar to secular improvement programs.  Utopians believe that God calls us to reconstruct the world, based on divinely given principles of reconstruction and insisting on the role of human beings in making that world a reality.

First Christians from the outside

            Christianity began in obscurity. It had a founder whom the Romans executed. The chief appeal was to the outcast and marginal elements of society. It experienced persecution. Yet, within four centuries, Christianity became the dominant religious fact of Hellenistic culture. What distinguishes the movement is its claim to have actualized the good news of God to human beings. What accounts for its spread is its ability to make the claim plausible, persuasive, and even present, for others. The New Testament is a window through which we can see the movement in the period before it achieved political and cultural acceptance, yet when it had already begun to shape its distinctive self-consciousness.

            We receive a hint of the view others had of Christianity in the period of the New Testament in the silence.

            Josephus has several references that are of note.  One, in Jewish Antiquities, contains the following:


Ananus, thinking that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus had died and Albinus was still on his way, called a meeting of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus who is called Messiah, James by name, and some others.  He made the accusation that they had transgressed the law, and he handed them over to be stoned.


The purpose of this reference is to show that the trial of Jariies was illegal and that Ananus was dismissed from being High Priest because of this event, which occurred in 62 AD.  We find another reference in The Testimonium Flavianum.  It does have some Christian additions.  Without those additions, this is how the text reads:


At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man.  For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure.  And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin.  And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so.  And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.


            One of the points this evidence makes is that Jesus, and the church as it existed throughout the first century, remained on the margins of Roman civilization.  Far from being partners, the church invited people to largely abandon Roman civilization, and its system of economic, political, and military power.  As with its founder, the church remained little more than an annoying pest to the Romans.

            The Talmud makes only a few obscure references. Sanhedrin 43a, b, 103a, 107b appear to mention Jesus directly. Sanhedrin 106b might allude to him. Koheleth Rabbah 1.8 refers to heretics that might refer to Christianity, as might Sanhedrin 43a, Mekilta par. 66b. 

            The Hellenistic world has a few references, a phrase here and there, a sentence or paragraph, but over all, very little. Tacitus, an historian of the early second century, refers to the first persecution of Christians under Nero in 64 AD.  He then observes, in explaining the origin of the name "Christian":


This name originates from 'Christus' who was sentenced to death by the procurator, Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius.  This detestable superstition, which had been suppressed for a while, spread anew not only in Judea where the evil had started, but also in Rome, where everything that is horrid and wicked in the world gathers and finds numerous followers (Annals 15, 4).


            What we seem to see in the existence of the church is a group of people subverting the normal social and cultural life of the empire through its somewhat familial and anti-ethnic life as a community. When society reacts with violence against a group within the society, the reason is because those invested in the culture feel the foundation of their culture shaken. The fact of widespread persecution, regarded by both pagans and Christians as the normal state of affairs within a century of the beginning of Christianity, is powerful evidence of the sort of thing that Christianity was in self-perception as well as perceived by others. It was a new family, a third race in Christ, rather than Jew or Gentile. Its existence threatened the foundational assumptions of pagan society.

            Jews persecuted Christians because the program of the Pharisees involved intensification of the Torah, a program Jesus and the early Christians questioned. Christians welcomed Gentiles, and in doing so claimed the fulfillment of the long-cherished hopes of Israel. Christians claimed that their disregard for Torah, Temple, Land, and Temple was in accord with the divine purpose of Israel, a claim that, if accepted, would dismantle the worldview of Judaism. Christianity challenged the symbolic universe of Judaism, and in doing so brought persecution upon itself. Christians claimed that the present Temple would be destroyed and no new Temple would replace it. Christians placed no allegiance in any Land or city, thereby denying the value of the Promised Land and Jerusalem. Yet, Christians still traced their spiritual heritage to the fulfillment of promises to Abraham and Israel.

            Both Jews and Christians agreed in monotheism and creation. However, they disagreed profoundly with how God was active in the world. For the Jew, that activity was through Torah and through Israel. For Christians, if God was one and if God deals with the whole world to bring healing of a broken human world, then the work of God with Israel had reached its climax in Jesus. They claimed to be a continuation of Israel in a new situation.

            Yet, the Christian experience of salvation brought freedom, release, redemption, release, redemption, liberation, and salvation point to a transfer from one, negative condition, to another, positive, one. They claimed a new covenant with God. They were part of an entirely new creation. Paul said “All this is from God.” Their prayers did not simply recall mercies from the past, but expressed hope of their renewal in the future. They looked forward to the reign of God as a fulfillment of personal and human history. The universal offer of this vision made this salvation open to all persons. Something happened in the lives of real people. They experienced a new and unsuspected power from a new and confusing source. We cannot comprehend the New Testament if we see it as a collection of theological writings in a theoretical mode. What happened? What experience could be profound enough and powerful enough to change fearful followers into bold and prophetic leaders? What power could transform a fanatic persecutor into a fervent apostle? What unseen hand shaped, out of the unpromising.

            Religious experience is about what one perceives to be most real in life. Religious experience involves the entire human person in a response (not just projection or fantasy) to what is real. Religious experience involves an encounter with the holy, the mystery of the totally other that opens like a chasm before humans in unexpected ways, forcing a halt to the round of busyness and distraction, making impossible the repression of its presence. Genuine religious experience is acted out in a consistent pattern. This sort of experience shaped the New Testament. Christianity begins with the followers of Jesus experiencing Jesus after his death in an entirely new way. Christianity is a religion of personal encounter with the Other. The primitive Christian experience consisted in encountering the Other in the risen Jesus. Even Paul experiences Jesus as one who is alive and powerfully present in the messianic community. Paul reports that his experience of the risen Lord was not unique. Over 500 people, could say they had a similar experience. The Gospel narratives are selective and are shaped to teach the community. Scholars explain such experiences as neurosis and illusion. Like other conspiracy theories, such explanations appeal to the hermeneutics of suspicion, to the presupposition that religious texts fundamentally function to camouflage other, less noble human appetites. As with conspiracy theories, there is little in the texts themselves to support such interpretations. The source of the power and freedom the first Christians claim is the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. Paul makes it clear that the life-giving power of the Spirit and the resurrection of Jesus have an intimate connection. The conviction that Jesus is alive and powerfully active in the believing community is the implicit presupposition of all the writings of the New Testament. The Jesus of the Gospels is not simply a past figure of fond remembrance. He is living Lord confessed and experienced in the community, whose words now address believers not out of past weakness but out of present strength.

            The Book of Acts shows that early Christianity grew by the establishment of churches and Acts shows how rapidly the message sped across vast geographic areas. The rapidity of the growth of Christianity meant that his memory had to be transmitted and preserved through new and changing circumstances. This means the period after the resurrection was not a long period of tranquil recollection and interpretation carried out under tight control of a single stable community that transmitted it to other lands, languages, and cultures. The evidence points in the opposite direction: there was not longer period of tranquility. As a missionary religion, preaching was significant for its growth, some of which finds its way into the Gospels and Acts. They met for worship around the Temple, synagogue, and home. The household was a particularly successful place of worship, shown by household references in household ethics, edification, and stewardship. The primary ritual acts were baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Prayer was a important part of worship. Spiritual utterances like tongues and prophecy were also part of worship. They read scripture and preached in worship. They taught the faith in the form of catechesis. They remembered first in terms of oral tradition. We need to think of the memories contained within the family of a loved one that died. Although many sayings and deeds of the persons could be shared, what we would call exact history in terms of time and place would be lost quickly. The same is true of the Gospels. First, details of time and place for the words and deeds of Jesus quickly lost that context. Second, they would remember the decisive gesture or punch line. The stories would also fall into stereo-typical forms.

Reconnecting This Generation with Jesus

The church has the responsibility of reminding people that a man named Jesus once stood in their midst. No one who for whom Jesus becomes important can ever again become as though he or she never heard of him. That importance may have been confused recollection and superstition in such a way that it did not give strength for the journey of life. Where the demand for further and more trustworthy information about Jesus arises, we find a rather bewildering array of contradictory voices.

We might hear one voice place Jesus in the context of the history of religions and compare him to Greek traveling teachers called Cynics and to religious teachers like Buddha. Jesus becomes a teacher of asceticism and escape from the world. Jesus did away with Judaism through his Greek influences.

We might hear a second voice call place Jesus in his Jewish context and suggest he was an ascetic after the order of the Essenes or John the Baptist. One might hear some statements of Jesus to suggest asceticism, denial of the world, and detachment from the world. Jesus expressed concern for the hold that wealth, anxiety over material things, and selfishness could have on the course of one’s life. The involvement of Jesus in Galilean life, the fact that he did not join the Essene sect or the John the Baptist sect in the wilderness, and the fact that he encouraged profound love for neighbors and enemies, suggests that Jesus did not travel the path of the ascetic.

We might hear a third voice place Jesus in his Jewish context and suggest that he was a rabbi, teaching little that other rabbis had not already taught. Jesus becomes one who added little to the insights of Judaism, and the church becomes a body of people who distorted Jesus into an anti-Jewish sect.

We might hear a fourth voice place Jesus in his Jewish context and suggest he was an apocalyptic prophet proclaiming the soon arrival of the reign of God. Jesus becomes a mistaken preacher of the end whom the church transformed into a divine being at the center of a cult.

We might hear a fifth voice that considers later metaphysical speculation about the relationship between Jesus as Messiah, Son, Lord, and Logos, and his connection with God, as the true and rational truth of the message of Jesus. Jesus becomes the occasion for philosophical reflection that transcends the historical contingency of his appearance in first century Judaism.

We might hear a sixth voice that considers Jesus as the originator of a social movement against the Jewish and Roman power structures, his motive being economic, political, and religious transformation, and in particular the deliverer of the oppressed lower classes. Such an economic and political program tends to make Jesus a political or

We might a seventh voice that suggests Jesus had concern only for the soul and for spiritual matters. He then would have no concern for social and economic matters.

We might hear an eighth voice saying that Jesus did lead a social movement that was utopian. He had no means of implementing his social movement. His vision might stir sympathy for a nice idea, but it has no practical use for today.

In one sense, we might view such reflections by various thinkers as a touching and sentimental as they appear to re-discover themselves in this Jesus, or at least to have a share of Jesus. The confusion appears hopeless, however. I would not blame people who simply gave up the search for trustworthy information concerning Jesus. I would blame no one who decided that the question does not matter, although I do think such a conclusion wrong. When we make enquiry concerning Jesus, we have to do with something common to humanity in our awareness that we cannot reduce human life to biology, economics, psychology, sociology, or any other way we might engage in study of ourselves. I want to direct our attention not just toward a doctrine, but questions of life. Jesus and the apostles lived with the conviction that they had a greater destiny and a deeper meaning than their immediate time and space could contain.

I must deal with the uniqueness of the man Jesus, whom Christians claim to be the Son of God.  Christology has an urgent task. I cannot complete the task by merely repeating literally the ancient formulas and their explanation. I cannot complete the task by abolishing the ancient formulas. Christian theology has struggled with the traditional affirmations of faith.  I invite you to engage this struggle with me. We need to broaden the horizons and modes of expression.

Albrecht Ritschl took a polemical view of the difference between a view of Jesus developed from above, as over against a Christology from below.  Speculative Christology begins with the divinity of Jesus as a reality.  This was the pattern of reflection about Jesus in the church, beginning in the second century.  However, we ought not to view this distinction as opposing each other.  This is simply a question of method.  We must vindicate all statements of the significance of Jesus for us in the historical reality of Jesus.  This view presupposes that the conduct, message, and fate of Jesus had an upward thrust.  All official pronouncements about Jesus must have their foundation in the historical reality of Jesus.  Such a Christology may focus on the proclamation of Jesus, or his way to the cross, or the faith response to the proclamation of Jesus.  However, we need to reconsider the role of the resurrection in this methodology.  Many do not want to consider this.  After all, the resurrection of a dead person is so open to question.  Such a method does not replace faith or the Holy Spirit.  Nor does such a method allow us to appeal to faith and the Holy Spirit as an argument.  After all, the Easter message followed the Easter event. 

Our understanding of humanity as beings oriented toward God, and toward that which is beyond human community and individuals, is an important step in our Christology. In this sense, if God was present in a unique way, it was only in that God has definitively shown the fullness, health, and wholeness of humanity in Jesus. The hope of fulfillment found in Jewish apocalyptic finds its fulfillment in Jesus. Jesus viewed himself as the one through whom the nearness of God came into the world in a unique and universal way. We may dare to view the Incarnation as the emptying of God and the completion of humanity.

Christians know God as shown through Jesus of Nazareth.  This generation needs to establish its own connection with Jesus, unhindered by past formulations of the significance of Jesus for them.  I will grant that we begin with the Christology with which we presently live out our lives. For example, the concept of revelation has been important to the church in understanding Jesus.  To take the concept of revelation seriously is to recognize the fundamental unity between the one who reveals (God) and the one who does the revealing (Jesus).  At the same time, the whole life of Jesus recognizes the fundamental distinction between Jesus and God.  This has led to a whole series of discussions in the history of the church about the nature of the unity and the distinction between Jesus and God.  There can be little doubt that the early church took the fundamental unity of Jesus with God provided the basis for the message of the early church.  The resurrection of Jesus established this belief.

We must deal with the way in which God is present to us in Jesus of Nazareth.  He was a human being like the rest of us.  Christology generally focuses on the uniqueness of Jesus.  Christology also focuses on his relationship to God.  Most importantly, how does that relationship affect the human race? To say that only through Jesus do we know God seems arrogant.  Yet, the saving significance of Jesus lies in how the man, Jesus of Nazareth, has any bearing upon the common destiny of humanity.  In Jesus, that which is the destiny of humanity has appeared for the first time in an individual and thus has become accessible to all others only through this individual.

Many theologians argue that the Trinity and the Christology of orthodox theology is unbiblical.  Yet, the growing concentration of divinity in Christ is consistent with the direction that the New Testament takes.  Think of the way the New Testament describes Jesus.  In him is the fullness of divinity bodily.  He is all knowing, can raise the dead and work miracles, he is before all things in time and rank, and has life from within himself.  The consequence of the New Testament is that Christ can only be God.  Christ is one with the father in will, some will say.  Yet, to be one will, presupposes unity in nature.  Christ is the ambassador and representative of God.  Only a divine being can truly represent God.  My representative can only be someone with whom I share certain qualities.  Christianity concentrates its belief and values in Christ.  He alone meets the longing for a personal connection to God.  On him alone Christians concentrate all the joys of the imagination, all the suffering of the heart.  In him alone do we exhaust all feeling and imagination. 

Many theologians do not want to be bothered with the debatable proposition that in Jesus of Nazareth we have discovered the one whom most fully and universally reveals God.  It is tempting to focus on the faith of individuals or the church rather than specifically faith in Jesus.  However, we would not be faithful to the task of Christology if we do not undertake this effort.  Such a presentation does not make unnecessary faith or the Holy Spirit.  However, the appeal to faith or the Holy Spirit is not persuasive.

Christian doctrine has a Trinitarian structure. The appearance of God in Jesus of Nazareth results in reflection on God as creator, reconciler, and one who consummates the world.  To pursue Christology in this way suggests a reconstruction in terms of its origin.

            I do not want to clutter the following discussion unnecessarily with debates from the past, except for historical purposes.  Such discussions of the unity of Jesus with God often came to a debate between the divine and human nature of Jesus.  These debates went as far as they could, and were useful in their day.  Discussion of the unity of two substances simply cannot carry itself with the needs and issues of this day.  Many of these debates now seem to have an antiquated dimension to them. Rather, we must recognize that we can find the unity of Jesus with God only in the historical conduct, message, and fate of the man, Jesus of Nazareth.

            The teaching about Jesus lies at the center of every Christian theology.  This essay must face doubts.  Among those who do not believe, these are many, and we must not avoid them.  Among those who believe, doubts often arise.  This essay must satisfy the believer's own conception of what is true.  If the affirmation of faith that we know God through Jesus is not dealt with honestly and directly, it has no right to claim to be a Christian presentation.  We cannot avoid this basic task of Christology.

            The story in Acts 4 of a crippled contains the seeds of the problem for modern reflection upon the question of who Jesus is.  Peter makes the statement there that "there is salvation in no one else." Modern experience does not appear to confirm this as true.  People experience gifts of wholeness outside of a specific act of God in Jesus.  Further, as Christianity encounters other religions, there arises the issue of the justification for believing that Christianity is superior these faith systems.  Then, there is the question of truth.  Outside of evangelical and fundamentalist circles, people do not raise this issue quite so much any more.  It remains a valid one for all religions, and Christianity in particular.  Is it true that salvation is only in Jesus and if so, in what way?  Lastly, there remains the question that has plagued the church throughout the centuries, and brought into focus in this century: what about the relationship between Christians and Jews?  Because Christians have used their position of power to the disadvantage of Jews, it is only proper to look again at how the question of who Jesus is affects this issue.  For these reasons, the question of Christology, of coming to terms with who Jesus is, remains a vital one for the church today.  We are therefore dealing with the center of the church.  If the church loses its center, it simply dissolves into a mere reflection of the present age.  It becomes the church of society, rather than the church of Jesus Christ.

            The central historical question dealt with by Christology is this: how did Jesus who preached become the Jesus who was preached?  How did the one who preached about the kingdom of God become the focus of preaching?  What is the connection between the message, conduct, and fate of Jesus on the one hand with the message of the church on the other?  How can one justify such a message after the fact of public execution?  To frame the question in terms of being inclusive or exclusive is to predispose one toward the inclusive response.  A person can be inclusive in the sense that God offers salvation to all through Jesus.  The issue is in what sense does Jesus uniquely and universally reveals God to the human race. 

Every attempt to deal with Christology today must deal with the tension between what theology and faith have said about Jesus on the one hand, and what the historical study of Jesus says on the other.  For some, it is impossible.  The historical Jesus has no influence upon the church today.  These scholars usually view Jesus as an apocalyptic preacher of the imminent end of the world.  His failed message has little to do with the church of today.  In this view, only the Christ of the church has any significance.  The historical Jesus is quite meaningless to salvation or a universal message of relevance.  They find the unity of the New Testament precisely in the common experience of the early Christian movement itself.  The starting point for Christology is what the church proclaims about Jesus, and thus what theology and faith say about Jesus.  Indeed, for a long time scholars considered the idea of getting behind the preaching of the church to Jesus himself impossible.

            Yet, it appears many of us cannot rest with the assumption that the Jesus of history is quite meaningless for the church today.  As often stated in such discussions, we must admit that the faith of the church and of individual believers does not depend upon the results of historical research.  Gotthold Ephraim Lessing made a statement that confronts us with an uncomfortable truth: "Accidental, historical truths can never become evidence for necessary truths of reason." He could also say that "a broad, common or garden ditch" yawns between the two.  This is consistent with the philosophy of Leibniz.  The Enlightenment of his day tried to isolate the truths of reason, which were innate, from the truths of experience or history.  Lessing believed that the truths from the past about which we could be informed were nothing unless they related to truths as they were lived out in experience.  Abstract truth, whether historical, philosophical, or theological, cannot lead to the transformation of human life that Jesus sought.

I have a few questions.  Why can the man Jesus be the ultimate revelation of God?  Why is it that in him we know the true God?  We can find the unity of Jesus with God only in the historical conduct, message, and fate of Jesus.  As such, the traditional approach in Christology, in which the focus is on the relation within the Trinity, cannot be the place to begin.  As A. Ritschl has pointed out, there is no way of knowing the "Son" apart from his historical existence.  This view presupposes that the conduct, message, and fate of Jesus have openness to the reality of God.  We must show the foundation of confessional statements as in the historical person of Jesus.

            Christology must show that in Jesus of Nazareth there is reason to believe that here is the one supreme case of the fulfillment of human reality.  The overcoming of alienation in human sin became real in Jesus of Nazareth.  The church has witnessed to the unity of God in that the creator is the some God revealed in Jesus.  The saving work of God becomes an expression of God's creative work.  When Paul compares Adam to Christ, he testifies to the universal significance of Jesus. 

            The view that an historical event can have universal significance is itself debatable. We must presume that the will of God for bringing healing and wholeness to humanity is universal. Thus, people who do not have contact with an historical event of universal significance must still experience sufficient grace to bring their lives to the fullness possible in that space and time. The point of departure for Christian preaching is connection with the historical Jesus of Nazareth, and therefore with an ascending Christology; a Christology from below. Christological reflection cannot begin at the “end” determined by the later theology of the church. The individual churches and individual Christians may interpret adequately or inadequately what occurred historically in Jesus. Where it is interpreted adequately and legitimately in a profession of faith and unites people in this profession, there we have the Christianity of the church. The belief of ordinary Christians often carries mythological connotations, no matter how orthodox their formulas are. Those who demythologize such classical Christian teaching do not have the same understanding of Christian teaching as the piety influenced by myth. Others rejected orthodox formulas because they misunderstood them, even while they may have genuine faith at some level.

            How do people who do not believe in Jesus as the Christ come to this faith? People make this decision before the tribunal of conscience, truth, and moral decision. It appears one must be at a point of synthesis is necessary for faith in order to see the objective ground of one’s faith in Jesus, which then justifies the willingness to believe. Such assertion refers to a definite historical person and to historical events. It implies historical assertions that conscience and integrity of believers require them to investigate. Christological assertions have a historical dimension. These events are of decisive importance for the existence of humanity. I recognize that some emancipate themselves from the burden of history, suggesting the unnecessary character of a historically contingent ground of Christian faith. In such a conception, faith itself is the first and last thing. Faith does not contain within it an element distinguishable from itself that would ground it. Such an understanding has the advantage of freeing us to begin with from every historical difficulty. Such an understanding also separates itself from the Christian faith as understood in the tradition. However, the New Testament knows itself as a faith related to a definite historical event from which it receives its justification and foundation. Even for the first witnesses to Jesus, the point is that faith involves the commitment of the whole person, and not just faith that certain events occur.

            The question is how something historical can be universally significant, and thus whether the ground and totality of humanity can be dependent upon an historical, contingent reality. We must live with the relative certainty of historical knowledge and the absoluteness of commitment on the other. We cannot escape the possibility of error by refusing to reach such commitment because we cannot have absolute historical certitude concerning the foundations of faith. In this sense, we must admit the universality of the incongruence between the full commitment we need to have fullness of human life, and theoretical certainty about the facts. Such ambiguity is part of the freedom human beings enjoy. In such matters, the distance between historical foundation and responsive commitment is large. This faith has an interest in the history of Jesus before the resurrection and his self-understanding. This faith has a connection with the self-understanding of Jesus, even if that understanding is not the full understanding of the later church. For Jesus, his proclamation of the new potential experience of the nearness of the reign of God suggested that he was himself more than a rabbi or prophet. He viewed the newness and uniqueness as potentially significant for all people. He abolishes religious and moral categories such as those touching family, marriage, nation, the law, the temple, the Sabbath, and the origins of religious authority. They have now been broken through a new and real immediacy of God. They no longer have that precise function of mediating and representing God that they once correctly claimed to have. Jesus is the historical presence of this final and unsurpassable word of God.

            In terms of Jesus as Messiah, his earthly ministry had a messianic character in the sense of renewing and deepening Isaiah's relation to God.  However, he had nothing to do with restoration of political independence or establishing supremacy among the nations.

The concept of sending presupposes the pre-existence of the Son.  The purpose is the reconciliation to God to the world.  Jesus liberated the one true God from the historically conditioned images of land, law, and temple.  This constitutes the messianic character of Jesus.  The history of Jesus had the result of freeing the messianic hope of Israel for the whole of humanity.  He became Messiah of all humanity, Son of God, who unites all people to himself, and therefore to God.

The New Testament is our primary source for our knowledge about the Jesus of history.  That fact presents a problem.  In terms of the modern study of the biblical text, we cannot identify the biblical narratives with history.  We cannot return to a pre-critical time, and simply believe whatever the text narrates, without asking the tough historical questions which our time demand.  We cannot assume, as was legitimately done in the past, that Jesus as he was and Jesus as the early church came to know is identical.  I realize that such statements make members of many churches nervous.  The modern study of the text questions what we learned in Sunday school about Jesus.  In this essay, I want to challenge some of those assumptions.  However, I do that from the standpoint, not of trying to destroy faith, but to have has take another look at that faith.

            The gospel narratives themselves are both conserving traditions about Jesus and creative in applying the knowledge about Jesus to their second and third generation audience.  We are compelled to move beyond what the church says, beyond what the apostles say, to Jesus himself.  Three facts make this possible.  First, we can discern the difference between the gospel texts and the historical figure of Jesus.  Second, it is necessary, since the texts point beyond themselves to this Jesus.  Third, only in this way can we perceive the unity of the apostolic texts.  While their dogmatic statements vary, their witness remains to the same Jesus.  The only legitimate way we can do this through historical study.  Then we can establish whether there is a connection between Jesus on the one hand and what the church says about him on the other.

            If we are supposed to speak about the center of our faith, then the one about whom we speak can be only Jesus of Nazareth.  We cannot assume the divinity of Jesus.  We must be open to the real, historical man, Jesus of Nazareth.

            The challenge of Christology for Christians is that we cannot discuss whom Jesus was apart from who he is for us, what he means for us.  One of the issues raised, then, is whether who Jesus was, in his resurrection, message, conduct, and fate, can have universal significance for the rest of humanity.  If we cannot demonstrate this, the Christian enterprise has been for nothing.  The continued existence of the church for two millennia at least suggests at the beginning of this essay that it is possible to make these connections.

            In dealing with Jesus, Christology often focuses on the significance of Jesus for us, that is, salvation.  The focus is on the meaning of Jesus as it relates to the fate of humanity.  This is quite natural, for we are most interested in what immediately influences our lives.  At the same time, has anything actually been said about Jesus?  We need to separate who Jesus was on the one hand, and his significance for humanity, and thus of salvation, on the other. We can view "Salvation" as that wholeness of life toward which humanity is even now searching and working, both as individuals and as communities.  We shall never have such wholeness in this life.  Humanity is continually open to that which is beyond present experience and lures it beyond anything that is presently at hand.

            People tend to produce an image of Jesus that suits their own desires.  This is nothing new.  At the beginning, those who followed Jesus had some faith in him. While those who opposed him did not.  Some of his fellow Jews remained in their own traditions rather than follow the path taught by Jesus.  Many non­-Jews dismissed Jesus quickly.  The New Testament itself reflects a variety of beliefs about Jesus.  It has been appropriate for people to find in Jesus human being the supreme ideal, the goal, of salvation.  They have often done this through reflection upon the conduct and message of Jesus.  In the process, their own particular hopes and dreams have influenced individuals and cultures.  Albert Schweizer, in Quest for the Historical Jesus, viewed this largely in a negative light.  However, it does not need to be.  Reflection upon the life of this one human being, it is hoped, can in every age tempt humanity to accomplish the impossible, to reach beyond itself to new heights.

            The recent research into the historical Jesus by the Jesus Seminar, Crossan, Borg, Horsely, and others, has the value of viewing Jesus in direct interaction and tension with his political and social environment.  The advantage is to use an inter-disciplinary approach in social history, economic history, and history of religions and religious movements.  We can understand Jesus as a holy person who can connect people with the spiritual aspect of reality.  He was a charismatic healer and exorcist who ignored established religious institutions and order.  He was a teacher of subversive wisdom.  He was a social prophet.  He initiated a religious movement designed to re-vitalize Judaism from the bottom up.

            The danger of this movement in recent scholarship is that it will replace the old, eschatological Jesus with a new political Jesus.  Neither of these visions had much relevance to the message of the church or to the social and political situation of our time.  Recognizing the hierarchical, patriarchal, militaristic, anti-economic, and oppressive colonial situation of Palestine is a value in understanding Jesus.  It does not lead to what the church in North American should do in a free enterprise, democratic, opportunity oriented, free association, individualistic, and materialistic culture of our own time.  Many of these scholars conveniently find a Jesus supportive of their own liberal and socialist political and economic values.  They rightly emphasize that Jesus and his followers in Palestine as in conflict with Roman civilization in the first century.  They took pot shots at a culture that had no interest in partnership.  They do not express the difference between the social setting of Jesus and the church of western civilization that has been, to varying degrees, a partner for l6OO years including the 2OO years of American civilization.

The Jesus of History: His Conduct and Message


            I present here the foundation for New Testament theology. I hope to show that Bultmann is wrong to say that Jesus is only a historical presupposition for New Testament theology. Rather, I find in Jesus the beginning for a dramatically new theological reflection on the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

            We can give an account of the life of Jesus without the obvious quality of divinity.  If Christians take the incarnation seriously, such an enterprise must be possible.  After all, if the divinity of Jesus were very clear, there would not have been the debate about Jesus there has been in history.  However, this does not mean that we need to reduce our account to political, social, and economic matters, as if religion were simply a tool of those forces. Rather, religion is a force in its own right. We need to be able to discern patterns of divinity in our account, lest we negate the possibility that the church is right in its view.

            I take advantage in this presentation of the historical work of the Jesus Seminar. Among my several objectives is to show that with a reasonable degree of openness to the historical and sociological studies of modern scholarship, the apostolic church reflected in the canon of the New Testament took a justifiable path in viewing Jesus the way they did. I would also suggest that Jesus himself might have been more creative theologically than many modern biblical scholars will consider. I do not mean to suggest that this presentation proves that the apostolic church was right about Jesus. No historical research could do that. Further, I limit the data of the words and deeds of Jesus largely to the material most scholars of the New Testament would consider as authentic to Jesus of Nazareth. I note that when one approaches the Gospel material from a modern historical perspective, the result is fragments. Such fragments may assist one in meditation and devotion. However, I sense the need for a story. I want to connect the dots, so to speak. However, what I wanted to do was to offer a credible story to a modern reader that would also respect the stance taken by the rest of the New Testament. My point is that the Jesus Seminar developed a social and political Jesus out of the fragments. I would like to take largely the same fragments and tell a different story. I hope it will show itself credible to you.

            In this process, we discover that Jesus and his followers set themselves over against other groups in Palestine.  Part of the process of becoming a "group" is to set oneself over against others.  What makes one a follower of Jesus, as over against a follower of John the Baptist, another millennial prophet, the Essenes, a bandit leader, a messianic figure, a king, or a Pharisee?

Family and some immediate context

            From 4 BC to 66 AD, the Temple was no longer a symbol of nationalism or political and military strength.  The Romans had humiliated his people and stripped them of their national pride. The Roman army had taken over most of the military responsibility.  A Jewish army no longer existed.  The Temple and Jerusalem became religious and spiritual centers, with political power divided with Caesarea and other cities.  Hellenistic speaking Jews accepted this, while those with Jewish nationalist tendencies did not.

            Jesus was born between 7 and 4 BC, at the end of the reign of King Herod. Although he may have been born in Bethlehem, he spent his childhood in Nazareth.  He was a descendent of King David. His parents were Joseph, a carpenter, and Mary. 

            In 4 BC, with Jesus only two years old, Herod allowed the Romans to place the Roman Eagle on the Temple.  This was an offence to most Jews.  Some Jews became convinced that when Herod died Roman rule in Palestine needed to end.  The "War of Varus" took place in 4 BC around public buildings.  Political interests motivated the war. Judas, son of Ezekias, raised a considerable number of followers, armed them, and assaulted the royal palace at Sepphoris.  He seized all the arms that were stored there.  Having a desire for royal rank, he likely developed messianic claims.  Simon, a slave of Herod's, operated east of the Jordan.  Tacitus, who says he assumed the title of king without authorization from Caesar, knew his royal aspirations.  He destroyed the royal palace at Jericho.  People described him as tall and handsome.  At about the same time was Athronges in Judea.  He was a shepherd who aspired to the throne, who was fearless in the face of death, and who had four brothers resembling him.  Josephus comments that the people themselves longed for a king of their own. The violent end these persons met would be stories the people would tell among each other, and Jesus would have heart about them. One at least wonders if such memories did not stir the imagination of Jesus toward a non-violent response in the midst such hostility.

            In 6 AD, a millennial prophet arose.  Jesus was now about 12 years old.  A Galilean named Judas incited his fellow citizens to revolt.  He upbraided them as cowards for consenting to pay tribute to the Romans and tolerating mortal masters, after having God for their Lord.  This man was a teacher who founded a school of thought of his own.  It is clear from other references in Josephus that he was a millennial prophet, promising that Heaven would be their zealous helper to no lesser end than the furthering of their enterprise.  Josephus describes his followers as those who think little of submitting to death in unusual forms and permitting vengeance to fall on fellow citizens and friends if they only may avoid calling anyone master.

