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.

Christian Know-It-Allism

Jon Pavlovitz on being a recovering Christian know-it-all.

"When they hear another follower of Jesus share their doubts or deviations, whether about theological concepts or Church doctrine or even regarding the fundamental issues of God and faith, they’re forced to consider their own questions, if even for a moment. They have to confront the things they may passionately argue, yet not be quite certain of—and that can be terrifying."

Storied Salvation: Part XIV

John

This Gospel is interested not only in OT fulfillment but showing Jesus as the climax which scriptural history has pointed. Within salvation-history, John highlights the respective roles of Abraham, Moses and Isaiah as particularly important. In John, Jesus indicates that these individuals were pointing towards him as the fulfillment in God’s final redemption of Israel (salvation is of the Jews), and the gentiles by way of inclusion.

"In the gospel of John not only is Jesus identified as ‘savior,’ an interpretation of his name . . . but the object of salvation is frequently identified as ‘the world’ (Grk. kosmos) the created order now at enmity with God and therefore in need of salvation through Jesus (John 8.16-17; 12.47; cf. Rev. 12.10-12). A large number of personal names are derived from the Hebrew root yš, including those of Moses' successor Joshua, the prophets Hosea, Isaiah, and probably Elisha, the Moabite king Mesha, and Jesus (a Grk. form of Hebr. yēšûa; see Matt. 1.21 John 4.42; Acts 5.3 1; Phil. 3.20; Eph. 5.28; Titus 1.4; 2 Pet. 1.1); in all of these names God rather than the person with the name is explicitly or implicitly the agent of salvation. The exclamation transliterated ‘Hosanna’ is also from this root.”[1]

Dualism

It is also worth noting that the Platonic view of dualism,[2] where one’s “soul is saved,” does not have its root in OT or NT theology. A passage used to support this theory is Luke 21:19, 

“By your endurance you will gain your souls” (NRS). 

Within this paradigm, the soul is separate from mortal existence; therefore it’s the soul that is saved. The body is left behind upon death and replaced with a new “resurrection” incorporeal body. In this view, a redefinition of “you,” is essential. Here the individual is the combination of the soul (immaterial) and the mortal tent, i.e. the human shell (material), in which they dwell. One of the problems with this is that only part of you is delivered upon death, not all of you. 

Other translations correct this issue by rendering the verse similar to the NASB, “you will gain your lives.” In Hebraic understanding, the Greek concept of “soul” is impossible. The Greek word in question, psyche has historically been translated soul, no doubt from its use in Greek philosophy. In context, “salvation of life” is what is being presented. God is the God of the living (cf. Matt 22:32; Mk 12:27; Lk 20:38) and it is lives not souls that are in need of deliverance.[3] The Platonic and Augustinian idea of soul is in need of correction.

“For the first Christians, the ultimate salvation was all about God’s new world, and the point of what Jesus and the apostles were doing when they were healing people or being rescued from shipwreck or whatever was that this was a proper anticipation of that ultimate salvation, that healing transformation of space, time, and matter. The future rescue that God had planned and promised was starting to come true in the present. We are saved not as souls but as wholes.”[4]



[1] Meier and Metzger, Oxford Companion to the Bible, 669-70.
[2] This is the popular view that human beings are compartmentalized into body and soul (sometimes with a side of spirit).
[3] For a short treatment of this see in OT John Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Baker Academic, 2006), 210-14.
[4] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 211.

2016: The Year of Liberty and Justice for All

I don’t do election politics. I do little with prophecy and nothing with Pokémon. When Christians – through a contorted process of hermeneutical gymnastics – feel the need to combine contemporary political and world events with prophetic scriptural passages, it grinds me. I like history, as many do. But most people don’t learn anything from history, and even fewer learn from politics, amidst the screams of sanity being a rare commodity. I'm not sure where the Pokémon go. I'm also not sure what the plural is for Pokémon. 

As with most civilizations preceding us, all hit their strides, eventually began a decline (some quicker than others, and with or without outside help) and ceased as a civilization or recognizable entity. Undoubtedly, ours will someday follow a similar pattern. There will be a strong competent leader at the podium making grand speeches (or at least plagiarized ones), promises (meant to be broken) and waxing eloquent or shooting from the hip. But more than likely it will not be the election and subsequent administration of that individual alone to cause the decline and fall of the American Empire any more than one emperor of Rome was to blame.

