As part of the blog tour for C.A. Evans’ new book From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation, hosted by Brian LePort over at Near Emmaus, I’ll be reviewing chapter two today. You can read Brian’s review of the introduction here and John Walker’s review of chapter one here.
Chapter 2: From Kingdom of God to the Church of Christ
In chapter two,”From Kingdom of God to Church of Christ”, Evans moves from the question of whether or not Jesus intended to found the Christian church to what the transition from kingdom of God to church of Christ entailed. Having answered the age-old question posed in chapter one with a qualified “yes”, Evans now works to connect the dots for us.
“The shift from the kingdom of God to church of Christ corresponds to the shift from the Jesus who proclaims (the kingdom), to the Jesus who is proclaimed (by the church),” (38).
Evans’ argues, contrary to the position typically held by NT scholars, that this transition from kingdom to church, proclamation to new community, is a natural and even “anticipated” transition. In tracing the development of the ‘kingdom of God’ proclamation picked up by Jesus in Mark 1:14-15, and elsewhere in the gospels, Evans turns to the Aramaic writings of the Targumim, and specifically to the book of Isaiah. He presents several verses for our consideration in which the Aramaic translation elaborates on the prophetic message of the Hebrew text. For example, “the Lord of hosts” in Hebrew Isaiah 24:23b becomes “the kingdom of the Lord of hosts” in the Aramaic Targumim.
“The Aramaic paraphrases of these four passages have not significantly altered the original meaning of Hebrew Isaiah: they have made explicit what the Hebrew passages imply. In his mighty actions, the kingdom, or rule, of God will be revealed. It is this good news–the rule of God–that Jesus proclaims in his time,” (41).
Similar developments, including the expectation of a universal kingdom, are also seen in Obadiah, Zechariah, and other prophetic books. Evans’ further highlights the close connection between repentance and redemption developed in the Aramaic texts, another theme that is picked up in the teachings of Jesus. The discussion then transitions to the visions in Daniel 2 and 7, Jesus’ self-identification as the ‘the Son of man’, and the hope of an everlasting kingdom.
“The book of Daniel provides part of the backdrop for Jesus’ words and actions relating to his fate. These words and actions will play an important role in the development of a new community that, given time and circumstances, will eventually separate itself from the larger community of Israel. The emergence of the new community is closely tied to the fate of its founder,” (49-50).
In the sayings and teachings of Jesus himself, Evans’ points us to further evidence of “the expectation of the formation of a new community,” including Jesus’ invitation to discipleship, the call to repentance, as well as his commission to preach and proclaim the good news of the kingdom (52). That Jesus was heavily influenced by the theological developments of the Aramaic Targumim becomes clear… and the more I think about this the more I find it interesting.
Though the early Jesus movement experienced a momentary but “abrupt halt” with his death, the resurrection “relaunched” this new community which would then take up the role of preaching and proclaiming the kingdom to all. Still, as Evans notes, “[t]he absence of Jesus surely created a problem for his new community,” (57). What would be next for this young, fragile community? And thus the stage is set for chapter three…
I found Evans’ to be informative and challenging, and I think the evidence is certainly compelling. The juxtaposition of the Hebrew texts alongside the Aramaic texts is especially telling. There is also a short excursion on Israel in Exile (page 50) which is helpful in understanding the theology of Jesus and his own understanding of his role and mission. This chapter served as a good reminder of just how large an influence Isaiah, Daniel, and Zechariah–in the Aramaic!–had on Jesus.
Overall, the book is readable, while remaining an engaging and scholarly work. I would certainly recommend From Jesus to the Church to anyone interested in learning more about the earliest days of the church and the backdrop against which this new community came to be.
Brian will pick up with chapter three on day four of the tour so be sure to check it out. A special thanks to Brian for the invitation to participate in the blog tour, and to WKJ for the review copy.
**This book was received from Westminster John Knox Press in exchange for a bias free review.**