Thursday, October 06, 2011

What did Jesus know 3

For the first half of this section, see here.
... The path that this line of questioning leads us down is a difficult one and not for the faint of heart.  Almost any answer we suggest seems to require adjustments to more comfortable positions, or at least to popular assumptions.  For example, there is the question of Jesus' knowledge.  We may tend to think of Jesus as knowing everything while he was on earth because he was God.  It would be easy to get this impression especially from reading John.

But Jesus himself in Mark explicitly indicates that he was not omniscient on earth. "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (13:32).  One way to conceptualize Jesus' earthly state in our Christian thinking is by way of Paul's comment that Jesus "emptied himself" in Philippians 2:7.  While Paul was not thinking of Jesus emptying himself of omniscience here, Christians have often read the verse in reference to Jesus emptying himself of many divine powers and privileges in his incarnation.  However we take it, the gospels clearly present the earthly Jesus as more limited in knowledge than God the Father.

Presumably, Jesus learned things the way we all do as children and adults.  Would we really imagine that he had fluent conversations in Aramaic with his mother as soon as he emerged from her womb?  Or did he announce to her at his one year old birthday that he was the pre-existent, second person of the Trinity?  In the middle of his ministry, would he have automatically understood a conversation with us in English or French, languages that did not yet exist?

It is both orthodox and biblical to suppose that Jesus learned and knew things much like the rest of us, with the exception of course that he had an unhindered connection with the Holy Spirit.  Even here, we can make a good argument that, in his full participation in humanity, Jesus played it by human rules.  Does not John 14:12 say that by the Spirit's power we can do even greater things than Jesus did while on earth?  A good argument can be made theologically that, by the Spirit's power, there is nothing Jesus did while he was on earth that we cannot also do--whether it be knowledge, power, or resistance of temptation.

So there is neither anything unbiblical nor unorthodox to suggest that Jesus may not have known his full mission from the very beginning.  When did he realize he was the messiah?  When did he realize he was divine?  When did he realize he was going to die for sins?  Could he himself not initially have foreseen how long the time would be between his death and second coming?

But was he ever mistaken in his thinking?  A partial understanding is one thing, but a wrong one?  Did he ever mistakenly tell his mother he left the camel by the synagogue when he had actually left it at the gate?  Since forgetfulness of this sort is not a sin, there is nothing unorthodox or unbiblical to suggest that Jesus made mental mistakes of this sort like any of us do.  Perfect memory and moral perfection have little to do with each other.

But now we get to potentially more problematic questions.  If Jesus' understanding of the coming kingdom developed, would God have allowed any partial understandings to end up in Scripture, anything that was less than "fully cooked"? [5] It is one thing to ask if it is possible that Jesus himself did not initially realize there would be two thousand years between his departure and return.  It is another to ask whether such a partial understanding would end up in Scripture.

Interestingly, we can imagine that many Christians will find it more difficult to imagine that a partial understanding would end up in Scripture than to imagine that Jesus himself might have had a partial understanding at some point. Is it possible that Matthew and Mark did not see that there would be a gap between the tribulations of the destruction of Jerusalem and the final return of Christ?  Is it even possible that they presented Jesus' words in a way that sounds like there would be less of a gap than Jesus himself presented the coming of the kingdom?

To a large extent, many of these questions are unanswerable.  We are plodding through them to get a sense of exactly what we are dealing with here, what the possibilities are and which are more or less likely.  As we continue this troublesome journey, we notice interestingly that Luke 21 has seriously toned down the immanent expectation of Mark 13...

[5] We do find some material in the Old Testament that is less than "fully cooked" on his way to full revelation.  Take for example this statement from Ecclesiastes 3:19-20: "For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again."  This part of the Old Testament has no sense of a significant afterlife.  The idea of a progress of revelation between the testaments seems inevitable.  It is more difficult for us to allow for such things in the New Testament.

1 comment:

davey said...

Thanks for this, my own thoughts run along these lines.