Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Peter & The Temple (part 4 of 5)

Though there are ongoing debates about the time frame for the production of the synoptic Gospels and of the second letter of Peter, and though there could certainly be written records that would be incorporated into the Gospels themselves that were composed at an early stage, it is generally accepted that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Mark preceding the other two) in the forms in which we now have them, were all composed roughly around the year seventy.  Some suggest an earlier dating for Mark, perhaps in the late sixties.  If true, this is not entirely problematic for our suggestion.  While we say this, it is more than possible that Mark did in fact write His Gospel before the Temple had come to its end, as is sometimes posited.  Mark’s Gospel lacks the embellishment (in the sense of a more rounded-out presentation) that are to be found in Matthew and Luke, with this being quite understandable. 

If Mark writes before the Temple’s fall, whereas Matthew and Luke write after the fall and because of the fall, then it is understandable that Mark’s account would be more direct and straightforward, lacking the material details and stories to be found in the narratives on offer in Matthew and Luke.  Understandably, composing their accounts of Jesus in a post-Temple-fall world, Matthew and Luke could be far more comfortable relating more of Jesus’ life story, as preserved and transmitted via the oral tradition.  However, if our insistence is correct, and the early church did indeed hold Jesus’ prediction concerning the Temple in very high regard (as we consider that Jesus is reported to have made precious few of what we might term “predictions”), giving it a place at the center of their teaching about Jesus as the thing that would bring about a great validation of His ministry, then it would be quite understandable to place all three of the synoptic Gospel accounts as being produced shortly after the very fall of the Temple that was predicted by Jesus, as recorded by the Gospel authors.   

We must place great weight on the fact that, despite numerous differences in details throughout the whole of their accounts of Jesus’ ministry and of His time and activities in the Temple, all three of the synoptic tales coalesce to identically report His talk about the generation that will see the fall of the Temple, as well as the words that immediately followed.  This single fact should be endlessly fascinating.  It would make perfect sense for all three of the evangelists’ works to spring from the fall of the Temple, with all being produced after that event in a veritable rush to generate and disperse the written account that would include His words about the Temple’s fall, placing it in a standardized form that could be used as a substantial legitimization of Jesus’ life and ministry.  It would also be used as a polemic against those that attempted to question the claims about Jesus and His kingdom that were being made by the Christian community.    

This then gives some weight to our theory that Peter’s writing comes before the fall of the Temple, and that part of it serves as a response to the questioning experienced by the early church communities concerning their report about Jesus’ words regarding the Temple and its fall.  It does seem possible that Peter’s words are in response to the accusation that Jesus is a false prophet precisely because the Temple (heaven and earth) is still standing, so Peter draws from the reservoir of judgment history, particularly the story of Noah (also alluded to by Matthew during His presentation of Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse), to point out that God can certainly visit judgment upon His own timetable.  This would not then run contrary to what we find reported in the synoptic, that it would be this generation that would see the fall of the Temple and its concurrent (though certainly not visible) coming of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days.   

Though there was certainly a firmly held belief in Jesus as having been crucified and resurrected, it is conceivable that, in their minds, the fall of the Temple would be the final piece of the puzzle, validating all that Jesus had said and done.  Now, with the Temple destroyed, which also meant that the Son of Man had undoubtedly gone before the Ancient of Days to receive His kingdom (for if one prediction was correct, then the prediction that is reported to be so closely tied to it must be considered to be correct as well), all of the preaching and teaching about Jesus that had been taking place within the nascent church movement, and all of the persecution undergone by the church, primarily at the hands of the Temple authorities, could be seen to not have been done or experienced in vain. 

This line of thinking becomes especially poignant when we consider that Jesus’ dealings with and in the Temple are a central feature of the shared accounts of Jesus, and thus would have been particularly important to the nascent church.  They would have told and continued to tell this story and its associated predictions, doing so against all appearance (a still-standing Temple), doing so because the one that believed to have told it was also understood to have been resurrected.  We also realize that all three make it more than clear that it is this ongoing clash with the Temple authorities, culminating in Jesus’ judgment against the Temple, that ultimately resulted in the collusion with the Roman authorities that was productive of His death by crucifixion. 

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