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Only one Jesus: Part 2 (plus) in a series

If this is part 2, you may ask, where is Part 1? And what in the world does the "plus" mean? I'm glad you asked!

Part 1 is here
, under the title of "Ecce Homo" with the subtitle "Only One Jesus." Take up and read! In it I discuss in more detail an example concerning Jesus and the Sabbath controversies and the wonderful way in which two completely different Sabbath controversies show the same man clearly speaking in John and Luke. I alluded to this example briefly in my recent debate with Craig Evans. And there's more in that entry besides, including Jesus' sarcastic and resigned way of speaking of his enemies.

The "plus" refers to this recent post on positive evidence for John's historicity and the similarity of the portrayal of Jesus in John and the synoptics that I did mention briefly in the debate with Evans. In the post I both list that evidence and draw some of it out in more detail. This includes, among many other things, the point that the author of John is actually scrupulous on several occasions to separate his own commentary from Jesus' words. There's a lot of good stuff there, so please have a look.

To quote again, in the debate I said this:

The nature and personality of Jesus are clearly the same in all four Gospels. And I have many, many examples of this but here in the time we have I can’t give them in detail. His use of sarcasm, his modes of thought, his rapier-sharp wit, his love for his friends, his weeping with compassion, his ability to read thoughts, even his characteristic metaphors and turns of phrase, his use of object lessons. John’s presentation of Jesus is actually very strikingly the same as the synoptics. And the differences between them are exaggerated and incorrectly stated by critical scholarship. By the use of vivid vignettes, John shows us not an allegorical abstraction but a solid and intensely real person, and he is the same person we meet in the synoptic Gospels. And we can tell that by reading them. That’s not just something we believe by faith. That’s actually right there in the text and in the documents.

That's a lot of categories. The other two posts linked above already give examples of Jesus' use of sarcasm, rapier-sharp wit, and modes of thought. There is more that can be said even about these categories and others besides.

I have so much material on the historicity of John that it can be hard to know where to start. In this post I've decided to dive in and talk about several ways in which Jesus' personality is the same in John and the synoptic gospels.

"I told you so" Jesus

A feature of Jesus' relationship to his followers, found in both the synoptic gospels, is that he tells them things ahead of time and then emphasizes that he has done so.

An obvious example of Jesus' predictions in the synoptic gospels is his repeated prediction that he will be crucified. We find this prediction in Mark 8:31ff, Mark 9:30ff, Matt. 20:17-19, and Matt. 26. He also predicts that Peter will deny him in Mark 14:30 and its parallels.

These passages show Jesus' tendency to predict the future. We can get even more specific, showing his tendency to emphasize the fact that he has just predicted the future and the effect that he wants this to have upon his followers.

And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand. Mark 13:21-23

Here the context is false Messiahs. He is warning his disciples not to fall for them.

Not only does Jesus predict his death in John as well (e.g., John 12:23ff). In two completely different contexts in John, Jesus also makes the same emphasis upon his having foretold the future so that his followers can be mentally prepared.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here. John 14:27-31

Here Jesus combines, though without fully explaining, a prediction of his death and his ascension and tells the disciples not to be afraid. He tells them that he has told them before that he is going away, so that they will believe. Even though his death is imminent (as he emphasizes), he wants them to rest in his foreknowledge of events.

Then there is this:

I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. John 16:1-4

Here Jesus predicts something else--the persecution of his disciples, including persecution by fellow Jews. He emphasizes, as in Mark, that he has told them these things ahead of time on purpose. His purpose here seems to be to strengthen their faith so that they will not be shaken by persecution, knowing that it lies within the foreknowledge and plan of God.

Several of the prediction passages in Mark mentioned above have parallel passages in Matthew and/or Luke. We have a consistent picture of Jesus as the sort of person who not only makes predictions but also emphasizes his own foreknowledge as a source of strength and wisdom for his followers.

ESP Jesus

The synoptic gospels tell of several different occasions where Jesus knows people's hearts. These may involve just thoughts or may involve their speaking among themselves or grumbling in such a way that they apparently believe (or hope) that he has not heard them. One such instance in all three synoptics concerns his telling the paralytic man that his sins are forgiven.

