Monday, August 29, 2022

Genealogies and Entelechy (Gospels 4)


The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.

(Matthew 1:1 NKJV)

Now Jesus . . . being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli . . . the son of Adam, the son of God.

(Luke 3:23-38 NKJV)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

(John 1:14 NKJV)



Preachers joke that the genealogies are the part of the gospels that people like to skip over.  The audience

usually laughs, knowingly.  Yet, there is much gold to be mined concerning entelechy in the genealogies.  We’ll look at the four gospels, individually, as we mine.



Textual critics have debated whether the words “Son of God” were in the original text of Mark 1:1 (“the gospel of Jesus Christ [son of God].”  The United Bible Societies’ Greek text produced by Aland, Black, Metzger, and Wikgren (1966) includes the words [but, in brackets]; the United Bible Societies’ Greek text produced by Nestle and Aland (1969) excludes them, but both show that the language existed in many ancient copies of the text.  Based on their conclusion that the words “Son of God” are textual additions, some skeptical scholars suggest that Mark did not view Jesus as being God’s Son—only as the messiah/Christ. (Mark does not include in his gospel an elaborate genealogy.)  As we pointed out, however, in the blogpost before the last, Mark is not even disposed in his narrative to identify Jesus as the “Christ/Messiah” until after Peter’s confession in 8:29.  It must be noted, however, that, very early in his gospel, Mark has God speaking in a mysterious voice (what Jews call a “bat qol”) on two occasions—once, in 1:11 (paralleled by Matthew 3:17 and Luke 3:22), at Jesus’ baptism and again, in 9:7 (paralleled by Matthew’s account in 17:5 and Peter’s testimony in 2 Peter 1:17), on the Mount of Transfiguration—making the assertion: “You are (this is) My beloved Son.”  In these two accounts, an implicit genealogy might exist in God’s assertion:  that Jesus traced his genealogy directly to God Himself (“My Son”), unless when Luke 9:35 adds “whom I have chosen” indicates, somehow, that Jesus is only “chosen” to be God’s Son, not genealogically “begotten” as God’s Son.  Some translators, attempting to explain these words, use the terminology “my chosen one,” instead of “whom I have chosen.”  Hebrews 5:5 complicates the idea of what is meant by “begotten-ness” by citing Psalm 2:7, from which these sayings may derive, more fully, saying “You are My Son; today I have begotten you.”  Note the word “today.”  Was Mark suggesting that Jesus was the Son of God in the sense of having been designated as such just “today” (as opposed to eternally)?

Interestingly, “unclean spirits” (3:11, 5:7) address Jesus as the “son of God,” but we might be inclined to be suspicious as to whether Mark accepted the word of “unclean spirits.”  Jesus’ neighbors in Galilee identify him as the “son of Mary” (6:3) and the blind man Bartimaeus called him “son of David” (10:47-48), indicating an earthly genealogy.  Jesus seems to self-identify simply as “the Son” but he identifies in this way in the context of the “Father” and the “angels” (13:32).  Even though Jesus almost always identifies himself as the “Son of man,” his association of the terms Son, Father, and angels is repeated as Jesus says that the Son of man will come “in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (8:38).  In Mark 14:61, Jesus is at his trial.  The High Priest asks him point blank: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? Jesus replies explicitly: “I am.”  That would seem to settle the matter, for Mark.  In the final mention of “son of God” in Mark’s gospel (15:39), the centurion at the cross remarks, “Truly, this man was the son of God.”  It seems clear that Mark understood Jesus to be the Son of God, whether by human genealogy or by divine genealogy, leaving further discussion of both of these genealogical possibilities to the other evangelists (i.e., gospel writers).



Matthew begins his gospel with an elaborate genealogy, but he sets the limits of his genealogy to tracing Jesus’ lineage only back to David, and thence, to Abraham, whereas Luke traces through those important figures plus on back to Adam, and thence, to God.  Matthew is not attempting to make the same argument with his genealogy that Luke makes.  Matthew’s purposes in using a genealogy were (1) to demonstrate Jesus’ thorough-bred nature as a Jew by tracing him all the way back to the father of the Hebrews, Abraham, and (2) to demonstrate his genealogical bona fides, his messianic credentials, as the offspring of David. In the previous blogpost, I had identified “Aristotle’s doctrine of entelechy/ἐντέλεχεια . . . [as] describe[ing] any process that has a beginning, a middle, and an end implicit throughout the process.”  I gave the example of the seed in a “growth” entelechy and compared it with the “creation” entelechy, that had a beginning, a middle, and will have an end, as the old heaven and earth are destroyed.  Now, we are looking at a second kind of entelechy.  The first (“growth”) entelechy is what Aristotle called a change of “substance” or “form.”  This second kind of entelechy is what Aristotle called a change of “quantity, complete and incomplete.” 

