9 March 1965 Professor George Caird delivers lecture on “Jesus and the Jewish Nation”
Jesus and the Jewish Nation was one of the groundbreaking works that facilitated a new phase in the study of the subject, according to N. T. Wright, whose book Jesus and the Victory of God is built much on foundations laid by Caird.
George Bradford “G. B.” Caird, D.Phil., D.D., FBA (17 July 1917 – 21 April 1984) was an English churchman, theologian, humanitarian, and biblical scholar. At the time of his death he was Dean Ireland’s Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford.
Caird’s career-long preoccupation with the Historical Jesus, known from his commentary on The Gospel of St. Luke and showcased at the end of New Testament Theology, is also reflected in his shorter works Jesus and the Jewish Nation and “Eschatology and Politics: Some Misconceptions,” among others.
His claim in particular that Jesus’s friction with the Pharisees reflected a legitimate, contemporary, first-century Palestinian debate about “what it means for the nation of Israel to be the holy people of God in a world overrun by gentiles,” and that this is profoundly “political,” is fundamental to his work on Jesus.
In the 1965 lecture Caird offers an interpretation of the life and ministry of Jesus that firmly connects him to the political context of his day. He states:
There can be no serious doubt that Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, and predicted it as the direct consequence of the rejection of his own preaching. But what is the logical connexion between the crucifixion and the fall of Jerusalem? It would be intolerable to suppose that Jesus regarded God as a vindictive tyrant, capable of inflicting an arbitrary retribution on a recalcitrant city. The truth must be that he regarded his own teaching, not just as religion for the individual or for a church within the nation, but as a national way of life which the nation could disregard only at its mortal peril. It is true that he never offered security to man or nation. But he pointed to the paradox that the whole Jewish nation, and the Pharisees in particular, were bending [p.12] every effort to maintain their national integrity, and that this was the one sure way of losing all they treasured. ‘He who saves his life shall lose it.’ If they wished to save their national life, they must lose it in the service of God’s kingdom, offering to God a radical obedience in excess of anything contemplated by the Pharisees, and leaving the results in the hands of God.
Caird’s lecture, which is well worth reading in full, became the basis for much of N T Wright’s views, as expressed in Jesus and the Victory of God and his other works.
As Tom Wright is one of the most influential New Testament theologians of our day, and in the view of this blogger, adopts a supersessionist reading of the place of Israel (the Jewish people) in the purposes of God, Caird’s work is seminal. He concludes the lecture:
Here then, in conclusion, is the picture of the ministry of Jesus I have been trying to put before you. Jesus believed that Israel had been called to be God’s saved and saving nation, the agent through whom God intended to assert his sovereignty over the rest of the world, and that the time had come when God was summoning the nation once for all to take its place in his economy as the Son of Man. His teaching was something more than individual piety and ethics, it was a national way of life through which alone God’s purpose could be implemented. The nation must choose between the way of Jesus and all other possible alternatives, and on its choice depended its hope for a national future. For nothing but the thoroughgoing change of heart which Jesus demanded and made possible could in the end keep the nation out of disastrous conflict with Rome. If the nation would not listen to him, it must pay the consequences; but he at least, and anyone else who would share it with him, must fulfil the destiny of the Son of Man. But so deeply does he love his nation, so fully is he identified with its life, so bitterly does he regret what he sees coming upon it, that only death can silence his reiterated and disturbing appeal. He goes to his death at the hands of a Roman judge on a charge of which he was innocent and his accusers, as the event proved, were guilty. And so, not only in theological truth but in historic fact, the one bore the sins of the many, confident that in him the whole Jewish nation was being nailed to the cross, only to come to life again in a better resurrection, and that the Day of the Son of Man which would see the end of the old Israel would see also the vindication of the new.
Reflection: There is much of value in Caird’s reading, such as his determination to get to the heart of Yeshua’s own program and agenda, a refusal to separate personal piety from political engagement, and a thoroughgoing Trinitarian orthodoxy and respect for Scripture. However, it is also clear that the direction Caird takes and others such as Wright will follow, have profound implication for those who continue to see a future for Israel (the Jewish people) and the ongoing solidarity between Yeshua and his people in the purposes of God.
Prayer: Thank you Lord for the scholarship of George Caird, and his pioneering approach to understanding the mission and message of Yeshua. Help us to respond effectively, lovingly and appropriately to his position and to those of others who have followed his line of teaching. Give us the wisdom, creativity and depth of scholarship needed to frame appropriate responses, for your glory and the elucidation of your Word. In the name of Yeshua, the Living Word we pray. Amen.
G.B. Caird, Jesus And The Jewish Nation. The Ethel M. Wood Lecture delivered before the University of London on 9 March 1965. London: The Athlone Press, 1965. Pbk. pp.22.