The MOST Theological Collection: The Consciousness of Christ
"Chapter 1. Charges of Ignorance"
Experienced teachers know what will happen if they confront a class with a huge complex problem. Most students will simply sit and gape, flabbergasted. They need what Socrates taught long ago in his persistent questioning of the Athenians: the teacher should break up his proposition, subdivide, make distinctions, and then ask the students to deal with each of the smaller pieces separately; thereupon many in the class will reach answers they would not have dreamed of.
In less complex matter all that may be needed is the ability to see more than one possibility and in that sense to make distinctions.
Critics who charge Jesus with ignorance on the basis of Scriptural texts commonly fail in this regard. Bultmann especially seems strangely unable to see more than one possibility in many texts with the result that he charges the New Testament with many contradictions. Take this passage for example: "...some of its [the New Testament's] features are actually contradictory. For example, the death of Christ is sometimes a sacrifice and sometimes a cosmic event."1 We wonder where the contradiction lies: a death to redeem all mankind is surely of cosmic significance! Or this: "Sometimes his person is interpreted as the Messiah and sometimes as the Second Adam." Why not admit both aspects in one person, i.e., the promised One of old and the new Head of the human race (second Adam)? Or this: "The kenosis of the pre-existent Son (Phil. 2:6ff.) is incompatible with the miracle narratives as proofs of his messianic claims." St. Paul says the Divine Word "emptied Himself"; need this mean He ceased to be divine? Could it not easily and reasonably mean that He refused to use His divinity as a claim to exemption from normal human discomforts? For example, He would not turn stones into bread (Mt. 4:3-4), a thing He could have very reasonably done, for He needed food, and He had the power. His policy, however, was to use divine power for the good of others, not for Himself. "The Virgin birth is inconsistent with the assertion of his preexistence." Why, Dr. Bultmann? Could not a divine, preexistent Person in taking on human nature, decide to have a human mother but not a human father? What contradiction is there in that? And so on for the long, boring, wearisome list of charges by the Bultmannians.
A similar strange inability to understand appears in the charges based on Scripture that claim to show ignorance in Jesus. In dealing with these we are not obliged, of course, to prove positively what each text must mean. We need merely to show that there is a fully plausible interpretation that does not imply ignorance. It is usually difficult to prove a text has only one meaning unless one can (as Catholics should) fall back on the interpretation of a providentially guided tradition and Church.
1. Jesus' knowledge of Ordinary Affairs
According to R. Brown, "The best example from the public ministry" of a text indicating ignorance of ordinary affairs is Mk 5:30-33.2 Jesus was walking through a crowd on the way to raise the daughter of Jairus. A woman in the crowd who had suffered twelve years from a flow of blood couched His garment, hoping for a cure. Then (v.30) "Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, 'Who touched my garments?'" His disciples pointed out the obvious: many had brushed Him in the crowd. But the woman admitted she had done it. Brown comments The narrative seems clearly to presuppose ignorance of Jesus part. And he adds in his note 13, "Obviously the Marcan form is more original and Mt. reflects an uneasiness about the ignorance that Mk. attributes to Jesus." (Matthew does not mention Jesus' question, he merely reports briefly that the woman touched His garment, that Jesus turned and said to her that her faith had saved her).
Brown has missed an easy distinction; for Jesus to turn and ask such a question need not imply ignorance at all. It was simply a ploy-familiar to all classroom teachers-of bringing out responses and reactions. Similarly, in Mt 15:21-28 Jesus acts as though He is refusing the Canaanite woman: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." He merely wished to elicit from her a more earnest expression of faith, before granting her request. Again in Mt 14:16 He told the disciples, when faced with a crowd of 5000, to give them something to eat-actually it was obvious that such was impossible. Even to His own Mother He seemed to refuse a request at Canal Some think the language sounds like a rejection. Yet the outcome showed He really granted what she asked. Many of the Fathers of the first centuries, as we shall see in chapter six, observed, in speaking of Jesus' question as to where Lazarus was buried that that question implied no more ignorance than did God's questions, in Genesis: "Adam, where are you?" or to Cain: "Where is your brother Abel?
A similar desire to draw answers out of His hearers can easily account for the fact that Jesus at the age of twelve (in the Temple) was found asking questions. Of course, we grant that Jesus could and did have two channels of knowledge, divine and human. Thus it would be possible to indicate a time in His life at which His bodily senses had not yet reported that roses are red. Yet even before that point of time, the divine He could not fail to know.
