Chapter 3: The Teaching of Jesus: The Will of God
I. Jesus as Rabbi
We begin at this point because we are seeking to move inward from the periphery to the centre -- that is, we begin with the attempt to understand the ethical teaching of Jesus as it appears within the framework of the thought of his contemporaries.
Whoever would characterize Jesus on the basis of his eschatological message alone would call him "prophet," the title given to the Baptist. (Mark 11 :32; Matt. 11 :9) Actually Jesus himself is several times called prophet, even though his followers, who believed him to be the Messiah, considered that too limited a title for him. (Mark 8 :28; Matt. 21 :11, 46; Luke 7 :16, 39; 13 :33; 24 :19; Cf. Matt, 12 :39) But besides "prophet" another designation of Jesus appears in the gospels: he is addressed as "rabbi." (Mark 9:5; 10:51; 11:21; 14 :45 )
This title, which in the Greek gospels is usually rendered by the ordinary Greek form of address (Lord, Sir), marks Jesus as belonging to the class of scribes. And that implies, if it is to be taken seriously, that Jesus, being a scribe, had received the necessary scriba1 training and had passed the requisite scribal tests. Although we are uncertain how strictly the course of study which is known from the rabbinic literature was regulated at the time of Jesus, and although we probably should assume that it was less defined than a century later, yet we must not ignore Jesus’ title of Rabbi. He was called, so to speak, "Professor," "learned Doctor," and that surprises us, since we have from his eschatological message gained the impression of him as a prophet. Is it perhaps true that this prophet came forth from the ranks of the scribes ? That the preaching of the Baptist first uprooted him from the circle of the devotees of the Law, that then he became the prophet who spoke with authority and not as the scribes ? Of all that we know nothing.
But if the gospel record is worthy of credence, it is at least clear that Jesus actually lived as a Jewish rabbi. As such he takes his place as a teacher in the synagogue. As such he gathers around him a circle of pupils. As such he disputes over questions of the Law with pupils and opponents or with people seeking knowledge who turn to him as the celebrated rabbi. He disputes along the same lines as Jewish rabbis, uses the same methods of argument, the same turns of speech; like them he coins proverbs and teaches in parables. Jesus’ teaching shows in content also a close relationship with that of the rabbis. The question, "Which is the chief commandment?" (Mark 12 :28-34) was often discussed by them, and was even answered in the same way -- love to God and one’s neighbor. Sayings like these come down to us from the rabbis:
"Have you ever seen an animal or a bird ply a trade ? And yet they are fed without anxiety. And they are created to serve me; but I was created to serve my Creator. Therefore I ought to be able to feed myself without anxiety." (Cf. Matt. 6:-6)
"Do not worry over tomorrow’s cares, for you do not know what the day will bring. Perhaps you will not be alive tomorrow, and then you would have tortured yourself over matters which no longer concern you. There is enough trouble for each hour." (Cf. Matt. 6:34)
"A man is measured by the measure with which he measures." (Cf. Matt. 7:2)
"If he knocks, it will be opened for him." (Cf. Matt. 7: 7)
"If the bird is not caught without the will of heaven, how much less we." (Cf. Matt. 10:29)
"A man does not hurt his finger unless it was willed in heaven." ( Cf. Matt. 10 :30)
"Be not like servants who serve their master because of the need of wages. Be rather like servants who serve their master without need of wages." (Cf. Luke 17: 7 -- 10)
"He who is richer in learning than in good actions, to what should he be compared? To a tree whose branches are many but whose roots are few. If a wind comes, it uproots it and fells it. But that man whose actions are greater than his learning, to what should he be compared? To a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are many. If all the winds in the world storm against it, yet they cannot move it from its place." (Cf. Matt. 7:24-27)
"A man who does good deeds and who learns much of the Law, to whom is he like ? To a man who builds a foundation of stone, and above it mud brick. Then when much water beats upon it, yet it does not wash it from its place.
"And a man who does no good deeds and who learns the Law, to whom is he like? To a man who builds first with mud bricks and then sets stone upon them. If even a little water comes, it carries them away." (Cf. Matt. 7:24-27)
"Take a man who loses a Sel’a or some other coin in his house. He lights many lamps and candles, till he finds it. Judge now from small to great. If a man lights many lamps for the sake of those things which preserve only the life of an hour in this world, do you not need to seek earnestly for the word of the Law which preserves life both in this world and in the world to come?" (Cf. Luke 15 :8, 9)
This list could be easily continued; and indeed such examples must be kept in mind in order to understand how Jesus taught as a Jewish rabbi.
As it is important that he is addressed as Rabbi, so also it is significant that his adherents (not the twelve only) are called pupils (disciples). That too is a technical term, and designates the pupils of a rabbi, not the members of a religious fellowship. In the Christian community this title as the designation of Christians was soon replaced by others (brothers, saints). Paul no longer called the Christians disciples, since he could no longer conceive of Jesus as a rabbi. Only under the influence of the gospels was the term "pupil" used for a while in the later literature, crystallizing the ecclesiastical use of "disciple," restricting it to the twelve, as is usual today.
It may be, as was said above, that at the time of Jesus the practices of the scribal profession were less fixed than two generations later, and it may also be true that Jesus was less bound by forms than other rabbis. One may at this point note that among his adherents were women, who are elsewhere never included among the followers of a rabbi. His intercourse with sinners, prostitutes, and publicans, which is surely historical, is also alien to the practices of a rabbi. If the tradition in this respect is reliable, he showed especial affection for children, a trait which does not correspond to the typical figure of a rabbi. All this makes the picture of his ministry more complex, one might say richer; but because of the fragmentary nature of the sources we can no longer see the whole clearly. However we cannot doubt that the characteristics of a rabbi appeared plainly in Jesus’ ministry and way of teaching, unless the tradition has radically distorted the picture.
2. The Authority of Scripture
Jesus agreed always with the scribes of his time in accepting without question the authority of the (Old Testament) Law. When he was asked by the rich man, "What must I do to inherit eternal life ?" he answered, "You know the commandments," and he repeated from the well-known Old Testament decalogue, "Do not kill, nor commit adultery, nor steal, nor accuse falsely, nor covet; honor your father and your mother." (Mark 10:17-19) To the man who asked him about the chief commandment, he cited two passages of the Old Testament Law (Deut. 6:4, 5, Lev. 19:18): "The first is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is God alone. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself." ( Mark 12 :28-31) When he was asked about divorce, he again appealed to two passages of the Law (Gen. 1 :27 and 2 :24): "Man and woman He created them; therefore a man will leave father and mother, and the two become one flesh." (Mark10:6-8) Similarly in other cases. (Cf. Mark 2 :25-26; 12 :26; Matt. 9 :13; 12:7)
Certainly there is no guarantee that all the sayings in the gospels in which Jesus cites words of Scripture were really spoken by him; many were surely put into his mouth by the church, in order to justify its own position. But the very attitude of the church is significant; it could not possibly have taken for granted the loyal adherence to the Law and defended it against Paul, if Jesus had combated the authority of the Law. Jesus did not attack the Law, but assumed its authority and interpreted it. That this interpretation often did violence to the original meaning of the Law, that Jesus’ own course of action on occasion was opposed to the Law, is a different matter, and is not inconsistent with his belief that he found in the Law the will of God. It was sometime after his death, when Paul and other Hellenistic missionaries preached to the Gentiles a gospel apart from the Law, that the attitude toward the Law was recognized as a problem in the community. Only then did they reflect upon the question of the Law’s validity. And from this time come the well-known words, which Jesus surely cannot have said: "Do not suppose that I have come to destroy the Law and the Prophets, I have not come to destroy but to fulfill. I tell you truly, until heaven and earth vanish, no letter nor point can vanish from the Law until all is fulfilled. Whoever erases one of the smallest commandments and so teaches others shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever keeps it and teaches it will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven." (Matt. 5 :17-19)
This much is evident, that the idea that Jesus had attacked the authority of the Law was wholly unknown to the Christian community. Jesus did this as little as he opposed worship in the temple. The continuance of the temple worship and the sharing in the offering of sacrifice is presupposed in the sayings of Matt. 5:23-24, and it is clear from the legend of the coin in the fish’s mouth (Matt. 17 :24-27) that the community still paid the temple tax. Also Jesus did not oppose the religious practices which were customary for pious Jews, almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. He protested only against observing them for the sake of personal vanity, and insisted that they be done silently with a sincere heart. (Matt. 6 :1-4, 5-8, 16-18) Even the saying, "Can the wedding guests fast when the bridegroom is still with them?" (Mark 2:19) involves no fundamental rejection of fasting, but implies that in the joyful Messianic age now beginning fasting has lost its meaning. But this asserts rather than denies that for mourners fasting is natural. The similes of the new patch on the old garment and of new wine in the old wineskins (Mark 2:21-22) are susceptible of several interpretations (for example, in the joy of the Messianic age the ancient mourning customs no longer have meaning); but the original significance of the words can no longer be ascertained.
Jesus asserted the authority of the Law; his characteristic attitude to it can be found only by asking how he understood it. For the essential fact about a teacher is not his acceptance of an authoritative mass of tradition, but the way in which he interprets it. And at this point the difference between Jesus and the Jewish legalistic piety becomes clear. Both the rabbis and Jesus explained the Law; and at this point both agreement and difference are shown.
3. The Jewish Ethic of Obedience
For Jewish legalistic religion as well as for Jesus, the statement holds that not adherence to the Law but understanding of the Law is the characteristic element. For Jewish religion as for Jesus the multifarious laws of the Old Testament had in great part lost their original meaning. This is clear from the fact that the Old Testament Scripture -- laws, historical books and prophecies -- were for Judaism a unity, that the distinction between different stages of Old Testament religion and morality was not felt at all.
In the Old Testament the stages of national and cultic religion and their regulations are found confusedly mingled. The standpoint of national religion appears in the utterances in which God’s interests are identified with those of the people, when for example Israel’s war is assumed to be God’s war, Israel’s honor God’s honor, Israel’s country God’s country. It is shown also in the social laws, which were to keep the life of the people healthy and vigorous. The standpoint of cultic religion appears not only in the legislation for temple and sacrifice, but also in all the ritual regulations which burdened the life of the individual. The primitive conceptions of clean and unclean lie at the bottom of these rules; there are certain things and certain events in natural human life (like birth and death) which bring man under the influence of mysterious dæmonic forces; there are actions and situations in life which are full of these dangerous powers or are threatened by them. For all such cases complicated rules are necessary in order to avoid the dangers connected with them. Thence arise the regulations about sacrifices, cleanness and uncleanness, marriage, dead bodies, and the rest.