            The father of Jesus likely died before he began his public ministry. He had four brothers: James, Joses, Judas, and Simon.  He also had sisters.  He likely spoke some Greek for business purposes, some biblical Hebrew in the synagogue and in later debates with Pharisees and scribes, and he spoke Aramaic among the common people.  He was among a small minority of Jewish people who could read. To our knowledge, he never wrote anything of his own. He obeyed his parents. He followed the Law. He worked with his hands a woodworker. Although he might have worked in the urban center of Sepphoris, only 3.7 miles from Nazareth, where he would have gained experience with Hellenistic influences, this is nothing more than conjecture. Today, we might consider him in the lower part of the middle class. His work required physical strength.

            From 6 to 66, the Pharisees were the dominant religious group.  They accepted the religious and spiritual center of Jerusalem and the Temple, divested of political and nationalist overtones. In this, they were the successors to the Hasidim and the sages Shemaiah and Abtalion, as well as Hillel and Shamai.  Clashes with Romans were sporadic and initiated from religious motives.  They were local and unimportant in the eyes of Romans.  Jews rebelled only when they thought their religious autonomy was threatened.

            In the winter of 26-27 AD, with Jesus at 32 years of age and just before his baptism by John, Pilate brought images of the emperor to Jerusalem, the first Roman to do so.  He did so at night.  Jewish law forbids images of this type.  The ordinary people of Jerusalem went to Caesarea, where Pilate was, and begged him to remove them.  When Pilate refused, they had a five-day sit down strike.  Pilate finally told them that if they did not disband he would have them all killed.  All professed a willingness to accept martyrdom.  This passive resistance forced Pilate to relent rather than massacre so many.  At about the same time Pilate decided to use funds from the Temple treasury to build an aqueduct to bring water from 400 furlongs away.  He anticipated a problem.  He had his soldiers disguise themselves as Jews, move among the crowd, and beat them. 

            Jesus did not organize the peasants into a political resistance movement that would be anti-Roman.  However, the success of the non-violent protest may have given Jesus confidence that this was the best way to live in the context of Roman colonial rule.  The Romans had the political, military, and economic power.  They had Jewish institutional leaders with whom to negotiate.  The peasants and others in the lower classes had only their numbers and their moral and spiritual power.  Jesus became convinced that violence on the part of Jews, and therefore expressions of Jewish nationalism as embodied in bandit leaders and messiah figures, was not the way for Judaism to go.  His objective, then, was a theological transformation of Judaism, which was to begin among the lower classes and work its way up.  If successful, it would have had social and political implications.  However, he did yet think all this through to the end.  Now, the moral and spiritual transformation was primary.

            As Jesus grew up and became an adult, his people experienced the tensions of another power occupying them. We have already noted that twice the superior military strength of the Romans defeated nationalist uprisings. However, we have also noted a relatively successful nonviolent protest by peasants in Caesarea that put enough pressure on Pilate to agree to their demands.

            The relation of Jesus to his family was a complex one. During his ministry, they thought something happened to him that made it questionable whether he remained sane.

Mark 3:21 (NRSV)

When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”

Mark 3:31-35 (NRSV)

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”


            My wonderment about the life Jesus lived is that he does not appear to value force and power in terms of political, economic, or military means. He appears to think and live in terms of the force of love and grace. I wonder if it would be too much to say this: for Jesus, the heart of God is full of love and grace, and that God weeps and agonizes when we abuse each other through the wrong use of power. Let us at least reflect upon this possibility.

            I further wonder if Jesus does not come to conclusions concerning non-violence for theological reasons. As we shall soon discover, Jesus will reject tying God to the Promised Land, to the Torah, and to the Temple. As such, political, economic, and military efforts defend things that no matter to God. He envisions people faithful to God with do adherence to any of these tangible entities. He envisions Judaism to be the religion that spreads this teaching. As we shall see, he will face opposition beyond the debate that Judaism had among various sects.

John the Baptist

              There were varieties of prophetic and apocalyptic conversion movements.  In particular, such uprisings occurred between the Maccabean uprising in 167 BC and the destruction of the Temple in 70 D.  In this period, three issues were involved.  First, they opposed the influence of foreigners, in particular, Persian, Greek, and Roman values and beliefs. Conversion movements responded by calling for exclusive allegiance to God. Second, zealous support for the law separates Israel from the nations. Third, apocalyptic, with its vision of the crisis of the ages and the end of the world, provided the intellectual background of these movements.  They interpret history in the context of Israel's sin and repentance.  Each time the expectation of the end did not happen, it grew more feverish.  If God is the source of all life, then why so much cruelty, inequality, pain and suffering, unhappiness, misfortune and woe, why so much discord in our nature and our human history? They attempted to gain the favor of God, peace, justice, and other blessings, through observance of Torah. God would honor God’s side of the covenant if the Jewish people honored their side of the covenant. This meant being faithful to the Land, the Temple, and the Law.

            John the Baptist was an ascetic preacher of repentance and of the future judgment upon Israel.  Turning his back on his priestly duty to minister in the Temple at Jerusalem, he became a prophet who proclaimed the nearness of judgment on Israel in order to awaken the people of the covenant to its imminent danger. He may have had his anti-establishment views nourished by Essenes and Qumran, though we cannot be certain of this. John was not an apocalyptic preacher.  He invited people to come into the wilderness, similar to other prophets of his day.  This symbolized leaving the oppression of "Egypt," and seeking a new "Promised Land." John's lifestyle was part of his own message, a contrast with those who wore "fancy clothes." Recognizing that he was not the one to complete the task God had begun with him, he thought another would need to come to complete the vision. He proclaims an imminent judgment on an unrepentant Israel. The end of Israel as it had experienced up to now was approaching rapidly. To identify with this ascetic preacher in the wilderness was a prophetic act.  Only inner change of heart and outward change of life, and acceptance of baptism administered by John will protect them from coming judgment. This ascetic preacher of repentance invited people to leave "Egypt," that is, Jerusalem and the corrupt ways of institutional life in Israel, and come to the wilderness, patterning himself after Moses, Elijah, and other prophets. John's baptism is more important than being a child of Abraham, as he issues his call to repentance.  John also preached about the one who is to come, the eschatological judge who judges by fire.

                The first significant decision Jesus would make in terms of his public ministry was to baptism by John toward the beginning of 28 AD.  Jesus led a respectable, unexceptional, and unnoticed life until he left family and neighbors and identified with the message of John the Baptist. It is the only external and verifiable marker for the turn around in the life of Jesus. His public ministry was a way to live out in his life the general call of John for a transformation of heart and conduct. Like Ezra and the Teacher of Righteousness in Qumran, he confessed being part of a sinful and ungrateful people, even as he prepares for his message of good news for a renewed community marked by doing the will of God.

            Jesus did not stay with John in the wilderness, but went back to the beauty of Galilee, making the center of his activity to be Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum.  As will be seen, in this single act, Jesus may have separated himself from John and other wilderness prophets. Far from asceticism, people charged him with gluttony and drunkenness. He became an itinerant preacher of what a loving, merciful God is already doing to save Israel through him. Jesus spoke favorably of his mentor, declaring "Among those born of women none is greater than John' (Q 7:28).    He identified John with a long line of prophets (Q l6:16). 


Luke 7:24-25 (NRSV)

24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces.

Luke 7:28 (NRSV)

28 I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

Luke 7:31-35 (NRSV)

31 “To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;

we wailed, and you did not weep.’

33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; 34 the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

Luke 16:16 (NRSV)

16 “The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force.


King Herod put John to death. Interestingly, later in his public ministry, John wanted to know who Jesus was, and Jesus directs attention to what God is doing through him in these last days. John would meet a violent end in the place where Jesus lived and preached. The execution of this holy man, John, whom many revered after his death as a martyr, turned the mind of Jesus to the dangers involved in continuing the basic message of the nearness of the rule of God.

Jesus’ sense of his role

            It is difficult to know how he viewed his role.  He could emphasize the importance of what he was saying by the phrase, “I tell you” (Q 7:28). 

            He emphasized his own life style by saying "I appeared on the scene eating and drinking thereby befriending toll collectors and sinners" (Q 7:34).  People noticed that the partying nature of Jesus was quite different from the wilderness ascetic preacher, John. 

            He delivered a major sermon in Galilee that made his primary ideas public. 

            He viewed himself as being sent (Qm 10:40) and sent his disciples (Q 10:3).


Matthew 10:40 (NRSV)

40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.


Luke 10:3 (NRSV)

3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.


            He viewed himself as more important than the social demands of family, expecting his presence to create division in the most accepted social unit of his day (Q 12:51-53, 14:26, Mk 10:29-30). 


Luke 12:51-53 (NRSV)

51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:

father against son

and son against father,

mother against daughter

and daughter against mother,

mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law

and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”


Luke 14:26 (NRSV)

26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.


Mark 10:29-30 (NRSV)

29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.


He called himself a prophet (Th 31:1, Q 4:24): “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”

            He declared the temple to have become a hideout for crooks (Mk 11:17).  He predicted the Temple would be destroyed (Mk 13:2).  In the fashion of a prophet, he performed a prophetic act of destruction against the Temple (Mk 11:15-16).

            In spite of all this, when confronted directly about his own significance, he avoided questions of his authority (Mk 11:27-30, 33). 


Mark 11:27-30, 33 (NRSV)

27 Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him 28 and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” 29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” 33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”


He avoided the responsibility of a teacher in Israel to arbitrate personal matters (Lk 12:14, Q 6:46). 


Luke 12:14 (NRSV)    

14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”

Luke 6:46 (NRSV)

46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?


He even avoided being called good (Mk 10: 18).  “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

            As John the Baptist questioned who Jesus was, Jesus directed his attention away from himself and toward what God did through him.


Luke 7:20-23 (NRSV)

20 When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ ” 21 Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. 22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. 23 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”


            Jesus rejected titles that were available to him: Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man, and Servant of God.  Nor was he an apocalyptic preacher.  The person of Jesus is not at the center of his message. He hesitated to accept popular titles like these because of the tendency to interpret them along lines Jesus did not accept. Further, this distinguishing of himself from the Father suggests his purpose of glorifying the Father, rather than himself. In this, he became a model disciple. Rather, the message of the rule of God was at the center.  However, as we shall see, Jesus will not be able to separate the message from the one who gave the message.

            Many modern scholars consider these facts as significant in their attempt to drive a wedge between Jesus and his band followers on the one hand and the later church, especially that of Paul, on the other. Their puzzle consists in why the church stopped preaching the message of Jesus concerning the kingdom and started preaching faith in Jesus Christ. Although I hope the reason for this will become clearer, we already note that the distinction between Jesus and his Father in that the purpose of his coming was to glorify his Father. Only after the disciples saw Jesus in a new form of life after his crucifixion did the disciples understand whom it was they had been following.

Choice of disciples and its cost

            Jesus took the initiative to choose disciples whom he called to leave their homes in order to follow him. Some followers remained home, like Simon the leper (Mk 14:3-9), Lazarus (Jn 12:1-2), and the anonymous host of the Last Supper (Mk 14:3-15). He reminded people of the risks involved in following. He also had female disciples in fact, even if the text does not call them that. These women followed Jesus, attended to his needs, and listened to him teach. In other words, they did all the things the male disciples of Jesus did.

            His selection of the twelve disciples was a prophetic statement concerning the reconstitution of Israel as the rule of God nears, suggesting the present unfaithfulness of Israel. This suggests that the relationship of Jesus with the Twelve has its source in the nearness of the rule of God, symbolizing the re-gathering of faithful Israel. The fact that Jesus carries out his ministry in towns of Galilee and made pilgrimage to Jerusalem suggests that he did not want to create an esoteric sect or elite group. Rather, he envisioned his message applying to Israel. This meant winning adherents to his message. It also meant generating opposition from existing groups who had their competing vision for Israel.

            Among the distinguishing marks of his public ministry was his easy association with female disciples and other women. Yet, like the Essenes, Qumran, and the Therapeute, he chose a celibate life, possibly embodying a riddle-like message to disturb people and provoke them to thought, both about who Jesus was and about themselves.

            In following Jesus, the implicit assumption is that conversion is necessary.  This meant that adherence to the Torah was insufficient.  It appeared that no amount of faithfulness to Torah would be sufficient for describing a life faithful to God and in which one took seriously the first commandment. Living geographically in the Promised Land was not sufficient. Bringing sacrifices to the Temple was not sufficient. Rather, to receive a share in the reign of God required willingness to suffer, and share the destiny of Jesus.  This intimacy of fellowship with Jesus became the basis for the Christian community. Jesus made an open-ended address to all Israelites, reflecting the leveling influence of his message.

            Jesus extended friendship to his closest companions, the disciples.  Jesus established a core of followers whom he invited to be part of his inner circle.  The key here is that it is by the invitation of Jesus, which clearly impressed the disciples.  Jesus called them.  They left all their possessions behind them.  Jesus gave them the task of bringing the same message that the rule of God was coming soon.  However, the distinctive nature of this call is not in leaving possessions, but in the conversion of disciples themselves.  In responding positively to the call of Jesus, they renounced trust in the law for bring its saving purpose upon their lives.  Instead, they took up the salvation offered by God through Jesus.  This implied a readiness to accept whatever might come as one follows Jesus, including suffering and death.  This fellowship with Jesus that the disciples experienced before Easter became the basis for community life in the early church.  In the first church in Jerusalem, there was the expectation that people would give up their possessions when they became part of the community of faith.  The church did not continue this practice.  There was also the desire to share meals together, both the Lord's Supper and the fellowship meals, which became standard practice throughout the church.

            The shared home and the common meal in which Jesus participated stood as a sign against the cultural terms of the day.  It was a strategy for building or rebuilding covenant community on radically different principles from those of honor and shame, patron and client.  Jesus brought people from various classes together at a common meal. Dress, equipment, and appearance was just as important as house and table response.  The itinerant nature of the ministry of Jesus was symbolic in its radical egalitarianism.

            Jesus sent his disciples.  He viewed himself and his followers as scouts or heralds of a better way of life.  What was that way?  Since their numbers were small, they must be willing to take great risk in order to find the lost.  They must be willing to do ridiculous, senseless things.  Instead of safely burying the gift they have been given by God, they are to take the risk of investing, even if it might mean losing it (Qm 25:14-27). 


Matthew 25:14-27 (NRSV)

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.


After all, "Those in good health don't need a doctor' (Gospel Fragment 1224 5:2 earlier than Q 12:17a).  Some will respond positively to what is said and benefit greatly, while many will reject what they have to offer (Th. 9:1-5, Mk 4:3-8). 


Mark 4:3-8 (NRSV)

3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”


They must act like the widow trying to get a hearing from a judge who could care less (Q 18:2-5). 


Luke 18:2-5 (NRSV)

2 “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”


They must be as dishonest managers operating in a hostile environment, but doing what it took survive (Lk 16:1-8). 

Luke 16:1-8 (NRSV)

 “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.


They must be like that pesky neighbor, coming at inappropriate times with the hope of a favorable response (Lk 11:5-8). 


Luke 11:5-8 (NRSV)

5 “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.


            Cynics described themselves as God sending them.  Diogenes said that the Cynic is both messenger and scout of God.  Epictetus: "Behold, God has sent me to you as an example, that you may see humans, that you are seeking happiness and serenity not where it is, but where it is not."[1] Why was it important to have this vision of God sending them?  Dio Chrysostom says he hoped it would gain him a hearing.  To say that God sent you responded to concerns about authority and authorization.  It answered the implied question: And what gives you the right to say that?  How is it that you can do this?  Like Epictetus, Jesus viewed himself and his followers as a messenger or scout, a herald of a better path to happiness.  In this capacity, both Jesus and Epictetus expected to face certain wolves along the way.

                The cost of following could be great.  Jesus made a radical demand on his disciples. They had to be committed to him and his mission.

            Jesus could symbolize following as taking up a cross (Q 14:27). 


Luke 14:27 (NRSV)

27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.


The statement about the cross has much support in the gospel tradition. One can also interpret it apart from the experience of Jesus' own cross, as indicated by Cynic teaching:


Epictetus said, "If you want to be crucified, just wait.  The cross will come.  If it seems reasonable to comply, and the circumstances are right, then it's to be done, and your integrity maintained."


He is rather rehearsing one of a number of possible consequences of adopting and living in accordance with a certain philosophy.  By analogy, he graphically depicted the cost of assuming a similar way of life.  The fate imagined is conceivable because of the social challenge and outrageous behavior otherwise called for by Jesus.

            Even Jesus did not have a home (Q 9:58).  He challenged the ties of family based hierarchy, whether with proper burial (Q 9:60) or with division in the home (Q 12:51-53, 14:26, Mk 10:29-30), yet being part of a new family. 


Luke 9:58 (NRSV)

58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Luke 9:60 (NRSV)

60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”


As a further downplay of family, he even used the image of castration.  "... There are castrated men who were born that way, and there are castrated men who were castrated by others, and there are castrated men who castrated themselves because of the kingdom of God" (Mt 19:12).

Social engagement by disciples

            Jesus taught a distinctive way of life by his own conduct as well as his message.  Jesus' own conduct gives a practical and provisional realization of the future he envisioned as God's kingdom.  As such, God's future rule becomes concrete and definable.

            This way of life includes a rigorous life style that led to an unusual path toward happiness.  It is the poor, the weepers, and the hungry, who are happy. 


Q 6:20 Congratulations, you poor!  God's kingdom belongs to you.

Q 6:21a Congratulations, you hungry!  You will have a feast.

Q 6:21b Congratulations, you who weep now!  You will laugh.


However, "if two make peace with each other in a single house, they will say to the mountain, 'Move from here!' and it will move" (Th. 48, Q 17:6, Mk 11:23).  We might also note a similar reference by Paul in I Corinthians 13:2 that might reflect knowledge of this saying: "... if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains ..."


Luke 17:6 (NRSV)

6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.


They are to carry no purse, knapsack, or sandals in their travels (Q 10:4).  They are not to speak to people along the way (Q 10:4). 


Luke 10:4 (NRSV)

4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.


They are to eat whatever is put before them, without regard to dietary law (Q 10:7, 8). 


Luke 10:7-8 (NRSV)

7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you;


They could expect rejection.  In such a case, they are simply to let their greeting return to them (Q 10:5-6), and may even show how silly it all is by shaking the dust from their feet (Q 10: 11).


Luke 10:5-6 (NRSV)

5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.

Luke 10:11 (NRSV)

11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’


            This indicates a way of life devoted to begging as the primary source of physical nourishment.  This was a perilous from of existence.  This strategy of social engagement helped them to discern those potential supporters from those who were not.  It was not just a search for survival, but a part of the strategy.           

            Cynics begged.  How to deal with rejection was important for Cynic as well. 


"Diogenes once begged alms of a statue, and, when asked why he did so, replied, 'To get practice in being refuse.'" "Ask for bread even from the statues in the marketplace as you enter it.  In a way, such a practice is good, for you will meet persons more unfeeling than statues.  And whenever they give something to eunuchs and to the authors of obscenity rather than to you, do not be surprised.  For each person pays honor to the one who is close to him and not someone far off.  And it is eunuchs rather than the philosophers who pander to the masses.


Cynics also espoused such a way of life as the true path to happiness:


Diogenes Laeterius: "Diocies relates how Diogenes persuaded Crates to give up his property

to sheep-pasture, and throw into the sea any money he had."

Similarly Monimus, after deciding to follow Diogenes: "straight off pretended to be mad and was flinging away the small change and all the money on the banker's table, until his master dismissed him; and he immediately devoted himself to Diogenes."

Julian described Diogenes as: "Cityless, homeless, a man without a country, owning not an obol, not a drachma, not even a household slave."


Other statements from Cynics:


"If all the gold, all the silver, all the copper should give out, I would not be injured in the least." "... are you not afraid of the money?... For by no means does money always profit those who have gotten it; but people have suffered many more injuries and more evils from money than from poverty, particularly when they lacked sense."

"I, however, says Diogenes, go by night wherever I will and walk alone by day, and I am not

afraid to go even through an army camp if need be, without the herald's staff, and amid brigands; for I have no enemy, public or private, who opposes me."

The arrival of the rule of God and Jesus

            Jesus was a first-century Jewish teacher announcing and inaugurating the kingdom of God, summoning others to join him, and warning of the consequences if they did not. He did this in symbolic actions, cryptic and coded sayings, that he believed he was the messiah of Israel, the one through whom the decisive purpose of God would be accomplished. Jesus acted and spoke in ways consistent with his launching a veiled claim to be messiah. Even if we think of Jesus as a “spirit person,” a social prophet, the initiator of a movement, we still have to deal with how first century Jews would, and Jesus himself, would have viewed such a person. Given the reality that other persons claimed to be the Messiah, we cannot rule out the possibility that Jesus thought of himself that way and that others believed him to be such. With such a belief, he would have understood himself within the larger prophetic vision of being the one from whom Israel longed for and waited. Within the apocalyptic framework of first century Judaism, Jesus would believe that history reached a unique climax. A new moment in the dealing of God with Israel had come. Such an eschatological readiness is essential to Jesus firmly within first century Judaism. In contrast, many of the valuable insights of the Jesus Seminar lead to the sense that Jesus would have been comfortable in Athens commiserating within one of the philosophical schools. If Jesus understood himself as closely connected to the soon arrival of the reign of God, then we have an important historical connection between Jesus and the proclamation of the early church about Jesus. If Jesus perceived a dramatic turn in the dealing that God had humanity, apart from Torah, Land, and Temple, we have an historical and theological connection between Jesus, the earliest followers of Jesus, Paul, and the writings of John. Some modern scholars say that if he believed such things about himself he was not modest and he was insane. Of course, the Gospel material says that the family of Jesus and his opponents thought these things, so maybe this suggests that Jesus did make grand claims consistent with first century Judaism. Given the following Jesus developed in Galilee, Jesus raised hopes and dreams. We also must ponder the reality that Jesus brought offense to many who heard him.

            The reign of God was the fundamental principle of Jesus.  At a time when Israel experienced oppression by foreign nations, Judaism developed a belief in the royal rule of God that would subjugate foreign nations to Israel.  The symbol of the reign of God usually had a future reference, sometimes connected with hopes of the restoration of a glorious Jerusalem, with all twelve tribes of a re-gathered Israel present in the city, receiving gifts and tribute from defeated foreign nations.

            For Jesus, the selection of twelve disciples anticipates the reconstitution of Israel. Only God can hallow the name of God, and only God can actualize the reign of God (Lk 11:2). Jesus invited his followers to pray that God would come in all power and glory by coming to establish an effective rule of the world. To pray for the rule of God to come acknowledges the reign of God is not fully ruling now. In his final meal with the disciples, he mentions that he will not eat or drink again until God welcomes him to the banquet of the kingdom (Mk 14:25). Jesus expected the future coming of the rule of God in a way that surmounted the barriers of time and space, hostility between Jew and Gentile, and death itself (Mt 8:11-12). The beatitudes declare a revolution brought about by God alone as this present world ends. Unlike Old Testament prophets who had passionate concern for the social and political evils of their day, Jesus did not preach reform of the world, but its end. Jesus sets aside the many human attempts to use the levers of political and economic power in favor of opening people to the future rule of God. The modern person looks in vain for pronouncements on slavery, the Roman rule in Judea, and oppressive practices against the poor.

            What will the end be like?  That day will be unexpected, like a burglar (Q 12:39), as a slave left in charge of the master's property (Mk 13:34-36), or waiting for the bridegroom at a wedding (Lk 12:35-38).  Paul claims in I Thessalonians (Winter of 50-51, from Corinth) 4:13-18 that his teaching concerning eschatology is of this nature: "For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord..." He goes on to give teaching similar to Mk 13:26-27.   Further, Mk 13:34-36 speaks of readiness at the return of the landlord, a saying which may go back to, Jesus, and which Paul reflects in I Thessalonians 5:1-11.


1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NRSV)

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (NRSV)

 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! 4 But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5 for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6 So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7 for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.


It will be unexpected as in the days of Noah in that people will be going about their normal activity (Q 17:26-­27, Lk 17:28-30). 


Luke 12:39 (NRSV)

39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.

Mark 13:34-36 (NRSV)

34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.

Luke 12:35-38 (NRSV)

35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

Luke 17:26-27 (NRSV)

26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them.

Luke 17:28-30 (NRSV)

28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed all of them 30 —it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.


No one knows the exact moment (Mk 13:32). 


Mark 13:32 (NRSV)

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.


Yet, the signs of the times are all around even as people can see them (Mk 13:28-29, Lk 13:6-9). 


Mark 13:28-29 (NRSV)

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

Luke 13:6-9 (NRSV)

6 “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”


The only concession Jesus may have made to apocalyptic was the view that the Son of Man would come with lightning (Q 17:24). 


Luke 17:24 (NRSV)

24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.


The end could overtake anyone at any moment.

            Yet, dimensions of the rule of God are present in the message and action of Jesus. The future rule radically alters the present situation, both in the way people perceive it and in the way they live it. The future impinges on and shapes the present moment. Followers can address God as Father. In praying for daily bread, making forgiveness in the future rule of God contingent upon forgiveness extended to each other, and spare followers from the final clash between god and evil lest they succumb, Jesus suggests actions that make the rule of God effective in the world in a minimal way. The table fellowship Jesus extended to the disciples is a sign and pledge of sharing the final banquet in the rule of God. The table fellowship he extended to the morally unclean made Jesus unclean in the eyes of many, but Jesus saw himself as communicating health and wholeness to outcasts. He probably celebrated a large banquet by the Sea of Galilee in which everyone was welcome (Mk 6:35-36, 39-40, 42-44).


Mark 6:35-36, 39-40, 42-44 (NRSV)

35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.”

39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties.

42 And all ate and were filled; 43 and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.


Even now the poor, the mourners, and the hungry are happy, since they have the promise of the reversal of their lot by God. The reign of God is already among them (Lk 17:20-21).


Luke 17:20-21 (NRSV)

20 Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”


He declares his exorcisms manifestations and partial realizations of the coming of God in power to rule (Lk 11:20, Mark 3:27). In his reply to John the Baptist, he pointed to his healings, exorcisms, and proclamation of the rule of God as a sign that the time of salvation is present. His cleansing of the temple was another way of acting out the presence of the rule of God.

            The rule of God is an entire dynamic event of God coming in power to rule. Through his word and deed, people experience now the favor of the Father toward Israel. In some way, he already mediates an experience of the joyful time of healing and fulfillment of the rule of God. He also had startling interpretation of the Mosaic Law. This tension between future coming and present power turns Jesus into something of a riddle, teasing us to consider what Jesus might mean. His effort to deflect attention from himself is in tension with the astounding claim to play a pivotal role in the coming of the rule of God. Many took offense at the apparent arrogance of the claim.

            Jesus invited people to see the reign of God arriving in unexpected ways.  In fact, he saw the kingdom in nature, in household tasks, in business dealings, and therefore in ways few people would have imagined.  By presenting this vision of reality, Jesus may have done little more than remind his hearers of the first commandment and the uniqueness of the Lord he proclaimed.  It involves a total commitment to God.  Those who participate now in this reality already experience salvation.  There is a priority of God's future for humanity.  The approaching rule of God means what is brought close is God's unconditional will to salvation, of reconciling clemency and suffering graciousness, and along with them opposition to all forms of evil.  God's dominion is saving activity within our history.  Salvation is a gift.  Present and future are interrelated.  Jesus does not accept apocalyptic reversal.  Jesus taught the hidden quality to the kingdom amidst a world that to most of us gives no sign of it.  God's rule is discernable only in faith.

            Jesus saw the kingdom coming in children being welcomed (Mk 10: 14, 15). 


Mark 10:14-15 (NRSV)

14 “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”


People will not be able to identify easily where the kingdom is (Ql7: 23, Lkl7: 20-21). 


Luke 17:23 (NRSV)

23 They will say to you, ‘Look there!’ or ‘Look here!’ Do not go, do not set off in pursuit.

Luke 17:20-21 (NRSV)

20 Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”


He used the image of the unwelcome and troublesome mustard plant (Th. 20:1-4, Q 13:18-19) and the evil symbol of leaven (Q 13:20-21). 


Luke 13:18-19 (NRSV)

18“What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

Luke 13:20-21 (NRSV)

20 “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”


People view it as a treasure, and will sell everything to get it (Mt 13:44, 45-46). 


Matthew 13:44-46 (NRSV)

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.


Those who do the will of God, rather than just give lip service, will enter the kingdom (Mt 21:28b-31). 


Matthew 21:28b-31 (NRSV)

28 “A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.


There is unexpected behavior in that the owner of the vineyard pays all the same, even if there is unequal distribution of work (Mt 20:1-15).


            Matthew 20:1-15 (NRSV)

 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’


            Jesus shared the typical belief of his own day that God would intervene in human history, and destroy evil, sin, and injustice.  In this, he shares the prophetic vision of Israel.  However, he clearly rejected the apocalyptic millennial vision.  Apocalyptic is a literary genre, the purpose of which is to present a particular view of history.  Typically, authors used a pseudonym to avoid the designation of prophet.  They interpreted the prophets and they interpret the human history that they know.  The writers begin with the assumption that God is all powerful, while at the same time there is such extensive and unjust suffering in the world.  How can there be so much misery, pain, injustice, and suffering in the world.  It finds part of the answer in the experience of Israel.  Israel’s disobedience to God brought about that suffering.  Thus, they viewed repentance by the people of Israel as an event that would hasten the arrival of the promised salvation at the end of history.  Daniel, especially Chapters 4-12, reflects this kind of thought.  Whenever the predicted end of human history did not come, instead of killing the movement, the authors simply re­interpreted events and the expectation that the end was soon would be even stronger.  This is not the literature of the academic world.  It is under the pressure of martyrdom, persecution, and the temptation to abandon morality, and the desire to find some meaning in the midst of suffering.  That is where the expectation for the transformation of the present age into a new age has such a strong impact.  These types of movements are nothing new in human history.  Historians and sociologists of religions can point to many examples of such movements in other cultures.  All failed.

The Rule of God and forgiveness

            Friendship unites affection with respect.  Jesus is spoken in this way only twice, in Luke 7:34, as the friend of tax collectors and sinners, and in John 15:13 he declares himself to be the friend of his disciples.  This friendship can only be an open friendship, including an increasingly larger circle of persons.  The conduct of Jesus, his presence among the people, has not received the attention it deserves.  The conduct of Jesus is nothing other than an invitation to enter companionship with God.  Jesus had a broad range of contacts with people in the ordinary affairs of life, eating and drinking, searching out people who were on the fringes of society, especially the tax collectors and sinners.  We can see this in the story in Luke 7:36-50, where a woman who was prostitute enters the home of the Pharisee where Jesus was having a meal.  The Pharisee was judgmental of Jesus for allowing the woman to touch him.  However, Jesus tells a story, which leads to the conclusion that, the one who has the larger forgiven debt will love more than the one who has a small debt to forgive.  The extension of friendship to those who have the greater debt is one of the characteristics of the ministry of Jesus.  This is especially true in the story of the party given by the tax collector Levi in Mark 2:15-17. 


Mark 2:15-17 (NRSV)

15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”


When Jesus says he has come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance, he is expressing one of the primary reasons he was not afraid to go against the law.  That law stated that one should not have table fellowship with sinners.  The friendship that Jesus extended to others in and of itself became an invitation to friendship with God.  This behavior on the part of Jesus is fully consistent with the parables of Jesus described above.  In particular, those that tell stories of the search for what has been lost and of the kingdom of God promised to tax collectors and prostitutes (Matthew 21:31b).


Matthew 21:31b (NRSV)

31“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.


            Instead of taking care of the 99 sheep, it means taking the risk of finding the one lost and inviting others, who could probably care less, to celebrate (Q 15:4-6). 


Luke 15:4-6 (NRSV)

4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’


It means being like a woman willing to tear up her house to find one lost coin, and then invite others, who could care less, to celebrate (Lk 15:8-9). 


Luke 15:8-9 (NRSV)

8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’


All of this is because God gives great freedom to go into the "far country," and yet is always ready to welcome home the lost (Lk 15:11-32).


Luke 15:11-32 (NRSV)

11 “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”


The reign of God is like a trader looking for beautiful pearls (Mt 13:45-46).


Matthew 13:45-46 (NRSV)

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.


