Monday, December 05, 2005

τουτο εστιν το αιμα μου της διαθηκης

Mk 14:22-26; Mt 26.26—29; Lk 22.14—23; 1 Cor 11.23—26 [John 6:51b-58]
Imagine, for a minute or two, a world without Scot McKnight’s book: Jesus and His Death. Imagine that Scot had not offered us a complex argument spanning 28 pages of historical and critical thought and argument. Imagine what Jesus may have had in mind, foreseeing his imminent demise at the hands of a ruthless power, taking a cup & loaf and offering them up as symbols. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” You are a disciple sitting at the table with Jesus. You take the cup, and as you drink, various thoughts run through your mind.
What covenant? Abraham’s? The Mosaic? The Davidic? Israel’s general covenantal relationship with YHWH? And what does blood have to do with covenant? With [future] commentators and the Hebrew people, you understand that blood means “life”. Jesus is offering up his life. But what does this have to do with covenant? Is this life offering the payment for some covenantal obligation? Or is it was is required to be faithful to YHWH, his mission and message?
Scot McKnight in his latest contribution [Jesus and His Death] suggests that the phrase "of the covenant" is a later scribal addition and does not go back to the historical Jesus [308ff.]. Given the criteria of multiple attestation and coherence [Meier, Marginal Jew II, 302], I'm struggling to see how McKnight defends this odd position. I say odd because I can't source any other scholars who hold to the historicity of the last supper, yet deny this pivotal phrase.
McKnight lists, six reasons for his view [summarised Rossn's review: The Historical Lamb], but I find these difficult. a) If this is the only time covenant is used, does that a priori entail it's not original? b) It appears that in our précis account Jesus connects covenant and kingdom, unless we think Mark 14:25 is redactional. But even if one thinks it is, has Jesus really forsaken his use of Kingdom [his favourite expressive term], if in one incident he uses covenant? And isn’t the emergence of the kingdom of God part of YHWH maintaining, fulfilling, his covenantal relationship with Israel?
c) McKnight rightly notes that there is no focus on covenant establishment or covenant renewal, but I would like to see some work done on covenant faithfulness. Did Jesus believe that through his mission and this includes his death, that he was being faithful to the covenantal relations between YHWH & Israel, [the Abrahamic covenant?] and was fulfilling this relationship? Which is then picked up in Paul as God's Righteousness? These are issues that need to be explored and explained. d) This would then explain why our event lacks the elements of a covenant ceremony. Though, the fact that the event is summarised in barely 10 verses [Mark] should make us careful in arguing from silence. Maybe these features were present, but that seems unlikely.
Ofcourse, McKnight's argument is more detailed and complex than just this. Now I am left in a state of agnosticism. None of this [my critique or his argument] is conclusive in any direction - which leaves me wary. But despite all of this, McKnight's prolific argument is tugging at my persuasion meter. I fear the argument is too complex for me to fully appreciate - and so we cautiously proceed... Down the rabbit hole... Into the mysteries and genesis of covenant hermeneutics...


Scot McKnight said...

Thanks for this.
The issue is this: where else did Jesus conceive of his work in covenant terms? Answer: nowhere. It is not that "covenant" is not a fair way of saying what Jesus said, which he said through the term "kingdom," but it is a question of whether or not Jesus said it. Of course, I'd agree with you to speak of "covenant faithfulness" -- but show me where Jesus is using your term "covenant." It can't be found.

And there is stuff like this in the NT, but not very early -- Paul rarely used covenant language.

The issue is one of both "history" (what did Jesus really say?) and "significance" (can Jesus be explained through covenant language? Of course.). My argument moves into the history of that term, and then I clearly say that it is fine and good to express Jesus' theology and the last supper in that term, but it is unlikely that Jesus used that term.

The book is a detailed, scholarly, historical-Jesus type book, and not a theology book where I get into significance.

eddie said...

The term "covenant" itself only occurs 5 times in Paul's letters, twice in Acts, once in Revelation, and 16 times within Hebrews 7-13.

If the NT is anything to go by, then it does not appear to be a central term within early Christianity. This would mean that there would have to be some strong reason(s) to conclude that he did not use it himself.