Tuesday, August 30, 2005
The resurrection provides the basis for the true definition of God’s people. God has vindicated Jesus as Messiah, and has thereby declared that those who belong to him, who in the Heb. idiom are ‘in Christ’ (cf. 2 Sa. 19:43–20:2), are the true Israel. The marks of new covenant membership are the signs of the Spirit’s work, i.e. faith in Jesus as Lord, belief in his resurrection, and baptism as the mark of entry into the historical people of God (Rom. 10:9–10; Col. 2:11–12). ‘Justification’ is thus God’s declaration in the present that someone is within the covenant, a declaration made not on the basis of the attempt to keep the Jewish law but on the basis of faith: because faith in Jesus is the evidence that God has, by his Spirit, begun a new work in a human life which he will surely bring to completion (Rom. 5:1–5; 8:31–39; Phil. 1:6; 1 Thes. 1:4–10). The present divine verdict therefore correctly anticipates that which will be issued on the last day on the basis of the entire life of the Christian (Rom. 2:5–11; 14:10–12; 2 Cor. 5:10). This double verdict is thus based on two things—the death and resurrection of Jesus and the work of the Spirit: Christ and the Spirit together achieve ‘that which the law could not do’ (Rom. 8:1–4). ‘Justification’ thus redefines the people of God, and opens that people to all who believe, whatever their racial or moral background.
The Paul of Romans is thus a deeply Jewish thinker, rethinking his Jewish categories around his belief that the crucified and risen Jesus is Israel’s representative Messiah. Within this scheme of thought, the key focal points stand out. Jesus’ obedient death is the central covenant action, revealing God’s love and grace in decisive and climactic action, dealing with sin by condemning it in his flesh (8.3). Justification by faith is the juridical declaration in the present time which anticipates the verdict of the last day: faith that Jesus is Lord, and that God raised him from the dead, is the result of the Spirit’s work through the gospel – and what God has thus begun, he will certainly complete. Justification is not merely lawcourt language, however; if it were, it would be isolated from the life of the church and from Christian morality. Justification is also covenant language, as in Romans 4 (a sustained exposition of Genesis 15, where God establishes his covenant with Abraham), and has to do precisely with God’s setting up of the single family, consisting of Jews and Gentiles together, characterised by faith rather than by possession or keeping of Torah.
The letter makes clearest and fullest sense if we see it as a response to a challenge from Christian-Jewish missionaries who had come to Galatia to improve or correct Paul’s understanding of the gospel and to ‘complete’ his converts by integrating them fully into the heirs of Abraham through circumcision and by thus bringing them ‘under the law’.The problem thus comes directly into focus as Paul states his Propositio (Gal 2:15-21):
We are Jews ourselves, by birth, and not Gentile sinners; nevertheless we know that a person is not justified by the works of Torah but through the faithfulness of Jesus, the Messiah. And we have become faithful to the Messiah Jesus, so that we might be justified by the faithfulness of the Messiah, and not by doing the works of Torah, because ‘no one will be justified by the works of Torah’. - But if, in our effort to be justified in the Messiah, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is the Messiah then a servant of sin? Absolutely not! But if I build up again the very things that I once destroyed, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. - Because through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with the Messiah; and it is no longer I who live, but it is the Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if covenant membership comes through the Torah, then the Messiah died in vain.Despite the history of interpretation and tradition surrounding this pericope, there is still much confusion and debate. The pivotal question that must remain in our minds as we grapple with this passage is, “what makes most historical sense within the argument that Paul presents to the Galatians?” In verse 15 Paul starts his section with “we”. The importance of this word cannot be overemphasized. It forms a direct connection with the preceding section that outlines the incident in Antioch between Paul and Peter. In the section 2:1-10, Paul has noted that both Peter and himself were entrusted with the ‘gospel’. Paul for the Gentiles and Peter for the Jews. We also have the incident of Titus, ‘not being compelled to be circumcised’. The implication is that Titus was not asked to be circumcised by the Jerusalem leadership. But what does this have to do with the issue at Galatia? It is our contention that Paul once again faces the same issue that he faced with Cephas. Peter, while not sanctioning circumcision for the Gentiles, nevertheless felt compelled to obey other “works of Torah” such as food laws and possibly festival observances (cf. 4:10). For Paul, this was unacceptable. No “works of Torah” were required in being part of the true people of God. For this reason, Witherington writes:
