Jesus Christ (in the Bible)
Jesus Christ (in the Bible)
JESUS CHRIST (IN THE BIBLE)
Although there is an abundance of information about Jesus Christ in the Bible, there are difficulties in interpreting and evaluating it because of the nature of the Biblical writings. This article, therefore, begins with a discussion of the problems involved in using the Bible as a source of information about Jesus, His life, His work, and the meaning of His person. Secondly, taking into account the nature of the Biblical sources, it attempts to determine what conclusions can be reached regarding the main events of Jesus' life, what was the content of His personal teaching, and what Jesus Himself thought about His person and work. Lastly, it seeks to determine the Apostolic Church's interpretation of the person and work of Jesus by listing the titles with which the early Church spoke of Him.
The Biblical Sources and Their Value
Within the 1st century after Jesus' death only two Latin authors made undisputed mention of Him. Tacitus (Ann. 15.44) said that the Christians were named for a Christus who had been condemned to death by Pontius Pilate. Pliny the Younger (Letter to Trajan: Epist. 10.69) said that the Christians sang hymns to a certain Christus
as to a God. The Jewish author Flavius Josephus (Ant. 20.9.1) mentioned the martyrdom of James, "a brother of Jesus who is called the Christ." One must turn to the Bible for any further 1st-century information about Jesus.
The Old Testament cannot be expected to give any direct historical information about Jesus. Furthermore, recent studies of the nature of Old Testament prophecy have shown that messianic prophecies do not give the detailed information that many Christian apologists have sought there (see messianism). The Old Testament is indispensable, however, for an understanding of the categories and terms in which both Jesus and the Apostolic Church expressed themselves. There remains only the New Testament as a source for the life of Jesus and the meaning of His work and person.
Apostolic Tradition. Since the New Testament is the product of the Apostolic Church, it can be expected to reflect the concerns of the Church at that time. The Christians of the 1st decade after Jesus continued to live as good Jews—as Jews, however, who were convinced that the expected messiah had come, although in a totally unexpected way. The day of the lord had arrived, the
spirit of god had been poured out on the world (Acts2.1–11). Their enthusiasm drove them to try to share this conviction by recounting what had happened and by explaining its meaning, at first to their fellow Jews, later to the pagans. Thus the Apostolic Church, bursting with a message that would change the world, produced a brief preaching outline of significant facts drawn from Jesus' life that served ultimately as the basic outline of the Gospels.
Although they continued to frequent the Temple (Acts 2.46), the Christians were conscious of a certain but as yet undefined distinctness from Judaism shown by their continuing "steadfastly in the teaching of the apostles and in the communion of the breaking of bread and in prayers" (Acts 2.42) in their homes. Innumerable new problems arose as the Christians became more conscious of this distinctness and of the universal character of their movement in its spread to the Gentile world. How did the everyday living of the Christian life differ from the life of the Jew and of the pagan? For answers they searched their memories for what Jesus had said. Instruction might be drawn from parallel situations on which Jesus had spoken or from the example of His actions. The moral teaching of the Old Testament and a deeper search into the meaning of Christianity could give principles to live by. This didactic activity of the early Church, as well as controversies with Jews and pagans, preserved the memory of many sayings and incidents from Jesus' life. These tended to be single isolated incidents, cut off from the framework of chronology and geography since these details contributed little to the problems of practical Christian living. The sayings of Jesus did not need to be exact quotations; often they were not since they were drawn from memories and not from stenographic reports. The words of Jesus could and needed to be adapted to the Christian needs. The incidents were sometimes stripped of detail that did not serve a purpose. In time such sayings and incidents were collected together, not on the basis of
chronology or topography, but on mnemonic and topical principles. Gradually a tradition grew about what Jesus had done and said. Practical, kerygmatic (see kerygma), didactic, apologetic, and liturgical concerns determined the form and content of this tradition, which developed against the background of Old Testament thinking and in Jewish categories of thought and modes of expression. see form criticism, biblical; tradition (in the bible).
