A Word in Edgewise

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Resurrection and New Creation

Recently (Nov 16, 2018) N. T. Wright gave a lecture at the Lanier Theological Lecture in Houston, TX, on “Resurrection and the New Creation.”  It was vintage Wright.

Here is the URL:

https://www.laniertheologicallibrary.org/videos/

Or you can click here

 

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The Righteous & Merciful Judge

I just finished reading and reviewing a book that I think deserves notice.  Here is the bibliographic detail.  I’ve added a link in case you’d like to buy a copy from Target.  They have it for a good price.  It won’t be ‘out’ until the end of September 2018.

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.

 

 

Paul: Surprises along the Way

A few weeks ago Mark Lanier invited me to speak to his Sunday School class at Champions Forest Baptist Church.  Mark teaches a class weekly of about 700 people, and I have been privileged to speak there are few times.

On this occasion Mark was doing a series on the apostle Paul, and he asked me to contribute a talk on “Paul: Surprises Along the Way.”  Essentially, Mark asked me to talk about the kinds of things I’ve learned about Paul that I would have never expected.  I have written a couple of books on Paul and it was a delight to spend some time thinking through a few of the surprises.  Each of Mark’s Sunday School classes are recorded and made available on YouTube.  I’ve included a link here, in case you are interested.  The talk is about 45 minutes.

 

OnScript

I found a podcast series which may interest you.  Matt & Matt cohost this series which describes itself as “conversations on current biblical scholarship.”  The reason I found it is because a friend, Chris Tilling, was a guest on their podcast recently to discuss a topic I have interest in: New Testament Divine Christology.Chris-Tilling

If you’ve followed this blog, you know I’ve highlighted Chris’ book Paul’s Divine Christology on a couple of occasions.  Chris is on to an important and overlooked feature of early Christology.

In the podcast Matt & Matt do a good job in laying out the contours of where current Christological discussions have gone over the past 20-30 years.  Chris is well-versed in “the state of the question.”  If you’re interested in whether the earlies followers of Jesus regarded him as divine, then you will want to take some time and listen to Chris’ take on things.

Here’s a link:

http://onscript.study/podcast/chris-tilling-talking-new-testament-christology/

How Paul Read His Bible

Paul was not trained in a modern seminary to read Scripture.  As a man of his day, he read Scripture like the rabbis he had heard in the synagogue or studied under in the academy.  Often the ways he reads and interprets Scripture seem odd to us.  Still they were the strategies his teachers and other biblical writers were using at the time.

Midrash is a term used to refer to how Jewish teachers approached and explained the biblical texts.  It begins with a healthy respect for the Scriptures as divinely inspired, as God’s Word to the world.  Yet as God’s Word the books of the Bible must do more than tell about what happened back then, they must be read against our current questions, crises and moments.  Whenever you hear a sermon about timeless truths or life principles from the Bible, the teacher is engaging in midrash.  One way to think of it is to say these ancient texts also speak to modern problems.rembrandt-saint-paul-in-prison

For Paul there are many ways of realizing the significance of the Scriptures in his day.  The allegory of Sarah and Hagar (Gal 4:21-31) is one of them.  Paul offers a figural reading of Abraham’s two sons, one born to Hagar, the other to Sarah, his wife.  For him, these two women serve as representative figures of the current problem Paul is addressing in Galatians.  Now, this does not mean that Paul discounted the literal, historical meaning—a memorable story of how God had been working out his promises to Abraham and his family—he just sees in the conflict within Abraham’s family a correspondence between the conflict that he was trying to work out among believing Jews and Gentiles in his day.

Like Hillel, one of the great rabbis of his day, Paul often made use of catch words to link one text to another so that they become mutually interpreting. You might call this “stringing pearls.”  In Gal 3:6-9 Paul mixes his own commentary (midrash) with Scripture:

Text (Gen 15:6) Abraham put faith in God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness

Comment           Those who put faith (in Jesus) are the sons of Abraham

Comment           Scripture foretold that God would makethe Gentiles right by faith

Text (Gen 12:3) in you, Abraham, all the Gentiles would be blessed

Comment          Those who put faith (in Jesus) are blessed with Abraham who had faith

The story of Abraham provides Paul with a Scriptural image for how to address the predicament in Galatia.  Abraham’s “faith” became the occasion for how the patriarch was reckoned by God as “right/righteous”; but what was true for Abraham is also true for all the sons of Abraham, defined by Paul as those, including the Gentiles, who put faith in Jesus.  As Paul continued to think through the story of Abraham, his mind shot back to the initial promise itself where God promised Abraham that he and his kin would become a blessing universally to all the nations/Gentiles.  These keywords within Abraham’s story (faith, right/righteous, blessing, Gentiles) became the pearls by which the apostle could string together his Scriptures to include this new chapter, the climactic chapter of God’s story in the world.

