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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Teaching of Jesus

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TEACHING OF JESUS.—The place and meaning of knowledge in the Christian religion constitute a question of supreme importance. It has been answered in differing ways in different times and places, and with far-reaching effects, often of the saddest character. Yet the answers have usually been of the nature of instinctive assumptions rather than results of deliberate investigation into the grave problem involved; indeed, it has seldom been realized that a problem existed. In our own day, however, the spread of the mode of thought known as Agnosticism—a term coined in protest against a too confident attitude of gnosis or full knowledge—has helped to bring home the fact and something of the nature of the problem underlying the various bodies of ‘doctrine’ claiming the authority of Christ. In so stating the case, our thoughts travel back to the final form of the question,* [Note: In this connexion Latham’s Pastor Pastorum, chs. i. and iii., offers certain regulative ideas of high value.] which must control all others, viz., What sort of ‘knowledge’ did Jesus Himself offer to men, and how is it related to human knowledge in general and to man’s religious consciousness as such? Some suggestions towards a true answer may be gained from a study of the terms found in our Gospels as used in this connexion, such as ‘know,’ ‘knowledge,’ ‘teach,’ ‘teaching,’ ‘teacher,’ ‘mystery,’ in the light of their originals, Aramaic and Greek. Here, on the whole, it seems needless to distinguish between Christ’s own usage and that of the Evangelists themselves, for these coincide generally. The few exceptions in the Synoptics can be noted incidentally, while the special Johan nine usage is treated by itself.

The characteristic Greek term γνῶσις occurs in our Gospels only in Luke 1:77 ‘knowledge of salvation,’ and Luke 11:52 ‘the key of knowledge’ (see below); and the intellectual interest connoted by it, as also by ‘wisdom’ (σοφία) and ‘the Wise man, among the Greeks, is here quite absent (ἐπιστήμη does not occur at all). All this points to the concrete, personal, or experimental nature of the knowledge implied in the religion of the Gospels, as of the OT,—a fact which comes out also in the contexts in which ‘know’ occurs.

‘The OT everywhere assumes that there is such a thing as the knowledge of God, but it is never speculative, and it is never achieved by man. God is known because He makes Himself known, and He makes Himself known in His character. Hence the knowledge of God is in the OT = true religion; and as it is of God’s grace that He appears from the beginning speaking, commanding, active, so as to be known for what He is, so the reception of the knowledge of God is ethically conditioned.… It is in this sense of an experimental acquaintance with God’s character, and a life determined by it, that a universal knowledge of God is made the chief blessing of the Messianic age.… Side by side with this practical knowledge of God, the OT makes room for any degree of speculative agnosticism. This is especially brought out in the Book of Job’ (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible iii. 8 f.).

The distinction between gradual experimental recognition (γινώσκειν, ἐπιγινώσκειν) and the actual possession of knowledge (εἰδέναι) is well preserved; e.g. in John 14:7 ‘If ye had come to recognize me (in my true character), ye would have had knowledge of my Father also.’ Corresponding to the ethical quality of the knowledge acquired by growing personal receptivity, is the nature of the ‘teaching’* [Note: This didache consisted of didaskaliœ or definite ‘instructions’ as to conduct, cf. Mark 7:7, Matthew 15:9 ‘teaching for instructions human injunctions’ (διδάσκοντες διδασκαλι̇ας ἐντάλματα ἀνθρώπων, after Isaiah 29:13).] (διδαχή), as defined by the contexts in which this term and its verb stand; e.g. Matthew 7:28 ‘The crowds were exceedingly astonished at his teaching; for he was teaching them as having authority, and not as their scribes (after Sermon on the Mount). Finally, the fact that Jesus was habitually addressed as ‘Rabbi,’ and so treated, suggests that He dealt with the same subject-matter as the official ‘teachers’ of the Jewish Law (Tôrah), viz. the sort of conduct pleasing to the God of Israel (cf. Matthew 5:17-20), though He differed in going behind the act to the motive, and in setting this in the light of the Father’s character. There was, we may be sure, a certain fitness in the plausible compliment, as coming even from Pharisaic lips, ‘Rabbi, … of a truth thou teachest the way of God’ (Mark 12:14, ||, cf. Mark 12:32). We do well, then, to approach the meaning of ‘knowledge’ and ‘teaching’ in the Gospels through the senses which these terms bore in contemporary Judaism. Philo describes Jews as ‘taught …, even long before the sacred laws and also the unwritten usages, to recognize as one God the Father and Creator of the world’ (Legatio ad Gaium, 16). Here we have a starting-point for consideration of the knowledge Jesus offered to impart, as regards its substance.

i. The Synoptic Gospels.—Jesus’ own knowledge was rooted in the essential teaching of the OT, interpreted by a unique religious experience, which even in childhood enabled Him to make marvellous use of its contents (Luke 2:46 f.), and which developed as a ‘wisdom’ that matured with His years (v. 52). The determinative element in it was a consciousness of the God of Israel as His Father in a peculiarly intimate personal sense. Through this the OT revelation, as written and as currently taught, was gradually filtered, until only those elements and interpretations remained effective in His mind and speech which were valid in the light of the idea of the Holy Father and His practical relations with men. Thus the ‘sacred laws’ of Mosaism were transmuted into ‘the teaching’ of Jesus, the Messiah, with its new spirit and fresh emphasis. But the lines of the new were continuous with the old as regards the primarily practical reference of the new teaching, which superseded that of the scribes of the Pharisaic school, then dominant (Mark 1:22-27; Mark 2:16-18). Thus the ‘knowledge’ which Jesus aimed at imparting in His ‘teaching’ was analogous in scope to that recognized as such in current Palestinian Judaism, and bore essentially on true piety conceived as doing the will of God’ (Mark 3:35). But the form of its presentation, and much of its resulting spirit, were largely determined by two features peculiar to Jesus as a teacher: (a) a note of fresh, personal authority, in contrast to the derivative authority claimed by the scribes (Mark 1:22); (b) constant reference to ‘the kingdom of heaven,’ the true Theocracy for which Israel had long been waiting and watching, in connexion with Messiah, its Divinely commissioned Inaugurator. John the Baptist had spoken of such a Theocracy as imminent. Yet so little had he realized the spiritual experience proper to it in its fulness, that Jesus, even in the act of recognizing John’s supremacy in the order of prophets, can declare that ‘He that is but little in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he’ (Matthew 11:11, Luke 7:28). The Messianic Kingdom, then, is bound up in a unique manner with Jesus Himself as its Announcer (κηρύσσων) and Legislator (διδάσκων)—the two aspects in which He conveys ‘knowledge’ of it, and so of religion as it is known to the Gospels.

Wellhausen, indeed, roundly denies this (Einleitung in die drei crsten Evangelien, 105, 106 ff.): ‘From the Kingdom as present, Jesus as already constituted (dagewesener) and present Messiah is inseparable; accordingly He cannot Himself have spoken of it.… In Mark He speaks only of the future Kingdom; but He does not say that He is to bring it.… It is thought that the declaration of this future Kingdom was actually the proper content of His preaching. Far from this, it recedes completely into the background in Mark. In the Galilaean period He does not as a rule preach at all, but He teaches: and indeed not about the Kingdom of God (which doe not occur at all, save in the addition Mark 4:30; Mark 4:32), but, in unconstrained succession, touching this and that matter which comes in His way; obvious truths, with reference to the needs of a general public, which is misled by its spiritual leaders’ (p. 106). As regards the Kingdom of God, the idea of which He could assume as present to His hearers’ minds, ‘He emphasized in any case warning more than promise.… He began not with allusions to blessings (Glückwünschen und Seligpreisungen), but with the preaching of penitence: The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent! Like Amos before Him, and like John the Baptist, He thereby protested against the illusion of the Jews, as though to them the Judgment were bound to bring the fulfilment of their wishes’ (107 f.). Wellhausen goes on to question whether the phrase ‘the gospel’ was ever found on Jesus’ own lips, since even in Mark ‘the gospel is tantamount to Christianity,’ i.e. what the Church came to understand as the purport of its Master’s life and death. Here Wellh, seems to take ‘gospel’ in too rigid and uniform a sense, rather than as ‘good tidings’ which may vary in connotation. In any case, it is one thing to argue that the Evangelists have made Jesus use a phrase proper to their age, not His (yet Isaiah 61:1, in view of Matthew 11:5, Luke 7:22; cf. Luke 4:18, makes His use of the verb ‘preach good news’ [εὐαγγελίζεσθαι]—as in Lk., who never uses the substantive [εὐαγγέλιον]—far from unlikely): it is quite another to have disproved the historic truth of the idea thereby conveyed, viz. that Jesus’ own announcement of the Kingdom as imminent was in a different key from John the Baptist’s. Both, no doubt, urged repentance as befitting such an expectation; but how differently this may be done, how different the motives suggested—in a word, how different the spirit of the two messages! (see Mark 2:18 f. ||, Matthew 11:16; Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:31; Luke 7:35). In the one the note of severity was uppermost, in the other that of gladness Surely the very point of the striking saying in Matthew 11:11, Luke 7:28 is that the spirit of John’s message was defective, as we feel it to be, in its negative and threatening tone, as compared with the positive and winning note of benediction and hope added by Jesus, in the light of God’s true attitude to men—a revelation which by no means took from the force of the summons to repentance for sins, now seen more clearly in the purer light. So we read in Mark 6:12, even after much of the Galilaean teaching was already given, that the Apostles ‘went out and preached that men should repent’ (Wellh. l.c. p. 112, questions even whether there were any ‘apostles’ during Jesus’ lifetime). The spirit of the above distinction is finely given by Longfellow’s lines (cited in Sir A. F. Hort’s Com. on Mark 1:15):

‘A voice by Jordan’s shore,

A summons stern and clear:

Repent! be just, and sin no more!

God’s judgment draweth near!

A voice by Galilee,

A holier voice I hear:

Love God, thy neighbour love! for see

God’s mercy draweth near.’

The idea of the Kingdom necessarily determines the sense and emphasis given to ‘repentance’ in relation to it; and as ‘righteousness’ meant to Jesus something very different from what it did on John’s lips, so with their respective teaching as to ‘the Kingdom.’

