Zingcreed’s motto for the day:

“God is dead, Christ is a human creation, so it’s just Jesus!”

” ‘The Limitations of Jesus’ social teachings’ is a chapter heading in a book published in 1937 by H.J.Cadbury. (See Sources below). To set it in some kind of theological context look at  what Rudolf Bultmann wrote a couple of years earlier:
“Jesus has no so-called individual or social ethics…Jesus teaches no ethics at all.” (p. 84)
“Subversive ideas and revolutionary utterances are lacking in Jesus.” (p. 103)

Zingcreed doesn’t see it that way; in fact Posts on this site have made, and will continue to make, the case that Jesus was a revolutionary and a subversive. However I welcome articles that give a contrary message to mine, and I will print them and analyse them to the best of my ability.
Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.”


The Limitations of Jesus’social teaching

Liberal Protestantism assumes Jesus developed a social outlook which is applicable to the twentieth century. However
-this ignores the fragmentary nature of the sources
-it relies on the condensation of Jesus’s words into a few aphorisms and parables
-it overlooks the difficulty of inferring back from the Greek texts to the spoken Aramaic
-it fails to take into account the lapse of time between the spoken words and their subsequent written form
Above all, Jesus’ apocalyptic world-view, his belief that the end was at hand, lead to his preaching an interim ethic rather than eternal principles good for all time.

So, in what sense are Jesus’ ethical teachings applicable to the problems of the modern world when they were originally conceived to deal with a relatively brief temporal gap between the close of this age and the age to come?
Jesus had no social outlook at all! In fact he was deficient in 4 areas requisite for building a social ethic:-

1/ He rarely if ever dealt with social institutions as such. He mentions without criticism in his parables Slaveholders, Capitalists, Monarchs, and Tax collectors, as though the systemic issues associated with their roles never entered his head.

2/ He was indifferent to social collectives or groups, and had no interest in social solidarity. He was oblivious to moral issues like class interests, class consciousness, or class ideals. He thought about people only as individuals.

3/ In situations of “social interrelations” Jesus did not conceive of the interactions as a whole but thought only of one person at a time. e.g. paying of the labourers in the vineyard (Mt 20:1-15). Each man received the same sum without regard to the others.

4/ He had no interest in social motives and did not appeal to them. Instead he appealed to religious motives, to common sense, to ‘spontaneous goodness’ and to self interest. He never appealed to the rights or interests of groups or to the interests of society itself.
Nowhere in the gospels can one find a single injunction to social service based explicitly on the neighbour’s need for love and service.

Like Schweitzer 30 years before, Cadbury ended up looking to religious experience to supply what his rigorous research could not.


Cadbury, H.J. “The peril of modernizing Jesus” Macmillan, (1937)
Bultmann, R. “Jesus and the Word” Scribner’s (1934)
Herzog, W.R. “Parables as Subversive speech” John Knox Press (1994) (p.31, from which much of this material is taken)
Schweitzer, A. “The Quest of the Historical Jesus” Macmillan (1906, 1956)

Related Zingcreed Posts:
Jesus’ alternative election strategy (Jonathan Bartley of Ekklesia)
Jesus’ real political message
Alphabetical index for Red Christian documents
Parables are subversive

[422, i&l, t&c]



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