Accuracy and Inadequacy

Yes, of course, Jesus was “a social revolutionary” but that description is as accurate as it is inadequate—like saying Mozart … Continued

Yes, of course, Jesus was “a social revolutionary” but that description is as accurate as it is inadequate—like saying Mozart played the violin.

First, that adjective (social) has a minor and a major problem. The minor one is how it is often used—in Roman Catholicism, for example—only in reference to the world outside the church. Social revolution and social justice are about programs and policies outside but never—as it were—inside the church. They are social as distinct from ecclesiastical, and criticism looks only outward rather than both inward and outward (in that order). Discrimination against women, for instance, is bad out there but good in here.

The major problem is, however, much more important. Jesus, like all those other magnificent Jewish prophets before him, did not live and die for social justice but for divine justice—which is simply the transcendental radicalization of everything we might imagine within social justice. Divine justice warns us in Psalm 82:5, for example, that human injustice shakes the foundations of the earth.

Jesus’ vision came from the heart of Jewish tradition, straight from the core of covenant and law, prophecy and eschatology, psalm and wisdom. He did not start from democratic, political, or even human rights as we might do. He started from the metaphor of God “as Father,” from the world as the household of God, and from all human beings as children of that divine home. That, to be sure, was a quite patriarchal metaphor but the criterion of patriarchal success was not the householder’s ability to boss women around but his ability to insure that all members of the house were adequately fed, clothed, sheltered, and protected. If you walked into the house, would you praise the name, that is, extol the reputation of the one who administered it so well? Did everyone, you might ask, have enough? Or some too much and some too little?

That is why the first three petitions of the Our Father are about God and the last three about us in relationship to God. It does not start with us, it starts with God—as Father, Householder, Administrator of the Earth. And that is why the first three units all say the same thing in different ways in Matthew 6:9-10: “Our Father in heaven, (1) hallowed be your name. (2) Your kingdom come. (3) Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s name will be hallowed, that is, praised as holy, only when—and only if—God’s kingdom is come, and God’s will is spread over the earth. If you look, those three units ask, at the world and believe it belongs to God, would you extol the reputation of such a God? Is the world a well-run Home for all God’s Children? Does each and do all have enough?

Second, that noun (revolutionary) also has a very profound problem. As a revolutionary was Jesus violent or non-violent? Jesus was absolutely and programmatically non-violent because, as he said in Matthew 5:48 = Luke 6:36, that’s the way God is. I remind you of two points from my earlier more detailed response in December 2006.

One is that, quite apart from Jesus, Jewish responses to Roman imperial oppression involved both violent rebellion and non-violent resistance—backed by a willingness to die as martyrs—in the Jewish homeland of that terrible first century. Just think of that non-violent demonstration when Pharisees removed the great golden eagle of Rome from above the western entrance to Herod’s temple and died without any mention of armed resistance. Jesus, in other words, did not invent non-violent resistance.

The other point is that the most important commentator on Jesus’ program is Pilate. Like Antipas with John the Baptist, so Pilate with Jesus. In dealing with violent resistance Rome killed or arrested both leader and followers. In dealing with non-violence resistance Rome executed only the leader as a warning and a deterrent to the followers. And even with non-violent resistance, by the way, they did not crucify philosophers but they did execute activists, demonstrators, witnesses for the Kingdom of God against the Empire of Rome.

Jesus—at least for myself as a Christian—exemplified the justice of God over against the injustice of imperial power. He incarnated the radicality of God’s non-violence over against the normalcy of civilization’ violence.

Finally, in a New York Times article entitled “As Pope Heads to Brazil, a Rival Theology Persists” (May 7) Larry Rohter quoted this papal assertion: “As John Paul II put it early in his papacy: “This conception of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary, as the subversive of Nazareth, does not tally with the church’s catechism.’”

If that is true, the problem may be with Rome’s catechism and not with Brazil’s theology.


John Dominic Crossan was born in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, Ireland, in 1934. He was educated in Ireland and the United States, received a Doctorate of Divinity from Maynooth College, Ireland, in 1959, and did post-doctoral research at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome from 1959 to 1961 and at the École Biblique in Jerusalem from 1965 to 1967. He was a member of a thirteenth-century Roman Catholic religious order, the Servites (Ordo Servorum Mariae), from 1950 to 1969 and an ordained priest from 1957 to 1969. He joined DePaul University, Chicago, in 1969 and remained there until 1995. He is now a Professor Emeritus in its Department of Religious Studies.
  • Paul Halbach

    Dear Prof. Crossan,Your remarks on television shows are always enlightening. It is nice to see that your written expressions are equally so.Sincerely,Paul Halbach

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Professor Crossan,I am confused. In your book, The Historical Jesus, p. 293, you concluded that Jesus did not say the Our Father. Above, however, you indicate that he did. Please elaborate.I am also assuming Matt 5:28 should be Matt 5:48 which is equivalent to Luke 6:36. In your book, The Historical Jesus, you also gave this passage a negative rating but indicate a positive rating above.