Household Codes

Household codes (Eph 5:21—6:9; Col 3:12—4:6)

Paul is not starting a conversation about house management—that had been going on for centuries—he is however joining the conversation from a new creation vantage point. Perhaps the most famous and influential commentator on family life had been Aristotle (Politics, 1.12-13). Aristotle and other philosophers of his day believed that man was more fit to rule than woman by nature. There were different kinds of rule, of course—a king’s rule of his subjects, a master’s rule of his slave, a father’s rule of his child, and a husband’s rule of his wife—but nature had equipped freemen to lead even as it equipped women, children, and slaves to be subordinate. Inequality, not equality, is the working assumption. From their perspective, preserving family order established good order in society. Keeping the masters, wives, and children in subjection to the paterfamilias (male head of household) was vital to the common good.romefamily

 

Now this probably rubs you the wrong way, but it was the social backdrop to everything Paul has to say on the matter.

Essentially, Paul’s directives to the family challenge Aristotle’s teaching and logic about the hierarchy. If there ever was a hierarchy imposed by nature or by the fall (Genesis 3), then Christ has effectively lifted it and given us an example of lordly service (Phil 2:5-11). The Christian disposition is one of mutual submission (Eph 5:21) and consistently looking out for the needs of others (Phil 2:1-4).

The new creation had radically redefined the social order and therefore family relationships (Gal 3:28; 1 Corinthians 7). This is more than “equal access” to God; it is the foundation of the new creation where God is Father, Jesus is elder brother, and all who are adopted in the family of God live as brothers and sisters.

The basis of this new order is not a hierarchy imposed by nature but the Lordship of Jesus. These instructions are to be lived out “in the Lord.”

It was Paul’s habit to address the “subordinate” members of the household along with the paterfamilias. This was uncommon because the typical pattern for most moral instruction outside of the NT was to address the male, head of house expecting that he would, of course, lead the slaves, children, and wives to proper conduct. So Paul’s direct address to wives, children and slaves is unusual if not unique. Margaret MacDonald calls it “a distinctly Christian innovation” (The Power of Children: The Construction of Christian Families in the Greco-Roman World, Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014, p. 7-8).

The apostle’s direct address does two things. First, it demonstrates that Paul’s authority extended to the wives, children and slaves of other men. As such they are fellow members of the church and not just someone else’s property living in the shadows. Second, it confers upon the “subordinate” members of the family a kind of self-determining, moral authority. Wives, children, and slaves are responsible before the Lord for their behavior. In other words, Paul treats those deemed by society as lessers as moral agents equal to the greaters. Before we get carried away, we should probably recognize that these codes represent things as they should be not as they were in the rough-and-tumble of daily family life. Aspirations are seldom fully realized.

Why no hell fire and brimstone?

In writing Romans, before Paul gets to the good news of the gospel (Romans 3 and following), he lays out the bad news: the wrath of God is breaking in from heaven.  For Paul God’s wrath is a present reality not some distant, future threat. We are living in “the present, evil age” (Gal 1:4), where the proliferation of idolatries, perversions and corruption are the ambient human condition (Romans 1).  It’s just the way things are even as we know things are not the way they are supposed to be.  Evangelicals use “the Roman road” to highlight the threat of hell, but Paul doesn’t do that.  The bad news is not the threat of fire and brimstone in some afterlife; it is the fact that God’s wrath is already evident in the world in what is effectively God’s hands-off policy.  God has stepped back and given us up to idolatry, disillusionment, strife, sexual sins, fractured families, and wicked minds.  For the apostle, sin and depravity may be the cause of God’s fury, but they are also the effect.  The presence and spread of human vices throughout the earth make life miserable and wretched. Perhaps we can say it this way: we are not only punished for our sins, we are punished by our sins.

hell fire and brimstone

If salvation for Paul consists primarily of God’s invading presence, then divine wrath consists ultimately of God’s silence and absence in the midst of a counterfeit world.  God doesn’t step in and smash us with his powerful right arm; he steps back and says, in effect, “if that is what you want, that is what you will get.” That is heaven’s wrath.  Now we are not saying that Paul completely ignores any threat of future judgment (e.g., 2 Thess 1:5-12); what we are saying is that the threat of fire and brimstone is not the only way to frame the human plight.

Fortunately, Paul doesn’t stop with the bad news; he has good news too.