He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? (Mark 2:5-9)

Another instance concerns the disciples' dispute about who is the greatest:

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:33-35

And another, found in Matthew and Luke, concerns the allegation that Jesus is casting out demons by the power of Satan

But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. Matt. 12:24-25

This same quality of ESP is found in multiple different instances in the gospel of John. (I won't quote all of these.) There is the instance of Nathaniel beneath the fig tree in John 1:47-50. Nathaniel is dubious about Jesus when his friends tell him about Jesus. (The famous "can any good thing come out of Nazareth" line occurs here.) When he meets Jesus, Jesus tells him that he is an Israelite in whom there is no guile and points out that he saw him beneath the fig tree, which impresses Nathaniel.

John 2 emphasizes in general that Jesus was not taken in by the adulation of the crowds, because he understood the thoughts of men:

But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. (John 2:24-25)

In John 4, Jesus knows all about the somewhat sordid past (and present) of the woman at the well, so that she tells the other men of the village in amazement, "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did."

In John 6, some of Jesus' disciples (here the term appears to be used to refer to a larger group than the twelve) are offended by his teaching that he is the bread of life. As in the synoptics, they grumble about this but assume (perhaps they are not within earshot) that Jesus does not know what they are saying among themselves. He brings their doubts out into the open:

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? (John 6:60-62)

I note here that this realistic mark of Jesus' similar personality arises in John apropos of the Bread of Life discourse, which is perhaps the only thing that really qualifies as a relatively lengthy "I am discourse" in the entirety of John, and which certainly has had its historicity questioned by both liberal and ostensibly conservative scholars. John is emphatic in situating this discourse in surrounding events. It arises first from Jesus' miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. People have heard about it and want Jesus to repeat it. And it has further effects afterwards in that some are offended at what Jesus has said and cease to follow him. This leads to a further dialogue between Jesus and the twelve about whether or not they will also go away. The offense, moreover, arises from the specific content of Jesus' teaching on this occasion--his not only comparing himself to bread that came down from heaven but his insistence that others must eat of his flesh.

If the Bread of Life discourse was not authentic, if it did not occur in a substantially recognizable fashion, if it was a theological extrapolation based upon Jesus' other teaching, then John (perhaps some member of the "Johannine community") went to a good deal of trouble to write up the material, including dialogue and setting, to make the discourse appear realistic. This would hardly be a mere matter of "paraphrase."

Given the radical nature of such a suggestion, it is therefore intriguing to note surrounding marks of historicity, including the similarity of Jesus' personality and (as I noted in the debate) the fact (mentioned by Craig Blomberg) that the discourse appears rabbinic in nature and is said to occur in a synagogue.

At multiple points at the Last Supper (John 13:11, 26-27), Jesus indicates not only that he knows that Judas will betray him but that it will be that very night. This culminates in his saying to Judas, "What you are going to do, do quickly."

In John 16, Jesus sees that the disciples want to ask him about what his teaching means, and he anticipates their request. This type of thing (that the disciples are afraid to ask Jesus something) also happens in the synoptics (Mark 9:32). Jesus was obviously a formidable person.

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? John 16:16-19

Note the strong similarity to what happens in the synoptics: People are thinking or muttering something that they aren't ready for Jesus to hear. Jesus knows what they are saying or thinking, brings it out into the open, and addresses it. But the context is completely different.

These incidents give one, cumulatively, a vivid sense of how disconcerting it must have been to be around Jesus. One never knew when he would reveal things one preferred not to have revealed, when he would discuss things one would rather he not discuss. One might feel nervous to ask him about something but also nervous about not asking him. His goal was not to humiliate but to teach, to confront falsehood and confusion, to cut through pride or evasion. This is the same Jesus in all four gospels.

Emotional Jesus

C.S. Lewis made some astute comments about Jesus' personality as revealed in the gospels:

God could, had He pleased, have been incarnate in a man of iron nerves, the Stoic sort who lets no sigh escape Him. Of His great humility He chose to be incarnate in a man of delicate sensibilities who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane. Otherwise we should have missed the great lesson that it is by his will alone that a man is good or bad, and that feelings are not, in themselves, of any importance. We should also have missed that all important help of knowing that He faced all that the weakest of us face, has shared not only the strength of our nature but every weakness of it except sin.If He had been incarnate in a man of immense natural courage, that would have been for many of us almost the same as His not being incarnate at all. (February 23, 1947, Letter to Mrs. Frank L. Jones)

While the phrase "delicate sensibilities" conveys, perhaps accidentally, a slightly effeminate picture, Lewis's point can be expanded upon. Jesus experienced grief, fear, and also anger. He was simultaneously formidable, daunting, loving, and a "man of sorrows." (In the next post in the series I will discuss more particularly his love for his friends.) Lewis's insight that Jesus was not even remotely stoical and unemotional can be demonstrated consistently throughout the gospels.

In Mark we find Jesus' anger as he casts out the money-changers:

And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. Mark 11:15-18

Mark expressly refers to his anger:

And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. Mark 3:3-5

His anger is also evident in the strong words he has for the Pharisees (Matt. 23:13-36) and in his sharp response (in another Sabbath controversy) when a leader of the synagogue attempts to chide people for coming to be healed. (This example was discussed in an earlier post.)

But Jesus is not just some angry man. He is angry because he loves.

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:41-44

Compare Matthew 23:37-38:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.

In John's gospel, Jesus weeps, too, at death and the grief of others:

Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”...Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. John 11:32-38

It is ironic that critical scholars try to tell us that Jesus becomes gradually less human and more divine as the gospels go on, whereas John, the latest gospel and the one with allegedly the highest Christology, tells us that Jesus weeps in shared grief with his friends.

In the quotation from Lewis that began this section, we were reminded of Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, recounted vividly in the synoptic gospels:

And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” Mark 14:32-42

We must remember the violent culture in which these events took place. Jesus knew what crucifixion was, what it involved. Crucifixion, for the inhabitants of the Roman world, was not a symbol but a reality. He is horrified, frightened, and in mental anguish. He pleads with his friends to watch with him for just one hour, but he also has pity on them when they do not. He pleads with the Father, using the intimate term "Abba," that he would remove the cup, but he submits to the Father's will. (I will return in a later post to the references in both John and the synoptics to the union of Jesus' will with the Father's will.)

The reference to the cup (found in more than one place in the synoptics) is connected with an undesigned coincidence that I discuss in Hidden in Plain View. John 18:11 shows that, when Judas and the guards appear to arrest him, Jesus refers to the cup and to the Father's decision to give it to Jesus. This particular reference to the cup is not mentioned in the synoptics, though Jesus' request to let this cup pass is in the synoptics. John, on his side, does not mention Jesus' appeal to the Father, just before that point, to take away the cup. The appearance of Judas and the guards is the Father's answer to Jesus' plea. This, again, shows historical reportage in John as well as the synoptics.

There is a separate scene recounted in John, set slightly earlier during Passion Week, in which Jesus poignantly expresses similar feelings.

And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.... Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. ” John 12:23-33

Notice, once again, that John describes this saying of Jesus as taking place in a particular framework. Jesus is not alone with his disciples, for example. He is with a crowd. The Father speaks from heaven, the crowd speculates about what is going on, and Jesus tells them that the voice came for their sake.

Craig Blomberg (Reliability of John's Gospel) notes a theory which he rejects but says has been put forward "often"--namely, that this is John's "drastic reworking" of the scene in Gethsemane. Blomberg is quite right to use such a phrase, rather than a misleading term such as "paraphrase." For if this is not a separate incident, then John has taken the trouble to make it look like one, setting it firmly in the context of a crowd and adding a voice from heaven for the crowd's benefit, in response to Jesus' painful submission to the Father's will.

The critical suggestion that this is an invented scene to compensate for not including the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane is wrong on so many levels. If it were important to John to include Jesus' agony in the garden, he could easily have just given his own version of that in its place in the story. Why invent a separate scene?

More pointedly, if Jesus knew (as the synoptics themselves show in, e.g., Matt. 20:17-19, 26:1-2) that he was going to be crucified, would he not be expected to wrestle with horror over this fact on more than one occasion? (This point is also made by Blomberg.) As usual, critical scholars are simply out of touch with reality. It is easy enough to sit in an academic office and not think about what it would be for a man (and Jesus was true man) to know that he was going to die by crucifixion, that he was born into the world for this purpose and must accept it from his Father's hand. Wouldn't any man experience heaviness and fear about this repeatedly?

The emphasis in John is somewhat different as well. Jesus imagines asking the Father to save him from this hour and implies that there is no point in doing so. He was born for this hour. In the garden, of course, he pleads that the Father would remove the cup. The touching, suffering, passionate humanity of Jesus is evident in both, but in different settings and in a different form.