As to the ‘future’ and ‘present’ Kingdom, surely on Jesus’ idea of the essentially spiritual nature of the Kingdom this distinction loses its full force; where the righteousness of the Kingdom is, there is the Kingdom already in a real sense.

As ‘preaching’ the Kingdom, He declares the fact of its near advent, so ‘giving knowledge of salvation’ as yet nearer than John’s preaching was able to announce (Luke 1:77). Reception of such knowledge meant repentance for sins as unfitting the sinner for membership in the Kingdom soon to ‘appear,’ and confidence in the forgiveness which was part of the expected Messianic blessings. Then as ‘teaching,’ He gave knowledge of the laws and principles of the coming era of the Father’s realized sovereignty. Relying on this teaching and obeying its precepts, the man who accepted the ‘preaching’ of the Kingdom as at hand was assured of participation therein when it arrived. Of such ‘teaching’ the Sermon on the Mount is the summarized expression (Matthew 7:28 f.). It represents ‘the key of knowledge’ touching God’s will, as it should be done in the true Theocracy or Kingdom, which the official guardians of the Law had removed out of men’s reach by their traditions (Luke 11:52). But the same knowledge was also given less fully and formally, in occasional and piecemeal fashion, in the ‘teaching’ Jesus was wont in His earlier ministry to give at the Sabbath services in synagogues of Galilee, in close connexion with the reading of the Law and its regular exposition (Mark 1:21; Mark 6:2, Luke 4:15; cf. Luke 4:43 for ‘preaching also), as well as on other and less formal occasions. Its main subject ‘would seem to have been the nature of the Kingdom and the character required in its members (Sanday), treated in the light of the Fatherhood of God

At first, moreover, His own Person formed no part of His explicit teaching. Apparently the practical recognition of His plenary authority as Revealer of the Kingdom and the truths constitutive of it, enforced by the object-lesson of His deeds (Luke 10:23-24) of beneficent authority in the healing of the body and soul (see Mark 2:5; Mark 2:12), was what Jesus had most at heart in the earlier stage of His ministry at least. What went beyond this was allusive and suggestive rather than dogmatic, being contained in the title by which, in preference to all others, He chose from first to last to refer to Himself and His ways—‘the Son of Man.’ The sense which He gave to it, as distinct from the associations currently attaching to it in various circles of Judaism, seems to be chiefly ‘brotherhood with toiling and struggling humanity, which He who most thoroughly accepted its conditions was fittest also to save’ (Sanday). It was only as criticism and challenge forced Him to fall back upon His ultimate and inner credentials, that He referred explicitly to His mysteriously unique experience of Sonship to the Father as the ground of the revelation He imparted in His teaching—particularly as to the Divine Fatherhood which lay at the heart of that teaching (Matthew 11:25 ff., Luke 20:21; Luke 20:24).

In this we get some insight into one of the most significant features of Christ’s teaching, viz. His pedagogic method, which implied that religious knowledge is not to be thought of or taught as if it were all on one level, or as if it were of little moment how it is imparted and acquired. In other words, nothing is more characteristic of ‘truth as it is in Jesus’ than the psychological conditions under which it should be learned, by progressive assimilation, as the learner is able to bear it. His was the experimental method of religious knowledge, to a degree surpassing all other teachers. This fact comes out in several connexions,* [Note: Among these we can only allude to the stages in Jesus’ teaching of His disciples in the latter part of His ministry, which dates from the decisive confession at Caesarea Philippi.] of which His use of parables deserves special notice.

As regards Jesus’ use of the parable proper, as distinct from mere figurative maxims or illustrations, it is often strangely overlooked that the Gospels do not represent it as a form of communicating religious knowledge employed by Jesus from the first. In fact it emerges relatively late in His ministry, when already He had proved the general unreceptiveness of His hearers and the positive hostility of their official teachers. This appears not only from the first occasion on which, in the relatively historical order preserved in Mk., Jesus is said to have ‘taught in parables’ (Mark 4:2, Matthew 13:3; Mark 3:23, Luke 5:36; Luke 6:39 do not prove the contrary), but also from the fact that His disciples ask Him as to the meaning of the first recorded parable, plain as its meaning is to us (Mark 4:10; Mark 4:13). Further, that meaning is one which implies a disappointing experience of various types of hearer,—the good being in the minority,—such as suits a comparatively prolonged period of experiment, during which Jesus had proved how unprepared the majority of His countrymen were to embrace the Kingdom as He meant it. In fact the psychological moment at which He began His full parabolic method on principle, was just that depicted in Mark’s narrative (cf. Latham, op. cit. p. 324). Already the Scribes, both local (Mark 2:6; Mark 2:16) and from the religious centre in Jerusalem (Mark 3:22), the Pharisees generally (Mark 2:18; Mark 2:24, Mark 3:6), and even the disciples of John,—presumably a specially prepared class,—had indicated pretty clearly that their attitude was likely to be unreceptive Thus we read in Mark 3:7 of His withdrawing from before Pharisaic hostility—which already felt that He must be got rid of at any cost (v. 6)—with His circle of disciples, from the synagogue and the city, where friction was likely, to the seashore, there to continue His effort to win the unsophisticated hearts of the common people. Then follows the selection of the Twelve from the larger body of disciples habitually about Him, with a view to their acting as ‘apostles’ or missionaries, to assist in what was opening out before Him as a longer and more arduous ministry than had, perhaps, at first seemed needful. That in itself is significant; and its significance is enhanced by the scene which precedes the first parables, when He dwells on the spiritual ties binding Him to the disciples, in contrast even to His own blood relations. All this implies that Jesus fell back, as it were, upon the parabolic teaching which we regard as so beautifully characteristic of Him, largely under the necessity of adjusting the form of His teaching, for deep spiritual reasons, to the disappointing unreceptivity of His hearers generally. Nor was the state of His disciples much better in point of intelligence, though their practical self-committal to Him as their trusted authority and teacher implied a moral affinity of great latent possibility for future insight and knowledge. This comes out most clearly in Mark’s narrative, which, throughout the chapter on the beginnings of parabolic teaching, preserves the original historic atmosphere to a degree far surpassing what the other Evangelists, owing to their later perspective, particularly as regards the intelligence at that time of Christ’s personal disciples (see Mark 4:13, omitted by Mt. and Lk.), have been able to achieve.

