Biblical studies: February 2004 Archives

Who Killed Jesus?

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I've commented before on issues related to this, but I hadn't addressed this question directly because I think many have done so adequately throughout the blogosphere, and I didn't have anything special to offer beyond what was already being said. What I would have said was that there are many different questions involved in that question, and people might mean different things by it. Who did the actual deed? Who else was causally responsible for the deed? Who was morally responsible for the deed (which may involve different degrees or even levels of moral responsibility)? Most importantly, if you accept a divine purpose for it, then you have the question of who is the Aristotelian final cause of it (i.e. whose purposes were being fulfilled in it?).

Then Sunday, in the midst of a sermon on John 6:60-71, the head teaching elder of my congregation presented a simple biblical argument for exactly the sort of complicated picture that I thought would have had to trace out all the complex issues involved in all those questions. It's much easier than that. One expression occurs throughout the New Testament. Jesus was delivered up to be killed. It's worth looking at the specific statements about his being delivered up. Since the sermon was in a continuing series on John, the list begins there and eventually expands outward.

John 6:71 says that Judas was going to deliver him up. (Not every translation puts it that way, but that's the expression in the Greek, and the rest of the examples I give are also the same expression.) John 18:30 says that the high priestly leadership delivered him up. John 19:6 says that Pilate, against his own judgment, delivered him up (representing the Gentiles), which the gospels record alongside a fake ceremony of handwashing. Romans 4:25 says that our sins delivered him up (well, he was delivered up for our sins, but that amounts to the same thing when assigning responsibility). More strikingly, Romans 8:32 says that God delivered him up for us all. Finally, Galatians 2:20 has Paul describing the life he now lives by faith in the Son of God who "delivered himself up for me".

So who killed Jesus? The Bible teaches quite explictly that Judas of Iscariot, the Jewish leaders of the time (representing their people and the crowds calling for his death), Pilate (representing the chief Gentile authority of the time and the rule of Gentiles over Jews), every sinner, God the Father, and Jesus himself are all responsible (albeit in different ways). Those who deny that the Jews as a people are responsible for his death are denying the Christian scriptures, but that has to be taken in context with all the rest of this. It was part of God's plan, something Jesus himself willingly submitted to, because he wanted it to happen (as much as he dreaded it). As Mel Gibson realizes and expressed by having his hands do the nailing of Jim Caviezel to the cross in the film, every sinner is morally responsible for the killing of the Son of God.

This doesn't minimize the level of responsibility the Bible does assign to the Jewish people of the time (who had a communal sense of a people's responsibility for the moral failings of that people, as the prayers of Ezra and Daniel, in the ninth chapters of their respective books, reveal). Yet the perspective provided by the variety of ways the Bible talks of his being delivered up counterbalances any of that when it comes to how any Christian today should view Jewish people. Paul's heart crying out to his Jewish brethren in Romans 9 should make that obvious.

Matthew's use of scripture

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Not too long ago my wife and I finished reading through Matthew's gospel, and my own reading of the gospel strikes me as so far removed from the direction of a lot of scholarship. There seems to be a sense among some scholars that Mattew had a loose view of history and just sort of made things up about Jesus, not caring if many of it really happened. There's also this contrary sense from the same people that Matthew looked long and hard to find passages in the Hebrew scriptures that were vaguely similar to events in Jesus' life, usually resulting in huge stretches of the imagination to try to connect the two as if the first had been a prophecy of the second.

This combination creates a strong tension. How can it be both that Matthew twists OT passages way out of context and that he invents stories that never happened to fulfill those same OT passages? If he was in the business of inventing stories that never happened, he could have made it so that they were closer to the events as described in the OT passages he's referencing. That suggests that he's not simply inventing stories and finding OT passages to fit them. I think it's absolutely obvious and not even an open question that there are many levels of what it might mean to fulfill something, and Matthew is well aware of that.

The view I'm questioning assumes only the kind of fulfillment that simplistic apologists assume when they say that a reference to an OT passage is about Jesus simply because the NT references it, then listing countless passages and giving the sum of all this as an argument that Jesus must have been who he said he was because he fulfilled so many prophecies. Not all the fulfillment in the NT is that kind of fulfillment, as if some prophet said something and it was about Jesus and not about anything else.

I've been in a discussion with someone about the Gospel of John and whether his use of 'the Jews' in a largely negative way is anti-Semitic. See Hyleninja's post on Mel Gibson's upcoming film for a good discussion from someone with absolutely nothing at stake about why it's pretty silly to say the Synoptic gospels are anti-Semitic. [For some reason I can't get the link to work to go to the post itself. If this happens to you, scroll down to the post directly above Feb 13. Oh, and Mark at Hyleninja is not the same person I've been discussing John with, though he was at least less willing to defend John on this matter and may have similar views.]

Here's my response to the charge against the Fourth Gospel, with specific reference to the comments of the person I'm responding to:

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