Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 30 September 2023

Colin Coward Unadulterated Love Why is it so difficult to talk honestly about the humanity of Jesus?

Neil Elliot NumbersMatters F’book, YouTube, Zoom, and Bums on Pews
Neil Elliot is the Statistics and Research officer for the Anglican Church of Canada.

Augustine Tanner-Ihm ViaMedia.News A Plentiful Harvest: Growth in Inclusive Churches

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Tim Chesterton
8 months ago

Thanks to Neil Elliot for an excellent article.

Vivienne
Vivienne
8 months ago

Robinson’s The Human Face of God changed my life.

Tim Chesterton
8 months ago

I don’t think Susan Howatch will mind if you name her, Colin!

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
8 months ago

Colin Coward’s title question is an excellent one. Here in the USA a few decades ago, a movie based on the novel The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis was heavily boycotted by conservative Roman Catholic and Protestant groups because, as I understand it, the movie (and presumably the novel) dared to portray Jesus of Nazareth, as he was dying on the cross, dreaming/fantasizing/hallucinating about how his life might have been different, how he might have married and had children — before he rejects the idea right before he dies. So the mere idea of Jesus of Nazareth thinking… Read more »

Last edited 8 months ago by peterpi - Peter Gross
Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
8 months ago

I think both Colin and Peter are right. It is necessary to take Jesus’ humanity seriously, and that entails taking his sexuality seriously. People will have many different takes on this, but we need to be able to discuss it and share our varying insights. For myself, I agree with Peter that “In Judaism, then as now, deciding to be celibate is outside the norm”. But celibacy did exist as a religious concept. From my understanding of those times, Householders and Priests could be expected to enjoy a full and active marriage and sex life except when the purity laws… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Simon Dawson
8 months ago

Thank you, Simon, for your commentary. I appreciate your insights, especially in regarding Jesus of Nazareth and John the Baptist as being wandering holy men. As far as celibacy is concerned, my understanding is that in the immediate time after Jesus of Nazareth’s execution and the profound change in Jesus’ disciples (experienced as his resurrection), his disciples were so convinced of Jesus of Nazareth returning quickly and the coming of the Kingdom being imminent, they felt producing more children was unnecessary, so celibacy was preferred, with sex within marriage tolerable for those who couldn’t/wouldn’t be celibate. Regardless, the early Church’s… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
8 months ago

Peter, Thanks for your comment. Personally I wonder if the post resurrection celibacy argument you offer was a post event explanation by Christian scholars looking back. Might we get a better (or at least different, or supplementary) view by looking at contemporary but non-Christian sources). My concern about so much Christian scholarship is that people only read Christian texts (and, since Geza Vermez, Jewish texts). But Palestine and the early church grew in a multi-cultural area, and I think much can be learned by examining contemporary texts from different cultures which can challenge orthodox Christian teachings from a few centuries… Read more »

Last edited 8 months ago by Simon Dawson
Kate Keates
Kate Keates
Reply to  Simon Dawson
8 months ago

I find your argument very plausible, Simon. We do have one key piece of evidence: the Gospels don’t say much about sex with the concomitant presumption that Jesus Himself didn’t say much about sex. We get some patriarchy from the Pauline Gospels but that feels out of place, almost as if there was a vacuum into which Paul inserted his own cultural, rather than strictly Christian, beliefs. There would seem to be two leading possibilities: either Jesus’s teaching about sex was so outré that the Gospel writers suppressed it, or his teaching was so normal for the time that nobody… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Kate Keates
8 months ago

“almost as if there was a vacuum into which Paul inserted his own cultural, rather than strictly Christian, beliefs.” Bingo! In my opinion. There was something about Paul that he was deeply ashamed of, according to the way I read certain passages in Paul’s letters and articles I have read about Paul. It goes beyond “we are all human and fallible”, it was something deeply personal. And despite his conversion experience, despite his finding redemption or wholeness in belief of a resurrected Jesus, it’s something that doesn’t completely go away for him. People have come up with all sorts of… Read more »

Kate Keates
Kate Keates
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
8 months ago

“To believe that they all transcribed that revelation flawlessly, like a human typewriter or word processor, is nonsense.” To my mind, it’s a belief which also conflicts with Scripture. In Deuteronomy 5, The Lord writes the Ten Commandments on stone tablets. Pretty obviously that’s the gold standard of Biblical inerrancy: if the Lord wants us to be 100% certain then He transcribes it on stone. The next step down is a set of laws which we are told Moses transcribed as they were dictated to him by God, or in oral tradition the whole of the Torah. Everything else is… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Kate Keates
8 months ago

Pauline Gospels?

