Jesus' Attitude towards the Law: a Study of the Gospels.
The title of this book might suggest to some readers that the writer endeavors to inform them about attitudes of the historical Jesus towards Israel's Mosaic inheritance. Professor William Loader, head of the School of Social Inquiry at Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia, and lecturer in the Perth Theological Hall of the Uniting Church in Australia, himself cautions against such assumption with the opening sentence of his introduction: "In the present study I am concerned with Jesus' attitude towards Torah as it is presented in the gospels." His focus is on the Gospels themselves and not on retrieval of the "attitude of the historical Jesus himself." The term "Gospels" covers the canonical Gospels and a number of noncanonical documents, among them the so-called Gospel of Thomas and other sources of alleged sayings of Jesus. Included in the analysis of the four Gospels is a study of hypothetical Q and a chapter titled "Perspectives from Acts."
Mark's Gospel recognizes the importance of continuity with the Law, but discontinuity emerges when Jesus uses his authority to determine which parts are of enduring value, for his authority is rooted in the understanding that with him comes the "fulfilment of biblical hope" (p. 55). The Decalogue is a front runner but is best understood as eliciting internalized behavior. Jesus is not anti-Torah, yet not Torah observant in the usual sense. By moving outside circles which have responsibility for defining Law in society Jesus seals his own demise, but Mark makes no effort to show Jesus' death as an atoning work. Ultimately, the community of faith replaces the temple.
Q's Jesus upholds Torah in its entirety and shows him confronting Pharisaic abuse of the Law. Jesus does not play off written against oral law. His emphasis is on justice and love of God, but tithing of minor foodstuffs also finds endorsement.
Matthew clearly opts for the approach taken by Q. The God who gave the Law and the Prophets has sent the one of whom they spoke. Therefore, the authority of Jesus as Israel's divinely created Messiah and the authority of Torah cohere. The Law properly understood is the law as interpreted by Jesus and those under delegated authority. Matthew removes all of Mark's disparaging comments about the law and cult but targets Pharisaic extremism on hand washing. The dominant theological perspective is one of a God who loves and commands love. Much of Jesus' distinctive Torah interpretation therefore displays compassion for the needy, and the judgment to come will be based primarily on such works.
Also Luke opts in favor of Q's approach and shows appreciation of ritual and cultic rules. Therefore the dominant note in Luke's account of Peter's vision in Acts 10 does not resonate in Luke's Gospel. His omission of Mark 6:45-8:26 as a bloc may, on the same grounds, be considered deliberate. Yet, even while favoring legal observance, Luke can do without circumcision for Gentiles and can report dismissal of purity conformity. Jesus is not primarily an interpreter of the Law, and Luke does not envisage Christian scribes; but Jesus does emphasize proper attitudes as the way to meet legal obligation. Ultimately, salvation in Luke means God's inclusive action, especially in reaching out to the marginalized. Piety and hope dominate the pages of Luke's Gospel. Inasmuch as Jerusalem is the place of hope, it will finally be liberated upon the restoration of the kingdom to Israel.
John offers a solution closer to Mark's approach. The only abiding function of the Law is to point to Christ, and only he, as the Son, can mediate the truth from above. Cut off from the synagogue, John's community no longer acknowledges its authority, without engaging in attack on traditional Mosaic institutions of practices. With the hour of Jesus the earthly temple is replaced by Jesus himself, and identity within Israel is established by affiliation with Jesus.
The Gospel of Thomas is "rich in allusions to Jewish practices" (p. 515), yet it disparages many of them while refraining from negative critique of the scriptures or the Law as such. Whereas John shows the value of scriptures and the Law as testimony to Christ, Thomas's community and Jesus are not dependent on them.
Loader's analyses amount to mini-commentaries of the type that can be expected when original texts are not subject to critical inquiry. Many readers will therefore appreciate the argumentative flow without interruption of detailed philological notation. In contrast to the space accorded the first two Gospels, Luke and John endure relatively short shrift, with the result that problems of continuity and discontinuity, not to speak of attitudes, in these last two Gospels are obscured by overly facile treatment.
It is not to be expected that "word study" be a prime objective in a work of the kind under review, but the value of the study could have been enhanced by more attention to crucial terms. Certainly the description of Nathanael as a "true Israelite" (John 1:47) deserves further exploration through more intense probing of the word Ioudaios. Such inquiry is especially important since Loader's use of the terms "Judaism" and "Jew/Jewish" runs the hazard of injecting an anachronistic tone that jeopardizes scientific appraisal of attitudes arising out of claims of self-identification in John's communities. More precise definition is desirable, notably when dealing with John 4:22, "salvation is of the Judeans." This has to do with Judah's tribe. What self-identification is at work here? More clarity is also needed in connection with the use of the term "Gentile."
Loader's study of Luke similarly suffers from limited use of philological resources, such as grammars, lexicons, and commentaries, which deal with some of the very themes Loader explores. For example, Loader does not consider the paradox of the birth of the "son of the Highest" occasioning impurity for his mother. What is on Luke's mind here relative to Mosaic tradition? Among other items that might be mentioned, the so-called great omission of Mark 6:45-8:21 at Luke 9:18 is far more complicated than Loader suggests. As for the pronoun "their" (Luke 2:27), a reader is entitled to grammarians' contributions on the topics of concord and colloquial usage as sources for a probable solution.
In conclusion, Loader's study may well stimulate further inquiry into the personal attitudes of the historical Jesus concerning Mosaic tradition, At the same time, the amount of redaction documented by Loader suggests that the task may be even more daunting than was ever envisaged. Ironically, the Jesus of history recedes even further under the impact of multi-layered editorializing in the Gospels traditions. Yet something emerges that is beyond dispute: The Jesus of history won extraordinary allegiance as an interpreter of Mosaic tradition with concern especially for those who were marginalized by some of the keepers of Israel's vineyard.
Frederick William Danker
Christ Seminary-Seminex/Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Professor Emeritus
St. Louis, Missouri
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|Author:||Danker, Frederick William|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2003|
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