The issue raised in the propositio is – What should the role of the Mosaic Law be in the life of a Christian believer, whether Gentile or Jew, and as a subset of that question, should the Galatians submit to circumcision and the various other boundary-marking rituals of Judaism? Lying beneath all of this is the question – Who are the people of GOD, and what constitutes them as such?You see, the Jewish faction had persuaded Peter, and ‘even Barnabas’, that they should revert back to their Jewish praxis based on their observances of Torah. The Gentiles were not doing the “works of the Torah” which was required for full/complete membership in the people of YHWH and thus were excluded from table-fellowship. According to Paul, this was both a misunderstanding of the Gospel and inconsistent too. They seemed to have held that to be faithful to YHWH meant being faithful both to Jesus and the “works of Torah”. These two were the ‘identity markers’ of the people of YHWH. Being faithful to these two elements showed that one was a member of the people of God, it showed that one was ‘justified’. However, Paul’s contention is that justification came through faithfulness to Jesus, because Jesus had been faithful to them (2:16). Wright defines justification as:
Justification is the recognition and declaration by God that those who are thus called and believing are in fact his people, the single family promised to Abraham, that as the new covenant people their sins are forgiven, and that since they have already died and been raised with the Messiah, they are assured of final bodily resurrection at the last.The only requirement for full membership in the people of God, according to Paul, was loyalty towards Jesus. This is the crux of the issue. Verse 16 is directly concerned with the issue of “covenantal nomism”. The corollary of this is that loyalty towards Jesus does away with any need for being faithful to the ‘works of Torah. It renders their purpose invalid. As Dunn rightly comments:
If we have been accepted by God on the basis of faith, then it is on the basis faith that we are acceptable, and not on the basis of works. Perhaps for the first time, in this verse faith in Jesus Messiah begins to emerge not simply as a narrower definition of the elect of God. From being one identity marker for the Jewish Christian alongside the other identity markers (circumcision, food laws, Sabbath), faith in Jesus as Christ becomes the primary identity maker which renders the others superfluous.This in turn leads to Paul’s anticipative comments on the problem with such ‘freedom’ from covenantal obligations. Without the boundaries of the ‘works of Torah, will the Galatians merely become Gentile sinners? “Absolutely Not!”, says Paul. Our freedom in Messiah is freedom from that slavery to the “law of Messiah” (6:2). Just because one has given up those boundary-markers as signs of being part of the people of YHWH, does not therefore necessitate that they will not live distinct lives as the marked and chosen people of God. On the contrary says Paul, their lives will be evident by “faith working through love” (5:6) and their praxis stained by the boundary-markers of the ‘life’ and ‘fruit’ of the Spirit (5:16, 22). This is the whole point of Paul’s comment in 2:17, which he later unpacks and defends in chapter 5 and 6 of this letter. We are free says Paul, free to love and follow Jesus in the power and presence of the Spirit, who will lead and guide us as the people of God. This is where the distinctive pivsti"` Cristou` debate comes to the fore. The faithfulness of Jesus to God becomes the new paradigm by which those who are faithful to Jesus, shall live. 2:16 shows that Jesus has been faithful and 2:20 is our response: “I no longer live, but the Messiah lives in me.” This phrase must refer to the intimate relationship one has with Jesus and also the life of faithfulness one lives by following the clear example that Jesus is. This is what it means to be found and to “live” in the Messiah (2:19-20). If the Galatians are not faithful to God, then there are huge implications. Finally, Paul wishes to charge, both Peter and the missionaries, actions with obstructing the very grace of God that they are trying to maintain. This is how the grace of God has been revealed, through the faithfulness of Jesus. To still hold to covenantal nomism is to invalidate what Jesus has done. “We are a new creation, behold the old is gone, the new is come.”
