Saturday, January 07, 2012

Obvious Christological speech act



Ava, 2 years old toddler, is having a conversation with her mother, Lily. 

Both of them are deaf.

This is a good and heartwarming example of communication with sign. I like to think that this is also good analogy to help our understanding of Jesus' divinity in the gospel story.

The question, 'Did Jesus see himself as God?' is very much alive, especially in interfaith conversation between Christians and Muslims. 

In fact even among Christians, when exploring the question, we may find ourselves hard pressed to find explicit verbal affirmation in the three synoptic gospels that Jesus was indeed God.

And I think this difficulty is much owed to our unfamiliarity with the speech act language understood in Jesus' context. Take for example the scenario right after Jesus healed the paralyzed man:
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:5-7)
Jesus' speech acted as his pronouncement of forgiveness of sin. The teachers of the law who were there immediately understood that speech act. Jesus was performing the role that belonged solely to God alone. Hence by doing what only God does, Jesus was communicating his divinity. 

Many today overlook this because of the distance between the speech act language in Jesus' time and ours. An example from our present society is the nodding of head. We generally nod to communicate our "yes", while we turn our head to communicate "no". But in some culture (my Indian friends for instance) the turning of head is communicating "yes" at times. This is a real difference between two sets of speech act language.

When Jesus performed the forgiveness of sins, it was clear to his contemporaries what he was communicating. What Jesus communicated was so obvious that the teachers of the law were offended and anxiously thought to themselves: Jesus was blaspheming!

1 comment:

reasonable said...

A brief thought here about "Jesus was performing the role that belonged solely to God alone. Hence by doing what only God does, Jesus was communicating his divinity."

How about the idea that Jesus was a very special agent chosen by God to be his representative to perform the tasks which traditionally believed to belong to God alone? And this special agent of God is given special agency role by God such that whatever this agent/proxy performs it is to be treated as if performed by God personally? i.e. God binds himself to commit to the decisions/actions of his special agent Jesus.

If so, then when Jesus forgives someone's sin, Jesus is still not God. The Pharisees could be having a too stiff understanding of the meaning of "only God can forgive sins" - God is more creative in his way of working out the idea of "only God can forgive sins" by using a very special agent such that when that agent forgives sins or when that agent enters Jerusalem on a donkey, it can be said God forgives those sins or that God the King has returned to Zion.

James Dunn might be thinking along this line.