The reign of God is like a proprietor who hired people at different times of the day, yet paid all the same (Mt 20:1-15). 


            Matthew 20:1-15 (NRSV)

 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’


The unexpected coming of divine intervention will be like the wealthy person who puts slaves in charge, each with a task, and each expected to keep alert (Mk 13:34-36).  That Jesus used such images suggests he was more acquainted with business dealings than some have thought.


Matthew 25:14-27 (NRSV)

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.


People will initially reject the message of Jesus, but then others will be invited to the banquet.


Luke 14:16-23 (NRSV)

16 “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17 At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ 20 Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ 23 Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.


The Rule of God and Healing, Exorcism, and Miracle

            Modern persons need to become open to one thing here: Jesus did things that the people of his day considered miraculous. This is not the same as saying that God worked miracles through him, for no one could prove that. The stories to which I refer here most scholars agree that some historical basis is at their core. There may have been an early collection of miracles at Mark 2:1-12, 6:33-44, 6:45-52, and 8:22-26, all of which occur in John as well. 

            In a world where medical technology was limited, people often looked to individuals with special gifts for help and healing. Jesus and his followers were among those groups.  It was a way of bypassing institutional religion in favor of a more direct and informal access to God.  The charismatic challenged religious institutional power. 

            Studies show that demonic possession has a close connection with political oppression, even in cultures of today.  Class antagonisms reach such a climax that in some individuals, people view mental illness as a socially acceptable form of protest against or escape from such oppression.

            He connected casting out demons with the arrival of God's kingdom (Q 11:20) and he affirmed the kingdom was in their presence (Lk 17:21). 


Luke 11:20 (NRSV)

20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.

Luke 17:21 (NRSV)

21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”


            He cast out a mute demon (Q 11:14).


Luke 11:14 (NRSV)

14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed.


He cast out an unclean spirit that through the man down in convulsions in he synagogue (Mk 1:23-26).


Mark 1:23-26 (NRSV)

23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.


He cast out an unclean spirit that had all the effects of what we call madness (Mk 5:2-8, 15).


Mark 5:2-8, 15 (NRSV)

2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7 and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8 For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 15 They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid.


He cast out a demon from a distance from the daughter of a Phoenician woman from Syria. He cast out a mute spirit that appears to have the effect of grand mall epileptic seizures from a boy (Mk 9:17-18, 20-23, 25-27).


Mark 9:17-18, 20-23, 25-27 (NRSV)

17 Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; 18 and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.”

20 And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy,and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” 23 Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.”

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!” 26 After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand.


Mary of Magdala, a female follower of Jesus, had seven demons cast out of her (Lk 8:2).


Luke 8:2 (NRSV)

2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,


            It is interesting that the Talmud, in Sanhedrin, 43a, calls Jesus a sorcerer.  It is likely that Jesus expelled what the first century understood as demons.  Today, we might call it a severe psychosis, where the person retreats from reality, resulting in wild frenzy or catatonic stupor.  Anxiety, compulsiveness, and depression characterize neurosis.  Hysteria is a psychological state that can copy almost any disease, even blindness or paralysis.

            Jesus referred to his exorcism as a sign that the kingdom of God was already here (Q 11:20). 


Luke 11:20 (NRSV)

20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.


His opponents accused him of having a demon himself and offered a reason why this cannot be true (Q 11: 17). 


Luke 11:17 (NRSV)

17 “Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house.


Yet, in spite of this, he recognized that often those relieved of the oppressive force of a demon end up worse off some time later (Q 11:24-26).


Luke 11:24-26 (NRSV)

24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.”


            Jesus healed persons as well. He healed the son of a royal official in Capernaum from a distance (Jn 4:45-54, Q 7:1-10).


Luke 7:1-10 (NRSV)

 After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.


He healed the mother-in-law of his disciple Peter (Mk 1:29-31).


Mark 1:29-31 (NRSV)

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.


He healed a leper in a synagogue (1:40-42).


Mark 1:40-42 (NRSV)

40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.


He healed a paralytic in Capernaum by friends disrupting a talk at someone’s home (Mk 2:1-5, 11-12).


Mark 2:1-5 (NRSV)

 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

11 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”


He healed one with a withered hand in a synagogue (Mk 3:1-5).


Mark 3:1-5 (NRSV)

 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 5 He … said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.


He healed a woman suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years (Mark 5:25-29).


Mark 5:25-29 (NRSV)

25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.


He healed one who was deaf and had a speech impediment by bringing him away privately, putting his fingers into his ears, spitting and touching his tongue, with the result that he could hear and speak (Mk 7:32-35).


Mark 7:32-35 (NRSV)

32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.


He healed a blind man that others brought to him by bringing him away from the crowds, spitting on his eyes, laying hands on him, with the result that the man could now see people who were blurry to him (Mark 8:22-24). This healing is unusual in that it at least suggest that Jesus restored the sight of the man partially, rather than fully.


Mark 8:22-24 (NRSV)

22 They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” 24 And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.”


He healed a blind man named Bartimaeus in Jericho, a man who became a follower of Jesus. (Mk 10:46-52).


Mark 10:46-52 (NRSV)

46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.


He healed two persons in Jerusalem. One had been lame (Jn 5:2-9). He healed another from blindness by spitting on the ground to make mud and spread the mud in the eyes of the man (Jn 9:6-7).


John 5:2-9 (NRSV)

2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha,which has five porticoes. 3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Now that day was a sabbath.

John 9:1-3a, 6-7 (NRSV)

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.


            Jesus told one person, "Get up, pick up your mat, and walk" (Mk 2:9).  He told his followers: "Cure the sick ..." (Q 10:9). 

            Jesus brought at least one person back to life that people thought had died. Jairus was the leader of a synagogue whose daughter friends thought had died, but whom Jesus took by the hand and raised her up (Mk 5:22-23, 35-36, 38-42).


Mark 5:22-23, 35-36, 38-42 (NRSV)

22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement.


He may also have raised Lazarus of Bethany (Jn 11:1, 3, 6, 17-18, 33-39, 43-44).


John 11 (NRSV) – selected verses

 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away,

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”

43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”


I realize this seems incredible. However, if you go to Haiti and Africa today, you will hear such testimonies as well. I grant that modern medicine would have other descriptions. Yet, what pre-modern culture understood as people resuscitating their lives after dying happened.

            We need to observe several matters here. One is that other persons in Palestine healed and cast out demons, and did not consider what they did as connected with the rule of God breaking into this world. Clearly, Jesus made this connection.  The question will become whether future events will verify this claim of this Jesus, and what the criteria for truth for that claim will be. Two is that the opponents of Jesus do not appear to doubt that Jesus did things they regarded as miraculous. I wonder if, in their minds, the miracles were relatively few and insignificant.

The crowds

            Jesus attracted large crowds. When he delivers condemnation upon Chorizin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum for not responding to his message, the reasonable assumption is that he directed his message and miracles to the whole city and that he attracted fairly large audiences (Q 10:13-15).


Luke 10:13-15 (NRSV)

13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum,

will you be exalted to heaven?

No, you will be brought down to Hades.


He had a major address to a significant number of persons in Galilee (Mt 5:1, Lk 6:17), and he shared a large banquet inviting all persons to join him (Mark 6:35-36, 39-40, 42-44). Even Josephus says that many Jews followed him. The fact of his crucifixion at the command of Pilate is easier to understand if he attracted large, enthusiastic crowds even at the end of his life. He attracted a toll collector at Capernaum (Mk 2:13-15), a woman with a hemorrhage who had enough wealth to spend it on doctors (Mk 5:25-34), Jairus was a ruler of a synagogue (Mk 5:21-43), a centurion or royal official (Mt 8:5-13, Jn 4:46-54), and a woman who bought ointment worth the annual wages of a day laborer (Mk 14:3-9). Others were part of the crowd as well: lepers, demoniacs, blind beggars, and many other afflicted persons on the margins of society.

            Later events become unintelligible if we do not assume that for a brief period Jesus became a significant figure in the internal debate of Judaism. In fact, we need to consider that debate for just a moment. It appears that Pharisees, Sadduccees, Essenes, Zealots, and conversion movements like that of John the Baptist, could all exist and religious and political entities, while not writing each other off. They carried on vigorous debate among each other. They did not seek the death of the other. We need to be sure that we account for what it was about Jesus that led Jewish sects to consider that the message of Jesus or his person was of such a nature that it required his death.

Jesus the sects of Judaism

            Jesus debated with his contemporaries over the direction Judaism should go.  This was an internal Jewish debate which Jesus and his followers would lose.  In particular, the debate with scribes and Pharisees was difficult because both sought to relate their message to the people.  It is not proper to speak of Jesus on the one hand and Jews or Judaism on the other.  Jesus was a Jew who offered a different way of practicing Judaism than that of rabbinic Judaism, or the Judaism of the synagogue.  The act of disagreement, dispute, criticism and even the lampooning of another person or group's point of view and practice are not inevitably incipient genocide.  Such behavior may simply be another form of the social debate and interactive conflict making up all cultural construction.  The social debate and interactive conflict is the steady state of ongoing social tensions, constant bickering, interested squabbling, sometimes heated exchange, and the perennial mix-up of envy and desire forming part of every human group.  Criticism is an important part of the process whereby a given group defines for themselves a social identity.  It is the means whereby different members of a particular human network determine how they will relate to one another.

            The texts of the Torah remained the focus of all Jewish sects. Commitment to Torah was an attempt to be faithful to the covenant and maintain holiness. It was a way of nurturing memory in order to call forth hope. The sense of election as the people of God and the sense of covenant remained strong throughout Judaism. According to W. D. Davies, Palestinian Judaism had the common pattern of covenantal nomism. This meant the belief that God has chosen Israel and given the law, which means God promises to maintain the election and the people's requirement to obey.  God rewards obedience and punishes transgression.  The law provides the means for atonement, and atonement results in maintenance of the covenantal relationship. Only those who participate in this covenant belong to the group of people who will be saved.  The typical Christian interpretation of this period is that it became involved in petty legalism. Such is far from the case.  Covenantal nomism was pervasive, and in this, both rabbinic and apocalyptic are united.  All Jewish sects of the period had confidence in the election of Israel by God. God had provided for the salvation of all faithful members of Israel who maintain their place in the covenant by obedience and engaged in the means of atonement when one transgressed the Torah. God gave commandments in connection with the election and that obedience to them was expected as the condition for remaining in the covenant community. Transgression suggested atonement and repentance for transgression. The debates between various sects suggest coherence with the idea that God will save Israel, God will keep promises to Israel, God will keep one’s soul at death, and so on. The emphasis on the mercy of God is in the context of confidence of the election of Israel. The emphasis on judgment suggests responsibility on the part of Israel to obey the laws of the covenant. The law also provides for the means of atonement when one transgresses, which results in maintaining the covenant. All those who remain faithful members of the covenant community will be saved. We find this emphasis throughout the Jewish sects.

In terms of the political context, the story of Judaism is one of brave refusal of foreign domination and a severe internal struggle over the extent to which Judaism would adopt Hellenistic themes. Since the major issue was syncretism, the Jew knew he or she had to choose Torah. The sects within first century Judaism were mutually antagonistic political parties as well as religious sects.

Even though Judaism in Israel consisted of several sects that debated each other vigorously, they appear to have shared some sense of a worldview. The story involved one creator God, who has chosen Israel to be the people of God, giving the people the Torah of God and establishing the people in the Promised Land. God will act for this people and through it to re-establish the justice, wisdom, and peace of God throughout the world. The sects of Israel disagreed over how to implement them in daily life. God is one, and that God dealt with the world through Israel. The people accepted the sacred symbols of Promised Land, Torah, Temple, Holy City of Jerusalem, King, and ethnic identity. The praxis of Israel valued its worship and festivals, its study of the Torah, and its desire to live the Torah. Judaism of this period accepted monotheism that was creational, providential, and covenantal. It also accepted its sense of election and covenant. It connected the covenant with the promise of renewal of the earth by God. It accepted covenant, sought redemption through sacrifice and obedience to Torah, and forgiveness.

            Apocalyptic literature is the context for much of the transformation of traditional symbols of Judaism. The Book of Daniel inaugurated a long period of speculation about the end of the world. Apocalyptic is a specifically religious response to the experience of persecution from without and erosion from within. Apocalyptic answers the question posed by the choice between king and Torah. To those suffering for allegiance to Torah, it brought comfort. To those tempted toward apostasy, it encourages firmness and faithfulness. The Torah taught that the Lord was the master of human history. However, instead of blessing and curses of Deuteronomy, we find the faithful experiencing persecution precisely because they are faithful to the Torah. Apocalyptic revolves around three basic ideas: historical dualism, universal and cosmic expectation, and the approaching end of the world.  They divided history into periods because in this way one could re-assert the dominion of the Lord over history, for now history had a direction and purpose. The writers of this literature have profound awareness of the difference between what is in the world and what in fact should be.  They also feel the tension between faithfulness to the law on the one hand, and the apparent futility of such faithfulness on the other.  The authors are motivated by a hope that takes them beyond present reality.  It is not the literature of the academic world.  Rather, it is under the pressure of martyrdom, persecution, the temptation to abandon morality, and the desire to find some meaning in the midst of suffering.  That is where the expectation for the transformation of the present age into a new age has such a strong impact.  This literature inspired messianic resistance to foreign rule, most particularly in 66-70, during which Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Bar-Kokhba revolt of 132-135 AD.

            Messianism was in the air, especially the distinction between the earthly Davidic king on the one hand and a heavenly Messiah or Son of Man who would initiate the reign of God on earth. It accepted martyrdom, resurrection, and individual judgment. When faced with persecution, people had the choice of obedience to the king or the Torah. This transformation reminds us that the symbols of Torah found continually application to new situations. In addition, the symbol of temple also transformed in Qumran, as they practiced faithfulness to the Temple apart from the Temple of Jerusalem.

            The apocalyptic and messianic movements had a profound on the first century Judaism and Christianity.  After 70 AD, apocalyptic and messianism, along with the Zealots, lessened in influence.  They disappeared after the Bar-Kokchba rebellion in 132-135 AD.  The Sadducees and Essenes no longer existed after 70 AD.  This led to Judaism becoming largely what the Pharisees said it should become; an expression of faithfulness to the law of God as updated through the oral tradition of the rabbis.  The Judaism of the synagogue became victorious over other forms available in the first century AD.

            One group of Jews became agents of Roman oppression. The tax collectors were among this group. They preyed on the people for Rome and for personal gain.

            Essenes formed communities among the people.  The belief that the Temple and Jerusalem were corrupt united the Essenes.  They expected separation from the evil through ethical living.  In principle, they believed they must keep all the demands of the Law.  This happened when one entered the community.  They believed in giving up all material possessions.  They believed in a rigorous code of purity.  The most known development of this group was the community by the Dead Sea.  It formed its own monastic community, preserving the writings of the group, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.  An Arab shepherd discovered these scrolls in 1947.  The scrolls are the primary written sources for the Essenes, though Josephus, Philo, and the Roman historian Pliny also mention them.  Pliny (23-79 AD) makes the following comment:


On the west side of the Dead Sea, but out of range of the exhalations of the coast, is the solitary tribe of the Essenes, which is remarkable beyond all the other tribes in the whole world, as it has no women and has renounced all sexual desire, has no money, and has only palm-trees for company.  Day by day the throng of refugees is recruited to an equal number of numerous accessions of persons tired of life and driven thither by the waves of fortune to adopt their manners.  Thus through thousands of ages (incredible to relate) a race into which no one is born lives on forever; so prolific for their advantage is other men's weariness of life! Lying below the Essenes was formerly the town of Engedi, a second only to Jerusalem in the fertility of its land and its groves of palm-trees, but now like Jerusalem a heap of ashes.


Josephus also comments on the views of three Jewish groups in terms of their doctrine of fate or predeterminism:


As for the Pharisees, they say that certain events are the work of Fate, but not all; as to other events, it depends upon ourselves whether they shall take place or not.  The sect of the Essenes, however, declares that Fate is mistress of all things, and that nothing befalls people unless it be in accordance with her decree.  But the Sadducees do away with Fate, holding that there is no such thing and that human actions are not achieved in accordance with her decree, but that all things lie within our own power, so that we ourselves are responsible for our well-being, while we suffer misfortune through our own thoughtlessness.


Josephus also tells us of the Essene common ownership of property:


Riches they despise, and their community of goods is truly admirable; you will not find one among them distinguished by greater opulence than another.  They have a law that new members on admission to the sect shall confiscate their property to the order, with the result that you will nowhere see either abject poverty or inordinate wealth; the individual's possessions join the common stock and all, like brothers, enjoy a single patrimony.


Their texts come from 152 BC to 68 AD, going across the Hasmonean and Roman periods of history.  Though there is much similarity with Jesus at the point of shared wealth, Jesus did not identify with the Essenes in their physical separation from their civilization, no matter how corrupt it was.

            The Pharisees valued the oral tradition as a valid application of God's will for today.  They rejected much of Greek culture.  Cooperation with the Greeks or Romans angered them.  In fact, the intense study of the Law that they undertook arose in reaction to the threat of Greek culture and especially the Seleucids.  The traditional written sources for this group would be the Mishnah and the Talmud.  During the time of Jesus, the Pharisees may not have been a large presence in Galilee, especially when it comes to political power. However, we can surmise that Pharisees provided low-level government for aristocrats, education for the people, and other moderating influences between Rome and the people. Though these writings were composed after 70 AD, recent discoveries with the Qumran texts suggest that they largely reflect the Judaism of the Hasmonean and early Roman periods.  After 70 AD, the Pharisees became the dominant religious group in Israel and gave shape to rabbinic Judaism. We can at least observe the following about the Pharisees before 70 AD. They had a reputation for their exact or precise interpretation of the Mosaic Law and correct behavior in accordance with it. Yet, they often tended toward leniency when passing judgment, as in Acts 5:33-40. They openly admitted the nature of their oral traditions as developments from the Torah, and did so among the people, in contrast to Qumran who relied on prophetic interpretation of Torah and the Sadducees who did not seek public affirmation of their views. The Pharisees devoted themselves to these traditions of the elders and sought to persuade others to adhere to these teachings. The ideal of priestly holiness drove them. They wanted to eat their daily food in ritual purity as defined by the priesthood at the temple. They wanted that holiness among the people, in contrast to Qumran. They strove to have the Jewish people fulfill the command of Holiness Code in Leviticus 19:2, “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” They eventually developed the view of an unbroken oral tradition continuing from Moses through the elders that had equal status with the written Torah. A brief outline of these beliefs consists in the following.

·        Purity rules concerning food and vessels containing food and liquids, as well as clean and unclean hands.

·        Purity rules concerning corpses.

·        Purity or sanctity of the cult apparatus in the Jerusalem temple, and proper way of worshiping and offering sacrifice in the temple.

·        Tithing, priests’ shares and dues.

·        Proper observance of the Sabbath and holy days, especially in regard to work and travel.

·        Marriage and divorce, including writing the bill of divorce and the grounds for divorce.

Most of the material related to Pharisees refers to legal rulings or opinions, concerned with orthopraxis more than orthodoxy. They certainly shared the monotheism of Jews. They also believed in the general resurrection and immortality suggests a loose connection with apocalyptic literature of the period. If we can draw anything from the beliefs of the apostle Paul about Pharisees in the period, at least a strand of their group had apocalyptic and messianic tendencies.  Josephus says that they affirmed all things happen because of fate while taking nothing away from human choice.

            The Sadducees were from the wealthy class in Jerusalem, associated with the high priest and temple authorities.  Many were also priests.  They rejected oral tradition as defined by Pharisees, adhering to the first five books of the Old Testament.  They adopted what we might call a plain reading of the books of Moses. They rejected apocalyptic themes. Therefore, they did not believe in the resurrection or a system of reward and punishment after death.  They cooperated with the Romans, becoming both a religious movement and a political party. They preserved worship at the Temple, the tithe, Sabbath, and circumcision.  Many of their views have their parallels in the scrolls of Qumran, especially in the laws and in the Temple Scroll.  Far from reasoning in a fundamentalist way, they reasoned that nothing that was not specifically in the Law bound them.  They were therefore free to adapt to the Greek culture as much as possible.

            Among the Romans, we note that by 6 AD, when Jesus would have been around 10 years old, the Roman prefect ruled Judea, largely because of the incompetence of the son of Herod the Great, Archelaus. The Roman prefect acted as the local military commander, administered the financial affairs of Judea for Rome, maintained garrison of troops in Jerusalem for security, and had life and death power over everyone in the province who was not a Roman citizen. In practice, he let the high priest in Jerusalem, along with other aristocrats around him, run most aspects of internal Jewish life, provided the aristocracy maintained good order among the Jews and saw to the collection of taxes and customs. The High Priest became mediator between Rome and the Jewish people. Between 6 AD and 66 AD, the tenure of both prefect and high priest were short. However, Valerius Gratus ruled from 15 to 26 AD and Pontius Pilate ruled from 26-36 as prefects and Joseph Caiaphas as high priest from 18-36 were exceptions. These three men during the lifetime of Jesus mastered the difficult balancing act of pleasing Rome and keeping order among the Jewish people. They mastered pragmatic politics. In Galilee and Perea, Herod Antipas reigned throughout the lifetime of Jesus, from 4 BC to 39 AD. He did offend Jewish sensibilities in public. No great unrest or uprising by the populace occurred during his reign. He also made sure that he caught the slightest danger to public order early and dealt with it. That policy led to the execution of John the Baptist.  I am suggesting that most of the life-time of Jesus was a relatively peaceful time, with both Roman and Jewish leaders skilled in minimizing major disturbances and bloodshed. We can envision that in 30 AD, when the problem of Jesus of Nazareth appeared before them, Caiaphas and Pilate had worked as a team before. The relationship of the Pharisees to these people of power would be that of low level bureaucrats, functionaries, and educators whom aristocrats depended upon to keep everyday government operating.

            The Samaritans as a religion worshipped Yahweh at Mt. Gerizim instead of Mt. Zion. They understood their priests as part of the line of Levites that extend back to Moses, as opposed to those who served in the Temple. They accepted the Torah only as their scripture. The present hostility between Jew and Samaritan became part of the rhetorical strategy of Jesus to reverse expectations. Jesus deplored this hostility, another case of wanting people to be in covenant relationship with each other.

            A zealot in the time of Jesus was not a distinct group, as later in 66-70 AD. Rather, any Jew who as intensely zealous for the practice of Mosaic Law, who insisted that fellow Jews strictly observe the Law as a means of separating Israel from Gentiles, and who might use harassment and violence to advance these ends.

            Rather than try to separate the sayings and deeds of Jesus into how they relate directly to the previous groups, I will simply put together the way Jesus directed his energies toward them. The main point is that Jesus directed his message to all Israel, rather than an elite group.

            Against his closest competitors among the people, scribes and Pharisees, he treated rather lightly the Law, which they treated with great seriousness.  He pronounced "Woe" as part of his on-going critique of their systems of holiness and purity. 


Luke 11:42-44 (NRSV)

42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honor in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces. 44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.”

Luke 11:46-48 (NRSV)

46 “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. 48 So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs.


He contrasted his own teaching with what Moses taught (Mk 7:9-13, 10:5-9). 


Mark 7:9-13 (NRSV)

9 Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Coban’ (that is, an offering to God)— 12 then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”

Mark 10:5-9 (NRSV)

5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”


            The "woe" was part of the teaching of wisdom, such as in Amos 5: 1 8, 6: 1, Isa 5, 28-33, Hb 2. As curse and judgment in apocalyptic, see Enoch 92ff, 94:6,7,8; 95:ff, 96:4-8. 

{?Q10:13 Damn you, Chorazin!  Damn you, Bethsaida!  If the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have sat in sackcloth and ashes and changed their ways long ago.  14 But Tyre and Sidon will be better off at the judgment than you.  15 And you, Capernaum, you don't think you'll be exalted to heaven, do you?  No, you'll go to Hell.}

{?Q11:42 Woe to you, Pharisees! You pay tithes on mint and rue and every herb, but neglect justice and the love of God.  You should have attended to the last without neglecting the first.}

{Q11:43 Woe to you, Pharisees! You're so fond of the prominent seat in synagogues and respectful greetings in marketplaces.}

{?Q11:44 Woe to you!  You are like unmarked graves which people walk on without realizing it.}

{?Q11:46 Woe to you legal experts too!  You load people down with crushing burdens, but you yourselves don't lift a finger to help carry them.}

{?Q11:47 Woe to you!  You erect monuments to the prophets whom your ancestors murdered.  48 You are therefore witnesses to and approve of the deeds of your ancestors: they killed the prophets and you erect monuments to them.}

Mt23:24 You blind leaders! You strain out a gnat and gulp down a camel.


The woes register a reading of the local culture in which Jesus lived.  Read within the framework of the traditional interpretation of this passage, these woes appear as oracular denunciations of a recalcitrant, devious, and ostentatious self­ righteousness, still referred to sometimes as Pharisaism.  The imprecation "woe to you" becomes in this case a proleptic verdict of damnation, although Jesus uttered the sayings introduced by it as part of an erstwhile mission to Israel.  Let us look at the “woe” statements in another way.  What is the precise point of the woes?  Does Jesus chastise them because they do not do to perfection the things they were supposed to do?  Alternatively, is the problem that they do very well precisely what they proposed to perform?  At stake is the very notion of moral integrity itself so virtuously embodied by them.  Jesus makes the Pharisees the object of his woes precisely because they observed the law more zealously than they observed anyone else in their immediate social setting.  They promoted the conventional covenanted way of life of local society.  It was precisely this belief in a normative ethos that the woes set out to scrutinize.  The woes put into question basic practices of the socio-religious system represented by the Pharisees.  Jesus prodded the system itself with these “woe” statements.  The woes do not criticize the Pharisees in order to advance another social program.  The woes do not signal a complete rejection or total condemnation of the Pharisees, but a depreciation of them.  The Pharisees are not everything that people thought they were.  Once the followers of Jesus see and affirm this truth, it might be possible to live with them.  Bursting the bubble of the Pharisees' desire for complete obedience and faithfulness created room for persons like Jesus, unattracted to such spiritual grandeur, to continue culturally cohabiting with them.  In fact, it was the urge toward dominance in the intellectual and spiritual program of the Pharisees that the woes by Jesus seek to upset.  The fundamental urge behind the Pharisees' approach to Jewish social life and identity was an ideal.  The woes represent an anarchist or antinomian vision for which the successful achievement of total compliance with the law could only mean the triumph of tyranny and the orderly imposition of complete unhappiness.

            The constant tweaking of the contrast between appearance and reality characterized the Cynics as well, who never ceased to bring their rhetorical inventiveness and sardonic sense of humor to bear upon the gap.  It may be that the sheer press of established ways was such that, practically speaking, all Jesus could hope for was to unsettle things a bit.

            These verses observe the basic incongruity in the ambition of the Pharisees to attain a state of perfect holiness via a thoroughgoing system of personal purity.  After all, people cannot finally achieve true virtue in this fashion, given the enduring imperfection of reality.  This imperfection includes both the instruments of purification and the agents who use them.  However, Jesus is less mischievous and playful than are the Cynic statements.

            Jesus calls the attempt by the Pharisees to elaborate their faith's tradition to the utmost degree by dwelling on the smallest of daily details as long on effort, but short on principle.  The forest has been lost amidst the trees.

            While the Pharisees enjoy a certain position of social status, they do not use it in accordance with its function and possibilities, but simply hold on to the privilege of having it.  Implied is a certain self-consciousness to the Pharisees' imperfect righteousness.  The Pharisees currently occupy a certain position of power, being able to control access to a specific experience of knowledge, seen as desirable by others.  Beyond being an immature thing to do, Jesus declares that the very idea of locking people out impossible if the intent is to deny something truly important to those who need it.  The Pharisees enjoy a certain power or privilege without, however, doing anything constructive with it.  If what the Pharisees lock up truly mattered, they would finally not be able to deny anyone access to it.  If, on the hand, they succeed in keeping certain people out, then the experience is hardly worth the effort in the first place.

            Jesus brings a new vision, a new direction, for Judaism.  Jesus had a relaxed attitude toward Law and Hebrew Scripture.  He knew he offered new wine.  He knew the days of the Temple were numbered.  The conflict between him and religious leaders built to a climax.

            Jesus treated the Law with indifference.  He did not just exegete the law.  The law had become a tool of human authority exercised by Pharisees and priests over the peasants.  It was no longer an expression of the will of God.  He likely did so because it blinded his fellow Jews from acting rightly in the critically times in which they lived.  The problem was not that of hypocrisy.  It was the fact that they did so well at something which no longer mattered.  Jesus knew that if people forever tied the one God to the historically and culturally bound forms of law, land, and temple, the universally valid content of Judaism would never go beyond Israel.  Israel would never become the “light to the nations” that the prophets promised. Judaism tied the law in particular to the historical identity of Israel.  To that extent, people could know the one God only in Israel.  The law had become a sign of Israel’s separation from the rest of the nations.

            They tithe, but they pay no attention to justice (Q 11:42). 


Luke 11:42 (NRSV)

42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.


They expect people to treat them well at public gatherings (Q 11:43, Mk 12:38-39). 


Luke 11:43 (NRSV)

43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honor in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces.

Matthew 12:38-39 (NRSV)

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.


They memorialize the great prophets of the past without heeding their warning (Q 11:44, 47, Th. 89:1-2, Q 11:39-41). 


Luke 11:44 (NRSV)

44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.”

Luke 11:47 (NRSV)

47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed.

Luke 11:39-41 (NRSV)

39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.


They do not help people who must carry great burdens (Q 11:46). 


Luke 11:46 (NRSV)

46 And he said, “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.


The Sabbath law is not absolute, but serves humanity (Mk 2:27, Lk 14:5). 


Mark 2:27 (NRSV)

27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath;

Luke 14:5 (NRSV)

5 Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?”


Laws for ritual purity are no longer absolute, for moral cleansing is more significant (Mk 7:14, 18). 


Mark 7:14 (NRSV)

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand:

Mark 7:18 (NRSV)

18 He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile,


While they offer fine prayers, they take money from widows (Mk 12:40). 


Mark 12:40 (NRSV)

40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”


They know what Judaism is about, but they withhold that knowledge from others (Th. 39:1-2, Q 11:52). 


Luke 11:52 (NRSV)

52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”


Jesus told a story against the Pharisee by saying that God did not accept his prayer while the prayer of the hated toll collector was accepted (Lk 18:10-14). 


Luke 18:10-14 (NRSV)

10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”


When asked about the poll tax, he invites people to give the emperor his coin, but give to God what belongs to God (Mk 12:14­-17). 


Mark 12:14-17 (NRSV)

14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? 15 Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” 16 And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.


When asked by what authority Jesus said and did all this, he avoids a direct answer by asking them a question about John the Baptist (Mk 11:27-30, 33).

            By the way, Cynics also chided the emphasis on externals, which people could perform without a corresponding inner reality:


"Seeing someone perform religious purification, Diogenes said, 'O unhappy one, don't you know that you cannot get rid of errors of conduct through sprinkling any more than you can mistakes in grammar?"'


"Diogenes was also moved to an that persons should sacrifice to the gods to ensure health

and in the midst of the sacrifice feast to the detriment of health."


 "Once he saw the officials of a temple leading away someone who had stolen a bowl

belonging to the treasurers, and said, 'The big thieves are leading away the little one."'


"Law is a good thing, but it is not superior to philosophy.  For the former compels a person not to do wrong, but the latter teaches one not to do wrong.  To the degree that doing something under compulsion is worse than doing it willingly, to that degree law is worse than philosophy.  For this reason do philosophy and do not take part in government.  For it is better to know the means by which persons are taught to do right than to know the means by which they are compelled not to do wrong."


Preoccupation with the minutiae of a religious system is faulted for its failure to advance what ought to have been presumably the faith's ultimate aims and primary values.

            In this critique, Jesus directly characterizes the Pharisees through analysis of their behavior.  He applies a metaphorical description.  He contrasts the official posture of the Pharisees as legislators and their human, all too human, inability or unwillingness to promote fulfillment of the laws they make.  This is consistent with Cynics as well:


"And Diogenes used to wonder that the grammarians would investigate the ills of Odysseus, but be ignorant of their own.  Or that the musicians would tune the strings of the lyre, but leave the dispositions of their souls discordant; that the mathematicians would gaze at the sun and the moon, but overlook matters at their feet; that the orators would make a fuss about justice in their speeches, but never practice it; or that the avaricious would cry out against money, but love it excessively."


