It’s only valid if Jesus said it…

We’ve been having some interesting discussions on Nick’s blog here.

steph, one of the commenters, made the comment, “But Jesus didn’t talk about a new covenant annulling the laws” intending it as an argument that the Christian teaching of freedom from the law is invalid if Jesus did not explicitly teach it.

This reminded me of a point made by Larry Hurtado in Lord Jesus Christ – Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity:

Thus for example, I do not think it is necessary for Jesus to have thought and spoken of himself in the same terms that his followers thought and spoke of him in the decades subsequent to his crucifixion in order for the convictions of these followers to be treated as valid for Christians today. A good many may disagree, both among those who assert and among those who oppose traditional Christian beliefs. Most Christians will likely think that some degree of continuity between what Jesus thought of himself and what early Christians claimed about him is at least desirable and perhaps necessary for these claims to have religious validity… (p. 9)

Though Hurtado is speaking here about the recognition of Jesus as proper recipient of worship by the church, I think the argument is proper here. The same argument is used to say that if Jesus did not say, “you are no longer under this law” that we still are. Any teaching or revelation offered by a subsequent follower is not valid.

Mentioning my intent to blog this post to a friend, he commented about having a similar discussion on a different topic, abortion. Apparently some people argue that since Jesus never spoke directly on the topic, we have nothing to base any theological understanding on.

What do you think? Does the fact that Jesus himself does not teach something (which is taught elsewhere in the New Testament) lessen its validity?

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About George

I'm interested in theology, languages, translation and various sorts of fermentation.
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16 Responses to It’s only valid if Jesus said it…

  1. Nick Norelli says:

    Not at all. It’s a fairly common argument as well. If you’ve ever discussed something like the deity of Christ with a Muslim, the appeal is always that Jesus never claimed to be God and Paul came along later and said Jesus was God. Of course Jesus has more authority than Paul so we don’t have to take Paul’s word for it. But everything that Jesus said is recorded by others in the NT, Jesus didn’t write it himself. I see no reason why their writings have more authority than Paul’s of James’ or the author of Hebrews.

  2. steph says:

    As a non Christian, I don’t believe this is the correct interpretation of Jesus given his emphasis on the law. However Paul did accommodate Gentiles into the fold without adherence to the law and as Christians believe Paul is inspired, it is reasonable that Christians will interpret Jesus in this way too. Also, as a non-Christian, I see abortion as a moral issue. While I doubt very much that Jesus would have approved of abortion, I have no evidence to support that view. However I am opposed to abortion because it contradicts my own moral instinct.

    You said my statement was “intending it as an argument that the Christian teaching of freedom from the law is invalid if Jesus did not explicitly teach it.” You’ve done this to me before I think – assumed things that I have not said and are not true. I do by no means intend to suggest that your teaching is “invalid”.

  3. George says:

    Sorry I misread your intention. As I read it, that was exactly what I read you to be attempting. Statements like the following led me to believe that would be the end line of this reasoning.

    Did Jesus give you authority to break the law?

    His message wasn’t to you then.

    OK. I believe Jesus’ historical mission was to the Jews and I don’t think he’d be happy with the law being broken in his name.

    I still don’t accept the Pauline interpretation of Jesus’ new covenant as allowing Gentiles to break Jewish law, whereever they may be. I don’t see it in Jesus’ teaching. But I know that Christians do.– my bold added

    As Nick said above, it is quite common as a train of thought. And I disagree with the impression that Christianity is really a “Paul-ianity” where Paul took Jesus’ message, twisted it and got it wrong, and that is what we are left with. Paul was spiritually led by Jesus and an already thriving church to speak the way he did.

    Did ideas become more clear and understanding of the thrust of the message increase over time? I’d say yes. But I do not see a discontinuity between Jesus’ message and Paul’s or James’ or Peter’s.

  4. steph says:

    I still do not consider your teaching as invalid. It is Christianity. There is a difference.

  5. steph says:

    PS. Your argument also is “quite common” as a train of thought among Christians. And I don’t mean this in a derogatory way.

  6. George says:

    Sure. And I appreciate that.

    I guess what I meant by “invalid” is having “discontinuity” with Jesus’ message. And I would say the Pauline teaching has continuity, “validity”. I understand your disagreement.

    I would ask, how would you describe a religious teaching as valid if it is not based in some way on reality/factuality (or the belief that underlying it is fact/reality)? If you think it is a twisting of the original message of Jesus, or not true, then how do you describe it as “valid”? I’m not trying to disagree, I’m trying to understand the thought process/philosophical approach underneath the statement.

  7. steph says:

    It is not invalid. It has legal force. Christianity is a valid religion, so are Islam, Buddhism, Daoism etc.

  8. George says:

    steph: So what would make a religion or religious teaching not valid, in your opinion?

    I am still not clear what you mean by “valid”. I have no idea what “legal force” implies – do you mean it has the right to require belief or acceptance of its teachings in its adherents? Or that it should be respected by all as coherent or reasonable? I’m just not clear what is meant.

    Let me try to ask this in another way.

    If I state that I believe Jesus (not just Paul) does not require us to observe Mosaic law, and you respond that I am misreading Jesus, then how can you still define what I am teaching as valid? If you argue that I am wrong in my contention, then you would seem (to me) to be making a statement about my argument’s validity. Can you explain how you disagree with the content of what I am saying but can still say it is valid?

  9. steph says:

    If you disagree with someone do you think what they say is invalid? I don’t.

