Thesis

Christocentricity without Christoconformity: An Evaluation of the Healing Ministry of Jesus

Christocentricity without Christoconformity: An Evaluation of the Healing Ministry of Jesus

 

 

By

Jose Antonio de Carvalho

A Thesis presented for the

Degree of Master of Theology

at the South African Theological Seminary

May 2017

Supervisor: Dr Kevin G Smith

 

Declaration

By submitting this work to the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), I hereby declare that it is my own work, that nobody did it for me, and that I did not copy any of it from anyone else. I cited all sources such as books, journals and websites. I understand and accept that if this declaration is proved to be false, I will automatically fail the course and be subject to disciplinary action by SATS.

Jose Antonio de Carvalho

 

Dedication

In memory of Isabella Maria Cornelia Bester 1928-2011 whose death has been swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:54).

 

Acknowledgements

I wish to express my deepest gratitude to my best friend and dear wife Isabel, who has sacrificed much to enable me to reach this season in my life.

A special word of thanks needs to go to my supervisor, Dr. Kevin Smith, whose wisdom made this project possible. His exemplary conduct as a supervisor was a continuous source of encouragement and inspiration.

Although many individuals, especially SATS staff, have exhorted me throughout my academic journey, I am particularly indebted to my daughter, Candice, as well as the de Bruin, Ferreira and Bester families for their continuous prayers, love and support.

 