Friday, August 26, 2005
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
But any potentials for another Aryan Jesus (whether real or imagined) are irrelevant. If Jesus was in fact less Jewish than we imagine, then it’s the historian’s duty to say so. If the resulting portrait ends up being pressed into bad service, that’s a completely different issue. I happen to believe that scholars like Sanders, Fredriksen, Allison, and Freyne are much closer to the truth than the Hellenized crowd, but not out of fear that I would be condoning an anti-Semitic view of Jesus if I didn’t!
Friday, August 12, 2005
And a fire went forth from his wrath, and consumed the foundations of the earth and the sinners, like burnt straw. Alas for those who sin and do not observe my commandments, says the Lord; I will not spare them. Depart, you faithless children! Do not pollute my sanctuary. For God knows all who sin against him; therefore he will hand them over to death and slaughter. Already calamities have come upon the whole earth, and you shall remain in them; God will not deliver you, because you have sinned against him.Thus, judgment takes the form of God’s abandonment of Israel to its enemies. What is important to note here is that “wrath” here is the allowing of YHWH for Israel and the world to face directly the consequences of their own actions. It is not directly YHWH brutally punishing or abusing people, but rather God “handing them over” and “withholding” his protection so that they face their own consequences. God doesn’t want or desire to do this, but wickedness forces his hand of judgment. [cf. Matt 23:37] This background should inform the debate of whether Paul understands the wrath of God as emotional in nature, or the necessary consequence of a holy God encountering sin. Any solution to the problem must account for both the judgment and the love of God in his dealings with Israel and humankind in general, and must exclude any notion of malicious or capricious anger on the part of God. Paul also uses the verb [paradidomi, “to hand over”] in three important verses in Romans 1:24, 26, 28; cf. Jer 34:21, cf. Zech 1:12 where YHWH “withholds mercy” and cf. Rom 8:32 were God “did not withhold his son”. The statement “God gave them over” explains precisely how God’s wrath (1:18) is revealed: he lets people destroy themselves as they warp their own humanity by embracing the natural effects of choices that are contrary to God’s will. C. H. Dodd, noting that “Paul never uses the verb, ‘to be angry,’ with God as subject” and that wrath when used of God is “curiously impersonal,” propounded the influential view that wrath is “not a certain feeling or attitude of God toward us, but some process or effect in the objective realm of facts” (Dodd, Romans, pg. 21–22). In other words, wrath is the inevitable result, or consequence, of human sin in a moral universe—a calculable effect of certain behaviours or attitudes—and not the activity of God against sinners (Dodd, 23–24). A. T. Hanson notes that: “For Paul the impersonal character of the wrath was important; it relieved him of the necessity of attributing wrath directly to God, it transformed the wrath from an attribute of God into the name for a process which sinners bring upon themselves” (Hanson, The Wrath of the Lamb, pg. 69). This rightly stress that Paul never describes God as angry, and draw attention to the fact that Paul speaks of “the wrath of God” only in Rom 1:18, Eph 5:6, and Col 3:6; elsewhere he can speak of “the wrath” in an apparently impersonal way. Paul views wrath as both a present reality and a future expectation. It is at this point that judgment and destruction intersect with wrath (cf. orge and dikaiokrisia, “righteous judgment,” in Rom 2:5). The present wrath is indicated by its present revelation from heaven (Rom 1:18) in allowing sinners to reap what they sow and in the threefold “handing over” (paradidomi) by God of Gentiles to their depraved life-styles in which heart, passions and mind are all given over to evil deeds (Rom 1:24, 26, 28) and an absence of covenantal relationship with God. The theme of abandonment as judgment might be even more significant to explore with regards to God’s wrath, given the cry of Jesus (Mk 15:34; Matt 27:46). In the gospels this term is used by Pilate when he “handed over” Jesus to be crucified (Matt 27:26, Mk 15:15, Luke 23:25, John 19:16). [In Mark 15:15 it is the crowd that is “satisfied” when Pilate hands over Jesus to be crucified. The Father in heaven is not “satisfied” with this event, the crowd and Pilate are!] I wonder if McKnight explores any of this in his analysis, Jesus and His Death? God hands people over to face the consequences of their actions. In Jesus coming to earth, God handed him over to rescue the world from its ultimate consequences, death. Instead of accepting the gift of God, namely Jesus, they annihilated and rejected him. Thus, indirectly