I Apologize in Advance

Knock, knock, knock Doctor . . . (x 3)
This morning as I was waking from sleep, I don't know why, but I had this thought:

Knock knock. 

Who's there?

Yes, the Doctor. 

Doctor Who?

Precisely.



Storied Salvation: Part XVIII

Salvation According to Paul: Present

“The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” 1 Co 1:18.

The NT sometimes indicates that salvation, justification, redemption, adoption, glorification, and resurrection are both past and present realities.[1] However, the larger scope of salvation is indeed God's rescue operation for all humanity from sin and death through messiah, which culminates in resurrection where death is destroyed for those who sleep in the dust. It cannot be ignored that this is also an eschatological final deliverance of Israel and the saints from their physical enemies.

“Jesus believed that there was one God who had made the world, and who had called Israel to be his people; that this one God had promised to be with his people, and guide them to their destiny, their new exodus; that his presence, guidance and ultimately salvation were symbolized, brought into reality, in and through Temple, Torah, Wisdom, Word and Spirit. He was a first-century Jewish monotheist.”[2]

Along with the role of God as savior and deliverer, Scripture also places an emphasis on the role his people play in the present, as it is the present that determines the future. Endurance, persistence, determination, tenacity, patience, and ultimately obedience are all intimately connected as actions of the faithful. Faith is an action-oriented dynamic based on God’s covenant-keeping character, not something I retain as a medallion.

Participation is the reality. Faith without action has no validity. Upon consideration of the Shema one will discover that hearing, as a Jew would describe it, is done in ones “feet,” meaning it is action-based, hearing that immediately translates into action, a.k.a. obedience.

“Theologically, salvation depends to some extent on the individual's faith in Yahweh. Ps. 37:40 affirms that Yahweh saves ‘because they take refuge in him’ (cf. 13:5[6]; 25:5; 42:5[6]; 65:5[6]; 78:22; 86:2; 119:94; Lam 3:26; et al.). Ps 119:146 appeals your personal deliverance to achieve a purpose – ‘I will keep your statutes.’”[3]

When Paul wrote in Romans 10:17 that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ,” he no doubt had the Shema in mind. While the “word of Messiah” is without question the Good News about the Kingdom of God which he proclaimed, in Paul’s mind faith, i.e. action/obedience, results in salvation. We have been conditioned far too long to think that salvation is an object of our possession that can exist independent of our behavior. Yahweh, the covenant-keeping God, is secure; it is us, when un-faith-ful, who have no salvation. If we choose to act as though we possess a free pass and nothing more is required, we have chosen to abandon the relationship and the means by which we are made righteous.

It is in this present time – while we wait, train for service and live as citizens of a kingdom to come – that we can say with Paul, that we too are working out our salvation with fear and trembling.[4] Deliverance is the result of our dynamic interaction with him through his promise. Salvation exists by God’s grace towards his people and the obedience on their behalf with his assistance. Our work is God’s work too. In the NT, the work in and through a believer is an expression of God’s renewing, restoring and salvific action. Salvation is not about going to heaven, but rather being raised from death for life on God’s renewed earth. We anticipate in the present what will become full reality in the future.


[1] Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14.
[2] Wright, Victory, 652.
[3] William A. VanGemeren, “ישע,” New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grandrapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1997), 2:560.
[4] Phil 3:20; 2:12, 

Pauline Psyche


Philippians is a phenomenal letter. Paul, even through the trial he faced, was able to reach out and minister to others as a channel of God's truth. 

Early on in the letter, he communicated (1:23) that he had a -

"desire to depart and be with Christ-- which is far better-but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you."

The question is often asked, is Paul here speaking of being absent from the body in some sort of spirit state prior to the return of Messiah? Is he speaking of ascending to heaven, and there await the "rapture" as some theologians posit? What was the purpose of this statement within his letter to the believers in Philippi? (For any interested in this "rapture" question in Paul, please check out Kurt Willems' podcast episode, "The Resurrection - "Physical" or "Spiritual" Bodies.")

The Old Testament, or as I prefer to call them, the Hebrew Scriptures, are relatively silent on this matter. There are however, occasional hints. Jesus, when referencing the resurrection, used Exodus 3 (the “burning bush passage”) to say that his father was not the God of the dead but of the living. What expositor or theologian today would dub this as a resurrection passage? Jesus obviously had reasoning for making reference to this passage (which is another study). 

There are passages (however insignificant to our ways of thinking) that shaped the theology Paul shared in his writings, both in the Hebrew Scriptures and other literature. This other body of writing, to the consternation of some Christians, influenced Paul's theology, whether some like it or not. He was shaped in part by writings categorized as pseudepigraphic and apocryphal. Paul did not necessarily contradict Jesus' teaching on the matter, but merely expanded, expounded and midrash-ed it.

