A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

Isaiah 56:1-2: God’s righteousness

Pivotal to the interpretation of Paul’s letter to the Romans is the text of Isaiah 56:1-2. In Romans 3:21 speaks of God’s righteousness being revealed and attested to by the Torah and the Prophets. Isaiah 56:1-2 is probably the most influential text on Paul’s assertion.  But how one interprets God’s righteousness affects one’s view of Romans.

Thus says the LORD, “Preserve justice and do righteousness, For My salvation is about to come And My righteousness to be revealed. How blessed is the man who does this, And the son of man who takes hold of it; Who keeps from profaning the sabbath, And keeps his hand from doing any evil.”  – Isaiah 56:1-2 (NASB)

The doublet bolded above is critical to the interpretation of God’s righteousness. The two ideas of a doublet frequently have some relation to each other, though they need not be exactly synonymous. On one hand, one might interpret the revealing of God’s righteousness as being synonymous with God’s salvation. For instance, NT Wright interprets God’s righteousness as being God’s covenant faithfulness, which fits perfectly within the idea of salvation. However, I would propose a different semantic relation, where the second line is a means for the fulfillment for the first line. In other words, the revealing of His righteousness is how God brings about salvation.

Isaiah 1:27 speaks of redemption being accomplished by justice and righteousness. Assuming First Isaiah (although I do not buy into the different authors of Isaiah) has continuity with Deutero-Isaiah, then we perhaps interpret the command to keep justice and to do righteousness in 56:1 as being related to the salvation that is spoken of, where salvation/redemption is not merely conditioned upon justice and righteousness, but is obtained through those qualities.

Secondly, it is doubtful that oracle intends to use “righteousness” in such a fluid manner in 56:1, where the first usage is ethical whereas the second is referring to faithfulness. While the word could encompass both usages, it is more likely that the revealing of God’s righteousness is directly related to the call to be just and righteous. So coming about full circle, the second line of the bolded doublet seems more fitting to be the means of the salvation spoken of in the first line, instead of merely a synonymous saying.

Looking at verse 2, this seems to be the best conclusion. The doublet “How blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who takes hold of it”, seem to form a chiasmus with the previous doublet. At first, one might want to associate those two statements as referring to the command to preserve justice and do righteousness. However, upon a closer look at “the son of man who takes hold of it”, it might refer to the trust in God for salvation. The same verb is used in 56:4, where the eunuch is told “to hold fast My covenant.” Interpreting this not as faithfulness to the covenant per se, but as reliance or trust in God to fulfill His covenant, this gives further meaning to 56:2. If the second line of the doublet is regarding God’s covenant faithfulness, which naturally correspondsto salvation, then the first line of the doublet of refers to the doing of righteousness. It can be seen as follows

A – My salvation is about to coome

B –       And My righteousnes to be revealed

B’ –      Blessed is the man who does this (righteousness)

A’ – And the son of man who takes hold of it (God’s covenant promising salvation)

If 56:1b-2a really forms a chiasmus, then “My righteousness to be revealed” indicates an ethical quality to be obeyed by the people of Israel (and the eunuchs and foreigners spoken in the later verses).

Also, in indicating the happiness of the people who hold does righteousness, it is related to the presumably happy state that would come from salvation, hence the obedience to God’s righteous ways would be seen as a means for the salvation that is to be had. Incidentally, Isaiah 55:8-13 seems to indicate God revealing His ways as being the cause of the upcoming joy to be had.

Finally, 56:2b also forms a doublet, that might also be said to form a chiasmus with 56:2a. The Sabbath is said to be the sign given by God to His people of His covenant with them (Exodus 31:13-17), so that observance of the sabbath is associated with God’s covenant. On the other hand, the one who “keeps his hand from evil” naturally fits with the idea of doing righteousness. So the chiasmus of 56:2 would be as follows:

A – How blessed is the man who does this (righteousness)

B –      And the son of man who takes hold of it (God’s covenant that promises salvation)

B’ –     Who keeps from profaning the sabbath (a sign of the covenant)

A’ – And keeps his hand from doing any evil (righteousness)

In the end, there seems to be two parallel trains of thought being developed in 56:1-2.