To explain what a complete “quantity” entelechy would be, we might return to that seed entelechy and advance to the entelechy of the harvest stage.  As a kid who grew up on a farm, I can testify that the harvest process contained many “quantity” entelechies.  My dad would operate his combine in the fields, with the grain that was being picked and processed flowing into a grain tank at the top of the combine.  Once that grain tank was full, one could say that an entelechy had been completed.  In the “beginning,” the grain tank was empty.  In the “middle,” the grain tank was filling (in quantity).  Once the grain tank could hold no further quantity, one could say that the quantity was complete—the entelechy had ended.  Nevertheless, two other quantity entelechies were about to begin.  Once the grain tank was full, it had to be emptied using an auger in a side pipe called an unloader.  The side pipe was positioned over the bed of a truck or trailer that would be able to hold several grain tanks full of grain.  The grain was augered out until the grain tank was empty, thus preparing the grain tank for a new entelechy of harvesting and filling.  Meanwhile, the “quantity” entelechy of filling the truck or trailer for transportation to the grain elevator had just begun.  Load after load of grain from the grain tank on the combine were deposited into the truck or trailer, until it was full; the truck/trailer-filling entelechy was now complete.  Then the truck was driven to the grain elevator where a third “quantity” entelechy would be in-process as the various trucks from multiple farmers waited in line to pull up to unload their cargos into the grain elevator—until the grain elevator was full and had completed its own filling entelechy.  Then the grain was loaded onto a barge or into train cars, etc. as new quantity entelechies were generated.

So, back to Matthew, but using some texts from Paul.  “Time” (like grain) is also a quantity.  Every employee who has punched in a time clock at 8 a.m. and punched out at 5 p.m. knows that an entelechy (even if s/he has not called it by that term) has just been completed.  The time for working has been completed.  So, Paul, in Galatians 4:4-5 (NKJV) says: “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.  In Ephesians 1:10 (NKJV), he says that in “the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.”  Similarly, Matthew 1:17 (NKJV) seems to think in terms of a fullness of time entelechy as he concludes his genealogy: “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.”  Jesus was born in the fullness of time.

Besides completing requisite “time,” Matthew argues that the appropriate list of individuals (especially Abraham and David) have also been completed in Jesus’ lineage.  But, then, Matthew faces a problem.  He soon indicates that Mary became pregnant while she was betrothed to Joseph, but before they “came together.”  So, genetically, Joseph could not have been in Jesus’ lineage.  This is a problem because, as pointed out three posts ago, Jews understood that humans preexisted “in the loins of their human fathers.”  But, Jesus DIDN’T HAVE a human father, did he?  Matthew may have reasoned that, having been “betrothed” to Joseph, the biblical principle from Genesis, repeated by Matthew in 19:5-6 NKJV—"'a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?  So then, they are no longer two but one flesh.”—applies.  So, Matthew traces the lineage of Jesus through Mary’s other half of “one flesh,” Joseph.  Thus, Matthew 1:16 (after having included the parentage of David and Abraham) completes the genealogy with these words (NKJV): “And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.”  Matthew uses the term “begat” for every transitional person in the genealogy, except the Joseph/Mary to Jesus transition.  There, he simply states that Jesus “was born” of Mary.



As opposed to Matthew’s genealogy, Luke avoids the “begat” terminology altogether, starting from the end product (Jesus) and (seeming to use “[the son] of” terminology) works backward in 3:38 to “[the son] of Enosh, [the son] of Seth, [the son] of Adam, [the son] of God.”  Actually, the words “the son” are implied at each transition, not explicitly stated, except in 3:23, where Luke states that Jesus being “the son AS WAS THOUGHT [of] Joseph,” (implied:  was actually) “of Matthat, [the son] of Levi, [the son] of Melchi,” etc.  Luke may have reasoned that, since Jesus was not actually the son of  Joseph “AS WAS THOUGHT,” would have been considered to be of the seed of Mary’s father, Matthat.

