Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Scot McKnight notes the following quote:

For Jesus, holiness was not something fragile in need of protection but something powerful in need of liberation.

Now this sounds pretty cool. But what does it actually mean? What is it pointing to? What is it referring to? What does it symbolise? Have I lost my marbles in the purity debates of 1st century Judaism(s) to realise the potency of this axiom? Did I miss something?

Craig Blomberg's new book, Contagious Holiness: Jesus' Meals with Sinners will hopefully offer some poignant insights on the practice of Table Fellowship and Jesus' attitudes and methods regarding holiness. The write up reads:

One of humanity's most basic and common practices--eating meals--was transformed by Jesus into an occasion of divine encounter. In sharing food and drink with his companions, he invited them to share in the grace of God. He revealed his redemptive mission while eating with sinners, repentant and unrepentant alike.

Jesus' "table fellowship" with sinners in the Gospels has been widely agreed to be historically reliable. However, this consensus has recently been challenged, for example, by the claim that the meals in which Jesus participated took the form of Greco-Roman symposia--or that the "sinners" involved were the most flagrantly wicked within Israel's society, not merely the ritually impure or those who did not satisfy strict Pharisaic standards of holiness.

In this excellent and thorough study, Craig L. Blomberg engages with the debate and opens up the significance of the topic. He surveys meals in the Old Testament and the intertestamental period, examines all the Gospel texts relevant to Jesus' eating with sinners, and concludes with contemporary applications.

How this equates to Contagious Holiness, I don't know. But I am hoping the book will explain this to a confused student. Also, see John Frye who has a cool post: Jesus the "UNHOLY" Shepherd, which is helpful enough. But back to McKnight...

For Jesus, holiness was not something fragile in need of protection but something powerful in need of liberation.

Why does holiness need to be unleashed from bondage, and what kind of bondage? How does Jesus unleash holiness? Or does someone else unleash it? Does Jesus inspire his disciples to follow his example. Thus, is it the abstinence of sin? Is that what holiness is? Or is it the quality of relationship that one has with Jesus? Undefiled, pure interaction. The re:gathering of community of those who have been marginalized. Thus, is it about community formation? Is that what holiness is? Or does it mean that Jesus was untouched by superficial debates about codes of conducts in the 1st century and was more interested that they not have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith/fulness. Thus, when engaged in these activities, one is holy. Thus, is it a praxis based on appropriate ethics? Is that what holiness is? Or is holiness something that resides in us, that by obeying Jesus it is released and thus we are given the power to do stuff that is pleasing to God. Thus, is it a power [character traits?] to help us to please YHWH? Is that what holiness is?

Just what exactly, if this is at all possible to define or describe, does McKnight mean? Or did I miss something - somewhere - somehow - ???


Scot McKnight said...

Did you get a comment from me on this? I made one, a rather lengthy one, and now i don't see it.

Scot McKnight said...

Stink, the comment must have gotten lost.

In brief, I am not talking specifically in terms of historical study. But of how holiness is regarded today (but with a view to the Gospels).

For many holiness, which I understand to mean God's otherness and moral purity and by extension the same to humans, is a state or condition that needs to be protected from desecration, while for Jesus (as I see it) it is a power from God to transform sinfulness into grace and purity.

When Christians are afraid of bringing sinners, or at least too many of them, into the church lest the place be defiled, they see holiness as fragile.

Sean du Toit said...

Thanks much for the clarification Dr. McKnight.

One is not quite sure sometimes, when you blog if you are referring to historical critical studies about Jesus or are translating that study into a contemporary setting.

While I would concur with your notion of God's holiness as God's otherness and moral purity. I must confess I am struggling to understand this in terms of the historical Jesus, his mission and aims. Any recommended reading?

The way I see the gospel material [feel free to correct me at any point...] is that Holiness was a WAY which included: joining Jesus' mission to remain faithful to YHWH; to live and relate to YHWH [& his people] in a way that brought his blessings and not curses. It was fleeing sin, community formation, faithful praxis & personal growth.

In a contemporary setting this would amount to, What makes God Happy? Which invites a relationship, not the obedience of several commands. But that's moving beyond the grammar of history...

But these are the προτο καρπων or απαρχη of my thoughts...

thanks much!

Scot McKnight said...

Sorry, but I have not been back to your site. I often find where discussion is by going to technorati.com, but have been very busy the last three days.

I like your holiness definition when it comes Jesus' specific world, but that word can't be separated from Temple or from purity or from Torah observance. No such thing as a holy person who disobeys mitzvot. Holiness for Jesus would be to attach oneself to him, to his teachings, to his community, and to the vision for Israel he inculcated.