Critical review on What Did the First Christians Think About Jesus? / Gathercole

Simon J. Gathercole, in his article What Did Christians Think About Jesus? explains thoroughly why the approach taken by Bart Ehrman, author of How Jesus Became God, does not correspond to the truth of the Bible. Gathercole analyses the arguments presented by Ehrman in which he questions the preexistence of Jesus and argues for a Jesus whose divinity and existence begins at the moment of his conception. For him, a key element in understanding Jesus’ identity is the resurrection, by which they come to believe that Jesus has been adopted son of God and becomes a divine being.

He argues that the Christologies in Matthew, Mark and Luke that show the preexistence of Jesus are very well rooted. Gathercole argues against Ehrman’s assertation that Jesus becomes Son of God at birth, by showing the use of phrase “I have come.” He is in favor of the argument that Jesus ‘came’ from heaven to carry out his mission. Gathercole’s treatment of the ‘tunnel period’ is rather systematic and argues against the idea that Jesus became Son of God at the resurrection. The Fragments from Romans 1:3-4; Acts 13:32-33 and Acts 2:36 cited by Ehrman, show a reputed earlier Christology of exaltation and adoption that is faulty. Finally, Gathercole critiques the interpretation of the exaltation of Jesus and the words “made” and “appointed” as a result of the new role of Jesus after his redemptive act.

The critique made by the author about Ehrman’s point of view is well rooted and explained using the sacred texts and the context in which they were written.  

B.1 Chapter Seven: The Parables

According to Pope Benedict XVI, The parables bear meaning in every age because we find in them the person of Jesus. In comparison to other allegorical interpretation of texts that were prevalent in the time of Jesus, Jesus’ parables stand out as a piece of real life. The parable is a proclamation of the Kingdom of God, which is realized in the person of Jesus. This is why the parable is a call for faith in Jesus and this call is made anew to all peoples at every age.

But there is a bit of confusion when Jesus says he talks to the people in parables else they be converted and be healed. To understand this, one has to put Jesus in the line of the prophets, for through what He suffered, he draws our attention to the true sign of faith in Him: the cross. Jesus knows the demands of the Kingdom and the possibility of refusal. It is only by gazing on His cross that even the hardened heart can finally “turn and be forgiven.”  

The point of the parables is to lead us to the deepest meaning the Kingdom. This deepest meaning of the Kingdom is the cross. The parable of the good Samaritan is an example of how we can be more like Jesus, by going out of our way, on the everyday road from Jerusalem to Jericho where we see humanity beaten, stripped, and lying half-dead. The parable is an invitation for us believe and follow Jesus not just figuratively but in the reality of human history. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it will not bear fruit.

Benedict I. Chapter Ten: Jesus’ Identity

         In an examination of who Jesus is, we may turn to the testimony of those present during his earthly ministry. Correctly he is called: “Christ,” “Lord,” “Son of God,” and “King of the Jews.” But, what does Jesus call himself? We find Jesus attributing two titles to himself: “Son of Man,” and “Son.”

            Firstly, “Son of Man.” In the Gospels, “Son of Man” is found only on Jesus’ lips. This is attributed to the fact that “Son of Man” was not used as a messianic title at the time of Jesus. The only access Jews had to the title was the vision of Daniel of the four beasts, the Son of Man, and the Ancient of Days. But Jesus gives a new meaning to the vision: he is the new Kingdom of God, the judge, and he is equal to the Ancient of Days (the Father). Additionally, in Jesus the titles “Son of Man” and “Suffering Servant” are newly connected, making the judge of the new Kingdom compassionate and connected to the suffering humanity.

            Secondly, Son. Here Jesus gives us his “primordial identity”: the Son who receives all from the Father, who knows the Father, and thus is in perfect communion of being with the Father. Different from the political connotations of the kingdoms at the time of Christ, “Son [of God]” here refers to a new communion extended to all humanity through, in, and for Christ.

            From these two titles Jesus ascribes to himself, we hear a call to discipleship: we should let ourselves be drawn into the new Kingdom of the Son of Man, and, through the Son, we should be drawn into communion with the Father.