  10. George says:

    I could answer that in a couple ways:
    1. Given an argument/statement that has a logical fallacy I can identify, I would both disagree with the argument and say it is invalid. 2. Given an argument/statement that has a presupposition that I identify as wrong, the outcome could still be true. However, I would both state that the argument based on the presupposition is wrong and invalid as proof/reason to accept the outcome as valid. In this case, I might be able to say that the person’s end statement of the argument is valid. 3. Given mutually exclusive yet internally consistent outcomes based on different suppositions and/or arguments, I would argue that only one of the outcomes can be valid (or none). An argument against one ought not to be used alone as support for another, unless it can be determined that no other outcomes can exist (i.e. you have the full set of conceivable outcomes).

    Christianity makes a number of claims based on a set of axioms about who God is, what man is, etc. So do Islam and Judaism, not to mention every other world religion and philosophical system. Though there are certainly similarities, there are areas of irreconcilable difference. In those areas, if you determine a logical fallacy or faulty presupposition, it is entirely proper to call the statement invalid. (the accuracy of the assessment is beyond the point).

    To hold that someone’s argument is wrong yet still valid is not meaningful in my opinion. It may be politically correct and even “ecumenical” – but I don’t find it very helpful.

    So, no, I disagree with you about Jesus’ intentions and do not consider your contentions valid or accurate. I have no problem discussing your thoughts and conclusions, but that does not mean I must hold them as equally valid. Your argument itself I have no issue with. Given your presupposition I might come to a similar conclusion. However, the presupposition I take you to have (Jesus’ specific emphasis on the law – which you state but do not identify, so I am having to read into your contention to determine) I disagree with. And your conclusions based on this presupposition are thereby called into question. They might be valid, but I could not say they are valid.

    Obviously, I work from a belief in “objective” reality – and my view of validity is closely related to whether something is based on or reconcilable to that reality. Not that that means “observable” or “testable” in the sense science often uses the term. But verifiable from the proper vantage point (I would contend, God’s).

    I think there is a logical fallacy in your belief that all the mentioned religions are “valid”. They may individually be internally consistent – that usage of valid might have some merit. But If you then tried to compare them, I would find one or none of them to be valid (as they make irreconcilable claims) in an objective sense. They can’t all teach different things and be correct – based on reality – valid.

  11. George says:

    And I don’t mean to imply that you do not believe in objective reality, only to state validity’s relationship to that reality in my own thinking.

  12. steph says:

    You are wrong to suggest that I say that it is only valid if Jesus said it. He didn’t say it, no, but the argument was wider than that and I alluded to it in Nick’s comments. Given Jesus’ adherence to the written law and disputes with opponents over their expansions which compromised life and other things, the argument is that his bringing back people to God (return to God the Aramaic rendering of repent) included the written law.

  13. George says:

    Fine, and I already apologized for misreading your intention.

    This was somewhat of an inductive post, going from your original statement to a more widespread conception – the post title was not aimed at you specifically, but rather at the text from Lord Jesus Christ.

    I still disagree with your argument – that Jesus’ message was to bring people back to the written law. I think Jesus wanted to bring people back to God – complete agreement. His comments about the law are put in a form to point out the way that God’s law had been twisted – taught and enforced but the real heart of the law denied. The real issue was helping a people who claimed to adhere to the law but were actually lawbreakers come to grips with their hypocrisy.

    Jesus, in a number of ways and on his own authority, changes the focus of the law. He redefined how people see Sabbath regulation. He disallowed oath-taking (which was perfectly legal by the law). He stressed a law beneath the law – hatred underneath murder, lust underneath adultery, etc. He uses the law to teach, but his point is not, “obey the law”. The people he is confronting already say that they do. Jesus says, “Your observance is a sham – worthless and unimpressive to God.” The same scriptural material feeds the discussion, but the meaning is very different.

    Matthew 19:16-22 clarifies the point. Jesus is asked what must be done to receive eternal life. His initial response is, “obey the law” – but in context we see that Jesus knows this man will justify himself based on his behavior. When pressed further, Jesus shares with the man that if he gives everything to the poor, he will receive what he seeks. The man goes away dejected, because giving his possessions away is too high a cost. It is clear that legal observance wasn’t the focus here. Love, compassion and faithfulness were.

    And even if Jesus was trying to return the nation to proper legal observance, that does not suggest that he would have required it of Gentiles. Indeed, when speaking to centurions and the like he does not criticize professions or backgrounds or legal observance, rather he challenges them to live in a way that lines up with God’s character, with no mention of the law. In fact, they are often viewed positively in contrast to the Jews themselves.

    Matthew 8:5-13 is a great example. In that passage, Jesus even speaks of the Gentiles joining Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the feast in heaven. Interestingly, all of these had a relationship with God predating the law.

  14. steph says:

    I think you misunderstand Jewish Law. He didn’t, for a start, redefine the Sabbath. I don’t really see the point of continuing this discussion but if you care to look out for it, James Crossley has a very in depth book on the Law due out in the very near future.

  15. George says:

    Understandable, and we don’t have to agree at the end of the day (BTW, I did not say he “redefined the Sabbath”).

    I won’t force you to continue the discussion, but I was really hoping you would share more of the “why” behind your statements, as I had tried to share some of the “whys” to my own thoughts. Some of the questions that I asked about your thought process and approach still stand out to me as unanswered.

    Thanks for the book reference. I’ve not heard of James Crossley. I’ll have to look him up.

  16. steph says:

    You said “He redefined how people see Sabbath regulation.” He didn’t – he criticised the Pharisees expansion of Jewish written law. Maurice Casey has also written on these matters. Some oaths were not legal by the law. I couldn’t imagine how you could force me to do anything. I think I have answered your interrogation. I would not dream of psycho-analysing you so I reject you doing it to me.

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