Table of Contents

Declaration. i

Dedication. ii

Acknowledgements. iii

Table of Contents. iv

Abbreviations. viii

Chapter 1—Introduction. 1

Part 1—The Research Problem.. 1

1.1 Background. 1

1.2 Problem.. 5

1.3 Hypothesis. 6

1.4 Delimitations and Definitions. 6

Part 2—Research Methodology. 7

Chapter 2—An Exegetical Study of Luke 4:18. 10

Section 1: Introduction. 10

1.1 The Passage, Objectives and Perspectives. 10

1.2 The Plan. 12

Section 2: The Context of the Book. 13

2.1 General Background. 13

2.2 Historical Context 16

2.3 Argument, Structure and Literary Considerations. 16

Section 3 Textual and Contextual Analysis. 26

3.1 Preliminary Analysis, Textual Criticism and Translation. 26

3.2 Isaiah 61:1-2, 58:6 in context 42

Section 4: Exegesis of the Passage and Commentary. 44

4.1 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me. 44

4.2 Because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; 56

4.3 He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, 58

4.4 To proclaim liberty to the captives. 58

4.5 And recovery of sight to the blind, 59

4.6 To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 60

Conclusion. 62

Chapter 3—The Accounts of Healings in the Gospel of Mark. 65

Section 1: Introduction. 65

1.1 The Passages, Objectives and Perspectives. 65

1.2 The Plan. 66

Section 2: The Context of the Book. 67

2.1 General Background. 67

2.2 Historical Context 70

2.3 Argument, Structure and Literary Considerations. 71

Section 3: Exegesis of the Passages and Commentary. 80

3.1 The Healing of Simon’s Mother-in-law. 80

3.2 Jesus Heals Many. 84

3.3 A Leper Cleansed. 87

3.4 The Healing of a Paralytic. 90

3.5 The Shrivelled Hand. 94

3.6. Jairus’ Daughter Restored to Life. 95

3.7 The healing of the Woman with the Haemorrhage. 97

3.8 The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth. 100

3.9 Healing the Crowds at Gennesaret 101

3.10 A Deaf-Mute Healed. 102

3.11 The Healing of a Blind Man at Bethsaida. 104

3.12 Healing of Blind Bartimaeus at Jericho. 108

Conclusion. 111

Table 1. 117

Chapter 4—An Integrated Evaluation of the Person of Jesus. 118

Section 1—Introduction. 118

1.1 The Passages, Objectives and Perspectives. 118

1:2 The Plan. 121

Section 2—The Person of Jesus. 123

2.1 The Humanity and Deity of Jesus—One Life, Four Accounts. 123

2.2. Did Jesus give up some of his divine attributes while on Earth?. 145

Section 3—Historical Interpretations of the Person of Jesus. 155

Section 4—A Systematic Formulation of the Functional Jesus. 163

4.1 An Integrated Evaluation of Jesus’ Sinlessness. 163

4.2 An Integrated Evaluation of Jesus and the Spirit 171

4.3 Relevance for Life and Ministry. 178

Conclusion. 183

Chapter 5—Conclusion. 185

5.1 Conclusions of the Research. 185

5.1.1 Primary Objectives of the Study. 185

5.1.2 Conclusions Regarding the Implication of the Uniqueness of Jesus’ Anointing. 185

5.1.3 Conclusions Regarding the Implication of the Uniqueness of Jesus’ Mission. 186

5.1.4 Conclusions Regarding the Implication of the Uniqueness of Jesus’ Person. 186

5.1.5 Qualified Acceptance of the Hypothesis. 187

5.2 The Significance of Conclusions. 188

5.3 Recommendations of the Research. 189

5.3.1Recommendations for SATS’ Christ-centered assertions. 189

5.3.2 Recommendations for Christ-centeredness as a hermeneutic. 191

Works Cited. 193

 

Abbreviations

 

A.D.              anno Domini

ca.                Approximately

ed.               Edition

cf.                Compare

ch.                Chapter

chs.              Chapters

e.g.              For Example

etc.               Other things

Eccl. Hist.     Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History

ESV              English Standard Version

ff.                 Following verses

Haer.           Adversus Haereses

i.e.                That is

ibid               In the same place

LXX             Septuagint

MT               Masoretic Text

NKJV            New King James Version

NRSV          New Revised Standard Version

NT                New Testament

OT               Old Testament

Par.              Parallel Passage(s)

Q                  Quelle

v.                 Verse

vv.                Verses

 

Chapter 1—Introduction

Part 1—The Research Problem

1.1 Background

This research project brings together two areas of deep personal interest to the researcher: physical healing and Christ-centred hermeneutics. The point of synergy between the two areas of interest lies in the use of the healing ministry of Jesus as a test case for re-examining and refining a christocentric approach to interpreting scripture.

The researcher’s intrinsic interest in the christocentric principle as a hermeneutical lens for interpreting scripture, theology, and praxis gives rise to the other dimension of the thesis. The christocentric principle has its roots in the writing and teaching of Dr Christopher Peppler, the founder of the South African Theological Seminary (SATS) and long-time senior pastor of the Lonehill Village Church. As long ago as 1998, shortly after its genesis, the Prospectus of SATS stated the seminary’s mission as follows:

To provide Christocentric biblical distance education and training to South African Christians, and pastors in particular, within their local church environments to equip them to be Holy Spirit empowered members of God’s household. (Prospectus 1998)

The phrase ‘christocentric distance education and training’ remains in the seminary’s mission statement to this day, and is captured in the seminary’s by-line: ‘Bible-based, Christ-centred, and Spirit-led’.

Peppler originally formulated the christocentric principle as a model for doing systematic theology—a method of examining what the whole Bible taught about a given question or topic (Smith 2012:159). Peppler (2007:181) defined christocentric hermeneutics as ‘the method of interpreting the Bible from the primary perspective of what Jesus said and did’. Since God revealed himself most clearly and completely in and through Jesus Christ—the Living Word (John 1:1; Heb. 1:1-3; Col. 1:15)—his life should hold a central place in the way we base our doctrine and practice. Therefore, Peppler argued that a topical study should begin by considering what Jesus said and did. Then it should turn to the Old Testament (OT) to understand the rationale for Jesus’s words and works, ‘the why’ behind his revelatory life and deeds. Lastly, it should consider the remainder of the New Testament (NT)—Acts to Revelation—as these books reveal how the inspired writers of the NT interpreted and applied the words and works of Jesus Christ to various situations and contexts (Smith 2012:159-160). Peppler’s (2007:181) original model endorsed the following:

Peppler’s emphasis on the christocentric principle gave rise to a robust debate amongst the academics at SATS as to what the seminary’s christocentricity entails. These four points emerged:

  • In all we do, we seek to give due honor and glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • The goal of the Christian life is to become like the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • The person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ is central to all Christian life, doctrine, and ministry.
  • The nature of God as revealed in the words and works of the Lord Jesus Christ is a lens for interpreting God’s word and discerning his will.

