Friday, 18 August 2017

It all starts with **B A P T I S M** (3): Gospels on John the Baptist's death



WE ARE LOOKING at how we ended up toward the end of the first century with a strong Jewish-Christian leader deciding that the clearest way to ritualise baptism was in the threefold name (“in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”). We are exploring the impact of John the Baptist with regard to that hugely significant step.

In yesterday’s post, we saw that for Josephus, a Jewish historian of the first century, John was probably perceived to a similar degree of historical importance as Jesus. At the end, of that post, however, we discovered the awkward possibility that John may have been killed as late as 36 AD. I wondered initially if that really clashed with a New Testament position on Jesus and John or even whether it mattered all that much.

Well, I have to admit, it would definitely clash. Whether it matters, is a personal issue we all have to resolve and my method is to find the most likely path while still ensuring the New Testament authors receive the most credibility possible (as difficult as I find that at times with Matthew). So, that’s what I propose to do with you right now.


The date limits for Jesus’ crucifixion seem fairly firmly set at between 30-33 AD. The New Testament has John's imprisonment and execution before Jesus' crucifixion, but let's just have a quick look to see how that played out (using the MPH - Matthean Posteriority Hypothesis – ordering to which I subscribe, don’t worry if you don’t know what that means) to be sure:

Mark 6: No direct acknowledgement of John's death from Jesus

The whole event is in a "Markan Sandwich":
  • Jesus' disciples go on mission
    • Herod Antipas hears about this, but has had (funny tense required) John killed, duration of imprisonment not entirely clear, but might not have exceeded a year, given the event of John's execution being Antipas' birthday "party". John's disciples have buried John.
  • Jesus' disciples feed back on mission, and it's time for a break, retreat.
However, John’s death is assumed by Mark in 8:28 (Jesus questioned by some to be a resurrection of John the Baptist), and at least imprisoned in 11:30 (John’s baptism: was it from heaven…?)

Luke: No direct acknowledgement of John's death from Jesus, but it is assumed.

Luke's relating of the Baptist's story is spread across several chapters.  
  • Ch. 1: John's birth and naming
  • Ch. 3: John's ministry and imprisonment
  • Ch. 7: John's messengers sent to Jesus (presumably from his prison cell)
  • Ch. 9: Herod has already killed John, and wants to see Jesus. But like in Mark, Jesus simply debriefs his disciples and they try to retreat for a break.
  • Chapters 11, 16 and 20 refer to John's work in the past tense.

Matthew: Jesus knew of John's imprisonment and his death


Mat 4:12      “Now when Jesus heard that John had been imprisoned, he went into Galilee.”
Mat 14:12    “Then John's disciples came and took the body and buried it and went and told Jesus”.

Great! Thank goodness for that, Matthew clears it all up for us then! Josephus must have had a mix up about dating whole battles and stuff.

Only problem for me: I just don’t trust Matthew 100%. Remember for me, it’s “Love, Hate & Late” with this guy. I don’t want to get into it too much here, we’ll touch base with him again in our summary. Right now, let’s see what John is writing right at the end of the century about John’s death…

John: the Baptist slips from view

John (the writer of the fourth gospel)’s treatment of the Baptist is typical of his approach to Jesus as a whole. Jesus is the focus and spotlight. That means that other significant characters, like John the Baptist, don’t necessarily need to have their loose ends tied once they have served their primary purpose of promoting Jesus and his message. This is simply because the focal point is locked so resolutely on the “light of the world” who has moved on. With that in mind, look at these verses and how the wording morphs in the space of just a few verses:

John 5:32-33,35     

“There is another who testifies about me, and I know the testimony he testifies about me is true. You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth”. “He was a lamp that was burning and shining, and you wanted to rejoice greatly for a short time in his light.” 

And then that’s pretty much it. After this chapter, John’s name is mentioned just twice more in chapter 10, as ever with primary regard to Jesus.

Strange, huh? Just like that, he’s gone, with a slight twist of a sentence.

Summary


There are good grounds for assuming that Matthew is writing later than Mark (Hurtado puts Mark around 65 AD), and Luke and Acts. For everyone, both John and Jesus were executed decades before. It is generally acknowledged that of the three synoptic gospels, Matthew displays the greatest amount of theological shaping and reordering of material. He will go to considerable lengths to show Torah fulfilment (like having Jesus sitting on two donkeys, which was Matthew’s total misreading of Zechariah 9:9), eschatological fireworks of dozens of resurrections (that everyone else forgot) just after Jesus’ death, and a whole host of things.

However, although Matthew plays it loose, we also get to have his version of the baptismal formula, so all is forgiven! But we remember that he is all about making connections happen. He does it thematically, he does it prophetically from the past and into the future, and he sure makes certain that Mark and Luke’s efforts to connect and distinguish John and Jesus are as explicit as possible. Of course, Matthew’s method, however artificial it may sometimes appear, does not detract from the possibility that John was genuinely and even naturally held by the early emerging Christian communities to be such a great predecessor to Christ, that their deaths would be presumed the same ordering as their overlapping ministries: John first, then Jesus.

Some of those emerging communities may have vacuumed up some of the remaining John-movement communities that continued to function decades after his demise, which, given the consensus that (the great-but-humble) John had vouched for Jesus as the Messiah, could only have fuelled the Jesus movement.

Tough Choices

But let's not run away from the awkward bit. So what are our choices? Firstly, if this really matters to you, then you should really read a specialist on Josephus, there will be plenty of resources there on such a significant historian, and check the difficulty of John’s death dating is substantial. If it really does seem quite likely, then I think you are basically left with two options, but conservatives won’t like either (obviously).

Firstly, you could simply accept the logical flow I presented above that was integrated by Mark and followed and clarified by Luke then Matthew (and virtually ignored by John). This would mean that in reality, at Jesus’ crucifixion, John was either:

1.     Still in prison
2.     Not yet in prison, ministering.


If pushed, I would prefer 1. That gives Jesus the space to attract the crowds and attention without competing against John. A long prison stay is not something I have heard discussed before, but this might be because neither Josephus nor the gospel writers imply it. Thinking about 2., I just can’t see it, although I guess it would have to remain a possibility, given the strong evidence of godly humility at the heart of both movements.

Oh yes, there is a third possibility: simply something else happened that we'll never know!

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Proposition de Prière

Le saviez-vous, qu’il est possible que quelqu’un d’autre que Jésus soit à l’origine du « Notre Père » ? Dans la version trouvée en Luc 11, nous lisons une version plus courte de ce qu’on associe à cette prière dans sa version plénière. Le contexte est important :

Jésus priait un jour en un certain lieu. Lorsqu’il eut achevé, un de ses disciples lui dit : Seigneur, enseigne-nous à prier, comme Jean l’a enseigné à ses disciples. Il leur dit : Quand vous priez, dites : « Père ! Que ton nom soit sanctifié ; que ton règne vienne. Donne-nous chaque jour notre pain quotidien ; pardonne-nous nos péchés, car nous aussi nous pardonnons à quiconque nous offense ; et ne nous induis pas en tentation ». Il leur dit encore : Si l’un de vous a un ami, et qu’il aille le trouver au milieu de la nuit pour lui dire : Ami, prête-moi trois pains, car un de mes amis est arrivé de voyage chez moi, et je n’ai rien à lui offrir, et si, de l’intérieur de sa maison cet ami lui répond : ne m’importune pas, la porte est déjà fermée, mes enfants et moi sommes au lit, je ne puis me lever pour te donner des pains, je vous le dis, même s’il ne se levait pas pour les lui donner parce que c’est son ami, il se lèverait à cause de son importunité et lui donnerait tout ce dont il a besoin. Et moi, je vous dis : demandez, et l’on vous donnera ; cherchez, et vous trouverez ; frappez, et l’on vous ouvrira. Car quiconque demande reçoit, celui qui cherche trouve, et l’on ouvre à celui qui frappe. Quel est parmi vous le père qui donnera une pierre à son fils, s’il lui demande du pain ? Ou, s’il demande un poisson, lui donnera-t-il un serpent au lieu d’un poisson ? Ou, s’il demande un œuf, lui donnera-t-il un scorpion ? Si donc, méchants comme vous l’êtes, vous savez donner de bonnes choses à vos enfants, à combien plus forte raison le Père céleste donnera-t-il le Saint-Esprit à ceux qui le lui demandent.

Jean le Baptiste était, je pense, à l’initiative d’une forme primitive de cette prière, mais Jésus va la réinterpréter et fera introduire l’Esprit Saint comme une notion de don qui répond aux besoins les plus fondamentaux de l’homme, plus fondamental encore que le pain, qu’on peut toujours trouver ou demander. Notons bien, il ne dit pas ne pas être reconnaissant envers Dieu pour toute chose, bien sûr, il n’est pas un père méchant comme ça. Mais Jésus veut pour ses disciples, pour nous, le meilleur. Il veut changer l’objectif final de la prière, l’Esprit Saint en nous.



D’un point de vue chrétien, puisque nous comprenons bien que le Christ après sa résurrection était exalté à un point tellement haut qu’il siège maintenant à la droite de Dieu le Père, je propose cette prière trinitaire :

Notre père et notre frère, que votre nom soit sanctifié ; que votre règne vienne.

Père, comme ton fils bien-aimé, Jésus, nous a instruit de faire, donnes-nous aujourd'hui donc l’Esprit Saint pour qu’il ‘fasse le ménage’ chez nous, qu’il ôte toute amertume, méfiance, crainte de rejet et orgueil qu’il est sûr d’y trouver, pour que nous puissions être remplis et assurés de notre identité de fils et filles bien aimés de toi, pour être équipés pour porter le Royaume en nous, pour être une source de bénédiction pour les autres. Donnes-nous aussi ton Esprit pour nous guider sur les chemins à prendre et à éviter, pour percéverer dans la prière et dans l'adoration.

Jésus, c’est à toi maintenant que nous pouvons adresser notre louange, car tu as hérité le Nom qui est au-dessus de tout nom, que chaque langue te confesse comme Seigneur et chaque genou se plie devant toi, à la gloire du Père, tout par l’action de l’Esprit agissant puissamment en nous.

