Jesus and the Pathetic Wicked

Re-visiting Sanders’s View of Jesus’ Friendship with Sinners

in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus
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The proposal of E. P. Sanders that Jesus promised the kingdom to sinners without requiring them to repent has been rejected by most scholars but is here revived in a modified form. Sanders’s essential proposal may be outlined as a series of ten propositions, only one of which seems completely preposterous. This last point, however, may also appear quite reasonable if we remember that many of the persons regarded as sinners in Jesus’s context would have been slaves or, at least, people who lived in such dire straits that they were not able to do the things that would have qualified as repentance in the minds of most religious people of the day (including Jesus). Two examples of such people are considered: tax collectors and prostitutes. The article concludes that Jesus probably did promise the kingdom to some tax collectors and prostitutes who due to their social situation were unable to amend their lives in the manner he would otherwise have required.

Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus

Jesus in History, Culture and Media




Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, p. 210.


Sanders, Historical Figure, p. 204.


Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, p. 207.


Sanders, Historical Figure, p. 198.


Sanders, Historical Figure, p. 203.


Sanders, Historical Figure, p. 202; cf. p. 234.


Sanders, Historical Figure, p. 235.


Sanders, Historical Figure, p. 230.


Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, pp. 109–13.


 See Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987). Horsley fails to note (as does Sanders) that most of the tax collectors with whom Jesus would have fraternized would have been low-level thugs who were themselves victims of Roman domination. But for a position somewhat compatible with Horsley’s, see W.O. Walker, ‘Jesus and the Tax Collectors’, jbl 97 (1978), pp. 221–38.


Sanders, Historical Figure, pp. 230, 233.


Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, p. 205.


Allison, ‘Jesus and the Covenant’, p. 71.


Crossan, Birth of Christianity, p. 340.


Schottroff and Stegemann, Jesus and the Hope of the Poor, p. 13.


Schottroff and Stegemann, Jesus and the Hope of the Poor, pp. 11–12.


Jennifer A. Glancy, Slavery in Early Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 129. See also Allen Dwight Callahan, Richard A. Horsley and Abraham Smith (eds.), Slavery in Text and Interpretation (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 2001); J. Albert Harrill, Slaves in the New Testament: Literary, Social, and Moral Dimensions (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006).


Gerhard Lenski, Power and Privilege (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966), esp. pp. 189–296.


Sanders, Historical Figure, p. 234.


Glancy, Slavery in Early Christianity, p. 55.


Fleming, Quae Corpore Quaestrum Facit, p. 42.


Patterson, God of Jesus, p. 67.


Patterson, God of Jesus, p. 68.


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