In later Judaism the laws of the national code had largely lost their original meaning under the pressure of the wholly changed political conditions and partly changed economic conditions. God was no longer the God of the holy land, but the Lord of the world. The regulations for cult and ritual were no longer understood in their original sense. But all the old regulations were preserved; they were sanctified by the authority of Scripture, and they were to be scrupulously observed because they were commanded by God. Obligation to obedience depended no longer upon content but upon formal authority; not what was commanded determined the will of the person acting, but the fact that such and such was commanded. This attitude could endure, because along with these national and cultic laws the Old Testament contains also an abundance of universal ethical precepts for the permanent relationships between man and man, for situations of life which remain essentially the same in all ages. Thus the verdict of the moral consciousness expressed itself in precepts such as are formulated in the decalogue, or in the preaching of the prophets with their demand for justice and righteousness, instructions of universal validity which were obeyed not only because of the formal authority but because they command a morality consistent with conscience.
It cannot be said however that the religion of later Judaism was determined by the prophetic preaching. For its peculiar characteristic is the conviction that because of the formal authority of Scripture all the commands of the Law are equally binding. Also Palestinian Judaism did not avail itself of an allegorical interpretation of the mass of incomprehensible and impracticable commands in order to find in them an intelligible moral meaning This method was used only in Hellenistic Judaism under the influence of Greek thinking, as it was later in the Christian church, when it needed to come to terms with the Old Testament laws. Rather, the commandments were kept because they were commanded. Perhaps here and there the idea entered in, that through such laws as those of circumcision and the Sabbath the chosen people was separated from the Gentiles and designated as belonging to God. But that is not the main point; the fundamental desire is to be obedient to the sacred Law, without reference to what it commands. Obedience is the essence of Jewish morality. This is well expressed in the words of a rabbi, who declines to discuss any critical question on the content of the law of purification, explaining that the content is irrelevant: "Death does not make unclean, nor water clean. But the Holy One has said, I have established a Law, have fixed a decree; you are not to transgress my decree, which is written; this is the distinguishing mark of my Law."
As an ethic of obedience the Jewish morality was not designed from the human standpoint; that is, its purpose is not the realization of an ideal of man or of humanity. It is definitely opposed to all humanistic ethics, for in it not man but only the glory of God is important. A basis for what is good and is therefore required of man cannot then be established by reference to some conception of man, by derivation from the rational ideas which are inherent in the mind of man. Hence the idea of moral personality is lacking, and there is no real doctrine of virtue, like that which developed in connection with the Greek conception of man, and which Philo was soon to make acceptable to Alexandrian Jews under the influence of Greek philosophy. The true Jew does not know the concept "virtue" at all, and has no word for it. Hence the notion of an ideal of human society, which is to be realized through human activity, is wanting; there can be no analogy here to the Greek idea of the State. Obviously there can be no so-called value-ethic here either, where nothing has value in itself. Only obedience gives an action its significance.
Since this obedience is obedience to a purely formal authority, in the late Jewish ethic there appears the commingling of moral and ritual laws, and the overemphasis on ritual and ceremonial rules, which Jesus denounces in the statement that the Pharisees strain out gnats and swallow camels. (Matt. 23 :24) This is also the reason for the preponderance of prohibitions (there are 365 as compared with 278 positive commands), and for the infinitely detailed requirements, for the lack of broad moral principles, and for the total ignoring of important aspects of life. The ideal religious Jew is accordingly the man who studies the Law of the Lord day and night, who knows how to find, through ingenious interpretations of the Law, the necessary rules of conduct for each situation of life and every relationship. Just because conduct is not determined by unified intelligible basic principles, but is regulated by the formal authority of the Law, the task of the scribe is to "make a fence around the Torah," that is, by endless acute deductions from Scripture to find rules for cases not foreseen in the Law, which nevertheless confront men in their present life.
It is indeed true that a way out of this multiplicity and diversity was striven for; the scribes at the time of Jesus discussed the question of the central requirement of the Law, and they sought to classify, to combine, or to set up certain moral principles as fundamentally important. "Love your neighbor as yourself" one rabbi cited as the quintessence of the Law. Another, "What you do not wish done to you, do to no one else." A third, "It is all one, whether a man does much or little, if only he turns his heart toward heaven (that is, toward God)." Simplicity and singleness of heart, that a man should completely will the good, is designated in a Jewish writing (the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs) as the true requirement of God. And there developed the formulation of universal ethical precepts which were valid also for the Gentiles, the "Way on earth."
Criticism of formal legalism also exists. From the rabbis a statement comes down to us similar to that which according to Christian tradition Jesus uttered, "The Sabbath is given to you, not you to the Sabbath." (Cf. Mark 2 :27) Among the rabbis too the principle is accepted that one may break the Sabbath in order to save a life. But when we read with what casuistic rules the practical following of this principle is burdened, we see that the fundamental idea of the Jewish ethic, blind obedience, still dominates. The will of God is the formal authority of Scripture; ethic is therefore not distinguishable from law.
Along with this view, belief in the meritoriousness of conduct according to the Law easily established itself. In fact the dependence on good works, the pride in good works, evidently played a fatal part in late Judaism. The religious man expects to be able to call God’s attention to his merits, he believes that he has a claim on God. This comes to expression especially in the idea that over and above performance of duty there are some acts beyond duty -- good works, such as almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. The relation to God is thus conceived as a legal contract relation; God must reward the righteous and punish the wicked. An index of this conception is the absurd dispute in which several rabbis engaged: what will become of the men whose good and bad deeds are equal ?
At the same time we should utterly misunderstand the Jewish ethic if we supposed that it was entirely dominated by thought of reward. However popular this idea may have been among the lower classes, it does not give Jewish religion its peculiar character. Rather the fundamental trait of this religion is obedience. Obedience which is not the fulfillment of a contract, but which arises from reverence before the majesty of the holy God. That the conduct of man should not proceed from selfish aspiration after benefits, but from the fear of God, "in the name of " God, is again and again emphasized as a protest against the morality motivated by desire of reward. "If you have kept the Law, count it not merit, since for that you were created," runs a rabbinical maxim. And the word of Rabbi Antigonus of Socho (of pre-Christian times) has already been cited: "Be not like servants who serve their master because of the need of wages. Be rather like servants who serve their master without need of wages."
One should not, then, designate the Jewish ethic as an ethic of works and contrast it with an ethic of intention. For since finally only one thing, obedience, is required, the Jewish ethic is throughout an ethic of motive. It is not completely so, since in Jewish thought motive has no intrinsic value, is not viewed as an attribute of man or as an inherent tendency of the human will. Obedience is not to be considered in this sense, as an attribute -- it is far more closely related to activity, thus it is not a quality of the ideal man (in which case man would again be regarded humanistically), but is actual only in the instant of action. Moreover obedience is possible only because man stands immediately under the authority of God. The motive of obedience is, then, something which a man dependent on himself, as the Greek conceived him, cannot possess, for he recognizes no authority to which there could be any question of obedience; he knows only the law of the perfecting of his own nature by his own achievement.
4. Jesus’ Insistence on Obedience
The fundamental tendency and consequences of this Jewish ethic of obedience must be kept in mind by any one who desires to understand Jesus’ preaching of the will of God and who would comprehend its agreement with Jewish religion as well as its divergence. He will then also understand its difference from the Greek ideal of man and from the modern rationalistic ethic of autonomy or the recent ethic of value, This can be put in a sentence -- the ethic of Jesus, exactly like the Jewish, is an ethic of obedience, and the single though fundamental difference is that Jesus has conceived radically the idea of obedience. But what this means must now be considered, and illustrated by the words of Jesus.
Jesus sees the conduct of man from the view-point of the obedience which man owes to God. Two parables show this plainly:
"Which of you says to his ploughman or herdsman, when he comes home from the field, Come here and sit down at the table? Does he not say instead, Get my dinner ready, put on an apron, and wait on me; afterward you can eat and drink ! He will surely not thank the servant because he did what was ordered. So you must say, when you have done all that was ordered, We are servants, we have done only our proper work." (Luke17:7-10)
"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who went out early in the morning to hire workmen for his vineyard. When he had agreed to pay them a silver piece a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
"And at the third hour he went out and saw others standing idle in the market place and said to them, Go also into the vineyard, and I will give you what is right. And they went.
"Again he went out at the sixth hour and at the ninth, and did the same. Finally he went out at the eleventh hour, and found others standing there, and said to them, Why do you stand here all day doing nothing? They said, No one has hired us. He said, You too go into the vineyard.
"In the evening the owner of the vineyard said to his overseer, Call the workmen and pay them, beginning with the latest comers. Then came those of the eleventh hour, and each received a silver piece. When the first came, they thought they would receive more; but they also each received a silver piece. Then they grumbled against the farmer and said, These last have worked only an hour, and you have paid them the same as us who have worked the whole day and borne the heat. But he answered, My friend, I do you no wrong; did you not agree to work for a silver piece ? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give these last as much as I give you. Can I not do what I want with my own money ? Are you envious because I am generous ?" (Matt. 20:1-15)
Both parables express as strongly as possible the conviction that man can have no claim on God. And to this extent Jesus is completely in agreement with those rabbis who present the fundamental ideas of the Jewish ethic. But the obligation to a purely formal authority which must be blindly obeyed receives from Jesus a transformation which goes beyond anything known to us in contemporary rabbinic criticism.