Amen J


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

It all starts with **B A P T I S M** (2): Josephus on John

Let's get back to the size of John's ministry. Let's start with the major first-century Jewish historian:

Josephus

·         The text (with my emphases): Baptism of Purification, Antiquities 18.5.2 116-119

Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and was a very just punishment for what he did against John called the Baptist [the dipper]. For Herod had him killed, although he was a good man and had urged the Jews to exert themselves to virtue, both as to justice toward one another and reverence towards God, and having done so join together in washing. For immersion in water, it was clear to him, could not be used for the forgiveness of sins, but as a sanctification of the body, and only if the soul was already thoroughly purified by right actions. And when others massed about him, for they were very greatly moved by his words, Herod, who feared that such strong influence over the people might carry to a revolt -- for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise -- believed it much better to move now than later have it raise a rebellion and engage him in actions he would regret. 
    And so John, out of Herod's suspiciousness, was sent in chains to Machaerus, the fort previously mentioned, and there put to death; but it was the opinion of the Jews that out of retribution for John God willed the destruction of the army so as to afflict Herod. 


·         Summary


According to this Josephus account, popular Jewish understanding was that John was God's agent, with not just human, but divine significance, so much so that God could take revenge on Herod's army. Mess with John? You mess with God. Bad move. Josephus seemed to have gained insight into John's kind of a movement during his teenage years, where he tells of a kind of 3-year internship he did with a certain Banus, whose activities match closely to Mark's description of John. Might he have been John's predecessor? We don't know. 

·         How does John measure up to Jesus for Josephus?

Very difficult to tell. In terms of space, they seem to be of similar length. Unfortunately, extensive scholarly research has shown that Josephus' Testimonium Flavianum has almost certainly been corrupted by Christian copyists, maybe in the fourth century and there are multiple lines of evidence to back this up. The fact that the doctored text is still no longer than John makes me wonder if the original report may have been shorter the coverage given to John.

·         Awkward dating of John's death from Josephus


Awkwardly for Christianity, the dating of connected events within Josephus (the whole debacle of the daughter of Aretas, the first wife of Herard the Tetrarch, escaping following news of the new gal on the block, Herodias, and the ensuing battle between Aretas and Herod the Tetrarch) means that John the Baptist was probably killed in 36 AD, which is a tad late for many of us. I wonder if this really contradicts the New Testament so greatly? In tomorrow's post, let's start to look at how important John the Baptist seems to have been in Jesus' stomping ground from the angle of the timing of his death in Christian eyes.

(Sorry no pics today, my connection is too bad)

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

It all starts with **B A P T I S M**

Baptism is a major sacrament for the church, and its primary initiator is understood to be the "John the Baptist", who is acknowledged by all four gospel writers, whose followers encountered the Apostle Paul and is spoken of at some length by first-century Jewish historian, Josephus.




John the Baptist's ministry was big. Maybe very, very big. I suppose like anything you study, the more you look at it, the bigger it can seem, so I apologise if I overstate things in today's post.

My main points:

  • John's impact was really very big indeed and his renown mid-first-century may have been comparable with Jesus', see for example Apollos' of Alexandria's familiarity with his ministry in Acts chapter 18 and Paul's encounter with 12 disciples in Ephesus in the following chapter.
  • A clear historical relationship connects these major first-century Jewish players of John and Jesus, some credible scholars, have Jesus first being John's disciple before starting his own movement.
  • We have no texts of any followers of John.
  • For Jesus followers, Jesus has to be bigger and better than John. If John was great, and Jesus much greater than him, then this can only have contributed to his final exalted status.
  • Contrary to Christian apologetics, killing a leader does not necessarily kill off the sect he started. John is solid proof of that. John Dominic Crossan points out that the Roman practice was to kill non-violent protest movements' leaders only, but to kill leader and associates of violent protest movements, so the apologetic cannot be said to be entirely junk, it's just a long way from proof when one of the biggest characters of the New Testament stands (or rather lies buried) against that "proof".
  • John and Jesus are firmly differentiated on the following grounds:
    • the Christ was more successfully understood to have really been raised back to life, unlike the rumors that surrounded a resurrection for John, 
    • John's humility seems genuine and may indeed have heralded the coming Messiah, turning down offers of honour, recognition and prestige (which ironically had the opposite effect), while Jesus combined humility and the messiahship,
    • Jesus baptised with the Holy Spirit; John baptised with water.
  • Since both martyrs were baptisers and their ministries overlapped, their baptisms were at times confused.
  • Someone, somewhere, decided: enough is enough and came up with the threefold baptismal formula to clear it up once and for all. This may have been the author of Matthew's gospel, (whom I believe wrote later than Luke and Acts, which bear witness to the confusion despite the intended clarity of Jesus' baptism), or it may have been the author of the part of the Didache that also contains the baptism formula. Since both those sources are Jewish, that someone was almost certainly a strongly Jewish Christian (leader). 
  • Conclusion: This trinitarian saying was said over converts by Jewish Christians in the latter half of the first century as a part of their baptism rites, and the confusion was at last resolved. This mutation of Judaism had started to vocalise, ritualise and (although they did not know it) immortalise its "Triune Hub".
Tomorrow I want to get back to the size of John's ministry, but I think that's all for tonight. Aiming for shorter posts...