It may be news to some, but believe it or not, Jesus was not a Greek philosopher and neither was Paul. I don't think either of them taught the Pathagorean doctrine of afterlife with its disembodiment, reward and punishment. Psyche (Gk soul) did not mean the same for Jesus and Paul as it did for Pathagoras and Plato. God created man as a whole soul, and the body was not evil. While the Greek uses psyche where the Hebrew uses nephesh, this does not communicate that nephesh was the inward, immaterial, spiritual essence and counterpart in opposition of the body in a dualistic sense. Nephesh is rather the whole person, the entirely of what it means to be human.

Paul (in other passages, e.g. 2 Cor. 5:8) indicates two options, the first of which was being alive (absent from the body), and second, being with Messiah (present with the lord). It is important when we study, to try and not rely on any anachronistic doctrine, preconceived notion of what it means or what we have been taught it means.

We know what Jesus taught on specific matters, but with Paul, eisegesis has become a common practice (inserting ideas and propositions into his writing that would not have been indigenous). So naturally our reading of Philippians can be radically swayed by our worldview or foundation in determining what we think the Scriptures say versus what the author actually intended. We read far more into specific texts than most realize. Was Paul a Platonist? As a Jewish Rabbi, is he to be understood as proposing a cosmological dualism as propounded in Hellenistic Philosophy? Did Paul embrace the idea that the world was essentially evil and that the body was the prison of an internal (soon to be disembodied) soul?

If I held to a doctrine that declared an intermediate disembodied spirit domain or holding tank until the bodily resurrection, I would have to read such a thing into the Pauline corpus. The real question though becomes, is this view compatible with Paul's identity as a first-century, Jewish, Rabbinical sage and his Scriptures, or am I inserting my own preconceived and learned presupposition as to what he meant? Does it come from Pauline theology or has it developed in later tradition and then crept into the mainline stream of Christian thought? Does history give any evidence one way or another? There are all questions that scholars and historians have discussed and wrestled with.

As hard as it may be to believe, Greek philosophy played a significant role in the formation of Christian doctrine in the first few centuries as the "church" suffered an identity crisis, and became largely comprised of gentiles. Those responsible for shaping and molding Christian thought were converts from other religions and some were even trained philosophers. The great shift had begun and Christianity became a religious smoothie of blended belief containing ingredients entirely foreign to Jesus' and Paul's teaching.

Now, we know that Messiah will return (appear) in the same manner in which he left. We know there will be a resurrection of the righteous (and unrighteous). We know that the saints will be with him at some point and there will be a type of judgment (not of condemnation) and reward. We know that the ultimate “theocracy” and governing hand of God has been inaugurated and will come through “the one he anointed” for the task (Paul - Acts 17). We know that it is the “last day” on which the dead will be raised (even Daniel said something like that).

Paul began his letter to the Philippians by admonishing them regarding work that was being done in their lives. Paul seemed to think (in other places of his writing) that the Messiah’s return could readily be approaching, perhaps even in his lifetime. He said that he was confident that such work being done in and through these people would be “complete” on the day of Jesus, i.e. the Lord. He also referenced the anticipation of “Jesus’ day” that would accompany such a work. Paul then talks about his own matters and trials.

One of the key factors specifically in relationship to living and dying (although I do not pretend this thought is by any means original to me) is time. When a person (in Messiah) closes their eyes in death, the Scripture is quite clear about the status of that “soul." It is dead. The breath returns whence it came; to God. The hope of the believer is in resurrection (God did this for Messiah, he will also do it for us – Paul). It is quite evident that time is a unique phenomenon that can (even in our physical dimension) have unusual sensations. A simple example would be the quick passage of time when one is in a comma or deep sleep. In the same sense, (from the perspective of a believer who closes their eyes in death), time ceases for them. The next waking moment for them would literally be the call to awake or “come up here” (as seemingly suggested in Revelation 11). To them, no calculable time would have passed at all. As soon as they departed in death, all would be waking to their inheritance and experiencing being united in fullness with the Messiah.

From a corporeal perspective, those who have died await their calling, and the dead will rise first (on that day). With that said, I find Paul’s words in perfect alignment with this thought:


“But continuation of my natural life would mean productivity in my work. Therefore, I am in a quandary. I am mutually attracted, having a strong desire to graduate to be with Christ—a much better option. But to remain here in my physical state is what you need even more.”