Salvation about to come -> Hold to God’s covenant -> Observe the sign of the covenant

Righteousness to be revealed -> Do righteousness -> Keep hands from evil

The latter train of thought is directly related to the command of “Preserve justice and do righteousness.” So the commandment can be seen as the reason for hope that God’s salvation will come. In the end then, God’s righteousness does not refer to some faithfulness of the part of God, but rather the way of living Israel was to have, that God himself would bring to the world (Isaiah 55:8-11). This then, naturally, fits within Paul proclaiming in Romans that Jesus is the revelation of God’s righteous ways, through whom redemption is accomplished.

January 22, 2009 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

Biblical authority, revelation, historicity, and inerrancy

The Bible obtains his authority on the basis that it claims to have revelation that comes from God about God (although the question of what in Scripture is actually revelation is up for discussion there). However, linked with this is the notion of how does purported revelation have authority itself. How come we should accept the words of Isaiah? Why should we accept the words of Jesus? How can we trust that they are divinely inspired instead of humanly, or even demonically, inspired?

This brings us to the importance of historicity. It is one thing to make a claim of something, but it is another thing to see a claim verified or vindicated is what follows afterwards. This makes an appeal to a basic reasoning faculty of a group (though it might justifiable to say that this basic reasoning is not universal). If Jesus proclaims himself to be Messiah and bringing God’s kingdom, and he is resurrected from the dead, then the justifiable reasoning would that it was God vindicating him and his message as we can not imagine a regular human doing something like to to someone else. Or if a prophet foretells of the future of a people if they do not change and the foretold events happen, it would be taken as vindication by God of the proclamation made by the prophet.

History plays the pivotal role for basing the authority for purported revelation from God. Although, history does not only play the role retrospectively. It may also happen before purported revelation, of which the message gives understanding to what has happened. Even in that case though, it retains its believability through being able to explain future events.

The point is that Revelation and History go hand in hand. Revelation is vindicated by it playing true through human experience. Otherwise how can we know that something is from God, who can make His will known through history? If it is simply a human attempt at truth, it is like taking a shot in the dark.

Since the Bible is a collection of writings, many of which make historical claims in conjunction with claims of revelation of God based upon those events, the authority of Bible lives and dies based upon its historical reliability. Otherwise, what vindication is there for the claims of the prophets and of Jesus himself? Any other appeal makes an appeal to something that is founded purely upon human ability to come up with the correct framework (since there is no true universal reasoning) to interpret and therefore accept the Biblical message as true. It leaves no room for any part of the verification process outside of ourselves. And if no appeal like that is made, then we are being asked to believe blindly.

However, while revelation relies upon its vindication within history, it does not rely upon the infallibility of all the historical claims of Scripture to perform such a task. First off, if one part is not historical, it does not mean we must throw the rest out as unreliable (no matter what critics and fundamentalists might say). Each claim can be taken on its own and must be taken on its own. Secondly, if something itself is not historical, it does not mean there is no other historical claim that can vindicate the purported revelation. Nor, if we have no verification on our part of a purported message does it mean we must automatically reject it as false (although we can not honestly affirm it definitively as true), as Scripture does not record every single historical instance. Only if something is predictive by nature and we have history doing the exact opposite would we place skepticism on the idea that the message came from God.

So Biblical authority rests on revelation, and revelation rests its authority based upon historical vindication. However, none of this requires actual inerrancy of the Biblical message, but rather a general trustworthiness. You can throw into question some parts of the Bible, and the puported revelation can still be accepted based upon other historical claims. However, throw out too much, and the authority dies and turns into merely one claimed path among many that can all just as easily be argued for.

September 18, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment