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.

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