Saturday, May 26, 2007

"Laying On of Hands" in Heb 6.2

Not that it obsessed me, but for some time I had struggled to understand the reference to the "laying of hands" in Heb 6.2. Did it refer to ordination? Did it refer to chrismation? A year or so ago I had a slap-the-palm-of-my-hand-on-my-forehead moment: The phrase most plausibly refers to the sacrificer laying his hand on the sacrifice, an elemental teaching of the OT (Lev 1.4 & etc.).

The first move in the argument is, as usual, the most important: The "elementary teaching about the Christ" in Heb 6.1-2 refers to Old Testament teachings about Israel's messiah. That rules out a reference to chrismation. Further, the list of teachings in vv. 1-2 is for baby Christians, which would seem reasonably to rule out a reference to ordination.

Rather, the elementary teaching of the OT that even a baby Christian needs to understand is teaching on the substitutionary atonement -- that Jesus died for our sins. Further, the stuff about "laying on of hands" in Israel's sacrificial system is absolutely critical to understanding God's plan of salvation in the Old Testament as well as the New.

So let's consider the evidence. First, while it's often overlooked, it seems pretty obvious to me that the list of elementary doctrines in Heb 6.1-2 is a list of elementary doctrines taught in the Old Testament. Consider:

[1] The discussion of Melchizedek begun in Heb 5.1-10, is interrupted by the author's rebuke in vv.11-12 about the need again to be taught "the elementary principles of the oracles (Gk) of God." The word "oracles" seems to be a term of art that NT authors used to refer to the "OT scriptures," see Acts 7.38 (Gk), Ro 3.2 (Gk).

[2] Consider the motivation for the rebuke in the first place: The author is discussing the OT priest Melchizedek. The writer then interrupts his discussion, pointing out in vv. 11-12 that "concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by the time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for some one to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God . . ."

So the whole point of the rebuke is that the writer's readers (or listeners) don't understand the elementary teachings of the Old Testament. The argument about Melchizedek is then picked up again starting in 6.20. So 5.11-6.19 seems to be a parenthetical argument, motivating the importance for understanding the OT ministry of Melchizedek in light of Jesus' ministry.

[3] The reference to the "elementary teachings about the Christ" in 6.1 then parallels the reference to "elementary principles" in 5.12, which is almost certainly a rebuke about not knowing the OT. (The "therefore" in 6.1 indicates a continuation of the argument that the author began in chapter 5.)

[4] Heb 6.1 refers not to "Christ" but to "the Christ." I.e., to elementary teachings about the Messiah. (The NIV drops the article.) The OT anticipates the messiah, but does not anticipate Jesus by name. So the use of the article seems suggestive here.

[5] So, too, the instruction about "baptisms" (plural) in 6.2. The plural is easy to understand if it has reference to the several different OT baptisms, but would sit oddly if it refers to the "one baptism" of the NT.

[6] Overall, the "laying on of hands" in regards to substitutionary atonement seems more to be an "elementary teaching" that baby Christians (5.14) need to know relative to ministerial ordination.

So here's the way I would understand Heb 6.2 in the overall trajectory of the author's argument starting in Heb 5.1:

Learn about the high priest by looking at Melchizedek (5.1-10). But you don't know enough even about the basics of the OT to learn from the example of Melchizedek (5.11-14). We need to press on to maturity (i.e., learning about high priests from the example of Melchizedek), not again learning the OT baby lessons -- repentance, faith, baptisms, substitutionary atonement, resurrection, and judgment (Heb 6.1-3). These are foundation lessons that cannot be rejected (6.4-12), but do not fear, because God is faithful to his promises in redeeming us (6.13-20). So now let's return to what we have to learn about Melchizedek (Heb 6.20ff).

Note also that understanding the "laying on of hands" reference in 6.2 as a reference to the OT sacrificial practice fits with the overall theme of the book of Hebrews, i.e., teaching how the OT points to, and is completed in, Christ.

So what's the upshot?

First we should be chastened by the author's rebuke about ignorance of the Old Testament, "for though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles" of the Old Testament. Christians are called to understand the Bible, the whole Bible. I cringe at my ignorance of the OT every time I read the author's rebuke in Hebrews 5.

