The Go Eat, Drink, and Be Merry Way of Reading the Bible: Robert Jenson Helping Us Read the Bible Confessionally Once Again

It isn’t that we haven’t referred to this at the blog before, but I like the way Robert Jenson discusses the futility of late-modern biblical scholarship’s enlightened drive to deconfessionalize their reading of Holy Scripture; as if they can read it purely historically (history-of-religions), without reference to the very reality that has held it together from its genesis—the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s as if we can apply the Apostle Paul’s logic and argument from I Corinthians 15 to modern biblical scholarship’s mode; indeed, such scholars, after they finish dissecting the Bible for the day might as well go eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow they die along with the rest of us. Robert Jenson writes:

There is yet a further question: Is there in fact “the” biblical narrative, running through all the Scriptures’ historical discontinuities and non-narrative genres? Israel and the church have supposed there is because they have seen one chief agent throughout. If we say the Christian God is the God identified by the biblical narrative, we must also say there is “the” biblical narrative only as we read the temporally, culturally, and religiously various documents in Scripture as witness to the continuing action of one and the same agent.

The circle just traced is benign. We will follow the one biblical narrative, to identify the one biblical God, only as we read the Bible by the purpose for which the church assembled this book in the first place, to be in its entirety and all its parts witness to Jesus’ Resurrection and so to a particular God. Whenever someone has tried to construe the unity of Scripture otherwise than by the identity of this God, the book has fragmented, first into Hebrew Scripture and New Testament and thereupon into traditions and genres and redactions within each. And when communities other than the church—in modernity, the communities of various ideologies and particularly the surreptitious such community of supposedly autonomous scholars—try to appropriate the Bible for their own purposes, the book falls into more shards—to which, of course, anyone is welcome.

The insistence of late-twentieth-century hermeneutics on the determining role of “communities of interpretation” is fully justified. What is sometimes not then faced is that some bodies of text, like the Bible, were created by specific communities for interpretive purposes, and have no unitary entity at all apart from those communities’ antecedent interpretation of them. The final reason that one cannot interpret the Bible independently of the church and its dogma is that without these there is no such book. The modern attempt to interpret Scripture “historically” has been intrinsically self-defeating and has now defeated itself, since it has curiously supposed that to interpret the Bible historically we must abstract from the history for whose attestation the church assembled this collection in the first place, the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ.[1]

One aspect of this, in order to avoid us from collapsing this into a strictly ecclesiocentric reading of Scripture, is to end where Jenson ends: “the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ.” What is given determinative ultimacy for the church’s reading of the text, for any reading of Holy Scripture, is not some sort of magesteria of the church, but indeed the all constitutive event of God’s life being in becoming in the Incarnation to the Resurrection. In this way the hermeneutic and approach to Scripture reduces back to Christmas and Easter, Pentecost and Ascension; to the person of Jesus Christ himself, the telos of all creation and thus of Scripture as a special aspect of that creation.

It is hugely unfortunate that what Jenson is calling the church back to is still not being taken to heart, even by people who say they are the primary of us all who hold the highest view of Scripture of all; i.e. the evangelicals (of which I am reluctantly one), with their doctrine of inerrancy in tow. The evangelicals, among other sub-communities within the church (and outside of it), have adopted the fragmentizing ways into Scripture foisted upon it by the very folks Jenson is referring to. They are attempting to read the Bible from a community that has sharded the Bible into various forms and redacted pieces, and subsequently created a whole hermeneutic around such proclivities, which has resulted in a field of biblical studies that is strangely (but not so strangely) at odds with what has held the Bible together for millennia in the Christian church; the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Why would I want to read the Bible like that? Why would I want to borrow tools from communities that subjectively project their own histories upon the canon of Holy Scripture, and read it that way? I don’t want to.

Has there been no value created by modern biblical studies? I wouldn’t go that far. But at the same time, to attempt to read the Bible from directions that are anti-thetical to Scripture’s very reality makes no sense.

 

[1] Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology Volume 1: The Triune God (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 58-9.

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How to Read the Book of Revelation: Against Modern Day Astrological Numerology and other Aberrations

Given that according to some prognosticators the world is facing certain apocalyptic and cataclysmic reorientation starting in September 23rd, 2017, I thought I would reshare something I wrote awhile ago that engages with how to interpret the book of Revelation. Since these prognosticators are tying their predictions and prognostications to their interpretation of Revelation 12, it only seems fitting to test such an approach against a critical baseline for how the book of Revelation was originally composed, and for whom. If we push into this “baseline,” I contend, that what we will find will show these modern day prognosticators for who they are; i.e. hucksters (maybe even with good intentions) who haven’t taken the proper time to understand basic hermeneutical rules when it comes to interpreting biblical literature. So in an attempt to help address this issue, I give you the following (realizing that this is only a blog post with major space limitations; so a fuller development cannot be provided here, but hopefully it will provide enough grist for the reader to have some critical hooks to hang their hats of discernment on in this evil age).

Richard Bauckham’s books The Theology of the Book of Revelation & The Climax of Prophecy are resources that all Christians should avail themselves of. Let me provide an introduction, of sorts, into the basic argument of Bauckham’s book[s].  And of course, given the nature of my blogging pattern and style, I will also be reflecting upon the theological and exegetical issues that Bauckham’s writing is touching upon—as well as the more applied and correlative issues that Bauckham’s work only implicates, that is, the popular issues of dispensationalism, amillennialism, premillennialism, & postmillennialism. That said, let me wade us into what Bauckham thinks constitutes the basic trajectory and original purpose for writing the book of Revelation (which will implicate all kinds of things). Here is what Bauckham writes on the original audience and purpose of the ‘Epistle of Revelation’, and then a bit on how Bauckham thinks this reality cashes out in application (theologically and pastorally):

Thus it would be a serious mistake to understand the images of Revelation as timeless symbols. Their character conforms to the contextuality of Revelation as timeless symbols. Their character conforms to the contextuality of Revelation as a letter to the seven churches of Asia. Their resonances in the specific social, political, cultural and religious world of their first readers need to be understood if their meaning is to be appropriated today. They do not create a purely self-contained aesthetic world with no reference outside itself, but intend to relate to the world in which the readers live in order to reform and to redirect the readers’ response to that world. However, if the images are not timeless symbols, but relate to the ‘real’ world, we need also to avoid the opposite mistake of taking them too literally as descriptive of the ‘real’ world and of predicted events in the ‘real’ world. They are not just a system of codes waiting to be translated into matter-of-fact references to people and events. Once we begin to appreciate their sources and their rich symbolic associations, we realized that they cannot be read either as literal descriptions or as encoded literal descriptions, but must be read for their theological meaning and their power to evoke response.[1]

