Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Where is the Kingdom


The very first words ascribed to Jesus in the earliest of the four gospels [Mark, 65-75AD] are the following:
          “… ηλθεν ο Іησους εις  την  Γαλιλαιαν  κηρυσσων  το
          ευαγγελιον   του  Θεου  [και  λεγων], οτι  πεπληρωται  ο  καιρος 
          και  ηγγικεν η  βασιλεια του Θεου.  Mετανοιετε και  πιστευετε εν

          τω  ευαγγελιω”,
which translates as:
        Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God
       [and saying] ‘The right time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God
       is here (“eggeneto”) ,  [so]  change the way you think about
       reality (“metanoiete”) and believe this good news.” 
                                                                                                   (Mk. 1: 14b, 15)

This keynote address of Jesus as presented in Mark is the flash of lightning that precedes the thunder clap. It summarizes and emphasizes exactly what the content of the “good news” of Jesus is. When one hears the term “Good News”, if one is a Christian, one assumes that it means the good message that God has come to save mankind from their sinful imprisonment without relief. The good news is the news about Jesus, his coming, his deeds and words which give us all hope for eternal life. Subsequent to his death and resurrection, the formation of his Church is accomplished to proclaim this good news throughout history to all mankind universally, thus it is to be called the “Catholic Church” [kata olos].

But in the text above, Jesus is presenting the ‘good news’, not about himself, but about the interiority of the Kingdom of God. Jesus spoke in Aramaic, it is believed, and the original gospels were written in Greek. Thus, the translating of Jesus’ words from one language to another required a decision made by the author as to whether or not a word-for-word translation is called for, or a translation which conveys the meaning of the words in the original, or even whether the decision is to transmit the poetic of the verse.  Our standard New Testament translations have come down to us through the Latin of the first two millennia of its history. The translation from Greek original to Latin was not done without difficulty.

The prevalent beliefs today are based upon the translations into Latin of two Greek words whose meaning has been misunderstood for thousands of years and possibly led to the development of doctrine which lay at the foundations of Christian Dogmatic theology and morality which should be reconsidered in light of this error. The keynote address in Mark reveals two translational difficulties which may perhaps have altered the interpretation of these “first” words of Jesus in a very important way. The first of these is with the Greek ηγγικεν , (heggiken)  and the second is with the word μετανοειτε, (metanoiete).

The first comes from the Greek ‘εγγυς’  meaning “nigh, at hand, near (spatially) with a secondary, temporal meaning of “near(in time)”.  J.P.Meier in his classic “The Marginal Jew” (p. 423-434) discusses at length the meaning of this word as it applies to the Kingdom of God. Meier describes this saying as a “sphinx” whose ambiguity can be taken two ways: (1) the kingdom of God is coming (future eschatology) or (2) the kingdom of God is already here (realized eschatology).
           “…the literal translation of the verse must read “the kingdom of God has
          drawn near in the sense that the act of drawing near is now over and done
          with and the kingdom is now in a state of having drawn near. But does this
          unwieldy paraphrase mean that the kingdom is now here or simply that it
          has drawn so close and become so imminent that it is “at the door” – or, to
          use another image, that it is like a train just about to pull into the station,
          i.e., “the train is here” (a favorite, if curious, metaphor among modern
          commentators). Obviously, it is very difficult to draw a fine line here
          because of the very nature of this spatial and temporal metaphor… It is
          not surprising, therefore, that proponents of both realized and future
          eschatology can find these texts to support their interpretation of

The question one might ask here is “How close is ηγγίκεν ?
In the Gospel of Luke, which already had as one source Mark, we see a reitteration of the curiosity concerning the kingdom of God.
         “ and being questioned by the Pharisees about when the
          kingdom of God is coming, (Jesus) answered them and said,
          ‘The kingdom of God comes not with observation, nor will
          anyone say ‘Look, here it is, or there.’   For the kingdom of
          God is within you [εντος υμων εστιν]”. (Lk. 17:20-21)

JP Meier (p.424) regards this text of Luke as another fraught with difficulty. He refers to the critic John Dominic Crossan as accepting this text as indicating that the author presents Jesus as proclaiming that the kingdom of God is already present (Realized Eschatology). Meier believes the text is more unclear than this.
         “Still, the most common meaning of “entos” is “within”, and
           in the past—from the patristic period through the Middle
           Ages into the early modern period—most interpreters
           preferred this “interiorization” and “spiritualization” of 
          Jesus’ saying:  “Do not look for a visible, spectacular, cosmic
          coming of the kingdom, for the kingdom is already present in
          your hearts.”

