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Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus by Norman Perrin

Norman Perrin is the Associate Professor of New Testament at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. He is the author of The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus and has published numerous articles and book reviews. Published by Harper & Row, New York and Evanston, 1967. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Dick and Sue Kendall and Ted & Winnie Brock.

Chapter 2: The Kingdom of God


Having recognized this, the immediate question is that of determining what Jesus meant by his Kingdom of God proclamation, and this is a question to which New Testament scholarship has directed a major share of its attention in recent times. The present writer discussed it at length in his previous book (N. Perrin, Kingdom. For work on the Kingdom of God in the teaching of Jesus published since 1962 see Annotated Bibliography No. 4 Recent Work on the Kingdom of God.) and does not propose, therefore, to repeat here either the review of the discussion in general or the evidence and arguments for some of the points of detail which are to be found in that work. However, a summary of the interpretation there offered will be given and where necessary modifications will be noted and other viewpoints discussed. In particular, crucial sayings will be rediscussed in accordance with the methodology outlined in the first chapter and in the light of recent contributions to the scholarly discussion.

So far as the actual meaning of the expression translated Kingdom of God (Hebrew: malkuth shamayim and its cognates and their Aramaic equivalents) is concerned there is no doubt but that the primary and essential reference is to the sovereignty of God conceived of in the most concrete possible manner, i.e. to his activity in ruling. We can see this in the contexts in which reference is made to God as king or to the Kingdom of God in the Old Testament. So, for example, the earliest reference is in Ex. 15.11-13, where the fact that God reigns is celebrated in a recital of what he has done to deliver Israel from Egypt. Absolutely characteristic, and crucial to a grasp of the real meaning of the expression, is the way in which Ps. 145.11f. uses as parallels to ‘thy (God’s) Kingdom’ the expressions ‘thy power’ and ‘thy mighty deeds’. The Kingdom of God is the power of God expressed in deeds; it is that which God does wherein it becomes evident that he is king. It is not a place or community ruled by God; it is not even the abstract idea of reign or kingship of God. It is quite concretely the activity of God as king. The English translation of Schnackenburg’s Gottes Herrschaft und Reich expresses it very well: it . . . is characterized not by latent authority but by the exercise of power, not by an office but a function. It is not a title but a deed (R. Schnackenburg, God’s Rule and Kingdom [ET by John Murray; New York: Herder and Herder, 1963], p. 13.) It is an idea absolutely impossible to express in any word: ‘reign’ or ‘kingship’ would be too abstract and ‘theocracy’ puts the emphasis in the wrong place. Perhaps ‘rule’ or, better, the active participle ‘ruling’ would come nearest to the original, but constant reference to the ‘ruling of God’ would be both clumsy and subject to the facetiousness of reading the genitive as a genitive of object! Since any English word is wrong, we have preferred to retain the familiar ‘Kingdom’, but to capitalize it to indicate that we are using it as a proper name to designate the malkuth shamayim which Jesus proclaimed and not in its normal English sense.

The Kingdom of God is, of course, for the Jew an everlasting Kingdom: God always was, is, and always will be king, and the activity wherein he manifests himself as such is everlastingly to be experienced and expected. The two passages from the Old Testament quoted above both end on this motif; Ex. 15.18; Ps. 145.13. It is also found in apocalyptic, e.g. this verse from the Psalms of Solomon which we quote as a typical example from a time very near to that of Jesus:

Ps. Sol. 17.3. But we hope in God, our Saviour;
For the might of our God is forever with mercy,
And the Kingdom of our God is forever over the nations in judgment.

And it is common in rabbinical writings, e.g. Targum of Onkelos on Ex. 15.18 which has ‘God . . . his kingdom (malkutheh) endures for ever for the ‘God will reign for ever and ever’ of the MT. (Taken from G. Dalman, The Words of Jesus [hereinafter Words] [ET by D. M. Kay of Die Worte Jesu; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clarke, 1902], p. 96, where further rabbinical references are given.) But it also comes to be regarded as an eschatological Kingdom. It is with this development that we are particularly concerned, since Jesus certainly proclaimed the eschatological Kingdom of God. To summarize what we have argued in more detail elsewhere, (N. Perrin, Kingdom, pp. 160-8, with heavy dependence upon Gerhard von Rad, Theologie des Alten Testaments: II Die Theologie der prophetischen Überlieferungen Israels; München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1960; ET by D. M. G. Stalker is now available as Old Testament Theology: II The Theology of Israel’s Prophetic Traditions;Edinburgh and London Oliver and Boyd, 1965.) it is in the message of the prophets that we first meet this conception, for it is in their message that we find the idea of a future act of God which will be decisive for the salvation of the people in a way in which his past acts on their behalf were not. ‘This future act of God is conceived in terms analogous to those used of his past acts, but different in that it will be final and decisive, the last and completely effective act, and thus it is the eschatological act of God. So we may speak of a new or eschatological covenant (Jeremiah) or of a new or eschatological Exodus (Deutero-Isaiah), and so on. Naturally we find here references to God acting as king (Micah 2.12f.; 4.1-7; Isa. 24.21-23; 33.22; 52.7-10; Zeph. 3.14-20; Obad. 21), and it is here, therefore, that we have the beginning of the concept of the eschatological Kingdom of God: the eschatological Kingdom of God is that final and decisive act of God wherein he manifests himself as king as he visits and redeems his people. As time went on and the concept developed, all kinds of pictures and ideas were associated with it, especially in the apocalyptic literature: the transformation of the earth, the end of history, the resurrection of the dead, and many others. But none of these ideas are essential to the nature of the expectation as an eschatological expectation; what is essential to that is the idea of a last, decisive, all-transforming act of God on behalf of his people. All the particular forms in which we find this expressed are varied attempts to express the essentially inexpressible, and all the myths and symbols associated with it in the literature are simply being pressed into the service of this attempt. When we say, then, that Jesus proclaimed the eschatological Kingdom of God, we mean that he proclaimed the final and decisive activity of God in visiting and redeeming his people; no particular form of this activity is necessarily implied and no particular accompanying phenomena must necessarily be present. Indeed, in view of the extraordinary variety of forms in which this concept is expressed in ancient Judaism, and the endless variety of phenomena expected to be a feature of its manifestation, (Illustrated in N. Perrin, Kingdom, pp. 164-7.) there could be no particular form or content necessarily implied by a proclamation such as ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’; each hearer would supply his own, and would be up to the proclaimer to make clear in what terms he conceived of the eschatological activity of God as king, we shall see, is what Jesus did.

The best and most important evidence for the currency of the eschatological Kingdom of God expectation at the time of Jesus and its lack of definite form is the Kaddish prayer of the ancient synagogue. This prayer is in Aramaic and certainly was in use at the time of Jesus, forming then, as now, an integral part of the regular synagogue worship. Indeed, it may very well have been known to Jesus, since the first two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer appear to be a significantly modified version of it. In a translation by the present writer of the oldest text as reconstructed by G. Dalman, it runs: ‘Magnified and sanctified be his great name in the world which he has created according to his will. May he establish his kingdom in your lifetime and in your days and in the lifetime of all the house of Israel even speedily and at a near time.’ (Originally given in N. Perrin, Kingdom, p. 19. This version is not, in fact, significantly different from that used regularly today in Jewish worship, which illustrates the conservative tendency of liturgical texts.) The parallel between this and the ‘Hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come’ of the Lord’s Prayer is so marked that it is difficult to conceive of it as accidental. Moreover, the changes from wordiness to brevity, and from the impersonal third person to the personal second, are absolutely in accord with the differences between the Lord’s Prayer and other first-century Jewish prayers noticeable throughout the former. It is entirely reasonable to suppose that ‘May he establish his kingdom’ and ‘Thy kingdom come’ represent essentially the same hope, the one characteristic of first-century Judaism in general and the other of Jesus in particular. But if this is the case, then a difference becomes immediately apparent: the one speaks of the kingdom being ‘established’, the other of its ‘coming’. Is this difference significant?

Liturgical prayers are usually very carefully composed and it would be strange if this were not the case here. Further, the difference as characteristic in that ancient Jewish texts normally use a verb such as ‘to establish’ in connection with the kingdom, very rarely ‘to come’. ( G. Dalman, Words, p. 107, gives only one example and that from a Targum on Micah 4.8, which is late and where the presence of the verb is certainly due to the Hebrew original. We have not found another example ourselves.) What ‘comes’ in the ancient Jewish texts is not the Kingdom but the New Age. (E.g. Apoc. Bar. 44.12; G. Dalman, Words, p. 107.) The opposite is the case in the teaching of Jesus where the Kingdom is regularly spoken of as ‘coming’, e.g. Matt. 12.28 par.; Luke 17.20f., but never as being ‘established’ or ‘manifest’.

This point is so important that we must make it in some detail. The immediate background to Jesus’ use of Kingdom of God is certainly the use in the ancient Jewish prayers and in the apocalyptic literature. (That there is a close relationship between the teaching of Jesus and Jewish apocalyptic in this matter is the consensus of contemporary scholarship reached after half a century of vigorous discussion. See N. Perrin, Kingdom, passim, but especially pp.158f.) In both cases we can see the same significant difference. The Kaddish prayer, as we saw, uses Kingdom, but with the verb ‘establish’, not ‘come’. Two other ancient prayers, the eleventh of the Eighteen Benedictions, from the period before the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, and the Alenu prayer, probably from the third century AD, both use a form of the verb mlk, ‘to reign, be king’, with God as the subject. In the apocalyptic literature the Kingdom ‘is forever over the nations’ (Ps. Sol. 17.3), ‘shall appear’ (Sib. Orac. 3.46f.; As. Mos. 10.1) or God ‘will raise up his Kingdom’ (Sib. Orac. 3.767), but it is never referred to as ‘coming’. Also, as in the prayers, there are references to God appearing as king, usually, of course, expressed elliptically, e.g. ‘the Lord will appear’ (Jub. 1.28); ‘the Heavenly One will arise from his royal throne’ (As. Mos. 10.3; cf. v. 7: ‘he will appear’). See further: I Enoch 1.3, 9; 102.3; IV Ezra 8.51; Apoc. Bar. 21.23, 25. The teaching of Jesus, on the other hand, not only regularly uses the verb to come in connection with the Kingdom and avoids the other verbs more characteristic of ancient Judaism, it also never speaks of God ‘appearing’ as king as do the Jewish texts. While Jesus is concerned with essentially the same eschatological hope as is found in the ancient prayers and apocalyptic literature, both in preferring ‘Kingdom’ to direct references to God (The expression ‘Kingdom of God’ is in fact surprisingly rare in the apocalyptic literature. See N. Perrin, Kingdom, p. 168.) and also in using the verb ‘to come’ in connection with the Kingdom, he differs significantly from his immediate background.

On these points, however, not only does Jesus differ from ancient Judaism -- the early Church also differs from him. Outside the synoptic gospels we never find the verb ‘to come’ used with Kingdom, (In Rev. 12.10, which RSV translates, ‘Now the salvation . . . and the Kingdom of our God . . . have come’, the verb is not erchomai or phthano but ginomai.) for what is to come, in the view of the early Church, is not the Kingdom but the Lord Jesus (I Cor. 16.22; Rev. 22.20) and, especially, of course, the Lord Jesus as Son of man, whereas we do find the verb ‘to reign’ with God as subject, albeit only in the book of Revelation (11.17).

There is a further difference between Jesus and ancient Judaism in respect to their usages of Kingdom of God, a difference hinted at above where we called attention to the fact that an the Jewish texts it is not the Kingdom that ‘comes’ but the New Age. The Jewish expectation was of the eschatological activity of God, of a final and decisive intervention by God in history and human experience whereby his people would be redeemed. As such, it was also an eager anticipation of the blessings, joy, and peace which would thereby be secured for them. They looked for the activity of God and they anticipated the blessings that would thereafter be theirs. These blessings could be conceived of in a hundred different ways, (N. Perrin, Kingdom, pp. 166ff.) and the state of things in which they would be enjoyed could be given many different names. Gradually, however, one term became dominant; the future blessed state came more and more to be called the ‘age to come’, and this became, therefore, ‘. . . a comprehensive term for the blessings of salvation . . .’ (G. Dalman, Words, p. 135.) Now, in the teaching of Jesus, this term has no secure place, (N. Perrin, Kingdom, p. 164, n. I) but the same function is served by ‘Kingdom of God’, which is clearly used by Jesus to denote the blessings secured to men by God’s intervention; (Ibid., pp. 178-85. References will be given below.) ‘Kingdom of God’ is Jesus’ ‘comprehensive term for the blessings of salvation ( (This parallel between Jesus’ use of ‘Kingdom of God’ and the Jewish use of ‘age to come’ was first pointed out by G. Dalman, Words, p. 135, and attention has been called to it many times since then, e.g. recently by S. Aalen, ‘"Reign" and "House" in the Kingdom of God in the Gospels’, NTS 8 (1961/2), 227.) and although this use of the term is possible in Judaism, (N. Perrin, Kingdom, pp. 178-81.) it is there rare and quite untypical.

According to the evidence of the synoptic tradition, therefore, Jesus may be said to use ‘Kingdom of God’ in two ways, both derived from the eschatological expectation which begins in prophecy and continues through apocalyptic: he uses it in reference to God’s decisive intervention in history and human experience and he uses it in reference to state secured for the redeemed by this intervention. In this he differs from Judaism, especially by making normative for his teaching the second usage which is rare and untypical in Judaism. We have to ask now whether these differences are characteristic of Jesus or of the early Church. Pursuing our criterion of dissimilarity, we must seek to determine whether these elements of difference between the synoptic tradition and Judaism are also differences between the synoptic tradition and the remainder of the New Testament. We note at once that outside the synoptic tradition there is no place in the New Testament where the Kingdom of God is used in the first of the ways noted above, and very few where it is used in the second. Moreover, where it is used in the second way, there are still differences from the synoptic tradition. Since this point is crucial to our argument, we must list the occurrences and our interpretation of them.