Role of Faith in the Apostolic Tradition. Those who formulated and preserved the tradition just described were conscious of the necessity that it be based on historical occurrence. See, e.g., 1 Cor 15.14–15: "If Christ has not risen, vain is our preaching, vain too is your faith. Yes, and we are found false witnesses as to God, in that we have borne witness against God that he raised Christ." But the bare recital of historical occurrences is ambiguous. Other men had been reported raised from the dead for whom no one claimed divinity. Other men had been executed and no one claimed that they had thereby redeemed the world. Yet the early Christians attached such significance to the death and Resurrection of Jesus. see resurrection of christ, 1; redemption (in the bible). Historical fact needs interpretation. St. Paul tried to use human wisdom to substantiate his interpretation at Athens and found it inadequate (Acts 17.22–33). Having profited from this experience, he told the Corinthians, "I… did not come with pretentious speech or wisdom, announcing unto you the witness to Christ…. My speechand my preaching were not in the persuasive words of wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might rest, not on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God" (1 Cor 2.1, 4–5). Therefore in early Christian tradition the bare facts of historical occurrence were always coupled with an interpretation drawn from faith. To substantiate the validity of the interpretation an appeal was made to the action of the Holy Spirit, who bore witness to what had happened through
the Resurrection and ascension of jesus christ: He had been seated at the right hand of the Father as messianic Lord and Christ. Thus the earliest formulations of faith in the divinity of Jesus were in these terms (Acts2.32–36; Rom 1.4). The early churchmen insisted on the effects of the Holy Spirit because they were tangible and could be substantiated by experience and historical witness, and thus these in turn confirmed the truth of the witness of the Holy Spirit to the person and meaning of Jesus in salvation history. Consequently, everything handed down about Jesus' works and words was colored by the post-Resurrection faith. Everything was seen in retrospect and reported with the understanding that the Apostles had later, not necessarily with the understanding they had at the time the events happened.
New Testament Based on Apostolic Tradition.
The New Testament writings reflect their origins in the early Church. To assess their content and its historical trustworthiness, the reader must keep in mind the three stages of tradition through which the teachings and life of Jesus have come down to us. (1) Jesus chose a special group of disciples and taught them by His words and actions in a way accommodated to their mentality and designed to make a deep impression upon them and to be an aid to memory. This was the method used by other Jewish teachers of His day, when it was the custom that a man's teaching be passed on orally. (2) The Apostles, enlightened and strengthened by the Resurrection of Jesus and the possession of the Holy Spirit, proclaimed first and foremost the death and Resurrection of the Lord, then other events of His life and His teaching. They necessarily used the various forms of speech that suited their purposes and fitted the mentality of their hearers, interpreting the words and deeds of Jesus according to their hearers' needs. (3) Finally, for diverse reasons, the data of faith began to be preserved in the written word rather than by oral tradition. Pastoral considerations occasioned the writing of the Epistles; the death of the witnesses of Christ's death and Resurrection occasioned the writing of the Gospels. Thus, great diversity is to be found in the New Testament as a result of the different points of view and purposes of the different human authors, the different needs of the specific bodies of Christians to which each writing was directed, and finally, the fact that the diverse interests and methods of preaching and teaching of the early Church had left their marks on the tradition upon which these writings were based. "Unless the exegete, then, pays attention to all those factors which have a bearing on the origin and composition of the Gospels, and makes due use of the acceptable findings of modern research, he will fail in his duty of ascertaining what the intentions of the sacred writers were, and what it is that they have actually said" [Instruction of the Pontifical Biblical Commission (May 14, 1964) on The Historical Truth of the Gospel, authorized English translation, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 26 (1964) 305–312].
Nevertheless a surprising unity runs through the diversity of the New Testament. This unity is not due to any preconceived master plan of a human editorial board, but to the work of the Holy Spirit, who both directed the development of the early Christian tradition and inspired the various human authors to write as they did.
Problem for the Theologian. Since the theologian's task is that of faith seeking understanding, he applies the principles of human reason to the data of faith in order to understand better the content of faith and to express better his insights. To do this he necessarily works within the framework of some philosophical system of human thought. He finds his first difficulty in the fact that he cannot presuppose that the New Testament writers worked from the same set of philosophical presuppositions as his own. The New Testament writers worked from a Jewish frame of reference that is dynamically oriented (often called existential), not from a static or essential one.
Therefore the theologian can expect, for example, no discussion of the concepts of person and nature as applied to God, no formulated doctrine of the Holy trinity. Consequently, both those who deny any teaching on three Persons in one God in the New Testament and those who try to find there such a philosophical formulation of the doctrine are victims of the same error of thinking, viz, the projection of a foreign frame of reference upon the New Testament. The theologian's first task is to understand the New Testament within the sacred authors' frame of reference (principally the work of the Biblical theologian) and then translate these understandings into the framework and expression of a different set of philosophical presuppositions (principally the work of the systematic theologian). He gains much understanding from this latter effort, but the New Testament does not do this task for him. Secondly, the theologian must be aware that the New Testament writers are at the beginning of the process of finding ever more precise and adequate terminology. To read later theological precision into the terminology of the New Testament writer would be to do him an injustice and lose much of his meaning. Finally, the theologian must remain aware of the practical orientation of the New Testament and not expect to find worked out answers to the theoretical problems that claim his attention.
