Monday, December 16, 2013

John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (NRSV)
The narrative has now moved on from the calling of the disciples to the start of Jesus' public ministry. The narrative itself ties with other important themes throughout the gospel and thus does introduce the nature of Jesus' ministry (see Moloney's commentary for a concise treatment of themes with references). Thus, as Michaels has pointed out, this is more of a pronouncement story than a miracle story. Or perhaps, better, a miracle story that functions as a pronouncement. Jesus goes to a wedding with some of his disciples and the wine runs out. Mary, his mother points this out to him, presumably hoping for him to intervene in some way. Jesus responds in a way that distances himself from his mother. Mary is undeterred and tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. Verses 4-5 are quite difficult in my opinion. It's hard to see verse four as anything but a rejection of Mary. McHugh's translation captures it nicely, 'What relationship is there, woman, between you and me, now that my hour is approaching?'

What is Jesus' hour? It must be the demonstration of Jesus' glory, culminating in his death. The miracle performed here is a precursor for what will be demonstrated more widely later on in the gospel. Jesus' rebuff of his mother then must be understood as expressing his freedom from human influence (so Bultmann, among others). Even familial relations cannot be counted on. Jesus was truly his own man.

Why then did Mary persist? She is presented here as a model disciple. She has faith even prior to the demonstration of Jesus miracle. However, we do, as well, need to reckon with the possibility that Jesus's response is from the hand of the editor, because its still very hard to hold Jesus response and Mary's instructions to the servants together.

There were six large jars for purification that Jesus instructed to be filled with water. I think it's impossible to adjudicate whether or not we are supposed to understand this narrative element as indicating that what Jesus provides supersedes the Mosaic covenant. I think we are on much surer ground in seeing this miracle as expressing that Jesus' ministry is the flowering of the Messianic age, an age (as McHugh points out) overflowing with the wine of wisdom. Jesus, as Wisdom incarnate is coming to give wisdom by the Spirit to all who will receive and recognize it.

The story ends ironically. Jesus performs a great miracle but it isn't recognized. The wrong bridegroom is called. Jesus the true bridegroom displayed his glory, but it was only ascertained by his followers, who responded with faith. Thus the story is both ironic and indicative of what is to come.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Books of the Year: 2013

This year, my reading was much more focused than in years' past, largely focusing on Early Judaism. In many regards this made it much easier for me to pick my books of the year, as outside that topic, I only read a few classic works. In fact, I feel as if I only had six competitors for the five slots. As always this list covers the five best books I read for the first time this year.

5. Rereading Romans by Stanley Stowers


Now two decades removed from publication, Stowers work is hardly cutting edge. However, I feel that many interpreters have largely ignored him (to their own peril). It's an excellent explanation of Paul's use of diatribe throughout the letter to the Romans. His work on prosopopoeia in Romans 7 is outstanding. 

4. Doctor Who: The Vault by Marcus Hearn


The BBC gave us three gifts for the 50th anniversary: the 50th anniversary special; the docudrama, An Adventure in Space and Time; and The Vault. I haven't finished it yet but I've had a ton of fun and learned quite a bit along the way. It's full of cast and set pictures, costumes, drawings, examples of memorabilia, and well researched history. I even learned a few things about eras of the show that I knew well. It'd be a great Christmas gift for the Whovian on your list.

3. East of Eden by John Steinbeck


While critics may disagree, I agree with the writer himself. East of Eden was his best work. It was artful, it was real, and it was a fascinating riff on Genesis 4.

2. John Vol. 1 by Urban von Wahlde


It will be interesting to look back in fifteen years and wonder either, 'why on earth did this crack my top five?' or 'how could this not have been number one my list?' von Wahlde's composition theory of John solves many of the interpretive difficulties of the gospel while explaining its relationship to the epistles of John all while giving us fascinating insight into the development of one critical strand of early Christianity. Or it is a monument to scholarly speculation. Only time and a more qualified reader than me can decide that, but it sure is interesting!



Sanders' work is truly a classic in the field. Its' shortcomings are well known and don't need to be rehearsed here, but it still stands as the standard work on early Judaism, with good reason. 


Now it's time for the five books that came out this year that I have not read but most look forward to reading.

5. Time and Relative Dimensions in Faith eds. Andrew Crome and James McGrath


I love Doctor Who. I love studying religion and ethics. Enough said.

4. Deuteronomy by Jack Lundblom


Recently I started doing some research into what scholarly commentaries on Deuteronomy were available. I was a little disappointed in the breadth of selection. Lundblom's contribution (it was originally intended to be in the now defunct ECC series) should help rectify that. I expect it to be a rich engagement both with the rhetoric and theology of the book.

3. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha eds. Richard Bauckham, James Davila, and Alexander Panayotov


This year I have spent a lot of time in both primary and secondary sources studying Early Judaism. Reading large portions of the two volume collection of Pseudepigrapha edited by Charlesworth has been invaluable. This collection contains nearly every other Jewish Pseudepigrapha written before the rise of Islam.

2. James by Dale Allison


Dale Allison may be the preeminent North American New Testament Scholar. His work with W.D. Davies on Matthew as well as his various monographs on Jesus have shaped the discipline. Without hesitation I opened my wallet when this commentary was released and am looking forward to the opportunity to use it next time I venture into James.



I've read the first three hundred or so pages. Is it cheating to include it on the list? Finally, Wright has released his major work on Paul. It will take me several months to get through, but so far is excellent. I think it is the best work I have read from Wright and it seems (so far) more careful and less prone to over-generalization than JVG (which still was excellent). The opening volume demonstrates just how well Wright understands the ancient world and provides important framework for understanding Paul.

Monday, November 18, 2013

50 Things for the 50th Anniversary, Plus 1

I love Doctor Who, that's no secret. I thought that in honor of the 50th anniversary I'd put together some "top" lists related to Doctor Who covering many of my favorites from across all of the time and space that the Doctor has covered. As a disclaimer, I have not yet finished watching all of the Fourth or Fifth Doctors yet.

Top 5 Companions:
1. Rose
2. Ace
3. Donna
4. Barbara
5. Jamie

I hope I'm not offending too many people immediately by omitting Sarah Jane Smith. For whatever reason I've never felt attached to Sarah Jane like I have to the five on my list (or another tough omission, Rory).

Top 5 Secondary Characters:
1. Wilfred Mott
2. Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart
3. Captain Jack Harkness
4. Craig Owens
5. Sabalom Glitz

This list could be split into a top 3 and a next 2 and you could order them in any order and it would be ok with me. Captain Jack brought fun to the show, both the Brigadier and Wilfred bring, in their own way, a reliability that otherwise was missing from the Doctor's world. Glitz may be the surprise entrant but I really enjoyed how utterly bendable his will was as long as he thought he was seeking his own best interests.

Top 5 Repeating Villains:
1. The Daleks
2. The Master
3. The Silence
4. The Cybermen
5. The Ice Warriors

This list could be split into a top 2 and a bottom 3. The Daleks and the Master are transcendent villains, especially the Roger Delgado incarnation of the Master. The Daleks get the edge for me probably in part because of their central role in the Davies era and the subtlety of their storyline. The Silurians just missed the cut. The Weeping Angels didn't.

