Unmasking the Sources of Christian Anti-Semitism - Part 2

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 12 May 2004 0 Comments
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The Lord's Prayer seems to assume a theistic definition of God. How would you describe Jesus' relationship with God if you suggest theism is no longer a compelling way to envision God?


A good question but not an easy one to address for two reasons. 1) We need to establish first whether the words of the Lord's Prayer are actually from Jesus or whether they are the product of the early Church placed on the lips of Jesus in the Gospels. Most people, who read the Gospels, impose upon those texts an authenticity that New Testament scholars do not support.

Two pieces of data inform the debate. First, the text of the Lord's Prayer appears only in Matthew and Luke and they do not agree with each other in those two renditions. Actually, the Lucan version is sparer, than the Matthew version.

It is obvious that both Matthew and Luke had Mark in front of them when they wrote. It is thus interesting to note that Mark contains no version of the Lord's Prayer. If these words were an authentic part of Jesus' teaching, it is hard to explain why Mark did not include them. If he had heard of this tradition, he did not consider it important enough to include. If he had not heard of this tradition, it would seem to support the idea that the Lord's Prayer was a later creation by the Church.

Beyond a dependence on Mark, Matthew and Luke appear to have a second source from which they quote. This may have been a now lost collection of the sayings of Jesus that is referred to as the Q document. That is the majority conclusion in the New Testament world. A minority of scholars dismiss the Q hypothesis and suggest that this common material results from Matthew's expansion of Mark and Luke having access to both Mark and Matthew. But it is in this material common to both Matthew and Mark that the Lord's Prayer appears. If the Q hypothesis is correct, it might represent an earlier source of material that Mark simply did not know. If the Q hypothesis is wrong, then the Lord's Prayer seems to be the creation of Matthew.

The second problem is that the Lord's prayer is a Kingdom prayer and reflects an interpretation of Jesus as the "first fruits of the Kingdom of God," who will complete the work of establishing God's Kingdom at his second coming. That is why the prayer says, "Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." The petitions for daily bread, forgiveness and not to be put to the test are the prayers of those who live between the first coming and the second coming. That interpretation of Jesus was clearly imposed upon the man from Nazareth after the Easter experience. It was not instantaneous but it was early. The signs of the coming Kingdom, according to Isaiah 35, were that the blind would see, the deaf hear, the mute speak and the lame would walk. Stories about Jesus causing each of these signs to appear are written into the Gospels some 40-70 years after Jesus' earthly life came to an end.

Finally, it must be said that the only image of God that first century Jewish people knew would be a theistic image. No one can speak or think outside his or her time. All of these are the issues your question raises.

This is not to answer your question for that is not possible without entering the mind of Jesus. However, it does give one the background in which an answer might be sought. Personally, I do not believe that Jesus literally taught us to pray the words of the Lord's Prayer but I do think that in him people perceived that God was breaking into human history and that there was something about him that caused them to recognize what that kingdom was about.

-- John Shelby Spong

Waterfront Media is pleased to announce two new awards made recently to our columnist, John Shelby Spong.

On the 5th day of the month of Iyyar, 5764 (26 April 2004) at a national meeting of the Tikkun Community, Bishop Spong was honored by this Jewish organization with the Title "Moreynu Le Shalom, Our Teacher of Peace." The citation read as follows:

Bishop Spong, you have been our brother and our friend in the work of healing and transforming the world.

For many decades you have been known as one of the most courageous voices in the entire Christian world -- a voice for social justice, for peace and for moral sanity. You have championed the oppressed wherever you encounter oppression, speaking out for the rights of minorities not only outside but also inside the Episcopal Church, which you have served faithfully. At a time when many Christians have been unwilling to stand up for the revolutionary truths and insights taught by Jesus, you have insisted that the message of healing must be taken seriously.

You have followed a path in the Christian world very similar to the Jewish renewal that we are seeking to build in the Jewish world. You have insisted that the God of the universe is real, and hence have sought to understand and encounter God in ways that are real and true to experience, thereby transcending theological conceptions which no longer make sense to the contemporary mind. You have been God's advocate when others sought to fit God into deadening belief systems from the past.

You have insisted on understanding Jesus in his Jewish context -- understanding the Gospels as fundamentally Jewish documents and Jesus himself as part of the Jewish people. In so doing you have made a major contribution to re-envisioning Jesus and his message and have helped Christians and Jews to see ourselves as fundamentally aligned. You have helped many Jews, still reeling from the impact of the Holocaust and the 1900 years of Christian teaching of anti-Judaism, to overcome our resistance to acknowledging Jesus as one of our prophetic figures, thereby restoring to us this innovative and insightful Jewish teacher.

In recognition of a lifetime filled with acts of goodness, generosity and moral clarity, TIKKUN MAGAZINE and the TIKKUN COMMUNITY hereby bestow on you the title 'Moreynu Le Shalom, our Teacher for Peace' - and offer our gratitude for your years of doing good.

On the 13th day of April, 2004 St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, North Carolina bestowed on John Shelby Spong the 24th Annual Sam Ragan Award For Distinguished Service to The Fine Arts by a North Carolinian.




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