The point is plain.  Such persons say one thing and do another.  Some people are always ready to solve everyone else's problems but their own.  The use and abuse of authority may be an additional factor.  The indiscriminate exercise of power always ultimately works against itself.  Instead of demonstrating the extent of one's strength, the result is rather diminished effectiveness and a reduced range of influence.  On the example of erecting monuments:


"As Stilpon says, neglecting the living because of the dead is the mark of a person who does not reason correctly."


            He also debated Hebrew Scripture, though on a limited basis.  He pointed out that the scripture honors parents, while Pharisees had laws that permitted people to avoid giving such honor (Mk 7:9-18). 


Mark 7:9-18 (NRSV)

9 Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Coban’ (that is, an offering to God)— 12 then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

17 When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile,


He approved the commandments (Mk 10:19). 


Mark 10:19 (NRSV)

19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ”


He debated the issue of the resurrection of the dead (Mk 12:24-27), concluding that the God of the patriarchs defines who God is, and therefore they must remain alive just as God is living.


Mark 12:24-27 (NRSV)

24 Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”


He teaches that at some point in the reign of God, past generations will rise from the dead and that faithful Israelites would share in a new type of life that leaves behind old relationships established by marriage and sexuality.  He debated the issue of divorce, contrasting the relaxed views of Moses with his standard of applying an absolute prohibition to divorce and remarriage based on the Holiness Code in Leviticus (Q 16:18).


Luke 16:18 (NRSV)

18 “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.


            He viewed the Pharisee as blind trying to lead the blind (Q 6:39), as being critical of others while not seeing their own faults (Q 6:41-42), as not bearing good fruits (Q 6:43, 44b, 45). 


Luke 6:39 (NRSV)

39 He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?

Luke 6:41-42 (NRSV)

41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend,let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Luke 6:43 (NRSV)

43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit;

Luke 6:44 (NRSV)

44b Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.

Luke 6:45 (NRSV)

45 The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.


They are like vultures who gather over the carcass, which could be Jesus himself (Q 17:37). 


Luke 17:37 (NRSV)

37 Then they asked him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”


They pay attention to minutiae while allowing for greater faults (Mt 23:24). 


Matthew 23:24 (NRSV)

24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!


"... when you give to charity, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing ..." (Mt 6:3).  'When you fast, comb your hair and wash your face" (Mt 6:17).

            Jesus was fatalistic about this battle.  He used the image of wine to describe his situation.  He brought young wine.  The problem is that people prefer aged wine (Lk 5:39, Mk 2:21). 


Luke 5:39 (NRSV)

39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’ ”

Mark 2:21 (NRSV)

21 “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.


He even got tired enough of the conflict that he said whoever is not against us is on our side (Mk 9:40). 


Mark 9:40 (NRSV)

40 Whoever is not against us is for us.


He viewed himself as a prophet, though as one not welcome in Nazareth (Th. 31:1, Q 4:24). 


Luke 4:24 (NRSV)

24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.


The fact that many rejected him led him to say, "Congratulations to those who don't take offense at me" (Q 7:23).  After all, it was easy to take offense.  There could be no divine confirmation during his ministry.  The followers of Jesus could confirm his message only if it stood the test of time.  Even then, they can confirm in only in a provisional way.

            Above the battle, in spite of the fact that he appeared to be losing, "I was watching Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (Lk 10:18).  His own ministry was casting fire on the earth (Th. 10, Lk 12:49).


Luke 12:49 (NRSV)

49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!


Ethics and economics

            As part of his ethical instruction, Jesus adopted a casual approach to economics, thereby refusing to become indebted to the economic and political system of his day.  By not feeling the need to protect what they had, Jesus took every material means of manipulating and imposing oneself on Jesus and his first followers out of their enemies' hands.  Such injunctions as follows were smart moves under the circumstances.  Such counsel is a subversive wisdom. Such a deviation from established patterns in society is an attempt to upset the social order or disorder created by these patterns of both thought and action.

            The social situation in which Jesus found himself suggested a relaxed attitude toward wealth.  The governing class, for example, was one percent of the population but received 25% of the national income.  The retainer class averaged around 5% of the population and ranged from scribes and bureaucrats to soldiers and generals.  Their function was to serve the political elite.  The upper classes viewed the peasant classes with suspicion, largely because the upper classes allowed them to have the necessities of life, and that was all.  With necessities provided, this large class, comprising as much as 65% of the population, would not rebel.  The society vested economic and political power in about 6% of the population.  There was little hope of moving into that elite.  Normally one was born into it.  Thus, what Jesus said and did in regard to wealth was a form of resistance to the dominant social institutions of the day. Jesus and his followers are not indebted to this world, opening the possibility of normally inconceivable options for dealing with evil and injustice that the Jewish people faced.

            This is subversive wisdom of the Cynic regarding money and its proper management.  Significant deviation from the usual habits for handling such an issue is an effort to upset the social order or disorder created by these patterns of both thought and action.  We should see everything in these verses as part of the regular daily grind of a subjugated people's struggle to survive.  Personal violence and theft are as normal a part of everyday existence as the more peaceable exchange of goods and services.  By behaving in a different fashion from typical collegiality would they be able to realize their distinctive virtue.


Crates: "You will be able to open your purse easily and to give away freely what you draw out with your hand: not as you do now, calculating, hesitant, trembling, as those with shaky hands.  But you will regard a purse that is full as full and after you see that it is empty, you will not complain."


                "Give to everyone who begs from you..." (Q 6:30) is a rule that if followed would lead to impoverishment.  Sparrows are cared for by God, people are worth far more than they (Q12:6). 


Luke 12:6 (NRSV)

6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight.


"Don't fret about life." God provides for the birds.  God takes care of nature.  So will you be provided for (Q l2:22-28). Philippians (60-62 from a prison in Rome) 4:6, "Have no anxiety about anything ..." suggests that Paul has some awareness of the following saying.


Luke 12:22-28 (NRSV)

22 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!


The burden of wealth ought not to afflict the followers of Jesus at all.  "Sell your belongings, and donate to charity..." (Q 12:33).  Wealth gets in the way of serving God totally: "No servant can be a slave to two masters.  No doubt that slave will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You can't be enslaved to God and a bank account" (Q 16:13).  His charge to one person was simple: "You are missing one thing.  Make your move, sell whatever you have and give the proceeds to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  And then come, follow me!" (Mk 10:21) In fact, "What good does it do a person to acquire the whole world and pay for it with life?" (Mk 8:36) In this world, there is only one way to be: "Become passersby" (Th. 42).  It happens all the time.  The rich think only of themselves, while the poor are all around them (Q 16:19-26). 


Luke 16:19-26 (NRSV)

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’


A rich person often thinks only of themselves, and rarely of their eternal destiny (Th. 63:1-3, Lk 12:16-21). 


Luke 12:16-21 (NRSV)

16 “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”


Further, "How difficult it is for those who have money to enter the kingdom of God" (Mk 10:23).  "It's easier for a camel to squeeze through a needle's eye than for a wealthy person to get into the kingdom of God" (Mk 10:25).

Jesus has this relaxed this attitude toward wealth because his own vision of happiness is not placed in the economic hierarchical system created by Roman civic action.  Rather, "Whoever tries to hang on to life will forfeit it, but whoever forfeits life will preserve it" (Q 17:33).  "What would a person give in exchange for life?" (Mk 8:37) Death is the great equalizer.  All too many do not consider the ethical power of death.  After all, "I tell you, on that night there will be two on the couch: one will be taken and the other left.  There will be two women grinding together: one will be taken, the other left" (Q 17:34).

            We need to balance this attitude toward wealth with the many images that Jesus used from the business world of his day.  The merchant class, though it could gain enough to wealth to gain a moderate degree of power, in general was only slightly wealthier than the peasant was.  This was the one path for the peasant to get out of subsistence living.  They confronted the upper classes because of the market rather than politics or the military.  For example, A wealthy person invites people to his dinner party, but is turned down, so others are "forced" to come in so that the house will be filled (Q 14:16-23).  A wealthy man leaves three slaves in charge of money, two of whom invest their money, and of whom buries it (Qm 25:14-27).  A wealthy man gives the younger son his inheritance long before he was required to (Lk 15:11-32).  A rich man had a manager whom he accused of squandering his money (Lk 16:1-8).  A wealthy man settled accounts with his slaves, forgave one 10 million dollars, yet that same slave could not forgive someone else only $100 (Mt 18:23-34).  A wealthy Samaritan helped a Jew who was beaten and robbed (Lk 10:30-35).  The kingdom of God is like a trader looking for beautiful pearls (Mt 13:45-46), or like a proprietor who hired people at different times of the day, yet paid all the same (Mt 20:1-15).  The unexpected coming of divine intervention will be like the wealthy person who puts slaves in charge, each with a task, and each expected to keep alert (Mk 13:34-36).  That Jesus used such images suggests he was more acquainted with business dealings than some have thought.

Ethics and the way of wisdom

            In II Corinthians (II Cor 10-13 in Spring or summer of 56 from Thessalonica) 10:1, Paul seems aware of the general character of Jesus, namely, "the meekness and gentleness of Christ..." Philippians 2:7-8 is part of an early, possibly Aramaic hymn that has the phrase: "... taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of humanity.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross." This could well be a vivid description from the church in Israel concerning the impression Jesus left upon those who knew him, that he was indeed a "servant." Further, "He humbled himself' may refer to his whole life, though especially the passion and death.  Paul in Rom 5:12ff also emphasizes his obedience.  In this case, his humility and obedience to the cross may represent an early impression of the manner in which Jesus accepted his fate.

            Jesus used the common wisdom of the time to invite others to listen to what he had to say.  "Anyone here with two good ears had better listen" (Q 14:35).  The typical wisdom of the time was that "The last will be first and the first last" (Qm 20: 16). He contrasted his insights with that of others: Can the blind lead the blind?  Won't they both fall into some ditch? (Q6:39) He drew several sayings from common wisdom, which illustrates the effect this way of life might have.  "No one lights a lamp and then puts it in a cellar or under a bushel basket, but rather on a lampstand so that those who come in can see the light" (Q 11:33).  "Since when is the lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket or under the bed?  It's put on the lampstand, isn't it?" (Mk 4:21).  "Salt is good and salty.  But if salt loses its zing, how will it be renewed?  It's no good for either earth or manure.  It just gets thrown away" (Q 14:35). Colossians 4:6, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt" may reflect some knowledge of this saying. “Salt is good and salty - if salt becomes bland, with what will you renew it?” (Mk 9:50a).  "Maintain 'salt' among yourselves and be at peace with one another" (Mk 9:50b). "A city setting on top of a mountain can't be concealed" (Mt5:l4b).  "For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed" (Th. 5:2, Mk 4:22).

Ethics as interpretation of Torah

            Jesus taught in the area of ethics, giving specific advice concerning the critical nature of the times. The sharpened edge to this ethic arises out of the sense Jesus had of the soon arrival of the rule of God. Although I suggest that Jesus offered interpretation of portions of Torah, he did not offer his followers a new code by which to live. He had respect for many of the regulations of the day. He probably obeyed Jewish dietary laws. We have no record of Jesus breaking most of the purity legislation, although he did conflict with religious leaders at some points.

            He accepted the shema.  "The first is, 'Hear, Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord, and you are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and with all your energy.' The second is this: 'You are to love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mk 12:29-31).  In Galatians (early 57 from Macedonia) 5:14 and Romans (early 57 from Macedonia) 13:8-10 there is the reference of loving your neighbor as yourself.


Galatians 5:14 (NRSV)

14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Romans 13:8-10 (NRSV)

8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.


Nietzsche rather famously objected to this love of neighbor as a form of weakness. It represents fleeing from one’s own dignity and honor and losing oneself in the other. He rightly contrasts Jesus and the value of bravery and courage in military battle of which the Greeks wrote. At the same time, Nietzsche failed to see the form courage took in Jesus and in those who followed him through the application of the principle of love to persons regardless of social class or ethnic group. Nor does it matter whether the neighbor is a good or righteous person. Jesus simply calls upon followers to love the neighbor regardless of what they do. We cannot understand this love apart from the important connection Jesus makes between the love the Father has for all and that the follower can experience that love. The parable of the prodigal son is the supreme example of this love, as well as the parable of the large debt the owner forgives of one of his servants. Jesus appears convinced that this Christian love arises out of the abundance of love and forgiveness extended to us, rather than out of some Platonic sense of lack. Such love remembers that the Father demonstrated love for us while we owed a large debt, while we were in the far country, and while we were sinners (Paul). Therefore, we owe this love to our neighbor. This love does not seek the possession of the object loved, but the good of the object loved, in this case being the neighbor. Further, the objection that Jesus does not display love toward his opponents forgets that love can take a stern, educative, and corrective turn. Thus, even though Jesus entered into vigorous debate with religious leaders, suggesting that the promises God made to Israel God now extends to humanity because he has come, is said to them out of care, concern, and love for them. The whole entry into public ministry one could view as an act of love by Jesus for his people. In fact, Pannenberg suggests the possibility that the message of Jesus centers on how seriously Judaism will take the shema.  The rule of God requires an ultimate decision on the part of the person.  Is there in the message of Jesus a provocative use of the shema? My suggestion is that Jesus may well have viewed Torah in light of the two great commandments, granting normative status to those laws that enabled one to fulfill them. In practice, this meant that if Torah or oral tradition became an obstacle to the love of God and neighbor, then Jesus willingly set them aside.

            We might also note that Jesus valued the Ten Commandments: “You know the commandments: `You must not murder, you are not to commit adultery, you are not to steal, you are not to give false testimony, you are not to defraud, and you are to honor your father and mother.'” (Mark 10:19).

            Jesus noted how the religious leaders of the day developed ways of paying attention to matters of Torah that truly did not matter to God. In Colossians (60-­62 from a prison in Rome) 2:22 refers to "human precepts and doctrines," which is a reminder of a possible exchange on a point of Jewish reflected in the following verses.


Mk7:9 How expert you've become at putting aside God's commandment to establish your own tradition.  10 For instance, Moses said, `Honor your father and your mother' and `Those who curse their father or mother will surely die.'  11 But you say, `If people say to their father or mother, Whatever I might have spent to support you is korban ... 12 you no longer let those persons do anything for their father or mother.  13 So you end up invalidating God's word with your own tradition, which you then perpetuate.  And you do all kinds of other things like that!


            He gave practical counsel concerning charity, tithing, prayer and fasting: "... trust that you will receive everything you pray and ask for, and that's the way it will turn out" (Mk 11:24).  'When you pray, go into a room by yourself and shut the door behind you" (Mt 6:6a).  When you give to charity, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Mt 6:3). You tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others (Lk 11:42). When you fast, comb your hair and wash your face (Mt 6:17). He encouraged prayer because of the nature of the Father in heaven (Qm7:9-11):


Matthew 7:9-11

Who among you would hand a son a stone when it's bread he's asking for?  10 Again, who would hand him a snake when it's fish he's asking for?  Of course no one would!  11 So if you, shiftless as you are, know how to give your children good gifts, isn't it much more likely that your Father in the heavens will give good things to those who ask him?


Further, Jesus claimed a unique relationship with his heavenly Father:


Luke 10:21 (NRSV)

21 I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.


The relationship that Jesus had with his Father in heaven, Jesus extended to his followers as he taught them to pray.


Luke 11:2-4 (NRSV)

2 “Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

3      Give us each day our daily bread.

4      And forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

And do not bring us to the time of trial.”


            Jesus disagreed with purity legislation of the day. Romans 14:14 claims Paul is "persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself ..." This statement reflects some knowledge of the following statements.


Mk7:14 Listen to me, all of you, and try to understand!  15 It's not what goes into a person from the outside that can defile; rather it's what comes out of the person that defiles.

Mk7:18 Are you as dim-witted as the rest?  Don't you realize that nothing from outside can defile by going into a person, 19 because it doesn't get to the heart but passes into the stomach, and comes out in the out-house?

Th 89: 1 Why do you wash the outside of the cup?  2 Don't you understand that the one who made the inside is also the one who made the outside? Q11:39-41


            Jesus disagreed with common interpretations of the Torah concerning Sabbath. In this case, he lowered the standard for Sabbath observance. Everyone recognized the allowance for saving life on the Sabbath, but not everyone allowance for doing good on the Sabbath when one could wait until the next day to do it.


Mk2:27, The Sabbath day was created for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath day.  28 So, the son of Man lords it even over the Sabbath day.

Lk14:5 Suppose your son or your ox falls down a well, would any of you hesitate for a second to pull him out on the Sabbath day?


            Jesus also gave some interpretation of the Torah. I grant that several of the passages to which I refer many New Testament scholars would not consider as authentic statements from Jesus. As I have reviewed the matter, I would offer this reflection. We know that Jesus was primarily a teacher within the Judaism of 28-30 AD. On what basis can we suggest that Jesus would not offer theologically challenging of Torah?

            Jesus interpreted the fifth commandment concerning murder in a way that applies to one’s emotional and thought life.


Matthew 5:21-22 (NRSV)

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.


This interpretation is consistent with other teachings of Jesus concerning what to do with anger and reconciling with each other. Romans 14:4, 'Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?" reflects knowledge of the Q statement in Lk 6:37. 


Matthew 5:23-24 (NRSV)

23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5:25-26 (NRSV)

25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Luke 6:41-42 (NRSV)

41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Luke 6:37 (NRSV)

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven …


In one parable, he counseled them to settle disputes now (Q 12:58-59). 


Luke 12:58-59 (NRSV)

58 Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”


Jesus practiced this forgiveness in his life in one memorable incident.


John 7:53-8:11 (NRSV)

53 Then each of them went home, 1 while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”


            He had disregard for the sinful past of others.  Such forgiveness is a participation in the alternative reality established by Jesus' overcoming what separates us from God.  We have already seen that as Jesus turned toward tax collectors and sinners in table fellowship is an inclusion of such persons in the saving love of God.  Resentment and violence was spiraling out of sight.  The owner of some farmland sent his own son to collect the wealth owed him, and people killed his son.  Injustice and violence were getting out of hand (Th. 65, Mk 12:1-8).


Mark 12:1-8 (NRSV)

“A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 2 When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. 3 But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4 And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. 5 Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. 6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.


A wealthy Samaritan helped a Jew who was beaten and robbed (Lk 10:30-35). 


Luke 10:30-35 (NRSV)

30 “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’


            Jesus offered an interpretation of the of the sixth commandment that suggests that one has already been unfaithful to one’s spouse if one has seriously considered another person as a sexual partner.


Matthew 5:27-28 (NRSV)

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.


Jesus disagreed with current legislation concerning marriage, divorce, and remarriage.


Mk10:5 He (Moses) gave you this injunction because you are obstinate.  6 However, in the beginning, at the creation, `God made them male and female.'  7 For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, 8 and the two will become one person,' so they are no longer two individuals but `one person.'  9 Therefore those God has coupled together, no one else should separate.


In I Corinthians (Fall of 54 from Ephesus) 7:10-11, Paul makes it clear that it is "the Lord" who said that the wife should not separate from her husband, which reflects knowledge of a saying on divorce which is in both Q and Mk. 


1 Corinthians 7:10-11 (NRSV)

10 To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.


            Jesus considered the matter of truthfulness by his followers seriously. Given the propensity toward needing oaths to make sure one tells the truth, he wants followers to have the integrity of their word.


Matthew 5:33-37 (NRSV)

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.


            Jesus taught an ethic for his followers designed to deal with a hostile environment.  It was a critique of the major forces in his country, which he believed were leading the nation to destruction.  It is important to hear this ethic, not in light of our social setting, but in the light of Jesus and his first followers.

            Jesus knew that military resistance was not likely to work.  Jesus saw the spiral of violence.  He saw where it would lead.  Some form of liberation from the menace of unresolved hostility and sporadic military repression, with personal enmity and the permanent threat of abuse, was the objective of such injunctions.  We must assume the pervasive and seriously destabilizing nature of all colonial rule as such.  Scholars have assumed that “organized” political projects of resistance and revolt did not become fully articulated in Galilee and Judea until much closer to the outbreak of the first Jewish war.  However, it could hardly have been business as usual after the Roman arrived on the scene although the Romans compelled commercial and other businesses to function more productively than before.

            There are parallels in Cynic literature.  Diogenes: "When asked by someone how to repulse an enemy, he replied, 'You be kind and good to him."'  Striking someone was a form of insult among Jews and Romans.  In these verses, a certain proactive strategy of passive resistance is apparent.  Not always successful, the same behavior may nonetheless frequently produce a holding pattern, delayed attack, bewilderment, and retreat, if not defeat on the part of the predator.


Epictetus: "Does anything seem strange to him?  Does he not expect worse and harsher treatment from the wicked than actually befalls him?  Does he not count it as gain whenever they fail to go to the limit?  'So-and-so reviled you.' I am greatly obliged to him for not striking me.  'But he also struck you.' I am greatly obliged to him for not wounding me.  'But he also wounded you.' I am greatly obliged to him for not killing me." "Now the Cynic must have such patient endurance that most people will think that he is insensate and a stone.  Nobody reviles him; nobody beats him; nobody insults him.  But his body he himself has given for anyone who wants to use it as they see f it."


            Jesus had no basis for political, economic, or military power.  His counsel recognized that it was important to keep opponents off guard.

            He encouraged the people to comply with the Romans:


Mk 12:17 Pay the emperor what belongs to the emperor, and God what belongs to God!


            He encouraged his followers to love enemies (Q 6:27), even though it does not make sense.  Enemies are not generally those we love; those we love are not usually our enemies.  In addition, the saying does not assume that such love will bring about their conversion.  The assumption is that they will remain enemies.  He invites followers to love those from whom one can expect no return. He imagines the same ethical action in his rather ridiculous statement, "When someone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other as well" (Q 6:29a). They are not to react violently to one who is evil (Mt 5:39a).  If someone requires you to go one mile, ask if you can go two miles (Mt 5:41).  In fact, such forgiveness of wrongs is to go to ridiculous extremes, precisely because God has already forgiven us our own wrongs (Mt 18:23-34). 


Matthew 5:39 (NRSV)

39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.

Matthew 5:41 (NRSV)

41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

Matthew 18:23-34 (NRSV)

23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.


            Jesus also encouraged people to apply love and forgiveness in personal relationships.


Q6:32 If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that?  After all, even sinners love those who love them.

Q6:37 Don't pass judgment, and you won't be judged; don't condemn, and you won't be condemned ...

Q6:37b ... forgive, and you'll be forgiven.

Q6:41 Why do you notice the sliver in your friend's eye, but overlook the timber in your own?  42 How can you say to your friend, `Friend, let me get the sliver in your eye,' when you do not notice the timber in your own?  You phony, first take the timber out of your own eye, and then you'll see well enough to remove the sliver in your friend's eye.


            The matter of non-resistance on which Jesus insisted has a specific social and cultural context that we need to consider before we can discern the norm for Christian behavior it suggests. Ambrose and Augustine suggested this meant that no Christian could defend oneself from violence, for this would harm genuine love toward the neighbor. However, one could act to defend one’s neighbor. A further problem arises when abstracting the non-resistance taught Jesus to another cultural setting, the matter of pacifism arises as a national policy. When we recognize the teaching of Jesus as a strategy for dealing with the specific circumstance of the occupation of Rome, we can see better the norm suggested. I think I could make a strong case that had Judaism in the first century accepted what Jesus taught in this matter, the terrible destruction of the Temple and of the city of Jerusalem would not have occurred. Of course, Jesus noted that it was unlikely his contemporaries would follow this path, leading to the destruction of the Temple. The point is that non-resistance was a form of life designed for a particular setting. Jesus wanted to avoid the immense loss of human life and culture that he foresaw if Judaism in Palestine continued down the path of active military resistance to Rome. He foresaw the expansion of evil, and believed the principle of non-resistance in this setting would reduce that expansion. If the setting changes, the discerning follower of Jesus at least needs to consider if non-resistance remains valid or if non-resistance leads to the expansion of evil. On a personal level, stopping someone from doing violence to oneself may have the effect of stopping future violence by that person to others. Some vocations of modern life involve one in complex situations, such as police and fire fighters, as well as soldiers, which require discerning Christian involvement. On a national scale, the recognition that some political leaders embody violence to such a degree that love for one’s neighbor calls one to act in their defense and thereby lessen the expansion of evil is an important possibility for consideration. To complicate matters further, one needs some discernment as to the form of life embedded in a culture that one defends. In a brutal military dictatorship, non-resistance may well be the courageous act. In a culture that values individuals and freedom, non-resistance on a national scale may well mean the expansion of violence and evil. The point here is that one cannot responsibly apply any teaching of the New Testament, including that of Jesus, without carefully discerning the normative value of the text.

            Jesus reminded people regularly: “The last will be first and the first last” (Q20:16). This view is consistent with the beatitudes:


Q 6:20 Congratulations, you poor!  God's kingdom belongs to you.

Q 6:21a Congratulations, you hungry!  You will have a feast.

Q 6:21b Congratulations, you who weep now!  You will laugh.


            "Treat people the way you want them to treat you" (Q6:31).  "For the standard you apply will be the standard applied to you" (Q 6:38b).  "Those who promote themselves will be demoted, and those who demote themselves will be promoted" (Q 14:11). 

            To conclude the matter of ethical life, Jesus considered that behavior arises out of the kind of person or character one had. Jesus reminded people that the fruit of their lives revealed what was within them.


Q6:43 For a choice tree does not produce rotten fruit, any more than a rotten tree produces choice fruit; 44 for each tree is known by its fruit. ... 45 The good person produces good from the fund of good in the heart, and the evil person produces evil from the evil within.  After all, out of the surplus of the heart the mouth speaks.

Q6:44b Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from brambles.

Ethics and moral seriousness

            It was an ethically demanding time: "Struggle to get in through the narrow door; I'm telling you, many will try to get in, but won't be able" (Q 13:24).  Temptations existed on every side that they needed to resist:


"Your eye is the body's lamp.  When your eye is clear, your whole body is flooded with light.  When your eye is clouded, your body is shrouded in darkness.  Take care, then, that the light within you is not darkness.  If then your whole body is flooded with light, and no corner of it is darkness, it will be completely illuminated as when a lamp's rays engulf you" (Q 11:34-36). 

"And if your hand gets you into trouble, cut it off!  It is better for you to enter life maimed than to wind up in Gehenna, in the unquenchable fire, with both hands!  And if your foot gets you into trouble, cut it off! it is better for you to enter life lame than to be thrown into Gehenna with both feet!  And if your eye gets you into I trouble, rip it out!  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God one-eyed than to be thrown into Gehenna with both eyes!" (Mk 9:43-47)

Jesus and Jerusalem: His Fate and Resurrection

            In relation to the Temple, Jesus said people turned it into a hideout for crooks (Mk 11:17). 


Mark 11:17 (NRSV)

17 He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?

But you have made it a den of robbers.”


He invited the people to look at the beautiful buildings, but every stone will be knocked down (Mk 13:2).


Mark 13:2 (NRSV)

2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”


Jesus even overturned tables in the Temple, in a prophetic act of destruction toward it (Mk 11: 15-16). 


Mark 11:15-16 (NRSV)

15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16 and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.


Such acts expressed an intolerable arrogance on the part of Jesus, who threatened leaders in Jerusalem with the heavenly judgment of the Son of Man. It also provided a pretext for handing him for to Rome for an offense that carried with it a capital sentence.

                Jesus was not a political or military leader.  There is no evidence in the gospel materials or in the early history of the church in Palestine that Jesus or his followers were part of any anti-Roman movement.  In fact, as Dixon Mendels in The Rise and Fall of Jewish Nationalism (1992) notes, from 6 AD to 66 AD there were no such movements in Palestine.  Rather, there were only localized skirmishes when Jewish people perceived Romans to interfere with their religious practice.  The upper classes as well as the rabbis of the synagogue accepted the division of politics and military on the one hand, and religion on the other.  Nationalists would again gain the upper hand in the period from 66 to 70, leading to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

            Therefore, Jesus fits in quite well with the separation of politics from religion which existed in Palestine from 6 AD to 66 AD.  In this, Jesus was similar to the Pharisees, to millennial prophets, and to Essenes and different from the bandit and the messiah.

            Why did the authorities crucify Jesus?  Pharisees, Sadducees, Priests, Essenes, all existed along side the Romans.  It was often the millennial prophet, the bandit, and the messiah, whom the Romans killed.  One unifying characteristic of these groups deserves mention.  All had support among peasants and unclean classes.  All existed outside the stable institutional structures with which the Romans could negotiate.  For the Romans, the peasants were a large class of workers that they needed to keep occupied in order to gain wealth, but keep poor so as not to create another class of people in direct competition with them.  Anyone who gained popularity among them was automatically a threat to them.

            I Thessalonians (Winter of 50-51, from Corinth) 2:13 16, Paul shows an elementary knowledge of the death of Jesus, telling them the church in Thessalonica suffered in the same way as Jesus, who suffered at the hands of his own fellow citizens, as they did, and killed him, as well as driving out other Christians from Jerusalem and Israel.  He also classifies their treatment of Jesus as consistent with their treatment of the prophets, which reflects the same reasoning as in Q (Mt 23.29-37).

            What can we be reasonably certain happened?  Only two years before, Pilate backed down to a group of peasants who were willing to die before they gave in to Pilate.  He came to know their moral power.  Now, Jesus comes to Jerusalem for Passover.  He says God will destroy the Temple.  He even creates a disturbance in the Temple, using prophetic symbolism to destroy it.  He arouses peasants, who are present in Jerusalem.  All of this suggests that Jesus viewed himself in messianic terms, combining the suffering servant passages of Isaiah with messianic expectations. He likely viewed himself as taking upon himself the disobedience of Israel, as suggested in Isaiah 53, in order to effect a new development in the relationship between God and Israel. His view that the kingdom of God came in his ministry opened the possibility for his awareness of his unique relationship to God as the promised Messiah.


Mk14:1 And the ranking priests and the scribes were looking for some way to arrest him by trickery ...

Mk14:10 And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went off to the ranking priests to turn him over to them.  11 When they heard, they were delighted, and promised to pay him in silver.  And he started looking for some way to turn him in at the right moment.

Mk14:12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they would sacrifice the Passover lamb ... 16 and they got things ready for Passover.

Mk14:17 When evening comes, he arrives with the twelve.  18 And ... they reclined at table and were eating ...

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NRSV) 23 the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Mk14:26 And they sang a hymn and left for the Mount of Olives.

Mk14:32 And they go to a place the name of which was Gethsemane ... 35 And he would move on a little, fall on the ground, and pray that he might avoid the crisis, if possible.

Mk14:43 ... Judas, one of the twelve, shows up, and with him a crowd, dispatched by the ranking priests and the scribes and the elders, wielding swords and clubs. ... 45 And right away he arrives, comes up to him, and says, `Rabbi,' and kissed him.  46 And they seized him and held him fast.  47 One of those standing around drew his sword and struck the high priest's slave and cut off his ear. ... 50 And they all deserted him and ran away.  51 And a young man was following him, wearing a shroud over his nude body, and they grab him.  52 But he dropped the shroud and ran away naked.

Mk14:53 And they brought Jesus before the high priest, and all the ranking priests and elders and scholars assemble.  54 Peter followed him at a distance until he was inside the courtyard of the high priest, and was sitting with the attendants and keeping warm by the fire.  55 The ranking priests and the whole Council were looking for evidence against Jesus ... 65 And some began to spit on him, and to put a blindfold on him, and punch him ... And the guards abused him as they took him into custody.

Mk14:66 And while Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the high priest's slave women comes over, 67 and sees Peter warming himself; she looks at him closely, then speaks up: `You too were with that Nazarene, Jesus!' ... 70 But ... he denied it.

Mk15:1 And right away, at daybreak, the ranking priests, after consulting with the elders and scholars and the whole Council, bound Jesus and led him away and turned him over to Pilate.  2 And Pilate questioned him ...

Mk15:7 And one called Barabbas was being held with the insurgents who had committed murder during the uprising.  15 ... Pilate ... set Barabbas free ... (and) had Jesus flogged, and then turned him over to be crucified.

Mk15:16 And the soldiers led him away to the courtyard of the governor's residence, and they called the whole company together.  17 and they dressed him in purple and crowned him with a garland woven of thorns.  18 And they began to salute him: `Greetings, King of the Judeans!  19 And they kept striking him on the head with a staff, and spitting on him; and they would get down on their knees and bow down to him.  20 And when they had made fun of him, they stripped off the purple and put his own clothes back on him.  And they lead him out to crucify him.

