Sunday 17 April 2022

Jesus's fulfilment of prophecy - is it essential here and now?

As great a thinker as Blaise Pascal (1623-1662; in his Pensees) mentioned the miracles and fulfillment of prophecy as two of the most significant evidences of the truth of Jesus Christ. Yet in the centuries since, these lines of argument have all-but lost their effectiveness as Christian evidences. 

In particular the idea that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies concerning the Jewish Messiah is greatly enfeebled. To regard this as sufficiently strong evidence that one can base a strong and enduring faith upon it, now requires so many assumptions - such a lot of learning, so long a chain of inferences (few of which are nowadays accepted implicitly)... that it is hard to imagine that such a consideration could 'work' in creating or sustaining a Christian life. 

While Jesus's fulfillment of prophecies certainly seems to have been a very important fact in the conversion of the Apostles and many other early Christians; the situation now is very different. 

Before reaching such a conclusion; one would need to know the Old Testament, and understand and believe it - and the contextual significance of the Messiah. One would need to accept the claimed match-ups between the words of what was prophesied of Messiah, and what was reported actually to have happened to Jesus. 

One would need to consider the prophecies that did not seem to have been fulfilled - and in particular the prophecies that seem to say the Messiah was going to be the literal King of the Jews, and lead his people to freedom and a this-worldly paradisal political state. 

And one would also need to have some way of explaining why so many Jews at the time, and after, did Not accept that Jesus had fulfilled the prophecies. 

In sum - the argument from prophecy has - after 2000 years - become extremely complex; and (unlike 2000 years ago and among Jews) has also come to rely upon a great deal of scholarship, translation and detailed reasoning and careful discernment; such that it seems unlikely that fulfilled prophecy would nowadays be the basis of a conversion or the bedrock of faith.

At most, it would be accepted on the basis of trusting some external authority. In other words, if one has already, on other grounds, accepted the authority of a particular Church or tradition, and accepted that holier and more-informed people of the past have decided this matter on the basis of evidence and reasoning of which we our-selves are incapable - then the prophecy argument can be accepted as part of the 'package' of that church.    

Indeed, rather than proving Jesus's validity; the modern mind is more likely to reach the opposite conclusion. Looking back over so many years, and so much contention; I think it probable that a modern person would not be fully-satisfied by some or other link, somewhere in this great chain of reasoning and evidence. 

The result would be that an emphasis on prophecy would therefore be more likely to lead a person to reject Christianity than embrace it; if a church was to insist (as many do) that evidence of prophecy must be believed - if it is insisted that this was an essential aspect of the work of Jesus Christ.

(As well, this insistence is usually part of a mistaken emphasis on the essence of what Jesus did and how.) 

What do I personally think? Well, the role of prophecy has receded and receded in my own faith, to the point that I regard it as inessential. Indeed, although he was a Jew - I would regard this as a contingent fact about Jesus - that might have been otherwise without imperiling his cosmic gift to all of mankind.

That Jesus was a Jew made a difference, clearly - and the difference may be, probably was, one that was helpful to the propagation of Christianity; as was the fact that Christianity grew in the Roman Empire.  

I think that if Jesus had not been a Jew, and had not fulfilled any of the Jewish prophecies - he could nonetheless perfectly well have done what he came to do for us

Which is Just As Well, given the way that the vast background of the Old Testament including prophecy has all but ceased to be comprehensible or authoritative... except second-hand, and taken on trust - from external institutions who cannot and should not be trusted with the fundamentals of our faith. 

The way it works now is almost the opposite of the way it once worked. We need to be Christians from our own direct experience (Romantic Christians). 

From this, we may choose to accept aspects external authority; but always retaining discernment and never uncritically as 'a package'. Part of this may be acceptance into our faith of Jesus's fulfillment of prophecies - as when we choose to trust an authority (e.g. a particular theologian, scholar or Holy Man) who, we are satisfied, has taken all relevant evidence and discerned it as valid. 

But this is secondary to our personal choice to trust a particular authority - at least to trust it in this respect. And may choose that this should become an element in our faith. 

However, prophecy is not Now likely to be an instance of that direct and personal kind of knowing upon which a modernity-resistant Christian faith is founded.


R.J.Cavazos said...

Very interesting. There is a controversial line of thought (in Hasidism certainly not in "Mainstream" Judaism) and even a book popularizing these ideas on J.C. that you may enjoy. "Kosher Jesus" by Rabbi Boteach.

J.C. was a prominent member of the community and well regarded pharisaic rabbi, thus his influence. He was also a universalist. Interestingly, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was also a universalist (reaching out to non-jews) but for whatever reason that is not the case any longer.

Bruce Charlton said...

@RJC - I, of course, and unlike Jews, regard Jesus as fully divine. But as such I regard the Messiah issue as of very secondary importance Now - while accepting that it seems to have been of extreme historical importance.

The Jews certainly didn't (and don't, I presume) expect their (real) Messiah to be fully divine (which would be impossible for strict monotheism) - but for Christians that is, or ought to be, the central issue.

Implicit in my argument is the assumption of Man's 'evolution of consciousness' in the Barfield/ Steiner sense that Men now are constituted differently from 2000 years ago, and what was important and worked then - and Man's primary spiritual task/s and religious possibilities/ necessities are different now from then.

What was then possible and desirable are no longer so.

George said...

This makes sense actually that for some of them back then proof from prophecy was necessary but for us the resurrection and incarnation is much more powerful.