Observe the following, compared with the parallel passages in Mt. and Lk.: ‘He proceeded to teach them in parables many things, and to say to them in his teaching, Listen (Mark 4:2) … He who has ears to listen, let him listen (Mark 4:9).… And he went on to say to them* [Note: i.e. to the disciples, to whom He is explaining His new method.] (that the light of the lamp is meant to be seen, and so), there is nothing hidden except with a view to its being ultimately made manifest.… If any one hath ears to listen, let him listen (Mark 4:21-23). And he went on to say to them, See to it what ye hear (= understand, cf. Luke 8:18 ‘how ye hear’). According to the capacity of the measure ye use, it shall be meted out to you, and with interest (προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν, cf. Matthew 13:12; Matthew 25:29 καὶ περισσευθήσεται, after the next clause); for he who hath (i.e. by receptiveness), there shall be given to him, and he who hath not (by unreceptiveness), even that which he hath (through his ears merely, cf. Luke 8:18 ‘what he supposes he hath’) shall be taken from him’ (Mark 4:24-25). Then, after two more parables,† [Note: Probably not spoken on the same occasion, but added by the Evangelist (in keeping with catechetical tradition), by affinity of theme; and this addition leads up naturally to the use of ‘to them’ in Mark 4:33 = to the people.] we read: ‘And with such parables, and many of them, he used to speak to them the word just as they were able to listen; but without parable used he not to speak to them, whilst privately to his own disciples he used to resolve (the meaning of) all things’ (Mark 4:33 f.).

Running throughout the whole account in Mk. is a single coherent conception of the function of parable as a vehicle of religious knowledge, viz. that it is a sort of veil spread over the face of truth, in order that only those who are morally ready to act aright in regard to it shall perceive its Divine lineaments. This implies (a) that it is bad for a man to see the truth in the wrong, i.e. unsympathetic, mood, and (b) that it is the special nature of spiritual or religious knowledge to be morally conditioned in its communication. Accordingly it can be received, in the sense alone valued by Jesus, only gradually, by successive acts of use or vital obedience. But the teacher’s ulterior object in parable, as in plainer modes of speech (as the context of the simile of casting pearls before swine helps to make clear, Matthew 7:6 ff.), was that as many, not as few, as possible of the average hearers addressed might, by seeking and its discipline, come to find aright, instead of resting in imaginary possession of a knowledge that was really error.‡ [Note: A. B. Bruce, The Parabolic Teaching of Christ, pp. 18–23, and Latham, Pastor Pastorum, ch. x. (‘To those who have, is given’), in support of this and much of what follows.] The treasure of knowledge touching the Kingdom could not be had without real spiritual quest; it was a ‘secret,’ to be shared in only by awakened curiosity and desire. What is received too easily is held loosely; or rather, in the case of spiritual truth, it is not received at all, when taken passively and not by the activity that is also self-committal; or, again, it is received in so crude a sense—what comas from without being overlaid or distorted by what already exists within—that it had better not be received at all in this fashion. The remedy is that the reception should be gradual, through a process of piecemeal and even painful adjustment of the mind and will of the hearer to the essential form of the truth enshrined in the message or teaching. Then, what is so won becomes the basis of fresh discoveries of the same kind. In this beneficent yet deeply serious sense Jesus ‘was wont to speak the word’ to men ‘just as they were able to listen to it.’