We cannot say for certain what it was this particular group of believers were “in need of” (with Paul), but it is clear that his greatest desire was to be with his lord. Perhaps the next phrase is a key to understanding what he meant –

“staying on here in the flesh is more vital for your sake. Since I have been convinced of this, I know that I will remain here, and stay alongside all of you, to help you to advance and rejoice in your faith, so that the pride you take in King Jesus may overflow because of me, when I come to visit you once again.”


Paul wants to be with the Messiah, but realizes that they are still in need of him. Paul also has the mindset that he is a slave, a bondservant of Messiah. As such, his desire is for that of his lord/master. With that perspective he says,

“Christ will be held in high honor in my body, whether by my living or dying. For my life consists of Christ, and death would be to my advantage.” 


Of course he wants to be with Messiah, but not if it is against the Messiah’s wishes.

To take this passage out of the confines of Paul’s own definition and his theological context is to put words in his mouth and say something that was never intended. There is no sense that Paul spoke of dying and going to “heaven” as sometimes thought. To assume Paul was a Platonist and held contemporary Christian views of cosmology and dualism is to make him something he wasn't. There is much more that could be said in reference to the whole philosophical and abstract notion of “immortal souls" embodied in flesh, but that will have to wait for another time.

Even though I never did take the time to wright a review of his book “Paul” (which was a great read for the most part), I will leave you with a few words from N.T. Wright: 

“Much of the second-Temple literature is precisely concerned to tell the story again and again to show how the plot was progressing and, perhaps, reaching its climax. Unless we recognize this and factor it into our thinking about Paul and his Jewish world from the very start we will have no chance of grasping the fundamental structures of his thought. And if, as has so often been done, we substitute for his controlling narratives those of other traditions and cultures, we are asking for hermeneutical trouble” p. 12.

Storied Salvation: Part XVII

Salvation According to Paul: Past

Paul occasionally uses the past tense when referring to salvation: 

I. “For in hope we have been saved” (Rom 8:24, cf. Tit 2:11).

Although the verb used is in the aorist tense – denoting something that has been done – for Paul the nature of hope is anticipation,

“We . . . groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of the body” (Rom 8:23).

The adoption for which believers long for is their final salvation. The “inward groaning” experienced by believers and creation (8:22) is as Dunn describes,

“the inward sense of frustration of individual believers (as a whole) at the eschatological tension of living in the overlap of the ages seems the most obvious reference, not least in view of the parallel with v 26 and 2 Cor 5:2, 4.” J. D. G. Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary: Romans 1-8 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 38A:474.

It is the redemption of the body, i.e. resurrection which is to be fully realized. This is evident in what the apostle explains,

“hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees . . . if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Rom 8:24-25, cf. 2 Cor 5:7).

“Hope in the NT is always future oriented, and unseen in the sense that the object of hope is yet to be revealed. Yet hope is not wishful thinking, but what the writer to the Hebrews describes as both ‘sure’ and ‘certain’ (Heb 11:1).” Colin G. Kruse, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012), 350. [1] 

II. “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2:8).

In the context of this passage there are clues that through Paul’s strong use of metaphor and the use of the past tense, he alludes to a future reality. Paul’s wording “made alive” (v. 5) and “raised us up and seated us with Him in the heavenly places” (v. 6) seems to specify “so that in the ages to come” (v. 7) a reference to glorification that awaits the saints. 

It is also possible that Paul sees believers being represented in heaven, Christ having been seated at the right hand of God (cf. Rom 8:16-24). [2]

III. “He [God our Savior] saved us, not on the basis of deeds” (Tit 3:5).

Here, the mention of “saved” although past, is tied to the hope of future life in the age to come (v. 7).

IV. “He [the Father] rescued us from the domain of darkness” (Col 1:13).

The context in Paul’s greeting is the inheritance that is being shared with the saints. Through the spirit, the guarantee, the first-fruits of what is to come, was given. This is sometimes called “now and not yet.”

Regardless of one’s eschatological orientation, it seems most are agreed that this present age – with its domain of darkness – is not as it should be and as it will be in the age to come. What is ahead, how to fix the problems now, and what God intends are usually where debate centers. Paul, though, envisions the people of God connected with the Messiah and saved in the manner which he described in detail to the Corinthians, “first-fruits.”

“The Messiah has been raised from the dead, as the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” 1 Cor 15:20 (Wright, KNT).

First-fruits was an offering of the first-ripened grain, harvested and presented to God in celebration and thanks for the whole harvest which would follow.

“‘We were saved,’ says Paul in Romans 8:24, ‘in hope.’ The verb ‘we were saved’ indicates a past action, something that has already taken place, referring obviously to the complex of faith and baptism of which Paul has been speaking in the letter so far. But this remains ‘in hope’ because we still look forward to the ultimate future salvation of which he speaks ‘in (for instance) Romans 5:9, 10. This explains at a stroke the otherwise puzzling fact that the New Testament often refers to salvation and being saved in terms of bodily events within the present world.” Wright, Surprised by Hope, 210-11.
____________________________
[1] See also J. D. G. Dunn, Neither Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity, Christianity in the Making, v. 3 (Erdmans, 2015), 714.
[2] See F.F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI.:William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), 287.

