Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Jesus-Centered New Testament

It seems to me that Jesus is the truth of God, as said in the gospels, while the rest of the New Testament is just commentary on the gospels. --Theophilos
Really, the gospels are just commentary on Jesus as well.-- Mark

My perspective on this is very similar to Th's but a bit nuanced. First, about the gospels. It is a modern perspective to say that the gospels are commentary on Jesus. Certainly, they have different perspectives and emphases, but are they really offering different Jesus'? The gospel writers were not intending to present "commentaries" on Jesus, but Jesus himself through their eyewitness acocunts. Just because a modern perspective sees the lack of objectivity, a post-modern persective understands that there is NO objective point of view. Every time we talk about something, no matter how thorough we try to present it, we are not presenting the thing itself, but our perspective on that thing. Does that mean that we are just providing commentary? If I collect a group of passages from the Bible about a particular subject, then I am inherently interpreting because I am selecting some scriptures, but not others. But am I commenting? No. A collection of tradition is the tradition, not a commentary on the tradition. Yes, the collection is interpreted just by being collected, but that does not make it any less the tradition. The gospels, as Luke says in his introduction, is a collection of traditions about Jesus. The writers, in their own way, were as objective as their culture required. But let's not put labels on the gospels, such as "commentary". So what about the epistles? They are certainly not attempting to make straightforward communication of the tradition of Jesus. The quotes of Jesus are rare, although they do imply dependence on the Jesus tradition quite often. But I think that different epistles are interacting with the Jesus tradition in different ways. Paul, for instance, is frequently interacting with the Jesus tradition-- interestingly enough, the Matthean tradition more often than the others-- but not only that. Paul makes frequent reference to the personal revelation he has received from Jesus as well. Thus, Paul's point of truth-reference is the apostolic Jesus tradition and his personal revelation, that is probably communicated pretty well by Luke in his three presentations of Jesus' appearance before Paul. But what Paul does in his letters is rarely commentary. Some of his most theological parts are placing the Jesus tradition and his personal revelation in his understanding of Old Testament theology. But most of it is simply applying the tradition to the context of the churches. The eschatalogical sections of Thessalonlians are probably him finishing his discipleship teaching that he was chased away from finishing. James, II Peter, and I John are the best examples of commentary on the Jesus tradition. They are actually sermons, but definately based on the Jesus tradition. Revelation has some commentary on Jesus tradition-- for instance, much of the outline of future events is based on the basic outline of Mark 13-- but it is primarily a "revelation" a communication from Jesus in the spirit world to the churches in Asia Minor in the first century. While it might make reference to the Jesus' tradition, it is clearly supposed to go beyond that tradition. It is more than a commentary. Hebrews would be a theological treatise on Jesus fulfilling the themes of the second temple Judaism cult. It is less a commentary on the Jesus tradition as an attempt to show the superiority of Jesus over ancient Judaism. My perspective on the epistles is that they are representatives of the earliest interpretations of Jesus. While there are some differences, the similarities are more striking. They are most significant because they give us windows on how we might interpret and apply Jesus in our context. Jesus is the center, the foundation, the truth and the life-- not Paul or the writer of Hebrews or John. But these first interpreters help us better understand how Jesus might interpret himself in a variety of contexts, and so they are guides to our understanding and application of Jesus.

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