Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Tertullian and the Parables (part 4) Against Marcion: the Rich Fool, Great Dinner, Lost Sheep, and Lost Coin

A couple shorter posts today and tomorrow about Tertullian’s use of the parables of the Rich Fool, Great Dinner, Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and the Rich Man and Lazarus in his work, Against Marcion.

Tertulian interprets several parables in Book 4 of Against Marcion. In this section, he focuses almost exclusively in interpreting passages from the Gospel of Luke, since Marcion accepts Luke’s Gospel (most of it) as scripture. The mode and purpose of Jesus teaching in parables for example, were both promised and used by the Creator, so there is continuity between the God of the Hebrew Bible and Jesus despite Marcion’s claims otherwise (4.19; 4.25; 4.26; see also 4.28, which cites the parable of the Rich Fool as demonstrating the continuity of Jesus and the God of the Hebrew Bible in their like condemnations of the “glory of riches”).

The parable of the Great Dinner (Luke 14:15-24) also illustrates the continuity between Jesus’ parables and the teaching of the Hebrew Bible prophets (4.29), because Jesus’ advice to invite the poor mirrors that of Isaiah (58:7). Yet the parable is also symbolic of God’s “dispensations of mercy and grace” in salvation history: The preparation for the dinner is “no doubt a figure of the abundant provision of eternal life,” and the Jewish people were the first ones invited to the dinner. Despite God’s invitations in the Hebrew Scriptures, Tertullian states, the Jewish people refuse to respond (e.g., Jer. 7:23-24). So God invites people from the “highways and the hedges,” who denote the “Gentile strangers,” an invitation to God’s dinner that, Tertullian argues, is also reflected in the Hebrew Scriptures (e.g., Deut. 32:21-22).


Likewise, the next chapter (4.32) cites the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin (Luke 15:1-10) to argue that Marcion’s view of Jesus (i.e., not being the Jewish messiah sent by the same God as in the Hebrew Bible) is untenable (the three “Lost” parables of Luke 15—sheep, coin, and son—are among Tertullian’s favorites; more on the Lost/Prodigal Son in a later post). Human beings cannot be the ones searching for what is lost, contra Marcion, because, in reality, the lost sheep and the lost coin both symbolize human beings who are “the property of none other than the Creator” (the God of the Hebrew Bible). God is the creator (“owner”) of human beings, so God looks for the lost, finds them, and rejoices over their recovery. Tertullian’s figurative interpretation of these two parables clearly follows and does not really go beyond their meanings in the context of Luke’s Gospel.

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