CF102 Lecture Summaries - The Gospels

The John Rylands Fragment John 18:31-33 (117-138 AD).  The earliest known copy of any portion of the New Testament is from a papyrus codex (2.5 by 3.5 inches). It dates from the first half of the second century A.D. 117-138. (P.52)The papyrus is written on both sides and contains portions of five verses from the gospel of John (18:31-33,37-38). Because this fragment was found in Egypt a distance from the place of composition (Asia Minor) it demonstrates the chain of transmission. The fragment belongs to the John Rylands Library at Manchester, England.

The John Rylands Fragment John 18:31-33 (117-138 AD). The earliest known copy of any portion of the New Testament is from a papyrus codex (2.5 by 3.5 inches). It dates from the first half of the second century A.D. 117-138. (P.52)The papyrus is written on both sides and contains portions of five verses from the gospel of John (18:31-33,37-38). Because this fragment was found in Egypt a distance from the place of composition (Asia Minor) it demonstrates the chain of transmission. The fragment belongs to the John Rylands Library at Manchester, England.

Overview

This module explores the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel according to St John from an Orthodox perspective, with the intention of enabling students to develop an understanding of the historical context and theology(ies) of the Synoptic Gospels and that of St John.

The module aims to dedicate particular attention to understanding the writings of Evangelist John within the Orthodox tradition. It intends to do this by identifying and reflecting on some of the principal theological themes and questions of the Johannine writings.

Finally, the module will entertain the question how can modern biblical scholarship be useful to Christian believers wishing to grow closer to the Gospel text.

Lecture 1 - The Synoptic Gospels: Introduction

Students are introduced into the question of how Gospels should be studied. We touch on such methods as form criticism, narrative criticism. Special attention is given to the so-called “Synoptic Problem”. These methods are critically exposed in the light of an Orthodox approach.

Required Study:

Sanders and Davies: Studying the Synoptic Gospels
Stanton: The Gospels and Jesus
Fr John Florovsky: Bible Church Tradition (Chapter 1)
Fr John Breck: Orthodoxy and the Bible Today
Fr Demetrios Bathrellos: The Eastern Orthodox Tradition for Today and the Bible
Vesselin Kesich: The Gospel Image of Christ (Chapter 2)
Fr George Florovsky: The Lost Scriptural Mind
Fr George Florovsky: The Function of Tradition in the Ancient Church

Key Sources:

  • Stanton Graham, The Gospels and Jesus (Oxford, 1989).
  • Sanders E.P. and Davies M., Studying the Synoptic Gospels (London, 1989).
  • Tuckett, C. M. (ed.) Synoptic Studies (Sheffield, 1984).

 

Lecture 2 - The Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel of St Matthew is examined in a way that focuses on its treatment of the Jewish roots of Christianity. Students will be introduced to an Orthodox approach to Matthean theology: how does Christ “fulfil the Law and the Prophets” according to St Matthew?

Key Sources:

  • Kingsbury, J.D., Matthew: Structure, Christology, and Kingdom (London, 1976)
  • Meier J. P., The Vision of Matthew: Christ, Church and Morality in the First Gospel (New York, 1979)
  • Hill D., The Gospel of Matthew (London, 1972).
  • Beare F.W., The Gospel according to Matthew (Oxford, 1981).

 

Lecture 3 - The Gospel of Mark

The lecture studies theological traits of St Mark’s account, attempting in an Orthodox way to answer questions raised by modern scholarship, such as the so-called Messianic secret (W. Wrede) and others.

Key Sources:

  • Best E., Mark — the Gospel as Story (Edinburgh 1983).
  • Best E., Following Jesus: Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark (Sheffield, 1981)
  • Hooker M., The Message of Mark (London, 1983)
  • Nineham D. E., The Gospel of St Mark (Harmondsworth, 1963).
  • Schweizer E., The Good News according to Mark (London, 1971).

 

Lecture 4 - The Gospel of Luke

Major theological themes of St Luke’s Gospel are examined, such as St Luke’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit, his universalism, his view of history, as well as his concern for women, the poor, outcasts and sinners.

Stanton: The Gospels and Jesus

Key Sources:

  • Barrett C. K., Luke the Historian in Recent Study (London, 1961).
  • Conzelmann H., The Theology of St Luke (London, 1960).
  • Marshall I.H., Luke, Historian and Theologian (Exeter, 1970).
  • Caird G.B., Saint Luke (Harmondsworth, 1963).
  • Firzmayer J. A., The Gospel according to Luke (New York, 1981-1985).

 

Lecture 5a - The Parables

Why did Christ speak in parables? The lecture examines this main form of Christ’s teaching. We shall look for an Orthodox answer to the question of the purpose and nature of Christ’s parables.

  • Dodd C. H., The Parables of the Kingdom (London, 1935).
  • Drury J., The Parables in the Gospels (London, 1985).
  • Jeremias J., The Parables of Jesus (London, 1963).
  • Hendrickx H., The Parables of Jesus (London, 1986).
  • Breech J., The Silence of Jesus. The Authentic Voice of the Historical Man (Philadelphia 1983)
  • Jones G. V., The Art and Truth of the Parables : a Study in Their Literary Form and Modern Interpretation (London, 1964)

Lecture 5b- Miracles

We also consider the theological function of Christ’s miracles as it is understood by the Synoptic writers. 

 

Lecture 6 - The Synoptic Gospels - Eschatology

The lecture introduces students to the field of recent biblical studies on St John. It considers the methods of the historical approach such as form and redaction criticism, as well as narrative criticism, with particular attention to the theories about Johannine community developed by R. Brown and L. Martyn. The critical evaluation of these methods from the Orthodox point of view produces a set of assumptions essential for an Orthodox approach to the Gospel.

Key Sources:

  • Moore A.L., The Parousia in the New Testament (Leiden, 1966).
  • Culmann O., Salvation in History (London, 1967).
  • Conzelmann H., The Theology of St Luke (London, 1960)
  • Meier J. P., Matthew (1985)

 

Lecture 7 - The Gospel of John

This presentation briefly explores Incarnational Christology (with particular attention to the Prologue and concept of the Logos), and highlights the intensive Johannine interest in the personhood of Christ, focusing on the concept of the “Lamb of God”. It further examines the “relational” aspect of Johannine Christology and Triadology (the concept of the Paraclete receives special attention). 

Key Sources:

  • Kysar R., The Maverick Gospel (Atlanta, 1993).
  • Koester C. R., Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel (Minneapolis, 2003).
  • Lindars Barnabas, John (Sheffield, 1990).
  • Smailey S., John – Evangelist and Interpreter (Exeter, 1983).

 

Lecture 8 - The Christology of John's Gospel

Here we look at Johannine ethics with their focus on “personalistic righteousness”, thus explaining the difference of presentation when compared with the Synoptic Gospels. It focuses on St John’s language of stories and personages, which serve as hypostatic paradigms. It further examines the paradigms of righteousness and discipleship (Peter, Beloved Disciple) and the paradigmatic presentation of sin (Judas, the Jews).

Key Sources:

  • Smith D. M., The Theology of the Gospel of John (Cambridge, 1995).
  • Ashton J., Studying John: Approaches to the Fourth Gospel (Oxford, 1998)

 

Chester Beatty Papyri (250 AD).  This important papyri consists of three codices and contains most of the New Testament. (P.45, P.46, P.47). The first codex(P.45) has 30 leaves (pages) of papyrus codex. 2 from Matthew, 2 from John, 6 from Mark, 7 from Luke and 13 from Acts. Originally there were 220 pages measuring 8x10 inches each. (P.46)The second codex has 86 leaves 11x6.5 inches. 104 pages of Paul’s epistles. P.47 is made of 10 leaves from Revelation measuring 9.5 by 5.5 inches.

Chester Beatty Papyri (250 AD). This important papyri consists of three codices and contains most of the New Testament. (P.45, P.46, P.47). The first codex(P.45) has 30 leaves (pages) of papyrus codex. 2 from Matthew, 2 from John, 6 from Mark, 7 from Luke and 13 from Acts. Originally there were 220 pages measuring 8x10 inches each. (P.46)The second codex has 86 leaves 11x6.5 inches. 104 pages of Paul’s epistles. P.47 is made of 10 leaves from Revelation measuring 9.5 by 5.5 inches.

Lecture 9 - Language of the Person, Hypostasis in the Gospel of John

This lecture highlights the fundamental significance of the human person and personal relationship in St John’s kerygma. From this perspective the central concepts of “πιστεύειν”, “eternal life”, “flesh and spirit” are examined . It further focuses on St John’s ethics of interpersonal relationship with particular attention to chapter 17 and the epistles. 

  • Prof. Panagiotis Nellas: Why Did God Become Man? The Archetype of Humanity is the Incarnate Word

Key Sources:

  • Brown R., The Community of the Beloved Disciple (New York, 1979).
  • Martyn L., History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel (Nashville, 1979).

 

Lecture 10 - St John's Gospel - The genesis of persona: Johannine anthropology

In focus here are some questions raised by modern biblical studies concerning the ecclesiological and sacramental perspectives in St John, as well as the significance and function of Christ’s symbolic actions and miracles in the 4th Gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Learning Statement - CF102 The Gospels

1. What do you think you have gained from the course?

This term I completed the unit, The Gospels (CF102). I feel like I learnt so much in such a very short space of time (circa 2 months of continuous study, several hours per day on average). I have attempted to document this end-to-end learning journey on my personal web site. These snippets include, my notes from the lectures, sources for my essay on parables, key definitions I thought I should document over time, key software and online systems to help with studying the Bible and much more.

The two main things I gained from this course are:

a. Knowledge of The Gospels and their contents, especially how the background setting of each evangelist may have affected how they wrote their gospel for their specific outreach communities (e.g. Matthew for outreach to the Jewish community, often quoting from the Old Testament). Also the difference between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John in style (Jesus teaches the crowds using parables in the Synoptic Gospels, and Saint John instead provides accounts of where Jesus meets individuals one-to-one, i.e., universal typologies), the role of miracles in the early church, and the introduction of the hypostatic paradigm, and the device of antinomy and paradox throughout the Gospels. I enjoyed the focus on each Gospel and corresponding evangelist, and then several weeks on John the evangelist, christology, the person and finally anthropological aspects. I especially appreciated understanding more about the way that modern scholars conduct biblical criticism as opposed to the way the Early Church Fathers focus more on content of the Scriptures than form.

b. Even greater faith in the Euaggelion as the inspired word of God. In studying, for instance, the Parables, I see how unique Christ's teachings are, in form, in content, in layered meaning- literal, moral and spiritual. I have found myself in continual amazement over God's gifts to us. I have wanted so much, especially in the morning and before going to sleep, to consider Christ, and to pray to Him as the living God, even more convinced of His eternal presence. I have also come to a closer more intimate awareness through the Gospel of John of Trinitarian theology and can better detect passages that signify intercommunion between the divine members of the Holy Trinity.

2. Please comment on any unanticipated outcomes of the course.

I have persistently been challenged by this course- yes, knowledge is important, but of greater importance is a stable prayer life, and acquiring the mindfulness of the Fathers. As I researched deeply into the topic I had chosen to be assessed in, I realised how much more important the acquisition of spiritual lessons embedded in our life is (e.g. the lessons of the parables) beyond creating an exhaustive library of reference citations for my essay in a worldly sense. The continual challenge for me personally will be to excel in my studies at IOC but at the same time to strive to cultivate harmony in all other aspects of my life to the best of my ability. It is perhaps why I so much appreciated the 10 lectures delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. He struck a fine balance between the content we should be introduced to given our candidature and the required knowledge to understand various approaches to the Bible WITH beautiful stories from the Fathers and Mothers of our Church. This was exactly what I looked forward to while I listened to the lectures again and again -- hardcore content of biblical studies, intermingled with learnings from stories that have been passed down from generation to generation and documented in the lives of the Saints. 

3. Did your course change your view of the topic, and if so, in what way?

I did not exactly understand the place of the "person" prior to this course as I had not really thought about it too carefully, outside a human rights context.

I also came to a better understanding on the structure of the Gospels, whereas previously I would not query for instance, why accounts differed one to the other, and why one Gospel included more detail than the other.

I thought the discussion on the formation of the Canon was also critical. In addition, the importance of interpreting Scripture using the consensus patrum and not one's own ideas.

4. Please use this space if you wish to comment further on the academic experience of your course

This course is set out so well using the online learning platform. The lectures by Rev. Dr. Nikolai are treasures. He makes such complex things so simple to understand, is so thorough, and a pleasure to listen and learn from. A lot of material is covered in a single lecture. I found the weekly meetings with Rev. Dr. Alexander Tefft to be highly complementary to my learning- he was a wonderful guide and every interaction on group chat was something I looked forward to at 6am. The materials provided of required reading and recommended reading links were excellent. I found myself more comfortable with the intensive mode of delivery, going through the lectures back to back, and then re-playing them again. This experience has been such a positive start that I cannot wait for the next course to begin.

Why Did Christ Speak in Parables? An Essay by Katina Michael (Final Submission)

Below is the final version of my draft essay. I received very positive feedback after my draft submission, but also some critical changes to be made before final submission. I tried my best to address these as per the suggestions of my tutor. I gained so much from taking this final redraft process seriously. My thanks to my tutor Rev. Dr. Alexander Tefft for his guidance and time in extensive feedback provided. In many ways I almost felt this was like a peer review of my paper, and I likewise responded by addressing a line by line list of corrections made.

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This paper explores why Christ spoke in parables in the context of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The word parable, means “putting things side by side”. In the Synoptic Gospels, official parables number thirty, however this number varies depending on the criteria for accepting a passage of New Testament (NT) Scripture as a standalone parable. Importantly, a parable should not be confused with mashal, which is to be found in the Old Testament, and which contained only a single message. The parables of Christ are rich in form and content in the Synoptic Gospels and lend themselves to being interpreted allegorically, as well as literally. In the Gospel of John, Christ’s parables are presented using hypostatic language. Somehow Christ is able to reach out to the crowds who have come to hear Him, using only simple stories they could grasp that were contextually set in everyday life. And yet at once the listener who stood among the masses could place himself or herself typologically within the parable; free to choose whether they would follow the Great Storyteller or would resist His message (Beavis 2001, p. 3). Christ’s parables are universal, they have traversed space and time, they are equally relevant today as they were over 2000 years ago. Plainly, Christ wished to ensure that everyone who heard him teach could comprehend his profound message and come to the realisation of the state of their personhood with a clear way forward toward salvation. I intend to prove that the parables of Christ are the basis of Christian ethical judgement, and not merely explicit didacticism. This paper is broken into five parts: definitional; biblical sources; Early Church Fathers; modern scholarship; and discussion.

Parable as Allegory in Context of the NT

The word parable (the Greek root-word παραβολή [Gk], parabole) means “comparison”, and was the manner in which the primitive Christian Church described the stories that Christ used to illustrate his teachings (Potapov 2000). According to Victor Potapov (2000), "a parable is a spiritual lesson of a story developed by comparison to everyday life. The Lord's parables draw memorable details from nature, human, social, economic, or religious life of His time." A parable is similar to an allegory, although the latter usually denotes a more detailed comparison of elements of a tale (Tasker 1962, p. 932). There is no doubt among Eastern Orthodox scholars, that the parables of the New Testament were allegories and lent themselves to allegorical interpretation demonstrated by Christ Himself and the Fathers of the Church. Christ masterfully uses vivid images from everyday life to ensure the listener has every opportunity to connect with spiritual truth in a life-long manner (Beavis 2001, p. 11).

At various times in one’s life, the parables might take on layered meaning, or dependent on the state of the penitent, he or she may find himself or herself as one or more of the characters depicted. For example, in the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32), the Christian might find himself in the role of the forgiving father, the repentant younger son, or the older son. The ultimate language of the parables is not one of coercion but love and freedom. Somehow the listener/ reader of the parables of the New Testament is led to a place of self-confrontation (Kirkwood 1983, p. 59), awareness and logical conclusion, that the only means of salvation is through love in action.

In examining Scripture, Christ answers the question posed by the disciples: “Why do You speak to them in parables?” (Matt. 13:10) explicitly in the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:10-17; Mark 4:10-12; Luke 8:9-10).

10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; 15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it?

Matt. 13:10-17

 

Despite the seeming simplicity of the stories through which Christ revealed deep spiritual truths, it was those innocent at heart, whose soul was ready to accept the light shining forth, who understood what Christ taught (Orthodox Study Bible 1991, p. 37) and who were given to “know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” The Pharisees who were present in the large crowds, and who were highly educated, were hard of heart, so did not “see” and did not “perceive”, and could not “hear” and had not “understanding” (Matt. 13:13) (Marshall 1978, p. 321, 323).

The result of the Pharisaic blindness and deafness was that they would remain in their sin, while the faithful who repented were open to the good news of the Kingdom of God (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 93; Goldingay 1995, p. 79). Christ relies on the parabolic approach to minister to the crowds, “but to those who are outside, all things come in parables” (Matt. 13:11-12). Yet he emphasised, even to the disciples (Marshall 1978, p. 318 citing Schürmann 1976), that if they could not comprehend even this parable, then how were they to understand the rest (Matt. 13:13). It is important to note, that Christ does not deliberately make people unreceptive to His message, rather it is individual persons who must take responsibility for being insensitive to the truth (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 38). It was also this form of teaching that allowed Christ to execute the divine plan without a premature arrest by the authorities. The sacred parables then, served three distinct purposes, namely: “to reveal, to conceal, and to perpetuate” (Whedon 1874, p. 163).

What is at stake here for those who have shunned the light? While the Parable of the Sower only appears in the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John adopts the language of hypostatic paradigms. While John’s style of writing differs from that of the Synoptics, the message is the same. Only, in John, the dialogue between Christ and a representative typology through a given individual (i.e. paroimiai 'figures') becomes the hypostatic parable. Consider Christ’s words to Nicodemus in John 3:1-21. After explaining to Nicodemus that he must be “born again” (John 3:3), Nicodemus is confused (John 3:4). Christ questions him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” (John 3:10). And again, “if I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12). Compare this passage of Scripture with “all things come in parables” (Mark 4:11). John’s form of “parables” are recorded using a different style, to emphasise one’s personal relationship with Christ, and demonstrate that the faithful need spiritual eyes and ears to comprehend the multiple layers of meaning in the parabolic method we find in the Synoptic Gospels (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 38), and in this way come to know God intimately.

The Early Church Fathers on Interpreting the Parables

Certainly the Early Church Fathers interpreted the parables using the allegorical method (Stein 1981, p. 42; Papakosta 1929). And this method gained momentum over time and geographical expanse (Table 1). No doubt the Fathers were influenced by Christ’s own example. He offered a detailed explanation for the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:18-23; Mark 4:3-9; Luke 8:4-8). As Trench (1867, p. 15) noted, “as the allegory proceeds, the interpretation proceeds hand-in-hand with that, or, at least never falls far behind.” There is also strong speculation that the allegorical method, was already popularised through the heroes of Homer, making it a “ready-made tool” which could be applied to the Scriptures (Stein, 1981, p. 43). But why the form of a parable?

Table 1 Representative Early Church Fathers Who Allegorised the Parables

Caption: Descriptions are summarised and slightly adapted from Stein (1981, ch. 4) and Stavrianos (2012, pp. 29-48). For example, while the Early Church Fathers might have differed on identifying who the “robbers” were in the story of the Good Samaritan, they indeed all agreed that the Good Samaritan was none other than Christ Himself. For a comprehensive analysis of Patristic Thought with respect to The Good Samaritan, refer to Stavrianos (2012).

Parables provide an avenue for layered meanings- from the superficial experiences of every-day living (which must have come forth from Christ’s own exposure to various controversies), to the very deep spiritual layer where the believer is confronted with one’s own sin and through the parables finds a means to recalibrate his or her life to Christ. In many ways, Christ is delivering an ethical discourse using guiding principles, without well-defined direct commandments as found in the Old Testament, prevalent in Exodus 20:1-17 with the words “You shall not” and also in the exhaustive ritual, legal and moral practices described in Leviticus. Rather, Christ uses non-coercive language to bring the listener to a point in the transmission of the word of realisation, if their heart is open to the message of Christ.  As W.H. Auden has so magnificently put it: “You cannot tell people what to do, you can only tell them parables; …particular stories of particular people and experiences, from which each according to his immediate and peculiar needs may draw his own conclusions” (Bozorth 2005, p. 183). Christ’s parables are unique and allow for flexibility in allegorical interpretation throughout the ages, which is what makes them so accessible. In John’s Gospel, when the language of the “person” is instituted, and typological characters are presented to us in dialogue with Christ, every Christian is being encouraged to develop a deeper relationship with Christ the Son of God through the Parables. Yet for some, “the tradition of the early church is seen almost exclusively as something to be overcome” (Kingsbury 1972, p. 107, Sider 1983, p. 62).

Warnings Against Over-Elaborating the Parables

It should be emphasised however, that not all of the Early Church Fathers agreed with the extreme use of the allegorical method of interpretation. According to Stein (1981, p. 47): “Men like Isidore of Pelusium (360-435), Basil (ca. 329-379), Theodore of Mopsuestia (350?-428), and Chrysostom (349-407) protested against the allegorical method.” Stein quotes St. John Chrysostom who believed it was neither wise nor correct: “to inquire curiously into all things in parables word by word but when we have learnt the object for which it was composed, to read this, and not to busy oneself about anything further.” And Papadopoulos (1999, p. 108) noted that St. Chrysostom interprets the parables as “the elevation of the soul to the heavenly”. Perhaps Stein uses language that is too strong here, rather than “protest” he should have rather said, that Fathers like St. Basil and St. Chrysostom were more preoccupied with the whole message of the parable, than trying to tie back every word to a present context. For example, there were stark differences in the way that St. Augustine and Origen of Alexandria allegorised the interpretation of the Parable of the Sower (Caird 1980, p. 165). Had they gone too far? Possibly.

The interpreter should be wary of over-elaboration or over-simplification when it comes to the parables (Tasker 1962, p. 933).  But this does not mean we reject the allegorical interpretation that was always intended by Christ. For if allegory was missing, the Parables found in the New Testament would not have differed to those of the Old Testament, they would have been merely simple illustrations (e.g. 1 Sam. 24:13; Ezekiel 18:2-3). Rightly, St. Chrysostom of Constantinople who was from the Antiochian School, was resistant to “flights of fancy,” preferring to discern the scope and purpose for each parable, rather than to “find a special significance in each circumstance or incident” (Unger 1980, p. 824). This does not mean however, that St. Chrysostom shied away from interpreting the Parables himself. See, for example, Homily XLV. Matt. XIII. 10, 11, where St. Chrysostom explains why the Pharisees did the very opposite to what Christ called the crowds to do: “not only disbelieving, not only not hearkening, but even waging war, and disposed to be very bitter against all” that Christ said, all because, “They heard heavily.” St. Gregory of Nyssa considered “allegorical interpretation necessary at points where symbolism or the words covered a deeper meaning”, and he also accepted the literal interpretation (Stavrianos 2012, p. 43). Even St. Basil of Caesarea wrote in the Hexaemeron VIII.2 (PG 29:188), as quoted by Stavrianos (2012, p. 44): “to take [just] the literal sense and stop there is to have the heart covered by the veil of Jewish literalism.”

The Rise and Impact of the New Hermeneutic

In 1888 Adolf Jülicher's two volume seminal work, Die Gleichnisreden Jesu was a major influence against the centuries-old tradition of allegorical interpretation of the Parables of Christ. Jülicher was more preoccupied with the form of parables, seeking “clear-cut definitions” of differences between parables, allegories, similes, and metaphors. He simply took the parables literally and stressed they only had one point of comparison, not many (Caird 1980, p. 161). C.H. Dodd (1935) who was then followed by J. Jeremias (1947) and A.M. Hunter (1958) “rejected Jülicher's moralistic interpretations in favour of the now generally accepted thesis that the parables had a particular reference to the ministry of Jesus and the crisis it inaugurated…” (Caird 1980, p. 162). In an attempt to develop and in some cases correct Jülicher’s claims, form criticism and redaction criticism scholarship in Germany, and literary-critical studies in the United States, have proliferated in the field of “new hermeneutics” (Blomberg 1991, pp. 50-55; Goldingay 1995, p. 79). As a result, there are now definitions abounding for different types of parables (e.g. simple simile, simple metaphors, simile story, metaphor story, example story). Stein (1994) beautifully, dedicates several chapters to the form of Jesus’s writings, and the parables, describing him as an “outstanding” and “exciting” teacher; a “personality” who was “authoritative”. He continues to describe that Christ used certain devices of language to attract attention from his audience, including exaggeration, hyperbole, ‘paronomasia’ (i.e. pun), simile, metaphor, riddles, paradox, fortiori statements, synonymous parallelism, and more (Stein 1994, pp. 7-24). The whole topic has become somewhat of a minefield if the critic is drawn in to the details of labelling. Perhaps about the only light to have come forth from all of this modern scholarship, is the uniqueness of the Parables of Christ in the Gospels. No matter how hard scholars have tried to encapsulate the formula used by Christ when speaking in Parables, they have found themselves in a tangle. They could have only been written by the Son of God (Lithgow 1907, p. 538). Scripture is the living Word, the text is dynamic and ever-changing, it is universal yet personal (Hogan 2016, pp. 119-120), and couched in history, all at the same time.

Modern Scholarship versus Early Christian Teaching on the Parables

It would be all too easy to dismiss the work of the modern scholars which has gone against the grain of tradition, as being written by those ‘who had eyes but could not see’. Jeremias lays blame for the state of parabolic interpretation with the “early Christian teachers” (Tasker 1962, p. 932). But even Stein (1994, p. 37) himself had to admit: “[i]t would appear that some parables possess undeniable allegorical elements” (e.g. the Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matt. 22:1-14). Dodd, in particular, takes exception with the fact that Christian preachers today deliver sermons that are far removed from the original meaning/ function of the parable, as set in the time of Christ (i.e. Sitz em Leiben). Stavrianos (2012, p. 29), in his study of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) in Patristic thought, emphasises: “…even though the central truth of the parable remains the same, Christians in every era can adapt it to their reality, thus giving it new meaning and perspective.”

There is no doubt, that outside the confines of the established church, there are so-called preachers who teach falsehoods, for example, the so-named “prosperity gospel” whose message bears no relationship to what was intended by Christ. These are contemporary secular interpretations. St. Basil of Caesarea warned against those who would take Holy Scripture, and instead of using common sense for their explanations, use “fancy wishes… to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own end” (St. Basil quoted in Stavrianos 2012, p. 44). Of course, the Fathers seemingly would agree with Jülicher, that the "parables were intended to illustrate one truth only" (Tasker 1962, p. 932) but the Fathers would deviate in their belief, emphasising that each Parable consisted of multiple layers of the “one truth”. Consider a kernel and its shell; it is one object that contains several layers, despite that scholars such as Via and Crossan prefer the onion motif of layering (Parris 2002, pp. 34-37). As devoted Christians, the more layers uncovered, the closer the relationship hypostatically proceeds to Christ the Saviour.

Discussion on Why Christ Spoke in Parables

Christ Incarnate came to deliver His message by empathically placing Himself in the shoes of humans: “Jesus comes and stands where the hearer already stands" (Craddock 2002, pp. 88-89). His parables (i.e. teachings) were inextricably linked to His Person (Blomberg 1991, p. 74). Such was His love for humankind that he set his parables in everyday life, to captivate the imagination equally of the rich and poor man, the educated and uneducated, the respected and the outcast, the healthy and the sick. Whether tax collector, fallen or adulteress, Samaritan, Publican or farmer- all people are His Creation, and He went to great lengths, even descending from on high to reach all people, and to save all people, using accessible language. “He mixes the realistic with the extraordinary and improbable” (Via 1974, p. 105). He gives the hearer the freedom to manoeuvre (Peta Sherlock private comms cited in Goldingay 1995), to find the space required to make correction. It is a daily choice one makes whether or not to follow Him. Christ’s parables were not only prophetic in depicting how He Himself would suffer (Matt. 5:1-12; Barbu 2009, pp. 262-263) but somehow simultaneously represented universal contexts in which hearers could fully relate: “[d]ifferent facets also come home to individual hearers at different times in their lives; there is no once for all hearing of a story” (Goldingay 1995, p. 78).  A sound Orthodox Christian framework that can be followed for understanding why Christ spoke in parables is presented by Potapov (2000). He has written, Christ spoke in parables for three reasons: (1) to help listeners recall vivid images from ordinary life, and to ponder on the deeper message behind the allegory; (2) parables carried a double meaning and were deliberately indirect so that Christ could carry out the divine plan in full without being prematurely accused by the Pharisees; and (3) the parable format preserved the purity of Christ’s teachings.

Christ’s parables were comprehensible, accessible, and non-coercive. Christ spoke in parables so that everyone could understand His teachings. The parables are illustrations set in-context that help people to remember to love others, despite the preconceived stereotypes. Christ was not coercive. We the hearer of the Word, can place ourselves almost with certainty in the shoes of one or more of the characters depicted in the parable itself. At times, the penitent might feel convicted, for example in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13, having sown seed by the wayside (v. 4), on stony places (v. 5), among thorns (v. 7) (Marshall 1978, p. 320). Christ spoke simply to give the masses a choice to believe in Him through faith. The unbelievers would not understand his parabolic message, because they maintained their unbelief through hardness of heart. G.A. Kennedy cited by Black (2000, p. 389), concurred with Potapov’s second point noting that Christ spoke in parables to ensure the divine plan would be completed without interruption. If the Pharisees would have detected his claim to being the Son of God, Christ would have been unable to continue preaching to the crowds freely.

Christ's parables are unique, beautiful, and moving to one's soul (Rindge 2014, p. 403). They are better than the finest poetry or music; artistic and imaginative. They often began or closed with rhetorical questions that Jesus Himself went on to answer, that “transforms the audience” by imagination (Rindge 2014, p. 408). Christ's parables stand apart from any other writing of its type: they are layered in meaning but maintain one truth. This shows the connection to allegory, and multiple meanings that can be derived from the same story- literal, moral and spiritual. Christ's parables are also universal, they have withstood the test of time and continue to be relevant (Hebrews 13:8), and applicable to all. Christ pierces the conscience and personal thoughts and heart of every person through the parables, and offers him a way toward personal and inner transfiguration (Barbu 2009, p. 262). So Christ might have preached to the masses only through the parabolic device, but inwardly, every individual would reflect on their personal state of spirituality. The believer is compelled to participate in God’s mystery, being drawn in to hear His word. For example, in Matthew 21:30-32, Christ asks rhetorically: "Which of the two did the will of his father?” Each individual knows in his/ her heart, which did the will of his father, despite that the outcome is paradoxical and antinomic. In the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32) the hero is the son who repented, not the second son who seemingly never sinned because he did not take his father's inheritance squandering it away in the world like the prodigal. This approach turns things upside down but does so legitimately. There is hope for even the greatest sinner. Are we willing to believe and grow in faith?

Conclusion

While modern parabolic scholarship (e.g. form criticism and literary-critical studies) has been at odds with the tradition as recorded by the Early Church Fathers, there are two main points of agreement. First, that in fact some of the Parables are truly meant as “allegories” in the technical literary sense, and second, each parable has a single truth, though the Fathers would contend there are multiple layers of the one truth to be extracted at face value, in moral value and spiritual, among other perspectives. The warnings of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great should be heeded when the Parables of Jesus are over-elaborated but at the same time Christ’s example is altogether present in the Scriptures. In this paper, the Parable of the Sower was used to illustrate “allegory in action”, and here is found Christ’s own example of explaining what He Himself meant by the story. While the Parables are easily recognisable in the Synoptic Gospels, there are numerous examples of parables present in the Gospel of John. The technique however in John’s writing, seems juxtaposed against the writings of Matthew, Mark and Luke the evangelists. In the Synoptics, Christ speaks to the crowds in Parables and then each has the choice of whether or not to apply these principles to themselves personally. In the Gospel of John, rather, we see “encounters” between Christ and typological figures (e.g. the Good Samaritan) that then can be used to represent universal principles. The Parables are the basis for Christian Ethics despite that they are never made explicit, hearers who wish to come to a closer knowledge of God and enter a deeper personal relationship with Him, are led to a place of everlasting love.

