Irenaeus describes Jesus mostly as he is presented in the opening chapter of John – the incarnate Word of God. As part of the Trinity, he is the anointed – anointed by the Father through the Holy Spirit. Irenaeus also focuses heavily on the idea of Jesus as recapitulation. Because he is the savior of humanity, Christ must recapitulate the human experience, as well as the old covenant. Irenaeus says, “Just as through the disobedience of one man sin came in, and through sin death prevailed (Rom.5:12,19), so also through the obedience of one man justice was brought in and produced the fruit of life for the men formerly dead.” Jesus is the new Adam – begotten by God for a new beginning.
Jesus also shows similarities with biblical figures by “fasting forty days like Moses and Elijah” and experiencing emotional grief like David. According to Irenaeus, Luke’s genealogy from Adam to Jesus accentuates the connection from the beginning to the end.
This is closely connected to Anderson’s view of the biblical narrative by reading the beginning with the ending in mind. Because almost everything Jesus does is a reflection of what happened before, it is important to relate the Old Testament events with Jesus’ life. Not only is it important to recognize that Jesus will fulfill much of what occurs before him, but also to discern how he will perfect the processes that people like Adam and Moses carried out.
In the Roman Empire during second century, Christianity was an illegal religion, and its followers were often persecuted with the threat of death. It is a good question, though, to ask why the religion was illegal. Even Pliny the Younger, a provincial governor, asked Emperor Trajan what crimes Christians had committed. The Romans had previously tolerated many religions, including Judaism, so why were Christians persecuted? It seems the emperors who persecuted Christians were unhappy with how Romans were turning away from their traditional paganism in favor of the new religion. Other beliefs, like Judaism, stayed within specific geographic or ethnic groups, but Christianity had a following throughout the Roman Empire. For example, Marcus Aurelius accepted the explanation that problems in the empire were caused by Christians turning Romans away from the gods.
Becoming a martyr is lifted up because it is suffering as Christ suffered. In that way, it is the ultimate fulfillment of Mark’s call to follow Jesus on the way to the cross. This is evident in the story of Polycarp, whose journey mirrors Jesus in several ways. Polycarp predicts his death, is betrayed by his friends, accepts his capture without resistance, and shows no fear or repentance in his trial. He willingly walks to death and is even speared by his executioners. The people of the time probably noticed the parallels as well, as the Jews said the Christians might “forsake the Crucified and take to worshipping this fellow instead” (Polycarp, 130).
I don’t think it would be fair to say a Christian should seek martyrdom. In fact, early Christians called these spontaneous martyrs whose faith would fail them at their time of persecution. These “were false martyrs, and Christ would desert them” (Gonzalez, 55). While that position has been debated, the general view, especially in the second century, is that to be martyred is a gift from God that should be accepted and rejoiced in, but not sought. Ignatius did not want to endanger his friends or prevent God’s plan to be fulfilled, so he did not resist death. However, I think there is a substantial difference between accepting death and actively seeking it that is important to note in martyrdom, and the former is the more appropriate mindset.
In Acts 15 there is a dispute among the Christians about following Mosaic Law. Some Pharisees who had converted were teaching that Gentiles must be circumcised and follow the law. The apostles met and debated the question, and Peter told them that God had granted salvation to the Gentiles because of their faith, not following the law. James said there should be some restrictions (“to avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood”). After reaching this resolution, the disciples sent Paul, Barnabas, Judas, and Silas to Antioch to tell them this decision.
I think it’s surprising that Peter is the one who convinces the group that Gentiles do not need to follow the law. Galatians 2 describes a conflict between Peter and Paul in which Peter refuses to eat with the Gentiles because he is afraid of the Christian Jews who follow the law. Through much of the New Testament, it seems Paul is much more focused on converting Gentiles and Peter typically reaches out to Jews. It’s surprising to me, then, that it would be Peter, not Paul, to convince the disciples not to force Gentiles to follow Mosaic Law. Since Paul is so emphatic about faith over works in his letters, it is surprising that he was not more instrumental in making this the mainstream view at the council.