Problem for the Historian. According to modern historical method, the historian must first establish with considerable accuracy the sequence of events for the period his work is to cover. For this the indispensable guidelines are chronology and topology. Having established the sequence of events, he must proceed to point out the interrelation of cause and effect between the events, including the stages of psychological development of the principal personalities involved.
As soon as the historian attempts to apply this modern historical method to a biography of Jesus he finds that the New Testament, his only source of information, does not share his high regard for chronology and topology. Each Evangelist goes his own way except for a broad fourpoint outline: (1) the witness of the Baptist; (2) a public ministry in Galilee; (3) a journey to Jerusalem; and (4) the death and Resurrection there. But even this outline is developed with disproportionate emphasis on various points (e.g., compare Mark and Luke on the journey to Jerusalem) and is evidently schematic. John mentions several journeys to Jerusalem, while the synoptic gospels mention only one, although the saying "Jerusalem, Jerusalem! … How often would I have gathered thy children together" (Mt 23.37; Lk 13.34) seems to imply a considerably earlier ministry there. Any attempt at a detailed sequence of events of Jesus' life will be a tissue of hundreds of hypotheses for which more or less support can be found in the sources, but which more often reflect only the arbitrary preference of the biographer for the order of one inspired author against that of another equally inspired author. Historians who have proceeded in this way have worked from the unexamined presupposition that the Evangelists were using the same historical method as they. Those who have denied any historical value to the contents of the Gospels because of the impossibility of establishing a detailed sequence of events in Jesus' life seem to be working from the presupposition that history can be written only according to modern historical method. Today it is recognized more and more that there is much valid historical detail to be found in the Gospels, but each pericope must be judged on its own merits, and one must be content with much less certitude regarding the detailed order of the historical events than was formerly supposed. This does not contradict the inspired nature of the texts.
Before the historian can begin to assess the historical trustworthiness of the individual pericopes of the Gospel material he must determine to what extent the early churchmen's post-Resurrection faith and their application of the traditions about Jesus to the practical needs of the early Church have modified the historical content of these traditions. In such an assessment full consideration must be given to the facts that the New Testament authors, who were responsible for preserving and applying the traditions about Jesus, were conscious that their work would be in vain if there were no historical basis for their teaching, that they were men of faith who had accepted the witness of the Holy Spirit, and that it was their office to present the traditions about Jesus in such a way that they could be the basis for a living Christian faith and activity. Finally, the Christian historian must remember that it transcends the power of the strict historical method alone to establish the validity of the interpretation based on faith that the tradition about Jesus put on the historical facts that it contains. In this regard the historical method can establish only motives of credibility. (see jesus christ, biographical studies of.)
The Historical Jesus
Once the difficulties inherent in the sources have been taken into account, it is possible to assert a great deal concerning the life and teachings of Jesus.
Outline of Main Events in the Life of Jesus Christ.
It is possible to group the following events into a rough biographical outline without claiming to give an exhaustive listing of facts that can be established by modern historical method.
Family Background and Early Life. Although born in Bethlehem before the death of herod the great (d. 4 b.c.), Jesus grew up in Nazareth in Galilee (see infancy narratives). joseph, the carpenter, was popularly accepted as His father. His mother's name was Mary (see mary, blessed virgin, i). James, Joseph (or Joses), Simon, and Jude were the names of close relatives, called simply brothers of Jesus in the New Testament. We have no information about His early training. No doubt He spoke Aramaic. His later activity in the synagogues indicates He could read the Old Testament in Hebrew. He could have known some Greek, but there is no evidence that Greek thought influenced Him.
Public Life in Galilee. At about the age of 30 Jesus was baptized by john the baptist (see baptism of the lord; temptations of jesus). He did not become a follower of John, but went back to Galilee and lived a life in many respects like that of the rabbis. He spoke in the synagogues, debated with the scribes, sometimes using their methods of exposition of the Scriptures, and gathered disciples and taught them. In other respects His life was in marked contrast to that of a rabbi. He often taught in the open, in the streets, by the Sea of Galilee, in the fields. He associated freely with the classes of people the rabbis made a point of avoiding—women, children, tax collectors, sinners, the poor "people of the land" who had no knowledge of the Law. The enthusiasm of the crowds was due in large part to His miraculous healing activity and His concern to relieve suffering. His usual method of teaching on His own authority and the main burden of His teaching were different from those of the rabbis. The result was that the rabbis did not accept Him as one of their own, but were often in open hostility to Him.