Monday, 14 August 2017

Blog update: what on Earth has John been up to?

HELLO EVERYONE! It seems like a good moment to pause and give readers some insight into this blog and its author’s occupations, hopes.


As the blog description suggests at the top of every post, I have been on quite a theological journey. It has taken me from committed evangelical Trinitarian, via atheism, agnosticism, Biblical Unitarianism, and now back to a form of trinitarianism that I hope resembles something of the first century focus. This has also led me to a lot more tolerance for fourth century squabbles than I had before.

Quick Recap

Quite a big chunk of this journey can be accessed simply by looking back in this blog, as I started in the Autumn (Fall) of 2014 fairly fresh into that scary journey. Over the three years, posts have gotten longer, but I remain proud of my shortest post of all, comprising just nine characters!

In 2015 I wrote a paper to my Christian employer to express that I no longer felt I could sign off on parts of our Faith Statement that were described as crucial when they could be better expressed as interpretative. So I handed over this fairly unsophisticated but lengthy paper. And I wasn’t fired. And the Faith Statement changed. It was mind-blowing.

In 2016, the urgency of the question of the Trinity seem to simmer down with the surprisingly positive outcome of 2015 and I became increasingly curious about the Greek term Kyrios (Lord) used as a translation for the Hebrew name for God, “Yahweh”. I was particularly keen to see if there were differences in the way it was used in the Old Testament to translate Yahweh and how Kyrios was used with Jesus. 

However, for some reason, probably to do with my whole deconstruction-reconstruction faith process, and an overlap with the Septuagint Kyrios project, I fell deeply in love with the Psalms (e.g. here and here). I began to produce a proposed set of meditations based purely on selections from the Psalms ordered according to themes I found running through the Psalter, which I hope to produce in English, French and Arabic (I haven't shared any of this on the blog). There is hidden away inside of me, a real desire to make my theology useful to other people, and this may be one way, especially for people who struggle with their identity, with authenticity, wholeness and presence. For me, what the Psalms were able to help me with that year, was to fight back against what they call in French psychology, morcellement – like a sense of fractured identity, which we can also see nurtured in our society.

Later that year, however, the simmering Trinity continued to develop inside of me. I can remember two key aspects. One of the elders or our church was interested in seeing a copy of my manuscript (that I had already changed quite a bit since 2015), and the second was my developing friendship with Barney Aspray, a Cambridge PhD student who is passionate about a French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur (I first mentioned Barney on the blog in October 2015 - I'm surprised it was that early). In the end, I sent a copy of my much re-worked and honed and proofed chapter 1 of my manuscript to my elder, but I’m not sure if he ever read it.  And with Barney we shared a good number of exchanges about hermeneutics, mainly via email and occasional Skype, which were to have a significant impact on my journey.

Other things were happening in parallel. I had a growing interest in the book of Matthew (which I plan to blog out at some point under a title of Love, Hate & Late). I realised that this gospel contained some crucial components of an earlier trinitarianism that could be traced back to first century Jewish Christianity, especially when placed alongside other early non-canonical sources known as the Didache and the “gnostic” pseudepigraphal Gospel of Thomas. This is not at all the vision I had learned from my Unitarian influences, for the majority of whom the Trinity is a late fourth century fabrication and corruption of the truth in the Scriptures.

Yet I still knew that it was this Jewish Christianity that could assert that God and Jesus needed an “and” to separate them, and whose depiction of the Holy Spirit only very rarely hinted at a distinct person, certainly a country mile from the social Trinitarian sense (see my guest post on Dr Tuggy's blog here). So I was left with nowhere to park my theological vehicle. So I made a choice. To park my faith car faaaaaar away from the theological debates and disagreements.

Personally, I have made it a point to spiritually practice trinitarian devotion as part of my own faith journey, and I tend to avoid words like “Lord” unless I add the clarification of “the Lord Jesus”, and I even avoid “God” mostly. I follow a trinitarian liturgical devotional, Common Prayer: A Liturgy For Ordinary Radicals, which was an amazing gift from my friend Dean (available here on line though for free).


And so my work became increasingly historical and less theological. It became quite clear to me, that like the “Synoptic Problem”, there was also a Trinitarian problem. Nowhere in the Bible is there explicit talk of a tri-personal God. Yet that is what you get from the church before the close of the fourth century. How? Why? Via which intermediary stage(s)? Under the influence of which factors?Unitarians say it was just a late corruption, and those willing to wade in from the Trinitarian side like to say things like "it was always there but they hadn’t got the right linguistic tools to express it yet" – not really a “problem” per se for anyone. Neither of those explanations satisfied me. There definitely was a problem.

At some point, wow, only as recently as May 2017, I first blogged about a Triune Hub in a post entitled Jewish Roots of the Trinity. This is the model that I’m still working on to this day, which I have named the Triune Hub (it’s kinda unlucky, I think, that the extra H needed for “Hypothesis” doesn’t leave you with some cool acronym – oh yeah, the “THH”). Central to this hypothesis was to extend the vocabulary introduced by leading biblical scholars Larry Hurtado, Tom Wright and John Dominic Crossan of “mutation” to the trinity itself, which meant that all the later, less-Jewish stuff, despite its bravado ontological attire, was indeed interpretative of this earlier trinitarian mutation of the religious hub (I’d simply gotten lucky on that point in my 2015 paper).