Secondly, that a representative will die for our sins is part of the woof and weave of God's redemption in and through the messiah. The transfer of our sin to a representative is one of the "elementary teachings about the messiah" in the Old Testament, as it points to and anticipates Jesus. We receive a fuller understanding of Jesus' ministry and vocation by understanding what the Old Testament teaches us about him and his work.

Finally, consider the "solid food . . . for the mature" (5.14) that the author then discusses throughout the rest of the book. Matters of parallel priesthoods, OT temple architecture, OT geography, and OT sacrifices. These are "mature" teachings, but as the remainder of the book of Hebrews testifies, these "mature" teachings are also radically Christocentric. Jesus and his work is the heart of the Scriptures from beginning to end. As the Scriptures unfold to us, they more deeply reveal only Christ and his work.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

“Know for certain that God has made him both Lord and messiah”: Jesus' Ascension

Jesus and his disciples invoked Jesus’ ascension and exaltation to God’s right hand at their most critical moments.

Before the Sanhedrin, Jesus sole defense (forced by the high priest's adjuration) was to point the council to Ps 110.1 and Daniel 7.13:

“Jesus said to [the high priest], ‘You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mt 26.64).

That’s the turning point in the trial. In response, the Council bays for Jesus’ death (v. 66).

Critically, Jesus reference to the “coming on the clouds of heaven” of Daniel 7.13 is not a reference to his coming back to earth for final judgment, it’s a reference rather to his presentation to God in victory, vindication, and exaltation (vv.13-14).

This is, of course, not a fleshly exaltation; it’s not a “lording it over.” Jesus’ exaltation is intimately tied to the Gospel. For Jesus “is the one whom God exalted to his right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5.31). That Jesus ascends and receives his seat at God’s right hand means that Satan, sin, and death no longer rule over us. That Jesus is Lord means that Satan is not (Col 1.13).

So, too, Jesus’ ascension and exaltation is the crescendo of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost:

“This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured forth this which you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make thine enemies a footstool for thy feet.’ Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and messiah – this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2.32-36).

Similarly, the apostles invoked Jesus’ ascension and exaltation when they appeared on trial before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5.31-32).

Stephen’s sighting of Jesus at God’s right hand at the conclusion of his defense before the Sanhedrin precipitates his death, as it did Jesus before him (Acts 7.55-57).

(Note that the ascension always provoked a response, whether good or ill, from those who had it preached to them: The Sanhedrin kills Jesus and Stephen immediately after they describe it. So, too, the Council's members "were cut to the quick and were intending to slay" Peter and the other apostles precisely at the point that Peter refers to Jesus' ascension (Acts 5.33). On Pentecost, listeners were "pierced to the heart" in response to Peter's description of Jesus' ascension and exaltation. In response to what must have a horrifying recognition on the part of the crowd of what they had done in supporting Jesus' crucifixion, I imagine more than a little panic in the voices of the crowd as they asked the apostles, "What shall be do?" Acts 2.37.)

Some of the most important lines of argument that Paul and Peter develop in their epistles pivot around Jesus’ ascension and exaltation (Ro 8.34, Eph 1.20, 2.6, Col 3.1, 1 Peter 3.22). The book of Hebrews teaches that the Old Testament itself taught its contingency and anticipated its obsolescence. The author repeatedly argues from and to Jesus’ ascension and enthronement (Heb 1.3, 8.1, 10.12, 12.2).

Jesus’ ascension and exaltation is a critical moment in redemptive history. I don’t think it’s a stretch to insist that it’s as important to Christians as the incarnation, the passion and resurrection, and Pentecost. (Pentecost is the evidence of Jesus’ ascension. The ascension is a conceptually distinct moment in redemptive history, however, and should not be wrapped up or conflated with Pentecost.)

I can scarcely imagine the grandeur and the joy of the celebration in heaven when the wounded yet victorious Son of Man approached God's throne, was presented to the Ancient of Days, and was given dominion, glory, and a kingdom (Dn 7.13-14). Mirroring the celebration in heaven, the day is a day of true joy and celebration as well for the church.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Chatting with the Mormons

Our neighborhood seems to be the bulls eye of Mormon missionary work. We seem to be visited every couple of months. Usually I just give them a hard time about the Trinity and Christology and dismiss them.