Such seems the philosophy of Christ’s parabolic teaching, when we regard the trend of this fundamental section and the general effect of His teaching in the Gospels. But what are we to make of the motive assigned to it in Mark 4:12 ‘That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest haply they should turn again and it should be forgiven them’? Can we believe that in these words—if read in the sense of a ‘judicial blinding’—we have a quotation from Jesus’ lips uncoloured by the tradition lying between Him and the Gospel records? Hardly. The saying is an isolated one in the Synoptics. But a like use of the passage in Isaiah (Isaiah 6:9 f.) here drawn upon, occurs in Acts 28:25-27, in an address to leading Roman Jews, and in John 12:39-40, which contains the reflexions of the Evangelist himself. Here we seem to have the clue to the ‘paradox’ as some would call it, ‘incompatibility’ as it will seem to others. That is, Jesus’ own use of Isaiah’s language underwent development in the Church’s tradition, being first reapplied to specific Jewish unbelief (as in Acts), and then hardened in its spirit* [Note: Surely Dr. Sanday (Hastings’ DB ii. 618) does not allow enough for the change of spirit between Jesus’ own reference to the law of continued insensibility involved in Isaiah, and the less sympathetic use of the words in John. Hence he speaks of their ‘strange severity’ in Mark’s context, ‘which would be mitigated if they could be put later in the ministry, where they occur in St. John.’ We have argued that even in Mk. they do belong to a relatively late stage in the ministry; but we would give them a gentler sense on Jesus’ own lips, viz. one of sadness, not of severity.] (as in Jn.). The conclusive thing appears to be this. Not only are the words virtually quoted from Isaiah 6:9 f., but they are not given uniformly in the other Synoptics. Then it is only in the anti-Judaic reflexions in Jn. that the sense of judicial blindness is given to them at all, by a deliberate change of form, which attributes the blinding and dulling of hearing to direct Divine action. It seems natural, then, to assume that Jesus simply made an allusive use of the phraseology of Isaiah 6:9, so far as it lent itself to His purpose; and that in the Church’s tradition this reference was taken up, fully applied, and even, as in John 12:40, emphasized in an anti-Jewish direction. Here Mk. shows us the first stage in the tradition, at which the regret with which Jesus contemplates the inevitable effect of the law that unreceptiveness tends to become a fixed habit, is apparent in the quick transition to ‘lest haply they should turn back and forgiveness should be theirs’ (ἀφεθῇ αὐτοῖς, an adaptation of Isaiah’s ἰάσομαι αὐτούς on Jahweh’s behalf). Against this the telic ‘with a view to’ (ἵνα) cannot weigh decisively, since its exact degree of purposiveness is not always the same. Here it may well be no more than a recognition of the providential nature of the law of moral continuity, as well as of those inevitable effects which Jesus knew to be involved in His deliberate resort to parabolic teaching,† [Note: Which is, as Matthew Henry puts it, a ‘shell that keeps good fruit for the diligent, but keeps it from the slothful’; cf. also Bruce, l.c. pp. 21 23.] in place of plainer proclamation, touching the Kingdom—its inner and gradual operation, and its fortunes, especially in the near future. Further, the less severe reading seems required by what follows in Mark 4:21-23, viz. that the object of the light’s coming is to be seen; and any temporary ‘covering’ or ‘hiding’ is all meant to be subservient to this. All is simply adjusted to existing ability to hear (Mark 4:33).