  • John Dominic Crossan

    Thanks for that correction, Concerned. In my post I have changed Matt 5:28 to Matt 5:48 (moral: don’t trust your memory over 70). I do not think Jesus created the “Our Father” as a set prayer and trained his followers in its explicit use because: (1) of the divergent versions in Matthew, Luke, & the Didache; (2) other Christians do not seem to know it–Paul. for example. But I have always thought that it is as accurate and faithful a summary of what Jesus stood for (better: kneeled for) as is possible–then or now.

  • Glen

    This guy is a blowhard.

  • speed123

    Crossan states: “Jesus, like all those other magnificent Jewish prophets before him, did not live and die for social justice but for divine justice.”Pope John Paul II states: “This conception of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary, as the subversive of Nazareth, does not tally with the church..”These two statements are identical in substance…It seems that Crossan’s own personal bias against the Catholic Church may be the “problem” of this piece.

  • speed123

    PS – Interesting how Crossan focuses on Rome rather than the Pharisees and corrupt Jew kings that Jesus spoke against.Trying to shift blame onto a fashionable cause of the day: that of imperialism? Or just trying reinforce your distain for Rome? It was not the Parisees who washed their hands…

  • candide

    Crossan and Borg are peddling a liberal form of Christianity. They haven’t the balls to admit that Christianity is an evil, sado-masochstic superstition.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Professor Crossan,Danke Schoen for the response above and even a bigger Thankyou for your efforts to put reality back into Catholicism specifically and Christianity in general in your 20 plus books on various aspects of the NT. I have a good professor friend who teaches Theology at a major Catholic university. The professor teaches exactly what you have concluded from attestations and stratum comparisons but from a different viewpoint with respect to the physical Resurrection, Ascension and Assumption. From the professor: “Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly — earth bound distractions.Christ ‘s and Mary’s bodies are therefore not in Heaven. For one thing, Paul in 1 Cor 15 speaks of the body of the dead as transformed into a “spiritual body.” No one knows exactly what he meant by this term.Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church. Only Luke’s Gospel records it. The Assumption ties Jesus’ mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus’ followers The Assumption hasAnd any thoughts you might have on the recent “wishy wash” deletion of limbo by the Vatican’s International Theological Commission would be greatly appreciated. To me, it appears they used a lot of “theology speak” to hide the fact that if limbo goes so goes original sin and therefore the Catholic Church will no longer hold the keys to Heaven i.e. as of April 20, 2007, Ghandi’s soul finally entered Heaven along with a billion other good but unbaptized souls.

  • speed123

    Nope, anonymous, I am just defending Catholics.Do you get a free pass to hate them?

  • B. H. Roberts

    Dr. Crossan:I’ve enjoyed your writings over the years although I don’t really have the background to understand all of what you put forth.It does seem that the Jesus that is portrayed in the Gospels does have change on his mind or at least reform. Perhaps he was thinking bigger than social justice though. The Jewish Elders had many traditions such as ritual washings and purification ceremonies that were aimed at portraying Gentiles and lapsed Jews as impure. Jesus refused to participate in these. While it did nothing to change things in Judea, it does seem to have set the stage for a Pauline Christianity dominated by Gentiles which is really what the Church is today.Perhaps in pursuing God’s justice, “social justice” was done as well.

  • Roy

    anonymous, don’t challenge speed123′s blind defense of Catholics. He may have the Mother Superior whack your knuckles with a ruler.

  • Roy

    anonymous, don’t challenge Catholics in any way.

  • candide

    The basic problem with Christianity is not only that it is a hoax but also that it is a SADO-MASOCHSTIC hoax. It is a severe form of mental illness.

  • Bill L

    Mr Crossan like all the heresy’s of past, liberation theology along with your own “as the sands shift” theology will pass and the Catholic Church with its catechism will still be because she is protected by the Holy Spirit of God. So who do you find yourself fighting against?

  • Anonymous

    speed123: We get it. You hate Jews.

  • Matt W

    Concerned The Christian Now Liberated,> If indeed there was nothing new in the Theological Commission’s report, why publish like it was some big “revelation”.The Catholic Church didn’t publish it as if it was some big revelation. It was the mainstream media that took the report, ran with it, and made it into something a lot more than what it was.

  • Bill L

    “Whatever you bind on Earth shall be bound in Heaven, whatever you loose on Earth shall be loosed in Heaven” Mathew 16:19

  • Matt W

    Concerned The Christian Now Liberated,Actually, International Theological Commission didn’t change anything that the Catholic Church didn’t already teach. The Catechism of the Catholic Church already stated that we can have hope for the salvation of children who have died without baptism:”As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,’ allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism” (para. 1261).The International Theological Commission simply explored some of the theological reasons for that hope. That is all. (Also, by the way, the ITC is only an advisory group, and thus, cannot authoritatively declare anything about Catholic doctrine.)

