Some Interesting Questions
A back and forth conversation between Bob and a friend raising some interesting questions.
Rob, Nothing I am saying denies the insights of Bultmann and Funk. I am looking at post resurrection christologies and asking the question “what motivated them in their adoration of Jesus. How is it he becomes a mythical figure?” In Matthew he is the new Israel, the New Moses etc. He is Emmanuel: God with us. Larry Hurtado and many other scholars believe that all NT Christologies find their source in the impact of the historical Jesus.
From: Robert Brinsmead [
Somewhere in my files I have an article by a scholar who argues that the deification and worship of great teachers like Buddha and Jesus developed because people found that easier than doing what the teacher said.
Then there is the factor of people with a religious agenda using the authority of the great Teacher – for instance, how many in OT times used Moses to support their religio-political agenda. “Moses said…” was employed to make what they were pushing look authorative. So too the use of the words “Jesus said” to support all sorts of things…. Reminding us of those familiar words, “I was shown…”
We have to face up to the fact that religion has a great tendency to make people devious. Look how devious it made Ellen G White. Erhmann’s recent book is called Forged. He shows that a very large portion of the NT was forged material. Again and again, these people have been caught out “lying for Jesus.” The NT book which says “we have not followed cunningly devised fables” advances the fable that this book was written by Peter. The apocalyptic authors among the Jews did not hesitate to pretend that this was written by Enoch and that was foretold by the legendary Daniel. For centuries the church told us that the NT was written by the eyewitnesses of Jesus and even gave names to who wrote which Gospel. Religion makes people devious, it justifies them being devious by the fact it is done for a religious or holy cause. Religious people want miracles aplenty, signs and wonders, and those who dished up the Christian religion dished up virgin birth stories, a walking on water messiah, a resuscitated Christ with the marks of his martyrdom on his body, eating fish and chips on the beach, and talking about a second coming because he obviously did not fufill the messianic hopes at his first coming. Too many people it seems, using the name of Jesus to give credence to their religious agenda. These are among the many who would say “Lord, Lord”. Stopping at nothing to put him on a pedestal but not simply doing what Jesus said. So the Q has no apocalyptic in it, no miracles in it, no death the resurrection stories in it, nothing but the sayings of Jesus. But no one could build a great religious institution on that. So the great Creeds are complelely devoted to myth and totally devoid of the sayings Gospel (Q).
Rob, In “The Search For Jesus” Modern Scholarship Looks At The Gospels, Crossan makes an overwhelming case for reading the infancy narratives in MT.& LK. as consciously constructed stories/myths which in many ways parallel those of the Roman Emperors. Luke is taking on Augustus and the myth of the divine Roman emperor (p.77). The Christian academy has been thru. several hermeneutical revolutions in the last 200 years (1) the historical (2) the literary (3) the theological (currently). Raymond Brown’s books on the Infancy stories and his works on Christology are strongly supportive of the role of story in NT theology. But he will flip-flop to save his job when necessary. History has judged that the words from the prophet/sage of Galilee have proven more enduring than the proclamations of Rome. Now that we have Q as used in MK MT LK and the Gospel of Thomas we are confronted as Crossan says with the question “When you look at Jesus, do you see God, that is, a manifestation of God, or do you not. My answer is that Christian faith is to see the historical Jesus as the manifestation of God for me. (p.81) Q is critical.
From: Robert Brinsmead [
Yes, I agree; but Jesus himself says in Matthew 5 when the world looks at our practice of unconditional love and forgiveness (as he outlines it) this becomes the means by which the world will see God.
There are many human lives that have marvellously exhibited the face of God. The Christian error is to focus how the incarnation was a unique, unrepeatable event, as if God had one Avatar. The kings of the ancient world claimed to be Avatars of God – they did not claim they were the God above all thought and imaginings, but they claimed to be his incarnation – as in the case of Pharoahs being manifestation of the sun God and then right down to Antiochus Epiphanies who claimed to be like a Grecian Jesus Christ, the very epiphany of God. Jesus said that all of us are called to be the light of the world, to manifest God in the flesh, etc. The NT comes close to expressing this at times as when Paul says the church is new testament seen and read of all men. If Jesus is to be seen as a leader or forerunner, he showed us what it means to be truly human.
Rob. I believe that your emphasis on the unconditional love of God is well said. I agree with you that we love God by loving others and when challenged even our enemies. But there seems to be something missing in your theology. There’s a hole in your gospel. Your theology seems “sappy” and weak. Where are the great themes of justice and righteousness so characteristic of Judeo/Christian texts? There doesn’t seem to be any “moral core” to what you’re saying. What does your God do in the face of hideous, aggressive evil that doesn’t respond to love? Is your loving God interested in justice? If unconditional love fails (as it did with Jesus) what then?
From: Robert Brinsmead
Your essential comment here, in my view, is the voice of man (conventional wisdom) and not of God (As Jesus said to Peter) The great word of the OT is sadak – justice. I did a detailed study of that word over 30 years ago and wrote up my findings in my series, The Scandal of God’s Justice. As used in the OT, especially in some of the Psalms and the great Prophets, the word sadak (righteousness, justice) fundamentally is about fidelity to a relationship. It does not mean retributive of retaliatory justice. It does not mean punishment, and if punishment is being spoken of, then it is called by its proper name. But the word sadaq expresses God’s liberating justice, restoring man or things to their right state through compassion, mercy, forgiveness, deliverance etc. As in “The Lord works sadak for all that are oppressed.” When scripture speaks of God’s sadak to be revealed it is about God’s deliverative action. The word does not mean retribution, retaliation, payback, treating people as they deserve and is the opposite of the idea of making an atonement – Jesus came in the spirit of the prophets and proclaimed a justice that was a scandal especially to those who insisted there must be a punitive response. Thus the core parables of the Prodigal Son and the Labourers offended good people insistence on fairness and just rewards – retribution, retaliation et etc.
The Jesus of Q1 teaches us about the unconditional, about living absolutely and totally without retaliation and on the basis that this is what God is like showing no partiality between good and bad people. That was his gospel of the reign of God…. Yes, an offence then as it is now. The Q1 or sapiential Jesus is not sappy, It got him killed. On the other hand Q2 brings in an apocalyptic Jesus who threatens those who don’t receive his message with all kinds of dire apocalyptic punishments. This is the message of Paul etc. For his gospel of the cross and the end is all about divine retaliation as if the solution to the ultimate problems of the world are by way of violence beginning with chucking mankind out (one strike and you are out) and finally chucking them into hell – and in between an expiatory bloody sacrifice to pay for human sin ( “to purchase my pardon on Calvary’s tree” as the good old song has it). It is a narrative of divine savagery.
So to your suggestion, I say No No No – much of this is based upon not appreciating how love is like a two sided coin – and the other side is called human freedom without divine intervention to negate it. This is where love begins to show through as costly, but certainly not mamby-pamby weakness.
Bob, I have never been convinced that the “relational” version of righteousness does justice to the variety of ways that justice is used in the HB/OT and it’s interesting to see new papers challenging that concept. However, my concern is your reading of Revelation and apocalyptic in general. The historical situation of John/Revelation is different to that of Jesus in Q. Totalitarian evil forces are aggressively persecuting the Christian witnesses (Antipas is dead ….John has been banished to the Isle of Patmos etc. and he sees under the ALTAR the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained (Rev 6:9). The altar was the place of sacrifice. In Revelation 19 :13 the rider’s robe is dipped in blood BEFORE the battle …. All through Revelation there are these shocking symbolic reversals that overturn Roman ideology and violence. Please read The Moral Vision of the NT by Richard Hays Ch.8. Revelation, rightly read actually supports Jesus in Q1. The sharp two edge sword comes out of God’s mouth!!! How will God finally bring peace to our violent planet? If you don’t like John’s version what’s your alternative vision? Does the battle between good and evil go on forever?
From: Robert Brinsmead [
Well of course there are a variety of nuances to sadak on the OT just as there is a variety of theodicies as you often point out. But just take a concordance and look up sadak especially in the Prophets and Psalms and see the predeominant drift that sadakis God being true to his gracious purpose. “The Lord executes sadak for all that are oppressed.” When David in Psalm 51 speaks of God’s forgiveness he also calls it sadak. It is God doing the right thing according to his loving kindness. The most magnificient portrayal of sadak on a human level is the speech of Job declaring his humanitarian ways. But the main thrust is that it is not a retributive thing, but a compassionate merciful thing happens when God reveals his sadak. The same thing goes for the words judge and judgment as far as God’s people are concerned – but then as the vision unfolds in the prophets, Egypt and Assyria are included among the people of God, even wicked Ninevah. You must make room for a growing vision, just as it was in the case of monotheism, which only began to clearly emerge in the later prophets. There is garbage in the OT of course, just as there is wheat among the weeds in the NT – as Thomas Jefferson could clearly see. I want to pick out the diamonds, not the manure.
Rob. & Wend. One of my friends was invited to a dinner and had the pleasure of sitting next to an elderly man who was of Jewish faith. To initiate a discussion he said, “Well, you have a simple religion just God and Torah”. “ Oh no” was the response “No God – just Torah”. We must never underestimate the power of moral experience. C.S. Lewis said it was the key to the meaning of the universe. In times of war knowing you’re “in the right” energizes you to fight until death. Sadly that’s why some war leaders demonize the other side. They exploit the universal moral experience. That experience includes love and an acute sense of justice. The reason I keep raising this issue is that you and Wendell take one saying of Jesus (love your enemies, be like God who causes the rain to fall … etc), isolate it from its historical context, absolutise it as if it were an ethic for all occasions. You have turned the text into a free-floating, autonomous absolute. You make a gospel of it. I would call the “golden rule” a “sensational breakthrough”. It can be found in various forms in every major religion. Most people on the planet don’t have enemies. And the little bit about “sun” and “rain” cannot be used in an absolute sense either, as both sometimes cause massive destruction of life (droughts and floods). Jesus used many metaphors when speaking about God e.g. Father, Shepherd and Judge etc. Once more on Revelation. John pictures “plagues” destroying a third etc. In the C20 plagues killed more people than all the World Wars combined. In my lifetime I’ve seen massive numbers of people destroyed by Aids, Polymol. etc. I have seen rivers of bodies and blood (Rwanda etc.) And I now learn that an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs 60 million years ago. And last night I read “Astronauts point to the next frontier: Stopping killer asteroids. By Alan Boyle. I was a short distance from Mt St Helens when it exploded, killed people and denuded mountains. I could go on. Of course the real issue is how do we interpret these events. What do they say about God. I have a difficult time about capitalism. Some days I wonder whether it has been more of a curse than a blessing. Some trans- national corporations in the western world are brutal economic imperialists. I have records of Dick Cheney (before he was VP) addressing a group of bankers and financiers in London suggesting Iraq as good place for those interested in oil and its cheap labor. If you want a shock just go to the website “cost of war.com”. We need a realistic and robust theology; one that acknowledges the diversity of human experience.
From: Robert Brinsmead
Love is never an optional imperative.
Failure to love another, especially the differing other, is a failure to love yourself also – due to the inter-connectedness of all life. To act without love is anti-life.
But love is only one side of a two-sided coin. The other side if freedom. The freedom God gives to humanity, even the freedom to do evil things, is as scandalous as God’s love and generosity.
You keep imagining that we are one-dimensional, as if the obvious realities that confront us every way, are not things we notice or take account of.