January 16, 2005

Jesus the Logician: Luke 4:14-32

Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost has initiated a project he has titled the "Jesus the Logician" Project. Apparently inspired by an article by Christian philosopher Dallas Willard, the idea is to demonstrate that Jesus' discourse involved sound reasoning and use of the forms of logic. This is the sort of endeavour I can really get behind.

For my contribution, I direct your attention to this passage in Luke 4, in which Jesus begins his public ministry:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.

And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph's son?

And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country. And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.

And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them went his way, and came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power. (Luke 4:14-32)

Even without his supernatural knowledge, Jesus should have been able to read the body language of his hearers as he finished reading Isaiah and applying it to himself. They sat there and glared at him. How dare he! Who does he think he is? We knew this young upstart when he was still in diapers!

Here Jesus uses a logical form known as anthypophora: anticipating and immediately answering objections, as it were, a rhetorical pre-emptive strike. Sensing what they are thinking, he tells them: "You have heard about the things I've been doing out of town, and you're thinking, 'Physician, heal thyself.'" In other words, according to commentators Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, charity begins at home; the Nazarenes must have thought the hometown boy owed them a display of power like the one he'd given Capernaum.

But, Jesus adds, "No prophet is accepted in his own country." He immediately answers the anticipated objection with a proverb of his own: Familiarity breeds contempt. Joseph's boy may be a big shot around the Capernians [?], but he better not get any delusions of grandeur around us! And he continues his argument by comparing himself with the prophets Elijah and Elisha, whose most spectacular miracles were for the benefit of foreigners, instead of their own people. The Nazarenes wanted him to put on a dog and pony show, but that wasn't what Jesus was there for.

If the reaction of the Nazarenes proves anything, it's that Jesus had them dead to rights. They try to kill him. Miraculously escaping the attempt on his life, he is true to his word and returns to Capernaum where the locals rightly recognized the authority of his teaching.