Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Sign of Jonah

In the Book of Acts, Luke describes the early Church as being one in mind and purpose. When the apostles receive the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, they go out into the world to preach the one true message about Jesus.

The discovery of the Gospel of Thomas seems to contradict Luke’s description. The Gospel of Thomas, some scholars say, is early, possibly earlier than the Synoptic Gospels. Interestingly though, two of the most important aspects of catholic Christianity are absent in Thomas; the passion and the resurrection. It has thus been assumed that the early Christian community that created Thomas was not concerned with the passion, and perhaps, did not believe in the resurrection.

The Q Sayings Gospel, a hypothetical source for the shared material between Matthew and Luke, similarly calls into question the unity of the early Church on display in the book of Acts. Q, it is said, also lacks material about the resurrection and the cross. However, certain sayings of Q present evidence to the contrary. In my view, the Q community was not largely divergent from the Synoptic community.
One Q text is found in Matthew 12:39, with its equivalent in Luke 11:29.

An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.

Here, in response to unbelieving Pharisees, Jesus likens his own prophetic work to that of Jonah. Matthew, but not Luke, continues the thought “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth”(12:40). For Matthew, this is the obvious intention of Jesus in comparing himself to Jonah. Just as Jonah, Jesus will be redeemed from the grips of death and serve as a warning to the people. As a Jewish prophet, Jonah is unique in that his story is one of a kind of death and resurrection. There were many prophets of judgment Jesus could have identified with. If not for the reason that Jesus will also die and rise, why does Jesus identify specifically with Jonah?

Luke follows the Q verse with “For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation”(11:30). Luke and Matthew are in agreement. Jesus will become a sign in the manner that Jonah did. Luke’s logic of judgment falls apart otherwise. It is because Jesus will die and rise that Nineveh will be the rightful judge of this current generation(Lk 11:32). Nineveh believed the prophet who came out of the belly of the monster but the Pharisees will not believe the prophet who came out of the belly of the earth.

The verses in Matthew and Luke that follow the Q saying may be the creations of the late Church. Perhaps to interpret the sign of Jonah as they did, requires post resurrection faith. This seems highly implausible.

First, the verses in Matthew and/or Luke that proceed the Q saying may very well be from the Q document itself. There is absolutely no way to know when Q stops and the evangelist begins.

Second, in the minds of his Jewish contemporaries, “The sign of Jonah” would have heavily implied a kind of death and resurrection. What else could Jesus have meant by this? Why this prophet?

This, I believe, is strong evidence that the Q community, if it existed, thought of Jesus as the resurrected messiah, just as did Mark and the other Synoptic evangelists. There were no early Christian communities, as far as we know, that thought otherwise.

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