We leave off from Bauckham with a bit of a teaser; he goes on and provides some examples of what he describes in the quote paragraph of above. Suffice it to say, it can readily be observed that Bauckham, even in the small notation above (the quote), is getting at two popular, and I would say, erroneous, ways of reading the book of Revelation. Bauckham is getting at a naked idealism way of interpreting Revelation (as it has been in the history) which usually involves a presupposition of dualism; meaning that the book of Revelation is often construed as an ethereal book that depicts a cosmic struggle between good and evil. While there is an aspect where this is true for Bauckham, we can obviously see that he sees much more particularity, unity, and concreteness to the message and theology and history that make up this book than the classic idealism approach does. And then in the next breath, we also see Bauckham challenging what I will call the futurist, premillennial, dispensational reading of Revelation (the kind given popular expression in ‘The Left Behind’ series of books by Lahaye and Jenkins). He thinks it is in error to read Revelation as if its primary semantic and conceptual pool is predictive in nature; in other words, he sees it as highly problematic to read current events (like ours) into the book of Revelation, as if this was what John and the Holy Spirit had in mind when it was originally penned. Bauckham does not see the book of Revelation as a secret code book awaiting the decoder key (current events) to, in fact, decode it. No, he sees all of the events, people, and picturesque language of Revelation as grounded in a labyrinth of inter-related complexities that bubble up from the Old Testament apocalyptic genre (like that found in Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, etc.); and then he sees this context being applied to the ‘current’ events of the Roman empire of which the seven churches addressed in the Revelation are located.

There is much more to Bauckham’s thesis about the book of Revelation; like he sees the point of the book of Revelation as most pertinent to the Christians in the Roman empire who were suffering great tribulation and suffering, to the point of martyrdom. He sees the point of the book as primarily something to provide comfort and perspective for those being killed by the Roman persecution of the Christians. He sees the vindication of the Christian martyrs as the crux for understanding the composition of Revelation; and all of the apocalyptic language in the book, as providing God’s perspective over against the secular, mundane Roman perspective which these Christians were inhabiting. Bauckham sees the book of Revelation as predictive, in the sense that God’s people (all of us) will be vindicated at his coming (the second time, based on the first), as he crushes the powers of the nations, but not as the world would think, but as ‘the lamb slain before the foundations of the world’. So we see Bauckham’s vision of Revelation as correlative with the trajectory already set throughout the canon of the Old Testament apocalyptic literature; something like Daniel 2 comes to my mind:

44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands —a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.

“The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.”

It is this kind of motif that Bauckham thinks shapes the book of Revelation, but not in light of its promise (like we leave it in the book of Daniel), but in light of its fulfillment, and thus reinterpretation ‘in Christ’. There is much more to say (and I will), but this should be enough for now.

 

[1] Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 19-20.

 

The 2nd Adam as the Ground and Reality of the 1st Adam: Reading Romans 5 With or Against Barth

I was just reading Everett F. Harrison’s commentary on Romans in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary; in particular I was reading his coverage of Romans 5:12-14, I was motivated to look over some commentaries I have on hand because of the discussion surrounding the historicity of Adam amongst some contemporary biblical exegetes (like Peter Enns and others). Of course, and rightly so, most commentators are not going to be engaging in speculation about whether Adam was a historical personage or not; instead, the steady exegete will seek to lay bare the intent of the particular passage’s message as understood (intratextuality and intertextually) through the theology, in our instance, of the Apostle Paul. In light of this, I wanted to focus on Harrison’s own exegesis of Paul in Romans 5:12-14 juxtaposed with what he thinks is Karl Barth’s reading of this same pericope; in particular, what Harrison thinks of Barth’s understanding of the person of Adam vis-á-vis the person of Jesus Christ as Paul’s ‘second Adam’. Here is the text in question, first in English and then the Greek text:

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned — 13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. –Romans 5:12-14 (NIV)

12 δια τουτο ωσπερ δι ενος ανθρωπου η αμαρτια εις τον κοσμον εισηλθεν και δια της αμαρτιας ο θανατος και ουτως εις παντας ανθρωπους ο θανατος διηλθεν εφ ω παντες ημαρτον 13 αχρι γαρ νομου αμαρτια ην εν κοσμω αμαρτια δε ουκ ελλογειται μη οντος νομου 14 αλλα εβασιλευσεν ο θανατος απο αδαμ μεχρι μωυσεως και επι τους μη αμαρτησαντας επι τω ομοιωματι της παραβασεως αδαμ ος εστιν τυπος του μελλοντος –Romans 5:12-14 (GNT)

The issue I want to consider, relative to Harrison’s reading of this text juxtaposed with Barth’s, is the critique that Harrison offers of Barth’s ‘theological-exegetical’ reading of this passage; in particular the ‘image of God’ in the theology of the Apostle Paul. Harrison, somewhat in passing, notices that Barth understands Paul’s usage of Adam in a way that is only typological of Paul’s real point about the image of God, that Barth thinks should really be in reference to the ‘second Adam’, or Jesus Christ. Harrison summarizes, and questions Barth’s reading in this way:

In his book, Christ and Adam (Harper, 1956), Karl Barth has advanced a provocative interpretation of Adam as a type of Christ. He has attempted to reverse the order: “Man’s essential and original nature is to be found … not in Adam but in Christ. In Adam we can only find it prefigured. Adam can therefore be interpreted only in the light of Christ and not the other way round” (p. 29). It should be evident, however, that Paul’s thought here is not moving in the orbit of man as made in the image of God and therefore in the image of Christ who is the image of God. To import the preexistence of Christ is to introduce an element foreign to Paul’s purpose and treatment in this passage….[1]

Harrison may be right, de jure or in principle, that Paul’s own orbit of thought may have not been fully articulated, even to himself, in regards to a full blown, what we might call, Chalcedonian Christology (or even a Johannine one); but, de facto, or in actual fact, Harrison, I think is wrong to suggest that Paul’s own unarticulated theology does not invite the exegete and theologian to step deeper into the theological trajectory that Paul’s occasional writings presuppose. In other words, I think Harrison is wrong to assert that Paul’s ‘orbit’ of thought cannot be driven further than even the Apostle Paul drove it in his own context. I float this, because much of Paul’s own theology, delimited as it is by the type of literature he was inking ‒ Epistle – by definition is going to remain unarticulated and enthymemic (or some of his premises are unstated and just presumed on his part). So for Harrison to suggest what he has in regard to Paul’s thinking about the ‘second Adam’ as primary to the ‘first Adam’ relative to understanding, theologically, the function that the image of God language ought to play in Paul’s accounting; I think is highly presumptuous.

Karl Barth is obviously committed to a theological exegetical approach to interpreting scripture. He is committed to what some have called a ‘principial’ and intensive christocentrism in his reading of holy writ; such that he seeks to ground all of his reading of scripture, as if scripture’s reality (res) only is realizable when couched in its teleological (‘purposeful’) shape provided by Jesus Christ himself.

So the question is: Is Barth playing fast and loose with scripture, imposing his own theological grid and ‘canon’ on the canon of scripture; thus morphing it into a re-imagined wonder world of modern theological impulses? Or, is Barth following the trajectory that Jesus himself set in the reinterpretation of the Old Testament scriptures as if those scriptures were really all about him? Not just about him at a surface glance, but about him in all of his depth and reality as the ‘eternal Logos’, and the second person of the Trinity.