Life, Bible, Demons and Spiritual Warfare Links

Richard Beck has been posting a series on Idolatry, Oppression and the Development of Demons. He has just posted part six. To read from the beginning (recommended), here is one, two, three, four and five

He has made some great observations regarding the way scriptural evidence sends us, rather than as tradition has often made us assume. The posts are short and informative, especially if it is an area you haven't thought about much. 



Also, Kurt Willems (from the Paulcast) interviewed Greg Boyd on the subject of "Spiritual Warfare." Greg talks about how he dealt academically with the evidence presented, especially when unexpectedly coming face to face with a real spiritual force.



Kurt also blogs at Patheos.

The Artful Application of an Ad Hominem

False prophet is a label haphazardly thrown around far too frequently in Christendom today and is the direct result of biblical illiteracy. This rather elementary concept exemplifies the attitude of some to provide "seemingly" scriptural support for an ad hominem.

A "prophet" in biblical prose is an individual commissioned by the God of Israel (Yahweh) to deliver a given message, verbal or otherwise. Therefore, a "false prophet" is one who purports to speak on behalf of or deliver a message for Yahweh (Deut. 18) but rather speaks from himself, "presumptuously."

Apart from some Christians' ways of speaking today, a "false prophet" is NOT someone who I or my spiritual guru deems to have heretical views and/or fails to accept doctrines I may believe to be soteriologically essential. If someone holds and teaches a view different than my own, it does not mean they are claiming to speak in the name or on the behalf of the God of Israel; there is a big difference. 

Jesus' use of "false prophet" in the Synoptics is not what many today think he meant. He was referring to actual prophets, not renegade pastors or teachers from other denominations, with differing points of view. Even the book of Peter makes a distinction: 

"But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves" (2 Pe 2:1 NAU).

A false prophet, a false messiah (christ) and a false teacher are not all synonymous.
 
A prophet is also NOT someone who may believe - through either discernment and other pieces of evidence - that certain events may be about to unfold, false or not. An example could be a stockbroker at the New York Stock Exchange, who observes a shift or evidence in numbers that there may be an imminent, economic bubble-burst. This however, has nothing to do with prophecy, a word from Yahweh (the LORD). Jesus referenced this when speaking to his followers about recognizing the "signs of the times" (Matt. 16; Lk. 12). 

Christians must stop idiosyncratically inventing definitions for the express purpose of smearing others with whom they may disagree. Merely holding a perceived "heretical" theological position, opposing one's own, does not make that individual guilty and worthy of the label false prophet. It does however reveal the ignorance of the one with the ad hominem baton, making the accusation.

Buried Deep Blog on Gnosticism

Here is a great introduction to Gnosticism. My friend Kegan Chandler, over at his blog Buried Deep, has a golden pen, so to speak. It would be worth your time to check-out some of his recent posts. Also, tomorrow (August 24, 2016) is the launch of his new book "The God of Jesus in Light of Christian Dogma: The Recovery of New Testament Theology."





"First, what do we mean by “Gnosticism”? Today the term describes a fluid category of spiritual traditions developing in the mid to late first century CE which emphasized the acquisition of gnosis, or secret knowledge of the divine, in order to achieve salvation. While the movement was not exclusive to Christianity, it is best known by its manifestation in various Christian groups deemed “heretical” by the great proto-orthodox polemicists of the second and third centuries. . . . Gnosis-inclined “proto-orthodox” Christians, like Clement of Alexandria (d. 215 CE) and Origen (d. 254 CE), also employed a hermeneutic which assumed a spiritual meaning behind the text reflective of real happenings in a real spiritual world. This affinity may provide a clue to a deeper relationship between the “Gnostic” and the emerging “catholic” Christianity of the third and fourth centuries than many have supposed"

Storied Salvation: Part XVI

Salvation According to Paul

Introduction.

Paul had a resurrection based soteriology. Paul and Luke are both most interested in salvation along with its progression. Paul used the verb sōzō (to save) twenty-nine times, topping anyone else in the NT. He makes up for half of the twenty-four times the noun sōtēr (savior) is used in the NT. Eighteen times he employed sōtēria (salvation) and singularly used sōtērion (salvation) and sōtērios (bringing salvation). He also used the verb rhuomai (deliver, rescue) eleven times.

