I spoke today on Jesus from the "Earth Up" at the Lausanne Conferecne on Jewish Evangelism. The goal was to introduce a fresh way to do Jewish Evangelism, besides dealing with Jesus as divine from John or the use of the Old Testament in the New. The presentation went very well, stimulating a great deal of discussion. I was pleased.
I spoke today on Jesus from the "Earth Up" at the Lausanne Conferecne on Jewish Evangelism. The goal was to introduce a fresh way to do Jewish Evangelism, besides dealing with Jesus as divine from John or the use of the Old Testament in the New. The presentation went very well, stimulating a great deal of discussion. I was pleased. Attached is the beginning of the paper for the presentation, followed by a picture of the presentation. So the paper begins:
One of the hardest elements of Jewish evangelism is to help Jews see how Jesus is related to God uniquely as Son and shares in divine authority and glory. This is perceived to be an affront to the unique Glory of God. Traditionally believers have made the argument in one of two ways: (1) by appealing to texts from the Jewish Scripture that point in this direction or (2) to cite the revelation of the New Testament where Jesus is identified with God. John 1:1, 14 are probably the clearest examples of this second category
What I would like to do in this short paper is to suggest that a third route exists that moves more gradually to this kind of a conclusion. It is to pay attention to how the Synoptic gospels are written as narrative. It also brings the listener along one step at a time.
It is my firm belief that for the most part the first three gospels tell the story of Jesus from earth up. They start with categories those in the first century (as well as us) could and can relate to and then pushes the envelope to have us see eventually who Jesus really is. Along the way, there are hints that more is to come, but the narrative of Jesus’ ministry gradually unfolds the fullness of his person.
Consider how each gospel starts. Mark starts simply with John the Baptist. Matthew and Luke do have an exceptional Virgin Birth, but exactly what that means about Jesus is not emphasized, even in the rest of the New Testament. Virgin Birth is the type of act that can only be fully appreciated once the other elements of Jesus’ ministry are in place. In other words, it assumes a great deal of other things are also in place before all the points made from it can be made. In our evangelism we often leap through all of these theological points in a single bound, leaving the listener in its wake.
What I wish to do in the rest of this paper, which serves only as an introduction because of time constraints for me, is to present two snippets of material to introduce this idea for discussion. The two snippets I am including with this brief introduction are pieces from two of my books. One is from Jesus according to Scripture. The other is from Blasphemy and Exaltation in Judaism and the Examination of the Christ. The first explains the idea. The second portion illustrates it while showing how serious Jewish background study can help us conceptualize what is taking place, putting us in a place to explain these theological moves one step at a time. As I already noted the paper here is simply to introduce an idea that I think gives a fresh way into discussion with Jews about Jesus.
The first set of material comes from Jesus according to Scripture. It simply sets up the contrast between John and the Synoptics and how each tells the story from heaven down (for John) and the earth up (for the Synoptics). It introduces the concept. This material simply points to reading each gospel with the perspective it brings to the description. It suggests not mixing in the other gospel stories too greatly into that portrait. It is the second paragraph that is most important here.
The second set of material from Blasphemy shows the value of using Jewish background material carefully to understand key claim in Jesus’ life. It illustrates the idea. So we turn to the basic concept.
1. Reading Jesus from the Earth Up Versus Heaven Down: The Synoptics and John
Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those without the law. But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:22-24)
This apostolic summary of Jesus’ life presents all the key elements about Jesus. He was a man attested by God as the consummate representative of what God is all about. That attestation came through a ministry rich with demonstrations that God stood behind him and his teaching. That teaching brought Jesus to his death under the Romans at the instigation of some in Is¬rael. But death was a weak opponent, because God stood behind him. Exalta¬tion followed in a resurrection. What followed the empty tomb revealed the importance and authority of this one who is unique in history.
The story of this ministry is told not once, but four times in Scripture. Three of those stories—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—share the same basic nar¬rative line, portraying Jesus from his start on earth, even though each one be¬gins with a different emphasis. They are rightly described as "synoptics," ac¬counts that look at things together. The fourth story, John, stands alone at the start by highlighting that Jesus, the Word become flesh, was sent from above. So we examine the story first from the earth up, before turning our attention to how John supplements that account.
We seek to read the story with its basic narrative lines intact. This way, its contribution can be noted both internally to that Gospel and in terms of what it shares with its parallels. This combination of reading vertically through a Gospel while paying attention to reading horizontally across the Gospels helps us gain fresh insight into the canonical portrayal of Jesus’ life and ministry, truly leaving in place the four angles the Scripture gives to us about Jesus. Thus, this approach is not like a harmony, which seeks to reconstruct a chronological flow to Jesus’ ministry or to merely tell one story from one perspective. Nor is it like a typical "life of Christ," which often builds off of a harmony. Rather, we seek to stay within the various narrative lines that each Gospel sets for us without claiming that we necessarily are proceeding chronologically or from one perspective alone. What such a reading does permit is a telling of the story of Jesus in an unfolding kind of way, not giving the full story until the full story is told. This kind of approach can work well in Bible study settings or in discussions about how the gospels make their argument for Jesus’ person and work.
In Jewish evangelism we often make connections that are hard for Jews to accept. Arguing through the Jewish background material with these kinds of backgrounds in mind and reading the gospels from the earth up disciplines and teaches us how to make the argument for Jesus a step at a time. In my Jesus according to Scripture I actually walk through all the gospel materials this way. In the future I will be presenting the synthetic steps that are a part of such an “earth up” reading. The goal here is not to replace John’s gospel and its “heaven down” reading, but to complement it and give us another angle from which to present Jesus. With this introduction to the concept in place, let us consider one key example and place it in its larger historical context.
Picture of My Addressing the Conference: