Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Explanatory Notes: 1 Thessalonians 1

Blessed first day of Advent and the new church year!

Next semester I'm teaching Thessalonians and Corinthians. A Wesleyan commentary I wrote a few years back already has my explanatory notes on 1 and 2 Corinthians. But I don't want to make the students buy commentaries on 1 and 2 Thessalonians since we will hopefully breeze through them.

So I hope to generate some brief explanatory notes over them here these next few Sundays.
1:1 Paul and Silas and Timothy to the church of Thessalonica in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, grace to you and peace.
Thus begins what may have been Paul's first surviving letter and, indeed, the first writing of the New Testament written. It is an ancient letter prescript with only a few unique features. Paul has included within the "sender" section Silas and Timothy, his coworkers. If we coordinate 1 Thessalonians with the book of Acts, Paul was with Silas and Timothy in Greece on his so called "second" missionary journey. The dating of Paul's time at Corinth would put this letter around AD50-51. I wonder if Timothy is the secretary of the letter, whom in this case Paul might also send with the letter.

Thessalonica was in Macedonia, along the Egnatian Way that led to Rome in the West. According to Acts and Philippians, Paul was not long there, being forced to leave town prematurely. While Acts only mentions three Sabbaths, Philippians probably implies that he was there a little longer, perhaps a couple months.

"Grace and peace" would become Paul's standard greeting, combining as it seems something like the Greek for greetings (charein) and the Hebrew greeting (shalom), thus embodying the unity of Jew and Gentile.

1:2-3 We give thanks to God always concerning you all as we make mention in our prayers, constantly remembering your work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ before our God and Father,
This is the thanksgiving section of the letter, also a standard feature of an ancient letter, although Paul develops it far more than most letters did.

The expression "work of faith" no doubt was not peculiar at all when Paul wrote it. It is thus a sign of how far off track the faith versus works debate today has gone. Faith and works for Paul were not contradictory notions, but faith showed itself in action.

1:4-5 ... knowing, brothers beloved by God, your election, because our gospel did not come to you in word only but also in power and with Holy Spirit and with much confidence, just as you know how we came to you because of you,
Election is something Paul infers after the fact rather than something that drives his theology. He induces that the Thessalonians are elect because perhaps miracles and other manifestations of power accompanied their conversion. Such an observation would not mean for Paul that they could not help but make it to the end or would not contradict someone leaving the fellowship. Paul predestination language does not cause anything in his theology, ethics, or action. It is rather an affirmation or effect of what has already happened.

1:6-7 ... and you became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word with much tribulation with the joy of Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all who have faith in Macedonia and in Achaea.
Paul has no difficulty holding himself and Silas up against Jesus as examples to emulate in suffering and persecution. Jesus endured persecution. Paul and Silas have endured persecution. The Thessalonians have endured persecution, and their endurance is an example for those in Macedonia and Greece.

1:8 For the word of the Lord has gone out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaea but in every place your faith toward God has gone out with the result that we do not need to say something.
The Thessalonian church, according to Acts, was not the first church in Macedonia to believe on the Christ. But perhaps the amount of persecution there was greater. Whatever the reason, the faith of the Thessalonians that they showed in such crisis had gotten around.

We notice that faith here is directed toward God. While it is fairly conventional for Christians to speak of faith in Christ, Paul more often thought of faith as directed toward God. The sense of faith here seems to be one of keeping faith or being faithful to God, which of course involves trusting in Him too. It is not a mere confession of faith, however, but a way of acting in faith.

1:9 For they themselves announce concerning you of what sort of entrance we had to you and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
This verse indicates that the audience of 1 Thessalonians is Gentile rather than Jewish. As a Jew, Paul believes that there is only one legitimate, true God. Idols, on the other hand, do not have life.

1:10 ... and to await His Son from the skies, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
Here is perhaps the earliest Pauline teaching on the coming of Christ. We might have translated the word for "skies" as "heavens," but that makes it too easy for us to impose later understandings of heaven on Paul's meaning. The word basically means skies, and Paul seemed to conceptualize the world in terms of three of them.

Interesting that the early formulation is that God raised Jesus from the dead rather than that Jesus arose. It is a testament once again to the theocentric nature of at least Paul's early thinking. Faith is directed toward God, and God is the one who raised Jesus "out of the corpses."

Jesus rescues us from the coming wrath. The wrath is presumably the wrath of God in judgment. Paul does not say how Jesus' victorious resurrection connects to his rescue of us from God's wrath.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

How to organize a theology of Romans...

And now I guess I may eat my words in my last post. We'll see. How would I organize a theology of Romans to be most true to its inner logic? Second question: if one were to extend to a theology of Paul, how would the organization have to be modified?

Here goes:

1. The gospel
... of the Lordship of Jesus Christ (combines questions 1 and 26 from the last post, gospel and Jesus is Lord).

2. The problem
... of God's immanent and impending wrath on the world, including both Jew and Gentile (adds some Rom. 1 stuff to question 5, what is salvation, mention 2, ethnic make-up, universality of judgment material from Rom. 2, what is the parousia, question 28).

3. The solution
... Christ's atoning death, his faithfulness unto death (question 15 and half of 13, atonement and faith of Jesus Christ)

4. All have sinned
... what does Paul mean by this (question 10), how did Paul arrive at this idea in the way he uses it, how does it compare to other Jewish understanding

5. The glory of God
... what was and is the goal for humanity in Paul's understanding (question 11), how does resurrection feature in the plan, Christ's and ours, how are our stories joined together (question 23)?

6. Final justification
... question 8, judgment according to works with allowances for question 9, repentance, and question 12, justification on the basis of Christ.

7. Justification by faith
... Paul's mechanism for the acceptance of the Gentiles on the basis of Jesus' faith (question 13), and our faith (questions 6 and 7), obviously more of question 12.

8. Works of law
... a somewhat nebulous and shifting referent for Paul, question 14.

9. Grace
... a larger category in which to capture the contrast between faith of Jesus and works of Law, question 17, boasting in the fact that one is a Jew is thus right out, question 16

10. The righteousness of God
... His propensity to save His people and the world, question 4.

11. Adam
... Paul moves back to broader meta-questions of sin's origins and causes in the narrative of salvation history, question 18

12. Flesh
... the body under the power of Sin, question 20, an undefeatable cause of Sin apart from the Spirit

13. The Law
... what was the function of the Jewish Law, then (question 21)?

14. Spirit
... the power of righteousness/resurrection in this life, question 22.

15. Sin and Believers
... is thus completely inappropriate, question 19.

16. Predestination
... a postlude in the inner dynamics of Paul's thought, an explanation for God's apparent change of plans, questions 24 and 25

17. Israel
... a question again raised by the nature of Paul's gospel, question 27.

18. The Nature of God
... abstracted from what Paul has said about all the topics thus far, but there are also some fundamental characteristics to be praised, question 29.

19. Strong and Weak
... moving into Romans 14-15, Paul applies some of the generalities of what came before to the particulars of Christians living together, connecting to the abstracted principle of love in Rom. 13.

20. Living in the World
... more general ethics in Romans 12-13, also loosely connected to the abstracted principle of love in Rom. 13.

So that's my first attempt at how I would structure a theology of Romans. You might add a chapter at the beginning and/or end dealing with matters of the letter itself, its situation, its historical setting, etc.

This outline attempts to approach Romans with a kind of archaeology of Paul's thought rather than the abstracted and reshuffled logical outline that the bulk of interpreters can't seem to keep from doing. Our thought, I believe (cf. Metaphors We Live By), largely consists of layers of metaphor on metaphor, or perhaps more appropriate here, of abstraction on abstraction (particularly in modern Western culture). Our logic is largely a metaphorical interplay with the concrete realia of our life, both physical and social. I do think, however, that there is a kind of fundamental grammar that philosophy calls logic and number that reflects reality somewhat absolutely.

When it comes to something like Paul's thinking in Romans, therefore, we have to get at the most fundamental, concrete realities pushing his argument rather than to some desiccated ideological outline. Absolute propositions are not what are driving Paul's argument but concrete social realia. The outline I have created above thus attempts to "dig" into Paul's thought. The earlier parts of the outline above represent some of the most fundamental strata. The further in the outline one goes, the more one gets to areas where Paul is working out the problems with his more fundamental schema, dealing with the "naughty data" of his paradigm.

All of that is to say in more precise terms something like what E. P. Sanders meant when he said that Paul's argument in Romans moves from solution to problem. Paul knows that Christ is the basis for the inclusion of the Gentiles. The rest is working out the details.

Some thoughts on a theology of Paul...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Questions for a theology of Romans 1-11

I was a little disappointed when Dunn's Theology of Paul the Apostle came out, as I was with Stephen Westerholm's Preface to the Study of Paul, that they both focus primarily on Romans and Dunn's outline looks a lot like a systematic theology outline. I think a really sophisticated Pauline theology would need to have a chronological component that traced possible developments in Paul's theology (like the Pauline Theology series published by the Pauline Epistles section of SBL) and induce its categories from Paul more than from our Christian logic (God, humanity, sin, Christ...).

Some of the Pauline theologies of the last couple years are a little more appropriate in outline, even if probably not as good as Dunn in their content. I'm not saying I could do better than either.

But as I make final exams and such :-) , I thought I would try to lay out the key theological issues in a theology of Romans, which of course overlaps significantly with Galatians. What are the key exegetical decisions for this moment in Pauline theology?

1. What is the gospel?
This question relates particularly to Rom. 1:1-4 and also 1:16.

2. What is the ethnic make-up of the audience of Romans?
OK, this is not a theological decision, but it is one of the major interpretive decisions when interpreting Romans.

3. Why did Paul write Romans?
Again, not a theological issue, but something to test over Romans.

4. What does the phrase, "the righteousness of God" mean in Romans?
Here we start from 1:16, but must also strongly consider 9:30-10:4, both in the light of the Jewish background. 3:21 is also worth considering.

5. What is salvation for Paul?
The term occurs in 1:16. 5:9 is also significant.

6. What is faith for Paul? What is its content? Whom is it directed toward?
Here 10:9 is important, as is the fact that faith in Romans 4 is directed toward God and in Romans 9:30-10:4 it is directed toward Christ.

7. What does the expression εκ πιστεως mean for Paul?
It is an allusion to Paul's understanding of Habakkuk 2:4, quoted in 1:17. Does it refer more to Christ's faithfulness (Richard Hays) or to human faith (Dunn)?

8. What is the role of works in final justification?
Here we have to do with 2:4-10.

9. What is the role of repentance in justification?
Paul has little to say about repentance in an overall sense (that is, other than the repentance of a specific sinner in 2 Corinthians), but 2:4 perhaps implies its role in his theology.

10. What does Paul mean when he says that all have sinned?
What is sin for Paul? Is it different from transgression? Who does he primarily have in mind when he uses the word "all"--all individuals or all as in both Jew and Gentile?

11. What does it mean to lack the glory of God?
Does it mean to fall short of a glorious standard or not to have the glory that Paul holds as our hope in 5:2 and 8:18-30?

12. What does it mean to be justified for Paul?
We mentioned "final" justification in verses like 2:13. What is justification in passages like 3:24? Is it the same?

13. What does Paul mean by the "faith of Jesus Christ"?
Here we have principally 3:22 at issue, as well as 3:26.

14. What does Paul mean by "works of law"?
Does he primarily mean meritorious actions or does he primarily have performance of the Jewish particulars of the Law?

15. What is the nature of atonement in Romans?
What, for example, does the word ιλαστηριον mean in 3:25? How does Christ's death and blood function in atonement? What is redemption in 3:24? What is reconciliation in 5:11?

16. What is the nature of boasting in Romans?
Is it primarily about an individual boasting in his or her own righteousness or is it more about Israel boasting of special standing before God because of being God's chosen people?

17. What is the nature of grace in justification?
In Romans 4 and 11:6, Paul puts grace over and against justification by works and associates it with faith. How does that work?

18. What is the role of Adam in Paul's theology?
Here we have particularly to do with 5:12-21. Some, however, see Paul's Adamic thought continuing into chapter 7.

19. What is the role of sin in the life of a believer?
Here we have chapters 6-8.

20. What does flesh signify for Paul?
Again, a very big topic in Romans 6-8.

21. What is the Law in Paul's thinking and how does it function?
This topic peeks through in Paul's earlier chapters, but is hit especially in chapter 7.

22. What is the role of the Spirit in the life of the believer and the church?
Here we have principally Romans 8.

23. How does Paul understand resurrection in Romans, particularly in relation to how believers are joined with Christ?
Again, Romans 6 and 8.

24. How can God be considered just when he is passing over the sins of the Gentiles and grafting them into God's people apart from the Law?
This is the principle topic of Romans 9-11.

25. What is the nature of predestination and foreknowledge in Romans 9-11?

26. What does it mean to confess Jesus as Lord?
This springs from 10:9 but questions about the relationship between Jesus and YHWH are also raised by 10:13. What is the Christology of Romans?

27. What is the destiny of Israel?
What does Paul mean when he says that "all Israel will be saved" in 11:26?

28. What is the nature of the parousia in Romans?
Here 11:26 comes into play.

29. What is the nature of God?
Not in a philosophical sense, but what are the key attributes of God in Romans 1-11? The unit ends with a doxology to Him, but we might easily induce many other characteristics such as his justice from elsewhere in the letter.

What have I missed of major exegetical issues in the first 11 chapters? Certainly the ethics of 12-15 are important for his theology as well, and there is the question of where Romans 16 was originally sent to.

There are too many books on Paul already, and I have only one published piece on him so Paul is not my principal expertise. But it is very tempting to blog through my answers to these questions, to organize the answers, and then self-publish a small book of them. Doubt it will happen--too much else to do (sigh).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Blog comment on Jewish Sabbath book buying at SBL...

Happy Thanksgiving!

I thought this comment by Philip Davies, posted by Jim West on his blog was hilarious:

"Such was the demand for books, especially on Saturday, that some publishers reported Jewish customers choosing their wares on the Sabbath and deferring payment until Sunday. I wonder if this principle applies to all shopping - in which case maybe there is need for a special Jewish credit card on which any actual transaction agreed on a Sabbath is actually processed later? Provided that the shops are not too far from the house, of course..."

For some reasons some of the publishers, Eerdmans particularly comes to mind, seemed greatly understocked. I went on Saturday to get the new Hays Festschrift and a man at the booth looked at me with a strange look on his face--"He doesn't know." Of course he knows, it's in the program. Indeed, Jim West and Nijay Gupta announced it months ago on their blogs!

"I think he knows," I told the guy. Anyway, he told me they weren't going to put them out until some time on Sunday.

My Sunday was outrageously packed, so I didn't get back to the booth till Monday morning... by which time they were all sold out.

Romans 11

Final installment in the Romans make-up. Same old, same old--100 word comment response then at least 2 further comments on the comments of others, done by Tuesday night midnight. Outsiders also welcome to participate.

The three posts are:

Romans 9
Romans 10

and this one:
11:1 Therefore, I say, has God abandoned His people? God forbid! For I also am an Israelite, from the seed of Abraham, [from] the tribe of Benjamin. God has not abandoned His people whom He foreknew...
The mention of foreknowledge hearkens back to the predestination discussion of chapters 8 and 9. Not all from Israel are Israel (9:6). The verses that follow draw on the image of a remnant in the middle of a broader Israel not following Him. This remnant exists "according to the election of grace" (11:5).

The verses from here through 11:10 are similar to Romans 9, hard verses. Election has gone into effect and the rest were hardened, even though Israel was seeking (11:7). The individual implications of election in this passage are logically hard to escape, even if they are not the focus of Paul's comment, for he is distinguishing between those in Israel who are the elect remnant and those in Israel whom God has hardened.

Like I said in a previous post, however, Paul's theology of predeterminism here does not connect to his ethics or missiology. The language functions as after the fact language--we know these are elect and these aren't because, look, these believe and these don't. Further, predeterminism is perhaps a better word than predestination, for Paul goes on to see hope for the future salvation of the hardened. Indeed, they seem predestined if anything for eventual salvation.

11:11-12 Therefore, I say, have they stumbled so that they fall? God forbid! But by their transgression, salvation [has come] to the Gentiles so that they become jealous. And if their transgression is wealth for the world and their loss is wealth for the Gentiles, how much more will their fullness [be]!
The logic here is so strange that it makes us wonder if there is some cultural element to the progress of Paul's thought or if the words just don't quite mean what they seem to be saying. The superficial sense seems to be that God has hardened Israel for the Gentiles to come in. Then Israel will become jealous and will accept Jesus as Messiah. This is scarcely predestination in the Calvinist sense. It does seem to be after-the-fact predeterminism. Whatever happens is God's will and this has happened.

11:13-14 And I speak to you Gentiles. Since I myself am apostle of the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry if somehow I might make my flesh jealous and might save some of them.
This verse makes that point quite clear. If it is all a matter of God's election, then why does Paul seem to put such a high urgency on his efforts and on the possibility that some might become jealous as a result of his ministry? He does not operate as if it is all a matter of God's choosing without any human choice involved.

Of course then we remember the Oedipus cycle from Greek mythology. Perhaps it helps us catch a better glimpse of fate in the ancient world. All the key players of this story fight their fate in the story. King Laius and Oedipus both fight their fate, Laius to be killed by his son and Oedipus to kill his father and marry his mother. Yet precisely in their attempt to avoid their fates, they both find themselves fulfilling it.

So ancient fate did allow for significant wiggle room on the way to its fulfillment. Even the Stoics believed one could resist one's fate, although it was pointless. Whether or not this background is of relevance for understanding Paul's language of predestination, I am not sure.

By the way, I see Romans predominantly written to Gentiles, especially since I am currently inclined to see Romans 16 as a letter recommendation meant for Ephesus. I strongly suspect that the current majority position, which sees Romans written to a mixed Jewish and Gentile audience, draws the Jewish part primarily from the data of Romans 16. The earlier chapters do not, in my opinion, point in that direction (Rom. 2:17 does not address the audience but Paul's imaginary interlocutor).

These verses emphasize my points above that Paul's predeterminism language simply does not function in a Calvinistic way. So 11:20 tells the audience not to boast because they are in--they should rather be afraid, lest God remove them, thus in consequence of their action. Similarly, in 11:23 Paul says that if Israel does not persist in its unbelief, "God is able to graft them in again." This is not predestination. This is God responding to human action.

11:25 For I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of this mystery, so that you are not arrogant in yourselves. A hardness has come from part of Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles should come in and, therefore, all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

"The rescuer will come out of Zion. He will turn ungodliness from Israel. And this [is the] covenant from me when I take away their sins."