Top 5 Single Episode Villains:
1. Vashta Nerada
2. Count Scarlioni
3. Mr. Finch
4. The Family of Blood
5. Sharaz Jek

I find the Vashta Nerada to be the scariest monster in all of Doctor Who.

5 Episodes that are Brutally Bad:
1. The Web Planet
2. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
3. The Happiness Patrol
4. More than half of the episodes written by Mark Gatiss, my least favorite being Night Terrors
5. The Mark of the Rani

I really, really, really don't like the writing of Mark Gatiss. I wish he would stick to acting. I appreciate the political statement of the happiness patrol, but the episode itself is awful (and the Kandyman had great promise!).

Top 5 Partially Extant Episodes that I Wish Were Complete:
1. The Tenth Planet
2. The Faceless Ones
3. The Reign of Terror
4. The Daleks' Master Plan
5. The Invasion

The Enemy of the World was on the original version of this list. Hopefully there's still a remote chance of further discoveries.

Top 10 Classic Episodes for the Modern Series:
1. The Robots of Death
2. The Leisure Hive
3. Remembrance of the Daleks
4. Revelation of the Daleks
5. The Talons of Weng-Chiang
6. The Pirate Planet
7. The Doctor Who Movie
8. The Dalek Invasion of Earth
9. The Spearhead from Space
10. The Silurians

I love seeing how the writers reused ideas from the classic series. Davies grabbed ideas left and right. Moffat is more measured, but his influences shouldn't be overlooked.

A Ranking of the Doctors (plus my favorite episode for each Doctor)
1. David Tennant (The Stolen Earth/Journey's End)
2. Tom Baker (The City of Death)
3. Patrick Troughton (The War Games)
4. John Pertwee (Frontier in Space)
5. Christopher Eccleston (Bad Wolf/The Parting of Ways)
6. Peter Davison (Earthshock)
7. Matt Smith (The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon)
8. William Hartnell (The Chase)
9. Colin Baker (Terror of the Vervoids)
10. Sylvester McCoy (Remembrance of the Daleks)
11. Paul McGann (The Night of the Doctor)

I feel bad placing any Doctor at the bottom of this list, they're all good, but hey, someone has to lose. I do not feel bad picking a favorite. David Tennant brought the justice, intensity, curiosity, and intelligence that we expect from the Doctor, while still having that dark side lurking that we all fear.

It has been a wonderful 50 years of Dcotor Who. Here is to 50 more wonderful years!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Why I Love Doctor Who

I had never really gotten into a TV show before. One Sunday in the March of 2012 I was sick and stayed home from church. I had seen James McGrath talk extensively about Doctor Who on his blog, so I decided to give it a try, starting from the first season of the Davies era. The first episode was ok, so I gave it a second. I loved the End of the World and by the end of the episode, I loved Rose. I was hooked. A year and a half later and I'm on my third tour through the modern series (though this time I will be skipping substantial portions of the disaster otherwise known as season 6), and, except for the recent finds, have watched all of the extant episodes for Doctors 1-3 and 6-8, as well as large chunks of 4 and 5. I'm trying to get in as much as I can prior to the 50th anniversary episode. Why am I so dedicated to the show? There are five major reasons:  the history of the show, the writing, the acting, the characters, and the ethical exploration.

As everyone knows, Doctor Who has a long history, but much like the Doctor himself, it's not just about the lifespan. A commenter named Ian made a keen observation on a post of James McGrath's. "I wonder if Doctor Who appeals to folks with a historian's soul. It is quite a unique body of work, with lost bits, early non-canonical re-imaginings, mystery and diversity of interpretation. Pretty unusual for popular media." There is the show itself and its history. Its history is fascinating in its own right. With what other tv show are people in rapt attention because episodes lost decades ago have been recovered in a remote portion of Africa? With how many tv shows are there debates over canon (hear Mark Goodacre's thoughts on the matter here - his argument on the Peter Cushing films is interesting)? Then there is also the way the show reuses and improves upon earlier concepts and episodes. It has been so enjoyable to go back and see all of the concepts that Davies, in particular, has meshed together from the classic series (one notable example is the Ood, a combination of the Sensorites and the Robots of Death). (As an aside, I encourage anyone interested in the history of the show to pick up a copy of The Vault). Doctor Who is historic, and it is historic because of the quality of the writing and acting.

This is probably controversial with some, but I feel the writing of the show has been excellent. Certainly there has been some variability. Some of the early Hartnell episodes, as well as most of the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy era are shaky. The Doctor Who movie was a disaster (why is it considered canon?). However, those are exceptions, and even during the run of the sixth and seventh Doctors there are moments where the writing rises to earlier levels (to pick an episode from the maligned 26th season, I think the Curse of Fenric is very underrated and on par with the best of classic Doctor Who). Sci-fi needs to give its viewer a feeling of grandeur, and Doctor Who provided that through exotic villains and a vast universe. Many of the plots were very interesting and there was a good amount of diversity of story lines and plot features. We saw how the Doctor was responsible for the burning of Rome and we saw him return twenty seven planets that were stolen from space and time. We saw him help two empires avoid war while stifling the Master and the Daleks and save the earth in countless ways. The high point of the show is the first four seasons of the modern series under Davies, which were exquisite. I don't have the space to fully defend this, but I believe Davies is the best writer the show has ever had. His character development, use of foreshadowing, and multi-layered plots make repeated viewings a must. Great writing would fall apart without great actors, and the show has not lacked the latter.

The Doctors have all been, in my opinion, top notch actors. Each has brought their unique talents and put their own spin on the role. Even when I haven't cared for a particular portrayal, I still respect their consistency and depth. Hartnell exemplified the grandfather, both good and bad. Troughton was the eccentric genius you always had to keep an eye on. Pertwee was the dominant Doctor, with a suprisingly gentle side. No one captured the free spiritedness of the Doctor like Tom Baker. Peter Davison brought the consuming intensity one would expect of a Doctor in the prime of his life. Colin Baker showed us that justice mattered and that there was a sensitive heart underneath his calloused skin. We all thought we knew the Doctor, and then we met Sylvester McCoy, who reminded us that everyone has a dark side. Paul McGann brought revived passion and even a little romance. Christopher Eccleston showed us the impact of the Doctor's lonely life. Through David Tennant we see that you're never too old to be amazed, while Matt Smith was still a child at heart. Eleven sides, eleven portraits, one splendid Doctor. The anti-super hero. The greatest super hero.

And then there are a few Doctors who have been transcendent actors. I'm thinking of Patrick Troughton, Tom Baker, and David Tennant. They were among the best actors of their era and put everything they had into the role. The primary and secondary companions (e.g., UNIT members, Rose's family) have been, for the most part, quite good as well. Yes, a few of the early companions seem a little weak to me (e.g., I don't think much of Peter Purves as Steven Taylor), but it's hard to say there if it's acting or writing. The quality of the villains and other characters who appear once or twice has ebbed and flowed over the years. In the classic series the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker eras were the strongest, but are nothing like the high the show is at now. Both Davies' and Moffatt's teams have done a splendid job casting; identifying top rate actors for episode after episode (though I will mention here that it was weird to see James Corden, after appearing twice as Craig, show up in the Nightmare in Silver in a different role). On the day I wrote this I watched School Reunion for probably the fourth time, and I was amazed by how bat-like Anthony Head acts throughout the whole episode. Brilliant.

