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First appeared in print in Christianity Today, December 2018, under the Title “Prepare for the ‘Day of the Lord'” (p. 76)
Matthew Aernie & Donald Hartley. The Righteous & Merciful Judge: The Day of the Lord in the Life and Theology of Paul. Studies in Scripture & Biblical Theology. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018.
These days it is out of fashion to talk about judging and judgment. Ours is a much more “tolerant” day—or so we’re told. But as our authors, Aernie & Hartley, correctly describe, throughout the counsel of Scripture the idea of God coming in judgment to right all wrongs and settle all scores is at the heart of God’s revelation. Yet the specter of Marcionism is still with us in the church especially when we divide the Scriptures into parts and imagine that the first is dominated by justice and wrath, the second by mercy and grace. As our writers point out, such mischaracterizations undermine the unity of Scripture and subverts the true story of God in the world. Some of the most wonderful passages of forgiveness, restoration, and grace are found in the Old; some of the most unsettling about justice, wrath, and judgment are found in the New.
The project Aernie and Hartley pursue in this book is to consider the theme of “the day of the Lord” in Paul’s letters. They argue that it is not some subsidiary crater to Paul’s theology, but it stands as a major motif in his thinking. They stop short of calling it the center, but they do make it central by arguing that “every aspect of his theology was in some way affected by the concept” (p. 5) So their book examines the theme of “the day of the Lord: in scholarship, the Old Testament, extracanonical Jewish literature, Paul’s call/conversion on the Damascus Road, and the language of the day of the Lord and associated themes in Paul’s letters. As a result, they shed much needed light on an ignored and marginalized feature of Paul’s theology.
Like most scholars Aernie and Hartley pursue their task systematically working through time, asking first: where this concept came from? But, of course, scholars don’t tend to agree on much and that includes how and where the notion of “the day of the Lord” entered into Jewish consciousness. Some think it came from the holy war tradition; others from enthronement ceremonies when YHWH is installed as King. Some think it came from within Israel itself; others imagine it was adopted and adapted from the Canaanites or the Babylonians. The starting point remains elusive. What is clear is that the OT is rich in associations around the notion that God will visit the nations, including Israel, in judgment, power, and restoration.
While the phrase “the day of the LORD” is not found in the Books of Moses, our authors claim the theme sits just beneath the surface in passages that portray YHWH as coming to visit his people in blessings and curses. The prophets developed the language of God’s visitation into the language we know, “the day of the LORD.” Only later, among the prophets does the phrase “the day of the LORD” become a technical term for a day of final judgment. As such, depending on how a people are currently situated toward YHWH—whether faithful to the covenant or not—it is a day that prompts fear or a day awaited with joy.
In the past, periods of famine, scarcity, war and ultimately exile could be construed as “days” of judgement in typological patterns of what is to come: the final, definitive, eschatological day of the Lord. When that day comes, God will make the world right. In the final assize of history anything wrong in Israel or the nations must be judged. All that is right is destined to be redeemed and restored. These patterns are found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures but they are also present in later Jewish collections such as the Pseudepigrapha and the Dead Sea Scrolls. This was the symbolic world that Paul inherited.
One of the more interesting features of the book is how Aernie and Hartley interpret Paul’s Damascus Christophany as “a proleptic day of the Lord.” In other words, Paul had his own day of judgment when he encountered the risen Lord. Instead of getting what he deserved, i.e., wrath, he found mercy. Instead of being marked out for destruction, he was transformed, converted, and called to a new mission. In this encounter the persecutor replaced the false identity of Jesus he had developed for the true identity as Messiah, Son of God, and Lord. Now that the moment of Paul’s own judgment had arrived and he had found grace, he began to think that the final judgment for all was closer than he ever imagined.
The last portion of the book goes deeply into Paul’s language associated with “the day of the Lord.” For Paul, “the day of the Lord (YHWH)” had become “the day of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5.2) or more simply “the day of Christ” (Phil 1.10). Words of coming (Parousia), “revelation” (apocalypsis), and “appearing” or “manifestation” (epiphania) season his discourse as he likens the coming of Jesus to judge the living and dead to various manifestations of God in the Scripture. The final chapter offers the most detailed exegesis in the book.
The big idea Aernie and Hartley pursue offers an important corrective for the academy and the church. The current western mood is to avoid anything that smacks of judgment. We want a merciful, forgiving, anything-goes kind of god, not one who demands something of us and will ultimately judge us. We cannot adequately deal with Paul’s life, mission and theology until we grasp where he believed the telos toward which history was moving. The next thing we await is the final, definitive coming of Christ in glory, power, and judgment.
One of my favorite features of our book, Rediscovering Jesus (InterVarsity, 2015), comes in the Gospels themselves. In each chapter we ask the question: Who does Mark/Matthew/Luke/John say that I am? In effect, we take a look at how each evangelist tells the story of Jesus. Here is an excerpt from the chapter on the Markan Jesus.
