Jesus’ Personality and His Father’s Business

Jesus’ Personality and His Father’s Business March 22, 2017

Last Sunday in my Sunday school class we started off with the question of whether Jesus was ever a student.

We got there by way of a discussion the previous week about whether Jesus had been John’s disciple.

This time we turned to Luke, which depicts Jesus as staying behind in Jerusalem in the temple to learn. While some movies depict him as teaching there, the Gospel of Luke says he asked questions and answered questions, as we would expect a student to do. And just to make the matter perfectly clear, Luke says that Jesus continued to grow in wisdom – i.e. he went on learning.

Where some translations have Jesus say that he had to be in his Father’s house, a better rendering is that he had to be “about his Father’s business” or “engaged in the matters/affairs of his Father.”

While it might be going too far (OK, it would definitely be going too far) to render it “my Father’s university,” would it not be justified to understand from the context that Jesus’ Father’s “business” was learning?

We ended the Sunday school class with a question about why we never talk about Jesus’ personality.

I think I know what I want my book after next to focus on. And I may need to incorporate this bit of humor that was shared by a friend on Facebook:

Q. What does that phrase “INRI” above Jesus’ head on the crucifix mean?

A. (by Fr. Andrew Younan) It’s Jesus’ Myers-Briggs personality.

How would you characterize Jesus’ personality, based on the things that he said which you consider authentic?

These discussions are obviously directly connected with – and a good way to get a discussion going about – the larger questions of Christology and how people view Jesus. And so let me conclude with a link to a podcast by Dale Tuggy about Photinus of Sirmium, an ancient church leader who took Jesus’ humanity and monotheism very seriously, and also a cartoon from David Hayward:



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  • John MacDonald

    I think if I had to sum up Jesus’ personality in one word, it would be “dedicated.” As Jesus sums up the Jewish scriptures, he believed the essence of life was loving God with all his heart, and loving his neighbor as himself. In fact, Jesus was so “dedicated” to God that he was willing to die to fulfill God’s plan, even though Jesus fundamentally didn’t want to die (as the desperate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane demonstrated).

    Given this, it would be odd to have a high Christology for Jesus. After all, one of the main commandments in Hebrew scripture is to have “no other God’s beside Yahweh.” Given Jewish monotheism, if Jesus was supposed to be worshipped on the same level as God, there should be a very direct instruction in the New Testament (possibly from God) explaining that, and why, this is.

    • John MacDonald

      That’s odd. I have an “up vote” for the above comment I did on this page from Dr. McGrath, but the “up vote” doesn’t show up when my comment is displayed on my profile page.

      Dr. McGrath: Sorry to bother you, but I am just wondering if I really got an “up vote” for my above comment? It’s always exciting to get an “up vote” from you!

      • You certainly did, and until now, I never knew that anyone got excited over my doing so!

        • John MacDonald

          I think most students get at least a little bit excited when they get praise from a professor! There is, however small, usually some degree of reverence when dealing with an expert – I think so anyway.

    • John MacDonald

      I asked Dr. Larry Hurtado about this and he said:

      “Yes, it would have been odd for Jesus to demand worship and treatment as exalted by God before God exalted him! Jesus didn’t do so. The consistent NT witness, however, is that God did exalt Jesus to share divine throne, divine name, and divine glory, and that he is now to be reverenced accordingly (e.g., Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:1-3; Romans 10:9-13, et alia). In short, NT writings presuppose and explicitly affirm the treatment of the risen/exalted Jesus as rightful co-recipient of cultic reverence with God.”

      • John MacDonald

        The only thing I find questionable about Dr. Hurtado’s position is that, according to Hurtado, Mark simply decided to leave out something as miraculous and important as the exaltation of Jesus to the status of God (to me it would be like Mark leaving out the virgin birth even though he thought it applied to Jesus)!

        Some clearly believed in the exaltation, a la the apostle Paul, but maybe Mark disagreed with this portrayal of the historical Jesus and hence wrote his Gospel in protest of the exaltation theology of his time.

        Just a thought.

        • Well, since Mark breaks off abruptly, we really don’t know whether Mark would or would not have agreed with Matthew or Luke that Jesus entered into a role of authority after being raised from the dead.

          • John MacDonald

            We know that Mark must have known of exaltation theology. Doesn’t it seem odd to you that he doesn’t include one of the most important things about Jesus: that he had been exalted after death to a position of authority?

            It’s interesting that there is a normal man in the tomb in Mark, not an angel as in later Gospels. Maybe Mark is winking a bit at the reader and secretly saying that he thought maybe the body of Jesus was stolen by men as a prank on the first Christian, and the prevalent exaltation theology of Mark’s time may in fact be based on a prank: maybe appearances of the risen Jesus exalted to Godhood may have just been hallucinations or something by people who were tricked into thinking Jesus had risen -not knowing that the body was simply stolen.