I think Harrison sets up a false dilemma, placing a historical-critical reading (Harrison’s) in competition with a depth theological reading that Barth follows. These approaches don’t need to be seen as discordant, one with the other, but instead they can (and ought to) be understood as mutually implicating and complementing one of the other. Such that the historic-critical realities of Paul’s own textured thought are what lead us (by their own presupposed theological depth and context) to the kind of reading that someone like Barth or even John Calvin have offered in regard to Paul’s letter to the Romans (and elsewhere).

I originally wrote this post back in 2012, but I thought I would share it again. If you’re interested in reading further with reference to Barth’s thinking about the Logos asarkos and how his theology of the pre-temporal Christ functions in his theological exegesis, then check out what he has to say in CD IV/1.

 

[1] Everett F. Harrison,“Romans,” in 10 Expositors’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, edited by Frank E. Gæbelein, p. 63.

 

Salvation By Allegiance Alone: Introducing a Book Review Series and Some Engagement with Scot McKnight

I plan on doing a type of dialogical review of Matthew Bates’ recently released book, Salvation By Allegiance Alone, through a series of posts. I wanted to introduce the book to you all by quoting, at length, part of the foreword written by Dr. Scot X. McKnight. McKnight works and thinks from a largely Wesleyan/Arminian perspective, and so you will understand why he is so excited by Bates’ proposal; which you will see the basic lineaments of that proposal described by McKnight in the following quote.

Allegiance, then, is at the heart of grace as it was perceived in the ancient world. Grace was not simply—or ever—pure gift in spite of what some say today. One must define terms by their usage not by our contemporary beliefs or usages. Grace can both be one hundred percent gift and at the same time summon the gifted person with an obligation, a heartfelt and intentional duty, to respond in gratitude and behavior in accordance with the new social bond created by the gift-giver’s gift. This grace runs right through the Old Testament, through Judaism, and into the New Testament. What distinguished the kind of Judaism that did not believe in Jesus and the one that did was not the appearance or absence of grace itself but how grace was understood. It is, then, a popular misunderstanding of Paul to conclude that grace did not obligate the Christian—the one who received God’s gift of Christ and redemption—to respond to God through real behavioral change. Grace in fact required a life of gratitude, praise, and—here’s the language from Matthew Bates’s outstanding book—“allegiance to Jesus as king.”

Some theologians (past and present) think that any kind of obligation attached to grace must somehow entail a dangerous works righteousness. Such people are wrong. But you’ll have to read Salvation by Allegiance Alone to see how deftly and biblically Matthew Bates dismantles this worry about works while simultaneously offering fresh proposals regarding how a gospel-infused allegiance connects with righteousness.

I want to approach the obligation of grace from another angle, that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As a college student I became a voracious reader and, so, as a sophomore I began reading Bonhoeffer, beginning with (what was then called) The Cost of Discipleship. Perhaps his most enduring contribution to Christian theology, at least Christian ethics, is his section on “costly grace,” a concept that put into words my deepest convictions and concerns about the church I was then witnessing. The church was marked by sanctimonious attendance, judgmentalism on all outsiders, expressed certitude of the security of the believer because of a single act of accepting Christ into one’s heart, and rigor in theological propositions. It was also a church pockmarked body-wide with a lack of love, a lack of genuine holiness, and an inability to foster discipleship in the heart of the true believer. Sadly, what it lacked was created by its deficient gospel: “if you just believe” was its watchword and safety net. But “believe” meant mental acceptance and a single act of reception, and never meant what the term also means in the whole Bible: the kind of faith that is also faithfulness.

The superficiality of American evangelicalism’s gospel-obsession with security and assurance has led me at times to wonder if we should not teach justification by discipleship. Or justification by faithfulness. But Matthew Bates has landed on a beautiful and biblically sound term: allegiance. When Jesus first called the four disciples along the Sea of Galilee he didn’t say “receive me into your heart” but “follow me.” When a crisis arose among his followers he didn’t say “you’re safe” or “get your orthodoxy on” but “deny yourself and take up your cross.” Moreover, when he finished the greatest sermon on earth, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus didn’t say “Repent and believe these things” but “the one who hears these words of mine and does them.” So, too, the apostles Paul, Peter, and John called their listeners to a life swamped by the Spirit, a life of holiness amidst suffering, and a life of living in the light of love. These apostolic expressions are all condensed in this book into the term “allegiance.”

King Jesus summons people into a kingdom where he alone is king, and kings expect one thing from their subjects: allegiance.[1]

I have only read a few pages beyond the foreword thus far, but I have been listening to and reading some interviews (and a debate) that Matthew has done since the release of his book. I am also “friends” with him on FaceBook and have gotten to get more of a feel of where he is coming from that way as well; particularly as that is based upon the folks who are commenting in favor of his book and where they are coming from theologically.

One thing I will note, inchoately, is that based upon my impression, what potentially may be missing in this whole mix is an adequate development, in regard to Bates himself, of a theological ontology as the basis of his hermeneutic in general. My concern is that the theological in exegesis is not adequately addressed, and that what we are given then is just more of the type of ‘naturalist’ engagement with the text that I would say even attends the work of N.T. Wright in his exegetical conclusions. In other words, if Christology, for my money, is not the framework from whence Bates comes to his exegetical conclusions, particularly as his book deals directly with both soteriological and theological-anthropological issues, then the proposal itself will not be as fruitful as it could have been or should be. If McKnight’s comment—“When a crisis arose among his followers he didn’t say “you’re safe” or “get your orthodoxy on”—is indicative of the tone we are supposed to expect from Bates, then I am afraid, I, at least, am going to be very disappointed with what Bates presents.

Materially, when someone can assert/argue that someone in union with Christ today could not be in union with Christ eschatologically or in the final salvation, all this reduces down to, traditionally, is no more than the classically Arminian view that a person can ‘lose their salvation’; or on the classical Calvinist side, it boils down to the notion that ‘someone who may have professed Christ or even looked like they were “saved” were never really saved to begin with.’ Bates believes people can be in union with Christ today, but at the same time may well not be in eternal union with Christ when that final day comes. Is his conclusion any different than the Arminian’s? No. How he gets there might well be more innovative and creative relative to the way he marshals the “biblical data,” but his conclusion is tried and true throughout the centuries; whether that be within a Roman Catholic or Protestant expression.

What I would hope to be present is something like Karl Barth’s and Evangelical Calvinism’s Christologically conditioned doctrine of election and union with Christ. What I would hope to be in the hermeneutical mix, for Bates, is a heavy commitment to the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. If “allegiance,” as Bates interprets that, was somehow located objectively in the vicarious humanity, in the vicarious faith and faithfulness of Christ for us, then what he is communicating might not be so problematic theologically. But I am getting the sense that all of that “theological ontology” is missing within Bates’ offering; I’m getting the sense, particularly from McKnight, that Matthew is simply engaging in the work, ostensibly, of biblical studies—and that understood from the deconfessionalized mode bequeathed by the Enlightenment etc.—and that these highly important theological and inner-theological connective tissues are not really present. That’s what concerns me most about what I am sensing about Bates’ offering. Maybe he’ll surprise me.