There is no way of knowing the precise length of this period of His life. The Synoptics mention only one Passover, whereas the Fourth Gospel mentions at least three without making any claim that the listing is exhaustive. Perhaps this period extended over three or four years or even longer.
Ministry in Jerusalem. An important turning point in Jesus' life was His final journey to Jerusalem. On this occasion He openly confronted the highest authorities of Judaism and forced a showdown by His authoritative entry into the city and Temple and by His bold activities and teaching there. He ate a last supper with His disciples, after which He was arrested, tried by the Jewish authorities, found guilty of blasphemy, and turned over to the Roman authorities on charges of sedition; He died on a Friday afternoon by crucifixion and was buried. These events occurred while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, a post he held from a.d. 26 to 36. One can only conjecture about a more precise date for His death. (see passion of christ, i.)
Nothing relating to Jesus can be more firmly established by the historical method than the early Christian conviction that Jesus rose from the dead. This conviction is not the particular experience of a few enthusiasts or a particular theological opinion of a few Apostles that carried the day, but is found wherever there were early Christian witnesses and communities, no matter how varied their emphasis in teaching might be. The Resurrection, however, as a mystery of faith cannot be proved by the modern historical method alone, but it can be shown to be most reasonable.
Characteristics of Jesus as Man. A historical study of the "Man, Christ Jesus" (1 Tm 2.5) has much more to offer than the meager outline just presented. Although the Gospels tell us nothing about the external appearance of Jesus, He could hardly have been repulsive. He must have been physically strong to stand up under the heat, cold, hunger, journeys, incessant activity, and the importunity of the crowds. The ease with which He turned to nature and the ways of men for illustrations in His teaching show Him to have been sensitive, appreciative, and observant of His surroundings. Yet the traditions about Jesus show practically no interest in these aspects of His personality.
The Gospels are made up almost exclusively of a series of vignettes in which a procession of very real and very different people come into contact with Jesus. He went out to them, met them, spoke to them, and interacted with them. Out of these accounts of the interplay of personalities emerges a dynamically attractive and distinctive historical person.
He was approachable and open to fishermen, farmers, Scribes, Pharisees, tax collectors, public sinners, officials in government, members of the Sanhedrin, and children. If they were hesitant, He invited them to come. He was adaptable to the demands they made on Him. This indicates a deep concern for the welfare of each individual who came into contact with Him, a willingness to become genuinely involved with the concerns of the people, and a capacity for great self-sacrifice.
He showed Himself to be a man of perception and penetrating insight into inner thoughts and motivations. Every scene described in the Gospels shows Jesus dealing with the situation according to the kind of person He encountered. He saw through His opponents, disarmed their objections, answered their unspoken questions, or forced them to give the answer for themselves. He forgave the paralytic's sins, although only a cure was explicitly requested. He often healed the sick, sometimes put them off to test them, or He refused, as He did at Nazareth, if He failed to find the acceptance of Him that He called faith. He was often at hand to help when the well-disposed were hesitant to ask.
He reacted to each situation with honest and appropriate emotion. He showed pity and compassion to the sufferer, such as the blind and the lame; the confused, such as Nicodemus; the self-disgusted sinner, such as the woman who bathed His feet with tears; the inadequate rich young man; and the superficial. He was encouraging to the sincere, demanding upon the self-interested, sometimes impatient with the obtuse disciples who were slow to understand, angry with the obstinate Pharisees and the perverse demons. There was no sham in Him, and He left no room for it in others. His behavior was often at variance with what was expected because of prejudice or unthinking convention, e.g., eating with tax collectors. Those who only imperfectly understood His purposes and goals could not sway Him. He fled from the crowds that tried to make Him king. He rebuked Peter when Peter tried to dissuade Him from a role of suffering. He refused the request of James and John because it was based on a false notion of His kingdom. He set His face resolutely toward Jerusalem, although His disciples tried to dissuade Him. He obviously had a different set of values, which He would not compromise, a consciousness of what He had to do, and a clear sense of goals from which He could not be turned aside.
The overall impression to be gathered from the Gospels is that of an extraordinarily endowed, powerful, well-poised, and attractive personality, whose psychological balance and good sense no one can question. But there hangs over Jesus a sense of mystery, a sense of unmistakable otherness that no amount of analysis of human traits can explain. It is the secret both of His influence and of His rejection.
