A New Old Orthodoxy

"When the Jew said something was ‘predestined,’ he thought of it as already ‘existing’ in a higher sphere of life. The world’s history is thus predestined because it is already, in a sense, preexisting and consequently fixed. This typically Jewish conception of predestination may be distinguished from the Greek idea of preexistence by the predominance of the thought of ‘preexistence’ in the Divine purpose."

E.C. Dewick, Primitive Christian Eschatology, The Hulsean Prize Essay for 1908 (Cambridge University Press, 1912), 253f.

God is not a Hebrew, but has chosen to communicate to the world via the Jewish people (e.g. prophets and his son). Merely because something or other is Jewish does not mean it is inherently better or closer in proximity to God's heart. They were the conduit through whom God chose to tell his saving story. But to understand the story as it was originally intended, simply reading the Jewish message that was placed into their world and cultural context with any paradigm has often severely distorted that message. When the writers used words and definition, it cannot be supposed that what they meant means the same thing in a twenty-first century context. Language changes, cultures shift and what Paul really meant can get glossed by later explanations that would not have been indigenous to his historical context and theological edifice. With the rise of historical analysis, the new perspectives on Paul were inevitable and much needed. 

Being or thinking like a Greek (westerner) is not wrong. But to take the Greek worldview, definition or ways of thinking and impose it on what radically different Jewish writers were communicating is to do violence to the original message. For example, we cannot read Paul and assume that he was a Trinitarian. To go into the text with that anachronistic presumption and interpret his words through a fourth and fifth century filter is to miss what he actually was saying. We don't have to assume that Paul's idea of kenosis matches that of many modern interpreter's opinions regarding the Carmen Christi.

The Second Temple Jewish view of preexistence is virtually absent in our world of Christian congregants. When a post-modern interpreter thinks of preexistence, it is generally not with the opinion that God's foreknown purpose was thought to have preexisted the reality. Greeks (westerners) tend toward thinking in terms of abstract metaphysics and ontological categories. If Jesus preexisted (whatever that actually means), he must therefore of necessity have existed in some other form (i.e. logos theology) before entering the womb of Mary. 

When biblical titles like Son of God are redefined by using later definition, it is not difficult to see how the shift in this thinking occurred. With neo-Platonism governing the overall approach to biblical hermeneutics, and the spark of creativity in the air, the Patristics - and eventually the councils - replaced the NT (based on OT use) Son of God with a philosophically contrived God the Son. Thus, a new "orthodoxy" was born. It threatened - under the pain of excommunication and eternal damnation - that its definitions and dogmas must be unquestioningly accepted for salvation (Athanasian Creed). Jesus was subsequently torn out of his Hebraic world and placed into another. Geza Vermes put it well in The Authentic Gospel of Jesus

“Compared to the dynamic religion of Jesus, fully evolved Christianity seems to belong to another world.”

The use of Jewish foreknowledge and pre-ordination was ripped from its own context and sculpted around a twisted philosophical template of John's Gospel. 

"This man [Jesus], delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God" Acts 2:23 (c.f. 1 Peter 1:2).

 God already had it predetermined; the plan was there, but did not make its appearance upon the stage of humanity until it literally came into existence. It did, or was said to exist in a different way before its revelation.

The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, “Revelation” says it well,

"God avails Himself of human thought and speech to make Himself known and His speech intelligible." 

He does not reveal himself in illogical or intangible ways. However, it must be qualified that just because traditional Christianity has based much of its belief on tradition and has muddied the waters, does not mean it was difficult and challenging to the original hearers. The NT and OT are thoroughly Jewish collections of writing. Its writers were Jewish, and most of its audience was Jewish (obviously there are intended Gentile recipients within the Pauline corpus). Post-modern readership has approached their interpretive reading with a Greek (western) perspective, this cannot be helped. It has been handed down from the church and early post-biblical creeds which neglected the context and cultural significance of utmost importance, that Jesus was a Jew who thought and taught in Rabbinical Jewish ways with Jewish interpretations, hermeneutics and categories. It is a person of ignorance who claims that they can close their eyes and ears to this reality. Our savior was a Jew and came into existence by birth, not, as Irenaeus has it: 

"This Christ passed through Mary just as water flows through a tube." 

This is something radically different from Matthew and Luke’s description that Jesus was brought into existence inside Mary, by the power of God. Greg Deuble in his book, They Never Told Me This in Church noted that 

"Protestants who deplore tradition-bound Roman Catholics because they revere Church tradition above the Scriptures fail to see that in some areas they are just as bound to tradition, i.e. to long held interpretations of Scriptures."

J. R. D. Kirk I believe summarized it well, 

“We sometimes see divinity where the text doesn’t require it because that is the theology we bring with us to the text.”

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