John 3.3, 5

Here the term is being used as in the synoptic tradition to denote the blessings of salvation and is equivalent to eternal life. cf. 3.36. The verb to enter (v. 5) in this context is quite in the synoptic manner, but ‘to see’ (v. 3), although a good Jewish and New Testament idiom for experiencing something, e.g. Luke 2.26 (death); Acts 2.27 (corruption); I Peter, 3.10 (good days), is never used with Kingdom of God in the synoptic tradition. The most reasonable explanation is that we have here a traditional saying of the synoptic type partially translated into a Johannine idiom. This is the only place where John uses Kingdom of God; he normally prefers eternal life, an equivalent term for the blessings of salvation.

Acts 1.3, 6; 8.12; 14.22; 19.8; 20.25; 28.23, 31

The majority of these references are to ‘proclaiming’ the Kingdom (using several different verbs), where Kingdom of God is equivalent to the Christian message (1.3; 8.12; 19.8; 20.25; 28.23, 31). This is a characteristically Lukan usage, e.g. Luke 9.11, cf. Mark 6.34 (Jesus); Luke 9.2, cf. Mark 6.7 (the Twelve); Luke 9.60, cf. Matt. 8.22 (part of the challenge to discipleship). The other two echo traditional usages of the Jewish and synoptic traditions respectively: 1.6 the Jewish use as ‘dominion’ (e.g. I QM xvii. 7), and 14.22 a use found in the synoptic tradition, ‘to enter the Kingdom.

Pauline Corpus

Here there are several different uses. In I Cor. 4.20 it means the Christian life, and in Col. 4.11 the Christian church. In I Thess. 2.12 it is the sphere in which the grace and power of God are known, a usage parallel to the ‘Kingdom of the son of his love’ in Col. 1.13, and in II Thess. 1.5 it is the final blessed state which will be established at the parousia and for which present sufferings are a preparation. Further, there is a group of references to ‘inheriting the Kingdom’ (I Cor. 6.9-10; 15.50; Gal. 5.21; Eph. 5.5) which exactly parallel a common Jewish usage, except that there the synonyms ‘age to come’ or ‘eternal life’ would be used rather than Kingdom of God, as, for example, in the question in Mark 10.14 or the promise in Matt. 19.29. There is only one reference to ‘inheriting the Kingdom’ in the synoptic tradition and that is in the context of the markedly Matthaean parousia parable of Matt. 25.34. The best explanation of this group of references would seem to be that Paul (As always in such contexts, we are using names for convenience and without prejudice as to the question of actual authorship, here of Ephesians.) is using the common Jewish expression, but substituting Kingdom of God for the more normal expression under the influence of the synoptic tradition. Finally, there is a unique use in Rom.14.17 where it refers to the Age to Come as something enjoyed in an anticipatory manner in the present. Such an understanding of the Spirit as bringing an anticipatory enjoyment of the life of the Age to Come is markedly Pauline, cf. Rom. 8.23; Gal. 6.15, but the equivalence of Kingdom of God and joys of the Age to Come is certainly parallel to the use of the Kingdom of God in the synoptic tradition as a comprehensive term for the blessings of salvation. Here again, therefore, we may see an influence of the synoptic tradition upon Paul in his use of the term, this time in connection with the expression of an element typical of his theology.


In the book of Revelation, as we would expect, we have the regular idioms of Jewish apocalyptic: 11.17 has God as the subject of the verb ‘to reign’; 11.15 is a summary allusion to the imagery of Dan. 7; and 12.10 is part of the verbal summary and interpretation of the regular apocalyptic myth of the War in Heaven.

It can be seen from the above that there are real differences between the synoptic tradition on the one hand and the remainder of the New Testament on the other, as far as the usage of Kingdom of God is concerned. The only places where anything like a usage parallel to those characteristic of the synoptic tradition are to be found are John 3.3, 5; Acts 14.22; and the references to inheriting the Kingdom or enjoying the blessings of the Age to Come in the Pauline corpus. Here we have some influence of the synoptic tradition on John, Luke (in Acts) and Paul. However, John normally prefers a different idiom, Paul is clearly indebted to Judaism rather than the synoptic tradition for his basic conception of ‘inheriting’ the blessings, and to his own theology for that of the Spirit bringing the anticipatory joys of the Age to Come; and the Acts reference is only one among eight.

These few instances, therefore, serve to emphasize the differences rather than to diminish them. When we add the obvious point that the term itself is very frequently to be found in the synoptic tradition and comparatively infrequently outside it, then it becomes clear that we are fully entitled to claim that the real and significant differences between the use within the synoptic tradition and outside it call for an explanation. A reasonable explanation is that usages of Kingdom of God characteristic of the teaching of Jesus and not of the early Church live on in the synoptic tradition. This does not mean, of course, that even in the Kingdom sayings the tradition suddenly becomes historically reliable. If the Church had not had her own use for the sayings, she would not have preserved them, and if they could not have been made expressive of his purposes, no evangelist would have used them. But it does mean that we are entitled to posit an original Sitz im Leben Jesu for Kingdom sayings and to regard as real the possibility of recovering an original form in some limited number of instances. In particular, we may note that there are three points at which the Kingdom teaching of the synoptic tradition tends to differ both from Judaism and from the early Church as represented by the remainder of the New Testament: in the use of the expression Kingdom of God for (1) the final act of God in visiting and redeeming his people and (2) as a comprehensive term for the blessings of salvation, i.e. things secured by that act of God, and (3) in speaking of the Kingdom as ‘coming’. At these points it is reasonable to suppose that we have emphases deriving from the teaching of Jesus.

With this in mind, let us turn to a discussion of three crucial sayings: Luke 11.20 par.; Luke 17.20f.; Matt. 11.12. These are sayings for the authenticity of which it is possible to offer strong arguments, and they present the fundamental emphases of the teaching of Jesus concerning the Kingdom.

Exegesis I. Luke 11.20 Par.; Luke I 7.20F.; Matt.11.12. Kingdom Sayings

Luke 11.2 = Matt. 12.28

But if it is by the finger of God [Matt.: spirit of God] that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.

The present setting of this saying is editorial, as are all settings in the tradition, and in this instance the setting is at least as old as Q, since both Matthew and Luke use the saying and its setting in different ways: Matthew to interpret the exorcisms of Jesus as a present manifestation of the eschatological future, ‘spirit’ being ‘in primitive Christianity, like the "first-fruits" (Rom. 8.23) or the "guarantee" (I Cor. 1.22) of the eschaton, a technical term for the present manifestation of the Kingdom’; (James M. Robinson, ‘the formal Structure of Jesus’ Message’, Current Issues in New Testament Interpretation, ed. William Klassen and Graydon F. snyder [New York: Harper and Bros., and London: SCM Press, 1962], p. 101, n. 28, p. 279.) and Luke to present an aspect of the ministry of Jesus which fulfils the purpose of that ministry as set out in Luke 4.18-21. (H. Conzelmann, Theology of St. Luke, p. 107 n. 2.) That it is Matthew who changed ‘finger’ to ‘spirit’ was argued by T. W. Manson (T.W. Manson, Teaching of Jesus, pp. 82 f.) and the fact that ‘spirit’ is a favorite Lukan word makes it difficult to conceive of it having been changed by him into something else, especially in light of Luke 4.18.

The two verses, Matt. 12.27 and 28, cannot have originally stood together at this point, since the connection makes the activity of the Jewish exorcists also a manifestation of the Kingdom. (R. Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, pp. 14, 162.) Further, the Matthaean form of the pericope bears marks of an original connection between vv. 26 and 29 (Verse 26 ‘how will . . .‘ and v. 29 ‘how can. . . .‘ E. Klostermann, Das Matthäusevangelium (Handbuch zum Neuen Testament 4 [Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), ‘1927]), p. 243.) and certainly the narrative makes perfect sense with the omission of vv. 27 and 28. So it may be that we must reckon with an original tradition encompassing the present Matt. 12.25, 26, 29, 30, to which were added, probably at different stages, vv. 27 and 28. Verse 28, therefore, with which we are particularly concerned, must be regarded as having existed as an isolated logion before it was inserted into its present context, and since, as we have seen, the probability is that the Lukan version is nearer to the original form, we must, in fact, regard the saying as having so existed in very much the form it now has in Luke 11.20.

Considered as a isolated logion, the saying has high claims to authenticity. ‘. . .Mt is full of that feeling of eschatological power which must have characterized the activity of Jesus’, (R. Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, p. 162.) and it has two of the hallmarks of the differences between the synoptic tradition and Judaism and the early Church respectively, which we have argued are derived from the teaching of Jesus: a use of Kingdom of God in reference to the eschatological activity of God (S. Aalen, ‘"Reign" and "House" . . .’, NTS 8, 229ff., argues that the reference in this saying is not to the activity of God but to the Kingdom as a house, by which he means an experience of deliverance and blessing: ‘Kingdom of God means also here deliverance, salvation’ (p. 231). The difference is one of emphasis rather than substance, for, if we recognize that Kingdom can refer to both the activity of God and the blessings secured for man by that activity, and the present writer would insist that this is the case, then we can read the saying either with the emphasis upon the activity of God (Perrin) or upon the experience of deliverance thereby secured (Aalen). It would be going too far to strike out the possibility of either emphasis.) and the use of the verb ‘to come’ in connection with it. Further, the relating of the presence (Or, imminence of the Kingdom, see further immediately below.) of the Kingdom to the present experience of a man is an emphasis unparalleled in Judaism. The saying is, in fact, one of the very few sayings in the tradition, the authenticity of which has not been seriously questioned in more than half a century of intensive discussion of Jesus’ eschatological teaching. What has been in question is not its authenticity but its interpretation and, specifically, whether it can be held to be evidence for an element in the teaching of Jesus in which the Kingdom is regarded not merely as imminent but as actually present. (N. Perrin, Kingdom, passim.)

We would argue, then, that Luke 11.20 represents a saying attributed to Jesus in the tradition, the authenticity of which may be regarded as established beyond reasonable doubt. Since there are very few such sayings in the tradition, it behooves us to derive as much as we reasonably can from this one with regard to the content and emphases of the teaching of Jesus.

But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.

The saying clearly implies a Sitz im Leben Jesu; it implies a practice of exorcism in the ministry of Jesus to which it refers. The evidence for exorcism as a feature of the ministry of Jesus is very strong indeed: exorcisms are to be found in every strata of the synoptic tradition, and the ancient Jewish texts regard Jesus as a miracle worker, i.e. an exorcist. (J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth [New York: Macmillan, and London: Allen and Unwin, 1925], pp. 17-47. J. Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus [ET by N.Perrin of Abendmahlsworte Jesu (1960); London: SCM Press, and New York: Scribner’s, 1966], p. 19, n. 7, follows G. Dalman in regarding the most often quoted passage, b.Sanh.43a, as referring to someone other than Jesus, but even if this should be the case the cumulative effect of the other passages quoted by Klausner and the testimony of the Christian fathers [e.g. Justin Martyr, Dial. cum Tryphone Judaeo lxix; Origen, Contra Celsum I, 28) are sufficient to establish the point.] The present writer vividly remembers a conversation with Ernst Käsemann, at that time in Göttingen. in which that leading member of the ‘Bultmann school’ exclaimed that he had no choice, if he wished to remain a historian, but to accept the historicity of the tradition that Jesus was an exorcist. Today this would be a widely accepted consensus of critical opinion. This does not mean that we can diagnose the condition of the suffering people of ancient Galilee and Judea with whom Jesus dealt, nor does it guarantee the authenticity of any single account of an exorcism in the tradition, but it does mean that we can accept a ministry of exorcism as a Sitz im Leben Jesu for our saying.

If we accept the fact of Jesus’ exorcisms and this saying as relating to them, then it follows that the saying interprets the exorcisms. The Beelzebul controversy which Mark (3.19-22) supplies as the context for his version of the tradition with which we are concerned may or may not be historical, but it is certainly evidence for the fact that in the first century exorcisms as such were comparatively meaningless until they were interpreted. So far as the historical circumstances of the ministry of Jesus are concerned, the exorcisms could only have become significant to his purpose if they were accepted as manifestations of the Kingdom of God. As evidence that Jesus possessed magical powers, knew the right incantations or was on good terms with the prince of demons, they would be of most dubious worth! Hence, our saying is a saying designed to interpret something that happened in the ministry of Jesus so that it might become a challenging event to those who were confronted by it.

Treating this saying as an interpretation of the exorcisms, we should note that it interprets them in terms of an Old Testament text, for the reference to ‘finger of God’ is an allusion to Ex. 8.15, (To understand it simply as an idiom used in exorcism narratives in the ancient world would he wrong. It is true that ‘finger of God’ has been found in magical texts, but there it is part of an oath [‘I adjure . . . by the finger of God that he open not his mouth’, in A. Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East (ET by Lionel R. M. Strachan of Licht vom Osten; London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1927), P. 306], not an exorcism formula.) as T. W. Manson pointed out (T.W. Manson, Teaching of Jesus, pp. 82f.)