The Teaching of Jesus. While Jesus knew, and on occasion used, the methods of the rabbis, more often His teaching was wonderfully direct, clear, simple, and within the grasp of His hearers, without appeal to the authority of tradition or even of Scripture. His manner of speaking was concrete, living, striking. At other times His words were paradoxical, hyperbolic, provocative of thought, and calling for a reexamination of conventional positions. (see parables of jesus.)
Jesus' Jewish contemporaries found their God and their self-identity in God's great acts of the past and in the hope for future restoration of their life and character. The present was looked upon as a time of preserving what God had done, summed up in the covenant Law, and of waiting for the fulfillment of the promises. Consequently the present was relatively insignificant. What was startlingly new about Jesus' proclamation was that the present had become significant because "the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe" (Mk 1.15).
The hope for the future had been summed up in the catchword, kingdom of god, i.e., reign of God, the time of God's final interventions. With the appearance of Jesus, this definitive rule of God was at hand. Old methods of teaching designed to preserve, explain, and apply the covenant Law were no longer adequate. There was no longer time for procrastination in declaring oneself. To repent past duplicity and to submit to the present activity of God whatever may be its consequences were the "faith" that Jesus demanded. God and His will were inescapable present realities in the person, teaching, and activity of Jesus. The old era was drawing to a close. The Scribes and pharisees, the guardians of the Law, rebelled because they saw Jesus' teaching as an attack on the Law and tradition. The demons cried out because they sensed an encroachment on their sphere of power. His own relatives and neighbors thought Him mad. But the disinherited of this world marveled, and those of good will praised God.
What was Jesus' attitude toward the Law, the study and observance of which was the prime religious practice of His fellow Jews? From a superficial reading of the Gospels His attitude seems ambiguous. On the one hand, He showed respect for the Pharisees, the recognized men of the Law, by being a guest in their homes. He said of them, without trace of irony, "The Scribes and the Pharisees have sat on the chair of Moses. All things, therefore, that they command you, observe and do" (Mt 23.2–3). He sent the healed leper to the priests as the Law prescribed. He told the crowds, "Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill" (Mt 5.17). At other times He vehemently condemned certain interpretations and extensions of the Law and refused to conform His actions to them, e.g., the interpretations of what constituted work forbidden on the Sabbath. He ignored Mosaic prescriptions about ritual cleanliness and dietary restrictions (Mk7.15). On the question of divorce He pronounced against an explicit Mosaic prescription explaining that "by reason of the hardness of your heart he [Moses] wrote you that commandment" (Mk 10.5).
In the sermon on the mount Jesus contrasted His understanding of the Law with what "was said to the ancients." It was a question not only of murder, adultery, etc., but even of wrath, the lustful look, the "legal" divorce, the mere oath (by which one word is singled out above others as true), the degree of retaliation that falls within the limits of the Law, the kind of love that excludes the enemy—all these were equally against the Law.
To understand Jesus' attitude toward the Law it is necessary to consider the more fundamental concern of Jesus already alluded to. From many passages, especially in John, but also in the Synoptics, it is seen that the driving force of Jesus' life was the will of God. "My food is to do the will of him who sent me" (Jn 4.34). The Law had validity only insofar as it was an expression of God's will. Therefore those human interpretations and extensions of the Law that limited, misunderstood, or went beyond God's will had to be repudiated. Even the Old Testament itself, in which God at times accommodated Himself to human weakness and convention, was an imperfect expression of God's will. If Jesus was to "fulfill the Law" in the sense of bringing it to the achievement of its inner purpose, these imperfections had to be removed.
The strongest denunciations were reserved for that duplicity that sought by a misuse of casuistry to keep the external letter of the Law, but at the same time to leave the way open for a noncommital attitude toward the will of God. Often associated with this duplicity was the attempt to define virtue in terms of external observance and the extension of such observance to minutiae never intended to be covered by the Law, e.g., the paying of "tithes on mint and anise and cummin," while leaving "undone the weightier matters of the Law, right judgment and mercy and faith" (Mt 23.23).
The will of God embraces more than what is expressed in the Commandments. When the rich young man came with the question, "What shall I do to gain eternal life?" Jesus listed the Commandments for him, and He looked upon him with love when he said he had always kept them. But one thing was still lacking in him: that commitment to God's will implied in rejecting the concerns of this life and throwing in his lot with Jesus (Mk 10.17–22). Consequently, as indispensable as keeping the Commandments might be, Jesus summed up the conditions for entry into the kingdom of God in the words, "He who does the will of my Father in heaven shall enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 7.21). This is the justice that "exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees" (Mt 5.20).
