Baker Academic

Monday, October 22, 2012

Was Jesus Inclusive, Exclusive, or Both? —Le Donne

The concept of "insiders and outsiders" has been a reoccurring topic of interest for me. To some extent, this concept is a form of the "us and them" paradigm, but it is a bit different.

I have learned from Jewish-Christian dialogue that an "us and them" stance can be the starting point for hospitality. In inter-religious dialogue, there is just no use pretending that we're all the same. And once acknowledged, a path of hospitality can be followed.  It is as simple as acknowledging that a visitor in your home does not live there, but he or she is welcome all the same.  There is also the positive spin that the us-group's well-being is tied to the well-being of the them-group.

The darker side of this coin is the "insiders and outsiders" paradigm. This is characterized by a territorial and inhospitable stance toward those who do not exhibit the markers necessary to be trusted.

With this in mind, I have puzzled over the Jesus tradition.  There is much in the Gospel portraits of Jesus that suggest a very inclusive Jesus.  There is also much that suggests otherwise.  But rather than surveying all of he evidence, consider these two statements attributed to Jesus:
Jesus said that "He who is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:40). 
(Jesus said) "He who is not with me is against me." (Luke 11:23).
Now, depending on one's way of reading Scripture, there are several moves that an interpreter can make.

1) Both are true and Jesus said both. Jesus found himself in two different contexts and different contexts (sometimes) demand different answers.

2) Luke took the saying from Mark and deliberately changed it to suit his literary agenda.

3) As a saying of this ilk circulated in oral tradition, it was remembered differently by different communities.

4) There is no reason to think that Jesus said either of these; both were invented independently by different groups within early Christianity.

5) Jesus said both and meant both but not concurrently. His early career exhibited an inclusive stance, but he became increasingly exclusive as his career progressed.


Which way of reading is most helpful for explaining the relationship between these two sayings? Is there another way not represented in the five listed here? And what does such variance tell us about Jesus (if anything)?


Anthony Le Donne (PhD) is the author of Historical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know It?


  1. I think (2) and (3) are the most probable of the five options since everything assumed about Jesus is conjectural. I guess I lean a little stronger toward (3) since there was probably enough time for community oral traditions to evolve prior to being written down. However, I think it is, with the lack of fresh evidence, impossible to know whether or not Jesus actually said these things. If in fact the “us and them” sayings were from Jesus’ lips, I think they refer to those who refuse to accept the looming eschatological rectification so heavily espoused by Jesus and his contemporaries (John the Baptist and Paul).

  2. In both instances, what we have is that there are some who are for/with Jesus and those who are against Him. But that does not really appear to tell us how much latitude there is in what it means to be for or against Jesus. Or whether it is easier to be for Jesus than against Him, or against Him than for Him.

  3. 6) Jesus said both and meant both concurrently. There is a paradox in acceptance. Our logic will not allow an unknown in its result - but results are unknown. Both must be held in tension by the individual and any 'groups' that one is a part of. The border between in and out is flexible and permeable and able to be probed and changed both by those thought to be on the inside and by those thought to be on the outside.

    Evidence for this comes even from computer systems design. Inside and outside 'the system' is the first step in such a process. The implications of each decision become moot as the decision is probed. A user may say - this is not in the system - but this other is - so I can work around an exclusion and find an inclusion. C. J. Date in his brilliant early work on data base theory c 1970 has a lovely and even amusing section on this.

  4. Their dissimilarities are not in meaning but in focus. Both demonstrate that with one's stance to Jesus there is no neutral ground. Whether Jesus is inclusive or exclusive in each instance depends upon the hearers answer to this question, "Who do you say that I am?".

    Therefore, I go with (1). It is possible that (2) is viable if you agree with Moises Silva's take on the idea that in an oral culture, the transmitters would "preach a sermon" with Jesus' discursive sayings by interlacing them with the memorized sayings.

    It seems to me the same view is taught in John 3. There are those who are in the light based on their position in Christ and those who are in darkness and remain under the wrath of God based on their position in Christ (or lack thereof).

    Or even further, when Jesus expressed the desire to be inclusive, but acknowledged that their response to Him prohibited it. I am speaking of His desire to gather the people of Jerusalem like a hen gathers its chicks.

  5. Would it be out of line to assert that option number four above is the least helpful way to explain these sayings?

    I ask because I wonder if there is an interesting ipsissima vox to consider here despite the crucial differences represented.


  6. Both statements appear appropriate to me. It's #1 with me.

    In Luke, the context is where Jesus has been accused of operating based on satanic power and He ends up with "who is not with Me is against Me".

    In Mark, the context is an unknown believer healing folks in the name of Jesus and Jesus authorizes that work against the initial opposition of the disciples. "Who is not against us, is for us".

    2 entirely separate contexts.

    1. Exactly right... Context here is the key.

      In Luke he is explaining the he could not drive a demon out of someone if he was in cahoots with the demons (because they are his enemies - the demons are against me, not with me).

      In Mark a human being is healing people in the name of Jesus, so he is illustrating that just because someone isn't a member of his group, that person can still be on his side.

