Thursday, March 27, 2014

Portraits of Jesus class and Tertullian (part 5): The Rich Man and Lazarus

A brief note before I return to Tertullian's discussion of the Rich Man and Lazarus parable in Against Marcion:

The student presentations in my "Portraits of Jesus" class started this week. In this class, we do both textual and visual exegeses, and after working together to learn how to do visual/textual exegesis for much of the semester, in the latter part of the semester students present their own exegeses to the class. Their papers include (1) an exegesis of the biblical text; (2) a brief introduction to the life, work, and historical context of the artist whose work was chosen to represent the scene; (3) a visual exegesis of the painting that also demonstrates how the artist has actualized the NT Gospel text in the production of the visual image. Some of the students have chosen texts/paintings about parables, and if I get their permission to do so, I may highlight some of their work on this blog over the next four weeks.

Back to Tertullian's Against Marcion, which is another example of one's polemical/theological interests influencing if not dominating one's interpretation:

Tertullian soon turns to Marcion’s interpretation of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Marcion, he writes, “violently turns the passage to another end” by arguing that the “torment” of the rich man in Hades actually is for those “who have obeyed the law and the prophets,” while heaven is reserved for those who “belong to Christ and his own god.” Tertullian responds that Luke’s literary context refutes this interpretation. The parable comes right after a reference to John the Baptist, whom Herod had beheaded (Luke 16:16-17; cf. 9:7-9), and that connects the parable to John and Herod’s situation:

For this passage, so far as its letter goes, comes before us abruptly; but if we regard its sense and purport, it naturally fits in with the mention of John wickedly slain, and of Herod, who had been condemned by him for his impious marriage. It sets forth in bold outline the end of both of them, the “torments” of Herod and the “comfort” of John, that even now Herod might hear that warning: “They have there Moses and the prophets, let them hear them”(Luke 16:29; Against Marcion 4.34).


Tertullian concludes that Abraham’s statement in Luke 16:29 also involves a warning for Marcion and his followers: “Moses and the prophets declare one only God, the Creator, and his only Christ, and how that both awards of everlasting punishment and eternal salvation rest with Him, the one only God, who kills and who makes alive.”

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