Kate Keates
Kate Keates
Reply to  Janet Fife
8 months ago

Typo. Sorry.

(I am rather unwell at the moment and my ability to concentrate is below par.)

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Kate Keates
8 months ago

Sorry you’re unwell. Hope you soon feel better.

WYH
WYH
Reply to  Kate Keates
8 months ago

Kate, Take time to look after your health and well-being.

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
8 months ago

Another discerning and challenging article from Colin Coward. With regard to book lists, one I would champion is, Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine, by late Jewish American literary critic, Harold Bloom. Others here are no doubt familiar with it; but I’ve attached a snippet from a NYT review with link. (I am on my second read) Bloom writes about the Christian misreading of the Hebrew bible, that no text is a fulfillment of an earlier text, Yahweh as the “man-God” who is marginalized in the New Testament as the distant ‘father’ God in heaven, and the distinction between the… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Rod Gillis
8 months ago

Thank you, Rod Gillis. I will definitely look up “Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine”. As a Jew, I found myself cheering practically every sentence in your final quoted paragraph. And I definitely agree that, regarding the Torah (Five Books of Moses) or Tanach (the Jewish Scriptures), no text (or person) is a fulfilment of an earlier text. One may as well talk about King or Queen or Prime Minister X being a fulfilment of the Magna Carta or some other part of the British Constitution. I have long believed in the Jesus of Nazareth of the Gospels, who I… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
8 months ago

I think you might enjoy Bloom; but be prepared to be challenged. I certainly was. Here is one of my favorite of Bloom’s assertions from, Names Divine: ” But I am moved to reject the idealized modes of interpretation that triumph has stimulated, from early typology on to the revival of figura by Erich Auerbach and the Blakean Great Code of Northrop Frye. No text, secular or religious, fulfills another text, and all who insist otherwise merely homogenize literature. I doubt finally that much else is relevant to a strong reader who is not dominated by extraliterary persuasions and conviction”.… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Rod Gillis
8 months ago

John’s Gospel is the most overtly theological of all the Gospels and was written last. He starts off with a bang in his first few verses, deliberately imitating Genesis 1:1, and I admire 1:9-14. Here is a man (John, the writer of the Gospel) who was transformed by his experience with Jesus of Nazareth. But I don’t like what I call John’s permutation-and-combination style of writing, where he states something, and then rearranges it and says it again, sometimes more than once. He does that throughout his Gospel, and it frustrates me. Just make your point and move on. Maybe… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
8 months ago

Bloom’s chapter seven of, Names Divine, is titled, The Gospel of John. Again, I think you would find it of great interest. There Bloom observes: “A Jewish reader with even the slightest sense of Jewish history feels threatened when reading John 18: 28-19:16. I do not think that this feeling has anything to to do with the supposed pathos or problematic literary power of the text. There is a wrongness about Jesus saying, ‘If my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews’ (18:36). it implies that Jesus is… Read more »

David Keen
David Keen
8 months ago

Colin Coward writes “Here are a two questions (amongst many) that are often too difficult to think and write about publicly in today’s Church of England. Why is it so difficult to represent Jesus as a women, a gay man, a lesbian, black, brown, yellow?” (There’s a fairly straightforward answer to that: ‘because he wasn’t’.) and then decries ‘the development of the person of Jesus of Nazareth as a symbol that is used to dominate and manipulate’ Unfortunately, if we abstract Jesus from his real existence in history and project our own agenda onto him, that is exactly what we… Read more »

Pat ONeill
Pat ONeill
Reply to  David Keen
8 months ago

“If your conviction is that Jesus words and actions are lost to us….”

Let me put this way: Not lost but only available through material that was finalized decades (nearly a century in come cases) after his death. If you were researching the life of a man of the 18th Century, would you rely principally on documents dating from the 19th Century? Would you accept as truth unverifiable stories handed down by word of mouth, originating with who or what knows?

Sam Norton
Reply to  Pat ONeill
8 months ago

I believe it is now accepted that oral tradition is much more veridically faithful than mid-20th Century (secular) academia believed; so that anachronistic challenge has lost its bite.