According to the gospel, [they are] enemies because of you, but according to election, [they are] beloved because of the fathers, for the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance... God has imprisoned all people for disobedience that He might have mercy on all.
So Paul seems to say that all Israel will accept Jesus as Messiah around the time that the Messiah returns. God's calling of Israel as His people is not something He can abandon.

These words sound a great deal like universalism, that everyone will be saved in the end. But this idea hardly seems to fit with the bulk of Paul's writing and mission. We should thus be careful about basing any of our theology on 11:32. To do so inevitably results in taking a very unclear verse and using it to skew countless clear ones.

This is a lovely doxology to end the first half of Romans. Interestingly, Paul uses Isaiah 40 here to speak of the unknowability of God, while in 1 Cor. 2:16 he used it to speak of how Christians know the mind of God. It highlights the situational nature of Paul's argumentation.

If we were to ask which use more centrally represents Paul's thought, we should probably pick Romans 11's use. In 1 Cor. 2, Paul is dealing with people who think they are hot stuff in the knowledge department. Paul points out that truly spiritual people (which did not include them) do have the mind of Christ.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Romans 10

Same drill. At least 100 word response to something in the post, then 2 further comments in relation to something someone else has commented. Worth up to 10 points of a 30 point total.
9:30-33 "What therefore will we say? [We say] 1) that Gentiles who were not pursuing righteousness took hold of righteousness, even a righteousness on the basis of faith (ἐκ πίστεως), and 2) Israel, who was pursuing a Law of righteousness did not attain to the Law?

Why? Because [they pursued it] not on the basis of faith but as on the basis of works. They stumbled on the stone of stumbling, as it has been written, "Behold, I am placing in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of tripping, and the one who has faith on him will not be ashamed.
In my opinion, this passage establishes that when Paul uses the phrase "on the basis of faith," he is thinking of human faith primarily (rather than Jesus' faith). Faith in the verses above even refers to faith on Christ, even though in chapter 4 faith is mostly directed toward the God who raises the dead (e.g., 4:17).

The faith that (most of) Israel has not had is thus faith oriented around Jesus. Dunn's hypothesis that "works" here primarily refers to works of Jewish Law that most distinguished Jew from Gentile could work, although Paul could also simply have works in the absence of Christ in view.

The mention of a "righteousness on the basis of faith" perhaps argues for a double entendre back in 3:21, where Paul speaks of a "righteousness of God apart from works of Law." In other words, this righteousness would refer both to God's saving righteousness and the righteousness accredited to a believer on the basis of faith.

10:2-3 For I witness to them that they have a zeal but not according to knowledge, for not knowing the righteousness of God and seeking to establish their own [righteousness], they were not subjected to the righteousness of God.
These two verses seem proof positive (against N. T. Wright) that Paul can use the phrase "righteousness of God" in relation to human righteousness. These may very well be double entendres, also referring to God's saving righteousness, but a reference to the human righteousness accredited on the basis of faith seems necessary from the train of thought.

I wonder if Paul thought of himself in the past when he wrote 10:1. Certainly he had a zeal at that time (cf. Phil. 3:6). His zeal was not according to knowledge.

As a point of application, it seems all too easy to be zealous over the wrong causes or even to be too zealous for something that is not as important as we make it out to be. This has seemed especially true with regard to religion throughout history.

10:4 For Christ is the goal of the Law leading to righteousness to everyone who has faith.
This statement seems similar to Galatians 3:23-25: "For before faith came we were being gaurded under Law, being imprisoned for the faith about to be revealed, with the result that the Law has become our paedogogue unto Christ, in order that we might be justified on the basis of faith."

It is common among certain interpreters to read this verse to say that Christ fulfilled the Law for us, that Christ is the end of the Law. But this is not Paul's meaning. Paul is simply saying again what he has said before, that the Law was intended to point us toward Christ by showing us our inability to be righteous in our own power, by our own works.

10:9-11 ... if you confess with your mouth "Jesus is Lord" and have faith in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart it is faithed leading to righteousness and with the mouth it is confessed leading to salvation, for the Scripture says, Everyone "who has faith in him will not be ashamed."
Here Paul gives us the content of faith, what we believe. We believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, as in Romans 4:24. Sanders is wrong to think that this sort of content of faith is unusual for Paul. It is the default content of faith.

To confess Jesus as Lord is to recognize that God raised him from the dead and enthroned him at His right hand as cosmic king. To confess him as Lord is to confess our allegiance to him as Lord, not a mere confession of words.

Such faith in God's doings and in Christ as the one to whom God is doing it and through whom He is doing it, effects coming salvation, when believers will escape the wrath of God.

10:13 For "everyone whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
This quote is fascinating because the verse Paul is quoting, Joel 2:32, clearly refers to YHWH--whoever calls on the name of YHWH will be saved. Richard Bauckham and others have argued that it is very likely that Paul would have known that YHWH was the LORD that stood beyond this text. Is Paul therefore equating Jesus with YHWH? Bauckham would say so.

One more to come...

Romans 9

Now for the missed Romans class on Tuesday. I can't possibly go through the whole text of Romans 9-11, so what follows are some thoughts on verses of particular interest (at least to me :-). Below give 1) at least a 100 word comment reaction to some of the specifics of my post and 2) at least 2 responses to the comments below. Let's set Tuesday midnight as the deadline.

This is part 1 of three.
9:2 ... it is a great grief for me and a constant sorrow in my heart [for my Jewish kinsmen who have not believed]...
Romans 9-11 are not an afterthought or a later insertion into the text of Romans (an interpolation). The issue that has been driving Paul's argument is the question of how the Gentiles can be included, accepted by God, without having to enter into God's covenant with Israel?

Or perhaps to put it the other way around, how can Paul take seriously God's relationship with Israel in the Scriptures (remembering there was only the OT as the Scriptures at this time) if, as Paul claims,

1) the Law does not in any way make the Jews right with God and
2) the Jews are justified the same way as the Gentiles, apart from Law?

It seems to throw out the window all the Scriptures and depict God as "divorcing" the wife of His youth for a younger Gentile.

There is also the further question--how can Jesus be the Messiah when the majority of Jews have not believed in him? Since the audience consists of believers, this question seems less at issue, although we can see it poking its way through the text.

So Romans 9-11 addresses God's election of and covenant with ethnic Israel. Someone might see Paul as saying that God has suddenly changed His mind and plans with regard to Israel and the OT Scriptures. What's up with that, Paul?

9:5 ... belonging to whom are the fathers and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, the one who is over all, God, blessed forever, Amen.
This is a highly debated verse. The question is whether it should read:

1. "Christ, ... who is God over all, blessed forever," or
2. "... flesh. The One who is over all, God, be blessed forever."

I personally wonder if Paul intended some ambiguity here, some blurring of Christ into God the Father in the train of thought. In general, however, Paul maintains a fairly sharp distinction between God in reference to God the Father and Christ as Lord. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the word "God" only refers to God the Father.

And it would be unlike Paul to speak of Christ as over all things. Romans 11:36 for example only speaks of God (the Father) when it says that "from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be the glory, forever. Amen." Similarly, after all things are subjected to Christ in the future, then Christ will turn the kingdom over to God (Paul never seems to need to say, "the Father," God always or virtually always refers only to God the Father). He will do this "so that God might be all things in all things" (1 Cor. 15:28). The subjection of all things in the creation to Christ is always ultimately, "to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:11).

So while I would not be surprised if Paul means to blur the two together, I don't think there would be any question in his or the Romans' minds that 9:5 ends up being about God the Father and that therefore, while it perhaps does not capture the entire meaning of the verse, the best translation remains, "... belonging to whom are the fathers and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh. The One who is over all things, God, be blessed forever."

This verse is, however, one of those where an original meaning reading and a theological reading perhaps can legitimately go their separate ways. The Christian reader is allowed, along with most Christians throughout Christian history, to see in this verse a full affirmation of Christ's divinity, even though it is not exactly what Paul himself was thinking.

9:6 And it is not that the word of God has failed, for not all those from Israel are Israel.
A number of interpreters in the Calvinist tradition (Moo might be Lutheran, anyone know?) see Romans 9-11 as primarily being about "the justification of God" (e.g., John Piper, Tom Schreiner). Certainly that subject is in play. But I think the underlying issue is Paul's Gentile oriented gospel. If the question in Romans 9 has to do with whether God is to be blamed, this issue has arisen because of Paul's claim that the Gentiles are in by faith, at the same time that the bulk of the Jews are out.

The Moo/Piper/Schreiner approach thus still reads Romans 9-11 too much like a systematic theology rather than a defense of Paul's understanding of the gospel.

Moo suggests that the true Israel here refers to those ethnic Jews who have believed on Christ. I think he's probably right, with the understanding that believing Gentiles are grafted into that Israel as well. Ethnic Israel thus remains the center point, rather than some completely redefined Israel.

9:19-20 Therefore, you will say to me, "Why will He still find fault?" For who has resisted His will? O mortal, who are you yourself indeed, who are bringing God into judgment? The clay will not say to the potter, will it, "Why have you made me thus?"
This is a classic predestination text, but of course Paul isn't really talking about individuals, although there may very well be implications for individuals. Paul is discussing God's inclusion of the Gentiles and His apparent hardening of most ethnic Jews. Paul's answer to the person who finds this situation problematic is, "Shut up. God can do whatever He wants because He's God." That the Jew-Gentile issue is the real topic appears explicitly in 9:24 and following.

We should remember, however, that the same Jews whom God has currently hardened can still be saved in 11:11. Indeed, Paul indicates that all Israel, including those currently hardened, will be saved around the time of Christ's arrival, the parousia (11:26).