There was a general consensus regarding the first three points, but the legitimacy and meaning of the fourth point, which takes christocentricity as a hermeneutic, was contested (2012:158; 2013:26). The debate culminated in Peppler’s article, ‘The Christocentric Principle: A Jesus-Centred Hermeneutic’, which defined the Christocentric principle as:

an approach to biblical interpretation that seeks to understand all parts of scripture from a Jesus-perspective. In other words, it is a way of interpreting scripture primarily from the perspective of what Jesus taught and modelled, and from what he revealed concerning the nature, character, values, principles, and priorities of the Godhead (Peppler 2012:120).

The clause ‘what Jesus … modelled’ presses christocentricity beyond the exegetical sphere into the realm of practical theology. Peppler’s more recent writings confirm that he believes christocentricity extends to practical theology. Peppler (2013:89) asserts that when he ‘hears the voice of the Spirit of God calling for the restoration of truth in the church of our day’; he understands it ‘as a call to refocus our doctrine and practice on Jesus’ (italics added).[1] In 2013, in an article entitled ‘The Potential of Proclamation’ in his blog Truth is the Word, Peppler applied his christocentric approach to interpret the healing ministry of Jesus and propose a proclamation-based praxis of faith healing for the contemporary church. The article is true to Peppler’s christocentric approach, since he endeavours to interpret scripture from the perspective of what Jesus modelled concerning the topic of physical healing, and then seeks to apply it to current church life. He argues that Jesus ‘was fully human and therefore a valid example for us to follow’ and that ‘the Holy Spirit’s main task on earth is to empower believers to minister like him [Jesus]’. The implications of formulating healing ministry praxis based on what Jesus modelled are articulated as follows:

I have noted this before, but it is worth repeating, Jesus did not pray for any of the people to whom he ministered. He identified their need, most often made physical contact with them, and then either pronounced them healed or instructed them to do something which indicated their restored condition.

Peppler concludes that a christocentric reading of Jesus’s healing ministry leads to the conclusion that it is possible for followers of Jesus to imitate his healing ministry. He writes, ‘as Jesus did not instruct the disciples to pray that God do these things for them, but that they perform the acts themselves’ (Peppler 2013).[2]

These convictions pre-date Peppler as they are also the convictions of John Wimber’s[3] healing ministry model. Wimber (1986:58) originally believed that ‘Jesus is our model in faith and practice’, and therefore he modelled his healing ministry on Jesus, advocating healing by means of a word of commanded, but limiting this to when the Lord leads (58, 197, 217-218). These ideas were expounded in Wimber (1985; 1986), Springer (1987) and Greig and Springer (1993). Wimber did not claim that Jesus never prayed for the sick, citing Mark 7:32-35. Under the influence of the Vineyard movement’s most influential early theology, Dr Jack Deere, Wimber later changed his mind on this foundational point of his healing theology, admitting that his healing minister should not be modelled on Jesus (Jensen 1990).

Smith (2012:159) affirms that Peppler’s christocentric principle can aid theological reflection in all branches of theology. Smith then refines the principle as:

a hermeneutical tool to help God’s people to interpret texts, practices, and situations. It serves as something of a hermeneutical compass, orienting us towards a proper understanding of God’s will and purposes for his people—the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ is central to all Christian life, doctrine, and ministry.

Smith (2012:161) correctly directs christocentricity as a hermeneutic enterprise to practical theology—the study of both present and preferred praxis—stating that ‘In this regard, the christocentric principle seems to be a valuable lens for interpreting present praxis and envisioning preferred praxis’. Although the trajectory of Smith’s (2012; 2013) reflections suggest that the christocentric principle should aid theological reflection on praxis, he does not develop this train of thought. Part of the motivation for this study of Jesus’s healing ministry as a test case for a Christ-centered hermeneutic for praxis is to continue Smith’s endeavors and to carry the discussion beyond the hermeneutical discourse to practical theology, as this reflects the conviction that theology should be both biblical and practical (Smith 2008:153-154). In this regard the writer is mindful of Smith’s (2012:161) contention that ‘the christocentric principle seems to be a valuable lens for interpreting present praxis and envisioning preferred praxis’.

The researcher is supportive of Peppler’s christocentric principle, including the hermeneutical dimension of treating the nature of God as revealed in the words and works of the Lord Jesus Christ as a lens for interpreting God’s word and discerning his will. The writer supports the view that an evangelical reading of scripture should be Bible-based and Christ-centered. He is not concerned with christocentricity as a hermeneutic per se, but he is concerned about the broader application of the hermeneutical enterprise—how to deploy a Christ-centred hermeneutic to inform church praxis. If we are to ‘base our doctrine and practice on what He [Jesus] said and did’, as one of SATS’ three foundational pillars advocates, what parameters guide legitimate imitation of Christ from illegitimate. Considering the empirical evidence indicating the low success rates of healing ministries that attempt to proclaim healing the way Jesus did, Peppler’s chosen test case for applying his christocentric hermeneutic to inform church praxis begs many questions. To what extent are contemporary disciples of Jesus able to imitate his ministry? Does any claim that we can imitate Jesus give ‘due honor and glory to the Lord Jesus Christ’?

1.2 Problem

The main research problem is to refine the christocentric principle (Peppler 2007, 2012, 2013; Smith 2012, 2013) so that its deployment as a hermeneutical lens avoids the pitfall of not taking into account the uniqueness of Jesus’s person, mission, representative anointing, and authority, thus guarding against advocating an over-simplistic emulation of his ministry practices (christoconformity).

The problem will be solved through a case study of the healing ministry of Jesus, by answering these key questions:

  1. How does the uniqueness of Jesus’ anointing impact the extent to which Christians can emulate his healing ministry?
  2. How does the uniqueness of Jesus’ mission impact the extent to which Christians can emulate his healing ministry?
  3. How does the uniqueness of Jesus’ person impact the extent to which Christians can emulate his healing ministry?

1.3 Hypothesis

The christocentric principle is a valuable and legitimate hermeneutic lens, provided that the ontological and missional uniqueness of Jesus is considered in order to guard against the potential pit-fall of advocating an over-simplistic christocentric praxis—christoconformity.

1.4 Delimitations and Definitions

Delimitations

The research accepts the christocentric principle as a hermeneutic lens. The researcher’s goal is not to critique the legitimacy of christocentric interpretation as such, but to evaluate the boundaries of patterning Christian life and ministry on the model of Jesus’s works, using his healing ministry as a test case.

The focus on physical healing is delimited to Jesus’s healing ministry, to the exclusion Christian healing ministries after Pentecost. A complete biblical theology of healing must give due attention to the rest of the scriptures, especially Acts–Revelation, but that task is beyond the focus of this study, and it has been well treated in studies by Turner (1996), Brown (1995), Warrington (2000), Dickinson (1995), Wimber (1986), Grudem (1996), Greig and Springer (1993), and Deere (1993). Similarly, an empirical investigation of contemporary healing is beyond the scope of this study, and has been addressed in several other studies (Keener 2001; Warrington 2000; Gardner 1986; Dickinson 1995; Porterfield 2005; Deere 1993).

Definitions

The concepts of christocentricity (= Christ-centered) and christoconformity are crucial to this this, the writer’s understanding of Christ-centred is that:

  • God has revealed himself most clearly and completely in Christ—the Living Word (John 1:1; Heb. 1:1-3; Col. 1:15)—and the life and teaching of Jesus Christ should hold a central place in the way we seek to discern God’s will.
  • Jesus Christ is God the Son and the full revelation of the Godhead to humankind. He is head of the church and the Lord of our lives. As a result, we are to base our doctrine and practice on what He said and did.

Considering that the term ‘christocentric’ means different things to different people[4] the writer speaks of christocentricity as per Peppler’s (2012:120) definition stated above.

Christoconformity

The writer’s definition of christoconformity is modelling ministry praxis in continuity to the pattern modelled by Jesus.

 

Part 2—Research Methodology

The research problem positions this study within the domain of biblical and theological research. It will be a literary study and therefore does not require empirical research. The research methodologies will logically follow the steps required to answer each sub-problem. In addition to the standard introduction and conclusion chapters, there is a chapter dedicated to each of the three research questions presented in section 2.2.

Methodology for chapter 2—An exegetical study of Luke 4:18

This chapter deals with question one of the research questions—how does the uniqueness of Jesus’ anointing impact the extent to which Christians can emulate his healing ministry?

The synoptics all make Isaianic allusions in their account of Jesus’ healing miracles. However, Luke 4:18 appears to be the most important biblical text dealing with this parallel; therefore, it will be the anchor text in this chapter. Luke’s redactional use of Isaiah 61:1-2 will be the object of the enquiry, which will inform the interpretation of the anchor text, leading to a systematic synthesis of the interpretation of the Spirit on Jesus in terms of Isaiah 61:1-2 as presented by Luke in 4:18.  The synthesis of these texts will inform the significance of ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me…’[5] in Isaianic tradition and how that impacts the way the Lord ministered healing. The antecedent scripture and the anchor text will interact with what Jesus said and did in order to enable a systematic understanding of why Jesus was able to minister healing the way he did.

Methodology for chapter 3—The accounts of healings in the Gospel of Mark

Chapter two focused on the uniqueness of Jesus anointing, this chapter deals with question two of the research questions—how does the uniqueness of Jesus’ mission impact the extent to which Christians can emulate his healing ministry? The overall objective will be attempted by evaluating whether Jesus’ healing accounts, when soundly interpreted by a grammatical-historical hermeneutic, provide a theological foundation for the practice of christoconformity in a contemporary healing ministry.

In determining the significance of Jesus’ healing ministry for disciples today, it is imperative to evaluate how this ministry should be understood in the context of first-century culture, which is the objective attempt of this exegesis. The selection of healing accounts to be evaluated is limited to Mark’s accounts of healings conducted by Jesus and it excludes exorcisms. The parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke will be woven into the discussion to supplement the analysis of Mark’s accounts. There are several reasons for choosing to anchor the study in Mark’s gospel:

  • Mark proportionally recorded more healing miracles than any of the other gospels.
  • Where there are parallel accounts of a healing miracle, Mark’s account tends to be the most detailed.
  • The healing ministry of Jesus holds a more prominent place in Mark than it does in the other gospels.

Methodology for chapter 4—An integrated evaluation of the person of Jesus

Chapter two focused on Jesus’ anointing; chapter three focused on the uniqueness of Jesus’ mission; this chapter will deal with question three of the research questions—how does the uniqueness of Jesus’ person impact the extent to which Christians can emulate his healing ministry?

In order to form a holistic understanding of the topic under investigation this chapter will take an integrated theological approach to study the person of Jesus. The premise of this approach is that theology is a single discipline. It therefore needs the contribution of all the branches/sub-disciplines within theology in forming a holistic understanding; hence an integrated theological approach (Smith 2013:35-38). The structure of this chapter will comprise of a biblical perspective and historical perspective to inform the systematic formulation of the topic at hand and relevance for life and ministry (Lewis and Demarest 1996:46-48).

 



[1] Albeit not with a uniformed voice, for approximately 50 years evangelical Christians have repeatedly been calling for a christocentric approach to life and scripture (Ortlund 2009:311). See Ortlund (2009) and Padgett (2006), among others, for comprehensive discussions on christocentric hermeneutics pre-dating the debate amongst the academics at SATS.

 

[2] For an article expressing the same convictions see ‘Jesus never told us to pray for the sick, Jesus commanded us to heal the sick’ (Bert Farias, CharismaNews 2015).

[3] John Wimber was the main founding leader of the Vineyard Church, a Christian movement that began in the United States and become a global denomination.

[4] For a fuller discussion see Peppler (2012, 2013).

[5] Unless otherwise indicated all scripture cited emanates from the ESV Bible version.