Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why did Jesus preach?

Why did Jesus preach? 

No, seriously, I mean it, why did he preach?

The gospel stories of Jesus show us many things, but if you read between the lines the following trends appear:
  • Jesus was popular among the people because he healed people and told entertaining stories.
  • Jesus primarily taught in parables which were generally not understood by his audience (and often not understood by his closest disciples).
  • Indeed, Jesus did not want his audience to understand! (Luke 8:10 "He said, 'The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you [disciples], but to others I speak in parables, so that, "though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand."')
  • At the merest hint of trouble most of his audience disappeared - they had no loyalty to him, he was only a passing entertainment.
  • Very few people had their lives transformed by meeting Jesus, and nobody is recorded as being transformed through hearing his preaching.
  • Jesus recruited his disciples by command ("Come, follow me") not through his preaching.
So what was the point? The end result of Jesus's ministry appears to be a handful of committed followers. They started the church after Jesus was gone, the church was not started by Jesus through his ministry.

Its not even as though Jesus 'planted the seeds' that would ultimately be 'harvested' by the disciples in their later ministry. If Acts is to be believed, the church grew primarily in gentile and diaspora-Jew communities. There is no record of mass conversions among the Galileans. 

The sole purpose of Jesus's teaching, therefore, appears to be the edification of later generations of Christians, who would get to read his words many years later after the gospels were composed, duplicated and distributed. [Note to self: Remember to read "Let the reader understand" by Robert M. Fowler sometime]. In other words, the primary audience for the teaching of Jesus wouldn't be born for at least a century or two after the preaching was done. This doesn't seem to be a very effective way of doing things. If the later readers were really the intended audience, it would have been far, far better if Jesus had written letters or books himself.

I don't think I'm going too far by saying that, as far as the stories presented in the gospels go, Jesus preaching ministry was a complete waste of time. Nobody came to faith, no-one was saved, people were entertained, but then they moved on to the next thing and Jesus was forgotten. It doesn't really read like a divine master-plan.

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