Of course, Luke (and Matthew and Mark) knows all along that Jesus is actually the son of God.  It is no accident that Luke places his genealogy immediately following the mysterious voice (bat qol) at Jesus’ baptism, at which time God says, “You are My beloved son.” (3:22).  By continuing the earthly genealogy all the way back to “Adam, [the son] of God,” Luke displays his purpose as indicating not simply (as Matthew did) that Jesus is the son of David and Abraham, but also that Jesus was related to gentiles (before the Hebrew people began) and, especially that Jesus’ ultimate father was God Himself.



This brings us to the Gospel According to John, who understands that we can dispense with human genealogies, altogether.  The issue that none of the evangelists disputes is “who Jesus’ father is.”  The answer is resounding: “God.”  So, John introduces us to the creation entelechy.  He does not go back to a time before creation, because it is unnecessary.  “En archē” (ἐν ἀρχῇ) refers to the time when the “grain tank” was empty, using the harvest entelechy as a metaphor.  The process of creation had not yet begun. 

Nevertheless, in the emptiness of the grain tank, certain things were implicit.  It was implicit that the “purpose” or “end” or telos/τέλος of what was about to begin was to “fill it up with grain.”  It was implicit that an agent would be needed (my father) to operate the combine.  It was implicit that an agency (the combine) would be used to accomplish the “purpose” or “end” or telos/τέλος.  It was implicit that a scene in which ripe grain had grown in the field would be needed.  It was implicit that the process of harvesting the grain would require a certain amount of time to complete.  It was implicit that various harvesting processes were incorporated into the overall activity of the combine, such as cutting grain stalks, feeding them through the combine, threshing, separating, chopping the straw, cleaning the fan, and auguring the grain. Not all of these processes would occur simultaneously.  Some would occur in the “middle” of the process.

Likewise, in the archē of the creation entelechy, certain things were implicit.  It was implicit that the “purpose” or “end” or telos/τέλος of what was about to begin was, as Paul said, that in “the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.”  It was implicit that an agent would be needed (God) to begin and complete the process.  It was implicit that the means (the spoken word, or Logos, or Spirit of God) by which God accomplished His purpose existed with God and was God.  It was implicit that that Logos would “become flesh and dwell among us”—that we would know him as Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  It was implicit that in him was life (as opposed to the machinery made by humans) and that that life was the light of man.  It was implicit that man would sin and fall (Adam) and need a savior (Jesus).  It was implicit that death was necessary to pay for sins and that Jesus would voluntarily take on that task, due to the implicit love of God and the Logos.

Jesus’ human body can be traced to Mary, and by extension, through Mary’s husband, Joseph and through Mary’s father, Matthat.  Jesus’ true genealogy, however, ultimately must be traced to God, as the son always pre-exists in the loins of his father.  Why, then, do we find that the Bible sometimes limits Jesus’ status, or knowledge, or will, or authority?  That will be the subject of the next blogpost.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Logos and Entelechy (Gospels 3)


In the beginning [of] God created the heavens and the earth . . . And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said . . .

(Genesis 1:1-3 NKJV, with the addition “[of]”)



Why isn’t the Logos mentioned in Genesis 1?  Or is it?  Logos is a Greek word and Genesis was written in Hebrew.  Are there any suggestions of the Greek Logos in any Hebrew words in Genesis?  Christian writers have long pursued the connections between John’s Gospel and Plato, Aristotle’s teacher; however, they have not been as interested in pursuing the connections between John and Aristotle (Plato’s student).  


Plato and Philo explains how Philo Judaeus, who was a contemporary of Jesus and lived in Alexandria, Egypt, may have provided some of the backdrop for the first chapter of John:


Philo reconciled his Jewish theology with Plato’s theory of Ideas: . . . he posited the Ideas as God’s eternal thoughts, which God then created as real beings before he created the world.  Philo saw the cosmos as a great chain of being presided over by the Logos . . . the mediator between God and the world, though . . . he identifies the Logos as a second God. Philo departed from Plato . . . using the term Logos for the Idea of Ideas . . . In anticipation of Christian doctrine he called the Logos the first-begotten Son of God . . . the image of God, and second to God.


In some respects (though, certainly, not exactly), Philo’s notion of God’s thoughts being, in essence, created and personified (“as real beings”) parallels my observations in my book Angels and Demons:  The Personification of Communication (Logology).  I credit the existence of angels to God’s words being personified, in a fashion I deduced from the considerable discussion of the subject in both rabbinic and New Testament texts, but I would never suggest that God somehow “created” his own Spirit.  In contrast to Philo Judeus, the first chapter of John does NOT identify the Logos as an Idea of Ideas, something which God created, or as the mediator between God and the world.  John does NOT see the cosmos as a great chain of being presided over by the Logos. 