Jesus' Self-consciousness. How did Jesus Himself think of His person and mission? Many hesitate to ask this question either because they consider it impossible to answer or because they think it too human, especially if it implies a development of understanding on Jesus' part. But the question cannot be ignored. The Gospel portrait of the historical Jesus shows Him as having a clear idea of His mission, of goals from which He refused to be turned aside. It is permissible and necessary to ask how He thought of these goals. Concern for the psychological and human aspect of Jesus does not detract from faith in His divinity. The New Testament writers who spoke most realistically of His growth in knowledge (Lk 2.52) did not hesitate to proclaim Jesus' divinity. Finally, an answer to this question is a necessary prerequisite for a solution to the further question of the continuity between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith. One can approach the question by summarizing the meaning and significance of the titles that Jesus applied to Himself.
Messiah. Perhaps Jesus never spoke of Himself as the Messiah, and He was most cautious when others applied the title to Him. According to a popular misconception, the Messiah was to establish the political sovereignty of Israel over the whole world. Jesus knew this was not His mission. Therefore, as soon as Peter recognized Him as Messiah, He modified the idea by stressing the need for His suffering (Mk 8.27–33). By this He implicitly laid claim to the Old Testament title, Servant of the Lord. When the high priest asked Him if He were the Messiah, He qualified His answer by a reference to the exalted Son of Man of Daniel (Mk 14.62; cf. Dn 7.13).
Jesus' reluctance to use the title was not shared by the first Christians. By the end of the Apostolic age the term christ (χριστός, the Greek translation of the Hebrew mašîaḥ, messiah) had lost its character as a title and was considered part of the personal name, Jesus Christ. The early Church must have found no better title by which to present the meaning of Jesus to the Jews as the fulfillment of the destiny of Israel. It had the further advantage of emphasizing the transcendent kingly nature and rule of Jesus in the kingdom He had established. The danger of political misunderstanding was no longer present since Jesus was no longer physically present. Thus, the confession of faith that first distinguished the Christian was "Jesus is the Christ."
Servant of the Lord. Deutero-Isaiah described a mysterious figure called simply the Servant. The essential characteristic of this Servant of Yahweh is that he suffers vicariously for the many who deserve to suffer and by so doing establishes the right relationship between God and men. In regard to the possible connection between the suffering Servant and Jesus' self-consciousness, two related questions must be asked: did Jesus see a place for suffering in the fulfillment of His mission, and did He explain the meaning of such suffering in terms of the Servant concept?
There are a number of statements attributed to Jesus in the Gospels that either imply or state that Jesus foresaw suffering and even violent death as part of His mission. Some of these (Mk 2.20; Lk 13.33; Mt 12.40) may reflect concerns of the early Church or the theology of the Evangelists. Both Mark and Luke, however, have the saying about the special baptism with which Jesus must be baptized, and from the context of Mark it is clear that this refers at least to a painful death (Mk 10.38; Lk 12.50).
The strongest argument, however, for the assertion that Jesus foresaw a painful death is found in the triple prediction of the Passion found in each of the Synoptic Gospels. Although it is possible or even likely that some details in these predictions were drawn from the actual event, the strong rebuke administered to Peter, "Get behind me, satan" (Mt 8.33), makes sense only as a response to Peter's incomprehension of the fact that Jesus the Messiah must suffer.
Concerning the question of Jesus' use of the Servant concept to explain the purpose of His suffering, it must be admitted that only Luke explicitly cites the Isaian poems in a saying of Jesus placed just before the agony in the garden (Lk 22.37; cf. Is 53.12). More significant, however, are certain allusions to the Servant poems in sayings of Jesus that are generally considered authentic. According to all the Gospels, Jesus used the Last Supper as the occasion for explaining the meaning of His approaching death. In blessing the cup of wine, He spoke of His blood that was to be "poured out for the many" (Mk 14.24), a probable allusion to Is 52.13–53.12, where the Servant is said to pour out his life and where the recipients of the Servant's blessings are four times designated as "the many." An even clearer allusion to the same poem is found in the saying of Jesus that "the Son of Man also has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10.45).
From Acts and the Christological hymn in Phil2.5–11 it is seen that the early Church used the Servant concept to explain the significance of Jesus' death; but this approach soon fell into disuse. Thus the most plausible historical reconstruction of the use of the Servant theology seems to be that Jesus used allusion or even direct reference to the Servant to explain His understanding of the purpose of His life and to modify the popular misconceptions associated with the term Messiah. The early Church followed His example and found this concept useful while still in a Jewish environment, but less effective in a Gentile one.