It is sometimes said that the crucifixion in John is portrayed as the glorification of Jesus. In one sense this is true, because Jesus does speak (as in the passage above) of his crucifixion as his being glorified and even "lifted up." But the latter is a grim double entendre. The Son is glorified by suffering a horrendous death, and there is no reason whatsoever to think that Jesus as John portrays him forgets this fact for a single moment. Indeed, the references to his death as glory and being lifted up, in this passage, are bookends in Jesus' words, framing a fully human fear of the reality of crucifixion itself.

The literary view of the gospels and of "the Jesus of" various gospels obscures this fact. Dan Wallace ("Ipsissima Vox and the Seven Words From the Cross") has used the idea of various themes in John surrounding Jesus' crucifixion--such as the theme of glory, Jesus' being in charge, and so forth--as arguments for questioning the historicity of the very human cry, "I thirst" from the cross. Instead, Wallace says that this is John's metaphoric reworking of a facially completely different saying, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" as recounted in the synoptics. (Michael Licona promotes this theory and a similar dehistoricizing of "It is finished," also borrowed from Wallace, in Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?) The idea, apparently, is that "John's Jesus" should not be seen as crying out his forsakenness by the Father, as that would be inconsistent with John's narrative motifs.

This thesis does not even make much sense on its own terms. If John were attempting to make up something to replace, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" due to a desire to emphasize the theme of glory and to make Jesus appear more in charge, it would make little sense to invent something so prima facie raw, human, and literally consistent with the crucifixion as an expression of thirst. Much less to emphasize that others heard such a literal cry by having them (John 19:29) bring Jesus sour wine in response. One can easily imagine many other sayings that would have made more sense to put in Jesus' mouth at this point as expressions of the narrative themes Wallace attributes to the author of John (John 10:18, for example).

More importantly, such theories, which treat Jesus in John as a fictional character to be manipulated by the author rather than a vividly portrayed historical person, simply miss the obvious: In John, the glory Jesus' death cannot be disentangled from the horror of his crucifixion. Theology in John, as in all the gospels, is always firmly grounded in fact. Hence, the very same Jesus, in the very same passage, who speaks of his death as his glory is also afraid of it. And he is afraid of it in the very same way that Jesus as portrayed in the synoptics in Gethsemane is afraid. Similarly, at the crucifixion, the casting of lots for Jesus' garments is said to fulfill prophecy (John 19:24); it is also a real event occurring in a brutal culture in which soldiers sit down beneath men dying in agony and figure out how to divvy up their paltry personal possessions.

Jesus' cry of thirst and its response are said to fulfill prophecy as well (John 19:28, probably John has in mind either Psalm 22:15 or Psalm 69:21), but the fulfillment arises from the very real conditions of crucifixion, of which dehydration was a salient feature.

As we focus on Jesus the man and behold him, portrayed consistently and clearly throughout all four gospels, we draw nearer to the historical person, true man and true God, the author and finisher of our faith.

Comments (8)

Interesting that an understanding of your article above requires no guild membership, no arcane scholarship, no PhD from an accredited institution, no esoteric knowledge, no deep knowledge of Greek nor Hebrew, no recourse to redaction criticism, form criticism, audience criticism, reader-response criticism, etc. All one has to do is be able to read the texts and compare what you're saying with what they are reading, and then exercise some clear-headed thinking. Your thinking is positively nineteenth century, and of a sort my namesake would heartily endorse.

I wonder how much scholarly nonsense out there is due to the pressure to publish. The NT is just a small body of writings, and people have written about it for nearly two millenia. How much of the nonsense is due to the unrelenting pressure to find something new and edgy? How much of the nonsense is due to ego and the desire to be the charismatic purveyor of some novel theory (that might say more about the ingenuity of the purveyor than reality)? How much of the nonsense is due to a conformist desire to run with the cool kids? This is all rhetorical.

Joe, I am convinced that there is indeed a great deal of ego and giving in to pressure - both the pressure to publish something "new", and to run with the cool gang - but I fear that there is also another element deeper down: at the roots of the modern world of NT scholarship is a core intention to void the gospels of their true meaning. This intention is not explicit in most members of the "guild", they are merely going along with the pressure. But in some of the originators of the various errors and the many schools of critical reading, there is without doubt a base lack of belief, and this poisons the endeavor. Because they don't believe the way the apostles believed, the way the Fathers believed, the way the martyrs believed, they have to create some other meaning to the gospels. Naturally those other meanings will be heavily imbued with modernism, because that's the palette from which they are creating those meanings, given that they will not accept what is written at face value. The rest of the scholars who go along are like Stalin's useful idiots.