Mk15:21 (It was Friday, April 7, 30 AD)  And they conscript someone named Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.  22 And they bring him to the place Golgotha.  24 And they crucify him ... 27 And with him they crucify two rebels, one on his right and one on his left.  29 Those passing by kept taunting him, wagging their heads ... 32b Even those being crucified along with him would abuse him. ... 34 Jesus shouted at the top of his voice, `My God!'  37 But Jesus let out a great shout and breathed his last. ... 40 Now some women were observing this from a distance, among whom were Mary of Magdala, an Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome.  41 These women had regularly followed and assisted him when he was in Galilee, along with many other women who had come up to Jerusalem in his company.

Mk15:43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected council member ... appeared on the scene. ... 46 And he bought a shroud and took him down and wrapped him in the shroud, and placed him in a tomb that had been hewn out of rock ...


            Judas, one of the Twelve, talks with officers of the high priest to betray him.  Such betrayal is often the way those in power bring down those popular among the people.  There is a meal with his disciples on Thursday, April 6, 30 AD.  Jesus may have suspected the betrayal.  Then he took the disciples to Gethsemane.  He prayed.  They were tired.  Officers from the high priest come to arrest him.  One of the disciples had a sword and used it against one of the soldiers.  Jesus went with his captors peacefully, embodying the non-violent message he taught.  He went away with courage and in silence.  In the process, Peter denied him, and all the disciples abandoned him.  He was taken to the High Priest where a meeting was held of other Jewish leaders.  There would be concern over the impact of Jesus' word and deed about the Temple upon the peasant population gathering at the Passover.  He had already challenged the continuing validity of Torah for the purpose of God in the world. He further challenged the continuing place of Israel as a land in the purpose of God for humanity. He had urged non-violence for two reasons. One was the power of the Romans and the ineffectiveness of violence to bring political liberation. Two was the far more important theological reason that temple, land, and Torah no longer matter in the plan of God to bring salvation to humanity. They concluded Jesus needed to be silenced.  They brought him to Pilate, who would be in no mood to back down again to one popular among peasants.  It was easy to decide to crucify him, now that Jesus stood alone before him.  Jesus had no military, economic, or political power.  No social institutions backed him.  He stood only with moral power, which was no match for the forces against him.  Though Pilate recently released a criminal by the name of Barabbas, he would not release Jesus.  Such acceptance of death by an innocent man, who courageously faced the upper class religious and political authorities, was a prophetic act in itself.  It was an act of faithfulness to his calling.  He submitted to his enemies and to his God.  God did not deliver him from his enemies.  He was among the many persons in history who were obedient to their own principles with dignity and grace.  On his way to the hill outside the western wall, Simon of Cyrene, father of future leaders in the church in Jerusalem, Alexander and Rufus, the Romans made him carry the cross.  Once nailed to the cross, he may have cried out something like, "My God!" He died as a criminal upon a cross outside the western wall, April 7, 30.

            The crucifixion of Jesus was a reaction to his public ministry.  Jesus did not will his own death.  It is clear that in spite of the danger he went to Jerusalem.  His death was the ultimate act of service.  It is part of God's rule to the extent that God made it visible in him.  Jesus was condemned as a false teacher, prophet, and false Messiah.  God did not deliver him from the cross.

            Jesus had an experience of God in which he sensed the call of God to announce a new way of being the true Israel of God. He had fresh construal of the law and the prophets, the controversial way by which the God of Israel would make Israel the promised light to the nations. God called Jesus to go ahead of the people and fight the battle on their behalf. Like David taking on Goliath, he would face the enemy of the people of God alone, choosing strange weapons like that of loving enemies, rejection of violence, and the promise of open communal life together. The last meal of Jesus had taken this to its logical conclusion. His sense of calling combined, uniquely as far as we know, the call to suffer the death Israel deserved. Jesus warned of coming destruction for Israel if it did not heed his warning. Now, at the end, he took that warning and took upon himself the destruction of which he warned. Many Jewish texts promise that the redemption of Israel would come only after a period of intense suffering. In a unique and powerful way, Jesus applied such texts to himself and the potential of his own suffering and death. He would take upon himself the messianic woes on behalf of Israel. He would go through the darkest night and lead the way into the dawn of the new day. The sins that had brought the world and Israel to this moment now found forgiveness, and a new age of forgiveness had arrived. Jesus gained victory over the true evil that had plagued Israel throughout its history. This is the connection between the historical Jesus and the proclamation of the early church: the cross of Jesus is the place where the pain and guilt of the world were concentrated, and thus the cross becomes the symbol of much Christian spirituality and devotion. I have come to find it rather incredible that so many modern scholars suggest such great theological creativity on the part of anonymous Christians in the first decade after the crucifixion, while refusing to acknowledge the creativity that may reside in Jesus as he reflected upon his life, scripture, and the new movement of God he proclaimed.

            Did anyone give Jesus an honorable burial?  The tradition says that Joseph of Arimetha was a member of the council who wrapped him in the shroud and placed him in a tomb.  Many scholars today suggest that his burial was such a scandal that early Christians cleaned it up and made it seem better.  The problem with this is that early Christian preaching seems to face rather directly the scandal of the cross.  Mark betrays no interest in cleaning up the story.  Further, Paul's statement in I Cor 15 about the early tradition in Jerusalem is built upon the parallel structure, "He died ... he was buried..." The two statements go together, emphasizing that he connected the burial to the reality of the death of Jesus, and that this was likely a personal burial.  Thus, it seems more likely that someone gave Jesus an honorable burial.

            Was the tomb of Jesus empty?  If we assume that the tradition of a personal and proper burial of Jesus is accurate, then at one time people knew the burial place of Jesus.  The reference of Paul in I Cor 15 points to how early this tradition was.  Pannenberg points to the fact that there was no early Jewish polemic that suggested otherwise.  However, there is no indication that Jewish authorities debated this closely with Christians.  After all, one who was crucified was cursed, not a Messiah.  I suspect Christians were simply not significant enough people with whom to bother.  Female witnesses originated the traditions concerning the empty tomb in Jerusalem.  By the time Jewish authorities entered into a serious debate, several decades later, there was no way to verify or confirm this early tradition.

            Was Jesus a dangerous man?  Pilate could only answer in the affirmative.  Anyone who gained popularity among peasants was potentially dangerous.  However, we must repeat that Jesus was not forming a political movement among the peasants to resist Rome.  Rather, he formed a movement designed to transform Judaism from the bottom, from among the peasants, to the upper classes.  It was a movement designed to relax devotion to Moses and Law and Temple and any other institutionalized version of Judaism.  The purpose of this relaxation was to open Israel to the possibility of becoming the light to the nations the prophets desired. Jesus also knew that continuing devotion to that which separated Israel from the nations had become a barrier to its witness and threatened its existence. In this sense, Jesus was a dangerous man.  Had authorities allowed him to live, and had his message been successful, a large enough following that sought live by his principles would eventually become a political and economic force, as well as a moral power.  In that sense, those in power knew he was dangerous and knew they must silence him. 

            I must at least consider the possibility that Jesus viewed suffering and death as in his future, that it was part of the plan of God, and that his suffering of the messianic woes prophesied by the prophets would become his own. It may be that God's plan in this movement was to create a new Judaism, rooted in open communal life together and reliance upon God rather than institutions, Law and negotiation with and accommodation to Rome.  Had peasants and religious leaders chosen this path, the tragedy of nationalism in 66 to 70 AD may have been averted. 

            Jesus believed in the rule of God and the present, if provisional, experience of that rule.  Was the vision of Jesus, evidenced in his ethos, ethics, ideology, and critique, simply a grand illusion?  No theological reflection would have taken place had there not been a transformation of these saddened, fearful, guilt-ridden disciples.  They had experienced their own weakness in abandoning an innocent man to the authorities.  They deserted their friend in his time of need.  They saw him taken away for the last time, resigned to his fate.  It was then they knew.  They doubted him many times.  They saw him challenge conventional Jewish beliefs.  They witnessed exorcism and healings.  Now, the authorities arrested him.  He accepted his fate with grace and dignity and a commitment to his God.  The cross became his last prophetic act of obedience to God and defiance to the religious and political authorities, the upper classes, of his day.  They knew that the one whom the religious and political authorities thought was a criminal was in reality a messenger from God.  What happened to them?


Jesus of History: His Resurrection

            I Cor. 15:5 - Jesus appeared to Cephas.

I Cor 15:5, 7 - Jesus appeared ... later to the Twelve ... then to all the apostles.

I Cor. 15:7 - Jesus appeared to James

I Cor. 15:6 - Jesus appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still with us, though some have fallen asleep.  Acts 2:4? - They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit gave them power to express themselves.

I Cor. 15:8 - Jesus appeared to me (Paul) too.  Gal. 1:12 - “ ... it came to me through a revelation of Jesus Christ ... 15 But when God ... called me through his grace and chose to reveal his Son in me, so that I should preach him to the gentiles. 

[?Lk24:18 Cleopas (Clopas?, a cousin of Jesus, whose son Symeon later became a follower of James, saw the risen Lord].


                Who needed the resurrection?  Who needed Easter?  Was it Jesus who needed to be reaffirmed that his message and conduct and the acceptance of his fate were rooted in God?  Or was it the disciples who needed to see that the controversial man who was crucified was indeed a man who lived and died faithfully with his God?  To ask the question is to answer it.  The disciples needed Easter.  What happened to them?

            Jesus lived his own life in obedience to the will of God.  That is all he needed to know.  Had the significance of his life ended with that reality, his life would have been well lived.  Had his life ended in obscurity, as most of us do, had he been nothing more than a reference to another Jewish martyr in Josephus, he would have fulfilled the purposes of God.

            However, we cannot separate the Jesus of history from what happened after his death.  We cannot separate who Jesus was in his conduct, message and fate, from the fact that people came to believe he had risen from the dead.  It is to this transformation of the lives of those closest to him that we now turn. 

            The language of resurrection is metaphor, suggesting an awakening from sleep.  This leads easily to a conception of new life, and thus not just a resuscitation of the old life.  Second, one cannot legitimately separate the person and cause of Jesus from the resurrection. Third, the resurrection is not a return to life in time and space as we experience it. Fourth, Jewish apocalyptic was the intellectual system used to interpret what happened to Jesus after his death. Jesus was not a ghost or one who came back to the reality of his earthly life.  The fact that such an event, which was supposed to be reserved for the end of time, happened now to the crucified one meant that God had confirmed his ministry, and that this confirmed the apocalyptic vision.  Apocalyptic led to a much more broad concern for the human race, thus breaking the wall between Jew and gentile.  Such intellectual framework depends upon the appearances first and secondarily on the empty tomb.  Historicity, contrary to Pannenberg, means that it must be like other known events.

            The earliest written account of the appearances of Jesus is in I Cor 15.  The intent is to give proof by means of witnesses for the factual nature of the resurrection of Jesus.  The assumption of the historical validity of appearances rests on good historical foundation.  Based on Paul in Gal 1, the vision was of a spiritual body that took place from "heaven," or eternity, with a vision of light and the hearing of words.  Jesus was clearly recognized.  It is possible that extrasensory perception and prophetic intuition is involved, which re-opens the possibility of an 'objective' reality.

            Is it an historical possibility that the apocalyptic resurrection of the dead contains some truth?  If so, it is possible that an unexpected resurrection occurred in Jesus.  Christianity must answer in the affirmative.  The life-giving Spirit of God connected with Jesus in his death and gave him new life. Christianity simply needs to accept that the resurrection of Jesus will always be a debatable idea because it goes against normal human experience.  The fact that the dead do not come back to life is no problem for him, since there is always the possibility that God has chosen to introduce the planned end-time resurrection of the dead into the end of the life of Jesus.  If there is no truth contained in Jewish apocalyptic expectations, the message of the resurrection of Jesus, and the Christian message in general, is discredited.

            All of this raises questions concerning the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.  The church faces a dilemma at this point.  Historical research centers on humanity and on analogy of experience.  When faced with perplexing historical dilemmas, we typically develop theories based upon our human experience.  This being the case, a one-time experience to one man, Jesus of Nazareth, brought about God, is beyond the reach of such research.  With the assumptions of normal historical research, the conclusion can only be that the resurrection of Jesus did not happen in the way the church came to believe.

            Another approach would be to construct a different view of history that allowed for the one time event and openness to the work of God.  However, of itself this does not lead to the possibility of resurrection based on historical study.  We would still demonstrate it.  If one believes that we can prove the resurrection historically, that God raised Jesus from the dead, one has in effect an historical proof for the existence of God.  This puts faith at the service of history, which can never have the level of certainty required to inspire confidence.

            Another approach would be to respond by theology developing its own theological approach to history.  However, could we place such a construction into meaningful interaction with other studies?  Probably not.  In this approach, we can use no psychological, sociological, or historical tools to understand it.  This would remove the event from the realm of normal and rational discussion, and put the knowledge gained through it inaccessible.  It asks people to believe what they cannot observe as happening in common human experience.

            The historian must deal with the emergence of the early church and its message.  For the apostles, it is clear that the belief in the risen Lord led them to formulate their preaching along new lines and to form Christian communities and undertake a mission to the world.

            The passage of time between Jesus on the one hand, and the expectations of the soon arrival of the end of the world on the other, presents a further reason to question the continuing relevance of the apocalyptic context for the conduct and message of Jesus.  The vision of the end that apocalyptic took so seriously we can no longer accept as valid.

            It is difficult today to believe resurrection could happen, though admittedly no more difficult than in the time of Jesus.

            The narrations of the appearances of Jesus in the gospel story become vehicles for the perspective of each writer.  In Mark, though there are not appearances in the strict sense of the term, the nature miracles of Jesus seem nothing less than the heavenly Jesus appearing.  The baptism (1:10-11) and the transfiguration (9:2-11) declare Jesus to be the Son.  The feeding of the 5OOO (6:35-43) and the 4OOO (8:1-10) show Jesus in his Eucharistic presence feeding the faithful with bread from heaven.  The calming of the storm (6:47-52) shows Jesus in command of the storms of life that Mark's community was facing.  In the exorcisms, Jesus is proclaimed the Son of God by the demons (1:23-28; 5:1-20).  In Matthew, the risen Lord gives the commission to make disciples of all peoples, thereby making it clear that the mission to Israel is over and that the rest of the world awaits the good news.  The risen Lord will be with them.  In Luke, the interest is verifying the physical nature of the resurrection, a process begun by Mark’s emphasis on the empty tomb.  This is likely the result of the early debate with Gnosticism.  None of these stories has any claim to historical accuracy, though they have been great opportunities for meditation in the theology and mission of the church.

            The tradition noted by Paul in I Cor 15 comes from within the first three years of the mission in Jerusalem.  By saying, "He died ... he was buried ..." Paul makes it clear that the death and burial of Jesus belong together, thereby excluding the possibility that he knew anything about the tomb being empty.  For some, including myself, it implies the burial was a personal one, in accord with Jewish law.  "He was raised ... he was seen..."are in parallel construction. Paul is giving a list of persons who can verify that Jesus was seen after his death, including all persons whom he knows up to and including himself.

            We now come to the crucial question.  What happened in the months after the death of Jesus?  What analogies with human experience can we draw upon to understand what then?

            It is best to assume that after the death of Jesus, Peter went to Galilee.  There need be no deeper motivation than that pilgrims to the Passover must eventually return home.  Though longer than three days, it was not long until he saw Jesus and heard him.  God had not abandoned Jesus.  Such prophetic vision and intuition, possibly involving extrasensory perception, gave Peter new life.  The movement had a new beginning.  That first vision was infectious.  Others followed it.  Peter and the Eleven went back to Jerusalem.  The Eleven saw Jesus.  By the time of Pentecost in 30 AD, there was an appearance to a great crowd, which included women.  This is the "500" Paul refers to and the Pentecost experience envisioned by Luke.  It was a foundational experience of the Christian community in Jerusalem.  They experienced mass ecstasy that included the experience of ecstatic speech.  The preaching of Peter and the Twelve may have led to such religious intoxication.  Even James, who had not thought much of his brother in his lifetime, saw him, and possibly for the first time became a believer.  There was explosive power here, all of this taking place by September of 30.  When Hellenistic speaking Jews started to convert in Jerusalem, Saul heard it and went into action.  However, it is likely that his aggressive reaction to Christians betrayed some hidden doubts about his own faith, and given his later writings, it may have been doubts about the Law.  We must assume that some of the basic elements of Christian preaching and practice unconsciously attracted Paul.  Along with the appearance to him by 33 AD, we know that about ten years later Paul had another vision, described in II Cor 12:1-10, in which he saw paradise and the heavenly Lord, combined with an illness he had.

            A similar prophetic experience would be that of Isaiah, who "saw" the Lord while in the Temple.  The visions of Ezekiel suggest to many that he had epileptic seizures with them.  Zechariah also had such visions.  Such intuitive grasp of events may well be what Peter and the early followers of Jesus experience.  It is further clear from the description given by Paul in Gal 1 that the vision granted to him was not of a physical nature.  Paul understood the vision to be from heaven (eternity), with a vision of light and the hearing of words.  Jesus was clearly recognized.

            The problem is that there is not enough historical information from an early enough period to know the nature of the debate.  It is reasonably certain that debate focused on the cross.  Their Jewish brothers and sisters could not believe the Messiah could be crucified.  While one can imagine debate, it is interesting that there is little about a denial of the empty tomb or the appearances.  It is likely that Jewish authorities did not consider Christians significant enough to be taken seriously.

            We know that such visions can be the basis of personal and mass transformation.  In the Roman Catholic Church, there has been a long tradition of visions.  Most recently, the Virgin Mary has revealed herself and given a message to the faithful.  Statues of Jesus are seen weeping or bleeding.  In my own experience, one person told me of kneeling at the altar of a church during communion, looking up at the cross, and seeing Jesus as if he really were there.  This was from a man whom would be among the least likely to hear such a story.  Such visions are viewed as being revelations from God.  Did they really happen?  Yes ... for the person who saw it.  If there was a camera there, could it record it?  No. Further, people report having visions in near death experiences.  They speak of floating above their own bodies and of seeing other beings as they approach the light.  People speak of "feeling" or "seeing" or "hearing" a loved one who died.  Groups of people have seen some of the visions.  The result is that human beings have a psychic capacity to "see" things that are not objectively there.  Undoubtedly, some form of psychic energy, the unconscious or subconscious, has burst into the conscious life of individuals and groups.

            It was the vision of the risen Lord that became the foundation for the early church.  They, however we might explain it today, viewed this vision, as a gift of grace from God.  The person of Jesus became of ultimate significance to them.  Jesus became a source of offense in his life. He offended the religious leaders of his day. His disciples failed to understand him. Now that they saw him, they concluded that the traditional titles that Israel conferred upon end-time persons applied to Jesus. If Israel is to have a Messiah, it must be Jesus. If a suffering servant exists, that servant of the Lord is Jesus. If the Son of Man is coming, he is Jesus. If a Son of David is to come, it is Jesus. Such titles would also lead to stories and sayings that would support such titles in his life.  Far from obscuring the historical Jesus, the gospel material structured the stories to make clear to readers who Jesus was. The ambiguity of his life, in that he gave offense to so many, including the disciples, became in the gospel material a witness to the divine contours of the life of Jesus that the resurrection of Jesus made clear. The Gospel stories are proclamations that the early message of the church was true, established by the message and conduct of Jesus.

            We can show the fact that such visions can form the basis of mass movements from examples in our own time.  The pilgrimage to holy places where visions occurred is enough evidence.  The disciples, who experienced either private or collective visions of the risen Lord, were convinced they experienced a revelation from God.  That was all they needed to put their lives at risk.    

            The same Jesus who told them to love their enemies and to forgive repeatedly, and to call God, "Father," was the same Jesus, who in their vision, accepted them, loved them, and continued in fellowship with them.  The same Jesus who extended friendship to tax collectors and sinners, prostitutes and gentiles, was the same Jesus who forgave Peter and the rest of the disciples for their failure to understand, for their lack of faith, and especially for deserting him at the end.  Such overwhelming grace, such good news, had to be shared.  It came from he whom they believed was now living, and with God.  This Jesus, who formed them and kept them together, was the same one who would keep them together after he died.  They realized it was more than just what he said and did that was important.  Rather, Jesus himself was important in binding them together.  This band of believers defined themselves by their relationship to Jesus.  He became of ultimate significance to them.  It was not long until the disciples would proclaim Jesus as having universal significance for the world.

            The point is not that there is an objective, verifiable experience, but that the persons received prophetic vision and intuition that changed their view of Jesus and therefore changed their lives.  Something else did need to happen for the message of Jesus to fulfill itself.  This occurred when the disciples, full of lack of understanding, who deserted him and denied him, were extended the gift of continuing friendship with Jesus.  The one with whom they had fellowship, continued to have fellowship even after his death.  The one who spoke of unconditional love and forgiveness offered that gift to the band of followers.  It was this vision of the grace of God through Jesus that brought about transformed people who could now begin a church.  Again, what Josephus said was right: "those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so." That was the miracle of faith.  That was the transforming vision that changed their lives, and indeed changed the world.

The Community of Paul

I would now like to shift our attention to the next great strand of Christian teaching in the New Testament; namely, that of Paul.  Pauline Christianity is a reasonably coherent and identifiable segment of early Christianity. It represents the earliest of all extant Christian writings. Each responds to some specific issue in the life of one of he local churches or in the missionary strategy of the leaders. Yet, later Christians have found his reflections on particular situations and churches as bearing significance for churches in differing cultures and at different junctures in history. His letters also frequently quote traditional material that provides glimpses of rituals, rules, admonitions, and formulated beliefs common to the Pauline communities. Further, although Christianity arose in the villages of Palestine, it grew to the force it would eventually have in the Roman Empire through urban centers. The view of Paul we develop here must have coherence with what develops later in the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. Romans will view Christianity as a Jewish sect for several decades. Judaism will expel Christians from synagogues in 90 AD. Christians will continue to recognize their debt to Israel long after Israel ceases to exist as a political entity. Christians will adopt many Jewish moral norms. Christians will accept the Hebrew Scripture as their own. We will need to account for the continuity and for the tension. After all, many Jewish sects debated each other vigorously and remained within the Jewish community. Judaism did not extend Christianity within this broadly pluralistic community. Of course, eventually, Christianity will become the dominant moral, intellectual, and political force in Europe. We need to see the contours of that later history developing in these opening chapters of the Christian movement.

First, I would like to consider Paul and his churches in light of some recent sociological studies.

Paul was a man of the city. Even his agricultural metaphors have evoke the knowledge of the class room rather than personal experience. He was an artisan, distinguishing him from the farmer and from the wealthy. The security and stability of the city led to the hope that most people could attain justice in the courts. Non-citizen residents of the city established identity through participation in cults and voluntary associations that also had religious dimensions to them. The Jews formed a distinctive community, governed by its own laws and institution and contended for full citizens. Roman policy was toward favoring the aristocracy. One might think lower classes would hate Rome and upper classes would be loyal, but the situation is not so simple. Greek was the language of the city. The city allowed physical mobility, with Paul traveling 10,000 miles. Travel by sea was cheaper and faster than by land. We do not find much expectation of social movement in the empire. Society was stratified and stable. Although one notes some social mobility, it was small and notable for not being the norm. The most fundamental social change was from slave to free, and the reverse. Women joined clubs and voluntary associations. The city consisted of about 200 acres, one fourth of which was public areas. Privacy was rare, as much people lived much of their lives on the streets. News spread rapidly. The primary social unit was the household, including extending family, slaves, clients, laborers, and tenants. Another important social unit was the voluntary association, usually consisting of 12-40 people.

One question is the connection of Pauline Christianity with Judaism. Five to six million Jews lived outside Palestine, and 10-15% of a city was Jewish. Pauline Christianity focused on four provinces: Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia.

I now want to consider the social level of Pauline Christianity. Gerd Theissen finds people who have a relatively high economic and social level. Class structure in the empire was clear and legally based. One could have a different social rank based upon the nature of the sub-group: power, income, occupational prestige, education, religious purity, family and ethnic-group, and local community status. Paul names 65 persons in his letters. He refers to the household of Caesar, part of the upwardly mobile group. He refers to members having lawsuits against each other, suggesting some material means. We find little evidence of the highest order of social class in the Pauline churches, but we also find little evidence of the lowest classes as well. Some of those in higher status can also have social dissonance with Roman culture.

The formation of ekklesia provided the possibility for a sense of belonging. This is why Paul showed concern for the inner life of the community. They were small groups. However, when one became part of these households and voluntary associations, they were also aware of being part of a much larger movement as well. The household was an already established social institution into which Paul inserted Christian teaching and values. Spreading Christianity through households is quite different from the direct appeal to individuals that modern American Christians accept. The pattern that many of these early groups accepted was that of voluntary associations. They established membership through free choice rather than birth. It reflected local democracy for leadership. The decision to join and experience baptism represented the exclusive claim that Christianity brought to the system. The synagogue became a natural model for their gatherings. The role of women was much larger in Pauline communities than in the synagogue, and in this, he followed the pattern of the voluntary association in society. The teaching activity of Paul and his churches resembled to some degree the philosophical school of the time. Such schools offered a way of life and focused upon moral instruction and virtue, and in this, Paul would agree. Paul also expressed the boundary of the church in several ways. One was through his language of belonging, in which he distinguished between the family of God and those outside as under the influence of evil. However, he rejected the distinction between Jew and non-Jew. Further, the affirmation that their beliefs resulted from revelation provided a strong sense of cohesion. Paul also developed language of separation from the outside world, assuming hostility from the world and that suffering would result. The sense of purity, reflected in discussions about meat offered to idols and rules for sexual behavior, also demonstrated difference from those outside. Yet, Paul is also quite clear that relationships with those outside should reflect decency and basic virtue with neighbors and co-workers. Paul also worked hard to cultivate a sense that each individual group was part of a world-wide movement united by Christ. His letters reminded them of that connection.

Paul also developed some organizational positions for the sake of governance of the community. The example of the Jerusalem Council is instructive in that Paul accepted the leadership of the Jerusalem church, understood the tension between unity and diversity, and sought resolution of conflict through meeting and talking. In the letter to Galatians, Paul appeals to revelation, to his own experience, to their experience, and to the scripture. He sought to control individual deviance from the norm in the matter of sexuality. The leaders were apostles, those who traveled with Paul, and local leaders. Informal modes of authority predominate, such as personal meetings, emissaries, letters, advice, persuasion, and argument, are all legitimate if writer and reader share a set of common assumptions, beliefs, goals, and relations. He often tried to provide a context for conflict situations in the death and resurrection of Christ. In conflict, he did not exert naked, coercive power. He accepted rules of behavior and norms of behavior. He seemed to have fluidity, an open-ended process of mutual discipline.

Ritual is a form of communication or speech. It communicates believes and values of a society or a group. It is symbolic action, representing what the society holds to be of primary importance. Ritual is also performative speech. One ritual of the Pauline community consisted in its coming together on a regular basis. In their coming together, they sang psalms, hymns, and spiritual odes, one example of which is the hymn in Philippians 2:6-11. They read and preached from their bible, the Old Testament. We might note moral exhortation was part of the gathering. Doxology was also part of the gathering. We might also assume that these communities developed rituals for the burial of their dead and marriage. Baptism was for initiation into the community. Some instruction or catechism may have been part of the preparation for baptism. Baptism is a cleansing bath. Baptism is also with the Holy Spirit, and thus a sacrament of fulfillment of the promise of the future as well as preparation for that future toward which God moves the world. Baptism binds one to the community of the church and to the body of Christ. It connects the person to Christ in death and resurrection and embeds one in the body of Christ. It receives its significance from witness to the gospel in preaching and in the response of people to that witness in faith. The references to baptism of households suggests that personal faith is not as much required as faith of those responsible for you, and that those responsible for you have the responsibility of nourishing faith in those for whom faith is not yet personal. The Supper of the Lord was a ritual of solidarity. Everyone received the bread and cup in the same way, reinforcing the sense of solidarity with each other and moving against the rigid class structure in the rest of life in Roman culture. For these brief moments, solidarity across gender, ethnic, and class lines suggested a power to remove those distinctions. This supper is a sacrificial meal, given the context in which Jesus shared his last meal with the disciples. The meal becomes a communion in the death and resurrection of Christ. The meal is spiritual food and drink, communion in the nourishment given now by the Spirit. The supper is a remembrance of the action of God in Christ to bring humanity in the future to its wholeness and fullness.

            I now want to discuss some of the theological themes upon which Paul expounds.

            To view Paul's becoming a Christian from a purely logical standpoint is to miss what seems to have truly happened.  Paul began, as do all of us, with the personal experience of Jesus.  For him, this meant Jesus was the savior, the Lord, the Messiah.  He reflected upon the cross and resurrection as to what that might mean for humanity.  In a word, Paul began with what God did in Jesus, not with what humanity needed.  The further implication is that the resurrection implies Christ's lordship, his return, the judgment and the salvation of those who believe. The focus of the message is what God did in Jesus; the intent is to elicit the response of faith in the hearer.  This faith is the response of the whole person to the salvation offered in Jesus Christ.  Therefore, the main theme of Paul is the gospel as the saving movement of God toward humanity in Jesus Christ, as well as how his hearers can participate in that movement.

It is from this experience of Jesus that Paul knew, almost instinctively, the plight of humanity.  We know that Paul thought of himself as blameless as far as it concerned Torah. Unlike Luther, he did not have a conscience plagued by guilt. The problem of humanity is not past sin, nor the law, but of not being under the lordship of Christ.  The gospel Paul preached was not the plight of humanity, but God, and the revelation God offered in Jesus Christ. God has offered a savior, and therefore humanity needs saving. God has offered salvation in Jesus Christ, and therefore all other means of salvation are deficient. Although the gospel is not about humanity, the intention of the gospel is to receive the response of faith. As he considers the assurance of salvation, he focuses upon the election of the people of God and their predestination. As he focuses upon the need for response, he focuses upon the responsibility of people to respond.

Among the beliefs Paul promoted, the belief in one God suggested to Paul the unity of gentile and Jew. The thin network of Christian communities made audacious claims of universality of their gospel. This God shown in Jesus Christ was for the world. Therefore, if a Christian was already married to one who did not choose to become a Christian, the Christian should remain married if possible. They should live peacefully with non-Christians. God was Father, and the Christians were the children of the Father.

Next, I would like to consider the probability that apocalyptic forms the background for the preaching of Paul.

The apocalyptic background of the teaching of Paul suggested a cosmological and universal link between the proclamation of the good news and the fate of humanity. Millenarian movements look forward to a series of events in the near future that would transform present relationships of power, prestige, and wealth. The crucial significance of this perspective is cognitive and symbolic. It analyzes what is wrong with the present age and holds out the hope for God to do something new. For a person attracted to millenarian preaching, the world as it is no longer makes sense. The symbols provided by the culture no longer satisfy, provide a sense of meaning, or help one to cope with reality. Such apocalyptic movements provide relief from cognitive dissonance with the culture. One might guess that those attracted to the Pauline community experienced some dissatisfaction with the rigid social structure of Roman society. The symbols of transformation would have some attraction. Their present suffering connects them to the suffering of Christ, just as they can expect union with Christ in resurrection to new life. To the Thessalonian Christians, Paul said that not even death separated believers from each other. In the letter to Galatians, Paul uses apocalyptic language to recommend new social relationships today. Christ has already transferred believers from the evil of the present age. They dare not step backward to the Law, but forward to their new life in Christ. He defines the new order in terms familiar in the old order, but with new meaning to the terms. At Corinth, some claimed that their realized eschatology brought them beyond any norms of conduct. This time, Paul uses apocalyptic terms to remind them of the imperfection of the present in contrast to the perfection the reign of God will bring. In each of these congregations, we find primarily concerned with the unity and solidarity of the community.

            The eschatology of Paul is consistent with that of the church in his period. He modified the apocalyptic character of Christianity and Judaism at this point. Since the primary end time event had already occurred in Jesus, this was a necessity.  Paul modified the historical dualism that dominated apocalyptic by a focus of attention upon the battle in this world of death, sin, law, and flesh.  Paul also modifies the universal and cosmic battle that would continue to escalate.  The presence of some elements of the end of the world in the present through Christ also allows Paul to celebrate the life and victory of the Christian in the present.  Though Paul does expect the end of the world within his lifetime, he does away with the speculation about the sequence of events leading to that event because of the coming of Christ.  There was the expectation that the return of Christ would be soon, especially as seen in I and II Thessalonians.  He also sought to work through what the resurrection of Jesus might mean for believers in I Corinthians 15.

