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If Jesus was not the Jewish sort of Messiah envisaged in the literal readings of some of Mark and Matthew and Luke, who was He? St John is clear – He was and is ‘the Word made flesh’, who was in the beginning with God and was God. Nowhere in the Synoptics is this stated in this manner. One could come away from a literal reading of Mark with the view that Jesus was the ‘Son of God’, that is a man in whom God dwelt in a very special way; indeed, those who hold what the Unitarians hold, tend to do just that. As with Arius, it is not that they do not read Scripture, it is that they read in in the light solely of the illumination provided by their own candle – and that, the Church has always insisted, is not enough. A man may well think himself illuminated, and he may well be, but if he be so by the Spirit, he will be humble here and submit himself, as Paul did, to the correction and opinion of his brethren. He may well end, as Paul did, by changing the views of those who sought to correct him.

Those who argue that the concept of the ‘Logos’ is a late, Graeco-Roman addition which effectively perverted the message of the Jewish rabbi have, of course, their own agenda, but they ignore the fact that John himself was Jewish, and that Paul, another Jew, said much the same thing even earlier than John. The idea was not alien to early Christianity, it was part of its revelation. As we have no idea of whether Paul and John ever discussed these things, we find ourselves again, in the presence of the fact that not everything the early Church thought was written down in linear fashion. John wrote at the end of the century, but the ideas he expounded were not just his, they were part of what was revealed to Paul and through the two Apostles, to the whole Church. If men accepted them, it was because their own experience of Christ told them the same thing.

Scholars tend to agree that the first letter to the Thessalonians is the earliest extant piece of Christian writing. Being written perhaps as early as the early 50s, we see in it what we have seen in the Synoptics. Paul proclaims that Jesus ‘died and rose again’ and that the ‘wrath is coming’, after which all who believe in Him will rise and live with Him forever. We see here already something which was new – the message preached to the Gentiles. We don’t know whether Paul had ever heard about the Centurion or the samaritan woman, but we do know what revelation had told him – which was the message was for all mankind, not just the Jews. The kingdom of God then is not the restoration of Torah and the Temple, and the rule of the twelve in Jerusalem – it is life in Christ when the earth has been purged of evil. Moreover, we see something here that John will help us explain – the Judge and the Saviour are two, but somehow the same God.

Paul, an observant Jew, does not insist the Gentiles observe Torah – ‘the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life’. He effectively abandons the idea of a revealed religious law – no Sharia for Christians. In its place he puts the highest moral law of all – love your neighbour as yourself. In place of the letters of the law, he puts the person of Christ Jesus, his life of service and self-sacrifice, and knows that in pursuing Him, we will be filled with the Spirit. This moral law is greater than any of the religious laws he knew previously, all of them are subsumed in it. The ‘men from James’ did not like this sort of thing, and they had good reason, not least that it could lead men to thinking that whatever they did was the prompting of the Spirit, and lead them to justify even their sins by saying they were already regenerate in Jesus. This was correct, the Corinthians did so, and men have ever since – but as we shall see, that is another form of literalism and self-will.