More to come...

Some Take-Aways from SBL

Some quick reflections after SBL:

1. Think long and hard about doing a PhD right now.
I hate to say it, but the job market is a real bear right now. I'm watching the best and brightest from the best schools around the country struggle to find jobs. Many universities and seminaries have hiring freezes right now because of the economic crisis. Some colleges have closed or let go solid faculty and those individuals are entering the market too.

If you're the best and the brightest, you might go on. If you're not, you may find yourself going back into that pastorate post-PhD or off to a used car lot.

2. Postmodernism is changing the guild.
The Philo session was SBL as it used to be--individuals who are highly competent in their field who know everything published on Philo, know all the texts of Philo in Greek, and are doing a great service for knowledge by producing commentaries on Philo that do not exist.

Much of the rest is the faciful "what if" exploration, often by grad students who don't yet have their PhD's and whose papers are easily dismissed. No doubt some of my papers these last few years have fallen into this category. Of course major players can give ridiculous papers too, and they do.

I think there is a growing sense of randomness to the papers given at SBL and I think it's a symptom of broader things going on in our culture. Sure, it is the democratization of truth too, where we are losing perspective on what an expert is.

All in all, I think the general quality of papers at SBL is probably going down, and they are given from such widely contradictory perspectives that there is no hope for moving toward consensus. SBL is a bunch of individual tribes doing their own thing, not moving toward any overall consensus but toward well defined tribes and clans.

3. Something's going on with the books.
AAR wasn't with us this year, and the book hall was a lot smaller. The publishers seemed to have fewer books. Most years I salivate over the stalls and feel discouraged that I couldn't buy more. This year I bought five or six and felt pretty good about it.

4. I need to read much, much more.
Nough said.

5. I need to focus.
I have a lot of good publishable ideas and marketable projects. I need to set aside sleep time (like now at 3:23am) not to blog but to write, unless of course I am blogging a snippet of something I am writing. It's been fun to see my blog readership increase over the election season, but I need to get down to business, which may mean drier, less interesting posts here, but ones that work toward more important goals.

Those were some of my thoughts on SBL. What were yours?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ephesians 4

Same drill. If you're in the class, 100 word initial response, 2 more substantial responses to other comments that ensue. Outsiders are also welcome to participate. Happy Thanksgiving!
4:1 Therefore, I urge you, I the prisoner in the Lord, to walk worthily of the call with which you were called,
Here seems to begin a new major unit in Ephesians. The idea of living worthily also appears in Philippians 1:27. The idea of calling reappears, as we saw so strongly in Ephesians 1.

4:2-3 ... with all humility and meekness, with patience, being patient with one another in love, being diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the common bond of peace:
The importance of unity will now appear in its strongest form. Presumably the original nature of the unity in mind was the unity between Jew and Gentile, but certainly the idea applies as forcefully as ever in the fragmentation of the modern church. We may disagree on things like doctrine and even to an extent on practice, but we are to be at peace with each other. Humility, meekness, patience, love, peace--these are obvious fundamentals of Christian faith... and just as obviously missing in the church today.

4:4-6 ... one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all things, who is over all things and through all things and in all things.
The "body" here is much broader than in 1 Corinthians, where the body of Christ and the body as the temple of the Spirit is localized to the Corinthian congregation. But Ephesians now sees the entirety of Christendom as one body with one Spirit enlivening it.

We might today extend the image over time to say that the entire "communion of the saints" across the ages, all who have been filled with the Holy Spirit and thus who have been children of God, are the body of Christ, and the Holy Spirit is the life force within that body.

Ephesians, as 1 Corinthians 8:6, distinguishes Jesus the one Lord from the one God and Father of all things. We are thus on a trajectory to the later Trinity but apparently not there yet. I'm sure Bauckham has an ingenious explanation for how this verse can fit with his thesis.

The content of the one faith is not unpacked here. 1:15 could speak of the audience's faith in the Lord Jesus, but the expression is a little odd. It could refer to the faith they have through the Lord Jesus or the faith they have as they are in the Lord Jesus. Certainly the Pauline letters as a whole lead us to see this as a faith toward God, particularly for what He has done in Christ.

The one baptism probably refers to water baptism. It does not preclude the Spirit baptism of Acts, since Ephesians is probably only thinking about one water baptism. Of course this verse also should not be taken as an argument against ever being baptized a second time. These sorts of later debates are completely foreign to Ephesians.

4:7 And to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of the Christ.
This sense of the Messiah measuring out various giftings or gracings continues through 4:16. The style and vocabulary in this and the next paragraph is very unusual for Paul, one of the primary arguments that Ephesians was written by a secretary or heir of Paul. It differs even from that of Colossians, which has several parallels to this section (cmp. Eph. 4:16 to Col. 2:19).

I personally think that at the very least we need to think of a Pauline secretary having more to do with the composition of Ephesians than Paul, likely using Colossians as a starting point. If Paul were in serious hardship at the time or somewhat inaccessible in prison, such a process would be perfectly understandable. I also do not think it hinders the authority or truthfulness of Ephesians to picture a Pauline heir representing his message to a later generation, presuming that no deception was involved. Each will have to decide.

In any case, it is deeply ironic to me that John McRay, emeritus professor at Wheaton, uses Ephesians as the starting point for understanding Paul's theology. Ephesians may be, as I think Snodgrass implies, the most influential lens through which Paul has been read in Christian history (cf. 17). Perhaps you could therefore make a case for reading Paul's other letters in that way. From the standpoint of what those other letters actually meant originally, however, to read the rest of Paul through the lens of Ephesians is to skew your understanding of those earlier letters ever so slightly.

4:8-10 Therefore it says, "Having ascended to the height he took captive captivity, he gave gifts to mortals." And what is the "He ascended," except that he also descended to the lower parts of the earth? The one who descended himself is also the one who ascended above all the heavens so that he might fill all things.
This statement is not about the incarnation, but about Christ's death and resurrection. "He descended to the dead. On the third day he ascended into heaven and is seated on the right hand of God the Father Almighty."

4:11-12 And he himself gave on the one hand apostles, and then prophets, and then evangelists, and then pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the holy ones for the work of ministry, for the edification of the body of Christ,
This is not a formula or a prescription for how we should structure the church today. This is simply the way it played out in the early church. If we go with the criterion of Acts 1, even Paul himself was not an apostle. If we go with Paul's apparent criteria (e.g., 1 Cor. 9:1), an apostle needed to see the risen Lord and receive a commission to go preach the gospel from him. Paul, however, views himself as "untimely born" as an apostle even some 3 years after the resurrection. That would seem to close the book on there having been any apostles since that time.

The early church had prophets, and 1 Corinthians 14 presumes that they were still around in the local church. Matthew 7:21-23 seems to be a thinly veiled critique of prophets in Matthew's day, but there is no place in the NT where the door is closed on such prophets in the church (No, 1 Cor. 13:8 doesn't count). I will say, however, that Ephesians probably does see the foundational prophets as past tense. So we would say that no prophet today has the authority of a New Testament author.

We notice that the function of these individuals is not to glorify themselves but to equip the "saints," the common Christian made holy by the Spirit within them. Everyone apparently is to do the work of the ministry. These individuals do not build up themselves but the body of Christ.

4:13-14 ... until we all attain to the oneness of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of maturity of the fullness of the Christ, so that we are no longer babies, driven and tossed by every wind of teaching with the cunning of mortals with trickery for the trickery of error,
These verses are about the church growing up even more than we as individuals growing up. Each image has to do with a full grown person who can tell the difference between sound teaching and erroneous teaching.

4:15-16 ... but that, speaking the truth in love, we might grow into him in all things, who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, being joined and held together through every ligament of the support according to the working in the measure of each part for the increase of the body, it makes itself increase for its own edification in love.
This verse is very similar to Colossians 2:19. Christ as the head here is the nourisher of the body. It is a quite fantastic image. We should probably keep the nature of headship language here in mind when we get to 5:23.

Speaking the truth in love in context here seems to connect to true teaching in the previous verses, which probably as much involved teaching on living as teaching on belief. Certainly we should tell our spouse how they look "with love" too. But Ephesians seems rather to have in mind addressing those whose are inappropriate in practice with love. Applying this verse today requires great caution, for we are probably far less "right" than we think about our own understandings. The verses that follow perhaps push us toward seeing sexual immorality as what is primarily in view.

4:17-19 Therefore, I say this and witness in the Lord [that you are] no longer to walk as the Gentiles walk in the foolishness of their mind, since they have been darkened in thought, alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, through the hardness of their heart, who, having lost their feeling, they have delivered themselves to sensuality leading to the working of every uncleanness in covetousness.
Even though the audience used to be Gentile, it is no longer like the Gentiles. The foolishness Ephesians seems to have primarily in mind is that of sexual immorality. The other stock foolishness of the Gentiles from a Jewish perspective was that of idolatry, but I don't see that here.