Pat ONeill
Pat ONeill
Reply to  Sam Norton
8 months ago

But this is oral tradition filtered through centuries of edited written versions, of error-filled hand-copying, of political tinkering with theological concepts. Once Christianity became the official religion of empire, its “canon” was subject to secular alteration.

Anglican Priest
Anglican Priest
Reply to  Pat ONeill
8 months ago

These assertions are stated like laws of gravity. They are assertions from a non-specialist in areas in which scholars spend the entirety of their careers. ‘Error-filled hand copying’ — have a look at David Trobisch, The First Edition of the New Testament. Erstwhile Professor of NT at Heidelberg and Yale. A man who has handled every known manuscript of the NT. See as well his The Pauline Letter Collection. There are some superb treatments in this area by highly qualified scholars.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Anglican Priest
8 months ago

I can’t claim to be a NT scholar but I found Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses to be a real eye-opener.

Pat ONeill
Pat ONeill
Reply to  Anglican Priest
8 months ago

“First edition of the New Testament”….which was then copied (by hand) innumerable times before the church fathers codified the canon around 400 CE.

Anglican Priest
Anglican Priest
Reply to  Pat ONeill
8 months ago

It is the title of a book by the author.

Who has expertise in all subsequent manuscripts.

Last edited 8 months ago by Anglican Priest
Anglican Priest
Anglican Priest
Reply to  Pat ONeill
8 months ago

My colleague at St Andrews. I reviewed the book somewhere. Of those ‘questing for historical Jesus’ it is a different angle of vision than the popular NT Wright. God Crucified is more conceptually rich, in my view. I have my own take in Convergences (2020) where I compare the work on Jesus by Ratzinger/Benedict and BS Childs, who otherwise share commitments to ‘canon’, history of interpretation, and the centrality of scripture (post Vatican II).

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  David Keen
8 months ago

What you really mean is that Jesus should be represented as an evangelical.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  FrDavid H
8 months ago

Actually David doesn’t mean that, nor do any of his words touch on evangelical themes at all.

Rev Colin C Coward
Reply to  David Keen
8 months ago

You prove my case, David, by inventing your own accusations against me. I do not believe Jesus’ words and actions are lost to us, I do not believe and did not write that the Gospels are a work of fiction. On the other hand, I do project onto Jesus what I want him to stand for, or at least, I have strong convictions from my reading of the Gospels as to the kind of human Jesus was, recognising that subsequently, later Christians added their own projections. I do believe that much of what of what we, all of us, project… Read more »

Anglican Priest
Anglican Priest
Reply to  David Keen
8 months ago

I think the best presentation of the humanity of Jesus can be found in the Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. He takes as his guide the Gospels and NT texts about Jesus. The scriptural focus brings Jesus close to his followers. Life changing presentation of ‘the scriptural Christ’ (as John Behr speaks of it). It is only since the 19th century that people began speaking of ‘Jesus’ as someone abstracted from the words preserved about him, with the rise of historicism in the modern West.

Last edited 8 months ago by Anglican Priest
David Hawkins
David Hawkins
Reply to  David Keen
8 months ago

For most of the existence of the Western Church we did “abstract Jesus from his real existence in history and project our own agenda onto him” by portraying Jesus as a white European.

Anglican Priest
Anglican Priest
Reply to  David Hawkins
8 months ago

Or, we didn’t. The church Fathers were African, Antiochene, Byzantine, and for most of the Church, even in the West, they remained pivotal interpreters. Why, even Anglicans like Lancelot Andrewes turned to them against what they saw were misrepresentations of Jesus by the late mediaeval Church. Spend an hour in the Louvre wing on the Descent from the Cross, or the Annunciation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and you will not see artists showing Jesus as a “white European” — another modern cliche. And you won’t see them interested in orgasms, masturbation, unbridled sexual desire. For that you go to the Baal Cycle,… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  David Keen
8 months ago

We seem comfortable enough to represent Jesus as a pale white man, although he was a Middle Easterner who, spending much of his time outdoors, would have have been deeply tanned. There’s an argument for representing Jesus sometimes as like ourselves – black, Asian, Caucasian, female, gay, etc. – because as ‘the second Adam’ he does represent all humanity. But we need also to remember that in his earthly life he was a Jew from Israel. I once returned from Sunday school telling how my teacher had said, of some topic or other (probably dancing or going to movies): ‘can… Read more »

Matthew Tomlinson
Matthew Tomlinson
Reply to  Janet Fife
8 months ago

He was a Jew from Galilee. There was no such place as Israel in his day.