When speaking of saving some of his fellow Israelites (e.g. Rom. 11:14), Paul did not intend that his own actions would effect salvation, but rather he provided them with the message given him by God, thereby causing them to turn and enter into the deliverance to be provided by God in Christ.

“Knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed” (Rom 13:11).

“In popular evangelicalism salvation is constantly spoken of as something only in the past: ‘when I got saved . . .’ In the NT the balance of the salvation statements is in favor of a yet future final salvation. The NT says too that we ‘are being saved.’ (1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:15).” [1]

Paul used the word egeiro (to wake), which can have no connection to asking Jesus to be a personal savior. Otherwise Paul could have not said salvation was still before us, and nearer than before, when we first believed. If the “day of salvation” (1 Cor 6:2; Isa 49:8) is the day I “made a decision” for Jesus, then that day is behind me and getting further every day. Paul undoubtedly had something else in mind.

Ergo, it should not come as a surprise that Paul was thinking much larger. The word egeiro is the same word used for the raising of the dead, no doubt making connection with the LXX. Passages such as Daniel 12 could be recalled, 

“those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. . . . you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age” v. 2, 13.

“The day of salvation” points toward a time of full restoration of cosmic proportions, the arrival of the long-awaited rule of God and the triumph over his enemies. This includes the enemy of death. This is vital within Paul’s soteriology, e.g. 1 Cor 15, possibly even relating to the exodus and the personal force, the destroyer. The entire order of the cosmos is about to be overturned and Yahweh – through his anointed, established and declared regent-king Jesus – will at last deliver his people from not only their present enemies, but the enemy that has plagued humanity all throughout history.

This is not a matter of a “personal rescue” operation (although that is not excluded). It’s much larger. Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection became the first-fruits of a larger harvest in the garden of God. In the OT God is sometimes a farmer/gardener and Israel is a tree, vine whose purpose is to yield fruit. In Jesus parables, the same metaphor is used. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, he is mistaken for a “gardener.” There can be little question that an allusion to God’s garden (Eden/restoration) and Jesus’ role as caretaker is being communicated. 

The seeds have been planted and life will come shooting out of the ground at God’s timing. The re-establishment of God’s divine order will be underway, and creation will revert to its original intent for which it was designed.   

 “This inaugurated eschatology is the primary driver for Paul’s redefinition of what it means to be God’s people (which is what he is still talking about, rather than any abstract scheme of ‘how people get saved’ which ignores the Israel dimension). If the end has come forward into the present—if the Messiah has arrived in the middle of history—if resurrection itself has happened in one case while death still appears to reign all around—then the verdict of the last day is already known, and the careful eschatological schemes by which various quite different groups of Jews had organized themselves, their lives and their soteriologies must be seen in a different light.”[2]

For Paul, deliverance from sin is important because it affects one’s relationship to the “wrath or judgment of God,” although it is more common for him to simply speak of “salvation” rather than that from which one is saved. However, being “saved from sin” for Paul is tantamount to being released from the implications of God’s active justice which inevitably culminates in death. The Messiah Jesus, the man whom God has raised in declaration of divine appointment as judge, will enact God’s justice and reform. While being “saved from sin” manifests itself in corporeal and temporal benefits, Paul’s larger emphasis is eschatological when surveying the usage alongside his proclamation of the Gospel of the kingdom and parousia language.


[1] A. Buzzard, “Romans 13:11,” The One God the Father, One Man Messiah Translation (Restoration Fellowship, 2015), 403.
[2] Wright, Justification, 148.

Son of God Apologetics: Deity, Divinity and Blessed Ambiguity.

The New Testament's use of "son of god" has been the source of confusion, confrontation and conflict in times past and present. With the ever narrowing fields of scholarship regarding these subjects, it has become evident that earlier (mostly) dogma driven views that captivated the Church were incorrect.

What is overtly disturbing however, are the Christian apologists and zealous pew occupying Christians who still maintain the false notion that "son of god" is somehow an ontological category. Never-mind the ambiguities of what god, deity or divinity may mean to them, somehow the title - with its root in the Hebraic worldview from which the NT writers hail - still finds a way to "clearly communicate" to some that Jesus, as the Son of God, just is the God of Israel. This is not the story of the Synoptics, nor is it the Jesus they describe. 

The writer of the book of Luke in his genealogy of Jesus stated at the end of chapter 3 that Adam was the "son of god." What does that mean? What is this piece that Christianity has been neglecting? What does it mean to be a "son of god"? Apparently unbeknownst to some Christians is the fact that the title "son of god" is not exclusive to Jesus. Adam was the first human "son of God," so what is special about Jesus' connection to this title?

There has been great progress in recent years on this subject, and scholars continue to investigate as more evidence comes to light. It is a wide, intriguing and important field of study, but suffice it to say, son of god is not tantamount nor synonymous to the later innovative title "God the Son."

Son of god does not point to a metaphysical or numerical identity with God, but rather a relational one. 

Far too many Christians are under the mistaken notion that the title son of god implies some strange metaphysical existence. This has large traces of Gnosticism present. This conclusion is unwarranted when deriving information from the Gospels. It severely distorts the context, reads external, anachronistic events into it and abolishes the meaning of the original authors/hearers by introducing categories alien to their worldview. Son of god was not a title reserved for Jesus alone. One need only read the rest of the Bible to know this is not the case. The real kicker is that this fact is not reliant on views of high or low Christology, liberal, conservative, Trinitarian scholars or not, but rather on its context. It was not firstly a theological title. 

"We must stress that in the first century the regular Jewish meaning of this title [Son of God] had nothing to do with an incipient trinitarianism; it referred to the king as Israel’s representative." N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 485-86.



"The psalms speak of the king as son of God, and say he is begotten, not adopted. This language is mythical and metaphorical rather than philosophical. It does not employ ontological categories. But it should not be dismissed as ‘mere’ metaphor. It was a powerful way of shaping perceptions about the special relationship between the king and his god." Collins, Son of God, 204.


"But when the One who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately thereafter consult with anyone . . . " Gal 1:15-16

"ἀποκαλύψαι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐμοί, 'to reveal his Son in me.' The language of v 16a raises a number of difficult questions and has caused a great deal of speculation. The Christological title 'Son of God,' 'his [God’s] Son,' or simply 'the Son' appears in Paul’s writings fifteen times ('Son of God': Rom 1:42 Cor 1:19Gal 2:20; “his Son” or “the Son”: Rom 1:395:108:329321 Cor 1:915:28Gal 1:164:461 Thess 1:10), which warrants Werner Kramer’s comment: 'In comparison with the passages in which the titles Christ Jesus or Lord occur, this is an infinitesimally small figure' (Christ, Lord, Son of God, 183). Furthermore, in that all of these fifteen instances are in Paul’s earlier letters (i.e., the Hauptbriefe and 1 Thessalonians, but none in the Prison or Pastoral Epistles), it can be argued that “Son of God” as a Christological title was derived by Paul from his Jewish Christian heritage (cf. ibid., 185). During the first half of the twentieth century, of course, scholars influenced by G. H. Dalman and W. Bousset tended to separate “Son of God” from its Jewish roots and to see it as a Hellenistic epiphany accretion. Of late, however, the title is being increasingly related to Jewish messianology (cf. 4QFlor on 2 Sam 7:144 Ezra 7:28–2913:32375214:9) and seen as a feature of early Jewish Christian Christology (cf. my The Christology of Early Jewish Christianity, 93–99). In Galatians the title “Son of God” or “his Son” appears elsewhere at 2:20 and 4:46, with each of these occurrences situated in a confessional or quasi-confessional portion. . . . So it may be claimed that “Son of God” is a title carried over from both Paul’s Jewish and his Christian past, and that he uses it here as a central Christological ascription because (1) it was ingrained in his thinking as a Jewish Christian, and (2) it was part of the language of his opponents, who were also Jewish Christians." R. N. Longenecker, vol. 41, Word Biblical Commentary : Galatians, Word Biblical Commentary,  (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 30.



"'Son of God' is perhaps the single most familiar christological title. Indeed, it is so familiar that many people think it is the 'real' one, with the others perhaps being metaphorical. Tracing its development illuminate the meaning of the phrase. It has a history in the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish tradition. 'Son of God' could refer to Israel. In the story of the Exodus, Moses is told to say to Pharaoh: 'Thus says the Lord: Israel is my firstborn son. . . . Let my son go that he may worship you.' Hosea says in the name of God, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.' 'Son of God' could also refer to the king of Israel. Speaking in the name of God, Nathan the prophet said about the king, 'I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.' In a psalm probably used in a coronation liturgy in ancient Israel, the divine voice addresses the king and says, 'You are my son; today I have begotten you.' In the book of Job, angels or perhaps members of the divine council are referred to as sons of God: 'One day the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also was among them.' One further use of the metaphor in the Jewish tradition is also worth noting. Near the time of Jesus, other Jewish Spirit persons were sometimes called 'son of God.' What do Israel, the king, angels, and Jewish religious ecstatics have in common? All have a close relationship with God. That is, “Son of God” is a relational metaphor, pointing to an intimate relationship with God, like that of beloved child to parent.” N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus, pg. 151.

