A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

Paul, justification, the Grand Narrative, and word usage

Good ole Chris Tilling wrote a post addressing justification in the context of the NT Wright/John Piper debate, in which he writes:

If words like ‘righteousness’, ‘Law’, ‘justification’, ‘promise’, ‘righteousness of God’ etc. are put in the context of Luther’s question about how to find a gracious God, they will tend to mean one thing. But if these words are placed within a story which is about God’s covenant promises to Israel, her purpose through God’s promise to Abraham to bring blessing to the clans of the earth (Gen. 12:1-3), her exile, the Prophetic promises in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel of return from exile, the vindication of God’s faithfulness and his covenant people, the gift of the Spirit, the universal acknowledgement of YHWH and the renewal of the covenant etc., those words will potentially mean something different, something bigger which includes that beat of God’s gracious and redeeming love, which Luther so poignantly grasped.

Let it be said that I neither agree with Piper or Wright fully on the issue of justification. Let is also be said that I think Wright’s work is brilliant in analyzing the big picture of Second-Temple Judaism and its relationship to Christianity. Matter of fact, he is the one author I have read enough of that I agree with the most (hopefully Wright will believe I am not trying to defame him!). Yes, even more so than John Wesley.

But one of my criticisms of Wright is that while he does a great job of seeing the big picture, he assumes that such a grand narrative is at the conscious forefront in its entirety (or at least the majority of it) in writings such as Paul’s. But that grand narrative is ‘authored’ by God (or for skeptics, the purposeful or accidental authoring of person or persons), whereas Paul and others are writing on a different level. The grand narrative is the belief in the historical past and direction of Gods’ creation as display through the passing of time and witnessed to by the Bible. As such, it is a great organizing schema for understanding the different smaller narratives, letters, exhortations, etc. written by people. Furthermore, it is probable that the persons themselves recognized the grand themes of exile, vindication, covenant, the Spirit, etc., or were at least subconsciously influenced by it.

However, seeing as the grand narrative is a more abstract generalization, it is problematic to state that Paul’s letters as such are direct expressions of that storyline. The problem is that word usage is derived more from the context of the other words and their immediate referents (and all their usages in other contexts), and only secondarily influenced by the larger context. But even then, the usage within the larger context reflects a purposeful usage of the author. To attribute to Paul a certain definition of dikaiow and dikaisunH based upon an abstract idea that is unlikely to be at the conscious level is problematic. The burden falls upon those who think the abstract grand narrative is being expressed consciously to show that within the texts in such a way that it can not be seen as merely a subconscious, or scripted, expression. If it is not a conscious expression, then it is unlikely a direct influence upon word usage.

As a result, I find the story about the grand narrative to be too distant to be helpful in exegeting at the micro-level. I do not think “righteousness of God”, “justification”, etc. should be understood along the lines of the grand narrative and covenant faithfulness as Wright would have it. Nor do I think that Piper’s and classic Protestantism’s emphasis upon the forensic ideas and forgiveness are correct, as I think they fail to fit within the whole of Romans (Luther’s emphasis of grace, while derived from the text, is not the only theme within Romans). Rather, I think it is more ethical in its nature, referring to the behavior (or future behavior in the context of Romans 4:6) of persons who place their trust in God in the manner that Jesus did, culminating in belief in resurrection. This fits within the constant theme of obedience leading to blessing and sin leading to cursing within the Torah, and are expressed on the textual level. It also fits within the ethical emphasis of Hellenic philosophy (Romans takes upon the character of a philosophical treatise). It has its forensic implications, and it fits within the grand narrative by illustrating part of the means of the fulfillment of God’s faithfulness. However, in my opinion it neither suffers from too narrow a focus (Luther and grace) or too abstract and broad a focus (Wright and the grand narrative).

Now if anyone can understand what I just wrote, I will buy you a cookie. 🙂

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February 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments

How could the early church come to see Jesus as God?

It is often times viewed with skepticism the idea that Jesus could have had been attributed the idea of being God by the early church, that the formulation was in fact a later invention. However, I think there is a much more plausible way in which Jesus began to be viewed as being God in the early church, by the apostle’s themselves, without having to make the demands that Jesus made such explicit claims. In other words, the very early church could have potentially through reflection come to legitimately believe in Jesus’ divinity.

By the fact that Jesus himself proclaimed himself as Messiah, he was making a claim to kingship, at the very least of the Jews. But the idea of king in other places was often times associated with claims of divinity. At that time, it was Caesar, king of the Roman Empire. It wasn’t uncommon either, as the Egyptian Pharaoh made such a claim, as did some Japanese emperors. Furthermore, Elohim (“God” in Hebrew) was also associated with leaders, such as Moses (Exodus 7:1) and in Psalm 82.

But just because Jesus had royal claims isn’t sufficient in and of itself. It is necessary to see Jesus himself as being contrasted with and viewed greater than the Caesar who claimed divinity himself. And the Messianic expectations of the Old Testament fulfill that role, especially the book of Daniel. It speaks of a kingdom that does not cease that covers all the nations, which the Son of Man reigns over. That is a similar but much higher claim to that which Caesar could boast. In other words, if Caesar could claim to be divine, how much more so could the Messiah make that claim.

But even that by itself isn’t sufficient for such reflection to develop. There were many other people who claimed to be the Messiah, but they were never worshiped as God. Jewish monotheism would fight heavily against the idea, unless there was a earth shattering, paradigm shifting revelation.

The resurrection of Jesus takes upon such a role. It was also earth shattering because through that, it vindicated the very claim to Messiahship that would be capable of combating with Caesar’s claim. If such a thing that only God could do, raise the dead, happened to the man who was claimed to by God’s Messiah, then certainly this man was sent by God.

But it was also earth shattering in the sense that while a resurrection was believed to happen, it wasn’t believed one man who would be resurrected before the others. I would argue that such a “premature” resurrection could have pointed towards divinity. Isaiah 57:15, amongst other passages, speaks of the immortality of YHWH. And if Jesus himself wasn’t contained by death, then certainly that would also lend credence to the idea that he was “immortal” (in a sense, though he could taste death), and thus something that points towards him being God. However, this is not a very clear claim by itself.

So even that, by itself, I do not think could overcome Jewish monotheism. There has to be something that can link Jesus more credibly in the minds the people more so than what I have mentioned so far.

It is at this point that I think NT Wright makes a great point in Jesus and the Victory of God. He argues that the things that are attributed to YHWH throughout the Old Testament, Jesus is making a claim to do himself in his proclamation and his actions. Basically, Jesus was doing that what God does. And a perfect example of that is where Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic and the response from the skeptics is that only God can forgive sin, and Jesus responds by healing the man and vindicates his claim to offering forgiveness. Jesus was doing that what God does.

So imagine, for instance, the disciples seeing all these things happening to them before their very eyes. This man is doing what throughout the Old Testament is attributed to YHWH. Certainly, the similarity would have been recognizable to Jews who followed him around and knew the Old Testament. Perhaps the question was even asked in their mind, but their Jewish monotheism would have lead them to reject the notion. But the question could have been asked.

So, once the resurrection occurred, vindicating Jesus and attributing immortality to him, it allows the disciples to ask the question that they would have rejected previously because of their monotheism. The question was asked but rejected because of Jewish monotheism, but the vindication allowed one to seriously entertain and even affirm the idea that Jesus is the fleshly embodiment of God. Jesus’ acts alone couldn’t affirm the question for many, and Jesus’ resurrection alone couldn’t fully develop the idea, nor could the comparison between the kingly claims of Jesus to Caesar. But united together, it could lead to the conclusion that Jesus was indeed God. The resurrection would have been the “AH HA!” moment.