This divergence is shown in his use of Old Testament Scripture. Its authority is absolute for him as for the rabbis. And that which distinguishes him is not merely the sureness with which, in questions as to the way of life or the chief commandment, he chooses from the Law the ethical commands as alone binding; (Mark 10:19, 12:29-31 ) for even on this point Jewish teachers stand beside him. But in contrast to the scribal assumption that all passages of Scripture are equally binding and that apparent contradictions are to be reconciled, Jesus sets one passage against another. Though it is written in the Law of Moses that the husband can divorce his wife with a bill of divorcement, on the other hand it is written, "God created them man and woman; therefore a man shall leave father and mother, and the two shall be one flesh. What God has joined, man must not separate." That, and not Moses’ law of divorce, is God’s will; Moses wrote this only "because of your hard-heartedness." (Mark 10:2-9) Clearly then it is not the formal authority which is binding on men; if a man can make such distinctions in Scripture, evidently the insight to recognize what is demanded by God is attributed to him. It is also clear that the content of the command is not a matter of indifference, but it is the content itself which determines whether a word of Scripture is God’s command or not. This view, which distinguishes critically between the essential and the non-essential in Scripture, is expressed in the saying:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees! You tithe mint, anise, and cummin, and ignore the most important part of the law -- justice, mercy, and truth. These men must do and not leave out the other. You blind guides, who strain out a moth and swallow a camel!" (Matt. 23: 23, 24)
Although the form of these words is conservative (do this, and do not leave that out), yet the formal, external authority of Scripture is evidently given up. This becomes fully clear from a series of controversial sayings and scenes of conflict; these received their detailed formulation from the early church, but here the attitude of the church is the best witness for the teaching of Jesus. The practices of external cleansing are called hypocrisy, with a quotation from the prophet Isaiah: "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. They worship me in vain, with their teaching of the precepts of men." (Mark 7:6-7) The scribes have nullified the word of God; for it is commanded, "Honor your father and your mother: and whoever reviles father and mother shall be put to death." Now if any one by oath withdraws the property which he owes to his parents from secular use and declares it holy, the scribes hold this oath to be more sacred than the duty of a son. (Mark 7 :9-13)
In such polemic Jesus apparently intends to attack merely a particular scribal interpretation of the Old Testament. Actually he opposes not only a whole group of Old Testament laws, but the Old Testament itself as formal legal authority. The whole law of purification is nullified by the saying, "There is nothing which comes into a man from without which defiles him; it is what comes out of a man which defiles him." (Mark 7 : 15)
What God’s will is, is not stated by an external authority, so that the content of the command is a matter of indifference, but man is trusted and expected to see for himself what God commands. God’s requirements are intrinsically intelligible. And here the idea of obedience is first radically conceived. For so long as obedience is only subjection to an authority which man does not understand, it is no true obedience; something in man still remains outside and does not submit, is not bound by the command of God. Criticism can still arise: in itself this does not concern me, in itself these things are indifferent -- but I choose to obey. In this kind of decision a man stands outside of his action, he is not completely obedient. Radical obedience exists only when a man inwardly assents to what is required of him, when the thing commanded is seen as intrinsically God’s command; when the whole man stands behind what he does; or better, when the whole man is in what he does, when he is not doing something obediently, but is essentially obedient.
There is also one more point of difference. With the attitude that obedience is subjection to a formal authority to which the self can be subordinated without being essentially obedient, a neutral position is possible. Man is so to speak only accidentally or occasionally claimed by God, and it is possible to suppose that he might not be so claimed, that this demand of God probably sometimes ceases because it is not an essential element of the human self before God. Indeed this position is not only possible but actual, for instance when a man finds himself in a situation to which no rule in the Scripture, the formal authority, applies. Hence according to the rabbinical view, man is in the happy position of being able to do more than is expected, to do works of supererogation, that is, to do something pleasing to God where nothing in particular is commanded by God. Hence too there are situations in which it is possible for a man to do nothing -- neutral situations. And just this Jesus expressly denies. To the accusation that he was breaking the Sabbath to help a man, he answered, "Ought a man to do good or evil on the Sabbath? save a life, or kill?" The implication is that there is no third way besides doing good or doing evil; to do nothing in this case would be equivalent to doing evil. There is therefore no neutral position; obedience is radically conceived and involves man’s whole being. This means that the whole man is under the necessity of decision; there is no neutrality for him, he has to decide between the only two possibilities which there are for his life, between good and evil.
But it may be asked, is not this demand of radical obedience contradicted by the thought of reward, which Jesus uses quite simply as the basis for the requirement, as threat or promise? He promises for example a reward in heaven; (Matt. 6 :19, 20; Mark 10 :21, and elsewhere) he threatens with the fire of hell. (Matt. 10 :28; Mark 9:43-47, and elsewhere)
The thought of reward stands in a peculiarly paradoxical, perhaps contradictory, relation to the demand for obedience. But it is absolutely clear that Jesus demanded obedience without any secondary motive. The parables of the servant who had no claim to the thanks of his master and of the workmen in the vineyard (Luke 17:7-10, Matt. 20:1-15) distinctly oppose all human calculation of rewards from God, expressly deny that man can have any sort of claim before God. But Jesus is wholly certain that man does receive reward or punishment from God. And the words in which Jesus speaks of these possibilities are meant to call men’s attention to the consequences of their conduct. These consequences cannot serve as the motive in the exact sense, where the idea of obedience is completely carried through. How would the command to love, for example, be possible? For love with the secondary motive of reward, love with a backward look on one’s own achievement, would not be love. Jesus’ attitude is indeed paradoxical; he promises reward to those who are obedient without thought of reward.
But the idea of reward he holds firmly. Here too he recognizes only an Either-Or; either reward from man or reward from God, but reward awaits every right action. (Matt. 6:1-4, 5-8, 16-18) In this respect Jesus again differentiates his thought sharply from the idealistic ethic. He knows nothing of doing good for good’s sake; the idea that every good deed is its own reward is foreign to him. For with this idea the humanistic conception of man is again presupposed, the conviction of the intrinsic worth of the human. According to Jesus’ view man does not win value for himself, but if he is obedient God rewards him, gives him more than he has. This can be made clear from the fact that in the relation between man and man the actual reward for kindness shown is not the kindness itself, but the joy and gratitude which are awakened by it and enrich the giver. This reward can evidently never become the motive of the act, and nevertheless we should misunderstand and fail to appreciate what happens between man and man, if we did not see that for the kindness of man this reward is promised. So also the man who is obedient is enriched by God. At this point Jesus’ conception is opposed to a specifically ascetic attitude, that is, to the belief that self-annihilation is the behavior demanded of men by God. Self-denial and sacrifice are indeed required of man; but God is not represented as a selfish tyrant whose requirement means death for man. His demand means life; behind the demand stands the promise.
From the requirement of radical obedience Jesus gains the right to brand as incomplete and hypocritical the conventional piety, which gives itself airs and prides itself on its correctness. For where the thought of obedience is not taken completely in earnest and a man sees his obedience always as his own achievement, there the spirit of self-righteousness and pride enters in. And even if the religious man makes no claim on God, still he looks down on those who cannot show the same correctness of external obedience. So Jesus rebukes the people who give their alms in the synagogues and on the streets, who stand and pray on the street corners, who when they fast show mournful faces in order that their piety may be seen ( Matt. 6 :2, 5, 16) -- the people who exhibit themselves as good before men; God however sees the heart, and what is honored by men is an abomination before God. (Luke 16:15)
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
You clean the outside, cup and platter,
But within you are full of theft and greed.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees!
You are like whitewashed graves, which look neat
but within are full of dead bones and filth.
So you appear righteous before the people,
but within you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."
(Matt. 23:25, 27, 28)
In these words there is expressed the scorn of men who reckon their fidelity to the Law as a noteworthy achievement, who in spite of all submission to the Law are yet not inwardly obedient. The words are therefore, quite apart from the question of how far they actually apply to the character of scribal religion, an assertion of the demand for complete obedience.
And in truth just this demand for complete obedience which involves the whole man takes a heavy burden from man, however paradoxical this sounds; for he is now set free from the endless and useless task of searching for commands and prohibitions which he must know in order to act rightly; from the fear of having failed here and there because he did not know the scriptural precept or its right interpretation; from the contempt which was felt for the people who did not know the Law. As long as the Old Testament is the formal authority, and scribal explanation and exegesis must mediate its meaning for all practical situations of life, only the scribe can really be obedient, and whoever belongs to the "people who do not know the Law" is inevitably obliged to be a sinner.
From Rabbi Hillel this saying is preserved: "There is no uneducated man [that is, no one not a scribe] who fears sin. Not one of the ‘people of the land’ [that is, no one who belongs to the common people] is religious." Jesus denounces the scribes who pile heavy burdens on men, which they themselves will not raise a finger to lift. (Matt. 23 :4)
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
You close the Kingdom of Heaven to the people.
You yourselves do not enter, and you do not let in
those who wish to enter." (Matt. 23 :13)
Jesus knows that he is called to sinners as the physician to the sick. (Mark 2:I7) He clearly implies that they have a better understanding of the will of God than the impeccable. Perhaps this is the point of the saying, "I praise Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast hidden this from the wise and clever and hast revealed it to the simple. Yes, Father, so hast Thou decreed" (Matt. 11 :25, 26) His opponents reproached him with being a friend of tax collectors and sinners. (Matt. 11:19, cf. Mark 2 :16) His church received the impression of him which it expressed by putting into his mouth these words (probably originally from some wisdom book, describing the God-given Wisdom):
"Come to me, all you weary and burdened,
I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
For I am kindly and gracious,
So you will find rest for yourselves;
For my yoke is easy,
and my burden is light." (Matt. 11 :28-30)
The obedience for which Jesus asks is easy, because it frees a man from dependence on a formal authority, and therefore frees him also from the judgment of the men whose profession it is to explain this authority. Such obedience is easy, because it depends on the judgment and responsibility of the one concerned. Of course from another angle it is all the more difficult. For to the weak man it is a relief to have the judgment of good and evil and all responsibility taken away from him. And this burden is just what Jesus puts upon men; he teaches men to see themselves as called to decision -- decision between good and evil, decision for God’s will or for their own will.
The liberation which Jesus brings does not consist in teaching man to recognize the good as the law of his own human nature, in preaching autonomy in the modern sense. The good is the will of God, not the self-realization of humanity, not man’s endowment. The divergence of Jesus from Judaism is in thinking out the idea of obedience radically to the end, not in setting it aside. His ethic also is strictly opposed to every humanistic ethic and value ethic; it is an ethic of obedience. He sees the meaning of human action not in the development toward an ideal of man which is founded on the human spirit; nor in the realization of an ideal human society through human action. He has no so-called individual or social ethics; the concept of an ideal or end is foreign to him. The concepts of personality and its virtues and of humanity are also foreign to him; he sees only the individual man standing before the will of God. Conduct moreover is not significant because a value is achieved or realized through action; the action as such is obedience or disobedience; thus Jesus has no system of values.