So while I felt like the nuts and bolts were ready for a book on the subject to tell this story, I began fresh research – firstly on Tom Wright’s use of “mutation” with respect to the Resurrection. That is a definite series to come, but it will not be in the same depth and scope as the current Hurtado series. Secondly then, in Larry Hurtado's Lord Jesus Christ, I really found some firm ground that I felt the Triune Hub could benefit from via deeper analysis, and so I wrote a first series of posts on Hurtado's introduction and first chapter, accessible here, which included the hugely-inspiring recommendation from Hurtado himself here. Interactions with blog readers increased around this time, and I am very grateful for them as they often seem to know a lot more than me! A third series will also be necessary on Crossan, although rather than on a whole book, it will focus on the key chapter he wrote about Jesus' understanding of the Kingdom of God shifted and prepared for the sending of the Holy Spirit - a monumental mutation from the interventionist God to the collaborative God.

Other Bits & Pieces

Following further encouragement from Barney, I did a few posts on the hermeneutic circle and Ricoeur – but I think I eventually got a bit out of my depth and besides felt like I had gotten what I needed for now from Ricoeur anyway (although my French is pretty good, I think maybe reading the French version alone was maybe not the best idea).

Most recently, there have been a small string of book publisher rejections, which were disappointing, but have led me to focus more on the blog for now.

Since I used to lead worship in my local church for about ten years, I have a keen sense of the spiritual and theological formation that takes place during the vulnerable and sacred space of worship. As a result, I have at various points attempted to appraise the good, bad and ugly doing the rounds out there (see here for examples, scroll down past the first two Hurtado posts).

Approximately 3% of my posts are in French (click here for the seven posts in French), which mainly reflects my desire to remain open to a French public, some of whom are my friends and have expressed their wish to understand what on Earth I am going on about. The reality, however, is that my hits tend to go down when I do this.

Recent Reading

  • I recently read “The Day the Revolution Began”, by NT Wright, which I don't have specific plans to blog about, but I can definitely recommend.
  • I have very recently made a start on Robert MacEwen's Matthean Posteriority, (yep, it gets the really cool “MPH” acronym). Since it is relevant to my model, I will probably need to do some posts on it later. Strangely, the cheapest way by far to get this was on Google Books, not Amazon.
  • The Unseen Realm has left an indelible mark on my biblical worldview, written by Michael Heiser. For those who appreciate Old Testament theology in particular, I can really recommend not only this book, but also Heiser's The Naked Bible podcast. 
  • During my Kyrios research phase, I read the accessible When God Spoke Greek by Timothy Michael Law, and part way through Invitation to the Septuagint, by Karen H. Jobes  & Moisés Silva
  • Finally, as regular blog readers will know, I also recently read Dale Tuggy’s recent book, What is the Trinity? Following that, he and I began a blog exchange, which so far goes mehimme. More than once he has assured me that he will get round to his next response, but he has a lot going on right now so I’m not hassling him for it.
On the more inspirational side I have recently read:
  • Mike McHargue’s Finding God in the Waves, which is a great book (with whose journey I also sense some resonance),
  • Rob Bell’s Here To Be Here, which helped me at one stage take some pro-active steps on my journey,
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving aF**K, by Mark Manson. Despite its offensive title, I'm glad I followed my Christian friend’s recommendation. However, for Christian readers, you might have to put your cultural filters up to really get the core message of this book which covers some important life topics. If that’s not for you, then there is a short Christian book that The Subtle Art kept on reminding me of by author Timothy Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, which I think I read in 2012. By the way, a not well-known fact: in a former life, I enjoyed composing some alternative music, and you can enjoy this song which is on this same theme of breaking out of self-centredness, recorded back in 2002. It’s called Looking Straight Through the Eternal Mirror. Even lesser-known fact: it contains a recording of a whale! 
  •  If you like my alternative music style, then you might also appreciate a mini-album entitled Integrity, available freely here since 2010. 
  • Naked Marriage: Uncovering Who You Are And Who You Can Be Together, by Corey Allen. Really good.
  • The Pressure's Off: Breaking Free from Rules and Performance, by Larry Crabb. Basic but very necessary for me to hear afresh.

How's the blog doing?

So how am I doing in terms of blog visibility? Hmm, not great to be honest. When there is interaction with a more well-known scholar like a Hurtado or a Tuggy, I can just about break into triple figures. Mostly though, I’m typically around the 15-25 visits. In Blogdom, that’s like a virtual non-starter, especially after nearly three years of posting. So I’m curious – can you recommend this blog to anyone? Do you have any recommendations or advice to give me to increase its popularity and access? Is the style too academic? Too informal? I’m working on shorter sentences (my Mum’s repeated request, although even she isn’t a regular reader)…

What next?

Loads!