This theory would explain the narrative of John 20:24-29 very well then. The disciple Thomas was skeptical of the risen Jesus when other people told him about it. But then once he sees the opens wounds of Jesus, his immediate response is “My Lord and my God!” After realizing Jesus was indeed raised from the dead, it suddenly clicked in his mind and immediately affirmed the notion that Jesus was God in the flesh. And then Jesus response could take upon the meaning of “You had to see my proof of my resurrection to come to believe I am your Lord and God. Blessed are those who believed beforehand without seeing that.” Thus alluding to the the idea that Jesus works showed him to be God (or the Son of God, a title with connotations of divinity, as John 20:30-31 speaks about), but also the fact that the resurrection confirms it for those who would have otherwise rejected the notion. Furthermore, Romans 1:4 goes to say state that Jesus was declared the Son of God because of the resurrection, further strengthening the idea that the resurrection was the key that unlocked the door for many people.

So, in the end, the reflection could have arisen so early, that it could have started as Jesus was in the middle of his ministry. So while Jesus never explicitly stated before than he was God (stating such would have gotten him called either crazy and/or stoned right then are there), his actions as his disciples reflected upon them opened up the potential question, and the resurrection gave vindication to the idea.

The explanation that can then be given to the rest of the New Testament not bestowing the title of “God” upon Jesus (unless we take Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 to be genuine and actually attributing the title of God to Jesus) is because it could lead to confusion. So instead Paul and others determined to call Jesus Lord, which was a critique of Caesar, spoke of Jesus authority, but also allusion to the name of God, where YHWH, was substituted with “Lord” (adonai in Hebrew and kyrios in Greek). The first statement of Thomas became the standard title for Jesus, whereas the latter was diminished to avoid confusion or hints of the denial of Jewish monotheism (albeit a modified form).

This makes the best sense of the material we have at hand, all while keeping true to the Jewish context and being relatively simple (only three strands, contrast with Caesar, resurrection, and his works, pulled together). It also makes sense of why Paul’s epistles attribute such things seemingly reserved for God to Jesus and yet never really attributes to Jesus the title of God (unless, again, Titus 2:13 is genuinely Pauline and is referring to only one being).

Furthermore, since its simplicity but yet explanatory power of a variety of evidence (of which I have only touched upon) is such a strong argument for it, it also gives further credence that Jesus indeed was resurrected. Such a belief could not have powerfully come into play otherwise (as Romans 1:4 might also imply).

In addition, one could not say that Jesus’ divinity was an invention of the very early church, because the Jewish monotheism would not easily allow such a concept to be developed. It would have to be powerfully and definitively revealed. So while the resurrection is given credibility, so also are the works attributed to Jesus through the gospels.

The first reasonable recourse is to appeal to a later tradition, but if the material about the powerful works weren’t around then (or even if they were, since by that time it was for a primarily non-Jewish audience who would not be as quick to see Jesus performing the works of YHWH in the Old Testament), nor resurrection genuine.

The next recourse would be to potentially appeal to Jesus’ claims of royalty and having the rule of all the world and that over time (as opposed to the rather quick comparison I argued for), he would be compared with the supposedly divine Caesar and would have been consider divine over and against Caesar. But this couldn’t happen early when the church was more heavily influenced by Jews without the powerful works and resurrection. And it really isn’t feasible for a later development, unless a belief in resurrection spring up and made the Jesus cult retain its staying power.

Another argument would then have to come up was that the resurrection was an early invention of the early church. But that then flies right into the face of the simple hypothesis that explains a lot of the evidence at hand. One must appeal then to a more complicated hypothesis that the New Testament as a whole is unreliable and has been tampered with. And that is where many might go, but at their own risk and peril.

(Great amounts of credit must be given to NT Wright, who a lot of my thinking is based upon along with the ability to put different threads together. Peace be upon his name!)

October 3, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

NT Wright on Biblical and Contemporary language

I read this from For All God’s Worth just after I had made my previous post on language, so I think it is fitting to post.

