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The Gospel of Jesus…???, #2

As is clear from my previous post I think Robinson’s argument in The Gospel of Jesus that the Sayings Gospel Q is the best source for understanding the historical Jesus is without scholarly merit. The book is not without some value though. Robinson argues against fanciful novelists who portray Jesus engaged in romantic entanglements with Mary Magdalene. He also outlines Jesus’ radical perspective on family relationships which has been the subject of historical inquiry exploring how Jesus’ escaped being sidelined as a deviant, instead becoming the leader of a Messianic movement, given the things he said about family in a time where the family defined the individual. He even claims to place Jesus within the Jewish context of the first century. However, on this matter his efforts are less than adequate. One problem is that Robinson credits the judgment sayings of Jesus to later redactions of Q which were subsequently included in Matthew and Luke. Robinson argues that Jesus’ own historical message was, “focused on life in the here and now, the reality of God reigning” (117). Thus, for Robinson, the authentic message of Jesus to love one’s enemies and pray for one’s persecutors was the essence of his kingdom announcement and thoroughly incompatible with the wrathful judgment sayings which, Robinson supposes, must have been written onto the lips of Jesus by the church after the Jewish war (66-70 A.D.) to explain the destruction of the Jerusalem temple as the consequence of the Jews’ rejection of Jesus. The author claims that, “Jesus’ sunny experience of God showering love even on the bad and unjust gave way to the grim experience of a God of vengeance” (119).

For Robinson, the sunny experience of God’s love is the essence of the kingdom of God with which the concept of judgment is incompatible. However, this does not place Jesus firmly in his Jewish context. The announcement of the kingdom of God, which Robinson rightly explains as the reality of God’s reign on earth, always involved the judgment of God against those nations which oppressed his people. Psalm 2 claims that God’s anointed king will possess the nations and rule over them and warns kings not to oppress the people of Yahweh. Isaiah 65 promises that those who forsake the Lord will be destined for the sword while those who seek the Lord will be blessed. Malachi says of the coming messenger, “who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire…Then I will draw near to you for judgment” (3:2-3, 5). Malachi ends by announcing blessing for the faithful and judgment for the evildoer (3:16-4:3). The apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon, which might have been written contemporary with Jesus, announces blessing for the righteous and punishment for the ungodly (3:1-13). Throughout the history of Israel the reign of God meant vindication for God’s people and judgment for their oppressors. Certainly God’s reign is called into question if the oppressors remain in power.

The judgment sayings of Jesus fit perfectly within the context of historical prophecy. The most plausible understanding of Jesus’ kingdom announcement, as reported in the canonical gospels, is that it involves both a call to share God’s character and the declaration of judgment against the evil oppressors. This element of Jesus’ message is similar to that of John the Baptist and would explain why both men garnered followings. They reminded the people of the prophets of old.

A second weakness in Robinson’s portrait of Jesus is that it does not explain why Jesus went to the cross. Any historical reconstruction of Jesus’ life must account for the end of his life at the hands of the Romans. It makes no sense to say that Jesus’ message of love for one’s enemies offended the Jews and/or the Romans so they crucified him. Certainly the Roman occupiers would have welcomed a Jew who called his kinsmen to love them despite the high taxes. The crucifixion makes excellent sense, however, if Jesus were announcing judgment against those who persist in treachery and portraying himself as God’s anointed ruler or Messiah. A message like that, if correct, meant that the temple establishment would be out of a job and the Romans would ultimately be dethroned. A message like that will get you on a cross.

Once again the historical evidence demonstrates that the canonical gospels provide us with trustworthy accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry.

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