Jesus takes on the wrath of God – he is taken and beaten by their evil ways which God has handed them over to. Instead of this being a loss however, God turns this into a victory whereby he absorbs the evil of humanity and defeats the principalities and powers. This opens up further reflection on New Testament teachings on atonement. Thus, wrath is the abandonment by God so that Jesus faces the consequences of rejecting him and his ways. The Father abandons the Son to face the free will choices and evil which tortures and kills Jesus. This is the greatest sacrifice, because the Son embraced this vocation and saw it as his ultimate expression of love, both to us and to the Father of how to reconcile people back to himself. Now this is only the first-fruits of my thoughts and I'm seriously not well read in this area, but I think the argument might have some merit... Thoughts? I’d really appreciate some exegetical feed back on this.
There are a few books which provide helpful little summaries of the metanarrative of scripture [The Big Story of the Bible]. David Wenham has a succinct summary from the perspective of the Kingdom of God in his book: The Parables of Jesus. Gordon Fee provides a brief overview in his excellent and worthy book, How to Read the Bible Book by Book [In my estimation, this should be mandatory reading for every person who wants to read the Bible properly!]. Vaughn Roberts has a somewhat helpful little book entitled: God's Big Picture. In fact, Bartholomew and Goheen have put together a neat selection of articles that are solid but edible, i.e., they don't require a degree in theology or biblical studies to understand! It is important to understand this BIG PICTURE because it is in knowing this story, that we discover our own place and role in this unfolding narrative. Robert Jenson has given us several insights in his essay How the World Lost its Story. It would be my contention that those who want to find our their true identity, where they belong and their purpose on this planet should find their place in the biblical metanarrative. Some may feel that this is far to philosophical but I am persuaded that Jesus may have had a somewhat philosophical agenda. See the article by Doug Groothuis The Strange Exile of Jesus. I'm preparing a lecture on "Leaders are Readers: Are you?" in which I'm grappling with what the average leader in our Christian community should be reading. Of course not everyone will read at the level that scholars and students read at, but now the task is trying to get them to a suitable level, as the writer of the Hebrews warns: by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. If we are going to have leaders who teach, what is an acceptable level for them to be at, and then teach at? Surely this should be an ever spiraling upwards toward spiritual maturity? I mean, this will trickle right down into our various training events and classes. I think one who is spiritually mature should know the biblical story and how it plays out in our day to day lives. A mature one should be aware of the intricacies of the Creation, Fall, Israel and Jesus stories and how they relate together. Scholars sometimes refer to the narrative substructure of scriptures. In fact, Richard Hays wrote an excellent book entitled Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. Although this is not a beginners book, it is helpful and those familiar with the field will recognise this model from his doctorate, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11. This book shaped much of my understanding of Galatians because it enhanced the Metanarrative of scripture behind the argument that Paul was constructing. [It also settled the pistis christou debate for me. I think it does refer to the faithfulness of Christ [Christ's faithfulness] and not faith in Christ.] In seeing the Bigger picture, the smaller details were put in place and my understanding enhanced. I would argue that much of the New Testament is simply missed because we fail to understand either the metanarrative behind what is being said, or we miss the echoe of scripture which the writer is building into [or assuming] as he constructs his argument. Articles and books like those mentioned above, help us understand that the story of Early Christianity has deep roots in the Hebrew scriptures [Old Testament], and that to fully grasp and understand Jesus and the New Testament, requires that one be well versed in that story. In fact, to better understand that story, you must lay down your story and take up a place in the Master's story. You must realise that every other story finishes with the sobering words "THE END" whereas HIS story never ends, it just gets better and better. Remember, God [the chief character and story-teller] is always on the look out for ordinary people to play significant parts in his unfolding drama. That is why we exist - to play our part for Him...