Great thinking and great expression are a joy, and you bring it!

Joe, your insight is spot-on. Regarding your namesake, I once attended a "scholarly" lecture featuring deconstructionism, or some such, and the lecturer (Stephen D. Moore?) took delight in referring to him as "Lightfood." I will never forget on keynote speech at an SBL convention by Kathryn Pfisterer Darr about 30 years ago. She spoke with insightful eloquence on the message of Ezekiel. Then, consonant with an earlier forewarning, she "shifted gears" in a decidedly feminist direction: "I must say no to the prophet and no to his message!" She was troubled by the embarrassingly graphic language (rightly so, and I have never heard those parts read aloud in worship settings). At Q&A, my friend who had never attended such an event and who spiritually whiplashed when the gears were shifted, raised his hand straight up: "Do you believe the book of Ezekiel is inspired?" Mind you, in those days the chief bugaboo in all-things-religious was "fundamentalism." Her response should be considered against the present day when the "academy" tries its hand at Bible study. She insisted that in her classroom instruction matters of faith were carefully set to the side while objective, critical studies were engaged.

The academy has for too long, I think, gotten a pass on dodging full responsibility before the Text. In social interaction at SBL I enjoyed identifying myself as an SBL member who was a fundamentalist. For me, it's never gone out of style (and so I stand in good company with Lightfoot).

Thank you very much for your insightful and edifying post. The NT scholarship is truly a mess. Paul has warned beforehand concerning the last days when false teachers will arise. In as much as the Bible remain to contain its convicting, the unregenerate people will look for all sort of means to attack it. Good job. Well done.
However, I want to ask your view concerning the Gospel of Matthew. Please pardon me for the thread-jacking question. It is argued that the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew because Papias, Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius and Epiphanus said so. However, some scholars (e.g. Robert Gundery) are making a case that word "Hebrew" is anarthrous and it means a technical rhetorical style. What is your take on this issue.

I don't think there is any particular reason not to take "Hebrew tongue" in Papias to mean some actual language, though it might have been either Hebrew or Aramaic. It looks like there was both a Hebrew (or Aramaic) version of Matthew and a Greek one. However, the Greek Matthew was treated by the fathers as of apostolic origin, and it's plausible that Matthew wrote both versions.

This series is excellent. I love the point here that Jesus frequently emphasizes and re-emphasizes his point, his predictions, his object lessons. This can usefully counteract the common presentation (more assumed that asserted) of Jesus as an impenetrably cryptic figure, some kind of wandering mystic who drops strange epigrams and never explains himself.

He could be very cryptic at times (it seems), but with his disciples he mixed a cryptic manner of speaking with extreme explicitness. I suspect that at times he wanted people to trust him to explain things later (e.g., the bread of life discourse is a good example here). But there were certain things he wanted his disciples to know, and he would repeat them, illustrate them, and pound them home in (as it were) words of one syllable.

An interesting result of this mixed style is that I suspect his disciples assumed he was being metaphoric or cryptic when he was literally telling them that he was going to be crucified! It's one possible explanation of the repeated statement that they didn't understand his words. It's been noted for a long time that it seems hard *not* to understand an explicit prediction like, "I'm going to be turned over to the Gentiles to be mocked, scourged, crucified, and after three days I'm going to rise again." What's not to understand?

One possible explanation is that the disciples found a literal understanding of those words to foreign to their expectations concerning the Messiah that they convinced themselves that he must be speaking in a metaphor or parable and hence "didn't understand" until all of this was happening quite literally.

That's exactly how I have always read the matter, Lydia. Jesus is quite literal a lot, but he is also quite cryptic a lot. And his parables were not always crystal clear, so that sometimes he had to clarify them separately with the apostles later. So, yes, the apostles must have gotten somewhat used to the situation where they didn't understand what he was saying, or were unsure whether it was literal or metaphorical, and knew that there would be some kind of explanation eventually. Probably. If they were patient. And who wants to stick their neck out saying "how do you mean that, literally or metaphorically" when lots of people have been more or less taken down a peg other times for not "getting" what he was saying.

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