A Review of “Two Milestones”

In this chapter of his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict attempts to present an in-depth analysis on the “Two Milestones” of Peter’s Confession and the Transfiguration. Before getting at Peter’s Confession itself, Pope Benedict looks at the question prior, “Who do people say that I am?” and the response of the apostles. Pope Benedict explains that the responses of the “people” are not necessarily false but are “inadequate”. The “people” see Jesus as a great prophet but not as the Son of God. Like “people” today, the “people” of Jesus’ time just measure Jesus up with what they already know and fail to see his uniqueness. He is not merely another prophet, who’s earthly wisdom “people” can adopt according to what they like and discard what they do not like. Immediately, Peter’s Confession of Jesus as the “Christ”, the “Messiah”, the “anointed one”, or “the Son of the living God”, depending on how it’s found in the Gospels, is in stark contrast to what the “people” have said. What did Peter mean in this confession? Some scholars like Pierre Grelot argue that Peter was misled by notions of a historical Messiah and does not really mean his confession of Jesus as the “Son of God” in the theological sense because that concept would be unknown to him. Pope Benedict counters by offering evidence that the disciples surely knew that Jesus was truly God incarnate in front of them. “At certain key moments” … (i.e. the sermon on the mount, the calming of the storm at sea, the large catch of fish) “…the disciples came to the astonishing realization: This is God himself” (304). In the next event, the Transfiguration, Peter and a couple other disciples see this in a more profound way and “personally experience the anticipation of the Parousia” (318).

Boxall: Matthews World

This article touches on several different topics including: What language did Matthew originally write in, did he write primarily for a Jewish audience, was the Christian community understood as essentially distinct from the Jewish community at the time the Gospel was written, was the author of Jewish or Gentile descent, how/why did the author have very specific knowledge of Roman language and culture, and where was the Gospel originally written.

            One consensus of the article’s different perspectives, backed by Patristic sources, is that the Gospel was not originally written in Greek, but in either Hebrew or Aramaic. Also, I agree with the more widely accepted belief that the Gospel was intended for an audience with a Jewish background (held by some of the Church Fathers), whether that is because they themselves are ethnically Jewish, or because they have a firm knowledge of the teachings of Judaism. The opinion that Matthew wrote the Gospel for a singular community (community theory) is far too narrow minded and un-probable. It seems to make more sense that Matthew surely knew of other Christian communities that were experiencing the same difficulties as the one (or ones) he was personally around, thus, he would have written the Gospel with the intention of being used by many Christian communities. Between the distinction of Jewish Christians (extra muros) or Christian Jews (intra muros) I lean towards the opinion of extra muros. Although his points on who is asking the question (e.g. a Pharisee or an Apostles) seems convincing, there does seem to be a very prevalent, essential difference between Jews and Jews who choose to follow Christ stretching throughout the Gospel (obviously not implying that Christ abolished the Law, but that He fulfills the Old Testament). Regarding the last topics, I think the best conclusion is that Matthew was a Christian of Jewish descent, who was well educated in both Jewish and Roman history and tradition, and who wrote the Gospel around the area of Syria, most likely in Antioch.

JMason – Marshall on Jesus’ prayer

Marshall claims to want to do “not simply a word-study but a study of the concept of prayer” in the gospels.

From the outset of his article Marshall assumes that St. Matthew based his writing on Mark and a Q source (which was also used by St. Luke). From this he makes a variety of suggestions about who wrote what in the gospel and whether Matthew was likely to have inserted his own thoughts about prayer into the work. He concludes the “there is…nothing in any of this to suggest an independent development of the topic of prayer in Matthew’s gospel.”

My thoughts on this initial discussion are that no serious Christian should care what Marshall concludes, since the questions he asks are at best irrelevant to the reception of the inspired text, and at worst they are destructive to the piety of the faithful and seek to cast doubt on the received tradition of the Holy Church. I don’t blame Marshall in particular for this, since it seems simply to be the stock and trade of the “Scripture scholar”. I also confess that from this point I am skeptical about the value of any conclusions which Marshall will draw since they will evidently rely on forcibly treating divine revelation as if it were the meandering thoughts of middle-eastern peasants.