Now, I would like to focus on what one might consider as the logical presentation of this gospel from the standpoint of theology.

Paul has a somewhat consistent view of humanity and the predicament humanity faces. Humanity is on a quest, where the willing, hoping, and striving of humanity does not achieve actuality in individual life. Rather, one's life is always ahead, an intention and quest, where one may find oneself or lose oneself, gain self or fail to do so. I want to mention the terms of Paul as he expresses this understanding.

Paul cannot conceive of any human life without body (soma), even in resurrection. He contrasts the physical body with the spiritual body. Thus, body appears to represent the whole person, the uniqueness and individuality that constitute each of us. Without body, humanity would not be humanity. Sin can rule this body.

Psyche refers to the specifically human state of being alive that inheres in humanity as striving, willing, purposing, and self. In distinction from psyche, pneuma refers to the self as aware. Humanity is a unity that has a relationship to self (soma) and a relationship to orientation (striving, willing, and purposing).

Mind (nous) denotes humanity as the subject of willing and doing. It denotes the possibility in which God addresses humanity in revelation as a thinking and responsible being and it constitutes the description of that by which thinking and acting so deeply determine humanity. Mind is the real self in contrast to the self objectified to itself in soma. Conscience scrutinizes the content of mind.

The heart refers to willing and striving. It is the concept that preeminently denotes the human ego in its thinking, affections, aspirations, decisions, both in the relationship of humanity to God and to the world. It denotes humanity in the religious and moral dimension. The heart has this connection to God. The revelation of God is toward the center of human life, and that means toward the heart.

Sin is a mode of human living. In order to understand what Paul means by salvation, we will need to explore what he means by humanity as fallen into sin and in need of the redemption shown in Christ. His analysis of the human predicament, his anthropology, is one of the principle contributions he made the theological thought. His penetrating observations have to do with showing how one who does not have in Christ is lost to oneself, unable to achieve the goal toward which he or she so ardently moves.

Evil is perverse intent and pursuit that misses the life God intended. Sarx or flesh refers to material nature of humanity. It can also mean an orientation to what is temporary and clinging to it. It signifies the weakness of humanity, dependence on God, and perishableness in itself. It can also correspond to the human being as sinner. Adam is the one who has distributed sin to humanity. This does not refer so much to individual sin as to the structure of humanity in its sinfulness. Yet, sin does not lose its ethical character. Sin is an ethical quantity. Sin has entered into the world through humanity and has the character of transgression of the divine command and succumbing to temptation. The theological nature of this condition of humanity shows itself in that as created by God, humanity is always responsible to God. The question with which life confronts humanity is the orientation of one’s life. If that orientation is not toward God, then it is toward sin and separation from God. Such a life leads to self-centered life and death. Sin is a theological relationship, more so than individual deeds. Sin is a turn from one’s true self and true orientation as God intended.

One may give oneself to worldly enticements and pleasures or to a flurry of moral and religious activity, and still be oriented away from God. Humanity is victim to sin and is helpless in its presence. What humanity does is against the true intention of humanity toward life. This corruption of sin corrupts the knowledge and volition of humanity, and so makes humanity sin with delight. The corruption of sin resides in heart and mind, centers of human activity that ought to direct humanity toward its God intended goal. Chapter 7 of Romans is a good example of the weakness of the ego apart from the strength that Christ gives the believer.

Cosmos is both created by God and under the dominion of principalities and powers. It represents the life context of humanity. We consider cosmos, this world, or this present age. Such terms constitute the description of the totality of unredeemed life dominated by sin outside of Christ. The powers of evil, misery, and death hold sway in this world. The dominion of these demonic forces determines the outlook of Paul toward this present age. To belong to the world means to be a sinner, to participate in sin, and to experience the judgment on sin. Sin is a supra-individual mode of existence in which one shares through the single fact that one shares in the human life-context and from which one can be redeemed only through the new life-context revealed in Christ.

Paul suggests that God never intended humanity to achieve wholeness in life through law, but rather that the way of God has always been faith. To attempt salvation through Law is already sin. Sin expresses itself in transgression of law. Law can mean a wider norm for human life, or the particular Law given to Israel. Sin is not always equally deliberate transgression of natural law or the Torah.

Paul enumerates several consequences of sin. One of them is the wrath of God. This wrath is an eschatological reality. One can avert it because it is in the future and the present gives time to preach about it. This wrath is already present. The presence of this wrath gives further impetus to preaching reconciliation with God. This wrath shows itself in the disturbance of the relationship with God. It also shows itself in that alienation from God means the corruption and destruction of that for which God intended in one’s life. The wages of sin is death; the wages of sin is bondage and moral weakness. Death and bondage also exert their influence in the present.

Paul accepted the current view of forgiveness of past sins through Christ, that the death of Christ is expiation for them.  Propitiation does not mean that the mind of God had to undergo change. However, the Greek word does mean, “to cause to be graciously disposed.” The point of the discussion of atonement by Paul is the reality of divine judgment on sin and the need for sin to be atoned for to bring reconciliation. The surrender of the life of Christ gives others life, and in that sense is for us. The idea of ransom comes from the realm of law. The death of Christ has brought redemption paid to God. The New Testament as a whole and Paul in particular go no further. Sometimes liberation is through ransom, sometimes he refers to believers purchased by the death of Christ. The objective character of ransom is not that of a business transaction, but the price paid to bring humanity from the dominion of sin and death. Christ represents humanity before God, pays the price, and thus unites in himself the combination of the saving will of God and the judgment of God against sin, law, and death. Justice is victorious in love, and love is victorious in justice. The concept of adoption arises from the field of law. In the Old Testament, Israel was adopted as children of God. Adoption has a relationship to the eschatological perspective of Paul, and not a subjective and interpersonal relationship. Just as the election and adoption of Israel was part of the redemptive plan of God for humanity, so also is the adoption of believers part of that redemptive plan for humanity. The result of this changed relationship between God and believers, believers do not need to have the spirit of slavery.

The plight of humanity is that humanity orients itself away from the action of God in Christ. No amount of repentance or remorse for sinfulness will bring about the needed change in that orientation. The sinfulness of humanity does need an accounting, but this occurs because God has accepted their cost through the death and resurrection of Christ, not because humanity recognizes how sinful and rebellious it is. The point is that humanity faces a plight from which only Christ can deliver.

The most powerful belief Paul presented was that of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. It becomes the paradigm of the ways of God in the world. It becomes the basis for erasing the distinction between Jew and gentile. It is the basis for understanding the suffering of Christians in the world. It becomes the basis for evaluating behavior in the church. It was the foundation for the belief in life after death. The deed of divine grace is that God gave Christ up to die on the cross. It is the deed of the prevenient grace of God. He can write in terms of the Jewish sacrificial system concerning the death of Jesus. Reconciliation is through the blood of Jesus, and thus is propitiation or Passover-sacrifice. Closely related to propitiation is his death as vicarious. This vicarious death brings redemption from the curse of Law. The death of Christ means release from the powers of this age in Law, Sin, and Death. This event of grace shown in the death of Christ becomes available to humanity through preaching and witness. Paul raises an historical person and what happened to him to the character of an eschatological event. Preaching the word gathers people into ekklesia.

Paul declared the reversal of this evil world. In one sense, the call for conversion represents some sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are.

The attitude of the person who receives the gift of righteousness is faith. Faith is obedience in the sense of renunciation of any human accomplishment and obedient submission to the way of salvation provided by God. Faith is not adherence to a report about historical incidents. The person concerned for self lives in fear, blocking the arrival of the future. Faith lets the anxiety go. Faith is hope and confidence in God. Faith involves a new understanding of oneself.

            One made a shift in allegiance. Paul now needed to explain that shift. He could speak of bondage and liberation, in which the believer could expect freedom from the demonic forces shown in the structures of the world. This can be seen in Galatians 5:1 and in the thought of Romans 6-7.  Another image is that of union with Christ.  I Corinthians 6:13b-18a shows this concern.  Paul offered the conception of participation in the death and resurrection of Christ as his unique and preferred way of discussing what God has done in Christ. The legal terminology he borrowed from earlier Christian preaching does not have the same clarity of theological reflection as does that of participation in Christ. Sharing in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ determines the thrust of his discussion of the salvation far more than does legal terminology. Acquittal before the judge and participation in Christ are not two different subjects, but refer to the same experience of the believer. Righteousness by faith and participation in Christ mean essentially the same thing. However, Paul clearly gives more thought and attention to participation than he does to acquittal. Freedom is being open for the genuine future and letting oneself be determined by the future. Spirit is the power of that future in present life. Freedom means that for the Christian, life in the flesh and life in the Spirit remain possibilities. One fulfills Law through love done in freedom. Freedom from death involves the victory of life, in this world passes away and the future life is arriving. Paul appears to expect suffering because the future age is present in faith and thus lives in tension with the present age. One can now bear the marks of the suffering of Christ. Christians have a fellowship with the suffering of Christ. This union is not just a figure of speech for something else.  It is viewed by Paul to be a real union with Christ.  This is the time when he speaks of being "in Christ," as in II Corinthians 5:17, 5:21, Galatians 3:26, Philippians 3:8, Romans 8:1.  The word often focuses on participation in the death of Christ.  The significance of Christ’s death is in the change of lordship that guarantees future salvation, rather than forgiveness of past sins.  For this, see Romans 6:3-11, 7:4, Galatians 2:19-20, 5:24, 6:14, Philippians 3:10-11.  By sharing in Christ’s death, one dies to the power of sin or to the old age, with the result that one belongs to God.

He could also speak of guilt and the corresponding justification or righteousness that one received as a gift. Paul inherited the term from early Christian teaching received. The setting for the teaching is the worship and communal life of the early church. He outlines his teaching in Romans 3:28, II Corinthians, 5:21, Philippians 3:7ff, and we can compare this with Titus 3:5-7 and Acts 13:38-39. Paul did not apply this teaching to a simple concern for the relationship of the individual to God. He had two concerns. One was the polemical matter with Judaism. Although early Christianity taught justification before God through faith, Paul applied the statement to the debate with Judaism by adding the phrase, “apart from the Torah.” Persons receiving justification have no right to go on sinning, for it has practical consequences in one’s life. It also has practical consequences in terms of social relationships. For Paul, that statement in Habakkuk 2:4 that the righteous shall live by faith means rejection of obedience to Torah as the means to life. He assumes that faith and works of Torah as the foundation for the saving work of God mutually exclude each other. He also makes it clear that God never intended Torah to stand forever. Abraham received justification through faith before Torah existed, and now God has provided the means of salvation through faith in Christ. Based upon his understanding of Genesis 15:6, he says that Jews and Gentiles are justified in the same way, by faith alone. Those who believe in Christ are the true children of Abraham. Further, the experience of the church in the proclamation of the gospel to gentiles, the acceptance of the God of Abraham and Jesus among the gentiles, confirms this understanding of the bible.

Further, Paul sees social implications of the message of justification. When Paul says that Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, he does not make a point that any modern humanist would make. Rather, the context is his explanation of justification. One obvious example of this is the encounter with Peter at Antioch in Galatians 2:11ff. The confrontation does not occur because Paul and Peter disagree on the doctrine. Where they disagree is when Peter and Barnabas did not draw the same social conclusion that Paul drew, and therefore withdrew table fellowship from Gentiles.

What we can see is that for Paul, justification is not a matter of individual psychology. Rather, justification has an historical setting and social implications. The same is true for ethical life. An individualistic interpretation of ethics leads to perfectionism. Growth in Christian maturity and values always implies relationship within a congregation, serving others on the foundation Christ laid. This polemical and social implication that Paul drew for his teaching on justification did not receive the same emphasis in the second and third centuries. Augustine would be the next writer to take up the theme and use it for a quite different polemical issue. What appears to happen is that the polemical and social matters to which Paul addressed his teaching on justification no longer related the second and third century Christians – or at least, they did not think so. The gentile emerged as the predominate church, no longer plagued by his relationship with Judaism. The result was that it viewed itself as supplanting Israel as the people of God, a fear Paul already expressed in Romans 9-11. For Paul, justification for all persons is through faith, but he can also look at the present rejection by the Jewish people of the gospel as opening the door to the grace of God to gentiles. He thought that the reception of the gospel by gentiles would show the Jewish people that Paul was right in his interpretation of scripture and of the work of God in the world, and that therefore they would see Christ as significant for their salvation. This vision never happened. In addition, he suspected that gentiles would consider themselves superior to Jews, where in reality they should accept humbly the gift they have received from Judaism. Instead, the gentile church of the second and third centuries grew increasingly arrogant in relationship to the Jewish people. When Christians gained power in Europe, they used that power against the Jewish people. What Paul feared would happen became a violent reality.

The only way out of the sinfulness of one’s own life was to turn to God receive the gift of justification. Righteousness (dikaiosyne) is the condition for salvation or life. This tight condition exists between righteousness as the condition and life as the result of that condition because the condition is already the gift of God. As condition, the word has a forensic sense, a favorable standing to the one judging. In Judaism, it became an eschatological term, in that they long for this pronouncement of a favorable standing with God at the end of history. In Paul, righteousness is already imputed to humanity in the present, as in Romans 3:21-5:1. God already pronounces the eschatological verdict on the person of faith in the present because the eschatological event has already happened. God already does not count our sin against us. What was for Judaism a hope is for Paul both a hope and a present reality. This new relationship with God has its center in justification. It is an interpretation and application of his eschatology. What humanity requires to in order to go free in the judgment of God and to know itself discharged from the divine sentence has already occurred in Christ. This power for salvation accompanies the believer as a constantly fresh and relevant thing.

For Judaism, the condition for receiving this favorable standing with God at the end of history depended upon observance of Torah. The situation of sin and death in which humanity finds itself did not find relief through the Law. Rather, the Law makes one sink down still more deeply into the morass of sin and the corruption of sin. For Paul, favorable standing occurs in the present and at the end of history through faith. Righteousness has its origin in grace or gift from God. The only way to understand the reaction of Paul to Law is as a means of salvation. Although Judaism and Paul differed in terms of their concepts of sin, the primary place of disagreement was the strength of the Law. For Judaism, the Law was the remedy for the predicament in which humanity found itself. Paul could not abide this judgment. Judaism knew no other way of salvation than that of Torah. It saw even the mercy and the forgiving love of God lying in the fact that they enable the sinner to build for his or her eternal future on the ground of Torah. The light that has arisen in the death and resurrection of Christ reveals the inadequacy of the law as a means of salvation. The Torah is now in the shadow of Christ and has become superfluous. Humanity faces a new situation with the death and resurrection of Christ. One can no longer boast in the works of Torah. Rather, humanity must face the offense or stumbling caused by the cross. Instead of orienting humanity toward God, Torah stirs up sin. This weakness of Torah can lead one to recognize the insufficiency of human work and prepare one for the way of faith.

Salvation is for both Jew and Gentile, and it must be based on the same ground. The Torah cannot provide this foundation because that would exclude gentile. Further, if Torah were sufficient, the death and resurrection of Christ would be in vain and faith in it would be in vain. In countering Torah as the basis for salvation, he places faith. Paul does not give righteousness by faith much content by Paul, for he uses it as a contrast with righteousness through Torah. As an apostle to the gentiles, Paul recognized that God saves both Jew and Gentile. Since this calling to the gentile is central for Paul, the Torah falls. Gentiles cannot live by Torah, since Torah is the possession of Israel and an ethnic group within the Roman Empire. His Gentile mission and his recognition that one God has one foundation for salvation dethroned Torah in the thinking of Paul. Therefore, God gave Torah to show that humanity could not keep it.

Paul could also write of the sense of alienation or estrangement, being enemies of God, finding an answer in reconciliation, becoming partners and part of the family of God. It originates in the social sphere and speaks of the restoration of the right relationship between two parties. Although reconciliation brings change of disposition in humanity, the responsibility of removing the obstacle was on the part of God. Reconciliation is always a past event, and Paul speaks only of receiving the gift of it, rather than repenting first.  It deals with past sins. Reconciliation is a term that Paul can substitute for righteousness. A reversal of the relationship between God and humanity has taken place. The reversal takes place because of activity on the part of God. Grace is a judicial act. Grace is an end-time deed. Paul speaks of the individual as being sanctified, justified, and being made righteous.  These terms also relate to past sins that God deals with through Christ. 

For Paul, new life in Christ brings a restoration of the whole of human life to what God intended. What occurs between God and humanity in terms of a new relationship brings a change in humanity that brings wholeness and fullness to human life. This wholeness has the eschatological perspective that Paul brings elsewhere into this thinking, in that the wholeness of individual and communal human life always lies ahead of humanity, even while to some degree actualized through the gift of the Spirit. The point of departure for the reflections of Paul on new life in Christ is the future new creation, and not what actually changes in the believer. The solidarity humanity has in sin has its corollary in the participation of humanity in the new creation that God has revealed in Christ. The church participates metaphorically in the death and resurrection of Christ. The presentation of this view in Romans 6 suggests several instructive points. One is that the participation of the church in the death and resurrection of Christ means that the church participates in the intention of God to bring fullness and wholeness to humanity and to creation. Two is that baptism is the sacramental incorporation of the individual into this divine intention. Three is that the church views faith from the perspective of this divine intention that lays ahead of humanity. Four is that its effect is in the manifestation of its life as obedience to God. Participation in the death of Christ symbolizes the passing of the old age, symbolized in sin, death, and law. Participation in resurrection of Christ symbolizes the coming of the new age, symbolized in righteousness, life, and the Spirit. We do not gain confidence in this new life because of what occurs in personal or corporate life, but because of what occurred in the death and resurrection of Christ as the prolepsis of the intent of God in the future for humanity and all of creation. Torah and Spirit stand over against each other, with new life in Christ effected through the presence of the Spirit as the source of life. The letter of Torah was powerless to effect life, while the life-giving power of the Spirit becomes a reality for believers. Union with Christ in resurrection makes the Spirit available to the church and to believers. The point is that believers now have an orientation of life toward what God intends for humanity, and in that sense reflect their true self that God intended for them as individuals. The new person in Christ that takes place in the individual life of believers has its foundation in the future wholeness that God intends for individuals and for humanity. We need to distinguish between this totality or wholeness that God envisions for humanity and the presence of this wholeness in the church and in individuals. Regeneration itself, and with it the renewal of the inner person, has this close connection with the action of God in the future. The significance of the “heart” and “mind” in Paul occurs at this point. Heart and mind experience illumination and renewal through the gift of the Spirit. Faith is the mode of one’s life in this situation of looking toward what God will in individual and corporate life. Faith represents a new possibility for the individual and for humanity. It also is part of the renewing work of the Spirit in the present. Faith orients humanity to the future God has in store for humanity. In contrast to trusting Torah or other means of wholeness, the believer trusts in what God has already shown in Christ and in what God has promised for humanity through Christ. Faith is confession in what God has done in Christ and obedience to the call of God to orient oneself to that event. Faith is also knowledge in the sense of its connection with the wisdom of God in contrast to the reasoning of humanity. Faith also has a close connection with hope in what God has done in Christ and what God has promised in Christ. Yet, with all the confidence Paul displays in foundation of this faith and hope, Paul is also aware of their provisional nature of the new life in the present.

            Paul will speak of the new life of believers in Christ in an indicative mood in terms of language, thereby indicating the foundation for new life is already present in the church and in the believer. His use of the imperative mood to therefore have churches and individuals behave in accordance with who they are reflects the tension of the present between the passing away of the old age and the arrival of the new. He could also speak in organic categories, referring to the shift from deformity to transformation. The new creation is seen in II Corinthians 5:17.  The old nature can be seen in II Corinthians 4:16.  The transformation takes place through the renewal of the mind in Romans 12:2.  The situation or orientation of the believer toward what God has done and will do in Christ requires encouragement to live out of that orientation today. The new orientation of lives of believers is only possibility until believers individually and corporately live in accordance with that new orientation. Believers need constant awakening to bearing fruit like freedom, peace, love, and joy. They need awareness that they are now belonging to Christ and servants of Christ.  This can be seen in I Corinthians 6:12-20, 7:22, 15:23, II Corinthians 10:5-7, Galatians 5:16-23, Romans 6 and 14:8. This suggest the process of sanctification or holiness. Since God is holy, the people of God are holy. However, this orientation of the church and believers also requires the imperative that the church and individuals live in a way that reflects the holiness they already have in Christ. This is why Paul can speak of living a live worthy of that life to which God has called and which God intends for all humanity. The claim of God upon the church and individuals is total in this sense. The regular encouragement of Paul that the church reflect this holiness in its life suggests that the church and believers never leave the old age and its sin and death completely behind. The struggle remains. Morally, believers remain in a threatened position. We need to understand references to perfection and blamelessness in this context. We can also understand the exhortations of Paul that involves lists of vices and virtues in the same way. The conception of new life that Paul expresses is consistent with laying down certain prescriptions contained in his understanding of virtue and vice and his rules for the household, even though it lives in some tension with it. The Torah appears to provide an on-going norm for Christian life. The ethics of Paul repeats many of the same standards of his Jewish background.  However, it is clear that love is central to the Pauline ethic, as seen in I Corinthians 13.  The baptismal theology of Paul seems to relate closely to the practice of proselyte baptism within the Jewish community.  There were typically moral instructions given to such converts to Judaism from the gentile world.  For Paul, the moral instructions were part of the teaching of the church given to new converts already. In common with Jewish literature, good deeds are the condition for remaining in covenant, but they do not earn salvation. The basis of salvation for Paul, as for Judaism of the period, is election by the grace of God. Paul is not innovator in the context of norms, but rather relies upon Torah and standard Hellenistic conceptions of household rules. Both Torah and household rules undergo change as Paul brings Christ, Torah, household rules, virtue and vice, Spirit, and love into interaction with each other. The new creation that God intends brings a new norm with it. Conscience has the general sense of knowing oneself in the sense of moral self-judgment, now informed by Christ. The liberty of the Christian life is such that one is free of the guilt of conscience and the new relationship one has with God in Christ. The content of this new obedience for Christian living reaches its height in love. This love reflects the love God has shown for humanity and the world in Christ. This love is to constitute the life of the church. The willingness to serve others reflects this love. The separation of orientation that believers experience in Christ from that of the world carries with it the recognition of continuing involvement in the life of the world, continuing to rub shoulders at every level of civic, economic, and political life. His reflections on marriage are generally against asceticism and a recognition of continuing social relationships of believers. He considers it generally important for Christians to have acceptable standards of work ethic and getting along with neighbors, in which he again does not offer anything new in terms of guidance. Christians should not draw attention to themselves at this level of relationship. He does recognize potential abuses of power in the household and counsels against that abuse. Paul gives a basically positive evaluation of civil authority, and encourages Christians to get along in the political sphere. Government remains another instrument of God, and this has implications for Christian involvement in government. Other statements of Paul that suggest that governments are part of the principalities and powers have the objection that Paul nowhere recommends direction against government on that basis.

            Christianity is a new covenant that functions something like the covenantal nomism dominant in Palestinian Judaism. Those within the covenant have salvation, and those outside have condemnation and death. Remaining in it requires obedience, and disobedience leads to expulsion and condemnation. Paul views Christianity as a covenantal religion in which one enters by baptism, membership in which provides salvation, which has commandments, obedience to which keeps one in the covenant, while repeated or heinous transgression removes one from membership. Yet, these categories appear inadequate for what Paul intends. He seems to transcend covenantal categories by referring to a new creation. Further, the concept of covenantal nomism does not account for Paul’s conception of union and participation in Christ, the most significant term uses for explaining the salvation humanity has in Christ. His eschatology also suggests that Christ is Lord, and those who believe will be saved on the day of the soon arrival of judgment.

Paul never views this individual salvation apart from the new community that he knew to be established.  The ekklesia or assembly of God refers to local gatherings and to the church across the empire. He continues to use terms applied to Israel, as in elect, saints, beloved, and called. He does re-affirm the pre-Pauline image of the people of God.  The church is the continuation of the historical people of God and therefore part of the redeeming work of God toward humanity. The church reflects the new covenant God has with humanity in Christ. The church has both a continuity with Israel and reflects the new covenant God has with humanity as shown in Christ and in the inclusion of people beyond land, Torah, and Temple. Paul shows this tension in a controversial and difficult way in Romans 9-11, where he shows the freedom God has in marking out a new covenant with humanity as reflected in Christ and in the church. He understands divine grace as the sole motive for the redemptive work of God in history, and in this context discusses predestination. Yet, Israel remains an object of the grace and calling of God, for God cannot revoke that grace once offered to Israel. He also focuses upon the image of the body of Christ, especially in I Corinthians 12-14.  This appears to represent a unique contribution of Paul to theological reflection on the church. This may well be a reflection upon Paul's own experience as recorded in Acts, in which the risen Lord says to Paul, "Why are you persecuting me." It may also arise out of the experience of the Eucharist. Partaking the body of Christ leads to reflection to the sense in which eating the bread enables the church to become the body of Christ in the world. This identification of what Paul was doing to the church with what was happening to Jesus must have had a powerful effect upon him. The term expresses the close relationship that exists in the present between Christ and the church. The church belongs to Christ in the sense that the church is part of the intention of God to bring wholeness to humanity through Christ. Individual members belong to Christ and therefore to each other. When Colossians and Ephesians refer to Christ as the head of creation and its fullness, he strengthens the view that the church has a relationship with what God is doing in Christ now that foreshadows what God will do to bring creation and humanity to its fullness. A third image is that of a community formed by the Spirit, both with the gifts of the spirit and the fruit of the Spirit.

The church is also an edifice, temple, and house. The church is the dwelling of God that is presently under construction. This construction reflects the commitment of God to work with the people of God. The foundation laid by the Christ and the apostles continues in history. This construction occurs through the gifts and fruits of the Spirit, as well as other offices and ministries in leadership within the church. This mutual construction involves right relationship of community and individual, and the incorporation of individuals into the construction of the church. This construction includes the missionary activity of the church to witness to the gospel and include others in the building. Continuing construction of the church involves increase in knowledge and wisdom, as well as in love. The gifts of the Spirit and the various ministries of the church serve the same purpose. Paul had concern for the continuing institutional life of the church because he had concern for the continuing construction of the church in numbers of members and in quality of internal life. The various counsels Paul gave for church discipline and training also serve the continuing construction of the church.

In all of this, Paul does not refer to social and political issues of the day or to Roman imperialism. When he speaks of evil, he speaks of it a theological way. We might guess that such belief symbols proved attractive to people who had experienced the hopes and fears of occupying an ambiguous position in Roman civilization. They may have brought their sense of isolation and loneliness generated by rigid social class structure into the Pauline community. The upward mobility of some in the Pauline community may have suggested some self-confidence and willingness to break out of the ordinary social structures. His churches would have experienced the tension between the unity symbolized by rituals like baptism and the Supper of the Lord on the one hand and the rigid social class structure on the other. These small communities existing in possibly a dozen cities by the time of the death of Paul had begun constructing a new world that would eventually dominate the empire. They would not have thought of themselves as doing this or as having this impact upon future civilization.

I would now like to share one way of relating the history of Paul. We can give the outline of the life of Paul with some certainty.  However, we must remember that chronology is not exact.  What I present here is my understanding of the best of modern scholarship.  What I want to share in this section is the particularity of the gospel message. We might see in the process the unique and individual situations in the life of Paul that led him to reflect upon his life and the life of his churches in the way that he did.

He was a Jew, taught be Gamaliel, one of the most recognized rabbis of this period. He was connected with the persecution of Christians, including their death.

 Paul became a Christian around 33 AD.  Paul rescued the Jewish sect called Christians from extinction.  However, the victory of his message of a community based upon the covenant established with God through Jesus would not be assured until the destruction of Jerusalem.  Until then, Paul appears steadily to lose ground in his debate with Jewish Christianity.  He visits Arabia, then came back to Damascus.  He visited Jerusalem for the first time in 36 AD, and talked with the disciples. He received the tradition contained in I Corinthians 15 concerning the resurrection at this time.  Some Christians in Damascus helped him escape the city when a plot to kill him was discovered, sometime between 37 and 40 AD.  Paul probably went to Antioch, where the church was beginning to experiment with its gentile mission.  In 42 AD, Paul had his vision of being taken into the third heaven, as well as accepting the reality of his "thorn in the flesh.”

            In 48 AD, the church at Antioch commissioned him and Barnabas for their first journey to share their message in other lands.  The basic pattern was to go the Jewish synagogue first.  It is probably wrong to call this a strategy.  It was the most natural thing for them, with their background, to do.

            By 50 AD, Paul returned to Antioch to a controversy over whether gentiles had to become Jews first in order to become Christians.  This discussion centered largely on circumcision.  This may have been the same time that Paul publicly chided the apostle Peter for siding with the Jewish party at Antioch.

            Because of a disagreement with Barnabas, Paul would recruit Silas and begin another missionary journey.  As he entered Asia Minor he became ill (Gal. 4:13-­15), and according to Acts it is at this time that Luke joins him.  If the tradition that he was a physician is accurate, this would lend credibility to why he joined the missionaries.  He would enter Greece and begin establishing house churches.  While at Thessalonica in the summer of 50 AD, he received material aid from the house churches in Philippi. When he went on to Athens, he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica.  While at Corinth, he again receives material aid from the Philippian house churches.  Timothy rejoins the group. 

            It is likely that Paul wrote I and II Thessalonians from Corinth at this time, in the winter of 50-51 AD.  His purpose was largely to clarify his teachings about the end of the world and the return of Christ.

            Paul then returned to Antioch, only to depart soon, by 52 AD.  The collection for the church in Jerusalem, due to famine there, may have been given at this time to the house churches, and it was now his job to collect the funds.  Paul stayed at Ephesus longer than normal.  During his visit to Ephesus, he says he was beaten near death (II Corinthians 1:8-11).  He could have been prison at this time.  Epaphras, one of Paul’s companions, established the church of Colossae.  He wrote a lost letter from Ephesus, noted in I Corinthians 5:9, between 52 and 54 AD.  He made a brief "sorrowful visit" to Corinth, which clearly was painful to him, possibly because of the personal nature of the attacks.  He wrote a "tearful letter" in the spring of 55 AD, a letter which he did not want to write. 

            He wrote I Corinthians in the fall of 54 AD from Ephesus. He wrote this letter based upon information from Chloe’s people concerning the divisions that were occurring throughout the house churches. 

            He went on to Philippi and wrote II Corinthians 1-9 in the fall of 55 AD.  Timothy is with him, while Titus and two other Christians brought the letter to Corinth. 

            II Corinthians 10-13 was written in the spring or summer of 56 AD, from Thessolonica. 

            Galatians and Romans were written early in 57 AD from somewhere in Macedonia.  By this time, his message was coming into question from many sources.  The desire to go back to an ethnic, power based community was strong.  He felt the need to explain the foundations of his message, which is the primary motive for both letters.  In the case of Romans, he was preparing the house churches there for his visit to them.  The letter concludes with the vision of a Christian mission to Spain, and thus was designed to win their support for that mission.  The letter seeks common ground with those who receive it. One of his companion, Tertius, wrote the letter while Paul dictated it.  Several others are with him: Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, Gaius, Erastus, Quartus.

            Paul arrived in Jerusalem in May 57 AD, bringing the collection from the churches.  This was Paul's attempt to heal the division between himself and his churches on the one hand and the Jewish Christians on the other.  Luke makes no mention of the offering in Acts, however.  The authorities in Jerusalem arrest him.  He is transferred to Caesarea because of the intense hostility, and stays there from the summer of 57 to the fall of 59 AD.  After he appeals for justice to Caesar, he left by ship across the Mediterranean Sea in the fall of 59 to the winter of 60 AD. While in prison at Rome awaiting trial in 60-62 AD, Epaphroditus had arrived from Philippi. 

            Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians while in prison in Rome, primarily as an expression of gratitude for their continued loyalty, though he was concerned about a rivalry just beginning to develop.  Epaphroditus delivered the letter, while Paul mentions that Timothy, presiding elders, and deacons are also with him.  Epaphrus brings news from Colossae, and is promptly imprisoned with Paul. 