This really means that Jesus teaches no ethics at all in the sense of an intelligible theory valid for all men concerning what should be done and left undone. Such a theory, whether it be idealistic or utilitarian, can proceed only from a well-defined view of man as a being with particular capacities and particular ends. Such a theory makes man even though it be the ideal man -- the measure of human action; and it looks upon man as essentially secure, controlling all the possibilities of action. Jesus sees man and his life very differently -- as absolutely insecure before what confronts him. A man cannot control beforehand the possibilities upon which he must act; he cannot in the moment of decision fall back upon principles, upon a general ethical theory which can relieve him of responsibility for the decision; rather, every moment of decision is essentially new. For man does not meet the crisis of decision armed with a definite standard; he stands on no firm base, but rather alone in empty space. This it is which shows the requirement of the good to be actually the demand of God -- not the demand of something divine in man, but the demand of God who is beyond man.
This view also parts company with the idea of development, according to which the moral judgment of man develops or the man himself develops and perfects himself. Here there is no relative standard, only the absolute. The decision is an absolute Either-Or; the good which is here required is not a relative good, which on a higher level of development can be replaced by something better -- it is the will of God. And man in this situation does not decide whether he will climb higher or sink lower, but whether he is righteous or a sinner. To be a sinner does not mean to stand on a relatively low level of morality, but means to be rejected of God. It is thus clear that Jesus has no such concept as "morality." The concepts "morality" and "moral development," however much meaning and justification they may have in other connections, are excluded for Jesus, because he sees man in the crisis of decision, and because for him the concepts "good" and "bad" depend upon the will of God.
Hence it is misleading to set Jesus’ moral teaching as an "ethic of intention" over against the Jewish "ethic of works." For the former phrase fits the moral teaching of Jesus as little as the latter is a correct characterization of the Jewish ethic. So far as the obedience demanded is intention, "intention" applies equally to the ethic of the rabbis and to that of Jesus. The more radical conception of obedience held by Jesus involves of course a clearer conception of this intention. Meanwhile, the significance of obedience is not that it is a habit of man’s inner life, an attribute of man which gives him as such a moral quality. With Jesus as in Judaism, obedience is bound up with the crisis of decision in which man stands; obedience is actual only in the moment of action, and if one wishes to call obedience an intention, he must at the same time hold fast the fact that this obedience presupposes the authority of God. Man can be obedient only in answer to this authority; as soon as man is considered as existing for himself alone, he cannot be obedient.
5. The Intelligibility of the Demand
What is the intrinsic significance of the demands of God ? They are not mediated to man through Scripture as a formal authority (for then they would not be intrinsically intelligible), and they are not derived from an ideal picture of man and humanity. They cannot be deduced from a universal ethical theory. Then whence do they come? They arise quite simply from the crisis of decision in which man stands before God. This answer has meaning, of course, only for him who sees man, who sees himself, forced to this necessity of decision. Its meaning is simply that this moment of decision contains all that is necessary for the decision, since in it the whole of life is at stake. The man, who enters the present moment with his past still clinging to him, is put in a critical position precisely as the man which through his past he has become; staking all, he stands before the future. It is not for him a matter of choosing this or that from the variegated bundle of future possibilities, according to the standards brought with him out of his past; these very standards are in question. The man does not in reality choose something for its own sake, but with every choice he decides and limits his own possibility.
In this crisis of decision, the continuity with the past is accordingly abrogated and the present cannot be understood from the point of view of development -- though in other connections, when man is thought of as an observer, continuity may have a valid meaning. The crisis of decision is the situation in which all observation is excluded, for which Now alone has meaning, which is absorbed wholly in the present moment. Now must man know what to do and leave undone, and no standard whatsoever from the past or from the universal is available. That is the meaning of decision.
This of course does not mean that man lacks insight into the practical possibilities of his conduct and its consequences, which is drawn from empirical precedents. Decision is not dice-throwing; its character becomes plainer the more clearly the empirical possibilities are understood. Decision means that the choice between the possibilities is not determined by the insight into them but is free and responsible. Whoever sees man in the crisis of decision and recognizes this as the essential of human existence, assumes that man knows what is now good and evil; as has already been said, he knows, not on the basis of any past experience or rational deductions, but directly from the immediate situation.
Hence there is naturally no longer reason to formulate general ideas about the highest good, about virtues and values, for every such theory originates from the spectator’s point of view. In the view of Jesus there can be no such ethic, and therefore it is fundamentally a mistake to look to him for concrete ethical requirements or for his attitude toward concrete ethical problems. He always refers the questioner back to his own judgment. It is almost superfluous to add that there are no really new ethical precepts of Jesus, that his specific sayings have numerous parallels in the Jewish tradition.
The only possible method, then, is to gain from the words of Jesus some conception of what he understood by obedience to the will of God. The demands of the Sermon on the Mount have always been regarded as particularly characteristic of the preaching of Jesus. Here we find at the beginning the new set over against the old in strong antitheses, in a peculiar interpretation of the Old Testament which evidently aims to establish its true meaning as against the scribal interpretation, thus completely destroying, as we have before observed, the formal authority of Scripture. In this connection it is of no significance that probably only three of the following six passages originally had the impressive antithetical form, while the other three were compiled after their model from other sayings of Jesus.
"You have heard that it was said to men of old, Do not kill; whoever kills shall incur judgment. But I tell you, Every one who is angry with his brother shall incur judgment." (The following is probably later elaboration: "and who says to his brother ‘fool’ shall incur heavy penalty, and who says ‘idiot’ shall incur hell fire.") ( Matt. 5 :21, 22 )
"You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. But I tell you, Every man who looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt. 6:27, 28)
"Further it was said, He who sends away his wife must give her a writ of divorce. But I tell you, He who sends away his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery." (Matt. 5 :31-32 or Luke 16 :18)
"Also you have heard that it was said to men of old, Do not swear falsely, but keep your oath to the Lord. But I tell you, do not swear at all; your word must be yes for yes, no for no; whatever goes beyond that is evil." (Matt. 5 :33, 37)
"You have heard that it was said, Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, Do not defend yourselves against injury; whoever strikes you on the right cheek, offer him the other; whoever goes to law with you about your cloak, give him your coat also; whoever forces you for a mile, go two with him." (Matt. 5:38-41 )
"You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He lets His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and lets it rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love only those who love you, what have you done? Do not the tax-collectors do that? And if you greet your brothers only, what especial thing do you do? Do not the Gentiles also do that ? You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father also is perfect." (Matt. 5 :43-48)
In all these passages the decisive requirement is the same: the good which is to be done is to be done completely. He who does it partially, with reservations, just enough to fulfill the outward regulation, has not done it at all. He who indeed refrains from murder but does not master anger has not understood that he must decide completely. He who indeed avoids adultery, but keeps lust in his heart, has not understood the prohibition of adultery, which requires of him complete purity. He who refrains simply from perjury has not seen that absolute truthfulness is demanded. He who divorces his wife has not understood that marriage requires of him a complete decision, but thinks of it as a relative action which can be annulled. He who takes revenge for injustice does not realize that by so doing he himself upholds injustice; to reject injustice completely means not to retaliate. He who is kind only to friends does not know what love means; for complete love includes love of enemies. The meaning of this statement may be thus interpreted: Jesus sets the demand of law over against the demand of God. The Old Testament commands to which Jesus opposes "But I say unto you" have for the Jews a purely formal authority, the character of law. Law claims a man so far as his conduct can be bound by formulated precepts. Beyond these it leaves free play to man’s self-will. Jesus’ belief is on the contrary that the human will has no freedom before God, but is radically claimed by Him. Under the law, the question "How well does my conduct conform to the commandment?" becomes a question of content, of the What of the action. Obedience to the law must be determinable, and therefore law must concern itself with the What of action, not the How. Hence formal obedience to the law as such is no radical obedience, though of course true obedience can exist in fulfillment of the law.
Jesus has wholly separated obedience from legalism; hence he does not set up a better law in opposition to a less good law; he opposes the view that the fulfillment of the law is the fulfilling of the will of God. For God demands the whole man, not merely specific acts from the man.
Jesus then sees the act as expressing the whole man, that is, he sees his action from the view-point of decision: Either-Or. Every half-way is an abomination. It would obviously be a complete misunderstanding to take these "But I tell you" passages as formal legal precepts of an external authority, which can be fulfilled by outward behavior. Whoever appealing to a word of Jesus refuses to dissolve an unendurable marriage, or whoever offers the other cheek to one who strikes him, because Jesus said so, would not understand Jesus. For he would have missed exactly the obedience which Jesus desires; he would imagine that he could achieve and present an act of obedience when obedience is not really present as the determining factor of his life. All these sayings are meant to make clear by extreme examples that it is not a question of satisfying an outward authority but of being completely obedient. It is also wholly impossible to regard Jesus’ teachings as universally valid ethical precepts by which a man can once for all order his life. Unless the decision which is demanded in these sayings arises out of a present situation, it is not truly the decision of obedience, but an achievement which the man accomplishes; he stands outside his action, is not wholly identified with it.
Are not the demands of Jesus, then, impossible for man as we know him ? For we cannot escape by saying, it depends only on the intention -- thus separating the intention from the deed and seeing behind the deed an ideal of conduct which perhaps will be realized sometime in the future, if only the good intention is kept alive in the man and he is more and more educated to that end. Jesus does not reckon with such a future; the future which Jesus knows is not that of man but of God, not under the control of man but predestined for man. He does not see the intention as something supra-temporal in man, so that a man’s mistake in the present can be compensated for from some later standpoint. Rather he sees the concrete man in the crisis of decision, and the decision is not relative but absolute. A man’s failure or mistake in the present has in the eyes of Jesus not the relative character of a stage of development, but the absolute character of sin; for Jesus sees man as before God.
The requirements of the Sermon on the Mount do not present an ethical idealism, but bring to light the absolute character of the demands of God. How little they may be understood in the sense of ethical idealism is clear from the fact that the command of love explains nothing concerning the content of love. What must a man do to love his neighbor or his enemy? It is said simply that he is to do it. What a man ought not to do is stated; but does not the command of love thus remain colorless and devoid of content? It is clear that an ethic which is based upon the ideal of man or humanity could present concrete requirements of how love must be practised, what one must do -- at least under particular conditions -- in order to make man or humanity happy. Jesus knows nothing of such concrete demands, and cannot know them, since he asks what is good from the standpoint not of man but of God; he can only leave the decision to the man in his concrete situation. If a man really loves, he knows already what he has to do.
