Monday, November 21, 2011

Justice and Peace

Matt Hosier provides a thoughtful post on War and Peace, offering this penetrating question: *Does the pacifist emphasis on peace, love and reconciliation lead to a neglecting of the equally biblical emphasis upon justice? *

I'm quite sure that the NT vision of Justice is not justice by any means, and there is such a thing as passive resistance (ala Ghandi and Jesus). In fact, in Matt 5:39 Jesus specifically instructs disciples not to engage in violent resistance by using a technical term ἀντιστῆναι. Josephus uses the word with the sense of “violent struggle” 15 out of 17 times. Thus, what Jesus is saying here is that disciples are not to follow the way of violent resistance [like many Jews of the period. cf. Shammaite Pharisees and other messianic movements who started several revolutions] but rather, to follow his path of creative non-violent resistance. Thus, as Richard Hays notes, *Only when the church renounces the way of violence will people see what the Gospel means, because then they will see the way of Jesus re-enacted in the church.*

The book of Revelation provides the strongest support for this position. Rather than taking up arms and engaging in violence, they overcome the beast by peaceful protest in worshipping the Lamb, and laying down their lives. The eschatological vision of Revelation is that God's future will bring vindication and ultimate justice. So the question becomes not *is there not something rather perverse in the tolerance of a tyranny compared to which resistance may be a lesser evil?* But rather, do we trust God? Do we trust God enough to lay down our lives in peaceful protest, knowing that God's future will bring justice and vengeance for the oppressed? The NT commands us never to “repay evil with evil” but instead to “overcome evil with good” (Rom.12:17; cf. I Thess 5:15; I Pet 3:9).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Communion - According to Paul - A Spiritual Encounter

Francis Watson in his excellent essay, ““I Received from the Lord. . .”: Paul, Jesus and the Last Supper,” makes the following opening comment which I thought was helpful.

“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the lord Jesus, on the night on which he was handed over, took bread. . .” (1 Cor. 11:23). By repeating a tradition the Corinthians already know, Paul seeks to reawaken their sense of awe in the presence of holy mysteries: the bread and the cup of the Lord's Supper, through which they participate in the Lord's own body and blood, imbued with the supernatural power of his risen life.[1] To eat this bread and to drink this wine as if they were ordinary bread and wine, heedlessly and without preparation, is to risk converting their life-giving power into a poison that causes weakness, illness, or death.[2] The abused bread and wine can become the agents of the Lord's judgment – a judgment that intends final salvation rather than condemnation but which one would still wish to avoid.[3] Some at Corinth are already guilty of an abuse of this kind, ungraciously going ahead with the meal without waiting for the whole congregation to be assembled.[4] By the time the latecomers arrive, the food and drink have all been consumed so that they are left hungry and humiliated. Perhaps those responsible will plead that the hour was late and that they too were hungry? In that case, they should have taken something to sustain them before they left home. Only when the whole congregation is gathered together can the Lord's Supper truly be celebrated. This apparently trivial discourtesy to fellow Christians is symptomatic of a more serious error, the failure to reckon with the invisible presence of the Lord himself in the sharing of bread and cup. The Last Supper tradition is fully integrated into the exhortations and warnings of 1 Cor. 11:17-34, since this tradition underlies Paul's point about the lifegiving yet potentially threatening holiness of its re-enactment as the Lord’s Supper.[5]


[1] The Eucharistic bread and wine are “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink” (1 Cor. 10:3-4), in the sense that they enable participation in “the blood of Christ” and “the body of Christ” (10:16; cf. 11:27) – that is, in the heaven existence of the crucified and risen Lord who is “lifegiving Spirit” (15:45).

[2] Cf. 1 Cor. 11:28-30

[3] Cf. 1 Cor. 11:31-32.

[4] “So, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (1 Cor. 11:33). Going ahead with the meal without waiting for latecomers would be a specific instance of the unworthy consumption of the bread and the wine against which the preceding verses warn (vv. 27-32).

[5] Francis Watson, ““I Received from the Lord. . .”: Paul, Jesus and the Last Supper” in Jesus and Paul Reconnected: Fresh Pathways into an Old Debate. ed. Todd D. Still. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 103-105.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Story of Ephesians

After the opening greetings, Ephesians 1:3-14 celebrates the initiative and action of God in planning, coming, rescuing, and restoring people. God’s plan is to ultimately restore the entire world back to harmony with God (1:10). One of the main victories of God is bringing people to a place of trust and allegiance in Him (1:13). The goal of God’s restoring work is that “we might live for the praise of His glory” (1:12). But the ability to live for the praise of His glory, comes from the fact that we are “in Christ” (1:11, 13), and marked with the empowering presence of the Spirit (1:14).

Paul then prays that the Spirit would give them both revelation and wisdom (1:15-19). Revelation of what God has done and is doing, and wisdom so that they may live and act appropriately in light of what God has done and will do. Moving from there, Paul highlights the sovereignty and Lordship of Jesus over all other powers (1:20-23), demonstrating his defeat over death and the ruler of darkness (‘the devil,’ see 4:27 & 6:11) by outlining the victories of Christ which are displayed in the rescue of the audience (2:1-10), and in the uniting of Jews and Gentiles into one new humanity (2:11-22). All these activities of God are the outworking of his kindness, mercy and grace (2:4, 7), in pursuit of a reconciled, restored and renewed world (1:10).

