Sunday, July 12, 2015

References to Christ in the Synoptics

Statement:  Time and time again in the gospels Jesus makes that invitation, to accept Him as Lord and Savior. 
Counterstatement:  I have not found any incidents in the synoptic gospels where Jesus himself specifically makes this invitation. Again, the gospel of John almost certainly does not give us Jesus’ actual words, but the words of John:  “I am the way, the truth and the life”, “I am the door”, etc. put into Jesus’ mouth.
Commentary:  On the surface, there's very little reference to Jesus as Christ in the synoptic gospels.  One major exception, at least before the last scenes can be found in Matthew 16: 13-18 (Who dost thou say I am?).  See vs 16 in particular, from the mouth of Peter, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  There is also the Transfiguration, which also involved some of the disciples. One might also consider mark 8:38 in a similar vein where Jesus as "Son of Man" addressed both "the crowd" and his disciples (vs. 34). So there are glimpses here and there within the synoptics in defining Jesus as the Christ and even the disciples recognizing him as such even as they surely saw in a glass darkly.  Then, of course, at the end, there are the various synoptic resurrection scenes, particularly Matthew and Luke.  The last verse in MT: 28:16, The Great Commission might be viewed as the clincher.  Jesus as Christ is not a theme that is foreign to the synoptics.
That's at the surface text level.  What really needs to be considered, however, is that while the synoptics contain authentic historical materials, they are theological constructs from the get go, which presuppose that Jesus is Christ.  Keep in mind that the letters of Paul predate even the earliest gospel.  I'm no scholar on this, but I believe First Corinthians, which is a major theological statement, was written in the early 50s, to say nothing of Paul's conversion to Christ crucified and resurrected some, perhaps 15 years before, maybe as early as 40?  So however the historical evolution from Jesus of Nazareth as proclaimer of the Kingdom to Jesus as Christ proclaimed emerged, the evolution was quite early, obviously before Paul was converted, fairly soon after the historical events. There were oral traditions of the teachings of Jesus that were in circulation that scholarship links to a "Q" document that Mark built upon, but even the first gospel presupposes that Jesus was/is the Christ in which he had his face turned like flint from the hills of Galilee to Jerusalem from beginning to end of that gospel. The plotline is telegraphed in Mark 1:1, "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."  The rest is commentary.
What the gospels do purport as theology is the gradual awakening of the disciples to the notion of Jesus as Christ, in their partial seeing and blindness (a metaphor for us) which the texts' authors presuppose from the get go in the very construction of their narratives.  Moreover, given the climate of the times and the millennial expectations of the era, at the very least, it's not preposterous to suppose that Jesus did view himself as the Anointed One; the Jewish Messiah, though in actuality, there is much about the "historical Jesus" that remains unclear.  For whatever it is that remains unclear, millennial expectations in the form of a redeemer were very much in the air.  The notion of Jesus as resurrected Christ was far from fabricated out of pure cloth.
While there are more than two ways to look at it, in very broad terms one might take either a low christological or high chrstological approach in understanding and grappling with Jesus of Nazareth, a topic I've written a bit about here, in which those interested might want to read the prologue to this link: (  In broad terms, low christology would be from "below," focusing on the human experience of Jesus, particularly his teaching and would try to reconstruct the historical Jesus as a basis for a theology, viewing the Christ concept as a construct of the church, largely the invention of Paul, and in many respects a hindrance to getting at the authentic faith of Jesus as proclaimer of the Kingdom and an exemplary moral teacher of a very high order.  This pathway is open for anyone who would like to explore it, which I would not repudiate as a legitimate expression of Christianity, though I do view such a perspective as profoundly incomplete, and at least or me, inadequate, though not without importance and beauty.  Moreover, regardless as to what one may think of this low christological perspective, no serious Christian of whatever theology would deny the importance of Jesus' teaching and its central role in any comprehensive lay or professional theology.
One can also embrace faith from a high christological perspective, which presupposes with the New Testament that Jesus is messiah and Christ, and however problematic it may be to draw upon first century language and historical categories in our current setting, there is something profoundly truthful in the vision of Jesus of Christ as God revealed in human flesh which transcends history and culture notwithstanding its historical underpinnings in first century Palestine.  In the broadest of terms, this view, which for me, is the only way I can embrace faith as God revealed, is premised on the assumption, or, rather, belief, that God worked and works through Jesus of Nazareth to mediate the fullness of the Godhead Himself in Christ and Christ alone as the way, the truth, and the life in ways and for reasons too many to explore in this message, some of which has been discussed on these airwaves over the years.  While this perception does require a certain assent to its presuppositions to fully enter into its pathways, it is not simply human aspiration or, faith alone, but the grace of God itself that calls, or at least prompts, and that prompting may be nothing else than a small still voice to which we, in our profound fallibility, give our assent.  Thus, while there is a theoretical difference between faith, which is within our power, and the prompting itself from "above," so to speak, the relationship between the two may be more fluid than a literal interpretation of those two words (faith and grace) may indicate.
What I'm saying here (and I'm leaving much out) may or may not seem strange or illusionary.  Yet, what I am saying is nothing other than what Christians in different ways and different languages have said for 2000 years, and the gospel then, in the ancient world of  Greco-Roman antiquity was as much of an anomaly there as it is in the postmodern era of the secular city, in which belief in Christ, then, was as much of a scandal and folly as it may be perceived by many now.  Its realization requires a full-orbed embrace of the entire Bible from the perspective of Christ revealed even as there is nothing automatic in the Bible which leads to revelation, which is, nonetheless, an indispensable resource through the "cloud of witnesses" depicted in and through its many narratives, which, at the least, provides a powerful baseline to the "faith that was once delivered to the saints."  One of the underlying premises of my own commitment to high christology is that without God working through the 'historical Jesus," there would be very little for us to be talking about 2000 years later.  For me, it's faith all the way down in Christ as the way, the truth, and the life in the fullness of God revealed to human flesh.  No, I don't have all the answers.  No, I can't answer all the questions.  Yes, much mystery remains and our seeing, however clear at times, remains partial and severely clouded by our own opaqueness.  Still, I see Jesus as "the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being...who sustains all things by his powerful word" (Heb 1:3).  he, "who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone" (Heb 2:9).
No, the Bible does not stand alone.  Neither does it speak for itself.  Nonetheless, it is a treasured resource in which a powerful cloud of witnesses has spoken with many tongues and through many forms and genres, which is in the final analysis the singular message that I Am Who I Am is revealed in Jesus the Christ.  This is something that can only be believed and lived, however, obviously imperfectly, and not proven by human reason, logic, nature, or in any way by the fallible resources we have at our disposal.  Reasons can be provided which may or may not be convincing to particular hearers, but in the final analysis the gap remains between what one can discern from one's own understanding to what the mystery of Christ revealed means and beckons us toward, namely new life in Christ through a throwing it all at God's feet.  It's all a gamble, to be sure, but we have no choice but to wager in any event.  The ultimate question becomes, upon which rock will you stand and is it solid ground or sinking sand.  And, in the final analysis, the ultimate question is "Who do you say that I am?"  For upon the response to that question, very much rides.

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