Thursday, September 19, 2019

Gathering the children of Jerusalem

Mt 23:37 is one of the most popular Arminian prooftexts. I've discussed in in some detail a few years ago:

i) But I'd like to revisit the issue. One complication is how to translate the passage. In order to render the statement in idiomatic English, translations obscure the fact that the same verb (thelo) is used both in reference to Jesus and Jerusalem:

Jerusalem, O Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I wanted (ēthelēsa | θέλησα) to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (ēthelēsate | θελήσατε). 

It's difficult to capture the contrast in smooth English, using the same synonym. Thelo can mean to wish/will/want/intend/decide/desire, &c. So in that respect, the point of contrast lies between something Jesus wanted to happen and something Jerusalem didn't want to happen. For now I'll stick with the word "want," but revisit that (see below). 

ii) Apropos (i), Arminians typically ove look the fact that the passage has three subjects rather than two subjects. It doesn't say:

I wanted to gather Jerusalem but Jerusalem didn't want to be gathered

I wanted to gather the children of Jerusalem but they didn't want to be gathered

Rather, it says:

I wanted to gather the children of Jerusalem but Jerusalem didn't want me to gather her children

So in that respect the point of contrast doesn't lie between those Jesus wants to gather and their disinclination to be gathered, but between those Jesus wants to gather, and the disinclination of a third party (Jerusalem) to let Jesus gather the second party (the children of Jerusalem). The object of Christ's desire isn't Jerusalem but the children of Jerusalem. It doesn't say the object of his desire rebuffed his desire. It doesn't say he reached out to the children of Jerusalem but they spurned his overtures. 

iii) Another question is the nuance of the verb, and whether it has the same nuance in each occurrence. In English, "wish" has a weaker connotation than "will". If Jesus meant that it was his wish to gather the children of Jerusalem, but Jerusalem was resistant, that raises the question of whether he got his wish. 

If, however, it means he willed to gather the children of Jerusalem, but Jerusalem was unwilling, it's harder to see how he could fail to accomplish what he willed to accomplish. "Willing" something to be the case is stronger than merely wishing something to be the case. 

Likewise, if he "intended" (or "decided") to gather the children of Jerusalem, but he was thwarted, then that means Jesus was mistaken. Intention carries the expectation of success. You intend (or decide) to do something if you think it lies within your power to do it. If you don't think you have the ability to pull it off, then that's something you hope for, not something you're in a position to decide the outcome on. 

iv) It would be consistent with open theism for the Son of God to intend or decide something but belatedly discover that he didn't have the foresight or mojo to carry out his intentions. So this would make it a better prooftext for open theism than classical Arminianism. So if the verb has the stronger nuance, that's a problem for classical Arminianism. 

v) Returning to (ii), if Jesus wills to gather the children of Jerusalem, but the Jerusalem is unwilling, it doesn't mean his design was overruled unless gathering the children of Jerusalem somehow depends on the cooperation of Jerusalem. Remember, there are three subjects in play. Rather, Jesus and Jerusalem both have designs on the children of Jerusalem–contrary intentions. 

What if the thrust of the statement is just the antithesis of the Arminian interpretation. Jesus gathers her children despite the opposition of Jerusalem. His success does not depend on whether Jerusalem complies. After all, he's not even attempting to gather Jerusalem. Rather, the children of Jerusalem are distinct from Jerusalem.

vi) What does Jerusalem–in contrast to her children–represent? Presumably, the religious establishment. Most of the religious leaders were hostile to his ministry. But that doesn't mean they have the power to veto his outreach to the children of Jerusalem. He doesn't need their permission to gather Jews to himself. Indeed, throughout the Gospels, he draws followers despite the vehement opposition of the religious authorities. They can't compete. They are impotent to stop him. So what if the thrust of the statement is actually that Jesus will gather the children of Jerusalem in spite of everything the religious establishment does to obstruct his ministry? Throughout the Gospels, Jesus bypasses the religious authorities. They can't stand in his way. He doesn't require their consent to save Jews in their midst. He prevails while his adversaries will be left out in the cold.  

1 comment:

  1. Good distinction between Jerusalem and the children of Jerusalem! I hadn't ever noticed that before.