Pat ONeill
Pat ONeill
Reply to  Matthew Tomlinson
8 months ago

Historically, to the Jews, Galilee was part of the Kingdom of Israel.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Matthew Tomlinson
8 months ago

But there was definitely a people called Israel, and Jesus refers to them in the gospels.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
8 months ago

Thank you, Pat and Tim, that was what I meant.

Anglican Priest
Anglican Priest
8 months ago

For the humanity of Jesus, I recommend the exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. First-rate encounter with the compassionate, scriptural Jesus.There is an excellent volume by Michael Hanson, S.J., The First Spiritual Exercises.

Anglican Priest
Anglican Priest
8 months ago

There have been three scholarly ‘quests of the historical Jesus’ since the days of Schweitzer. That there is unlikely to be a 4th signals that the methods for creating a ‘Jesus without reception’ have been exhausted. So, for those seeking a maximal portrait in synch with the NT ‘way the words go’ you have a choice on one end (NT Wright, for example), and its minimalist option on the other. What this article proposes is something like the ‘Jesus of my imagination based upon my own interests in sexuality, masturbation, orgasms, etc’. One may suppose it is impossible to evaluate… Read more »

Last edited 8 months ago by Anglican Priest
John Davies
John Davies
8 months ago

A lot here to think about on a sleepy Monday morning! Even so, I find Colin’s comments very interesting, even though I know we’re coming at it from different angles. On a very simple basis, long, long ago I realised that if Jesus was fully human (as well as fully divine) then his mortal body had to work in exactly the same way mine does – and the scriptures do make it clear he could feel mortal needs such as hunger and thirst. Ipso facto, he also had to have sexual drives and desires. Otherwise he could not be my… Read more »

Jo B
Jo B
Reply to  John Davies
8 months ago

One thing I would caution from what you said is that I think we need to be careful in assuming that Jesus shared all our drives when not all of us share the same drives. There are now plenty of folk who identify as “asexual”, reporting that they do not feel sexual attraction, and it would not make Jesus less human were he among them. Conversely there seems to be evidence that, by nature or nurture, some people have “addictive personalities” that make them more susceptible to addictions and hence prone to the sins that accompany them. I would hesitate… Read more »

John Davies
John Davies
Reply to  Jo B
8 months ago

Well, I said it was a lot to think about, Jo. My personal faith is very simple, and practical. Christ, according to the scriptures, was tempted in every way we are, which gives the devil quite a lot of scope. I can only speak for myself, and my temptations on this subject – I’ve never been tempted to want a homosexual relationship, for example – tempted to steal, commit ‘straight’ sexual sins, lie, etc yes, so to me its essential for Jesus to have known such pressures and successfully overcome them. But then one of my former mentors, commenting on… Read more »

Jo B
Jo B
Reply to  John Davies
8 months ago

Don’t need an argument. Sunak was engaged in simplistic rabble rousing that fails given even the most cursory inspection.

John Davies
John Davies
Reply to  John Davies
8 months ago

The Repair Shop is wonderful for helping to concentrate thought, bringing me back to Colin’s original ideas. Each of us picture Jesus Christ in a way which is personal to us as individuals. And, conversely, Jesus becomes akin to ‘Everyman’, relating to us on an individual basis yet remaining overall sovereign Lord and saviour of us all. Truly God and at the same time truly human. “What think ye of Christ?” one of the reformers asked – well, each and every believer will say he is Lord, “altogether lovely” and co-creator, along with his father and the spirit, of the… Read more »

Matthew Tomlinson
Matthew Tomlinson
Reply to  John Davies
8 months ago

I don’t think I’d read anything by Philip Yancey because he has such ridiculous hair.

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Matthew Tomlinson
8 months ago

Jesus had long blond hair in the photos I’ve seen.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Matthew Tomlinson
8 months ago

Philip Yancey has been my favourite author for about forty years, because of his willingness to write about difficult questions and take them seriously, even when he knows he doesn’t have all the answers. ‘Where is God When It Hurts?’, ‘The Jesus I Never Knew’, and ‘What’s So Amazing About Grace’ are three of my all-time favourite books.

John Davies
John Davies
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
8 months ago

Thanks, Tim. Those three happen to be my favourites too. Philip appears to take several bites at a theme; a couple of texts during which he explores various ideas while building up to a further book which pulls everything together. ‘Disappointment with God’ is another good one – very down to earth and grounded in reality.