Stay tuned. As I read through Matthew’s book, as I noted, I plan on doing a running and critical kind of review of his book. Again, I hope I am moving too fast and jumping to unfounded conclusions too early. But I’m thinking I’m not.

[1] Scot McKnight, “Foreword,” in Matthew Bates, Salvation By Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and The Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2017), 11 Scribd version.

Reading the Bible For All Its Worth: Protestants and sola Scriptura Against Wooden-Literalist Bible Reading Habits

I just recently had a discussion with someone I know, a pastor, who took pride in the fact that I labeled his approach to biblical interpretation as wooden-literal. I have written against this approach for many years, and so when it came down to this little exchange I was having with this pastor it became real;  it became real because he was arguing from such a literalist approach that holy_biblehe wouldn’t even admit a women could potentially teach a man, even as a prophetess of Yahweh (i.e. Huldah). He claimed that because the word ‘teach’ is never used with reference to what Huldah communicated hortatorily to King Josiah that this in itself could not be used to illustrate a woman teaching or even authoritatively communicating God’s Word to a man or men. This exchange left me somewhat dumbfounded although not totally surprised.

The questions though are these: Does the Protestant commitment to sola Scriptura (‘Scripture alone’) mean that Protestants, historically, are committed necessarily to a wooden-literal mode of interpreting the Scriptures? Does it mean that Protestants have no regard for the history of biblical interpretation, for the ecumenical councils of the church (i.e. like where we get our orthodox grammar for God as Triune, and for Chalcedonian two-natures one person Christology, etc.), and that we must simply be slavishly and rationalistically tied to the biblical words themselves; as if they have some sort of structural meaning inherent to themselves? No, nein! This is not what Protestants have been committed to in their reading practices of the Bible. This is not what sola Scriptura entails. Instead, what my pastor friend is actually working from, ironically, is what rose up out of the Enlightenment and 19th century biblical studies; a ‘de-confessionalized’  historical-critical approach to reading the Bible. Gerhard Hasel identifies when this way of reading the Bible happened, and who signaled it most decisively:

The late Neologist and rationalist Johann Philipp Gabler (1753-1826), who never wrote or even intended to write a Biblical theology, made a most decisive and far-reaching contribution to the development of the new discipline in his inaugural lecture at the University of Altdorf on March 30, 1787. This year marks the beginning of Biblical theology’s role as a purely historical discipline, completely independent from dogmatics. Gabler’s famous definition reads: “Biblical theology possesses a historical character, transmitting what the sacred writers thought about divine matters; dogmatic theology, on the contrary, possesses a didactic character, teaching what a particular theologian philosophizes about divine matters in accordance to his ability, time, age, place, sect or school, and other similar things….”[1]

It is this split between theological (i.e. dogmatics) or churchly (i.e. confessional) readings of the Bible that is informing my pastor friend’s understanding of reading the Bible in a wooden literalistic way. It is an overreaction, by some, to fear of being drawn back into the Roman Catholic church (which is my pastor friend’s fear directly, since this was his background) and having a magisterium tell you what the Bible means coupled with an enlightenment rationalizing mode towards reading the Bible in a way that might have any connection whatsoever to the historical interpretations of said texts found in Holy Writ. So it isn’t an outright appropriation of all of the 19th and 20th century accretions of the biblical studies ‘movement,’ instead it is a selective appropriation of that such that an emphasis on the rationale of the bible reader’s individualistic reading of the text of Scripture dominates in such a way that in extreme cases only the very words themselves (almost without reference to the broader canonical context either intertextually i.e. the whole of the canon or intrattextually i.e. particular books of the Bible being studied have any say in how various words, sentences, and paragraphs ought to be understood).

Angus Paddison helpfully describes this type of dilemma, and how the Protestant understanding of sola Scriptura itself militates against the mode of interpretation my pastor-friend finds himself deploying as he reads the Bible. Paddison here is talking about how Christology ought to implicate our reading of Scripture, how that impacts sola Scriptura, and how this even impacts John Calvin’s own reading of Scripture (hermeneutically and exegetically). Paddison writes at some length:

The prime responsibility of Christology is not first to be original but faithfully to read the ‘divine address’ that is Scripture. In order to fulfill this task, theology does of course need resources other than Scripture. This is to recognize with Robert Jenson that if we think sola Scriptura means understanding Scripture ‘”apart from creed, teaching office, or authoritative liturgy’” then we are resting on an ‘oxymoron’ (think of the obvious contradiction of the church that says it has no creed but the Bible). If the first responsibility of talking about Christ is to evince an attention to Scripture, we need to be more precise about the nature of doctrine and its relationship to Scripture.

Calvin himself, to alight upon a theologian firmly associated with a sola Scriptura approach, was keenly aware that theology always needed to deploy extra-canonical words and resources. That we use words and concepts not found in Scripture itself – in a bid to help us understand this same text – is not a sign that we have departed from the fabric of Scripture. Writing against his opponents Calvin writes that if

they call a foreign word one that cannot be shown to stand written syllable by syllable in Scripture, they are indeed imposing upon us an unjust law which condemns all interpretation not patched together out of the fabric of Scripture … [i]f anyone, then finds fault with the novelty of the words [Calvin is talking of such words as ‘Trinity’ and ‘Persons’] does he not deserve to be judged as bearing the light of truth unworthily, since he is finding fault with what renders the truth plain and clear.

When Calvin’s counsel is not heeded, sola Scriptura often mutates into biblical scholarship alone. Understanding the Bible in this way of thinking is wholly defined by reference to its (often putative) context of production. It is as if we are reading a text that has had no impact, a text without any subsequent readers. Writing more than 50 years ago G.E. Wright’s diagnosis (not espousal) of this mindset common among ‘biblical Christians’ drawn to biblical scholarship is still remarkably apposite:

When one has the Bible, what need is there for subtleties and sophistries of theology? In evangelical Christianity, the Bible is typically read with scant  regard for the long and intricate dialogue with the Bible that is the history of Christian theology. Many (most?) Protestant biblical scholars are attracted to the field in the first place by an evangelical piety of this kind – whatever else is abandoned under the notoriously destructive impact of so-called “historical-critical method” – the abstraction of the biblical texts from their theological Wirkungsgeschichte is tenaciously maintained.

Such endeavors help identify historical-criticism, the engine of much biblical scholarship, as the modern attempt to “start over” in a manner that left behind the gifts of the past’. Accordingly, historical criticism is notoriously restricted in what history it is interested in. Fundamentalism and historical criticism both presume that the church and the church’s teaching is an obstacle, not an aid, to reading Scripture well.[2]

Conclusion

We have surveyed how current day bible reading practices have come to be among both evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians alike. We have noted that for such readers, those who engage in this type of Bible reading, that it has more to do with Enlightenment rationalism, and a certain theory of linguistics and historicism than it does with the Protestant sola Scriptura principle and how Protestants ever since the 16th century have engaged in the reading and exegesis of Holy Scripture.

