What was the motive of Jesus in doing his miracles?
The earliest accounts of Yeshua emphasize his gifts as a healer, storyteller and teacher. A sincere desire to heal strikes me as the most credible motive.
A later generation made the miracles about demonstrations of an icon's divinity rather than expressions of a healer's compassion. The shift reflects a more polarized age when a Christian identity separate from that of Judaism was emerging.
Fundamentalists repeat the shift today. They do it for the same reason: they view the universe in polarized terms and use the miracle stories as one more wedge tool to separate themselves from others. It's hard to drive wedges and talk about healing at the same time, so they push the latter subject into the background. The miracle stories become one more means to force the ultimatum: Sign onto our contract or else.
Do his miracles invalidate faith in xians because they give what many here at EVC have long asked for: evidence?
Christians of a fundamentalist mindset like to think of the miracles as physical evidence. In reality their position makes the stories superfluous. Their position is self-negating. In the progress of this thread you can follow its path off the cliff.
1. First it is said that the miracles demonstrate Christ's power. They represent physical evidence in support of a proposition. The question is then raised as to why, if physical evidence of this kind matters so much, we don't see the same thing today.
2. Then it is said that an ancient written account of a miracle is supposed to be just as convincing as seeing the thing in person. Now obviously these two cannot be the same thing, regardless of the funamentalists' efforts to sweep the distinction under the rug. Hearsay is not the same thing as firsthand experience. Everyone knows this. Fundamentalist Christians would spot the difference at once if you offered the same 'evidence' for, say, the ascension of Mohammed.
3. Then it is said that, if ancient narratives by unknown authors do not seem convincing enough to you, it is because these accounts will only be convincing to a person 'of good heart' who is 'inclined to believe.' By that they do not really mean a person of good heart or a person inclined to believe, as many people in both categories do not view the Gospel narratives this way. They mean a person who is likely to suspend disbelief at the same points where they have been trained to suspend their own disbelief. Now the miracle stories become superfluous. A mind inclined to join their sect will join it and a mind not inclined to join it will not; the result is foreordained. No need exists for the miracle stories in the first place.
Mature Christians, in my experience, take the miracle stories more as demonstrations of the importance of bringing healing. In the Synoptic narratives Yeshua regularly states that the only valid expression of love for God is through active compassion for others. As this is what he says, this is what he does.
Thank you for that quote from the Gospel of John. It provides an excellent example of the kind of generation shift I am talking about.
If you look at the earliest Gospel accounts written (Mark) and go the latest (John) the fault line becomes evident. John differs from the three earlier Gospels in profound ways and presents a very different portrait of Jesus.
To read the Gospel of John you would never know of a Jesus who told parables, gave a Sermon on the Mount, equated 'laying up treasures in heaven' with generosity and compassion here on earth, or deflected homage directed at him onto his heavenly Father or onto the poor. John's Jesus shows little interest in telling stories or helping the poor. John's Jesus talks about himself a lot and makes statements that divide his audience according to their willingness to ascribe divinity to him. He churns out metaphors about himself--the light, the life, the resurrection, the gate, the way, the sheep, the shepherd, the vine. John's Gospel has a sylopsistic quality. In the other Gospels Jesus brings a message; in John, Jesus is the message.
Tellingly, John's is the only Gospel to speak of Jesus and his disciples as something apart from, and suffering at the hands of, 'the Jews.' (The other Gospels talk of Pharisees or teachers of the law.) John's is the only Gospel where Jesus speaks of his followers being 'thrown out of the synagogues.' Jesus speaks of love in John, but it's the love of disciples for one another or the love of God for the world in sending Jesus. One finds no mention here, as one does in the other Gospels, of people expressing love for God and Jewish law through generosity toward others--regardless of those others' beliefs about Christ or even their general morality.
Scholars date the writing of the Gospel of John at around 90 ACE. And if you regard the author as John the disciple (the Gospel does not overtly state this, but implies it), you are still left with the early Christian legend that John lived to be 100. The date of 90 ACE doesn't change.
The Gospel of John, written half a century after the crucifixion and a generation after the destruction of Jerusalem, reflects very different situations than Jesus knew in his lifetime. By now a separate religious identity called 'Christianity' had emerged. The new religion included Gentiles in faster growing numbers than Jews. It was eager, under watchful Roman eyes, to distinguish itself from Judaism, by now associated with an impressively quashed anti-Roman rebellion.
Earlier documents present a different picture. Mark, dated around 60-70 ACE, is probably the only Gospel penned before the destruction of Jerusalem. A few examples of the way Mark tells it:
quote: As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. (Mark 6.34)
â€˜I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.' (Mark 8.2)
A simple concordance search of the Gospel texts shows the other two Synoptic writers following Mark in mentioning compassion as a motive:
quote: When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Mt 9.36)
When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. (Mt 14.14)
Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, â€˜I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.â€™ (Mt 15.32)
Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him. (Mt 20.34)
When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, â€˜Do not weep.â€™ (Lk 7.13)
But is there any mention of 'compassion' in John? No.
By then, the story is as you quote it:
quote: '...If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.' Jesus answered, 'I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me...
Its "Do unto others" not "try to do unto others". A soft, mushy moral teacher-Jesus? Hardly.
Who said the teacher depicted in the Synoptics is a soft, mushy character? You never heard it from me.
As an argument this is vintage strawman. It makes sense as a response only if one equates action to alleviate human suffering with 'soft, mushy' moral character.