Why then, it may be asked, resort to this obscurer form of instruction? Because He was now passing on to a new side or aspect of His teaching. Henceforth the more unambiguous form of declaration would have met immediately with a summary rejection‡ [Note: The lessons as to the slow and gradual progress of the Kingdom, as bound up with its spirituality, ‘were so strange to the Jews … that He had to adopt a method of instruction that might conciliate and provoke reflection, and gradually make a way to their minds for new truth’ (Salmond on Mark 4:1 in Century Bible).] so decisive as to jeopardize the very completion of His own ministry and cut short the training of His disciples, the actual nucleus of the coming Kingdom, on whom its future realization depended. The popular receptivity towards such a Kingdom as Jesus had in mind, one radically spiritual,—as distinct from national and hedonistic,—had already been tested by clear enunciation of its ethical nature and requirements; and but few had definitely responded. That was the daunting experience which had been His for some months at least, months of such ethical intensity for all within range of His influence as to mean more than as many years of the ordinary testing of life. Already He saw that His lot was to be akin to that of the prophets of old, who achieved their mission only after and through a period of general rejection, during which disciples learned their message vitally, and then helped in the conversion of Israel. But while this was the case on the whole, there were still individuals to be gained over one by one to the ‘little flock’ of His disciples, if only they had time to ponder the new ideal of the Kingdom—as coming only gradually, from a very small nucleus (Mark 4:26-32). Elect souls could do so most profitably under the very stimulus of curiosity aroused by the parabolic or suggestive method, regarded on its positive side; while for the impatient mass it had only its negative function, veiling the full truth from the profane gaze of those insensible as swine to the real charm of pearls—and apt, when disappointed, to turn like swine and rend the bearer of jewels. Hence Jesus spoke His parables publicly, to call such prepared or preparing souls, as well as to instruct His own inner circle in the deeper or more trying aspects of the Kingdom they had already in principle and at heart received. For this seems the point of Mark’s ‘To you the secret* [Note: The ‘secret’ consisted of the true nature of the Kingdom itself, as being such as Jesus revealed it in Himself and His ministry of deed and word (corresponding to ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ in the next verse). This fundamental ‘secret’ made its possessor a ‘disciple’ (cf. Matthew 13:52 ‘every scribe made a disciple to [or ‘by’] the kingdom of heaven’ μαθητευθεὶς τῇ βασιλεία τ. οὐρανῶν), corresponding to the ‘initiated’ in the Greek and other Mysteries. Those who shared it not were ‘those outside,’ who move wholly in the sphere of ‘parable,’ the outer simile never opening and revealing the inner truth or reality thus kept ‘secret.’] (mystery) hath been given, touching the kingdom of God’ (Mark 4:11). Disciples as such had the qualifying ‘secret’ in their souls, the key to further understanding in the detailed knowledge of the Kingdom. It is rather this latter that Mt. and Lk. have in mind in writing (according to the form of the saying most familiar to them), ‘to you it hath been given to recognize the secrets (mysteries) of the kingdom.’ This probably represents a later turn given to the original thought as found in Mk., the truth of which is borne out by what follows at once in Matthew 13:12 ‘he that hath, to him shall be given,’ etc. Here the possession that is the basis for further additions, must be primarily the recognition of the Kingdom in principle. When this fundamental issue, as conditioned by the original historic situation, faded more and more into the background, and various detailed aspects of the Kingdom came practically to the front in the Church’s experience, it was natural that the saying should be coloured thereby and its shade of meaning changed. Further, we can see how the later form would lend itself to the growing reflective tendency which showed itself in Gnosticism, a mode of thought alike unbiblical and un-Jewish in spirit, but akin to Greek intellectualism or one-sided reliance on ‘knowledge’ (gnosis) as such. Yet rightly understood, i.e. in relation to the whole genius of Christ’s ‘teaching’ in the Synoptic Gospels at least,† [Note: Confirmed also by the character of ‘the Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles’ as it was understood in the circle represented by the Didache,—a fact the more striking if, as seems probable, this compilation of traditional matter represents in the main Syrian Christianity (c. 75–100 a.d.), the source also of our Synoptic tradition.] not even the later form warrants the idea that ‘Gnostic’ or metaphysical doctrines are here meant in any degree. The ‘secrets’ in question are just those detailed aspects of the Kingdom and its development, as parts of the Divine counsels, which form the essence of the parables which follow in this connexion and elsewhere. They are of the nature of moral principles such as verify themselves in the experience of the loyal life, rather than remain ‘mysteries of faith’ in the later sense of these words.

This is not the place for full discussion of the limits of knowledge, even religious knowledge in a sense, attaching to the gospel in the mind of Jesus Himself. Such limits clearly exist as regards ‘the times and seasons’ of the Kingdom’s temporal development. This is manifest in the saying in Mark 13:32 || ‘But of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father’ (alone). It is also implied in the parable of the Seed Growing Unobserved (Mark 4:26; Mark 4:29), if the Sower who ‘himself knows not how’ the seed grows, be none other than Christ, as seems to be the case,—a fact which at once explains the omission of the parable by Mt. and Luke. Such ignorance only confirms our general view as to the strictly spiritual character of the ‘knowledge’ conveyed by Jesus in His ‘teaching,’—a statement which applies even to the knowledge referred to in the high utterance in Matthew 11:25-27, Luke 10:21 f., touching Jesus’ unique knowledge of the Father and His corresponding ‘revelation’ of Him to receptive souls. See, further, art. Kenosis.

ii. The Fourth Gospel.—So far we have had in view ‘knowledge’ and the ‘teaching’ of it in the Synoptic Gospels only. But like results hold good in essence of the Fourth Gospel also, though with characteristic differences as to form. There, while the special word for ‘knowledge’ (γνῶσις) does not occur, the corresponding verb, with its suggestions of progressive insight gained by moral affinity, is very frequent (e.g. John 10:38 ‘recognize and go on recognizing,’ John 13:7 ‘thou dost not know now, but thou shalt come to recognize hereafter,’ cf. John 14:7). The knowledge in view is still such as can be verified by spiritual experience, and not such as must necessarily remain mere objective theory or ‘dogma’ in the later sense.

A typical passage is John 3:1-21, where, however, it is impossible to say exactly how much is due, in form at least, to the Evangelist, and how much to Him of whom he writes. At John 3:16 even the form ceases to be historic, and passes into reflexion on the principles involved in what precedes. But what underlies the whole is the idea of religious experience as conditioning insight into such knowledge as the new Rabbi had to convey (John 3:2 ff.). Its subject-matter is the ‘Kingdom of God,’ the nature of which dawns on a man’s inner eye like the light of a fresh world of experience, into which he comes as by a new birth. This correlation of ‘light’ and ‘life’ implies that the knowledge in question is not abstract or impersonal, but vital and personal, such as can best be learned from and through a person, as it animates and gives him his specific character and attitude to life. Thus the ‘life’ in Jesus Himself was the ‘light’ He bore about in His personal walk among men. This is why ‘belief in’ Jesus as a person and recognition of the ‘light’ of His message are so closely related, indeed practically identified, in the Fourth Gospel in particular. Both attitudes of soul are conditioned by a man’s will, and this again by his underlying character—so far as developed—and the sympathetic affinities proper thereto. ‘For everyone that doeth ill hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his works should be reproved. But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, that they have been wrought in God’ (John 3:20 f.). Here we get the Johannine terms in their most essential meaning, as defined by the context. Christ’s manifestation of the knowledge of God (on which the Kingdom depends) as His essential life, is the ‘truth’ about God and man in their mutual relations,—a truth, therefore, practical in its scope,—and so the ‘light’ of men as regards their special concern, the art of life. ‘He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life’ (John 8:12). ‘My teaching is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it be of God, or whether I speak from myself (John 7:16 f.).