Genesis Parallel


Rather, John sees his Logos as coexistent with (even identical to?) God “en archē” (ἐν ἀρχῇ).  The Greek phrase ἐν ἀρχῇ is virtually always translated “in the beginning,” which (since it sounds like the first word/s of Genesis) conjures up the creation story.  One can easily envision God’s spoken word (=Logos=the fiats of creation, such as “let there be light”) as existing simultaneously with God “in the beginning.”  Was John, then, personifying the spoken word (=the Spirit) of God and naming it Logos?  Not exactly.  On page 150 of my book Angels and Demons:  The Personification of Communication, I write: 


Jewish scholar G. F. Moore links . . . three terms . . . together quite easily.  In his chapter entitled, "The Word of God:  The Spirit," Moore states, "God's will is made known or effectuated in the world not only through personal agents (ANGELS), but directly by his WORD or by his SPIRIT" (emphases mine).


Since John himself (quoting Jesus) emphasizes that God IS spirit (John 4:24) and the facts that the “Spirit of God” is hovering over the face of the waters and God is speaking “words” are all found in Genesis 1:1-3, the possibility of the Logos being identified as the Spirit of God is a very definite possibility.  Identifying the Logos-become-flesh as Jesus may be a later development in the entelechy, though Jesus is explicit as the beginning (ἀρχῇ) of creation in Revelation 3:14, the verse to which we will return momentarily.


Aristotle’s Entelechy


            According to John, Logos existed simultaneously with God in the ἀρχῇ of creation.  The terminology --ἐν ἀρχῇ strikes me as more of an Aristotelian-than-Platonic concept, found in Aristotle’s doctrine of entelechy/ἐντέλεχεια—a word coined by Aristotle to describe any process that has a beginning, a middle, and an end implicit throughout the process.  Incidentally, “implicit” is the first word of the title of my book Implicit Rhetoric: Kenneth Burke’s Extension of Aristotle’s Concept of Entelechy.  Although the word ἐν forms the first two letters of the word ἐντέλεχεια, the τέλος root (meaning end or purpose or goal) comes after the ἐν, rather than the ἀρχη root (meaning beginning or that which causes a process to begin).  Aristotle’s entelechy is interested, however, in both beginnings and ends and how they are interrelated.  One might even over-simplify the matter by saying that “the end is implicit in the beginning.”  Kenneth Burke’s handiest example, then, of Aristotle’s entelechy is the “seed,” which even though it has not yet begun to grow holds implicitly within itself the entire history of what the plant will be throughout its lifetime.  Another way to put it is:  the τέλος is implicit in the ἀρχη.  The “explicit” is that which one has specifically heard or seen.  The “implicit” has not yet been heard or seen, but is clearly understood to exist whenever one hears or sees another thing.  For example, when we “explicitly” see a stalk of wheat, “implicitly” we know that a grain of wheat was involved somewhere in a growth process, and conversely, whenever a grain of wheat is “explicitly” seen planted, we know that the root and stalk and leaves and future grains are all “implicit” in the process of the growth of that seed.  Indeed, Aristotle even thinks of the agent/person/individual who begins the process of change as the archê.  The archê (or builder) is separate from the art (or house) that he builds.  Yet, implicit in the builder (agent/person/individual) is his “purpose” or end or goal.  He contains (in his mind) the blueprint and picture of the final design and purpose of the house.  Therefore, archê can be the cause that begins a process.  The archê can be the agent/person/individual—while also containing the agent/person/individual who also contains the purpose or end (telos/τέλος) of the process.

The Book of Revelation employs the same important terminology that is fundamental to Aristotle's concept of entelechy.  I note, especially, the language of archē/ἀρχή and telos/τέλος, usually translated “the beginning archē/ἀρχή and the end telos/τέλος with which Revelation refers to God and Jesus.  Revelation uses the term archē/ἀρχή in 3:14, referring to Jesus as the archē/ἀρχή of God’s creation.  Revelation uses both terms archē/ἀρχή and telos/τέλος (along with the First and the Last) in 21:6, as a title for God and (along with the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last) in 22:13, as a title for Jesus. Surely, Revelation is not suggesting that God had a “beginning,” so John must be referring to the process which has the beginning or archē/ἀρχή, namely, “God’s creation” (3:14).  For the author of Revelation, God and Jesus WERE the beginning or archē/ἀρχή of the process of creation.  The beginning or archē/ἀρχή also, in a sense, CONTAINED them.  It is enlightening to examine such entelechial terminology to see how it helps to explain the Apocalypse as well as John’s Gospel (and other New Testament books).  Aristotle coined this extremely significant term:  entelecheia/ἐντέλεχεια.  We know that Aristotle coined the word, because it does not exist in Plato’s writings or any time earlier.  In Implicit Rhetoric:  Kenneth Burke’s Extension of Aristotle’s Concept of Entelechy (pp. 40-41), based on a study of Aristotle’s use of the term, I define Aristotle’s term entelechy/entelecheia as:


[T]he started-but-not-completed (atelēs) process of changing (primarily in a kinēsis sense) a substance, object, or being (in one of Aristotle's senses of changing) from what it was into what it by nature (phusis) should become (i.e., its telos or purpose)--which process is characterized by the condition that the substance, object, or being possesses (in one of the four senses of echein) within itself (en-) implicitly the fully-developed goal or end (telos) toward which the change (kinēsis) is progressing explicitly.

Granted, I have just given you a lot of information to unpack, so let me take it bit by bit.  I will return to this definition frequently, as I continue to explain entelechy/entelecheia/ἐντέλεχεια and how Aristotle’s concept helps to understand the Gospel According to John, which I perceive as the Gospel According to Entelechy.  However, for the time being, let’s just consider the seed example and see how this “earthly thing” helps us to understand what John calls “heavenly things.” 

1.      A seed, once it begins to grow has “started-but-not-completed [the] process of changing” from a seed into roots, stalks, leaves, and future grains.  Once the process is “completed” (i.e., once the plant has grown to complete maturity, or telos/τέλος), the entelechy is over.  It is no longer an entelechy, but each seed that has been produced in the previous entelechy is now capable of starting a brand new entelechy (growing roots, stalks, leaves, and more future grains).

2.      Nevertheless, all roots, stalks, leaves, and future grains are already “implicit” in the original seed that was originally planted, even though each stage or part will not become an “explicit” stage or part until sometime later.

3.      The “one of Aristotle's [four] senses of changing” that is involved in the seed entelechy is the sense of “growth” (or, as Aristotle describes it, a “positive” change of “substance” or “form”).  Aristotle’s word for form, here, is morphê, from which we get our word “metamorphosis” as when a caterpillar morphs into a butterfly.  The seed is constantly morphing into a full-grown plant.

4.      The seed develops “by nature” into what it “by nature” is destined to become (“its telos or purpose)—the full-grown plant with its own seeds.  It is a “wheat” seed, so “by nature” it cannot develop into an oak tree.  Its future form was “implicit” in the original wheat seed before it was planted and began the “process” of growing.

5.      Therefore, we can say that the wheat seed “possesses within itself (en-) implicitly the fully-developed goal or end (telos) toward which the change (kinēsis) is progressing explicitly.”


Application of Entelechy to Logos in John


Think of the archē/ἀρχή of the Creation entelechy in terms of the “process” that was “started-but-not-completed” from John’s perspective.  We, of course, might look forward to a subsequent entelechy (a new creation, with a new heavens and new earth, in Revelation), but considering the original Creation entelechy, certain elements clearly existed implicitly in the process of Creation.  Among those elements that clearly existed in the archē/ἀρχή of Creation were God and His Word (Logos).  By His Word, everything was created:  He spoke everything into existence.

This is not to say that either God or His Word were NOT in existence BEFORE the beginning of the Creation process.  Both God and Jesus identify themselves as “I AM,” implicitly indicating the eternally “present,” as opposed to “past” or “future.”  God is “implicit” in His Word; His Word is “implicit” in God.  You can’t have one without the other.  They don’t disagree or conflict with each other.  Here is absolute monotheism.  Definitionally, God and his Word/Spirit are one and the same.

The end telos/τέλος or purpose of creation was also implicit.  God had a “purpose” (telos) in creating the world.  (This is not to say that either God or His Word will NOT be in existence AFTER the end of the Creation process.)  Even inventors and home builders have a “purpose” in what they make.  The “purpose” of the inventor of the clock was to “keep time.”  This does not mean that the inventor was not in existence BEFORE he began to invent the clock.  Nor does it mean that he was not in existence AFTER the clock was invented.  Likewise, God and his Word (Logos) were in existence BEFORE they began the process of creating the world and will be AFTER it is destroyed, according to Revelation.