Already in the patristic age there were discussions on Lk 2:52 which, after describing the finding of Jesus in the Temple, continues: "And Jesus increased in wisdom and age and favor with God and man." There is no problem about growing in age and favor. As to growth in wisdom, the expression could mean one of three things: (1) actual growth in what the Person knew; (2) growth in knowledge acquired via the human channel; (3) growth in the manifestation of wisdom to men. The first is ruled out by the fact of Jesus being a divine Person. The second and third are quite possible, so there is no need to draw a conclusion of ignorance. Brown adds the helpful observation that the formula is stereotyped: cf. 1 Sm 2:26 and Lk 1:80.3
Problems are raised because Jesus shows various emotions. Particularly, He is sometimes said to have marveled (actually, the word ethaumasen is used of Jesus only three times in the Synoptics, once in each Gospel). Translations vary. RSV for Mk 6:6 has: "He marvelled." The New American Bible has: "So much did their lack of faith distress Him." However, regardless of the translation, ethaumasen need not imply ignorance in Jesus. First, the word displays a broad spectrum of meanings in Scripture. In the Septuagint of Lv 19:15 the meaning is approximately "be influenced by"-"You shall not be influenced by the face of a powerful man." This usage is frequent in the Old Testament.
Of course, this sense would not fit Mk 6:6. Yet, since we know the word has a broad spectrum, we can rightly compare it to English "be surprised." I can say to someone: "I am surprised at you" and not mean I did not know about the matter before. It is just a way of expressing dismay. Still further, a man may marvel at a sunset, even though it is not new to him; he has seen many similar sunsets before. The marveling is simply a normal emotional reaction to something that calls for emotion. There need not be something strictly new to provoke the reaction, only something moving or remarkable.4
What of the fact that, according to one way of understanding Mk 14:33, Jesus experienced not just anguish in Gethsemani, but even fear? Here again, translations vary. RSV renders "greatly distressed and troubled." The New American Bible reads: "He began to be filled with fear and distress." The crucial Greek word is ekthambeisthai. The Arndt-Gingrich dictionary offers the following entries for the word: be amazed, be alarmed, be distressed" and suggests "be distressed" for Mk 14:33.5
However, no matter which translation we adopt, there is no need to maintain that grave fear implies ignorance in Jesus. Here Bultmann provides another choice non sequitur: "If the Christ who died such a death was the preexistent Son of God, what could death mean for him? Obviously very little, if he knew that he would rise again in three days!"6 But Jesus did have real humanity. The fact that He foreknew clearly what lay ahead would not mean that to die after being scourged, spat on, crowned with thorns, ridiculed, and nailed to a Cross would exact nothing from His human nature.
Further, modern psychology has shown that fear and other emotions can be generated biochemically in spite of a patient's knowledge. Ferris Pitts experimented in producing anxiety in patients. He found: "A 20-minute infusion of lactate into a patient with anxiety neurosis realiably produced an anxiety attack that began within a minute or two after the infusion was started, decreased rapidly after the infusion, but was often followed by from one to three days of exhaustion and heightened anxiety symptoms."7 The results in patients who did not have an anxiety neurosis were less marked but still present: "Nonpatient controls had fewer and less severe symptoms in response to lactate." Yet, "...a high concentration of lactate ion can produce some anxiety symptoms in almost anyone."
Interestingly, he also found it was possible to cancel out the effects of the lactate to a large extent: "...calcium ion largely prevents the symptoms in both patients and controls." In addition, the experience of a personal acquaintance may be instructive. He was taking a prescription medication, but one day wanted to tale aspirin also for a touch of flu. He consulted a pharmacist about the combination and was told it was all right. But it was not. Soon after taking the two, he found himself becoming frightened. He was not fearful of anything in particular-he succumbed to a state of generalized fear. His mind remained calm throughout, for he recognized himself as a victim of some unfortunate biochemistry. But in a bodily way, he was still very afraid for several hours.
The practical conclusion is this: knowledge of what is happening does not necessarily eliminate fear. Neither did the knowledge of Jesus have to rule out fear.
It is objected that if Jesus had the beatific vision He could not have feared or suffered. That problem we will consider in chapter eight.
A final example: a person goes to see Shakespeare's Hamlet; he has seen it several times before; as he watches he experiences various emotions. All this happens even though there is nothing new in it for him and even though he realizes that it is only a stage play.
2. Jesus Knowledge of Scripture
Some9 see a problem about Jesus' knowledge in Jn 7:37-38, "On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me as the scripture said, "Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water."'"8 Now research can find no Old Testament passage containing this wording or message. So, was Jesus in error in quoting Scripture? Two comments are in order. First, the literary genre of John is such that John is possibly theologizing, adding his own reflections in the light of what he learned after Easter and putting them in the mouth of Jesus. Thus if there were any charge it would fall on John not on Jesus. However even so we could say the evangelist was quoting loosely; few of the three hundred Old Testament quotations that are in the new Testament are given verbatim; many are recast creatively to suit the argument at hand-a practice used widely in the liturgy and in Sunday sermons. That the speaker or writer is being creative is taken for granted by the audience. No one is deceived or in error.
In Mk 2:26 Jesus says that David when in a difficult situation, "entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest." But, as all exegetes admit, not Abiathar but his father Ahimelech was in charge of the temple when David came (1 Sm 21:1-6). So was Jesus ignorant? To reply we need to look carefully at the phrase, "when Abiathar". That is the RSV translation; other versions use phrases such as "in the days of..." or "at the time...." These translations are faithful to the Greek epi Abiathar archiereos. For the Greek epi with genitive of the person can readily have such a generic time meaning.10 The usage occurs in pagan authors, e.g., Thucydides uses ep' emou to mean "in my time."11 The New Testament uses the same structure in the same sort of sense in Lk 3:2 4:27; Acts 11:28; and substantially in Mt 1:11. So Jesus actually says only that David entered the temple during "the life and times" of Abiathar. The reason for using Abiathar s name rather that Ahimelech s is obvious: he was much more prominent and better known to readers of the Old Testament than his father, because of his close association with David under whom he became chief priest along with Zadok. So there is no mistake. (Analogously the astute Annas is called high priest at the time of Jesus even though his successor Caiaphas held the office.)
A problem is raised because Jesus at times compared Himself to the prophet Jonah (Mt 12:39-41; 16:4; Lk 11:29-32). Most scholars today classify the book of Jonah as a sort of extended parable rather than as an historical account. Can Jesus, therefore, be charged with error or ignorance? Not at all. Both in Scripture and in everyday speech today people can quote, explicitly or implicitly, from writings purely fictitious, such as Alice in Wonderland, to make a point, or to illustrate. St. Paul acted similarly in recalling the rock that followed the Israelites (1 Cor 10:4). He had in mind a rabbinic legend, and used it to make an illustration, without intending to guarantee the truth of the legend. Similarly in Jude 9, Michael the archangel is spoken of as disputing with satan over the body of Moses. Yet the writer of the Epistle would not necessarily have believed that fiction. Similarly with Jesus in His references to Jonah.
A double charge is raised from the use Jesus makes of Psalm 110 in arguing with the scribes (Mk 12:35-37; Mt 22:41-46; Lk 20:41-44), "How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared, 'The Lord said to my Lord....' David himself calls him Lord; so how is he his son?"
The first objection is parallel to what we have just observed about Jonah, i.e., Jesus seems to attribute the composition of the psalm to David. In that day, everyone was accustomed to refer to all the psalms as "by David". Actually Psalm 110 is probably by an unknown tenth century author.12 But just as Pius XII, quoting St. Augustine wrote: "...the Spirit of God who spoke through them [the inspired writers] did not intend to teach the inner make-up of things, for that has no beaming on salvation,"13 similarly, Jesus did not come to make corrections in accord with current, critical views on literary authorship. Or, to phrase it more philosophically, the precise formal object of Jesus' judgment did not bear per se upon authorship; rather, the reference to David was merely an accepted form of reference, when quoting from the psalter, and as such the phrase was used in the judgment of Jesus. Hence, there is no attribution of authorship to David and no possibility of genuine error.
The second charge against Jesus from His use of psalm 110 is this: His argument takes for granted that the Lord (Yahweh) spoke thus to "my Lord," who is the Messiah. Scholars today, however, are disinclined to think there was an expectation of the Messiah at the time this psalm was written.14 But even so, there is no problem. It is quite a legitimate practice, one often used today, to argue against an opponent by using the opponent's own principles or framework of thought against him, even though the speaker does not agree with his opponent's ideas. This is the argumentum ad hominem. Jewish commentators at the time of Jesus were not very concerned about original historical sense of Scripture in their arguments. The Targums attribute messianic meanings to many passages. So if Jesus followed the then current, and still current pattern of the argumentum ad hominem, it gives no ground whatsoever for a charge of ignorance. And, of course, no one is absolutely sure of the date of this psalm, nor whether messianic content was not injected into composition at the time of its acceptance (centuries later) into the psalter. Critics forget to distinguish: a composition in the Old Testament may originally and historically have been Canaanite in whole or in part; it becomes inspired and canonical only later when accepted as such; and at this later point its message often is radically changed.
In Mt 23:35 Jesus refers to all the innocent blood that was shed from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berechiah "whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar." It is charged this is a mistake: the son of Berechiah did not perish that way; it was Zechariah the son of Jehoiada who died in the temple around 825 B.C. (see 2 Chr 24:20-22). There are several possible answers. First, the words "son of Berechiah" are missing in one of the most important manuscripts, that of Sinai, and in some lesser ones as well. Perhaps an ancient copyist had written these words in the margin and later they were put into body of the text (such interpolations are not part of the Bible). St. Jerome, in his commentary on this passage, reports that the "Gospel of the Nazarenes", which he thought to be the original Aramaic of St. Matthew, had "son of Jehoida." St. Luke's version (Lk 11:51) omits "son of Berechiah."
However, another answer is possible, and seems preferable. Luke 11:49 introduces this account by saying, "Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, 'I will send'...," and then he continues with the passage. So it seems from St. Luke that Jesus was quoting some work, then in circulation, which contained these words. There were extant many such works, which did not become part of Scripture. Jesus could quote from them much as he could refer to Jonah without guaranteeing the historical character of the book in question. St. Matthew does not clearly indicate that Jesus was quoting, yet could be easily taken thus, if we punctuate as follows: "For this reason: 'Behold, I send....'"
Finally, some object that Jesus, in Jn 10:33-36, to answer Jews who accuse Him of making Himself God, quotes Ps 82:6, "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, you are gods?'" The psalm seems to refer to human judges and calls them gods. The Hebrew elohim, which can mean God, can also be used for human judges. Jesus draws an argument from that loose usage-following rabbinic precedent. If Jesus remained within actual Old Testament usage (cf. Ps 138:1; 8:5; 1 Sm 28:13), and argued in the manner usual among rabbis of His day, there can be no charge of error. And of course, the passage is from John, and so may be part of the author's theological construction. In either case the force of the critic's argument escapes us; they have not identified the precise, formal object of judgment prerequisite for a claim of error.
3. Jesus' Knowledge of Demonology
In Mk 9:17-19 Jesus meets a boy who is said to be possessed. His disciples had tried to cure the boy, but failed. Jesus Himself commands the spirit to go out. It does so, convulsing the boy. Some have noted that convulsions, becoming rigid, and foaming at the mouth could be symptoms of something like epilepsy, and charge Jesus knew no more of such physical conditions than His unenlightened contemporaries.
We reply: yes, the symptoms are like those of epilepsy, but they also occur in cases of possession. No proof is offered by the critics that it was epilepsy and not possession; accordingly it is not scholarly to charge Jesus with ignorance. Yes, He did command the spirit and it went. He could have cured epilepsy by a command too. We may surmise that just as Genesis was not written to teach cosmology, so Jesus did not opt for making medical diagnoses. He could have adapted Himself to the thought patterns of the time and cured whatever needed to be cured, without explaining. The Fathers, as we shall see in chapter 6, often speak of such adaptation on the part of Jesus. They call it oikonomia in Greek; dispensatio in Latin. The objection limps seriously as a proof of ignorance in Jesus.
A similar objection is raised from the incident of the Gerasene demoniac (Mk 5:1-20). It is suggested the man was merely violently insane. We reply: If so, then Jesus reacted as in the incident just discussed. But that seems not the case here: for the demons did seek and got His permission to go into a herd of swine, with very visible results. A mere cure of insanity would not have produced such an aftermath.15
In Mt 12:43-45 and Lk 11:24-26 we meet an interesting passage, almost word for word in the two Gospels: "When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest, but he finds none. Then he says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and brings with him seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. So shall it be also with this evil generation."
In both Matthew and Luke the passage comes at once or shortly after the charge of the Pharisees that Jesus cast Out devils by the power of Beelzebul. Jesus presents a sort of parable on the state of the Jews; Jesus came to them, cast out devils among them. But because of their wickedness, which went so far as to say He cast out devils by the aid of the prince of devils, the devils would return with reinforcements so that the adversaries of Jesus will end up worse off then before, having rejected Him and attributed to satan what was really the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus. So "the last state of that man becomes worse than the first." Their sin became unforgiveable (Mt 12:32).
The chief point of the parable is quite clear. What of the mention of demons striding through deserts? This has occasioned charges, such as that by Fr. Brown:16 "I do not believe the demons inhabit desert places or the upper air, as Jesus and Paul thought...I see no way to get around the difficulty except by saying that Jesus and Paul were wrong on this point. They accepted the beliefs of their times about demons, but those beliefs were superstitious."16 Fr. Brown seems to think he is forced 17 to say Jesus was wrong and held superstitious views! But Fr. Brown is hardly forced: (1) no one presses every detail of a parable; it would then become an allegory, and no longer be a parable. (2) Jesus quite artistically embellished His parable with colorful imagery that had deep roots in the Old Testament, in poetic passages like Is 13:21 and 34:14, and in the colorful narrative of Tobias 8:3ff. Has Fr. Brown forgotten that it is impossible to speak of anything supernatural (including hell and demons) apart from the use of imagery and analogy?
4. Jesus' Knowledge of Afterlife and Apocalyptic
Jesus describes hell in terms of unquenchable fire (Mk 9:48; Mt 25:41), ravenous worms (Mk 9:48), frustrated grinding of teeth and weeping (MI 8:12; 13:42), insatiable thirst (Lk 16:24), and with a great chasm between the place of beatitude and the place of punishment (Lk 16:26). Further, He speaks of banquets in the place of beatitude (Mt 8:11) and heaven as above the clouds (Mk 13:26; 14:62). R. Brown comments: "...we cannot assume that Jesus shared our own sophistication on some of these questions. If Jesus speaks of heaven above the clouds...how can we be sure that he knew that it was not above the clouds?"18 Leaving aside the deep insight that Jesus was not so sophisticated as we are (which conjures up Bultmann's overweening esteem for modern man who has seen a lightbulb and the wireless,19 we must say: These expressions certainly include some rather obvious imagery, much of it related to the apocalyptic literary genre. If Jesus wished to use imagery, adapting Himself to His hearers, and to employ apocalyptic figures, which were also current then-and precisely because current, they would be understood correctly-is that a ground for imputing ignorance? Such oikonomia or adaptation is really needed to enable God to meet human weakness since, as Is 55:9 reports: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways." We should hardly arrogantly think Jesus inferior, less intelligent than ourselves. Rather, He stooped to our dullness.
The question is raised whether or not Jesus ever definitely said (or knew) that some human beings will be eternally lost. On this topic Karl Rahner, in his article on "Hell" in Sacramentum Mundi, writes: "Even in his 'judgment-discourse' Jesus gave no clear revelation about whether men are actually lost or how many may be. That he restricts himself to the possibility follows from the real nature of these discourses, which is to be a summons to decision."20 Knowing Rahner's existentialist leanings, we wonder if he is forcing the "judgment-discourse" to mean something similar to Bultmann's challenge to a decision for authentic existence?21 If so, it is straining the text; it is forcing an ancient Semitic form into that of twentieth century Heidegger-hardly the proper procedure for exegesis.
But could anyone really say that Jesus does not strictly state that any are lost? It would emasculate the whole account of the judgment with so many on the left as well as on the right if there were to be none left on the left at all, after the final count. Could Jesus have been making a kind of threat, such as the prophets made, a threat understood to be conditioned, so that it might not really happen. Yes, if the situation allows for repentance.22 However, in this instance the situation is already the parousia; the die has already been cast, the decision made on man's part. In any case there would be no grounds for a charge of ignorance in Jesus-nor does Rahner suggest that. Jesus may well have had excellent reasons for not giving us a more definite revelation on "the number of the saved."