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Jon Ruthven

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Jon Ruthven is a Professor of Systematic Theology at Regent University School of Divinity, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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Articles > Charismatic Theology > The "Imitation of Christ" in Christian Tradition

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    The preceding passages illustrate the sizable emphasis the Gospel writers place upon the role of healing in Jesus' ministry. Of course, Jesus did many other things besides healing and exorcisms. But the point is, if NT discipleship depends upon replicating the life of the exemplar, then miracles represent a significant part of "imitating Christ." Indeed, if the amount of space a writer devotes to a subject is any index to its importance, then the healings, exorcisms and other "extraordinary" charismata must be extremely important. As a percentage of the text describing the public ministry of Jesus as recorded in the four gospels, the space devoted to the accounts of miracles amounts to: 44% of Matthew, 65% of Mark, 29% of Luke and 30% of John.[28]   This percentage is continued in the ministry of the early Church, as recorded in the Book of Acts, if not actually expanded: of the total text of Acts, over 27% of the space is devoted to "extra-ordinary" charismata. That represents more text than that of all the speeches of Acts combined.

    To conclude, Jesus' public ministry in inaugurating the Kingdom of God consisted to a sizeable degree in healings, exorcisms and miracles, not as a way of "proving" the Kingdom, but of expressing it.

    3) The next question is, what does Jesus tell his disciples to do? At the outset, it is important to note the explicit reason Mark gives for Jesus selecting disciples in the first place: "He appointed twelve-designating them apostles-that they might be with him and that he might send them out to announce[29] [the Kingdom?] and to have authority to drive out demons" (Mk 3:14-15). It is only natural, then, in view of our previous discussion, that after being "with" him, Jesus would then send them out to replicate his own mission: "He sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits" (Mk 6:7). Both Matthew (10:1,7,8) and Luke (9:1,2,6) echo this commission in some detail. Luke includes a similar commission to 72 others: "Heal the sick [wherever you visit] and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you" (Lk 10:9). The numbers 12 and 72 could represent the "new Israel" the church, which is here proleptically commissioned to perform the same works.[30]   The "Great Commission" similarly commands the disciples' continuation of the miraculous, though some would wish to deny this.[31] This pattern is not limited to the Synoptics. The command to do "greater works" than Jesus is understood as a command to replicate Jesus' ministry in miraculous signs.[32]

    4) The fourth question is, what did the disciples actually do? The only extensive historical account of the disciples' activities after the ascension of Jesus is the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. This work records, we assume, with an appropriate emphasis, the results of Jesus' training of the disciples: in short, what does Acts emphasize about discipleship? True, the disciples exhibited the virtues of the traditional notion of Christian discipleship: morality and piety. But Acts devotes no less than 27.2% of its space to miracle stories! This is more space than to all of the speeches or sermons of Acts combined, at 22.5%.[33]

    Moreover, this high percentage of miracle accounts does not occur without a consciousness on the part of the author. Several studies[34] have noted the deliberate parallel composition of the Lukan miracle stories in the careers of Jesus, Peter and Paul and have drawn various conclusions as to the reasons these parallels were framed. Susan Praeder[35] points out that there are a variety of unreliable criteria, e.g., coincidental events or language, which indicate only spurious "parallels," hence, her caution that mere similarities do not demand an author's conscious motive to draw comparisons of the persons or points described. Nevertheless she notes that for Luke, parallel composition is the "surest evidence" that the miracle working activity of Jesus, Peter and Paul was intended to be understood as sharing parallel roles, that is, as preachers, healers and exorcists. Some of the parallels Praeder examined appear in the following chart.

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