With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pistisism and the Gospels

N.T. Wright argues rather persuasively in his What Saint Paul Really Said (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 1997) that the Apostle to the Gentiles was not the ambitious and creative "founder" of Christianity, eclipsing and misinterpreting what Jesus had originally intended to be little more than vague moral guidelines. Rather, Paul was more so a faithful "herald of the king," bearing a message in remarkable continuity with the Jesus tradition.

Well, the light of truth continues to shine upon me as it now seems quite clear that Paul's great teaching of "Justification by Faith Over Christ" was not created by Paul out of thin air, but was rather a teaching Jesus Himself seems to have taught; recorded for us in the theologies of the canonical Gospels.

As we learn from Paul, "Faith" (pistis) is not an attribute or an activity "of" people, but (like Sin) is a cosmic, elemental, transpersonal force. Except unlike Sin and Death, it establishes humanity in the proper covenant relationship with God. In the Gospels, when faith is mentioned, we see that Jesus' relationship to it is radically different from what we normally hear.

The agency of miraculous saving acts is actually attributed to Faith, not Jesus:
Matt 9:22: But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy FAITH hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.
This same pattern occurs in Matthew 9:29 and 15:28, Mark 5:34, 10:52, Luke 7:9-10, 7:50, 8:48, 17:19, 18:48. Mark 2:5 (Luke 5:20) reads:
When Jesus saw their FAITH, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.

As is clear from this passage and its parallels, the only thing that Christ "does" is see that Faith is already healing the sick man. He is just a remarkably observant guy, and his amazing sensitivity to the mysterious saving action of Faith is often mistaken as a sign that he is the agent. However the message of the Gospel is clearly different: Jesus is simply more aware than everyone else of what's really going on, and his attempts to point this out seem constantly to end in misunderstanding. Scholars have been scratching their unkempt heads for decades and decades about Mark's motif of the "Messianic Secret": why is it that Jesus seems to discourage people from proclaiming him as Messiah? NOW it is all so clear!!!

Jesus is more like a really good spectator than an athlete: he is most often described as "seeing" faith, not causing it or doing things because of it. Note the passages in which he is said to either "find" or "not find" Faith:
Matthew 8:10: When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
See also Luke 18:8.

One might notice that it sure seems as though Jesus is ascribing agency to Faith, but specifically to the individual's faith: "your faith has made you whole." This would seem to imply that faith is, after all, a kind of quality or action "of" individual people. However, as in Paul's letters, the truth is revealed when we realize that the evangelists did not use the pronoun sou ("your") here as a Possessive Genitive, but rather as a Genitive of Subordination! Hence, the REAL translation of a passage like Luke 18:42 (and its parallels) reads:
And Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; Faith OVER/HAVING DOMINION OVER YOU has made you well."
Salvation is a result of the cosmic power of Faith man-handling the believer into slave-like submission, dominating the sin out of him or her. The 1st century Judeo-Christian world was all about apocalyptic cosmic struggle, and here it is evident that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet: attempting to unveil to the world the saving action of Faith, even Faith over him.

Pax Christi,


  • At 2/25/2009 4:41 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…

    Pat -

    STOP! You're actually beginning to persuade me on this matter. It is finally starting to make sense.

    Jesus is really only accidental to faith. And the essence of faith, which is distinct from Jesus, is ... uh ... is in ... uh ... in ME!
    And in YOU!

    And somehow it is the same Faith that Jesus alone was able to see.

    Maybe we should start working on marketing a set of "Jesus Goggles".


    *Camera zooms in on a distraught college student after a long day of classes:
    Voice over: "Tired of feeling lost in a world of ambiguity and unknowns?"
    *Student's face turns to camera and sullenly nods in hopeful affirmation.*
    voice over:You need FAITH!!! Just like Jesus!! But he SAW Faith!! And now YOU TOO Can SEE FAITH!! With our new JESUS GOGGLES you can make visible what no one else can see. For only $19.99 all the mysteries of the world will finally be cleared up; want to heal your roommates hangover?!? BAM! Faith!! (*image of hungover roommate spontaneously recovering*)...want to ace that organic chemistry exam!?! BAM! FAITH!! (*image of student with A+++++ on top of Exam paper*)
    Want to get rid of that nasty bout of the runs?!? BAM! FAITH!!(*image of ... well ... we'll leave that one open for now*)
    But WAIT!!! Order now and we'll throw in, free of charge, the all new PETER GOGGLES. Worn upside down, these goggles let you SEE Jesus SEEING FAITH!!! Never again will you doubt in the power of the divine to work its magic in the world. All your dreams could be in the palm of your hand with a brand new pair of JESUS GOGGLES.
    *Cut to image of student with two 'hooter waitresses' on each arm, a cigar in his mouth, about to enter his brand new BMW*

    ...or do you think NT Wright would sue us for copyright infringement?

  • At 2/26/2009 6:10 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    "They Live" was all about that...

  • At 2/26/2009 7:22 AM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    Wow, that you knew about that film is a testament to your far reaching knowledge of reeeeeaaaaly B films; or perhaps your affinity for Roddy Roddy Piper. Either way, niiiiice call.

    I had never heard of this film, but your remark made me go a'searchin'...I found this preview:


    Best line: "I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick a$$....and we're all out of bubble gum"
    (Some may notice that this line was the inspiration behind a very similar line in Dazed and Confused: "I came here to drink beer and kick ass...looks like we're almost out of beer.")

    Bloody hysterical.

    I suppose we could use Roddy Roddy in my commercial/promo of Jesus Goggles.

  • At 2/26/2009 12:17 PM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    I saw it in the 80s, but was reminded of it recently, when Zizek brought it up in one of his books.

    There's alot of good in the film, in part, because it is one of the B-Sci-fi films; I've heard rumors it might be remade.

  • At 2/27/2009 2:50 PM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…

    Hahahaha, as long as the "Jesus Goggles" commercial includes some witty line about taking the plank out your eye to better see the splinters in the eyes of every kid on your block who doesn't have "Jesus Goggles"

    And there needs to be a line about Jesus giving you some keys to the kingdom of coolness when the kid gets his BMW.

    Actually I here Wright's eschatology can accommodate that entire picture.

    Pax Christi,


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