            Paul writes the letter to the Colossians, with Tychius and Onesimus bringing the letter with them.  This letter seems to be motivated by concern for the spread of Jewish speculation and mysticism in the area.  Asia Minor would become the center of a combination of Christianity and Gnosticism, of which this letter may have the beginning awareness.  There are 28 words not found elsewhere in Paul and 34 not found elsewhere in the New Testament, making some believe Paul did not write the letter.

            Onesimus is a slave who apparently became a Christian, while Philemon had been his master.  Paul designed the letter to Philemon to free the slave from his obligation to the master, while at the same time committing Onesimus to be with Paul. 

            Paul wrote a now lost letter to Laodicea at some point during the imprisonment at Rome.

            If Paul wrote Ephesians, which most scholars seem to doubt, it would have been at this time.  Tychius brings the letter, and thus Paul would have written it at the same time as Colossians and Philemon.  Again, the concerns of Colossians are given deeper interpretation here, as Paul is concerned with the spread of Jewish speculation, showing that the powers of the universe are subordinate to Christ, that the message of salvation is not just for individuals but for the whole universe.  However, 80 words are not found in other Pauline letters, some favorite Pauline words are not used, and the meaning of some words is changed from earlier letters.  In addition, the long stay at Ephesians that we know occurred does not show up in a personal way in this letter.  Markus Barth (Ephesians in the Anchor Bible) makes a strong case that Paul wrote to gentiles within the congregation who joined the house churches after Paul left.  The language is so different because Paul is quoting hymns, confessions of faith, and prayers which were known to the people, and through which Paul hoped to remind people of their faith in Christ and not be persuaded by this new teaching. 

            Paul dies between 64 and 66 AD, at the order of Nero, close to the same time that Peter died.

            Throughout these texts, there are pre-Pauline formulations which scholars have been able to identify.  This means that Paul himself built upon existing structures of organization and theology.  He was himself passing on tradition as he experienced in the church of his day.  Some of these traditional formulations are as follows:

  • We find a confession of faith in I Thessalonians 1:9-10, 4:14, 5:9-11, II Corinthians 4:5, 5:14-15, 5:21 (Jewish Christian affirmation of the vicarious death of Jesus), Ephesians 4:4-5.
  • Theological statements in II Thessalonians 1:5-10 (eschatology), 2:1-12
  • (Eschatology, except for the concept of the restrainer).
  • Pre-existence of Jesus in I Corinthians 8:6, 10:5.
  • Trinitarian formulations in I Corinthians 12:4-5, Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:15­-19.
  • Hymns in Philippians 2:6-11, Colossians 1:15-20 (with Paul making additions at several points), 2:12-13 (summary of a hymn), Ephesians 1:3­-14 (Trinitarian form), 1:20-25 (concerning the resurrection and enthronement of Jesus), 2:4-8a, 9-10 (on baptism or conversion), 2:14-18 (on Christ’s death), 2:20-22 (on the church), 3:5, 4:11-13, 5:14b (on baptism), 5:26-27 (Christ hymn).
  • Catechism instruction in Ephesians 4:22-24.

            Paul does not spend much time with the saying tradition of the gospels.  However, this does not mean that Paul had no awareness of the life of Jesus.  Unfortunately, the isolated statements that Paul makes along these lines are not given enough weight in discussions about Paul and the early church. of course, Paul could have gotten these comments from other sources than a sayings source of Jesus.  However, he appears at least somewhat aware of what Jesus taught, whether through a written source or through oral tradition.  These references are as follows:

            Referring to the death of Jesus in I Thessalonians 2:14, based on Matthew 23:29-37. He is aware of a tradition concerning the burial and appearances of Jesus in I Corinthians 15:1-8.Eschatology of I Thessalonians 4:15-15 is said to be based on the teachings of Jesus, which in fact have some similarity with Matthew 24:30­31, and I Thessalonians 5:6-7 are similar to Matthew 24:42.  He is aware of an independent saying of Jesus in I Corinthians 7:10-11 (on divorce).  He is aware of an independent saying of Jesus concerning the Lord's Supper, which is of course similar to the synoptic accounts, in I Corinthians 11:23-27.  He reflects knowledge of a saying of Jesus in I Corinthians 13:2, (from Matthew 17:20 on faith removing mountains), in II Corinthians 13:1 (from Matthew 18:16 on the evidence of two or three witnesses), in Galatians 5:14 and Romans 13:8-10 (loving the neighbor as oneself, from Matthew 22:34-40), Romans 14:4 (passing judgment, similar to Matthew 7:1), Romans 14:14 (he received instruction from Jesus concerning unclean food, based on Matthew 15:10-20), Philippians 4:6 (don't worry about anything, based on Matthew 6:25-34), Colossians 2:22 (Matthew 15:9 also speaks of human commandments), Colossians 4:6 (with Matthew 5:13 and its reference to salt).   He seems aware of the character of Jesus in II Corinthians 10:1 (gentleness and forbearance).

            There can be little doubt that this activity of establishing churches, writing letters, forging new thought to express the Christian faith to the Greek and Roman world, and his tireless devotion to the cause, makes Paul the primary leader of the first generation of the church.  Were it not for Paul it is likely that the Christian movement, if it existed today at all, would be little more than another synagogue tradition within Judaism. Instead, he helped the early church mold its message for a new day.  He liberated the message of Jesus from its ethnic center and brought the universal offer of salvation through Jesus to new people.  It might be helpful to spend some time looking at the core of that message.           

General Letters of the New Testament

            A letter which tradition attributed to Paul, but which everyone agrees Paul could not have written, is Hebrews.  The fact that it survived the battle between the Romans and the Jews is remarkable.  It appears to be a sermon based upon Psalm 110.  1:1-4:13 discuss the revelation of God in the Son exceeds any other revelation, 4:14-10:18 discuses Jesus and the perfect high priest, and 10:19-13:25 is paraenetic instruction. Its message is how to acquire the fulfillment of the promise of God made with Abraham.  God Promised Land, but it was not fulfilled in his lifetime.  In Egypt, God called Israel to fulfill that promise.  They disobeyed God, and had to wander in the wilderness.  They never had secure possession of the land.  The wandering people of God becomes the leading theological idea. The emphasis is on the church as the new people of God. However, the promised is renewed in Jesus, a new covenant is established.  The listeners are encouraged to be faithful to their calling.  The believer must battle weariness that occurs on a prolonged pilgrimage by contemplating the future destination, the heavenly rest of the heavenly Jerusalem. The author further exhorts those wandering to be reassured of the present: the description of the way, which helps their orientation, eases the toils. Even the retrospective glance upon the already covered stretch of the journey is meant to help. The weary are reminded of the old covenant, of the promises of that time, whereby the forward glance at the destination is once again indirectly underscored. Faith is understood as remaining in the fellowship of the wandering people. Sin is to fall behind, and to grow weary, hence to fall into unbelief and apostasy. Finally, hope is the view of the destination along the journey. On the one hand, the promise is already fulfilled. The people of God are already en route. On the other hand, the end is not yet, the destination has not yet been reached and the people continue to need strengthening. The assurance of hope has its basis in the work of salvation, in the sacrifice of Christ, the true high pries.

            The original readers may have been Jews who had begun training in the Christian faith.  They had been courageous in early days, but now they are beginning to wonder if Christianity is worth it.  There appear to be some connections with the Essenes, and possibly with pilgrims who came from other lands.  The community is a strict one, possibly monastic, around Jerusalem.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the temple, the high priesthood, and the sacrifices, so do not go back to what you knew before! Another possibility is that the author deals with the question of how to understand the word of God as being subject to historical process and yet remaining recognizably the word of God. It may focus on the problem of the old and the new. How does Christianity relate to the Hebrew faith that preceded it? The author solves the problem by reading the Jewish Scriptures from a Christian perspective. When the author asks how these texts apply to Christianity, it raises the question of the definitive nature of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The author proposes that Jewish institutions are outmoded. He proposes a form of realized eschatology. The eschatological perspective when he addresses the community’s awareness of its existence within the historical process with its contingencies. That is, he acknowledges that the city Christianity seeks is not yet present. At these points, one finds a futuristic eschatology and a sense of close continuity between the Christian community and the people of the Jewish scriptures.

            The portion of the New Testament after 70 AD takes on a decidedly different character.  We have made the point that apocalyptic determined much of the literature until this period.  This was true for both and Jewish and Christian writings.  After 70 AD and the council of Jamnia in 90 AD, mainstream Judaism left apocalyptic behind, replacing it with an interest in the law and the synagogue.  The destruction of Jerusalem proved to be a watershed event for both movements. The Jewish faith became intentional about defining itself.  Apocalyptic, Essenes, Sadducees, and Zealots no longer had any strength.  What were left were the rabbinic, synagogue tradition and the Jewish Christians.  This is why the rabbinic tradition, though it contains few references to Jesus, has extremely condemnatory statements about Jesus.  In the same fashion, the Jewish Christians expanded upon the statements that Jesus made against the Pharisees in order to fortify their position.  It was at this time that the Synoptic gospels were written.  With the death of James, Paul and Peter, the personal leadership of the apostles was over.  There were no institutions in place to continue their message. Within the New Testament, there are letters from this period that show some of the changed perspectives of this new generation of Christians.

            James is a text that many scholars do not respect as a theological text, as Martin Luther famously stated. This judgment is a matter of perspective. It represents Jewish Christianity, with its emphasis upon ethical conduct, concern for the poor, and good works.  In this regard, it may be rabbinic method of teaching based upon the Sermon on the Mount, along with some other isolated sayings of Jesus. Of course, if this is the case, it further reflects some knowledge of the sayings of Jesus. How this might be is shown below:


            1:5, with Matthew 7:7 on asking of God.

            1:8, with Matthew 6:22 on being of two minds.

            1:12 with Matthew 5:10 on blessedness of those who are persecuted. 1:16 with Matthew 7:11 on God the giver of good gifts.

            1:19-21 with Matthew 5:22 on anger.

2:8,      with Matthew 22:39 on loving the neighbor as yourself.

2:11     with Matthew 5:21-26 on adultery and killing.

2:16     with Matthew 25:41-45 on sharing with the poor.

3:12     with Matthew 7:16 on tree yielding good fruit.

3:18     with Matthew 5:9 on peacemakers.

4:5,      with Matthew 6:24 on God or mammon.

5:12     with Matthew 5:34-37 on not giving an oath.


            James seems to be aware of the argument of Paul concerning Abraham that is used in Galatians and Romans, while making precisely the opposite point that Paul makes.  That appears to be intentional.  2:14-26 is decisive for determining the theological position of James. He refers to the Pauline position and criticizes it. If someone has only faith and no works, faith is in vain. Faith without works is dead faith. He does not give consideration to the position of Torah within the framework of the letters of Paul. Further, the eschatology, while holding on to the traditional expectation of the return of Christ, no longer has theological significance. The ceremonial law is no longer finding for Christians. The ethical norms retain their value. The law has become the way of salvation, for the regard for works is at the same time the recognition of the law. The letter has many similarities with two other early Christian works at the beginning of the second century, Hermas and I Clement.

I Peter is written to new gentile converts in Asia Minor.  He encourages the people to remain faithful in their time of trial.  Peter puts forward Jesus as the supreme example of how to respond in the midst of suffering.  In this, the author appears familiar with at least some form of the passion narrative, as well as Isaiah 53.  It seems to be in the form of an instruction to baptismal candidates.  In 2:24 and 3:13 we have one of the area references to Paul in the New Testament outside of the Pauline letters themselves. It seems to make use of John, Romans, and Ephesians, and there are similarities with James. The setting of persecution activates his eschatological reflections. Christians remain pilgrims on the earth, while the true home is in heaven. The author wants to strengthen Christians facing difficulties in their social situation, a fact evident in the largely parenetic character of the writing. Reflections on I Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6 are endless.

            Most of Jude is contained in II Peter. Most scholars think that II Peter incorporates Jude in order to correct some misconceptions Jude presents. Parallels are the following:


            Jude     II Peter

            v. 2      1:2

            v. 3      1:5

            v. 5a    1:12

            v. 5b-19           2:1-3:3

            v. 24    3:14


One of its unique features is that it quotes from the Book of Enoch and the Assumption of Moses, apocryphal books of the period, as if they were scripture.  The purpose is to denounce false teachers, which seem to be similar to those rejected in Colossians, the Pastoral Epistles, and Revelation.  Their appearance is a sign that the end is near. The letter views the apostles as long past in v. 17, the faith is a fixed tradition in v. 3, and the author is acquainted with Paul's letters.  It is probably intended for a Jewish Christian audience. It adopts the tactic of the Pastoral epistles in that although it has concern for false teaching, it has little direct theological discussion through which the reader can discern the nature of the false teaching.

            II Peter has concern primarily with false teachers and with anxiety about the return of Christ.  There is a clear desire to avoid conflict with state authorities.  The author refers to Paul in 3:15 as if he were already recognized as having scriptural authority, the apostles are viewed as having been living and writing in the past, and I Peter is viewed as scripture in 3:1.  It refers explicitly enough to the mount of transfiguration in Matthew 17:5 that the author may have been aware of a written account of it.  The text also appears aware of Matthew 24:43 and possibly I Thessalonians 5:2, a saying of Jesus regarding the end coming like a thief in the night. The Hellenistic terminology in 1:3-11 and its reference to virtue and knowledge play a significant part in the letter. The letter also refers to the idea that salvation meant the participation of humanity in the divine nature. The letter seems concerned with the delay of the return of Christ. The solution of this author is simple clear: the imminent expectation continues to apply because one needs to note that for God, a thousand years are like one day.

            A disciple of Paul, unknown to history, adjusts the message of Paul for the new situation facing the church, sometime between 80 and 100 AD.  The letters would be in the order of I Timothy, Titus and II Timothy.  Though they do not reflect the level of church organization in the letters of the second century church leader Ignatius, they do seem to assume the apostolic ministry is the past of the church, and that bishops, elders, and deacons have rather clearly defined roles.  There are doctrinal concerns that again have Jewish characteristics, and seem to lead either to an ascetic practice or to a libertarian practice.  There were especially interests in genealogies that led to speculation about origins.  They practice spiritualism, a retreat from the world, and gnosis. Yet, they also demand conformity and they seem to be intensely occupied with myths and genealogies. The pastorals oppose them by saying that this is a sign of the end, and therefore one must counter them with tenacity. The world is the creation of God, and for that reason Christians can associate with the things of the world. Proper tradition is the decisive criterion in the evaluation of heresy. II Timothy has a different character, in the form of a testament of Paul to his child Timothy to motivate to endure even as Paul has done. There is again some awareness of the sayings of Jesus.

I Timothy 2:6 and Titus 2:14, with Matthew 20:28 on Jesus being a ransom.

I Timothy 4:1, with Matthew 24:23-24 on some people deserting.

I Timothy 5:18 with Luke 10:7 on worker deserving of wages.

II Timothy 2:12 with Matthew 10:33 on disowning the son of man

The Synoptic Gospels and Acts of the Apostles

                I will now begin with the gospel material and focus upon the unique theological and ethical perspective that each gospel writer offers to the church. I am interested in considering the theological, moral, and ethical influence these writings have upon Christian reflection. Numerous introductions to the New Testaments can provide matters of date, authorship, audience, and so on. Most modern scholars do not think that Matthew, Mark, or Luke wrote this material in its final form. Most scholars agree that the author wrote Mark between 67 and 70 AD, that the authors of Matthew and Luke wrote between 85 and 95 AD, and that they used Mark and a common source called Q. Most agree that the same author wrote Luke and Acts. This latter source consists of the sayings that Matthew and Luke hold together, around 200 verses. One can use these gospels to arrive at the nearest historical picture of Jesus modern historical method will allow, to discover the needs of the Christian communities addressed by these gospels, and to discover the unique perspective on theology that these gospels may contribute. At this stage, my interest is in the latter. I want to pursue the theological, Christological, moral, and ethical perspectives that these writings bring to light for us. I assume that if God was at work in the events to which the New Testament directs us, God was at work through the life experience of individuals and communities of faith to give us the documents we have. The assumption, which I think reasonably safe, is that the bible did not drop down out of heaven. This means reasonable people can read the text and understand the text, even if they ultimately cannot agree with the text.


            The Gospel of Mark has the purpose of meeting the urgent needs of the Palestinian community, on the verge of a Jewish-Roman war.  The suffering of the Christians, pressured by Jews and Romans, made urgency ad conflict all the more central.  Thus, his gospel shortness material, focuses on events, and arises out of the suffering of the people.  He faced a community that doubted, wondering about its own legitimacy and the ability of Jesus to save. 

            Theodore J. Weeden suggests that Mark has the purpose of combating triumphalist Christology that had arisen the community of Mark. These false Christ’s have created a problem, and the approach of Mark is to present a divine man Christology until the first prediction of the suffering in chapter 8, in which the triumphalist understanding gives way to the image of Jesus as one his way to suffering and death, and calling followers to adopt the way of the cross. Werner Kelber suggests that the disciples represent Jerusalem Christianity. In writing in Galilee shortly after the destruction of the Temple, he explains how such an event could happen. The disciples themselves sowed the seeds of this disaster. The gospel rejects both the Twelve and the Jerusalem church as failures and hints that the Galilean community is the authentic heart of the Christian movement. Jews and Gentiles have some unity in Galilee, and the disciples refuse to accept that unity.

            The theological themes Mark raises have some implications for the theological reflection of the church today. 

            Beginning with 8:27, the focus becomes the cross. The cross revealed the kind of Messiah Jesus would be. The text tells the reader that suffering and death must occur as part of the plan of God. We should note that a non-messianic gospel is unthinkable in the sense that every possible presentation of the gospel connects to who Christ is.

The center of the gospel is the confession by Peter that Jesus is the Christ. The moral universe of the gospel is divided between insiders and outsiders. Insiders are those who believe in the reign of God Jesus preached. The outsiders are those who do not believe or see the presence of the reign of God. An interesting dimension of this is that the disciples to do see, lack understanding, and generally do not exhibit characteristics of people of faith. He emphasizes that people can enter the rule of God now, meaning to live under the rule or influence of God, whether now or in the future. The distinctive aspect of the preaching of Jesus lays in the present aspect of the kingdom. The rule of God is already making its appearance in his life and ministry. At present, the reign of God is hidden and only faith can perceive it. The hidden reign of God will be revealed in power, and on that day, everyone will acknowledge the rule of God. To enter the sphere of the rule of God, one must receive this reign with childlike faith, and guard against temptations and attachment to possessions that distract one for the rule of God.

            Mark structures his gospel so that one can perceive the strangeness of affirming the Messiah is crucified. Thus, while the reader is aware at the beginning that this story about the Son of God, we do not find the phrase again until on the lips of the outsider Roman soldier at the foot of the cross. The first part of the gospel has Jesus arriving on the scene doing wonderful works like healing and casting out demons, feeding multitudes, and so on. The disciples simply do not understand, even in the presence of such mighty deeds. Mark invites the reader to identify with the struggle of the disciples at this point, vicariously experiencing failure through them, receiving forgiveness, and receiving encouragement to act faithfully. The failure of the disciples to comprehend even in the midst of such mighty deeds ought to cause us to re-evaluate power. Power alone does not bring divine authenticity. Mary Ann Tolbert suggests that as a narrative, it arouses emotions on behalf of Jesus. The narrative also offers powerful encouragement to Christians facing persecution.

            The secret is that this Messiah will be crucified, rather than revealed in power. The way of Jesus is actually the way of suffering, rejection, and death. How can this be good news? The way of following is the way of the cross. Faith describes the moral and ethical life of those who embrace the reign of God. Faith is perceiving and understanding, whereas the lack of faith is blindness and incomprehension. Those who believe, perceive, and understand, what Jesus says and does can see the presence of the reign of God in his ministry, even though the manifestation of the reign of God is presently hidden and seemingly insignificant. Some minor characters have faith: the paralytic and those who bring him Jesus for healing in 2:5, the woman with a hemorrhage in 5:34, Jairus in 5:36, the father of a boy possessed in 9:24, and Bartimaeus in 10:52. The disciples are a more complicated example in that their faith is weak and faltering. The religious leaders are examples of non-belief. Faith leads people to see the hidden presence of the reign of God already active in the ministry of Jesus. In light of the reign of God, those who believe find the power to adopt the divine point of view. The disciples argue over who is the greatest, while Mark lifts up the vision of Jesus that they live as a community of disciples in which the greatest is servant and slave of all. Mark provides the reader with a sobering account of human weakness. The closest followers of Jesus fall away at the time of trial.

            Mark raises several Christological questions.  The Christology of Mark is complex.  Is Mark a conservative reaction to Paul’s Christology?  “Son of God,” at 1:1.  “Sonship” at baptism.  “Son of Man” is usually connected with suffering.  Mann believes Jesus used it of himself and understood it in light of suffering.  He would have gotten this from the Essenes.  Note that Jewish literature separated Son of Man from kingdom.  It could mean either an ideal man or a representation of the community.  Thus, the community did not create the title.  Jesus avoids the title Messiah, probably because Jesus preferred Son of Man.  Paul reverses this, using Christ far more. 

            Jesus regarded his own ministry was identified with the totality of Israel and its mission.  That role stretches beyond to an identification with humanity.  He mentions a variety of approaches in dealing with the quest for the historical Jesus. 

            The gospels portray Jesus as an historical figure and the church cannot accept the view that there is no relationship between the Jesus of history and Christ of faith.  In any case, the first nine chapters occur in Galilee and contain a theme of the hidden nature of Jesus as Messiah. The demons recognize who Jesus is, but Jesus forbids them from saying anything. People on the receiving end of healing and exorcism are not to tell others. The disciples do not understand. The confession by Peter and the accompanying predictions of the passion begin a turn toward the cross. Chapter 11 to the end is his ministry in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, Jesus becomes increasingly clear in his confrontation with authorities. He declares clearly who he is in the trial. The Roman soldier declares him to be the Son of God. This theme is an important theological contribution by Mark.

            With the kingdom in Mark, miracles are to be viewed as sacramental signs of the kingdom, which is dawning but invisible.  Healings on the Sabbath are new creation activity.  Jesus challenges the entrenched power of evil in the healing and exorcisms. 

            Parables in general are for those outside the inner circle, while explanations are for the disciples.  The kingdom of God in Mark is viewed as: 1) arriving in the ministry of Jesus; 2) hidden in the community; 3) promised for future revelation.  Discipleship issues are raised, in which people are called to suffer.  The community is terrified, so he ends his gospel in that way.  The ending calls for self-examination by the reader.

            Mark also contributes to moral reflection.  The ethical challenge Jesus presents is to repent and believe because the hidden reign of God is already present in the ministry of Jesus, and will soon be obvious to all as it comes in power. The response of faith presupposes the comprehensive break with the past and the reorientation of life in both its ethical and religious dimensions connoted by repentance as in changing one’s ways. Faith completes the work begun by repentance. Faith is repentant faith.

            Mark juxtaposes the announcement of the theme of the preaching of Jesus as the soon arrival of the reign of God with the call of the disciples, who then give up their former way of life in order to follow Jesus. In this sense, the disciples become models of what following Jesus is about. However, their repentance and faith is far from complete. The disciples are cowardly, lacking comprehension, concerned for social status, and disloyal to Jesus at the crucial time of arrest and trial. If the purpose of Mark is to encourage Christians to remain faithful during the time of trial, his gospel does not hold out much hope that this will happen, for not even the disciples can remain faithful.

            To be a disciple is to adopt a new way of thinking concerning what one values. Peter simply could not get this, as after his confession that Jesus is the Messiah in Mark 8 he is also called a Satan for his failure to understand what it mean that Jesus is the Son of Man who must suffer. Jesus is not interested in saving his life (as Peter is), but in surrendering his life. Jesus is not interested in being the first of all or great in the eyes of others, but rather willingly becomes last of all, the servant and slave of all. Peter can see things from only a human perspective, and he needs to understand the perspective that God has on these matters.

            The soon arrival of the reign of God radicalizes the demand for discipleship, leaves little room for compromise, relativizes Torah, and the church will need to live out its own suffering in union with the suffering Jesus experienced. Those in privileged positions of religious authority do not accept the message. Even the disciples accept it only to a degree, and continue to struggle. Suffering reflects the end-time suffering of those who follow Jesus, suggesting that power needs to be re-evaluated in the light of the suffering and death of the cross. An ironic dimension appears in that those who think they have the will of God firmly in hand because of Torah in actually blind themselves from the will of God as shown in Jesus. The gospel closes with fear on the part of the disciples, inviting the reader to respond either with fear or with witness.

            Mark portrays Jesus as in debate concerning Torah with religious leaders. Mark notes that all foods are clean. Jesus does not go into extended critique of the sacrificial system. He appears to distinguish between the purity code of Torah and the moral code of Torah. We find in Mark 2:1-3:6 the opposition of the religious leaders to Jesus, standing in sharp contrast to the response of the crowds. There is no explicit mention of the law in these controversies over forgiveness of sin, the table fellowship of Jesus with tax collectors and sinners, his lack of fasting, and the Sabbath law. Yet, the question of Torah is behind these controversies. Mark recognizes that Jesus relativizes the claim of Torah in light of the arrival of the reign of God in his ministry. A provocative way of saying this is that obedience to Torah no longer automatically reflects faithfulness to God, and may in fact reflect lack of obedience to the will of God in light of the new situation introduced by Jesus. One might suggest that, from the perspective of Mark, either what Jesus says about himself is wonderfully true and demands allegiance, or he is terribly arrogant. We see another purity debate in Mark 7. Jesus says that the traditions of the rabbis are not binding upon people and that purity laws concerning foods are no longer binding, leaving open the possibility of table fellowship with Gentiles and others. Jesus has fed both in his table fellowship, so one can no longer separate them. Jesus makes extraordinary demands upon his disciples in light of the soon arrival of the reign of God, including becoming like children, selling possessions, and that divorce is not permitted. The dialogue concerning the coin with the image of Caesar, Jesus suggests that everything belongs to God, whereas all Caesar receives is the coin. Since Jesus envisions a time without temple, land, or Torah, the love of God and neighbor as guiding norms for the followers of Jesus becomes increasingly urgent.

            The motivation for moral conduct is the will of God. He also describes a system of rewards and punishments. One is now part of the family of God as defined by Jesus. His ethics is teleological in that Mark calls people to act today in light of a specific goal or end. Disciples who do the will of God now will receive vindication in the final judgment God brings to the world. Jesus becomes a model of moral behavior in his doing of the will of God, in his faithfulness to God in the midst of trial, and in his compassion.


            The ending of Gospel of Matthew draws together the threads of the story he tells and commissions the disciples. Matthew ends with the immediate presence of the risen Lord, who promises to remain present always, until the end of the age. This reassuring word grounds the life and mission of the church on solid rock. Matthew creates an ordered, symbolic world, in which Jesus possesses all authority in heaven and on earth, and defending it against rival worldviews. We see the say in which he constructs that world in his representation of Jesus as teacher, his account of discipleship as community formation, and his adaptation of eschatology as a warrant for ethics.

            Matthew was less concerned with the historical events of Jesus' life than with his teaching.  The historical events of Jesus' life fulfill all the promises of salvation made by God. He moves the teaching of Jesus into the foreground, while the deeds of Jesus confirm the validity of that teaching. Matthew also has six major discourses that Matthew has produced by using texts from the sources available to him.

            Several passages appear significant to the development of the theology of Matthew. 6:9-13 is the Lord’s Prayer, which he expands for use in the worship of the church. 13:24-30, 36-43, where the church is not yet a gathering of the elect, but has a mixture of good and evil in it. 16:17-19, in which he reflects the concept of church in the early Palestinian community. 25:31-46, the portrait of the last judgment. As the coming Son of Man, Jesus judges all nations, the criterion being the conduct of individuals in their lives. The apocalyptic scene he essentially reduces to an exhortation to living in a Christian way in the world. 28:18-20, the Great commission, a summary of the gospel.

            One approach to the text is that Matthew intends to portray Jesus as a new Moses. Some indications of this theme are in the opening chapters. In addition, the Sermon on the Mount is an arrangement Matthew gives to the teaching of Jesus as if Jesus provides his own interpretation of Torah. He does not structure the sermon in such a way as to offer new legislation, but to teach accurately Torah.

            Matthew has several themes that separate him from other gospels. The title Son of God becomes increasingly important. Matthew does not accept the Markan messianic secret, but rather wants his gospel to point to the paradox of his revelation that takes place in lowliness. An example is the triumphal entry, in which the lowly Jesus entering on a donkey others openly acknowledge as Messiah. He also provides a different self-understanding of the church. The church has the character of permanence. The anticipation of the parousia recedes. Instead, he places greater emphasis on the problem of false teachers who will appear in the last days. Rather than unbelief, Jesus chastises the disciples for little faith.

            The Christology involves Jesus as authoritative teacher of the people of God. He shows the basis of this authority by relating birth and resurrection. Rather than beginning with John the Baptist, he begins with the genealogy of Jesus, his birth, and early childhood. By birth, he is Messiah, son of David, son of Abraham, and conceived by the Holy Spirit. The difficulties surrounding the birth of Jesus remind one of the difficulties surrounding the birth of Moses. To know Jesus rightly is to acknowledge his authority by obeying his teaching. His formula quotations suggest the scripted character of salvation history.

            First of the discourses in Matthew is the Sermon on the Mount, 5-7, a catechism-like digest of paraenesis. In light of the presentation by Matthew in his whole gospel, this sermon at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus places further weight upon Jesus as teacher. It also emphasizes the ethics of those who live in the light of the reign of God. Matthew shaped the sermon, so we should not assume that its structure comes from Jesus.

            Is it possible to meet the demands of this sermon? The Reformation teaching on this point was that the intent was to point out how sinful we are, since no one can fulfill the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. Albert Schweitzer suggested that he intended its fulfillment, but only in the context of an interim ethic. The problem with the latter interpretation is that the sermon is not set in an eschatological context. The demands of the sermon serve as abiding ethical directives for Christian living in the world. This also means that he expected Christians to live them out in the realm of the Christian life, for they bear on the meaning and content of the Ten Commandments. Betz sees Jesus here as the authoritative interpreter of the Torah for the law-abiding community. The home of this sermon is Jewish piety and theology, and an ethic of obedience t the Torah. The sermon does not reflect any of the theological reflection that Paul offers concerning the structure of sin that works against fulfillment of right conduct. People have the ability to do what God requires. The human predicament is not so much indwelling sin as it is rebellion against the will of God as interpreted by Jesus. The sermon represents an impossible ideal when we separate it from the gracious gift of the reign of God on the one hand and from the community of the faithful on the other.

            If law and righteousness in the theology of Mathew are placed in juxtaposition to the teaching of Paul on justification, we might note substantial differences. Mathew does not say that God gives righteousness as a gift. However, if we examine the structure of both authors, we find that righteousness in Paul corresponds to “kingdom of heaven” in Matthew, both designating the unconditional saving action of God and the demonstration of the grace of God. Robert Mohrlang suggests that the underlying structure in Matthew is provided by the gracious gift of the reign of God that results in the fruit of righteousness in one’s life. The saving work of God in Christ demands the response of the fruits of righteousness. Separate from the gracious gift of the reign of God and from Christian community, the righteousness that exceeds that of scribes and Pharisees is impossible. In that light, the Sermon on the Mount becomes a blueprint for Christian discipleship. Ethical conduct does not bring the saving work of God into effect. However, one does not appropriate that saving work without the fruits of righteousness.

            What is the relationship to the Ten Commandments? The intent of Matthew appears to be the presentation of Jesus as bringing to light the original intent of the Ten Commandments.

            What meaning can they possibly have?

            Matthew no longer reckons with the imminence of the parousia, which is why Matthew compiles the sermon from his sources in the way he did.

            In 5:3-16 we have the introduction to the sermon, in which Jesus pronounces a blessing upon those who live a consistent with the qualities of life presented in them. The metaphors of the disciples being salt and light suggest that other people need to see their good works and praise God.

            In 5:17-20, the law and the prophets as interpreted by Jesus remain valid for Christians.

            The sermon continues with three ways in which those who follow Jesus can have righteousness that exceeds that of scribes and Pharisees.

            The first is in the form of six antitheses in 5:21-48. Jesus does not abrogate the law; he offers an interpretation of the law in light of the hermeneutical principles established in other parts of the gospel: God desires mercy rather than sacrifice and love of God and neighbor. Jesus does not give a new set of legal ruling. The small number of examples suggests that Matthew wants people to interpret the whole Torah in light of the principles espoused here.

