Nine Things You Didn't Know About Christianity, and Some Are True!: Part II

This post represents the second in a series of responses to an article entitled Biblical authority reveals little-known facts about Jesus which is available through the online edition of the Wilmington Star. The first can be found here. The article features nine little-known facts about Jesus as revealed by John Dominic Crossan, one of the founding members and best known stars of the Jesus Seminar. As will be seen, several of the "facts" when taken at face-value are, in fact, true about Jesus or Christianity. However, many of Dr. Crossan’s quotes following the facts show that Dr. Crossan doesn’t quite have a firm grasp on why they are true.

Fact 4. John the Baptist was more important to Jesus than just as his baptizer. This is obviously true, but not for the reason that Crossan states. First, John the Baptist (or "John the Baptizer" as he is called by people who want to avoid suggesting that John the Baptist had a denominational affiliation with the Baptist Church) was Jesus’ first cousin -- born to Elizabeth and Zechariah. Thus, John the Baptist ("JtB") was part of Jesus’ extended family, and being only a few months older than Jesus, almost certainly had an important place in Jesus’ life as a result.

Second, JtB was Jesus’ Elijah and precursor voice in fulfillment of the prophesy in Malachi 3:1 and 4:5-6. While JtB wasn’t Elijah in the sense that there was an identity of persons, he ministered in "the spirit and power of Elijah." (Luke 1:17) Thus, JtB was important to the fulfillment of an OT prophesy about the coming "great and dreadful day of the Lord" and would have been important to Jesus for that reason.

Third, JtB fulfilled an essential element of God’s plan. According to Matthew 3:13-15, when JtB first balked at baptizing Jesus by saying he wasn’t worthy, Jesus called on JtB to perform the baptism to "fulfill all righteousness." As stated in the commentary of Matthew Henry to this verse, when Jesus said he wanted JtB to baptize him to fulfill all righteousness, he meant

. . . to own every divine institution, and to show his readiness to comply with all God’s righteous precepts. Thus it becomes him to justify God, and approve his wisdom, in sending John to prepare his way by the baptism of repentance. Thus it becomes us to countenance and encourage every thing that is good, by pattern as well as precept. Christ often mentioned John and his baptism with honour, which that he might do the better, he was himself baptized. Thus Jesus began first to do, and then to teach; and his ministers must take the same method. Thus Christ filled up the righteousness of the ceremonial law, which consisted in divers washings; thus he recommended the gospel-ordinance of baptism to his church, put honour upon it, and showed what virtue he designed to put into it. It became Christ to submit to John’s washing with water, because it was a divine appointment . . .

Fourth, but not least, Jesus was God. (John 1:1-18) Jesus loves every single person so much that He was willing to submit as the second person of the Trinity to be crucified on the cross for the redemption of sins. To that extent, JtB meant much more to Jesus in his role of deity than merely being the one who baptized Him. Rather, JtB was a beloved creation of God.

Crossan, in his usual way, messes up this very obvious truths set forth above by asserting that the reason that JtB was important to Jesus was due to the fact that JtB’s execution protected and alerted Jesus to the fact that JtB’s message of "God coming to destroy injustice and war" was wrong and that God would "do nothing to stop" JtB’s execution. A few thoughts about Crossan's understanding of this event.

First, JtB did preach that God was coming to destroy the wicked and that judgment was near, but Jesus, being God incarnate, would have understood JtB's message in context of His plan of salvation. Certainly, He would have known that the time of the Second Coming and the great and terrible day of the Lord's wrath would be coming as some time in the far future (at least 2,000 years in the future) even if he didn't know the exact time and day for the Second Coming.

Second, JtB couldn't be wrong about the events of his prophesy because otherwise he would have been a false prophet and not from God. Thus, to the extent that Crossan suggests that JtB's message was wrong, it is evident that such a viewpoint is in contradiction to the view held by historic Christianity that the pronouncements of prophets of God were either true or they were not from God. Moreover, if JtB's prophesies were wrong, then what are we to make of Jesus' pronouncement of Matthew 10:9 that JtB was a prophet, but not only a prophet but the one prophesied about in Malachi 3:1?

Third, Crossan has the relationship between JtB and Jesus crossed. JtB looked to Jesus as the one who was to come and who was greater than him. (Matthew 4:13-14). when in prison, JtB called on Jesus for assurances that JtB had correctly identified Jesus as the Christ. (Matthew 10:2-3) Thus, the Bible reveals a relationship between the two where JtB saw himself as the lesser of the two, not Jesus seeing JtB as the prophet who he followed until JtB's execution at the hands of Herod.

Keep in mind, if I were of the same mindset as Crossan that Jesus was not truly God, I might be inclined to accept fanciful theories about Jesus in order to try to explain/discount what I read in the Bible while still giving some grain of truth at the heart of the stories. But I don't see where Crossan's approach is appropriate and certainly shouldn't be seen as leading to some better knowledge about Jesus than accepting the historic teaching of the church (as supported by evidence) that the Bible is an effort by the earliest apostles to faithfully record what they saw and heard.

Fact 6. The New Testament is not talking about the destruction of the world. The answer here is that I agree that, for the most part. the focus of the New Testament is not on the destruction of the world. However, that is a far cry from saying it says nothing about the destruction of the world, which is what Crossan is suggesting as the true intent of this statement.

In my view, the New Testament speaks very little about the destruction of the world. Most of the New Testament is concerned with Jesus' life, his teachings, the meaning of Jesus' life and teachings, the activities of the Apostles, the letters from the Apostles and other Epistle authors giving warnings about following false teachings and instructions as to how to act as Christians. There are only a few places in the New Testament that can be construed to reference the destruction of the world, and those references, because they are part of future prophesy, are either vague about the details and the extent to which the world will suffer both prior to and at the time of the Second Coming, or they are subject to differing interpretations that would argue that the Earth will not be completely destroyed -- only damaged in some significant way.