From the beginning Doctor Who has been exploring political, religious, and ethical issues. This is most notable in the classic series in the way some of the villains are portrayed (e.g., the Daleks and Sontarins) or in one liners by the Doctor. In the modern series, especially under the writing of Davies the discussion of both religion and ethics became much more complex. Davies tenure was, at its core, a statement on the appropriate use of violence in combat of evil. Along the way he also treated human sexuality, racism, speciesism, consumerism, and of course several elements of Christian theology. In all of these, even when I didn't agree with his perspective (I am, after all, a Christian), I found him to be creative and often very subtle. The Messianic overtones, especially in the finale of season 3, were very thought provoking. It makes the show rewarding for those of us who love the show for more than the scary monsters.

Finally we come to the characters. As I mentioned above, I was hooked because of Rose Tyler. She is simply the best. Then came along Captain Jack. Then Mickey and even Jackie turned things around. Next season we got Martha, and then Donna... Davies had a knack for writing excellent, deep characters. They felt like real people. You became attached to them. I cried at the end of season 2 when Rose got stuck in the parallel world. I cried again when she stayed behind at the end of season 4. I felt terrible for Donna's loss of her memory. Moffat hit his home run with Rory. It's not just the main characters who have been great. Who could forget Wilfred, Craig, or Brian?

The classic series has had its fair share too. Of the non-primary companions, the Brigadier towers above them all. He had such a good heart and provided his fair share of comedy. You always knew that you could count on him. I grew attached to several of the companions too, in different ways. Ace showed how a companion could carry the show, paving the way for Rose. Her shortcomings made you love her. The way the Doctor treated her made you want to protect her. On the other end of the scale was the sweetness of someone like Jo Grant. She was the perfect sidekick for the Third Doctor. While a bit weak, over time she won your heart. The companions are so effective because they are, for the most part, so normal. They give us a gateway into the action allowing us to feel as if we are a part of things. Particularly in the case of the Davies era, I feel like that was the point, to inspire us through them to live a good life and make a difference.

So this is why I love Doctor Who. To me it has everything a show needs to be a top-notch show. I like Doctor Who because it matters. And because I believe it makes the world a better and more entertaining place.

Friday, October 18, 2013

My Journey With Scripture and Critical Scholarship: Part 3

Click here for part 1 and part 2.

In the fall of 2009 I began taking classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I felt a little conflicted over signing their statement of faith, but I eventually did. I didn't learn many things there (besides Greek) that had long term impact on me, but it was generally a good time that really stretched me, both by challenging my thinking and by making it clear to me where my main points of disagreement with conservative evangelicalism lied. I did a total of 19 credits prior to withdrawing. Before moving on, though, I do want to say how much I appreciated Graham Cole's class on biblical theology. I am more of a historical theologian (with the biblical text being the most important stage in the historical process) than a biblical theologian, but I think that Cole's basic definition of the missio dei, 'securing God's people in God's place under God's reign living God's way enjoying God's shalom in God's loving and holy presence as both family and worshippers, to God's glory,' has a lot to say for it. Whether or not the Bible actually is one story, many of the earliest Christians viewed it that way, and I think there is room to subsume biblical theology under historical theology. I also think he nailed most of the key elements of being a Christian and properly emphasized the royal identity of God.

To this point I have left aside the comments I made about Sanders' work. The seed was planted in my mind, back in 2007 that being 'in Christ' was a central theme for Paul. At the start of 2010 Scot McKnight asked for readers to review books for his blog. Several people requested someone review a book by Michael Gorman, so I decided to tackle Inhabiting the Cruciform God. It changed my life. Cruciformity became my personal goal. I was a little slow in coming around on theosis, but I think it is probably the best explanation for the 'in Christ' language in Paul and is well grounded, as Gorman claims, in Paul's language of co-crucifixion. When we are justified we are united with Christ, we are brought to share in his very life itself. Importantly, this put me halfway to Campbell's apocalyptic reading of Paul.

In the Spring of 2012 I began reading Douglas Campbell's magisterial Deliverance of God. Here I found the other half of what intrigued me about Sanders' work demonstrated (and much of what I previously believed about soteriology dismantled). Paul's thought was indeed retrospective. Everything was evaluated in light of the reality of what God had done through Christ. In fact our need for Christ can only be seen in retrospect.

I bring up Gorman and Campbell because the way I understand Christian experience shapes the way I understand the Bible. Campbell's emphasis on retrospection confirms that, as Barth claimed, truth is revelatory, not propositional. Faith (and this is something much bigger than just belief) results from an encounter with Jesus, a time when he is revealed to us. I believe (as Enns claimed in Three Views of the New Testament Use of the Old Testament) that the earliest Christians read their Old Testaments retrospectively as well, meaning in light of Jesus. This fits the data much better than the old promise and fulfillment model in my opinion (even though fulfillment language is used in the NT, especially in Matthew). Scriptural and other texts were a pallet of colors. The evangelists used them to paint a picture of Jesus (to extend a metaphor of Markus Bockmuehl). Our job is much the same: to explain who Jesus is and what he means to us. We must paint well, in both word and deed.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Journey With Scripture and Critical Scholarship: Part 2

Click here for part 1.

At the start of 2008 there was a firestorm of controversy surrounding Peter Enns and his book Inspiration and Incarnation. I was continuing to study as outlined in my last post. At the start of 2009, 9 months after his "resignation", I got around to reading his book. I found it very helpful. The more I had studied the more difficult it was for me to understand how Scripture could be the Word of God and have all of the human characteristics I was noticing. Our doctrine of Scripture should not be a way of sweeping the difficulty of the Bible away. Rather our doctrine of Scripture needs to be phenomenological. Enns book was profoundly helpful for me. Even though I now reject the incarnational model he presented (just as Jesus is fully human and fully divine, so is Scripture), I needed to see someone wrestling with the same problems who came up with a way to honor Scripture while still recognizing that it was completely human.

Later that spring I moved on to God's Word in Human Words by Kent Sparks. At the same time I was studying the book of Daniel and wrestling through the magnificent commentaries of John Collins and John Goldingay among others. While Enns work honestly had been pretty mild, I was now facing challenges to the way I viewed the Bible on a much bigger scale. It was one thing to admit that the Bible is human and has errors here and there. Pseudepigrapha and failed prophecy were different matters. Sparks work was trying to find a way to account for the full extent of the Bible's humanity. He opted for interpreting within the rule of faith (i.e., one must only adhere to the major creeds - everything else is open). That was his box. I was scared. That left a lot open. I also thought it might be a little arbitrary. Why draw the line at confessional Christianity? What was the basis for that decision? I was having a little bit of a crisis, probably the biggest crisis of faith I have ever faced.

May 25, 2009 was the turning point for me. My wife and I had recently come back from vacation in Florida and I had been reading Barth's Church Dogmatics Vol. I.1. Sparks book was being discussed on Scot McKnight's blog. I jumped in at the very end of the discussion and got to ask my question.