Dr. Colin Brown, who was senior Professor of Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological seminary (also lexicographer of NIDNTT) wrote, 

“Indeed, one may well ask whether the term ‘Son of God’ is in and of itself a divine title at all. Certainly there are many instances in biblical language where it is definitely not a designation of deity. Adam is called "the son of God in Luke's genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3: 38). Hosea 11:1 (which is cited in Matt 2: 15) alludes to the nation of Israel as God's son. In Wisdom 2: 18 the righteous man is called God's son. Nathan's prophecy to David contains God's promise to David's successor: ‘I will be his father, and he shall be my son’ (2 Sam 714; cf. Psalm 89: 26-27). This passage also occurs in a collection of testimonies at Qumran (4QFlor IOf.), indicating that the messianic significance of this prophecy was a matter of continuing speculation in first century Judaism. In Psalm 2: 7 the anointed king is addressed at his installation: ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you’ (cited in Acts 13: 33; Heb. 1: 5; 5: 5; cf. 2 Pet 1: 17). This passage is the source of the identification of Jesus with God's Son by the Bat Qol (voice from heaven) after his baptism (Mark 1: 11; Matt 3:17; Luke 3: 22; cf. John 1: 34). The voice also identifies Jesus with the chosen servant in whom God delights (Isa. 42: 1; cf. also Matt 12: 18-21). In the light of these passages in their context, the title ‘Son of God’ is not in itself a designation of personal deity or an expression of metaphysical distinctions within the Godhead. Indeed, to be a ‘Son of God’ one has to be a being who is not God! It is a designation for a creature indicating a special relationship with God. In particular, it denotes God's representative, God's vice-regent. It is a designation of kingship, identifying the king as God's son… it seems to me that a complex structure has been erected upon the systematic misunderstanding of biblical language of sonship. What seems to have happened with a number of issues that we have been considering-various ways of understanding person- and Son-language, ‘eternal generation,’ kenosis, and indeed the social Trinitarian approach-is the evolution of a series interrelated protective lines of defence designed to safeguard central beliefs about God and Christ. In the course time these protective lines have come to be felt to be a necessary part of orthodoxy. Although justification was sought for them in biblical language, they moved progressively away from the testimony of Scripture.” Colin Brown, “Trinity and Incarnation: In Search of Contemporary Orthodoxy,” Ex Auditu, vol. 7 (1991), 88, 92.

Because I am in a small and conservative community, when discoursing on this issue (son of god), it often ends with accusations toward me as though I inhabit some "marooned islander" position. If the average Christian is convinced by apologists, pastors or other influential Church laity that scholarship is useless and liberal, seeking to subvert true Christianity, how can this topic even be engaged on those terms? Some Christians are convinced that the Bible was designed as a "living document" which has only to be read by them, under the illumination of the spirit and exposition of their pastor, to say everything it ever needs to say or was meant to say. What's the point of a discussion where logic, reason and authentic scholarship are forsaken in favor of tradition and dogma? 

This is the difficulty of Christians who take up the mantle of an apologist with little knowledge on a subject that has been studied by countless dedicated, qualified scholars who (have) document(ed) and discuss(ed) to gain a more complete understanding of what the intended phrase or passage meant/means. What's even worse is that many of these well-intending apologists have little desire to find out. These amateur apologists seek-out those - like ancient heresy hunters - who take a position different than what they identify as "orthodox" (although that almost always works itself out idiosyncratically) and attempt to bash them over the head with the hammer of orthodox hegemony.

Unfortunately, so many have been conditioned to think that the tradition they inhabit is the “right” and “true” perspective, the set of transcendent interpretations that can prove all others wrong, therefore there is no reason to ask questions or take other options into consideration.

Storied Salvation: Part XV

Salvation From Sin


While salvation from sin is a theme, the priority and later focus of the Church on this aspect – as though it encompassed the greater meaning of Jesus mission – misses the point. Jews in the first-century were not concerned about forgiveness and God’s dealing with their sin because God had already made provision for this.

“There is no sign that first-century Jews were walking around gloomily wondering how their sins were ever going to be forgiven. They had the Temple and the sacrificial system, which took care of all that. If Jesus had only said what a lot of Western Christians seem to think he said, he would have been just a big yawn-maker. What he in fact said was so revolutionary that it woke everybody up.”[1]

Disease in the Gospels is often equated with sin. By forgiving sin and/or delivering one from the stated affliction, salvation had come. This was salvation from the certain death which would have ensued had there not been direct intervention.