What is very clear is that the present earth will, in some manner, pass away and be replaced with a new heaven and a new earth. (Revelation 21:1) To me, there is little doubt that this means that the earth as we know it will be re-created in some way so that there will be no more tears, no more wars, no more hatred.

Crossan, for his part, apparently believes that the earth will not be re-created, but reformed in some significant way so that these things will be accomplished without the destruction of the earth. Personally, I think that you have to gloss over a great deal of the Revelation of St. John as well as the Olivet Discourse to possibly come to such a conclusion. Jesus Himself prophesied that in those days, "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken." (Matthew 24:29) Taking into account the fullness of the account found in the Olivet Discourse and the Revelation (such as the trumpets of Revelation 8 where a third of the earth, sea, a third of the vegetation, a third of the animals, a third of the rivers, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars were all destroyed or severely damaged), it is hard to see how anyone can take the Biblical message seriously without noting that either the world as we know it is going to be destroyed or so seriously crippled that only a new Earth will be needed to support the re-born mankind.

More so-called "facts" next time.


Anonymous said…
Does John 1:31 indicate that while Mary and Elizabeth knew one another, their children John and Jesus never met?
Jason Pratt said…
That's certainly possible. GosJohn, taken by itself, doesn't require that John ever have seen Jesus before that point; although the baptism of Jesus is easily alluded to in the second part of verse 31: "in order that He might be revealed to Israel, I came baptising in water." After which JtB reportedly testifies to having seen the sort of thing the Synoptics indicate happened at Jesus' baptism.

Taking GosJohn in harmony with the Synoptics--and there is plenty of evidence to the effect that it's at least filling in around details of GosMark, as part of its intended composition (I would say more than this, from my studies)--JtB has already met Jesus and done the baptising during his scenes in GosJohn. At this point in the story, Jesus is returning from spending 40 days in the wilderness, and JtB is telling _his_ disciples what he saw at the time of Jesus' baptism and what this means. (Myself, I understand his first announcement to his disciples along this line to be a vision that Jesus is on the way back. The second time, Jesus _is_ actually back; so JtB's disciples are prepared to go talk to Him. Or kind of follow Him at a distance to see what He's going to to. {g})

That being said, neither does the language (here or in the Synoptics) exclude the notion that JtB had known Jesus from family visits and that sort of thing, but had never figured out that Jesus was the Messiah.

Either way we go, it looks like we have to put up with Elizabeth not telling anyone (includng John) what the significance of Mary's pregnancy was. But she could have decided not to try to salt the scales, letting John's revelation be given by God whenever God decided the time was appropriate.

Or, she might even have told John, but John didn't quite believe it. The Synoptics later show JtB in prison wondering if Jesus really is the One to come; the indication from Jesus' reply is that John, though honored, still hasn't really understood what the role and character of the Messiah is to be. (A theme picked up later and expounded on at length during a swatch of ancedotes shared by all three Synoptic accounts, beginning at about the time of the Transfiguration. Incidentally, this is where I started my harmonization report last week. {s} Look down the page for _King of Stories--The Resolution of the King_ and also for its immediate sequel _Salting in Capernaum_ which finishes out that section of the Synoptics.)

So, there's room in the actual text for JtB not being altogether on the ball regarding Jesus. That wouldn't invalidate his prophetic status: a prophet doesn't necessarily understand what's being revealed to him. The common understanding of the Messiah, was that he was going to be God's agent for kicking the butts of Rome, overthrowing unjust kings by force, etc. The disciples are clearly expecting something of this sort; JtB probably was, too.

As BK points out, the butt-kicking of the unrighteous, so to speak, _is_ still on the way, but there are--I think I can safely say this--more important things to be doing first. {s} Based on how Jesus delivers His injunctions of punishment and vengeance, I understand one of those important things to be getting it through the heads of His followers that they had better start including _themselves_ in the list of butts needing some kicking, and in fact had better prioritize on that and not be so concerned with seeing Those Guys Over There getting righteously stomped. {g}

Jason Pratt said…
Incidentally, it's interesting that the Final Denunciation (reported in today's King of Stories entry, btw {g}) is very close in character to the sort of denunciations JohnBapt used to give, even down to finishing out with "you sons of vipers, how will _you_ be escaping the judgment of Gehenna!?" One key difference though: Jesus acts explicitly as though _he_ (or He rather {g}) is the Authority Who is sending them prophets, sages, scribes, etc.--He sent them before, and is going to keep doing it. This, to put it mildly, is not the sort of thing a prophet per se is supposed to do.

Crossan (and Borg, whose book together on the final week in Jesus' life is presently to be released) ought to be willing to agree, at least, that Gibson's Passion film stumbles in not presenting much context for why the Sanhedrin was so hot to execute Jesus. Things like the Greater Condemnations speech are one reason why. {g} Oddly, no attacks on Rome there... wasn't that supposed to be why Jesus went to Jerusalem, per Crossan and Borg?? Oh, well... {g}

(Gibson could have done more in flashbacks toward this end, other than have Jesus saving 'Mary' from being stoned by chief priests--but unlike them, I understand that Gibson wasn't originally planning on anyone actually understanding the dialogue. He wanted to tell the story by visuals and tone. A mistake in hindsight, and one that couldn't really be fixed by adding in subtitles--in fact it made it worse, because the dialogue was supposed to be like a placeholder. Oh well.)

The Olivet discourse mentioned by Bill, is next up in KoS, btw: a long chunk to be given tomorrow (Friday March 30th).

BK said…
I agree wholeheartedly with Jason's comments.

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