Monday, April 13, 2009
Christian Prophets and the Jesus Tradition
Rudolf Bultmann (History of the Synoptic Tradition, 127-28): “The Church drew no distinction between such utterances by Christian prophets and the sayings of Jesus in the tradition, for the reason that even the dominical sayings in the tradition were not the pronouncements of a past authority, but the sayings of the risen Lord, who is always a contemporary for the Church.” (See more recently, M. Eugene Boring, The Continuing Voice of Jesus: Christian Prophecy and the Gospel Tradition [Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox, 1991]; Dale C. Allison, Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998], 7-10). Thus it is possible that a Christian prophet speaking on behalf of Jesus in the first person may have said something that was now attributable to Jesus, but later projected into Jesus' pre-Easter ministry and given a historical setting. (Incidentally, I am amazed as to why all modern Pentecostal prophets always prophesy in Kings James English! I once visited a Pentecostal church in Townsville where a guy kept speaking on behalf of Jesus with the words, "Yea, I say unto thee" which prefaced every sentence, and after 10 minutes it was rather monotonous).
The best example of this actually comes from Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ during the journey to Golgotha. Do you remember the part where Jesus says to his mother, "Behold, I make all things new"? Well that saying is not found in the Gospels, but it is found Rev. 21.5 as part of the vision narrated by John the Seer. This is the exact kind of phenomenon that Bultmann and others envisaged of how a prophetic utterance was assimilated into the Gospel tradition.
While this phenomenon is possible, I'm quite sceptical whether it actually occured the way that Bultmann and Boring describe. I too a brief dig at this view in an article in WTJ some time ago. My main arguments are that: (1) Luke is always careful to name the prophet to which a prophetic word originated from; (2) in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul clearly distinguishes between "words" of the Lord and his own inspired utterances; (3) there was a healthy degree of scepticism about prophecy in the early church as well (e.g 1 Thess 5.21).