Monday, March 12, 2007

Jesus Before the Crucifixion and the Apostles after Pentecost: How Their Teachings Relate

Since the topic of the Gospels and Epistles came up below, I thought I'd see what the New Testament itself says about the issue. In fact I couldn't find anything using exactly those categories. What I could find a lot of, is commands, and references to the issue of the post-resurrection, post-Pentecost apostolic preaching relates to the pre-crucifixion teaching of the Lord. You could say it's a major theme, but I haven't seen much discussion of it. Since the Epistles are of course post-resurrection apostolic teaching and the Gospels transmit in retrospective form Jesus's pre-crucifixion teaching this is analogous to the distinction of Gospels and Epistles. Yet it's not exactly the same because, of course, the apostles actually wrote the gospels. In other words a skeptic could see it as circular: the apostles taking about in the voice of Jesus the teaching they will give in their own voice later. As every sensitive Bible reader notices, however, the Gospels do have a different voice from that of the Epistles, one in which Acts seems to be intermediate. (Just to take an example from the previous post, "Law and the Prophets" is common in the Gospels, sometimes found in Acts, and rare in the Epistles.)

Here is the teaching I've been able to glean

I. You Can't Hear the Lord without Hearing the Apostles.

The authority of the apostles is as the authority of Christ himself. After sending out the sevety-two, Jesus says (Luke 10):

The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.

The same idea is expressed by Him at greater length in Matthew 10:

Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward.

II. The Pre-Crucifixion Teaching is Vivid and Intriguing but Cryptic, the Post-Pentecost Teaching Is Plain and Exhaustive:

This theme is emphasized in all three synoptics, whenever Jesus begins speaking in parables. After telling them the parable of the sower, the apostles ask (Mark 4, repeated in Luke 8 and Matthew 13):

And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that

"they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven."

And he said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. . . .

He explains the parable of the sower, the lamp under a basket, the growing seed, and the mustard seed, and then concludes again:

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

From Jesus's advice and warnings to the apostles we read this passage, where Jesus takes what is elsewhere a purely apocalyptic saying and uses it to contrast the pre-crucifixion and the post-resurrection teaching (Matthew 10):

So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

In Luke 12, we see Jesus giving this saying a purely apocalyptic sense: what Jesus and the apostles say in secret will be revealed on the Last Day to justify God's judgments.

That the post-Pentecost teaching will be more thorough and exhaustive than that during Jesus's life emerges in Jesus's upper room discourse recorded in John's gospel (John 16):

"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

What are these things that the Holy Spirit will declare to the apostles? For starters, I would expect it to be the sermons of Acts and the texts of the Epistles and the Apocalypse.

III. The Pre-Crucifixion Teaching Was Discrete on Certain Topics, but the Post-Resurrection Teaching Avoids No Sensitive Topic.

Sometimes the apostles were directly commanded not to speak until after the resurrection. This occurred after Peter's confession (Mark 8; cf. Matthew 16, Luke 9):

And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ." And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

And after the transfiguration (Mark 9; cf. Matthew 17):

And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

IV. The Full Implications of the Pre-Crucifixion Teachings Were Not Understood by the Apostles Until After the Resurrection.

There are a number of passages in which the apostles are said to have only understood what Jesus said after His resurrection. For example, it is implied that the apostles only understood after the resurrection in the telling of the first miracle of the loaves and the walking on water (Mark 6; cf. the leaven of the Pharisees section in Mark 8 and Matthew 16):

When they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid." And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

That they did not understand is repeated right after the Transfiguration (Mark 8; cf. Luke 9)

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise." But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

This is mentioned many times in the gospel of John, as in the cleansing of the temple (John 2):

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade." His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me."

So the Jews said to him, "What sign do you show us for doing these things?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

For example, the triumphal entry (John 12):

And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,

"Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey's colt!"

His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.

Even on Easter morning (John 20)

Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.

Hermeneutically, this is a somewhat tricky category. We read the teachings of Jesus as recorded by men who tell us that at the time they didn't understand them, but now they do. So in their re-telling are they doing it from the first, "didn't understand" perspective, or from the post-resurrection "now I understand!" perspective? Certainly as I said, you can see the substantial difference in tone between the words of Jesus and of the Epistles as evidence that the apostles were quite successful in maintaining the integrity of the pre-crucifixion teachings.

In the following passage from Mark 7, we can see all three levels at work: a parabolic saying not understood by the crowd, a teaching for the apostles which must prudently be left silent for the time being, and a the clear-cut understanding of it which is undoubtedly post-resurrection:

And he called the people to him again and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him." And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

At first we have a parable. Jesus explains it to the apostles. Yet the topic of the parables is the cancellation of the law of Moses, which led to Stephen's martyrdom in Acts. Did the apostles understand even then? The final comment has the air of a commentary, inserted by the post-resurrection evangelist, which is why the translators put it in parentheses.

V. The Post-Pentecost Teaching Explicitly Shows How the Old Testament Is Fulfilled in the New:

Finally, as several of the previous examples showed, a good deal of the the post-resurrection understanding was realizing how the Hebrew scriptures was fulfilled in the life of Jesus and the church. According to Luke, this was the main topic of Jesus's post-Resurrection discourses (Luke 24):

And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. . . .

And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?" . . . .

Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."

It might seem tantalizing that none of these words were written down. How tragic to have lost these teachings! But were they lost? Leaving them unmentioned, Luke sets up in the reader a desire to understand these words. And what follows? The sermons recorded in Acts which are full of explanations of how the Old Testament is fulfilled in the new. And what is not in those was presumably taught by the apostles, directly or indirectly, in the Epistles. As I remember hearing in a Bible study, one Biblical commentator has said that Paul's Epistle to the Romans can be read as an essay on interpreting the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament. There is no reason to believe that the much, or indeed anything, of these teachings were lost.

The peculiar thing about all this is that Jesus's teachings are honored as being the best teaching despite being explicitly described as cryptic to the point of misleading, occasionally silent on crucial issues, hard to understand, and lacking Old Testament verification. They weren't intended to remain so; indeed the Gospels once written mix both the pre-crucifixion text and the post-Pentecost understanding. But they still retain something of their cryptic, gnomic, discrete, and self-authenticating character compared to the Epistles. I don't think there is any other conclusion that can be drawn but that these things are to be honored; that cryptic, gnomic, discrete, and self-authenticating teaching that causes the hearers to wonder more than they (at first) understand is the mark of a truly divine teaching. Of course this is what the Gospels themselves say (Mark 1:22; note how John 8:28 unpacks the significance of this):

And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.

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