In recent times a flood of light has been thrown on this practice of interpreting experienced events in terms of Old Testament texts by the discoveries at Qumran, where it is a regular feature of the literature, especially in the pesharim. That a similar practice was a feature of early Christian theologizing is also clear, (See, above all, B. Lindars, New Testament Apologetic, 1961. We mentioned this work in our first chapter.) and this raises the question of whether or not this instance should also be ascribed to the early Church. Against this, however, there are the strong reasons noted earlier for accounting this saying as authentic, and the consideration that no similar use of Ex. 8.15 is to be found elsewhere in the New Testament. ( We shall have occasion to note below that the case is very different in connection with the use of Dan. 7.13.) So we are justified in recognizing that Jesus has availed himself of an Old Testament text in this interpretation of the exorcisms, and that, in addition, he has also probably alluded to an existing Jewish interpretation of that text. In Ex. 8.15 the Egyptian magicians confess to Pharaoh that the third plague (lice) is beyond their power to duplicate and therefore: ‘This is the finger of God.’ Midrash Exodus Rabbah 10.7 interprets this by saying: ‘When the magicians saw that they could not produce the lice, they recognized immediately that the happenings (the plagues) were the work of God and not the work of demons.’ This is strikingly apposite to the thought of Jesus’ saying, and the fact that it is in the Midrash Rabbah certainly does not preclude the possibility that the tradition goes back to the first century. Certainly the thought of the saying is: ‘This is not the work of demons, but of God, and if God is at work in this manner, then you are even now experiencing the New Exodus: the Kingdom of God has come upon you.

The suggestion that the use of an Exodus text implies an allusion to the New Exodus may or may not be justified, but there can be no doubt that the saying does refer to the exorcisms as an experience of the eschatological activity of God. The hotly debated question as to whether this implies that the Kingdom is to be regarded as present, inbreaking, dawning, casting its shadows before it, or whatever, becomes academic when we realize that the claim of the saying is that certain events in the ministry of Jesus are nothing less than an experience of the Kingdom of God. As the present writer claimed in his previous work, (N. Perrin, Kingdom, p. 171.) we are here moving in the world of a holy-war theology such as we find at Qumran, where references to God and his Kingdom are to be found in the context of the eschatological conflict of the ‘War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness’. When an exorcism is a manifestation of the Kingdom of God, then that Kingdom is manifested in terms of a conflict between good and evil, between God and Satan, between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness. The Kingdom is not only God acting; it is God acting in a1 situation of conflict (For a detailed study of the proclamation of Jesus from this perspective, set in the context of a thorough study of the Qumran material, see Jürgen Becker, Des Heil Gottes (Studien zur Umwelt des Neuen Testaments 3 [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1964]), esp. pp. 197-257.)

The parallel here between the teaching of Jesus and the eschatological-conflict expectations of the Qumran community should not blind us to an all-important difference: an exorcism may be a manifestation of a victory of God in an eschatological-conflict situation, but it is also the experience of an individual. The victory of God is resulting not in the restoration to a state of purity of the land Israel and its people, but in the restoration to wholeness of a single disordered individual. The experience of the individual, rather than that of the people as a whole, has become the focal point of the eschatological activity of God. As we shall see, this concentration upon the individual and his experience is a striking feature of the teaching of Jesus, historically considered, and full justice must be done to it in any interpretation of that teaching.

The next saying we must discuss is Luke 17.20f., the discussion of which has produced a literature in its own right.

Luke 17.20f.

20Being asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God was coming he answered them, ‘The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; 21nor will they say, "Lo, here it is!" or "There" for behold, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.

The saying as it stands in Luke serves a function in terms of the evangelist’s theology, and especially in terms of his eschatology. (In what follows we are indebted in part to H. Conzelmann Theology of St. Luke, pp. 120-5.) It is the first of four places where teaching is given in response to a question about the End: Luke 17.20; 19.11; 21.7; Acts 1.6. In 17.20f. the general apocalyptic-type expectation is denied, but this is followed by a reiteration of the traditional Christian hope in the form of waiting for an End, the coming of which cannot be prognosticated, vv. 22-37. The parable following 19.11 develops this theme in that it instructs the Christians to settle down to the long haul of history in the general context of an ultimate parousia, a parousia which, however, is clearly receding both in time, so far as the Lukan hope is concerned, and in importance for the Lukan theology. The teaching following 21.7 is designed to combat false hopes that the End is to be expected in connection with the fall of Jerusalem, and is here preserved by Luke because it is in agreement with his general anti-apocalyptic thrust. Acts 1.6 introduces teaching from the risen Lord in which Luke’s own particular conception of the Kingdom is presented.

The fact that Luke 17.20f. serves a function in terms of the Lukan theology does not, of course, mean that it is a Lukan construction; the next question to ask is whether it existed in the tradition before Luke. Clearly, it is a saying without direct parallels in the other gospels; yet there are parallels to various parts of it: Mark 13.21 (par. Matt. 24.23): ‘And then if any one says to you, "Look, here is the Christ!" or "Look, there he is!" do not believe it.’ This is parallel to Luke 17.21a, and Luke omits this Markan verse at that point in his own narrative, presumably because he recognizes that he already has it in 17.21a, and he wishes to avoid duplication. It would be quite in keeping with the Lukan practice to prefer a version of a saying he found in another source to that of Mark, as, for example, he prefers the Q version of the teaching about divorce (Luke 16.18// Matt. 5.32) to that of Mark (10.1-12), which he omits. So the saying may come from a Lukan special source, which he has preferred to Mark in so far as there is duplication. But it could also be that Luke himself has created the saying, a hypothesis recently presented very vigorously by A. Strobel.

Strobel’s argument is that the saying has been created by Luke to serve as an introduction to the following eschatological instruction to the disciples. As in 19.11 he introduces such instruction by a narrative verse reporting the disciples’ supposition about the coming of the Kingdom, so here he creates a question and answer story to serve the same purpose. The answer is designed to refute the expectation, particularly held among the Pharisees (hence the Pharisaic interrogators) that the Messiah would come on the ‘night of observation’, i.e. the night of the Passover (Ex. 12.42). Indeed, Aquila uses the very word for observation in Luke 17.20 (parateresis) in his translation of Ex. 12.42, and certainly there is a Jewish tradition that the Messiah would come on that night. (A. Strobel in the works listed in Annotated Bibliography No. 5, especially the first.)

This is an original and interesting hypothesis, introducing a refreshingly new note into the discussion, but there are several considerations that can be urged against it. In the first place, it is by no means certain that the messianic expectation associated with Passover night is as old as it would have to be to meet the needs of this hypothesis. M. Black suggests that the expectation must be as old as Christianity, because it would have been difficult for it to have developed among the Jews after the Christians began to associate themselves with 15 Nisan, but he quotes an eminent Jewish authority (J. Weinberg) who gives reasons for doubting that it dates from before the destruction of the Temple. (M. Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts [Oxford: Clarendon Press 1954], pp. 173f.) Further, even if this form of expectation is early enough, there is absolutely no evidence that Luke knows either it or the Pharisees as especially concerned with it. In his account of the Passion there is no evidence that he knows or is concerned with Jewish Passover traditions, and he is inclined to see the Pharisees simply as those who believe in the Resurrection and the ‘Beyond’, and, in consequence, to present them sympathetically (Acts 23.8) (H. Conzelmann, Die Mitte der Zeit [Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), p. 114, n. 1.) Perhaps more telling than this, however, is a second point, namely, that Luke 17.20f. is a vivid Pronouncement Story of the type absolutely characteristic of the oral tradition (Using the terminology of Vincent Taylor, Formation of the Gospel Tradition [London: MacMillan, 1933], pp. 63-69; cf. R Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, pp. 56ff.) It would be possible for Luke to have constructed a story in writing that would bear all the hallmarks of oral tradition, but it is unlikely. Then there is a third point: the very real possibility that Thomas knows this saying in a form independent of Luke. We discussed above the general probability that Thomas is independent of the canonical gospel tradition, and now we must return to the point with specific reference to Luke 17.20f. In Thomas, we find two logia which bear some resemblance to it: 3 and 113. (The logia are numbered according to the publication of the text by A. Guillaumont et al., The gospel According to Thomas, 1959. The translation given in that volume is also used.)

Thomas 3. Jesus said: ‘If those who lead you say to you: "See, the Kingdom is in heaven", then the birds of the heaven will precede you. If they say to you: "It is in the sea", then fish will precede you. But the Kingdom is within you and it is without you. If you (will) know yourselves, then you will be known and you will know that you are the sons of the Living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty and you are poverty.’

Thomas 113. His disciples said to Him: ‘When will the Kingdom come? [Jesus said:] It will not come by expectation; they will not say: "See, here", or: "See, there". But the Kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth and men do not see it.’

In this logion, ‘by expectation’ translates the Coptic gosht ebol and this expression turns up again in logion 51:

Thomas 51. His disciples said to Him: ‘When will the repose of the dead come about and when will the new world come?’ He said to them: ‘What you expect (g,osht ebol) has come, but you know it not.’

We have, therefore, three logia related to one another, and two of them to Luke i 7.20f. So far as the interrelationship of the three Thomas logia are concerned, it seems fairly clear that 113 is less developed than 3. It still has the simple form of the question-answer, and the three elements of the Lukan saying, the two negations and the affirmation, are still present. The affirmation has changed its form, but not in any aggressively gnosticizing manner. The reference to the Kingdom ‘spread upon the earth’ is perhaps a reference to the mysterious ‘sign of extension’ referred to in second-century literature, e.g. Didache 16.6 and Justin, Apol. i. 55 (referring to it as the shape of the cross present in nature). (Robert M. Grant, The Secret Sayings of Jesus [New York: Doubleday, and London: Fontana, 1960], p. 190.) This reference to the Kingdom being spread upon the earth has replaced the entos hymon reference in the Lukan version. Logion 3 is a much more highly developed and gnosticized version of the saying; the question and the two negations have disappeared, and in their place we have, in fact, a highly developed gnostic midrash on the original affirmation, the Kingdom is entos hymon. The original negations have come together and have been developed Out of recognition; only the reference to ‘seeing’, and the fact that the reference is to seeking the Kingdom, preserves their memory. The fact that this saying has concentrated upon the entos hymon and logion 113 lost it would seem to indicate that they are independent developments from the original saying. Logion 51, on the other hand, is clearly a development from logion 113: it has the same expression, gosht ebol, which, indeed, has become the central theme, the original affirmation having disappeared and the Kingdom question having been replaced by that of the ‘repose of the dead’.

We are concerned then with logia 3 and 113 as independent versions of the Lukan saying. But are they dependent upon the saying as it stands in Luke? Logion 3 is dependent upon a version with a negation that can be translated into Coptic by gosht ebol. If that were a translation of meta paratereseos, our question would be settled, but the fact is that it is not. Neither the Sahidic nor Bohairic versions of the Coptic New Testament use it in this way; indeed, in the Coptic New Testament it translates the apokaradokian (‘eager expectation’) of Phil. 1.20, not the paratereseos of Luke 17.20. The Coptic versions of the New Testament and Thomas logion 113 lead us to look for an expression that can be translated both ‘with observation’ (Luke 17.20) and ‘by expectation’ (Thomas i 13), and that search takes us not to the Greek parateresis, but to the Aramaic hwr, which can have these two meanings. (suggested by G. Quispel, ‘Some Remarks on the Gospel of Thomas’, NTS 5 [1958/9], 276-90.) So we move behind the Greek of Luke 7.20 to an Aramaic tradition which has been variously translated, and we must necessarily conclude that Thomas 113 is not, in fact, dependent upon Luke 17.20, but upon a tradition upon which Luke also is dependent. Luke 17.20f. had, then, at one time an Aramaic form and is not, therefore, a creation by Luke, writing in Greek and drawing upon vv. 22f. Minor support for this thesis is to be found in the difficult entos, which can mean either ‘in’ or ‘among’. Such an ambivalent word naturally raises the question of the possibility that we are here dealing with translation Greek. It is not that there is a word in Aramaic that expresses the same ambivalence, but rather that the phrase is very clumsy in Greek, and being clumsy in Greek is not something of which one would normally accuse Luke.

We have argued this point in detail because with our view of the nature of the synoptic tradition we must necessarily move with great care. Even now the case is not iron-clad -- nothing in this area can be -- but we would claim that it is reasonable to assume a basic (Aramaic) saying which belongs to the earliest strata of the tradition and is used by Luke. If this is the case, then such a presumed saying has high claims to authenticity, for it has characteristics which, as we argued above, belong to the teaching of Jesus: it speaks of the Kingdom clearly referring to God’s decisive intervention in history and human experience, and it speaks of that Kingdom as ‘coming’. There is, therefore, no good reason to deny its authenticity and, in fact, there is a wide consensus of critical scholarship today that it is a genuine saying of Jesus, Strobel’s being the only significant voice raised against it in the recent discussion.

So far as the interpretation of the saying is concerned, there is general agreement that the ‘not with observation’ denies the possibility of the usual kind of apocalyptic speculation, and the present writer claimed earlier, (N. Perrin, Kingdom, pp. 176 ff.) and would still claim, that this means that here there is a denial of the apocalyptic concept of history and a return to the prophetic. The apocalyptic seers regarded history as a whole running a pre-determined course to a foreordained conclusion, hence, the very possibility of ‘signs’, and they understood God as to be known in the totality, the whole course of events. The prophets, on the other hand, looked for the activity of God in specific events, tending to regard history as an arena in which God ‘acted’. Jesus here seems to be negating the first of these conceptions and modifying the second. He is negating the first by denying the very possibility of ‘signs’; The Kingdom is not of such a nature that a sign visible in terms of the totality of world events or the externals of history or the cosmos will mark its presence; God is not to be seen at work in the clash of heavenly bodies or of earthly armies. He is modifying the second because the activity of God as king is to be known, not in such a way that men can say ‘Lo, here!’ or ‘Lo, there!’ but rather as entos hymon.