Prophet. On several occasions after Jesus had worked wonders, His contemporaries referred to Him as a prophet (Lk 7.16). Jesus accepted the title when He applied to Himself the saying, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country" (Mk 6.4). This title may have contributed to His consciousness of the necessity of His suffering since throughout the Old Testament the prophet was a man of unmerited suffering. However, both Jesus and the early Church found this title inadequate as an explanation of Jesus.
There was also a great deal of speculation about a special prophet—"the Prophet"—who would come to usher in messianic times. The current speculation pictured him in various ways: a great prophet of the past as elijah returned, a prophet who is the forerunner of God Himself in His final intervention or the forerunner of the Messiah. While certain elements of the crowds speculated about whether Jesus was this Prophet (Mk 8.28), it seems that Jesus never so considered Himself. In the Synoptics John the Baptist is described as fulfilling this expectation. John the Evangelist, perhaps, saw some truth in this explanation of the role of Jesus.
Son of Man. The title by which Jesus regularly referred to Himself was son of man, used approximately 80 times in the Gospels and almost always on the lips of Jesus. It is applied to Him by another only once—by Stephen in Acts 7.56. Thus the Evangelists preserve the memory that Jesus used this title to describe Himself, but the early Christians made little use of it to express their faith in Jesus.
Aramaic bar nāšā' (literally, son of man) meant simply a man. While this meaning can be a satisfactory explanation of the term in many cases of the Gospel usage, the Old Testament background gives the reason for Jesus' predilection for the term. In the Old Testament the Aramaic expression for son of man or its Hebrew equivalent is most commonly used to mean an individual member of the human race with special emphasis on the weakness of man, prone to suffering, in contrast to the strength of God. Thus it is used regularly by God to address the prophet Ezekiel. In Dn 7.13, however, the term is applied to an apocalyptic figure that represents the messianic kingdom of God, a transcendent figure coming on the clouds of heaven surrounded by the exalted symbols of divine majesty. Thus the ambiguity of the term made it possible for Jesus to put into it the meaning He wished. It connoted high exaltation while leaving room for a conception of Himself as the Suffering Servant, and it had not the disadvantage of arousing mistaken political hopes. The ambiguity of the term forced the early Church to explain the two poles of the paradox, and this was done by applying different titles to Jesus and abandoning the title Son of Man. Thus began the theological process that culminated some centuries later in the formulation of the Church's faith in Jesus as true God and true Man.
Son of God. The early Church professed its faith in the divinity of Jesus by the confession, "Jesus is the son of god." All the books of the New Testament contain this confession in one form or another. It is the key to the understanding of Mark's Gospel (see mark, gospel ac cording to st.), the climax of which is the exclamation of the centurion, "Truly this man was the Son of God' (Mk 15.39). Mark draws up his account of Jesus' life to lead the reader to make these words of the centurion his own profession of faith.
It is doubtful that Jesus ever made an explicit claim to be divine during His public life. Such a claim by one who was so obviously a man would have been dismissed as madness. Upon the supposition that Jesus was conscious of being divine, what course was open to Him other than that described by Mark? Jesus worked wonders for which there was no human explanation; He forgave sin; He taught in a way that indicated He was more than man, drawing the authority for His teaching from Himself and not from anything outside Himself, not even from the Scriptures. According to Matthew, Luke, and John, Jesus carefully depicted His unique relationship to God by the way He referred to Him as "my Father." He indicated that He was conscious of a unity of will and activity with God. His actions and words would be enigmatic if considered those of a simple man, no matter how highly endowed by God. His life, death, and Resurrection were all preparation for the reception of the witness of the Holy Spirit that Jesus was the Son of God. Thus the Evangelists were being faithful to a key fact of Jesus' life and person when they made explicit something that from the nature of things Jesus could only imply during His public life. Historical research can show the reasonableness of faith in the divinity of Jesus. It cannot be a substitute for this act of faith.
Christological Titles Originating in the Apostolic Church
The cautious and sometimes mysterious self-revelation of Jesus during His earthly ministry was succeeded by the full flowering of Christian faith in Him. The titles bestowed upon Him reflect the faith of the Church in His divinity and His exalted role with regard to mankind and all the world.