The remainder of the commentary has value mostly as a catalogue. Marshall notes where prayer is mentioned and the barest details about its context. With regard to Mark 1:35 “And rising very early, going out, [Jesus] went into a desert place: and there he prayed,” Marshall notes that it suggests that Jesus got up earlier that morning than the other people…

Some of Marshall’s comments suggest that he considers the gospels to be basically inventions: “Here Jesus is portrayed,” “the actual words [are] taken from Psalm 22,” and “Jesus is depicted as…”

It seems to me that more fitting language would be: “we see Jesus,” “the gospel informs us that Jesus does,” or “Jesus quotes from Psalm 22…”

Marshall combines his confident trust in the fallibility of the gospel narrative with a confidence in his own (and his peers) interpretation of the real meaning of words and events as well as the moral import of what they contain. He knows, for example, that prayers for divine blessing are “petitions for God to do good to other people” including those who crucified Jesus (although he isn’t sure who inserted the part about Jesus praying for his persecutors into Luke’s gospel). He suggests from a reference to certain hypocritical prayers in Mark 12:40 that long prayer in general is a questionable practice. (So much for the monastic life.) In reference to a lack of distinctions made in Luke 18 he makes claims as to the worthlessness of casuistic reckonings about morality.

Marshall seems determined to read the gospels (and sections within them) in isolation from each other and from the Old Testament: He says, for instance that “there is nothing in Luke 11:5-8 that suggests that importunity, or continued and intense effort, is required for prayers to be heard by God…” and goes on to make a page of conclusions based on that understanding.

Marshall is not just confident in his interpretation of the text, but also in which parts are late scribal additions (as for instance Mark 9:28: “And he said to them: This kind can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”) It is somewhat curious, given his obvious certainty about its invalidity, that he spends a few paragraphs condemning this line as a “folk-memory” .

Marshall does not understand the perduring presence of Christ in the Eucharist, suggesting in reference to the Resurrection that Christ left his disciples from this point. He concludes based on this assumption that fasting does not have much value in relation to prayer. He also seems confused as to the implications of the Hypostatic Union (or at the least uses very imprecise language), claiming that at Gethsemane “Jesus had to be content that the Father’s will, rather than his own desires, would be fulfilled.”

In the end Marshall does draw some general points about Jesus’ prayer in contrast to traditional Jewish prayer: 1. Jesus shows, particularly in the exclusive company of his disciples, his special of relationship of Son to God the Father. 2. Jesus’ prayer revolves around the coming of the kingdom of God and its implications. 3. His prayer has to do with a transformation of the notion of the temple, the center of worship.
Marshall offers the conclusion that prayer is not solely about getting what we want or not, but that it involves coming into contact with the Divine will.

Resurrection in Jesus of Nazareth

In the chapter on the Resurrection in Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI focuses on the fact that the Resurrection is the foundation of the Christian message. It cannot be boiled down to an invention of the early Church nor is it a mystical experience of the Apostles. It is an event that is rooted in history, that is, it actually happened, yet it transcends history as we are confronted with an entirely new reality. He continues to examine this central theme through the use of two different types of testimony, the “confessional tradition” (which gives the essentials of the Easter faith in short phrases that establish the basics of what occurred) and the “narrative tradition” (which is the type of testimony used in the Gospels that gives content and shape to the faith through narrative).

The part of this chapter than I enjoyed reading the most was the section that talked about the historicity of Jesus’ Resurrection. Someone of faith can sometimes be intimidated by “scientific” arguments against the Resurrection, and this often causes doubt. It is important to know that there is plenty of evidence to the historicity of the Resurrection, and this evidence can be comforting to someone of faith who is currently questioning if what they believe was a human invention or factually based.  

Gethsemane

Gethsemane

The agony at Gethsemane is very singnificant for the salvation of humanity. It is in this moment when Jesus Christ freely accepts his Father’s will. Though, here we see, how the two natures of Jesus enter into a fight. In this chapter, Cardinal Ratzinger wants us to explore certain characteristics of the person of Jesus. 

First, Jesus experienced a deep need of prayer. As the second person of the holy Trinity, Jesus keeps communion with his Father. It is not unusual for Jesus to separate himself from the disciples to have this intimate communion with the Father. However, his need of prayer, is not only because he wanted to avoid the horrific moments that were about to happen, but this fear, also came from the human destiny that he was assuming.  Jesus freely assumes all the responsibility of human sin in order to bring humankind back into a relationship with the God.

Second, Jesus experience sorrow and distress. The agony of Jesus in the garden shows that the divinity of Christ suffers with his humanity. At first, Jesus prays “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” On the other hand, he prays “yet, not as I wil, but as you will.” Because of his humanity, Jesus felt tempted to avoid this moments of horror, he felt sad, and abandoned; but in his divinity God himself saved the entire humankind.

Jesus as the high priest. According to Ratzinger, by his auto-donation Jesus became the true priest. The word priest, means the one who mediates in religious service. Also it means one who is holy or set apart to perform those services. In his priesthood, Jesus is greater than any other priest because through him hour humanity is back into relationship with God the Father. He was the only one who could be the mediator between God and humankind.

I like it based on this reasons.

1- it clearly reflects both the human and divine nature of Jesus.

2- Gives a better sense of the suffering of the Cross. Without the Cross there is not resurrection.

3- The experience of the cross, shows how God brings good out of evil.

 

Chapter Seven- The Trial of Jesus

The Trial of Jesus, presented by Joseph Reisinger in his book Jesus of Nazareth, takes place in different scenarios: the first part is a meeting between Jewish leaders in Caiaphas’ house, the interrogation before the Sanhedrin, and the Trial of Jesus before Pilate. The aim of the Trail from the Sanhedrin’s standpoint is to kill Jesus and Pilate seeks to save Jesus; meanwhile, he wants social peace during the Jewish feasts. To each of the three scenarios, Ratzinger, provides reasons, misunderstandings, worries, and preferences from the Sanhedrin as well as from Pilate that led Jesus to the Cross. However, the third part, the Trial of Jesus before Pilate, has deep theological description behind the motives to what happened to Jesus. That is, Ratzinger describes the truth about Jesus’ kingship and his proclamation to be the Son of God, the two motives for Jesus’ condemnation and hidden theophanies to the eyes of Pilate and Jewish leaders. The Jewish expected the Messiah for centuries but when they had him in the fragile, tortured, and helpless person of Jesus their blindness to the truth unable them recognize him. For them, the truth is limited compared to the whole truth that is God, who is supreme and absolute truth.  Creation, for example, becomes what means to be as long as if it reflects God, the eternal Reason by which has emerged. Man, on the other hand, reaches his true nature when becomes according to God. That is, God is the measure of being for man. With it is understood that the truth is perceivable when God is known, an ability that Jewish leaders and Pilate did not possess.

 

Chapter Six: The Disciples

           In chapter 6 of Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI discusses “The Disciples.” This chapter provides a review of the most important texts that discuss the call and mission of the community of Christ’s closest associates.

            The Holy Father begins by emphasizing this call as the fruit of prayerful intimacy of Christ with the Father, in stark contrast to the hiring of employees for a particular task. Regarding the call of the Twelve, Benedict studies the language used by Christ and finds allusions to Old Testament texts that disclose the apostolic mission as both priestly and prophetic.

            The Apostles are given what Benedict calls a double assignment – to be with Jesus, so as to be prepared to preach and call others to Him. “The Apostles have to learn to be with him in a way that enables them, even when they go to the ends of the earth, to be with him still.” This apostolic mission involves a struggle with evil, which involves the use of reason that exorcises and liberates those held captive.

            After discussing the particular call of the Twelve, he turns to consideration of the second group of seventy disciples. Drawing upon Old Testament texts, he explains, “seventy was considered to be the number of the nations of the world.”  Thus, while the Twelve Apostles represent the restoration of the tribes of Israel, the seventy represent the universal nature of the kingdom formed by Christ.

            As with most texts by Joseph Ratzinger, I found this selection to be both clear and inspiring, leaving the reader intellectually and spiritually nourished.