If the above is so, it would behoove my pastor-friend to reconsider how he is approaching Scripture. He might want to ask: “Am I reading the Bible in a way that fits better with Protestant confessional historical Christianity, or am I reading it from certain impulses that are actually antagonistic to that? The ultimate goal, of course, is to ‘read the bible for all its worth.’ I contend that confessional Christianity offers the best resources for doing that; particularly when it sees Christ as the rule and key for understanding all of Scripture. That said, I am not against paying attention to philology, semantics, literary realties in Scripture, history, so on and so forth; it’s just that appealing to that in slavish and rationalistic ways is not going to yield, in my view, the best exegetical conclusions.

 

 

[1] Gerhard Hasel, Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 21-2.

[2]Angus Paddison, Scripture a very Theological Proposal (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 66-7.

An Exegetical Analysis of the Word anti in Matthew 20:28, and Its Argument for Substitutionary Atonement

Here is an mini-exegetical paper I wrote for my advanced NT Greek class in seminary back in 2002. I argue that the Greek word anti fits better with the idea of ‘substitution’ versus an exemplary view as an alternative. There isn’t any real theological exegesis going on here; instead, just straight lexical analysis and engagement with some critical commentators. In fact, back then, I didn’t
christcrucifiedeven know what theological exegesis was. Here it is:

Matthew 20:28 provides teaching that has been the point of much controversy. There is argument over what anti, should mean. Depending on the meaning of this word, there is support for the notion of Christ’s death as substitutionary for all humanity; or rather that Christ’s death was only “for the sake of”—i.e. as an example for how others should live their lives before God.

Therefore understanding the way this word can function will provide necessary insight on what position of the atonement this passage supports: substitution for example. Hence this study provides lexical analysis of anti, as well as interaction with particular scholars; for the purpose of ascertaining the best reading of this word (i.e. anti), and passage (i.e. Matt. 20:28).

Thesis Statement:

Jesus’ ultimate gift of service was to provide comprehensive substitutionary atonement for all humanity.

My Translation:

Just as the son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom in-the-stead of the many. Matthew 20:28.

Observations:

The broader context of Matt. 20:28 is found in the preceding verses 20-27. In vss. 20-23 the mother of James and John approaches Jesus and requests that her sons be allowed to sit and rule with Jesus in His coming kingdom. Verses 23-28 provide the response of the other ten disciples as they realize James and John are trying to get on the inside track of everyone else in the company of Jesus. Verse 28 is the climax of Jesus’ response back to the apostles, and what it means to be a true follower of Him.

Lenski points out, in vs. 28, that Jesus’ attitude was not how much He could get (i.e. like the disciples were demonstrating, cf. vss. 20-24), but rather how much He could give for others (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 792). Thus the language of service and servant-hood substantiates Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth. Many scholars agree up to this point (see Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 792; Leon Morris, The Gospel According To Matthew, 512-13; Robert Gundry, Matthew, 404; Ulrich Luz, Matthew 8—20, 546).

The difference arises after the epexegetical kai. (See Lenski, Matthew, 792) is given. Luz argues that the intent of the passage is only to highlight the example of service that Jesus provides for the disciples to follow. And that this passage does not heavily emphasize the idea of lytron (=ransom, BAGD=price of release, the ransom money for the manumission of slaves, 483). Nor does this passage, according to Luz, emphasize anti (=in the stead of or substitution, see lexical analysis provided later in this study). Note Luz:

For Matthew the idea of a ransom or “substitute” is probably less important here than the radical nature of Jesus’ service. Jesus took his service to others so seriously that he gave his own life for “many.” (Ulrich Luz, Matthew 8—20, 546).

To the contrary many other scholars believe that this passage has everything to do with the notions of both ransom and substitution. The thought reflected is that lytron and anti explicitly point to the fact that Jesus truly served as the substitutionary ransom to the Father. And that this in fact serves to provide the substance for “what kind” of service Jesus came to provide. Note Blomberg’s comment as representative of this position:

The word “ransom” (lytron) would make a first-century audience think of the price paid to buy a slave’s freedom. “Life” is the more correct translation here for psyche, which in other contexts sometimes means soul. Though it has been disputed, anti (“for”) means instead of or in the place of. (Craig Blomberg, Matthew, 308; see also Leon Morris, Matthew, 512-13).

Therefore Blomberg represents this passage as a straightforward statement of Christ’s substitutionary atonement.

Lenski similarly comes to the same conclusion as Blomberg, but he does not believe that anti can be translated as “instead of,” rather he believes that contextually the relationship of the two substantives lytron and pollon point to the substitutionary understanding in this passage. Note Lenski:

On the root idea of anti.: “face to face,” . . . “The idea of ‘in the place of’ or ‘instead’ comes where two substantives place opposite to each other are equivalent and so may be exchanged.”—thus the ransom is exchanged for the many. . . . “These important doctrinal passages teach the substitutionary conception of Christ’s death, not because of anti of itself means ‘instead,’ which is not true, but because the context renders any other resultant idea out of the question.” . . . The efforts to overthrow these findings are to a great extent not exegetical but dogmatical . . . . (Lenski, Matthew, 794).

Thus Lenski provides nuanced argument, from the context, of how and why anti should be highlighting the substitutionary nature of Christ’s atonement. This is not in disagreement with Blomberg, but rather points out how the context, as a principle, determines the precise meaning of anti.

Lexical Analysis of anti

Liddell and Scott, 153:

Liddell and Scott provide the semantic range from the classical perspective as:

. . . of place, opposite, over against, formerly quoted from several place of Hom. . . . in Hom. often to denote equivalence . . . he is as good as many men . . . a guest is as much as a brother . . . to denote exchange, at the price, in return for . . . for money paid . . . in preference to . . . .

The classical meaning can carry the notion of in exchange or in return for. This provides legitimate semantic domain for the nuance of substitution as some argue for in Matthew 20:28’s usage of the word.

BAGD, 72:

Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker provide the semantic domain from the Koine perspective:

. . . in order to indicate that one person or thing is, or is to be, replaced by another instead of, in place of . . . in order to indicate that one thing is equiv. to another for, as, in place of . . . Gen. 44:33 shows how the mng. in place of can develop into in behalf of, for someone, so that av. becomes=uper . . . lytron av. pollon a ransom for many 20:28; Mk 10:45 . . . .

BAGD substantiates the discussion provided by Lenski, that the two substantives, lytron and pollon in relationship with anti indeed provide this word with the notion of substitution.

Synthesis:

Provided the two positions presented above (i.e. Luz and Blomberg/Lenski), and coupling these positions with the lexical analysis; it is the belief of this study that indeed 20:28 is explicitly discussing the substutionary nature of Christ’s ultimate service for humanity.