Martin Luther starts out his preface to James noting that he thinks very highly of the epistle. It’s an odd beginning for a piece that later denies the book’s place in New Testament canon. However, that’s exactly what Luther argues in the preface.
Luther has two major reasons for excluding the epistle. Firstly, he says it contradicts what Paul says about the role of faith in salvation. In Romans, Paul describes how God’s grace forgives sins through faith in Christ. James says that faith is nothing without works that glorify God. This apparent contradiction with Luther’s favorite epistle is what makes the theologian reject James as canon.
The other reason is James’ lack of emphasis on Christ in the epistle. He “mentions Christ once and again, but teaches nothing about Him; it speaks only of a commonplace faith in God.” According to Luther, a book in the New Testament should teach about Christ. He ends by saying there are many admirable passages of James, but it should not be canon for these reasons.
I understand why Luther is against the concept of “deeds over faith,” but I think he is overreacting when he calls James a contradiction of Paul and the gospels. In Luther’s preface to Romans, he even wrote that faith in Christ would result in deeds that glorify him. James says something similar when he states, “I will show you my faith by my deeds” (James 2:18).
I agree with Luther’s preface to Romans that good deeds will come from a faithful heart and good deeds performed solely by fear of punishment are hypocritical. Luther’s emphasis on faith, in my opinion, is a better perspective, but to call James a contradiction of the gospel is going too far.
The Last Supper appears in the Passion narratives of both Matthew and John, but the two authors are very different in their descriptions. The supper is much longer in John, but that version excludes the bread and wine.
In Matthew, this is the centerpiece of the passage and is clearly very important to the author. Jesus says, “This is the blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” This continues Matthew’s emphasis on Judaism and fulfillment of the law. Jesus’ reference to the covenant displays how his death is connected to the Abrahamic covenant.
Jesus has other references to prophetic fulfillment in the passage, saying his “appointed time draws near” and “the Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him.” Prophecy is very important to Matthew, and his description of the Last Supper supports this focus.
John’s tone is very different during the story, however. Jesus gives a sermon filled with parables and instructions. He describes himself as the “true vine” and talks about the coming of the vague “Advocate.”
However, as Jesus’ final sermon to his followers, some of his discourses are very direct. Unlike in Matthew, he directly points out Judas as his betrayer. He has clear comments like “This I command you: love one another” and “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
Since John had the most reflection and theological introspection before his gospel, this passage highlights the climax of Jesus’ instruction on Earth. To Matthew, the scene seems little more than one more step in the narrative. However, John uses the opportunity to have one last conversation between Jesus and his disciples. He outlines his most important commandments, what is going to happen to him, and what the disciples should expect when he is gone. Just as Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount is the height of Jesus’ teaching, John’s Last Supper is the same in his gospel.
Even though Matthew and Luke have many similar passages, there is certainly more of a focus in Luke against riches and material possessions. Where Matthew says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” (5:3), Luke says, “Blessed are you who are poor” (6:20) and “woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (6:24).
However, it makes little sense to say that having riches is evil in itself. If you have no money, you won’t be able to help the poor, which is an important lesson that Jesus stresses. If no one makes money, the world cannot function.
So why is there a great condemnation of the rich in Luke? More insight is gained in the parable of the rich fool. When God reprimands the man for storing up grain and goods, Jesus says in 12:21 that “thus it will be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”
I think riches are problematic because it makes it far more likely for people to focus on gaining material wealth than following God. It’s similar to when Jesus says “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away” in Matthew 5:30. I don’t believe Jesus is seriously telling people to cut off parts of their body that causes them to sin. He is emphasizing the great ramifications that come with sin and that is crucial to avoid them.
Similarly, Jesus is warning people not to store up riches because it so often leads to people straying from God. There is nothing wrong with making money, but it’s better not to gain anything than to stop focusing on what is important to God.