By now, I’m sure everyone is aware that Obama was definitely the anti-christ or the messiah who was assuredly destined to usher in the age of desolation, culminating with the rapture of the saints or bring redemption and everlasting peace to this land. Yeah. Guess what, I still put my pants on the same way - most mornings. The point being, regardless which candidate is elected to this year’s puppet post, it will not be the single contributing factor to bringing our civilization to its knees or less likely, to usher in a new golden era. 

While the American public is entertained by this monstrosity of reality show (which once again highlights our pathetic outlook of reality), we are convinced once more (by some magical madness I can’t understand) that reform from Washington is even possible by any one candidate. Even if the perfect candidate did somehow make it to the Oval Office, it wouldn’t fix everyone’s problems any more than Bush’s or Obama’s administration did.

I am always encouraged with the progression of our species when I visit social media. Social media has become a central hub for the knowledgeable and savvy on any given situation or scenario. These wonders of the web serve up facts by the page-full, along with pointed YouTube links which bring otherwise productive internet discussions to an abrupt halt, refuting once and for all those who seek to overthrow their personal lack of self-confidence. If the Church, all branches of government and the academic world (including the sciences) could get their hands on these internet eggheads, perhaps we could see some real improvement in the world.

Of course my candidate is the best and the only hope for the world. Certainly my particular strand of religion and interpretation schema of the Bible is the only truth known to man. And who could doubt my view of the sciences, which are built on the right set facts and are in complete biblical harmony against the godless scientists and scholars. Why else would God favor me and my candidate?

Illusion dominates our culture. We spend a great deal of time trying to convince everyone else of many things and yet live with daunting reality that we have not convinced ourselves (or God). But we still try somehow to persuade ourselves that the illusion we are promoting is the truth, because the illusion has become much more appealing than the truth ever was. For what other reason has social media become so popular?

Note: This post is full of sarcasm.

The Divine, Inerrant, Infallible, Inspired Theory?

I have mentioned this from time to time and continue to do so for the simple reason of it being a misunderstanding that runs deep and wide within the minds of average church-going Christians as well as those who may be classified as post-Christian.

While the "word of God" is a prerequisite in the life a believer, perhaps we've gotten the "word of God" confused with "the Bible" or "the Scriptures." These are not synonymous terms, although the Scriptures do contain the words of people's interaction with God, and his direction to them. Many conservative Christian groups are guilty of creating their own definitions of inspiration, inerrancy and infallibility, then forcing the Bible into that framework. It is demanded that this alone is the way to view the Bible while all others are liberal attacks against God. 

I have seen the modern view of inerrancy shatter too many people's faith - specifically in relation to a failed fundamentalism experience - because it's a wrongly based faith. 

Craig Evans put it: 

"In reading some of the more radical books on Jesus, I find that a loss of confidence in the historical reliability of the New Testament Gospels is often occasioned by misplaced faith and misguided suspicions. By misplaced faith I mean placing one's faith in the wrong thing, such as believing that the Scriptures must be inerrant according to rather strict idiosyncratic standards and that we must be able to harmonize the four Gospels. If our faith depends on these ideas, especially in rigid terms, and scholarly study may well lead to a collapse of faith. . . . Observe the line of reasoning; it is so typical of brittle fundamentalism. I have heard fundamentalists say, 'show me one mistake in the Bible and I will throw out the whole thing'. . . . The truth of the Christian message hinges not on the inerrancy of Scripture or on our ability to harmonize the four Gospels but on the resurrection of Jesus. And the historical reliability of the Gospels does not hinge on the inerrancy of Scripture or on proof that no mistake of any kind can be detected in them." 


It amounts to this; the Bible is not where my my faith nor hope is based. The Bible helps to govern my faith and works in tandem with it by showing what God is like and how he interacts with and through people. We miss the point of the Bible when we make our faith about it. Even those who claim to hold the Bible in the highest regard forget that those very people of whom the Bible speaks had no such book. If no such book existed, how did their faith survive? Perhaps their faith was not textually based and instead reliant upon God. Can God exist without the Bible? It seems as though some Christians are dangerously close to not thinking so.

