What Spirit Are You Of?

I was obviously aware of Jesus’ contrasts between himself and his disciples on the one hand, and various texts and persons of ancient Israel on the other. Yet somehow the words of Luke 9:55 never struck me quite as forcefully as they did in a recent conversation on this blog. The words have such significance that there were scribes who understandably felt the need to omit them.

A commenter here said that “Jesus never once denied God’s working as described in the Old Testament.”

But what else can it mean if Jesus not only rebuked his disciples for wanting to do what Elijah had done, but said that they don’t know what manner of spirit is prompting and leading them if they are suggesting such a thing?

Some have suggested that, rather than searching for isolated sayings that are supposedly authentic, it is a better historical method – one that better reflects what we know about both human memory and the influence of historical figures – if we seek to triangulate from the various trajectories that emerge from an individual or movement. That would include those who further radicalized some aspects of what they said and did, and those who sought to domesticate those things that the others (over-)emphasized. In this case, trajectories that stretch out from Jesus include conservative law-observant Jewish Christianity, figures like Paul, and an embrace by Gnostics (or, in the view of some, the actual origins and development of Gnosticism). Perhaps sayings like this are crucial to our understanding of the historical figure of Jesus, and how he could have been claimed and the subject of controversy between such diverse groups as those who insisted that the God of Israel was the God and Father of Jesus and that God’s Law remained in effect for all his followers, and those who claimed that the Creator was an inferior or even malevolent figure whose Law and character were to be repudiated.

Of related interest, see Allan Bevere’s post on an important example from church history of affirming while denying the Jewish Scriptures/Old Testament, namely the decision of the Jerusalem Council to include Gentiles in the nascent Christian movement without requiring that they be circumcised. That’s a complicated issue, since the decision of the Jerusalem Council could be understood as according Gentile Christians the status of resident aliens, people who observe the laws of Noah that are for all righteous human beings, but who are not part of the covenant people. The very complexity of making sense of what Acts depicts having happened with respect to the Jerusalem Council, and of interpreting their decision, is broadly relevant to the topic we discussed here.

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  • Realist1234

    ‘Yet somehow the words of Luke 9:55 never struck me quite as forcefully as they did in a recent conversation on this blog. The words have such significance that there were scribes who understandably felt the need to omit them.

    A commenter here said that “Jesus never once denied God’s working as described in the Old Testament.”’

    That was me!

    Firstly, not all manuscripts have the additional wording re spirit, nor indeed reference to Elijah. The NIV for example doesnt even have a footnote referencing the spirit verse so I would be inclined to believe it is more likely it wasnt in the original. But let’s assume reference to Elijah is correct.

    You seem to be arguing this is an example of where Jesus is saying it was not God behind Elijah’s calling down fire to destroy 2 groups of 50 soldiers.

    Clearly there is quite a difference between the two situations. Effectively small armies were being sent by the king to arrest Elijah after he had given the king God’s message. That message being one of judgement on the king, who was, amongst other things, consulting with a demonically-inspired false god. The message pronounced judgement on the king and his forthcoming death. The king clearly thought if he sent enough of his soldiers, he could capture this prophet of God. Not so.

    But the main points I wish to make, as I did in my original postings, is that again you seem to be assuming that if God chose to act in a particular way, in a particular circumstance, at a particular time, with a particular individual, then He must always act in the SAME way even in DIFFERENT circumstances. I find that an odd view to hold.

    My second point is that, again, you seem to be ignoring the reasons why the Son of Man/God came to earth. It was primarily a time of mercy, not judgement. Jesus was showing those people who were rejecting Him at this time some mercy. Though judgement for rejecting God’s Messiah, despite the fact He was standing amongst them, finally did fall.

    • John MacDonald

      I am curious as to what you think of reductionists like Price and Brodie who argue the pericope neveral really happened, but Luke was simply rewriting the story about Elijah to portray Jesus as more holy than Elijah? Price writes:

      Appointment in Samaria (9:51-56)

      The connection between Luke 9:51-56 and 2 Kings 1:1-2:1 is obvious to all in view of the explicit allusion in the one to the other (Luke 9:54). But Brodie shows (pp. 207-214) how the Lukan story is simply rewritten from its prototype. Luke has transferred the anticipation of the hero’s being taken up into heaven from the end of the section of Elijah’s clash with the Samaritan troops (2 Kings 2:1) to the beginning of the story of Jesus and the Samaritan village (Luke 9:51a). The king of Samaria has sent messengers to inquire of the oracle of Baal-zebub in Philistine Ekron, but Elijah meets them and turns them back (2 Kings 1:2-5). In Luke this has become the turning back of Jesus’ messengers sent ahead to secure the night’s accommodations in Samaria. The Samaritans are no longer those turned back but those who turn others back in their travels. The prophet is now the sender of the messengers, not their interceptor. Once the king of Samaria sends troops to apprehend Elijah, the latter calls down fire from the sky to consume them (2 Kings 1:9-10). The scene is repeated (vv. 1-12). The third time Elijah relents and comes along quietly (1 Kings 1:13-15). James and John want to repeat Elijah’s miraculous destruction of the Samaritans (now villagers, not troops), but Jesus will have none of it. Instead he takes the role of the angel of the LORD who bade Elijah show mercy.

      • Realist1234

        Well I suppose if the likes of Price et al want to believe just about everything the Gospel authors wrote ‘never really happened’ then they can go ahead and believe that. More fool them. Luke records an angel of the Lord saying that John the Baptist would ‘go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah’, and later Jesus Himself confirms that in John Elijah had already come. So I am not sure why Luke would want to portray Jesus as ‘holier’ than Elijah. Neither Luke nor Jesus portray Elijah in a negative light, but rather purely positively (he also appears with Moses when Jesus meets them during the transfiguration). Price’s and Brodie’s assertion just doesnt make sense.

        • John MacDonald

          Why would it be odd that Jesus is portrayed as greater than Elijah in the NT. He is also portrayed as the new and greater Moses, after all.

  • John MacDonald

    I wonder if a similar method might be used by Philosophers/Classicists to trace traditions back to the historical Socrates who, like Jesus, never wrote anything? I know they find it hard to isolate the teachings of the historical Socrates, since all we really have access to is “early Plato,” which may or may not be in the spirit of the master. Surely no one would bother with middle or late Plato to try to recover the teachings of the historical Socrates.

    • John MacDonald

      I’m all for tracing things to sources, but we have to be cautious. For instance, Q1, the earliest stage of Q, simply includes materials that reflect a common cynical tang, so Q1 does not necessarily go back to a single sage, let alone the historical Jesus. Analogously, Socrates had widespread an profound influence, but I don’t know if we can extrapolate from Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, Antisthenes (founder of the Cynic school), Aristippus (the Cyrenaic school), among many others, to the historical Socrates’ teaching. Every major philosophical school mentioned by ancient writers following Socrates’ death was founded by one of his followers. It’s not clear to me how appealing to any of these sources gets us back to the teaching of the historical Socrates.