Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JETS 22:2 (June 1979) p. 172
The Jesus of the Parables. By Charles W. F. Smith. Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1975, 247 pp., $8.95.
This book is essentially a revision of an earlier work that first appeared in 1948. The original aim, “to help the minister in study, preaching, and pastoral concern and the lay person in appreciation of the parables” (p. 9), has been retained. In retrospect, however, in the twenty-seven-year interval between the original and the present edition at least a dozen new studies have appeared, and the material from Qumran and Nag Hammadi has had to be taken into account.
Smith’s approach to the parables is apparent from the outset. As the title suggests, it is the parables of Jesus that are of interest. The methodology of C. H. Dodd and J. Jeremias, both of whom assumed that the parables in their extant form display the hallmarks of ecclesiastical redaction, is implemented (p. 37). Smith emphasizes their controversial, provocative nature, which he describes in terms of militancy (p. 12), disputation (p. 13), and as tactical weapons in Jesus’ strategy (p. 14). In short, as he himself suggests, “Jesus used parables, and Jesus was put to death. The two facts are related, and it is necessary to understand the connection” (p. 11).
This view of the parables (as weapons of warfare) is related to Smith’s overall approach to the gospels, and to some extent the approach is to be commended. “To be too exclusively concerned with the Gospels as texts,” he argues, “is to stand apart from the history of which they are but reflections” (p. 32). The history of the NT period was marked by violent political tension (p. 33). A prime factor in the story was Jesus’ consciousness of high mission; he knew that “the destiny of men was in some sense determined by their reaction to him” (p. 35).
To some extent (as I suggested) this approach is to be commended. On this view, however, the gospels too easily become interesting documents of ancient history with little contemporary relevance. The crisis for Jesus was at once both historical and eschatological, and the latter can not be minimized. At times Smith seems to lose sight of the eschatologi-cal tension that pervades the parables, emphasizing the historical setting (the “realized” eschatology) at the expense of “imminent” eschatology. This is explicit in his interpretation of many of the parables including the rich fool (p. 180); the unjust judge (pp. 185 ff.); and the ten virgins, whose lesson is not so much “watch” as it is “when the call comes, be wholly committed to do what is demanded” (pp. 117 f.). See also his treatment of “The Kingdom of God and the Parables” (pp. 211 f.).
It must be said, however, in spite of comments wi...
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