Luz’s and the other scholar’s position, show a position that is informed by a dogmatic theological position. And each of these scholars proceed to impose their dogmatism onto passages such as Matthew 20:28, thus producing an interpretation that fits their presupposed theological grid (i.e. Christ was only providing an “example” to follow, not the nature of  His atonement).

The plain reading of the passage is to recognize that indeed Christ is emphasizing service, but that that service is defined by His substitutionary atonement at the cross.

 

Selected Bibliography

Bauer, W. A Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament: And Other Early Christian Literature. Translated by W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1957.

Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of

Holy Scripture NIV Text. The New American Commentary, ed. David S. Dockery. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992.

Gundry, Robert H. Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1994.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Ohio: The Wartburg Press, 1960.

Liddell, Henry George and Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. Great Britain: Clarendon Press, 1968.

Luz, Ulrich. Matthew 8—20. Hermeneia—A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, ed. Helmut Koester. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdman Publishing, 1995.

________. The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. Eerdmans Publishing, 1956.

 

 

Doubting the Theologians and Biblical Interpretation

I am not totally sure what is happening to me tonight, but it is either conviction or an overly-sensitive conscience. I have been posting a lot on Karl Barth lately, and if not Barth my other usual suspects are Thomas Torrance and John Calvin. But I am really having a problem with all of this right now, and it is really bothering me. I am not confessing to some deep down angst about my reading of Barth, et al.; but what I am doing right now is being honest about something that has been bothering me for awhile. It is a personal thing really, and it involves some personal background snoopytheologyand history in order to provide the proper context for what I want to get off my chest.

As I have shared way too many times to count, in the past, the Lord got a hold of me in some pretty radical ways back in 1995 when I was 21. I grew up the son of a Baptist pastor, and became a Christian when I was a little kid; I even was a little evangelist leading my 5 year old friend to the Lord. I have always had a heart for Jesus, and a love for Him ever since He touched my heart at a young age (something like a Samuel experience—i.e. the way I came to Christ waking up in the middle of the night and wanting to ask Jesus into my heart, I went in and woke my parents up and they led me to the Lord at 3.5). And I grew up with that sensitive heart for him, and being involved in my dad’s pastoral ministry and evangelism from a young age into my teens. Out of high school I became lukewarm, but that was the point that the Lord got a hold of me again in some rough ways. It was during that time that I began to read through the Scriptures voraciously, memorizing books of the Bible, and feeling the need to tell every person I came into contact with about Jesus—in evangelical parlance I was “on fire for Jesus!” This led me into formal biblical and theological studies, and even to where I am with all of that today.

So here I am tonight (or early morning), and I have four books on my night stand about the theology of Karl Barth. I’ve already read untold books just like these ones over the last eleven years in particular; and the same can be said in regard to Thomas Torrance, John Calvin, and many other theologians (too many to be named). But what I am feeling really convicted about, if I should use that word, is a question that keeps haunting me with some intensity. The question is: who cares?! Who cares what Barth, or Torrance, or Calvin et al. thinks about what the Bible says? Isn’t the Bible itself capable of communicating what it means, in its own given context, without hearing from the theologians or even critical biblical exegetes? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going anti-intellectual on you all, but this is an honest question for me. What is keeping what I am doing from being a so called reader response hermeneutic? When I read Barth et al., yes he and they offer some very interesting, imaginative, and even provocative ways to read Scripture and its inner-theo-logical implications. But at what point does their influence cease being interesting, and instead act as a regulative way that governs the way that I am interpreting Holy Scripture? My question isn’t just for my narrow list of teachers, but it’s for all theologians and challenges whoever someone’s favorite theologian or interpretive tradition is.

When I really committed to reading and studying Scripture, before God, some twenty-one years ago, I committed to know Him through His Word. I want to make sure that I am not conflating someone else’s word with His Word; and I am sure Barth et al. would want to avoid this same thing! But it seems to me that us Protestants have our own popes, and our own interpretive magesterium. I do believe that theological exegesis is inevitable, and in itself is not a bad thing. But I want to always make sure that I am being self-critical enough to not be reading my favorite theologian’s opinions (theologoumena) into Scripture as if Scripture is not perspicuous enough (and that principle itself comes from Protestant theologians) to speak itself from its own literary and theological context.

It doesn’t matter if its Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Amandus Polanus, Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, John Webster, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Musculus, Junius, Arminius, Bullinger, Bucer, Baxter, Gill, Robert Jenson, Pannenberg, William Perkins, Francis Turretin, Vos, et al. et al. I don’t want to think that I am giving anyone the ability to fabricate or create meaning for Scripture that is not present in Scripture itself. Does this sound like I am being anxious? I think it does sound that way, because I actually am. I’ve studied too much at this point, and continue to study, and realize that it’s very possible to lose touch with the text of Scripture itself. Sure I can appeal to the reality of theological exegetical reality, and that we are finite human beings; as such we will always be fighting to know the depth dimension of Scripture deeper and higher than we do today. But in that process, again, I am really leery about getting too far removed in that rationalization, and allowing the theologians and critical biblical scholars too much voice, to the point that they are allowed to create meaning for Scripture that Scripture itself does not have in itself as it finds it reality in Jesus Christ (and this last clause comes from the impact that Barth and Torrance have had on me).

I just don’t want to lose my first love.

What Hath Johann Philipp Gabler to do with Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem and the EFS Debate?

The recent online debate in regard to the so called eternal functional subordination (EFS) of the Son to the Father in an ostensible eternal Father-Son authority-submission framework has lost ‘some’ steam it seems in the theoblogosphere (I think personally I wrote approx. eleven posts on the topic in a span of about three weeks). That notwithstanding it is still percolating, for one reason, I would suggest, because the national Evangelical Theological Society’s meeting this year is on the doctrine of the Trinity. To me that seems as a harbinger of things to come, and continues to eternalsubordinationdemand preliminary attention—as we’ve seen occurring online—to this yet unresolved debate (which will most certainly remain the case in my estimation, since this debate in the evangelical/Reformed world has been brewing to one temperature or another for years without production of anything that resembles a drinkable coffee).

In this post, I would like to offer another brief foray into this theological development, by observing something. For Protestant Christians, in particular, the Bible is the final authority for doctrine and practice. That said, for some Christians, concordant with Scripture as authoritative, this includes the history of interpretation. In other words ecclesial tradition remains definitive for how scripture is read; particularly when discussing ecumenical matters such as the triadic nature of God, and who God in Christ is. Sola scriptura, held by the magisterial reformers, and subsequent post reformed orthodox reformers, did not ever imagine that pro-Nicene theology would ever be understood as at odds with the authority of Scripture, but that pro-Nicene theology, instead, was derivative of the teaching of Holy Scripture. Other Christians, particularly with reference to this debate, like Bruce Ware, Wayne Grudem, et al. seem to verbally affirm sola scriptura, but in practice function in the realm of what can be called solo scriptura (Scripture all by itself, something that stands outside of the confessional normativity of the ecumenical councils that sola scriptura remains sensitive to). I want to suggest that Ware et al. who argue for EFS, indeed work with this solo scriptura idea, and that at a functional level seem to do so in a kind of de-confessionalized way; in a way that might make someone like Gabler and other early enlightenment critics proud.