This finds expression in the parable of the talents.
"For it is as if a man decided to travel, and called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to the second two, to the third one, each in proportion to his ability, and then he departed. Then the one who had received five talents put them to use and earned with them five talents more In the same way he who had been given the two gained two more. But he who had received one, went off, dug a hole, and buried his master’s talent.
"After a long time the master of those servants came and asked for their accounts. Then came he who had received the five talents and brought the other five talents and said, Master, you gave me five talents, here are five more which I have earned. His master said to him, O good and faithful servant, you were faithful in little, I will put you in charge of much; come and join in the joy of your master.
"Then came also he who had received the two talents and said, Master, you gave me two talents, here are two more which I earned. His master said to him, O good and faithful servant, you were faithful in little, I will put you in charge of much; come and join in the joy of your master.
"Then came also he who had received the one talent and said, Master, I know that you are a hard man, that you reap where you have not sown and gather where you have not scattered; and in fear I went out and hid your talent in the ground. But his master answered him, Lazy and wicked servant, did you know that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I did not scatter ? Then you should have taken my money to the bankers, and at my return I should have received my money back with interest. Therefore take the talent from him and give it to him who has ten. For to him who has shall be given, so that he has abundance; and from him who has not, even that which he has will be taken. And cast the worthless servant out into the dark; there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth."
(Matt. 25 :14-30)
The responsibility is put on man; he must answer for his own actions; they are regarded as the expression of his being, and by them he is judged. This is the meaning of the words:
"Can men gather grapes from thorns,
or figs from thistles?
Every tree is known by its fruit.
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit."
(Matt. 7 :16, 18 or Luke 6 :43, 44)
"The eye is the light of the body.
If your eye is clear,
your whole body will be in the light;
But if your eye is good for nothing,
Your whole body will be in darkness."
(Matt. 6:22, 23)
Such a man, who in contrast to those learned in the Law really understands what is demanded of him in the given situation, is depicted in the story of the good Samaritan. Luke reports it, pertinently for content if somewhat awkwardly from the point of view of style, as told by Jesus in answer to the evasive question "Who is my neighbor?"
"A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of thieves. They stripped him, wounded him, and left him lying half dead. By chance a priest came that same way, saw him, and went by. Also a Levite came to the place, saw him, and went by. But a Samaritan who came along the road found him, looked at him, and pitied him. He went to him, bound up his wounds, and poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his beast, brought him to an inn, and cared for him. The next morning he took out two coins, gave them to the inn-keeper, and said, Look after him; what more it costs you, I will pay when I come back. Which of these three was neighbor to him who fell among thieves?" (Luke 10 :30-36)
Other sayings of Jesus are intended to bring to men’s consciousness the absolute character of the divine demand, and to show that a man cannot follow the will of God together with his own interests; it is a question of Either-Or.
"As he went along the road, a man came running to him, knelt before him, and asked, Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life? But Jesus said to him, Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, do not accuse falsely, do not covet, honor father and mother. He said, All that I have done from childhood. Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said, You lack one thing; go, sell all that you have, give it to the poor, then you will have a treasure in heaven; and come and follow me. He was grieved at this and went sadly away; for he was very rich." ( Mark 10 : 17-22 )
Two things the story shows: first, that man cannot maintain the cause of God merely up to a certain point, so far as may be without disturbing himself; rather the will of God claims the man completely. Mark has emphasized this further, by adding to the story some other words of Jesus, "How hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God." The other point is this -- that Jesus makes the rich man realize that his formal goodness does not help him. Truly when a man asks after the way of life, there is nothing in particular to say to him. He is to do what is right, what every one knows. But if then a special demand confronts the man, it becomes plain whether the whole man was involved in that right conduct, whether that doing of what is right really rests on the decision for the good. Otherwise it has no worth. Expressed in Oriental fashion, it depends on where the heart is, with God or with the world.
"Do not collect for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and rust destroy them,
and where thieves break in and steal.
But gather for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where moth and rust do not destroy,
and where no thieves break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there is your heart also."
(Matt 6 :19~21 )
Perhaps it is an old Oriental proverb that Jesus or the church has appropriated and used to make clear to the hearer the Either-Or:
"No one can serve two masters.
Either he must hate one and love the other,
or he must hold to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and Mammon." (Matt. 6:24)
6. Asceticism and World Reformation
The words in which Jesus attacks wealth must not be misunderstood as meaning that he made the general demand that every one should give away his property, that he preached the ideal of poverty or demanded asceticism. The conception of an ideal which is to be realized through action is, as we have seen, foreign to Jesus. Not a state to which man can attain through his conduct is considered good, but the deed alone is good or bad. Jesus simply sees how wealth claims its possessor, makes him a slave, and robs him of the freedom to decide for God. His words indeed say plainly that whoever follows Jesus must have the strength and freedom to renounce his possessions. But it is equally plain that he does not mean to say that by voluntary poverty a man wins for himself a special quality in the sight of God; not poverty but surrender is demanded. The conduct of the early Christian community makes this quite clear; for in it poverty was by no means felt as an advantage but as real distress. Of course the wealthy members of the church gave up their property for the common good, but voluntarily as an offering, not in order to gain especial saintliness. Nowhere in early Christian preaching is the ideal of poverty taught; it was only later that such ideas gained influence on Christianity. The early Christians, following Jesus, used the childlike prayer, "Our daily bread give us today."
Jesus desires no asceticism, he requires only the strength for sacrifice. As little as he repudiates property as such does he reject marriage or demand sexual asceticism. The ideal of virginity indeed entered Christianity early; we find it already in the churches of Paul. But it is entirely foreign to Jesus; he required only purity and the sanctity of marriage. Of course he required renunciation of marriage also as a sacrifice under certain circumstances. (Matt. 19 :12) But there is no word from him which declares the sexual life, the physical as such, to be evil, or which ascribes to the state of virginity an especial sanctity. Here too the conduct of his church is clear proof; many of his disciples, Peter included, were married, and no one thought of demanding renunciation of marriage.
Moreover fasting as an ascetic exercise was not required by Jesus. He recognized it as an allowable religious practice if it comes from the heart. (Matt. 6 :16-18) But fasting as an act pleasing to God, through which a man attains to an especially holy state, he did not know. He was reproached as a glutton and drinker, in contrast to John the Baptist, who was an ascetic. (Matt. 11 :19) In the church the custom of regular fasts on two week days was soon adopted in imitation of the Jewish custom; but even in the church the custom was not a sign of asceticism, not a means to holiness.
Jesus, then, in no sense desires asceticism, and this is highly characteristic of his whole attitude and shows how he regards the position of man before God. The demand for asceticism really rests on the assumption that man through his behavior can attain a certain ideal or saintly quality which remains with him as a possession. The emphasis shifts accordingly from the behavior, the action, to that which is achieved thereby. Action loses its absolute character as the moment of decision, when subordinated to the view-point of the end, the ideal. This ideal may be the Greek ideal of the harmonious, independent man, complete in himself like a work of art; then asceticism becomes a technique of spiritual discipline, of character development, somewhat as in the Stoic philosophy. This may be called the asceticism of self-improvement. Or the ideal may be determined by the assumptions of religious dualism, that the material world, the body, the senses, are evil, and that man must raise himself out of this lower nature to the divine nature. Since Deity neither eats nor drinks, neither sleep nor begets, man must as far as possible renounce all these things in order to attain divine holiness. In a heightened emotional. life, in visions and ecstasies, as they are induced or furthered by such abstinence, the ascetic believes he already finds traces of this divine nature in himself. This kind of asceticism may be called the asceticism of sanctification.
Jesus is far removed from both kinds of asceticism. They have in common the goal of the abundant life for men. But this is not for Jesus the essential meaning of human life; for him its meaning is that man stands under the necessity of decision before God, is confronted by the demand of the will of God, which must be comprehended in each concrete moment and obeyed. Man does not have to achieve for himself particular qualities, either an especial virtue or an especial saintliness; he must simply be obedient, and for that he needs no special qualities. God is not far from him, so that a technique is necessary to approach Him; on the contrary, God speaks to him in every concrete situation, for every concrete situation is a crisis of decision. Man has, so to speak, no time for any preoccupation with asceticism.
In the concrete situation, that is, in this world, in this nature, man stands before God; there is no need of escaping beyond the present or outside of nature. Nowhere does Jesus say that nature is evil, that therefore one ought not to have this or ought not to do that. The will of the man who is disobedient is evil; it is for him to surrender, not to deny nature. Jesus, as we have already seen, does not have the concept "nature" at all. Since he sees the life of man as determined by God, besides God no other powers exist with which man must deal in order to reach God. Rather, that which we call nature comes into consideration only so far as it characterizes that present condition of men which is determined by the necessity of decision. That is, nature as "objective," which can be observed separately from the action of men, does not come in question, except as it presents the manifold possibilities for human conduct.
Hence not even God Himself can be considered under the category of nature. And all asceticism of sanctification, which aims to attain for itself the divine nature, must be wholly foreign to Jesus. For him there is no such thing as a divine nature; that is a specifically Greek idea. God is for Jesus the Power who constrains man to decision, who confronts him in the demand for good, who determines his future. God therefore cannot be regarded "objectively" as a nature complete in itself, but only in the actual comprehension of his own existence can man find God. If he does not find Him here, he will not find Him as a "nature."
The consequences of this idea of God can be carried still further. Here it is important first to recognize that for Jesus the will of God in no sense means the demand for asceticism, that his attitude toward wealth as toward all "natural" gifts is determined by the idea of surrender. Therefore Jesus’ attitude toward property cannot be explained from social ideals or from any socialistic and proletarian instincts and motives. It is true that the poor and hungry are blessed, because the Kingdom of God will end their need (Luke 6:20, 21), but the Kingdom is no ideal social order. Subversive ideas and revolutionary utterances are lacking in Jesus’ preaching. There were splendid buildings erected under Herod and his successors in Jerusalem and other Jewish cities -- palaces, theatres, hippodromes -- but no mention of them occurs in the gospel record; from the gospels we learn nothing at all about the economic situation in Palestine, except that there were peasants and fishermen, hand workers and merchants, rich and poor -- and all this only incidentally, mostly from the parables. Then we see clearly that all these things played no role in the thought of Jesus and his community, that they did not look with envious and longing eyes toward worldly splendor. Jesus’ imagination did not concern itself with pictures of the overthrow of wealth or with hopes of achieving still greater splendors.