The difficulty with these two elements in the saying is twofold: the integrity of the ‘Lo, here,’ ‘Lo, there’ reference (We do not find the future tense in this part of the saying [‘nor will they say’] in contrast to the later present [‘is entos hymon’] a difficulty, as does, for example, C. G. Montefiore, The Synoptic Gospels [London: Macmillan, 1927] II, 547. In the first place, it is impossible to know what the tense was in the original Aramaic; secondly, the tension may be Lukan, for Luke certainly believed that the Kingdom was both present in Jesus’ ministry [4.21] and to come [9.27]; and, thirdly, the future tense may be due to the ‘then’ in the parallel Mark 13.21 [‘and then if anyone says to you . . .’]) and the meaning of entos hymon. The difficulty with the ‘Lo, here’ ‘Lo, there’, reference is that it has both been translated from Aramaic and also become part of the stock in trade of early Christian apocalyptic (Mark 13.21 par.), so that it is no longer possible to say with any degree of certainty what the original reference was. But in light of entos hymon and Luke 11.21, it is possible to hazard a guess. Intensive discussion of the linguistic aspects of the meaning of entos hymon have been inconclusive: the Greek can mean both ‘within you’ and ‘among you’, (W.G. Kümmel, Promise and Fulfillment [ET by Dorothea M. Barton of Verheissung und Erfüllung (1956) (Studies in Biblical Theology 23); London: SCM Press, 1957], p. 33, with full references.) and the same is true of the Hebrew equivalent beqereb, while in Aramaic there are two distinct prepositions, byny (with pronominal suffix, as in our saying), ‘among’, and bgw (with pronominal suffix), ‘within’. The fact that the original translator has chosen entos to translate the Aramaic does not help. Although in the LXX this normally translates prepositions meaning ‘within’, (E.g. Ps 108 [MT 109] 22 [bqrb]; song of Sol. 3.10 [twk ]). it can also translate one meaning ‘among’ and, indeed, Aquila twice translates bqrbnw (‘among us’) by entos hemon ("Ex. 17.7; 34.9. F. Field, Origenis Hexaplorum [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1875] I, 111, 144. J. A. Baird, The Justice of God in the Teaching of Jesus [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, and London: SCM Press, 1963], p. 173, appears to have overlooked these references.) So we must turn to more general considerations, and here there are two that are decisive: (1) the translation ‘within you’ would give us a meaning and usage completely without parallel elsewhere in the teaching of Jesus concerning the Kingdom; and (2) in the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus-Gospel of Thomas tradition, where ‘within you’ is certainly understood, the saying has to be recast to make this meaning unambiguous. We must therefore, with the great majority of contemporary exegetes, understand: ‘the Kingdom is among you.When we add to this the understanding oft the teaching of Jesus reached in connection with Luke 11.20, we may claim that the meaning is: ‘the Kingdom is a matter of human experience.’ It does not come in such a way that it can be found by looking at the march of armies or the movement of heavenly bodies; it is not to be seen in the coming of messianic pretenders. (This is only a guess at the meaning behind the ‘Lo, here’, ‘Lo, there’ reference, but in view of the actual use made of this reference in the Church, and the number of messianic revolts that took place in the half-century before AD 70, it is surely justified.) Rather, it is to be found where-ever God is active decisively within the experience of an individual and men have faith to recognize this for what it is. (We will return to ‘faith’ in this connection later in this article.)

Matt. 11.12

This is the third and last individual saying that we shall discuss in this context.

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of heaven has suffered violence (biazetai), and men of violence (biastai) plunder it (harpazoysin) (RSV: take it by force; NEB: are seizing it). (the translation is by the present writer and the exegesis upon which it is based will be found in N. Perrin, Kingdom, pp. 171-4.)

The parallel in Luke reads:

Luke 16.16. The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the Kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently (biazetai).

This is generally regarded as secondary in comparison to the Matthaean version, and with good reason: the idea of one epoch ending with John and the phrase ‘to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God’ are both Lukan, (H. Conzelmann, Theology of St. Luke, pp. 23 ff., 40.) and the ‘everyone enters it violently’ smooths out the linguistic and theological problems of the Matthaean saying. This does not mean that Luke is here dependent upon Matthew, but only that he has edited a saying they have in common more drastically than has Matthew.

The saying itself is part of the tradition about John the Baptist and, as such, it is part of a tradition with a very special history, a history of a continuous ‘playing down’ of the role of the Baptist (‘This was convincingly demonstrated by M. Dibelius,, Die urchristliche Ûberlieferung von Johannes dem Taufer; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1915. On the validity of this analysis of the tradition, see James M. Robinson, A New Quest of the Historical Jesus [Studies in Biblical Theology 25 (London: SCM Press, 1959)], pp. 117f.) As the background to this tradition we have two hard facts: Jesus was baptized by John and he began his ministry only after John’s had been brought to a violent end. These are certainly historical facts, because they both imply an element of dependence of Jesus upon the Baptist and they are inconceivable as products of a Christian community concerned to exalt its Lord and engaged in rivalry with a Baptist sect. (For a recent judicious discussion of the evidence for the existence of a Baptist sect and its relations with the Christian community, see Charles H. H. Scobie, John the Baptist [London: SCM Press, and Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964], pp. 187-202.) Thus, sayings which reflect a high estimate of the Baptist both stand in the earliest stratum of the tradition about him and reflect the attitude of Jesus rather than that of the early Church. There are three such sayings, all of which Dibelius regarded as authentic: Matt. 11.12f.; Matt. 21.32; Mark 11.27-30. (M. Dibelius, Urchristliche Uberlieferung von Johannes dem Taufer, pp. 20-29.)

On these grounds Matt.11.12 has a very strong claim to authenticity: it stands in the earliest stratum of this particular tradition and it reflects the attitude of Jesus to John rather than that of the early Church, to which he was at best the Forerunner (Mark 9. 11-13; Matt. 11.14). The authenticity of the saying has been disputed by Bultmann, who argues that it is a product of anti-Jewish or anti-Baptist polemics, probably the latter, since it relegates the Baptist to a bygone age. (R. Bultmann, Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition [1961], pp. 177f. The ET is here somewhat misleading, as, unfortunately, is the case only too often, in that it omits the reference to anti-Jewish polemic [p. 164]). But the saying does not, in fact, relegate the Baptist to a bygone age; rather, the opposite is the case in that ‘From (apo) the days of John the Baptist . . .’ must be understood as including the Baptist in the present age, that of the Kingdom (E. Percy, Die Botschaft Jesu [Lunds Universitets Arsskrift, N.F. Adv. I Bd. 49 Nr. 5 9Lund: C.W.K. Gleerup, 1953] , p. 199. See also James M. Robinson, New Quest of the Historical Jesus, p. 117, n. 1.) The saying, therefore, belongs to the positive sayings about the Baptist and as such would have to be rejected, on Bultmann’s grounds, as having a Sitz zm Leben in anti-Jewish polemic in the early Church, (As indeed it is by E. Jüngel, the only recent contributor to the discussion to deny the authenticity of the saying, who argues that Matthew has set John on the side of Jesus ‘aus antijüdischer Polemik’ [Paulus und Jesus (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1964), p. 191]. But this is ‘. . . a motivation for which he neither provides documentation nor explanation’ [J. M. Robinson in his review of Jungel’s book, Interpretation i8 (1964), 357], and, moreover, the tendency in Luke to make John the end of one epoch of the Heilsgeschichte, and Jesus the beginning of another, is so well attested that we must assume that it is Luke and not Matthew who has made the change.) But there is no evidence for this in our sources and there is, therefore, no good reason, on form-critical grounds, to dispute the authenticity of the saying (J.M. Robinson, New Quest of the Historical Jesus, p. 117)

Accepting the saying as authentic, the first point to arise in connection with its interpretation is that it looks back upon the Baptist as one whose ministry marks the ‘shift of the aeons’. This point has been stressed in the energetic discussion of the saying that has gone on within the ‘Bultmann school’. Here the Schüler tend to disagree with the master (who argued that Jesus looked forward to this decisive event in the future, whereas Paul looked back upon it in the immediate past), in that they say that ‘. . Jesus did in fact see in the coming of the Baptist the shift of the aeons" (Ibid., p.118. For a more detailed discussion of this aspect of the differences between Bultmann and the ‘post-Bultmannian’ see N. Perrin, Kingdom, pp. 112-24.) and support this by an exegesis of Matt. 11.12. The first to do this was Ernst Käsemann in his seminal essay ‘The Problem of the Historical Jesus’, (E. Käsemann, Essays on New Testament Themes, pp. 15-47. We are concerned especially with pp. 42f., and it should be noted that On p. 42 ‘Matt. a misprint for ‘Matt. 11.I2f.’) where he argues in detail, and most convincingly, that in this saying Jesus is looking back over the completed Old Testament epoch of salvation and drawing the Baptist to his own side in presenting him ‘as the initiator of the new aeon’ (Ibid., p. 43. Similarly G. Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth [FT by Irene and Fraser McLuskey with James M. Robinson; New York: Harper & Bros., 1960], p. 51:John’. . belongs himself to the time in which the promise is being fulfilled’.) Thus, we have again the clarion call of the proclamation of the Kingdom of Jesus: Now is the time of God’s decisive activity! Expressed in Luke ii .20 in terms of an interpretation of the exorcisms, in Luke 17.20f. in terms of a challenge to think in new ways about God manifesting himself as king, and here in terms of the concept of the history of God’s activity on behalf of his people, it is always the same urgent challenge: Now is the time of fulfillment of promise.

So far as the remainder of the saying is concerned, the present writer has nothing to add to his previous discussion. (N. Perrin, Kingdom, pp. 171-4.) He is in complete agreement with E. Käsemann: the import of the logion is that ‘the Kingdom of God suffers violence from the days of the Baptist until now and is hindered by men of violence’. (E. Käsemann, Essays on New Testament Themes, p. 42.) What we have here is the reverse of the situation envisaged in the interpretation of the exorcisms: there the Kingdom of Satan is being plundered, here that of God. What is envisaged is an aeon of conflict, of victory and defeat, of achievement and disappointment, of success and failure. It may be that the saying was originally inspired by the fate of the Baptist and that to this extent the present editorial setting is correct, but of this there can be no proof. One thing we may know, and it is strange and new, is that the intervention of God into human history is not only in terms of a conflict situation -- this the apocalyptic seers envisaged -- but it is also in terms of a conflict in which defeat as well as victory is a real, if not an ultimate, possibility.

Thus, this saying confirms what we have learned already from other sayings, namely, that the time of God’s activity as king is now, and that the form of this activity can be envisaged in terms of conflict. But it also adds a strange, new note: the conflict can issue in defeat as well as victory. The outcome of the battle may be sure, but the casualties are going to be real, not sham.

Exegesis 2. Mark 2.18-22. Eschatological Similes

We have seen that there are a small group of authentic sayings of Jesus which are eschatological pronouncements; they proclaim the presence of God manifesting himself as king in aspects of the ministry of Jesus. They are the very heart of the message of Jesus. Jesus understood the Kingdom of God as being manifest in his ministry; all else in his teaching takes its point of departure from this central, awe-inspiring -- or ridicule-inspiring, according to one’s perspective -- conviction. The conviction is manifest not only in the eschatological pronouncements to which we have referred, but also in a number of eschatological similes which are to be found in the teaching.

Jesus’ use of metaphor, in the form of simile and analogy (the parables), is the best attested and surest documented feature of his teaching that we possess. As we pointed out in chapter I, above, it is here that the modern attempt to reconstruct his teaching has been most successful and, today, the best-known feature of that teaching is its incomparable use of simile and analogy. It is here that the clear vision of one mind, the depth of comprehension of one individual’s vision and understanding, is most apparent. Nowhere else is the change from Jesus to the early Church more apparent. Having the tradition of similes and analogies of Jesus, but lacking the vision to maintain or understand them, she transformed them into allegories expressive of a post-Easter faith and reflecting a post-Easter situation. From our point of view, this was fortunate, because, if it had not happened, the tradition would have been lost to us. As it is, the pedestrian nature of the allegorizing, and the clear reflections of the post-Easter faith or situation, are easy to recognize and to remove.

The most significant of the eschatological similes are those found in Mark 2.18-22, a passage which divides naturally into two parts:

Mark 2.18-20. Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ 19And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.’

Mark 2.21-22. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22And no one puts new wine into old wine-skins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins.

The parallels in Matthew (9.14-17) and Luke (5.33-39) are dependent upon Mark. Two logia from Thomas are in some way related to this tradition: 104 and 47b.

Thomas 104. They said [to Him]: ‘Come and let us pray today and let us fast.’ Jesus said: ‘Which then is the sin that I have committed, or in what have I been vanquished? But when the bridegroom comes out of the bridal chamber, then let them fast and let them pray.’

Thomas 47b. . . . No man drinks old wine and immediately desires to drink new wine; and they do not put new wine into old wine-skins, lest they burst, and they do not put old wine into a new wineskin, lest it spoil it. They do not sew an old patch on a new garment, because there would come a rent.

Mark 2.18-20

Verse 18 is an editorial setting for the following sayings, and in itself has a somewhat complex history. The reference to the Pharisees has probably been added to make the story fit into the Markan sequence of pericopes of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees, and the awkward ‘disciples of the Pharisees’ is almost certainly an imitation of the ‘John’s disciples’. (So already J. Wellhausen, Das Evangelium Marcus [Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1903], p. 20. It should be noted that the RSV here given has smoothed over the awkwardness; the Greek reads: ‘the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees’). So originally the pericope circulated as a dispute between ‘John’s disciples’ and ‘your disciples’, i.e. it reflected tension between Christians and members of the Baptist sect, and as such was given an appropriate introduction. But an editorial introduction tells us nothing about the age, authenticity or original context of the saying (s) to which it has been supplied, so we must consider vv. 19 and 20 independently of the introduction.

