[Revised 06 Mar 2011]
A year ago I mentioned that I thought arguments supporting the literacy of Jesus offered some surprising theological insights. I touched on it again in May. To me it is still a question with fascinating implications for the doctrines of faith, of spirit, of divine and secular history, and of the Word of God:
Granted a probability exists that Jesus was able to read and write – what might have been his reasons for deciding not to leave his own teachings, memoirs, etc., in written form?
My position has been that a literate Jesus could only have judged that the consequences of leaving such artifacts were potentially unfavorable for the spread of his Gospel. That sounds paradoxical and counter-intuitive, but I think it is very interesting to ponder the negatives.
1. Jesus was reluctant to quench the Spirit
What could possibly be wrong with sponsoring a permanently fossilized, absolute specimen of truth, to be revered by the surviving community even before his death (and resurrection)? I hope you see my point. I think Jesus is always looking ahead to the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. A permanent and authoritative text in his name would be the one immovable historical force most capable of frustrating the higher mission of the great truth-seeking Spirit which was to come.
Jesus might even have seen at first hand the power of supposedly inerrant ‘scriptures’ to frustrate new life – in the negative effects of prevailing Jewish attitudes toward their scriptures upon his own mission.
2. Jesus was unwilling to risk corruption of the text
We might also postulate self-censorship for Jesus on the grounds that he recognized that no writing of the period could actually be safe from corruption over time. Here Jesus would be making a very canny move to frustrate any chance that a document carrying the absolute weight of his personal authority might nevertheless be edited, manipulated, or falsified by later copyists and well-meaning editors.
Two things may be inferred from this one very non-miraculous feature in the life of Christ – that he could read and write his native tongue.
(1) Jesus was depending on the Holy Spirit for a kind of assistance that would be compromised by perfect character portraits and a verbatim transmission of doctrine.
(2) Jesus took a negative view of the suitability of ‘historical’ records (even scripture) to be direct purveyors of his transcendent Truth.
NOTE: I’m celebrating the blog’s 1-year anniversary by starting a policy of revisiting topics from year-ago posts. I think attachment of a ‘second chapter’ to some of those topics will allow me to develop my thoughts in the light of a year’s growth. It will also keep me honest in some of those cases where I promised a ‘continuation’ which never materialized.