Monday, January 31, 2011

The Curse and the Rupture

Graham Cole, following Jaques Ellul, likes to term the first sin in Genesis 3 'the rupture' in addition to the traditional title of 'the fall.' The strength of this suggestion is that it draws our attention to the 'breaking of a network of relationships' (Cole 2009: 56). In this post I'd like to explore the idea of the fall also as 'the rupture' and how taking that vantage point sheds light on the curse. First, though, we must take a moment to look at the role of man and woman in the Garden.

The first text to look at is Genesis 1:28-29, where God gives man a job to do, to procreate, and to extend God's rule as God's vice regent. He was given plant life for his food. The second text is Genesis 2:15-20. There we see man at his work, specifically tilling the ground and ruling the animals by naming them. The picture portrayed between man and his environment is positive and he is working towards its benefit. All of this is necessary background to keep in mind when we look at the curse (the text of Genesis 3:12-24 is below).
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

16 To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (NIV)

At the rupture, three relationships were broken, the relationship between man and God, man and the cosmos, and man and his fellow man. The first of these is the most obvious. While not part of God's explicit curse, God does, in verse 22-24 banish Adam and Eve from the garden enacting the first exile. Adam and Eve's intimate relationship with God was shattered.
The second, broken interpersonal relationships, is clear from the text, as the relationship between Adam and Eve is fouled up. Also, the very next story is the story of Cain's murder of Abel, illustrating the case in point. The third is also clear: a frustration of Adam and Eve's relationship with their environment. The task of cultivation (their God given task) and their relationship with animals is frustrated. Additionally, the means through which they were to extend their dominion, reproduction also has been made more difficult. Thus we have frustration at every point due to broken relationships caused by sin.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Paul's Argument in Galatians 4:12-20

12 I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. 13 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, 14 and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. 15 Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?

17 Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. 18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. 19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! (NIV)

Following Longenecker I see this passage as the start of a new section, the request section. Now that Paul has built the Scriptural and experiential foundation of his appeal he now goes ahead and makes it. The appeal starts with a call for the Galatians to become like Paul, meaning, that just as Paul was loyal to the gospel and died to the law for the sake of the Gentile Galatians, they should do the same. They should be loyal to the gospel by not erecting boundaries where none should be. This reminder of how Paul was when he came to them segues into his appeal on the basis of their prior experience together.

When Paul was in Galatia, the Galatians did him no wrong. They received him with joy, as one who spoke the very words of God, as a divine messenger, and this is amazing because Paul was not impressive in appearance. It's not clear what malady Paul had, but it was fairly noticeable. Usually in the ancient world being a promoter of a religion who had a serious illness would prevent your audience from accepting what you had to say. It showed that you were counterfeit. Not only did the Galatians not reject him, but they were willing to give them their right arm for him. A deep affectionate bond had developed between Paul and the Galatians, which is why Paul was so perplexed by their defection from his gospel. The cause of this was the Teachers.

The Teachers had gone into Galatia and undermined Paul's gospel by telling the Galatians that they had to become Jews to be full members of God's people. Thus they excluded the Galatians from the people of God.[1] Paul goes on the offensive here, stating that the motives of the Teachers weren't pure, they excluded the Galatians so that the Galatians might pursue them. The Teachers wanted a following and swept in upon the vulnerable Galatians. The Galatians thought that the Teachers were helping them, but Paul exposes their true motives.

Paul continues that he wasn't saying this motivated by jealousy, rather it is out of deep concern for the Galatians. Paul cares for them deeply, like a mother for her children. Paul had gone through much labor and anguish to see the Galatians come to know Christ. Now he had to go through it again, but this time from afar. Paul would have preferred not to have to deal with this from a distance, but he had to and so he had to be a bit on the harsh side. On top of attempting to drive a wedge between the Galatians and the Teachers, Paul also was trying to appeal emotionally to the sense of solidarity that the Galatians and Paul once had.


[1] Here I disagree with the NIV's addition of 'from us' to 'What they want is to alienate you.' 'From us' is not part of the Greek text and is an unnecessary addition. The NRSV is preferable at this point, 'They make much of you, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you may make much of them.'

