Monday, October 31, 2005

Talking the Walk

Marva Dawn

John records the title [Son of God] most extensively. Only once is the title thrown out in accusation by the crowds, but John the Baptizer, Nathaniel, and Martha all use it with praise. Only in writings associated with John does Jesus use the title for Himself.

Why does all this matter? Why is the title important?

Two contemporary corruptions plague this phrase. Some (besides Jehovah witnesses) suggest that the use of the title does not equate in meaning with the word God, but corresponds instead with the way that all of us are children of God (as Luke uses the title in his genealogy). The other problem arises from those who separate the title from the historical person Jesus of Nazareth as a much later usage by the Church.

In responses to the first, I point to the diversity of voices that utter the title in the entire New Testament. The devil is recorded as using the designation in his attempts to dissuade Jesus from God’s way of working in the world. Unclean spirits and demoniacs shriek it in alarm, one would think, because they recognize that they are up against the power of God Himself. If Luke actually interviewed Mary as some scholars suggest, then she heard the title from an angel of heaven (and that angel didn’t address her in the same way!) Most important, the ones who use the title in praise are responding to acts of God in miracles, at conversion, or in fulfilment of inspiration.

The opinion that the title was a much later addition to the Christian faith is made suspect by the fact that the title appears in books from the entire period of the New Testament writing, and because the accusation that Jesus named Himself God’s Son is hurled at Him at His crucifixion. These Gospels and letters were not written to prove or even develop the idea that Jesus was God; rather, Jesus’ followers already believed Him to be God, and that is the reason that these texts were written and preserved in the first place.

A high percentage of theologians these days approach biblical texts with what is called a ‘hermeneutics of suspicion,’ suggesting that interpretation should be characterised more by scepticism than by easy acceptance. Who do we think God is? Is it not possible that God would want us to have truthful testimony to triune involvement with our world and would watch over the process of its recording?

From Part 2 of Talking the Walk, letting Christian language live again, published by Brazos Press 2005
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