D How Then to Proceed

It would be a mistake to think of these three key questions (§ 12.3a-c) as somehow secondary to the task of understanding the impact made by Jesus' kingdom preaching, as though we could first expound the kingdom texts and then go on to ask what his preaching evoked in the minds of his hearers. On the contrary, these questions go to the heart of the hermeneutical problem of perceiving how these texts were heard in the first century and of how we rehear that hearing today. So the typical way of tackling the problem — by focusing on one or two crucial texts, subjecting them to intensive analysis, drawing out immediate conclusions regarding their likely impact, and then pulling in other texts in support — is not the most obvious way to proceed. Questions about the larger picture, about the meaningfulness of describing individual passages as 'eschatological' (or 'apocalyptic') or about the symbolical or metaphorical force of any particular usage are unlikely to find a satisfactory answer by a process of atomistic exegesis.

Instead, in line with the methodological decision that we must look first for the broad picture (§10.2), it makes better sense to attempt to gain a broad overview of the full range of Jesus' kingdom teaching and its most closely related themes. In that way we can begin to appreciate the motifs and emphases which most characterized Jesus' kingdom preaching. And in the light of the full sweep of the Jesus tradition regarding the kingdom we will be in a better position to tackle the three key questions and to ask in a more informed and meaningful way what impact Jesus made at this point, what his preaching of the kingdom evoked in his hearers' minds. From what has been remembered and the way in which it has been remembered we will be in a better position to clarify (to the extent that that is possible) what response Jesus intended to evoke by his use of the phrase 'the kingdom of God'.

How best to order the material in such an overview? Various schemata have been offered at one time or another — theological and salvation-historical, ecclesiological and ethical, social and political. But the debate on the kingdom which exploded at the beginning of the twentieth century and reemerged in its last two decades with equal ferocity, has been triggered by one central feature — the future/present tension within the Jesus tradition. That is to say, the tradition represents Jesus as speaking of the kingdom as yet to come but also already present. I put the matter baldly in the first instance, though it is capable of almost infinite refinement, as we shall see. But there has never been any dispute among questers of the historical Jesus as to these bald facts (the kingdom both future and present in the Jesus tradition), not at least since the focus turned to the sayings of Jesus and John's Gospel was sidelined. Many find the continuing debate rather sterile, but talk of God's kingdom is too central to the Jesus tradition, so that we can hardly ignore either it or the debate about it. And since this twofold feature, this yet to come but already present, runs through the great bulk of the tradition and not just in kingdom passages, the future/present emphases continue to provide a useful means of structuring a review of the tradition. The immediate concern, of course, is to clarify how deeply rooted both 'tenses' (future/present) are in the Jesus tradition. But bearing in mind our three key questions, however, it will be important repeatedly to ask, In what sense 'future' ? In what sense 'present' ? In what sense 'es-chatological'? In what sense 'symbol' or 'metaphor' or otherwise? And finally to ask whether some grand narrative emerges at the end of our analysis, whether the first memories of Jesus' preaching build into a coherent whole?

Given, then, that we want to be looking at the broad picture rather than attempting to draw large conclusions from individual texts (§10.2), I will focus primarily on characteristic emphases and themes in the Jesus tradition. The fact that the performers of the Jesus tradition evidently grouped similar thematic material (as we shall see) encourages the view that from earliest days in the traditioning process characteristic emphases in Jesus' teaching formed stable reference points round which other Jesus tradition could be gathered. In so saying I do not at all dispute that there is good evidence of compositional technique and redactional material in the present forms of the tradition and in the Q material evident behind Matthew and Luke.122 My point is rather that whole themes are usually left largely unaffected by the redaction and are not best explained by being attributed holus-bolus to factional redaction. The consistency of such emphases across Mark, Q, Matthew, and Luke (and often Thomas, too) surely bears evidence of the impact made by the teaching of Jesus himself.

We have already gleaned a summary grasp of Jewish eschatological expectation regarding the exercise of God's kingship. And Jesus' mentor, the Baptist, certainly proclaimed a future and imminent judgment. So it makes sense to start with a review of the future emphasis in Jesus' preaching of the kingdom. And since it is the future emphasis of Jesus' own teaching which has once again become most controversial, it will require special attention. I will structure the review round the explicit kingdom references but include other elements of Jesus tradition with the same or related emphases.123

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