      It would seem that this argues for an inclusive Jesus in the realm of humanity. People who serve his cause are for him even if they are not his personal devotees.

      If Jesus said "you are my brother", and he maintained that he is the son of God, then anyone who is Jesus' brother is by right a son of God equally with Jesus. The goal, of course, is for all men to become sons of God, which would seem to put all mankind on a equal pedestal with Jesus. Jesus is illustrating the inclusiveness of his message here - not only that all men are brothers and ought to be in one family, but also that all men are sons of God, infinite beings.

      It reminds me of some of the parables in the Jesus Josephovich stories (you can find them on ) where Jesus describes people as infinite souls.

      Where demons and evil spirits are involved, of course, Jesus would maintain a position against them (whether they are real or not).

  7. (1) is the right choice. In Mark's account, Jesus is instructing his disciples as to what their attitude should be toward people: "Hey, if they ain't trying to hurt you, that's a good thing." In Luke's account, Jesus is pointing out that each individual person is ultimately accountable to Jesus. If they aren't for him, then they are against him.

  8. But surely we also need to take Luke 9:50 into the discussion: "he who is not against YOU is for YOU"

    It doesn't settle any of the options, but may suggest either that there is a proverbial nature to the saying, and it is context specific for its form, or that Luke is "clarifying" the "us" to say that reactions to Jesus are to be treated differently from recations to the disciples.

    Just my two pennyworth.

  9. I am not sure which was more likely the attitude of the historical Jesus, but I think we also have to consider that this tension exists within our earliest narrative source, Mark. So in Mark 4:10-12 you seem to have an exclusive division between insiders (the disciples and some others around Jesus) who are taught the mystery of the kingdom and outsiders who cannot comprehend, but Mark 9:40 in its literary context seems to challenge the idea that the Twelve have the right to determine the insiders from the outsiders based on who belongs to their circle. Perhaps this adds a further complication?

  10. Jesus said that "He who is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:40).
    (Jesus said) "He who is not with me is against me." (Luke 11:23)

    I think that in the former passage, Jesus is confronting the Pharisees who had encountered with work of the Holy Spirit secondhand through observing the works of Jesus. Secondhand experience of the Holy Spirit led to the rejection of the works of Jesus, attributing them to the devil (this still happens in the church).

    In the latter passage, Jesus is talking about those who are experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit firsthand (doing miracles in his name), outside of the close proximity of his retinue. He is challenging the narrow minded vision of his disciples that the work of God is limited to those who are walking with us after the fashion that we walk.

    I would opt for (1) as a result of these.

  11. Anthony, it could be both #4 and #1. Or a quasi-combination of the two.

    He could have said both in one fashion or another, perhaps not with the same form and syntax upon which we'll soon gaze in our NA28, but once spoken these sayings were likely grabbed and elevated by different thinkers in the very early Christian world. By the time they'd taken textual form these little phrases had become mantras. I mean, come on, "ὅς γὰρ οὐκ ἔστιν καθ' ἡμῶν, ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐστιν," sounds too good, even in the greek, to have avoided being tossed around by the early brothers and developed into an artistic slogan. Likewise with the Luke passage.

    What does this tell us about Jesus? That he was a really influential person who was both inclusive and exclusive, and that different people articulated this dichotomy in different ways, resulting in the glorious marriage of unity and difference in the NT.

  12. I agree with (1). I think that Jesus probably found himself in two different situations, which required two different approaches. Even in today's world people may say things that seem to be contradictory because of the circumstance they are in. I think that it is very well possible for Jesus to be inclusive in some situations, and exclusive in others. He is inclusive when he says that everyone will face judgement, but he is exclusive with his use of parables and only sharing certain things with his disciples.

  13. I feel like Jesus is open to including everyone, but he knew at the same time that there will always be those who don't believe or dislike in what he taught. That is why there are such lines in the bible that read, "He who is not with me is against me." (Luke 11:23) Another example that shows Jesus' inclusiveness is his healings. There are many cases in which Jesus tries to heal someone, but due to their lack of belief it makes it much harder to do so. Even though these individuals lack belief, he still helps them.

  14. 6) Jesus and the Bible are conflicted, and self-contradictory. But ultimately, the Bible allows those who read it carefully enough, those who are "mature" and have "knowledge," to see that plainly. For those who followed it closely enough, one day the Bible modestly self-deconstructs, cancels itself before our eyes. It ultimately makes it plain that it does not have all the answers. In order to allow the perspicacious person to simply move on, employing their own independent judgement.

    It is a deliberate device; like the Santa Claus deceit. The person who is mature, who is smart enough to see the contradictions, is presumed to be mature enough to be released from bondage to its too-simple rules. To be released to his own recognizance, and to his own "wellformed conscience," as they used to say.

    (Dr. Woodbridge Goodman)

  15. Dr. Goodman, are you suggesting that anyone who continues to esteem the Bible does so because s/he is ignorant and immature? Although I see your point, the analogy with Santa breaks down on many levels.