We have to learn how to translate Jesus’ message to his contemporaries so that it becomes our message to our contemporaries. The Sermon [on the Mount] isn’t just Jesus’ challenge to the church. It ought to be the church’s challenge to the world. But our world is not expecting covenant renewal, with a list of blessings, an intensification of the Jewish law, a newly depeened piety. Our world is not wanting to rebuild a temple, a house on the rock. We cannot simply throw at our contemporaries the same language and imagery that Jesus used in his day and hope it will somehow stick. We have to take the difficult, but exhilarating step of working out where our contemporaries are and translating the message into their langauge and setting.   (p. 132)

October 2, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Why I dislike Trinitarian language

The title makes me sound blasphemous, but do not get me wrong, I maintain the basic meaning of the Trinity. I will even use the Trinitarian language at times because it can at times be used in a good sense. But I think today, Trinitarian language does more harm than good in the end. In the modern understanding of it, it portrays the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as being same exact type of being/person. And the word God in the New Testament is essentially a reference to the Trinity. In the end, it now leads to a skewed concept of the portrayal of the three persons in the Bible.

Only once anywhere in the New Testament is Jesus referred to explicitly as God, John 1:1 (I’ll leave the discussion of the supposed references in the Pauline pastorals for another day). And in that instance, it is not ho theos (the Greek article and the Greek word for God) that was the frequent pattern used throughout the New Testament to refer to the God of Israel, but simply as theos. This isn’t a Jehovah’s Witness argument saying that it should be understood as “a god.” Rather, it is saying that Jesus wasn’t being identified as some person of a trinity, but rather that he is the God in essence, or in nature. A better way of putting it is that he proceeded from God, hence the usage of logos which had philosophic undertones along with a reference to the words attributed to God in Genesis 1 (see 1:3).

The importance of this for New Testament theology isn’t so much in Jesus ontological position, but rather what Jesus reveals. In 1:5 the word is spoken of as light. In Hebrews 1:3 it says the Son is the exact representation of God’s nature. Romans speaks of Jesus as the revelation of God’s righteous nature and the mercy seat (the place of atonement where also the cloud of God’s presence existed). And then, as NT Wright argues in Jesus and the Victory of God, Jesus takes upon the roles that were attributed to YHWH throughout the Old Testament. My point is, with the exception of the last point, that Trinitarian language does a rather poor job of communicating that point, the point that is emphasized throughout the New Testament. To speak like this implies a sense of subordination, that Jesus is not revealing himself so much as the God YHWH. Such notions are not readily included in Trinitarian language, nor Trinitarian logic that necessities that Jesus is equal in all ways to the Father.

In addition, Trinitarian language also tends towards docetism. If Jesus is the second person of the Trinity and is one with the Father, he must take upon all the characteristics of the Father. So we tend to see the exclusion of his humanity. Trouble is attributed to sayings like that not even the Son of Man himself doesn’t know when he will come. And if we take away Jesus’ humanity, we get some “revelation” that is of little value for us people. He doesn’t really reveal to us God’s righteous nature that we are ourselves to emulate, because he is an unachievable ideal. He is God, we are merely human. We can not be anything like him.

It also struggles to make sense of some of the Gospel narrative, for instance when Jesus says “Why do you say I am good? None is good by God.” If we make the automatic equation of Jesus with God at the cost of his humanity, instead of a human that also happens to be the divine Word, we struggle to let Jesus himself be struggling for his own vocation. So questions like that either are interpreted awkwardly or are taken as express denials as Jesus’ own divinity. We can not see it as Jesus not sure of his exact nature of the time.

References to the Spirit as the third person of the Trinity have similar problems, but my main issue is how it portrays Jesus in this modern culture.

At one time Trinitarian langauge had value, in a struggle to maintain that Jesus as the fitting object of worship. It has value as a logical paradigm that allows us to maintain Jesus’ divinity in the face of Jewish monotheism. But when it is made as the source of Christian theology, instead of a logical conclusion to make it justified, it leads to problems with the Biblical claims of Jesus. And while one might argue that properly understood, the Trinity doesn’t lead to these problems, we have to ask is it really worth it to try to resurrect proper Trinitarian understanding? Would we claim the langauge itself is holy, or rather that the object(s) of the langauge?

(Later edit: You have to forgive me as I sometimes can be an idiot at times. John 20:28 is also another place where Jesus is explicitly referred to as God, and actually as ho theos, which serves as the final concluding proof for the statement in John 1:1.)

