Why did the Word of God refuse to leave anything in text?

In a previous post I hinted at the tremendous theological depth I saw in a single very simple assumption about Jesus of Nazareth – a very pedestrian, un-theological assumption – that he was able to read and write his mother tongue.

The assumption of a basic functional literacy for Jesus makes a very unspectacular human claim – one which requires no miracle, no mysterious wisdom, no superhuman power.  Literacy was a skill set that was a credible attainment for any first-born Jew of the age (as professor Craig A. Evans has shown – see the earlier post).

The historian might ask, “If Jesus could read and write, why don’t we have any of his writing?”  And I think too many historians hold this question to be an unanswerable proof that Jesus was illiterate.  However, it is just this lack of writing by Jesus that I find so theologically deep when taken in conjunction with a supposition that he could both read and write:  What if the Word of God, when incarnate, had been perfectly able to render his purpose, his idea, his gift, his teaching, his gospel, under the discursive form of an authoritative text – but determined not to do so?  Would this tell us anything about the divine attitude toward textual authority?

Nothing requires us to follow the historians who account for Jesus’ lack of writing by suggesting an illiterate ‘rustic’ teacher (of astonishing wisdom).  For if we choose to see instead a deliberate decision against leaving such a sensitive artifact as an actual text, we may still join the historians in asking, Well indeed, why didn’t such a man leave any writings?   However, by laying aside the picturesque assumption of illiteracy, we open up possibilities which tend to move the discussion away from dependence upon alleged Galilean literacy rates and in the direction of dependence upon divine will and divine wisdom.


5 thoughts on “Why did the Word of God refuse to leave anything in text?

  1. Perhaps he left no writings for the same reason he left no progeny. Our species is quick to revere artifacts and icons, which would interfere greatly with his message. Did he ever intend for us to make a religion about him? Or did he admonish us to seek first the kingdom of heaven, and commune, as he did, with the Father?

    We might have a different Christianity if we adopted Christ’s religion rather than making a religion about him.

    • Yes, and I find that even the writings of his followers have become powerful icons with the power to do a bit of interfering with his message in their own right. Finding ways to sort these things out is an interesting problem for me at least.

      You refer to that XVIII-century exhortation of G. E. Lessing’s – that we ought to seek the religion of Jesus rather than the religion about Jesus. That is very well I think as long as our definition of ‘religion’ allows us to imply something greater in “Christ’s religion” than just a kind of pruified Judaism.

      Very nice to have your comments here.

  2. Pingback: If Jesus was not illiterate, he had reasons for not writing « Next Theology

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