Hi Drs Enns and Sparks ,
Thanks so much for you wonderful books, they have helped me greatly. Dr. Enns, I noticed in your last post on your blog which linked to this post that you ask the question, “What limits do we put on the contextual, historical, situatedness of the Bible for explaining biblical phenomenon, and therefore the nature of Scripture, and WHY, ON WHAT BASIS, do we place those limits?” How would you start to think about how to set those limits and where do they come down for you? I have struggled a lot with that very question. When forming our doctrine of Scripture how do we achieve the right blend of informing it through Christian presupposition about Scripture and phenomenological observation?
Dr. Sparks, I know you suggest creedal orthodoxy, but honestly that’s a bit scary to me as it leaves a lot open. Can we still have a robust faith in the Bible as God’s word (or at least the revelation of God’s word) if that’s all that we insist upon?

Enns was gracious enough to respond to me, and it's hard to overestimate the impact it had on me. 

Marcus,
Yes, a good question. First, the purpose of my asking that question in my post was rhetorical, i.e., to get Waltke to see the need for even asking these kinds if questions in the current debate.
As for me, I don’t think in terms of limits but more in terms of a “gravitational center” that brings us continually back to a core confession of Christ and his resurrection. That isn’t put very well, I suspect, and may sound like smooth talk. But, I envision the contextual study of Scripture not to be a bad thing, or something that is helpful but only to a point. It is not a potentially dangerous tool, but it is a tool that is in service to a larger goal, namely following Christ.
I don’t think of biblical interpretation as an activity where a box is placed around it, and Enns’ box happens is just bigger than, say Waltke’s, or a lot bigger than a few of my Reformed critics. I don’t think in terms of a “box” with four boarders, but more of a central tethering point (Jesus) to which I am bound with a really elastic bungee cord (the Spirit). Some of us are more prone to see how far that bungee cord can go (me, Sparks, etc., etc.), but we are always snapped back by the active work of the Spirit of Christ who lives in us.
You are asking a very good methodological question, Marcus, but for which I see no real methodological answer, and things like the Chicago Statement in Biblical Inerrancy, etc., don’t provide the methodological grid for me in any helpful way (not that you asked).
Exegesis and academia are as much of a journey as any other part of the Christian live. I’m good with that.

This was a turning point for me. I was able to resume the boldness that I had when I began studying. The object of my faith had to shift. It wasn't in the Bible any longer. It was now in God (I realize this isn't necessarily an either/or, but I hope you get my point). I was now going to let exegesis and historical study take me wherever it went. No question was prohibited. I trusted (and still trust) that God would keep me faithful through his Spirit. 


As I mentioned before I had been reading Barth at the same time. For me, Barth's central insight in CD I.1 is that the Bible isn't the Word of God. It is an authoritative witness to the revelation of God's Word. Divinity does not lie in the words themselves, but God can and often does use them to reveal himself to us. Scripture becomes the Word of God. Barth's insight has been critical to much of my theological work as can probably be seen most clearly in the first part of my exploration of the identity of Jesus. Along with Enns, Barth was helpful in pushing aside unnecessary presuppositions about the nature of the Bible. I felt free. In the end this is why I don't find the incarnational model helpful. The words of the Bible aren't divine in any sense. They have no special power. They only have the power that God infuses them with when he so chooses.

After that stretch of 2009 I started taking classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Here started the second stage of my maturation, but that will have to wait until next time.

Monday, October 14, 2013

My Journey With Scripture and Critical Scholarship: Part 1

I have been working on a one on one class for my wife on New Testament backgrounds. When one begins to understand the New Testament in its context, it becomes clear that some conceptions of the Bible are inadequate. I have gone through a metamorphosis over the last decade and after the class my wife understood why much better. This led her to ask me to chronicle my journey with the Bible and critical scholarship and how my faith has been challenged and has grown.

I grew up in a fundamentalist family. I don't resent it, unlike many who have left fundamentalism behind. My parents were trying to please God as best they could. The importance of the Bible was drilled into me and I loved reading it, especially the narrative portions of the Old Testament. When I was 7 I read through my NIV Bible in its entirety. Needless to say, there was a lot that I did not understand.

When I went to college I was a member of Agape Christian Fellowship at the University of Rochester. It is a multi-ethnic (though primarily Korean American) campus fellowship run by the English ministry of Rochester Korean United Methodist Church. This too was a very conservative setting and neo-Reformed. I continued to grow in my love for the Scriptures and began studying some. Rigorous study was strongly encouraged. My major was pure mathematics, which taught me critical thinking.

As we were leaving for Chicago in the summer of 2006, one of the students, who had a Seventh Day Adventist friend, asked me to write a paper about the Sabbath. Of course one of the main passages that must be studied is the controversy with the Pharisees in Mark 2:23-3:6 and parallels. I was not yet employed and had lots of free time. I went to the library at Wheaton College and Judson University (where my wife teaches) and began reading various commentaries. What better passage for a fearless conservative to cut their teeth on! I looked at the accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke and decided to primarily interface with the Matthean account. That day I fell in love with Davies' and Allison's legendary commentary on Matthew. I knew little about the synoptic problem and nothing about redaction criticism, but the way Davies and Allison interpreted the text made it come to life for me. I also was challenged to think about inerrancy. Did Matthew and Luke omit the piece about Abiathar because they thought Mark made a mistake? I came to think so and still do.

The next two years I continued to study hard and started to become aware of a wider range of biblical scholarship. In particular I focused on Paul and the Law. The second major monograph that I read was Paul and Palestinian Judaism by E.P. Sanders. It became abundantly clear that knowing the Bible alone wasn't enough. I needed to know more about Early Judaism as well. I came away with two other major things to ponder. What was Paul's 'in Christ' language all about, and was his thinking really retrospective?

In the meantime I was also studying Ephesians and using the commentary of Ernest Best. It was my first experience reading scholarship that at times was antagonistic towards the text. I was a little uncomfortable, but I noticed that some of his critical questions were warranted.

2009 was a momentous year for me. This is when I was introduced to Enns, Sparks, and Barth. But I'll save that part of the story for next time.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Finding Our Way Through Genesis Two

The fourth post I ever wrote on this blog was a recap of a talk I heard John Walton give at a meeting of the Wheaton-Naperville chapter of the ASA. Four years later I had the opportunity to hear him speak on Genesis 2 at the same venue. As it was then, it was a complete pleasure to hear him speak. His exegesis was fascinating and his manner engaging.

Walton began the talk by asking whether Genesis 2 is a detailed recounting of day 6 of the Genesis 1 narrative or if it's at some point later in the narrative. One problem he points out with the first option is that you have a different creation order in Genesis 2 than in Genesis 1. Additionally, he notes that every other time in Genesis where you have an account that is synoptic of the one preceding, it is a story about two brothers. Walton, then, finds it likely that Genesis 2 tells a story from some point in time after day 6.

Next Walton tackled the occurrences of 'Adam' in Genesis 1-5. 'Adam' in 1:26-2:5 is referring to humanity in general and has no definite article. Starting in 2:7, interestingly, we have articular usage, through 3:24. One would not expect this of a personal name. The names Adam and Eve, themselves, mean human and wife. Walton thinks that they were meant to serve as archetypes.

