HThe Trial of Jesus

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The trial of Jesus. however. provides more answers. The interest again centres on Jesus' response to the questions put to him by both Caiaphas and Pilate. What is of particular interest is the ambivalence of the reply in all but one version.

Matt. 26.63-64

Mark 14.61-62

Luke 22.67-68

63 And the High Priest said to him, 'I adjure you by the living God that vou tell us if vou are the Christ, the son of God.

64 Jesus says to him, 'You say'.

Again the High Priest asked him and says to him,

'Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed?' 62 But Jesus said, 'I am'.

us'. But he said to them, 'If I tell you, you will not believe; 68 and if I ask, you will not answer'.

This was presumably how the saying was taken by Paul. if it is indeed the case that Rom. 13.7 contains an echo of it (Rowland. Christian Origins 144-45). See also Cullmann. Revolutionaries 45-47; F. F. Bruce. 'Render to Caesar'. in Bammel and Moule, Jesus and Politics 249-63. who points out. inter alia, that if the issue became more sharply confrontational subsequently for the Zealots. leading to the first revolt in 66. it is also true that Christians also subsequently concluded that it was necessary to say No to Caesar; Witherington. Christology 101-104. Crossan and Reed observe that in asking for a coin. Jesus shows that he did not even carry Caesar's coin (Excavating Jesus 181).

168. This tells against the argument. e.g.. of Horsley. Jesus 306-17. that it would have been almost impossible to hear the saying as somehow legitimating 'the things of Caesar'. That some chose to hear it as a challenge to Caesar's authority is certainly implied by Luke 23.2; but the saying itself would hardly give sufficient substance to the charge itself. Wright's treatment (Jesus 502-507) also raises the question whether all the 'layers of meaning' which might be detected in Jesus' answer were thereby intended by Jesus.

169. 'This text. when coupled with others. strongly suggests that Jesus did see himself in more than ordinary human categories' (Witherington. Christology 191).



Luke 23.3

And the ruler asked him, saying, 'Are vou the king of the Jews?' Jesus replied, 'You say'.

And Pilate asked him, 'Are you the of the Jews?' But he answered him and says, 'You

And Pilate asked him, saying, 'Are vou the king of the Jews?' But he answered him and said, 'You

Apart from Mark 14.62 all the replies are at best ambivalent: 'You say (su eipas, su legeis)'. There is some doubt about the Markan exception.170 But even if we conclude that the original text of Mark was indeed the unambivalent 'I am eimiy, it is more likely that Mark has modified an ambiguous 'You say' (or equivalent) by making Jesus' response a resounding affirmation, than that Matthew has transformed such an unequivocal 'Yes' to the unsatisfactory 'You say so' = 'That's your way of putting it'.171

The point, then, is that the reply Jesus is recalled as giving both to Caiaphas and to Pilate was probably the same: 'You say so'. What was being thus signified? At least an unwillingness to accept the title of Messiah/king, or, to be more precise, an unwillingness to accept the role which the title indicated to the questioner. Is the implication, then, that Jesus accepted the title in a different sense? All apart from Mark, and only in the answer to Caiaphas, indicate that 'Messiah' was a term Jesus preferred not to use for his own role.172 These exchanges are important. For they exemplify a dilemma which must frequently have confronted Jesus: could he accept or use a title which implied a role he was unwilling to embrace?

To sum up this probe into one of the most sensitive titular claims made for Jesus, sensitive to both Jews and Christians: Was Jesus remembered as claiming to be the royal Messiah of prophetic and eschatological expectation? And can we deduce from the evidence reviewed whether Jesus regarded himself as the royal Messiah? Despite the doubts of those who focus more on the stage of tradition re-presented by Mark and the other Synoptic Evangelists, it is certainly possible to offer a historically responsible answer to the former question. Indeed, it is almost impossible to escape the conclusion that the issue of Jesus' messiahship was raised during the latter stages of his mission and that he was remembered as reacting to the issue on his own account. So how did he react? Did he claim to be the long-hoped-for David's royal son? In the light of our findings above, the answer has to be a qualified No!173

170.1 had previously followed Taylor, Mark 568, in suggesting that the very weakly attested longer reading ('You say that I am') is original ('Messianic Ideas' 375-76).

