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The Problems of the Life of Jesus
PART II. THE PROBLEMS OF THE LIFE OF JESUS
I. The Miracles.
1. The "Modern" Attitude:
Everyone is aware that the presence of miracle in the Gospels is a chief ground of the rejection of its history by the representatives of the "modern" school. It is not questioned that it is a super-natural person whose picture is presented in the Gospels. There is no real difference between the Synoptics and John in this respect. "Even the oldest Gospel," writes Bousset, "is written from the standpoint of faith; already for Mark, Jesus is not only the Messiah of the Jewish people, but the miraculous eternal Son of God, whose glory shone in the world" (Was wissen wir von Jesus? 54, 57). But the same writer, interpreting the "modern" spirit, declares that no account embracing supernatural events can be accepted as historical. "The main characteristic of this modern mode of thinking," he says, "rests upon the determination to try to explain everything that takes place in the world by natural causes, or--to express it in another form--it rests on the determined assertion of universal laws to which all phenomena, natural and spiritual, are subject" (What Is Religion? English translation, 283).
2. Supernatural in the Gospels:
With such an assumption it is clear that the Gospels are condemned before they are read. Not only is Jesus there a supernatural person, but He is presented as super-natural in natural in character, in works, in claims (see below); He performs miracles; He has a supernatural birth, and a supernatural resurrection. All this is swept away. It may be allowed that He had remarkable gifts of healing, but these are in the class of "faithcures" (thus Harnack), and not truly supernatural. When one seeks the justification for this selfconfident dogmatism, it is difficult to discover it, except on the ground of a pantheistic or monistic theory of the universe which excludes the personal God of Christianity. If God is the Author and Sustainer of the natural system, which He rules for moral ends, it is impossible to see why, for high ends of revelation and redemption, a supernatural economy should not be engrafted on the natural, achieving ends which could not otherwise be attained. This does not of course touch the question of evidence for any particular miracle, which must be judged of from its connection with the person of the worker, and the character of the apostolic witnesses. The well-meant effort to explain all miracles through the action of unknown natural laws--which is what Dr. Sanday calls "making both ends meet" (Life of Christ in Recent Research, 302)--breaks down in the presence of such miracles as the instantaneous cleansing of the leper, restoration of sight to the blind, the raising of the dead, acts which plainly imply an exercise of creative power. In such a life as Christ’s, transcendence of the ordinary powers of Nature is surely to be looked for.
II. The Messiahship.
1. Reserve of Jesus and Modern Criticism:
A difficulty has been found in the fact that in all the Gospels Jesus knew Himself to be the Messiah at least from the time of His baptism, yet did not, even to His disciples, unreservedly announce Himself as such till after Peter’s great confession at Caesarea Philippi (
2. A Growing Revelation:
There is, however, no need for supposing that Peter’s confession marks the first dawn of this knowledge in the minds of the apostles. Rather was it the exalted expression of a faith already present, which had long been maturing. The baptism and temptation, with the use of the title "Son of Man," the tone of authority in His teaching, His miracles, and many special incidents, show, as clearly as do the discourses in John, that Jesus was from the beginning fully conscious of His vocation, and His reserve in the use of the title sprang, not from any doubt in His own mind as to His right to it, but from His desire to avoid false associations till the true nature of His Messiahship should be revealed. The Messiahship was in process of self-revelation throughout to those who had eyes to see it (compare
III. Kingdom and Apocalypse.
1. The Kingdom--Present or Future?:
2. Apocalyptic Beliefs:
It is difficult to pronounce on the extent to which Jesus was acquainted with current apocalyptic beliefs, or allowed these to color the imagery of parts of His teachings. These beliefs certainly did not furnish the substance of His teaching, and it may be doubted whether they more than superficially affected even its form. Jewish apocalyptic knew nothing of a death and resurrection of the Messiah and of His return in glory to bring in an everlasting kingdom. What Jesus taught on these subjects sprang from His own Messianic consciousness, with the certainty He had of His triumph over death and His exaltation to the right hand of God. It was in Old Testament prophecy, not in late Jewish apocalypse, that His thoughts of the future triumph of His kingdom were grounded, and from the vivid imagery of the prophets He borrowed most of the clothing of these thoughts.
IV. The Character and Claims.
1. Denial of Christ’s Moral Perfection:
Where the Gospels present us in Jesus with the image of a flawless character--in the words of the writer to the Hebrews, "holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners" (
(1) The Sinlessness Assured.
The sinlessness of Jesus is a datum in the Gospels. Over against a sinful world He stands as a Saviour who is Himself without sin. His is the one life in humanity in which is presented a perfect knowledge and unbroken fellowship with the Father, undeviating obedience to His will, unswerving devotion under the severest strain of temptation and suffering to the highest ideal of goodness. The ethical ideal was never raised to so absolute a height as it is in the teaching of Jesus, and the miracle is that, high as it is in its unsullied purity, the character of Jesus corresponds with it, and realizes it. Word and life for once in history perfectly agree. Jesus, with the keenest sensitiveness to sin in thought and feeling as in deed, is conscious of no sin in Himself, confesses no sin, disclaims the presence of it, speaks and acts continually on the assumption that He is without it. Those who knew Him best declared Him to be without sin (
(2) What This Implies.
How is this phenomenon of a sinless personality in Jesus to be explained? It is itself a miracle, and can only be made credible by a creative miracle in Christ’s origin. It may be argued that a
2. Sinlessness and the Messianic Claim:
If Jesus from the first was conscious of Himself as without sin and if, as the converse of this, He knew Himself as standing in an unbroken filial fellowship with the Father, He must early have become conscious of His special vocation, and learnt to distinguish Himself from others as one called to bless and save them. Here is the true germ of His Messianic consciousness, from which everything subsequently is unfolded. He stood in a rapport with the Father which opened His spirit to a full, clear revelation of the Father’s will regarding Himself, His mission, the kingdom He came to found, His sufferings as the means of salvation to the world, the glory that awaited Him when His earthly work was done. In the light of this revelation He read the Old Testament Scriptures and saw His course there made plain. When the hour had come He went to John for baptism, and His brief, eventful ministry, which should end in the cross, began. This is the reading of events which introduces consistency and purpose into the life of Jesus, and it is this we mean to follow in the sketch now to be given.