            The second example of righteousness that exceeds that of scribes and Pharisees is that of practical piety in 6:1-18, focusing on almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Performing such acts to impress others is to do them with a divided heart and in the manner of the hypocrites.

            The third example of righteousness that exceeds is in 6:19-7:11, a loosely connected series of seven statements that revolve around the general theme of seeking the reign of God and its righteousness with a sense of total commitment. Another possible explanation of the organization is that of the themes in the Lord’s Prayer. We hallow the name of God by storing up treasure in heaven, having a single eye, and serving God alone as our master. We trust God for daily bread by not being anxious for our lives and seeking the reign of God and its righteousness. We forgive others their trespasses by refusing to enter into judgment of them. We avoid evil in the midst of temptation by persistent prayer.

            The sermon concludes with an exhortation that reminds one of the two ways in wisdom literature, warning of false prophets and encouraging people who trust his interpretation of Torah build their lives on a solid foundation. In the final judgment of God, it will not be sufficient to call him Lord, for one must do the will of God.

            The second discourse in Matthew is the commission of the disciples in Chapter 10. The bulk of the discourse is concerned with preparing the disciples for the opposition their message will encounter when the full ramifications of the radical demands of Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom of God become clear. In that encounter, those who remain faithful will receive the supreme gift of God's presence.

            The basic authority Jesus gives the Twelve mirrors the scope of his own ministry activities - the disciples will be able to cure all disease, all sickness. Before continuing with the content of the mission, however, Matthew takes time to list the names of all 12 of the officially commissioned disciples. Taking seriously this apostolic mission helps us understand Jesus' limiting instructions in 10:5-6. The disciples are assistants to Jesus, the messianic shepherd of Israel. They are part of that Old Testament eschatological tradition. Furthermore, the significance of 12 disciples is also part of their intimate connection to Israel. In the eschaton, each of the Twelve will stand in judgment before each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Thus, the match up at this point between the mission of the Twelve and the Israelites is intentional and exclusive. Matthew's emphasis of this witness, however, in no way diminishes the universal mission later proclaimed by Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection (28:16-20).

            Jesus stipulates exactly what the disciples are to accomplish during their missionary excursion. Not surprisingly, since the Twelve are to be extensions of Jesus' own mission, he directs them in 10:7-8 to do exactly the same things he himself had been shown doing in Matthew 8-9. Completely empowered by his authority, Jesus calls the disciples to do no less than Jesus did. As Jesus further details the particulars of these commissioned ones, again the focus is on only the "lost sheep," which Matthew's text now clarifies as those who are "of Israel." Just as Jesus' mission involved "proclaiming the good news of the kingdom" (v.35), so, too, his commissioned disciples are to "proclaim the good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near'" (v.7). All the healing abilities Jesus possessed are to become part of his disciples' repertoire. They, too, are to "Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons." Jesus gives to the disciples both the power to preach and the power to heal, the two definitive signs of the approaching kingdom. Their commission invests them fully with Jesus' own authority.         

            The third discourse in Matthew is a collection of parables in Chapter 13. The parable in 13:1-9, 18-23 concerning the one who sows seed suggests that one needs to listen to the word with discernment, because appearances are deceiving. The final judgment will make clear the distinction between good and evil. One must listen today with the total commitment required, because the reign of God is the highest good at which one can aim. Matthew 18:21-35, the parable of the unforgiving servant, and 20:1-16, the parable of the vineyard, are parables that invite one to consider that the reign of God brings mercy and forgiveness. The parables also emphasize the importance of doing the will of God. The parable contrasting the behavior of two sons in 21:28-32 is one example. 21:33-43 is a parable of the vineyard in which he wards the religious leaders that they will lose their share in the reign of God and another group of people will receive it. 22:1-14 is a parable of the marriage feast, another warning that the invitation to the reign of God could be offered to others.

            The fourth discourse in Matthew concerns church order in Chapter 18. Matthew views the Christian community as a learning community or as a community of students taught by Jesus. Jesus is the founder of the church. To join the movement is to join the community of disciples that he has expressly called, taught, and authorized. One cannot follow Jesus except by becoming part of the community he trained to carry out his mission in the world. One element of that community is its rigorous life. Speech and action are the outward manifestations of what is in the heart. In the parable of the final judgment, the sheep do not even know that their actions were serving Jesus. They were simply bearing fruit, giving expression to the goodness of their character. Action flows from character, but character is a matter of training in the ways of righteousness. Although similar to the wisdom tradition, the primary concern of Matthew in this presentation of the teaching of Jesus is the formation of the community. However, a second element of the character of the community is mercy, a quality that lives in tension with that of rigor. He states twice, based on Hosea 6:6, that God desires mercy and not sacrifice. Matthew is citing a passage rabbinic Judaism accepted as key after the destruction of the temple.

            The teaching of Jesus provides a dramatic new hermeneutical filter that necessitates a rereading of everything in the Torah in light of the dominant imperative of mercy. While the Pharisees tie up heavy burdens, Jesus, in the spirit of wisdom, offered a different reading of Torah:


11:28-30 (NRSV)

28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


Further, Matthew adds to the two great commandments: Matthew 22:40 (NRSV) “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Everything else in the Torah hangs upon love of God and neighbor. This principle becomes another hermeneutical filter that has consequences for the specific content of the moral vision of Matthew. Those trained for the reign of God are trained to evaluate all norms, even Torah itself, in terms of the criteria of love and mercy. In the community that lives this vision, acts of love and mercy should abound. Yet, his narrative sets up a serious tension between rigor and mercy. In order to be salt and light, the community is to exemplify a rigorous standard of right living exceeding scribes and Pharisees. On the other hand, the community interprets Torah through the hermeneutical keys established by Jesus.

            Matthew writes of some community guidelines for discipline and forgiveness:

Matthew 18:15-20 (NRSV)

15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”


The community does not ignore sin. This approach would end the rounds of gossip that most churches experience. The focus is upon repentance and restoration. We also need to remember that gentiles and tax collectors are the ones to whom Jesus went, and so this instruction does not mean sunning, but that the person becomes the object of the missionary efforts of the church. The church also receives enormous authority in that it has the power to bind and loose. Since Jesus in the midst of any group of two or three, Matthew is confident that wise decisions will arise even with this authority. 18:21-35 deals with how many times one should forgive. The parable of the unforgiving slave in 18:23-35 has the same message.

            The fifth discourse of Matthew is sayings against the Pharisees in Chapter 23. His community has recently experienced expulsion from the synagogue and is in vigorous debate with rabbinic Judaism, the only form of Judaism that survived the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. The particular disagreement with Judaism was over the interpretation of Torah.

            Is this a Jewish-Christian Gospel or a Gentile-Christian Gospel? Many scholars conclude that this gospel reflects Jewish-Christian concerns. Yet, many of the elements of the gospel that do reflect concerns in the debate with Judaism appear incorporated into a main body of material that has a larger vision. The recipients of his gospel are Gentiles, while the anti-pharisaic polemic concerns the Israel of history, and is thus part of his salvation history approach to the action of God in Jesus. The teaching of Judaism that only Jews and proselytes can attain salvation and that Gentiles must begin by converting to Judaism, Torah, and circumcision, finds no support in Matthew. His intimate knowledge of Judaism, however, suggests that he was a Jew who became a Christian, and in that sense the document is a Jewish-Christian document.

            The strategy of the rabbis was to circle the wagons, establishing strong group boundaries defined in terms of orthopraxy. Matthew represents an originally Jewish-Christian community that chose to spiritualize the meaning of the Torah by means of a hermeneutic of love and mercy to create an inclusive community that reached out to Gentiles. Subsequent history shows that Matthew was successful in formulating a foundational narrative for Gentile mission and almost completely unsuccessful in keeping that mission grounded in Judaism. This division occurred because of Christology, in which he accepted Jesus as the authoritative teacher of Torah. The destruction of the temple was the definitive judgment on a corrupt and faithless generation of Jews who had rejected the Messiah. He creates a conciliatory platform for a pluralistic church. This hypothesis would explain some of the unresolved tensions in Matthew, such as the tension between rigor and mercy.

            Jesus becomes a model of righteousness that exceeds that of scribes and Pharisees. His birth is in the power of the Spirit, his baptism declares his being Son, and the temptation verifies his course of life as that of Son. Jesus is the obedient Son who obeys the Father. At the end of his life, he endures insults by people who say more than they know about Jesus. Jesus does show his obedience to the Father by enduring the suffering of the cross. Throughout his ministry, Jesus looks with compassion upon the crowds, and that compassion motivates his behavior and teaching toward them. Far from abrogating the law, Jesus views mercy, love, and compassion as the hermeneutical keys that unlock the original intent of the Torah. Matthew also presents the religious leaders of the day as hypocrites with divided loyalties who seek the approval of people. They observe the traditions of the elders, while Jesus remains true to the original intent of God in giving Torah.

            The sixth and final discourse concerns last things in Chapter 24-25.

            What is the relationship between eschatology and ethics? The theology of Matthew is not legalistic. He exhorts toward a better righteousness is made possible because of the love commandment which he precedes by the saving act of God. Righteousness involves the conduct expected of those who live in light of the reign of God. The law and the prophets as interpreted by Jesus represent the content of that ethic.

            Matthew has much material relating to reward and punishment. The prospect of judgment by God provides a powerful motivation for the followers of Jesus to behave in certain ways. The present situation in which good and evil exist side by side will not last forever. One needs to make decisions upon the values that will last into eternity. If one’s life is a narrative or story, we are accountable for the story we construct, first to each other, and then to God.

            Matthew encourages reflection upon behavior today in light of the coming judgment of God. The followers of Jesus are in a situation of waiting. In the meantime, they are to act with compassion toward those in need, the standard of judgment God will use at the end of time. The parables suggest the reign of God is a gracious gift. To enter that rule of God, one must bear fruits of righteousness, have vigilance, be enterprising, be compassionate, and be merciful. The future judgment of God will bring the separation of good and evil. The present confronts us with the ambiguous situation of discerning the difference between good and evil. The reign of God is the highest good at which one can aim. The norm of moral living corresponds to vigilance, mercy, and compassion. The presence of the reign of God in the ministry of Jesus, and the certainty of future judgment rendered by God, one must live out the present in light of the reign of God.

            Matthew makes most of its ethical contributions through compiling the Sermon on the Mount. His basic ethical perspective derives from Mark: the centrality of the reign of God, doing the will of God, and a system of reward and punishment. The reign of God has drawn near. Mark has 14 references to the reign of God, while Matthew has 50, 32 of which are unique to him. Matthew includes many of these references in parables, and thus invites the reader to consider the world from the perspective of the reign of God.

            The parables describe a world in which people make ethical decisions in light of the reign of God. In the moral world they create, the norm for good and evil is how acts in relationship to the in-breaking rule of God. A subtle shift occurs in the way Matthew relates an ethical use of eschatological themes. Matthew settles into the expectation of a protracted historical period prior to the eschatological consummation. Jesus established a church built on the confession of Peter. The church has a mission to proclaim the gospel to the whole world, a project that will take time. Further, his conviction that the risen Lord is present in and with his church allows Matthew to settle in for the long haul. Immanuel, God with us, is the theme, in which he envisions a powerful spiritual presence in the worshipping community. The gospel ends with the disciples worshipping him. The disciples who witness the calming of the sea worship him. The context of the reign of God provides a powerful warrant for ethical behavior.

            One question is whether the compromise Matthew seems to aim toward actually works. His Jesus proclaims the reign of God, while at the same time demands radical ethical obedience and teaches mercy toward sinners, a Jesus who commissions the church strictly to teach and obey his commandments and yet at the same time remains present with the community to enable more flexible discernments.

            In terms of the context for moral reflection, Matthew offers several possibilities. First, he offers a symbolic world that experiences the world with the authoritative presence of Christ. Second, the present age has significance in that the church has a mission to fulfill of making disciples of all nations. Third, the future judgment of God has its foundation in works of love and mercy. Fourth, we simply note the bitterness between Christian community and synagogue, the vigorous debate, and the difficulty of bringing all this into the context of loving enemies. Fifth, he envisions a humble and patient Christian community. Sixth, obedience is real possibility for individuals and for the community.


            Luke-Acts carefully connects what God does in Jesus through the church to the promises made to Israel through its prophets.  The historical perspective that governs the two-volume work is that Christianity is the logical and legitimate outgrowth or continuation of Judaism, and specifically Pharisaic Judaism.  He views the period of Israel and the scripture of the Old Testament as the primary witnesses to the first phase of the history of salvation. The time of Jesus is one in which the Son offers salvation to Israel. Comparing 4:13 and 22:3, Satan vanishes from this period of the Son. Of course, Israel rejects this offer. After the resurrection, the same gift of the Spirit that Jesus received at his baptism the Father bestows upon the church, which initiates the third phase of this history of salvation. In this sense, Christ becomes the center of history. This vision becomes the foundation for the Christology of Luke. He wants to pass on to a post-apostolic age a tradition about Jesus which is related to the biblical history of Israel and to insist that it is only within the stream of apostolic tradition, represented by Peter and by Paul, that one finds this divinely destined salvation.  Luke sets the story of Jesus within this larger story. 

            Besides writing his gospel, Luke also wrote a brief history of the early church.  Yet, Acts is hardly just history.  It is an apologetic in that it tries to demonstrate that the Christian mission is now a violation of Roman law.  Theopholus, to whom the book is addressed, may have been a member of the Roman court who received such a document and from Luke hoped to get a favorable hearing.  Luke wrote the book around 70 AD, given the familiarity with the conditions in Paul's day, and the prominence of Paul. There are sources, mostly from histories from local communities, the “we” passages, and the speeches.  However, Luke shaped this material for content and for his own purposes.

            He speaks of the divine plan for salvation of humanity that is being realized in the activity of Jesus: see 7:30, Acts 2:23, 4:28, 13:36, 20:27.  He speaks of God having predetermined things that have taken place, as in 22:22, Acts 20:2, 17:26, 31, 22:14, 26:16.  The idea of a plan underlies what Jesus says or does, often with the fulfillment of scripture.  He often speaks of such fulfillment.

            The outline of Luke derives from Mark:


1.             John the Baptist setting the stage for Jesus

2.             Jesus' baptism, temptation, announcement of his message, and gathering of disciples

3.             teaching and healing in Galilee,

4.             journey to Jerusalem, culminating in a symbolic action in the temple,

5.             preaching in the temple, culminating in an eschatological discourse,

6.             arrest, trial, and crucifixion

7.             discovery of the empty tomb.


Luke then extends this outline both directions.  At the beginning, he adds a birth narrative and at the end, he adds appearance stories.  He also greatly expands the narrative of the journey to Jerusalem, where most of the special material to Luke is contained.  His ending of the story of Jesus is a fitting climax about a suffering messiah, supported by a proof from prophecy argument and a final commission to witnesses who are to await the promise of the Father, which is the Holy Spirit.

            There has been a negative attitude toward Luke's theology among modern interpreters. Some suggest that Luke waters down the theology of the cross, that it is no longer the "scandal" mentioned by Paul.  In Luke, preaching focuses upon repentance and forgiveness of sin, but he never states that this forgiveness comes through atonement. Others suggest that salvation is different from Paul, though one might wonder what is so wrong about that.  Paul's theme of justification ought not to be criterion for judging all other early Christian writings.  Further, Luke and Paul undoubtedly agree on much more than they diverge.  Luke does speak of a suffering Messiah, and of the Messiah who "must suffer." The question is whether salvation is realized despite the suffering or through the suffering.  He alone calls Jesus “savior” among the gospel writers.  He speaks of forgiveness of sin and of peace and of life as the effect of the cross. 

            Some suggest that Luke has a strong anti-Jewish bias in that Jews are fully responsible for the death of Jesus and the first martyrs. However, we must balance this view with the fact that many Jews also become Christians. Luke also appears to have a theology in which the church supplants Israel as the new people of God. However, the continuing connection of the early Christians with synagogues and the Temple suggest they viewed themselves as purified Israel, and not as a new institution.

            We can discern the theology of Luke in the unique way he presents the kerygma, the structure of the gospel, the geographical perspective, the historical perspective in which Jesus is placed, the salvation history presented, the treatment of eschatology, discipleship as a response to the word of faith, repentance and conversion, and baptism, and the overall portrait of Jesus.  Jesus proclaims the fact of God's eschatological salvation, the decisive intervention in human history, proposing to Israel a new mode of salvation. 

            Luke seems to have a conception of the plan of God that begins with creation and ends with the final judgment. In between are the periods of Israel, Jesus, and the church. He connects the work of God in Christ with the promises of the Old Testament. He uses themes from the Old Testament in subtle ways in the birth narratives, using Hannah as a pattern, and using Elijah as a pattern for the miracles of Jesus. He reads scripture as a book of promises to the people of God and receive fulfillment in Jesus.

            In his Christology, Luke makes it clear that Jesus, as the Son is the center of history. The exalted Lord is at the side of the Father. The Spirit is the continuing gift of the Father to the church. Jesus is the instrument of the Father, who alone is the source of history of salvation. Jesus fulfills the role of the suffering servant, and thus accomplishes the deliverance promised in Isaiah 53.

            Luke presents the virginal conception through the power of the Spirit. This birth inaugurates the age of salvation. The effect is a reversal of fortune; those exalted by this world God will humble, while those humbled by this world God will exalt. Those who humble themselves now, God will exalt. The Spirit guides the ministry of Jesus, and Jesus has a special relation to the heavenly Father, his resurrection from the dead and his ascension.  Luke calls him Messiah, derived from Palestinian Judaism.  Jesus was a suffering Messiah, which is unique to Luke.  Luke calls him Lord, which we can trace back to Yahweh in the Hebrew Scriptures.  In this sense, Father and Son receive the same name. This transfer probably took place in Palestine.  Luke calls Jesus Savior, a term frequently used in the contemporary Greco-Roman world.  Yet, it also has connections with LXX.  Luke calls him Son of God, a term applied to pharaohs, Hellenistic and Roman rulers, mythical heroes, and famous persons.  It implied divine favor, adoption, and even power.  It did not have a messianic nuance.  It attributes a unique relationship between Jesus and the God of Israel.  Luke calls him Son of Man, most often found on the lips of Jesus.  Luke calls him servant.  We see this in the opening narrative after the baptism, as Jesus preaches in Capernaum. Jesus is the servant of the Lord, anointed to preach good news to the poor. The intent is to bring liberation to the people of God. The nature of that intent unfolds in the gospel and in Acts. Luke calls him prophet, one like Moses, like Elijah returned.  Luke emphasizes the role of Moses as teacher, especially noted in the transfiguration narrative. Acts 3:22-23, 25 and 7:37 suggest a reference to Moses as teacher as well. The new people of God are to follow Jesus where he leads, heed his teaching, and understand themselves as people of the new covenant. Some suggest that the Elisha cycle of miracles is the best analogy for the collected miracles of Jesus, which would further connect him to the prophetic role.  Pilate calls him King.  Luke portrays Jesus the righteous martyr for his cause. One thief at the cross declares Jesus innocent, as does the centurion standing at the foot of the cross. The significance of this is that although Jesus dies on the cross as condemned by the world, it does not change the reality that he was a righteous man who suffered. It is also consistent with Isaiah 53 and with Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20. Acts 3:13-15 and 7:51-52 also suggest the same understanding of the death of Jesus. Jesus is a fulfillment of the promises of scripture that the true prophet must suffer and die. He also becomes a pattern for the martyrdom that Christians are to experience in the future, as with Stephen and James. By heroically facing suffering and death, the martyr demonstrates the righteousness of his cause and the depth of his faith.

            The Sermon on the Plain is a good a good example of reversal: the sinner responds to the message, and the self-righteous reject it. The age of salvation inaugurated in the ministry of Jesus calls for reversal of behavior and thinking. Jesus has come to call the sinner to repentance. Yet, Galilean cities rejected this invitation. He even calls the crowds an evil generation. Jesus also tells stories about those who repented: the parable of the prodigal son, the Pharisee and Publican, and the thief on the cross. They humble themselves, trusting the love and forgiveness of God. The result is that God exalts them.

            The Sermon on the Plain has as a central theme of loving one’s enemies, an implicit criticism of any ethic based solely on reciprocity. He suggests the reversal fortune in the beatitude and woe section. He urges disciples to refuse judging each other. True morality has its root in the heart; from it good and evil flow. Since God is merciful and compassionate, disciples must extend mercy and compassion.

            The narrative that involves the journey to Jerusalem gives Luke the opportunity to bring together various teaching along the way. He writes of the cost of discipleship. At this time, it requires leaving behind wealth and family and following Jesus. However, we can also note that as Luke continued his work in Acts, this pattern no longer continues. Luke does not seem upset by this. Both appear appropriate to their time. The community adjusts the radical demand of Jesus to its new situation. In Jerusalem, the church shares possessions, but does not have to leave family. Later, the sharing of possessions will not be as extensive as in Jerusalem. The disciples are also to be diligent at prayer. Disciples are to be generous in sharing their wealth. Those with wealth will experience a reversal of fortunes if they do not share their wealth. Jesus becomes a model of ethical conduct of doing the will of God and being at prayer. He also interprets Torah in a way that suggests that Torah is no longer an accurate picture of the will of God or a guide in piety. Love becomes the hermeneutic that he uses to interpret Torah.

            Luke pays special attention to the company Jesus keeps: sinners, lepers, women, children, and a tax collector. In doing so, Jesus exemplifies the reversal fortunes. He also dines with a Pharisee, opening himself to criticism, but also opening his message to those least likely to accept it. His example foreshadows the inclusive nature of the church.

            In terms of the cross, the suffering and death of Jesus he views as a necessity of the plan of God, the guilt belonging to Jews, and the innocence of the Romans. At the same time, we cannot take this too far. After all, Luke does not portray Pilate, Felix, or Festus as persons of courage and strength.

            The resurrection of Jesus provides vindication for the ministry of Jesus that his life was in fact lived in obedience to the Father, and an assurance to the world of future resurrection and judgment. The resurrection provides assurance of future destiny to individuals. It suggests the accountability of each individual for the life one lives in light of that resurrection. In particular, this means living as repentant, converted, and forgiven people.

            His concern is to connect Christ to the historical process.  He sees far-reaching connections between Christ and the Christian proclamation of Christ.  He does this by connecting the story of Jesus to Roman history, to Palestinian history, and to church history.  Luke does have Jesus say to the thief on the cross, "Today, you shall be with me in paradise." That shows an interest in salvation, though he does speak of it differently than Mark or Paul.  The call to repentance and conversion in Luke's gospel and his concern for discipleship suggest he is no less demanding. 

            Just as the Spirit anointed Jesus to preach the gospel, the promise of the Father was that the church would receive the power of the Spirit to bear witness to what God had done in Jesus. The over-emphasis of some scholars on the first sermon Jesus gave leads them to put aside the fact that Jesus did not limit his good news to the poor. He entered the home of wealthy Zaacheus and did not demand that he give all he had, although he did ask for fifty percent given to the poor. Jesus also has a wealthy Samaritan assist an injured Jew on the road to Jerusalem. Jesus makes the key character of several parables a wealthy landowner. Several of the women who helped Jesus along the way maintained their homes and have a degree of wealth. The same message is true as we enter the world of the early church. Luke makes it clear that the early pattern of surrendering all of one’s wealth did not continue beyond the early days of the church, and he observes this with no judgment either way. As Paul establishes churches, he makes no effort to imitate Jesus or the apostles in Jerusalem in this area. The point is that the good news is for all, and one mark of receiving the good news is generosity and compassion toward the poor and those on the fringes of society.

            In any case, the promise of the power of the Spirit to the church is not just for the disciples. Rather, the Father grants the power to bear witness to all of those gathered in the upper room, including sons and daughters, young and old, and slaves, as the prophecy of Joel suggests. Here is a continuation of the theme of reversal with which Luke begins his gospel.

            The church continues the preaching of repentance that Jesus began. The call continues to reform individual and communal life in the spirit of Jesus. Peter brings this message to the Jews. Philip brings it to the Ethiopian, fulfilling the charge to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. One wonders if this incident should not have the same stature as that of the conversion of the centurion through Peter. However, the focus of Luke-Acts on Rome may have played a hand in emphasizing the Roman conversion. Paul becomes the preacher of repentance to the Greek pagan culture. Those who do repent become part of reconstituted Israel.

            Acts continues the story of the early church on a parallel with the story of Jesus in other ways as well. Stephen, the first martyr, suffers and dies on a pattern with Jesus. Paul resolves to go to Jerusalem, knowing he will face opposition and possible death, on a pattern with that of Jesus, who resolved to go to Jerusalem with the same prospect. The hardships the apostles face in bearing witness to Jesus become a fulfillment of the call of Jesus to surrender everything in order to follow him.

            Some have found traces of early Catholicism here.  However, though he does trace a church dotting the Mediterranean with presbyters set up in all the churches by the apostles who are emissaries of the church in Jerusalem, there is no unique or uniform structured hierarchy.  It is a Spirit guided community. One can see these traces more clearly in Ignatius.

            Salvation is extended to the Jew first, and then to Greek, in this outline.  In Luke’s perspective, this was part of God's plan.  He wants to show the continuity between Israel and the Christian faith. Others find fault with Luke in that his salvation history is viewed as a replacement of apocalyptic.  However, though it is not as imminent for Luke as for other Christian writers, it is a reality he expected, which will come suddenly and unpredictably. 

            Luke envisions a new community, and not simply the salvation of individuals. The early formation of that community we find in Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-35. Luke envisions the fulfillment of an ancient Greek ideal that true and authentic friends share common property. Aristotle provided this definition of friendship in Nichomachean Ethics. He also envisions the establishment of a new covenant community as understood in Deuteronomy. Luke shows a clear concern for sharing goods with the needy among the community. Possessions are symbols of our response to God. The fact that no one suffered from physical need in the church at Jerusalem is a sign that God was at work among them.

            The Apostolic Council in Acts 15 is both the literary and literal center of the book. Acts 1:8 determines the structure of the book as witnessing to Christ in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The speeches in Acts are largely summaries of the theology of Luke. However, he recognizes Peter as preaching a message to Jews, Paul as representative of preaching to the Greek pagan culture, and in the end, Paul on trial is a presentation that Christianity and Rome can co-exist. Some would argue that another purpose for Acts is to reconcile the Peter and Paul segments of the church.

            The church transmits the message of salvation to which the first witnesses bore witness. Although individuals are remote in time, this transmission of the message in the Christian community brings the individual and the saving work of God in Christ together. The Spirit is present to guide that process. The church today always stands in a mediated relationship to the saving action of God in Christ. However, the church through the gift of the Spirit stands in a contemporary relationship with Christ. Individuals receive assurance of salvation, grow in faith, persevere in prayer and sacrament, which then makes one independent of any particular length of time between present and end of history. The proclamation of the way is the responsibility of the church. Humanity then has the responsibility of response. The situation humanity faces is the prospect of future accountability before God for one’s life. Since preaching Luke leads to repentance and conversion, one assumes that part of the theology of Luke is the sinfulness of humanity. Vital Christianity flows out of this sense of accountability to God and the responsibility of facing issues of human life in the present. The thinking of Luke about discipleship does not revolve around either imitating Christ or imitating the apostles, but in continuing to be disciples, or learners, under the guidance of the Spirit.

            Discipleship is the subjective reaction of human beings to the gospel.  The proper response of the disciple is that of faith, repentance and conversion, and baptism.  There are demands of the Christian life.  Following Jesus is primary, as is giving testimony and prayer.  Right use of material possessions, which was rooted in Jesus' own teaching and example but expanded by him.  Christian community, an organized way of being the church, a Spirit guided community.

            In Luke's view, Christianity is both an international membership and indefinite in duration.  Luke-Acts can be seen as a charter document for a church taking stock for the long haul.  It shows how to understand its Jewish roots and how to live in an open-ended present, by following the teachings of Jesus as modeled by the earliest disciples in Acts, and by a continual openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The mission to the gentiles was no aberration nor a desperate alternative for the mission to Israel.  Rather it had been God's plan from the beginning that Jesus should be both a revelation to the gentiles and the glory of the people of Israel.  Jews accept Jesus at the beginning, but there were also Jews who blinded themselves to the clear line of salvation history that connected Jesus to the history of Israel.  Their blindness did not cause the mission to the gentiles, but it offered an explanation as to why the mission to Israel was now no longer a major issue in the churches Luke knew.  Unlike the Paul of Rom 11, Luke has Paul in Acts 28:25-28 accept the fact of a gentile church.

            Luke offers a picture of the origin of Christianity in Jerusalem that differs from the present experience of the church. One might assume that the disciples assumed that since they gave up all to follow Jesus, that pattern would exist in the church. However, Luke makes it clear in his gospel that while some disciples give up all, others remain at home with their families and engage in normal activities. One might think of Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the person who owned the place where Jesus and the disciples ate their final meal, and so on. Further, had Luke intended to criticize the present church for not continuing this practice of the first believers in Jerusalem, he would offered some theory of the degeneration of the church to its present state. Luke does not offer any program of reform for the church based upon that early experience in Jerusalem. The result is that he seems to consider the opening stages of the church in Jerusalem as unique, as well as another way of being church. As Paul establishes churches during his missionary journeys, he does not follow the pattern established in Jerusalem.

            The relationship of the church with the Empire has a confusing cast to it. In one sense, the Jews appear as the trouble-makers in the community, absolving Roman authorities from any complicity in the persecution of Christians. On the other hand, the fact that Christianity causes disturbances may suggest the political and economic implications of the church became a threat the Empire. In one sense, the ethic of Jesus (love enemies, turn the other cheek) and the ethic of Paul (live peaceably with all) suggest that the best way for Christians to get along in an oppressive structure like that of Rome is to do nothing to draw attention to oneself. On the other hand, a totalitarian structure like that of Rome becomes easily anxious when a group beyond the rich of the emperor begins to make inroads into economic and potentially political life. On a basic level, Christians did not purchase idols and many chose not to eat meat offered to idols, facts that in the second century became foundations for Roman inquiry into Christianity. Further, although the general ethic of the church may have implied getting along as much as possible, when it came to bearing witness to Jesus, nothing could get in their way. They willing declared that they would prefer to obey God rather than human authority at that point.

            In terms of eschatology, time itself becomes on object of theological reflection. Luke downplays the nearness of the return of Jesus and the end of the world.  By its nature, if the anticipation of the end as near is vital and present to believers, one can hardly think of handing down that anticipation through tradition, which implies endurance in time. He even takes events interpreted as signs of the end, such as the destruction of the Temple, and makes them part of history. This is where he corrects Mark.  This is not ascribed to a crisis in the early church over the delay, nor is it to be understood as a warning against a Gnostic identification of the parousia with Jesus' resurrection and ascension.  The emphasis is rather owing to Luke’s desire to shift the emphasis in many of Jesus' sayings from the end to today.  Instead of making the end the time of significant action by God, Luke makes the present full of the activity of God through the Spirit. This making room for the present as the sphere of the activity of God is among the most important contributions Luke will make to Christian thinking about the future. He has dulled the eschatological edge of some of the sayings of Jesus to make of them a hortatory device for everyday Christian living.  Luke views this shift in anticipation of the end as part of the plan of God. Conzelmann has said that there are three periods: The Period of Israel, the Period of Jesus, and the Period of the Church.  Kasemann said that Luke replaces primitive Christian eschatology with salvation history.  Others claim Luke invented it, even though it is clear that Paul too describes the effect of Christ in a salvation history perspective.  Matthew and John also refer to a fulfillment theme, and ordering of the affairs of human history in accordance with divine plan.  Luke does not view salvation a historically unrooted act.  Though Luke's specific division into periods may be his own creation, that does make it less valid than the scheme provided by other Christian writers, including Paul. 

            The gift of the Spirit replaces eschatology. The Spirit brings salvation into the present experience of individuals and the community of believers. The Spirit makes it possible for Christians to continue living in the world, to endure persecution, and to bear witness. The fact of future judgment remains real for Luke, and remains important for ethical exhortation. His presentation of Christ and the Spirit are attempts to supplant the early Christian conception that the end would occur soon. The Spirit defines the relationship between Father and Son. The Spirit helps us to see the individuality of Jesus and to see the positive connection between Christ and the church. From the point of the view of the church, the work of the Son and Father are identical, since the church refers both as Lord. The risen Christ left behind both the Spirit and the remembrance of the word and deed of Jesus.


[1] TDNT refers to such references. It goes on to make a strong difference between the sending in this text and that of the Cynic.