This is not a prejudice I hold.
Given the number of fundamentalists we see whose ears perk up when the subject turns to end-time fantasies, and whose eyes glaze over when the subject turns to ending world hunger, I'd say compassionate action is a quality made of stern stuff indeed. Why else would so many professed followers of Jesus shrink from a demand he hammered on?
quote: Then someone came to [Jesus] and said, â€˜Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?â€™
And he said to him, â€˜Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.â€™
He said to him, â€˜Which ones?â€™
And Jesus said, â€˜You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.â€™
The young man said to him, â€˜I have kept all these; what do I still lack?â€™
Jesus said to him, â€˜If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.â€™
When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Strip away his divinity and that's all your left with. A great moral, compassionate teacher.
Oh, is that all?
Well, no one has stripped anyone of divinity. And there's nothing trivial about being 'a great moral compassionate teacher,' whatever one decides about Jesus.
John prevents that - unless you can find some way (which you seem to have done to your own satisfaction) of dismissing the Jesus of John (and the epistles).
I noted only some differences that exist in the Gospel portraits and noted their correlation with the date of writing.
Good grounds exist to regard the Synoptic portraits as more accurate historically. I made no argument about how this affects theology, if at all. Readers will decide that for themselves.
Your error is to suppose that Jesus instructions have the one dimensional purpose of exhorting mankind to the humanistic endeavor of on and ever upwards.
I supposed nothing of the sort.
I noted only the way Jesus in the Synoptics endorses aggressive action to alleviate human suffering. I contrasted this with the indifference modern fundamentalists display toward even a discussion of world hunger.
You do not deny this indifference. You do not deny the contrast. You simply tar any discussion of feeding the hungry with the brush of 'humanistic endeavor.'
Yet it seems Jesus was a humanist.
His commands are "do or else". And man cannot do. He can only try to do. Which is not what Jesus commanded.
Then you have said it yourself. Do, or do not. There is no try.
Sell your possessions, and give to the poor.
The story of the rich young ruler is a case in point. He could not do as Jesus commanded. He could only do some of what Jesus commanded. Same as us all.
'Same as us all'?
This acceptance of human weakness is indeed touching... coming as it does on the heels of Jesus' command to sell all one's possessions.
Until now you showed little patience with those who 'pick and choose' among Scriptures. Suddenly you find room to indulge those who 'only do some of what Jesus commanded.' You once had little patience for human refusal to act literally on divine instructions. Now you frame such refusals as a matter of 'can not' rather than 'will not.' You once had little patience with skepticism about the words of Paul. Now you find it understandable to disobey a direct command from Christ.
It's a touching show of compassion, to be sure. Who knew Iano could go so soft and mushy? ;)
But if that's things stand, you have an obligation now to cut other professed followers of Jesus slack when they 'only do some of what Jesus commanded.' You have no right to pronounce them outside the camp because, as you now say, this only makes them the 'same as us all.'
quote: â€˜Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbourâ€™s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, â€œLet me take the speck out of your eyeâ€, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbourâ€™s eye.
Setting to one side the gospel which makes most of his divinity on the grounds that reports of his compassion (which many great moral teachers have shared) are somehow subdued by that account is stripping the import of divinity.
I didn't 'set aside' anything, so I didn't do it on 'grounds.' I pointed out a difference.
I am sorry you find the observation unwelcome. It remains valid.
I was under the impression that you were suppressing talk of his divinity because it concentrated less on his compassion. As if compassion sat above and was more important than divinity.
You have been under many impressions. The word compassion triggers a host of reactions from you. You hear in the word all kinds of unwelcome things about 'soft mushy character,' enthroning a single idea over other cherished beliefs, 'one-dimensional humanistic endeavors,' spiritual blindness, divinity denials, etc. You kick up all this sand even when--especially when--the word is shown to you straight from your Bible.
It might be a good idea to explore further on your own the sources of this reaction.
For my part, I'm satisfied to note the difference that exists between the portraits of Jesus we find in the Synoptic writers and in John. The difference is substantial, it can be demonstrated by reference to the texts, it has been noted by countless observers, and it reflects changing historical situations in the first century.
The significance of this observation to the subject of this thread has been demonstrated.
I leave it to the reader to decide what to make of the situation theologically. Iano has his take on it. Others will have theirs.
If you regard Jesus as deity and all four of the Gospels as inerrant, that's how it has to be.
But you didn't say this at first. You never mentioned compassion. Mark, Matthew, and Luke did, but you left it to others to bring that up.
When I mentioned compassion it was you who assumed the 'either/or situation'. You began by assuming that belief in Jesus's divinity stood or fell with John's account. You assumed the compassion discussed by me (and the Synoptic writers) represented a competing, hostile, anti-divinity thesis. You ended by arguing against your own assumption.
People have more than one reason for doing anything. I know this. I see no reason why Yeshua would be an exception.
I also know the Synoptic writers--the writers closest to events historically--thought compassion the motive most worthy of mention. I shared their statements here.
I recommend putting compassion into your picture earlier in the future, before someone else has to bring it up. It serves no purpose to let fears of 'mushiness' and 'one-dimensional humanism' blind you to the teachings of a Christ you claim to defend.
As for the Gospel accounts: the differences are as I stated them and the observations are hardly new with me. Reasonable people will consider these differences in weighing the nature and credibility of the accounts--unless barred from doing so by the constraints of their faith.