Thursday, 17 April 2008

What did Jesus know? Part 1

Chris Tilling blogged on his journey from creationist to evolutionist. He was challenged about the fact that Jesus believed claimed the creation narratives were historical. So the question arises how does one reconcile this with an evolutionary perspective if one also is a Christian. A solution proposed is that Jesus could be wrong. Tilling's entry is worth reading in its entirety to garner his perspective though I will only quote part of it.
Jesus' worldview was in so many ways that of other 1st century Palestinian Jews. Had you asked him if the earth was flat, he would have almost certainly said 'yes' (cf. here on James' blog). Had you asked him if there was a literal Adam or Eve and serpent, I think he would have been puzzled by the 'literal' tag, but I suspect that if you had pressed him he would have said that he believes in a literal Adam and Eve (though I cannot prove these statements. I am making historical judgments, and I see no reason why he would not have believe these things – modern science did not develop for centuries. Though as noted, the whole metaphorical / scientific categorisation would have probably puzzled him). This is why, had you time travelled and asked 1st century Jesus to tell us about Michael or Chris or James, he would not have turned around and said 'Oh yes, Michael/Chris/James will be born in almost 2,000 years from now', and then proceeded to tell the details of your life to Peter and the disciples. He wouldn't have had a clue about you or me as he was fully human.
My concern with these types of responses is that they fail to grasp the various aspects of what they are discussing. Here we have several types of knowledge presented and a discussion of 1 type used as an example of another without consideration of the validity. Further there is lack of processing of the solution to all the corollaries. There are also false statements that need to be corrected.

There are 3 types of knowledge discussed in this example.

There is historical knowledge. This is information about the past that was recorded so it was accessible to people. The people who were aware of it knew these claims existed. They could believe them or disbelieve them but they are aware of the claims. That Jesus points to Adam and Eve to illustrate marriage means that he was aware of the Edenic narrative and it is clear that he agreed with it.

There is generalised knowledge about facts. The structure of the universe. The sphericity of the earth. The anatomy of a platypus. The flight path of the albatross. These facts exist but our knowledge of them increases as we investigate the world. If these facts have been discovered an individual can potentially know them, if they have not been discovered then men do not know them. One could ask Jesus how avian lungs work and short of revelation from the Father he likely would say he did not know. It is possible that being asked whether the world was flat or spherical he would respond that he did not know, if it was the case that Jesus did not know. I am not so certain however people at the time did not know.

Then there is knowledge about the future. One could consider this similar to the first category: history that is yet to be revealed. Other than educated guesses, there is no way for any mortal to have this knowledge. Jesus as man did not know these facts other than revelation from the Father. As part of becoming man there were aspects of the divinity that were not available to him in the same way. That Jesus did not know some things is evident by his statement that he did not know the exact date of his return:
But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mar 13)
Interestingly Jesus was actually aware of many things in this category. Being close to the Father he was informed of much in the future such as the Olivet discourse and contemporary events that he would not have yet heard about such as Lazarus' death.

This divine knowledge extended to knowledge of the hearts of men. This was current rather than future knowledge, but only accessible to those thinking the thoughts. Jesus did not need the testimony of man because he knew what was in a man:
Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. (Joh 2)

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