October 1, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Matthew’s “the end of the age”

A phrase that is pivotal to understanding Jesus’ apocalypse, especially Matthew’s version of it (Matthew 24), is to understand the meaning of the phrase “the end of the age” which the disciples inquired about in conjunction with Jesus’ coming according to Matthew (Matthew 24:3).

The phrase is used 5 times in the New Testament, and all five times are use in the Gospel of Matthew. It is used three times in the parables (Matthew 13:39-40, 49), once in Matthew 24:3, and once in the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:20).

Interesting enough, in the disciples question that lead to Jesus’ apocalypse, only Matthew has them asking about “signs… of the end of the age.” The other two synoptics have them asking about “the sign when all these things are about to take place,” referring to Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction. In addition, the two parables in which the phrase “the end of the age” occurs, the parable of the wheat and tares and the parable of the net, do not occur in Mark and Luke.

Now when we look it’s usage in the parables, it seems to be associated with a judgment, or more specifically a separating of the righteous and the wicked. Furthermore, the angels are spoken of as instruments of this judgment by removing the wicked from the presence of the righteous. The combination of judgment and angelic judgments also occurs in Matthew 25:31-46, also not in Mark and Luke.

This reflects one of Matthew’s theological purposes, to speak of a coming judgment separating the righteous from the wicked. So when we come to Jesus’ apocalypse, which speaks of Jesus’ coming on the clouds (echoes of Daniel 7:13-14 and the Son of Man’s authority) and of the angels gathering (although in this instance, the elect), it should be of no coincidence that Matthew would have the disciples asking about “the end of the age” (which was asked about alongside Jesus’ coming, as king).

Furthermore, “the end of the age” seems to be Danielic also. Although the Greek words are different between Daniel 12:13 and Matthew, the both have the same meaning. Also, in explanation of the parable of the wheat and tares, Jesus speaks of the righteous shining like the sun after the judgment that comes upon the wicked, which is an allusion to Daniel 12:3 (replace sun with stars).

This leads to conclusion that Jesus’ reference to the his coming on the clouds doesn’t refer to some vindication or distant ideal of authority from afar in heaven, but rather that he comes with angels and gathers everyone together to separate the righteous and the wicked and bring judgment upon the wicked, at least according to Matthew. Either that, or we have to regard to similarity in language as as coincidental.

The options we have before us then are:

1) Matthew misinterprets Jesus

2) Jesus was mistaken in reference to His coming

3) Jesus’ apocalypse does not refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD

4) There is a gap between the destruction of Jerusalem (signified by a solar and lunar eclipse that follows) and the coming of Jesus to reign as king and judge

NT Wright’s interpretation cannot fit within the evidence at hand without rejecting the first premise (at least not without further taking more language without any reference to a literal meaning). Skepticism and critical readings enslaved to one form of interpretation accepts the second. Popularized eschatologies accepts the third option. I, however, have been arguing for the fourth option as I presented here. There remains difficulties with it, but I will attempt to address them in the near future.

September 29, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

Mark 13:24-32

As I noted in my previous post, one of the places where I feel Wright falls short in his tendency to argue for more metaphorical (although a different type of metaphorical) and apocalyptic understanding of Mark 13 that takes 24-26 not as literal events. Let me start off by saying that I don’t think language always has to be taken with wooden literalism, that doesn’t allow words and phrases to be invested with meaning other than the dictionary definition, and that the invested meaning might even totally over shadow the literal meaning.

This passage (and it’s parallels in Matthew and Luke) has been the subject of varying interpretation, perhaps more than most any other passages in the Bible. But they can be summed up in five different options:

A) The events foretold are literal (at least in part), and they have yet to be fulfilled (more conservative branches)

B) The events foretold are literal (at least in part), but Jesus was mistaken (more critical response)

C) The things Jesus refers to is fulfilled spiritually (full preterism)

D) The language is more metaphorical (Wright)

E) The “little apocalypse” was the invention of the early church (now I am not going to address this because that goes beyond the scope of this post, but only mention it for completeness sake)

As I said, I reject Wright’s view for a couple reasons. He correctly notes that the potential use for apocalyptic language to be used in a way that isn’t based upon the basic definitions on the words, but rather is based upon the imagery and associations the words bring. But to interpret 24-26 in light of that raises an issue: what is the signal to the hearers/reader that this is not more literal?