There is only one passage in the gospel record in which a rich man is declared deserving of hell-fire simply because he is rich, and a poor man simply because he is poor is found worthy to be carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom -- the story of the rich man and Lazarus. (Luke 16:19-26) This is unique, and is probably not a genuine part of the preaching of Jesus.
Jesus does not ascethically renounce this world and its institutions, nor measure it critically by the standard of a social ideal, neither does he give positive worth to the duties which grow out of life in this world. No program for world-reformation is derived from the will of God. He does not speak of the value of marriage and the family for personality and for society. He speaks indeed of the holiness and indissolubility of marriage for him who has contracted it. (Matt. 5 :31, 32; Luke 16: 18) But he demands also the dissolving of all family relationships and the renouncing of marriage as a sacrifice which may be required as an act of decision (Matt. 8:22, 19:12; Luke 14:26) -- as he himself sends away his relatives and calls those who do the will of God his brothers and sisters. (Mark 3 :31-35) His attitude is therefore characteristically two-sided and will be misunderstood by any one who has not grasped the idea of decision. Neither marriage nor celibacy is in itself good; either can be demanded of a man. How each individual must decide, he will know, if he seeks not his own interests but the will of God.
Jesus speaks of property only as he does of wealth, that it becomes a fetter to man; that property can be used otherwise than for one’s own enjoyment, that is, for service to the common good, as when it serves as a means of production -- this idea is completely outside the thought of Jesus, and can well remain so. For every one has to decide for himself whether his own property is of this character; and no economic theory about the productive value of property relieves him from the responsibility of his own decision.
Of the value of work Jesus does not speak. Here it is again made plain that he is not interested in character building, personality values, and the like. Just as little does Jesus think of the value of work for society and civilization. Just as we cannot deduce that for man as Jesus sees him, before God, work can never be a duty (for this is left to the decision of the individual), so also it is clear that in the view of Jesus there can be no thought of the universal value of work. It is an alternative for which decision may be required, but not a demand valid for all.
Jesus, unlike the Old Testament prophets, does not speak of the state and civil rights. The polemic of the prophets against worship of false gods in Israel was combined with the struggle against political and social wrongs. Their preaching demanded justice and righteousness for the common people, and their demand was asserted by them as a command of God. The words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount show that Jesus sets the requirement of law and justice over against the command of God.
Nevertheless there is a fundamental likeness between the prophetic conception of the will of God and that of Jesus. The prophets were combating a type of religion which assumed that men could satisfy the will of God through careful observance of the cult and ceremonial cleanliness, and could in other matters follow their own will. In opposition to such a view and to the levity, cruelty, and social injustice which grew out of it, the prophets proclaimed justice and right as the demand of God. The significance of law and justice to them was that it set bounds to man’s self-will and controlled the community life by its requirements. But history showed -- here as elsewhere that man understands how to bend the law which he should serve to his own service. He understands how to combine obedience to the letter of the law with the attainment of his own desires; he knows how to stand on his own rights precisely in relation to the neighbor to whose service the law should compel him.
Because he realized this corruption of man, Jesus did not endeavor (as we have already seen) to create a better law, but he showed that the will of God, which can manifest itself in the law, claims man beyond the requirement of the law. This naturally does not mean that Jesus wished to abrogate law for human society, that he as Tolstoi misunderstood him -- advocated anarchy. It means simply that Jesus saw his task not as the founding of an ideal human society, but as the proclaiming of the will of God. Undoubtedly his expectation of the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God excluded the question of practical regulations for nation and state from the centre of his thought. This explanation however does not suffice, because if Jesus had taken any interest at all in the construction of a social order, his predictions of the Kingdom would have shown traces of this interest, as the Jewish Messianic hope did. A Jewish Messianic psalm, for example, runs thus:
"He will gather a holy people and rule them in
He will give justice to the tribes of the nation sanctified
by the Lord their God,
And He will let injustice endure no more in the midst
And no one may dwell with them who has dealing with
And He will distribute them by their tribes over the
And no foreigner or stranger can live with them any
He will speak justice to nations and tribes in the
wisdom of His righteousness." (Ps. Sol. 17:28-31)
The hope of Jesus never includes these elements, and from this it must be fully understood that his only purpose is to make known the position of man before God. What possibilities of political action may arise for the individual from this position, what in the concrete case his concrete duty is, he must himself decide. Although there is one saying attributed to Jesus which promises the position of authority in the Kingdom to the "twelve" (Matt. 19:28 or Luke 22:29), on the whole even in the early Christian community political desires and fancies have seldom found a place in connection with the hope for the Kingdom of God.
The will of God is then for Jesus as little a social or political program as it is either an ethical system which proceeds from an ideal of man and humanity or an ethic of value. He knows neither the conception of personality nor that of virtue; the latter word he does not even use, it is found first in Hellenistic Christianity. As he has no doctrine of virtue, so also he has none of duty or of the good. It is sufficient for a man to know that God has placed him under the necessity of decision in every concrete situation in life, in the here and now. And this means that he himself must know what is required of him, and no authority and no theory can take from him this responsibility.
If a man is really capable of meeting this responsibility, he is like the good tree which bears good fruit; then his "heart" is good; and "the good man brings good out of the good treasure of his heart, and the evil man out of the evil brings evil." (Luke 6 :45 ) Whoever sees a wounded man lying on the road knows without further command that it is right to help him. Whoever encounters the sick and oppressed knows that no Sabbath ordinance can hinder the duty to help. In all good conduct it is revealed whether the man desires to do God’s will, that is, whether he wills to be completely obedient, entirely renounce his own claims, surrender his natural will with its demands. This in itself implies the requirement of truth and purity, and the casting aside of all hypocrisy, vanity, greed, and impurity. Such a man needs no particular rules for his conduct toward other men; his conduct is determined by renunciation of his own claim.
"You know that the princes of the nations
are those who lord it over them,
and their great men rule them by force;
but it is not to be so among you;
rather he who will be great among you,
let him be your servant,
and he who will be the first among you,
let him be the servant of all." (Mark 10:42-44)
"You are not to let yourself be called Rabbi,
for one is your teacher, that is, God; but you are all
And do not call anyone father on earth,
for one is your Father, who is in heaven.
The greatest among you shall be your servant.
He who exalts himself shall be humbled,
and he who humbles himself shall be exalted."
(Matt. 23:8-9, 11,12)
7. The Commandment of Love
The requirement for conduct toward others may then be epitomized in the commandment of love. This commandment is generally accepted as the essentially Christian requirement, as the new ethic which Jesus taught. But if Jesus’ requirement of love is to be correctly understood, two points must first be considered. First, that the word "love" and the command to love appear relatively seldom in the words of Jesus; indeed only in the Sermon on the Mount as the requirement of love for enemies (Matt. 5 :43-48) and in the answer to the question about the chief commandment as the requirement of love of neighbor which stands next to the love of God. These are emphatic passages, but they are so few that it is plainly to be seen that neither Jesus nor his church thought of establishing by this demand for love a particular program of ethics. Rather the demand for love is included under the general requirement of doing the will of God; or better expressed, the will of God, in so far as it determines conduct toward other men, may be designated as the commandment of love.
This definition brings us to the second point, that neither Jesus nor his church thought that the command to love was a new requirement which had been hitherto unknown. In fact not only does "Love your neighbor as yourself" serve in Jewish literature as a summary of the Law (Paul too says in Rom. 13:8-10 that love means the fulfillment of the Law), but also in pagan literature love -- love of man and even love of enemies -- is regarded as one of the highest virtues. It appears for example in the writings of the Stoic philosopher Seneca: "Let us not grow weary of laboring for the general welfare, of helping individuals, of giving aid even to enemies." In another passage he protests against the objection of natural feeling: "But anger is refreshing -- it is a satisfaction to requite injury!" He answers: "No! It is indeed worthy of honor to requite good with good; but not injustice with injustice. In the former it is ignominious to be conquered; here it is ignominious to conquer."
But it is evident that here the requirement of love is based upon the idea of humanity. It belongs to the ideal of man that he should not let himself be moved out of his repose, out of the harmony of his spiritual equilibrium, by any injury which overtakes him. That would be ignominious. He must have such control over himself, be possessed of such moral energy, that he is elevated above anger and the desire of revenge. If some one strikes him, that disturbs him no more than if an ass had kicked him; if he is spit upon, it affects him no more than if the sea had sprinkled him with its foam. Who would get excited over that? The basis of Jesus’ demand for love is entirely different -- not the conception of strength of character and personal worth, but the concept of obedience, of renunciation of one’s own claim.
One more difference must be noted. In the classical literature the requirement of love is based on still another idea, which Seneca clearly expresses in the brief words: "Man is for man something holy." This motivation too is derived from man; the intrinsic value of man is assumed as something certain, objective. Because man is valuable, worthful, holy, the demand for love of man, philanthropy, is valid; and its highest consummation is love for enemies. Jesus does not support his demand for love by referring to the value of other men as human beings, and love of enemies is not the high point of universal love of humanity, but the high point of overcoming of self, the surrender of one’s own claim.
Jesus thought of love neither as a virtue which belongs to the perfection of man, nor as an aid to the well-being of society, but as an overcoming of self-will in the concrete situation of life in which a man encounters other men. Hence Jesus’ requirement of love cannot be more nearly defined in content, or be regarded as an ethical principle from which particular concrete requirements can be derived, as would be possible with the humanistic command of love, which depends on a well-defined ideal of humanity. What a man must do in order to love his neighbor or his enemy is not stated. It is assumed that every one can know that, and therefore Jesus’ demand for love is no revelation of a new principle of ethics nor of a new conception of the dignity of man. In love man does not gain infinite spiritual value and thereby obtain a share in the divine essence; love is simply the requirement of obedience and shows how this obedience can and ought to be practised in the concrete situation in which man is bound to man.
This follows from the conjunction of the command of love for neighbor with the command of love for God. This connection is not in itself a new idea which Judaism had never before known. This can be seen from the narrative in which the question of the chief commandment occurs.
"A scribe came, who had heard them [Jesus and the Sadducees] arguing, and noticed that Jesus had answered them well. He asked him, What command is the first of all ?
"Jesus answered, The first is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.
"Then the scribe said to him, Master, you have spoken truly; there is One, and none beside Him. And to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is worth more than all burnt-offerings and other sacrifices.
"And Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, and said to him, You are not far from the Kingdom of God." (Mark 12 :28-34)
It can and must be said that this double command wins its full significance only when it appears in connection with the preaching of Jesus. Its meaning then is this: the two commands, to love God and to love one’s neighbor are not identical, so that love of neighbor would be without anything further love for God. This misunderstanding can arise only when neighbor-love is taken in the philanthropic sense, when an intrinsic worth, something divine, is ascribed to man. Then truly the relation to God has been lost and for it a relation to men has been substituted. You cannot love God; very well, then, love men, for in them you love God. No; on the contrary the chief command is this: love God, bow your own will in obedience to God’s. And this first command defines the meaning of the second -- the attitude which I take toward my neighbor is determined by the attitude which I take before God; as obedient to God, setting aside my selfish will, renouncing my own claims, I stand before my neighbor, prepared for sacrifice for my neighbor as for God.
And conversely the second command determines the meaning of the first: in loving my neighbor I prove my obedience to God. There is no obedience to God in a vacuum so to speak, no obedience separate from the concrete situation in which I stand as a man among men, no obedience which is directed immediately toward God. Whatever of kindness, pity, mercy, I show my neighbor is not something which I do for God, but something which I really do for my neighbor; the neighbor is not a sort of tool by means of which I practise the love of God, and love of neighbor cannot be practised with a look aside toward God. Rather, as I can love my neighbor only when I surrender my will completely to God’s will, so I can love God only while I will what He wills, while I really love my neighbor.
This love, although not a principle from which concrete requirements can be derived, is by no means so without content that I must ask, What am I then to do, in order to love? Whoever so asks has plainly not understood the words "Love your neighbor as yourself." For what it means to love himself, he knows very well, and without any theory or system about the self. For self-love is not a principle of morality, but the attitude of the natural man. If a man then is to love his neighbor as himself, he knows very well how to direct his conduct in the concrete situation. Kierkegaard was right when he said, "If a man is to love his neighbor as himself, the command turns the lock of the stronghold of self-love as with a master key and casts self-love out. Were the command of neighbor-love expressed otherwise than by the little phrase ‘as yourself,’ which is so easy to grasp and yet has the reach of eternity, the command could not so master self-love. This ‘as yourself’ cannot be twisted nor subtly rationalized. With the penetrating keenness of the eternal it presses into the farthest corner in which a man loves himself; it leaves self-love not the slightest excuse, nor the smallest loophole. How wonderful! One could give long and ingenious discourses on how a man should love his neighbor, and self-love would still always know how to bring forward excuses and evasions, because the subject is not covered, one case would be overlooked, one point would be not exactly or strictly enough expressed and described. But this ‘as yourself’ -- no wrestler can grip his opponent so closely, with a hold so inescapable, as this command grips self-love."
It is therefore stupid to say -- and this again is possible only in association with the humanistic ideal of man -- that a justifiable self-love, a necessary standard of self-respect, must precede love of neighbor, since the command runs "love your neighbor as yourself." Self-love is thus presupposed. Yes, it is indeed presupposed, but not as something which man needs to learn, which must be expressly required of him. It is the attitude of the natural man which must be overcome.
One requirement among others of this love of neighbor is the readiness to forgive one’s neighbor, and this readiness characterizes most distinctly the love which is here demanded. For if the thought of forgiveness is taken seriously, this requirement is the most difficult which natural self-love encounters. To renounce revenge, to do good to the enemy, even to pray for him -- to all this a man can force himself. But to forgive him? This is possible only if one really loves him. But how seriously the demand for forgiveness is intended, Jesus shows in his answer to the question, "How often must I forgive my brother when he sins against me ? Are seven times enough?" Jesus answers, "I tell you, not seven times but seventy times seven times." (Matt.18 :21ff.) This means that forgiveness is no limited duty, of which a man can acquit himself, but it results necessarily from the attitude which he is to take toward his neighbor, the attitude which knows no claim of his own.
Finally it is now clear that love does not mean an emotion which quickens the spiritual life and makes it sensitive, but a definite attitude of the will. Love for neighbor and enemy depends not on an emotional and sentimental feeling of pity or admiration, which finds in the most profligate individual the spark of the divine, of noble, inextinguishable humanity; rather it depends on the command of God. Love is then not an affection of peculiar strength among the feelings and affections which fill the human soul in all possible shades and varieties. If love were emotion and affection, it would be conceivable that besides love and hate there could also be a third attitude, indifference. But if love means the surrender of one’s own will for the good of the other man, in obedience to God, there exists for man only the Either-Or of love and hate. Whoever does not love, whoever is indifferent, is in bondage to his natural feelings, his natural self; he lives in hate. For to do good only to those who do good to us, to be kind only to those who are kind to us, means acting as the sinners and heathen also do, that is, it is the behavior of the natural, selfish man.
In reality the love which is based on emotions of sympathy, on affection, is self-love; for it is a love of preference, of choice, and the standard of the preference and choice is the self. Friendship and family love are expressions of the natural self; they are as such neither good nor bad; they are bad when the will of the man is bad. But to see in them the fulfillment of God’s command to love is to falsify this command and to set self-love in the place of obedient love of neighbor. For the neighbor is not this or that man with whom I feel a bond of sympathy, it is every man; yet not every man in general, but every man with whom I come in contact. The command is, you must love; the will is called to action, that is, the man is addressed, with the implication that he is placed by God under the necessity of decision and must decide through his free act. Only if love is thought of as an emotion is it meaningless to command love; the command of love shows that love is understood as an attitude of the will.
Such love is clearly neither weak nor feeble. It does not consist in sentimental emotion, nor look upon the neighbor in his actual person as something especially precious, which must be admired or cherished. It is not the fostering of the individuality of others because of one’s joy in it. For man is not seen by Jesus as "individuality" at all. He is seen as standing under the demand of God. So true love of neighbor will never indulge and weaken him, but will recognize him as also under the necessity of decision and treat him accordingly. Otherwise Jesus’ call to repentance could not be understood as an act of love.
In conclusion, there is a saying of Jesus which perhaps can show how little it is possible to seek for an ethic of Jesus in the sense of an idealistic doctrine of duties and virtues, or in the sense of an ethic of goods or values; how, on the contrary, the responsibility for all concrete moral decisions is thrust upon man, and these decisions are bound up with the one Either-Or, obedience or disobedience. It is the saying, "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. 5 :48)
The saying is of course preserved in another form, "Be merciful as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6 :36) But the first form is probably the older, and was changed by Luke to make a transition to the following section. However, in order to understand the saying we must consider -- on the assumption that it is genuine, and therefore spoken not in Greek but in Aramaic -- that it is not allowable to introduce here the Greek idea of perfection. For the Greeks, perfection is the ideal, the highest possibility of conduct, to be attained by gradual improvement; the perfect is the pinnacle of all relative values. That would not be consistent with Jesus’ view of God, according to which God does not stand in direct relation to relative values. Neither does this Greek view correspond at all to the Semitic conception of "perfect," which is an absolute conception. The latter means "sound," "whole"; applied to man, it can also mean "exact," "true." In this way must Jesus’ words be understood; they assert that the conduct of man should be whole and undivided, not this and that together; true and exact, unwavering, no running back and forth. And this requirement is based on the reference to God Himself, with whom also there is only the Either-Or, not Both-And. This saying expresses the whole emphasis of the demand of Jesus; man stands in the crisis of decision, and this decision is not something relative, a stage of his development, but the Either-Or before which God has placed him, so that the man’s decision has final character; he becomes thereby a righteous man or a sinner.
Again the question arises, is this requirement not impossible? And what if the man is a sinner?
8. The Will of God and the Coming of His Kingdom
Before we enter upon this question, there is still one thing to consider. How is the preaching of Jesus concerning the will of God related to his proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom ? Or, as it could be phrased, how are Jesus the rabbi and Jesus the prophet related? This question is not intended to apply to Jesus’ personality and the methods of his historical ministry, but to the content of his preaching. Is it conceivable that he who as eschatological prophet proclaims the coming of the Kingdom and drives out demons, at the same time as a rabbi teaches his disciples and enters into disputes about questions of the Law which were important at that time? In what sense do the message "The Kingdom of God is near" and the demand "Be perfect" form a unity? Indeed, are they a unity at all?
In more recent times this has been frequently disputed. It would be possible to say simply: The fulfilling of the will of God, obedience, is the condition for participation in the Kingdom, for entrance into it. In a certain sense this is true, yet it is not a wholly satisfactory answer. For this connection could be conceived externally; participation in the Kingdom of God might appear as the reward sought by obedience, and thus the radical character of obedience would be lost. Especially from that point of view the peculiar way in which Jesus speaks of obedience would be misunderstood. For all other possible requirements, for example the requirement of complete observance of the Law, may otherwise be thought of as the condition for entrance into the Kingdom. From a rabbi, for instance, this word is recorded: "If the Israelites should keep strictly to the Law for only two Sabbaths, they would immediately be redeemed." Jesus says nothing of this kind.
An intrinsic connection of eschatological preaching and moral demand would evidently exist only if the coming Kingdom is so conceived that it becomes clear without further explanation that there can be no other condition except the one, radical obedience. On the other hand this inner connection can exist only if in this demand for obedience nothing is involved which conflicts with the belief in the coming Kingdom, if rather the demand for obedience really coincides with the call to prepare for the future.
Since Jesus did not preach theoretical reflections, but appealed immediately to the will of the hearer, the answer to this question is not to be found directly in his words, but must be sought in the fundamental view underlying them. Indeed it seems strange at first sight that the prophet should also have been a rabbi, that interpretation of the Law and eschatologica1 preaching should belong together. Thus it is easy to understand why many scholars have ignored or changed the meaning of the eschatological preaching of the coming Kingdom. They have understood the Kingdom as an inner spiritual possession, or as the actual fellowship of those who in obedience to God’s will build by moral endeavor the Kingdom of God on earth. Both are, as we have previously shown, historical misunderstandings, and these conceptions are today almost completely abandoned.( Professor Bultmann is of course speaking for German theologians.)