By caveat, let me also say that what I am about to share will not hold true for Ware, Grudem, et al. in fact; but in principle I think that the methodological turn I am going to describe, by reference to Gerhard Hasel’s introduction to Johann Philipp Gabler, will maybe help press further into what is informing folks like Grudem, Ware et al.

The late Neologist and rationalist Johann Philipp Gabler (1753-1826), who never wrote or even intended to write a Biblical theology, made a most decisive and far-reaching contribution to the development of the new discipline in his inaugural lecture at the University of Altdorf on March 30, 1787. This year marks the beginning of Biblical theology’s role as a purely historical discipline, completely independent from dogmatics. Gabler’s famous definition reads: “Biblical theology possesses a historical character, transmitting what the sacred writers though about divine matters; dogmatic theology, on the contrary, possesses a didactic character, teaching what a particular theologian philosophizes about divine matters in accordance to his ability, time, age, place, sect or school, and other similar things.” Gabler’s inductive, historical, and descriptive approach to Biblical theology is based on three essential methodological considerations: (1) Inspiration is to be left out of consideration, because  “the Spirit of God most emphatically did not destroy in every holy man his own ability to understand and the measure of natural insight into things.” What counts is not “divine authority” but “only what they [Biblical writers] thought.” (2) Biblical theology has the task of gathering carefully the concepts and ideas of the individual Bible writers, because the Bible does not contain the ideas of just a single man. Therefore the opinions of the Bible writers need to be “carefully assembled from Holy Writ, suitably arranged, properly related to general concepts, and carefully compared one with another ….” This task can be accomplished by means of a consistent application of the historical-critical method with the aid of literary criticism, historical criticism, and philosophical criticism. (3) Biblical theology as a historical discipline is by definition obliged to “distinguish between the several periods of the old and new religion.” The main task is to investigate which ideas are of importance for Christian doctrine, namely which ones “apply today” and which ones have no “validity for our time.” These programmatic declarations gave direction to the future of Biblical (OT and NT) theology despite the fact that Gabler’s program for Biblical theology was conditioned by his time and contains significant limitations.[1]

Does this sound like who Ware and Grudem are as evangelical theologians? No. But what it describes is a historical move that took place by which evangelical scholarship of past days was affected deeply. There was a move away from thinking confessionally, which historic reformed theology was committed to with sola scriptura, and instead an emphasis in biblical studies/theology was fostered such that the Bible came to have a “non-traditioned” reading associated with it.

It helps me to try and make sense of how evangelical scholars like Ware, Grudem et al. have gotten to where they’ve gotten by taking a look at the history of ideas. What evangelical thinkers did at the turn of the 20th century and onward was attempt to throw away all of the “higher-critical” stuff we see described in Gabler’s declarations, but hold onto the naturalist non-confessional reading of Scripture when it comes to the discipline of biblical studies. I personally believe that this is what is funding the mood that allows Ware and Grudem et al. to get to where they get in regard to eternal functional subordination between the Father and Son in their inner life (in se). Because pro-Nicene theology, and historic Christian confessional thinking and engagement with Holy Scripture does not.

[1] Gerhard Hasel, Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 21-2.

‘First Adam’ ‘Second Adam’: And Barth’s Canon within the ‘Canon’

I was just reading Everett F. Harrison’s commentary on Romans in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary; in particular I was reading his coverage of Romans 5:12-14, I was motivated to look over some commentaries I have on hand because of the discussion surrounding the historicity of Adam amongst some contemporary biblical exegetes (like Peter Enns and others). Of course, and rightly so, most commentators are not going to be engaging in speculation about whether Adam was a historical personage or not; instead, the steady exegete will seek to lay bare the intent of the genesisparticular passage’s message as understood (intra and intertextually) through the theology, in our instance, of the Apostle Paul. In light of this, I wanted to focus on Harrison’s own exegesis of Paul in Romans 5:12-14 juxtaposed with what he thinks is Karl Barth’s reading of this same pericope; in particular, what Harrison thinks of Barth’s understanding of the person of Adam vis-á-vis the person of Jesus Christ as Paul’s ‘second Adam’. Here is the text in question:

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned — 13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. –Romans 5:12-14 (NIV)

The issue I want to consider, relative to Harrison’s reading of this text juxtaposed with Barth’s, is the critique that Harrison offers of Barth’s ‘theological-exegetical’ reading of this passage; in particular the ‘image of God’ in the theology of the Apostle Paul. Harrison, somewhat in passing, notices that Barth understands Paul’s usage of Adam in a way that is only typological of Paul’s real point about the image of God, that Barth thinks should really be in reference to the ‘second Adam’, or Jesus Christ. Harrison summarizes, and questions Barth’s reading in this way:

In his book, Christ and Adam (Harper, 1956), Karl Barth has advanced a provocative interpretation of Adam as a type of Christ. He has attempted to reverse the order: “Man’s essential and original nature is to be found … not in Adam but in Christ. In Adam we can only find it prefigured. Adam can therefore be interpreted only in the light of Christ and not the other way round” (p. 29). It should be evident, however, that Paul’s thought here is not moving in the orbit of man as made in the image of God and therefore in the image of Christ who is the image of God. To import the preexistence of Christ is to introduce an element foreign to Paul’s purpose and treatment in this passage….[1]

Harrison may be right, de jure or in principle, that Paul’s own orbit of thought may have not been fully articulated, even to himself, in regards to a full blown, what we might call, Chalcedonian Christology (or even a Johannine one); but, de facto, or in actual fact, Harrison, I think is wrong to suggest that Paul’s own unarticulated theology does not invite the exegete and theologian to step deeper into the theological trajectory that Paul’s occasional writings presuppose. In other words, I think Harrison is wrong to assert that Paul’s ‘orbit’ of thought cannot be driven further than even the Apostle Paul drove it in his own context. I float this, because much of Paul’s own theology, delimited as it is by the type of literature he was inking ‒ Epistle – by definition is going to remain unarticulated and enthymemic (or some of his premises are unstated and just presumed on his part). So for Harrison to suggest what he has in regard to Paul’s thinking about the ‘second Adam’ as primary to the ‘first Adam’ relative to understanding, theologically, the function that the image of God language ought to play in Paul’s accounting; I think is highly presumptuous.

Karl Barth is obviously committed to a theological exegetical approach to interpreting scripture. He is committed to what some have called a ‘principial’ and intensive christocentrism in his reading of holy writ; such that he seeks to ground all of his reading of scripture, as if scripture’s reality (res) only is realizable when couched in its teleological (‘purposeful’) shape provided by Jesus Christ himself.

So the question is: Is Barth playing fast and loose with scripture, imposing his own theological grid and ‘canon’ on the canon of scripture; thus morphing it into a re-imagined wonder world of modern theological impulses? Or, is Barth following the trajectory that Jesus himself set in the reinterpretation of the Old Testament scriptures as if those scriptures were really all about him? Not just about him at a surface glance, but about him in all of his depth and reality as the ‘eternal Logos’, and the second person of the Trinity.