Bibliography

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Beavis MA. (2001) The Power of Jesus' Parables: Were they polemical or irenic? Journal for the Study of the New Testament 82: 3-30.

Blomberg CL. (1991) Interpreting the parables of Jesus: Where are we and where do we go from here? Catholic Biblical Quarterly 53: 50-78.

Bozorth RR. (2005) Auden. In: Smith S (ed) The Cambridge Companion to W.H. Auden. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 175–187.

Caird GB. (1980) The Language and Imagery of the Bible, London: Duckworth.

Christos P. (1989) Greek Patrologiae, Vol. 4, Thessalonika: Kyromanos.

Craddock, F.B. (2002) Overhearing the Gospel: Revised and Expanded Edition, Chalice Press.

Dodd CH. (1978) The Parables Of The Kingdom, Glasgow: AbeBooks.

Goldingay J. (1995) Models for Interpretation of Scripture, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Kingsbury JD. (1972) The Parables of Jesus in Current Research. Dialog 11: 107.

Hogan PC. (2016) Jesus’s Parables: Simulation, Stories, and Narrative Idiolect. Narrative 24: 113-133.

Hunter AM. (1960) Interpreting The Parables, London: SCM Press.

Jeremias J. (2002) The Parables of Jesus, London: SCM Press.

Jülicher A. (1888) Die Gleichnisreden Jesu, Freiburg: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).

Kennedy GA. (1984) New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Kirkwood WG. (1983), Storytelling and self‐confrontation: Parables as communication strategies. Quaterly Journal of Speech 69, 1: 58-74.

Lithgow, RM. (1907), The Theology of the Parables. Expositor Times 18: pp. 538-542.

Marshall IH. (1978) The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

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Papakosta S. (1929) The Parables of the Lord, Athens: Zoe.

Parris DP. (2002) Imitating the Parables: Allegory, Narrative and the Role of Mimesis. Journal for the Study of the New Testament 25: 33-53.

Potapov V. (August 6, 2000) Gospel parables, an Orthodox commentary. Available at: http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/parables_potapov.htm.

Rindge MS. (2014) Luke’s Artistic Parables: Narratives of Subversion, Imagination, and Transformation. Interpretation: Journal of Bible and Theology 68: 403-415.

Schürmann, H. (1976) Das Evangelium Lukas, Berlin.

Sider JW. (1983) Rediscovering the Parables: the Logic of the Jeremias Tradition. Journal of Biblical Literature 102: 61-83.

Stavrianos K. (2012) The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Patristic Thought. Greek Orthodox Theological Review 57: 1-4.

Stein RH. (1981) An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

Stein RH. (1994) The Method and Message of Jesus' Teachings, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.

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Trench RC. (1867) Notes on the Parables, New York: D. Appleton & Company.

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Why Did Christ Speak in Parables: An Essay by Katina Michael (Draft Only)

Tutor: Fr Dr Alexander Tefft

Lecturer: Fr Dr Nikolai Sakharov

Course: The Gospels - CF102

Institute: IOCS - Cambridge

 

 

Contents

Introduction. 3

What is a Parable in the Context of the NT?. 4

Parable as Allegory. 4

Layered Meanings of Parables. 4

Evidence in Scripture. 5

The Parable of the Sower Explained. 5

The Parabolic Approach to Teaching the Crowds. 5

“Hypostatic Parables” in the Gospel of John. 7

Early Church Fathers. 7

Interpreting and Explaining the Parables. 7

Warnings Against Over-Elaborating the Parables. 8

The Rise of the New Hermeneutic. 10

The Influence of Form Criticism and Literary-Critical Studies. 10

Modern Scholarship versus Early Christian Teaching on the Parables. 11

Discussion. 12

Christ’s Parables are Accessible, Personal, Prophetic and Universal 12

Conclusion. 14

References. 15

Bibliography. 17

 

Introduction

This paper explores why Christ spoke in parables in the context of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The word parable, means “putting things side by side”. In the Synoptic Gospels, official parables number thirty, however this number varies depending on the criteria for accepting a passage of New Testament (NT) Scripture as a standalone parable. Importantly, a parable should not be confused with mashal, which is to be found in the Old Testament, and which contained only a single message. The parables of Christ are rich in form and content in the Synoptic Gospels and lend themselves to being interpreted allegorically, as well as literally. In the Gospel of John, Christ’s parables are presented using hypostatic language. Somehow Christ is able to reach out to the crowds who have come to hear Him, using only simple stories they could grasp that were contextually set in everyday life. And yet at once the listener who stood among the masses could place himself or herself typologically within the parable; free to choose whether they would follow the Great Storyteller or would resist His message (Beavis 2001, p. 3). Christ’s parables are universal, they have traversed space and time, they are equally relevant today as they were over 2000 years ago. Plainly, Christ wished to ensure that everyone who heard him teach could comprehend his profound message and come to the realisation of the state of their personhood with a clear way forward toward salvation. This paper is broken into five parts: definitional; biblical sources; early church fathers; modern scholarship; and discussion.

What is a Parable in the Context of the NT?

Parable as Allegory

The word parable (the Greek root-word παραβολή [Gk], parabole) means “comparison”, and was the manner in which the primitive Christian Church described the stories that Christ used to illustrate his teachings (Potapov 2000). According to Potapov (2000), "a parable is a spiritual lesson of a story developed by comparison to everyday life. The Lord's parables draw memorable details from nature, human, social, economic, or religious life of His time." A parable is similar to an allegory, although the latter usually denotes a more detailed comparison of elements of a tale (Tasker 1962, p. 932). There is no doubt among Eastern Orthodox scholars, that the parables of the New Testament were allegories and lent themselves to allegorical interpretation demonstrated by Christ Himself and the Fathers of the Church. Christ masterfully uses vivid images from everyday life to ensure the listener has every opportunity to connect with spiritual truth in a life-long manner (Beavis 2001, p. 11).

Layered Meanings of Parables

At various times in one’s life, the parables might take on layered meaning, or dependent on the state of the penitent, he or she may find himself or herself as one or more of the characters depicted. For example, in the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32), the Christian might find himself in the role of the forgiving father, the repentant younger son, or the older son. The ultimate language of the parables is not one of coercion but love and freedom. Somehow the listener/ reader of the parables of the New Testament is led to a place of self-confrontation (Kirkwood 1983, p. 59), awareness and logical conclusion, that the only means of salvation is through love in action.

Evidence in Scripture

The Parable of the Sower Explained

In examining Scripture (Table 1), Christ answers the question posed by the disciples: “Why do You speak to them in parables?” (Matt. 13:10) explicitly in the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:10-17; Mark 4:10-12; Luke 8:9-10). Despite the seeming simplicity of the stories through which Christ revealed deep spiritual truths, it was those innocent at heart, whose soul was ready to accept the light shining forth, who understood what Christ taught (Orthodox Study Bible 1991, p. 37) and who were given to “know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” The Pharisees who were present in the large crowds, and who were highly educated, were hard of heart, so did not “see” and did not “perceive”, and could not “hear” and had not “understanding” (Matt. 13:12) (Marshall 1978, p. 321, 323).

The Parabolic Approach to Teaching the Crowds

The result of the Pharisaic blindness and deafness was that they would remain in their sin, while the faithful who repented were open to the good news of the Kingdom of God (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 93; Goldingay 1995, p. 79). Christ relies on the parabolic approach to minister to the crowds, “but to those who are outside, all things come in parables” (Matt. 13:11-12). Yet he emphasised, even to the disciples (Marshall 1978, p. 318 citing Schurmann), that if they could not comprehend even this parable, then how were they to understand the rest (Matt. 13:13). It is important to note, that Christ does not deliberately make people unreceptive to His message, rather it is individual persons who must take responsibility for being insensitive to the truth (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 38). It was also this form of teaching that allowed Christ to execute the divine plan without a premature arrest by the authorities. The sacred parables then, served three distinct purposes, namely: “to reveal, to conceal, and to perpetuate” (Whedon 1874, p. 163).

Table 1 Scriptural Comparison of the Parable of the Sower in the Synoptic Gospels

 Matt. 13:10-17

10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”
11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:
‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it?

Mark 4:10-12

10 But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. 11 And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12 so that
‘Seeing they may see and not perceive,
And hearing they may hear and not understand;
Lest they should turn,
And their sins be forgiven them.’”

Luke 8:9-10

9 Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?”
10 And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that
‘Seeing they may not see,
And hearing they may not understand.’

 

“Hypostatic Parables” in the Gospel of John

What is at stake here for those who have shunned the light? While the Parable of the Sower only appears in the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John adopts the language of hypostatic paradigms. While John’s style of writing differs to that of the Synoptics, the message is the same. Only, in John, the dialogue between Christ and a representative typology through a given individual (i.e. paroimiai 'figures') becomes the hypostatic parable. Consider Christ’s words to Nicodemus in John 3:1-21. After explaining to Nicodemus that he must be “born again” (John 3:3), Nicodemus is confused (John 3:4). Christ questions him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” (John 3:10). And again, “if I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12). Compare this passage of Scripture with “all things come in parables” (Mark 4:11). John’s form of “parables” are recorded using a different style, to emphasise one’s personal relationship with Christ, and demonstrate that the faithful need spiritual eyes and ears to comprehend the multiple layers of meaning in the parabolic method we find in the Synoptic Gospels (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 38), and in this way come to know God intimately.

Early Church Fathers

Interpreting and Explaining the Parables

Certainly the early church fathers interpreted the parables using the allegorical method (Stein 1981, p. 42; Papakosta 1929). And this method gained momentum over time and geographical expanse (Table 2). No doubt the Fathers were influenced by Christ’s own example. He offered a detailed explanation for the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:18-23; Mark 4:3-9; Luke 8:4-8). As Trench (1867, p. 15) noted, “as the allegory proceeds, the interpretation proceeds hand-in-hand with that, or, at least never falls far behind.” There is also strong speculation that the allegorical method, was already popularised through the heroes of Homer, making it a “ready-made tool” which could be applied to the Scriptures (Stein, 1981, p. 43). But why the form of a parable?

Parables provide an avenue for layered meanings- from the superficial experiences of every-day living (which must have come forth from Christ’s own exposure to various controversies), to the very deep spiritual layer where the believer is confronted with one’s own sin and through the parables finds a means to recalibrate his or her life to Christ. In many ways, Christ is delivering an ethical discourse using guiding principles, without well-defined direct commandments as found in the Old Testament, prevalent in Exodus 20:1-17 with the words “You shall not” and also in the exhaustive ritual, legal and moral practices described in Leviticus. Rather, Christ uses non-coercive language to bring the listener (and later, the reader), to a point in the transmission of the word (and later, text) to a point of realisation, if their heart is open to the message of Christ.

As W.H. Auden has so magnificently put it: “You cannot tell people what to do, you can only tell them parables; …particular stories of particular people and experiences, from which each according to his immediate and peculiar needs may draw his own conclusions” (Bozorth 2005, p. 183). Christ’s parables are unique and allow for flexibility in allegorical interpretation throughout the ages, which is what makes them so accessible. In John’s Gospel, when the language of the “person” is instituted, and typological characters are presented to us in dialogue with Christ, every Christian is being encouraged to develop a deeper relationship with Christ the Son of God through the Parables. Yet for some, “the tradition of the early church is seen almost exclusively as something to be overcome” (Kingsbury 1972, p. 107, Sider 1983, p. 62).

Warnings Against Over-Elaborating the Parables

It should be emphasised however, that not all of the early church fathers agreed with the extreme use of the allegorical method of interpretation. According to Stein (1981, p. 47): “Men like Isidore of Pelusium (360-435), Basil (ca. 329-379), Theodore of Mopsuestia (350?-428), and Chrysostom (349-407) protested against the allegorical method.” Stein quotes Chrysostom who believed it was neither wise nor correct: “to inquire curiously into all things in parables word by word but when we have learnt the object for which it was composed, to read this, and not to busy oneself about anything further.” And Papadopoulos (1999, p. 108) noted that Chrysostom interprets the parables as “the elevation of the soul to the heavenly”. Perhaps Stein uses language that is too strong here, rather than “protest” he should have rather said, that Fathers like Basil and Chrysostom were more preoccupied with the whole message of the parable, than trying to tie back every word to a present context. For example, there were stark differences in the way that Augustine and Origen allegorised the interpretation of the Parable of the Sower (Caird 1980, p. 165). Had they gone too far? Possibly.

Table 2 Representative Early Church Fathers Who Allegorised the Parables

Caption:   Descriptions are summarised and slightly adapted from Stein (1981, ch. 4) and Stavrianos (2012, pp. 29-48). While the early church fathers might have differed on identifying who the “robbers” were in the story of the good Samaritan, they indeed all agreed that the good Samaritan was none other than Christ Himself. For a comprehensive analysis at Patristric Thought with respect to  The Good Samaritan , refer to Stavrianos (2012).

Caption: Descriptions are summarised and slightly adapted from Stein (1981, ch. 4) and Stavrianos (2012, pp. 29-48). While the early church fathers might have differed on identifying who the “robbers” were in the story of the good Samaritan, they indeed all agreed that the good Samaritan was none other than Christ Himself. For a comprehensive analysis at Patristric Thought with respect to The Good Samaritan, refer to Stavrianos (2012).

The interpreter should be wary of over-elaboration or over-simplification when it comes to the parables (Tasker 1962, p. 933).  But this does not mean we reject the allegorical interpretation that was always intended by Christ. For if allegory was missing, the Parables found in the New Testament would not have differed to those of the Old Testament, they would have been merely simple illustrations (e.g. 1 Sam. 24:13; Ezekiel 18:2-3). Rightly, John Chrysostom of Constantinople who was from the Antiochian School, was resistant to “flights of fancy,” preferring to discern the scope and purpose for each parable, rather than to “find a special significance in each circumstance or incident” (Unger 1980, p. 824). This does not mean however, that Chrysostom shied away from interpreting the Parables himself. See, for example, Homily XLV. Matt. XIII. 10, 11, where Chrysostom explains why the Pharisees did the very opposite to what Christ called the crowds to do: “not only disbelieving, not only not hearkening, but even waging war, and disposed to be very bitter against all” that Christ said, all because “They heard heavily.” St Gregory of Nyssa considered “allegorical interpretation necessary at points where symbolism or the words covered a deeper meaning”, and he also accepted the literal interpretation (Stavrianos 2012, p. 43) Even St Basil of Caesarea wrote in the Hexaemeron VIII.2 (PG 29:188), as quoted by Stavrianos (2012, p. 44), wrote: “to take [just] the literal sense and stop there is to have the heart covered by the veil of Jewish literalism.”

The Rise of the New Hermeneutic

The Impact of Form Criticism, Redaction Criticism & Literary-Critical Studies

In 1888 Adolf Jülicher's two volume seminal work, Die Gleichnisreden Jesu was a major influence against the centuries-old tradition of allegorical interpretation of the Parables of Christ. Jülicher was more preoccupied with the form of parables, seeking “clear-cut definitions” of differences between parables, allegories, similes, and metaphors. He simply took the parables literally and stressed they only had one point of comparison, not many (Caird 1980, p. 161). C.H. Dodd (1935) who was then followed by J. Jeremias (1947) and A.M. Hunter (1958) “rejected Julicher's moralistic interpretations in favour of the now generally accepted thesis that the parables had a particular reference to the ministry of Jesus and the crisis it inaugurated…” (Caird 1980, p. 162).

In an attempt to develop and in some cases correct Jülicher’s claims, form criticism and redaction criticism scholarship in Germany, and literary-critical studies in the United States, have proliferated in the field of “new hermeneutics” (Blomberg 1991, pp. 50-55; Goldingay 1995, p. 79). As a result, there are now definitions abounding for different types of parables (e.g. simple simile, simple metaphors, simile story, metaphor story, example story). Stein (1994) beautifully, dedicates several chapters to the form of Jesus’s writings, and the parables, describing him as an “outstanding” and “exciting” teacher; a “personality” who was “authoritative”. He continues to describe that Christ used certain devices of language to attract attention from his audience, including exaggeration, hyperbole, ‘paronomasia’ (i.e. pun), simile, metaphor, riddles, paradox, fortiori statements, synonymous parallelism, and more (Stein 1994, pp. 7-24).

The whole topic has become somewhat of a minefield if the critic is drawn in to the details of labelling. Perhaps about the only light to have come forth from all of this modern scholarship, is the uniqueness of the Parables of Christ in the Gospels. No matter how hard scholars have tried to encapsulate the formula used by Christ when speaking in Parables, they have found themselves in a tangle. They could have only been written by the Son of God (Lithgow 1907, p. 538). Scripture is the living Word, the text is dynamic and ever-changing, it is universal yet personal (Hogan 2016, pp. 119-120), and couched in history, all at the same time.

Modern Scholarship versus Early Christian Teaching on the Parables

It would be all too easy to dismiss the work of the modern scholars which has gone against the grain of tradition, as being written by those ‘who had eyes but could not see’. Jeremias lays blame for the state of parabolic interpretation with the “early Christian teachers” (Tasker 1962, p. 932). But even Stein (1994, p. 37) himself had to admit: “[i]t would appear that some parables possess undeniable allegorical elements” (e.g. the Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matt. 22:1-14). Dodd in particular takes exception with the fact that Christian preachers today deliver sermons that are far removed from the original meaning/ function of the parable, as set in the time of Christ (i.e. Sitz em Leiben). Stavrianos (2012, p. 29), in his study of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) in Patristic thought, emphasises: “…even though the central truth of the parable remains the same, Christians in every era can adapt it to their reality, thus giving it new meaning and perspective.”

There is no doubt, that outside the confines of the established church, there are so-called preachers who teach falsehoods, for example, the so-named “prosperity gospel” whose message bears no relationship to what was intended by Christ. These are contemporary secular interpretations. St Basil of Caesarea warned against those who would take Holy Scripture, and instead of using common sense for their explanations, use “fancy wishes… to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own end” (St Basil quoted in Stavrianos 2012, p. 44). Of course, the Fathers seemingly would agree with Jülicher, that the "parables were intended to illustrate one truth only" (Tasker 1962, p. 932) but the Fathers would deviate in their belief, emphasising that each Parable consisted of multiple layers of the “one truth”. Consider a kernel and its shell; it is one object that contains several layers, despite that scholars such as Via and Crossan prefer the onion motif of layering (Parris 2002, pp. 34-37). As devoted Christians, the more layers uncovered, the closer the relationship hypostatically proceeds to Christ the Saviour.

Discussion

Christ’s Parables are Accessible, Personal, Prophetic and Universal

Christ Incarnate did not come speaking in complex technical “God language” that no one would be able to understand but using baby language, “goo-goo, ga-ga” principles. He came to deliver His message by empathically placing Himself in the shoes of humans, with all their weakness and frailty: “Jesus comes and stands where the hearer already stands" (Craddock 2002, pp. 88-89). Born in a manger, Christ continued his mission with the humble parabolic “story” formula which carried the most profound of messages. His parables (i.e. teachings) were inextricably linked to His Person (Blomberg 1991, p. 74). Such was His love for humankind that he set his parables in everyday life, to captivate the imagination equally of the rich and poor man, the educated and uneducated, the respected and the outcast, the healthy and the sick. Whether tax collector, fallen or adulteress, Samaritan, Publican or farmer- all people are His Creation, and He went to great lengths, even descending from on high to reach all people, and to save all people, using accessible language. “He mixes the realistic with the extraordinary and improbable” (Via 1974, 105). He gives the hearer the freedom to manoeuvre (Peta Sherlock private comms cited in Goldingay 1995), to find the space required to make correction. It is a daily choice one makes whether or not to follow Him.

Christ’s parables were not only prophetic in depicting how He Himself would suffer (Matt. 5:1-12; Barbu 2009, p. 262-263) but somehow simultaneously represented universal contexts in which hearers could fully relate: “[d]ifferent facets also come home to individual hearers at different times in their lives; there is no once for all hearing of a story” (Goldingay 1995, p. 78). As Potapov (2000) has written, Christ spoke in parables for three reasons: (1) to help listeners recall vivid images from ordinary life, and to ponder on the deeper message behind the allegory; (2) parables carried a double meaning and were deliberately indirect so that Christ could carry out the divine plan in full without being prematurely accused by the Pharisees; and (3) the parable format preserved the purity of Christ’s teachings. In Table 3, an original table, is presented stating 15 main reasons why Christ spoke in parables.

Table X. 15 Reasons Why Christ Spoke in Parables

Reason/ Description

Comprehensibility: Christ spoke in parables, effectively stories with meaning, so that everyone could understand his teachings.

Uniqueness: Christ's parables are unique in their manner. He only spoke to the masses without using this approach.

Non-Coercive: Parables are illustrations set in-context that help people to remember to love others. It is easier to forget a list of commands versus a story that has a setting in everyday life. Christ did not come giving laws to be followed. He could have said: "I command you to do x or y." But he was not coercive and did not wish to force anything on anyone. Instead, he spoke lovingly and softly, and even gave the listener the opportunity to reflect on the interpretation of his story.

Tangible: Everyone remembers stories because they are tangible and people can relate to them.

Artistic and Imaginative: Christ's parables are unique, and beautiful, and moving to one's soul (Rindge 2014, p. 403). They are better than the finest poetry or music. They often began or closed with rhetorical questions that Jesus Himself went on to answer, that “transforms the audience” by imagination (Rindge 2014, p. 408).

Participatory: There is a moral at the end- that take home message for each listener. They were therefore in some way participatory. The listener would be drawn in to hear His word. E.g. Matthew 21:30-32: "Which of the two did the will of his father?”

Layered Meaning, One Truth: Christ's parables have got more than one meaning as the traditional parables found in the Old Testament had only one single meaning (mashal). This shows the connection to allegory, and multiple meanings.

Accessible: Christ spoke simply to give the masses a choice to believe in Him through faith. The unbelievers would not understand even his simple parables, not because they were complex but because they maintained their unbelief through hardness of heart. Still because Christ was not speaking in sophisticated language to deliver his teachings, he gave each person a choice whether or not to follow him.

Universal: Christ's parables were universal, would withstand the test of time and continue to be relevant (Hebrews 13:8), and applicable to all even if they had not been in a given described context. E.g. we may not all sow seeds today but we have all seen in one way or another on television or the internet someone else sowing seeds. We get that seeds need to be thrown into furrows in soil in order to take root etc.

Empathic: A fine methodology ensues in the parables themselves. We the hearer of the Word, can place ourselves almost with certainty in the shoes of one or more of the characters depicted in the parable itself. We all know whom we'd like to be in the story, yet find ourselves challenged at various times having sinned against God and our fellow brothers and sisters in a manner that places us somewhere where we do not wish to be. At times the penitent might feel convicted especially in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13, that they have sown seed by the wayside (v. 4), on stony places (v. 5), among thorns (v. 7) (Marshall 1978, p. 320). The hope, of course, for the Christian is to always sow seed on "good ground" (v. 8) and that is one’s life-long challenge.

Human: Christ places himself on the same 'level playing field' as his fellow man by speaking to them using every day contexts.

Perfection: Christ comes preaching a unique message in a unique way. There is something different about Him. His message is perfect. It is fair, and it is true. The parables were perfect, like the Logos. The parables are profound, like nothing that has ever been preached before. The moral of the stories are so convincing in terms of ethics, living by these principles would mean a life worth living.

Antinomic & Paradoxical: There is something antinomic, almost paradoxical about Christ’s message. Often members who would otherwise be shunned by a community, are held up as an example to us, because they have repented of their ways. In the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32) the hero is the son who repented, not the second son who seemingly never sinned because he did not take his father's inheritance squandering it away in the world like the prodigal. This approach turns things upside down but does so legitimately. There is hope for even the greatest sinner. Are we willing to believe and grow in faith?

Personal: Christ pierces the conscience and personal thoughts and heart of every person through the parables, and offers him a way toward personal and inner transfiguration (Barbu 2009, p. 262). He takes us to that point so effortlessly it seems, until we recognise through a process of self-awareness that we need to continue to develop our character. So he might have preached to the masses, but inwardly, every individual would reflect on the person he/she was. The allegory is a strong device type. But despite the seeming simplicity of the stories they are so difficult to uphold morally.

Concealment: Christ spoke in parables to ensure the divine plan would be completed without interruption (G.A. Kennedy cited by Black 2000, p. 389). If the Pharisees would have detected his claim to being the Son of God, Christ would have been unable to continue preaching to the crowds freely.

Caption: The research conducted in preparation for Table 3 has been taken from a vast list of sources which appear in the wider Bibliography of this paper. Note: while the table is original in full, it has been greatly inspired by the ten Lectures of Fr Nikolai Sakharov for CF102 at the Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies.

Conclusion

While modern parabolic scholarship (e.g. form criticism and literary-critical studies) has been at odds with the tradition as recorded by the early church fathers, there are two main points of agreement. First, that in fact some of the Parables are truly meant as “allegories” in the technical literary sense, and second, each parable has a single truth, though the Fathers would contend there are multiple layers of the same truth to be extracted at face value, in moral value and spiritual, among other perspectives. The warnings of St John Chrysostom and St Basil the Great should be heeded when the Parables of Jesus are over-elaborated but at the same time Christ’s example is altogether present in the Scriptures. In this paper, the Parable of the Sower was used to illustrate “allegory in action”, and here is found Christ’s own example of explaining what He Himself meant by the story. While the Parables are easily recognisable in the Synoptic Gospels, there are numerous examples of parables present in the Gospel of John. The technique however in John’s writing, seems juxtaposed against the writings of Matthew, Mark and Luke the evangelists. In the Synoptics, Christ speaks to the crowds in Parables and then each has the choice of whether or not to apply these principles to themselves personally. While in John, we see “encounters” between Christ and typological figures (e.g. the Good Samaritan) that then can be used to represent universal principles. The Parables are the basis for Christian Ethics despite that they are never made explicit, hearers who wish to come to a closer knowledge of God and enter a deeper personal relationship with Him, are led to a place of everlasting love.

 

References

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Stein RH. (1994) The Method and Message of Jesus' Teachings, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.

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Via O. (1974) The Parables: Their Literary and Existential Dimension, Philadelphia.

Whedon DD. (1874) A Popular Commentary on the New Testament, London: Hodder & Stoughton.
 

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Topic Lecture 9 - Language of the Person, Hypostasis in the Gospel of John

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

Triadology

We spoke about Christology of relationship about theology of relationship and how important it is. The question now about translation at the beginning of the gospel of John. What does it mean when John writes “pros ton Theon”? There is much speculation but the word “pros” meaning in Greek “towards”. In the authorised version of the Gospel of John the translation stands as: “and the Word was with God”. But the actual translation of this proposition is “towards”. And many have noted, that this is exactly what John means. The Logos all of Christ’s being was towards God the Father. And this is a formula of love. This being towards the other is the true realisation of, not only divine person, but also the human person. So really what we have here is the notion, “and the Word was towards God”. And perhaps in the English language, that cannot be said, because it implies movement. And this principle of Christology being, towards God, is spelt out in the rest of the gospel. And if you look at any authentic relationship in the gospel it is always “pros ton allon”, towards the other. But as humans, we find a relationship towards others, through our love towards others, in self-sacrifice for another.

And if you notice, all the holy gifts in our church they are given, whatever you might name, priesthood, any other sacraments, they are given as a service to other people. The priest for example, cannot confess himself. He only has this authority towards service of another. So this is a principle that is a product of John’s Gospel. So perhaps, if we translate the word Logos, in principle there was this principle of love towards God in the beginning. 

Q&A. When do we know if the great “I am” is intended versus an everyday “I am”? For example, in John’s Gospel when the disciples are in the boat and the Lord retorts in chapter 3: “do not worry I am”, how are we to understand this I am? In John’s Gospel, you will find different ways that this saying is used at times, Christ says “I am a good Shepherd”. But here it is obviously a different I am, to the “I am” of Sinai. But there are definitely uses of “I am” without predicate. These definitely imply, this Sinai revelation, “I am that I am”. In Greek language, you may know that you do not need to use the pronoun “I am”, you simply say where you may be, for example: “I am home”, could simply be “home”. So it is indeed an emphatic use of the term “I am” with Sinaitic roots in Exodus.

In the Gospel of John, things are not as straightforward, as other writings. He operates at a level that we cannot presuppose intense at times, in order to analyse logically. In the Gospel affects us in various ways, in various levels. When we consider for example symbolic actions of Christ’s actions, in the fourth Gospel, John has many levels of appeal to his reader. And one of his techniques, is to play on these associations. To member in Exodus: where God says, “I am I am”. In the Gospel of Matthew, it would be a direct quotation so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But John, does not write like this. He wishes to maintain, a level of mystery, which is important, for the depth of Christian message. Because once you have no mystery, and everything is clear, our text may lose its power, and depth.

Hypostatic language

And speaking about mystery, and things that are not set, or not written, we should move to the next topic. If we compare, our Christian new Testament, or our Gospels to any other religious book, be it the Quran, or the Old Testament, perhaps your notice, that it is much much smaller in size. In this respect, Christian scripture is unique. In fact it offers very little instructions for us to do, in our everyday life. There is no instruction for our codex of behaviour. But if you take for example the old Testament law, the whole day of an Israelite, is prescribed to morning to end. It is like a 24-hour manual, what to do and how to. And this idea, of what to do and how to do it is the focus of the old Testament. But the new Testament starts very differently. Yes of course, there are some parallels, but it doesn’t constitute the core, the focus of the new Testament. And furthermore if you compare the fourth Gospel with the synoptic gospels one thing immediately strikes us, that there are hardly any that could be subsumed even remotely in a consistent ethical teaching of Christ.

The fourth Gospel offers us very little, in fact, a kind of instruction in codex of behaviour, in what we should do in our daily life. And if you look at the synoptic gospels, and compare the fourth Gospel with the Synoptics, you will see that for example in Matthew you do find chapters where Christ expounds the way people ought to be, and the way they should behave, because for Matthew, Christ’s teaching was important linking back to the old Testament, that even resembled old Testament law. In chapter 9 in Matthew for instance we hear that Jesus speaks about, “bless it are the poor”, the meek, the merciful, the good heart, and there are some kind of ethical instructions here. In Matthew, we also hear “thou shall not kill… But I say to you whoever is angry…” There are specific amendments.  But when we come to John’s Gospel, there are none of these commandments of Christ. In fact, very few. And they seem to concentrate about one theme, love and faith. None of such formulations found in Matthew shall find John. In John there are no instructions for daily life.

Also we do find, occasional parables in John’s Gospel. Of course, Christ taught in parables. But all of them are of a completely different nature. They do not function as allegorical encoding of his teaching, at least for the synoptic gospels, but as short illustrations, to his message. So it looks like in the fourth Gospel we have a shift of concern. Instead, there are stories about Christ, his miracles, he signs, his dialogues with the Jews, and finally the Last Supper where we see three chapters dedicated to this toward the crucifixion. It seems to be all about Christ, and not about how and what to do. In John we do not have any of that. So, can we say that, that John presents us with a different kind of spirituality? Does it pass over in silence, ethics that Christ wished to teach the crowds, in the other Gospels?

So why the difference? What can we make of it? Is this a radically different form of Christianity? Course, one possibility is that Matthew had recorded all of these things in his gospel, and if John had seen and read this Gospel, then there wouldn’t have been any need to repeat. However, some scholars believe that John had not read the Gospel of Matthew before he wrote his gospel. So what other reasons can we summate? So we need to remember, that none of the other evangelists, felt the need to write down every single detail that he witnessed of Christ’s teaching, or life. There is something more to this. And we will see, that there are sayings of Christ that are recorded in the Gospel, that reappear later in the Pauline epistles, and also in our church services. For example, in the service the blessing of myrh and oil, we find the commandment of Christ, which is not recorded anywhere apart from the service. And Christ says: “Whosoever falls and raises himself will be saved.” And you won’t find such a saying in none of the Gospels. It appears only there.