  • I don’t know how far I will continue into my coverage of Hurtado’s Lord Jesus Christ. I feel like there is so much common ground with THH that I have plenty to say on the content of this great book, even if our paths are already set to diverge on certain points, like around his “Q” chapter, which maybe when I bring in MacEwen. It is just possible that if I do go “the full hog”, that I have another stab with the publishers, editing the posts as a response book to Lord Jesus Christ.
  • I haven't painted for decades. But I have inspiration to do a reconfiguration of the reunion described in Jesus parable of the Prodigal Son. I want to capture the moment of reconciliation, but not just with the prodigal and his Father, but also with the Elder Son, who is neither jealous nor resentful, but shares in his Father's joy.
  • I would like to test-run the Psalms meditation proposal with some friends, blog readers, maybe my local church if the leadership accepted.
  • Love, Hate & Late Matthew
  • I have begun writing a brief commentary on the Old Testament book of Joel, which has relevance for my overall work on the Trinity. Rather than piecemeal it into this blog, when it is ready, I plan to provide a link on the blog to my space on https://www.academia.edu/ where folks can access it and download it if they would like.
  • I may pick up the book project at some point and look at self-publishing if I receive fresh inspiration.
  • I would like to approach Pastor Sean Finnegan to see if he’d be interested in interviewing me on his podcast, Restitutio to tell this story, which I think may be interesting to his show listeners. That may also lead at some point to an invitation from Dale onto the trinities podcast, only time will tell. My problem with Sean is that I simply don’t know how to contact him (can anyone help?)
  • I would love to do a simplified animation of how I see Christianity got its Trinity and put it up on Youtube. That’d be a big job for me and a steep learning curve technologically.
  • I want to re-visit each New Testament book to see how well the THH fares there. I know that systematic theology is always an approximation. We’re always working with “best-fit” models, and so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I recently re-read 1 John, that neither Triune God nor Triune Hub hypotheses seem to thrive there. A more thorough NT survey is definitely required (in my rejected book proposal, this section was going to be entitled “Taking the Triune Hub For A Test-drive”;).
  • I also need to survey all references to John the Baptist, who for me is a key player in the rise of early trinitarianism.
  • I have come to realise that I am more excited about tracing first century developments than second-fourth century stuff, but I guess at some point I’ll also have to dredge through the ancient sources (to which I have good access) and try to trace the formalisation of the TH within the institutionalising church toward the Triune God. What I do look forward to in that project, is to see that it is frequently when the triune hub principle is upset that the church feels the need to respond, correct and clarify as one “unsuccessful mutation” is stamped out after another (even Galatians, in my view, could be an early example of that).
  • If there’s a worship song someone would like my opinion about, I’m always happy to have a listen to it and a good think about the lyrics.
  • If there's a dodgy Christian apologetic argument out there, then I'll happily continue to try blowing it respectfully to pieces!

Thanks very much for stopping by, your presence and participation is shaping my journey and I hope you also continue to travel through your own storms with anchors and harbors of refuge that will see you through when you need it most. Remember, friends are worth far more than the greatest of "insights".


Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Lord Jesus Christ, S2 Part 5: Did Jesus Pre-exist for Paul?

DID JESUS PRE-EXIST? It's an interesting question to be taken seriously, especially if you happen to believe that the Christian story about his resurrection and cosmic reign of love and justice might actually be true. But a long way away from what you or I might think about this issue, if we believe our beliefs have to be shaped by New Testament positions, then we had better pay good attention to what the apostle Paul wrote on this point, with Hurtado as our ever-faithful guide.

Before we do that, I'd like to recap on the two posts I made regarding Jesus' lordship from LJC. I lost a lot of visits during that double post (sorry, I guess I failed to keep it interesting!) but I think I covered some important ground worth summarising, which I will do now in six short bullets:

  • Kyrios (Lord) was likely used by the earliest followers of Jesus in its Aramaic translation, including in spiritual contexts assimilable to worship (maranatha!).
  • Kyrios in Greek had a wide range of meanings from "sir", to "master" and in some eastern provinces of the Roman empire as a form of greeting the Caeser.
  • Kyrios was used frequently by Paul to describe the God of the Old Testament. He frequently applies the translation standard of the time of removing the definite article "the" in two of the most common cases especially.
  • There are several instances where prophecies of the divine Kyrios of the Old Testament are astonishingly fulfilled in the eyes of Paul (and others) when Kyrios Jesus accomplishes that promise, and the "kyrios-ship" is mapped onto him in these instances perfectly (including the grammar).
  • However, we noted that despite this definite overlap and function of Divine Agent and name bearer, Jesus' Lordship is significantly different and broader to how Jews perceived their god as Kyrios. Jesus is closer and more intimate and is more often than not our Lord, something that was virtually absent from the inherited Jewish worldview. As ever, Jesus shatters our attempted ideas to contain him in this or that predefined concept or ideal! (In some of the referenced posts at the bottom of both the posts on Hurtado's treatment of Jesus as Kyrios in Paul I provided further more technical evidence referring to how the Greek of Jesus' lordship was treated slightly differently to the anarthrous Kyrios of our Old Testaments in linguistically parallel scenarios).
  • I also threw in at the end of the second post (3000 words in!), that the "Kyrios overlap" may have been an important factor in settling the question of quite how much authority and worship should our exalted Lord Jesus receive.
Check out the posts in full here and here

