The message of Jesus and the preaching of the church

According to Mark’s record, Jesus is already preaching a “gospel of God” at the very start of his public career.  At some point not much later than the imprisonment of the Baptist and before his selection of the twelve, we find Jesus preaching, “The Reign of God is at hand; Repent, and believe the gospel” (Mk 1:14-15). 

Here it is, a long time before the cross and tomb and resurrection, long before Pentecost, but Jesus is already preaching a message which qualifies as “good news.”  Can this early “good news of God,” personally commended by Jesus of Nazareth shortly after his baptism resemble very closely the preaching about the crucified Messiah which was immediately proclaimed by Peter at Pentecost?

And what of the potential differences that might exist between the early message of Jesus and the later evangelical gospel of salvation, which follows (even surpasses) Paul in incorporating the whole redemptive work of crucifixion, resurrection, and Pentecost?

I want to look at the exegetical and/or theological apparatus developed in the church to reconcile these two gospels and ask, can they in fact be reconciled?  The answer is important, I think, for the next theology

In my view, The least helpful approach to Jesus is the one which apprehends his ‘reign of God’ in the manner portrayed by the Jewish eschatological writings which preceded his day, although their influence on his hearers and followers – and even on his precursor the Baptist – cannot be deniedBut this assertion will need further elucidation.

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9 thoughts on “The message of Jesus and the preaching of the church

    • Thanks for the comment.

      I’m trying to understand how you see my application of the word “gospel” here, because the dictionary entry you linked seems quite in line with my own interpretation of the word.

      I do notice that the etymological sense which qualifies the news as “good” is reported in your link, while you have simply referred to “the news.”

      I think Jesus did in fact qualify his own message as “good news,” and that this appellation “stuck” in the vocabulary of the church. This similarity doesn’t guarantee identity of news content, however. My implication is that significant elements of the original content of the post-baptism message were superceded by interpretations and concerns of the writers of post-crucifixion days.

      If you still think I am misinterpreting the word, please indicate further, as I value your caliber of mind very much.

      • Possibly, instead, it is I who misinterpet your post:

        My impression on the first reading was that you were commiting a rather naive error (beware that I have not done any background checks on you and that the Internet is full of people who make similarly naive errors), in believing that “gospel” refered to a work similar in character to the gospels of e.g. Mark—effectively limiting it to the secondary sense. In a next step, I thought your reasoning was, “It says here that Jesus already had a gospel! Where did it go? Are the other gospels frauds/redundant/distortions?”

        Here I wanted to set you straight in that the references to Jesus and a gospel were in the primary sense of “good news” and did not imply a “lost gospel” of some sort (as with the claimed gospels of Thomas, Judas, et al.).

        Based on your reply, I seem to have misinterpreted you.

        In the bigger issue, I do not doubt that Jesus’ good news went far beyond a trivial “the Messiah is here”, but included insights and elaborations more than worthy of a “written down” gospel. (In the same way as the knowledge of a professor exceeds that of a text book.) It is further unavoidable that his original message was distorted and adapted to varying degrees by his followers, through re- and mis-interpretations, memory errors, political convenience, and other reasons—which seems to be your actual message.

        • Glad you brought it up, and in retrospect I think my language was careless and I have adjusted it in the second paragraph to lessen chances of such misinterpretations.

          I’m obliged to you for the clarification.

          My main point is merely to assert that this early Jesus-preaching was unlikely to have included the so-called “good news” of cross, expiation, and salvation which some of the churches emphasized later. [correction 03/07/10: I should say “cross, expiation, and ransom” because I wish very much to retain a higher view of salvation as part of the early and genuine good news of Jesus]

          I will post under the same category I hope in the near future and get closer to this thesis.

          Thanks again for commenting as you did.

  1. I’m glad to see you’re blogging. I’m somewhat confused about the claim that thinking of Jesus an apocalyptic prophet is the least helpful. Least helpful for whom? Doesn’t it matter what’s historically accurate?

    I suspect you would admit that John was apocalyptic and so was the apostle Paul, but why do you assume Jesus was smarter than both of them and he really wouldn’t have bought such magical nonsense? Are you advocating some sort of realized eschatology to interpret Jesus’ message?

  2. Thanks for dropping by, Jeremy. I am a little embarrassed to admit that, yes, my calling an opposing theory “least helpful” reveals a pre-supposed valuation. Thanks for noticing.

    I think you go too far, however, to appeal to historical accuracy as something clean and final in regard to the motive and intent of any historical person.

    One assumption which guides my assembly of data is that the motives and intentions of Jesus were never transparent to his followers. Teachings maybe were remembered accurately to a large degree (though not all his teachings). And they clearly loved him. But don’t you too admit in principle that no alleged event reported by his followers can be interpreted as revealing the actual motive of Jesus? So if a report sounds like it derives from a superstitious motive or a ridiculous intention, it’s fair to start with the possible superstition and ignorance of his biographers?

    I think I’m willing to accept the adverse effects this position has on the authority of scripture. For now.

    But no realized eschatology (see my post on Luke).

  3. I’d admit that the actual motives and self-consciousness of Jesus are not within the purview of historical scholarship. However, I do think we can get an idea or rough approximation of the content of his message, which I understand as being the preaching of the apocalyptic, imminent, reign of God. I understand you disagree, but that’s ok.

    I think you’re right that the gospel writers (especially Mark) often presents the disciples as being utterly ignorant of the message Jesus was trying to convey. I think where we might run into another conflict is I assume that for just about every other historical figure you would not assume a disjunction between content and motive. Again, this is simple another presupposition, which you’re entitled to hold. Unless you’re entirely skeptical about every historical report because we will never have access to the deep seated motives of any person. Then again, I’m a Freudian so the unconscious throws another wrench into any sort of naive epistemological position.

    • Jeremy, I cannot allow your claim that the disjunction we find between content and motive in second-hand accounts of historical figures is negligible. There is an awful lot of the secular historical record (particularly that written by victors and loyalists) which has misrepresented the connection between key events and the motives of the decision-makers involved. (I wish I could think of a stunning example.) Nevertheless, far from being grounds for universal skepticism, these lacunae are what research and revisionist history is all about.

      I think the question of deep-seated motives is only crucial in judgment of moral and religious decisions having good-or-evil and life-or-death consequences for others. I agree with Kierkegaard on the infinite cruciality of correctly apprehending the mission of Jesus (apart from his message).

      The difficulty in knowing deep-seated motives is the reason we consider it wise to abstain from moral or religious condemnation of the acts of any person without fair trial of evidence. Even then, as you say, access is limited. I take your final sentence to be in support of my view.

  4. Pingback: Preface to a theological turn « next theology

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