4:20-24 But you did not learn the Christ in this way, if indeed you heard him and were taught in him, just as truth is in Jesus, for you--in terms of [your] previous conduct--to put off in terms of the desires of deceit, the old person that is being destroyed, and to be renewed in the spirit of your mind and to put on the new person that was created according to God in righteousness and the holiness of the truth.
This is similar to Colossians 3:10 and Romans 6:6. Ephesians sees a person becoming righteous and holy in life living because we are a new person. We don't live the way we used to.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ephesians 3

In lieu of missing class, here is a translation of Ephesians 3 with some reflections and questions that enter my mind as I work through it. Full quiz credit for 1) a 100 word response to the overall piece and 2) 2 further comments in relation to the flow of discussion that ensues. All outsiders are welcome to participate as well (if you're nice :-). And of course
© Kenneth Schenck, 2008
3:1-2 For this reason, I Paul, the prisoner of the Christ on behalf of you Gentiles -- if indeed you have heard of the responsibility of the grace of God given to me toward you...
This verse effectively eliminates Ephesus as the only destination of this letter. You'll remember that the words "at Ephesus" are missing from the earliest manuscripts of Ephesians in 1:1. But this comment in 3:1 effectively eliminates Ephesus at least as the sole destination, at least within Paul's lifetime. Paul spent nearly three years there according to Acts. If it were written to Ephesus, there would be no question whether they had heard of Paul's ministry to the Gentiles.

So we should understand Ephesians as something other than a situational letter to the believers at Ephesus. The most likely options are 1) Ephesians is a circular letter, perhaps to churches in Asia, of which Ephesus is one, 2) Ephesians was written to some other location like Laodicea, now lost to history (cf. Col. 4:16), or 3) Ephesians is a pseudonymous letter, perhaps written in Asia Minor or Ephesus, and the "if indeed you have heard" is a "knowing comment"--the audience knows that Paul has been dead for some time and that this letter is meant to convey his basic thought on the unity of the church to them. No deception is involved.

3:3-4 ... according to revelation the mystery was made known to me, just as I wrote briefly to you before, with regard to which, if you read, you are able to know my understanding in the mystery of the Christ...
This comment is difficult if in fact we take Ephesians as a literal letter. To what previous letter would Paul refer? The mystery to which he refers is the inclusion of the Gentiles. Certainly Romans and Galatians have to do with the mystery of the inclusion. Colossians especially uses this language (cf. Col. 1:26). But is it likely that we are reading 2 Colossians here--especially if Colossae was destroyed ca. 61AD. And should we really think of Ephesians as 2 Romans or 2 Galatians? It is possible that Ephesians was written to the general area where Colossae was.

Our commentary, by Klyne Snodgrass, recognizes the difficulty and concludes that Paul is probably referring to an earlier part of this letter, Ephesians, probably 2:1-22 or possibly 1:9-10 (160). He admits that this makes 3:4 "unusual." If we must take Ephesians as a literal letter, then this is the option we must take.

Another option of course is that this comment refers to some of Paul's earlier writings in general and that the "you" here is not a specific audience but a "Scriptural you," by which I mean a you that treats Paul's earlier letters not as situational letters where the "you" are Thessalonians or Romans or Colossians but timeless "you's." Of course they are not really timeless "yous." They become "you's" as in the original audience of Ephesians reading the "you's" of Paul's earlier letters.

This is not exactly Goodspeed's hypothesis, that Ephesians was written as a cover letter to a collection of Paul's writings. That suggestion is way too speculative to prove. However, on this hypothesis, someone would be writing a kind of "Paul in a nutshell" epistle passing on selected aspects of Paul's legacy to a new generation, probably in Asia Minor. The previous writings would thus include letters like Colossians, but the specific "you" of the original letters now is expanded to include the later readers.

If we adopt the "Scriptural you" perspective on the text, we think of Romans, Galatians, and Colossians as Paul writing to us about the mystery of the fact that Gentiles are now included in the people of God.

3:5 ... [mystery] which in different generations was not made known to the sons of mortals as it was now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit,
As in 2:20, this reference to the apostles and prophets is curious for Paul to make. In 2:20, he says that the household of God is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus as the chief cornerstone. It is not curious to us--nor would it have been to late first century Christians--to think of the church as built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.

But it is more difficult, given Paul's earlier writings, to think of him saying that the household of God is built on the apostles, given that he hardly takes such a universal perspective on the household of God in his earlier writings nor does he "reach out" in this way to other apostles. If we take Paul himself as the author, surely apostles here refers not to the 12 apostles, but to all those like him who are engaged in apostolic work (cf. 1 Cor. 15).

Prophets must certainly refer to Christian prophets, not to the prophets of the Old Testament. The "now" in this verse makes that clear. Snodgrass agrees (161). Thus also the foundation of the household of God in 2:20 surely also speaks of NT prophets, as Snodgrass agrees (137).

If Ephesians is a later epistle, the comment would be less problematic. Looking back from the standpoint of the late first century, Paul's heir looks back and sees another layer beyond the foundation of Jesus Christ in 1 Cor. 3:11. Now there is the foundation of the apostles and prophets, the "deposit" (1 Tim. 6:20), all the more important because they are no longer here to bring the gospel directly.

For Christians today, the New Testament is the embodiment of the revelation by the Spirit to the apostles and prophets.

3:6-7 ... [it was revealed] that the Gentiles are heirs together and of the same body and fellow partakers of the gospel in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me according to the working of His power.
This is the content of the mystery, the inclusion of the Gentiles within the people of God. Paul saw himself as the apostle to the Gentiles, not to the Jews. Notice the grace language, which implies the gifting of a patron. Such gifts were undeserved but often included expectations in return, as in this case. Perhaps the focus in this case is more on the empowerment to do something for God than on the undeserved nature of the gifting.

Note that Paul/Paul heir calls himself a minister, a diakonos. Apparently this term did not yet refer to a fixed role of ministry.

3:8-9 To me, the least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach the good news to the Gentiles, the incomprehensible riches of the Christ and to shed light on what the administration is of the mystery that has been hidden from the ages in the God who created all things.
The idea that Paul is the least of the saints is new. He was the last to become an apostle in 1 Corinthians 15:8 as one born at the wrong time. But now he is the least of the saints, and he will become the greatest sinner in 1 Timothy 1:15. Paul certainly could have said such things. I might mention that anyone who has sat through a time of testimony in a church knows that telling what an aweful sinner you used to be can be a badge of honor.

The gospel is for Gentiles too for, after all, God created all things, not just the Jews. The word "administration" is difficult. I translated it as "responsibility" above in 3:1. Perhaps that was a mistake. Does it simply mean "how it works."

3:10-11 ... in order that the wisdom of God might be made known now to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenlies through the church, according to the purpose of the ages, which [God] enacted in Christ Jesus our Lord,
Note that God the Father was the creator in the previous verse and here it is also He that has done the planning about Christ. Ephesians makes no comment on Christ's pre-existence. This plan was of course from before the foundation of the world (e.g., 1:4). Interestingly, it is apparently through the church, perhaps through the apostles and prophets, that the spiritual rulers and authorities are learning about the wisdom of God, done through Jesus.

3:12 ... in whom we have boldness and entrance with confidence through his faithfulness. Therefore, I ask [you] not to be discouraged by my troubles for you, which is glory for you.
Especially if we think of Paul as the literal author but even if it is a Pauline secretary or heir, this verse strongly reinforces the understanding of the phrase "faith of Jesus" in Romans 3:22 and Galatians 2:16 as a reference to Jesus' faithfulness, meaning his faithful death.

The mention of the audience not being discouraged by Paul's troubles will convince most that Paul is the literal author of Ephesians. It is not impossible to account for on the interpretation that Ephesians is a presentation of Paul to a later audience. For one thing, the notion that Paul is suffering for the audience is probably built off of Colossians 1:24. As we've seen, scattered material of Ephesians parallels scattered material in Colossians in much the same order, including the 32 word for word identical stretch in Ephesians 6.

Remember that Snodgrass thinks Ephesians was produced not long after Colossians as a more general letter encouraging, uniting and informing all the believers in the same general area (23). It's a wonder he doesn't mention this when he is dealing with 3:3, because then Colossians could be the earlier letter to which Paul refers.

In any case, the idea of suffering on your behalf could presumably apply to a later audience just as to a contemporary one. In the US we easily could think of the "greatest generation" suffering for us during WW2, as with any other war.

3:14-16 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in the heavens and on the earth is named, in order that He might give to you according to the wealth of His glory to become strong in power through His Spirit in the inner person...
The picture here seems to be one of inheritance. First, God created everything so every being in the heavens or on the earth is His child, has His name. As His child, He wants to give as an inheritance the wealth of His glory. He wants everyone to become strong in power.

3:17-19 ... so that the Christ dwells in your hearts through faith, having been rooted and founded in love, in order that you might be strengthened to take hold with all the holy ones what is the width and length and heighth and depth, and to know the surpassing love of the knowledge of the Christ, in order that you might be filled to all the fulness of God...
Yum, yum. Somehow it seems the wrong tact to try to explain what these verses mean, as if their main point is cognitive or logical. This is good stuff that feels good!

3:20-21 ... and to the One who is able to do extra above all things about which we are asking or thinking, according to the power that is working in us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all the generations of the age of the ages! Amen.
That there's a doxology. The same highly exalted language used of the benefit to the church is now given to God. Once again, Ephesians is highly God centered rather than Christ centered. We glorify God in the church and in Christ Jesus.

OK, if you are in my Prison Epistles class, make one 100 word comment and then respond to at least two other comments in a substantial way.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

SBL, Sunday evening

The label "evangelicalism" might have seemed really odd last night if someone noticed. It's because I forgot to give this link in Modern Reformation, an interview with Donald Dayton, a Wesleyan, entitled:

Are Charismatic-Inclined Pietists the True Evangelicals? And Have the Reformed Tried to Highjack Their Movement?

It will be very interesting to Wesleyans. I consider Dayton a real genius in the history of the Wesleyan Church. Unfortunately, there haven't been many and we've never done anything like start a movement. Alas.