At this point Walton circled back to Genesis 2. If Genesis 2 is sequel to Genesis 1 then these people aren't necessarily the same people as those in Genesis 1. In fact Genesis 4 seems to require other people. Therefore, Adam and Eve aren't the only people on the earth. From here Walton carries out his archetypal reading. Everything said about Adam and Eve is also true of all humanity.

I won't detail the entirety of the talk, but I will bring up one really fascinating point. Gen. 2:7 says 'then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life...' Walton makes an interesting observation. He notices that dust is a poor choice if you want to make something. You can't mold it into anything. If you wanted to stress the earthiness, impurtiy, or fragility of humanity you would probably use clay as it conveys the same idea but is actually malleable. Dust seems to carry a different connotation, notably in 3:19, that of mortality. So being created from dust is not a comment on our craftsmanship, rather on our mortality. Anyways, immortal people would not need access to the Tree of Life. Only mortals would.

All in all it was a very provocative lecture. We're still at least a year away from his book on Genesis 2 being ready for print. I think Walton is right on in his archetypal reading. One point he repeatedly made is that he has no problem with the narrative being historical.[1] While historical figures certainly can function archetypically in the Bible, I have to wonder if these stories are so far removed from anything that may have happened that calling them historical has little value. Either way, the theological truth about the human condition and human needs is what the story is really about.

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[1] He views Adam's "surgery" where his "rib" is removed as nothing of the kind and some sort of revelatory dream. Similarly, in Genesis 3 he sees the snake as the chaos monster. I add this to restrict the range of interpretations of historical.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

John 1:35-51: von Wahlde's Composition Theory

In this series of posts (no idea how many there will be), I will mark up the NRSV text as von Wahlde does his own translation to distinguish which edition the material comes from. Plain type will represent first edition material; italics, second edition; and bold face, third.
35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!
37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (NRSV)
John 1:35-51 is probably the best place to begin assessing von Wahlde's theory of composition as the material falls out very neatly. The main block of narrative comes from the first edition. There are several distinctive characteristics of the first edition here, especially the use of Hebrew terms with a translation that follows in Greek, a very Jewish Christology, and a chain reaction of belief due to testimony and a sign. There also is a sign of editing in verse 43 as 43a interrupts a very neat sequence of events.

Outside of the opening clauses of verses 35 and 43, almost all of 35-49 is from the first edition. von Wahlde has claimed that the third author is the only one concerned with atonement theology and has an apocalyptic outlook. Thus he assigns John's exclamation in verse 36 to him. Presumably in the first two editions, John said something else. While I don't take 'Lamb of God' to refer primarily to Jesus' atoning function, I do think it has apocalyptic overtones. In that regard it meshes very well with the apocalyptic theology of verse 51, which is almost certainly a later addition. von Wahlde assigns it to the third hand as well. This makes sense as the narrative would be complete, one could even say better without it. The saying begins with an awkward reintroduction of Jesus as speaker and without explanation, shifts into a plural 'you' (for something said to him - von Wahlde considers this a trademark of the third edition).

The only major piece of the text assigned to the second author is verse 50. Verse 50 is, I believe, rightly assigned to an intermediate hand. It implies that Nathanael's seemingly accurate confession is inadequate, that there is a need to move beyond Jewish Christology. This argument is a bit more tentative (at least on the grounds of 35-51 alone), but certainly is plausible. The addition changes the feel of the entire section.

Overall, I would say that von Wahlde does not run into any substantial difficulties with his theory of composition in this section of John. The material assigned to the third author do indeed seem to be the additions of a later hand. Internal evidence alone is inconclusive with regard to verse 50, though, it seems more likely that not. If von Wahlde is correct about the wider pattern he has observed then there is no reason to doubt this attribution.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

John: An Introduction to Urban von Wahlde's Theory of Composition

The week of September 9th I took a staycation. One of the things I did during that time was to begin to engage with Urban von Wahlde's recent commentary on the gospel of John. I am keenly interested in the Christology of John, so I wanted to get one more recent commentary. In my first two posts, which cover the first 34 verses of the gospel, I had not commented at all on any of the source theories as I by and large found them unsubstantiated. It seems clear that there is some sort of editing process, but I did not think anyone had provided adequate criteria for determining what material came from what literary strata.

Enter von Wahlde's commentary. He has provided both criteria and an explanatory framework for studying the composition history of the gospel. At the moment I am not yet certain if von Wahlde is correct, but if he is, it marks a major advancement in our understanding of the development of early Christology (and impacts our doctrine of Scripture as well). Along with Keener and Moloney he will be one of my primary dialogue partners. For that dialogue to be understandable to the reader, she or he must know a bit about his theory particularly as it relates to Christology, so the rest of the post will be dedicated to that. Also, at times I will write special additional posts looking in depth at his proposals for particular passages.

von Wahlde proposes a four stage process that resulted in three editions of the gospel of John, with the composition of 1 John representing the third of the four stages. The first stage is the writing of the first edition of the gospel of John. This was probably written quite early (pre-60 CE) and preserves many independent and likely historical traditions about Jesus. The Christology of the first edition is typical of early Jewish Christians focused on the messianic status of Jesus. The opposition to Jesus grows as the narrative moves along. The primary opponents are chief priests, Levites, and Pharisees.

The second stage is the production of a second edition by another member of the community some time after the community had split off from the synagogue, probably in the 60s. This edition is marked by a lack of interest in the teachings of Jesus. The Christology is much higher as Jesus' divine identity is emphasized. In fact, theology in general and Christology in particular could be said to be the primary focus of the second edition. Jesus' death isn't cast as atoning, but as preparatory for Jesus' provision of the Spirit to his followers. The Spirit cleanses from sin and brings about new life with God. Additionally, Jesus and the Father exhibit a very tight relationship. It is still a relationship of sender and sent, but it is very close. This heavy theological focus is probably accounted for by the split with the synagogue. The leaders are no longer Pharisees or priests, but simply Jews. They oppose Jesus vehemently from the get go and cause the people to live in fear of them and in fear of being cast out of the synagogue over Christological matters.

At this point problems develop in the community. The second edition becomes misinterpreted by some and 1 John is written after they left the community. They expanded on the emphasis of receipt of Jesus' Spirit and its sanctifying work denying unique status for Jesus. Believers could attain the same level of divine sonship. They also noticed the lack of atonement theology in the second edition and then concluded that Jesus did not actually do anything to save humanity. This, again, was achieved by the Spirit.

Both 1 John and the third edition of the gospel sought to correct this interpretation of the second edition. 1 John was written first, probably by the beloved disciple, and then following his death, his followers revised the gospel to produce the third edition. Both 1 John and the third edition are characterized by an affirmation of the high Christology of the second edition while also introducing an apocalyptic element into the gospel. Jesus' role as a sacrifice for sin and liberator are also emphasized. The Pneumatology is also toned down a little, stressing that believers receive a share in the Spirit, not reception of the whole Spirit as the schismatics claimed. Jesus relationship to the Father is even closer and his overall status is emphasized even more through the addition of the 'I AMs'.

I think all of this is a perfectly plausible account. I want to stress, too, that most of what I presented are the results of von Wahlde's analysis not his method for distinguishing editions (though things like terminology are key criteria). Like all theories it stands and falls on its exegetical insight. We will regularly test it along the way, starting with 1:35-51.