The entelechy, then, that John had in mind as he wrote, was, most likely, the “creation” entelechy as signaled by Revelation 3:14.  This would not be news to Christians of the last two thousand years.  We have thought, all along, by translating the first two words of John (ἐν ἀρχῇ) as “In the Beginning” that we were referring to the same subject matter as our translation of the first word of Genesis (בְּרֵאשִׁית) “In the Beginning.”  What IS news is that John may well be focused on the entire entelechy (from beginning to end) when he uses the words ἐν ἀρχῇ.  In an entelechy, the end (telos) is implicit in the beginning and the beginning (ἀρχῇ) is implicit in the end (telos).  What’s more, everything in-between (such as roots, stalks, leaves, etc. in the seed analogy) is implicit in both the beginning (ἀρχῇ) and the end (telos).  That’s why entelechy is Aristotle’s term to “describe any process that has a beginning, a middle, and an end implicit throughout the process.”

If John is (either consciously or unconsciously) relying on Aristotle’s entelechy/entelecheia/ἐντέλεχεια in his use of the phrase ἐν ἀρχῇ, the eventuality of the Word-becoming-flesh is also implicit in the ἀρχῇ.  Also included in the ἀρχῇ will be every single step/development of the entire entelechy, so that, for example, reference to “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) makes sense, entelechially.  Also making sense entelechially are verses such as the following:

·         Ephesians 1:4: “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.”

·         John 17:24: “You loved Me before the foundation of the world.

·         I Peter 1:20: “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times.”

·         Matthew 25:34: “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

·         Matthew 13:35: “I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.”

·         II Timothy 1:9:grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.”

·         Hebrews 9:26:  “He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”

·         Acts 15:18:  "Known to God from eternity are all His works.”

My goal (telos) in the entelechy of this blogpost series is to challenge you to be thinking entelechially, when reading John.  I surmise that John’s original audience consisted of a number of deep thinkers.  You may or may not think of yourself as one, even though farmers and mothers are often far more familiar with the biological/earthly things with which Jesus compares the heavenly than are university professors of theology or philosophy.  Nevertheless, when I suggested, in the previous blogpost, that John’s Gospel was, like Matthew, Mark, and Luke, of an extremist nature, I did not mean to suggest that we should shy away from attempting to develop the extreme faith lauded by John, any more than I would suggest that we shy away from the extreme righteousness lauded by Matthew or the extreme self-denial lauded by Mark or the extreme voluntary impoverishment lauded by Luke.  We should, rather, seek to grow (an entelechial process) in all these areas.  Certainly, as your children attending public schools and universities are constantly exposed to the deep philosophies of Satan, you owe it to them to study deeper, yourselves.  Deeply-rooted parents are the last, best hope of your children.  More of the Gospel According to Entelechy to come, next time.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

The Four Extremist Gospels (Gospels 2)

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also . . . to write to you an orderly account . . . that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.

(Luke 1:1-4 NKJV)



Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican nominee for President, was labeled by his opponent, Democrat President Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ), an “extremist.”  Goldwater famously retorted: “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”  This retort by Goldwater seems to have foreshadowed the current divide, often along extremist lines, between the Republican and Democrat parties.  Will Wilkinson points out in his blog: “As Karl Hess
 noted in his memoirs, shortly after Goldwater delivered his famous speech, Malcolm X . . . connected ‘extremism in defense of liberty’ to the idea of black Americans defending their rights by ‘any means necessary.’”

When I refer to the Gospels as being extremist, I do not interpret the term “extremist” in the same way Malcolm X or Will Wilkinson did.  The Gospels do not incite anyone to use violence.  Quite to the contrary, Jesus and his followers (the deacon Stephen, the Apostle James, Jesus’ brother James, the Apostle Paul, et. al.) willingly became the victims of violence, often as martyrs. defines an “extremist” as “a person who advocates or resorts to measures beyond the norm.”  Indeed, willing acceptance of martyrdom is much more extreme (beyond the norm) than is murder or mayhem.  Those activities (murder and mayhem) have increasingly become the “norm” in many American cities, such as Chicago.