John Davies
John Davies
Reply to  Matthew Tomlinson
8 months ago

Then I would seriously suggest you set your prejudices aside and read some of his books – they are generally worth it.

David Runcorn
David Runcorn
8 months ago

Grateful to Augustine Tanner-Ihm for sharing his personal story and the remarkable growth of Emmanuel Didsbury – an evangelical church that has pioneered the journey committed to a fully inclusive community and that, among many other things, hosts the annual Didsbury Pride events. Very encouraging.

Marian Birch
Marian Birch
8 months ago

I am prompted by Colin’s article to the following comment. I find myself concerned by the increasing (mis)use of the name/concept ‘Jesus’ when actually in classic Christian theology I think we ought to be using the word ‘Christ or the word ‘God’. It is what used to be referred to as ‘Jesuology’. I don’t worship Jesus; I worship God – with Jesus being the (or ‘a’) pathway to God. The cult of Jesuology is something that seems to have developed in Anglican theology and spirituality in the last 30 years or so. Probably HTB have played a part in this.… Read more »

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Marian Birch
8 months ago

The evangelical Diocese of Durham has been “blessing our communities in Jesus’ name” for years.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Marian Birch
8 months ago

I have the opposite point of view. I have spent a few years now getting to know the Anabaptist/Mennonite community, in which there is great affection for the person of Jesus. Looking at mainstream Christianity through Anabaptist eyes, it seems to me that there is a tendency among those who prefer the title (and it is a title, not a name) ‘Christ’ to worship and believe in the theological Christ and not the actual human being who gave us teaching we are meant to put into practice in our daily lives. I use the name ‘Jesus’ intentionally, because I want… Read more »

Jo B
Jo B
Reply to  Marian Birch
8 months ago

And yet: ” at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” Consider also that Acts has the Apostles refer to Jesus of Nazareth, and indeed has Jesus refer to himself that way. Then there is the ICTHYS, encoding “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour” (Greek scholars feel free to correct me). The use of Jesus seems to have been perfectly normal, and indeed considered the most significant, the “holy name” in catholic tradition (and… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Jo B
8 months ago

Also identifying ‘Christ’ with the divinity of Jesus is very dodgy, since it is the Greek translation of ‘Messiah’, which is not a divine title in Hebrew, but a title for a human who has been anointed by God.

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
8 months ago

Hey Tim, I’m a “Jesus the Christ” kind of guy myself. I find, for instance, the “Jesus Movement” emphasis in TEC (link) something of theology as ad campaign. You mentioned earlier Richard Bauckham’s, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.  Before passing on my copy of Bauckham, in the back of my copy of Joachim Jeremias I scribbled reminder notes about two articles I read as rejoinders to Bauckham. How Accurate are Eyewitnesses, by Judith Redman (Journal of Biblical Studies (2010, pp. 177-197), and Oral Tradition and the Eyewitnesses by James Dunn in Journal For the Study of the Historical Jesus (January 2008). The… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Rod Gillis
8 months ago

I thought about you yesterday, Rod, when i was on the way down a rabbit hole of Jesus’ scholarship inspired by Anglican Priest’s reference to David Trobisch. I came across Jonathan Bernier’s Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament, and discovered that until the end of August he was the executive director of the Lonergan Research Institute in Toronto, which I had never heard of before. His book seems like a development of the thesis of John A.T. Robinson’s much earlier book on redating the NT.

Last edited 8 months ago by Tim Chesterton
Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
8 months ago

I’ve never met Bernier, but at one time he taught at my old alma mater, St. Francis Xavier University. Bernier has an interest in the work of Ben Meyer whom I referenced. Speaking of Meyer and the identity of Jesus in, The Aims of Jesus, Meyer contends with regard to Matthew 16: ” Though few gospel texts have been branded unhistorical more emphatically than Matthew 16:17-19 has been, the evidence favours both its historicity and the originality of its placement in the Caesarea Philippi Scene.” I’ve been boring people with my enthusiasm for Lonergan and subsequent generations of Lonerganians for… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Marian Birch
8 months ago

It’s not a modern development, Marian. Traditional hymnody is full of the name ‘Jesus’, as well as the title ‘Christ’. ‘What a friend we have in Jesus,’ ‘How sweet the name of Jesus sounds,’ ‘Fairest Lord Jesus,’ ‘ Jesus the name high over all,’ ‘at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow’, and so on.

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