Believe it or not, there are readers of the Bible today who have been indoctrinated into accepting an unrealistic and uncritical view as to what the Bible is and often means, go figure. Far too many have been convinced that the Bible is incapable of containing even the slightest contradiction or infinitesimal discrepancy. Some have even been convinced that if such things existed to the slightest degree, none of the Bible could be trusted. I have personally heard this stated, "if every single word isn't accurate, none of it is." This is poor logic and entirely ignorant of the way texts were created, copied, dispersed and come to us in the modern era. It also shows an ignorance of the textual variation between the thousands of competing copies in possession today.  Armed with a presupposition of what God is like and concluding that since God is perfect and the ultimate source knowledge, the Bible therefore - through divine inspiration of the prophets - cannot contain "imperfections." 

While this theory is convenient and comfortable for some, forming a tidy and safe God box, it can only be kept intact for the reader who doesn't look too closely at the Bible itself. There have been many conservative Christians (young and old) who have had their Bible-based faith shattered into oblivion due to probing at a deeper level. This is entirely unnecessary not by virtue of shutting ones eyes and ears to the truth about the Bible, but by understanding what the Bible was, is and therefore what our relationship to it should be. Are we fundamentally interested in investigating and being liberated by truth, or rather in error grown old by perpetuating and reiterating a lie? 

Getting into the intricate details of the Bible may be scary for those whose faith has been placed in certain idiosyncratic concepts regarding the Bible's identity. The Bible is inspired and our rule of faith, but what "inspiration" means to some is entirely different than what it means to others. Also words such as "inerrancy" and "infallibility" are often harnessed as though they had a single authoritative standard of definition of unquestionable quality. This is subjectivism masquerading as objectivism. 

God used people to write the content of the Bible. The Bible is messy, written by messy people, about messy people in a messy world that continues to this messy day. It is a messy way to describe a very great God in the business of cleaning things up. They were not early, prehistoric ink-jet printers upon whom the spirit came and dictated the words of God verbatim. Dogmatic theories about who wrote, how they did it and why the Bible has to be this way or that way to be believed, is where the error lies.

Storied Salvation: Part XIII

Mark


When Jesus came on the scene preaching and inaugurating the kingdom of God, a conflict was presented between the forces of good and evil, of God’s kingdom and the anti-kingdom. Jesus’ message, authority, and his substantial role in salvation-history are derived from God. Mark’s emphasis on various elements of the story offered a nuanced telling of the stunning proclamation of Jesus’ authority and lordship for his audience.[1]

“The adherence to Jesus remains a precondition for eschatological salvation during the post resurrection period. . . . In the face of persecution and affliction during Jesus' absence the precondition for participation in the eschatological salvation is faithfulness to Jesus and the Gospel: whoever denies inherence to Jesus or the gospel (Mk 8:38 parentheses) forfeits salvation (Mk 8:34, 38; cf. Mk 4:16-19). . . . For Mark, salvation first of all means participation in God's eschatological reign (Mk 1:14-15; 9:47; 10:24-25), which will be brought about finally when the Son of Man returns (Mk 8:38-9:1; 13:24-27). The coming of the Son of Man is depicted as God’s final judgment and is understood as the destruction of God's enemies. Salvation therefore entails being saved from God's final judgment administered by the Son of Man (Mk 8:34-9:1; 13:24-27; 14:62).” [2]

Luke

It is Luke’s Gospel that has Simeon declaring that the salvation Jesus brings into history will be a “light of revelation for the gentiles” (2:32). This theme is realized in the mission portrayed throughout Acts. 