Because throughout the earlier part of the “little apocalypse,” Jesus has been using which is almost universally considered descriptions of more literal events (whether in foresight or hindsight). The foretelling of other so-called Christs/Messiahs literally happened in Israel. Is it proper to see Jesus suddenly shift to a different form of communicating without any “marker” to indicate such? The meaning Wright would give to 24-26 would need to be so ingrained into the public (or at least the disciple’s) consciousness for such a “marker” to be unnecessary. Otherwise, Jesus would be rather confusing (or the gospel writers amiss at accurately communicating Jesus’ message).

Secondly, when we go to Luke’s version, he involves the language of the signs of the heavens more into Jesus’ sermon (10-11). If Luke is written more of a story of how Jesus’ group was not revolutionary force that served as a threat to Rome, then wouldn’t it behoove Luke, who seemed to have a very good grasp of the Torah and Prophets, to clarify that the language refers more to Jerusalem’s destruction (assuming Luke was written after 70 AD)?

Now this is not to say the apocalyptic doesn’t have anything to do with the changing of the powers on earth. But it is may be a false dichotomy to presume either a literal meaning or a more metaphorical meaning. I would propose it was a literal sign to signify the change of things. For instance there was indeed a solar eclipse (albeit a hybrid) that could have been seen in Israel in 71 AD, after the destruction of Jerusalem (“Immediately after the tribulation of those days…”). After all, there was a reason the language of the different celestial events began to be associated with the changing of the earthly powers.

And that moves us forward to the “second coming” verse of 26. It is important to remember, as Wright notes, that this would not be seen as a “second coming” by the disciples, but rather the sign of Jesus’ coming to be king of Israel, which they assumed he was going to take within his lifetime (the typical human vision of lifetime). No doubt, such language is literal, would have caused confusion to the disciples, because Jesus was on the earth right there. But despite the incapability of the disciples to understand how what Jesus said was going to happen, it did not stop him from speaking of such literal events, like for instance the foretelling of his death and resurrection.

Then you have Acts 1:9-11 speaks of Jesus descending just as he ascended up with a cloud. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 speaks of descent with a trumpet (see Matthew 24:30-31). Unless these instances are also filled with more metaphorical use of the language (I doubt a strong case can be made for that), either there was a misunderstanding between the transmission from Jesus to Paul and Luke or there is envisioned a literal event.

Also, some were waiting for the king of Israel, the ruler of God’s kingdom (see Zechariah 6:13). Wright’s appeal to vindication avoids the issue. A mere vindication of Jesus wasn’t the expectation, but the actual presence of the king, a king who could serve as judge. Because Jesus’ quotes from Daniel 7:13, and the following verse refers to the authority that the “son of man” who came in the clouds would wield. Furthermore, the expectation of a king to rule on the throne of David (Isaiah 9:6-7) would presume the notion of a physically present king, not merely a vindicated but, by implication, an absent one.

But if the “little apocalypse” refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, did Jesus fail to return as he foretold? I think the mistake is assuming that the purpose of the apocalyptic sermon was to talk about the end of all things, which was naturally associated with Jesus’ second coming. But the question attributed to disciples by all three accounts was about when the destruction of the Temple would occur and the signs that would accompany it, although Matthew “interprets” the second question as referring to Jesus’ coming (as king).

If indeed the primary purpose was to refer to the destruction of the Temple, as he had just foretold, then the mention of his coming in the clouds could be seen as a further insight to what will happen beyond the destruction of the Temple. This might probable, as destruction of the temple would speak against the Herods and would set up the stage for the building of a new temple, which would obviously leave Israelites asking the question of the next building of the Temple and the new king. So destruction of the Temple is associated with the rebuilding of the Temple by the true king, the anointed one of God. Hence Jesus would make mention of his return (although again, perhaps baffling to the disciples at that moment), to be associated with a rebuilding of the temple that the King would do. This might also explain the difference between Matthew 24:3 and Mark 13:4 with Luke 21:7.