            Whatever the case, later Gospel writers left no doubt to their exaltation leanings, having the first Christians find angels in the tomb and encounter the risen Jesus commanding with divine authority.

          • John MacDonald

            It may have been a wink against Jesus’ apocalyptic teachings and those like Paul saying Jesus was the first fruits of the general resurrection / where by Mark’s time it was beginning to become apparent that the world wasn’t ending and the general resurrection had not begun.

          • Gary

            “It may have been a wink against Jesus’ apocalyptic teachings…where by Mark’s time it was beginning to become apparent that the world wasn’t ending”.

            Except, if Mark was written around 66-70AD, from the Israelite perspective (Jew or Jesus follower), it pretty much was the end of the world. Or pretty close to it.

          • John MacDonald

            I thought the idea of it being the end of the world and Jesus being the first fruit of the general resurrection was more along the line of what Matthew describes:

            “…51At that moment the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked and the rocks were split. 52The tombs broke open, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53After Jesus’ resurrection, when they had come out of the tombs, they entered the holy city and appeared to many people.… (Matthew 27:51-53).”

          • Gary

            But weren’t you taking about Mark, that was suppose to have been written before Matthew?

          • Gary

            I guess my point was that Mark probably didn’t give a wink against Jesus’ apocalyptic teachings, since he was writing just prior to 70AD, so he very likely thought that the end of the Jewish world was coming shortly. (Jerusalem being surrounded by Roman soldiers, and the Jewish population were slowly starving – at least according to Josephus).

          • John MacDonald

            I just meant “The End Of The World” for the Jews of that time didn’t just mean a bleak political atmosphere.

          • Gary

            “a bleak political atmosphere”… I thought that was 2017!

          • John MacDonald

            It does not seem to me that Jesus is understood as God in the Pauline epistles. While there are passages that may seem to suggest this, Paul seems to suggest that Jesus was an intermediary that allowed us to reach our true goal: reconciliation with the one and only God. For instance, in Romans we read:

            Paul says Jesus reconciled us to God, and so now have access to Grace. Grace comes from God, not Jesus, who was just an intermediary:

            “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2).”

  • Gary

    “why we never talk about Jesus’ personality”… which is strange. People might not like the Infancy Gospels, but they were very popular 100 AD+, and present a rather interesting evolution of Jesus’s personality in childhood. Whether even slightly true, or totally false, people seemed to want to figure it out then. Not so today – too much church baggage to even address the subject.
    Although it addresses Jesus as an adult, I found the movie, “Last Days in the Desert”, rather interesting, especially in its portrayal of Jesus in an ambivalent manner, “is he just human? Is he Devine? Just a prophet? Is he learning from the families struggles? Or or they learning from him? A little slow, but interesting.

  • To be honest, if Jesus were alive today preaching the same apocalyptic message, I’d probably consider him a bit crazy and idiotic, as I do modern end-times preachers: Tim LaHaye, Pat Robertson, Harold Camping, etc.

    • John MacDonald

      The ancients were clearly very superstitious and gullible.

      I like the example Ehrman gives in “How Jesus Became God” of the similarities between Jesus and Apollonius of Tyana:

      “Before he was born, his mother had a visitor from heaven who told her that her son would not be a mere mortal but in fact would be divine. His birth was accompanied by unusual divine signs in the heaven . As an adult he left his home to engage on an itinerant preaching ministry . . He gathered a number of followers around him who became convinced that he was no ordinary human, but that he was the Son of God. And he did miracles to confirm them in their beliefs: he could heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead. At the end of his life he aroused opposition among the ruling authorities of Rome and was put on trial. But they could not kill his soul. He ascended to heaven and continues to lives there till this day. To prove that he lived on after leaving this earthly orb, he appeared again to at least one of his doubting followers, who became convinced that in fact he remains with us even now. Later, some of his followers wrote books about him, and we can still read about him today . . . ” (How Jesus Became God, 11-12)

      Many people today would say it is silly to be a believer in, and follower of, Apollonius of Tyana, but that belief in, and following, Jesus is perfectly reasonable.

      John Loftus says it is the height of uncritical thinking to not apply the same skeptical criteria to our own religious superstitions that we do to the superstitious beliefs of others.

      I don’t go as far as Loftus does, though. I am a theoretical agnostic, but a practical atheist, so I don’t think apocalyptic views are inherently irrational (we may in fact be living in the last days – who knows?), even though apocalyptic views do have a ring of “crazy” to them to my pragmatic self.

      • Nick G

        We may be living in the last days – but it is irrational to believe that we do (if by that we mean the last days of the universe), because there is absolutely no reason to.

        • John MacDonald

          In our culture, apocalyptic thinkers (Beau pointed out a number of them) generally think that world events are “signs” that line up with what they see are “predictions of the end of days” that they discover in scripture. You and I may not agree with them, but they have their reasons, often meticulously argued, for believing what they believe.