“Luke’s massive two-volume work can be read as claiming, among many other things, that this status ought now to belong to the Christians. They are the ones who have inherited the Jewish promises of salvation; they are the ones to whom accrues the status proper to a religion of great antiquity.” [3]

 “Luke clearly grasped the equally important Jewish belief that when Israel was redeemed the whole world would be blessed. Israel’s salvation was not to be a private affair only: it was to be for the benefit of all. The good news of the established kingdom would have to impinge on the Gentile world. Since, therefore, he believed that this good news had taken the form of the life, and particularly the death and resurrection, of one human being, and since this was a Jewish message for the Gentile world, Luke blended together two apparently incompatible genres with consummate skill. He told the story of Jesus as a Jewish story, indeed as the Jewish story, much as Josephus told the story of the fall of Jerusalem as the climax of Israel’s long and tragic history. But he told it in such a way as to say to his non-Jewish Greco-Roman audience: here, in the life of this one man, is the Jewish message of salvation that you pagans need.”[4]

“‘Salvation’ is a particularly Lukan theme whose thesis is that ‘the idea of salvation supplies the key to the theology of Luke’ but familiar in (in verb or noun) in all strands of early Christianity.”[5]

At the circumcision of John the Baptist, Zacharias prophesied concerning not only John, but regarding Luke’s greater message of God’s eschatological salvation-history:[6]

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of David His servant-- As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old-- Salvation FROM OUR ENEMIES, And FROM THE HAND OF ALL WHO HATE US; To show mercy toward our fathers, And to remember His holy covenant, The oath which He swore to Abraham our father, To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days” Luke 1:68-75. 

Notice that the wording of this prophecy is in the past tense, “visited,” “accomplished,” “raised,” but yet Jesus hadn’t even been born at this time. Speaking in the past tense of something that is assured is an idiomatic expression common throughout biblical and Hebraic literature.




[1] For example see Thomas Schmidt, “Jesus Triumphal March to Crucifixion: The Sacred Way as Roman Procession” Biblical Review (Feb. 1997), 30.
[2] Joel B. Green, “Salvation,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospel's, Second Ed. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2013) 827.
[3] Wright, People of God, 376-7.
[4] Ibid., 381. (cf. Acts 17).
[5] J. D. G. Dunn, Beginning from Jerusalem, Christianity in the Making, v. 2 (Erdmans, 2008), 672.
[6] In Acts 28, verse 28 appears to equate the gentiles listening to the “salvation of God” with Paul’s preaching the Kingdom of God in verse 31.

Storied Salvation: Part XII

Matthew


Matthew 2 tells the story of Joseph, Mary and Jesus’ flight into Egypt. The writer is explicit in his use of the phrase “out of Egypt I called my son”, but much less so in what he intends by it. His citation relates to fleeing into Egypt, not from it. The exodus out of Egypt[1] resonates profoundly within the identity of Israel, so much so that Matthew is able to say a lot about Jesus at the outset of his narrative without spelling it out.[2]

“On the surface it is of course not at all obvious how Hosea 11:1 is fulfilled in Jesus escaping from Egypt. But as one reflects more deeply on Jesus relationship to Israel one starts to see how profound the sense might be in which Jesus, fulfills God’s call of his people out of Egypt. Out of Egypt is this useful shorthand for evoking the challenges and the richness of biblical theology.”[3]

Matthew’s soteriology is saturated with hints of resurrection, not only of Jesus but a wider resurrection of the saints.[4] Matthew is the only Gospel to use the phrase “parousia of the son of man.”[5]

Matthew 19:25 and parallels must refer to ‘final salvation.’ It is about a future state of being saved as opposed to being lost, and in the imagery of the Gospels signifies entry to the heavenly banquet instead of exclusion, a welcome by the Son of man and entry to the heavenly kingdom instead of rejection and consignment to eternal fire. . . . This raises the question whether ‘being saved’ refers exclusively to a future state in the next world, or whether it can also refer to those who are already sure of entry to the kingdom.”[6]

Matthew also adopts the other strand of Mark's soteriology: sōzō designates the saving of life within an eschatological horizon (Mt 16:25; 19:25; see also Mt 10:22, 24:13, 22) or salvation from God's final judgment and eternal punishment (Mt 13:41-43; 16:27-28, 19:28, 24:29-31, 37-41; 25:31-46; see also Mt 8:11-12; 10:28)-that is, eschatological life (Mt 7:14; 10:39, 16:25-26; 18:8-9; 19:16-17, 29; 25:46) and participation in the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:20; 7:21; 13:43; 18:3-4; 19:23-24; 21:31; see also Mt 5:3-12; 19:12).”[7]

Recognition that it is the judging acts of God from which we are saved – to be poured-out in its time at the “end of the age” – is a crucial distinction to make in the NT’s treatment of salvation.