This agrees essentially with the Synoptic teaching as to ‘righteousness’ and its conditions;* [Note: Wendt, The Teaching of Jesus, i. 256 ff., as well as his general conception of the relation between the Synoptic and the Johannine representations of Jesus’ teaching.] it even coincides in form as regards the metaphor of ‘light’ for man’s footsteps in the journey of life (Matthew 6:23, Luke 11:33 f., John 8:12), and the vision or blindness of men as determined by their prior moral affinities (Matthew 15:14; Matthew 23:16-26, Luke 4:18; Luke 6:39). What is peculiar to the Johannine presentation is the use of ‘truth’ where the Synoptic word is ‘righteousness.’ But OT usage† [Note: Hastings’ DB iii. p. 9a: ‘The conception of true religion as the knowledge of God is probably the true antecedent and parent of some NT expressions for which affinities have been sought in the phenomena of Gnosticism. John (John 6:45) quotes Isaiah 54:13’ (‘All thy children shall be taught of the Lord’).] helps us to see their equivalence in idea, and that ‘truth’ is here at bottom no more speculative or dogmatic than ‘righteousness.’ It means ‘the way of God in truth’ (Matthew 22:16, Luke 20:21; cf. Luke 16:11); and the Fourth Evangelist’s choice of the more intellectual synonym is probably due to a habit which he had adopted in bringing the message home to men of Greek rather than Jewish training. But the practical and vital sense in which the term is used appears, for instance, in the central saying: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father but by me’ (John 14:6). When, too, Jesus goes on with, ‘If you had come to recognize me (for what I am), of my Father also you would have had knowledge’ (εἱ ἐγνώκειτεἂν ἤδειτε), He does not pass into another sphere than that of spiritual quality and power, experimentally perceived: ‘He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father.’ The very fact that this is said in surprised reply to Philip’s request, ‘Show us the Father,’ proves that distinct and explicit teaching as to the Father in Himself had formed no part of ‘the teaching’; it had all been implicit in the authoritative yet dependent or filial mien with which the Son had spoken and acted for God.‡ [Note: Latham, op. cit. p. 17, observes that Jesus ‘trusts to men’s believing that the Father is in Him, not because He has declared it in set dogmas, but because He has been “so long with them.” ’ This is part of His chosen method of teaching, to the most religious effect, in view of the nature of man as a being whose spiritual faculties are to be evoked and trained freely and ethically.] How far any sayings recorded in the great discourse and prayer which follow, go beyond such manifested spiritual unity, into the realm of metaphysics, is still an open question among scholars. Yet it should be remembered that the thought moves ever on the devotional rather than the dogmatic level of thought, especially in the prayer in ch. 17; and that to all believers is open a like oneness to that between Jesus and His Father (ἵνα ὦσιν ἒν καθὼς ἡμεῖς ἕν, John 17:22), though this comes to others through relation to Himself (ἑγὼ ἐν αὐτοῖς καὶ σὺ ἐν ἐμοί, John 17:23). In any case the unity is that of Love made perfect (John 17:23; John 17:26), and rests on recognition of the Father’s name, gained by recognition of Jesus as sent of the Father (John 17:25 f.).

In confirmation of this view, namely, that Jesus’ teaching, even in the Johannine Gospel, moved essentially in the region of knowledge accessible to spiritual perception acting on kindred facts of experience, analogously to ordinary sense perception, we have the idea of Jesus as ‘the true and faithful witness’ (Revelation 1:5; Revelation 3:14). Jesus ‘witnesses’ to His message in various aspects (John 3:11; John 5:31; John 7:7; John 8:13 f., John 18:37), in such words and deeds as make failure to recognize its truth a self-judgment passed by each man upon the state of his own conscience or spiritual faculty, as determined by past conduct and motive (John 3:17-21; John 15:22; John 15:24, cf. Mark 4:21-25 ||). Thus ‘the witness’ of Jesus constituted a ‘manifestation’ (John 2:11; John 7:4; John 17:6) within the reach of men independently of intellectual capacity, on the sole basis of moral perceptivity and receptivity (see John 7:16 f., quoted above, cf. John 5:30), in which the common folk excelled the learned (Matthew 11:25). The real object of such perception by nascent moral affinity, the specific revelation in Christ, was the total effect of Jesus’ teaching, what we should style its ‘spirit.’ To resist this impression by practically judging it evil in nature and origin, was sin against ‘the Holy Spirit’ at work in the conscience—the most fatal, because the most radical of all sins (Mark 3:28-30, Matthew 12:31). The ultimate source, then, of insight into the message witnessed and the character of the Messenger as sent of God, especially in the full and perfect sense constituting Him the Messiah (Mark 8:27-30 ||), was the revealing action of the Father Himself (Matthew 16:17, John 5:32; John 6:44; John 8:18, cf. Matthew 11:27), as distinct from all mere human conditions of knowing (cf. Latham, op. cit. 337 f.). The Father Himself was the ultimate witness. Not only were Jesus’ works manifestly God’s works (John 5:36; John 17:10); His ‘voice’ gave the final silent confirmation within the conscience; His ‘immanent word’ answered to the word uttered without by His witness; the vaguely dim outline of His character or Name was but fulfilled in clearer form in the Name given by and in His witness (John 5:37 f.). And so the ‘light’ from within met and recognized the light from without, and rose to the triumphant faith that the Light promised to Israel had indeed risen upon it.