Verse 20 immediately falls under suspicion, since it seems to provide a reason for early Christian fasting, and, more importantly, it uses the allegory bridegroom= Jesus (This allegory is itself a product of early Christian piety, arising out of the concept of the Church as the bride of Christ [II Cor. 11 .2]. In Judaism, the bridegroom is not a figure used of the Messiah [J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus (rev. ed., 1963), p. 52.]) and reflects upon the death of Christ. As reflection upon the cross, as using allegory, and as having a natural Sitz im Leben der alten Kirche, it is to be regarded as a product of the Church. But if v. 20 falls out, so does 19b, because the only reason for its existence is to serve as a transition to v. 20. Thus, we are left with the single, isolated saying: ‘Jesus said (to them), "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them ?"’ or, as J. Jeremias (Ibid., p. 52, n. 14) prefers to translate it, probably rightly: ‘Can the wedding guests fast during the wedding?’

In this form the saying has high claims to authenticity. In the first place, the evidence of the New Testament as a whole is very strongly in favor of the assumption that Jesus and his disciples did not, in fact, fast during his ministry. The gospel traditions are unanimous on this point; the early Church has to give reasons for the practice of fasting (Mark 2.20; Didache 1.3), itself something demanding explanation, since fasting is such a normal feature of ancient piety; and the parables reflect a note of joyousness in which fasting would be quite out of place. Further, the allusion to the practice of not fasting during a wedding is an allusion to a well-documented ancient Jewish practice of freeing wedding participants, including the guests, from religious obligations during the seven days of the wedding celebrations (References in Billerbeck, Kommentar I, p. 506.) Lastly, a joyous table-fellowship was a key element in the common life of Jesus and his followers, as will be argued below, and this gives the saying a natural Sitz im Leben Jesu.

As an authentic saying, this simile tells us a good deal about the ministry of Jesus. It tells us that Jesus regarded it as a time of release from normal religious obligations, a time of rejoicing, and since ‘in the symbolic language of the East the wedding is the symbol of the day of salvation’, (J Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], p. 117) a time of the enjoyment of the fruits of God’s decisive activity on man’s behalf.

Mark 2.21-22

The various versions of this simile illustrate the characteristic developments of tradition where no particular theological motivation is at work. Luke, for example, adds a proverbial saying ‘No one after drinking old wine desires new; for he says, "The old is good."’ (Luke 5.39. The verse is omitted by some ‘western’ authorities [D, Old Latin] and by Marcion, Irenacus and Eusebius, which makes it possible that the addition was made in the textual tradition and complicates the problems of the relationship of Thomas to the canonical gospels.) In Thomas this sentiment has become the introduction to the simile and the simile itself has been ‘completed’, i.e. a new ‘old wine/new wineskin’ antithesis has been added to the original ‘new wine/old wineskin’, and this replaces the original comment, itself probably an addition in the tradition, of. . . but new wine is for fresh skins The fact that tradition tends to grow by addition, and to ‘complete’ antitheses, puts the stamp of originality -- and knowledge of the pitfalls facing the amateur Palestinian wine-maker -- upon the simple ‘new/old’ of the Markan version. The ‘patch/cloth’ simile also has an element of homeliness in the Markan form which stamps it as original. One can readily imagine that in the days before Sanforization it was the height of housewifely folly to patch a garment that had been worn, wetted and shrunk with a piece of unshrunken cloth. The original simile, therefore, represents the kind of acute observation of Palestinian peasant life that is characteristic of the parables of Jesus. As the tradition developed, this acute observation is lost, because the tradition is no longer regarded as arising naturally from observation of life but as existing as a mysterious and powerful entity in its own right. So Luke loses the point altogether, thinking it has something to do with the incompatibility of new and old, and Thomas simply summarizes the simile without concern for the original point of departure in observation of life.

It is this quality of freshness and of acute and sympathetic observation of Palestinian peasant life which we may claim is characteristic of Jesus, since we have demonstrated that it is lost in the transmission of the tradition by the Church, and it marks these two similes as dominical. But if these similes are dominical, they tell us something quite startling about Jesus’ understanding of his ministry: they tell us that Jesus regarded his ministry as marking a new point of departure quite incompatible with the existing categories of Judaism. The Jewish scholar C.G. Montefiore saw this quite clearly and was startled by it, ‘The advanced radicalism of these rules or principles is very remarkable’, but then proceeded to comfort himself by claiming that Jesus did not live up to them: ‘. . . but practically he does not apply them . . . so far as he is concerned, he holds fast to Judaism and the Old Testament.’ (C.G. Montefiore, The Synoptic Gospels I [1927], 89.) As we hope to show, Jesus’ teaching in other respects is every bit as radical, in the context of first-century Judaism, as these similes lead one to expect. In any case, there is no doubt of the force and point of these similes: something new and different in the ministry of Jesus marks that ministry as bursting the bounds of late Judaism. In the light of the eschatological pronouncements we have already discussed this can only mean: the Kingdom of God is here!

There are other eschatological similes in the recorded teaching of Jesus (J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], pp. 115-24, discusses the many such similes that are found in the tradition without going particularly into the question of their authenticity.) that could be regarded as authentic by the criterion of coherence, even though some of them, e.g. that of the shepherd, are so close to both Judaism and the use of the early Church as to be suspect on the criterion of dissimilarity. But there is no need here to labor the matter, for the similes we have discussed are to be accepted as authentic and they are sufficient to make the point. Jesus taught the same thing both by proclamation and by simile: the decisive activity of God as king is now to be experienced by men confronted by his ministry in word and deed.

Having discussed the ‘Kingdom’ teaching of Jesus as we find it in sayings and similes, we now turn to the most highly developed and distinctive element in his teaching: the parables.

The Parables of The Kingdom: Introduction (See Annotated Bibliography No. 6: Modern research on the Parables.)

Modern discussion of the parables has established the fact that their Sitz im Leben Jesu is his eschatology; they are concerned with the Kingdom. As we pointed out in our first chapter, the first stage in the decisive ‘breakthrough’ in the modern study of the parables was taken in 1935 when C. H. Dodd published the first edition of his book, The Parables of the Kingdom. The first half of this book was taken up by a discussion of Kingdom of God in the teaching of Jesus, and the second with setting the parables in the context of the results of that discussion. Today, it is a commonplace to recognize this eschatological orientation of the parables. Indeed, the most recent study of them, by E. Jüngel in his Paulus und Jesus, claims that the Kingdom of God actually becomes a reality for the hearer of the parables in the parables themselves, which are, by their nature as parable, peculiarly well designed to manifest the reality of the Kingdom as parable (E. Jüngel, Paulus und Jesus [21964], pp. 135-74; cf. J.M. Robinson, Interpretation 18 [1964], 351-6.) Less ambitious, and for that reason more persuasive if less dramatic, is the statement by A. Wilder that ‘true metaphor or symbol is more than a sign; it is a bearer of the reality to which it refers’ and so the parables are to the disciples’. . . Jesus’ interpretation to them of his own vision by the powers of metaphor’ (Amos N. Wilder, Language of the Gospel [New York: Harper & Row, and London: SCM Press (as Early Christian Rhetoric), 1964], pp.92 f.)

Following Wilder’s altogether persuasive statement of the matter, we might say that the parables impart to their hearers something of Jesus’ vision of the power of God at work in the experience of the men confronted by the reality of his proclamation, and this would be true if we are allowed to stress the ‘in the experience of the men confronted . . .’ It is a remarkable and little noted fact that, pace Jüngel, there is only a very limited number of parables which are concerned to proclaim the Kingdom of God per se. The vast majority of them are concerned with the experience and/or subsequent activity of men confronted by the reality of God at work. We would group the major parables as follows:

1. Concerned to emphasize the joyousness with which the activity of God may be experienced: Hid Treasure, Pearl.

2. Concerned to express the challenge of the major aspect of this divine activity, the forgiveness of sins: Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Prodigal Son.

3. Concerned with the necessity for men to decide now: Great Supper, Unjust Steward.

4. Concerned to warn against the danger of preconceived ideas blinding one to the reality of the challenge: Laborers in the Vineyard, Two Sons, Children in the Market Place, Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

5. Concerned to depict the various aspects and true nature of the necessary response to the challenge: Good Samaritan, Unmerciful Servant, Tower Builder, King Going to War.

6. Concerned to stress the confidence in God which the experience of his activity should bring: Friend at Midnight, Unjust Judge.

7. Concerned to stress the confidence in God’s future which the experience of his activity in the present should bring: Sower, Mustard Seed, Leaven, Seed Growing of Itself; Fish Net, Weeds in the Field.

It can be seen that only the parables in and 2 may be said to be concerned with proclaiming the Kingdom in the same sense that the eschatological similes proclaim it. Groups 3 to 6 are concerned with men’s recognition of the challenge of this proclamation and response to it; and group 7 is concerned with the future both as promise and as threat. We will discuss groups 1 and 2 here, 3 to 6 in our next chapter, and 7 in chapter IV. At the end of our discussion of 2 we will turn to the acted parable of the ‘table-fellowship of the Kingdom of God’.

Before we go on to discuss and interpret the parables, we must say a word about the way in which they are to be interpreted. This we propose to do by giving two examples which illustrate what we would argue is the correct methodology. The first is a Jewish parable taken from the Mekilta, and typical, we would claim, of the form taken up and developed by Jesus himself. The second is from the synoptic tradition, and it is probably the only instance we have where we may be reasonably sure that the parable and that to which it originally referred are given in the same context in our tradition, and that the tradition at this point is authentic.

Mekilta on Ex. 20.2 (Lauterbach, II, 229f.)

I am the Lord thy God

Why are the Ten Commandments not said at the beginning of the Torah? They give a parable. To what may this be compared? To the following: A king who entered a province said to the people: ‘May I be your king?’ But the people said to him: ‘Have you done anything good for us that you should rule over us?’ What did he do then? He built the city wall for them, he brought in the water supply for them, and he fought their battles. Then when he said to them: ‘May I be your king?’ They said to him: ‘Yes, yes.’ Likewise, God. He brought the Israelites out of Egypt, divided the sea for them, sent down the manna for them, brought up the well for them, brought the quails for them, he fought for them the battle with Amalek. Then he said to them: ‘I am to be your king.’ And they said to him: ‘Yes, yes.’

The crux of the matter here is that we have two parallel, analogous situations: a king in his dealings with the people of the province, and God in his dealings with the Israelites. It should be noted that the king is not God, and the people of the province are not the Israelites. If this were the case, then we would have allegory; but it is not the case and what we have is a comparison (‘To what may this be compared?’), the hallmark of a parable, not hidden identity, the hallmark of an allegory. The story of the king is in itself natural. Kings did build city walls, bring in water supplies and fight battles for their people. In this way they demonstrated and maintained their power and right to rule. Similarly, God had done things for Israel in which he had demonstrated his kingship: as with the king, so with God. The secret in interpreting a parable, then, is to find the analogous situation and so come to understand the point of the comparison. Usually in the teaching of Jesus the analogous situation is implied but not stated, and the problem of interpretation is, therefore, the problem we would have with this Mekilta parable if it began: ‘To what may we compare the Kingdom of God? It is a like king who entered a province . . .,’ and ended ‘. . . May I be your king? They said to him: Yes, yes,’ i.e. the problem of finding the analogous situation to which the parable refers.

Matt. 11.16-19

16But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates. 17‘We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.

The authenticity and unity of this parable and its application will be argued later, and at that point the significance of these for our understanding of the message of Jesus will be discussed. At the moment our only concern is with the way in which the application, supplied by Jesus himself; gives us an insight into his parabolic method.

The first thing we have to do in this connection is to determine the situation referred to in the depiction of the children at play, for if we cannot do that, we cannot grasp the point on which the analogy turns. As is so often the case in matters of understanding references to Palestinian customs and circumstances, the expert witnesses here are Bishop and Jeremias. (E. F. F. Bishop was for many years principal of the Newman School of Missions in Jerusalem. J. Jeremias lived in Jerusalem as a boy and has devoted a large part of his academic life and work to research into Palestinian Judaism at the time of Jesus.) According to their investigations, the reference is to part of a group of children who are sitting, wishing to play only a passive part in the games the whole group is playing. So they are prepared to pipe but not to dance (as the boys would when playing ‘Weddings’), to wail but not to mourn (i.e. to beat their breasts, etc., as the girls would when playing ‘Funerals’). The laziness of those who insist on sitting and ‘leaving the more strenuous exercises for the others’ (Bishop) has led to a quarrel, and in the course of this quarrel the lazy children try to blame the others for spoiling the play-time: ‘We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ (E. F. F. Bishop, Jesus of Palestine [London: Lutterworth Press, 1955], p. 104; J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], pp. 160ff.) It should be noted in passing that this is an exegesis of the Matthaean version of the parable. It is he, more knowledgeable than Luke in matters Palestinian, who has the more correct version of the parable.

The parable, then, turns on the behaviour of some of the members of a group of children who, characteristically, if not very admirably, blame others for something which is really their own fault. The parabolic method is such that there should be an analogous situation or group among those to whom Jesus is speaking and, if we had no application in the text, we would have to seek this group or situation for ourselves. But in this one instance, and probably in this one instance only, we do have a dominical application. The group who are like these children are those who find offence in John because he is an ascetic and rigorist, and in Jesus because he is not. Like the children who would pipe but not dance, wail but not mourn, they want everything to be in accordance with their wishes, desires and expectations, and when this does not work out, it is always someone else’s fault.

This is the parabolic method of Jesus: to tell a story which turns upon a point which has its parallel or analogy within the experience of some of those to whom it is addressed. Once this central point of the parable is grasped, and the parallel or analogy found, then, and only then, does the message of the parable become clear. An interpretation of a parable is, therefore, essentially a search for this crucial point in it, and for its parallel or analogy in the situation of the ministry of Jesus or that of his hearers confronted by that ministry.

Again, we must stress the fact that a parable is a parable and not an allegory. The essence of a parable is that its story and situation should be realistic and natural; if this were not the case, then the central point could not be grasped and the parallel or analogy could never be found. The essence of an allegory, on the other hand, is that it can be as unnatural and complex as the allegorist cares to make it, since it has no central point and is intended to refer to no parallel or analogy, but always needs a key to be understood.

The parables of Jesus are almost never provided with an application in the tradition; the one we have just discussed is an exception to the rule and the esoteric explanations of the parables in the tradition make the parables allegories and are certainly not from Jesus. (See J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], passim. The three arguments against the authenticity of the allegorizing explanations are: (1) they use the language and concepts of the early Church, not of the historical Jesus; (2) they belong to late strata of the tradition; (3) in their allegorizing, they are parallel to the allegorizing touches demonstrably added to the parallels in the course of their transmission by the Church.) This is so very noticeably the case that it can scarcely be accidental; indeed, the extent of the Church’s search for an application for the parables—the provision of generalizing conclusions, the addition of allegorizing explanations, etc.-- is an indication that there never were original applications for them. It may well be the case, therefore, that the normal practice of Jesus was deliberately to end the parable and to leave his hearers to grasp the point and to find the parallel or analogy for themselves. This would certainly be more challenging than to give the application himself. But if this were the case, then the point of the parable must have been comparatively obvious and simple to grasp, that is, to and for men who stood in the situation of the hearers of Jesus. The primary task of the exegete of the parables, then, is to set the parable in its original context in the ministry of Jesus so that, by an effort of historical imagination, he may grasp the crucial point of the parable itself and then find the parallel or analogy to which it is directed. (We should note in passing that we are not going to pay attention to the German division of the parables into three groups: Gleichnisse [similes], Parabeln [parables] and Beispielerzählungen [exemplary stories]. The distinction is that the Gleishnis refers to a natural and inevitable sequence of events [e.g. the action of leaven], the Parobel to a freely created, one-of-a-kind story [e.g. the Prodigal Son], and the Beispielerzählung is a story teaching by example. Quite apart from the fact that the distinction is not always easy to observe, it remains the case that the parables all have in common the element of comparison, and they all demand the finding of the point to which reference is being made and the parallel or analogy to which it is directed. We shall note from time to time that a given parable is a simile or exemplary story, if we find this helpful, but we shall make no attempt to carry through the distinction regularly or systematically.)

Exegesis 3. The Hid Treasure and the Pearl. The Joyousness of the Experience of God’s Kingly Activity

Matt. 13.44-46; Thomas 109; 76

44The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Thomas 109. Jesus said: ‘The Kingdom is like a man who had a treasure [hidden] in his field, without knowing it. And [after] he died, he left it to his [son. The] son did not know (about it), he accepted that field, he sold [it]. And he who bought it, he went, while he was plowing [he found] the treasure. He began to lend money to whomever he wished.’

Thomas 76. Jesus said: ‘The Kingdom of the Father is like a man, a merchant, who possessed merchandise (and) found a pearl. That merchant was prudent. He sold the merchandise, he bought the one pearl for himself. Do you also seek for the treasure which fails not, which endures, there where no moth comes near to devour and (where) no worm destroys.’

These twin parables originally circulated separately, as can be seen from the difference in tenses used in Matthew, i.e. present in v. 44 and past in v. 46, and also from the fact that Thomas has them independently of one another. In Thomas the characteristic vivid quality of the dominical parables has been lost, and, indeed, both have been reinterpreted. The Hid Treasure has been very considerably modified under the influence of a popular folk tale about a man who inherited a field he deemed worthless, sold it and then, to his chagrin, saw the purchaser find a treasure in it and enjoy the fruits thereof. ( R. M. Grant, Secret Sayings of Jesus, p. 188, calls attention to versions of this story in Aesop’s Fables and in the Jewish rabbinical literature [Billerbeck, Kommentar I,674]). The Thomas version seems to have been inherited by Thomas rather than created by him, since enjoying the fruits of the discovery by becoming a money-lender is contrary to logion 95 (‘If you have money, do not lend at interest . . .‘). In the rabbinical version the finder builds a palace and purchases many slaves. As it stands in Thomas, the parable teaches the gnostic conception ‘. . . that most men have no idea what treasure they have within themselves and so not everyone finds the treasure hid in his field — discovers the divine self within.’ (‘E. Haenchen, Die Botschaft des Thomas-Evange1ium’s [Berlin: Verlag Alfred Töpelmann, 1965], p. 47. Similar interpretations are offered by R. McL. Wilson, Studies in the Gospel of Thomas [London: Mowbray, 1960], p. 93; B. Gartner, The Theology of the Gospel According to Thomas [New York: Harper & Bros., and London: Collins, 1961], p. 237.)

The Pearl has also been considerably modified in Thomas. The motive of joy has been replaced by prudence (As in the reminiscence of the parable in the Clementine Recognitions iii, 62.) and a saying reminiscent of Matt. 6.20 has been added as a ‘generalizing conclusion’, such additions being a feature of the development of parabolic tradition (J. Jeremiahs, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], pp. 110-14.) In two respects, however, the Thomas version may be more original than the Matthaean, for, as Jeremias points out, the fact that the merchant is a general merchant and not a dealer in pearls, preserves the element of surprise, and that the merchant sold his merchandise is more likely to be original than that he sold all that he had (Ibid., p. 199) Both changes are easy to account for in the tradition; the first under the influence of the fact that the merchant found a pearl, and the second under the influence of v. 44 when the two parables were brought together by Matthew.

The original form of these parables, then, has a double element: surprise and joy. They both speak of a man going about his ordinary business who is surprised by the discovery of a great treasure, and, in this respect, they reflect the sympathetic observation of the men of first-century Palestine that we claim is so strong a feature of Jesus’ parables. In a land as frequently fought over as ancient Palestine the chance discovery of valuables hidden for safe keeping in some past emergency was by no means unusual, and every peasant ploughing his field must have had some such secret dream. Similarly, pearls could be of fabled worth, and every merchant whose business took him to far places must have speculated upon the chance of stumbling across one such pearl. So we have the secret dream suddenly and surprisingly fulfilled, and the overwhelming joy that then seizes the man (There is general agreement today that Jeremias is right to claim [ibid., pp. 200 f.] that ‘in his joy’ are the key words and that they apply to both the peasant and the merchant.) and determines and dominates his future activity. The analogy is clear: so it is with the Kingdom of God. A man can suddenly be confronted by the experience of God and find the subsequent joy overwhelming and all-determinative.

There is another parable in Thomas which has exactly the same point and which may, therefore, be accepted on the criterion of coherence: logion 8.

Thomas 8. And He said: ‘The Man is like a wise fisherman who cast his net into the sea, he drew it up from the sea full of small fish; among them he found a large (and) good fish, that wise fisherman, he threw all the small fish down into the sea, he chose the large fish without regret. Whoever has ears to hear let him hear.’

Claus-Hunno Hunzinger, who first called attention to this parable, (C.-H. Hunzinger, ‘Unbekannte Gleichnisse Jesu aus dem Thomas-Evangelium’, Judentum, Urchristentum, Kirche [Festschrift für Joachim Jeremias], ed. W. Eltester [Beihefte zur ZNW 26 (Berlin: Verlag Alfred Töpelmann, 5960)], pp.209-20.) points out that ‘The Man’ in the introduction is readily understandable as a gnosticizing substitute for an original Kingdom of Heaven, and, further, that it is a simple matter to conceive of a form of the parable in which a Galilean fisherman, using a hand net from the shore, suddenly and unexpectedly had a chance to catch an unusually large fish and to do this gladly sacrifices the remainder of the catch. Several commentators see this as the Thomas version of the Dragnet, (E.g. R. M. Grant, Secret Sayings of Jesus, p. 124; R. McL. Wilson, Studies in the Gospel of Thomas, p. 54 E. Haenchen, Die Botschaft des Thomas-Evangeliums, p. 48 [explicitly rejecting Hunzinger’s suggestion]). Matt. 13.47f., but the point is completely different and the similarity of language could be explained as due to the influence of the Dragnet parable on the tradition. We prefer to join Hunzinger and Jeremias (J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], p. 201) in viewing it as a hitherto unknown parable making the same point as the Hid Treasure and the Pearl.

Exegesis 4. The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, The Prodigal Son. The Challenge of The Forgiveness of Sins

If one asks the natural question: In what way is the kingly activity of God primarily known? then the answer of the teaching of Jesus is abundantly clear: In the forgiveness of sins. According to the gospel tradition, this is the central, specific aspect of Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom, and we have every reason to accept the impression created by the tradition at this point. This is particularly the case since the tradition is here supported by the central petition in the Lord’s Prayer (See N. Perrin, Kingdom, pp. 194-6) and by a major group of parables. But before we discuss these parables, we must say something about the understanding of the forgiveness of sins among the Jews at the time of Jesus, and especially about the frequently recurring ‘tax collectors and sinners’ in the gospel tradition.

The Jews had, of course, a very highly developed sense of sin, and a whole system of means for dealing with it. Any transgression of the law of God was sin and any suffering endured in the world a consequence of sin (John 9.2!). A man owed God full obedience, and any failure to achieve this meant that the man was in debt to God. So, in Aramaic the word for sin and the word for debt are the same word, witness the word play in the Lord’s Prayer. This debt could be paid in several different ways: Temple sacrifice, the Day of Atonement ritual, ritual cleansing, works of supererogation, especially alms-giving, repentance, suffering, and, under certain circumstances, death. But all of these ways were of limited effectiveness, as was evidenced by the fact that Jews still suffered and the godless Gentiles ruled in the Holy City itself; things which must be due to the sin of Israel. So, God himself must ultimately forgive sin, and it is in the expression of this hope for ultimate forgiveness that ancient Judaism reached its height. Since we shall be concerned with the finest expressions of the concept of forgiveness in the teaching of Jesus, let us give some examples of the best of ancient Judaism.

The Parable of Rabbi Meir

Rabbi Meir was famous for his parables (‘When R. Meir died there were no more makers of parables’ [Sota 9.15]), and this one is to be compared with the Prodigal Son. It is quite probably older than R. Meir himself (second century AD), having been attributed to him because of his reputation for parables:

A King’s son went out into evil courses, and the King sent his guardian (paidagogos) after him. ‘Return, my son,’ said he. But the son sent him back, saying to his father: ‘How can I return, I am ashamed.’ His father sent again saying: ‘My son, art thou indeed ashamed to return? Is it not to thy father that thou returnest?’ (Deut. R. 2.24 quoted from I. Abrahams, Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels: First Series [Cambridge: University Press, 1917], p. 142.)

Here we have the characteristic Jewish hope: the Lord God of Heaven and Earth is their father; he will accept his penitent son.

The Pharisees strove to maintain a balance between man’s duty to strive to earn pardon and his inability to attain it except as a gracious gift from God. This comes out in the famous saying of Antigonos of Socho: ‘Be not like slaves that minister to the master for the sake of receiving a bounty, but be like slaves that minister to the master not for the sake of receiving a bounty’ (Aboth 1.3). The Jew must serve: God will give.

The idea of the Father giving undeservedly is also found in a Talmudic legend:

A legend tells, that when the Almighty Lord
Proclaimed to Moses his eternal word,
He in a vision showed to him likewise
The treasures that lie stored in Paradise.
And at each one in turn the heavenly voice
Spake: ‘This the treasure is, that shall rejoice
His soul who freely giveth alms, and here
His portion is who dries the orphan’s tear.’
Thus one by one were all to him made known,
Until unnamed remained but one alone.
Then Moses said: ‘I pray thee, what is this?’
And answer made the Lord most High: ‘It is
The treasure of my mercy, freely given
To those who else were treasureless in heaven.

(I. Abrahams, Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels: First Series, p. 148.)

Thus far, we have been concerned with Jewish thought about Jews who sinned and fell short of their obligations to their God and Father. When we consider the Gentiles the situation changes somewhat, for a Gentile was a sinner, as it were, ‘by definition’: he lived apart from the Law and necessarily defiled God with every breath that he drew. There is evidence of this in the New Testament, for Paul betrays it unconsciously in his passionate altercation with Peter at Antioch: ‘We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners . . .’ (Gal. 2.15). ‘Sinner’ and ‘Gentile sinner’ were by no means the same thing; a Jew who sinned could hope for mercy from his heavenly Father, but a Gentile could not count God as his Father in the same way. The ancient Jews did at times reach a universalism that recognized the possibility of a righteous Gentile, but this attitude was by no means general. It is reported that one of the points in dispute between the Shammaites and the Hillelites was whether non-Jews had any share in the ‘age to come’, the Shammaites denying it, the Hillelites allowing the possibility (Asher Finkel, The Pharisees and the Teacher of Nazareth [Arbeiten zur Geschichte des Spätjudentums und Urchristentums IV (Leiden E. J. Brill, 1964)], p. 136.) Certainly for the time of Jesus, when anti-Gentile feeling was running high, the following apocalyptic passage would be typical:

And there shall be forgiveness of sins,
And every mercy and peace and forbearance:
There shall be salvation unto them, a goodly light.
And for all of you sinners there shall be no salvation,
But on you shall abide a curse.
But for the elect there shall be light and joy and peace,
And they shall inherit the earth.
(I Enoch 5. 6f [Charles])

It is clear that we have here two different groups of ‘sinners’; one of which can hope for forgiveness and one which cannot. The previous verse identifies the second group as ‘the sinners and godless’; they are the Gentiles.

This passage is typical of apocalyptic in that it identifies the forgiveness of sins as a major aspect of the apocalyptic hope. Naturally enough, with the rise of apocalyptic, the hope for God’s ultimate forgiveness becomes the hope for God’s eschatological forgiveness, and with the rise of Messianism, it becomes the hope for messianic forgiveness: In Pesikta 149a, the Messiah comes ‘with grace and pardon (slyhh) on his lips.’ This passage is also typical of apocalyptic in that it denies any hope to the ‘godless sinners’, and in apocalyptic this designation would include both the Gentiles and also those Jews of whom the particular seer disapproved, or who disapproved of the particular seer!