Today was okay. I gave another paper. Yesterday's I think was well received. Today's was received like many that make me think are a waste of time. But I liked it :-)

There is so much reading you need to do to really be excellent here. And so much of it is ultimately meaningless. Alas.

Spent a good deal of time today, morning coffee and evening dinner, with old seminary friends, Pete Dongell, Bill and Jenifer Patrick. Someone out there in blogland may know them.

I had a couple of really nice meetings with scholars I deeply respect. Met Jared Calaway in the halls. He is super bright--expect to see him do great things in the future. I missed the bibliobloggers dinner because of Hebrews and because I had to have some carbonara before I left Boston. I don't think it exists in Indiana.

So now I'm in jeans and planning to hit the book display tomorrow (and Philo). I haven't bought a single book yet.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

SBL, Saturday evening...

Day 1 is over, whew. Pretty nice day for me. One paper down. My ADHD does make it really hard to sit through 2 1/2 hour sessions--which if you're giving a paper or are on a steering committee is requisite.

Yearly dinner with Jimmy Dunn, wife Meta, and former Dunn students at the "Legal Seafood" restaurant. Scot McKnight made a cameo and then was off to publishers unknown. You'll be glad to know that Simon Gathercole and Dunn still talk to each other :-) The number one biblioblogger James McGrath was there.

Saw former student Alicia Myers who's finishing her PhD at Baylor. Was graced with lunch with the infamous Nijay Gupta, currently of Durham. Had coffee with McGrath at Starbucks. Lots of Hebrews scholars coming up through the ranks and entering the professorial market very soon. My advice to those contemplating a PhD in Bible, theology, etc. Don't!

Playing the game in Boston...

Part 3: Echoes of Destruction

I've set this final part of my paper, "Heaven as the True House of God," to post at 10:30am, just as I'm supposed to get up to read it :-)

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: The Reconfiguration of the Tent

3. Echoes of Destruction
One of the arguments often made against a post-70 date for Hebrews is the idea that the author surely would have mentioned the destruction of the temple to reinforce his argument. Luke Timothy Johnson puts it this way: “one would think that some reference would naturally be made, not to a covenant growing obsolescent and a cult being ineffective, but rather to a cult proven to be broken and a cult demonstrated by God’s action as a thing of the past.” It would go well beyond the scope of this paper to mount a full argument for such a date. We will merely mention in response to Johnson that his comment assumes that the destruction of the temple would be an argument for some further point that the old covenant is no longer in force. We would argue the opposite, namely, that the author argues that the “old covenant” is no longer in force to help the audience cope with the more fundamental datum: God’s allowance of Jerusalem and its temple to be destroyed. Mention of the temple’s destruction would not be an argument the author fails to mention but the fundamental exigence of the sermon, known to all.

It is possible, however, that the author does allude to the destruction of Jerusalem. The most obvious possibility is Hebrews 13:14: “We do not have a city that remains here but we are seeking the one that is about [to come].” Given that the author has just used the metaphor of Jesus suffering outside the gate (13:11) and of believers going outside the camp (13:13), the most likely city in view is surely Jerusalem. Hebrews 11 may thus also allude to the destruction of Jerusalem in its use of the Abraham story from Genesis. The author speaks of how Abraham and the patriarchs sojourned as in a foreign land (11:9). Abraham was “looking forward to the city having foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (11:10). People like Abraham, which surely includes the audience in their situation, are seeking a homeland (11:14). They are desiring a better homeland than the one from which they came, a heavenly one, and God has prepared a city for them there (11:16).

The author thus uses the story of Abraham’s sojourning in a foreign land as an allegory for the current existence of the audience in this world. The heavenly city that God has prepared shows up in Hebrews 12:22-23, where the author now draws on the Sinai story of Exodus (12:18-21) as an antitype of the new covenant assembly to which the audience belongs. “You have come to Mt. Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem and ten thousand angels in assembly” (12:22). The image combines an allusion to Mt. Sinai and the earthly Jerusalem to contrast the heavenly reality in which the audience now participates. While these images do not require us to see an allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem, they would be particularly meaningful if they did so allude.

It is harder to find clear echoes of Jerusalem’s destruction in other citations in Hebrews. Some, like David deSilva, would claim that Hebrews’ allusions actually work in the opposite direction. For example, 10:2 argues for the inefficacy of Levitical sacrifices with the rhetorical question, “Would they not have stopped being offered … once the worshippers had been cleansed?” On a surface level, this question seems to imply that Levitical sacrifices had not ceased being offered at the time of writing. deSilva thus dates Hebrews to the time previous to the destruction of the temple.

However, deSilva’s reading is not at all necessary and is in our opinion anachronistic. Several authors after 70CE did speak of the sacrificial system in the present tense, which negates our common sense on how the author might word things after the temple’s destruction. We also recognize in this particular case that the author was not so much addressing the time of the audience as the fact that sacrifices never stopped throughout “biblical history” as found in the Jewish Scriptures. Would the sacrifices throughout the time of the old covenant not have stopped a long time ago if any of them had actually taken away sins? No, God instead prepared a body for Christ (10:5). The setting of the comment is thus the time before Christ far more than the time of Hebrews’ writing.

If Hebrews were written not long after the temple’s destruction, a number of comments and uses of Scripture would likely echo various aspects of this event. For example, Hebrews 12:4-13 urges the audience to “endure leading to discipline” and quotes Proverbs 3:11-12. If Hebrews were written after the temple’s destruction, we can imagine that the audience might hear these words as thinly veiled admonition in light of the disgrace and discouragement that not only non-Christian but Christian Jews as well must have endured in the wake of Jerusalem's fall. “Although Jesus was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered” (5:8). So ought the audience to endure the Lord’s discipline as training.

The potential metaleptic carry over would be even more ominous in the light of the author’s citation of Deuteronomy 32, the Song of Moses. We already encountered the author’s use of one Greek version of this text in 1:6, where it may very well carry with it the overtones of coming judgment and vindication from Deuteronomy 32:43 (LXX). Intriguingly, the author draws on this passage twice again in Hebrews 10:30 and 31: “‘Vengeance is for me; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’” The first is from Deuteronomy 32:35; the second from 32:36. What is interesting about these citations is that the author applies them to believers who turn away from the living God (3:12), who “fall away” (6:6), who thus “continue to sin after receiving a knowledge of the truth” (10:26) and sell their birthright (12:16). The author turns a passage in Deuteronomy about the vindication of God’s people and the judgment of their enemies into the potential judgment of failed believers and, just perhaps, a thinly veiled explanation for the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple (cf. Matt. 22:7).

We find a similar series of quotations from a passage in Hebrews 2:13: “‘I will put my trust in him’ and ‘Behold I and the children God gave me.’” The first is based in Isaiah 8:17 (LXX) and the second in 8:18. In Isaiah, the context leading up to these verses speaks of the disobedience and hardness of God’s people (8:11-12; LXX). 8:14-17 speaks of the house of Jacob in Jerusalem lying in a trap, many falling, and God having turned his face from the house of Jacob. It is at this point that we hear the words Hebrews quotes, now put on the lips of Christ. If Hebrews were written after the destruction of Jerusalem, these words that at first glance seem so randomly placed on Jesus’ lips in relation to the audience, suddenly take on a different perspective. Despite the fact that God has seemed to turn his face from the house of Jacob, Christ remains as their leader to salvation.

4. Conclusion
In the preceding minutes we have tried to do two things. First, we have tried to show how Hebrews has reinterpreted various Pentateuchal Scriptures relating to the wilderness tabernacle in the light of its author’s theology. What in the Jewish Scriptures are literal depictions of literal structures that were actually thought to effect good relations and reconciliation with YHWH are now reconfigured as symbolic and allegorical pointers toward a new reality. That reality is of course the definitive atonement provided by Jesus Christ. The earthly house of God is now understood as a shadowy illustration of the true house of God, the heavenly one. This heavenly tent corresponds most literally to heaven itself, where God’s throne is and to which Christ ascended through the heavens. But in many respects the author’s metaphorical appropriation of the wilderness tent uses language that makes it a somewhat abstract “space” where Christ’s death on the cross truly atones for sins.

The final part of our presentation then looked for possible echoes of the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in the rest of the sermon, focusing particularly on the way the author used Scripture. The strongest possible allusions come from the author’s discussion of the sojourner Abraham seeking a city and a homeland, as well as the heavenly Zion as a counterpart to Mt. Sinai. But the author’s use of passages relating to God’s discipline and judgment may carry such overtones as well. Finally, the author’s use of Isaiah 8 has very strong connotations of God’s preservation of a remnant in the wake of the judgment of broader Israel. None of these citations prove that the author wrote after Jerusalem’s demise, but they certainly would cohere well with it and work toward what might constitute a broader cumulative case.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Part 2: The Reconfiguration of the Tent

I give this paper tomorrow morning. Here is part two of "Heaven as the True House of God: Intertextual Soundings in Hebrews."