So what does this mean? That Jesus may not have had the purpose of saying that his coming would be immediately following the destruction that would come from 70 AD. This would allow for sort of a chronological gap between 24-25 from 26-27. And as I would argue, the parable of the fig tree would fit into that notion.

The purpose of the parable was to say that after these signs came that Jesus was near, he would soon take his place as King. Off hand, it is natural to see “near” as referring to near within the span of a few years. However, if Wright is correct in his notion about Israel feeling about being in exile, then near could be referring relative to the history of Israel as a whole, and not so much near in time for the current generation. Hence, Jesus would feel it appropriate to say “all these things,” referring to the signs in my opinion, would happen in the current generation, because the history of Israel was coming to a climax and coming close to God’s purposed goal in this generation. The nearness would be relative to Israel’s history (especially if we span back farther than Abraham, even as far back to Adam). It could even mean that there are not significant changes, or new ages, to come before the king arrives.

That Jesus is not trying to assign a particular specific time relative to the other events is made clear by 32. Unless we take the words with wooden literalism, Jesus is likely trying to say that time frame in which his return was to happen was unknown to him. He only knows that once the signs take place, at least as far as Israel is concerned, the stage is set for Jesus to appear at any time. The temple is destroyed and the political forces of power that opposed Jesus are deposed, which means the True King can come to build the true temple at anytime and bring in God’s Kingdom as it is truly meant to be.

This allows for the obvious interpretation of the signs referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD (instead of the modern eschatology, represented and unintentionally caricatured by the Left Behind series), while not having to appeal to an out of place call to more metaphorical langauge and without having to relegate to a “spiritual fulfillment” of the coming of Jesus by full preterism. Nor does it need to say that Jesus was incorrect in saying that he would come (again).

August 27, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

Two of Wright’s great strengths, and weaknesses

I am currently in the second Volume of Wright’s Christian Origins series, Jesus and the Victory of God. As I read through it, it has been like a cool drink of water to a person thirsty for understanding New Testament and Jesus in light of it and his culture. While Wright certainly is not the first, he is certainly masterful at it.

One of the great strengths I appreciate in his writing is his ability to see beyond the dictionary definition of the word and see the connotations come from different words in its particularly Jewish context. He is capable of seeing language more as it is naturally used instead of a wooden literalistic interpretation.

But this also becomes his greatest weakness in my opinion. He seems a bit too overzealous to try to impose this new interpretation on all areas in which it could possibly find a bit into the Jewish context. One place where I find he is a bit too zealous is the “second coming” passage of Matthew 24:30 (although for his disciples, it was his “first coming” the coming as king). He argues that it is about vindication and the literal sense must be abandoned. Likewise he does so in the previous verse of 29. However, it is possible that could have referred to a literal event. For instance, there was on March 20, 71 AD that could have been seen from Israel (http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEhistory/SEplot/SE0071Mar20H.gif).

While language is invested with meaning that comes from its uses in tradition, the literal meaning imposes itself heavily on its usage, with some exceptions. One must remember that. That is not to say that Wright is enormously mistaken (or even than he is necessarily wrong about Matthew 24), but I think that he is a bit too eager at times to pull out a “fresh” meaning.

A second strength of Wright is that he sees the Jews using the language of exile and interprets accordingly. And I am in hearty agreement that at the very least, the Jews used exilic language to describe themselves (I would have to see more primary evidence before I would say they saw themselves actually in exile). However, as above, he may perhaps apply this too much in many cases, such as the parables. For instance, he is of the opinion that the seed in the parable of the sower echoes the notions of exile where seed was a common image used. While possible, I think this is saying more than the evidence can truly bear out (this also is another example of my previous criticism).

This goes back to the fact that I am hesitant about one overarching models to see how a person, or people think. Wright seems convinced to apply the model of exile to the Gospels all throughout. And while I definitely think it is a major factor, it is probably not the only major factor that needs to be taken into consideration.

Wright sees the whole story rather well, but as he moves to the actual text, I think he presses his case far too much at times. Still, I find reading him refreshing and edifying

August 26, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment