Sunday, March 30, 2008

Jesus is perfect?

A huge portion of Christianity is focused on the idea of Jesus being the perfect, sinless sacrifice. Although, I'm not sure if this is as big in Eastern Orthodox. The perfect/sinless idea seems very tied into the penal substitution idea, which Jesus taking our place, and accomplishing what we cannot do. So I'm not sure I can say that Christianity as a whole is incredibly focused on that narrow idea of sacrifice, or if it's just Evangelical Christianity.

But I'm wondering what this perfection is based on. Before people go quoting me the letters, such as Peter or Paul, where they push forth the idea of Jesus knowing no sin becoming sin for us, or Jesus tempted like us yet not sinning, I'm wondering what actions the claim is based on. Too often, it feels that we are told Jesus is perfect because Peter says so. Or Paul says so. But I don't see them pushing forth any "proof." I don't see them saying, "Jesus is perfect because he did such and such." Rather, the idea is simply that Jesus was sinless, no proof required.

However, if we took the Gospels, which are the only accounts we have of day to day actions, would we reach the same conclusion? If we took the Gospels and replaced all the names, and then gave them to someone who lacked familiarity with the stories, would the person conclude that the Jesus character behaved perfectly? Would any of us?

Or do we all just say that Jesus is perfect because that's the assumption? Because that's what the New Testament letters tell us?

What actions are used to determine the perfection of Jesus?

7 comments:

societyvs said...

"Rather, the idea is simply that Jesus was sinless, no proof required." (OSS)

And if you debate anyone from those theological strains you soon find out you have to accept their words as truth also - no counter points allowed (since they are never ready to able to answer them - because like the letters - no proof required for belief).

I am reading a book by Amy Jill Levine about the roots of Christianity in Judaism and she got into a few pages about the Pauline gospel and made some awesome points.

Paul makes arguements in Galatians against the Torah a few times that are easily refutable and sometimes right out of context. By the time he writes Romans he has changed his tune some - and gives more respect for the Torah. Amy notes Paul's gospel was the one that won the day in Gentile communities - thus wiping out the gospel of Peter, James, and John (a more Jewish outlook). But point is, Paul (and I have seen it in Hebrews) do some changing of words to make their points (very creative of them).

That being said, I like Paul - he had a real change of heart and something did happen to him...but his interpretations of the Torah are static and from a single time period - and even in that time period - Judaism could easily refute him...he wrote letters is the way I see it.

But this is the same attitude now in the church and always has been - this superiority complex and narrowness (only one person can be right to all others wrongs). But if this is the case - then maybe we need to take a very close look at Paul's writings/letters - this could be the key to more openness - because I think Paul can be easily seen as making things up some of the time - for the sake of mnaking a point to Gentiles about Judaism. But what can we use - I know - actual proof texts!

Christianity is ridiculous on what they want us to accept on the basis of concensus - because some councils 'voted it so' or this has always been the majority opinion. I would ask simply - is God's truth up for vote?

OneSmallStep said...

Society,

**find out you have to accept their words as truth also - no counter points allowed**

And I think this is really unfortunate. Christianity claims to have access to the absolute truth, to follow the truth, and be freed by the truth. Shouldn't, in turn, Christians be able to provide hardcore support for that? And not just "This portion of the BIble says Jesus is sinless."

That is not proof. That is what someone says. Proof is in evidence, such as a definition of perfection, and what non-perfect behavior would be, and then seeing which behavior Jesus follows.

Truth should be blazing in Christianity. Too often, it's not. Instead, the standard of proof seems to become very ... low. Shouldn't it be the opposite? Shouldn't the truth be held to the highest, most rigid standards, and pass with flying colors?

**then maybe we need to take a very close look at Paul's writings/letters - this could be the key to more openness**

We should also do this because so much of the tradition is pulled from Paul's letters, like the atonement theories. Any website or support I stumble across constantly quotes what Paul says about the crucifixion. Where are the words of Jesus?

DagoodS said...

What tends to be a puzzler for me, in this regard, is breaking Mosaic Law. According to Mark 7:19, Jesus declared all foods “clean.” Now, does this mean ALL foods were ALWAYS clean anyway, and Mosaic Law was either not enforceable in this regard, or a human error regarding the differentiation of clean vs. unclean food?

Or was it a sin previously, and by virtue of a new covenant, was no longer a sin? If so, when did it stop being a sin? When Jesus was born? Baptized? Began his ministry? Notice it can’t be at either his death or resurrection, because they were after the events of Mark 7:19.

What if I define “healthy food” as all the food I eat. It becomes impossible, by definition for me to eat unhealthy food. Why? Because as soon as I eat it, by definition, it is healthy!

What if, in the same way, we define “sin” as something Jesus never does. It therefore becomes impossible, by definition for Jesus to sin! Why? Because as soon as he does it, by definition, it could no longer be sin. (This is the same justification for Jesus massacring all those Midianites and Amalakites in the Tanakh—since God/Jesus can’t do an immoral act, by definition, those particular genocides could not be immoral.)

As soon as Jesus ate shrimp—it was no longer a sin to eat shrimp. ‘Cause Jesus can’t sin. If Jesus was rude—it couldn’t be a sin.

Frankly, OneSmallStep, what you are seeing in the epistles of Hebrews and 1 Peter, as compared to the Gospels, is a wrestling of a young religion as to the deity of Jesus. Was he a demi-god? Was he always a God who appeared human? Was he a human who became a god? And the authors of the Gospels, writing to their communities, attempted to address that problem. We see the slow elimination of his humanity from Mark to Matthew to John.

By the time we get to 1 Peter, the author has fully embraced the spiritual sinless Jesus of Paul (2 Cor. 5:21) with the earthly Jesus of the Gospels.

OneSmallStep said...

DagoodS,

I have never seen a justification other than one that goes along the lines of "Jesus is sinless, so he can't sin. Therefore, everything he does is sinless." Again, it comes down to a lack of evaluation on the merits of the act itself, and rather evaluating the character of the person involved. It's like that one example you used in the Koran on other Christians, and when they condemned the act, you said it was actually in the Bible, you just switched the names around.

When faced with the act iself, the Christians were appalled. When they learned it was in the Bible, the standards shifted, because it now involved God, and God does no wrong.

That's where a lot of my frustration stems from at the moment. You (general you) cannot tell me you have absolute truth when your entire premise is essentially based on "God did it, so it's not wrong."

**We see the slow elimination of his humanity from Mark to Matthew to John. **

Isn't it more like little humanity in Paul's letters, an insertion of humanity in the Synoptic Gospels, and then the humanity bleeding away (ha! A pun! I'm so funny) as we get to the Gospel of John?

I do wonder what drove the Gospel writers to not write more like the Gospel of John in the first place, given that Paul's letters came first ...

DagoodS said...

That is because we have had it drilled into our heads the gospels were making a theological point. To a certain Christian community.

Imagine a bit of a different tale….what if…?

Paul takes Judasim and combines it with the popular motif of Mysticism, creating Christianity. He takes an actual cultic leader who was killed (Jesus), provides a tale of spiritual redemption to this individual and begins to spread this Judaism/Mysticism throughout the Roman Empire. (My personal jury is still out as to whether Paul started the whole thing, or was just its greatest proponent.) However, because of the combination, Paul provides very few actual human events surrounding Jesus—specifically no sermons. No parables. No statements of any kind (the only quotes of Jesus are directly to Paul.) No miracles. And only the most bare-bones account of the very end of his life.

It may even be deliberately gray.

Christianity is confronted by Jews (“How DARE they subvert our religion!”), but gains ground among the masses. And the Hellenized Jews. It becomes a popular form of Judaism without all the stringent rules. (Like liberal Christianity today.)

Along comes a very bright Greek writer. We will call him Mark. Mark is either a Christian, or is associated enough with Christians to get the general picture. Mark is familiar with at least the Jesus of Paul’s letter to Romans and 1 Corinthians. Mark is also familiar with some of the popular legends of Jesus.

Mark decides to write “One Year In the Life of Jesus” in Greek novel form. A fictionalized history, if you will, incorporating Paul’s Jesus, but more importantly fleshing out (pun intended) some actual stories of Jesus. Mark cleverly uses the Tanakh, either as a subtle slap to the Jews (don’t they know where he really got the story?) or as a signal for the Jewish basis of the tale.

Mark uses Greek form, Greek methods, and literally “creates” the story of Jesus. (Think “Casey at the Bat.” There may have been a Casey, and a strike-out, but the poetic form, and the grand telling of the story clue us in to the fictional nature of the tale.)

Because Christians have been aching for “The Real Jesus,” and due to its storybook form (both the short stories collected, as well as the easy transformation to public performance) the Gospel of Mark becomes popular. Wildly popular.

So popular, in fact, that when Matthew and Luke write their gospels (regardless of whether they were attempting to supplant or supplement Mark), they are forced to use Mark’s form for the basis of the story. ‘Cause everybody, EVERYBODY knows, if you want the story of Jesus—you read Mark.

True, Matthew and Luke tried to clean up Mark, and remove some of the nasty human bits included.

Mark is so popular, that even though 97% of its actual writing is contained within Matthew and Luke, no one would think of excluding it from the Canon! So popular that Papias makes up the basis of “Peter giving the tale to Mark” to defend it being an eyewitness account.

So popular that part of the tale is transmitted to the Johannine community. Now, this community, for an inexplicable reason, was cut-off from the rest of Christianity, either by locale or purpose or some reason. But the Gospel of John was written late, about the time or even later than the Peterine Epistles. Which explains why we are back to the deified (yet human) Jesus.

Imagine if Mark was a novel…

Matthew N. Petersen said...

I didn't read the comments, but I think we shouldn't have a definition of perfection, and judge Jesus with it (for he will fail whatever definition we have) rather we should see Jesus as the definition of perfection. Or if we want to say that Jesus lived up to a "standard" of perfection, that standard is the Father. Jesus was a perfect representation of the Father.

OneSmallStep said...

Matthew,

I tend to think of it like this: we all have internal settings that help us determine if a message is from God. For instance, if you had a vision that told you to kill an innocent five year old who had done nothing wrong, you would conclude that the vision is not from God, because that is neither loving nor just. There's an idea of what loving and just mean, and then are applied to God. Our definition of just includes "no killing innocent five year olds."

If we end up with God defining what justice is, then the definition could easily fall into justice means killing the child is okay, because God said it was just. I don't have a set definition to measure my encounters with God.

Same with perfection -- if I say that Jesus sets the standard of perfection, then perfection can be anything. Jesus could've set some baby on fire, and that would still be perfect.