And as Aslan spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle, pg. 183-84
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Friday, August 05, 2005
- N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God
- G.B. Caird, New Testament Theology, chp. 9. [Jesus and the Jewish Nation]
- B. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus
- Scot McKnight, A New Vision for Israel
- Craig A. Evans Jesus and His Contemporaries
- John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew
- R. H. Horsley Jesus and the Spiral of Violence
- E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism
- Ben Witherington, The Christology of Jesus
- James Dunn, Jesus Remembered
The Top Popular books on Jesus, would have to include...
- D. Wenham, The Parables of Jesus
- Tom Wright, The Challenge of Jesus
- Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed
- Markus Bockmuehl, This Jesus
- J. John & Chris Walley, The Life
- E. P. Sanders, The Historical Jesus
- C. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels
- G. Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus
- B. Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian
- R. Stein, Jesus the Messiah
Some new books on the horizon to be aware of would have to be:
Jesus and His Death: Scot McKnight. The write up reads,
Recent scholarship on the historical Jesus has rightly focused upon how Jesus understood his own mission. But no scholarly effort to understand the mission of Jesus can rest content without exploring the historical possibility that Jesus envisioned his own death. In this careful and far-reaching study, Scot McKnight contends that Jesus did in fact anticipate his own death, that Jesus understood his death as an atoning sacrifice, and that his death as an atoning sacrifice stood at the heart of Jesus' own mission to protect his own followers from the judgment of God.
Another interesting book is a collection of articles on the historical Jesus edited by S. McKnight and J. D. G. Dunn, The Historical Jesus in Recent Research.
The past two or three decades have witnessed significant activity in research on the Jesus of the Gospels and history. In fact, there has been such a plethora of publication on such a wide variety of facets of this issue that it is difficult to keep pace with the rate of publication. In this volume, Dunn and McKnight have collected and provided introductions to a wide cross-section of essays on the topic, ranging from classic essays by the likes of Bultmann, Cadbury, and Schweitzer to the most recent investigations of Horsley, Levine, and Wright. This volume will be a very useful book for courses and seminars on Jesus or the historical Jesus, because it draws together in one place a wide variety of perspectives and approaches to the issues.
Authors represented include: P. S. Alexander, D. C. Allison, P. W. Barnett, M. J. Borg, R. Bultmann, H. J. Cadbury, P. M. Casey, G. B. Caird, B. Chilton, C. E. B. Cranfield, J. D. G. Dunn, R. A. Horsley, J. Jeremias, M. Kähler, W. G. Kümmel, E. F. Lemcio, A.-J. Levine, G. Luedemann, J. P. Meier, B. F. Meyer, R. Morgan, J. A. T. Robinson, E. P. Sanders, A. Schweitzer, K. R. Snodgrass, G. N. Stanton, P. Stuhlmacher, G. Theissen, N. T. Wright.
This looks like a great intro to the quest. Notoably, missing are members of the Jesus Seminar and paticularly J. D. Crossan. Not that I'm a fan of his work, or theirs for that matter [His method is far too awkward and idiosyncratic for this student] but he did offer a significant contribution which many have taken some what seriously.See also the quick review of Scripture and the Authority of God by Mike Starkey. Thanks to Mark Goodacre for the link.