One of humanity’s most basic and common practices—eating meals—was transformed by Jesus into an occasion of divine encounter. In sharing food and drink with His companions, He invited them to share in the grace of God. He revealed His redemptive mission while eating with sinners, repentant and unrepentant alike. Jesus’ “table fellowship” with sinners in the Gospels has been widely agreed to be historically reliable. This consensus, however, has recently been challenged, for example, by the claim that the meals in which Jesus participated took the form of Greco-Roman symposia—or that the “sinners” involved were the most flagrantly wicked within Israel’s society, not merely the ritually impure or those who did not satisfy strict Pharisaic standards of holiness.
Craig L. Blomberg engages with the debate and opens up the significance of the topic. He surveys meals in the Old Testament and the intertestamental period. He then examines all the Gospel texts relevant to Jesus’ eating with sinners. He concludes with contemporary applications.
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“Jesus thus defies the conventions of his world by his intimate association with a group of people deemed traitorous and corrupt in his society. Still, he does not condone their sinful lifestyles but calls them to repentance, transformation and discipleship.” (Page 102)
“There King observes that ‘the two basic obligations of hospitality are to feed and to protect the guest or stranger’ (53).” (Page 32)
“‘It is a story about saving grace, for there are no penalties, and no demands, except to follow Jesus’ (Hooker 1991: 94). Or, more expansively, ‘It may also entail summoning them to repentance in the moral sense of that term. What is nonetheless striking is that Jesus appears to not require repentance in advance of having table fellowship with sinners and tax collectors’ (Witherington 2001: 123, italics mine). Perhaps most strikingly of all, ‘Jesus is not defiled by his contact with impurity but instead vanquishes it through the eschatological power active in him’ (Marcus 2000: 231). We might thus speak of holiness for Jesus, rather than sin, being that which he views as ‘contagious’ (cf. also Borg 1984: 135).” (Pages 102–103)
“As to the meaning of Jesus’ behaviour, the unifying theme that emerges is one that may be called ‘contagious holiness’. Jesus discloses not one instance of fearing contamination, whether moral or ritual, by associating with the wicked or impure. Rather, he believes that his purity can rub off on them, and he hopes that his magnanimity toward them will lead them to heed his calls to discipleship.” (Page 167)
“In short, the criterion suggests that when an element of the Gospel tradition (1) makes sense in the first third of the first century in Israel, yet (2) depicts Jesus challenging conventional Jewish thinking in some respect and (3) shows signs of having been followed by early Christianity either inside or outside the New Testament, yet (4) seems to have changed in some significant way in that later context, then we have powerful support for believing it to be authentic.” (Page 28)
[Offers] an enlightening analysis of Jesus’ table fellowship for Christian academics and laypersons alike. . . . Citing his own experiences overseas, the outreach efforts of the ‘Scum of the Earth’ church in Denver (of which he is a member), and other Christian ministries, Blomberg’s application of ‘contagious holiness’ is a promising resource for Christians living in a post-9/11 age.
—Linda MacCammon, Theological Studies
Dr. Blomberg not only addresses current disputes about the ‘table fellowship’ practices of the historical Jesus, but also traces out the historical and theologically laden implications of table fellowship across the canon of Scripture, and issues a call to contemporary Christians to reform their habits in this matter.
—D.A. Carson, research professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
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