Turning, then, to Hurtado on Paul's belief on a pre-existent Jesus, i.e. before his birth
be that eternally or as some early Christian theology would have it, right back to the dawn of time - not a distinction Hurtado develops here, i.e. to make clear the different types of pre-existence on offer, although he will mention and dismiss one version from James Dunn and later in the section will crucially state that "eschatological entities can be referred to as pre-existent in various ways", p. 124). Another, that Christ might have pre-existed for Paul as an angel is not mentioned. Bart Ehrman has postulated, for example, that for Paul, the structure in Gal 4:14 ὡς ἄγγελον Θεοῦ ἐδέξασθέ με, ὡς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν (as an angel of God you received me, as Jesus Christ) is used as a repetitive technique, not a climaxing analogy. Ehrman shows a couple of other instances where these "as" do not contrast but compliment in Paul's usage "ὡς....ὡς....." (1 Corinthians 3:1 and 2 Corinthians 2:17). Regardless of these different types of pre-existence, I suppose the point of this section should be - would belief in a second figure worthy of Jewish divine worship needed to have pre-existed in some sense? That might have tied the section in more nicely to the overall book purpose, even if a wider version does exist: What [do] Paul's letters tell us about the Christ-devotion that characterized Pauline Christianity, and perhaps other and earlier circles as well? (p. 119) and also there are questions about how early this view of Jesus arose, how to account for the belief historically, and what Jesus' pre-existence meant for early Christians

I think the main point really is that we can't say a great deal about this topic in detail, given how brief and fleeting Paul's references are to this supposed pre-existence. Since these references do not attempt to teach recipients anything new about the pre-existence of Christ, we are best left to analyse quite what Pauline churches could be assuming (the idea had already become disseminated among his churches so early that by the time he wrote his epistles he could take it for granted as known - p. 124). And if I could draw in my assumption at this early point, that this lack of need to develop significantly in the early stages may be because certain assumptions have been naturally taken from a graft into Judaism of belief in a divine logos (quite apart from Christianity), which may have already been associated with the Messiah-to-come. This possibility sets us up for what I see as a false dichotomy in Hurtado, as we shall see in a minute.

In his discussion with various scholars, particular Dunn, Hurtado wants to say that this assumption of the pre-existence of Jesus should be greater than some sort of personalised wisdom. Dustin Smith is a great resource for the opposite view, by the way, and can be mined in his co-written book The Son of God: Three Views of the Identity of Jesus (I have written a small series also on this book if you look back to March - April 2016 on this blog). Hurtado also correctly asserts that at some point a real belief in literal pre-existence did emerge, which, with our hermeneutic circle hats firmly back on, should mean that these references and the divine/religious centricity that Jesus takes/is given in other areas were of importance to early interpreters doted, we should note, with greater cultural insight than we have in the twenty-first century. Hurtado also notes that literal pre-existence is more firmly asserted in John 1:1-18 (although Smith still has cards to play in this instance), but Smith et. al still have their work cut out in passages of Paul like Philippians 2:6-8, 1 Corinthians 8:6 (one of those "through whom"s the world was made references), 2 Corinthians 8:9, Galatians 4:4, and a few more. Hurtado maintains that the question should still remain about how "solid" or "imaginary/symbolic" that pre-existence was. Hurtado is on the solid side; his main sparring partner, James Dunn holds "the dissenting view", which tends to focus on the personalised Jewish ideas of (Lady) Wisdom.

Hurtado agrees with Dunn that there is metaphorical language at play, and shouldn't be read woodenly (e.g. 2 Cor. 8:9, Christ "impoverished himself"). The differences lie in what you do with the reality behind the metaphor. Dunn claims that the passage is a "one-stage act of abasement" (Jesus' death). To answer the question more fully, responds Hurtado, we need to look elsewhere in Paul to see what Christ's self-abasement might mean, and goes straight for the jugular of Philippians 2:6-11. As a keen follower of Hurtado's blog, I have noted that his views on this passage have now enlarged slightly. He recognises now that the parallel between the first "god" (anarthrous) is paralleled (also anarthrously) by the first "servant", so it seems that if you want to say that Jesus became "a servant", then you have to be open to the view that Paul's cited poem might have read that although he subsisted as "a god" (see Hurtado's post here). On this Philippian passage, Hurtado sees Dunn's view as too dependent on a pretty absent "Adam Christology", including too much looseness with "made in the image of God" and "subsisting in the form of God". Fform and image, although similar, have distinctions, and if Paul wanted to imply the Adam version, he wouldn't have used "form" here (morphé theou is never used elsewhere in any allusion to Adam p. 122).

As with his recent blog-post, Hurtado demonstrates openness again here in his book when he says on pp. 122-123: In Philippians 2:6, however, "being equal with God" seems to be presented as something already held by Christ or really within Christ's grasp (emphasis mine). The point is that the Greek word used by Paul for "grasp" is very seldom used at this time, but the best I could find when I researched this passage a year or two ago was that "pillaging" seemed to be one of the predominant usages. In which case, openness is definitely the way to go here with this grasping business and is appropriately adopted in the NET translation I believe. The conclusion, nonetheless for the 2003 stage of Hurtado reflection is that this astonishing belief encapsulated in the early Christ poem in Philippians should be seen as the action of a pre-incarnate Christ, thus shedding light on other passages such as the number of stages of abasement in 2 Corinthians 8:9.