Monday, September 23, 2013

John 1:35-51: Let's be Clear About Who Jesus Is

35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (NRSV)

As much as the prologue summarizes the gospel's presentation of Jesus' identity, this passage may be the clearest presentation of the identity of Jesus in the whole gospel. It begins by continuing where the prior section left off. John identifies Jesus to his disciples, declaring that he is the 'lamb of God.' Jesus is the one through whom God will bring a great deliverance, so go follow him!

Two disciples heard this, so they left. There's an air of excitement in this narrative. The two disciples, like Philip, later on, get up and eagerly follow Jesus, immediately submitting themselves to him. When they come after him Jesus turns and asks, 'what are you looking for?'[1] Another way to put it is, who do you think I will turn out to be? The disciples respond by calling him 'teacher' and a couple of verses later, 'Messiah.' As we will find out, neither of these identifications will prove completely adequate. However, the two disciples do respond correctly. They want to see where Jesus stays. Given the emphasis on remaining in and abiding with Jesus in the gospel as a whole, this response takes on a fuller meaning. It is being with Jesus, not with John, that brings fullness of life and spiritual experience.[2]

In the second scene we meet Nathanael and Philip. Philip presents Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel's hopes. Nathanael doubts, but goes to meet Jesus. Jesus reveals his identity by displaying his supernatural knowledge of Nathanael's past, and as von Wahlde points out, in the same vein as what we will see in John 4. Nathanael responds by identifying Jesus as the Messiah. This, to me, is where the text gets a little odd. Why would the demonstration of supernatural knowledge imply that Jesus was the davidic Messiah? Why not just a prophet? A prophetic Messiah does not seem to be in view here since the terms Son of God and King of Israel are used. This incongruity isn't picked up by commentators. I'm not sure why.[3]

In any event, as Moloney and von Wahlde have both clearly shown, this response is inadequate. Jesus identity goes beyond being the davidic Messiah (as the sign itself shows anyways). Jesus is the locus of divine activity and divine revelation. As Lincoln points out, this pericope functions as a call to move beyond prior religious convictions. Jewish categories, while not wrong, are not adequate for fully grasping who Jesus is.


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[1] Keener raises the possibility that this question might be hinting at divine status for Jesus, as seeking and following often had connotations of deity in Early Judaism. It's an extremely difficult matter to adjudicate and it depends largely on the degree to which you believe the gospel to be a unity. If it is the work of a single author, or very thoroughly and consistently edited, then I tilt towards thinking that Keener is on the right path. Similarly if this question was an insertion in a subsequent edition of the gospel. If a multi-author theory of composition is correct and this question comes from the earliest hand then it is less likely to have originally been a question implying Jesus' divinity. However, given the material that was added (according to von Wahlde, for example, verses 50 and 51), the question would have come to take on that additional meaning.

I have spent a lot of time recently in the first two volumes of von Wahlde's new commentary on John. His theory of composition has a lot to be said for it. I still have not made up my mind about whether or not to follow von Wahlde, but his understanding of the text did impact my thinking here. In a future post I will discuss his theory more fully since it impinges directly on my other current area of interest, the development of Christology, particularly the way it emphasizes divinity as something beyond messianic status.

[2] And McHugh may be correct in observing that Jesus is here presented as the source of divine wisdom.

[3] This makes me think that perhaps von Wahlde is incorrect in identifying this portion of the narrative to the first edition of John. If some of the material is original to the first source it has been reworked to set up the final two verses and does not stand alone well.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Exploring the Christian Way of Life: The Identity of Jesus Part 4

This is the fourth and final part of a paper on the identity of Jesus. Here are parts one, two, and three.

Luke expands upon Jesus salvific role more fully in his announcement story. Fitzmyer is very perceptive in this regard, subsuming soteriology under Christology.[1] Jesus is the controlling category and his salvific action flows out of his personal identity. In the Magnificat in Luke 1:46-56 there is the repeated theme of mercy. God is showing his mercy to Israel through Jesus. It is by God’s merciful act through Jesus that God would fulfill the promises to Israel.[2] Jesus was the coming redeemer. This is fully consonant with the Jewish messianic expectations described above. This was his role, from conception.[3] Verses 52-53 give the clearest explanation of Jesus program: ‘52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty’ (NRSV). Jesus was going to bring divine victory, but its primary goal was to right the wrongs that evil had brought on the earth. This is what salvation for Israel would look like. It was not going to be a time where they assumed the dominant position and were the super powers of the world.[4] God wasn't solely judging Rome and other Gentile powers. He was judging evil oppressors of every stripe. The tables were to be turned and the poor and the weak were to be favored by God. This is the new life brought by Jesus. It may be tempting to read a text like John 1 and treat evil abstractly as “darkness,” but Luke allows no such thing. Evil reigns wherever there is poverty and oppression. Jesus acts like the good king, stepping in and saying no, stopping the perpetrators of evil, and giving his people a new opportunity for life. “This is not to obliterate the powerful so that the lowly can achieve the positions of honor and privilege to which they previously had no access. Rather, God is at work in individual lives (like Mary) and in the social order as a whole in order to subvert the very structure of society that supports and perpetuates such distinctions.”[5] Jesus was going to be the king of a new society where injustice had no place and everyone was accepted, both Jew and Gentile.[6] The Gentiles were finally being grafted into God’s people, into Israel, through Jesus.[7]

And this is where it all comes together. Who was and is Jesus? He was the first century Jewish Messiah, primarily of the kingly, but also of the prophetic mold. However, while there are many touch points with Jewish expectation, he avoided some of the key ones. In particular, some Jews were expecting the Messiah to lead a violent revolution against Rome.[8] The gospel writers portray him as leading a different kind of revolution. Political, but in a different sense. The exile was ending, as many Jews were hoping, but it wasn't the result of an overthrow of Rome by God.[9] A bigger enemy was out there and it had ensnared people, Jewish and Gentile alike. The enemy was Satan, evil incarnate.[10] Jew and Gentile alike needed to be saved from the effects of their sins. A massive work of liberation needed to be done. And Jesus the messiah did it, through his life, death, and resurrection. He was leading the battle, defeating evil in whatever guise it came. Like the prophets of old, he exposed injustice and would perform many signs which proclaimed the rule of God and the end of the rule of Satan. And, as we've hinted, he would need to be a teacher, like Moses. Kingdom building isn't easy and old habits die hard. The people need to know how to live in this new found victory. They would need to know how to live as one people, one family, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. Peace is coming. The promise to Abraham is being fulfilled. Jesus will be on the throne until all of this is accomplished in its fullness. Then, the keys to the kingdom will be handed over to the Father and the new age will arrive.

What has proceeded is just a sketch, providing many avenues for further exploration. A brief overview was needed to help provide a fuller picture to fit all of the individual pieces into. Before we start working through individual themes in detail we have to deal with one other major issue. The confession of the church in later centuries has differed in both emphasis and content from the conclusions of our study. Why has the church made Jesus seem less Jewish and focused so strongly on divinity? We will examine some of the major creeds and theologians from throughout the millennia exploring how much warrant they can claim for their portraits of Jesus.

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[1] Fitzmyer 1970 pp. 219-27.

[2] See esp. 1:56.

[3] Green 1997 p. 100. The rest of what follows builds on his excellent analysis of this passage.