None of the evangelists has in mind to record an exhaustive teaching of Christ’s words. In John, we find the very essence of Christian spirituality. If you compare the new Testament with the old Testament, you will find that especially the Leviticus priestly code, it is obsessed with flesh, the physical parts of the human being. All these rites of purification, the type of food you’re supposed to eat the type of clothes you’re supposed to wear, the customs to purify your physical existence, this is very much in focus of the Leviticus code. And even the very mark of the old covenant is circumcision. It is very much to do with human flesh. So we can say in the old Testament, man was addressed, and treated by God above all as flesh, as mortal. But in the new Testament, we witness a completely new phenomenon. Consider Dr Zhivago, a novel by Pasternak (?), where he writes about, what is different in Christianity? What is the main contribution of Christianity, for the history of civilisation? And one of the expository dialogues, Pasternak says, before Christ there was no notion of person. He said, there was a history of anonymous masses, suffering unrecorded, and then Christ comes and gives place and name to each of these little sufferers, and that is how the concept of person was born. And indeed we may say that, the new Testament deals with the new category of the human person in the new Testament addresses man, above all as person. That’s why you won’t find this of session, with flesh, as refined in the old Testament. Christ says, it is not where you eat that if I was you, but will proceeds out of you from your person holds, from your heart. And indeed a person becomes like a point of departure, for new Testament ethics. For example, you remember this example, “the Sabbath is for man, and man not for the Sabbath.” And recall the story of the widow casting two mites, Christ said that she contributed more than anyone else, because she gave all that she had. So the person becomes a measure of righteousness.

And John takes the spiritual dimension, man not as flesh, but as person, as spirit. He takes this personal, spiritual dimension to the extreme. And he explains the new type of being to Nicodemus. Christ says in chapter 3, ”what is one of the flesh is of the flesh, but what is born of the spirit is spirit” “ the spirit that makes life flesh profits nothing” (?). So, this marks a radical departure from the old Testament flesh type of righteousness. Instead, of flesh, John shifts our attention to the domain of spirit. And Johannine writings, in fact promotes the ultimate essence of this spiritual righteousness.

And I do not believe we should press the differences between the Gospel of John and the Synoptics. Yes, we do not find, in John’s Gospel the same set of commandments, but in fact they have the same message. Even if all of Christ’s commandments, were lost, and were not recorded but if we would learn about his life, his example, it would still be enough for us to see in Christ’s fulfilment of all his commandments to which he had given to us in his person. And this idea of commandment, being encoded, in Christ’s person, as an example, is very much present in John’s Gospel. Simply by presenting Christ in his life, his actions, and his relationship, John communicates much more than just a set of commandments and down on paper. Christ said, in chapter 13, “I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you”, so Christ sets himself as an example. He is exactly the word of God, the Logos became flesh, the word of God, the Torah that became flesh. He is presented to us as our living commandment.

And in this respect let us consider John 14:31, the idea of person becoming a commandment: “but the world might know that I love the Father, the father has given me commandment, even so I do”. This notion commandments, is in singular. What kind of commandment with the father give Christ? So Christ, lived by the father, he does everything according to the father, he does everything in the name of the Father, father becomes the focus of his existential concern and expression. Thus, the father, becomes a living commandment for Christ: what he hears from the father, he does is the father does. There is a dynamic dimension to this idea of Christ as a commandment. It is not something which was once said, and finished. No, Christ looks up to the father and acts and lives according to his will. “I lived by the father”, Christ says.

And as the father becomes a living commandment Christ, Christ becomes a living commandment for us. In fact, if you think, Christ he left us his commandment, “this is my commandment to love one another as I have loved you”. But what definition can you give to this commandment of love? How can you prescribe what we should do when you love another person? Is it possible to give a definition of life? So perhaps in a family relationship, if I were to list down all the things that are done as an expression of love e.g. if a spouse is the washing up et cetera you could not possibly exhaust all the things that are done in love. You cannot give a definite list of all the things that are done to manifest love in a relationship. Descriptions don’t help us. So the only way you can teach how to love is by example. And that is why, Christ is set for us as a living example, is a living commandment. And by his example, we learn, what it means to love another person. And not only for Christ, but interpersonal relationship with the Trinity. It is an eternal cycle of love, “perixorisis” within the Trinity. And this is something that John wishes to be projected, on a human plane.

And this idea of person as a commandment, is also in the synoptic gospels. The story of the young men who comes to cries what shall I do to inherit eternal life. And Christ says to him, do you know the oldest commandments, then he said to him one thing which you lack, “sell every thing that you have, and follow me”. Possibly, it would be enough just to follow Christ. Another example, Matthew chapter 11:29 “learn of me for I am meek and lowly of heart”. Christ sets himself as an example. But we can say that the whole of John’s Gospel is this formula “learn of me”. Christ is primordial hypostatic paradigm. And this is presented to us dynamically not statically, in his actions, in his words, in his deeds, in his reactions and his relations. And he for us to follow and imitate him. There is no in fact difference in message between John and the synoptic gospels, concerning teaching, concerning the commandments of Christ. Christ, in John’s Gospel, fulfils all these commandments which he was given in the synoptic gospels. Christ himself fulfils them in John’s Gospel.

When we look, at the sermon on the Mount, and we hear the words “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, of course Christ is speaking about himself, given he could do nothing without the father, and would do nothing without the father. If you take, “blessed that they that mourn”, we do know that Christ was moved to tears on occasion.” And then, “Blessed are the meek”. And Christ was meek, he even washed the disciple’s feet at the Last Supper. And the same occurs throughout the whole sermon, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst”, and again Christ is found hungry “give me something to eat” and later thirsting on the cross. “Blessed are the merciful”, of course Christ fulfils his own commandments when they bring to him the woman who has been accused of adultery, and shows mercy. “Blessed are the peacemakers”… This is a recurring theme, where Christ says “peace unto you”. Whenever Christ appeared he would spread peace around him. And back in Matthew we hear, “Blessed are the persecuted…”, v15, “let your light shine on men… Glorify your Father in heaven”… And everything is done by Christ for his father’s glory.

John. “Be reconciled with your enemies”; Christ constantly invites the Jews to reconcile with him, but they do not. “Do not resist evil”. Remember, when the mob come to take him away, and he commends them “whatever you do, do it quickly” (John 13:27). “Therefore, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. And Christ himself fulfilled this commandment to the absolute extent possible, people who saw him, saw the father. We could study the synoptic gospels in the same way, and see how Christ fulfilled all the commandments, sometimes directly, and at other times indirectly. John sets him as an example for us to follow.

So the way of salvation, leads to life, according to Matthew’s Gospel. The way in John’s Gospel, is not what, but who. He is Christ himself, “I am the way”. It is a dynamic commandment, that is in the living Christ. If we look, at the whole, sayings of Christ in John’s Gospel, this idea of “follow me”, “come after me” is dominant. The Gospel begins, with this idea following Christ, and it ends with this idea of following Christ. Chapter 1 the idea is used three times, “they followed Jesus”, and we now know for John it was a theological notion to follow Jesus, and to follow his example. “And he said to Philip, follow me…” So it is the very first commandment that Christ gives in the Gospel of John. Again it comes up in many chapters, ch 8: “who follows me shall not walk in darkness”. Ch 10: “the good Shepherd… And he goes before them”, and the sheep follow him. What is interesting and unusual about this presentation about a good Shepherd. It is in the ordering, and usually the sheep go before the Shepherd. The shepherds go behind the flock showing direction from behind… But sometimes in the Middle East if the sheep know the Shepherd, the shepherd will go sometimes a little bit ahead and the sheep will follow. And Christ said in chapter 12: “anyone who serves me, let him follow me.” This following of Christ, is precisely the way of salvation. “Where I am, there also my servants shall be”. It is not speaking about geography, he is speaking about a mode of being, divine being.

Now, following Christ in geographical terms doesn’t mean they will be saved many followed Christ right down to the crucifixion and were part responsible for what occurred. There was a crowd who constantly followed Christ in geographical terms, but nevertheless turned against him. And indeed, once you start to live the gospel in your own life, you will notice, you will find yourself exactly in these types of experiences that Christ had in the gospel. Once you start to follow him in this way you will find situations like this that are very familiar.

This language of hypostatic paradigms, is very effective. If you look at a modern culture, young kids they are very much into their own idols, their heroes their worldly icons, you can teach a kid what he should do and what you shouldn’t do but once he says a movie, or is fascinated by some kind of image all your teaching is gone in an instance. He will imitate the hero, just after one hour. And that is the language of hypostatic paradigms that works it is far more powerful than just words.

It is remarkable that the Gospel actually ends with this dynamic idea of following Christ, or perhaps dozen and because it is open ending. We hear about Peter, following Christ, and the beloved disciple joining them. So the Gospel actually joins with this idea of following Christ.

Hypostatic paradigm

It is crucial, because of the language and early because Christ is represented in this way to us, as an example as a paradigm, it is also the language of John, of righteousness and sin. They are exemplified, they are not spelled-out for us, what is seen, but they are at exemplified in his example is. Most of the heroes of the gospel you will see, they are shown to us in their relationship with Christ. They are examples of relationship with Christ. They are some who love Christ like Lazarus, like Martha and Mary, who will end up in the resurrection but there are also those who reject Christ and lose their salvation, like becoming Christ enemies, and we notice an interesting trend in all the Gospels, but especially in John. But after the resurrection of Christ, know one of the enemies of Christ is mentioned, only the ones who loved him, Mary, his mother, his beloved disciple, Nicodemus. Positive examples survive to the next life, after the depiction of the resurrection.

Q&A. Imitating Christ sounds like sublime ethics, but how can the average person begin? It sounds too difficult? It is a positive experience, that comes not from reading the gospel and following every commandment etc. It involves a personal knowledge of Christ, and desire of communion with Him. That is what we do in the Liturgy, we prepare and come closer to him through the Holy Eucharist. And not just partaking in the body and blood of Christ in the physical sense but also in the spiritual sense. We try to participate in the Spirit of Christ, not just in his flesh and body in bread and wine, but also in his spirit- there is also spiritual communion. Once a person goes to Church, regularly participates in the life of the Church, the following happens defacto, because in one way or another, our ecclesiastical tradition has provided, all necessary means for our following Christ, by itself but also in our life and liturgical service.

Q&A. If you try to take ethical rules out of the New Testament like there were in the Old Testament, you cannot do it. Fr Sophrony once said, “when he was on Mt Athos, for him the Gospel looked like Utopia. It was impossible to fulfil. That is why he valued very much his encounter to Silouan the Athonite who gave him an answer, how to understand this paradox in this life. We are given an example of divine life in Christ’s commandments… perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. And the answer of Silouan is this revelation of Christ: “keep your mind in hell, and despair not”. This is the paradox of Christian ethics. Someone published a book in Russia, on how to be pious. They just singled out all of these commandments of “teachings of Christ”, and of course, it wasn’t even the teaching of Christ without His example, and without a personal relationship with him. It is a very complex experience.

This idea of hypostatic paradigms which teaches us Christian ethics

If you notice, every character in John’s Gospel has a representative trait. In every dialogue, which is recorded in the Gospel, there is an opening of the dialogue, and then the dialogue runs into from a particular character to the universal. This is a remarkable thing, this flexible movement between the individual, and then this individual becomes representative of the group. So John gives us an indication that what he wants to see us, in every character, is a type of person, type of relationship with Christ. Father Sophrony like to employ the same principle in the monastery, he would often say, if you learn to live in peace and love in the monastery with one father, then you will learn to live in peace and love with millions of people in the world. This is a good example of the idea how every person represents a type of people that we might live by, and once we learn to live in peace with that person then you are able to live in peace and concord with all people. And we see that in John we have this existential presentation both of sin and righteousness for these characters.

Let us examine a few examples. John 3:1, we hear that a Pharisee a ruler of the Jews comes to Christ. And that once John sets him as a paradigm, represents a type of attitude to Christ faith that doesn’t have roots. And he switches dialogue into plural. Begins to speak on behalf of certain groups, and if you look at verse two, “Rabbi, you know that you come from God”. Immediately Christ also switches into plural, in verse 11. He says: “I say to you, we know… You don’t receive our witness”. Why would Christ speak in plural?  Well, I think John wants us to see in every person and example, paradigm, a type.  And indeed, we see how John moves from particular individual dialogue into universal, it becomes parabolic in its character. In fact in itself this dialogue becomes a parable.

By the end of the discourse, their meeting becomes a microcosm of encounter between Jesus and the world, the universal truth is exposed, man is born by water and spirit. Towards the end of the dialogue, we see how he moves to these universal themes. He speaks about condemnation, and the light that has come to the world, it of darkness rather than light, takes off on this universal domain. One of the authors called his commentary on John, ”the maverick gospel”. He says, John like an eagle takes off from the ground, and then he sores in heaven on this pan-universal scale.

Yes, Nicodemus, provides us an interesting example, paradigm. He is rather confused about Christ. Perhaps his faith is not strong enough that he can follow Christ. Perhaps many people would find familiar these same kind of spiritual problems. Nicodemus is mentioned again in chapter 7. Remember he’s the one that tried to defend Christ against the Jews - he said, “does our law judge the man before it hears him and knows what he does?” And indeed, out of reverence Nicodemus comes to Christ’s tomb at the end of the Gospel, chapter 19: “… And he brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, to anoint Christ”. But John gives us a very profound psychological analysis of what really happened to Nicodemus, why he followed Christ. John in chapter 12 after he speaks about Pharisees, he says: “out of the rulers many did believe in him because of the Pharisees they did not confess Leicester should be put out of the synagogue, for they love the glory of man more than the glory of God.” So Nicodemus is given to us as an example of one who was afraid to follow Christ. Many of the rulers out of fear, didn’t confess Christ because they were afraid to be put out the synagogue. Does this phrase remind you of anything from the synoptic gospels? There was a rich man who could not follow Christ because of his treasures on earth. But of course, the parable of the sower, this world, the temptations, and riches of this world, that is the faith that has no roots. This is not the seed that fell on stony ground it had no deep roots. And what we have here is a similar teaching, that Christ gives us in Nicodemus, but it is like a parable in the synoptic gospels. This is the same message, but in a different form, communicated to us in this language of hypostatic paradigms. So the message of the hypostatic parables in John’s Gospel and the message in the Synoptics is the same.

Let us see how the same principle works in other characters. The very next chapter, chapter 4 where Christ meets the Samaritan woman. Again, we have this leap from individual particular to representative in the broader spectrum. Again, a change from singular into plural. Remember Christ begins his dialogue with the Samaritan woman, and then he addresses her in singular but later by verse 22 he begins to speak in plural: “you worship, what you do not know…” We see again, Christ switches into this plural. So in essence, she becomes a representative a certain group of people, the Samaritans. Another dynamic portrait, a hypostatic paradigm, another person who came to believe in Christ. It had she come to believe? And many of Christ’s teachings according to the synoptic gospel, reveals itself in a different way, the Christ talking about marriage et cetera. He discusses, the question of marriage with the Samaritan woman, and he says to her: “five men that you are with…” Because Christ speaks against adultery here. He is teaching here about how to pray, “worship of God in spirit and in truth”. In one way or another, all the synoptic messages and teachings, are to be found also in the Gospel of John, but through a different style of writing.

Why did Christ speak in parables?

And why does John, speak in this way using hypostatic paradigms? Why doesn’t he want to give us the direct commandment of Christ? Such as, do this or do that. Why this Christ speaking parables? Why does John use the same language, parabolic language, for this hypostatic paradigms? Why do you think this is the case? If we compare, the language of Christ, the way he gives his commandments, his teachings, with that of the old Testament you will find that he doesn’t use imperative very often. Occasionally he does, been the old Testament commandments, they always use imperative is: “thou shall not”. But English poet W.H. Auden once said, “you can’t tell people what to do, you can tell them a parable”. And this is very much what Christ employs when he speaks in parables. Because as I said earlier we’re dealing in the New Testament with the spiritual history of mankind, of the human person. Person whose freedom, God is eager to preserve. That is why he doesn’t impose himself, but he represents truth in this parabolic language. So that person, is free to make a choice on whether or not to follow Christ. And this is perhaps why we can translate “I speaking parables, so seeing they have the opportunity not to see, and hearing they have an opportunity not to hear.” That is why Christ speaks in parables. He leaves us to be free. The same goes with hypostatic language, and paradigms, in John’s Gospel. We are left free to decide for ourselves who we can associate ourselves with in the Gospel. The beloved disciple, perhaps Judas, perhaps Mary Magdalen, and this is how this language of paradigms works.

Q&A. There is a book by Jonah he actually mentions that, if Christ did wish to communicate this idea of deliberately blinding people he would have used the Isaiah quotation in full, but he did not. In Isaiah there is some very strong language where God wishes for this people to be blinded. But Christ omits the most important part of that quotation.

Man is a fact for God himself. Once you remove human freedom, you no longer have human beings. That is why there was a restoration of the fallen Adam into this freedom. This freedom that Christ brought to mankind, which lets humans be free. This gives them the choice of whether they wish to follow Christ not, it is a personal choice which God does not want to interfere with. And this is a choice that we make in the very depths of our heart. And the language that is employed by St Peter afterwards, it is the same language of non-coercion. He says: “I am going fishing” and the apostles replied: “we will go with you”. He did not impose, “we shall all go fishing”. This is the basis of our orthodox ecclesiology. Like Komakhov (?) wrote, “Christ bequeathed his truth, not to power, but to love”. Instead of legal authority we would possibly find perhaps in some other confessions, a legalistic understanding of authority. In the orthodox understanding of authority, this an authority of love above all not of power. And we venerate Christ, not for his power but for his love.

The Paradigm of Peter

We read passages where Peter is mentioned. And we can think what the evangelists wishes to communicate to us. If we considered the whole spiritual career of Peter, was following Christ from the beginning to the end, even to the point of his death. And in fact Christ did mention, that he predicted that Peter would suffer martyrdom as Christ did. And Peter is given to us as an example of a follower of Christ, as he has his own witnesses but nevertheless he follows Christ to the end. And indeed, Peter experienced his own Golgotha, and his own crucifixion. What actually happened to him, if we begin to analyse the situation in human terms and you went to Jerusalem with Christ. And in the Last Supper he said: “I will never betray you, I would die if it was necessary”. And after a few days he betrays him, it was a real personal tragedy when he realised what he had done. He felt a real cheapness about his personhood, that he betrayed eternal God that Peter himself had witnessed the Transfiguration with his own eyes. And if you take the attestation further, he was the oldest of the apostles, how embarrassing it was for him to set such example, he was in a state of nothingness, ultimate.

Father Sophrony said: “just imagine as pre-eternal God to have all this universal mission laid upon you, that is what happened later after the resurrection, but Peter felt such unworthiness, he said, “I will go fishing, I will do what I did at the beginning before I met Christ. After all this experience with Christ, Peter was broken with his betrayal of Christ so much, that he went back to doing what he was doing before, being fishermen.  This act in self, is a sign of profound spiritual property, humility. He does strange things, when he sees Christ in the boat, he jumps into the water. So have this very complex portrait of a Christian who has his weaknesses, his moments of not knowing what to do when he jumps and see. It is a very lively paradigm.

And there is also that of the beloved disciple. And if you notice the beloved disciple never speaks in the Gospel, he’s always silent, as someone who is always present with Christ.

Opposite of Righteousness

The opposite of righteousness is sin. What is sin? What is sinful? Can you give a definition? The way sin is portrayed in the new Testament, you cannot give a definition. In the same way that you can give a definition of love, cannot give a definition of sin. Sin, has now a personal dimension. In the old Testament, it was is to identify sin because you are doing certain actions to prescribed in the old Testament law the should be doing, if you’re doing this your sin. Sin in the old Testament is defined. But in the new Testament yes, Christ gives a list of the evils like what comes out of your heart (e.g. adultery), but this list of sins is not exhaustive. Can you give a definition of the sin of Judas, for example? What was wrong with what he did? The holy Fathers speak of Judas’s love for money, this perhaps was not the main point. The very fact that he betrayed Christ, was the major sin. He sinned against love. Judas was in a relationship of a follower to Jesus, and he severed that link by betraying him. But if you look at it according to the old Testament, Judas may not have committed any sinful action. He went to the Pharisees, told in the truth he didn’t lie, according to the old Testament he didn’t sin. But according to the new Testament, he sinned. And Judas did not only betray but delivered Christ to the Pharisees.

Sin is also given to us in this way, in the language of this hypostatic paradigm. And of course, there is a moment, where Satan enters Judas’s heart. Father Sophrony said that Judas was scandalised by Christ’s behaviour because remember the moment that he decided to betray him, a woman came to anoint him, and put precious oil and wiped his feet with her hair, and Judas at that moment thought, he receives pleasure from a woman, but he could not see the Christ was accepting her repentance. And this is the moment that Judas decided to betray him. But for Christ at this moment the salvation of this woman was so important. So what I am saying is that it is impossible to provide a definition of sin. Again, there is an infinite category of sin. Just like there is an infinite category of love, and love can be expressed in many forms. It is the same thing with sin, it can be expressed in many forms. In Soviet Russia people would report about their neighbours to authorities and they would think that they were doing nothing special because they were not seeing lies. So there were saying the truth, so what is wrong with the truth? Always in the right to say the truth? But you see according to the New Testament it is a sin which cannot be defined but it is a sin. In fact this personal dimension, people think at times that even if they see nice words but with a heavy heart, people can hurt, depends on the personal dimension. In the Akathist in our hymns to Christ we say: “Hail, now king of the Jews, king of Israel”. And of course, the same words were used by people who mocked him before the crucifixion. We can see that the same words can be understood differently given the different contexts infecting opposite ways.

Another hypostatic paradigm, in the fourth Gospel, other crowds. The concept of the crowd in John’s Gospel, is again, a very flexible and dynamic concept. If crowds are positively disposed towards Christ, find among the crowds his disciples. But in chapter 6, once the crowds turn hostile to Christ, they acquire a technical term “the Jews”. We see this dynamic from crowds to Jews. Bassler (?) Who asserts that the evangelist is not concerned with nationality, or geography, but he’s concerned with the type of attitude towards Christ, people who reject Christ and who do not accept Christ. So juice is not a nationality, but a type of people. This is crucial for our understanding, for political issues these days. Some fathers of the church believes the Gospel was anti-Semitic, but no this is not the case, and I would side with modern scholars that the term “Jew” was based on the type of attitude and behaviour.

Topic Lecture 7 - St John's Gospel

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

The Gospel of John is a unique Gospel. It is particularly close to the Orthodox Church. Once the Catholic Church was compared to the apostle Peter, the Protestant church to the apostle Paul, and the Orthodox Church was compared to St John the evangelist.

What the synoptic mean? Is synopsis. A common vision. This is in reference to the Gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke. If we speak about Christ, then we need to present a common vision of Christ. Now John's Gospel gives us a different aspect. It is no coincidence that many people of this particular Gospel, because it has a profound personal impact like no other Gospels. St John's Gospel sends us into the most intimate dialogue with its reader. And the works of Christ recorded in this gospel penetrate the very depth of our inner selves. Father Nikolai was raised in an atheistic society, but he witnessed many people coming to Christ as a result of St John's Gospel, and it was no coincidence as it had a profound personal dimension.

How should we approach the text of the Gospel? How should we study it? What should we study? As mentioned, every form of literature has its own criteria. We might be looking in some texts for the politics style, and other text for the whether historical facts are recorded and consistency of the account.

So what criteria should we be using to study St John's Gospel? Scholars believe that to the 19th century that the Gospels were some kind of memoir of the apostles. And this view was held by the church actually until very late. See the book by David Stross (?), The life of Jesus, written in 1885. For the first time Stross used the term myth in relation to the new Testament. And in the 20th century, science and ousted the church from the field of biblical studies altogether. These included the structure of the narrative, historical analysis, historical verifiability, logical consistency. An interesting in the field of theology, the field of science brought to modern man.

We also find testimony about the authorship of the gospel in St Irenaeus, who wrote about 180 A.D. John remained at Ephesus until the time of his passing around 117 A.D.also have reference John's authorship of the gospel in Clement of Alexandria: "and last for the evangelist, John perceived that all the external facts been made plain in the Gospels, and he was urged by his friends by the Holy Spirit, to compose a spiritual Gospel". If you want to know more about what the fathers of the church set about the Gospel, there is a book by Maurice Wiles (?) Which is recommended for those who wish to study a patristic approach to the Gospel.

But some say that the language of the gospel implied a much later date. And there is no historical evidence that John was actually present at Ephesus. St possible for example, never mentions John in his letter to the Ephesians. Is this a valid argument? This is rather an invalid argument, if we think about it in the modern terms, if a scholar was to write to a particular university, he/she would not go mentioning another name which was unrelated.

So scholars started to search for another author, another John. 

Do we remember in the Gospel of John who it says whom Jesus loved? Of course, it was Lazarus. Because Jesus wept, at his death. So one of the scholars indicated that possibly it was Lazarus who wrote the Gospel of John. And if you look at chapter 21 there is a question about the death of the disciple. And in the Gospels we will never hear, anything that is said, from the beloved disciple. He is rather silent personality. He never speaks. And some even question whether he would live forever, on earth, although Christ never said this.

Barnabas Linders (?) commentary, said that the whole Johannine community was the beloved disciple. And yet another scholar believed it was Lazarus and Mary who wrote the Gospel of John together since Mary was the 1st to witness the Lord's resurrection. In this instance it was considered to be a cooperative endeavour. And there are many books on this topic, and there are very many candidates. But the Orthodox perspective is of course the youngest disciple, John wrote this gospel.

So scholars searched for various influences to the Gospel of John, and they found themselves in a jungle, confused state, mess. Because the whole period from from the first 60 years of the first century to the middle of the second century, was one of the most intensive religious quests. Various philosophers, the Gnostics, special monastic communities, various myths and sacraments, and Eastern religions, all this constituted one complex setting. It was very difficult to place any direct dependence on John.

Influences on St John's Gospel

Platonism

Bultmann (?) believed that St John Hellenized Christianity. First of all there are very strong parallels with Platonism. Platonic philosophy maintained that behind this passing from this material world, there was a real eternal change in this world which led to the contrast between mind and body, spirit and flesh, world above and world below. Perhaps you can hear similarities with John's Gospel, about from on high, he speaks about the true minds about the truth, about one true God, this is very much Platonic vocabulary.

Stoicism

Secondly, stoicism: a particular and very important point is the concept of the Logos (?). The Stoics as you know, believed that focus was God, and in some sense also the whole universe. The Stoics were by no means crude pantheists. For they found seeds of divine Logos in the mind of man. There was a possibility of a special relationship between divine eternal universal laws and any human being. And what they saw as a duty of a human being was to live in accordance with this divine logos, to cultivate the seed of eternal logos within ourselves. This is how man becomes a child of God. Again we see parallels with John's Gospel.

Hermetic writings

A third remaining trend or influence comes from so-called Hermetic writings. What are these? At the beginning of the first century these two branches of Greek thought, Platonic and Stoic merged into one, and they appeared in a collection of works which were distributed in the second third and fourth centuries, known as hermetic writings. What can we say but these writings? There is a considerable emphasis on knowledge. Salvation was really to be found in knowing the truth knowing about God and the world, how to pass through and beyond this world, into the heavenly spheres. Much emphasis is placed about knowing the true God, chapter 17:3. Consider also light and life, in the context of the nature of God.

Gnosticism

John's Gospel is used widely by Gnostic writers to claim their apostolic authority for their views. But also by the Orthodox fathers of the church, who wanted to refute that Gnostic heresies. The first commentary that survived in almost its complete extract, was the work of of Gnostic Heraklion (?). Again similar ideas in the Gospel of John, I'd is about knowledge, about life, about truth about sacraments. In this context what saves us is knowledge, one has to know the authorities of the world, about man about God, and about the way for man to escape from this world and to be united with God. But really the fourth Gospel is decisively different.

There is a difference between knowledge of God in the Gospel, and the knowledge within that Gnostic context. Or any other difference which deals with incarnation? What is it? The knowledge in the Gospel of Christ, is really about personal knowledge, it is not about information in the world. In the Gospel, it is about relation, and communion with God. It's about ontological knowledge, personal knowledge. We know God through love, through communion. This is what is implied by knowledge. Our type of knowledge implies ontological knowledge, ontological union, with God. Consider for example the term knowledge in the context of Adam and Eve, when we are told: Adam knew his wife. Which means he entered in full communion with his wife, including all levels, physical, spiritual, all of the levels. It was that tell a tear of the communion. And this is type of knowledge that is implied in the fourth Gospel, knowledge as communion.

Rudolff Bultmann believes that in the fourth Gospel, nothing else but the question form of the salvation myth which belongs to the Mandaeism. These were a Jewish sect, whom broke with Judaism in the first century, and they believed Jesus was the son of the founder of the Mandaeism, supposedly sent John the Baptist. They believed that it was sent John the Baptist who was sent from above, not Christ. And they believed that this world was made out of a fusion of light and darkness to the body of man belong to the kingdom of darkness but his soul comes from the kingdom of light. Thus it is the light that is trapped in the darkness of the human body. 

If you notice in the fourth Gospel we have a very interesting portrait of sent John the Baptist. There was a tendency to emphasise that John the Baptist was not the Messiah. And this is perhaps where the notion of myth arose. How did the Mandeists see  it? The king of light sends down to earth his son suitably disguised in a human form so he can reveal to human beings there are heavenly origin. And to instruct them how to return back to their true home. This sounds very much like the fourth Gospel. And then the person who was sent to do this work by God... And when their work is done they go back to heaven and the son collects their sparks of light, their souls into his hands, it is kingdom. And when they have all returned to heaven the work is done. There is a passage with Christ talks about bringing together all the children of God. This is very much like the notion of the Mandaeis. The Mandaens had a special liking towards the baptism ceremony. And not just once but regularly. For them the baptism rite equated to the rite of purification. They would wear white robes for every baptism, and for the ceremony. Thus the similarity between the Mandaeis and the fourth Gospel is obvious. So Bultmann believes that the Christians turned the cosmological myths of the Mandaeis into Christianity. They applied what was applied to sent John the Baptist, to Christ.

However we can see weaknesses in this point. Firstly the Mandaeis literature is very much later in the piece, the documents were distributed around the seventh century. Many scholars now tend to believe like Barrett and Burkitt (?) That actually it is not Christianity that is dependent on the Mandaeis but the Mandaeis on Christianity very much. There are also many other differences. For example, how do we become children of God? We're not defacto children of God until we find our salvation in Christ. And then become a child of Christ through Christ. And the Mandaeis believed that every man is heavenly de facto. The real innocence is the divine light that is contained within the person. The Mandaeis, as well as many other Greek writers and hermetic writers, believe that man's redemption comes through information. For us it comes through personal love and communion. There is a difference in the concept of knowledge. And how did they see sacraments? For us any sacrament increases out into communion with Christ himself. Every sacrament is Christ himself. For example consider Eucharist, we communion of the body and blood of Christ himself. And it is there, that the sacrament finds its fulfilment. If you take baptism for example, it is not just about washing hands, or going for a swim. We are baptised into Christ, St Paul says. We are baptised into the person. And for the Mandaeis did not have that notion of person. Sacraments were a kind of magical ritual. Your apply a certain formula and then something happens.

And so some scholars believed, that the Gospel of John could not have been written by John the apostle because many of the things spoken come from later date, e.g. ideas, and vocabulary much later than the first century. But all these theories collapsed in the recent archaeological discoveries prove them wrong. We're speaking here but the dead Sea Scrolls. When they came to light, there are no less parallels with contemporary Judaism in the fourth Gospel than in the Greek world or the Mandaeis. E.g., the manual discipline, the Damascus covenant, the commentary under cavicle (?). John Ashton, the Oxford Scholar believes that in light of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gospel of John is now considered as thoroughly Jewish document. In many ways these Scrolls have demonstrated that many of John's ideas which were thought to be of Greek influence, and probably of a later date, are quite explicable of a Palestinian-Jewish... there was already and established Jewish community when Christ was born. This means that the early date of the fourth gospel is not impossible, and we as Orthodox can only welcome this finding. We can prove that yes John was actually John the Apostle who was the writer of the Gospel of John.

When we come to the synoptic gospels, scholars believe that John belong to an independent tradition. He probably didn't even know the synoptic gospels. And it is a question whether he knew them or not. Our Orthodox tradition says yes he knew because of what St Clement of Alexandria said: "John, the last of all evangelists, after all the external facts had been made plain in other Gospels..." This phrase implies that he actually read them. And perhaps the question itself is not entirely relevant for us today.

There are stories that are not in the synoptic gospels: the woman of Samaria, the miracle at Canaan, which is an interesting detail which is not recorded in the Synoptics. The disciples of Christ baptised, as well as John the Baptist baptising. Even distinguished professors like George Mantzarides in your Orthodox tradition, have asked why is such an important event like the raising of Lazarus is not mentioned by any other evangelist. Well what do we say to that? Why was that the case? It was such a grand event the whole of Judaea witnessed it.

For John, the raising of Lazarus, had a very important theological significance. And that is why he records it. The synoptic writers, they speak about, other resurrections that John doesn't mention. For instance the raising of the son of the widow of Nine (?), And the raising of Jairus daughter. In fact it is possible that Christ raised many people, and all his miracles are not recorded. Christ did much more than we here in the Gospels but for John, he perceived the raising of Lazarus is having a special significance in the career of Christ as a whole, and having a theological significance, as a holy action which would proceed Christ's own resurrection. 

Yes, there are similarities as well, but the temple entry into Jerusalem, the anointing Bethany, and some other parallels like miracles like feeding a 5000 between the Gospel of John and the Synoptics etc. There are some differences in chronology and in geography in the synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John. For example, in the synoptic gospels Christ comes a Jerusalem in the last stage of his ministry, while in John's Gospel he frequents Jerusalem often, and Jerusalem is mention quite a few times, in visits to the temple quite often there. One of the other differences is the style of writing of the Gospel of John, which are very different in terms of its structure. The synoptic gospels, for example, are composed of stories, little short stories about Christ. In John we find developed dialogues between Christ and other heroes of the Gospel. 

What can we say as a result of all of this findings? How does this comparison with the synoptic gospels help us to understand John's Gospel? How far does historical research advance our understanding of the actual text? And if you read modern biblical scholarship, the books try to contextualise the words of the Gospel. They try to put them in their context, into their Sitz im Leiben. There is a tendency to treat the Gospel, not as a universal of revelation but as a reflection of a particular historical situation. Something, that we can admit as Orthodox, but we wouldn't dwell on that. Because any Gospel is a universal revelation, because it is tied to particular historical context, but for us the new Testament is universal in its nature.

Possible Inconsistencies in the Text

Let's examine how this logic works of historical analysis. We have already gone through the various strands of thought, platonic, stoic, Gnostic, and so on, so scholars combine all this findings and they believe it is possible to reconstruct the actual history of the Johannine community, where the needs of the community dictated the content of the Gospel. Raymond Brown, writes on the "community of the beloved disciple", which still stands as the starting point for any Johannine study. And Lewis Martin (?), the "history and theology in the fourth Gospel". So let's examine how their logic works.

These scholars have noticed that the text of the fourth Gospel has been edited and re-edited several times. So how can we see this for example in the prologue of the Gospel is a far more theologically developed piece of the text it obviously doesn't correspond any style to the rest of the Gospel. It is like a poetic him. E.g 1:1-17. There are also in the text, many chronological and geographical inconsistencies for example chapter 6, we suddenly find ourselves in Galilee but in chapter 5 Christ was in Jerusalem. And another interesting example, chapter 14, verse one, Christ says: "Arise, let's go away from here", it looks like the end of the discussion but here Christ carries on with his discourse of the Last Supper for another couple of chapters. This can easily be explained by our cultural context whereby it is not that easy to remove oneself from a dialogue depending on the background.

In chapter 5, verse 25: "Christ said: 'I say to you that the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the son of God, and they who hear shall live". And just three verses below, Christ repeats the same thing: "for the hour is coming, who all in the graves shall hear his voice... And therefore come forth to the resurrection of life... And those who have done evil". It looks like the original idea in chapter 5:25, is corrected, clarified, interpreted. Additionally, we hear about the wedding in Canaan, where Christ turns water into wine, but then there is a puzzling comment in chapter 2, verse 11: "this is the beginning of miracles that Jesus did in Canaan of Galilee"; okay, but where is the rest? We don't hear about the rest of the miracles in Canaan. Well it depends how you interpret this phrase. We can always interpret this, is that this was the first miracle and there were many more to come throughout Christ's life. Scholars like Faulkner, "the Gospel of science: the reconstruction of the narrative source", believes there was a miracle walk that was incorporated into the Gospel of John by John. And this is why we have that strange phrase "the beginning of miracles". In chapter 20:30-31, reads like it is the end of the Gospel, "and truly Christ did many other signs... Which are not written in this book... But these are written so you could have life in his name." But the Gospel continues, we do not say in there. There is chapter 21. Scholars believe the chapter 21 is actually an appendix. And so scholars believe that the text has been edited, and re-edited.

But when we come to the actual content of the Gospel, we find that there are numerous polemical passages. Christ is said to be arguing with Jews, Pharisees, the Samaritans, in such a way that he seems to speak on behalf of a certain group. As if the evangelist, tries to give Christ his own voice and concerns, he puts on his lips the words that express concern not of the subject of Christ himself but the Christian community. See the conversation with Nicodemus, in chapter 3. Christ says: "truly, truly I say to you we speak what we know and we testify what we have seen". Why this Christ speaking plural, about himself? As if Christ is speaking on behalf of a certain group. And also there is a Samaritan woman, and Christ says in 4:22, "you worship what you do not know, we know to worship the salvation of the Jews". Who is speaking in this passage? Christ speaks, "we know", about himself. Like, he speaking on behalf the Jews. So the evangelist, tries to sort out polemical questions, that are vested in his own community.

St John the Baptist continually repeats "I am not the Messiah", 1:20, and 3:28. So why to drive this point so persistently? There must be something behind. And if we look at the Johannine Epistles, we seen the first epistle that in John's community there was a schism, a split. 1 John 2:19, John the evangelists says: "they went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they were of us they would have continued with us". He speaks of a certain group of people who departed from his community. How do we explain these polemics? Brown, suggests that we need to dig deeper into the historical setting, as to understand all of these strange passages, these strange polemics, which formed an influence the content of the Gospel. That is how we can ultimately understand the fourth Gospel.

What would be the historical settings of these polemics? Perhaps the main historical event in the first century, which gave birth to Christianity as religion, was the expulsion of the Christians from the synagogue. When did this happen? Because we know that Christians worshipped alongside Jews in the synagogue. Until the mid-first century all Christians were Jews, who were worshipping in the temple when Christ came. And these early Christians, understood that Christ was the fulfilment of the old Testament prophecies, and were standing in the temple and confessing Christ as the Messiah. And in fact, Judaism was quite liberal at that time, in the first half of the first century, it was pluralistic in its nature, it would accommodate many other religions, such as Platonism, other Greek philosophy, and Christianity as well was in this liberal environment. That's why Judaism flourished, in a universally acknowledge religion. It's a liberal trend increased its popularity. But what happens next? We know that around 66 A.D. Jewish laws began, and they were directly formed for the Jews against the Roman authorities. And in 70 A.D. the Jewish feast of Passover, Emperor Titus, the Roman leader arrived in Jerusalem and the siege began. It consisted of five months of siege, and the great temple of Jerusalem was burned. And the whole city, 1 million Jews were killed at this time. Just imagine what this meant for Jewish people at that time. Hundreds of thousands of captives were taken to Caesarea. And after this devastation, the cultural and religious and educational centre of Judaism, that is Jerusalem, there was a Jewish party that settled in Jamnia. A place which was away from Jerusalem. And it is there that the pharisaic party took a leading role in the revival of Judaism. The Pharisees were not liberals at all. They wanted to read Judaism from outside influences. And they introduced new liturgical texts into their services, one of them which was cursing Christians, and it was from that moment the Christians could no longer be side-by-side in the temple with the Jews. Christians had to confess through these liturgical texts that Christianity was heresy, and they honestly couldn't do that as Christians themselves. And at this time, the Christians began to be expelled from the synagogue. And he's around this point, that Raymond Brown and Lewis Martin, build their theory of the history. 

So now if we open the text in the first chapter, verse 35, Raymond Brown believes that here we are dealing with the very outset of the Johannine community. "The next day John was standing with two of his disciples... And they follow Jesus". This is how the community started. So the Johannine community consisted of Jews who believed in an old Testament type Christology. In verse 38 if we look at the kinds of Christological titles written by John they include: "Jesus called Rabbi"; verse 41 "the Messiah", "one of whom Moses wrote in the law in the Prophets"; "the son of Joseph", "son of God", "king of Israel". What kind of ID to these titles give us? Do they speak about the pre-eternal existence of Christ? Do they speak about his divinity? Not at all. They speak about him as a kind of old Testament prophets, but nothing special about him and his divinity. This kind of Christology which was at the outset for the community when they worshipped in the synagogue, which is why the Jews in the temple initially accept these notions there was nothing wrong with them. But then, if we move further into chapter 4, we hear about Christ's visit to Samaria which is not found in the synoptic gospels. And here we hear about an interesting type of Christology, Christ is now not just the son of Joseph, he is like 4:42 says: "he is the saviour of the world". Now we have a very different type of Christology. This is a theology which is universal, speaks about Christ is the saviour of the world. And this side of Christology Brown believes is precisely what caused the controversy between Judaism and Christianity. This is the kind of Christology that brought Christians into conflict with the synagogue. And from that time, from the time of expulsion, the middle period begins in the history of the community. After the expulsion, life in the community is preoccupied with the polemics with the Jews. After chapter 4 we hear, how the Jews are portrayed constantly in a negative light. Christ rebukes them, he argues with them, in a very intense way. And chapter 15, crisis: "now they have no excuse for their sin". But it was at this stage that the Gospel was written down.

And then there comes a new period where the community was expelled from the synagogue, and it became exposed to the rest of the world. Christ is now the true light of every man. And along with these influences from the Greek world and the gnostic tendencies, and finally the community is split into two. John is within the Orthodox Church, separating himself from the Gnostics. This is how we understand the history of the Johannine community.

Raymond Brown himself, and once written in an introduction, that we should be careful not to exaggerate, not to give a wrong weight to  every little detail, however it seems he has himself not taken his own advice. For example why couldn't Christ simply have said "Love one another"? You don't need a historical context for these words. It was simply Christ expression of divine love.

Orthodox Approach to John's Gospel

How should we as Orthodox, treat the text of the gospel? Why can we accept this narrowing down of the gospel to this particular historical setting? For us the gospel is a universal revelation. Yes it was born within the context of history, but for us it is an eternal self revelation of God, no less than this. Of course it touches upon history but it shouldn't deny its universal nature. Secondly, for us, the Gospels, and the new Testament as a whole is a spiritual text, we cannot deny a spiritual dimension to our Scripture. If we say it was just the product of human talents, we will narrow the gospel to this drama of literature. For us Scripture above all is a revelation of God, which came into being through synergy, through co-working between God and man. And we preserve in our church the right attitude toward the gospel, within our Orthodox tradition. We keep our gospel in the altar, we venerate the gospel and this is the attitude that the first Christians had. For us, if you want to entertain an Orthodox approach to Scripture, without this belief in scripture, we believe in the divinely inspired character of the text. If we choose a different path it could be very interesting but it won't be Orthodox.

And we shouldn't be afraid to take this perspective into our academic studies, until now Orthodox biblical scholarship, has not yet entered the international arena of biblical studies. There is a great contribution to be made worldwide. 

Q&A. John Barton, re-read the new Testament, and once wrote: "we are dealing not with actual text we are dealing with a person". Through texts we have this notion that every evangelist is communicating to us the person of Christ, so we as readers can enter communion with Christ. For example, St Clement of Alexandria uses the same word "to partake" (metalavo) both for the holy Eucharist and for being immersed in the holy Scripture.

One of the gnostic myths which tell us very much about the certain medical figures, that would deliver information about, about God but a personal communion is not is not required, personal knowledge of the saviour is not required. In all of these Gnostic myths, the Redeemer is only one who delivers information, but he doesn't actually die for his flock. In our case, Christ died for us, he is the good shepherd that lays down his life for us, and this produces a completely new category which is unknown did Gnostics. It is indeed love. The gospel expects our response through love, in the gnostic doesn't require it. For Gnostics all that is required is certain sets of ideas and proofs, not love. Who has read the Jesus gospel? This piece of literature, it is said that Jesus laughs at finding his disciples in prayer, and he said to give information about how to pass from this world to the next. And from our personal experience of Christ as Orthodox, we could not possibly recognise Christ in this kind of literature.

In our church the gospel is a companion for our whole life, it is not just an object, for academic study. This is the main difference between Gnosticism and Christianity. Through Christ we enter into communion and are able to know God. In the other monotheistic religions, we are not told of a pre-eternal God being Incarnate, and entering into a relationship with humans. To such an extent that we know him not only as God but we know him as a person. The new Testament is above all his revelation for us personally. If you look at the old Testament we knew how magnificent God was his impotence, adjust it was, yes he was still a universal God but there was something missing. Remember in the book of Exodus Moses said "he couldn't see the prosopon" the person of God. And that is why Moses said, there is something more to come, there will be another Prophet who will teach you everything. Because he was speaking about Christ.

Q&A. Yes we read the Gospel person but also in the context of sobornost. There is no truth for us without this idea of sobornost. It means that we live in a believing community, within a body of Christ, in our church. And for instance this may be a main difference between Pentecostal understanding of the gospel as individual truth given to every man who is free to interpret what he wants, Christ speaks to everyone personally… Yes we acknowledge the latter, but we also have in mind this community, and ecclesiastical dimension, which allows for the common understanding of Scripture, tradition, and above all sacraments. Because if you know for the first Christians who would gather for their agape meals, they actually communed in the body and blood of Christ, was linked completely with words about Christ. And once we separate the sacrament the communion of the Eucharist, from the gospel itself, then both sides lose. Because we enter personal communion with Christ through our Eucharist as well from Scripture, they are one and the same thing for us as Orthodox. We cannot interpret scripture without tradition, as well there is no tradition without scripture, without a church. 

Where can we see a touch of gnosticism? Above all, when people are trying to read the Gospels with impersonal spectacles. Once you have an idea of knowledge which is not related to your personal life then we're dealing with gnosticism. And this is the same tendency which prevails in biblical studies these days, when researchers feel you do not have to enter communion with Christ, God, to study the Gospel. In fact it has now become a scientific discipline and people are detached from what they are studying, in the hope they can introduce objective pronouncements. And really when we consider this, if we want to be objective, as Orthodox, we strive to interpret what the Gospel always intended us to understand as objective; which is faith in Christ. Really, this so-called objectivity in modern academic circles, is limiting. For some of these academics, if not most working in biblical studies, faith is a non-starter because it is something which would influence, or bias your approach to the study. 

Q&A. We know that there is something fishy going on, when people try to dissect texts. For example a logical analysis, based on logical positivism, cannot accept the logic of the Gospels, so it dissects. When John says for example "the hour is coming, and now is", from a chronological perspective how is it possible to say is coming, and is now is; it is either coming or is. So scholars try to dissect the text to make sense of it. And the same goes with mistranslations. Once you start doing this, it is not canonical, it is a symptom that something is not consistent within your perception of the new Testament. If something doesn't fit your ideology, then you can change it. So you can have faith which is truth or you can have ideology which places different meaning on the actual text. We must avoid ideology.

Topic Lecture 3 - St Mark's Gospel

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

St Mark's Gospel is a very mysterious gospel. Mark's Gospel has been studied more intensively than any other gospel possibly. Most of the scholars have said it was the first gospel to be written. It has been given the pride of place in describing the historical Jesus.

If you look at the early church Mark is rather neglected. Scribes copied the gospel of some mark less than any other gospel. And few commentators discuss in detail. And if you look at the orthodox services, Mark's Gospel is used only occasionally. Why?

The reason is that most of the marketing material is found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. We do not hear about the birth of Christ, there is also no clear account of the resurrection, there is not much teaching about Christ recorded. What is the reason behind this gospel? St Augustine believed that Mark merely abbreviated Matthew.

Authorship

The Gospel of Mark was written by the well-respected disciple of Peter. We find references to Mark's Gospel in historical references. Mark had become Peter's interpreter Bishop Heraclius (?) tells us. St Ireneaus in 185 A.D. writes: "after that of Peter and Paul, Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself also handed down to us in writing the things that Peter had proclaimed. And in fact there are various reasons to believe that what we are dealing with here are sent Peter's testimony. Mark's Gospel is a fresh account of Jesus's life, the eyewitness view is present throughout. There are numerous passages which include Peter, more than any other gospel. These accounts are very vivid ones, we can even picture almost cinematographically, the dialogues between Peter and Christ. Then in Mark chapter 16 we have a sense of preferential treatment. Peter is singled out. "God tell his disciples, and Peter..."

The Gospel begins with Jesus's baptism. It was shortly after Peter meets Christ. Peter was a simple man and give any account of things which he had seen. For instance he didn't see the birth of Christ, so he didn't write about it. Then finally there is a mysterious young man in the garden of Gesthemane who is believed to be Mark himself. If you read chapter 14 this man runs away naked, and scholars believe it was possibly Mark himself, just to place himself in the story for instance.

In 1835 one of the modern scholars offered a neat explanation for the existence of Mark's Gospel. He came to believe that Mark's Gospel was the first gospel to be written, that is why it has survived in the church. There are a few reasons why Mark and authority and priority is accepted now, in modern academia. First if you analyse things logically indeed, Matthew and Luke contain Markan material. Then this particular scholar noted that Luke really changes the order of Mark and Matthew only does it in a few places. So they both follow Mark in their account. So there is a question also of style. Mark's style wasn't very advanced. He uses a lot of redundant phrases. "In evening when the sun set" this is the other evangelists who just said "in evening". It was somewhat abbreviated. There is a reference to a cushion in Mark, when Jesus slept in the boat – why would you mention this detail?

There is yet another point in favour of Markan priority. Scholars believe that in Mark we are dealing with the early stages of the formation of the Christian faith. Of course when Christ came people didn't know quickly who he was. He was the son of God the logos, the pre-eternal God, and people slowly began to figure out who Christ was. And throughout the whole of the new Testament we can discern three major types of Christology:

1. Adoptionistic Christology; if you read Mark's Gospel without reading any other gospel what picture do you get? We don't hear anything about Christ's supernatural birth, through the Holy Spirit. You simply have Jesus of Nazareth who came to be baptised in Jordan by John by the remission of sins. In Matthew, we find that that Matthew is rather embarrassed by this term "a baptism of repentance". The question is how could the sinless be baptised by a baptism of repentance? "And John the Baptist retorted, I need to be baptised by you and you come to me to be baptised?" In Matthew says, "this is my beloved son"; and in Mark the voice is attested to Christ himself "you might beloved son". So it looks like Jesus of Nazareth is a man, and is adopted by God the Father at his baptism. So in Matthew the word "this" is apparently addressed to the crowd, whereas in Mark "you" is addressed to Jesus himself. 

2. Yet in Matthew and Luke, we come to know that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, is born supernaturally, of the Holy Spirit. He's not adopted he is revealed to the crowds. He is revealed to Israel as an agent of God. 

3. In John's Gospel, the incarnation Christology. John receive something much bolder. Christ is before the incarnation. He was in the beginning with God. He is God himself.

However in recent years, scholars have begun to challenge this view of the three different types of Christologies. A book by Simon Gallico(?) Is called the preexistent son, so that in Matthew Mark and Luke we are dealing with the preexistence of Christ. Do you see any phrase in the Gospels that might points to this preexistence notion which is shared between the synoptic gospels? Remember what John the Baptist preached: "prepare the ways of the Lord..." And also this phrase: "I have come to fulfil the law". Meaning, I have come into the world.

Scholars tend to see a more authentic portrait of Christ in the Gospel of Mark. And the other evangelists are considered to have added additional details. For example in chapter 1, Jesus is said to be moved with anger. Could Christ be angry? As an Orthodox, I say why not? And Father Sophrony, had a very good explanation. Remember when a leper came to Christ begging him, "if you wish you can make me clean". And Father Sophrony commented "what are called request". If you wish you can make me clean, if you want to it is your business you can make me clean. And Christ was angered and said: "I will".

In the monastery of St John the Baptist a book was read of Bishop Simeon Tentranski (?) on the life of St John of Kronstandt. How he became a Christian healer of people who were suffering of illnesses, and infirmities. He used to pray like this in the beginning, "Lord if you will kill the servant" but once of a babushka came to him and said to him "don't pray like this, if you will", you must pray rather "heal this person". And after this he did bring this way. He would come to a person who was sick, he would take away all the medicines that were on the table, and pray over the person so they would be healed.

There is another reference to Jesus's anger. Jesus was angry over the hardness of their hearts, he said to them and stretch out your hand. And he was angry because the men were so hard hearted. In chapter 3, there is a reference that people thought that Christ was out of his mind, and neither of the two other evangelists mentioned this episode. Then in chapter 6:35, Jesus seems to fail to heal a person. He didn't seem lucky had an ability to heal more than a few people in his own country. And blame for this weakness is transferred to people because of their unbelief. And this was an unprecedented account that Christ could not heal. Then there is an interesting reference in chapter 4:38- you consider how the disciples addressed Christ, remember they were in the boat the boat was sinking and they awaken Christ and said to him: "master do you not care that we are about to perish". In some ways this is a disrespectful reference to Christ. In Matthew and Luke you have a different account, "Lord save us with perish." And here there is greater reference to Christ.

Then we have a strange passage, where Peter says to the Lord: "you are the Christ". And in the very next verse, what Christ actually says, "he charges them that they should not tell anyone of this". We do not he is Christ actually agreed with Peter on this statement. Than very next verse Christ said do not tell anything about me to anyone. And then he began to teach, that the son of man must suffer very many things. He seems to avoid this title of Messiah. Christ changes the discussion immediately to a different Christological title, the son of man. One of the explanations, for such a title as the word Messiah, carried for Mark too much political implications about kinship which was very dangerous at that time. There is another explanation which is offered by William Reid which concerns the messianic secret. In Mark's Gospel, crushed charges his disciples not to tell anyone about his miracles for example.

Why is this?

Mark seems to avoid Christological titles. And concentrates on the title "son of man". Why? If you look at this from a theological point of view, what does it mean to be Messiah in the Jewish mind? Scholars believe that actually it was phrases the political notion of Messiah in the gospel. The Christology is not static, but dramatic. The notion of the Messiah is changing throughout the whole of this gospel.

Mark can be divided into two parts the first section is chapters 1 to 8: we have Christ's teaching, we have about the coming kingdom, mighty miracles, and to miraculous feedings of thousands of people, where we encounter the whole spender of his divine power. However, Sir Peter confesses him as the Messiah, the turn of the Gospel changes. The journey towards Jerusalem begins towards the cross. At this point we don't hear about miracles anymore, and we have quite remarkable detail in chapter 10, and they walk towards Jerusalem, and Jesus walked before his disciples, and they were amazed, as they followed as they were afraid. So they followed him at a distance. At this point everything moves towards the cross, after the crucifixion of Christ when Centurion says: "this was the son of God".

Grace Stanton (?) believes that this plot is motivated by the adoptionist Christology. From human being, Christ becomes the son of God. Christ is adopted by God in baptism, and he develops his divine sons ship throughout the Gospel. And yet there is another twist, how can we explain this type of Christology as Orthodox? Why do you think Mark avoids these Christological titles such as Messiah? Instead Mark concentrates on the son of man, why? To look at the origin of this title, son of man, you find it in the book of Daniel chapter 7. Yes we can read into this title, the prophecy in the book of Daniel. But possibly Christ himself preferred this title. Why?

Father Sophrony, said if you look across ministry, he avoids at every cost the manifestation of his own divinity. Everything that it does, is done in the name of the Father. For example feeding the 5000, and any other miracle he prays to God the Father, he does not heal himself. And this is the kenotic way of Christ. Given the ambiguous title son of man, which in Aramaic meant simply a human being. At times Mark and the Lord play upon this ambiguity, "so you know that the son of man has authority upon earth to forgive sins". Does it refer to Christ alone? Or in fact to any human being? Chapter 28, "the son of man is also Lord of the Sabbath".

So Markan Christology, is a minimalist Christology. The title is almost neutral in itself. The son of man who suffers, the son of man who dies, the man who is crucified on the cross he rises on the third day and he will come again in his glory.

There is another interesting point about Mark's Gospel. He very often refers to Christ teaching. So he refers many times of the fact that Christ taught, but he never really spells out what he taught. Why do you think he never spells out his teachings? One of the answers is yes we have Christ's teaching in Matthew's Gospel, Luke's Gospel, perhaps there is no reason for this in Mark. Why do you think this is the case? It is possible, that he was just a very simple man. But there is also another twist to that, what is the point of teaching, we don't fulfil the teaching ourself.

Once there was a teacher who taught dogmatics, relying on God's providence. And once a student passing by saw this teacher enter a news agency and place numbers for a lottery. At this moment all his teachings collapsed in the eyes of the student. This is perhaps have your looks fathers view action more important than words. And if you look at St Paul's account of the teaching of Christ, he tries to present to us what Christ actually did for us, rather than what he said. In the Orthodox tradition, in apostolic tenants, there is an interesting chapter, chapter 11 telling us how to discern, whether a profit or a priest is reliable as a spiritual father, or not. Look at his action. If a profit does not live according to his prophecy, then he is a false prophet.

And if we look at Mark's Gospel market equates the notion of the "evangellion" with Christ himself. In this notion, "evangellion" is used by St Paul. Paul uses the term and refers to the death and resurrection of Christ in Philippians chapter 15., As well as the first Epistle to the Thessalonians.

For Mark it is the whole person of Christ. This is the Gospel for him. Mark uses the term "evangelion" seven times. Is different for Matthew: "whosever, loses his life for my sake and the gospel's sake shall save it". Chapter 10, "everything for my sake, and the Gospels sake". Evangellion is the whole teaching of Christ, his personhood. 

In Matthew's Gospel, Christ said to his disciples, "go into all the world, proclaimed the gospel". It is Christ himself chapter 16. And when we relate to the person, and make judgement about him or her, above all, it is not with the person says, bought the person does to us.

For example you can listen to a professor University for decades and are nothing about him, but when it comes to exams you will expect to a kind of result you will get from this professor, a good mark or a poor mark and you will decide on whether this is a good person or not. 

There is a notion referred to as "diastasis" which is the distance between actions and words.

And when Christ teaches, he is teaching by his example and by his actions. That is why Mark likes to emphasise that Christ taught with authority. Authority which is built on his actions. And best, writes, people are more interested in what Christ does than in who he is.  The question of Christ's nature is pursued strongly in this gospel. In Mark, they asked Jesus in effect, what can you do for us. The emphasis lay, continually on his activity. This is a key point when considering the theology of the person. We can only know a person, if that person manifests themselves through acts through their deeds.

The question is, why do we believe in Christ? What is the basis for our faith. Do we love his words, his teaching? I think we have faith in Christ because of what he does for us, what he did for us. If you look at our Orthodox liturgy, in our anaphora, Eucharist, we don't mention Christ's teaching but we mention his actions, and his sacrificial death. This is the basis of our love for Christ. We love him for his ministry, what he did for us not just for his words. That is why Mark is eager to put in as much of Christ's activities as he can, that is why we find in Mark quite a few general statements, summaries of Christ's ministries, to underline this principle person in action. For example in chapter 1:32-34, we have the general statement concerning healings, a summary that the evangelists himself has provided: "they brought to him all who were sick and possess with Demons, and the whole city was gathered around the door, and he healed many who were sick with various diseases and evil spirits…" We have a sense of the universal activity of Christ, who heals, who helps, who loves us.

In we see that in this short Gospel, which is very small in comparison to Matthews and Lukes, we have a miracle of the fitting of the crowd twice. And why do we have two events like this, in effect miracles, which are the same of the presentation and account? Chapter 6 Christ feeds 5000, and in chapter 8 he feeds 4000. Why in such a small Gospel, does market decide to put both of these accounts. Again, Mark wants us to feel what Christ does for mankind, and for us personally.

The other set of actions, activities of Christ, focuses on exorcisms. Again this is a silent pointer, to the identity of Christ, his battle for the sake of his people to defend the human race against evil powers. This is why we find such stories in this particular Gospel of Mark. At that time there was not such a strong distinction between illnesses and evil spirits. For many of the early Christians health was one and the same. See for example Mark 1:31, "he came to Peter's house, and held his mother... And instantly the fever left her". 

What is important in St Mark, is what Christ did for us, not so much what he actually said. Because when need to emphasise again, Peter only records what he sees with his own eyes. 

So it is person in action, Christology in action. It is a sense of fast paced drama. What we see in Mark's Gospel, are so many events, one going after another so quickly. That's why Mark uses present historical tense. Christ goes to the wilderness, Christ's sense, the leper asks. Every preposition begins with the word and, which links every event together, in one single fast paced drama.

Why this urgency?

Modern scholars, suggest that Mark has given us a liturgical text, to be read at once from the beginning to the end. In a book by G. Bauman (?) He suggests what we have in Mark is the question style of Passover known as "haggadah", the Jewish feast. This is when all the people of Jerusalem would go on like candles, and go to their houses, and in a family context, recite the same events using the typology of the feast, and the history of events. And Bauman suggests that Mark is this reinterpretation of this Jewish feast, Passover haggadah which is read in this family context, perhaps in a liturgical context in the Christian setting. 

But our response, is that Mark wants to build up a picture, a porch of Christ as a man of action to provoke a response of love in us towards him. Weis (and Marxton) (?) believe, that Mark's Gospel because of this intensity which builds up towards chapter 13, were Christ predicts what will happen to mankind in the future, eschatological discourse which is known as the Markan apocalypse, believe that Mark wrote this gospel as an apocalyptic document to give a signal to Christians, to flee from Judea... We read here about the destruction of the temple, about the abomination of desolation, let the reader understand, Mark's Gospel adds… And thus, the coming of Christ, signals the end of the world. The message is try to flee and pack up your things and go.

Every Gospel was designed, for liturgical use. Note that we read from the Gospel at a very important time in every liturgy in the Orthodox Church. For example at Matins, the Gospel is read at the very climax of the service. In our liturgy, in the Orthodox Eucharist, we read the Gospel just before the anaphora, and in the liturgy of the faithful begins.

Orthodox clergy this is especially an incredible experience, because the reading of the Gospel from the altar to those who believe in Christ, is a quite different experience than to simply reading it at home on your own by yourself. One can feel that there is a sense of communion, between the faithful and Christ.

If you read Mark's Gospel he get the sense that the disciples of Christ were rather inadequate, to put it mildly in the spiritual and mental abilities. Mark seems to highlight their weaknesses, their constant failures, even their stupidities at times. Christ seemed to have difficulties with them, their lack of understanding, he frequently has to clarify to explain his teaching to them, to spell it out for them. For example when Christ delivers his parable in chapter 4, the evangelist adds his own comment: "and many such parables he spoke to them to the crowds as they were able to hear it, and he didn't speak to the crowds without a parable, but privately to his disciples he explained everything..." To the disciples required a special explanation, because the crowds would understand what Christ was saying but as far as the disciples were concerned than it is a private session with Christ. Than it in explanation for each parable. In fact, the Pharisees understood Christ far more clearly, and much quicker than the disciples. And in chapter 12: "the Pharisees sought to seize Christ but they were afraid of the crowds for they knew that he spoke the parable against them". On two occasions, Jesus had to give further explanation to the disciples, privately in the house. In chapter 7, we read: "when he had entered the house, and that the people his disciples asked him about the parable..." The same story in chapter 10, when Christ but the but divorce, and delivered his teaching on managing divorce, the disciples did not quite understand it.. And in the house his disciples asked him again about the same". So what is going on?

Again in spite of this preferential treatment is disciples get from the Lord, they seem to miss obvious points, which is obvious even for the first time reader of the Gospel. For example Christ feeds the crowd twice, but yet, the disciples didn't quite get what this was all about. And any chapter 8 his disciples asked: "why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread, do you not see or understand, you half-hearted, do you not remember?" They always seem to do and say wrong thing, discouraging those who are bringing children to Christ. Not surprisingly Jesus is indignant, "that the children come to me, do not hinder them". And also an interesting fact is that the disciples are given authority over demons to exorcise evil spirits, they fail in their ministry chapter 9. Christ has a do it himself. And with all that they still dare to protest against someone who is casting out the evil spirit in Jesus's name.

In comparison in Matthew and Luke, to the portraits of the disciples, Mark doesn't want to smooth soften is criticism of the disciples." Do you not have eyes and do not see, and ease and do not hear, do you not remember..." And the same words in Matthew are softer. It is quite a different account. So what do you think, Mark is so harsh on the disciples? 

Mark is consistent in his portrait of the disciples. One of the explanations, which is offered by modern academia, is that if you look at the first century there was a controversy between the Jewish party and Jerusalem and the so-called Gentile party. See from the acts of the apostles a question about how Jewish Christianity should be, and one of the explanations is offered by scholars is that the Markan Gospel tries to undermine the authority of Jewish Christianity, in fact the disciples of Christ who seem to miss the main points which crisis brought to us, especially the universal mission to the Gentiles which was headed by Paul.

Indeed when we look at Mark's treatment of the old Testament, it doesn't quote much from the old Testament. And also he feels the need to explain Jewish customs for apparently a Gentile audience. He uses the translation of Aramaic words, for the benefit of the Gentile reader. His Gospel therefore is addressed to the Gentile reader, and trying to explain, that in fact, you can be Christians in Jerusalem. So that is one explanation that the authority of Jerusalem is undermined to leave the door open for the Gentiles. But really it doesn't seem that this is plausible.

There is another popular theory by Timothy Weedon, 1968 (?) Who suggests that Mark writes not against the apostles, but against certain views and misunderstandings about Christ in the early church. Until now you might have noticed that people are very much interested in miracles, for them Christ is someone who performs miracles to improve the quality of their very own life. In the first parts of Mark's Gospel we are dealing with miracles, but then we move towards the end and the less miracles we encounter. What Mark is trying to do is to divert the excitement from miracles to the cross of Christ. It is the main purpose of this coming, to die for us. And we see this kind of polemics the disciples about miracles, in the first chapter, remember how Peter finds Christ, when he was alone, and says "all are seeking you", and cross responds let us go into the next town so that I can proclaim the also because this is the reason why I came... Why did people seek Christ? Because he performed miracles

there is a painting showing Christ teaching, and then there is Christ in a boat on a lake, and his disciples are sitting in a circle right next to Christ. And then there is a crowd, the front a interested in what Christ has to say yet the people in the back somewhat chatting to one another. And the further away you go from Christ there is a huge crowd who are not interested at all in what Christ had to say, and they're waiting for just yet another miracle. Remember there was no TV, a lack of theatre, and the only excitement people would get us to see figures in the town. And what greater thing to watch than to see the performance of a miracle. It was a kind of entertainment. And what scholars believe, is that Mark is trying to divert the attention of of a figure, a type of hero who comes and performs miracles, Mark is trying to convey that Jesus is not this kind of figure. He came to die for us.

And get there is just even another explanation, to this portion of the disciples, given to us by William Reid, in his book titled messianic secrets. It is quite an old theory, because William Reid wrote his book the end of the 19th century. Read attempts to see the Gospel of Mark as an apology. Why so many Jews rejected Christ? Why Christ wasn't accepted on the whole by Israel? Why very few people comparatively followed Christ's message at that time. And Reid says, Mark is trying to find reasons, trying to explain to Jewish people why Christ was rejected. Indeed why Christ after every miracle, tells his disciples or those healed not to speak about the miracle. Why he silences the miracles? Why Christ speaks in parables to disguise his message. In Mark chapter 4, Christ speaks parables, "in order that seeing they may see and not see". So William Reid tries to read into Mark's text, so-called messianic secrets. He presents Christ as if he's trying to hide his Messiahship, and that is why Jewish people didn't accept Christ, because they fail to see, the Messiah ship of Christ. And there is a sense of predetermination, only the chosen people could see the Messiah in Christ before the rest of the people crisis trying to hide his Messiahship. Perhaps Protestant teaching could be built on that theory of predeterminism.

So what can we say about this as Orthodox people? First of all I would like to mention that there are positive elements of the disciples in Mark. If you are reading the Gospel for the first time, perhaps you would associate yourself with the disciples of Christ, rather than the Pharisees who were his opponents. This goes without saying. They are given to us as our example. And we should remember that it was to them work that was given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, so there are positive features about the disciples there. The disciples are sharing with Christ his rejection, is critiqued by the Pharisees chapter 2, and the 12 a given authority to preach and to cast out Demons. So there is a positive elements about Christ disciples. One of the reasons for that, we need to know about not only the strength of the disciples, but also about their weaknesses. Even in Christ we see a moment in hesitation, and human weakness: "a father if it is possible let this cup pass from me". And we are given to see this weakness, and it is essential for us in our spiritual life to know, there are weaknesses even in such great people as the apostles. Because if we compared ourselves to others who were simply perfect, in terms of the apostles then we would not be able, as sinners to relate to them to their journeys. There would in fact be no hope of salvation. Saint Ephraim the Syrian says: "our church, is a church of perishing ones", so we need to keep in mind that we need to have these paradigms of weakness so we can build our strength through them.

Christ delivers his teaching only within the context of going towards Jerusalem, toward the cross. I don't think you will find any other founder of religion which would fulfil his teaching to such an extent, to the point of death. That is why Mark emphasises that Christ teaches with authority, which is built through his example. When Christ delivers his teaching about the cross and his death, about the necessity for us to follow the same path, when he himself is moving towards Jerusalem, to was the cross. It is there, that the unity between Christ teaching and his action, at the cross becomes complete, it is there that his word becomes flesh. Christ dies on the cross for us. It is the antipode of hypocrisy. The crucifixion is the seal of authenticity, for each of the words that Christ taught and said.

Topic Lecture 4 - The Gospel of Luke

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

Luke's Gospel received particular popularity in modern times. Why? The reason behind this is perhaps this is the most inward Gospel, Jesus the man is in the focus. Luke is very sensitive to our concerns, Luke speaks about the role of women, people on the fringes of society, the poor and destitute, tax collectors, sinners et cetera.

In addition exclusively we read here on the parable of the good Samaritan, the prodigal son, the rich man Lazarus et cetera. So we may say that essential and the evangelists has shaped our church dogmatically, Luke has shaped Christianity in a popular and accessible way.

Authorship

the uniform belief of the ancient church, is that it was Luke the physician that was the author of the Gospel of Luke. This is the same Luke the Paul mentions in Colossians, who is his companion. In 2008 a new theory appeared, that it was Luke the priest not a doctor that was the author. But then we have an early Christian writings, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, I Origen, Jerome, so we do know that he was Luke the doctor. And in fact there is a great deal of support they was Luke the doctor. There was a book by William Holbert, which analysed the medical language in the Gospel of Luke.

Luke probably wrote his gospel between 80 – 85 A.D, not far from the time that Matthew wrote his gospel. They both responded to this common situation when the vast majority of Jewish people had rejected the Gospel of Christ, and its future seems to lie with the Gentiles.

One of the reasons for the popularity of Luke's Gospel was its style. His writings are very close to poetry. If you look at our orthodox services, quite a few liturgical texts, are taken from the Gospel of Luke. For example the Magnificat "my soul does magnify the Lord", and elsewhere "let now thy servants depart in peace". We read this prayer in our Vespers.

There are other features that are endearing in this gospel. Luke brings the message of Christ down to earth as it were. He immerses the good news into the realm of history of mankind. It is because of mainly sent Luke that we cannot apply this fashionable word myth to the story of Jesus. Because to St Luke, Christ is not a myth, he is a person who worked and acted in history. And to ground this Christ event further, into history of mankind, he wrote a sequel to his gospel, the acts of the apostle. Perhaps you know, that sent Luke's Gospel and the acts of the Apostles were one and the same document and they were divided into two sections 1 the Gospel of Luke and one the acts of the apostle, by the early church. But for sent Luke, in his writing, it was one and the same event. The coming of Christ, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit onto the apostles and Christ disciples and their mission to the world was one and the same event.

Thematic approach to the Gospel of Luke

The very first theme is a very obvious one, this perspective in sent Luke, that moves all the acts of Christ towards the greatest event the Pentecost. The Gospel actually finishes of how the apostles remained in the temple waiting for the Holy Spirit, the outpouring. So it is no coincidence that some of the scholars describe the acts of the apostles, but the acts of the Holy Spirit. It is because of the activity of the Holy Spirit, the outpouring on the disciples. His last promise according to St Luke's Gospel, Jesus dispenses the spirit onto the disciples in chapter 24: "behold I send the promise of my father on you to sit in the seat of Jerusalem until you are clothed from power from on high".

If you look at the old Testament, you won't find many prophecies about Christ resurrection, or Christ's crucifixion. There are far more many prophecies about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is there that the heart of the Christ event lies. It is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is the result of Christ's ministry. The prophecies are the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We find in the Ezekiel chapter 36, and the prophet Jeremiah chapter 36.

For the Jews, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, meant that the final one has arrived. It was the final apocalyptic event. No wonder that, that the Gospels are classified in apocalyptic genre at times. Why is this a distress on the Holy Spirit? If we, go back to Adam, he was created, as the son of God. And where was the last reference to the "sons of God" in the Bible, before the coming of Christ? Yes it was with respect to the sons of men. So what does it mean, is that Adam who was the disciple by virtue of his position of the Holy Spirit has lost this Sonship through losing the Holy Spirit. Recollect when the Lord said, "my spirit shall no longer strive with man, given his corruptions for his flesh". So possession of the Holy Spirit meant Sonship with God. These ideas you'll find in most of the fathers, especially St Athanasius, St Cyril of Alexandria who equates possession of the Holy Spirit with divine Sonship. And what we have now in the Christ event, is that we see a human being, born of the Holy Spirit, and Adam is restored. This is so important for sent Luke, this concentration of this period bearing capacity of humankind. 

Recollect how Luke opens the very first preaching of Christ. Christ says: "the spirit of the Lord is on me." If you compare how the Holy Spirit operated in the old Testament, and in the new Testament, what is the difference? Because the prophets did speak through the power of the Holy Spirit. So in the old Testament prophets, the spirit of the Lord would come and descend on the prophet, and the prophet would at a prophecy, and in the spirit would leave there was no ontological union between man and the Holy Spirit. And in fact, in some of the scholars like Conzleman (?) believe that in the first chapter of Luke, we have this recreation of this prophetic equal, as we hear about prophets like Zechariah, then Elizabeth was blessed by the Holy Spirit at the prophecy, and then St John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to preach: "behold". And also a reference to the Holy Spirit is given to us by the city of the just, the Holy Spirit was on him not in him when he prophesied. He is instructed by the Holy Spirit, the Gospel says. And now we have completely new phenomenon in the history of mankind, since the fall of Adam. Luke chapter 1 verse 35, the angel answers and says to Mary "the Holy Spirit will come on you and the power of the highest will overshadow you". Additionally, "the holy one that is born of you will be called son of God". So we have the restoration of divine Sonship of Christ man is born by the Holy Spirit.

Where else to be find in the new Testament immense capacity to bear the Holy Spirit? St Paul says:" that the first man Adam became a living soul, the last Adam was a living spirit." That is why Luke is eager to emphasise that he was a new category of human being ontologically united with Holy Spirit. And that is why Luke is eager to write every detail of Christ, every detail about the Holy Spirit. "The Holy Spirit will come on you through the power of the highest". And later on throughout the narrative, Luke never loses sight of the spirit bearing capacity is in Christ. The Holy Spirit dwells in him. It just doesn't come upon him it was on him. 

There are differences for instance in how sent Luke understands the function of the Holy Spirit, with how Mark in his gospel does. In Mark we find a rather old Testament perspective of the Holy Spirit. For Mark, the Holy Spirit somewhat forces someone to do something, a common understanding as it were in the old Testament. E.g. consider how the old Testament prophets were forced at a prophecy almost under coercion of the Holy Spirit. In Mark was in interesting reference, where Christ was virtually driven out by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness "ekvalis" in Greek, which means thrown out into the desert by the Holy Spirit. But in Luke, the words "full of the Holy Spirit, and was led in the spirit into the wilderness", we have a sense of union between the human and the divine spirit, there is a sense of synergy. This is a great word to express this new anthropology which we find in Saint Luke.

And the very first words of Christ: "the spirit of the Lord is on me", and we learn that the whole of his ministry proceeds from his power of the Holy Spirit. And given this, the position of the Holy Spirit, he has anointed me, to deliver the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. It is not only Christ himself the possesses the Holy Spirit, but everyone who is born of the Holy Spirit. It is the whole new Christian way. See in Luke chapter 11, we are given instruction what we should pray for, and Christ's words recorded there: "how much more should your heavenly Father give you the Holy Spirit of those who ask him".

It is a great joy for us as Orthodox Christians, to hear the same words from the Saints. Remember what St Seraphim said to Motovilov: "what is the aim of the Christian life?" The aim of Christian life censor of them said is to acquire the Holy Spirit. This is the main focus of our life, to be a god bearing person, spirit bearing person. And is something about Luke's concern of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

There is another interesting theme in the Gospel that was highlighted by the German scholar Hands Conzleman (?). He says that Luke has his own way of relating to the old Testament. In Matthew Christ is the fulfilment of the law. In Luke we find a slightly different approach yet similar in essence. In Luke we find, yes, now that the time of the profits is finished, with the coming of Christ to have a new period in the history of mankind, and then with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we have yet a third period in history of mankind. We see that Luke is very eager to separate the Epoch of the prophets, from the Ministry of Christ. That is why he gives all the stories of St John the Baptist, his imprisonment and his preaching, before Christ begins his ministry. When St John the Baptist disappears from the scene, this is when Christ begins his ministry. And Conzleman's book is called the middle of time. It means that the Gospel is about this middle time, the time of Christ.

Sent Luke tries to reduce this apocalyptic agiotage, about the coming end. You will see in St Luke's Gospel there are moments where he speaks about the delay of the second coming of Christ. Because now it is about the time not of the second coming of Christ but the time of the church. When the Holy Spirit acts to bring the whole of mankind to the faith of Christ. And one of the interesting pictures of Luke's Gospel if we really divide into these periods, we see that Luke is at pains, to show that there is a time of Christ to act, and then a time for his disciples to act after Christ's resurrection. That is why in the first chapters Luke is at pains to focus attention on Jesus alone, not on his disciples but on Jesus who is in the middle, in the focus he is the main hero. By chapter 5, when Christ called his first disciples, Christ has already accomplished quite a bit of his ministry, so much so that he was almost killed after his first sermon in the synagogue see chapter 4. By the time Christ meets his disciples, his popularity, seem to have reached quite a substantial level. Crowds pressed to hear him, chapter 5.

For Luke it is important to emphasise that the Epoch of the old Testament is finished and Christ has come on now what we have is continuation of the Christ event in the life of the church. Luke is very eager to emphasise that there is a direct connection between our life in the church and the events that happened 2000 years ago of Christ's death and resurrection. Because it is to continue the work of the apostolic ministry, in the life of the church.

Luke tries to diminish somewhat this apocalyptic agiotage, this apocalyptic excitement among Christians. He speaks about delay. And he tries to focus his attention on our daily life. He tries to convey details which are important enough on a daily Christian life, which somehow for instance in the Gospel of Mark is absent. Because in Mark's Gospel we have action, and buildup of this apocalyptic discourse in Christ's death and resurrection in Jerusalem. Luke somehow tries to calm things down, and he focuses our attention, onto the details of Christ daily life.

For example Christ is said to be praying, get a sense that Christ was praying all the time, and more importantly he was praying at the most important moments of his ministry are key points of his ministry. E.g. chapter 3 Christ's baptism: "Jesus also been baptised, and praying", Jesus was praying to the evangelists before the Holy Spirit descended; another moment was in the appointment of the 12, he was praying all night before he chose his disciples; and at the moment of transfiguration, once again Christ is praying to God the Father; we get a sense that everything that happens to Christ doesn't happen automatically. But comes as a result of Christ's continuous dialogue with the father.

And the same legacy of Luke, he speaks of our need for prayer. In Luke there is great attention the Christ taught his disciples how to pray. If in Matthew's Gospel, the Lord's Gospel is given just as an example of prayer, in Luke we get a sense that Christ was trying to teach his disciples how to pray. In Chapter 11 we read, "it happened as he was praying in a certain place" and, and when he stopped one of his disciples said to him: "Lord teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples". And in other places we see how Christ speaks about perseverance in prayer, what we should ask of in prayer, it is the gift of the Holy Spirit. A good example is of the parable of the unjust judge, chapter 18. It is really all about the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

When we are speaking about the Gospels, and in fact the whole of the new Testament, we should keep in mind that we are dealing here with divinely inspired text. Sometimes perhaps even in our daily practice, God can inspire even ordinary people to say certain things.

Story of Fr Porphyri who was visited by a US citizen. US citizen was adamant he spoke in English but Fr doesn't know any English.

Peter confesses Christ is the son of the living God. And Christ actually prayed for the apostles, that God gives them understanding to reveal who he is- the son of God. This prayer again took place in Gesthemane and at the Resurrection: "Father forgive them for they do not know what they do". And again it seems Christ prayed for his disciples continuously, "Simon Simon... To sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you." It is only in Luke that we see this kind of dialogue. 

Universalism

it was indeed a major concern for sent Luke to prove and to show that Christ is the saviour of the whole world, not just of the Jewish nation. The consensus from the very beginning. Remember in Matthew we have genealogies, it goes back to Abraham. But in Luke the same genealogy goes to Adam himself, is Father of the whole human nation because it was important to emphasise this universalistic ring of the gospel. From the very beginning there is a universal message to the Gospel of Luke. Remember what the angel said: "give to you a tidying of great joy, it shall be to all people to all mankind." And again, "my eyes have seen the salvation, which now has prepared in the face of all the peoples". In Matthew and Mark, we see a very short quotation from Isaiah. But Luke goes further. And why does he want to give a full quotation? "And all flesh see the salvation of God." So he we have the universalistic vision of St Luke.

And for us as Orthodox Christians, it is very important to have this universalistic dimension to the message of Christ. The whole of our history of salvation of mankind is about universalism. Let us go back to the old Testament, and the human race. After the fall of Adam, which was the first covenant? He was it was with Noah. It was with a family: "you and your seed to have my blessing". After the fall of Adam everything disintegrated, there was no connection with universalism. It was rather individualism. Humankind became atomised. An atom is something which cannot be divided. So the human race disintegrated into the small atoms that were not connected. Remember the first thing that Adam said to God after his fall: "it is this wife, which you gave me, she gave me to eat". He immediately separated himself from Eve. So the first chance God created covenant with the family of Noah, so that there would be harmony love and peace within themselves and each other.

So the next covenant in history, was with Abraham. It was to create a nation. Once this level of unity was credit in the family, then God took on the nation. So God creates a nation. In fact it is a very Jewish concept, because before Israel there were no nations. Even until now if you go to the Middle East people live in clans, in families, in groups. So as a Christian nation, we inherited this concept from Israel. And today it is about achieving a larger unity, in a nation.

But what is the next level after a nation? It is the whole of mankind, and it is when Christ comes. It is the unity of the whole of mankind. Remember what we sing in Pentecost at the celebration of the Holy Spirit: "calling all man to unity". This is absolutely essential to Christian thinking. To think in these universal ways. Of course for sent Paul, but is to send Luke especially. For him it was important to emphasise this universalistic dimension of Christianity.

The history of the old Testament, the last book, which came into circulation, it was the book of Jonah. In the book of Jonah, God began to move slowly from this notion of a nation to the whole world. Prophet Jonah was sent to Nineveh to preach repentance, and Nineveh was the capital of Babylon. And that is where the Israelites were held captive. God sent his prophets, to preach even to the worst enemies of Israel.

The Outcasts in Luke's Gospel

there are the anonymous masses of people who suffered, they are the suffering masses, their names are lost to history. Now in Christ, there is no more of these little ones who are forgotten. From the time on of Christianity, there are no more outcasts for Christ. Those who are excluded from the covenants, outcasts, sinners, Gentiles, women, the ill and unclean people. Now they are all incorporated to this mighty nation of the children of God.

Remember how Christ begins his first preaching in the Gospel of Luke: "the spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim the gospel to the poor, he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim to the captives to give sight to the blind.. Those who have been crushed." 

Many scholars have picked up on this, and said that we are dealing in the Gospel of Luke with a political message. And in South America in particular you'll find that many theologians like to speculate about liberation Christology. A Brazilian author wrote, Christos Libertargo (?). So some scholars have taken the Christian message in the Gospel of Luke is a political message. Christ is for the poor, the underprivileged. "Christ loves everyone, he is against the rich because he loves the poor"... note this is from a liberation christology point of view. But we should be very careful not to politicise Christ's message. We should remember what Christ said:" my kingdom is not of this world".

We get a sense, in Luke's Gospel, the Christ seemed to promote poverty. If in St Matthew's Gospel we have the notion: "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven ", in Luke we have a straightforward "Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven". Consider also the parable of the rich man in chapter 12. Christ speaks against those who have laid up treasures for themselves in this world. And in chapter 15 he calls the poor, the lame..." 

So is Christ against riches, what do you think? We must remember that poverty in itself is not a virtue. This is the same as riches in themselves they are not a sin. It is what you do with these riches that matters. Because if we notice, every gift in our church of the Holy Spirit is a service toward other people. There is nothing that it is oriented towards ourselves. Riches, if you take them as something that is given to you, and that you use for yourself, this is turning into yourself. But if you consider it as a gift of God which is gift to you which is used to minister to others, then it becomes a gift of salvation.

We can consider this, when we recollect St John of Kronstadt, who received so many gifts from people that he didn't have enough time even to distribute them at times. There is a famous story where he was once given a bundle of money in an envelope by a rich man, and as soon as he received the money, he gave it to a poor person who needed it. The response of the rich man was a tell St John of constant but do you know there was money enough in this envelope to buy all of St Petersburg, St John replied to the rich man yes I know there was a lot of money in the envelope, but this man needed it desperately. He was ready to receive this gift.

Soteriology

This term soteriology, is related to our salvation. Looking at material recorded by Saint Luke, we can build a very clear picture of what this is. 

There was an account of Rowan Williams, the revered Archbishop in the UK in the BBC. He was visiting Cardiff, and many reporters came there to ask, is the church sexist, what is the definition of sin? And he was also asked what is hell like and who is going there? And the Archbishop replied in a wonderful way hell is being by yourself forever. Who is going there, God knows. This is a wonderful definition. When you turn your existential orientation towards yourself, then you don't see other people, then you are not human. For example let's take the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man would dress up look luxurious, and eat luxurious foods and this poor man Lazarus was lying at his gates without any help. What was wrong with this man? He simply didn't notice the other human being. He didn't notice another person who was in need of help. Certainly if he would have noticed he would have given him something, food and clothes. Notice something important, that the rich man doesn't even have a name. It is because he is not human, and Lazarus is human. In suffering, Lazarus perhaps was educated in compassion and love. But this rich man was unable to see another person.

So what is the outward dimension of our whole Christian message? What is the eschato of the gospel? What is the last theme that we shall experience in our temporal being, in the dimension of time? 

In Matthew's Gospel, we have a parable about the last judgement. But there will be one simple criteria whether we pass on what do not pass. We notice these little ones, people who suffer, they give them food, they clothe them, they visit them in prisons. Then you are human, and then you are saved. Then your fits for the kingdom of heaven if you haven't there is no space for you, in the kingdom of heaven. And this is a very powerful message because Christ equates with himself little ones: "it was me who you clothed, and fed  and in prison". It is the ultimate dimension of the gospel, the result of the whole history of mankind. It comes to these very simple facts of our life. If we see another person next to us there is a need many to help them.

If we look at Luke on the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector, he was praying in the temple. And the Pharisee was proud of himself and he was saying to himself to the Lord thank you that I'm not like other people. While the poor tax collector was beating his breasts, and shouting "Lord have mercy". What was wrong with the Pharisee? He didn't do anything for instance, that was against the law, he was simply praying and thanking God. What was wrong with this? In the Greek text we read that the Pharisee was standing unto himself praying. But when we have this orientation towards ourselves, our ego, we do not develop as human beings. The principle of whole creation, the logos, is toward God, facing God "pros ton Theon". Towards the other, not towards oneself.

The same went for the rich man. He said to his soul, eat and drink and be merry. I have enough goods for you for many years. And the problem with this approach, he never mentioned another human being. He always thought about himself he did not think about other people. He did not serve the others he built up his own ego. 

In St Macarius of Egypt we have quite an interesting description of hell. He walk through the desert and found a human skull. His thoughts, I wonder who this man is, and where he is now? And he started to pray for this person. And this goal spoke to him and said, I used to be a pagan priest. Saint Macarius asked him: "where is your soul now"? In the sky replied, "I am burning in hell, and the joy for me, is once in a while, I can see a face of another person". This is really hell, to echo the words of the Archbishop Rowan. Hell is being by yourself forever.

And this is something we can create through our riches for ourselves, we can be shut out. A survey should communion and compassion. In Matthew we have: "be perfect just like a father in heaven is perfect", but in Saint Luke we have: "be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful". This is the key message of Saint Luke, concern for the suffering ones.

Women

there is of course a feminist reading of Saint Luke's Gospel. Is an interesting that the church starts its commemoration of Easter with women the myrrh bearing women. It has become a landmark of Christianity. This is how Christ opened his ministry. To heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim deliverance, to set at liberty. And the first people he would have been speaking about was women. If we look old Testament, women were not even counted as human beings, were not part of the Covenant because of circumcision which was a very male thing, and women were not even a part of the covenant, they were part of possessions that man had. Men had cattle that had women and other possessions. 

To Christ brought to us much. He brought the notion of marriage. There was no marriage before Christianity. Something that year from Judaism or Islam now was borrowed from Christianity, in the idea of marriage. Because it was so wonderful, splendid in its idea, no one could contest its. Even marriage has been brought to us through Christianity. It is because Christ change the perception of women. Now a woman is a person a human being, on the image of God, on par with men. Thank you to Saint Luke, this wonderful picture with from within the text, of the daughters of Jerusalem, emerged. From the very first opening chapters in Luke we see the discussion on women, the stories are numerous. We hear about Elizabeth, we hear about Mary, Anna the widow of nine, Mary Magdalene who showed great love for Christ, Joanna Susanna, and the list of women mentioned goes on and on, Martha and Mary, women in the parables, et cetera. There is the widow demanding justice, the women lamenting Christ, etc. women are allowed a prominent place. And many types of womanhood are placed before us.

If you look at the presence of women around Christ in this gospel, it is really remarkable, they are almost always there, they are among the disciples. In chapter 8: 1-3. "And also certain women..." We have this constant, silent, presence of women around Christ. And the women were the ones who were faithful to Christ to the very end. In chapter 23, it was women who were at the cross not the disciples, they were the ones who stayed until the end. It is because of women that we know where cross was buried. Luke notices that the commitment of women to Christ was much deeper at times than it was from men. In chapter 23, we hear "a great multitude of people followed him, and women also work bewailing and lamenting him. And Christ said to them, "daughters of Jerusalem do not weep for me but weep for yourselves and your children." This is the last teaching of Christ addressed to women, as men were unable to listen or to hear. The question then is, women had authority whether in fact Christ would ever have been crucified, because women were lamenting together, for the male world who condemned him. This is just a glimpse of a feminist reading.

The very first sight of Christ after his resurrection, is when Mary comes to the sepulchre. And she asked: "where is my teacher buried?" Then Christ said to the woman away you crying? And she replied I do not know when my master is, and where they buried him. And then Christ said Mary, and she immediately recognised him. Why did she recognise him when he called her by name? And of course what we have to remember is at that time nobody called women by their first names. No one even noticed them. For instance, the Pharisee is addressed Mary, who came to the house as: "that sinful woman". She wasn't even a person in the eyes of those people. But it was Christ who treated her as a person. Therefore she immediately recognised that it was him. But his appearance was different. But she recognised him from his attitude. This is a very powerful story.

Now with respect to women in Orthodox tradition. Yes there are some times hiccups concerning women in our tradition, especially in monasticism. Those who write about chastity, for example may write about women in negative ways. But God massively and kindly corrects those stories. Remember the story of St John Cassian, who was a monk who was trying to achieve the highest level of purity, and he talked himself to hate women. He was known even to have a fit for example, when he saw a woman. And it was providence of God, that the monks who served him, were nuns in disguise. So he changed his attitude ever so quickly. For instance, remember what John (H)? Used to say before he met his spiritual friend Olympiada, who became his closest friend.

So at times, the orthodox position on women has been harsh, but God corrects this. The reason why monks can be so negative about women sometimes is because I haven't learnt to see a woman as a person above all, not an object, not a perceived human being. And this is what monks learn to do, they go and hide until they can learn to treat women equally, as persons.

In the Soviet Union, churches were filled with women, all these babushkas, old women who save the church, who preserved the Orthodox faith in Russia. It was like an army of women who supported the bearded men. Their deserve the highest respect for the dedication and faith.

Q&A. We can say, for example, today we have the same pattern of attendance, is mainly women again who attend the services.

Saint Luke is very sensitive to this issue. It is very important to us as Christians. The authenticity of any religion, is likely measured by its acceptance of women. 

We should consider, that the closer we get to God when we study women in the church, the greater those women were elevated. In the Orthodox church, as well is in the Catholic, we have highest image of the mother of God. She was a human being, a woman who was elevated above the cherubims and the seraphims, above any other being created in this world. She is next to God, even in our iconography. This is a very powerful message. But if you look at Islam, do you know of any woman who is mentioned in the Quran? It is Mary again. Only Mary.

So you will see in our Orthodox Church, in our Orthodox faith, women are given tremendous roles. It is often said that without women the church would not exist. It is not only their parental duties which make them so significant, but also their presence, their prayers, and their ministry. They are not servants of the church but ministers of the church.

Topic 2 Lecture: The Gospel of Matthew

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

In the early church Matthew's Gospel was used more widely and more extensively than any other gospel. That's why it was very much loved by the church. Why? Firstly because of its authority. It was believed to belong to the apostle Matthew an eyewitness of the life of Christ, but secondly it's style. It is very well ordered, and it is very simple, often poetic phrases stick in your mind very easily. And finally it is where we find a very extensive record of Christ's teaching.

In the early church it was widely believed that Matthew was one of the disciples of Jesus. We find support for this in Pappias statement around 130 A.D. It is believed that Matthew gathered the sayings as he could and interpreted them. What are the sayings and how did he interpret them? However modern academia rejects this view. Firstly they say Matthew did exist in Hebrew or Aramaic, there is no evidence of these texts. And also, the very fact that the evangelist wrote in Greek shows for some that the author really wasn't a Hebrew. And they also say that he used Mark for his sources.

There is one puzzling fact that is located in Matthew 9:9, which is called Levi which is in the account of Mark. Why was Levi changed to Matthew is the question. Why is it this Gospel alone that refers to Levi as a tax collector. Finally, Pappias statement alone is ambiguous what does it mean that Matthew collected the sayings and interpreted them. All this sounds a bit obscure. The name Matthew was attached to the Gospel of Matthew in the early church to demonstrate its authority.

Terms of the place of origin, the Gospel of Matthew is located to Antioch. It was quoted by, Didache, the Christian writing which may have originated in Syria not far from Antioch around 100 A.D.

We can date the Gospel of Matthew based on the account of the marriage feast which appears into Gospels. And there is an important addition in Matthew, which is not found in Luke- this notion surrounding the burning of a city, which was really the destruction of Jerusalem. That's why scholars tend to date this Gospel after the destruction of Jerusalem. And by the beginning of the second century, the Gospel of Matthew had not just been cited by Pappias, but by Ignatius of Antioch.

There is another reason for the popularity of Matthew, in early Christianity, on the one hand the evangelist has been very mindful of the old Testament and of contemporary Judaism. His gospel is always regarded as the most Jewish of the four Gospels. On the other hand his gospel includes a number of passages, which have clear universalistic undertones. This Gospel will be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations (Matthew 34). There is universalism in this Gospel. 

So the Gospel of Matthew relies very much on linkages to the old Testament and this was very important for the early church.

Once, it was said, that the old Testament was consulted by a jury. And the question is, does the old Testament, still have a binding force to Christians? How do we treat the book? Do we disregard it in our daily life? Is a straightforward question, but it is very difficult to answer perhaps.

Q&A. We keep it in the Bible. The old Testament prepares us for the coming of Christ.

So what about the old Testament Commandments of Moses, how do we do with these?

In fact, this was the number one question for the early church- what to do with the old Testament. 

Remember, the very first church council recorded the Book of Acts ch. 15, it discussed this very such thing what shall we do with the old Testament. What shall we keep and what should we keep. So why do you think you were so important for the early church to discuss this question of the law? Answering this question helps us to answer what Christianity and more specifically Christ brought to us, to mankind. What benefits, what new things. In which we keep is our roots. So in chapter 15 we see, the exactness of writing to those, to abstain from pollutions of idols, from fornication, from things strangled and from blood. It defines were actually Christ has brought something new came into the history of mankind. 

And where does Matthew stand in these debates in the early church? His attitude to the law is rather complex. It is definitely positive. You will find that a single bad word from him about the law. This is unlike St Paul who can be very critical of the law. There are strong anti-Jewish tones in this Gospel. The messages one way to interpret this is to locate within the community on a historical map to find its Sitz im Leiben. And this will help us to understand where Matthew stands in these debates.

And there are two views that exist in modern biblical scholarship. The first Christians attended the temples and the synagogues but in the late 60s there was a break with Christianity and Judaism which became inevitable. The official Jewish synagogue began expelling Christians from its communication. And scholars suggest let us see where Matthew is at this time. Is he still in the synagogue or has he been expelled. So we have two major views and these are intramurals and extra murals. To be more explicit this is the idea that is either Matthew being within the walls of Judaism or outside the walls of Judaism.

Option one is to understand Matthew being within the synagogue. And Matthew is at pains to defend Christianity as a Jewish phenomenon. Christ is Jewish, and Matthew trust him right in apology to prove the authorities that Christianity and Christ is very Jewish. There is no need to expel them. Christ is fulfilment of the synagogue teaches us. So Bultmann writes, the struggle with Israel, is still a struggle within its own walls. W. Berries (?) attempts to see Matthew within specific historical events. In 64 A.D. Judaism was no longer able to function as it did before in Jerusalem. However there was an attempt to restore Judaism, not in Jerusalem but in the Israelite city of Jamnia in 70s A.D. And something happened at that point with Judaism. Before the destruction of Jerusalem, Judaism was a very liberal religion. It accommodated many strands of thought. And Christianity felt at home with such liberal Judaism. But once Judaism moved to Jamnia, it was headed now by very rigourous pharisaic party. And they decided to purge Judaism from everything that was not very Jewish. And they introduce a curse against all those who have gone astray, and naturally Christians had no space in the synagogue anymore. And some believe that the Gospel of Matthew is a response to the Jamnia strand of Judaism. Christ is Jewish says the Gospel. Chapter 5 and 7 are seen as a Christian and is to Jamnia. And the many benedictions in the Gospel of Matthew, for example, "blessed are the meek..." this is a very Jewish form used in Jamnia.

Now the second option extramural view of the Gospel of Matthew. Another group of scholars believes that the final break with Judaism has taken place. Matthew writes against the Jews, to convince the Gentiles how this happened. And why the Jews rejected Christ, and why the Gentiles are now welcome. Matthew's community, the scholars believe, is a Gentile community. And for them Matthew is a Gentile editor. His focus is to the Gentile reader. In Matthew's Gospel is an apology, to strengthen and unite Christians.

"But truly I say to you, heaven and earth will pass away for not one jot or one tittle will in any way pass from the law until all is fulfilled." To the validity of the law is emphasised. Secondly if you look at how Christ speaks but the Pharisees, in chapter 23 crisis, "therefore whatever they tell you to observe, observe and do... The validity of the commandments (Old Testament) is the way of salvation". "What shall I do that I may have eternal life". Christ in Matthew's Gospel says, "keep the commandments". In the Gospel of Mark and Luke, Christ's response is
"you know the commandments keep them". But for Matthew it is the Decalogue, this is the way of salvation. Then he adds," if you want to be perfect go and sell what you have"... But in Mark and Luke, there is something missing. So Matthew records, do the commandments, and if you want to be perfect go sell what you have. There is a difference in the text. Another thing but the law, is of the disciples are expected to keep the Sabbath (ch. 24). Pray that your flight is not in the winter, or in the Sabbath day. They are expected to keep the Sabbath, they are expected to fast (6:16), they are also expected to bring the offerings, according to the Jewish tradition (ch 5).

When the Pharisees come to Christ to discuss the law, Matthew gives a full description of this dialogue. Some scholars believe that the law of Moses is radicalised, and the true meaning comes out. In chapter 23, Matthew describes a scene "woe unto the scribes... According to the law". In chapter 12, the disciples were hungry, and the Pharisees objected to them eating. Same can be said of the passage, "whoever holds mother or father higher than me..." It seems there is differing interpretations among the rabbis of the time with the establishment of the new Testament. Chapter 23, when Christ goes over the law, commenting on some fine details, "whoever shall swear by the temple..." So Christ just corrects, their interpretation of the law. And in chapter 17, we find that the Christians are expected to pay the temple tax. Matthew also uses some Jewish terminology, without explaining it, when he speaks about "tradition of the elders" (ch 15). He uses some Jewish terms without explaining them in chapter 33.

The other thing about Matthew is that he uses a very rabbinical formula, to say: "is it lawful?" When we are told, about the Lord's prayer, in Matthew we have the addition, when compared to the other two synoptic gospels, the words "for thine is the kingdom and the glory and the power..." And this comes a course, from the synagogue. Matthew, is at pains, to show that Christ is Jewish. And that we should not be afraid. 

Structure

in the 1930s, William Bacon suggested, the Gospel of Matthew is composed in a way like the Pentateuch is composed. In Matthew what do we have, the prologue, the introduction, the infancy narratives, St John the Baptist, and then what stands out? There are five discourses, which are clearly marked by the evangelists. 1. ch 5, 7, sermon on the Mount; 2. ch 10 Christ calls his disciples and tells them how to behave, 3. ch 13 the collection of parables of Christ, 4. ch 18 instruction to the community on how to behave; 5 ch 24, 25 teaching concerning the future. Indoor five discourses have been constructed in a similar way. They are arranged thematically, and all five have thematic unity. At the end of each of the discourse, you have the same phrase: "and when Jesus had finished these sayings..." And in the 5th discourse, we have: "it happens when Jesus finished all these sayings." And therefore because of the five discourses, William Bacon proposes we are dealing with the new law, it is the new Pentateuch.

Importance of Christ's teaching

Teaching in itself, is a very Jewish thing. The way that the law is interpreted, it is teaching itself.

Q&A. Can a Christian theologian have his own teaching? We need to adhere to the teaching of the Church. Once you have your own teaching about Christ, like Tolstoy, or Arius or Nestorius, then you become a non-orthodox believer. Basically a heretic. For us, what we have to do in our Christian life is to absorb, to assimilate, the fathers of the church. Once you start having your own teaching it is very dangerous enterprise. What about early Christians?

The early Christians, after the event of the coming of Christ, were in a very privileged position, as they got things fresh from Christ, and directly. But on the other hand there was a danger that this newness of life would take you very far. And that is what happened with Gnostics. In Matthew's mind the whole idea was to register, and give a sense of direction to the Christians. 

So in the Gospel of John, we don't see much, on the teaching of Christ. In the Gospel of John, there is a Christ – centrism, "I am the way.." This is typical Johannine language in use. Were the 10 commandments for example, John doesn't speak much about this. For John what was important was the new message of Christianity that was to be brought out and preached to the world. And it was new, and it should be obstructed by the old Testament form. But on the other hand we have the the Matthean tendency. Yes Christ is sensation, no doubt about that, but we don't want to become a sect, a new religion, we don't want to become like the Gnostic sect, to become our para–religion. For Matthew was important to emphasise that Christianity is the fulfilment of all the old Testament hopes, and promises. That is why he tries to fit Christianity into the old Testament forms, so that there is continuity, and there is a sense of fulfilment.

That is why in Matthew's Gospel, you will see a unique presentation of St John the Baptist. That is why you find, the words: "repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand". And then we have this reference to the saddest is an Pharisees, where he called them "generational vipers." And in Matthew the same language is repeated "offspring of vipers". It is important for Matthew to emphasise continuity. It is important to have teaching.

Another interesting point about Matthew's Gospel is that it is in this gospel will find elements of our ecclesiology. The very word "ekklesia" is used in Matthew, and among other NT writers it is used in Luke, and Paul. And Matthew emphasises the foundation of the Church: "on this rock I will build my church". Again in chapter 18, Matthew intended to give over to the church, a manual of discipline, catechism, Christian behaviour.

Q&A. What is another reason, that Matthew emphasised Christ's teaching. What is the best way to preach Christ? You can go until people, that Christ is God. And he redeemed us and so on. But there is map much effect in seeing there is. But for Matthew, your personal way of life.

In the Patericon, there is a young man who comes to a famous geronta, and he says "give me a word". The community wants me to become an Abbot, and I don't know what to do. And the geronta replies: "don't be 'nomothetis'" but be "peoplethetis". Don't be a giver of the law, but a giver of an example. And for Matthew, he recognised that this is the best missionary strategy. Your own behaviour, when Christians would stand, in the synagogue next to the queues, and their righteousness would exceed the righteousness of the people around them, that would be the best preaching of Christ. And indeed, in a Russian monastery, there was a famous geronta, who has passed on now father John Christianki (?).

In Soviet times this monastery would be visited by foreign tourists. And just seeing this man, who was full of love, who was full of concern for all the people around him, they would believe in God, there would believe in Christ, just at the sight of him. This is why for Matthew, preaching and righteousness, is taken to a far higher level, a personal level, it becomes part of your personality, the commandments of God becomes a part of your personality. Unlike the Pharisees, who were hypocrites, when the acts, and deeds, and words, were not a part of their intrinsic maker. Only when the commandments of God, become a part of you then we have true righteousness.

Old Testament Typology

Yes we have established, that there are five discourses, and we have said that these five discourses point to the Pentateuch in the old Testament. But there is also a very rich typology of the old Testament running throughout the whole Gospel of Matthew. And scholars like William Bacon have suggested the Gospel of Matthew should be studied typologically. Indeed, when you do this analysis, it becomes very interesting. We see this with descriptions of Christ, following the pattern of the Moses legend. Recollect, how Moses was born, the deliverer of Israel. And at that time all the children were put to death by the Pharaoh. The king of Egypt said, that all male babies would be killed. And remember what happened to Christ when Christ was born, Herod kills all the boys in Bethlehem. Remember how Moses, and Israel left Egypt by night. So Joseph and his family also fled by night. I think Matthew wants to have exact textual parallel with Exodus. The language is kept without adaptations.

Another interesting typology, what happens to Christ after baptism? He goes into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. What happened to Moses, again he too went into the desert. Remember how Christ fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, again Moses to the same. Remember when Christ delivers his first preaching from the sermon on the Mount, and Moses did the same at Mount Sinai. There are major parallels. There is a very interesting book by Alison Dale (?) called "the new Moses". That everything that Matthew writes about Christ, could be related equally to Moses. Consider Josephus. 

So this is a topological appeal, to the Jewish mind, in Matthew's Gospel. Matthew's desire is to prove that the whole Christ event is entirely a Jewish phenomenon. That is why he is very fond of using old Testament quotations. Though scholars have identified, that there is a significant number of what is known as fulfilment passages. And there was a set formula about this, and it was declared, and then noted that he had to be fulfilled.

Some scholars believe that Matthew represents, a particular school of interpretation. Matthew himself was a scribe. In ch 13. "Every scribe who is instructed to the kingdom of heaven."

Q&A. How we as Orthodox should we understand this typology? What does it say to us? For us as Orthodox the quotation of the old Testament is essential. In fact, it is the very foundation, of our Christian faith. Remember what Christ did, the very first thing after his resurrection, when he appeared to Luke (?) and Cleopas, he opened their mind to interpret scripture. 

Q&A. Matthew saw through his lenses, the typology of Christ within the old Testament. It should not be surprising that some feast days, we read in the Orthodox services from the old Testament. And how does it relate to Christ? It somehow fits together so well, and Matthew gives us a type of interpretation, not a logical interpretation. And again one has to fill this connection in one's spirit and one's heart because the old Testament and the new Testament are both spiritual phenomena. One has to have a spirit, and spectacles to interpret, and not just in a way of pure logic and mathematical calculations.  

What are we to make from antinomies? On the one hand Christ upholds the law, and on the other hand he rejects Israel. How can we reconcile these two sets of ideas about God? John Myers view, is likely attractive to Orthodox. So to the Caanan woman Christ says," I came for the children of Israel", but later he says for the whole world, for all nations. So throughout the text, the attitude to the law is changing. "Truly I say to you, not a single jot show by any way pass, until all is fulfilled." So now the law, is viewed in a eschatological terms. It enters our dimension of time, unto all is fulfilled, sometime in the future. And when the law is fulfilled, the law will no longer be necessary.

And the same happens, in chapter 24 when he says," truly I say to you this generation shall not pass until all these things are fulfilled". Again, a promise that this generation will see all these things "panta tafta". What is going on? The answer is in chapter 11 of Matthew: "for all the prophets and the law prophesied until John". Consider this, that the law itself prophesy is. How can law prophesy? Indeed there are occasional prophecies in the law. But it is not just actual prophecies, there is also ethical prophecy in the law which points to Christ.

And when we come to fulfilment of the law in these terms, and the law prophesied about Christ, indeed all these things were fulfilled in Christ's death, and resurrection. And in Matthew 24, we see an apocalyptic perspective, in Christ's resurrection description, which is different to that of the Gospel of Luke. "And behold a great earthquake occurred for coming down from heaven.. An angel of the Lord, rolled back the stone... His countenance was like lightning and his clothing as white as snow"... For Matthew the death and resurrection of Christ, was a turning point in history. Where all the prophecies of the law were fulfilled. So every prophecy is fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Christ. So the law is fulfilled, and this generation did witness this fulfilment. 

An Orthodox perspective? How does Christ fulfil the law? 

Christ fulfils the law in his own person. Not only the prophecies of the old Testament that Christ fulfils but he also fulfils all righteousness as he says in chapter 4. He came to be baptised, and John wanted to stop him and say I should be baptised by you, and crisis that all righteousness be fulfilled. In John's Gospel, the notion that the word of God becomes flesh. And for Matthew, it seems to be exactly the same. Christ is our written word, Torah, it becomes a living word, a living person, Christ. We have this tendency to personify the Torah, in the old Testament, and in profits especially like prophet Isaiah: "my word which comes out of my mouth shall not return to me avoid until it accomplishes all what I please". This becomes hypostatic. Not only fulfilment of the law, but also fulfilment of the whole history of Israel. That is why there is typology, and Christ is brought back to every old Testament prophecy. In his personal life he lives the history of all of Israel, of all the Jewish nation.

So now we can ask the question of why does Matthew begin the Gospel with the genealogy of Christ? This is hypostatic fulfilment taking place. Christ himself is fulfilment of the history of Israel, he absorbs all that Israel went through into his personhood. He embraces in his own person, the whole history of Israel. And we have this example of hypostatic fulfilment in our Orthodox tradition. A readout associate himself with the history of Israel, the history of mankind. So it is not something which is alien to our Orthodox spirituality.

Topic 8 - Lecture: The Christology of St John's Gospel

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

We can credit the Gospel of John for the way in which Christianity has been shaped. We see in the very first lines of the Gospel of John the uniqueness becomes manifest read away, we're dealing here with the divine absolute who becomes a particular person who enters history and lives with us. And it was he, God himself, John says to us.

In John's Gospel we are dealing with a very different kind of Christology that we will not find in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew or Luke. 

There are three types of Christology: 1. Love (?) Christology. 2. Christology of divine agency and 3. Incarnation Christology.

In Mark's Gospel we are dealing with so-called adoptionistic Christology. We don't hear for example anything about Christ's birth, and we are thrust into the later stages of his life. We know course that Christ is baptised by John in the River Jordan and the next thing we hear a voice from heaven 'you are my beloved son'. The words are addressed to Christ himself in this gospel. For the greater part we don't see anything particularly divine about Christ, only towards the end Christ is called son of God. So in Mark's Gospel you do not get a sense that Christ is pre-eternal.

In Matthew and Luke we have a very different type of Christology, known as ancient. Here we hear about the birth of Christ, how he was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and his baptism. We hear the words 'this is my beloved son'. It was a revelation of Christ not so much adoption of Christ, to the crowd of people.
 

John says to us Christ is before the incarnation, that is why there is not so much description of Christ birth. In John it is the Logos, God. He was in the beginning, and no single thing was created without him.

So the three other evangelists, who sent us only with economical activities, oikonomia in Greek. They speak about his earthly economy.

John tells us about Christ pre-eternal existence. In this way he breaks the confines of time, and goes into eternity. 

What we find in the Epistle of Philippians written by St Paul, 2:6-11, Christ was in the form of God but he took the form of a servant.

However as a member of the Orthodox church, I would not like to stress the differences in the Gospel each individualistically. In fact, they produce a common vision of Christ.

A book titled 'the preexistence of Christ: in the Gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke'. Even in the synoptic gospels we do see clear descriptions on the preexistence of Christ.

'I have come to fulfil the law, not to destroy.': This formula 'I have come' points to his pre-eternal existence. Matthew 5:17. When this formula is used here refers not to a geographical location but this idea of coming into the world. He didn't come from Galilee to Jerusalem into the world. 

These things change the course of the history of mankind. The first 18 verses of the Gospel of John, are our the most significant in our scriptures in terms of having been studied the most. They present the mystery that has remained unsolved until now.

The style, the message, the ideas, are so surprisingly and so convincingly confident that there is no need for further attestation, because they encode the entire message of Christianity. No wonder these magnificent versus we read in our church. 

It was important to elevate the Gospel to its authentic level.

The opening verses embrace this universal scale from the outset, both in terms of space and time. It goes even before time, presenting the universal context. Goes beyond any space, with such universal concepts as: light and darkness, the world.

The absolute became flesh. This divine absolute becomes a human person.

The prologue to the Gospel of John as it stands in Greek, reads like poetry. In many translations you will see that the prologue, the first 18 verses, but published in poetic form. There is such a hymnic rhythm, to the opening of the Gospel of John, that some propose that you was added on later. But I do not agree with this. The language may well be different but Christology are in fact completely integral to the rest of the Gospel. The rest of the Gospel sort of sets and explains out for us what is written in the prologue.

The concept of Logos

The term Logos appears here only in the new Testament. It won't appear anywhere else. Why does evangelist John use this term in the Gospel of John. We see here inferences of Stoicism, so much so, that they try to equate the Logos being Christ with historical Logos. 

Logos in stoicism is a cosmic reason, the governing principle of all that is. And yet all other reasonable creatures, there have seeds of laws. And was a similar ideas in John's Gospel. Christ enlightens every man that comes into the world, Gospel of John 1.1. In stoicism of course is very flexible, it can be adapted to other religions.

I tried to see this concept of Logos not as historic images, but as all embracing concept. The definition of Logos means the word in Greek. In Greek it has many meanings for example it might mean principle, it may mean reason, it may mean thought. In this context it is used to embrace as wide a meaning as possible. In the concept of word of God can be found in Judaism.

The word of God acquires semi-personified existence.

For the Jewish people the word of God was the Torah itself. It was the law that was given to Moses. And in John, find the synthesis of all of these ideas.

Finally the word of God became a person. We have this tendency towards personification in Judaism, and John brings this tendency towards final fulfilment in his Gospel. The word of God becomes flesh, it becomes a human person.

One of the striking images of the Gospel, is that no one else would you find Christ referring to himself as "I am". You will find this in various Eastern religions and also in the Hellenic world, Bultmann makes this comparison with Hellenic ideas. For example various mythical gods are quoted as saying I am. And in the hermetic(?)  corpus, X(?) reveals himself to Hermes, 'who am I the treasure of life'. In the mundene(?) literature, 'a shepherd and my who loves his sheep'. We should not really press these arguments and parallels to far. Because it is undoubtably a reference to Exodus chapter 3:14 'I am that I am', says God in his revelation. And Christ repeats the same revelation.

In chapter 18 Christ asks? "Whom do you seek?" The reply is "Jesus of Nazareth", and Christ says "I am". And as soon as he said this to them, they went backwards and fell to the ground, because they recognised the divine name.

So soon as John uses this title "I am", whatever other title that he had used like "the chosen one", the Messiah, the man spoken of by Moses and the prophets, all of them imply a divinity of Christ, and reinterpreted in the context of Christ saying "I am that I am".

Characteristic of John

Can you think of the Christological title that was in John's Gospel that was not in the synoptic gospels? Well, the various first thing that John the Baptist says about Christ: "this is the Lamb of God". Why do you think he uses this title? On the one hand, all the Jewish hearers would recall to memory the only begotten son of Abraham, the sacrificial lamb Genesis chapter 22, in Exodus, and many other associations in the old Testament. Before the coming of Christ, there was an association of Israel the nation with a lamb. If you look at the images of the suffering servant of Isaiah chapter 42 and 49, Israel is associated with suffering, and this imagery in fact, is the Lamb of God which takes upon its self the sins of others. This would have been quite understanding to Jewish hearts and minds, so when John the Baptist uses this term, the Israelites would be very much at home with this term. But the something more to this.

So what do these titles tell us? For example, "the son of God". This refers to Christ's divinity. And when we say, "the son of man", this speaks of his human nature. So these points to nature, divine or human.

If we consider other titles, like "King of Israel", they point to function, like Messiah. This is Christ's function in salvation. But they do not point to his character. For example if we say, "King of Israel", this does not point to character, a good king or about King, it does not point to what Christ is like as a person. Same as, "Lamb of God", "son of man", they point instead to Christ's nature in function. But when we speak about the Lamb of God, Christ immediately emerges as a personality, a person. And what kind of feeling does this title "Lamb of God" evoke in us? Someone that is innocent, defenceless, one who would do harm to anyone, so these labels can evoke an image of Christ. This is very specific to John who tries to present us with Christ who is not just the son of God, but also of man, as a person, so that we would know Christ, what he is like as a person. 

Q&A. What about the title 'Son of David'? This label points to his lineage, his Messiah-ship. The Jewish peoples expected the Messiah to be a descendant of King David. David had received the promise. 

Uniqueness of John's presentation of Christ

For John it was importance, to present Christ as a person. And perhaps you might notice, hacking you learn about someone another person? How do you go about this? How do you know if a person is good or bad for instance? How can you know another person? By talking to them. When you enter relationship, you get to know another person. When you enter a dialogue, for example you can lecture, see a professor at University in lecture hall, for 5 to 10 years, but you would not know what he's like as a person. But if he invited for a cup of tea, you can get a rough idea of what he is like as a person. And this is something unique in John's Gospel, he tries to present to us Christ through his relationship to other people. He gives us pictures, sketches of his dialogues, his relationship with other people so his person is clear to us. 

And there is something unique in principle here, if you look, he does not like public scenes very much, there are of course public teachings, but all of his dialogues, where Christ actually reveals himself, who he is and where is from, come from personal contact. John tries to depict this from public, to behind closed doors. To intimate settings where Christ enters a dialogue, and enters a personal relationship, and his divinity, his Messiah-ship becomes manifest. Let us look at the first chapter 1:38-39. The very first disciples who followed Christ, he asked them, who do you seek? And they said to him, Rabbi, that is teacher, where do you live? And he says to them, come and see. And they came and saw where he lived and stayed with him that they, and it was about the 10th hour. At first where there is no personal dialogue taken place, Christ addresses as preacher someone who has a message, but this title Rabbi could be applied to anything in Judaism. But then they go to his house, far more intimate, and after one day of staying with him, after this personal communication, the confession of Christ as Messiah grows. In 1:41, we read, Simon said to him, we have found the Messiah. And this was after only a mere 24 hours of staying with Christ. There was personal contact with him. Now when you come to chapter 3, we John has meaning of these personal settings, where man can open his heart. When Nicodemus came to him, by night, again it was a very personal setting when no one can see someone, and you come face-to-face with Christ. Again this is another intimate context. 

If we continue this approach in reading the Gospel of John, we can point to the Samaritan lady and her conversation with Christ at the fountain. Again Christ speaks to the Samaritan woman face to face. And John writes, and "Jesus spoke to her". And when this was happening it was important for John to emphasise that the disciples had gone away to buy food. And it was Jesus, face-to-face with the Samaritan woman. The result after this conversation? She confesses him as Messiah. 

If you study all the other personal dialogues, you will see that they all have a personal setting. Even if the setting, is in the midst of a crowd. And we see that this courses, and dialogues is the main form of revelation in John's Gospel. It is through the personal contact the people have with Christ, when they confess him as Messiah. And when we study the reaction of the Pharisees for example, they are not described in this personal way, we do not hear about their names for instance.

And when the plot of the Gospel of John moves to the Last Supper, again we see an intimate setting. And in chapter 13, again we read that it was night. And he devotes three chapters to the setting of the Last Supper which is an enormous amount of space relative to the Gospels size in words. For John such settings were important, this is where God opens his heart, in the dialogue with the disciples, and John wants to convey every single detail.

That is why perhaps you will notice that there is no public appearances of Christ after his resurrection. He appears to his disciples, he appears to Peter, but never to crowds. In fact, perhaps you now understand why we believe, that public manifestation of Christ in a large crowd today would not happen. If it is not in private, then we do not believe it.

This is known as intimate Christology as it is through personal encounter.

Johannine Vision of the Godhead

When we consider John's vision of the Godhead, the Holy Trinity. We cannot say for sure that it was John that developed Triadology as we understand it now in 2000 years of Orthodoxy. But nevertheless he lays the foundation for our Trinitarian teaching. 

And it is only in John's gospel that we find the title 'Son' without any predicate. He just says "son" and "father". Christ is presented, not only, in the context of belonging to simply as Son God, or Son of Man, but also he presents him as the Son of the Father. What is the difference if we present him as Son of the Father, what does this mean? Why is this word used "Son"? He uses this term deliberately to point to Christ's status in relation to his "Father". We have the Christology of Relationship. We do not invent this or weave it into the Gospel, the evangelist tries to show us that he is in relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It justifies our approach.

If we look at the Synoptic gospels, we hear very little about what Christ felt about his father. yes we have witnessed the manifestation of the spirit during baptism, but these are somewhat impersonal, we are not told much about their relationship. At the baptism of Christ, the Holy Spirit, descends on the Son as a dove, we hear the voice of the Father, but we do not hear much about the relationship. And for John it is important to show the inter-relationship.

See how the father relates to the Son- an existential attitude is revealed. 

But in John, we find this relationship all over the text.

Yet, if there were no examples of this relationship in the synoptic gospels, it would be rather problematic. But certainly it is in the Gospel of John where this resonates more powerfully. Of course will see all the Gospels in unity.

Now let us see, what is this relationship? It is total commitment, total surrender, of all the fathers being to the son. John 3:35- the father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Again, throughout gospel John 13 'all things into his hands'; John 16 'all things that the father has is mine.'  There is also the commission of the Father's function. 'The father shows the son' everything... he commends to the Son, all his power and source of being. The father raises up the dead. John 5 'the Father has life in himself'... whole of Father's authority is given to the Son. Everything that he has has been given to the Son. The Father judges no man, but handed all judgement to the Son.

Fr Sophrony: once when he became a monk in Mount Athos, he had an argument with God. He said, how can you judge me, you are God, and I'm a human. And he was praying to God, and he said to him I am a feeble human being and any day I can die of hunger, illness, and any number of things. How can you judge me? Because the judge should been the same condition as the one being judged. And in his heart came these words: father judges no man, and has committed or judgement to his son, because he is the son of man. So Fr Sophrony lost his argument because the son of man lived with all these conditions, and endured much more difficulties, than father Sophrony himself.

So we seem from this passages at the father seems to almost belittle himself, in favour of the son, his whole life, his honour, his power, his authority, his real kenosis (emptying) for the son.

Now briefly, we turn to the attitude of the son towards the father. So we know from the previous verses that the sun, seems to have everything handed down to him from the father. But now we can illustrate the reciprocity, how the son returns everything back to the father that was given to him. And perhaps, that the mystery of Christ can be summarised under this formula: "Not I, but the Father". John 5: "I come in my father's name". His whole consciousness is focused on the Father. Whatever the sun does, he doesn't for the father, in the father's name. "The son can do nothing of himself saved through the father." "By my own self I can do nothing." Jesus does everything by the father. In the judgement for example, he does things, only as the father would have judged. "And my judgement is just, because I do not seek my own will but that of the father." Same with glory, Jesus is quick to return the glory to his father (John ch 14). So we have this notion of "perixorisis". This word in Greek means exchange, intercommunications between the persons of the holy Trinity. 

So we have a picture now, of the relationship within the Trinity. We hear about the son, we hear about the father and then we hear about another person, the Paraclete. So there is another apart from the two, and he is identified in a number of different ways. In chapter 14 his call the Paraclete, a spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit. And this theology of kenotic love which we outlined in our presentation of the father and son relationship, concerns also the Holy Spirit. The Greek word, "Parakletos", is difficult to translate. The King James version, translated as comforter, but this doesn't exhaust the meaning of this word. "Parakletos" might have a variety of meanings. For example, a common translation would be, someone who is present in the court. Someone who is called by "Para-kalw". You call someone to be by you, next to you. And in Greek courts, this meant the presence of an attorney. Like an intercessor, one who intercedes. An advocate. And, there is an element of this Court vocabulary, in chapter 15. 'The comforter is come whom I sent unto you from the Father, even the spirit of truth... He will testify of me'. The spirit will judge the world and divide the world of sin and righteousness. We can also translate this term as "proclaims". You can also translate this word as "helper". We see that John tries to combine all the meanings, in a new way to create a new concept. Just as the term "logos" is all embracing, the term "paraclete" give so much death to the meaning of the spirit. And John attaches this label, to the Holy Spirit, so is to show his activity, of his kind of service. 

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit, came into our church quite late. As late as 380 a.D., Gregory Nanzianzus, wrote, "to be in error of the Holy Spirit, was to be orthodox". Because until that time, people were hesitant to call the Holy Spirit, God. And how can we discern his divinity. And the main argument of St Athanasius was "we must take our knowledge of the spirit from the son and it is appropriate to put forward proofs that derive from him." And we can discern the divinity of the Holy Spirit through activity. Because he acts in the same way as the son. Christ did not speak of himself, but only with the father would tell him. So the Holy Spirit, chapter 16, "when we hear the spirit of truth... he cannot speak of himself, but whatsoever he hears he will speak". Just as the Son came in the name of the Father so will the Paraclete come in the name of the Son (John 14). So we can discern the same language, the same kenotic activity: The father towards the son, and the Holy Spirit towards the son. 

There is some interesting detail with respect to the Triadology found in John's Gospel. The father, engages the Holy Spirit, but only at the son's request. So there is a sense of coordination in the holy Trinity. Especially in the synoptic gospels, were Christ was led by the Holy Spirit in the wilderness. 

Topic 10: St John's Gospel - The genesis of persona: Johannine anthropology

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

If you look at the entire New Testament what would be the main message (in terms of time)? The eschata. The last judgement. The whole history of salvation of mankind- Noah, Moses, Abraham, Christ becomes Incarnate... the last day 'come... the kingdom is prepared for you. Because when I was hungry you gave me food. These little ones... The little ones become an ultimate concern, our attitude to these little ones... To every human person'. So our whole geschichte (event, struggle, story, history) is geared towards this for the Kingdom of Heaven. Ultimate criteria is how we treat our brother- are we worthy of the Kingdom?

Christ himself equates himself with little ones "It was me". For the human being he ascribes absolute value.

This is a quality of the NT in the whole.

What about St John's Gospel? Any anthropological statements which would reflect same maximalisms in Matthew's gospel?

Absoluteness of man, god-like value, is at the very heart of Johannine writings.

Look at: 'drama of salvation'. So profound change in mankind. Salvation of the whole world. But instead we see Christ having dialogues with crowds, random conversations at this or that point of the gospel, but behind all these random personal encounters with crowds. At end== now is judgement of this world (John 12). Now the prince of this world will be cast out. We do not see any cosmic battles in this Gospel of good v evil. We don't even have exorcisms in this Gospel. In fact, Satan is absent from this gospels. How can we explain Christ here? How is prince of this world is cast out? Of course in Book of Revelation we see the cosmic battle, but not in Gospel of John.

Christ encountered the worst evil on the Cross. And by going through this he was only strengthened more. He was victorious on the cross.

In this Gospel, everything is concentrated on the human person. It is from there, that the prince of world is cast out, in the hearts of man.

Karamazov: the battlefield is the human heart.

There is a frightening moment in 14:29-30 in Gospel of John... "the ruler of this world comes and has nothing in me"... a frightening moment where universal evil will appear; and who comes at this point? Judas Iscariot and Pharisees. Human beings. They are ones who became bearers of this power. Just as those who believe in Christ, God, become bearers of truth..

The fact that John is concerned with what is happening in our heart, shows the anthropological maximalism.

Fr Sophrony describes how victory has come: Christ, justifies man in the eyes of God. If God is like this, like Christ, then I accept him. And God says, if man is like this, like Christ, I forgive him, I love him. This was a victory of faith in God.

Anthropological maximalism in style of Gospel. But we can see this in the very composition of the Gospel. E.g. Sequence. The gospel begins with pan-cosmic presentation of the logos and salvific drama. Following chapters, we read about Christ in Galilee. Beginning of manifestation of Christ to world, the universal glory through Christ's miracles (ch 3-12). Then ch 13-20 we have revelation of Christ's glory to the Christian community, to whom the glory is revealed. He notices this kind of movement from pan-universal scale to 'never' in doubt perspective of Christian community. Bultmann did not believe ch 21 was part of Gospel. "Yea Lord I love thee". The personal. Directed manifestation of God toward human person. Focused on person.

We see anthropological maximilism in composition of gospel. John is very consistent to emphasise that people/men have been given authority to become sons of God. Prologue, creed, summary of his beliefs. He felt it was important in the prologue- as many as receive him... authority to become children of God. Part of his message, of his Gospel. There is a dramatic change in us. We shall see him as he is. Fr Sophrony: Those who believe in Christ, believe in their own deification. Anthropological message is at very heart of Gospel.

Ch 1:51: Truly I say to you... see heaven and angels of God descending upon sons of man. Of course, he spoke about himself. Barmashah- human being. Semitic way of expressing Sons of Man. Christ said: "you will see much more" to Philip. Main point of conflict with Jews, is anthropology- why they wanted to kill him for blasphemy- you being man want to be God. Isn't it written in your law that you shall be Gods. Divine sonship, man becoming divine. This also crops up in the Last Supper. John tries to make most of this most intimate setting- Christ opens up his heart and speaks to his disciplines in the most intimate way. Again, there John, 'you are my friends, I no longer call you servants'... "I have made known to you from my father".... very first words of Christ, after his resurrection: 'go to my brother, I say to my father, and to your father, to my God and to your God'... witnessing this drama of salvation. How can men become children of God? John is very sensitive- very eager to put everything about what Christ said to humankind.

Reality, new things. Water into wine. New reality. Ch 3, 'we are born now of the spirit, he who believes in me has everlasting life'... this is anthropological statements about life, in human being. 

Why did John concentrate so much on anthropology? Why was it so important for him? Man is like Gods- we are given 'everything what I heard from my father'... In epistle, John, says 'God is love'. How can we measure it? John wants to show how much Christ has invested in human beings. The more you hear how much God gave us, the more you respond. And if you diminish these gifts, you diminish divine love and our own response. To show how much God loves human beings.

Indeed Christ, showed the ultimate measure of this love: 'no one has greater measure than this, that Christ laid down for his friends'...Important for John to show, that the Incarnation was the ultimate measure of love. This was the FINAL victory!

How do we become divine as sons of God?

John concentrates on 1) following Christ; 2) believing in Christ.

In ch. 6, it is stated clearly: 'what shall we do that we might work the works of God'? And John/Jesus replies: 'this is the work of God to believe in him who he has sent'. Not 10 commandments, but believe in me. This is the concept of faith. This is the heart of the gospel. Christ's incarnation is motivated. That all man who hears might believe. And in ch 7. those who believe in him, all miracles done for sake of faith. 'That you may believe.'

Jesus himself confirms this in ch 10: 'if you do not believe me, believe the works I do'.

How does faith save us? Why is faith so important for our salvation? Why believing in God is crucial?

Remember when Christ appeared, John says: 'this is the love of God which takes away the sin of the world'. Concept is strange. Not Jewish concept. What is the sin of the world? We would be unable to interpret these concepts without referring to fall of Adam.

Faith in God was very basis of Adam's existence. 

Man is free to choose for himself. He was made in image and likeness. There was no point in creating robots or machines. Man had freedom to be with God or turn away from God. How can you secure a relationship between two free beings? So in marriage you cannot control heart and mind of another person by force. You are dependent on another person, only faith. Once you lose your faith, your marriage falls apart. So same happened to Adam. God created him out of love, for immortal life. Faith was his paradise. But once this faith was taken away from him, 'is it true that God said x or y'... 'your eyes will be opened'. Serpent said to Adam, God is not what he appears to be... so faith in God was destroyed as sin comes in. So having lost faith in God, he was cast out of Paradise, so question of faith is important. Faith in God was destroyed and that is where sin comes in. Having lost this paradise, this trust in God, this faith in God, Adam was cast out of Paradise.

Why was it dangerous to eat from the tree of knowledge?

Fr Sophrony: the way of knowledge was the opposite way of faith. E.g. Gnosis is something which is not based on personal life ('tree of knowledge'). Esp impersonal knowledge gives you certain amount of information (certain power) by which you can master your life, that you can be in control of your life. That is what Adam wanted, he wanted to secure his future, not dependent on God, but wanted something sure, proven, demonstrated, manipulated (by knowledge). So trust in God and faith in God is diminished/ gone completely. So in a relationship, it is bad to spy on a person, is very dangerous, your relationship suffers tremendously.                                       

How Christ won his victory in human hearts. WIth the manifestation of God in Christ incarnate he reaches the ultimate symbol of love. The serpent has NO more arguments against God. It was the ultimate measure. Faith was the very basis of relationship between persons. And Christ, through his ministry restores the faith that Adam had in God. First Adam, second Adam.

And very concept of faith, what does it mean to believe in God? Creed? What does it mean?

Not only that God exists. 'Devils also believe and tremble'. Simply believing there is a God (Zizioulas) said this is 'information about reality'. But there is faith in God as a person. We trust in whatever he does, commands us, "pistis" has a variety of meaning. Pistevo. Conviction- I am sure about something. God is Good. Can be assurance. Asfalia- insurance. Pistosini. I can entrust in God my being. In Your hands I deliver my spirit. It is personalistic. Faith is personal relationship between two persons. 'I believe in God'. He won't let me down. For example, how we say that a person is trustworthy and can be relied upon.

So why was Faith concept so important to John?

Restoration. How sin of the world was taken away.

Concept of eternal life in John's Gospel.

Important anthropological statement. Before Christ, the theme of death was a taboo in early Israel, and to an extent in Judaism. Jewish thought is designed to be about this life, here. Torah teaches us in this life, how to reach well-being here on earth. How to build up your beliefs, your paradise. And once you die, Jewish thought was rather silent- simply reference to Sheol. So you have lived your life, blessed existence, your temple and God, and then you are shut away from this loyal God that dwells in the land and temple. 

Fr Sophrony: human spirit does not accept the idea of death. There is much more than this life. Human beings can never be satisfied.

Death is the end? No. Instinctively people try to find this source of immortality. E.g. films now popular about vampires--- why?

With Ecclesiastes, King Solomon, we can see the nothingness of this life. If man lives many years, let him remember the days of darkness for their shall be darkness. That comes with vanity. Creeps in with Jewish thought. This issue of death became a burning issue- immortality. What is point of dying? Maccabean martyrs. 'You search the scriptures for you think in them you have eternal life.' Dialogue between the Pharisaic and Sadduccees. Burning issue in Israel. Here comes Christ- those that believe in me have everlasting life. If man keeps my word he shall not see death. 

Imagine the impact on those listening to this. A shock to the Jews who built morals and ethics of man. Things were turned upside down.

Why does John love this concept of eternal life? He likes this expression because it is different to Kingdom of God. Compare the two ideas. Difference because they speak of the same reality? What is it with eternal life? Kingdom = impersonal notion. A rule of God. Theocratic state. And then see tendency in NT to personalise the Kingdom. St Luke: 'Kingdom of God is within you'. John brings the tendency to personalisation. He speaks of eternal life for each human being- my personal eternal life. 

With this concept eternal life, you value differently your life on earth. Your future is in your hands. You build it here, now, you will be in life eternal. St Gregory of Nyssa, uses quite remarkable idea, that we ourselves become our own parents, fathers or mothers. We create our personality in this world. 

 

Topic 6: The Synoptic Gospels - Eschatology

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

Very relevant to Christian life today. There is a preoccupation in some cultures to talk of the end, the contents of the Book of Revelation, for instance. Typically in Russian and Greek cultures.

So what do the gospels say about the end of the world, in eschatology.

How did eschatology emerge?

Jewish Apocalyptic: speaks of the emergence of eschatology, after the Babylonian exile. And the reason why eschatology entered to begin with? If you read from the Old Testament, the law (the Pentateuch), does not say anything about life after death. The Old Testament could provide a manual for you on how to live in this life. Once you die, the belief was you are shut away, from all the blessings of this life. That is why the Torah, is a kind of a manual for well-being in this life.

But once you deal with such issues as suffering, and death, then what? For example, what does the law have to say but what of the Maccabean martyrs? But what's the point, what was the reward for them, in dying for the law, if there was no eternal life? There is no point dying, if there is nothing beyond.

And that is why there was a necessity in Israel to provide theological foundation, for the teaching about life after death. For instance it was God who moved this issue to be number one within the Israelite community, at the time of Christ's coming. Recollect, that the Pharisees would say there is eternal life, and the Sadducees would say there is no eternal life. It was the major issue at the time of Israel. Christ said: "I am the life and the resurrection."

Now there are a few characteristics of apocalyptic literature. First of all it speaks about the history of the world of being entirely under control of divine powers. That God has planned something for mankind, and everything unfolds according to this plan. E.g. the book of Daniel. Secondly you have quite a prominent place, you have heavenly powers actively taking steps to change the course of history. For example, angels, archangels, evil powers. Third apocalyptic literature is characterised by trying to explain why there is so much pain and suffering in this world. And so usually the story goes that this world is ruled by evil powers and that Christ will intervene and make things or write. And after this there will be a time with Christ will reign and there will be a wonderful life, simply.

For only Christians the coming of Christ, was actually the coming of the end of the world. It was the time of the coming of the mighty intervention of God, into human history where God would put things right. As Christopher Dodd wrote: the more we try to penetrate imagination of the first Christians, the more we are driven to think of the coming of Christ, and His resurrection, as a single event. So for early Christians the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was but one significant portion of the end of the world.

But Christ did not come covered in glory. So the church had to adjust to this new situation. Why is there delay and how should we explain this?

Now if we look at Mark's Gospel which is the most apocalyptic, you have this sense of urgency that it is time for you to leave Jerusalem and flee to the mountains and hide from the wrath of God. Mark's Gospel is full of this kind of apocalyptic imagery. You get the sense that this whole books climax is built up to this chapter 13, which is known as the small Markan apocalypse. It is the biggest block of teaching, in the whole gospel, relevant to apocalyptic. Here is where Christ speaks of the suffering coming upon mankind. And when you come to St Luke's Gospel, you will see that this is eschatological tension is somehow diluted. And this is a movement that scholars see in the apocalyptic beliefs of the Church in the first century. Because Jesus didn't return straight away after his resurrection, Church had to rethink its position and beliefs on eschatological events.

That is why this simple futuristic eschatology, that Christ is coming, all has been broken down into various types.

For example, "the kingdom of God is at hand." What does that mean? Where is it? Has it come? Is it coming? Where is it? This is known as inaugurated eschatology. For example, if someone knocks on the door, and he is just behind, just about to enter, I know this is just about to happen. But he is not there yet, but I know he will come in because he just knocked. This is imminent eschatology because it is about to happen. E.g. Gospel of Matthew. The axe is laid to the root of the trees. The axe is there, but not yet cut down the tree. Another type of eschatology is anticipated eschatology. For example, we see in movies that at times, they begin with a scene, and then they present how they got to that scene throughout the whole lifespan. It is like the scene at the beginning is used as the mechanism for which to build up to, throughout the movie. This is how anticipated eschatology built up to the coming of Christ. Christ anticipates what will happen at the end of the world. Remember how in Matthew chapter 8, the demons cried: what do we have to do with you Jesus son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time? That is Jesus came before the time, anticipating what would happen in the future. There is yet another type of eschatology called consistent eschatology. This is when the battle has been won, and the king has overcome the enemy. His authority has been established, and what is left for his army is just to do a mopping up operation (pockets of resistance). What is left is to finish it off in various places. E.g. Gospel of John: 'the prince of the word has been cast out and condemned (ch 16). Christ has already overcome the world'. What is left for the disciples is just to enforce this victory of Christ. And finally, in John's Gospel we have realised eschatology. When eschaton has already arrived, we have already passed from death unto life, the Kingdom of God has already come to power. Now let us consider St Luke's eschatology. We can see that St Luke is concerned to explain why the end is postponed. He speaks to the faithful trying to communicate that Christ's coming is not happening straight away. Luke attempts to tone down this eschatological tension (e.g. Luke 31:8). 'Heed that many will come in my name saying 'I am'... do not go after them'... So Luke clearly warns against this eschatological agiotage. Then in Luke we have these tiny additions in Luke 8 when we can hear the word of God with patience. He shifts slightly from the apocalyptic urgency. He talks about the Christian life, and builds up the importance of Christian ethics. He speaks about repentance, prayer, and persistence in prayer. He says, 'if anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.' Versus, in St Luke's Gospel, take up his cross, "daily". So it becomes a daily reality for us. There is a sense of continuation of life, in regards to his coming/not coming straight away. So again, we are dealing here with certain antinonyms.

So on the one hand all the gospels speak of an imminent coming of Christ, and on the other hand the gospels speak of the delaying of Christ's coming. How can we reconcile these antinomies?

When Christ spoke: 'this generation will not pass away until these things happen?', was it a mistake? How can we interpret these eschatological predictions? Did the church make a mistake? See Matthew 34 'nation against nation... earthquakes... famines, pestilences... beginning of sorrows... you will be afflicted and they will kill you... you will be hated for my names sake... there will be great tribulations... unless those days would be shortened... false prophets... see son of man in clouds of heaven... 'this generation'... so what happened? "This" generation as in 'his' generation. If we consider anticipatory eschatology, all of these events took place in Christ himself. 

If we consider John Meyer's view of Matthian eschatology, EVERYTHING was fulfilled in Christ. And the same goes for synoptic eschatology. And this is present even in the Gospel of John. John 11, 'do not weep your brother shall rise again...' And Martha replied, 'yes, I know he will rise again in the resurrection of the last day', but Christ corrected her view and says 'I am the resurrection and the life'. So we see how Christ tries to speak on the events of the last days being fulfilled in himself. 

So how were things fulfilled?

When Christ was sending his disciples in their first mission, he said 'Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves... they shall scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be brought to governors and kings for my sake'... 'Spirit of your father will speak in you, as they will cause you to be put to death'... So we do not know, what his disciples experienced in their first mission, but we trust they experienced persecution already in their first mission. So Christ's prophecies were fulfilled already in his lifetime, in himself.

The cross from a distance (2004), says, that his suffering on the Cross, was the greatest suffering this world would ever know, or will ever be. Indeed who can suffer more than Christ? He suffered all this affliction on the Cross. Interesting parallels, how things were fulfilled in Christ, especially in Mark's gospel. Christ predicts about that day and that hour, 'which no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not the Son but the Father... for you don't know when the time is coming.' One chapter later, he finds his disciplines sleeping... 'the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.' It is exactly what Christ predicts in the preceding chapter- 'lest he comes and finds you sleeping'. The hour does actually come when the disciple is sleeping, but there is more detailed fulfillment in the Gospel of Matthew, in chapter 24 when Christ predicts, prophecies the end of the world, he speaks of great tribulation. And then 2 chapters later (in Greek), 'my soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death'. The affliction and put to death described in chapter 24, is exactly what is fulfilled in chapter 27 (Pilate etc). The sun, and the earthquake etc, are recorded again in 27, in Christ's own death and resurrection.

St Silouan was praying for whole world, for people born before and who are yet to be born. He already lives in their own history, and their own destiny, in his own heart and in his own being.  

What is the difference between Christian prophecy and prophecy that we see in Nostradamus or fortune tellers? Is it the same? No, it is different. In Christian prophecy, in association with mankind, a person lives through these things as all embracing prayer. E.g. When St John the Divine wrote down the Apocalypse, he experienced everything that was written down by virtue of his association through love.

This is why St Silouan said the ultimate goal of monastic life is to achieve this prayerful state for the whole world. A man prays for the whole Adam, for the whole of mankind as for himself. In the liturgy we celebrate the second coming of Christ as if it has already taken place. Isn't it a glimpse of this hypostatic eschatology in our Scripture.

Another example of hypostatic eschatology (when we associate ourselves with the history of mankind). St Andrew of Crete. 'It's me. I am like this person, I am the one who has done this and that'. 

We have a hypostatic view of history. E.g. in Great Lent why do we sing Psalms 'of all the rivers of Babylon' because we associate ourselves, our life, the history of Israel, we live it in our personal life. Ascetic fathers, in the writing of St John Climacus, they like to interpret our personal life as in the history of Israel. 

The highest virtue of Christian life is prayer for the whole world. 

So when we look at the Epistles, of Peter and John, and they discuss the last times, what do they mean? E.g. 'the last hours'... Do they speak about imminent coming of Christ, or something else into the future? How would you interpret this apocalyptic tension?

And something important to add, is that the last time, began with the Incarnation. Because from that time on, God has given to us the ultimate revelation. There can be no other added to the Gospels. This is God as he is. The eternal reality has broken through, manifested itself in history. There is no other possible revelation.

Fr Sophrony: what is the meaning of such expressions as last times and last age? In the Liturgy of St Chrysostom, granted to us "Thy Kingdom Come", or St Basil the Great "We have seen the image of thy resurrection..." And yet also, by virtue of their immediate communion, the divine hypostastis of the Logos, still living on earth in the spirit is binded already in eternity. For them, as for any man, they learn that time reaches its end. Hence these strange words... their perception of time is different to those of philosophers (Newton or Einstein) or gnostics... TIME is a space that one can move from one end to an another. At the end of these days, will be the ultimate meeting with him that will be without end. 

This is important in understand the different perception of time in the Apostles and the NT as a whole. The ascetic fathers have a notion of the "watchfulness of the soul". And it relates about not the fact that Christ is coming imminently, but the state of the mind. The Christian who is expected to live in the day, and in the time, watchfully, throughout the course of his life. In every moment of every time, Christ can be present. 

Thankful for my tutor Rev. Dr. Alexander Tefft

About 3 weeks ago now, I received news that my tutor would be Rev. Dr. Alexander Tefft. I had never heard of Fr. Alexander, despite his online presence. I have assembled a small selection of his sermons here.

Fr. Alexander is the parish priest at St Botolph's Orthodox Church, located in Bishopsgate, London, UK.

Fr. Alexander comes from Toronto, Canada. He has lived in London for over ten years. He was ordained a deacon in the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and then transferred from the OCA to Antioch, where he was ordained to the priesthood by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware).

I encourage you to engage with his sermons online. They are uniquely delivered with great love for God, so well-researched and composed, they border on parabolic poetry. Fr Tefft has also taught for 25 years internationally, and has delivered many lectures for a variety of conferences and academic institutions. I include here a lecture published by Pemptousia on 'Angels and the Last Judgement'. Here he addresses some universal questions like: what happens to us when we die? 

When one engages with Fr. Tefft's work, they are learning continuously. Each week I look forward to the tutorial with Fr. as I discuss with him and my classmate Panayodis our learning and progress on course assessment. Forever grateful at this contact.

Topic 1: The Synoptic Gospels: Introduction

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

How should we study the Gospels?

Modern criticism suggests various approaches. For example could we compare the Gospels to a biography of Christ? Can we make comparisons between the Gospels and modern literature?

Yes indeed we can see biographical elements in the Gospels for instance in methods of composition with respect to biographies. We hear about the birth, the life, the death, of Christ. But we have to remember, that the death of Christ is only the beginning and cannot be an end in terms of a biographical notation. So therefore we cannot really say the Gospels are a biography of Christ's life.

Another approach is to compare the Gospels to ancient tragedies. For example the book in 1977 titled the Comparison of the Gospel of Mark and Greek Tragedy. There are common elements, Introduction, Exposition, Proposition, Build Up in Jerusalem - the Climax, Christ is Crucified and dies on the Cross, and then the Resurrection etc. So it may look like a very tragic story, but it is not a tragedy because Christ is triumphant. Thus it is far more than a tragedy, or even a drama. So there are a great many genres but we really cannot squash the Gospels into any of these pre-existing forms.

Marshall, attempted to place Luke's Gospel into a historiography of sorts. And he even compared Luke's Gospel to ancient historians. But many scholars have noted that it is very hard to place Luke into this framework of historiography given its complexity.

In another approach William Bacon in the 1930s compared Matthew's Gospel to the Torah, connected to Old Testament law. In fact he said Matthew's Gospel is composed in the same way as the Pentateuch. For instance we have discourses of teaching, we have Moses et cetera. 

Others still saw a liturgical element in the Gospels. For instance Bowman said that Mark's gospel was like a Haggadah.

As Orthodox, how should we treat Gospels, how should we study them? In our faith we don't have a similar biblical scholarship. For the Orthodox faithful it is very hard to fit the Gospels, that are a way of life, into an academic shelf, studied academically. For us the Gospel is a living book.

With this in mind the ancient church never had a problem with biblical scholarship, as it never examined the Gospels in such a stringent way. It was a way of life which survived for thousands of years without being studied under the microscope.

Authors of the Gospels

The Gospels were written by the four evangelists. That is, the Gospel of Matthew was written by a former tax collector, the Gospel of Mark was written by John Mark after his association with Paul as an assistant to Peter, the Gospel of Luke was written by a physician, and the Gospel of John was written by the youngest disciple.

The gospels were written later in time... "this saying was spread among the Jews until today." Are we dealing with direct historical evidence if the gospels were written some time after the Resurrection of Christ? After some time, could accuracy have been lost in the recording of Christ's teaching? There was a period of reflection certainly. But how do we reconcile this as Eastern Orthodox? How do we overcome this problem, that the gospels were not recorded straight away?

Canonisation of the Gospels

One of the very first problems is at the Christian Church was confronted with multiple Writings regarding Christ. 

The 4 gospels were accepted around 130 AD and were placed on par with the Old Testament. The letter from St Athansius in 367. Pope D. 382 where four gospels were included. But why were these four gospels chosen among so many other available writings at the time. Why were these texts canonised as authoritative? What was the main criteria used by the early church fathers? Why were these texts recognised? Why were these four gospels canonical?

Story: and author once said: "it doesn't matter if Jesus didn't actually walk on water" because these four gospels the canonised because of historicity. So canonicity equals historicity. The church always struggled with the fact that Jesus lived in a particular period of time, and was not some figure that lived in a Never Never land.

So, it was seen as divine action to some. Irenaeus of Lyons for example, said that our Gospels are superior, over heretical documents, because we know from where they came.

Once the canon was established, it had to be defended. One of the first people to pull the Gospels together was St Justin Martyr. It demonstrated Gospel harmony.

Similarity and differences in the Gospels was dealt at length by Origen, a synoptic scholar. Origin introduced a very clever idea, saying there will varying levels of truth in the Gospel. We have historical truth, and also spiritual truth. In fact origin was the 1st to reconcile all the aspects of the synoptic problem. Origins scholarship was a response to much of the pagan attacks. It has to be said that the problems of differences, from the very beginning was a source of attack. For example Celsius, challenges the differences in the Gospel, propelling origin to respond likewise.

Indeed till today this notion of inconsistency is used by non-Christians to target the faith. For example someone might say to you, how do you believe in the Gospels when the four each do not align to one another. It is a very powerful argument to reflect on.

Augustine, represents the apex of authoritarian discussion on the Gospels. This scholarship continued until the time of Enlightenment for about 1000 years. It was at this time of Enlightenment that many standards were revised. 

Spinoza would say: "the Bible must be studied historically." So these scholars paved the way for the critical approach used in the 19th century. E.g. The Life of Jesus by Strauss which marked the end of the ecclesiastical approach to Scripture. He was the 1st to use the word "myth" in relation to the New Testament. 

In the 20th century science ousted the field of biblical studies altogether. Science brought its own criteria, for instance, historical verifiability, logical probability, historical background and context. It was akin to a shift from theology to the field of science to historical research. And sadly, in this search for the historical Jesus, theology is preoccupied more with problems within the text than with faith.

Structure of the Gospels

In terms of modern method, scholars have examined the structure of the text. If we look at the Gospels closely we can see about seven little stories. These are straightforward to remember:  miracle stories, parables, stories of healings, we have teachings and so on.it has been suggested that the synoptic gospels are collections of these little stories brought together. And these stories were told by the so named storytellers. And we can see that the little stories in each of the Gospels is retold slightly differently. For example, the parable of the lost sheep are addressed to the disciples in the Gospel of Matthew, but in the Gospel of Luke is told against the Pharisees. It is therefore believed that the same parable had its own life. And this was a construction of the evangelists done for different reasons and different purposes. The evangelists provide some sort of the string, but the text is like pearls. And we can accounts of this to what is known as oral tradition. And when you look at oral tradition in any culture, it is always simple stories that are retold from generation to generation. This led one critic to claim that the Gospels were simply a collection of stories. And of course what do we know of stories that the storyteller, will always attempts to make their story more interesting so that's it will be remembered. And for this reason some of the details would be exaggerated or be told in a different way according to the audience. And so scholars believe that it was the community that shaped the particular retelling of the story in each of the Gospels. This is known broadly by the German term, Sitz im Leben, which means "setting in life".  Thus each story is told according to the needs of the community. Each story had been accumulating for the process of transmission. And so people were trying to discover what was the real story, what was behind the original story. And there was another type of criticism, known as source criticism. So here we have in the synoptic gospels the stories being told separately by different people, and the language being so accurately similar. Do you think a storyteller could remember with such exactitude a complete story? So how do we account of similarities between the three synoptic Gospels. The answer is, that the evangelists, must have known one another. In the Gospel of Matthew for example, we can find almost all of Mark's text. Matthew and Luke for example repeat Mark. For instance, about 52% of the Gospel of Matthew, actually appears in the Gospel of Mark. So then it follows, that they must've knew each other. And then of course, there was the theory that Matthew came first and that Mark copied Matthew, and that Luke copied both of them (attributed to be seen Butler in 1951). Farrar in 1954 considered that Matthew came first then Mark and then Luke.

Ashton at Oxford University, has written that approaches to biblical criticism change like fashion. So what was the intent of the authors? It is not pointless. Now there are different methods of criticism, for example, rhetorical criticism. Interest is not on the author, and not in the text, but on the reader. Critics realised, if there is a text, it needs to be read, and there needs to be a listener. And once you begin to read the text, you enter into a dialogue with the text you are reading. How does each text affect its reader? Reader-response criticism. It looks at techniques of the text, that help the reader construe the text.

Another method considered is structuralism. A lot of consideration today, about language, the meaning of words. When we look at language of science it is calculated. But if we look at language of literature it is so-called emotive language. Language has autonomous meaning, and is conveyed through a system of relations. And we can only define something by virtue of opposition. For example, we can know about life only if we know about darkness: " 25For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." And perhaps a more advanced form of structuralism is the chiastic approach. Relation not of single words but of blocks of ideas.

But Fathers of the church never paid attention to the form but they were always interested in the content of what the text was trying to say. Of course language is important, this is a biblical idea of language as it corresponds to reality. E.g. Adam was naming objects in the presence of God. We are not aliens afterall, we live in this world, when we speak we assume we use common concepts that another might understand, because we are from the same world. The gospels have proved to be adaptive to any culture they are preached within. The ideas have been able to be culturally assimilated. 

Example: St Innocent who was doing outreach to the Aleuts. At times terms have not existed in certain cultures, tribes, clans. And St Innocent was trying to find how he would translate certain ideas like glad and joy. And the disciples came 'wagging their tails', given St Innocent observed how the dogs were very happy when they were being handed fish.

Derrida and the deconstruction method. Derrida says it is impossible to escape from the confines of the language. Meaning is inferred by language. E.g. he mentions the double meaning of the word "difference" in French, meaning to defer or difference. Thus, he claims, language can actually hide the true meaning.  Derrida seems to rebel against so much. 

Example: what do you rebel against son? Well what have you got?

Chrysostom writes that the gospels were written by simple and uneducated people so that no one could say that the gospels are beyond one's means to understand.

How useful are these modern methods in our Orthodox approach to the Bible?

The attitude of the Orthodox to the gospels, is one of treasure. We place the gospels on the holy altar. And this is not just a pious gesture but an attitude that the first Christians had towards the words of Christ. And this shows that tradition is strong, that we keep this attitude. And of course the way the Gospels were composed was through divine inspiration.

St Siloun said: if by any way the gospels were to be lost in the Church, they would be restored in the same way, through the Holy Spirit.

A criticism of modern criticism is that they generally don't pay attention to how the gospels themselves, say they should be studied. John's Gospel is especially critical about the historical approach. And we see that at the climax of the book when we have the raising of Lazarus and thereafter the Resurrection of Christ, and he closes the door to this approach. People witnessed the raising of Lazarus, but no one witnessed directly the resurrection of Jesus.

In the Gospels we are dealing with a completely new form of writing, the good news, euagelion. Even if you tried to find parallels in texts with the gospels you cannot find them throughout history. And this of course was shaped by the content.

Why did it take decades for the gospels to be written down?

We have no idea what these words meant to the first Christians. It was a sensation. And every single word was taken and remembered in their daily reality of life. That is why in St Paul you will not find the actual words of Christ's teaching because these words were taken for granted by the first Christians. Agape in the first Christians was when they gathered together for the Eucharist and they would relate these words about Christ, of Christ, and share them together. This is why St Clement of Alexandria uses this same word "kinono" to partake (for the holy sacraments), and the same word for the words of the gospel-- people would partake of the word, participate in Christ through the words about him. The human factor for the first Christians has been overlooked by modern academia.

Richard Swinburne - from a logical point of view should we or should we not trust the testimony of the apostles. 'We have no logical objections to the testimony of the apostles. We have no reason not to'. They had not reason to invent anything about Christ.

Why did Christ never write down anything; any of his message?  Because there were no definite set of rules and regulations. We were dealing with a completely new category in the history of humankind. 

Dr Zhivago: contribution of person; personal.

Christianity leaves to each sufferer a name and a place. It is a personal dimension. How do I as an individual connect to the gospel. The new idea of "commandment"; "Christ is our commandment". We don't have something known specifically as "his teachings" because there would be no end- he is our living commandment. He is the word. In OT the commandments were written in tablets of stone; and it took years for apostles to assimilate Christ's message.

Barton wrote, 'we are dealing not with the text but with a living person.' Gospel of Mark, the concept of euagelion is linked with Christ himself.

In the NT, it is all personal, and there is no knowledge without love. Knowledge is achieved through love alone. And if we see how modern biblical criticism wants us to study the Bible, what matters is disassociation, not communion. That is, you must distance yourself from the object of your study, and the more you distance yourself the more objective your knowledge is. For many biblical scholars, the very fact of faith is a 'non-starter'. It means that if you approach the bible from the point of view of a believer, then your approach is considered to be biased and not objective. 

There is a story of a Russian priest at the time of Krushchev who was invited to a Science Planetarium so he would be shown as simple and without knowledge. A lot of media also covered the event. They wanted to show the priest, impressive photos of the Universe, distant stars, and so forth, all the wonders. And then proudly they asked the priest: "so what does your Bible say about this?" And the priest replied: "it's all very impressive. but I want to ask you can you build a telescope which would see to the end of the Universe?" The scientists said: "no, this is not possible". And then the priest replied: "where your science stops, our science begins".

So we are dealing here with a different type of science, with a different type of knowledge. The gospel is not of this world. Yes, we can take on board modern methods, but our ultimate goal is different.

You must love your God with all your heart.... the heart came first. Fr Sophrony always reminded people of this. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself."

Structure is important, no doubt, but there are so many things that biblical scholars should be studying- to do with content, not form. This is real theology. Modern biblical criticism is almost the opposite of the patristic approach.

Consider where you need to deliver your message, and formulate your approach depending on your audience. Especially with respect to modern biblical criticism.

For example, look at the work of St John Chrysostom in the way he critiques the gospels. Our tradition is key in expressing our approach to biblical criticism scholarship.

Modern biblical criticism techniques "limit" the way you can study the Bible. It is not the whole picture. Be wary of logical positivism. Because it cannot deal with such paradoxical concepts as antinomy. John writes: "23But the hour cometh, and now is..."

There are two or more layers of ideas coexisting in the same text. E.g. Christ says he is here to save the world, but he also says he is here for judgement. Antinomy is inherent in our Orthodox theology. It is essential to us, if you look at any Christian dogma. How can there be in ONE person, two natures, for instance? It is antinomy. How can there be ONE yet three in the Trinity? It is antinomy. And what happens when we introduce logical positivism to flee antinomy? Well, heresy. Truth itself is antinomic.

Bulgakov and Florensky, did away with logical algebra altogether. Florensky for example, writes about two types of philosophy. For Orthodox, he said, we should have personal philosophy. 

"Florensky also argued that this Western rationality was a logic of things, of entities understood as dead and closed off one from another. His epistemology is an epistemology not of separate things, but of persons, who are understood to be "consubstantial" (Gr. homoousios, "of the same nature")." See http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i6223.html

Note, there is no branch of study known as Orthodox biblical studies. The Orthodox Church has a lot to offer this arena. It is time for us to express ourselves in order to contribute to the greater discussion. 

See also recommended reading by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware: https://oca.org/reflections/misc-authors/how-to-read-the-bible

Kallistos Ware: "Such exactly is our Orthodox attitude to the reading of Scripture. I am to see the Bible as God’s personal letter sent specifically to myself. The words are not intended merely for others, far away and long ago, but they are written particularly and directly to me, here and now. Whenever we open our Bible, we are engaging in a creative dialogue with the Savior. In listening, we also respond. “Speak, for Your servant hears,” we reply to God as we read (1 Sam. 3:10); “Here am I” (Is. 6:8)."

"The four key characteristics which mark the Orthodox “Scriptural mind” may be distinguished. First, our reading of Scripture is obedient. Second, it is ecclesial, in union with the Church. Third, it is Christ-centered. Fourth, it is personal."

"Bible is also humanly expressed. It is an entire library of distinct writings, composed at varying times, by different persons in widely diverse situations. We find God speaking here “at various times and in various ways” (Heb. 1:1). "

Each of the four Evangelists, for example, has his own particular stand point. Matthew is the most “ecclesiastical” and the most Jewish of the four, with his special interest in the relationship of the gospel to the Jewish Law, and his understanding of Christianity as the “New Law.” Mark writes in less polished Greek, closer to the language of daily life, and includes vivid narrative details not found in the other gospels. Luke emphasizes the universality of Christ’s love and His all-embracing compassion that extends equally to Jew and Gentile. The Fourth Gospel expresses a more inward and mystical approach, and was aptly styled by Saint Clement of Alexandria “a spiritual Gospel.” Let us explore and enjoy to the fullest this life-giving variety within the Bible.

More here

Unger's Bible Dictionary: "Parables" (Unger, 1980)

p. 823

Parable

"Parable, a word derived from the Greek verb but a bundle, delayed by the side of, compare; and so a likeness, similitude."

"1. Hebrew my shall, similitude (numbers 23:7, 18; 24:3, 20, 21, 23). In this instance parable is thought by some to mean "a discourse expressed in figurative, political, or highly ornamented diction"; is also in the case of Job (27:1)."

"2. Greek parabolic, a place in one thing beside another, an example by which a doctrine or precept is illustrated (Luke 14:7); a pithy and instructive saying, involving some likeness of comparison, and have preceptive or admonitory force; an aphorism, a maximum (Luke 5:36; 6:39; Matthew 15:15); a proverb, and so rendered in Luke 4:23."

"3. Greek paroimia, are saying out of the usual course; any dark scene which shatters for some didactic truth, a symbolical figurative saying… An allegory identity extended an elaborate metaphor."

p. 824

Definition and Distinctions

"in the new Testament the term parable is not confined to those lengthened narratives to which alone we know usually apply it... While the word is frequently used, either by the evangelists or by the disciples of Jesus, with reference to instructions of Christ, which we would call simply figurative, or metaphorical, or proverbial. In Luke 6:39 we read, "and he spake a parable unto them, can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?"... In all these sayings of our Lord, however, it is obvious that the germ of a parable is contained. We have only to work on the hints given us, and we have the perfect story."

Trench in notes in the parables on page 9 writes "the parable is constructed to set forth the truth spiritual and heavenly… In the parable there is a perfect consciousness in all minds of the distinctness between form and essence, shell and kernel, the precious vessel and yet more precious wine which it contains... The parable is also clearly distinguishable from the proverb, though it is true that in a certain degree the words are used interchangeably the new Testament, and is equivalent the one to the other. "Thus "physician, heal thyself" (Luke 4:23) is termed a parable, being more strictly a proverb. It is not difficult to explain how this interchange of the two words should have come to pass partly from the fact of there being but one word in the Hebrew to signify both parable and proverb; which circumstance must have had considerable influence upon writers accustomed to thinking that language, and is self arose from the parable and proverb being like any grammatical and somewhat obscure forms of speech, 'dark sayings', speaking a part of their meaning and leaving the rest to be inferred". He continues, "the parable differs from the allegory quote in form rather than in essence: there being in the allegory and interpretation of the thing signifying and the thing signified, the qualities and properties of the first being attributed to the last, and the two thus blended together, instead of being kept quite distinct and placed side-by-side, as is the case in the parable. The allegory needs knots, as the parable, and interpretation to be brought to it from without since a contented interpretation within itself, and, as the allegory proceeds, the interpretation proceeds hand-in-hand with that, or, at least never falls far behind." "I am the true vine, " (John 15:1 – 8) is an allegory, while John 10:1 – 16 contains two allegories."

The parables as a means of teaching

"Two characteristics of the parable render it eminently useful in teaching. It is illustrative, assisting to make truth intelligible, or, if intelligible before, to present a more vividly to the mind. It is an argument, and may be summoned as a witness, the world of nature being throughout a witness for the world of spirit (Romans 1:20). The parable quote is not indeed contain direct proof of the doctrine which is it unfolds, but it associates with all the force of that proof which is given by the exhibition of the universal prevalence of any principle. Growth, for example, we know to be a law of nature. Let us set out, therefore, with the conviction that the kingdom of grace corresponds with the kingdom of nature – the conviction, is to be borne in mind, which constitutes the foundation of the parable; and, in a story calling our attention to that growth, we have not only an illustration, but a proof, that the same growth which appears in the natural must also pin the spiritual world. The analogy convinces us that he must be so, and is therefore so far a proof." [[Wm. Milligan, D.D., in Imp. Dict., s. v.]]

Again," the mind takes a natural delight in this manner of teaching, appealing as it does not to the understanding only, but to the feelings, to the imagination, is short to the whole man, calling as it does the whole man, with all its powers and faculties, into pleasurable activities; and all things thus learned with delight those longest remembered." The scriptures are full also acted parable, for every type is a real parable."

"Whedon... Thus happily sums up the advantages of the parable as a means of teaching: "the sacred parable was a wonderful vehicle of truth to serve three distinct purposes, VI Z.: to reveal, to conceal, and perpetuate. It revealed the sacred truth by the power of analogy and illustration. It conceal the truth from him who had knots, by proper sympathy or previous instruction, the true key to its hidden meaning. To such a one it was a riddle or a tale. And so our Lord could give to his disciples in this method the deepest secrets of his kingdom for ages, while the caviler , who would have abused the truth, heard without understanding (V.11). But the truth thus embodied in the narrative was, as it were materialised and made fitful perpetuation. He had a form and body to it by which it could be preserved in tangible shape for future ages."

Interpretation of Parables

"It has been urged by some writers, by none with greater force of cleanness than by Chrysostom, that there is a scope or purpose for each parable, and that our aim must be to discern this, not to find a special significance in each circumstance or incident. You may be questioned, however, with this canon of interpretation is likely to lead us to the full meaning of this portion of our Lord is teaching. It must be remembered that in the great patterns of interpretation which he himself has given us there is more than this. Not only the sewer and the seed in the several soils have their counterparts in the spiritual life. But the birds of the air, the thorns, the scorching heat have each of them a significance you may be inferred from these two instances that we are, at least, justified in looking for a meaning even in the seeming accessories of a parable. The very form of the teaching makes it probable that there may be, in any case, more than one legitimate explanation. A parable may be at once ethical, and in the highest sense of the term prophetic. There is us a wide field open to the discernment of the interpreter. There are also restraints upon the me fertility of his imagination: one in allergies must be real, not arbitrary. To the parables are to be considered as parts of a whole, and interpretation of one is not to override or encroach upon the lessons taught by others. Three the direct teaching of Christ presents the standard to which all our interpretations are to be referred, and by which they are to be measured. For and, finally the parable may not be made the first source of doctrine. Doctrine is otherwise an already grounded may be illustrated, or indeed further confirmed by them, but it is not allowable to constitute doctrine first by their aid."

The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Marshall, 1978)

Jesus Teaches in Parables (8:1-21)

p. 315

i. Travelling Arrangements 8:1-3

"Just as in previous occasions Luke has indicated that Jesus had companions who heard what he had said and will be this is of his mighty deeds, so at the beginning of this new section we are reminded that the Twelve were with him; alongside them are named various women who also formed part of the travelling band. With this companions Jesus sets about a further systematic campaign of evangelism in the countryside, with the accent on the spoken word (in view of what is to follow immediately in 8:4 – 18). It is clear that the purpose of the paragraph for Luke is to introduce this further period of ministry which includes travel by Jesus into Decapolis (and then, at a later point the mission of the Twelve and further journeys by Jesus)... In this way, the direction of Jesus' ministry is seen to be motivated by his own missionary concern, rather than, as may be the case in Mark, by the need to take heed of Pharisaic opposition to his work in the synagogues (Caird, 115F.)."

p. 318

"The parable is addressed to the crowd (8:4, eight, CF.9F.), but leads onto teaching for the disciple; Sherman's competence observations on this point are over in genius. The ensuring interpretation makes clear that the parable is concerned with the way in which men hear the word of God and constitutes a summons to them to take care how they hear it (8:8)... Many commentators, however argue that the parable is meant to encourage the disciples, who saw that the mission of Jesus was attended by little success; it teaches that, although much of the seed is sown in vain, nevertheless some will bring forth good fruit, even a hundredfold, and from this fact they can take comfort… It is likely that the parable could have been so interpreted and used in the early church, and Shurmann's view, which regards the harvester still future, is referable to the varying interpretation that the harvest was already realised during the ministry of Jesus (Dodd, parables, 135 – 137; Jeremias, parables, 149 – 151)."…

p. 320

"The parable is ended, but before Jesus concludes his address to the crowd he cries out for now: whoever has ears to hear, let him hear. The phrase is repeated at 14:35… It was obviously used several times by Jesus, and as a result has floated into the manuscript tradition at various points. It is clearly appropriate in the present context. By its the here is a summons to hear at a deeper level than me sense perception, to take hold of the meaning of the parable, to apply to themselves, and thus ultimately to hear the word of God which can save them (Ezekiel 3:27)."

p. 321

iii. The Reason for Speaking in Parables 8:9-10

"After the parable that comes a scene in which the disciples asked Jesus about the meaning of what they have just heard, and the reply which he gives to them forms the central part of the present section of teaching. Jesus is and so falls into three parts, which the second (8:11 – 15) is an exposition of the parable itself first, becomes a statement about the reason for teaching in parables (8:9f.), and finally some further teaching on the importance of hearing Jesus is teaching in the right way (8:16 – 18).

"...The disciples ask about the meaning of the parable. Jesus replies that the meaning is, or should be, open to them. They have been granted by God to know the mysteries of the kingdom; but for the others it happens in parables – mysterious sayings – that they neither see nor understand the message."

p.323

"The contrast is between possession of knowledge and lack of knowledge. What comes in parables is obscure. People hear the words, but do not perceive their meaning.…' The saying thus expresses what happens when the outsiders hear the parable; they hear, but do not understand. But was this the intention of Jesus?... By his method of teaching in parables Jesus not only invited his audiences to penetrate below the surface and find the real meaning; at the same time he allowed them the opportunity – which many of them talk – of turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the real point at issue."

"It should be observed that the statement of Jesus corresponds very closely to the message of the parable of the sower. The parable has a double function. It makes the point that some people hear the message and fail to apprehend it fully, while others hear it and receive it with understanding and faith, but at the same time it is itself an example of this very fact, being couched in parabolic form. What is stated in parabolic form in 8:4-8 and addressed to the crowd as a summons to them to hear the message, is now stated openly to this disciples in 8:10 as a description of what takes place.thus the present statement fits admirably into its context, and there is no need to regard it as a misapplication of a more general remark; on the contrary, it is an appropriate exposition in the meaning of the parable of the sower."

iv. The Meaning of the Parable 8:11-15

"still following Mark, Luke goes on to give the specific meaning of the parable of the sower. Those who have been given divine insight into the mysteries of the kingdom are now given further teaching about this particular parable. The parable is seen to be allegorical, in at the various elements in it have corresponding features in the activity of preaching and hearing the word of God. "

p. 324

"Opinion is sharply divided as to whether the explanation represents authentic teaching of Jesus, with the majority of scholars strongly denying the possibility… Two points should be distinguished. First, is the explanation given he consistent with the meaning of the parable is told by Jesus? We have already seen that this is the case, although the interpretation of the parable which we have offered is not accepted by all scholars. The point of the parable is in our view, the importance of hearing and receiving the word of God, and the explanation elucidates the parable in this way. The difference between the parable and interpretation is at the parable is addressed to the crowds and summons them to hear, while the explanation is addressed to the disciples and describes to them what happens when the men hear the word; hence the explanation is more concerned with telling the disciples low preaching is sometimes a failure in some thunder success. But this difference in stress is perfectly natural. A more serious question is whether Jesus utilised allegory in the kind of way presented here. But in fact the case against this possibility appears to consist largely of me assertion that he could not, or would not, have done so."

"Second, there's this particular explanation stem from Jesus?... So far as the explanation in Luke is concerned, there is stress on the fact that the seed represents the Word of God; the Christian message, proclaimed by Jesus and the early church, is not merely the words of men (one Thessalonians 2:13).men are required to believe his word in order to be saved, and that you failed to believe that it do not persist in belief are lost."

The Interpretation of Holy Scripture (Dunnett, 1984)

Parable (Luke 18:9-14)

p. 172

"What is the point of the parable? Is it to condemn Pharisees, depressed tax collectors, or to teach about humility and confession of sin? Is it a parable about how to pray about the nature of God who justifies the ungodly? The last question will remind us of the criticisms of an "objective" view of the parable levelled by W. Wink. He alerts us as to how the modern reader has "actually turned it into its opposite", by identifying with the tax collector (strangely, "the good guy" as against "the bad guy"). Because the reader to take the two men as "dual aspects of a single alienating structure", to see ourselves as making both responses, and to "transcend both by the reconciliation under the justifying love of God". What he has done, while possibly overstating the case, is to show modern listeners (with the long Christian tradition), that the impact of the story is quite different from that in the original setting.

"This is a fine example of how our mindsets, our horizon must be corrected in order to merge with that of the writer/text of Scripture. It is a call both to recover the original sense of the text and to bring a legitimate application into the present." [[W. Wink, the Bible in human transformation: toward a new paradigm for Bible study Fortress, 1973, pp.41 – 43.]]

Models for Interpretation of Scripture (Goldingay, 1995)

How Stories Preach

p. 71

"stories are a key means by which Scripture communicates and therefore a key resource for the preacher. How do these stories work as a way of preaching? How do they suggest we go about preaching on them?

p. 76

How Stories Engage their Readers

"stories engage their readers. How do they do that, and how do we enable them to do that in the retelling?...

First, each story has a beginning, a middle, and an end; that is, stories are structured. Each story has a plot of some kind. We are presented with a problem that is to be solved; quite likely there are difficulties to be overcome on the way or consequences when the main events are over...

Second, each story offers a concrete portrayal of a series of events against the particular historical, geographical, social, and cultural background. There is movement from one area to another, political and religious heroes and villains passed before the audiences eyes and pressure points of economical family or social life are alluded to or emphasised.

p. 77

a third feature of biblical stories is that they invite their hearers to identify their life and circumstances with those that they presuppose. In this way a story makes clear in the telling that it is about the hero as well is about the subject. Features that mark biblical stories as an historical often originate with a characteristic...

For a fourth feature of many stories is their focus on individual people with him the hearers are invited to identify will stop..

p. 78

"The stories engage their hearers by offering them various characters with whom to identify. Different hearers then grasp different facets of the stories is significance, so that group meditation on a story naturally leads different people to focus on and identify with different characters in a way that can then be illuminating for the whole group. Different facets also come home to individual hearers are different times in their lives; there is no once for all hearing of a story. Our task as preachers is to open up as much as possible of the resources that lie in these various character portrayals, all of which can open up for people aspects of the Gospel. Our task is to help people to get into the story, identifying with characters and situations as if hearing for the first time, so that they can in doing so respond to the gospel in the way that they must."

Interpreting the parables

"among the stories in Scripture, for a number of reasons the interpretation of Jesus as parables deserves particular attention. One reason is that they have been the subject of much productive modern study with challenging but helpful implications for the pulpit."

"One stream of that recent studies represented by books in the parables by C.H. Dodd, J. Jeremias, and A.M. Hunter, this concern has been to locate the origin and significance of parables in the life of Jesus. It has tended to stress that they were designed to make one point, often a different point from the one on which modern preachers focus."

p. 79

"thus the meaning of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25) does not lie in the varying numbers of talents that the different servants are given, nor should these talents be confused with "talents" in the sense the word has for us. The question the parable asks is "what's would you do with a bag of gold?"; The Pharisees were like people entrusted with the bag of gold, who looked after it instead of investing it."

"This parable, and others, thus have the original context in the life of Jesus with the crisis that he's coming brought to people. That is a different context from the one presupposed by the interpretations given to the parables by the evangelists, who were also concern for the parables are significant in the life of the church. This tradition of understanding the parables can seem to imply that we simply throw away the evangelist's additions to and interpretations of the parables. But our attitude to the additions and interpretation surely rather be that the evangelists are modelling what we ourselves do, taking the kind of thing Jesus was saying and applying it to the situations of their day in the context of the church, living as they did (like us) after the resurrection."

"A second fruit for modern approach the parables is the stream associated with the "new hermeneutic" in Germany and with the literary – critical study in the United States and represented by works of writers such as E. Fuchs, E. Linnemann, D.O. Via, J.D. Cross and, R.W. Funk. The key aspect of the parables from which the new hermeneutic begins is the way in which they concern the ordinary, everyday world of the hearers. Sometimes they do so by telling a straightforward story about everyday life that they imply embodies what the rule of God is like, without quite making it clear how the parable illustrates the nature of God's rule. The People's's response to the parable of the sower (Mark four) is puzzlement: it is a clear enough story, but what is it point? Stories like that make people think and help open the rights to the gospel if they are willing to open them but they do so indirectly and let people of the book if they want to avoid seeing the point".

p. 80

"Jesus is parables thus communicate in a different and less direct way from that which is characteristic of the Gospels as a whole will of more direct forms of preaching."

"To save sinners, God seizes them to the imagination"; preachers placed themselves at the service of the saving act by the engagement of their own imagination."

"If understanding a factual story depends on allowing ourselves to be drawn into it, this is the more true of a fictional story such as a parable. The new hermeneutic has shown special interest in the kind of parable in which Jesus begins in peoples is realistic, everyday world, the world of home and family, of work and worship, of sewing and harvest, of shepherding and labouring, of weddings and funerals, I Pharisees, tax farms, priests, Levites, and Samaritans. He thus draws his hearers into his stories, because they manifestly relate to their world. There are they are at home in the stories, nodding in understanding as they unfold."

"Near the end Jesus is stories turned surrealist; they checked out of that world and somersault into a topsy-turvy one in which attacks fine farmer finds God's favour, some people get a day's pay for an hour's work, the people we would expect to help a victim do not, in the last person we would expect to do so does. The parables make a backdoor assault on the familiar worlds in which the people live with God, with a lightning speed that the evasive heart of the listener is hard put to match.… The parables portray a realistic but strange world – a threatening but better world, one transformed by God's grace. The credit world before peoples eyes and ears, a familiar world into which people cannot help but be drawn, but then challenge them as to whether they will live according to the logic of merit that is inherent in this familiar world or go with God into a world that lives according to the illogic of grace. They create a new world, the price being the destruction of the old one. They are understood only by those who are drawn into them and go through this world destroying, world creating prices. In telling parables, a language event takes place. The hearers do not interpret the parables the parables interpret the hearers.

p.81

"the nature of what was going on when Jesus told parables enables us to perceive where the central problem in preaching on them lies. Jesus moved from peoples familiar, everyday world to an unfamiliar, revolutionary world. But where people were once at home, now there is obscurity for us. We wonder why the bridesmaids were having to wait for the bridegroom at night; the arrangements for the wedding seem very strange unlike our entirely rational way.

p. 82

Precisely because Jesus started from the everyday life of his culture, what was formerly familiar is now quite obscure. We are no longer instinctively aware of the residences of words as Pharisee and Samaritan in the vocabulary of the first century due conversely what was previously surprising and objectionable is now familiar and natural. We know the tax farmer will go home justified, so we identify with him; when the Samaritan will help the marked man, and we are happy to identify with him. It is difficult for us to accounts of the way in which words as Pharisee and Samaritan of turned 180° around in their meeting since Jesus is day. Pharisee then meant someone who was especially committed to a life of faith and obedience, and the word carried no overtone of hypocrisy; change in the terms meaning causes us inevitably to miss the scandal of users claim that God prefer the tax farms prayer to the Pharisees. The Samaritans were apostate people from this North, far from being as they are now for us the people we can be sure we'll listen to us when no one else will. We inevitably missed the impossibility in Jesus as juxtaposition of the words good and Samaritan. At best the parables in our obscure; at worst, when they seem clear they make a point contrary to the one Jesus wanted to make."

"We have noted already that a common way to preach in the parables as on other stories in Scripture, is 1st to summarise the story, than to offer straightforward direct teaching on the topic the parable covers, of the kind that appears in the sermon on the Mount or the epistles. The fatal weakness of this approach is 80 fails to do what Jesus was doing when he himself spoke his parables."

p. 84

"there is one further feature of the parables that makes interpretation of them deserve special consideration. There is something characteristic and distinctive of the parables in the ministry of Jesus. He made a point of communicating by this means. Indeed, parables are not merely a dynamic way of communicating but a witness to the love of Jesus for those he addresses. The picture part of the parable constructs a world into which the hero may enter. In the picture part Jesus is not it simply, in the first place, make the hearer adjusted Jesus's viewpoint; instead Jesus himself enters the everyday world of the hearer. Hence he speaks about farming, housekeeping, trading, children's games, and looking for lost objects, not merely to give sermon illustrations or to make is teaching more vivid, but quite literally enter the world of the hearer. "The parables and body in microcosm the principle of the incarnation. Jesus comes and stands with the hearer already stands." [[Craddock, Overhearing the Gospel 88-89.]]

"Indeed, even when a parable somersault into a fantastic world, "it is a fantastic that remains fantastic of the everyday, without the supernatural, as it appears in fairytales or in myths". [[Ricoeur, "the kingdom in the parables of Jesus", 167.]] Here, too, the parables of Jesus correspond to the person and life of Jesus. They "manifest this incarnational principle – this serious treatment of the everyday – by combining the realistic with the extraordinary and improbable". [[Via, The Parables 105]]. Jesus did that not merely in his words but in his life. He is "God's Parable" the title of a book by F.H. Borsch). Grace is the most prominent theme of the parables, grace is a fundamental feature of the way they communicate (because they do not force anything on us but leave us room to manoeuvre), and grace with the parabler himself is. [[Peta Sherlock, private comms.]]

 

The Language and Imagery of the Bible (Caird, 1980)

Comparative Language II: Special Forms

p. 160 

"Simile and metaphor between them exhaust the possibilities of comparison. But there are some forms of simile and metaphor which appeared to be distinguished from the rest and from each other by possessing labels of their own: fable, myth, parable and allegory."

p. 161

"The problems presented by parable and allegory are quite different, arising largely from overzealous definition. People with tiny minds are inclined to believe that, if classificatory terms exist, the must also exist distinct classes of objects to which they refer. A story with a hidden meaning, therefore, must be either a parable or an allegory, and we must so define the terms as to render them mutually exclusive. Jesus told parables, not allegory is. If, then, we find in the Gospels a story which falls within the definition of allegory (e.g. the story of the wicked tenants in Mark 12:1-9), it cannot be authentic. But we have only to examine this argument closely to see that every single step in it contains a logical fallacy. The distinction between parable and allegory is not as easy as that. H.W.Fowler in Modern English Usage went so far as to say that 'allegory (utterings things otherwise) and parable (putting side-by-side) are almost exchangeable terms', and the distinction between them was only a matter of idiomatic usage. If, as we shall see, he too was overstating his case, at least he was erring on the right side."

The natural but mistaken tendency to look for clear-cut definitions receive vigourous encouragement from the immense authority Adolf Julicher, whose two-volume work, Die Gleichnisreden Jesu, has dominated the study of the Gospel parables for nearly a century. Julicher was a pioneer who enabled new Testament scholarship to break once and for all with the centuries long tradition of allegorical interpretation. But he had an obsessive preoccupation with literal speech… And he relied far too heavily on Greek and Latin authors who gave the impression that simile and metaphor, like other figures of speech, were optional rhetorical ornaments.. Parable, properly understood, was extended simile; allegory was 'many metaphors'…. Mark made the mistake of turning the parables of Jesus into allegory is (particularly the Sower), and it is therefore hardly surprising that he held the view that they were intended to mystify. The other difference between parable and allegory was that a parable has only one point of comparison, while an allegory has many. When Julicher applied these principles to the exposition of the parables of Jesus, the one point always turned out to be a moral platitude."

p. 162

"Julicher's house of cards has had a long stand, chiefly because his dictum that a parable was only one point of comparison appeal to the current mood of scholarship: it seemed integral to his refutation of allegory is, and it was congenial to the atomic theory of Form Criticism. C.H. Dodd, for example, followed by J. Jeremias, rejected Julicher's moralistic interpretations in favour of the now generally accepted thesis that the parables had a particular reference to the ministry of Jesus and the crisis it inaugurated; yet he accepted without question the single correspondence hypothesis."

Julicher's argument needs correction in fact at no fewer than six points. And these are listed on page 162.

"The Gospel writers give the name parable to sayings of Jesus which are of five different types:

1.simple simile: 'the kingdom of God is like yeast…' (Matthew 13:33)

2. simple metaphors: e.g. 'do not throw your pearls to the pigs...' (Matthew 7:6) 

3. simile story; e.g. the labourers in the vine yard (Matthew 20:1 – 16).

4. metaphor story: e.g. the prodigal son (Luke 15:11 – 32)

5. example story: the good Samaritan, the rich full, dives and Lazarus, the Pharisee in the publican (Luke 10:30 – 37; 12:17 – 21; 16:19 – 31; 18:9 – 14).

p. 163

"the generally accepted view has been that of Julie Carter, that a parable has only one point of comparison, whereas in allegory every detail is significant. Now the strength of this position is that some of the parables are what in the last chapter we have called metaphors (or similes) of low correspondence and high development..."

p. 164

"another possible distinction is that a parable asks for a decision, while allegory is designed only to instruct.... A third possibility is that a parable is always treated daily life, while the details of an allegory are dictated by the interpretation and make no proper sense until they are decoded..."

p. 165

"As one criterion after another fails us, it begins to look as if we should be wise to refrain from drawing hard and fast lines. Nevertheless, several generations of scholars have made strenuous attempts to do so and the reason lies in the revolt against along accepted practical practice of allegorical interpretation. Dodd quotes as a cautionary example Augustine ... of the good Samaritan, in which the man is Adam Jerusalem the heavenly city, Jericho the moon – the symbol of mortality; the thieves of the devil and his angels, who strip the man of immortality by persuading him to censor to leave him spiritually half dead… Most modern readers agree with Dodd that this is far ago bears no relationship to the real meaning of the parable. But the point to bear in mind that there is a world of difference between allegory is Asian and allegory. And allegory is a story intended by the author to convey a hidden meaning, and it is correctly interpreted when they intended meaning is perceived. To allegorise is to impose on a story hidden meanings which the original author neither intended nor envisage; it is to treat as allegory that which was not intended as allegory. Here, as in all questions of meaning the intention of author or Speaker is paramount. An adverse judgement on allegory is no more entails a repudiation of allegory that a refusal to treat poetry as prose entails a rejection of prose if Jesus in fact compose similitude is with more than one point of comparison, it makes little difference to our understanding of them whether we call them parables or allegory is, so long as we recognise that to identify intended points is not to allegorise."

p. 167

parable and allegory, then our partial synonyms, and it is less important to distinguish between them than it is to distinguish between allegory, which the author intended, and allegorical embellishment or interpretation, which he did not. But allegorical interpretation (or allegory is in) is itself an ambiguous term, covering at least five different types of exegesis."

There is:

1. rationalist Allegorism

2.moralist allegorism

3.atomic allegorism

4.exegetical allegorism

5.polemical allegorism