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7. IS JESUS’ RELATIONSHIP TO GOD IN MT. xi. 27 THE SAME AS IN JN.?
It would be still more important if we could find a second passage in the Synoptics fitted to confirm the story of Jn. We mean such confirmation as would relate not merely to one particular point, such as the journeys of Jesus to Jerusalem, but to the whole character of Jesus’ discourses. We have in mind Mt. xi. 27: “All things have been delivered unto me of my Father, and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither (doth any know) the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.” These words seem certainly to be spoken quite in the spirit of the Fourth Gospel, which in x. 14 f., for instance, says (“I am the good shepherd; and I know mine own, and mine own know me), even as the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father.” In Jn. this mutual knowledge must be understood in the sense that Jesus had from 62eternity existed with God in heaven before he came down to earth.
Now it is certainly remarkable that in the Synoptics only this one saying can be found which gives expression to this thought, and might be compared to the discourses of Jesus in Jn. If, as is claimed, it really implies confirmation of these, again all that we get is a new puzzle as regards the Synoptics: why in these does Jesus not speak in this way more often, instead of talking everywhere else in such an entirely different way? This consideration obliges us to re-examine the utterance more closely.
This also originally read quite differently. All ecclesiastical and heretical writers of the second century, who give us any information about this passage, entirely or in part support the following version: “All things have been delivered unto me of my Father, and no one hath known the Father, save the Son, neither the Son save the Father, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.”
Even the Church Father, Irenaeus, about A.D. 185, who warmly upbraids a Christian sect for making use of this version, follows it several times in his writings; it must therefore have really been found in his own Bible. As compared with it, the version which we now have in the Bible cannot under any circumstances claim the preference. It is true that our oldest copies of the Bible contain it, but they are about two centuries later than the authorities we have mentioned. And no plausible reason can be given why the version current in the second century should be due to a deliberate change on the part of a Christian sect; on the other hand, since the one form must have arisen through an alteration of the other, it is very conceivable that it is the text in our present Bible which has resulted from a change, because, we may suppose, the writer was 63anxious to make the language resemble more closely Jesus style of preaching in Jn.
Is the difference so great then? At first sight it might seem slight. But that is a very wrong impression. While we read, “No one knoweth the Son . . . the Father,” a mutual knowledge from eternity may be meant, and, as we said just now, this is one of the ideas of the Fourth Gospel. When, however, we read, “no one hath known,” a definite point of time is fixed at which the knowledge first began; and when Jesus goes on to say of himself, “no one has known the Father but the Son,” it is clear that the knowledge of the Father cannot have commenced before some definite date in his earthly life, since the Synoptics are not aware that Jesus existed in heaven before he lived on earth. Nevertheless, if the words in the first place were, “no one hath known the Son save the Father,” it would still be possible that at any rate the knowledge on the part of God was present from eternity, and this would be in agreement with the style of thought in the Fourth Gospel. But a second important peculiarity in the oldest version is found in this very fact that the first place is assigned to the clause, “No one hath known the Father save the Son,” and that the other clause follows, “No one hath known the Son, save the Father.” And since the knowledge spoken of first was not gained earlier than during the earthly life of Jesus, we cannot suppose that the knowledge referred to in the second clause belongs to an earlier date.
The meaning is really quite simple: Jesus alone has acquired the knowledge that God is not a Lord who is jealous for his own honour, and cannot be approached by men, but is a loving Father. This of itself means that he can feel himself to be a son of God. It is a feeling of his own, however, which no one so far has realised—none of his hearers, 64but God alone. This second part of the thought is very well expressed in Lk. (x. 22) by the clause: “no one knows (more correctly, has known) who the son is,” that is to say, that I am he. Finally, with this agrees very well the conclusion in Mt. and Lk., “and to whom the son will reveal it.” In the usual version of the saying, the immediately preceding words are: “no one knows the Father, but the son.” What the latter will reveal is thus the deeper nature of God, and, understood in the spirit of the Fourth Gospel, the meaning might be that Jesus acquired the knowledge during his pre-existence in heaven. But, according to the correct version, the immediately preceding words are, “no one has known the son, but the Father,” and here the following words mean, “and he to whom I myself am willing to reveal that I am that son; you have all failed as yet to recognise this, I myself must tell you of it.”
Strictly speaking, when the knowledge that God is the Father dawns upon any man, he can feel that he himself is His son; this knowledge Jesus wished to bring to all, and said, “blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the sons of God,” “love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you, that ye may be sons of your Father which is in heaven” (Mt. v. 9, 44 f.). He used the expression “sons of God,” and so the same expression as he applied to himself. Instead of this, Jn. continually uses of men—and he is the first to do so—the phrase “children of God,” reserving the expression “Son of God” for Jesus alone, and Luther, without any justification, has used it also in Mt. and in other places where the original has “sons.”44Paul interchanges “sons” and “children” without any distinction. Luther renders only the Singular by “son” (Heb. xii. 5-7; Rev. xxi. 7), the Plural by “sons” only in the phrase “sons and daughters” (2 Cor. vi. 18). In Gal. iv. 7 he arbitrarily changes the Singular into the Plural in order to be able to use the term “children.” The Authorised English Version has, like Luther, son for the Singular, but also in Gal. iv. 7. For the Plural it has in half the cases sons (Rom. viii. 14, 19; Gal. iv. 6; Heb. ii. 10, xii. 7 f.; besides 2 Cor. vi. 18), but in the other half, like Luther, children (Mt. v. 9, 45; Lk. vi. 35, xx. 36; Rom. ix. 26; Gal. iii. 26; Heb. xii. 5). The Revised Version everywhere translates correctly son or sons. It is quite clear that, in view of what we have 65said, Jesus cannot have called himself Son of God in a sense that only applies to himself, on the ground, for instance, that he proceeded from God in a manner different from that in which human beings come into existence at their birth; he can only have done so in a sense in which all men can become what he was, that is to say, sons of God who are equally ready to obey absolutely the Father in heaven, but at the same time rely upon His love, just as a human son relies upon the love of his human father. If we of to-day wish to express the sense in which Jesus called himself Son of God in a way that cannot be misunderstood, we must do the reverse of what Jn. has done—use the other expression and say that Jesus felt himself to be a child of God.
Turning again to Mt. xi. 27, we must remember that at this time Jesus alone possessed the knowledge that God is a loving Father. This made him singular and raised him above other men. Thus the thought of being God’s son made him feel in addition that he was sent by God to reveal this knowledge to his brethren. This is the meaning of the initial words of the saying: “all things have been delivered to me of my Father.” It does not imply any super human power, as in the saying (which, it is almost generally agreed, was not spoken by Jesus), “all power is given to me in heaven and upon earth” (Mt. xxviii. 18). Here the word “power” does occur in the passage, but not in the text under consideration. What is delivered to Jesus, 66in our passage, we must gather simply from the context; on the evidence of the saying itself, it is the knowledge that we can regard God as our Father. In agreement with this is the fact that according to xi. 25 it must be something which was hidden from the wise and revealed to the simple, and according to xi. 28-30 something which was quite different from the yoke of the Jewish Law under which the weary and heavy-laden groaned, while Jesus yoke was easy and his burden light, and was able to refresh the soul because it consisted simply in doing the will of God gladly and in relying upon His love.
Are all these thoughts similar to those found in the Fourth Gospel? Far from it. On the contrary, no utterance harmonises with the spirit of Jesus’ discourses in the Synoptics so well as the one we have been considering if we hold fast to its original language. In fact, it is precisely this that enables us for the first time to under stand fully how Jesus came to be what he was according to the Synoptics; at first he was quite simply a man who in the course of his mental development realised that he had a Father in heaven; next he became one who felt himself called by this Father of his to be a leader, sent to the people, because he found that he stood quite alone in having this knowledge, and yet could not be silent about it; and from this it was easy to take a further step and to feel obliged to regard himself as that highest messenger sent by God, whom his people and his age thought of as the one who had been long promised, as the Messiah.67
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