The Hard Sayings of Jesus
Very Tentative Schedule: Please give me
feedback. This is simply a "straw man" so that I can
start to develop the permanent calendar.
Topical Listing of the Hard Sayings of Jesus
I have tried to arrange the hard sayings according to similar topics. I am sure that I have not done an adequate job, and there are better ways to group the, so please feel free to suggest your own groupings. I encourage you to find a theme and then study and teach on the topics relative to that theme. I bought two copies of G.F. Bruce's book, so please let me know if you would like to borrow it. Please send me notes that you would like posted on the web.
Bible Study Tools: Many resources for studying the Bible
Bible Gateway: Read the Bible in various languages and translations
Bible Study Tools: Interlinear Bible, Parallel Bible, Commentaries,Darby's Synopsis,Geneva Study Bible,Gill's Exposition of the,Bible,Jamieson, Fausset,,Brown,Matthew Henry Concise,Matthew Henry Complete,People's New Testament,Robertson's Word,Pictures,The Fourfold Gospel,Treasury of David,Wesley's Explanatory,Notes, Concordances,Nave's Topical Bible,Torrey's Topical,Textbook,Treasury of Scripture,Knowledge, Dictionaries,Baker's Evangelical,Dictionary,Easton's Bible Dictionary,Hitchcock's Bible Names,JVI Prophecy Dictionary,King James Dictionary,Smith's Bible Dictionary, Encyclopedias,Condensed Biblical,Cyclopedia, Lexicons,New Testament Greek,Old Testament Hebrew, Sermon Helps,AutoIllustrator,Sunday Sermons, History,Josephus,Early Church Fathers,Creeds and Confessions,Fox's Book of Martyrs,Sketches of Church,History, Other Resources,BST Fonts
Introduction to " Hard Sayings of
Many of those who listened to Jesus during his public ministry found some of his sayings 'hard', and said so. Many of those who read his sayings today, or hear them read in church, also find them hard, but do not always think it fitting to say so.
Our Lord's sayings were all of a piece with his actions and with his way of life in general. The fewer preconceptions we bring from outside to the reading of the Gospels, the more clearly shall we see him as he really was. It is all too easy to believe in a Jesus who is largely a construction of our own imagination - an inoffensive person whom no one would really trouble to crucify. But the Jesus whom we meet in the Gospels, far from being an inoffensive person, gave offence right and left. Even his loyal followers found him, at times, thoroughly disconcerting. He upset all established notions of religious propriety. He spoke of God in terms of intimacy which sounded like blasphemy. He seemed to enjoy the most questionable company. He set out with open eyes on a road which, in the view of 'sensible people, was bound to lead to disaster.
But in those who were not put off by him he created a passionate love and allegiance which death could not destroy. They knew that in him they had found the way of acceptance, peace of conscience, life that was life indeed. More than that: in him they came to know God himself in a new way; here was the life of God being lived out in a real human life, and communicating itself through him to them. And there are many people today who meet Jesus, not in Galilee and Judaea but in the gospel record, and become similarly aware of his powerful attractiveness, entering into the same experience as those who made a positive response to him when he was on earth.
One reason for the complaint that Jesus's sayings were hard was that he made his hearers think. For some people thinking is a difficult and uncomfortable exercise, especially when it involves the critical reappraisal of firmly held prejudices and convictions, or the challenging of the current consensus of opinion. Any utterance, therefore, which invites them to engage in this kind of thinking is a hard saying. Many of Jesus's sayings were hard in this sense. They suggested that it would be good to reconsider things that every reasonable person accepted. In a world where the race was to the swift and the battle to the strong, where the prizes of life went to the pushers and the go-getters, it was preposterous to congratulate the unassertive types and tell them that they would inherit the earth or, better still, possess the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps the beatitudes were, and are, the hardest of Jesus's sayings.
For the Western world today the hardness of many of Jesus's sayings is all the greater because we live in a different culture from that in which they were uttered, and speak a different language from his. He appears to have spoken Aramaic for the most part, but with few exceptions his Aramaic words have not been preserved. His words have come down to us in a translation, and that translation - the Greek of the Gospels - has to be retranslated into our own language. But when the linguistic problems have been resolved as far as possible and we are confronted by his words in what is called a 'dynamically equivalent' version - that is, a version which aims at producing the same effect in us as the original words produced in their first hearers - the removal of one sort of difficulty may result in the raising of another.
For to us there are two kinds of hard saying: there are some which are hard to understand and there are some which are only too easy to understand. When sayings of Jesus which are hard in the former sense are explained in dynamically equivalent terms, then they are likely to become hard in the latter sense. Mark Twain spoke for many when he said that the things in the Bible that bothered him were not those that he did not understand but those that he did understand. This is particularly true of the sayings of Jesus. The better we
understand them, the harder they are to take. (Perhaps, similarly, this is why some religious people show such hostility to modern versions of the Bible: these versions make the meaning plain, and the plain meaning is unacceptable.)
If the following pages explain the hard sayings of Jesus in such a way as to make them more acceptable, less challenging, then the probability is that the explanation is wrong. Jesus did not go about mouthing pious platitudes; had he done so, he would not have made as many enemies as he did. 'The common people heard him gladly', we are told - more gladly, at any rate, than members of the religious establishment did - but even among the common people many were disillusioned when he turned out not to be the kind of leader they hoped he would be.
Apart from the one archetypal hard saying with which our collection starts, all the sayings treated here come from the synoptic Gospels. The Gospel of John has hard sayings in plenty, but they have a character of their own, and to deal with them would call for another volume of the same dimensions as this.
The view of the interrelatedness of the synoptic Gospels taken in this work does not greatly affect the exposition of the hard sayings, but it will be as well to state briefly here what that view is. It is that the Gospel of Mark provided Matthew and Luke with one of their major sources; that Matthew and Luke shared another common source, an arrangement of sayings of Jesus set in a brief narrative framework (not unlike the arrangement of the prophetic books of the Old Testament); and that each of the synoptic evangelists had access also to sources of information not used by the others. I It helps at times to see how one evangelist understood his predecessor by recasting or amplifying his wording.
Some of the sayings appear in different contexts in different Gospels. On this it is often said that Jesus must not be thought incapable of repeating himself. This is freely conceded: he may well have used a pithy saying on a variety of occasions. There is no reason to suppose that he said 'He who has ears to hear, let him hear, or 'Many are called, but few are chosen', once only. But there are occasions when a saying, indicated by
comparative study to have been spoken in one particular set of circumstances, is assigned to different contexts by different evangelists or different sources. There are other principles of arrangement than the purely chronological: one writer may group a number of sayings together because they deal with the same subject-matter or have the same literary form; another, because they have a common keyword (like the sayings about fire and salt in Mark 9:43-50).
Where there is reason to think that an evangelist has placed a saying in a topical rather than a chronological setting, it can be interesting to try to decide what its chronological setting in the ministry of Jesus probably was. For example, it has been suggested that the saying 'You are Peter, which Matthew (alone of the synoptic evangelists) includes in the report of Jesus's interchange with the disciples at Caesarea Philippi (see p. 139), may have belonged chronologically to another occasion, such as Jesus's appearance to Peter in resurrection. Even more speculative is the interpretation of some of the sayings as words of Jesus spoken not during his public ministry but later, through the mouth of a prophet in the early church. It has been thought best in this work not to engage in such speculation but to treat the sayings primarily in the contexts provided for them by the evangelists.
Again, this does not seem to be the place for an enquiry into the question whether the sayings examined are authentic sayings of Jesus or not. To help students in answering such a question some scholars have formulated 'criteria of authenticity' for application to the sayings recorded in the Gospels. One scholar, who attached great importance to these criteria, told me a few years ago that he had concluded that among all the sayings ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels, only six, or at most eight, could be accepted as undoubtedly his. The reader of this work will realise that it is written from a less skeptical viewpoint than that. Let this be said, however: the fact that a saying is hard is no ground for suspecting that Jesus did not say it. On the contrary, the harder it is, the more likely it is to be genuine.
in 1901, contained a long and important entry on 'Gospels' by a Swiss scholar, P. W. Schmiedel. In the course of this he listed a number of sayings of Jesus and other passages which, to his mind, ran so much counter to the conception of Jesus which quickly became conventional in the Church that no one could be thought to have invented them. He therefore regarded their authenticity as beyond dispute and proposed to treat them as 'the foundation-pillars for a truly scientific life of Jesus. Several of them will come up for inspection in the following pages for, whether in Schmiedel's sense or otherwise, they are certainly hard sayings.
The biblical version most frequently quoted in this work is the Revised Standard Version. It is for the most part in the wording of the Authorized (King James) Version that the sayings studied have acquired the status of 'hard sayings', and the RSV wording is sufficiently close to that of the AV to retain the same element of 'hardness'. A version like the New English Bible sometimes removes one hardness to replace it by another. In the interpretation of the sayings quoted I am, of course, indebted to many other interpreters. Some acknowledgment of my indebtedness is made in the following pages. There is one interpreter, however, to whom I am conscious of a special debt: that is the late Professor T. W. Manson, particularly in respect of his two works The Teaching of JesUS2 and The Sayings of Jesus.3 From the latter of these works I take leave to borrow words which will supply a fitting conclusion to this introduction:
It will simplify the discussion if we admit the truth at the outset: that the teaching of Jesus is difficult and unacceptable because it runs counter to those elements in human nature which the twentieth century has in common with the first - such things as laziness, greed, the love of pleasure, the instinct to hit back and the like. The teaching as a whole shows that Jesus was well aware of this and recognised that here and nowhere else lay the obstacle that had to be surmounted.4