Mark’s Gospel of Extreme Self-Denial


Indeed, extreme self-denial (martyrdom) is the ideal value to which the Gospel of Mark points its readers. While I certainly do not accept the premises of the redaction critics—especially, the premise that the Gospel writers felt free to “compose” sections of their gospels in order to support their individual theologies—I do think that there is merit in the observation by various redactionists, including Norman Perrin, citing H. E. Tödt, that in Mark (beginning with his account of the Caesarea Philippi incident of “the confession of Peter and the subsequent teachings of Jesus on

discipleship (Mark 8:27-9:1 with its parallels, Matt. 16:13-28 and Luke 9:18-27),” Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of man must suffer, be killed, and rise again.  Prior to this point in Mark, there is no hint of a suffering Savior—only a remarkably gifted man who performs a myriad of progressively more impressive healings and miracles.  This culminates, in Mark 8:29, as Peter concludes/confesses that Jesus is the Christ, but nothing further.  Peter seems to be unaware of what his confession had entailed.  Jesus, then, for the first time in Mark, speaks in third person of the “Son of man” who will die and rise again.  What is extreme in Mark is that Jesus, after revealing his own coming suffering and death on the cross, asks his disciples to willingly follow him in that self-denial: “
Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35 NKJV).  This message in Mark is one of EXTREME SELF-DENIAL.  Perrin writes: “[I]t reflects the Marcan conviction that, as went the master, so must go the disciple, with all that this implies.”  If an otherwise strong Christian, today, experiences stress concerning the prospect of becoming a martyr for Christ, he is experiencing the stress of following Mark’s EXTREME SELF-DENIAL value.  Of course, other New Testament books testify to this value, but for Mark, it is essential to his Gospel.  Read through Mark again, looking for the extreme self-denial value.  You will not find it before Mark 8:27, but after that, it is the whole point of the Gospel.


Luke’s Gospel of Extreme Impoverishment


In my article in the 2016 KB Journal, available online, I introduce Epideictic criticism of the Gospels.  That article was my first criticism and response to what I see as the incorrect premises of redaction criticism.  Genre studies in the Gospels have long considered literary genres, but Kenneth Burke pointed to the “rhetorical” element in literature. Which rhetorical element, then, could he have had in mind? Aristotle offered three rhetorical genres: judicial, deliberative, and epideictic. Of these, the gospels relate primarily to epideictic rhetoric.  Epideictic rhetoric views its audience as composed of “theorists” who decipher the “values” that are implicit in the narratives of epideictic rhetoric.  Just as Mark’s audience could decipher the value of EXTREME SELF-DENIAL pointing toward martyrdom in Mark’s Gospel, I demonstrated that the extreme value in Luke is the value of EXTREME (voluntary) IMPOVERISHMENT.  Twentieth Century rhetorician Chaim Perelman observes that “Epideictic oratory . . . strengthens the disposition toward action by increasing adherence to the values it lauds.”  Thus, Mark lauds the value of EXTREME SELF-DENIAL and Luke lauds is the value of EXTREME IMPOVERISHMENT.  By comparing the Beatitudes as Luke presents them with the Beatitudes as Matthew presents them, we see that Luke lauds poverty more than does Matthew.  Luke 6:20 quotes Jesus as saying “Blessed are you who are poor.”  Matthew quotes the words as “poor in spirit.”  Luke quotes Jesus as saying “Blessed are you who are hungry now.”  Matthew adds the words “after righteousness.”  That Luke is emphasizing the “literally” poor is demonstrated by the fact that he follows-up his Beatitude with the statements, “Woe to you who are rich . . . woe to you who are full now.”  Luke is the only gospel to provide the Good Samaritan parable.  Acts (also written by Luke) tells of Christians like Barnabas who sold their possessions and brought the money to the apostles. 
If an otherwise strong Christian, today, experiences stress concerning the prospect of actively becoming impoverished for Christ, he is experiencing the stress of following Luke’s EXTREME IMPOVERISHMENT value.  Read through Luke-Acts again, looking for the extreme poverty value. It is the major “values” point of the Gospel and Acts.


Matthew’s Gospel of Extreme Righteousness


When Matthew quotes Jesus as saying “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (5:6 NKJV) rather than Luke’s version, “Blessed are you who are hungry now,” he signals his extreme value:  EXTREME RIGHTEOUSNESS.  Since it is aimed at males, how many male Christians have experienced stress when reading “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (5:28 NKJV)?  And, Jesus’ solution?  Pluck out your eye and cast it from you in order to avoid hell!  Or, what Christian of either sex doesn’t experience stress at the thought of going to hell (not for committing murder) but for calling someone a fool or a moron (5:22).  Who doesn’t chafe when commanded by Jesus to love, not just your friends, but also your enemies (5:44)?  Matthew’s (and Jesus’) point is that you are the light of the world (5:14).  If you don’t allow your light (extreme righteousness) to shine, the world will not see your “good works” and glorify God (5:16).  The scribes and the pharisees, with whom Jesus and Matthew’s audience interacted, were extremely concerned with righteousness, so Jesus (and Matthew) says “unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven (5:28 NKJV).  If an otherwise strong Christian, today, experiences stress concerning the difficulty of living an extremely moral life, he is experiencing the stress of following Matthew’s

RIGHTEOUSNESS value.  Read through Matthew again, looking for the extreme righteousness value.  “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (6:33 NKJV) is the major “values” point of the Gospel.


