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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Paradox

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PARADOX.—The paradoxes of the Gospels may be divided into three kinds. (1) Truth may be expressed in a way to shock opinion from its dogmatic slumber. Brief and vivid statements are made without qualification or explanation; metaphors are used to arrest the attention and stimulate the imagination, rather than to give a definite picture of the truth; a contrast which will force the hearer to think for himself is preferred to an argument which he need only follow. ‘Paradoxes,’ it has been said, ‘are the burrs of literature—they stick.’ (2) Truth often appears paradoxical at the time of its discovery, because it runs contrary to current conventions. Our view of men and things contains little knowledge, but much opinion. Custom alone makes us forget that we are living upon a volcano, until the revelation of some new truth revolutionizes all. So the fact that the world moves appeared paradoxical enough in the 16th century. Its strangeness was due to the environment into which it was thrust. (3) But sometimes the most adequate expression of a truth that we can reach still retains its paradoxical character in spite of time and familiarity, owing to the conflict of the conceptions united in its expression. We believe that the opposition is harmonized in reality, but we have as yet no clear and distinct idea of the reconciliation.

Each of these three kinds of paradox may be abundantly illustrated from the Gospels; and some of the most remarkable of the sayings of Jesus exemplify all three (Matthew 5:39, John 12:24-25).

1. Much of the teaching of Jesus naturally took the form of condensed and vivid aphorisms. Systematic discourse, such as a moral philosopher might attempt, would not have been appropriate. It could hardly have been recorded; it would not have been understood. Moreover, Jesus was setting forth fundamental principles which could not be demonstrated, but appealed directly to the moral intuition for acceptance (Matthew 5:3 ff; Matthew 3:9 ff.). Further, He often suggested spiritual truths through analogies or metaphors, which, however suggestive, cannot be pressed in detail (Matthew 11:12; Matthew 17:20, Luke 18:25, John 13:3-17). Again we find contrasts that were clearly intended to enforce reflexion (Matthew 7:1-6; Matthew 10:34-39, Luke 14:26, John 15:12; John 15:17). In short, Jesus would naturally avoid expressions which could be taken quite literally (Matthew 5:38-41; Matthew 18:21-22; Matthew 6:34; Matthew 25:1-13). For He came to give a new spirit to the world, not to lay down a detailed scheme of life and order of society, which in time must have become antiquated, if not lifeless.

2. The moral and religious teaching of Jesus, though foreshadowed by the Law and the Prophets, came into sharp conflict with the formalism that petrified Jewish life in His day (Matthew 15:10-20, Mark 2:18-28; Mark 3:1-6). More paradoxical still must have appeared His condemnation of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-36), His friendship with publicans and sinners (Matthew 9:9-13, Mark 2:15-16, Luke 19:1-10), His conception of the Messiah (Mark 10:45; Mark 8:27-38).

3. Finally, there is the important class in which opposite and apparently conflicting aspects of truth, life, and duty are expressed in a form which does not completely harmonize them. In the teaching of Jesus we have unworldly simplicity united with worldly shrewdness (Matthew 7:15; Matthew 10:16-17; Matthew 16:6; Matthew 18:2-3, Luke 16:1-12), the universal beneficence and compassion of God bound up with severe and inexorable justice (Matthew 5:45; Matthew 11:20-30; Matthew 18:15-35; Matthew 20:1-16; Matthew 25:14-30); we have the great and deep conceptions of life through death, joy through suffering, love through severance, peace through conflict, victory through surrender, self-realization through self-renunciation, the conquest of the world through the cross of shame (Luke 14:25-33, John 12:24-26; John 16:20; John 16:33; John 12:32). Here are the profoundest truths, and yet the most paradoxical, for they are expressed through ideas that are partially contradictory to one another. We believe that if we could apprehend the whole truth, if we could understand through and through the whole meaning and purpose of creation, we could express these truths in a manner that would not shock our reason. But in the twilight of our knowledge we must be content to hold fast to half-truths, none of which is quite free from error or, at any rate, indefiniteness. Some who prefer consistency to comprehensiveness would sacrifice one part of the antithesis and elaborate the other. But though these may play a useful part in the dialectical movement of progress, they appear to be further removed from the whole truth than those who embrace the seeming contradiction, unable to fathom its depths, yet assured that in it is realized a perfect reconciliation. See also art. Parable, p. 314a.

A. J. Jenkinson.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Paradox'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/p/paradox.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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