I think Harrison sets up a false dilemma, placing a historical-critical reading (Harrison’s) in competition with a depth theological reading that Barth follows. These approaches don’t need to be seen as discordant, one with the other, but instead they can (and ought to) be understood as mutually implicating and complementing one of the other. Such that the historic-critical realities of Paul’s own textured thought are what lead us (by their own presupposed theological depth and context) to the kind of reading that someone like Barth or even John Calvin have offered in regards to Paul’s letter to the Romans (and elsewhere).

repost from an old blog.

 

[1] Everett F. Harrison, Romans, in 10 Expositors’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, edited by Frank E. Gæbelein, 63.

Hope for Today in the Apocalyptic of the Book of Revelation: Patristic Readings of Revelation

Richard Bauckham’s two books on the book of Revelation, The Theology of the Book of Revelation and The Climax of Prophecy are both excellent (which is an understatement)! I just started a new book (which I will take some time getting through it as I can) called Apocalyptic Thought In Early Christianity (Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History) edited by Robert J. bannerpantocratorDaly, SJ. The first chapter I have encountered is entitled: “I Know Your Works”: Grace and Judgment in the Apocalypse and is written by Theodore Stylianopoulos. As is usual for me study of the book of Revelation, if done right, evokes excitement and wonder. Stylianopoulos’s chapter, even as we are just getting started, is getting off on the right foot!*

I think the theme of Revelation that challenges and excites me the most is the idea of the holiness of God, and that He is Pantokrator (Παντοκράτωρ), ‘Almighty.’ The idea that within that reality we are faced with two kingdoms (no, not of the sort that we get from the so called Escondido Theology), or to get more Augustinian (even though Stylianopoulos does not), with two cities: The City of God juxtaposed with The City of Man.

As Bauckham does so well in his books, he develops this theme found in the book of Revelation: i.e. the theme that God’s kingdom in Christ trumps the kingdoms of this world; and in the book of Revelation, in historical context, the Roman world and its kingdom. As Bauckham underscores, what the book of Revelation is doing, by its appeal to apocalyptic language and imagery, is showing these early Christians (and now us later ones too) through evocative and picturesque language that, indeed, Rome is not it. It is showing the Christians, that while their most immediate experience seems pressing, with all of its visceral and experienced realities, including martyrdom for Christ, that this is not the final reality, or even the total present reality. That standing above and over the City of Man is the City of God, where the King of kings and Lord of lords rules, and is coming from to vindicate the martyrs persecuted for His name. It is this type of apocalyptic reality that I have found hopeful (because God is God and He is Almighty even when it might not look like it), and it is this reality that Stylianopoulos’ further provides layering for as he writes about the choices that the Christian has in the Roman context of whether they are going to serve Caesar as lord, or the living Lord of apocalyptic reality as Lord. If the Christian follows the latter, according to Stylianopoulos, it will look decidedly different than what it looks like to follow Caesar as lord; and it might even eventuate in death. Stylianopoulos writes:

For the seer, there is no room for compromise. The choice is either between Rome and its works (Rev. 18:6) or Christ and his works (Rev. 2:26). The two ways are irreconcilable. Rome’s ways are marked by self-glorification (“goddess Roma”), wealth, luxury, and prosperity by which it deceives and corrupts the nations while concealing its abominations of violence, injustice, wantonness, lies, and slavery (Rev. 18:1–19). Not least, Rome is accountable to God for the blood of the saints who are killed for resisting its idolatrous practices. To follow Rome, as the “earth- dwellers” do, is to participate in its abominations of murder, sorcery, immorality, thefts, all motivated by the worship of demons (Rev. 9:20–21). Thus the saints are commanded: “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues” (Rev. 18:4). This call, of course, is not for physical withdrawal but for a distinctly countercultural way of life in the midst of Greco-Roman society. In contrast, Christ’s way is the way of the slain Lamb bearing testimony to God’s truth and achieving victory through suffering and death. To follow the slain Lamb, as the saints do, is to participate in Jesus’ witness to God’s word and in Jesus’ suffering because of their own witness and suffering in active resistance to the prevailing culture. The assumption is that to live as a Christian is to live in the world and not apart from it. However, the choice provokes conflict and entails suffering, even the prospect of death (Rev. 13:9–10). The supreme ideal is symbolized by the 144,000 martyrs who stand victorious and sing praises before God’s throne. The recurrent calls for faithfulness to God and the Lamb, and the exhortations to patient endurance to the point of death, signify that for the author of the Apocalypse the greatest commendable work is martyrdom itself.[1]

Conclusion

There are many directions we could take all of this, but let me close it this way. In light of the horrific events of November 13th in Paris it would be easy to reduce the evil that we saw on the streets there to the ISIS combatants that executed so many people. But when we consider what we find in the book of Revelation, in its theological implications, what becomes clear is that it isn’t just ISIS, but that it is the kingdoms of this world (including France, Europe in toto, USA, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, etc., etc.) that represent the City of Man in total; the ‘city’ or ‘kingdom’ that stands against the purposes of God and His kingdom in Christ. This does not mean that God does not providentially use (see Rev. 17) the kingdoms of this world to make sure that justice is wrought (Rom. 13). This does not mean that there aren’t clear and bright lines between evil and good (in a relative sense). But what it does mean is that even “good” intentions apart from participation in Christ’s goodness aren’t really good at all. It means that things are quite complicated, and that there is an undercurrent for prestige and power even among countries that appear to be ‘good.’ And as Christians if we desire to live and stand for righteousness in Jesus Christ, that ultimately this will place us at cross-purposes even with the ostensibly good countries in the world. In fact, as we bear witness to Christ it will expose the darkness that underwrites the power present in every human government.

But there is hope, and this is why I enjoy the book of Revelation so much! It shows that while the Beastly kingdoms have their ways, so too does the Kingdom of Christ. And even when things appear one way, as if the Beast, the kingdoms of this world are winning, that in reality they have already been crushed by the King of kings, by Jesus Christ!

[1] Theodore Stylianopoulos, “I Know Your Works”: Grace and Judgment in the Apocalypse in Robert J. Daly, SJ, ed., Apocalyptic Thought In Early Christianity (Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History) (Baker Publishing Group, 2009), 35 Scribd version.

*One critique I have of Stylianopoulos’s essay is that he presumes, in Protestant speak, an Arminian maintenance idea of salvation. In other words, he appears to hold that ‘works’ and ‘conquering’ in the book of Revelation indicate that even though we have been given a glorious gift in salvation through Christ, that it remains possible for the believer to lose this gift. Stylianopoulos is a Greek Orthodox, so rather than reading things through an Arminian lens, what really is bearing on his view in this regard is his Orthodoxy. This disagreement notwithstanding, his commentary on the idea of ‘works and judgment’ in the book of Revelation still bears some good fruit.