Monday, March 20, 2006

Jesus and Torah III - 4 Theses

As a follow up to James Crossley's Christian Origins and the Law, I have my own four point manifesto for Jesus and Torah:

1. Jesus and his followers were regarded as law-breakers by their Jewish contemporaries. That implies that Jesus did and said things that were regarded as being highly controvesial when it came to following Torah.

2. In the Gospels Jesus is depicted as both radical in setting aside elements of Torah but also conservative in intensifying some commands further. The radical sayings about the Sabbath and disregarding the duty to bury of one’s parents were not an attempt to abrogate Torah. Instead, they were issued out Jesus’ conviction that where the mission of the kingdom and Torah conflicted that Torah had to give way. The intensifications of certain commands (e.g. prohibition on divorce and antitheses) were anchored in the view that the kingdom would transform human existence to an edenic state that would render many of the Mosaic regulations as redundant. Importantly, relaxation and intensification of the law is a standard feature of Jewish renewal movements (cf. Theissen).

3. The debate about purity in Mk. 7.1-23 represents an interiorizing of purity by Jesus so that external purity is not abrogated but relativized. What Jesus opposed was the halakhah of the Pharisees and not Torah itself. Jesus refused to make distinctive approaches to food and purity the markers of covenant identity and a criterion for participation in the future kingdom. The sharing of table-fellowship with ritually impure Jews exhibited an attitude towards purity that would later eliminate a major obstace for Gentile converts (see Schuyler Brown, ‘The Matthean Community and the Gentile Mission’, NovT 22 (1980),p. 196; cf. Schnabel, ‘Beginnings of the Mission to the Gentiles’, p. 57; Matthias Konradt, ‘Die Sendung zu Israel und zu den Völkern im Matthäusevangelium im Lichte seiner narrativen Christologie’, ZTK 101 (2004), pp. 402-3; Martin Hengel and Roland Deines, ‘E.P. Sanders’ “Common Judaism”, Jesus, and the Pharisees’, JTS 46 (1995), pp. 15-16).

4. Conflicts about Torah evolved out of Jesus’ contention that the kingdom is in some sense present and is also ready to burst upon the world and transform the structures of human existence. It is Jesus’ unique role in relation to the kingdom that propels him into intra-Jewish debates about what constitutes covenant fidelity in light of the current eschatological climate.


J. B. Hood said...


Have you given your two cents yet on "contagious holiness"?

On #2 I assume Theissen is talking about (inter alia) Qumran practices?

It's here I think that NTW's question, "What time is it?" (i.e., "what's the current eschatological situation") really pays off in significant ways.

James Crossley said...


as we probably both know by now there is agreement between the two of us in general. But just a couple of points. On radical, yes from certain perspectives, but those who disagreed with certain rabbis may well have been in agreement with Jesus. His teaching is not unparalleled. That could be me being pedantic.

On Sabbath and kingdom, I'm not sure. Again the debate on (say) plucking of the grain reads like a rabbinic dispute to me (kind of from the opposing perspective). But also there is no explicit mention of the kingdom. So here's a question: is it methodologically correct to bring the kingdom, important though it was in Jesus' teaching, into all areas, or at least those where it is not explicitly mentioned? Or is it possible that there were certain legal disputes (very important to many people in themselves) which were just legal disputes?

J. B. Hood said...

I don't think you can ever separate J's approach to the law from "kingdom"; same with John the Baptist, though "kingdom" might not be the right word for it. It all revolves around something eschatological. Some of this of course shares a rabbinic/legal milieu. But I don't think we can do a strong either/or between rabbinic and eschatological/kingdom concerns.

Maybe the best way to argue this, however, is to say that in the first instance it is really a legal issue; but the implications of this are only worked out context of the Kingdom, which is present in the person and ministry of Jesus. And Jesus answers such on the basis of the fact that the Kingdom has come in such a way that righteousness and the Law are clarified, sharpened, etc.