Saturday, January 9, 2010

Was Paul a "More Orderly Thinker" than Jesus?

I recently read a statement made by Dale Allison in his book Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet which took me by surprise.  Here's what Allison was wrote:

Human beings are not vulcans.  Why have critics asked whether Paul's views on eschatology evolved with time and whether Romans and Galatians say different things about the law?  The reason is that the apostle, who was surely a more orderly thinker than Jesus, said some things that do not obviously go together.  Why should we believe Jesus was any different?  Do we have a holdover from the old systematic theology?  Surely if Jesus was, as many have held, an eschatalogical prophet who lived in the imaginative world of the apocalypses, we should not expect much consistency from him, for the essential irrationality of apocalyptic is manifest from the history of messianic and millenarian movements.  (page 3-4, emphasis mine)
My mind went through a whirlwind of ideas?  "This can't be right.  Jesus was God and Paul was just a man.  (The implicit Docetism hit me between the eyes!)  But, Jesus was a real man too with all the limitations that come with it.  Why couldn't that affect the "orderliness" of his thinking?  Disorderliness is not sinful.  Was Paul more orderly?"  Then a host of similar questions came to mind?  "Were there better carpenters than Jesus?"  "Was Jesus the fastest kid on the block or was there someone faster?"  "When Jesus was five could he have drawn a perfect circle?"  Did Jesus ever find himself looking for the right word and saying (in Aramaic of course and with an equivalent expression) "it's right on the tip of my tongue"?  What would be so wrong with that?  Part of what has influenced me, I think, is hearing the word "perfect" used so often when talking about Jesus.  He was the perfect teacher, the perfect preacher, used the perfect expression, asked the perfect question, gave the perfect response, saw the perfect opportunity and on and on.  So, the corollary seems to be, since no one is perfect (except Jesus), then no one could do it (whatever "it" may be) better than he did.  Right?

Clearly Jesus was sinless but does sinlessness entail perfection?  I don't think so.  Having said all that it still seems to rub me the wrong way to say that Jesus' thinking was in some way disorderly.  Perhaps because, for Allison, this disorderly thinking includes the idea of the Jesus uttering contradictions (a conclusion I would certainly deny).  I do think there were probably kids who could run faster than Jesus.  But it's another matter to take a writer like Paul who took time and care in composing a book like Romans and comparing that to a sermon from Jesus or any of his parables and from this judge who is the more orderly thinker.  I'm not saying that any of Jesus' sermons or parables shows signs of disorderly thinking.  It's just to say it's like comparing apples to oranges.  No doubt Allison is thinking of the entire raw data of what we have about Jesus as found in the Gospels (not just one or two samples).  And, compared to Paul's writings, he seems to be able to affirm that Paul was the more orderly thinker of the two.  But let's go back to my illustration about the better runner.  Admitting that there were faster runners than Jesus does nothing to diminish is humanity.  Would it diminish Jesus' humanity to admit that Paul (or anyone for that matter) may have been a more orderly thinker?  Doing something in a less orderly manner does not mean that it is wrong (and certainly not sinful).  The question has got me thinking.

Your thoughts?    


Scripture Zealot said...

Everything in that quote past the first sentence looks wrong. I don't believe Paul's theology evolved. I don't believe eschatology is imaginative for Jesus, or maybe even Paul who was taken to the X heaven (I forget). I can't believe that the author and inspirer of Scripture wasn't as orderly as it gets. The only thing I can think of is Jesus didn't want to be as orderly for His own reasons just like He didn't want to be easily understood by everyone.

Maybe I've got it all wrong but those are my quick thoughts.

Louis said...


I couldn't agree more. I've heard all that other stuff time and time again. It was the comment about the orderly thinking that struck because I've never thought about it before. The only other thing I've read by Allison is his book "The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus". I was not very impressed with it. I am so much happier reading Keener than Allison. Your quick thoughts are, I think, right on the money.