Getting the Chronology Right
Written by: Julia Tyack
Paraphrased summary of Jesus’ core theme from Matthew 5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36. Getting the chronology right.
The statement just below is from the “core teaching of Jesus” which is basically Matthew 5-7, or Luke 6. A few other sayings and parables are included in this original teaching of Jesus. This is the “core of the core”, as Robert Perry says. This is Jesus’ “greatest contribution to the history of human ideas”, according to James Robinson. And the key point in this statement is a stunning new theology, of God as absolutely unconditional love. A God that does not retaliate against evil people, but instead, loves his enemies. This God of Jesus forgives all, includes all in his mercy and generosity, and treats all as one family.
“You have heard that it was said “eye for eye, and tooth for tooth”. But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your shirt, give him your coat also… Give to everyone who asks you and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you, do not ask for things back… You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. .. But if you love only those who love you, if you lend only to those from whom you expect repayment, if you do good only to those who are good to you… what are you doing more than others? What credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those that love them, even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners’ expecting to be repaid in full…But I tell you, Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting anything back… that you may be the children of your Father in heaven (that you may be like God). He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust…he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.”
This statement of Jesus is from his earliest original teaching, his actual gospel (see Q Sayings Gospel research). This is a statement of his main theme on the unconditional treatment of all people, both good and bad. He rejects the old ‘eye for eye’ justice of getting even, paying back evil with like evil, of punishing, of demanding payment or sacrifice. He says nothing in this original teaching about coming as a savior to die and pay for sin, to meet divine conditions for salvation. He says, instead, just love unconditionally because that is what God does. It is all about no conditions. Absolutely none. He does not use the word unconditional but this is the meaning of his statement on loving enemies.
In this central theme of Jesus there is no discrimination between people, no tribal separation of humanity into groups of true believers versus unbelievers (good versus bad), with favoritism shown to one’s insider group. There is no exclusion of anyone, not even enemies. All are to receive the same generosity and love. This is what God is like. He gives the good gifts of life- the sun and rain for crops- to all people, both good and bad. He treats all the same, with unconditional love.
Put this central theme of Jesus right at the chronological beginning of the New Testament because it is the most original of his teaching. Get its central theme and meaning clear. Every person, good and bad, is to be treated with absolutely no conditions love. If you love your enemies you are being merciful just as God is merciful.
With this core statement set at the very beginning, you then have the baseline from which to evaluate all that follows in the rest of the New Testament, because the rest of the gospels- Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John- were all written decades later, and Paul wrote his epistles decades later. All this later material was written by people who outright rejected the central unconditional theme of Jesus. They opted instead for the old God that threatened eye for eye retaliation and punishment; who demanded that conditions be met first before he would forgive (“Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”, Hebrews 9:25). Even Matthew, when he included chapters 5-7, then tampered with Jesus’ teaching, adding all sorts of conditions and threats, contradicting the main theme of Jesus. All the later atonement teaching of Paul, with his Christ myth of a savior come to pay for sin, to appease an angry and threatening God that will not forgive until the debt is fully paid or sin fully punished, was all in direct contradiction to this earliest teaching of Jesus.
Let the core theme of Jesus from Matt. 5 and Luke 6 be the baseline criteria for evaluating all the other stuff that follows in the New Testament.
We know better today that unconditional love is the ultimate definition of authentic humanity.