“It is ecclesiology (membership in God’s people) as the advance sign of soteriology (being saved on the last day). It is 'justification' in the present, anticipating the verdict of the future. God will declare on the last day that certain people are 'in the right,' by raising them from the dead; and that verdict has been brought forward into the present, visibly and community-formingly.”[8]

So we are “saved” from a day yet unseen. It is very much akin to the exodus from Egypt. The Hebrews were not “saved” until the death angel “passed over,” but they were marked for salvation when they believed and acted in obedience (a byproduct of belief). Today, salvation has been reduced to “a decision for Jesus” which is shallow and biblically non-existent.

“The majority of occurrences in the New Testament of the Greek verb sōzō (‘to save’) and its derivatives, especially the noun sōtēria (‘salvation’) have to do with the ultimate salvation of believers in Christ Jesus. The same phrase used in the stories of healing is also used of forgiveness of sin (Luke 7.48-50 cf. 18.52), and in the account of the paralytic (Matt. 9.2-8 par.) forgiveness of sin is a spiritual kind of healing concomitant with the physical restoration of health. For the one forgiven this spiritual healing is thus ‘salvation,’ in the sense of admission into the kingdom of God understood as both a present and a future reality. The salvation of individuals is the principal focus of the earlier New Testament writings. In Paul this salvation is both present and future; the two are closely linked in part at least because of Paul's expectation of a prompt Second Coming (Rom. 5.8-11 8.18 1; 25; 18.11). So Paul can speak of those ‘who are being saved’ (1 Cor. 1.18; 15.2; 2 Cor. 2.15), as well as those who will be ‘saved in the day of the Lord’ (1 Cor. 5.5), both Jews (Rom. 11.26) and gentiles (1 Thess. 2.16). This same kind of realized eschatology’ is also found in the synoptic Gospels and in Acts, though in both it is a future salvation that dominates (Mark 8.35; 13.13 par.; Acts 15.11; contrast Luke 19.9: ‘Today salvation has come to this house’ and cf. Acts 47).”[9]




[1] Exo 13:9, 14, 16; 18:1; 19:4, Num 23:20; 24:8; Deut 9:26; 16:1; 26:8; Jos 24:6; Jdg 6:8-9; 1 Sam 12:1.
[2] In context (of Hosea 11), it is obvious that God had called his “son,” Israel, out of Egypt (Exo 4:22-23). The Matthean author does not make mention of this passage blindly or in an unjustifiable out-of-context use, he is far more sophisticated than that. Matthew (and other gospels) makes it clear to his readers that Jesus is undeniably the prophet like Moses from Deut 18. The details given (even numbers) of how Jesus did almost exactly as Moses did, even down to the way he divided the people to feed them (something Moses did in the wilderness) are to take the reader back to the Torah in subtle ways. Most of what he did and said comes right out of the OT. We have (in general) failed to recognize it or make the connections because we don’t know the OT well. As the “new Moses” and ultimate representative of Israel, Jesus relives many of the same experiences described in the Torah that happened to Israel (God’s first-born: Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son” Exo 4:22): Jesus survives a gruesome infanticide by a wicked king, has compassion on the people, divides them in groups of hundreds and fifties, in the wilderness alone for 40 days (Israel 40 years), instructed people on a mountain, climbs a mountain with only his closest companions and has visions of glory and light, chooses twelve disciples (12 tribes), offers himself in the peoples stead among many other nuances. In this knowledge it should not be surprising that Matthew makes Jesus appear as the ultimate son who is a firstborn, as he does with Mary as the ultimate “virgin Israel.”
[3] Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Craig. G. Bartholomew (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 2004), xxiii.
[4] Matthew is the only Gospel to report the open graves of “saints who had fallen asleep” (27:52-3).
[5] Matt 24:3, 27, 37, 39.
[6] Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall, “Salvation,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 722.
[7] Joel B. Green, “Salvation,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospel's, 2d ed. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 828.
[8] Wright, Justification, 146-7.
[9] Meier and Metzger, Oxford Companion to the Bible, 669.