  • John MacDonald

    Dr. Ehrman recently shared a question he received and the response he gave regarding Christology in the gospel of Mark. Here they are:

    1. Question:

    Dr. Ehrman, the other day I was discussing with an Evangelical pastor that the sayings of Jesus in which he claimed to be God were only found in the Gospel of John. He had me read Mark 2:5-7. This is the verse where Jesus heals a paralytic and says to him “Son, your sins are forgiven”. The religious leaders say “Who can forgive sins but God alone”. The pastor said that this shows that even in the earliest Gospel Mark, Jesus claimed to be God. I wasn’t sure how to respond but told him that there was still a big difference in the comparison. Do you have any thoughts or comments in which I could have responded to this pastor?

    2. Dr. Ehrman’s answer:

    Yes this is a very interesting passage, and one that, in my opinion, regularly gets misread. First some background: in the Gospel of *John* Jesus does, repeatedly, claim a divine status for himself: “I and the Father are One,” “Before Abraham was, I AM,” “If you have seen me you have seen the Father,” and so on. These sayings are found only in John, not in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. That seems very odd if the historical Jesus really went around making such claims about himself. How could the three earliest Gospels (and their sources: Q, M, and L!) not say anything about Jesus making such radical claims if they knew he made them. Wouldn’t that be the most significant thing to say about Jesus, that he called himself God? Did all of them simply decide not to *mention* that part?

    That seems unlikely. It is far more likely that they had never heard of such a thing, and so didn’t report it.

    But what about Mark 2, where Jesus heals the paralytic? He first pronounces that man’s sins forgiven, the opponents claim that only God can forgive sins, and Jesus responds by asking whether it is easier to pronounce a person forgiven or to tell a paralytic to be healed, take up his pallet, and walk. Obviously the former is easier, since there is no way of seeing if the words had their stated effect. Then Jesus says “But so that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” … and he orders the man to take up his pallet and walk. And he does so.

    Doesn’t this show that Jesus is claiming to be God?

    Not necessarily….

    I think people read a lot more into this passage than is really there. Notice what Jesus says. When his opponents accuse him by saying that “Only God can forgive sins” Jesus does NOT reply by saying, “Yes, that’s right, and in order to prove to you that I am God….”

    Maybe he would have said something like that in John, but he doesn’t say anything at all like that in Mark. Instead he indicates that he wants to show that the Son of man (for Mark, that is Jesus himself) has authority to forgive sins on earth. And who has given him that authority? Presumably God.

    As it turns out, it was possible within Judaism for humans to pronounce that people had been forgiven of their sins. As one of the great scholars of the New Testament and early Judaism of modern times, E. P. Sanders, has pointed out, the priests in the Jerusalem temple pronounced the forgiveness of sins when a person offered an animal sacrifice.

    Jesus does not claim to be God in this passage. He appears to be claiming that he, the Son of man, has the same authority on earth that the priests in the temple have. And he proves that he has that authority by healing the person, something much harder to do than simply to say that his sins had been forgiven. (And note: Jesus does not say “I forgive your sins” – he says “your sins have been forgiven.” It is God who actually does the forgiving of sins, and he grants the authority to his representatives on earth, the priests or, in this case, Jesus.

    I do think that most of the early Christians – including Mark – did indeed understand Jesus to be divine in some sense. Some thought he became divine at his resurrection (e.g. Acts 13:32-33); others (possibly Mark?) at his baptism. Others thought he had been divine before he came into the world (thus Paul and, in a different way, John). But thinking Jesus is (or became) divine is not the same as thinking that he went around declaring himself God. In Mark, in my judgment, he makes no such claim.

    • John MacDonald

      I don’t necessarily agree with Dr. Ehrman that Jesus is presented as equal with God in the Gospel of John. Yes, there is a lot of high Christology talk in John, but there are also the following passages that seem to present Jesus as subordinate to God:

      1. I think in the Gospel of John Jesus presents himself as being subordinate to God. We read:
      “So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.'” (John 11:41-42).
      The phrase “you sent me” seems to be Jesus’ way of identifying that he is in a subordinate position to God.
      2. Jesus says it is God’s name, not Jesus’ name, that is to be glorified by his mission. We read:
      “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say, ‘Father save me from this hour’? No it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” (John 12:27-28).
      3. I think making Jesus an object of worship equal to God takes away from the selflessness of his mission and the fact that he wanted the glory to be on God. Chapter 17 of John’s gospel is the longest prayer of Jesus recorded in any of the gospels. In this chapter Jesus consecrates himself to the task that lies ahead, not for his sake, but for ours. This prayer of Jesus brings us to a closer understanding of the mind of Jesus, his relationship with God, and his selfless love of those, like us, in his care.
      I think in this regard, Jesus’ prayer life in the Gospel of John provides a window into what John thought of his Christology. Jesus in his prayers is in petition and supplication before God, not equal with God.