Lord. Closely associated with the titles Christ and Son of God was that of lord. The disciples had called Jesus Lord in the secular sense of master. With the Easter experience they saw a much deeper meaning in this term. The risen Christ had received divine honors that made Ps 109 (110).1 applicable to Him: "The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool." This is the most frequently quoted Old Testament passage in the New Testament. The Easter experience showed that the title Lord could be used of Jesus in the same sense that it was used as a substitute for the name yahweh in the Jewish liturgy, for Jesus in His messianic kingship exercised the kingship of Yahweh (see kingship in the ancient near east). Passages in the Old Testament referring to Yahweh and titles of honor for God (except Father) could be applied to Jesus because the divine name Lord had been given to Him (Phil 2.9–11).
The same term was an apt one also in the Hellenistic world. There the term Lord was used as a title for divinities and also to express the imperial power of the emperor, to whom divine worship was shown, especially in the eastern parts of the Roman Empire. Thus for the Christian of pagan origin Lord expressed Jesus' supreme rule over all creation as well as over the people of God. Compared to the lordship of Jesus, all other lordships were insignificant. For St. Paul the essentially Christian confession of faith is, "Jesus is Lord" (Rom 10.9; 1 Cor 12.3).
Savior. When God rescued men from sin and death, He was often called savior in the Old Testament; so, too, were the divinely commissioned men through whom He worked. This title seems to have been transferred to Jesus at an early date, but became popular only in the later New Testament writers, e.g., Luke and the pastoral epis tles. Because of the connotations the word had in the Hellenistic world, which was looking for savior gods, and especially in pagan ruler worship, this title was a rich one combining certain aspects of the title Lord with the Old Testament idea of delivery from sin and death. It may have been found more useful than the Suffering Servant concept to explain the meaning of the death of Jesus to the Gentile world.
The Word. Although the title Word of God for Jesus became a favorite one in patristic times and the center of the Christological controversies of that period, it is found only in the Johannine writings of the New Testament, i.e., in Jn 1.1, 14; 1 Jn 1.1; and Rv 19.13. While John states clearly the preexistence of Jesus, his main purpose in using this title is to point out Jesus as the revelation of the Father. God's revelation can be found in the word because He created by the word (Gn 1.3–31) and communicated Himself to man in the prophetic word spoken under divine impulse, an action that reached its climax finally and perfectly in the words and actions of Jesus. Jesus is the perfect revelation of God because He is the Word (personified) made flesh. Thus each saying or action of Jesus is a "sign" because it reveals God to man. Secondarily, John may have chosen this title for Jesus because he saw in Him the fulfillment of Hellenistic speculation on the λόγος. [see logos, 1; john, gospel according to st.; revelation, concept of (in the bible).]
High Priest. Later Jewish speculation expected an eschatological mediator who would bring to perfection the role of the Levitical high priest; this is clear especially in the writings of the qumran community. In Ps 109 (110) the king is given a priestly role "according to the order of Melchisedec" (v. 4), and this Psalm was interpreted as referring to the expected kingly Messiah. Whether the two lines of priestly speculation based on Aaron and Melchisedec had any influence on one another is difficult to determine. The Epistle to the hebrews made the high priestly function of Jesus central to the understanding of Him. By coming as the perfect high priest, of the order of Melchisedec and not of Aaron, He combined in Himself and surpassed both priestly expectations. Jesus was the perfect high priest offering once and for all the perfect sacrifice, thus becoming the perfect mediator between God and man because He was both God and man (Heb 4.1–14–10.18). No other New Testament writing so stressed the humanity of Jesus on the one hand, or so clearly stated His divinity on the other.
God. This title is rarely used of Jesus in the New Testament, and in most of the places where it seems to be used (the text being uncertain) there are difficulties of interpretation. The theological controversies of the patristic period have had their repercussions on the transmission of the New Testament text. Jesus is rarely called God in the New Testament because the New Testament writers preferred to reserve that title for the Father and to apply to Jesus titles that described His functions—Lord, Son of Man, Son of God, and Logos—all of which, however, contain the idea of the divinity of Jesus. The only incontrovertible instances where Jesus is given the title God are found in Jn 1.1;20.28; and Heb 1.8. While there are controversies about whether Paul called Jesus God, e.g., in Rom 9.5, where it is probable that he did, there can be no doubt that Paul believed Jesus to be preexistent and divine. He simply preferred the titles Lord and Son of God to express this idea. The few instances of the use of God as a title for Jesus come from the late New Testament writings and are evidence of the beginnings of the theological reflection that characterized the patristic period.
See Also: transfiguration; parousia, 1
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