Part 1 (Introduction) here.
2. The Reconfiguration of the Tent
One of the first things we notice when we look at Hebrews’ interaction with the houses of God in the Jewish Scriptures is Hebrews’ complete lack of reference to the Jerusalem temple, whether it be the temple of Solomon or the rebuilt second temple. Hebrews consistently refers throughout to the wilderness tabernacle. It never even explicitly mentions the Herodian temple of its own day. It is difficult to know for certain why Hebrews does so and thus to know exactly what this omission reflects. In Acts 7, for example, Acts seems to portray Stephen with a negative view of Solomon building a “hand made” οἶκος for God, in preference to the portable σκηνὴ in the wilderness (7:47). Stephen’s sermon is often compared with Hebrews for this and other similarities, leading some to suggest that the author of Hebrews was a Hellenist like Stephen. I have suggested elsewhere that the lines of influence may run as much backward as forward, with Stephen portrayed similarly to certain post-70 Hellenistic Christian Jews.

In the end, we believe that the omission of reference to the temple fits the period not long after Jerusalem’s destruction, when some believers no doubt had some reason to reflect on—and perhaps be troubled by—the destruction of the temple. A theoretical consideration of the wilderness tabernacle held the potential to deflect concern over recent events by getting at the fundamental significance of the Levitical system, which for the author was the fact that Christ’s death was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices (e.g., 10:14). Certainly we could offer other explanations of the exclusive focus on the wilderness tent, and many have. For the moment we only note that Hebrews’ consideration of the wilderness tabernacle carried implications of obsolescence for any standing temple as well and, thus, a significant reconfiguration of the significance of those Scriptural texts relating to it.

The primary way in which Hebrews has reconfigured the significance of the wilderness tabernacle is to relegate it to the mere role of a “shadowy illustration” of the reality of atonement that took place with Christ. For the author of Hebrews, none of the sacrifices under the Levitical system were actually able to take away sins (10:2-4). The Law only involved a “shadow” of good things coming (8:1). None of the examples of faith in the Jewish Scriptures were perfected prior to Christ’s atonement (11:40). The scope of this reinterpretation of the Levitical cultus is astounding! If Hebrews were written prior to the temple’s destruction, such statements would be highly polemical and, indeed, offensive to most Jews. On the other hand, they might very well be consoling in the aftermath of 70CE.

So Hebrews says that the earthly priests served the heavenly holies “by shadowy illustration” (ὑποδείγματι καὶ σκιᾷ ; 8:5). Interpreters have often taken this statement as a reflection of Platonic or Philonic influence on Hebrews and thus as an indication that the author of Hebrews saw the earthly sanctuary as a somewhat straightforward copy of a heavenly prototype (e.g., 8:5). Several decades ago, however, Lincoln Hurst made the counter claim that “[t]here is no instance in known Greek literature where ὑποδείγμα can be demonstrated to mean ‘copy.’” Harold Attridge thereafter did find some instances where the word means something like “likeness.” Nevertheless, we find no extant instance in the entire corpus of ancient Greek literature where the word ὑποδείγμα is used of a Platonic copy. The closest parallels rather point toward a ὑποδείγμα as an example from Scripture (so also Heb. 4:11; Cf. Philo, Her. 256).

Hebrews has thus relegated the wilderness tabernacle to the status of an example or illustration of the true tent of Christ, the heavenly high priest. The earthly sanctuary had no intrinsic significance other than as a pointer toward the true reality that was to come. Moses was, when properly understood, a witness of things that were “going to be spoken” (3:5). His significance related more to Christ than to the things he instituted in his own time. The Law included a shadow of good things “to come,” but it was not even an exact image (εἰκὼν) of these things (10:1). Even as an illustration, the Levitical system was only a shadowy one. The Levitical system and its sanctuary were not an exact representation of the reality that was Jesus’ atonement.

On the one hand, the author makes a statement or two that might lead one to conclude that all the parts of the earthly tabernacle had heavenly significance. Hebrews 8:5 combines Exodus 25:9 and 25:40 to speak of Moses making “everything according to the type that was shown you on the mountain.” The bulk of the citation comes from 25:40, except that the author seems to derive the word πάντα from 25:9. One might argue, therefore, that everything in the earthly tabernacle had some correspondent in the heavenly tabernacle. The fact that the author takes the time to enumerate the elements of the tabernacle in 9:2-5 might also support this fact.

However, a number of careful observations ultimately militate against this line of interpretation. First, we find no reason in Hebrews’ argument to think that the heavenly sanctuary has any kind of outer room as the wilderness tabernacle and Jewish temples did. One is certainly never mentioned. In Hebrews 9, the author strangely speaks of the two chambers in the earthly tabernacle in terms of two tents rather than two rooms (e.g., 9:2-3, 6-7). The reason becomes apparent when we get to 9:7-8. The author is interpreting the two “tents” of the earthly tabernacle allegorically in terms of the two ages of salvation history.

The outer room represents “the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered that are not able to perfect the worshipper in conscience” (9:9). In other words, the outer room represents imperfection and the prevention of access to God: “the way τῶν ἁγίων” is not apparent while the first tent "has στάσιν” (9:8). The author thus gives us significant reason to disassociate the outer room of the earthly sanctuary from the heavenly tabernacle. In the author’s imagery, the outer room stands as an obstacle to divine access. In keeping with his comments elsewhere about direct access to God (e.g., 4:16; 10:19), an outer room for the heavenly tent would stand in conflict with his imagery elsewhere.

A close examination of the author’s train of thought in this passage pushes us more and more to the conclusion that he does not likely envisage an outer room to the heavenly tent. For example, we notice that while 9:2-8 divide the earthly tabernacle into two tents, the two sparse references to a heavenly tent are both singular (e.g., 8:2; 9:11). Secondly, while the author refers to the outer room of the earthly tabernacle as ἅγια in 9:2, his other neuter plural references to τὰ ἅγια seem more likely to refer to the inner sanctum. The phrase, “the way of the Holies,” in 9:8 must refer to the inner room given the author’s Day of Atonement imagery. And despite the immense debate over the meaning of 9:11, almost all agree that the phrase “into the Holies” in 9:12 must refer either literally or metaphorically to the Holy of Holies.

Hebrews 9:24 must again refer to the Holy of Holies when it uses the neuter plural "Holies" again, which is noticeably in parallel to heaven itself. Given such consistent use of the neuter plural ἅγια in these ways, particularly in its articular form, the most likely conclusion is that 8:2 also is thinking of the heavenly Holy of Holies when it says that Christ is a minister τῶν ἁγίων. The full expression here is that Christ is a “minister of the Holies and of the true tent.” While it is possible that we have mention of a part and then mention of the whole, the phrase reads very neatly if both are one and the same, the heavenly Holies are in fact the whole of the heavenly tent.

We have thus adduced three significant reasons for thinking that whatever the heavenly tent might be, it does not consist of an outer and inner chamber. These reasons are

1) the fact that the author reflects some antipathy toward the outer room in 9:8 and allegorizes it in terms of imperfection and hindrance to God’s presence,

2) the fact that the author consistently refers to the heavenly tent by the imagery of the inner sanctum of the earthly tabernacle, and

3) the fact that while he refers to the earthly tabernacle as plural tents, he refers to the heavenly tent only twice and both times in the singular.

On the whole, we find only two passages from which one might argue for an outer part of the heavenly tent. The first is 8:5 we mentioned above, where Moses is told to make everything according to the type shown him in the mountain, which might imply that the outer room of the earthly tabernacle corresponded to an element in the heavenly type. The other passage is 9:11-12, where Christ, “through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands” entered the Holies. One way to make sense of this seemingly tautological statement is to see the first part in reference to the outer tent of the heavenly sanctuary, one on the way to its inner part.

Time does not permit a thorough response to these objections, which I have made elsewhere. For now I will simply note that the author of Hebrews did not likely invent the particular combination of the πάντα of Exodus 25:9 with Exodus 25:40, since the same form of citation is also found in Philo. Indeed, the author may have a more extensive allegorical interpretation of the parts of the tabernacle. It just does not appear in the argument of Hebrews.

9:11-12 is a chiastic sentence of some length, and the phrase “through the greater and more perfect tent” is at far enough remove from the main verb “he entered in” that it is possible that they do not relate to each other in a crisp progression of thought. As we will see in a moment, the author flows so easily from one figurative sense of the earthly sanctuary to another, that we probably should not push too literal a logic on a statement like this one. In the end, a modal sense to the first phrase, Christ entered the Holies by way of the greater and more perfect tent, perhaps best accounts for the train of thought.

So one aspect of the author’s shadowy re-appropriation of the Pentateuchal sanctuary is his relegation of its outer chamber as strictly a symbol of this age. A second reconfiguration is to combine all the diverse sacrificial operations of the Levitical cultus into one shadowy correspondent to the one, truly effective sacrifice of Christ. The imagery of Hebrews 9 amalgamates a number of different sacrifices from the Jewish Scriptures and contrasts them en masse to the one sacrifice of Christ, thereby implying that Christ has now rendered all the different kinds of sacrifices found throughout the Pentateuch obsolete. Whether it is the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement (9:7), or the red heifer (9:13) or hyssop ceremonies for cleanness (9:19), or Moses’ inaugural cleansing of the wilderness tabernacle (9:19), Christ’s one sacrifice has not only made any further sacrifice unnecessary. Christ’s sacrifice is the only one of these sacrifices that actually has worked in cleansing a consciousness of sin (cp., 10:1-3; 9:14).

Further, it seems likely that for the author, the earthly sanctuary itself does not ultimately even point to a structure in heaven. If we are looking for a literal correspondent to the heavenly tabernacle, heaven itself would seem to come closest, as Hebrews 9:24 hints: “Christ did not enter into handmade Holies, antitypes of the true Holies, but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God on our behalf.” We can see how this might be the case, not only given that the heavenly sanctuary has no outer room, but also since both Philo and Josephus attest to the idea of the cosmos as the truest temple of God. The reconfiguration of the wilderness tabernacle as a pointer toward the truer temple of the cosmos was thus a pattern of thought ready at hand for the author to use.