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why Did Jesus Heal?

One way in which Jesus' mighty works were evidently understood by some was that they were the signs of the long-awaited fulfillment of prophecy. For a first century Jew, most if not all the works of healing, which form the bulk of Jesus' mighty works, could be seen as a restoration to membership in Israel to those who, through sickness or whatever, had been excluded as ritually unclean. The healings thus function in exact parallel with the welcome of sinners, and this, we may be quite sure, was what Jesus himself intended. (JVG 191).
I think that this is one of the best observations Wright makes in the first third of JVG and I'd like to develop it a little bit. Several months ago, when reading the opening chapters of Mark's gospel, I noticed something striking. Right after the temptation, Jesus is said to go around proclaiming the good news but what Mark writes about is the calling of the disciples and a series of healings and exorcisms. We don't get any teachings of Jesus until the middle of chapter two (the contrast with Matthew - who mentions the healings and gives us the Sermon on the Mount - is striking).

What is Mark's point? I think it's twofold. One, it's very important to make the observation that Wright does above. Jesus didn't heal just for the sake of healing people. He healed with a purpose, the purpose of including the outsider, the marginalized. It symbolized his restoration of the lost sheep of Israel.

There's another important facet, however (and Wright does point out something along these lines later on in JVG). Mark seems to have a particular interest in Jesus' exorcisms. By doing these healing and exorcisms, Jesus was showing that the kingdom of God was breaking in right then, that he was destroying the hold that satan had over these people. By adding in this point we see how in a very full sense Jesus healings are an exact parallel with his welcome of sinners. In their case, and in the case of all who are saved, Jesus had to break the power of sin, death and the devil. Jesus' healings prefigured the healing of the nations that he performed on the cross. By a mighty act he defeated satan and allowed outsiders into the family of God.

The question that this drives me to ask is this: How do we walk in Jesus' footsteps? I think that there are a lot of paths we could take, but I don't think that seeking the physical healing of others is the main one. That is not to say that we shouldn't pray for healings, I just don't think it's a primary way in which we imitate Christ, because in Jesus' ministry inclusion was primary, with breaking satan's power being a necessary condition.

However, I believe that we do have lepers in our day; people who are excluded because of the state of their physical bodies; the handicapped. Our job as the church is to reach out to those whom society has determined to be 'the least,' whether it be through advocacy or through inclusion in our church bodies. If the church could embrace the handicapped it would be a beautiful sign of the kingdom of God breaking in here and now.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Galatians 4:8-11: Does Paul Denigrate Sabbath Keeping?

8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. (NIV)
Christians have long debated whether or not it is appropriate to keep the sabbath. I'm not going to get into all of the intricacies of that debate, but I want to comment on how this passage fits into the wider discussion.

First, we should observe that the Gentile Galatians had already begun observing the sabbath. Why? They thought that they had to observe the Torah in order to be full members of God's people. Paul sees observing Torah, exemplified by, among other things, sabbath observance to be a step not into the people of God, but out of. A movement, not into the new creation, as part of the new covenant community of the faithful, but away from it. It puts them into a situation of slavery, one parallel to the situation that Christ already freed them from.

So, if that's the case, the next question is, should Paul's logic drive us to not keep the sabbath? I think that the answer is no. When we compare this text to Romans 14 we see a different approach by Paul to the question. There, he never flatly condemns sabbath observance. The weak are allowed to remain weak as long as it doesn't lead them to judge those who don't observe the sabbath. However, we do have to consider whether or not this difference in attitude lies in the fact that the weak in Rome were Jewish Christians. I think it does partially, but there's more to it. In Romans it's clear that the issue isn't really sabbath observance. It's all about attitude. Does your stance on the sabbath cause you to judge those you disagree with as lower class Christians? In Galatians I believe the issue is the same, just magnified, hence the heightened rhetoric. Do you believe that sans following the Torah you cannot be a full member of God's people? Sabbath observance is a visible work of the law that sets you apart from others. That is why Paul brings it, specifically, up. It's an easy target.

