St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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Ten Theses on the Gospels

1. The Centrality of the Resurrection is demonstrated by the fact that each of the gospels gives the lion’s share of its contents to the last week of Christ’s life, and focuses on the death and resurrection as the key notes. This is the kerygmatic proclamation that forms the basis around which the gospels will eventually be constructed, with the addition of parabolic and ethical teaching.

2. The Crucial nature of the Cross: Jesus did not die an accidental death, but one that was inflicted on him because of his ministry of love, compassion, healing, and non-violence. The three synoptic passion “prophecies” also point to this truth. As an aside, all of the historic Eucharistic prayers stress the voluntary nature of the passion; namely, that Jesus entered into this with full awareness of the consequences. There is no denying that there was mounting opposition to his ministry on the part of both the religious authorities (though the common people “heard him gladly”) and the Roman government.

3. The Christ of Faith is, in large part, the Jesus of history. This is particularly true if we admit the historical basis for the theologically subtler Gospel of John, a basis that has become more recognized as the years have gone by. Originally John was through to be principally a theological construction, but modern scholarship pays more attention to its historical notes than did previous generations. Though the church needed centuries to frame its conviction about Jesus as “fully human and fully God,” because of the obvious problems with such a paradoxical, indeed contradictory, statement, nonetheless the Gospels reflect, on one hand, one whose mission is firmly grounded in his self-awareness as a special “Son of God,” “Son of David,” and “son of man;” and, on the other hand, a community which struggled mightily to understand who he could be, so different did he appear from his contemporaries, including many of the spiritual teachers among whom he is located.

4. Jesus’ full humanity includes his Jewishness:
a. Kosher laws – he was observant of the food restrictions
b. Scriptural grounding – he quotes from Psalms, Genesis, Isaiah, and other Old Testament books
c. Religious observance – he kept the fasts and festivals, as is evident throughout the three years of his ministry
d. Understanding of God – Abba, the Father of Israel, One God who is to be worshipped and serve through observance of the commandments.

5. Legendary elements added to the gospel were intended to contribute to, not detract from or cast suspicion upon, faith. Stories of healing and nature miracles were attributed to other teachers and luminaries both before and after the time of Jesus, and their function – whatever we make of their factuality – is to demonstrate the special nature of the person about whom they were told.

6. Jesus fits into his historical milieu and yet remains in some ways separate from it. He fits into a setting that included Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, Priests and scribes, but he is not identifiable completely with any of them. The closest comparison group is the Pharisees, who were interpreters of the law in order to make it available to common people; they were not aimed at making it more difficult, despite our prejudices.

7. The evangelists are not simply recorders but theologians who used their resources wisely and judiciously.

8. Synoptics are still best viewed on the basis of the two-source hypothesis: MK and Q are the core with special M and L as the additional resources. The only real alternative is to argue MT as primary with MK as a judicious reduction, then comes LK with its special material. This yields another variation but leaves unexplained the overlaps in a hypothetical Q.

9. The birth narratives serve a peculiar theological function for MT and LK (which is different in each case), but they are clearly additions to the main texts that would be complete without them, as is obvious from the basic structure of MK. Emphasis on the birth of Jesus is absent from JN (who has moved to a theological interpretation of his presence amidst humanity) and the writings of Paul and Peter.

10. The motif of passion is essential to the gospel story because
a. it offers and builds links to key stories and motifs perceived to be messianic during the historic time of Jesus’ life; and
b. it provides the rationale for the identification of Jesus as the suffering servant, an individual rather than the nation of Israel.
However, we must not allow the motif to become dominant lest we create a theology that valorizes violence. The point of the passion is that it is the final stage in a process of sacrifice that is no longer essential in the forms previously known (animals, vegetables, and children).

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