Meier does not accept this belief and goes on to say:
        “…no matter what stage of the NT tradition is being
          considered, the idea of the kingdom of God as a purely
          interior, invisible,  present spiritual state of individual
          hearts is a foreign intrusion. It is at home in 2nd-Century
          Christian Gnosticis (so the Gospel of Thomas, sayings 3, 51 
           and 113;  19th Century German liberal Protestantism, and
           some 20-th century American quests for the historical
           Jesus), but not in the canonical Gospels in general or Luke
           in particular".. (P.426-427)…
           ...and perhaps me.
Another early source which seems to share this notion of interiority is to be found in some of Paul’s earliest letters.
          “…for it was given to me for you to fulfill the Word of God,
           the mystery hidden from the ages and the generations but
           now was manifested to his holy ones, to whom God wished to
           make known what is the riches of the glory of the secret Who
           is Christ  in you, [“εν υμιν”] the hope of glory” 
                                                                          (Colossians 1:25-27)

The comment of the JBC (55:20) by Joseph A. Grassi, M.M., is that:
          “his inner presence in the community of believers all
           over the world is already a guarantee of a future
           community in glory.”

Paul puts strongest emphasis on this belief on the interiority of the kingdom of God, i.e. Christ, when he writes:
          “Test yourselves if you wish to be in the faith, prove it, or do
             you not perceive that Christ Jesus [“εν υμιν”] is in    
             you.”                                                                                  (2Cor. 13:5)

There can be little doubt that “in” means “within” in these last examples. Thus it seems that there was the firm belief at the time of earliest teachings, that Gnosticism, Protestantism and the modern quests for the historical Jesus aside, there seems to be a belief in the interiority of the “kingdom” as an early test of Christian faith, but that the passage of time seems to have raised doubts dogmatically that this teaching should be taken literally. Perhaps this is why Jesus so often referred to the faith of little children favorably as compared to the its lacking in the unbelieving scholars.(cf. 1Cor. 1:18-2:26; Mk.10:13-16)
The second word which has perhaps undergone a similar mistranslation is the Greek word  “μετανοίετε” [“metanoiete”] . In the Latin Vulgate, the Greek was translated into the Latin “poenimine!”, which means “Repent!” To repent means “to be sorry for ones’ sins;”

The question arises, if this constitutes Jesus’ first words to his would-be followers then it presumes them to be sinners before they can come to Jesus and be his followers.  From this meaning arose centuries of dogmatic theology involving Original Sin, its cause and its consequences, and thousands of years of ascetical theology which was focused on Justification, Atonement and penitential behaviour. The Pelagian controversy, the traditions of the desert, the semi-Pelagian disputes, Sinfulness, Baianism, Jansenism and Justification by Works versus Faith etc… Martin Luther, Calvinism, Irish Catholicism, Abbe de Rance and the Trappist life and Catholic/Protestant wars in Europe and Ireland/England all were in a large way the result of the mistranslation of “metanoiete”.

In the Rule of Saint Benedict, monks are asked to make vows of Stability, Obedience and Conversatio Mores. The first two vows are easily understood. First, to live in one place, a monastery, so as to avoid escaping into other environments as soon as the first starts to become tedious or even painful- as was the cross to Jesus. Second, to hand over your most precious possession, your self-will, in obedience to the Abbot and the Community visibly, and to God ultimately as did Jesus as he prayed, “not my will, but Thy Will be done.” The third vow, not well understood over the past 1400 years even by monastic theologians, might well have the same meaning as did the original understanding of “metanoiete”. It meant to “Change the way you think”, from a rational “reality is out there, to the message of the good news of Jesus, “The Kingdom is in here,i.e., within you.

Certainly it cannot be seen, heard, imagined, or understood; but it must be believed. This is what Jesus asks of us, to believe Him. The question we must answer is “Can I trust Him?” If yes, you are a believer. If not, you can still ask to be.
                                                                               Charlie Mc