WHO DOES MARK SAY THAT I AM?
And who is this Jesus? He is the Messiah (Christ) and Son of God—that is, God’s end-time agent whose task is to liberate the world from evil, oppression, sin, sickness, and death. The world that Jesus enters is hostile and contrary to the human race. The Messiah appears in order to claim all that God has made on behalf of heaven. In Mark’s account Jesus moves quickly along “the way” challenging and disrupting demonic powers, disease, religious authorities, storms and, ultimately, the power of Rome itself.
But Jesus does not appear from nowhere; prophets such as Malachi and Isaiah have written of him long ago. They foresaw his coming, and John the Baptizer arrived right on schedule to prepare his way. If John is God’s messenger (Mal 3:1) and the voice crying out in the wilderness (Is 40:3), then surely Jesus is the “Lord” whose paths must be made straight (Mk 1:2-3). But the word “Lord” here is no polite address to an English country gentleman or a simple affirmation of a person in authority; it is the way Greek-speaking Jews uttered the unspeakable name of the one, true God of Israel. Jesus the Christ is no ordinary man, for the very name of God—a name protected by the Ten Commandments—belongs rightly to him. As Mark’s story unfolds, it is apparent why this is so.
When Jesus heard that a prophet had again appeared in Israel, he left Nazareth to see for himself. As he entered the Jordan River to be baptized, onlookers would have thought that Jesus was becoming a disciple of John. But it was what Jesus heard and saw next that dramatically changed his life. He saw a vision: the heavens were ripped open, and the Spirit descended on him like a dove. Then he heard a voice from heaven: “You are my Son” (Ps 2:7) and “with you I am well pleased” (Is 42:1). Whether or not anyone else saw or heard what was going on in the heavens that day is unclear. Mark tells us only that Jesus saw and heard; perhaps Jesus’ special sonship was a secret that needed protecting for a while. But it was enough for Jesus to see and hear it, because it was about him and him alone. He knew what he must do next. He must leave behind Nazareth and the anonymity of the workshop for a public life in Galilee and beyond. He must trade a builder’s tools for the skills of a traveling rabbi.
To read more, check out our book here.
I had the privilege in 2014 of giving the Hayward Lectures at Acadia Divinity School in Nova Scotia. While there I met a young scholar who is working on various topics in the Gospels. His name is Danny Zacharias. He had recently finished a project on the question of why Matthew (ch. 1) and Luke (ch 3) have different names in their genealogies of Jesus. Some point to this as a contradiction which cannot be solved, thus undermining the reliability of the Gospel accounts. Others see the differences as a matter of purpose and focus. Matthew starts with Abraham and moves forward to Jesus to show that Jesus is the true son of Abraham, the embodiment of Israel. Luke starts with Jesus and moves back through Abraham to Adam, demonstrating that Jesus is the Savior of all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. One traditional “answer” has been that Matthew has Joseph’s genealogy while Luke records Mary’s. Not all, of course, think this is the case.
Dr. Zacharias offers an intriguing approach to the question. Here is a link to a brief video he did a few years back:
I think you may find it helpful. If so, please let him know.
Daniel Kirk has written an important new book entitled A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels (Eerdmans 2016). At the heart of his project is an attempt to resuscitate an idealized humanity at the heart of the Gospels. The tendency for many, he thinks, is to read Matthew, Mark, and Luke through the lens of John’s Gospel or of Paul’s divine Christology expressed in say, the Philippian hymn (Phil 2:6-11).
For Kirk Jesus is an extraordinary figure of history. But he is not just extraordinary because of his deity; he is extraordinary because of his humanity. The grand scheme of the Bible presents the God of Israel as One who does not give up on humanity. From the beginning (Genesis) God had a great plan and vision for what humanity was supposed to be. So Kirk proposes that the Synoptics offer a high human Christology (a play on words based on the emerging consensus of “an early high Christology”). In this case high does not equal divine, but a fully realized and idealized humanity. In other words the Synoptic Gospels present us with a Jesus who is everything humanity was created to be.
Now Kirk doesn’t deny the orthodox picture of a divine Christ. He just thinks the Synoptics are telling a different sort of story, a story that can be easily lost in accentuating Jesus’ divinity. As long as we stress Jesus’ divinity, we don’t have to take seriously what it means to walk as he walk, live as lived, love as he loved. In other words “following Jesus.”
Kirk’s monograph stands in contrast to recent work done on the Gospels by the likes of Larry Hurtado, Richard Bauckham, and even his own former teacher, Richard Hays. But more about this in another post.
I met Crispin Fletcher-Louis in 1998 at a conference at St. Andrews. He was a rising star in historical and theological matters relating to the origins of Christianity. His star continues to rise.
Recently he published the first volume of a four volume series entitled Jesus Monotheism. This particular volume is Christological Origins: The Emerging Consensus and Beyond (Cascade, 2015).
In this series Fletcher-Louis hopes to explain how it happened that early Jesus-followers came to see him as divine and worshiped him in continuity with the worship of the One God of Israel (what I like to call an early high Christology). His purpose is historical: where did it happen? With whom? What caused it? What shape did it take?
I’ll have more to say on this in an upcoming article. For now at least let me introduce the key elements.
Fletcher-Louis thinks that there are antecedent traditions which anticipate the inclusion of Jesus in the divine identity (Bauckham’s phrase). While the worship of Jesus alongside God and beliefs in his divine identity are new and surprising, they could have been anticipated if we were attuned correctly to certain movements and ideas within second temple Judaism.
Fletcher-Louis situates the causative factor for an early high Christology not in powerful religious experiences post-resurrection but in Jesus’ own self-awareness. He claims that the historical Jesus had an incarnational self-consciousness. The resurrection, of course, is a key event. For the crucifixion appears on the surface to deny Jesus’ messianic and divine claims. In the event Christians call the resurrection something happened to reverse the negating elements of Jesus’ death and confirm not only that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah but that he is also the incarnation of a divine being. Now, for those of you who’ve been following the scholarship in this arena, that is a bold claim.
Fletcher-Louis starts with the emerging consensus. Frankly, I don’t know recall who coined the phrase but it is a good one. The emerging consensus among many scholars is that a divine Christology is indeed early (that’s why I am a founding member of the early high Christology club) and located historically within Jewish milieu. It did not arise late in the first century only after Gentiles had streamed in and overtaken the Jesus movement. Divine Christology means that early followers included Jesus within the divine identity and engaged in actions toward him which can only be described as worship, or as Larry Hurtado has put it “Christ devotion.”
There are scholars, however, who haven’t emerged. These include Maurice Casey, Jimmy Dunn, James McGrath, and Bart Ehrman.
To this point Fletcher-Louis finds himself in broad agreement with the emerging consensus and its leading lights, Hurtado and Bauckham. Where he goes “beyond” is to try to locate (historically) the belief in a divine Messiah in pre-Christian Judaism and in the self-awareness of Jesus. Jewish writings which could have a pre-Christian origin such as the Life of Adam and Eve and the Similitudes of Enoch can be read in such a way to suggest that Jews before Jesus had a messianic expectation which included a divine Messiah who comes from heaven.
Hurtado has made the case that it is powerful religious experiences post- resurrection which caused these early, Jewish followers to consider Jesus divine and to worship him. Apparently, through visions and prophetic utterances early Christians “saw” Jesus enthroned at God’s right hand and came to believe that worshiping Jesus was the will of God. While Fletcher-Louis applauds Hurtado’s sense that we need to take seriously the role of religious experience, he does not consider it is enough to account for what happened so quickly after Jesus’ execution. The problem, as he sees it, is that with no precedent for the worship of a divine person or Messiah in pre-Christian Judaism or without taking seriously the possibility that Jesus’ himself had a sense of his own divine identity, it is hard to account for the speed and exact shape Christ devotion took in the first decades after Jesus’ execution. It is more believable, according to Fletcher-Louis, that Jesus had a divine self-consciousness.
Well, his chips are on the table. Scholars, emerging and otherwise, are likely to agree with some of his points and disagree with others. Three more volumes to come. These are a welcome additions to the conversation.
Earlier this year Michael Bird highlighted an article by Morna Hooker in the Scottish Journal of Theology:
Morna D. Hooker, “Another Look at πίστις Χριστοῦ,” SJT 69 (2016): 46-62.
In that article she joins a chorus of scholars who agree that at key moments in his letters Paul relates that redemption is centered in the faith or faithfulness of Jesus. This is a position argued decades ago by Richard Hays. Now, I’m pleased to note, many scholars have begun to read Paul this way. As Hooker notes, this new reading has deep implications for Paul’s theology.
To read Bird’s blog post click here.
When I was working on The Voice translation of the Bible with Thomas Nelson, I made and won the argument that “faith/faithfulness of Jesus” is how these texts ought to be read on the fact that the King James Version (1611) got it right! Here are two examples:
22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
And Galatians 2:20:
20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Most modern translations take this as an objective genitive and render it “faith in Jesus” or “faith in the Son of God.” In The Voice we translated those key passages as subjective genitives: Jesus exercises faith/ trust/ faithfulness (to God). Hooker is correct that Jesus is clearly an object of faith in Paul; but in these and other key places when Paul is describing the essence of the gospel he is clear that our redemption is due to God’s rightness and Jesus’ faithfulness.