iii. General Results.—In all this there seems essential harmony between the Synoptics and the Fourth Gospel, though in the latter the emphasis on the inner conditions of insight, and upon the Person of Jesus as summing up the spirit of His own teaching by word and deed, is more marked. In both types of Gospel the educative method* [Note: The wonderfully original and quickening nature of this is analyzed in Latham’s Pastor Pastorum as nowhere else, perhaps, not excepting Ecce Homo.] of Jesus appears, even if, from its different scope, the Fourth Gospel does not bring this out concretely and progressively, as does the Synoptic narrative by its very nature as a narrative largely concerned with the gradual ‘training of the Twelve’ through actual intercourse with their Master. Perhaps we may say that the immediate influence of the Personality of Jesus, through eye and ear, is more apparent in the Synoptic account; while in the Johannine, the universal significance of His ‘Person’ as Messianic and Divine is set in relief—as it would be in later Christian experience. But in neither does the knowledge go beyond the scope of the Kingdom of God, the true Sovereignty of the Righteous Father—first its principles, and then its future developments—in close connexion with the destiny of its Founder and Lord, the Messiah, seen in His true character as unique Son of God. It is continuous with the Covenant idea of personal relations between God and His chosen people, and with the Divine name or character revealed in concreto through those relations.† [Note: Psalms 25:14 RV, ‘The secret (counsel) of the Lord is with them that fear him; and his covenant, to make them know it’ (τοῦ δηλῶσαι αὐτοῖς). Here the LXX inserts reference to ‘the name of the Lord’ between the parallel clauses, as a third synonym.] The ‘secret’ or mystery revealed is the more spiritual and less national nature of the Kingdom; and its essential contents form the New Covenant, which, towards the end of His private teaching to the inner circle of disciples, Jesus declared was destined to be consecrated or sealed in His own life-blood. The emphasis on the connexion between the message and the Messenger, the Messianic Kingdom and His own Person as Messianic Son of God, increased with the growing opposition encountered; so that confidence in Himself became the very sheet-anchor of the cause to which He was from the first consecrated. Thus the perspective of the ‘teaching’ changes somewhat. The side at first implicit, becomes more and more explicit, especially in the intimate intercourse of Jesus and His inner circle. But there is essential continuity of spirit throughout. Nor is there any esoteric knowledge, in the strict sense, different in kind from the public teaching. The inner side was simply the darker side of difficulty and rejection, that most apt to repel the hearer until his confidence in the Master was well grounded. These were ‘the mysteries’* [Note: True to the OT usage = ‘secret counsels’; cf. Revelation 10:7 ‘then is finished the mystery of God, according to the good tidings which he declared to his servants the prophets.’] of the Kingdom, if Jesus ever used such an expression (Matthew 13:11, Luke 8:10, where Mk. has ‘the mystery,’ and above, p. 702). There was no new ‘theology’ in the abstract and Greek sense, as distinct from that of personal relations with man. Accordingly there is in the teaching of Christ no real warrant for the Gnostic developments which began once the Gospel passed from Jewish to Greek soil. It is significant that religious knowledge was not taken in a Gnostic sense among Palestinian Christians (as distinct from the mixed Samaritan type). This implies that Christ’s teaching was felt to move within the circle of general Hebrew metaphysics, and not to have any direct knowledge here to convey.

Such a judgment is confirmed, positively, by the so-called ‘Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,’ which in its present form is probably of Palestinian or Syrian origin, and understands ‘the teaching (διδαχή) of the Lord’ to have differed from Judaism only ethically, in the deeper knowledge of God’s will, fuller spiritual life, and firmer grasp on immortality (γνῶσις καὶ πξστις, ζωή, ἀθανασία, 9:3, 10:2), which it bestowed. Its negative confirmation lies in the very fact that Gnosticizing versions of Christ’s teaching early arose in the centres where the Hellenic spirit was strongest. Such ‘apocryphal’ Gospels, professing, as a rule, to supply from a secret line of tradition the words of ‘deeper wisdom’ which it was assumed must have fallen from the lips of the great Revealer of the spiritual world (here regarded cosmically rather than ethically), only show what the speculative spirit missed in our Gospels, with their concrete, practical teaching, often in terms of an individual case. Most probably Christian Gnostics felt some encouragement and justification affo


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Teaching of Jesus'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/t/teaching-of-jesus.html. 1906-1918.

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