But it is not only in apocalyptic fanaticism that we find a group of Jews who are regarded as beyond hope, regarded, in fact, as Gentiles. In Palestinian Judaism there were a number of professions or activities which made the Jews who practised them ‘Gentile sinners’ in the eyes of their fellow Jews. Of these the worst were: dice player, usurer, pigeon flyer, trafficker in seventh-year produce (Sanh. 3.3), to which a Baraitha adds: shepherd, tax collector, and revenue farmer. (We shall make no attempt to distinguish between the various kinds of tax collectors, tax farmers and excise men. In Jewish eyes they were all tarred with the same brush and our sources do not distinguish them systematically from one another. In what follows, therefore, we are using ‘tax collector’ in a collective sense to include them all. Soncino B. T. Sanhedrin I, 148, n. 6, defines ‘tax collectors and publicans’: ‘Government lessees who collected customs duties, market tolls and similar special imposts, thus helping the Romans to exact the heavy taxes imposed upon the Jews.’) (b. Sanh. 25b; b. B.K. 94b). These were all notoriously robbers and in the first century the last two would also be especially hated as ‘Quislings’, because they collected taxes from their fellow Jews on behalf of hated Gentiles. They were all denied their normal citizenship rights; for example, so far as bearing witness was concerned, they had the same lack of standing as Gentile slaves (R.H. 1.8). ‘In other words: they were denied even those civil rights which every other Israelite, even the illegitimately born, could claim (J. Jeremias, Jerusalem zur Zeit Jesu [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, ‘1962], pp. 346f. [ET in preparation]. We are indebted to this work all through this section of our discussion.)

So we have to think in terms of three groups of ‘sinners’ : Jews who could turn to their heavenly Father in penitence and hope; Gentile sinners for whom hope was dubious, most Jews regarding them as beyond the pale of God’s mercy; and Jews who had made themselves as Gentiles, for whom penitence was, if not impossible, certainly almost insurmountably difficult. The language usage of our sources, both Jewish and Christian, bears this out, for we find the following combinations: tax collectors and thieves (Toh. 7.6, the passage concerns defilement: a tax collector defiles everything within the house by entering, as does a Gentile; B.K. 10.2); tax collectors and harlots (Matt. 21.32); extortioner, swindler, adulterer or even tax collector (Luke 18.11); murderers, robbers, tax collectors (Ned. 3.4); and, most important of all: tax collector and sinner (Mark 2.15f., and frequently), compare: tax collector and Gentile (Matt. 18.17). We are entitled to claim that the ‘tax collectors and sinners’ frequently found in the New Testament may be understood as ‘tax collectors and other Jews who have made themselves as Gentiles’. Such Jews were widely regarded as beyond hope of penitence or forgiveness, and their very presence in a house defiled all that was in it (Toh. 7.6, noted immediately above).

Against this background, we may appreciate the startling nature of Jesus’ proclamation of the forgiveness of sins, and understand the point at dispute between himself and those of his contemporaries who took offence at this proclamation. We may come to it by considering the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Luke 15.11-32. And he said, ‘There was a man who had two sons; 12and the younger of them said to his father, "Father, give me the share of the property which falls to me." And he divided his living between them. 13Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. 15 So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, "How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.’ " 20And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21And the son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son." 22But the father said to his servants, "Bring quickly the best robe and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; 23and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; 24for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." And they began to make merry.

25Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26And he called one of the servants and asked him what this meant. 27And he said to him, "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound." 28But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29but he answered his father, "Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!" 31And he said to him, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found." ’

The details at the beginning of the story are vividly drawn from life. In first-century Judaism the cities of the Levant offered far more opportunities for energetically inclined younger sons than did Palestine itself; and the procedure of dividing the property during the father’s lifetime, so that the younger son might have some capital for his venture, was both legal and feasible. In fact, the situation must have arisen many times as Jewish younger sons ventured into the Dispersion, in the way that, later, British younger sons ‘emigrated to the colonies’ or American younger Sons responded to the challenge: ‘Go west, young man.’ The hopes and fears surrounding such a venture would have been well known to Jesus’ hearers, and the fate of the son one with which they were familiar from known instances in their own family or district. The parable of Rabbi Meir, above, assumes exactly the same circumstance. It is at this point, however, that the two parables diverge, and the climax to this part of Jesus’ story is the fact that the boy became a swineherd. We saw above that the professional shepherd was one regarded as beyond the pale of Judaism, and this was doubly the case when the animals were swine, for they were unclean. Indeed, in the Tosephta we are told that Jewish swineherds are to be treated in the same way as Gentiles: they are not to be thrown into a pit, but neither are they to be helped out of one! (Reference taken from Billerbeck, Kommentar IV, 359.) A Jew who became a swineherd became a Gentile; he could no longer count the king as his father as could the son in Rabbi Meir’s parable. This, then, is the crux of the parable as Jesus told it. So far as many of his hearers were concerned, and certainly so far as the ones to whom the parable was particularly addressed were concerned, at this point the son becomes dead in his father’s eyes and any self-respecting Jewish father would have spurned him had he returned in such disgrace.

In the remainder of the first part of the parable, Jesus goes out of his way to contradict this viewpoint. The father is depicted as recognizing the gravity of the son’s offence (v. 24: ‘. . . was dead . . . was lost . . .’), but as forgiving it in a way that can only be described as extravagant; and no doubt the extravagance is deliberate. The father runs out to welcome the son, ‘a most unusual and undignified procedure for an aged oriental’ (Jeremias), freely forgives him, treats him as an honoured guest and restores him to a position of dignity and authority in his household. (The kiss is [as in II Sam. 14.33] a sign of forgiveness; the feast is a sign of rejoicing; the robe marks him as an honoured guest; the ring is a signet ring and a symbol of authority; the shoes mark him as a free man, not a slave. J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], p. 130.) Every touch of which a creative mind could conceive, and still stay within the limits of a realistic story, has been used to depict the free and absolute nature of the father’s forgiveness, all in deliberate contrast to the expectation of those to whom the parable was addressed. But their viewpoint is not ignored. Far from it! It is introduced on the lips of the elder son.

The second part of the parable is integral to the whole, and the characters in it are every bit as realistically conceived and presented as those in the first part. There is, therefore, no reason to regard it as a later addition, as Bultmann suggests is possible. (R. Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, p. 196.) The first part depicts the father as acting completely contrary to the expectations of the hearers; the second part brings their (from their point of view) legitimate protest to expression through the elder son. Completely realistically and, indeed, sympathetically conceived and presented, he protests, in the name of a regular and quite proper Jewish concept of justice, against the unfairness, to him, of the whole proceedings. We fail to appreciate the significance of this part of the parable if we think of the elder son as being presented as an unsympathetic and ill-natured character. His attitude was proper, granted his presuppositions, and, without the kind of legalism his presuppositions represent, the conduct of human affairs and the regular business of living in family or community would rapidly become impossible. The whole point of the father’s reply is that this is an extraordinary situation, a once-in-a-lifetime situation, wherein the ordinarily proper rules do not apply, a situation through which the family can attain a quite new and hitherto impossible quality of life and relationship.

We must here stress the point that the story is a parable and not an allegory. The father is not God, the elder son is not a Pharisee; the whole story concerns a real family in a familiar situation. The characters in it do and express things that were live options in first-century Palestine. If the father behaves in an unorthodox fashion, well, it is not the first time that paternal love has overstepped the bounds of conventional religious behaviour. The reality of the story is its power, and the point that makes it a parable is the analogy between the situation of the family and that of Palestinian Judaism at the time of Jesus’ ministry. The family was confronted by the crisis of the fall and return of the prodigal, and in this crisis the quality of the father’s love made possible a new and deeper reality of family life and relationships. Palestinian Judaism was confronted by a crisis when Jesus proclaimed the eschatological forgiveness of sins, and ‘tax collectors and other Jews who had made themselves as Gentiles’ responded in glad acceptance. Here was a situation in which the reality of God and his love was being revealed in a new and decisive way, and in which, therefore, the joys of the salvation time were suddenly available to those who had longed for them so long and so earnestly. The tragedy was that the new situation demanded a willingness to sacrifice principles and attitudes previously regarded as essential to the life of the community and its relationship with God, and for this many were unprepared. The new wine was bursting the old wineskins.

It has recently been said, in the context of a discussion of this parable, that ‘. . . Jesus’ conduct was itself a real framework of his proclamation’, (Ernst Fuchs, ‘The Quest of the Historical Jesus’, in his collected essays Studies of the Historical Jesus[Studies in Biblical Theology 42 (London: SCM Press, 1964)], ET by Andrew Scobie of Zur Frage nach dem historisschen Jesus [Gesammelte Aufsätze II[1960], p.21.) and there is no doubt of the validity of this claim. The parable clearly reflects the situation of the ministry of Jesus, and is equally clearly designed to open men s eyes to the reality of that situation, as Jesus himself saw it. It expresses Jesus’ understanding and reflects his vision. It challenges men to join him in the joyous celebration of the new relationship with God and one another which the realization that the time of the eschatological forgiveness of sins is now makes possible.

The same point is made in the twin parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, Luke 15.3-8 par., Matt. 18.12-14, and Luke 15.8-10, to a discussion of which we now turn.

The Lost Sheep

Luke 15.3. So he told them this parable: 4‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? 5And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost." 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.’

Matt. 18.12. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go in search of the one that went astray? 13And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

There is a version of this parable in Thomas.

Thomas 107. Jesus said: ‘The Kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One of them went astray, which was the largest. He left behind ninety-nine, he sought for the one until he found it. Having tired himself out, he said to the sheep: "I love thee more than ninety-nine."’

The Thomas version does not help us very much. We know from the Fathers, e.g. Irenaeus Adv. haer. II 24.6, that this parable was much used by Gnostics, and, both in Thomas and in the Gospel of Truth where a version of it is also to be found, it has become so much a vehicle for expressing gnostic teaching that the versions do not help us to reconstruct the teaching of Jesus (for a good discussion of the meaning and use of this parable in its gnostic setting, see B. Gärtner, Theology of the Gospel According to Thomas, pp. 234 ff.) Turning to the canonical versions, it is immediately apparent that the conclusion in each instance represents the evangelist’s understanding and use of the parable -- Matthew in connection with the Christian zeal for an apostate brother and Luke with divine concern for the outcast in Israel. Of these two, only the latter could be dominical, but it was pointed out by Cadoux that the verse appears to have been composed on the basis of the closing verse of the Lost Coin with the help of a sentence that the Matthaean version has in the parable itself. (A.T. Cadoux, Parables of Jesus [London: James Clarke, 1931], p. 231.) Further, it is clearly inappropriate to the parable itself; for the question immediately arises: Where did the shepherd take his sheep? Are we to assume that he took it back home to his village, leaving the other ninety-nine in the wilderness? The most probable assumption is that the ending was added to this parable in the tradition at a time when it was brought together with that of the Lost Coin. (E. Linnemann, Parables of Jesus [ET by John Sturdy of Gleichnisse Jesu (1961); London, SPCK, and New York, Harper and Row, 1966], pp. 67f.) Of the two versions, Matthew’s seems nearer to the original, since it is less developed than Luke’s: ‘until he finds it’ in Luke 15.4 reflects the assurance that God has sought out the outcast as over against the more realistic ‘If he finds it’ in Matt. 18.13, and the vivid touch about the shepherd carrying the sheep, while completely realistic, is the kind of thing that is more readily accounted for as an addition than as an omission.

The most original form of the parable available to us still presents a problem: Where did the shepherd leave the ninety-nine sheep ? To those who know the conditions in Palestine, then and now, it is inconceivable that he should have left them to fend for themselves ‘on the hills’ or ‘in the wilderness’, (These two phrases are certainly synonyms, the hill country of Judea being wilderness country and the Aramaic tura having both meanings. J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], p. 533; M. Black, Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts [1957], pp. 254f.) and a scholar who lived there for many years suggests that it would be very nice if we could understand the reference to the hills/wilderness as indicating where the shepherd went to look for the lost sheep, assuming that he had left the flock safely in the fold (E.F.F. Bishop, ‘Parable of the Lost or Wandering Sheep’, ATR 44 [1962], 44-57.) But although this is the reading of the Textus Receptus, and of the AV and RV translations, it is certainly not the original reading, but one introduced in the textual tradition precisely to remove this difficulty. Luke has no such rendering, and all modern critical texts reject it in Matthew. Unimpressed by the reading, but impressed by the problem, Jeremias appeals to the normal Palestinian practice of counting the sheep as they enter the fold at night and argues that the story implies that this is when the loss was discovered. So we are to assume that the shepherd left the flock in the care of other shepherds who shared the fold with him and went off to look for the missing animal. (J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], p. 133.) Both Bishop and Jeremias quote the story of the young goatherd Muhammed ed-Deeb, who discovered the first Qumran cave. Having omitted to count his flock, according to custom, for two consecutive evenings, he counted them in mid-morning, found one missing and went off to look for it, leaving the remainder of his flock (fifty-five head) in the charge of two companions. But although this is reasonable and in accord with Palestinian shepherd life, it is still only an assumption and not in accordance with the text as we have it. There is no reason here to give up the text-critical principle of preferring the more difficult reading. We cannot even argue that it is possible that the story changed as the tradition lost contact with the Palestinian countryside, because the T.R. reading in Matthew is evidence that the difficulty was felt in the tradition.

Our discussion of this parable leaves us to interpret a version very much like that now found in Matt. 18.12, 13, and the moment we turn to those verses, deliberately forgetting the other versions and interpretations, we find we have a story of panic and pleasure, of a sudden crisis that changes all values and of a new situation of joy and gladness. A man suffers a loss and panics, and we must remember that in first-century Palestine, constantly on the edge of famine, the loss of one sheep from a flock was a most serious loss. In his consternation, the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and goes after the one, the crisis having made him forget the normal principles of caution and reasonable behaviour. In his searching, the dangers inherent in what he had done would dawn on him and he has, therefore, a double reason for rejoicing when he not only recovers the one but finds the ninety-nine safely awaiting him on his return.