[4] There may be an explicit contrast here with the (Pharisaic?) ideology of Ps. of Sol. See further Bock 1994 p.146 n. 10 and his references. 

[5] Green 1997, p. 105.

[6] I think that’s the clear point of the reference to the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. 

[7] We must remember the Jewish shape of the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. See esp. Romans 9-11. Wright 1991 pp. 231-57 is a good starting place for further reading.

[8] While this may not be completely obvious from second temple Jewish writings, it is from history.

[9] This was almost universally hoped for even if some did not advocate violent revolution.

[10] For more on this theme and what follows, Wright 1996, pp. 446-67 is critical.

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For Further Reading:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Exploring the Christian Way of Life: The Identity of Jesus Part 3

This is part three of a paper on the identity of Jesus. Here are part one and part two.

We’re getting there in our portrait of Jesus, but we still have more work to do. Mark may provide us with the major brushstrokes, as indeed what we have said could have been drawn from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or Paul (e.g., Rom 1:1-7). What does John have to say? The prologue (John 1:1-18) contains the fullest summary of John’s vision of Jesus. Those 18 verses provide us with several avenues for exploration, but I want to focus on one in particular. First, let’s look at the first 5 verses.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5 NRSV)

According to John 1:1, Jesus is the word, or the revelation of God, his intentionality.[1] In other words, Jesus is God’s fullest expression of himself. The emphasis on illumination is expressed in an apocalyptic term: light.[2] Jesus is the light, the life bringing light. This light brings life both here and now and in the age to come. The light was opposed, but the darkness could not overcome the light. Jesus was victorious. It is also expressed in two other terms in John 1:14, truth and grace. Here, given the emphasis of the rest of the prologue, I believe we are to understand that truth is revelatory; not logical[3] nor purely propositional.[4] This gives the impetus for this paper as argued in the introduction. One must understand God as he is revealed in Jesus, and one must understand Jesus as God has presented him to us, as the first century Jewish Messiah, crucified, raised from the dead, ascended to the right hand of God, and embodied in and by the church. Through those acts God reveals the fullness of his love and grace. God graciously gave the law through Moses, but the grace and light that came with that revelation is surpassed by the light and grace made visible in Jesus. In him God’s mercy, compassion, and – to put it in a Pauline form – paradoxical wisdom are on full display. Jesus reveals God in many ways, but it is in the cross that he is the fullest revelation.

Is that in agreement with Mark? One aspect of the baptism that we have not discussed is the question of divinity. Does the ‘sonship’ language imply some sort divinity? Collins and Collins argue that the term Son of God took on that aspect as time progressed during the second temple period.[5] Mark, in all likelihood, was written to a Gentile audience and they too would have understood both the sonship language and the descent of the dove to imply Jesus' divinity in some sense.[6] In fact they likely would have read it as the moment in which Jesus became divine, a god in disguise.[7] Is that in line with Mark’s intentions? Did Jesus become divine at his baptism? Hurtado argues that Mark is about the unveiling of Jesus' divinity. He is at his baptism proclaimed to be divine. However, he is never proclaimed God’s son by a human until after his crucifixion in Mark 15:39.[8] The motif of the hiddenness of Jesus identity is strong in Mark. His divinity is only fully unveiled in his death on the cross. This aspect of Mark’s understanding of Jesus is consistent with the Johannine prologue. While I think the scales tip against Mark having seen Jesus as merely human prior to his baptism, he has seemed to have picked up on the hiddenness motif from Homer.[9] Perhaps, among other reasons, it is to correct this possible ambiguity that Matthew and Luke add infancy narratives, to stress Jesus' divinity from the moment he enfleshed himself.[10]  As Hurtado notes, this motive is certainly behind the narrative inventions of the second century infancy gospels.[11]

Otherwise the origin narratives in Matthew and Luke are in agreement with what we have seen. France argues that Mt. 1:1-4:11 is an extended argument that Jesus is the messiah.[12] The title, ‘Christ’ is used in 1:1, 16, 17, 18, and 2:4. The genealogy of Matthew is a royal genealogy centered on both David and Abraham. As Davies and Allison point out, Jesus has come to end the exile. This uses a schema of history common to that of the apocalypses.[13] This emphasizes Jesus' role as the delivering king, the one who through whom God would fulfill the promises to Abraham and David, understood eschatologically. This again, is a shared emphasis with Mark. Matthew goes on, however, to fill out the picture a little more in the announcement to Joseph. He is told by the angel, in verse 21, that Jesus will “save his people from their sins.” There is a strong spiritual dimension to Jesus’ activity. He wasn’t there to lead a revolution against Rome, primarily.[14] He came to lead a revolution against evil.

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[1] Calvin, ad loc. Similarly Moloney 1999.

[2] This and much of the rest of the analysis is an extension of what is found in Keener 2003 passim.

[3] By this I don’t mean ‘illogical,’ rather simply that John doesn’t care about Lessing’s ditch.

[4] Revelatory and propositional are overlapping categories and not inherently contradictory. My point is that one cannot abstract God’s revelation of Jesus from the mode.


[6] The description is reminiscent of scenes in the Illiad and the Odyssey as argued by Dixon 2009, esp. 765-69.

[7] Ibid. 770.

[8] Hurtado 2003 pp. 288-89.

[9] I wish I could be more definitive, but I have no compelling reason other than the fact that Mark was accepted widely by a proto-orthodox church which clearly believed Jesus was the embodiment of the divine Son and that the narrative does seem to hint at a prior choice and having been pleased with Jesus as noted above. Dixon’s argument is very strong. The reception history, though, cannot be taken lightly and hence I do not follow Dixon at this point. 

[10] Davies and Allison 1988 see a close tie between the virginal conception by Mary and divine Christology. See 200-02. They also urge against an adoptionist reading of Mark 1:9-11 and parallels in their analysis of the baptism, though they do not consider a Homeric background. See 331-34. 

[11] Hurtado 2003, 449 on the Protoevangelium of James, 451 on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

[12] France 2007 p. 25.

[13] Davies and Allison 1988 p. 187 note Dan 9:24-7, 1 En. 93:3-10, 91:12-17, and 2 Bar. 67:1-74:4. 

[14] Ibid. p. 210.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Exploring the Christian Way of Life: The Identity of Jesus Part 2

This is part two of a paper on the identity of Jesus. For part 1, click here.

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ (Mark 1:9-11 NRSV)

Much ink has been spilled over why Jesus was baptized. For the task at hand, I think that question can be sidestepped. What happened during the baptism is far more important than trying to ascertain why Jesus would have undergone a baptism of repentance. At any rate, Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan. During the baptism, Jesus had a remarkable experience, an apocalyptic experience. Marcus does an excellent job of detailing the apocalyptic elements of the text.[1]  Before we get into those elements we need to explore the Old Testament background. There are at least three key allusions, Ps. 2:7, Is. 42:1, and Is. 63:11-64:1.