In 3:1-12 we have the story of Paul’s own efforts to advance the reconciling cause of God in Christ and the Spirit with a focus on the Gentile mission. Paul highlights in 3:10 that it is through the Church, the renewed humanity reconciled to God and each other, that God declares and shows forth his victorious reconciling efforts to the principalities and powers. In other words, the Church is the concrete display of God’s ages-old plan coming into full-effect through Jesus, and is the very centre of God’s plan in how he will bring “all things” together. Paul goes on to pray again that they might have a revelation of this (3:18), as this demonstrates the loving kindness of God at work in the world (3:19) to help and to heal, as well as bring hope to the desperate state of the world. This is crowned with a celebration of the capabilities of God’s limitless power, focussed in the Church (3:20-21).

It is from this story of God’s work and the audience being “in Christ” and having access to the Spirit’s power, that we are now encouraged to live worthy of the calling we have received (4:1). It is as if Paul was saying, “Become what you are.” Or better yet, “Work out what God has worked in you.” It is because of their new identity as those adopted into God’s family (1:5), as those who are “in Christ,” as those who are God’s inheritance (1:18), with God’s Spirit marking their lives (1:13), that Paul now outlines an ethical vision. But we should note, that this is not about ‘right and wrong’ but rather about living worthy of the calling we have received as God’s people, “created to be who we are in Christ” (2:10), the vocation to be the children of God amidst a broken and often destructive world.

The first element in Paul’s focus on living worthy of the calling is unity in the body of Christ as representative of the unity in the trinity of Father, Jesus and Spirit. Ephesians 4:1-6 emphasises the essential oneness of the church. But this is not uniformity, but rather a unity of purpose and togetherness in what God is doing to build his Church and reconcile his world. The writer has already shown that previous divisions in the community have been overcome (2:11-22), and that the church is now one (re)new(ed) humanity (1:15), thus they are exhorted to “make every effort to maintain” that which God has done among them (4:3). They are to partner together in God’s reconciling efforts to bring back together, in hope and healing, the broken and fragmented world they inhabit.

The second element is that of gifting which is for the benefit of the body, the maturity of God’s people, and the realisation of our Christ-focussed lives. In 4:7-16 this is seen in that different people have different gifting, but all are to serve the community and household of God (in unity, not uniformity), in helping each other to mature and partner together in God’s mission. Each person has a different gifting and function within the community, but all are to partner together in building the community and helping in God’s ongoing work of redemption. There is a unity of purpose in the diversity of gifting, and this is so that each may play their part in helping one another and the church in God’s unfolding mission.

It is only then that the third element, the instruction to “no longer live as Gentiles” in 4:17-5:14, can make sense. It is because of their commitment to unity, and the diverse gifting of people as the renewed humanity of God that Paul calls them to live a different kind of life. Here we see Paul offering various characteristics of the new community in Christ. This is not to be seen as a new law or catalogue of do’s and don’ts. Rather, here we have both a positive description of what the church will be, and a negative description of what the church shall not be. The portrait here is of the kind of life the community should aspire to, and the kind of actions the community should avoid.

All of this sets the audience up for the instructions to be wise, filled with the Spirit and mutually submitting to one another (5:15-21), which is then directly connected to the household codes of 5:22-6:9. It is only in the context of being wise, being continually filled with the Spirit, and submitting to one another in the fear of the Lord, that the household codes can make sense. 5:15-21 provide the context and heading for all the instructions in the household code. Living together requires mutual submission to one another, and primarily the Lord. Thus it requires a constant engagement with His Spirit which marks out the Church as the people of God, and it requires constant wisdom from above, hence Paul’s prayer in 1:17 and 3:16-21.

The final instruction to the community is to embody the way of God by standing firm in the battle they find themselves. 6:10-20 should not be isolated from what has gone before, nor relegated to some esoteric spiritual battle, but should be seen as a helpful summary of how to implement and integrate the theological vision of life into the often mundane realities of life. This vision is built on the foundation of what he has said in 1:3-3:21 and the vision of life cast in 4:1-6:9. This is how we are to live in Christ, amidst a hostile world, empowered by the Spirit in giving thanks and praise to a God who is worthy of our attention, our affection, and our allegiance. And this God is worthy, because he has initiated a response that comes from his loving kindness, mercy and grace, that stems from His commitment to humanity as their Creator.

Recommended Reading: Timothy G. Gombis, The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God.

Sean du Toit, 24th March, 2011.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Intertextuality - Understanding Types of Audiences

Christopher Stanley in his work, Arguing with Scripture: The Rhetoric of Quotations in the Letters of Paul, suggests that the only references “that Paul’s first-century audience definitely would have recognized are those that are marked as such within the text” (e.g., as with “an explicit quotation formula”). Stanley thus cautions “against the presumption that Paul’s first-century audience recognized and appreciated his many unmarked references to the biblical text.”  I say cautions, as there may be legitimate appeals to intertextuality where formal quotation formulae are absent.  Stanley's helpful contribution comes to us in his analysis of types of audiences. 

Types of Audiences
(a) The informed audience – ‘a person who knows the original context of every one of Paul's quotations and is willing to engage in critical dialogue with Paul about his handling of the biblical text.’

(b) The competent audience – the ‘hypothetical person who knows just enough of the Jewish Scriptures to grasp the point of Paul's quotations in their current rhetorical context.’

(c) The minimal audience – ‘...people in this category were aware of the high degree of respect given to the Scriptures in Christian circles. As a result, they would have been inclined to take seriously any argument that claimed to be grounded in the biblical text. But their ability to follow the argument of a passage laced with quotations would have been limited.’

Richard Hays has suggested that, “The implied readers of these letters appear to be primarily Gentile Christians with an extensive knowledge of the LXX and an urgent interest in interpretation.” Is this a valid assumption? Does this work for all the letters of Paul or the New Testament, or just some of the letters?  The question remains, what type of audience will be able to recognise, recall, connect, assess and trust Paul’s intertextual reading?