“In the healings of both the woman with the hemorrhage (Mark 5.84 par.) and the blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10.52 par.), Jesus proclaims that their faith has ‘saved’ them; most recent translations correctly render the Greek verb sōzō ‘has made you well’; cf. Mark 3.4; 5.23, 28; 6.56; Luke 17.19; Matt. 27.42 par.) Likewise, sōzō is used by the disciples when they thought they were drowning (Matt. 8.25; cf. 14.30) and (in a compound form) of Paul's escape from shipwreck (Acts 27.44; 28.1).”[2]

The works Jesus did correspond to the greater theme of his eschatological motif which pointed to the signs given by the prophets as to what Yahweh would do when he ushered in this “age to come.”

“Mostly, Jesus himself got a hearing from his contemporaries because of what he was doing. They saw him saving people from sickness and death, and they heard him talking about a salvation, the message for which they had longed, that would go beyond the immediate into the ultimate future. But the two were not unrelated, the present one a mere visual aid of the future one or a trick to gain people’s attention. The whole point of what Jesus was up to was that he was doing, close up, in the present, what he was promising long-term, in the future. And what he was promising for that future, and doing in that present, was not saving souls for a disembodied eternity but rescuing people from the corruption and decay of the way the world presently is so they could enjoy, already in the present, that renewal of creation which is God’s ultimate purpose—and so they could thus become colleagues and partners in that larger project.”[3]

The metaphorical use of salvation is often applied to the present:

“The death and resurrection of Jesus are the inauguration of the promised new age; and this ‘age to come’ is the long-awaited time of deliverance. The Jewish metaphorical meaning (resurrection as the rescue and restoration of Israel after exile and oppression) is retained but transformed: the divine rescue operation through Jesus is for all people, and delivers Jew and Gentile alike from the present evil age.”[4]

Jesus actively intervened in the chaos (“destroying the works of the Devil”)[5] of peoples’ lives, making the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, and the mute speak. In this manner, he brought the salvation of the future, when all will be right, into a small geographical region and to a relatively small number of people (cf. Luke 4:23-27) as a taste of what Yahweh would do on a grand scale. The prophets had foretold these things were to happen. 




[1] N.T. Wright, Who was Jesus (William B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992), 98.
[2] Meier and Metzger, Oxford Companion to the Bible, 670.
[3] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 204.
[4] Wright, Resurrection, 220
[5] 1 John 3:8.

Heiser Videos on The Gods of the Bible

I have posted articles and content from Dr. Mike Heiser before containing numerous links. Here are a couple more videos recently done, and well done, I should add. These are short and to the point, covering an area of study that most Christians are unaware exists.

It is a subject of utmost importance to me, on which I have spent a great deal of time and energy because of its contribution to misunderstanding what the ANE context reveals and does not teach about God. Misunderstandings and misguided hermeneutical approaches have crept into Genesis and even transformed themselves into bad trinitarian apologetics (and really bad christological ones for the particularly uninformed and overzealous apologist) via linguistic sophistry.



Harnack on the Human Jesus of the Synoptics and the Apocalypse

"That book [Revelation] . . . with its glowing symbolism, and strong colouring of images and descriptions, expressly ascribes the divine attributes to the glorified Jesus. He is, like God, the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega. He bears upon his forehead a new name, which is none other than the ineffable name of Jehovah. He is called the Word of God. 

But here let us not deceive ourselves. The author of the Apocalypse only means by this that Jesus, victorious over the world and sin, has gained all these titles. They have been conferred upon him from without, as a reward of his victory. He is not therefore the less a created being. 

It is from a certain moment, it is after his death upon the cross, that the divine perfections have been adjudged to him. The name of God, inscribed upon his forehead, will one day be written upon the foreheads of the elect.- His name, 'Word of God,' signifies that he is the revealer of the truth, the announcer of the divine judgments; and it is very far from bearing the metaphysical signification of the 'Logos,' or the 'Word' in the sense of Philo. . . . 

If we return to the three first Gospels, not asking as before what witness Jesus gave to himself, but in order to learn what his historians thought of him, we shall find there the feeling still very strong that Jesus positively belongs to humanity; and if of evangelical documents we only possessed the Gospel of Mark and the discourses of the Apostles in the Acts, the whole Christology of the New Testament would be reduced to this: that Jesus of Nazareth was' a prophet mighty in deeds and in words, made by God Christ and Lord.' 

There would even be no reason to question the favourite dogma of the old Ebionites, the orthodox of the primitive times of whom we shall have to speak again, according to whose opinion Jesus had himself no consciousness of his vocation until the period of his baptism in the Jordan, when the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him.

'A holy man, fully inspired by the divine spirit,' would therefore have been the prescribed Christological formula. With regard to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the two genealogies which these books respectively set forth plainly and expressly prove the strength of the primitive belief that Jesus was really man by his nature and birth."

Adolf Harnack, History of the Dogma of the Deity of Jesus Christ, (London: 1878), 31-33.