John’s Gospel of Extreme Faith


It is, perhaps, the best-known verse in the New Testament, if not the Bible, altogether:  John 3:16 (KJV): “For God so loved the world that He gave his only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth on Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Faith is the key value in John’s Gospel.  John 20:31 (NKJV) spells out John’s entire purpose in writing his Gospel: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”  As I wrote in my blogpost Apocalyptic?  #19:  Does Absolute Truth Exist? (Rev. 3:14), I owe my brother Dennis for producing the groundwork for seeing the connection between “faith” and “truth” or “knowledge” in Johannine literature.  What seems to count as “faith,” however, for many, today, is NOT John’s EXTREME FAITH.  There have even been “evangelists” who walk the streets and ask people (in a fashion similar to a political poll), “Do you believe in God and Jesus?”  If the answer is yes, they say: “Praise God!  You are saved!”  Without rehashing all of my commentary from Apocalyptic? #19 (Google it, if you want to rehash!), I will point out: “Dennis indicates (p. 188) “the line of

distinction . . .  between the biblical . . . faith and the secular . . . faith” is that the New Testament CANNOT adopt a stance that “Christic Faith” could be only “probable” truth.  Instead, if faith/PISTIS “denot[es] an attitude and manner of steadfastness, confidence and trust in the midst of a life-threatening situation,” one’s faith must be an absolute faith.  One must believe that Jesus and God are “absolutely true.”  If, therefore, both God and Jesus know absolute truth, concerning everything, there is no point of disagreement between them concerning anything.  People do not disagree about things that are considered “facts.”  If people have trouble understanding how God and Jesus can BOTH rule the universe, without any conflict, it is because they never argue; they never disagree, they don’t have differing opinions, because they both know “absolute truth” for certain.

While God and Jesus know everything absolutely, we humans do not.  How can we have EXTREME FAITH in something/someone we do not know absolutely?  So, John’s Gospel takes on the task of explaining who God and Jesus TRULY are, so that we may believe in them.  This brings us back to the topic of the previous blogpost and the Gospel According to Entelechy.  In order to have EXTREME FAITH in Jesus, one must KNOW who he is.  And, beginning with the first verse of the first chapter of his Gospel, John starts to unpack the identity of Jesus and his relationship to God.  There are some EXTREME FAITH assertions in John:

·         The Logos is God “en archē” (ἐν ἀρχῇ) and the Logos took on flesh,

·         He is the Light of the World who made all things,

·         He was before John the Baptist and, even, Abraham,

·         The angels of God ascend and descend upon him,

·         Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you,

·         He is the way, the truth, and the life, the only way to the Father,

·         The Father is in Jesus and Jesus in Him; The Spirit of Truth will be in you; I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you,

·         Jesus had glory with God before the world was.

Even so, John’s Jesus asserts: 

·         “My father is greater than I” (14:28),

·         “I ascend to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God” (20:17),

If an otherwise strong Christian, today, experiences stress concerning the difficulty of believing in Jesus and what exactly that means, he is experiencing the stress of following John’s EXTREME FAITH value.  Read through John again, looking for the extreme faith value.


Why Are There Four Gospels?


As we have seen, there is always room for growth in one’s Christian life.  If one is EXTREMELY RIGHTEOUS, one might still need to grow in the Lukan value of EXTREME IMPOVERISHMENT (as did the Rich Young Ruler).  If one has become voluntarily EXTREMELY IMPOVERISHED, one might still need to grow in Mark’s value of EXTREME SELF-DENIAL.  If one is facing the prospect of martyrdom, one might still need to grow in John’s value of EXTREME FAITH in who Jesus is.  If one has EXTREME FAITH, one might still need to grow in Matthew’s EXTREME RIGHTEOUSNESS.  While plucking out one’s eye may well be hyperbole, the goal is to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect.  None of us are there yet. 

We will resume the entelechial study of who Jesus is and his relationship to God in the next blogpost.