There is still another way out; the explanation has been given that the eschatological preaching does not come from Jesus. He was only a teacher of the Law, who taught a new morality, a "better righteousness." The eschatological message was first put into his mouth by the church. After his death his adherents, at first despairing, united under the lasting influence of his personality, and after they had seen him in visions as risen from the dead, they expected that he would return as the Messiah, the "Son of Man," on the clouds of heaven, and would set up the Kingdom. From their glowing hope for the future the eschatological sayings originated which were attributed to Jesus.
This is possible. Yet if it were true, the meaning of the eschatological message would still be fundamentally the same, and the question would still remain whether and how this message and the preaching of the will of God were combined into a unity in the early church. Instead of the preaching of Jesus the preaching of the early church would call for explanation, and since the investigation really concerns the content, meaning, and validity for us of what is taught in the gospels, the question of how much the historical Jesus and how much other people have contributed to that content is of secondary importance.
This is possible. But it is historically extremely improbable. For the certainty with which the Christian community puts the eschatological preaching into the mouth of Jesus is hard to understand if he did not really preach it. Further, the critical analysis of the text shows that later sayings have often been added to an older eschatological stratum, and these later editions exhibit characteristic interests of the church, for example the interest in the dignity of their leaders and the rewarding of the faithful (Matt. 19:27, 28, or Luke 22:28, 29; Mark 10:28-30), or the anxiety over the delayed coming of the "Son of Man" (Luke 12 :35-38, 47-48; Mark 13 :31, 33-37), or threats of punishment against the unbelieving Jews. (Cf. Matt. 11:21-24, Luke 19:39-44, 23:28-31) It is probable that such sayings as betray no church interests at all really go back to Jesus. Finally, the movement which Jesus started, his entry into Jerusalem, and his death on the cross, are historically comprehensible only if he really spoke as a Messianic prophet. Indeed he was probably far more an eschatological prophet than is apparent from the tradition.
It is then natural that other scholars have thought just the opposite, that he was only an eschatological prophet, and either that his preaching of the will of God is to be understood only in the light of the eschatology, or that it does not come from him at all but was ascribed to him by the church. When after his death the first turbulent movement subsided and his adherents united to form a community, they came more and more into conflict with orthodox Judaism, from which they had separated. From this time come the disputes over interpretation of the Law, in which they appealed to the authority of Jesus and represented him as the rabbi which he had never been.
This too is extremely improbable. In one point only is it correct, that in fact the community separated more and more from orthodox Judaism, that the disputes between Jesus and his opponents were now recounted and written down as models, and were naturally told in such a way as to correspond to the interests of the church. Doubtless, then, without critical scrutiny some words were attributed to Jesus which had originated in the community, in controversy with opponents or in the interests of closer organization of the church. Probably most of the sayings where proof texts are used in argument took shape first in the community (cf. Matt. 9:I3; 12:5, 6, 7; Mark 7:6, 7; 12:26, 27); likewise certain directions for the life of the church. (Matt. 5:17-19; 18:15-17, 19, 20, etc.)
But against the supposition that all words of Jesus about the Law and the requirement of God originated in the community, there are two decisive reasons. First there is the fact that the community saw in Jesus the Messiah, and expected his coming in Messianic glory. It is incredible that they would transform into a rabbi him whom they looked upon as Messiah. For stories to be told of him as a rabbi, the picture of his actual work as a teacher of the Law must have been distinctly impressed on their memory; later it was gradually thrust into the background by the figure of the Messiah. Further we know that the primitive church held fast to the Law with great fidelity; it did not understand the double edge of certain of the sayings of Jesus about the Law, and in opposition to Paul and other Hellenistic Christian missionaries maintained firmly the ideal of legalistic perfection. It is then incredible that the words of Jesus which in their implications shatter this ideal and destroy the spirit of legalism originated in the church; they must go back to Jesus himself. Of course in many special cases we cannot be certain what comes from the community and what from Jesus. But we cannot doubt that the most important sayings, which demand radical obedience to the will of God, go back to Jesus.
There is one more expedient which has often been tried: the words of Jesus about the will of God are to be understood strictly in the light of the eschatological message. That is in a certain sense entirely correct, but here it has a special meaning which remains to be tested. The eschatological message is taken one-sidedly to mean the prediction of the dramatic events of the end of the age, the prediction of the destruction of the world. It is argued that because of this expectation of the imminent end of the world, Jesus had no interest in the different aspects of moral life, in marriage and work, in the value of property and civil order. He did not intend to give absolute rules for man’s conduct; his ethic was an "interim-ethic," that is, his commands were only practical rules for the last short span of time which remained before the end. For this brief time one must do his utmost, enlist all his energy.
Now it is certainly true that as a result of the expectation of the imminent end of this world, Jesus was not interested in many of the concrete possibilities in which man’s obedience can be proved on earth. But this does not mean that obedience is merely relative, a matter of prudent rules for attaining a share in the Kingdom, rather than radical and absolute. We need only remember that eschatological expectation in itself is not necessarily associated with the call to repentance and with the preaching of the will of God. It can be combined just as well with wishful fantasies of future glory, with economic ideals and hopes, with thoughts of revenge and pictures of hell. Jewish apocalyptic as well as the history of eschatology elsewhere offers abundant proof of this. It still needs to be explained why such ideas are not found with Jesus and why, on the contrary, with him the demand for obedience goes hand in hand with the proclaiming of the future age.
Moreover Jesus’ sayings about the will of God in detail show very clearly that they are by no means meant as interim-ethic. We need only compare with Jesus’ teaching on the will of God a prophecy of the prophet Jeremiah in order to see the difference.
"A word of Yahweh came to me:
Take no wife for yourself,
no son shall you have,
no daughters in this place,
for thus has Yahweh spoken
against the sons and daughters
who are born in this place,
and against the mothers who bore them
and against their fathers who begat them.
Through the plague shall they die,
perish by sword and by famine,
become dung on the face of the ground,
with none to mourn and none to bury them.
They belong to the birds of heaven
and to the beasts of the earth.
"So has Yahweh spoken:
Enter not into a house where they cry woe,
go not to the mourning,
put on no mourning garments,
for I have taken my blessing from this people.
No one will lament over them and tear himself,
no one let his hair be cut for their sakes,
no one break bread for a mourner
to comfort him for his dead,
nor give him to drink from the beaker of comfort,
for his father or his mother.
"Go not into a house where a banquet is held,
to sit with them at food and drink,
for so hath Yahweh spoken:
Take care, I bring to silence in this place
before your eyes, in your days,
song of joy and song of rejoicing,
song of the bride and the bridegroom."
(Jer. 16 :1-9)
Here we see plainly how the behavior of the prophet, his renunciation of marriage, of participation in the mourning for the dead and the festal joy of his people, is not based on the absolute demand for obedience but on the vision of the approaching catastrophe. It is otherwise with Jesus; for neither in the condemning of legalistic piety nor in the requirements of the Sermon on the Mount does reference to the imminent end of the world play any part whatever. Hypocrisy is rebuked without the threat of hell fire; love of enemies is demanded without the promise of heavenly joys. Altogether the will of God is complete obedience, surrender of one’s own claim. There can therefore be no question of an interim-ethic, of relative requirements by which the claim of man is merely deferred for awhile. It is true however that Jesus’ demands are in one point to be understood in the light of the eschatological message -- namely that in them "Now" appears as the decisive hour.
This leads us to see how truly the eschatological message and the preaching of the will of God are to be comprehended as a unity. It should first be noted that in the great prophets of the Old Testament and the great prophet of Iran, Zarathustra, a similar association of eschatology and moral demand is found. It can be easily understood that the prophet, in the consciousness of having freshly and clearly discerned the will of God, would look upon the unhappy earthly conditions as ripe for destruction and preach an overturning of all things by a mighty catastrophe. But if we seek so to explain the preaching of Jesus, we should have only a psychological explanation, not an insight into the inner relationship of eschatology and demand.
Rather we should say: the difficulty in gasping this connection as a unity really arises because both the eschatology and the demand are not understood in their final decisive sense. So long as we speak of an ethic of Jesus in the usual sense, we cannot understand how the teacher of a system of ethics can at the same time preach the imminent end of everything in the world. For a system of ethics presupposes the existence of the world and of the human race under the conditions of this world as they are known to us. It presents ideals, or at least ends, which are to be realized by our action, and at the same time a future which is under our control. All this is expressly denied in the eschatological message of Jesus; he knows no ends for our conduct, only God’s purpose; no human future, only God’s future. But so we have learned to understand Jesus’ preaching of the will of God. In it no ends were prescribed for man, no future placed under his control. Every ideal of personality or of society, every ethic of values and goods was repudiated. The one concern in this teaching was that man should conceive his immediate concrete situation as the decision to which he is constrained, and should decide in this moment for God and surrender his natural will. Just this is what we found to be the final significance of the eschatological message, that man now stands under the necessity of decision, that his "Now" is always for him the last hour, in which his decision against the world and for God is demanded, in which every claim of his own is to be silenced. Since, then, the message of the coming of the Kingdom and that of the will of God point men to the present moment as the final hour in the sense of the hour of decision, the two do form a unity, each is incomplete without the other.
For the Kingdom of God remains a dark and silent entity, like death, as long as it is not plain that the demand for decision has for man a clear, comprehensible meaning. Only then is the determination of the present by the future Kingdom not a denial of the present but its fulfillment; only so is the future a controlling factor in the present.
Conversely, the will of God, as calling man in the present to decision, is comprehensible only if this will gives man a future. For this decision is no choice between two possibilities which lie equally at man’s disposal; it is a true crisis, that is, the Either-Or between two possibilities, in which the "old man" leaves his position of independence and comes under the sovereignty of another. The sovereign in both cases is God, either the angry, judging God, or the gracious God. A man becomes through the decision either a sinner or righteous. The real future stands before man in decision, not the false future over which he already has control, but the future which will give him a character which he does not yet have. This is the meaning of the present instant, that it involves the necessity of decision because it leads into the future.
Then the question becomes all the more urgent: How does it stand with the sinner? Is there still a future for him? Can there be one, if he is condemned by God? Can the freedom of decision for man be repeated? Or does not the seriousness of the last hour mean that the decision is final?