One reason for accepting a version of the story such as this as the original is that the shepherd comes out of it as all too human, and as ‘dead lucky’, to use a modern idiom. The difficulty with accepting the Lukan interpretation as essentially correct and seeing the shepherd as Jesus’ ‘image of God’s activity of love’, as does Jeremias, (J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], p. 133.) is that the shepherd was a ‘Jew who had made himself a Gentile’ in ancient Judaism. While this does not mean that Jesus could not have used the figure in this way, it does lend weight to an interpretation in which the shepherd is not a symbol for God, but rather the whole situation of the story is analogous to the situation of the ministry of Jesus. In the story a crisis led to a seemingly obtuse forgetfulness of normal and normally good practices, but the end result was a new kind of joy. The same was true of the crisis of the ministry of Jesus: for those who would accept the challenge and realize the need for ‘new wineskins’ the possibility of a wholly new kind of joy was very real.

The Lost Coin

Luke 15.8. Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

Here again, the conclusion in v.10 is to be disregarded as editorial. We have a simple and vivid story of a peasant woman who loses either a significant part of her small hoard of money or a part of her wedding head-dress, (So Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], p.134, with the support of E. F. F. Bishop, Jesus of Palestine, p. 191.) carries out a desperate search for it and is so overjoyed to find it again that she calls in friends and neighbours to celebrate with her. One is tempted to see the lighting of the lamp in daylight as a measure of forgetfulness induced by the crisis, but it probably is simply a vivid touch reflecting the lack of light in a peasant’s cottage even in daytime. As compared to the other parables, Prodigal Son and Lost Sheep, there is here less emphasis upon the ‘need for new wineskins’ and proportionately more upon the crisis and the ultimate rejoicing; indeed, in this respect, the parable is nearer to the Hid Treasure and Pearl than to its companion parables in Luke 15. It may be that originally its purpose was nearer to that of the Hid Treasure and Pearl, i.e. it was concerned to stress the joyful response to the finding of a hid treasure, a pearl or a lost valuable, and that it is the element of something lost in it which brought it together with the Lost Sheep in the tradition. There is, however, no need to force a decision on this point. Clearly, the parable belongs to one or other of these two groups in which Jesus challenges his hearers to recognize the crisis of the Now of the proclamation, the proclamation of God reaching out to men in the challenge of the forgiveness of sins and offering them thereby the real possibility of a new kind of relationship with himself and with one another.

The Table-Fellowship of the Kingdom of God

This brings us to the last aspect of Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God with which we shall be concerned: his table-fellowship with ‘tax collectors and sinners’. This is not a proclamation in words at all, but an acted parable. But it is more, indeed, than an acted parable; it is the aspect of Jesus’ ministry which must have been most meaningful to his followers and most offensive to his critics. That it has all but disappeared from the gospel tradition is an indication of how far removed from historical reminiscence of the ministry of Jesus that tradition is, in its present form.

At this juncture we should note the point made recently by N. A. Dahl, namely, that any historical understanding of the ministry and message of Jesus must make sense of the fact that that ministry ended on the cross. (N. A. Dahl, ‘The Problem of the Historical Jesus’, Kerygma and History, ed. Carl E. Braaten and Roy A. Harrisville [New York: Abingdon Press, 1962], pp.538-75, esp. 158f.) There must have been something about it that gave very grave offence indeed to his contemporaries. It is difficult to believe that this would be an interpretation of the Law, however radical. Rabbis threatened one another with all kinds of things in their disputes with one another, as their literature testifies. But this was mostly hyperbole, and to bring in the Romans to settle a dispute about the Law, however vehement that dispute might be, is really beyond the bounds of reasonable possibility. The cleansing of the Temple itself hardly suffices. The Romans would certainly have taken very stern notice of any uproar in the Temple at a festival, since they feared, and rightly, the constant possibility of an uprising beginning there at such a time. But to hand a fellow Jew over to the Romans was a desperate step for the Jewish authorities to take, and the Temple incident itself is sufficient neither to explain how they came to determine among themselves to do it nor why they were prepared to risk their control over the Jewish populace -- in the case that Jesus’ action should have been popular -- by taking such a step. There must have been a factor in the situation which both drove the authorities themselves to desperate measures and also gave them a defence against popular accusation. We suggest that a regular table-fellowship, in the name of the Kingdom of God, between Jesus and his followers, when those followers included ‘Jews who had made themselves as Gentiles’, would have been just such a factor.

We must always remember that the Jews were under the pressure of being a people living under the occupation of their country by a foreign power. This pressure was such that it led to the hopeless, but none the less inevitable revolt against Rome of AD 66-70. Under these circumstances, the overwhelming tendency would be to close ranks against the enemy, and Jews who served him, like the Quislings of occupied Europe during the Second World War, would be especially hated. Moreover, the religious hope was the mainspring of the Jewish morale; the conviction that God was on their side was what upheld them and gave them hope. Then came Jesus, claiming that they were wrong in their understanding of God and his attitude to these outcasts and so striking a blow at the fundamental convictions which upheld the Jewish people. But more than that, Jesus welcomed these outcasts into table-fellowship with himself in the name of the Kingdom of God, in the name of the Jews’ ultimate hope, and so both prostituted that hope and also shattered the closed ranks of the community against their enemy. It is hard to imagine anything more offensive to Jewish sensibilities. To have become such an outcast himself would have been much less of an outrage than to welcome those people back into the community in the name of the ultimate hope of that community. Intense conviction, indeed, is necessary to explain such an act on the part of Jesus, and such an act on the part of Jesus is necessary, we would claim, to make sense of the fact of the cross. Now the Jewish authorities could act in face of the necessity to keep the community whole and its hope pure; now they could face a popular resentment with the overwhelming retort that the fellow, for all his personal attractiveness and superficial popularity, was worse than a Quisling!

Further evidence for the existence of table-fellowship with ‘tax collectors and sinners’ as a feature of the ministry of Jesus is the role played by communal meals in earliest Christianity ( E. Lohmeyer, Lord of the Temple [ET by Stewart Todd of Kultus und Evangelism (1942); Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1961], pp. 79ff, discusses the central role of table-fellowship in the ministry of Jesus, but he is particularly concerned with the development towards the Last Supper, which he sees as historical, rather than with the relationship between this table-fellowship and the cross, on the one hand, and the communal meals of early Christianity on the other.) We have every reason to believe that these were very important indeed: the testimony of Acts (i.e. 2.46) is to this effect, and the epistles of the New Testament, and the Didache, bear witness to it. Further, it is evident that the meals themselves were the important thing and not a theological purpose which they might be said to serve. The existence of such different theological emphases as those connected with the ‘Lord’s Supper’ in the New Testament (I Cor. 2) is an indication that the occasion has called forth the theologies, not the theologies the occasion. The practice of early Christian communal meals existed before there was a specifically Christian theology to give it meaning. We may not argue that the meals are an echo of a ‘last supper’ held by Jesus with his disciples during the Passion, because, even if such an occasion as is reported in the gospels is historical, it has not, in itself, given rise to the early Christian practice. It cannot have done so, because all of our evidence indicates that the kind of theological emphasis associated with the ‘last supper’ in the gospels was by no means the major emphasis in early Christian communal meals from the very beginning, as it would have to have been if this had been the occasion for them. Nor is it easy to see what religious practice of ancient Judaism could have occasioned early Christian communal meals, if we want to argue that they are derived from Judaism. Not the Passover meal; that was a yearly affair. Not the haburah fellowship meal celebrated by a group of Pharisees; no such meal existed (J. Jeremias, Eucharistic Words of Jesus [1965], pp. 30 f.) Not the Qumran communal meal anticipating the ‘messianic banquet’, for all that this may have influenced the Christian practice, because that is simply a special meaning given to the regular communal meal at Qumran, whereas our evidence indicates that the Christian practice was something out of the ordinary which the early Christians did and which helped to give them a special identity. They were not, after all, a monastic community to whom regular communal meals were part of a way of life. No, the most reasonable explanation of the fact of early Christian communal meals is that they are a continuation of a regular practice of the ministry of Jesus.

The nature and meaning of this practice in the ministry of Jesus has to be reconstructed from its reflection in the few authentic sayings of Jesus we have and in the parables. In particular, there are two sayings of great significance in this context: Matt. 11.16-19 and Matt. 8.11, both indubitably authentic (See the detailed argumentation on this point in our further discussion and interpretation of these sayings further in this writing re. Matt. 11.16-19, and Matt. 8.11).

Matthew 11.16-19

16But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, 17‘We piped to you, and you did not dance: we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.

From the invective against Jesus in v. 19, we can see that there are two things giving offence: his eating habits and the fact that he is a ‘friend’ of ‘tax collectors and sinners’. With regard to the former, the question must be: What would be serious enough in such a matter to give rise to this kind of invective? That he was not punctilious in his observance of prescribed fasts? This might be the case, and certainly the evidence is that Jesus and his disciples did not, in fact, fast in the prescribed manner, as we saw earlier in this chapter. But it is hard to think that failure to observe the prescribed fasts would attract the same kind of attention as John’s marked asceticism (clothing, manner of speech, burden of his message, etc.) and so cause a similarly vehement response. It would surely have to be something much more noticeable and something inherently much more offensive. Further, in Hebrew or Aramaic, two parallel phrases of the type

. . . a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners!

would normally express some kind of parallelism, and they would certainly imply a close relationship between the two things. Laxness in observance of fasts and friendship with religious and social outcasts could certainly be regarded as related to one another, but only in a quite general way.

If, however, we understand the phrase ‘a glutton and a drunkard’ to refer to Jesus’ habit of holding table-fellowship, and the ‘friend of tax collectors and sinners’ to refer to the people with whom he was prepared to hold that fellowship, then we have at one and the same time a matter of notable and noticeable offensiveness. We have also two parallel phrases supplementing one another in reference to the same matter, an altogether regular Semitic idiom. Finally, the tone of the whole (‘glutton’, ‘drunkard’, ‘friend’) could be an allusion to the joyousness which characterized this table-fellowship. We are prepared to argue that this is a reasonable understanding of the invective: it refers to the practice of Jesus in holding table-fellowship with ‘tax collectors and other Jews who had made themselves as Gentiles’, and it characterizes that table-fellowship as joyous.

Matthew 8.11

I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.

This saying demands a context such as the table-fellowship we are discussing. It clearly refers to the expected messianic banquet of the time of salvation, (see our discussion below) and it emphasizes the universalism that will be a feature of it. In view of the emphasis upon ‘tax collectors and sinners that is so widespread in the tradition, it is natural to see this emphasis upon universalism as arising out of that concern. Teaching relating to a messianic banquet is a commonplace of Jewish apocalyptic, but, in view of the pointed reference normally to be detected in sayings and parables of Jesus, we would not expect his saying to be either general or commonplace. That it should have its point of departure in the table-fellowship with tax collectors and sinners is so natural in itself and so fitting to the concern of the saying that we are surely justified in setting the saying in this context. But in that case, this saying tells us a great deal about the table-fellowship; it tells us that the fellowship was an anticipation of that to be expected in the Kingdom. (On the future aspect of the fellowship, see our discussion of this saying below.) The parallel between the situation envisaged in the saying and that providing its point of departure in the ministry of Jesus is such that we must see the table-fellowship of that ministry as a table-fellowship ‘of the Kingdom’ and as anticipating a table-fellowship ‘in the Kingdom’.

Finally, there are the parables that reflect the offence created by Jesus’ relationship to, and acceptance of, ‘tax collectors and sinners’, above all, the Prodigal Son, Lost Sheep and Lost Coin, discussed above. The situation to which these are directed is clearly one of grave offence; any cause less than table-fellowship with the outcasts in the name of the Kingdom of God is scarcely adequate to the result. The table-fellowship of the ministry of Jesus was not, of course, restricted to the penitent tax collectors and sinners. These are the extreme examples of the acceptance of the challenge of the forgiveness offered in the proclamation of Jesus, and they are the occasion for the greatest offence of Jesus in the eyes of his opponents; but in the group of his disciples and followers they could only have been a small minority, however spectacularly noticeable their presence in the group might be. The ‘table-fellowship of the Kingdom’, as we have called it, was a feature of the common life of Jesus and his followers altogether, and a symbol of the new kind of relationship made possible by the common acceptance of the challenge. Scribe, tax collector, fisherman and Zealot came together around the table at which they celebrated the joy of the present experience and anticipated its consummation in the future.

The central feature of the message of Jesus is, then, the challenge of the forgiveness of sins and the offer of the possibility of a new kind of relationship with God and with one’s fellow man. This was symbolized by a table-fellowship which celebrated the present joy and anticipated the future consummation; a table-fellowship of such joy and gladness that it survived the crucifixion and provided the focal point for the community life of the earliest Christians, and was the most direct link between that community life and the pre-Easter fellowship of Jesus and his disciples. In all probability, it was the vividness of the memory of that pre-Easter fellowship between the disciples and the earthly Jesus that provided the pattern for the development of that remarkable sense of fellowship between the early Christians and the risen Lord which is such a feature of primitive Christianity -- and which has had such an effect on the Jesus tradition. At all events, we are justified in seeing this table-fellowship as the central feature of the ministry of Jesus; an anticipatory sitting at table in the Kingdom of God and a very real celebration of present joy and challenge. Here a great deal of the private teaching of Jesus to his disciples must have had its Sitz im Leben -- especially the Lord’s Prayer must belong here -- and here the disciples must have come to know the special way that Jesus had of ‘breaking bread’ which gave rise to the legend of the Emmaus road (Luke 24.35).

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