171. 'There is no sufficient evidence that this was an accepted form of affirmation, either in Greek, or in Hebrew or Aramaic' (Dodd, Founder 101); though Dodd also points out that 'a title which he would not deny to save his life cannot have been without significance for him' (103). See also my 'Are You the Messiah?' 11-12.

172. Similarly Cullmann, Christology 118-21; Vermes, Jesus the Jew 148-49.

173. Cf. Bornkamm's conclusion; 'We should not speak about Jesus' non-Messianic history before his death, but rather of a movement of shattered Messianic hopes ...' (Jesus 172).

The answer is No because Jesus is never once recalled as using the title 'Messiah' of himself or as unequivocally welcoming its application to him by others (Mark 14.62 is the sole exception).174 It is also sufficiently clear from several, though not all, of the episodes reviewed above, that Jesus ignored or refused or rejected the dominant current understanding of the royal Messiah as a royal and military power like Herod the Great. This answer is consistent also with Jesus' remembered response to his disciples' ambition to share in royal power and privilege: that should not be the model for discipleship (Mark 45 pars.).175

The qualification is necessary, however, because there is a legitimate query as to whether the then current understanding of the royal Messiah's role was the only one possible from Israel's prophetic texts. The fact that the first Christians took over the title 'Messiah' so speedily and so completely (§15.2) suggests that there were other strands of Israel's expectation which had what might be called 'messianic potential'.176 It is certainly striking that the first disciples did not abandon the title in the light of Jesus' failure to realize any of their own hopes for a share in royal power. And we ruled out of play at an early stage the alternative suggestion that they had never entertained the thought of Jesus' messiahship prior to their Easter experience. The only plausible option remaining is that they had in fact been convinced that Jesus was Messiah, son of David, during his mission, but that their conception of his messiahship was radically transformed by the events of Good Friday. In that light they in effect emptied the title of its traditional content and filled it with new content provided by the law and the prophets and the psalms; Luke 24.25-27, 44-46 is one version of that process and strongly suggests the abruptness with which the transformation took place. In so doing, we could say that they were taking up the pointers Jesus had provided in his talk of eschatological reversal and suffering (§12.4c-d), but that does not quite validate the corollary that Jesus believed and taught his role to be that of a suffering royal Messiah.

Fascinating as the debate on Jesus' royal messiahship is, therefore, the term itself, royal Messiah, is too contested to allow a satisfactory conclusion. Either

174. The term 'Christ' does not even appear in the Q material.

175. Cf. Barrett: 'I do not see how the gospel material, critically evaluated, can lead to the conclusion that Jesus publicly stated the claim, "I am the Messiah"; or even that he thought privately in these terms' (Jesus 23); Theissen and Merz: 'Jesus had a messianic consciousness, but did not use the title Messiah'; he reshaped messianic expectations into a 'group messianism' — referring to Matt. 19.28/Luke 22.28-30 (Historical Jesus 538-40).

176. This was one of my main points in 'Messianic Ideas' (particularly 366, 369-70). Reading the Jesus tradition in the echo chamber of his controlling story, Wright concludes confidently that Jesus thought he was Israel's representative . . . the Messiah' (Jesus 538).

its reference was too clear, in which case Jesus seems to have declined it. Or its reference was unclear, in which case the debate as to whether Jesus laid claim to it does not advance the discussion very far. And though the first Christians cer-tainlv did use it, thev did so onlv bv transforming its reference in the light of Jesus' teaching and death. But if our concern is to know what Jesus thought on the matter as the best explanation for the impact which he made as attested bv the Jesus tradition, it is as well to focus our attention elsewhere.

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