In the end, however, the author of Hebrews pushes us to see his heavenly tabernacle as something even more subtle than a metaphor for heaven itself where God’s throne is located. Hebrews 9:23, for example, speaks of a need for the heavenly tabernacle to be cleansed with better sacrifices than those used to cleanse the earthly one. This statement is odd in the least. Since the heavenly tent is not of this creation (9:11) and is something the Lord pitched rather than mortals (8:2), how is it that it needs cleansed? The observation that the author is thinking in parallel to the inauguration of the earthly sanctuary alleviates some of the tension (9:18-22), but it does not resolve the issue completely. Indeed, this image seems incredibly damning to any literal interpretation of the heavenly tabernacle. If the heavenly tabernacle is some literal, apocalyptic temple, surely the author is at least being metaphorical when he speaks of its cleansing!

This passage more than any other pushes us to see the heavenly tabernacle in Hebrews most fundamentally as a metaphorical construct rather than a literal structure or place. Even if heaven itself is the most literal correspondent to what the author had in mind, the heavenly tabernacle ultimately is not simply some heavenly version of the earthly tent. The heavenly tabernacle is part of a broader metaphor of Christ’s high priesthood that is meant to contrast as a whole with the “many and various” components of the Levitical cultus. What generates the concept of a heavenly tabernacle in the thought of Hebrews is not some precedent in Platonism, apocalypticism, or Hellenism, although the author may draw from one or more of these. What really drives the heavenly tabernacle concept is the need to have a new covenant “space” in which Christ can offer his superior sacrifice.

In the overall metaphor of Christ’s high priesthood, the heavenly tabernacle represents the space where true atonement takes place in contrast to the superficial cleansings of the Pentateuchal tabernacle. From a slightly different metaphorical perspective, Christ’s ascension into heaven is understood to be his entrance into such a heavenly Holy of Holies. But these are distinct metaphors built on slightly different precedents, and the author creatively integrates the two. For example, the author seems careful not to say that Christ took blood into the heavenly tabernacle in 9:14. These two metaphors clash significantly when the author speaks of the inaugural cleansing of the heavenly tabernacle. From the perspective of the one metaphor, it makes perfect sense to speak of inaugurating the heavenly tabernacle with better sacrifices than those Moses used. But considered from the perspective of the other metaphor, the idea of heaven itself needing cleansing seems highly problematic if we push the concept very far at all.

Hebrews 10:20, which we mentioned at the beginning of our study, confirms the author’s metaphorical penchant with regard to the heavenly tabernacle. In the context of this verse, the author encourages the audience to approach God’s throne of grace because they have boldness to enter into the Holy of Holies “with” the blood of Jesus. Then comes the verse in question: this entrance is something “that [Jesus] has inaugurated for us as a new and living way through the veil, that is, his flesh.” The most obvious way to take the grammar of this verse equates Christ’s flesh with the veil. Not only is καταπετάσμα the closest potential antecedent, but σὰρξ is in the genitive case in agreement with it. While it would be more theologically convenient to see Christ’s flesh as the way rather than the veil, ὁδόν is in the accusative case and thus is not the likely antecedent.

The idea of Christ’s flesh as a veil through which brothers may pass into the Holy of Holies is clearly metaphorical. It would be inappropriate either to press the imagery too far or to try to use this particular metaphor as the key to the heavenly tabernacle argument in the previous chapters. The verse simply reminds us that the author is swimming around a key concept and that these metaphors are not ends in themselves. The author’s ultimate purpose with regard to these images is to bolster the confidence of the audience in the atonement provided by Christ vis-à-vis the Levitical cultic system. The images themselves are somewhat fluid and are ultimately a means to an end.

We find, therefore, that the author has reconfigured the sanctuary houses of God in several radical ways. He does not even mention the two temples of the Jewish Scriptures, the Solomonic and the second temple built by Zerubbabel. The wilderness tabernacle serves as a surrogate for any such earthly structure, including the Herodian temple of the author’s day. The significance of that wilderness tent moreover becomes entirely symbolic. Its sacrifices are ineffectual and serve only as shadowy illustrations of the reality that is Christ’s death for sins. Even the heavenly tent, for which the earthly tent serves as an antitype, is not a literal structure in heaven for the author. Its most literal correspondent is the highest heaven itself, where God is. Yet at times we must push beyond even heaven itself to see the heavenly sanctuary as a part of an even broader high priestly metaphor, in which it serves somewhat abstractly as that “space” in which the death of Jesus on the cross is offered for sins. It is no wonder, then, that the reference to the “house of God” in Hebrews 10:21 can blur into a double entendre for the people of God. The entire re-appropriation of the Pentateuchal house is metaphorical in nature.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Introduction of my Saturday Hebrews paper

I don't imagine I will seek to publish my Saturday paper for the Intertextuality in the New Testament Consultation at SBL. So I thought I would post it here in three posts over the next few days. I'll likely link the full text to my archive site afterward. I might give some snippets of my Sunday paper here on Sunday, but I think I might actually try to publish it somewhere.

Here's the introduction to my Saturday paper:

Heaven as the True House of God: Intertextual Soundings in Hebrews

Before I engage the subject at hand, I might express a slight regret that I did not fully understand the topic for this session when I made the proposal. The predominant use of the Greek word οἶκος in Hebrews is in reference to the household of God’s people, which Hebrews redefines in terms of those who confess Jesus as the Son of God and who endure to the end (e.g., 3:6). By inference, the author seems now to include Gentiles in this house without mentioning or feeling the need to defend such an inclusion, simply calling all members of Christ’s household the “seed of Abraham” (2:16). Moses was also faithful in his house, the house of Israel (3:2, 5; cf. 8:8, 10), which the author may very well see as coextensive with the household of the Christ. The author can also liken such households to physical houses (3:3, 4). Certainly the question of how Hebrews redefines the house of God in this respect would have made an interesting study!

But we must instead turn to the use of the word οἶκος in Hebrews 10:19-22:

"Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the Holies with the blood of Jesus, a new and living way that he made for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and [since we have] a great high priest over the house of God, let us enter with a true heart in the fullness of faith, having sprinkled our hearts from an evil conscience and having washed our body with pure water."

Given the background in Hebrews 3 we mentioned earlier, it seems more than likely that the author of Hebrews intends a double entendre here in 10:21. Jesus is indeed a great high priest over the household of God, the people of God, the “seed of Abraham.” At the same time, the “starting sense” of the statement is surely a reference to the heavenly sanctuary, to which the author has been referring in the previous chapters.

It is quite clear that Hebrews does not understand the earthly sanctuary of the Jewish Scriptures in the same way ancient Israel did. The “true tent” of Hebrews (8:2)—which the Lord pitched, not a mortal—is a heavenly one. Hebrews has thus “reconfigured” the significance of the earthly sanctuary as a mere pointer toward the true, heavenly one (e.g., 8:4). In the next few moments I will describe how Hebrews has reconfigured the significance of the houses of God in the Jewish Scriptures and suggest that the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70CE played a significant role in the particular form that reconfiguration took. Of course the most important factor in this reformulation is the significance the author now affords Christ's death. The paper will then close by looking at some possible ways in which Hebrews’ engagement with other Jewish Scriptures possibly echo Jerusalem’s destruction.

Happy Romans 9 Day!

OK, the quiz in Romans class today was chapter 9, but in reading through we're at the end of chapter 8. So a predestination Spiel was in order. I'm not sure how helpful what came out of my mouth was, but it went something like this, this time.

Paul uses predestination and election language to be sure. Its most concentrated form is in Romans 9. Ephesians 1 is also a hot spot, whether Paul himself or an encapsulator of Paul for a next generation. So we Arminians have to acknowledge that. Maybe Wesley was right--God foreknew who would respond and predestined those to be saved. But even if he was wrong, Wesleyans believe in predestination in some way. The question is how it works, not whether we believe in it.

OK, like the briefly showing McDLT McDonalds flew in the late 80's, the important thing is to keep the hot part hot and the cold part cold. Paul uses predestination language, yes. What does it do? It affirms God's authority and sovereignty. It affirms God's control over and direction of the world. It affirms believers and God's love for them.

What doesn't it do? It stands in no causal relationship with unbelievers. It does not connect to how we live. For example, it has no impact on how believers are to conduct their mission, as in those who told William Carey in the 1700's that he was foolish to go to India since those people would have been born in Europe if they were elect. It has no impact on how believers are to live, as if we can live an intentionally sinful lifestyle after we are initially justified.

In short, we have to live and act like Arminians, all of us, regardless of what we might believe about predestination. If we logically connect the one to the other, we seem to skew one or the other. Paul talks as if you can be justified and then not be saved in the end. Paul seems to think God wants to see everyone saved. These things don't fit easily on a logical level with what Paul says elsewhere about predestination and election.

Perhaps they can be resolved using God math, but I never took that course in college. They couldn't find a teacher. So we keep the hot part hot and the cold part cold. We live, act, and think like Arminians, because this approach best fits the overall flavor, teaching, and (human) logical underpinning of the New Testament. Yet we affirm the sovereignty and election of God, consigning it to the (divine) logical plane, which means we don't connect it logically to anything other than the praise and glory of God. Like Calvin, we might mention it last so that it won't throw off the rest of our theology and ethics.

Happy Romans 9 Day!