Psalm 2 is a royal Psalm. As has been suggested by Grogan, among others, it may have been used in the coronation of the king, as part of the enthronement ritual.[2]  Kraus provides some helpful background to the Psalm. ‘In Babylon and Assyria the king is most often understood to be a servant called, installed, and empowered through a “statement” by the gods.’[3]  It’s a declarative act by God[4]  where he grants someone the status of king and gives them the charge of ruling his people in accordance with the God’s will. The king is adopted by God and fully subordinate to him. As his reward he is given an inheritance, the same inheritance as Abraham: the nations. Additionally, the Psalm legitimates the king by claiming a special relationship with God himself.

The first portion of Psalm 2:7 is on the lips of the heavenly voice. What’s important is both what is said and what isn't. Jesus is called God’s son, just as the king was. Jesus’ public ministry is about to be launched and we are to understand it as the ministry of a king.[5]  Did Jesus get a new status during his baptism? As France notes, the voice is describing who Jesus is, not who he is becoming. The voice omits 2:7c, ‘today I have begotten you.’ It seems as if there is no new status for Jesus.[6]  As Marcus notes, it is the past choice of Jesus that is being ratified at the baptism.[7]  Mark is telling us of Jesus special relationship with God. As argued by Keener in his commentary on the Johanine parallel, it is a proleptic enthronement scene, anticipating the enthronement that will come at the resurrection.[8]

Kingship is a major theme in the Psalms. Psalm 2 is the first royal Psalm, introducing the theme. According to Kraus, the final redactor of the Psalter had messianic expectation, which I think permits us to believe that a messianic reading of this psalm would have been perfectly natural in the first century. We have evidence from Qumran that at least some first century Jews did read it that way.[9]

The voice also claims that Jesus is his beloved and that he is well pleased with Jesus. This echoes Is. 42:1, which opens the first of the so-called servant songs. Interestingly, according to Goldingay and Payne, the activity seen here is royal, indicative of the way the ideal king would rule and the ideal nation would act. A royal motif is being applied to the servant, to Israel as a whole.[10] The servant has the role of ruling with justice, of reordering of social life.[11] This tells us what kind of rule we should expect from Jesus. He is to be the kingly leader of a revolution that will turn the social structures of the world upside down instituting God’s justice, both for Israel and for the nations at large, again in keeping with the Abrahamic covenant.

The eschatological expectation of the rule of Israel and the inclusion of the Gentiles within the people of God was central to some strands of Jewish eschatology and to Christians as well.[12] Isaiah, which makes this case repeatedly, is central for Mark. The gospel opens with a citation of Isaiah and he quotes it again here in 1:10. 1:14 may also be an allusion to Isaiah. Marcus also points out, following Buse, that there are echoes of Is. 63:11-64:1, a proto-apocalyptic section describing a coming up from the water, reception of the Holy Spirit, a tearing of the heavens, and a divine descent.[13] This tie to an apocalyptic text, along with certain strong apocalyptic elements in the baptism story, adds to the likelihood that Jesus is being portrayed here by Mark as the Messianic king. The baptism marks the start of his public ministry, the start of his rule. He is filled with the Spirit, enabling him to carry out the task of ruling rightly, of bringing proper social order.

Collins also suggests that there may be links with Isaiah 61:1-2, especially with its emphasis on the Spirit.[14] While I’m not inclined to think Mark was alluding to Isaiah 61:1-2, it may explain why Luke chose to open Jesus teaching ministry with his exposition of this text. There Jesus explains what his kingship and kingdom is all about, serving the weak, the poor, the marginalized, and the outcast; of making God’s family maximally big.

This text, as elsewhere in the New Testament, seems to make a collage from various threads of Jewish messianic expectation.[15] There was no ubiquitous image of the coming Messiah; many Jews did not seem to have any expectation.[16] And among those who were expecting a messiah, there wasn’t even agreement on how many. In the Damascus Document, for example, we have clear references to two concurrent Messiahs, a priestly and a royal messiah.[17] To risk oversimplifying things, the royal expectations centered on a Davidic figure who, as God’s agent and with God’s help, would defeat the foreign powers and place Judea at the place of prominence. The Gentiles would recognize the legitimacy of the Messiah and would flock to Jerusalem in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. Right order would ensue and the people would live in peace and holiness. The messianic period would be a bridge to the new creation.[18]

In addition, a few texts, primarily at Qumran, suggest the presence of a prophetic messiah. This figure was concerned with teaching the people in the way of justice. His teaching was accompanied by great wonderworking, modeled after the ministry of Elijah.

There are many other elements and variants of Jewish messianic expectation, but this brief discussion provides us with the background we need to proceed in our analysis of Jesus’ baptism. As Collins has noted,[19] by meshing Psalm 2 and the Isaiah texts together, we have a combination of both a kingly and prophetic messianic figure. It extends beyond establishing justice but also to a ministry of teaching or exhortation. This is a bit curious – why merge the two roles? It does reflect the reality of Jesus’ earthly ministry as presented in the synoptic gospels, but if Jesus was a Davidic Messiah, why was so much time spent teaching and healing? Understanding this will give us added precision in our apocalyptic framework. The baptism narrative points us in the direction we should search for the identity of Jesus. He is the eschatological king and prophet who brings justice to earth and makes the inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s people possible. Through him God worked victory, and when that victory is completed, the eschatological age and the resurrection will come and Christ will hand over the kingdom to God.[20] What is made clear from the baptism text is that Jesus’ roll is bringing right order to earth and inaugurating the kingdom of God. It is both through the victory that God will win through him and through his teaching that Jesus would, does, and will change the world. The need for the prophetic role shows that things aren't automatically going to correct themselves because the Messiah is ruling. We will get more into this later, but evil has ruled for too long and has left too indelible of a mark on God’s people that they need to be challenged and even criticized when living on this side of the last day. He needs to rule and make his will known with utmost clarity so that Jews and Gentiles alike can live in peace under him.


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[1] Marcus 1999 ad loc.

[2] Grogan 2008 ad loc. See also Kraus 1988 ad loc. 

[3] Kraus 1988 ad loc.

[4] Goldingay 2006 ad loc.

[5] More on what exactly that kingly ministry looks like later.

[6] France 2002 ad loc.

[7] Marcus 1999 ad loc.

[8] Keener 2003, ad loc. Commenting on John 1:32. This also accords with Allison’s conviction that, prior to his death, the historical Jesus saw himself as the Messiah in waiting. See Allison 2010 pp. 279-93, esp. p. 290.

[9] Marcus 1999 p. 166.


[11] Brueggemann 1998 ad loc.

[12] We see this, e.g., in Romans 4 and Isaiah 66.

[13] Marcus 1999 ad loc.

[14] Collins 2007 ad loc.

[15] A good starting point for further research is the article in DEJ by Pomykala.

[16] As is well known, neither Sirach nor Josephus, among others, present themselves as looking for a messiah. In the case of the former we need to be careful how much we press that piece of information, as we only have one writing from Ben Sira, though it does indeed give us no hint of any messianic expectation. In the case of Josephus it is very clear that he was not looking for a Jewish messiah.

[17] E.g., CD 19:33-20:1

[18] A point particularly made at Qumran. See Collins 2009. Unfortunately I have returned the book and did not write down a page number.


[20] This seems to be the clear point of 1 Cor. 15:24-28, showing that at least one early follower of Jesus understood him this way.

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For Further Reading
"Messianism" by Kenneth Pomykala in The Eerdmanns Dictionary of Early Judaism