When it's cast like that I think it's clear that it can be ok to observe the sabbath. In fact I think most of us would be wise to have a regular time of rest and reflection on God. It would be (at least in my circles) a strong counter-cultural statement protesting against the societal god of productivity.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Paul's Argument in Galatians 4:8-11

8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. (NIV)
Paul's main argument comes to a close in this section. It also serves as a bridge to the next section where Paul makes requests of the Galatians. Here Paul addresses the Galatians directly and building off of a shared belief. Prior to becoming Christians, the Galatians were enslaved in their prior religions. The direction Paul goes next, though, is simply shocking. In reiterating his point from the prior section, he claims that if they observe Torah with the aim of becoming full members of God's people then they are actually going back to their pre-Christian state. They already were God's people because God's Spirit, the Spirit of the Son dwelt within them. God's Spirit was in them, hence they were known (i.e., loved) by God as his children. By observing Torah they would be placing themselves back into a state of slavery.

Paul continues this line of reasoning in verse 10. 'Special days, months, seasons, and years' is an allusion back to the creation story of Genesis 1 (specifically Gen. 1:14). If the Galatians start observing the Torah and its sabbaths and festivals they are putting themselves back into the old creation, rather than living in the new creation. Jesus work on the cross was decisive and the turning point in history. Their union with him was the turning point in their history. To intentionally rely on anything else other than the work of Christ puts one decisively outside of the people of God. Thus Paul argues that by observing Torah they will actually achieve the opposite of their aims. They will forfeit their standing. That state of affairs is also the opposite of what Paul wants to see. Paul has expended a lot of effort to ensure that the Gentiles get a seat at the table and are considered full members of the people of God (see chapters 1 and 2). He fears that all of that work may be for naught, at least in the case of the Galatians.

Monday, January 10, 2011

First Principles in Doing Theology

I'm currently going through First Theology by Kevin Vanhoozer with a friend of mine, so you'll see a few sporadic posts on the book over the next several months. This first post is drawn from the first chapter, which is programmatic for the rest of the book.

When doing theology where do you start as a matter of first principles, do you start with God or with Scripture? Throughout the history of the church we've seen people come down on both sides of this question. Some have said that we must be able to prove God first apart from Scripture, and following that proof we can utilize Scripture, because Scripture's authority is derived from God's authority. Others have argued the other way around, saying that one cannot know God apart from an authoritative Scriptural text and then we develop a picture of God on that basis. We've also seen some who have answered that we need to consider both God and Scripture together, noticing that it's impossible to consider one apart from the other.

While Vanhoozer lies in continuity with this last group he goes beyond them. One key observation that he makes is that one's view of God and Scripture are correlated. How you see one usually impacts how you see the other. This is evidenced in people as opposite as B.B. Warfield and Rudolf Bultmann. Warfield takes the Bible as doctrine and sees God as the revealer of truth. Bultmann sees Scripture as myth and expressing the self-understanding of faith. His understanding of God is not of one who acts in history but as the power behind a new human possibility. The approach Vanhoozer suggests is to see God as a communicative agent and to see Scripture as God's mighty speech acts.

While within the vicinity of Warfield, Vanhoozer's approach has a major advantage. Namely, by seeing Scripture as God's speech act, you avoid the tendency, common in theology, of flattening out Scripture, either by favoring particular portions of the Bible (e.g., Paul's letters or narratives) or turning the entire Bible into one mode of communication (e.g., all propositions or assertions). Vanhoozer claims that we need to understand Scripture as God has spoken it. Each genre needs to be allowed to speak for itself and every voice needs to be heard. This leads to the observation that in fact our duo of Scripture and God needs to become a trio. We must take God, Scripture, and hermeneutics as one problem, and then, at the level of first principles, our starting point should be theological hermeneutics, a hermeneutical method appropriate to the subject studied.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Paul's Argument in Galatians 4:1-7

1 What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (NIV)
In this section Paul is reiterating the argument of the last section. This repetition signals that this is a critical portion of his argument (Martyn goes as far as to call it the most important section of the letter). The pressing question throughout Galatians is, 'who are the people of God?' The answer over and over again is the people who possess the Holy Spirit. This passage gives us a clearer picture of why Paul can make that claim.

The opening two verses of the passage provide an example that forms the basis of the analogy of verses 3-7. Martyn (385-6) has a very helpful chart that I will replicate below that is helpful for seeing how Paul's argument works.

Picture Analogy
the heir in a household we human beings
(v 1) as a child (v 3) as children
(v 1) the heir is a virtual slave (v 3) we were enslaved
(v 2) until the time set by the father (v 4) but when the fullness of time came

(v 4) God sent his Son
(vv 1-2) for his transition out of virtual slavery into active lordship. (v 5) to bring about our transition, by delivering us from slavery.

Further Development

(v 5) we receive adoption as sons
(v 1) heir (v 6) and you, as you are sons, God also sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son, crying out, "Abba, Father"

(v 7) Thus, you are a son; and if a son, then also an heir by God's act of redemptive adoption.

Not only does this chart provide us with a clear presentation, I also appreciate how it demonstrates the eschatological underpinnings of Paul's argument. When Jesus came we had a turning of the ages. Gone is the prior age of enslavement, ushered in is the time of blessing. Thus Paul is arguing that to go back to following the law is to go back to a less desirable situation because living in the sphere of the law is enslaving (the opposite of liberating). In fact in the case of the Jews, liberation from the sphere of the law was what they were waiting for. It is this liberation, that then is extended to all of us. [1] When we put the pieces of this passage together we see that we have a two stage act of redemption. Phase one was God's sending of the Son, phase two is the sending of the Spirit to God's redeemed people.

What ties it all together is the recognition that, the Spirit is the Spirit of the Son, Jesus' Spirit. The Spirit that enables us to cry out to God in prayer in imitation of Jesus personal prayer. The Spirit in us shows that we are 'in Christ' and hence members of the people of God.

[1] The most difficult exegetical decision that one faces in this passage is the question of the identity of the pronouns. Specifically, who are the we in verses 3 and 5? While it is tempting to see the 'we' as embracing both Jewish and Gentile Christians, the strong parallelism with Galatians 3:13-14 (see my post on those verses) inclines me to restrict the 'we' to Jewish Christians and see Paul's statements as salvation historical. At the same time, though, Paul's pronoun usage here is a bit messy, and it's clear that there's a strong emphasis on the extension of redemption to the Gentile audience of Galatia. So I won't quibble with those who want to take the 'we' wider (as e.g., Dunn does) as long as we notice that, 'Paul does not achieve universality of effect by abandoning historical particularity' (Dunn 216). One might object that the 'we' in vs. 5 is in contrast with 'those,' who are clearly Jewish Christians. The issue here is that if you take that position seriously then you need to hold that 'we' are Gentile Christians only. I think it's best to see the messiness with the pronouns there stemming from that fact that verse four and the first half of verse 5 is part of a creed-esque statement from the early church that Paul is quoting. The second half of verse 5 begins Paul's application of that piece of tradition.

Monday, January 3, 2011

What's On Tap!

I'm excited about the start of the new year hear at Seeking the Truth... I wanted to give you all a heads up about some of what you can expect here on the blog in the next year.

First, I'll be kicking the series on Galatians into high gear. Hopefully I will finish it in the next couple of months. Even though they don't get as much traffic as some of my other posts, I want to make the study and discussion of Scripture a central element of this blog, so hopefully shortly after Galatians concludes I'll start something else, possibly Luke, John, or Hebrews but I haven't decided yet and am open to suggestions.

Even though I'm not at Trinity this year I still will try to do a monthly book review, though it will be a little tougher to get my hands on something now (there will not be a review in January in all likelihood). I want to try to do another very detailed review of some book this year like I did for Inhabiting the Cruciform God. I don't know what book that will be, though. Any requests?

This year, the historical Jesus will be an area of focus in my reading, so you can probably also expect to see some posts on that topic, especially related to the hermeneutics of historical Jesus studies. Additionally, I am doing an informal seminar with one of my friends in which we'll be going through First Theology: God, Scripture & Hermeneutics by Kevin Vanhoozer, so I'll write some posts based on that book. Beyond that, we'll see what happens. I'm looking forward to another year of blogging and I hope you are looking forward to another year of reading and commenting!