by Robert Nguyen Cramer
Jesus. The English name Jesus is a transliteration of the Greek name Iesous, which is a transliteration of the Hebrew name Yesua or Yehosua, both of which are transliterated in the Old Testament as Joshua in most English language Bibles. Jesus' name in Aramaic, the language the Jesus most frequently spoke, was Yesua.
Christ. The English word Christ is a transliteration of the Greek title Christos, which is translation of the Aramaic title mesiha and the Hebrew title masiah, which are transliterated as Messiah in most English language Bibles.
Young People's Bible Dictionary
by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)
Jesus, meaning "God saves"; from Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua. The given name of our Lord and Savior. Jesus of Nazareth is the name by which his contemporaries would have known him. Matt. 26:71; Mark 1:24; Luke 18:37; John 1:45. He was recognized as the Christ by his disciples, and throughout the N.T. is called Jesus Christ, a combination of his personal name and a title, used as a name. Matt. 1:1; Mark 1:1; John 1:17; 20:31; Acts 2:36; Rom. 8:39; Gal 3:26; 1 Tim 1:1. Also a common name in N.T. times; others are identified by contexts.
Dictionary of New Testament Theology
edited by Colin Brown (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976)
Jesus Christ, Nazarene, Christian
The name Jesus Christ actually consists of a proper name, Jesus, and title, Christ, which are linked in a new and unique way. It is thus a formula which expresses the faith of the earliest Christian in Jesus of Nazareth as their Master and Lord, Saviour-King and the universal Redeemer promised by God to his people Israel. This formula achieved a permanent central significance for all subsequent generations of Christians as an appropriate central statement of the object of their faith. In view of this, it is necessary to deal first with the name Jesus and the related historical and theological questions. We shall then turn to the title, Christ ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth by his disciples and finally focus on Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ.
OT [Old Testament] Iesous is the Gk. form of the OT Jewish name Yesua, arrived at by transcribing the Heb. and adding an -s to the nom. to facilitate declension. Yesua (Joshua) seems to have come into general use about the time of the Babylonian exile in place of the older Yehosua. The LXX [Septuagint] rendered both the ancient and more recent forms of the name uniformly as Iesous. Joshua the son of Nun, who according to the tradition was Moses' successor and completed his work in the occupation of the promised land by the tribes of Israel, appears under this name... Joshua also appears in one post-exilic passage in the Heb. OT (Neh. 8:17) as Yesua the son of Nun, and not as the older texts, Yehosua.
Among Palestinian Jews and also among the Jews of the dispersion the name Jesus was fiarly widely distributed in the pre-Christian period and in the early part of the Christian era...
NT [New Testament] The NT readily fits into this picture which shows the name Jesus widely spread among the Jews at the time of Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples. Thus in Luke's genealogy of Jesus (3:29) it is borne by one of his ancestors, without the fact being noted as anything extraordinary...
Harper’s Bible Dictionary
edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)
You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition, edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms, http://www.borders.com, or http://www.christianbook.com.
Jesus Christ. The central figure of the nt, whose life, death, and resurrection represent for Christians God’s saving act for sinful humanity. His name (Jesus) and his title (Christ) bear witness to that saving act. The name ‘Jesus’ is derived from a Hebrew word that means ‘savior’ (see Matt. 1:21), and the title ‘Christ’ (Heb., ‘messiah’) means ‘anointed,’ and refers to one commissioned by God for a special task. The attempt to write an account of Jesus’ life and teachings has long commanded the attention of religious scholars. That attempt must take numerous items into account.
Method: It is generally recognized today that our four nt Gospels were written ‘from faith for faith,’ that is, that they come from and are intended for the believing community. Christians with a high view of Scripture, therefore, will read them to see how the Christian communities behind the Gospels understood Jesus of Nazareth to be their Lord, so that they may nourish and correct their own views in the light of that understanding. It is also generally held that the earliest developments in the Jesus tradition are best understood by a patient analysis of the first three (‘synoptic’) Gospels, though nt theology as a whole includes all four Gospels and the rest of the nt as well, while a broader, more systematic understanding of all early Christian movements uses not only our canonical books but all surviving early Christian literature, as well as fragments of Hellenistic literary works, papyri, archaeological remains, etc.
The synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—are universally recognized as standing in a close literary relationship, the most commonly accepted view of which is that Matthew and Luke both composed their Gospels by reading earlier sources (Luke 1:1-4) that included our Gospel of Mark and another brief document, now lost, usually designated ‘Q.’ The study of each of these documents and of the traditions behind them is important in its own right. But a genuinely historical picture of Jesus of Nazareth can only be obtained by a critical winnowing of all these materials and setting aside (not as an irrelevance but as a key aspect of early Christian theology) those materials that seem to have been shaped in the light of the experience of the early church. The following picture of the career of Jesus rests on such a critical winnowing.
The World at Jesus’ Birth: The conquests of Alexander the Great (332-323 b.c.) had the effect of exposing almost the entire Mediterranean basin (as well as the region east of it to the borders of India) to some degree to Greek culture and, more importantly, to the Greek language. Thus most educated people in the area read Greek, whatever their family tongue, and were at least partially familiar with Greek thought and customs. Jews shared in this general atmosphere. Their Scriptures were available in Greek centuries before the time of Jesus, and hence the earliest documents of the Christian movement were composed in that language. In addition, however, Jews also retained (to some degree, in some places) the use of Aramaic and (especially for the reading of the Scriptures) Hebrew. Jewish inhabitants of rural areas with a less cosmopolitan culture probably spoke almost entirely in Aramaic and used Greek rarely if at all. Latin, which became the official language of the Roman Empire shortly before Jesus’ birth, was hardly known in many far-flung areas and almost certainly did not affect the places of Jesus’ ministry. Greek (and, to a lesser degree, Roman) customs and religious practices were thus close by, even to those areas largely untouched by Greek culture.
This explains the fact that although Jesus and practically all of his earliest disciples spoke Aramaic rather than Greek and the traditions about Jesus at first circulated in Aramaic, those traditions gradually and increasingly came to be known primarily in Greek forms. Hence not only our surviving Gospels but, as far as we can tell, most of the traditions behind them were already in Greek. (Extant Aramaic versions of the nt are late retranslations from the Greek and thus of no significance for early Christian history.) Inevitably, therefore, both Semitic and Greek culture and habits of thought (which are not to be sharply distinguished in any case) influenced the understanding and transmission of the ongoing Jesus tradition in the apostolic age (i.e., the period during which the apostles remained alive).
Jesus’ Life Before His Public Ministry: Very little is known about Jesus’ life before the time of John the Baptist. The birth stories of Matthew provide no chronological information, and themes of Matthean theology are so deeply interwoven with the introductory genealogy (1:1-17) and the various recorded incidents (the appearance to Joseph, 1:18-25; the Wise Men, 2:1-12; the flight to Egypt, 2:13-15; the slaughter of the innocents, 2:16-18; the return to Israel, domicile in Nazareth, 2:19-23) that it is not possible to separate out the historical from the theological data in the accounts.
The study of Lucan birth stories is somewhat more rewarding. The birth of Jesus is implicitly correlated with the birth of John the Baptist (1:36, 41-42); several political figures we know are named (Herod, king of Judea, 1:5; Caesar Augustus, 2:1; Quirinius, governor of Syria, 2:2); and Caesar’s enrollment is specifically said to be the ‘first,’ taken under Quirinius’ rule in Syria (2:1). Yet these data are only broadly helpful: Herod’s death (in 4 b.c.) may be a year or two after Jesus’ birth if Jesus’ public ministry began when he was ‘about thirty’ (3:23); and Augustus’ reign (27 b.c.-a.d. 14) surely includes Jesus’ birth in any case. The only census for which we have clear evidence took place in Judea, not Galilee, in a.d. 6/7, which is too late for Jesus’ birth no matter how loosely one understands ‘about thirty.’ The other elements of the birth stories (including especially the relationships with John the Baptist and the five hymns in 1:32-35, 46-55, 68-79; 2:29-32, 34-35) may include old traditions (possibly from circles that revered John the Baptist), but they are more certainly related to the theology of the Evangelist than to early historical developments as such.
Not much is known, in other words, of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth and early life, though many theological themes from the birth stories (among them his virginal conception, his Davidic descent, and his mission as Savior of the world) are essential elements in the nt Christology (i.e., the theological understanding of Jesus) as a whole.
Our canonical Gospels contain no information about Jesus’ youth except the story of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52), which probably represents the attempt to fill in the chronological gaps in the Jesus tradition, as the incidents in such noncanonical Gospels as the Greek/Latin Infancy Gospel of Thomas surely do.
It is probable that Jesus’ family had some connection with Nazareth (Matt. 2:23; Luke 2:39) and quite certain that his ministry began in and was largely confined to Galilee. While the Greek text of Mark 6:3 is uncertain—it could suggest either that Jesus was a carpenter or that Joseph was—there is no reason to doubt that Jesus was familiar with the crafts and economy of Galilean village life. Nothing can be known from our texts of his psychological development and little of his education, though it is clear that he knew and had reflected deeply on the Hebrew Scriptures. His unusually close association with women (not ordinarily characteristic of Jewish teachers) and favorable attitude toward them in his later life and teaching both point toward a normal home and social life during his formative years.
The Beginnings of Jesus’ Public Ministry: The beginnings of Jesus’ public ministry are obscure. It is virtually certain that he was baptized by John the Baptist, probably as an indication of his desire to share in John’s calling of the people of God to repentance (Matt. 3:2; Luke 3:3). In our Gospels John is understood as a forerunner, a pointer to Jesus, implicitly in Mark (1:7), explicitly in the other Gospels (Matt. 3:14; Luke 1:43-44; John 1:29-34). While Jesus’ message is more complex than John’s (see below), he shares with John the view that the people of God must ‘repent,’ that is, return from their erring ways to God.
While the message is addressed to the Jewish nation as a whole by both John and Jesus, those individuals who heeded the call remained at first a comparatively small group within Judaism and no doubt continued to mix for some time with other Jews. Of John’s disciples we know very little (e.g., Mark 2:18; Matt. 11:2), though groups appealing to him continue down to the Mandeans of our own day.
Jesus’ disciples, however, were called by him during his lifetime to share his teaching and healing ministry (see esp. Matt. 10). Varying lists (Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13) suggest that twelve* of them may have been selected to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, a renewed people of God (Luke 22:30; Matt. 19:28). This, rather than some theory about male leadership, is almost certainly the reason only men were chosen. Jesus, unlike the rabbis, had women disciples, and, as Romans 16 and other texts show, women exercised leadership in many early Christian congregations.
Jesus’ Teaching: Although a very close connection exists between Jesus’ actions, especially the miracles and his fellowship with the poor and the rejected, and his teaching, it is convenient to analyze them separately.
The Kingdom of God: The central emphasis of Jesus’ teaching is the Kingdom (or Reign) of God (see esp. Mark 1:14-15; Matt. 4:2; Luke 4:43). Though this symbol has enormous implications for human life and conduct, its central concern lies elsewhere, namely, in God. It evokes all that is implied in the divine activity, e.g., God’s action for the deliverance of the people of God, the righting of wrongs, and the establishment of a reign of justice and peace. It includes, like the message of John the Baptist (see esp. Luke 3:7-9; Matt. 3:7-10), a note of judgment (see, e.g., Matt. 5:22, 30; 7:2, 13-14; 10:15, 28; 11:20-24; 16:27), but it emphasizes, far more than John seems to have done, the divine purpose to save.
It is striking that Jesus’ teaching about the end of human history (his eschatology) includes three elements that are not easily harmonized and yet that must be kept together if his teaching is not to be distorted: the presence of the Kingdom, the futurity of the Kingdom, and a close connection between the coming of the Kingdom and Jesus’ own ministry. (The Kingdom itself is never defined.)
The futurity of the Kingdom is expressed in many ways. Jesus’ teaching as a whole is summarized by Mark in these words: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent and believe in the gospel’ (1:15). For our purposes, it is important to note that the Kingdom is here expected in the near future; it is neither simply present nor distant. The same must be said of Mark 13:28-29, where similar language is used. Neither text, to be sure, represents a verbatim account of the teaching of Jesus. Yet what they imply is attested in many other passages. In the Lord’s Prayer the disciples pray for the Kingdom to come (Matt. 6:10; Luke 11:2). Jesus speaks of the ‘coming’ of a day of judgment with a variety of symbols (see, e.g., Mark 13:2; Matt. 10:14-15; Luke 10:10-12; Matt. 11:20-24; Luke 10:13-15). In these texts it is presumed to be yet future (see also Matt. 7:1-2; Luke 6:37-38; Matt. 7:13-14; Luke 13:23-24; Matt. 12:36, 41-42; Luke 11:31-32). The words at the Last Supper, Mark 14:25, surely represent very ancient tradition; there is little reason to doubt that Jesus spoke of a future day when fellowship with the disciples would be restored.
In addition, the theme of future judgment is inherent in many of Jesus’ most significant parables; see, for example, the adversary (Matt. 5:25-26; Luke 12:57-59), the two houses (Matt. 7:24-27; Luke 6:47-49), the seed growing secretly (Mark 4:26-29), the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16), the friend at midnight (Luke 11:5-8), the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21), the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), and the importunate widow (Luke 18:1-6). While it may be the case that all or part of some of these parables were created in the light of conditions in the early church—and such judgments can never achieve certainty—methodologically, it cannot be too strongly emphasized that such ‘inauthentic’ materials often represent some degree of continuity with the teaching and situation of Jesus. For example, the ‘cherry tree’ incident of early American history is certainly ‘inauthentic.’ Yet it is historically significant that it is told of George Washington, a man of utmost integrity, not of some other president in American history.
On these grounds, such ‘inauthentic’ parables as the thief in the night (Matt. 24:43-44; Luke 12:39-40), the faithful or unfaithful servant (Matt. 24:45-51; Luke 12:42-48), and the wicked husbandmen (Mark 12:1-12) also represent developments of a theme clearly rooted in Jesus’ own teaching. The same may be said also of the large number of texts that speak of the coming in judgment of the Son of man, a technical term that probably arose in early Christian apocalyptic thought (Mark 8:38; cf. Luke 9:26; 12:8-9 with Matt. 10:32-33; Luke 17:24, 26, 30; Matt. 24:27; Luke 17:24; Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30).
It is thus clear that Jesus’ call for repentance (i.e., conversion, namely, a change of heart, mind, and direction) is based on warnings of an imminent, not a distant, judgment.
What is unusual about Jesus’ teaching is that this thoroughly Jewish motif is inextricably connected with another theme much less well attested in Jewish writings of the period (though there are hints of it at Qumran), namely, the insistence that the coming judgment has in some way already begun. The most explicit statement of this view is the saying in Luke 11:20 (and Matt. 12:28): ‘But if [i.e., because] by the finger [Matt.: Spirit] of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.’ But many sayings and parables reflect the same conviction. The strong man (Mark 3:27), the wedding guests (Mark 2:19), and the so-called parables of growth—which do not really stress growth so much as beginning and harvest—(see the sower, Mark 4:3-8; the seed growing secretly, Mark 4:26-29; and the mustard seed and the leaven, Matt. 13:31-33 and parallels) all indicate that the promised time of the end has begun. Several sayings point in the same direction; e.g., Luke 10:23-24 (Matt. 13:16-17); Luke 11:31-32 (Matt. 12:41-42); Matt. 11:12-13 (Luke 16:16); and the very difficult comment in Luke 17:20, which must mean ‘the Kingdom of God is in your midst,’ i.e., in the presence of Jesus. This latter motif is important (see below); here it can only be noted that it lies as a presupposition behind Jesus’ answer to John’s disciples in Matt. 11:2-6 (Luke 7:22-23).
In other words, side by side with an insistence on an imminent judgment, in the light of which repentance is required, lies a ‘note of fulfillment’ explaining the significance of Jesus’ ministry in God’s plan of salvation.
Many of the texts cited, as well as others, point toward a resolution of this difficult ‘already/not-yet’ paradox: the future Kingdom is present, not in world history as a whole, but in the ministry of Jesus. Its presence is christologically defined. This is particularly clear in the ‘finger of God’ statement (Luke 11:20; ‘Spirit of God,’ Matt. 12:28), in which, to be sure, the ‘I’ is unemphatic but still a pointer to the locus of God’s eschatological activity: God’s victory over the power of the Evil One (so also Mark 3:23-27) is evidence of the Kingdom’s presence in Jesus’ ministry. Since exorcisms are clearly an integral part of Jesus’ activity, this motif can hardly be overemphasized.
Since the judgment, then, is not simply a far-off event but a reality beginning already in the present, the response to Jesus’ message is one of eternal importance: see Luke 12:8-9 and parallels and Matt. 7:24-27 (Luke 6:47-49). Jesus understands both his words and his works as decisive, as ‘God’s last word to humanity.’
It should also be noted, however, that while Jesus’ teaching is characterized by an urgent call to repentance, not every element of that teaching must be forced into this same framework. Some of the ‘wisdom’ elements in his proclamation prevent us from seeing too radical a discontinuity between the world as it has been and the world as it is beginning to be. If Jesus challenges his hearers to ‘leave the dead to bury their own dead’ (Luke 9:60; Matt. 8:22; a radical break with traditional obligations) and notes that no one who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:62), he also uses parables and proverbs that, like the wisdom materials of the ot, presume continuing structures in the ethical basis of the universe.
This motif may be seen in ethical demands like the so-called Golden Rule (Luke 6:31; Matt. 7:12) and turning the other cheek (Luke 6:29; Matt. 5:39), in questions like the blind leading the blind (Luke 6:39; Matt. 15:14), and in various generalizations about life or nature (see Luke 6:40, 45; 10:7; 12:34; 16:13; 17:37 with the parallels in Matt.). It is also presumed in little parables like the speck and the log (kjv: mote and the beam, Luke 6:41; Matt. 7:3), the lamp and the bushel (Luke 11:33; Matt. 5:15), the measure (Luke 6:38; Matt. 7:2), the tree and its fruit (Luke 6:44; Matt. 12:33), and such metaphors as the fish and the serpent (Luke 11:11; Matt. 7:9-10) and treasures on earth (Luke 12:33; Matt. 6:19).
Sometimes, to be sure, these wisdom sayings can be fitted easily into the context of eschatological urgency (so, e.g., Luke 9:60 and Matt. 8:22; or the weather proverb behind Matt. 16:2-3 and Luke 12:54-55) that lies behind Jesus’ teaching as a whole. But the God who is coming in judgment in Jesus’ ministry is not different from the God who created the world and called a people into being, so the demands of the new world, though often different in form, are similar to those of the world that is passing away.
Jesus’ Ethics. We turn, then, to Jesus’ ethics. Three factors are of special importance: repentance as the basis of the ethical life, the radical nature of God’s ethical demand, and the centrality of the love commandment. All are related.
Jesus’ call to repentance, like that of the ot prophets, presupposes an immense distance between God’s will for the people and their daily lives (see Isa. 6:10; 45:22; 55:7; Jer. 3:12-14, 22; 4:1; 8:5; 15:19; 18:8-11; 35:15; 36:3, 7; Ezek. 14:6; 18:30; 33:11; Hos. 6:1; 14:1). What is required, therefore, is not so much the correction of a number of individual sins as a fundamental change, a redirection of life, a change of mind and heart (Gk. metanoia; cf. Heb. shub, ‘to turn, return’—the Heb. noun teshubah is first used for repentance in post-biblical Judaism, in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in prayers). Unlike the prophets, Jesus seems to have little interest in the worship practices of Israel or in the keeping of the Law as evidence of one’s seriousness about God’s will. It is thus possible for Jesus, as it is not for his rabbinic contemporaries, for the Law or sincere religious activity to become a barrier to God; see, e.g., the elder brother in Luke 15:11-32. Repentance, whatever else it may involve, implies primarily a turning to God. Jesus’ ethics are theologically based; they are not autonomous (i.e., derived from the needs of human individuals or society).
This does not mean that they are new or even, in most cases, different. One who would do the will of God is still called upon to be humble, merciful, compassionate, selfless, honest, and pure, to avoid strife and violence, to serve the poor and outcast, and to go beyond the merely external demands of the Law (see Mark 4:19; 6:34; 8:2; 10:23; 43:44; Matt. 5:3-9, 21-47; 6:12, 24; 7:1-5; 10:16; 12:35; 18:21-22; Luke 6:24-26; 12:13-21; 14:11; 18:9-14; 19:8). Further, the wisdom elements in Jesus’ teaching, which cannot be eliminated, show that most people of good will, especially among the covenant people, are capable of both knowing and doing what is good. From time to time Jesus even accepts without challenge the notion that God rewards the good and punishes the wicked (see Mark 10:29-30; Matt. 6:1-6, 16-18, 19-21; 10:40-42).
What is different in the ethical teaching of Jesus is the central place occupied by God, who not only will come in judgment (so also the prophets and apocalyptists) but who also is beginning already, in the ministry of Jesus, to establish the Kingdom, in which good and evil are to be separated, so that the concept of ‘reward’ is rendered trivial. Both the twofold (already/not-yet) nature of Jesus’ eschatology and its christological conditioning are critical for Jesus’ ethics.
Thus alongside the more or less traditional portrait of the will of God there lies another, more absolute strain: God wills not approximate but radical obedience. What is demanded is not one’s best, but everything. A man does not build a tower unless he is sure he has enough money to finish (Luke 14:28-30); a king does not go to war unless he is certain of victory and willing to pay the price (Luke 14:31-32). The so-called Antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount (‘you have heard that it was said…, but I say to you…,’ Matt. 5:21-47), the command to the rich man to sell all (Mark 10:21), the gentle judgment on the elder brother (Luke 15:31-32), and the paradoxical command to take up the cross (i.e., to die in order to live; Mark 8:34-35) all point in the same direction: God is concerned not for what is practicable, but for what is right. Jesus’ God always calls to perfection, not merely to improvement. At the same time, to make of this demand, or any aspect of it, a law (as the Russian novelist Tolstoy did, e.g., with the call to nonviolence) is to accept and attempt to live by precisely what Jesus rejected—a legalistic understanding of the will of God.
Such a legalistic understanding is invalid, for the overarching context of the will of God is the love commandment (Mark 12:28-31). This is not new. Love of God and neighbor are ancient biblical requirements (see Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18). Even love of enemies (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27), though rejected at Qumran and unknown in Judaism until more than a century after Jesus’ death, is not incompatible with a high spiritual legalism. What is new in Jesus’ teaching is that the love commandment is not merely a way of adjudicating conflicting requirements of the Law (as, e.g., the obligation both to provide for one’s parents and to keep one’s oaths—Jesus’ judgment in Mark 7:9-13 is the same as that given by most rabbis) but a way of transcending even such solemn obligations as familial responsibilities (Mark 3:35; Luke 14:26; Matt. 10:37) and keeping the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-29; 3:1-5; Luke 13:10-17). Love will always express itself in concrete actions for my neighbor’s good; but no action can exhaust the love commandment.
It should be emphasized that affection as such is not implied (this is a modern misunderstanding), and neither are such matters as one’s own or one’s neighbor’s dignity. The God who sends rain indifferently upon the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45) can be relied upon to be concerned for the concrete good of the whole Creation. What God loves, I too must love. It is thus apparent that the disciple of Jesus can never substitute ethics for God, on the one hand, or define belief or trust in God apart from action, on the other. The God who wants not simply my effort but me is genuinely loved and trusted only by those who, in Matthew’s words, acknowledge Jesus as Lord by doing ‘the will of my Father who is in heaven’ (7:21).
How Jesus Taught: Finally, it should be noted that although the above summary is stated propositionally by necessity, Jesus’ public proclamation must not be reduced to ‘teaching’ in the didactic sense. His use of metaphor and parable is so extensive—more than one-third of his words are in parabolic form—that it is evidently impossible to separate the form from the content of those words. Simple metaphors and similes like ‘that fox’ Herod (Luke 13:32) or ‘Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ (Matt. 10:16) as well as colorful gnomic (i.e., proverbial) sayings (‘Where the body [carcass] is, there the vultures will be gathered together,’ Luke 17:37 and Matt. 24:28) abound; they serve to sharpen, to illuminate what is said, to direct it not only to the hearers’ minds but in some way to their wills and affections as well. This is even more evident in the parables.
It is customary to categorize Jesus’ parables in three groups: similitudes, parables proper, and exemplary stories. A similitude is general and tends to have a few verbs in the present tense (see, e.g., the scribe trained for the Kingdom, Matt. 13:52; or the unclean spirit seeking rest, Matt. 12:43-45 and Luke 11:24-16). A parable, on the other hand, may involve quite an extensive narrative and speaks of a particular occurrence, with verbs in the past tense (see the sower, Mark 4:2-8; the two sons, Matt. 21:28-32; the importunate widow, Luke 18:2-8). A few Lucan stories (e.g., the good Samaritan, 10:29-37; or the rich man and Lazarus, 16:1-9) are classified as exemplary stories because they seem to include no metaphorical elements but rather serve merely as illustrations of a certain kind of conduct. This latter classification is an unfortunate one, however, especially in the case of the good Samaritan, where the use of ‘Samaritan’ involves an unexpected category shift (from a normally despised heretic to the hero of the parable) and thus provides a stimulus to the hearer’s normal thought-world.
It is not easy to spell out exactly how such parables function. Clearly, as both metaphor and narrative, they appeal to something innate in the human psyche that involves the hearer more profoundly than either statements or imperatives do. This appeal depends on an emotional and aesthetic stimulus, possibly to confront (so, e.g., the two sons, Matt. 21:28-32), perhaps to amuse (so the speck and the log, Matt. 7:4-5), to provoke thought (the dishonest steward, Luke 16:1-9), to en courage (the sower, Mark 4:1-20), to challenge (the hidden treasure, Matt. 13:44), and so on. So parables serve to make the Kingdom available, to call disciples into it, to illuminate its demands and rewards, rather than to define or illustrate it. Like the call to repentance, Jesus’ use of parable and metaphor portrays the human problem and divine grace as far more than merely intellectual. And, again, like the call to repentance and its eschatological warrants, it combines the threat of judgment and the promise of grace in a single call, opening the hearer to God by telling stories about the ordinary world, where the divine Lordship is to be acknowledged.
Jesus’ Actions: In all the Gospels Jesus is portrayed as a teacher, miracle worker, and friend of sinners. His association with the poor and outcast, with tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:15-17; Matt. 9:9; Luke 1:53; 4:18; 14:12-14; 15:1-32; 18:10-14) is an important aspect of his ministry. Such people, not the righteous, are the special objects of God’s love and care. The Kingdom is thus directly related to Jesus’ choice of friends and table companions.
The proclamation of the Kingdom and the miracles are also inextricably related. It is customary to categorize Jesus’ miracles in three groups: exorcisms, healings, and nature miracles. All three reflect current first-century conceptions, and all three are told (with some important exceptions) in the same stock ways as the miracles performed by other, especially Hellenistic, healers in the period.
In a healing miracle, for example, it is customary to describe the illness, often with vivid details (its extreme consequences; the failure of other healers); then to portray the healing itself (usually out of public view, involving use of words or even names, gestures, instruments, and so on); and finally to offer some concrete evidence of the healing (activity of the person healed, awe and wonder of the onlookers; see, e.g., Mark 5:1-20, 21-43). An early emphasis on exorcisms, especially in Mark, gradually is broadened to include—as indeed it does already in the earliest traditions—illnesses of many kinds as well (so esp. Matthew; see, e.g., 8:16). It must be noted that in critical ways Jesus’ miracles are portrayed differently from those of his surrounding culture: he rarely makes use of instruments (but see Mark 7:33; 8:23); he heals with a touch (Mark 1:31; 3:10) or a mere word (Mark 1:25; 2:11; 3:5; 5:13; 7:29; 10:52; cf. 5:41; 9:25-27; and the parallels in Matthew and Luke). He never uses foreign languages (Mark 5:41 and 7:34 are ‘foreign’ only to Greek readers, since Aramaic was Jesus’ mother tongue) or magical formulas, charms, drugs, or techniques. In many cases, though by no means all, faith is presupposed or required (see Matt. 8:10; Luke 7:9; Mark 2:5; 5:36; 9:23; 10:52; cf. 4:40; and esp. 5:34, which Matt. 9:22 rearranges to show that faith comes before healing). And the miracles are done for someone’s concrete benefit, not for display. Quite evidently, the early testimony (no doubt in full accord with Jesus’ own practice) wishes to reflect two not easily compatible things: Jesus is fully capable of performing mighty acts by the power of God, but, unlike contemporary miracle workers, he has no connection with demonic (see Mark 3:22-27) or magical forces.
The same emphasis can be seen in the nature miracles. On the one hand, Jesus is master of the elements (Mark 4:35-41; 6:45-52). On the other, his miracles benefit others rather than enhance his own reputation (Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-21; one possible exception to this generalization is the cursing of the fig tree, Mark 11:12-14, 20-22, but note v. 22). They are (esp. in Matthew; see 9:35-38) tokens of his compassion. When confronted with the demand to work miracles as a sign (Mark 8:11-13) or for selfish or frivolous reasons (Matt. 4:1-7), he refuses. God is to be worshiped, not used.
It is fully compatible with these motifs that some miracles are wrought, so to speak, on rather than by Jesus: his baptism (Mark 1:9-13), the transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9), and, most significant of all, the resurrection. From the very beginnings of his public ministry (Matthew and Luke: from birth) the Son of God is accompanied by the power of God.
It is thus of no great importance that the honorific titles for Jesus such as Messiah, Christ, Son of God, Son of man, Lord, and the like probably arose in early Palestinian Christianity rather than during the ministry of Jesus. To be sure, they reflect to a considerable degree a concentration on the person of Jesus that goes beyond Jesus’ own understanding. But they make explicit what is clearly implicit in Jesus’ claim to be God’s final messenger, to offer in his own person and teaching (see esp. Luke 12:8-9 and parallels) exclusive access to God’s saving Reign. That the Proclaimer became the Proclaimed is thus a token of the very heart of Jesus’ message: God is active in history for the salvation of the people of God.
Jesus’ Final Days: It was perhaps inevitable that Jesus’ person and teaching should be accepted by some, rejected or ignored by many, and misunderstood by the most powerful political authorities in his region, the Romans. The details of Jesus’ final days or of the political processes that led to his crucifixion are no longer recoverable. But two groups in particular—his Jewish co-religionists and the occupying Romans—had different reasons for failing to sympathize with him. On Jewish grounds, his teaching represented a challenge to the hegemony of the Law, and the ‘messianic’ elements, though hardly punishable (Jews did not persecute their errant religious teachers), were clearly dangerous in first-century Palestine. Thus there was no particular reason for them to defend Jesus’ cause when the political authorities, no doubt misunderstanding his teaching about the Kingdom and mistrusting his popularity, decided that Jesus should be put to death. Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, showed no inclination whatsoever to take any personal risks in defending Jesus’ innocence. So Jesus was arrested and, after a brief examination by both Jewish (Mark 14:53-65) and Roman (Mark 15:1-15) authorities, was taken to Golgotha, outside the city of Jerusalem, and put to death in the presence of other criminals.
So ends the life of Jesus of Nazareth. But both our earliest traditions (1 Cor. 15:3-7, which reflects beliefs current no more than a few years after a.d. 30, the most probable date of the crucifixion) and all the canonical Gospels (Matt. 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20-21) agree not only that Jesus rose from the dead but that he was seen by many of his followers to have done so. The difficulty of the details (a solid body, Luke 24:36-43, with real wounds, John 20:24-29, that can pass through walls, John 20:19; recognizability, Matt. 28:9 and Luke 24:36-38, combined with unrecognizability, Luke 24:16 and John 20:14) shows that the resurrection is no easily demonstrable phenomenon. Yet faith and trust in Jesus and his message, properly understood and obeyed, open a new and living way to God. The resurrection was, for the earliest Christians, no mere natural wonder; it was God’s great act for the redemption of the world. The gospel of the Crucified One is ‘God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes’ (Rom. 1:16). And thus the Jesus of history is seen, by the eyes of disciples in every age, to be the Christ of faith.
Bibliography Fuller, Reginald. The Foundations of New Testament Christology. London: Lutterworth, 1965. Jeremias, Joachim. The Parables of Jesus. Rev. ed. Translated by S. H. Hooke. New York: Scribner, 1963. Kee, Howard Clark. Jesus in History. 2d ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1977. Kingsbury, Jack Dean. Jesus Christ in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981.
genealogy, a history of the descent of a person or group (family, tribe, or nation) from an ancestor. The term appears in both the OT and the NT (1 Chron. 5:1, 7, 17; 2 Chron. 31:16; Ezra 2:62; Neh. 7:5, 64; 1 Tim. 1:4; Titus 3:9; also Matt. 1:1 RSV [KJV: origins])...
These genealogies vary in
historical value and purposes. The aim of constructing genealogies was to establish
descent and thereby ones identity...
...The NT genealogies of Jesus in Matt. 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38 seek to establish above all his Davidic descent (Matt. 1:1, 6, 17; Luke 3:31). Matthews also establishes his descent from Abraham (1:1-2, 17), while Lukes traces his descent to Adam, the Son of God (3:38). Although both genealogies cover the span from Abraham to Jesus, they cannot be harmonized. Matthew computes three groups of fourteen generations each for this span (1:17), although only forty-one (not forty-two) names actually appear (inclusive of Abraham and Jesus), while Luke lists fifty-seven names. The names are mostly the same from Abraham to David in both (Luke 3:33 adds Arni and Admin), but thereafter only three names appear in common (Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, and Joseph). In spite of attempts to explain the discrepancies, these genealogies should be seen as containing some historical information but designed primarily in light of the intent of the Evangelists: to establish that Jesus fulfills the messianic hopes of Israel.
Edited for BibleTexts.com by Robert Nguyen Cramer