But this pre-existence is not a static point - New Testament theology virtually never is. It would feed into the belief that Jesus had really come from God and that the story of Jesus' own involvement in redemption extended back beyond his earthly existence and his crucially redemptive death and resurrection (p. 123). So this pre-existence from a Jewish perspective about this redemptive plan, either alongside or in the Messiah himself, was a firm expectation - the "eschatological agent of redemption". Hurtado says that for the earliest Christians who saw Jesus in this light, sent from God and for this eschatological purpose of salvation, it was "only a small and very natural step to hold that he was also in some way "there" with and in God from before the creation of the world" (p. 125). Hurtado will again later conclude the section that this fulfilment perspective would have also provided a basis for making appeals for Christian behaviour (humility and concern for other in Phil. 2:1-18; generosity in 2 Cor. 8:8-15 (p. 126).

Having returned to 1 Cor 8:6 (One Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things), Hurtado now arrives at the false dichotomy that I referred to earlier: The idea of Jesus' agency in creation and redemption is not driven by speculative interests, and does not respond to philosophical questions about how a transcendent deity could create the material world. Instead, the logic proceeds from profound convictions about the sovereignty of the one God reflected in Jewish apocalyptic tradition, which posit that all of history is subject to God (emphasis mine). Here I see a false dichotomy. This seems to be saying that Christians chose between philosophical categories or Jewish categories. But Philo, in particular, is bona fide proof that those two options had already collided and intertwined. Judaism had already encountered and in some respects embraced hermeneutically philosophical ideas even in the examination and application of her own sacred texts.

Hurtado's own summary of this section


  • The condensed Pauline references imply that notions of Jesus as a pre-existent divine agent had already been appropriated. Paul's not introducing the ideas as new.
  • The pre-existence was active, as an agent in God's creative act.
  • The ideas supporting this pre-existence were Jewish, apocalyptic/eschatological view in which "final things are seen as primal things". 

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Talking to my Mum

Me and my beautiful Mum (on a separate occasion)

Over a couple of glasses of wine yesterday I had a fantastic opportunity I think we should all consider: explaining our theological passions in ways that make sense to folk who don't focus so much of their energy on theological matters. I am really not good at switching gears in this way, finding good images and illustrations - I really wish I was. But my Mum's interest galvanised me, and I had a go at explaining the Triune Hub hypothesis that I have been working on. She asked me a fantastic, albeit somewhat deflating question, what difference does that Triune Hub view really make?

That is the key question. What difference does our theology really make to believers' lives? What underpins our passion?

As I went to bed last night I felt a fresh passion to make the Trinity meaningful, central and important for regular Christians. The earliest Christians had a mutated religious hub that now included God, the risen and exalted Christ and the individuated eschatological-era-inaugurating-and-people-of-God-empowering Holy Spirit held in new natural balance. Three centuries of debate and an institutionalising church meant a stable structure that would keep these three in balance was needed and produced the Triune God. But ever since the first century, the church has had a reconfigured core of Three. A saddening realisation dawned on me as I had explained to my Mum how intertwined religious belief in Yahweh for Jews was with their social lives, eating, their calendars, relationships and society, and how that continued in its new threefold form in Christianity: modern "privatised" Christianity, whatever its religious hub, be it unitarian, trinitarian or whatever, is simply a lot smaller by virtue of its privatisation. In fact, an increasing number of westerners don't even feel a need for a relationship with a transcendental or divine being - they just get on with life and human relationships.

As I have developed my trinitarian views, I can honestly say that my Christian faith has at last stabilised considerably, and I integrate my belief in Father, Son and Spirit personally into my prayer life daily. I've felt a deep sense of responsibility that if this approach is to be adopted and used to contribute a return to more trinitarian church and faith in individual believers' lives, then I have to model it. I can't just write about it (as much as I enjoy doing that).

I recently shared a link to an important article by Fred Santers (my post here, the article here) whose title continues to challenge me: We Actually Don’t Need a Trinitarian Revival. What I think he is driving at though is not so much that we don't need to be articulating our religious, spiritual, and worldviews around the Father, Son and Spirit in a fresh or renewed way or with greater vigour. He's saying we don't need to do it in some radically redefined way. I believe what this article and my chat with my Mum, combined with my own walk of faith, have helped me realise is that there are some psychological obstacles in believers' paths preventing us from allowing the radical first-century shake-up in which our Christian faith originated to be accessible in a non-specialised context.

Very few modern Christian worship songs integrate the Trinity (and when they do, they sometimes try and do something weird, like squash it into Jesus). It is hardly ever preached as a subject (which may be fine), but still, with a disproportionately low reference rate to Father, Son and Holy Spirit, despite New Testament strong insistence to the contrary, the discrepancy remains flagrant. Although I am now far more sympathetic and understanding of fourth-century "Triune-God Advocacy" than I used to be, I still bear this grudge: that some of the complex notions introduced in order to keep the Father, Son and Holy Spirit co-essential and co-central to the faith in the great ecumenical councils may have contributed to making believers, including leaders, wary about a more natural integration of trinitarian thinking into their prayer lives, their worship and their social engagement.

So that's why I think the Triune Hub matters. Thanks Mum!