5 Things We Learned About the Jesus of Nazareth January 22 2018


Consider the many different ways Jesus has been portrayed over the centuries or the ways his name has been employed in support of this or that cause. N. T. Wright, a prominent Jesus scholar and Anglican Bishop, observes that he is “almost universally approved of” but for “very different and indeed often incompatible reasons.” If this is the case, then we wondered what Jesus were we worshiping and whether that Jesus was one of our own making?

During the past half-century historians have made significant strides examining the most recently discovered source materials in order to think once again about existing documents like the four Gospels. The aim was to reconstruct the Jesus who the men and women in first-century Palestine would recognize and follow. Jesus was born into an ancient society constrained by millennia of social, theological, and political practices perpetuated by the minority ruling elite and facilitated by a vast majority of souls who knew of no other way. Periodically prophets would rail against the system in the name of God. But the great, colossus of ancient Rome remained sustained through the oppression of individuals, the very individuals that Jesus came to invite into a new, righteous Kingdom.

The Jesus of history and the Gospels largely displaced the conventions of his day with regard to women and the family, as well as the social standing of the poor, the wealthy, and the outcast.

On Women:

In the twenty-first century, when issues regarding the roles of men and women in religious environments are alive and controversial, Jesus’s treatment of women was prescient. His example and the privileges afforded the first female Christians provide important perspectives. The subject takes on added significance as we appreciate the meaning of the priestly roles that women play in Latter-day Saint temples. Echoing what N. T. Wright suggests in his recent book Surprised by Scripture, we must “think carefully about where our own cultures, prejudices, and angers are taking us, and make sure we conform not to the stereotypes the world offers but to the healing, liberating, humanizing message of the gospel.” He continues, “[we live in a time when] we need to radically change our traditional pictures of what men and women are and of how they relate to one another within the church, and indeed of what the Bible says on this subject.”

On the Family:

What little Jesus had to say about the family is jarring to modern ears. He replaced the household of his day with a new universal family called the Kingdom of God where all were brothers and sisters. All were welcome: the poor and the rich, men and women, bond and free, high and low, Jew and Gentile. Members were asked to live in a communal order where everyone had what they needed.

On the Poor:

At the end of Jesus’s ministry, his priorities had not shifted from those he announced by way of the Isaiah text he read as he stood in the synagogue in Nazareth. Prior to his betrayal, Jesus spoke about the Final Judgment. He reminded those who heard him then, as well as those who hear him today, that when our lives are weighed in the balance, we will be judged not on what we know, or how many things we owned, or on how many church meetings we attended; rather, we will be judged on the basis of how well we loved our neighbors, and how well we fed the hungry, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited those in need (Matt. 25:31–46).

On the Wealthy:

Matthew’s Gospel records that Jesus spoke to a “rich young man” who, by his own report, kept all the commandments in Torah, the Mishnah, and the Oral Traditions. Jesus asked him to go one step further and distribute all his wealth equally amongst the poor in order to be a part of God’s kingdom (Matt. 19:21-22). The apocryphal Gospel of Hebrews records that when the young man could not take that step, he “began to scratch his head because he did not like that command.”  But then, Mark’s Gospel says, “Jesus felt genuine love for [this man]” (Mark 10:21 NLT).

Father James Martin, in a memoir on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2014, writes about his encounter with the story, standing on the supposed spot where Jesus told it: “Jesus ‘loved him’? Where did that come from? I had heard this Gospel story dozens of times. How had I missed that line? . . . Those three words . . . altered the familiar story and thus altered how I saw Jesus. No longer was it the exacting Jesus demanding perfection; it was the loving Jesus offering [agency]. Now I [and we] could hear him utter those words with infinite compassion for the man. . . . Jesus explicitly offers a promise of abundance to everyone” (Jesus: a Pilgrimage, 271).

Jesus invited all to be bound to him by the “covenant of salt.”

The Covenant of Salt is a three-part obligation. The meaning of the name of the covenant would have been obvious to the men and women who followed him: salt was and is the root word of salvation and it was an enormously valuable commodity in their day. At the end of our study, we came to understand a little better what N. T. Wright observes – that what mattered most to Jesus was that his true disciples were “the kind of people through whom the kingdom will be launched on earth.” Being like Jesus meant that each of us qualified for heaven through serving his “lambs.” Being like Jesus was about loving others and thereby transforming the earth, making it a Godlike place. It was what Jesus earnestly prayed for and by example asked us to pray for: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10 KJV; emphasis added). God’s ultimate rule on earth will come about because we, as true disciples of Jesus Christ, are the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matt.5:13, 14 KJV). We have covenanted. We have come away from this pilgrimage with a resolve to “have salt in ourselves, and have peace one with another” (Mark 9:50 KJV).


James and Judith McConkie will be speaking and signing books at Writ & Vision in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, January 30 at 7 pm, and at Benchmark Books in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, February 7 at 5:30 pm..These events are free to the public.


James W. McConkie has JD from the S. J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. His practice has focused in the area of torts and civil rights for more than four decades. He has been an adjunct professor at Westminster College teaching Constitutional law for non-lawyers. He has taught Church History and New Testament courses for BYU’s Division of Continuing Education for over 15 years with his wife Judith and is the author of Looking at the Doctrine and Covenants for the Very First Time. In 2017 he and his law partner Bradley Parker created the Refugee Justice League, a non-profit organization of attorneys and other professionals offering pro-bono help to refugees who have been discriminated against on the basis of their religion, ethnicity, or national origin.

Judith E. McConkie has an MFA in printmaking from BYU and a PhD in philosophy of art history and museum theory from the University of Utah. She has taught art history at the secondary and then university levels for over 40 years. She was the Senior Educator at BYU’s Museum of Art and Curator of the Utah State Capital during its major renovation project from 2004–2010. During that time she authored With Anxious Care: the Restoration of the Utah Capital. She continues to teach in BYU’s Division of Continuing Education with her husband James. She has published in Sunstone and Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Though and has presented at Sunstone’s annual symposium. Her prints and watercolors have been exhibited nationally and in the Henry Moore Gallery in London, England. She and James are the parents of three children and 12 grandchildren. 

Whom Say Ye that I Am? Lessons from the Jesus of Nazareth
By James W. McConkie and Judith E. McConkie

Available Jan 30, 2018

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