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Matt W,Strange that the Vatican and our Archdiocese did not counter the media’s running with the story. So I will assume Ghandi’s soul along with the other billion good souls of dead non-baptized persons to include unbaptized babies are probably or maybe or hopefully or through God’s goodness or based on serious grounds, are now in Heaven.

  • Mr Mark

    Dear Prof Crossan -At least we know that Mozart actually did live and that he did play the violin.BTW – what is it with you guys all citing Mozart these days? You’ve got to start expanding your composer examples. :)

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Bill L,The Singularity has no division and can exude and protect the Good Word without the CC and its ancient concepts like original sin. And I see the soul of Ghandi as of April 20, 2007 was allowed into Heaven.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Matt W,And why do Catholic theologians/university professors disagree with you? But then again, some still believe in talking snakes, magic gardens, trees of knowledge, “pretty wingie thingies, the demons of the demented and fortune tellers.

  • Bill L

    Concerned, theologians and professors do not make doctrine in the Catholic Church! The Pope and the Magesterium in unison with him state doctrine.

  • Matt W

    Concerned The Christian Now Liberated,> Fortunately the CC is not official church doctrine.But once again, my point still stands that the ITC’s report doesn’t teach something new, or something that hasn’t been taught before. It says that same thing that the Catechism has taught for years concerning unbaptized infants, which is that we can have hope that there is a way for their salvation.It was the media who took the ITC’s report, and said that the Catholic Church was now saying something new or novel concerning the salvation of unbaptized infants. That just isn’t the case at all.

  • Matt W

    Concerned The Christian Now Liberated,I can’t speak for Catholic theologians/university professors. You will have to ask them for yourself.But my point still stands that the ITC report didn’t change anything that the Catholic Church didn’t already teach. The ITC report states that we can have hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved, which is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has already been saying now for years (CCC, 1261).

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Bill L,Father McBrien’s Resume’ from the Notre Dame web page:Father Richard McBrien”Crowley-O’Brien Professor of Roman Catholic Theology DegreesResearch ProfileContact InformationAnd your bio is I assume as equally impressive since you have passed judgement on said Father McBrien?

  • Matt W

    Concerned The Christian Now Liberated,You wrote to Bill, “And your bio is I assume as equally impressive since you have passed judgement on said Father McBrien?”Actually, Concerned, having an impressive bio doesn’t automatically mean that Father McBrien is above reproach, or that someone like Bill cannot express his opinion concerning him. Nor does it mean that Father McBrien can only be judged by someone who has equal or more degrees than he does. A person can be wrong on something no matter how many degrees they may have.

  • Bill L

    You’re missing my point! Regardless of his education, if he teaches opposing teachings of the Church, he is in heresy. I am not making a judgement on his soul, only his opposition to the Church. You don’t need to be a microbiologist to know dead fish stink.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Bill L,I believe in God’s gifts of Reason, Free Will and Future. Professors Crossan, McBrien et al use these same gifts to put reality back into our Catholic religion which had been hijacked by well-meaning, embellishing scribes and profiteering leaders like Constantine, the Holy Roman “Empirers”, and the aristocrats of Europe.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Matt W,Fortunately the CC is not official church doctrine.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated


  • Matt W

    AMP,The ITC report that Concerned and I have been talking about doesn’t say that unbaptized infants ARE going to heaven. It says that there are reasons to hope. In fact, the Commission’s report even says:”We emphasize that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge.”

  • Matt W

    AMP,The ITC report that Concerned and I have been talking about doesn’t say that unbaptized infants ARE going to heaven. It says that there are reasons to hope. In fact, the Commission’s report even says:”We emphasize that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge” (para. 102).

  • AMP

    I am glad that religious thinkers are all agreeing that infants are pure and will get into heaven. I think the point is not who said it, or when they said it, but what is actually true.

  • Bill L

    Concerned, are you saying that God can’t protect his Church from unholy influences?

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Bill L,God protecting us from unholy influences? Like the pedophile priests? Like Protestants? Like Mohammad, Like Buddha, Like Hitler, Like Pol Pot? God’s gifts of Free Will and Future make any kind of godly protection null and void.

  • Bill L

    You’re dodging! I’m talking about God’s true teaching and his ability to defend his own truth.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Bill L,And when did God give you the Truth? Maybe He sent a “pretty wingie talking thingie” to deliver the Truth of it all??Hmmm, lets see-Joe Smith had his Moroni.Mohammed had his Gabriel (this “tinkerer” got around).Jesus and his family had Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented. The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other “no-namers” to do their dirty work or other assorted duties. And Bill L had his ??????

  • Bill L

    You’re still dodging!

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Bill L,Just name your “pretty wingie talking thingie” and we will go from there.

  • Allan

    I don’t think he has a “pretty wingie talking thingie” because they don’t actually exist…I believe essentially, that the Revelation of God is in Jesus Christ and only Jesus Christ, and that is about all I take from Barthian theology. This isn’t to say that any other religion is particularly evil – it is to say that Jesus showed us exactly how civilization, society, politics and religion should function.Allan.

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