But while it may make me feel better (and keeps our conversation short), I don't think it helps point the Mormon missionaries to the truth very well. So this most recent time I took a different tact, I wanted to keep focused on the Gospel. So I talked about the Gospel, and asked them what they had to add to it. They said that they believed every thing I said. Of course, it seems to me that the Mormons' missionary tact is to minimize heterodox exposure on first contact, then only later start to unpack the "agreed upon" words with heterodox definitions. (For example, they said that they agreed with my explanation of the Gospel, but that the reason we need the book of Mormon and more recent Mormon "prophecies," they said, is to understand the "full" Gospel.) So that will probably force us back to questions of Christology and the Trinity anyway.

In any event, since we get visited so often, I figure I should bite the bullet and read the book of Mormon. When I told the missionaries that, if they gave me a copy, I'd read it from start to finish, one of them said, "The whole thing?!"

These couple of lads said that they'd check back to see if I had any questions. I suspect that I'll have one or two. Still, I'm going to try to keep us focused on Christ and his work, and I want to take my time with them, rather than just trying to get them out of my hair as quickly as possible. (We already had an hour-long discussion when they dropped off a copy of the Book of Mormon for me.)

Who knows, maybe it will prove to be a huge waste of time. But from now on, I want every Mormon missionary who comes to my door to hear the Gospel presented in a winsome fashion, and hear a knowledgeable (and winsome) discussion of Mormon heterodoxy in light of Christ's truth. That being said, I'm reading the Book of Mormon as the missionaries asked me to -- praying that God would reveal to me whether what I read is a true revelation of and from him. I do not want there to be any stumbling block about whether I followed the proper process when I tell the missionaries whether the Spirit confirmed the truth of the Book of Mormon to me.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Adam's Fall & Pentecost: Mirror Images of God’s Visitation?

FWIW, I noticed a possible similarity in the description of God’s visitation on the day of Pentecost, and God’s visitation on the day of Adam and Eve’s sin.

On the day of Pentecost, “there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting” (Acts 2.2.)

I recall that Meredith Kline argues in his Images of the Spirit that the Hebrew in Gn 3.8, usually translated as God walking in the “cool of the day,” should more accurately be translated as the “storm of the day.” The storm indicates God’s visitation. (Anyone else tired of always hearing that God visits us as a “still, quiet voice”?)

So God comes to Adam and Eve in a storm, and he comes to the disciples on Pentecost in a storm.

In Genesis, Adam and Eve flee from God’s visitation, sinners that they are. And God expels them from his presence

On Pentecost, the disciples do not flee God’s presence, redeemed that they are. And far from expelling them from his presence, God instead indwells them. Definitive evidence that Jesus remedied Adam’s sin problem.

Pentecost & Jesus as the Greater Solomon

A few thoughts about Peter’s sermon on Pentecost evoking several themes from Solomon’s dedication of the temple. This presumably points to Jesus as the greater Solomon (and the church as the greater temple).

The filling of the temple with the glory cloud (2 Chr 7.1-3) seems to ratify several things about Solomon, and about God’s relationship with his people. First, the completion of the temple marks the fulfillment of God’s promise to David, to have his seed sit on the throne of Israel (2 Chr 6.10). This seems to be a particularly pregnant association at Pentecost, as Peter expressly invokes the promise God makes to David to sit David’s seed on his throne (Acts 2.30).

So just as the pouring forth of the Spirit on Solomon’s temple fulfills the promise for this transition, so, too, the pouring forth of the Spirit on Pentecost again indicates the enthronement of David’s seed.

Secondly, Solomon’s temple suggest that “God will indeed dwell with mankind on earth” (2 Chr 6.18). God “tabernacled” with humanity in the person of Jesus (Jn 1.14). The temple is the locus of God’s presence (although of course God is not limited, 2 Chr 6.18). God now inhabits his new temple, the church. The implication being that God continues to dwell with mankind on earth through the church.

The fire on the heads of the disciples in Acts 2.3 would seem to be the same heavenly fire, the same theophanic manifestation, that accepted the offerings at the dedication of Solomon’s temple (2 Chr 7.1). The ecclesiastical implications of this – the implications of this for what happens at baptism, and for what it means to have the Spirit to live in us – are stupefying.

Third, God’s presence in the temple means that God forgives his people (2 Chr 7.14). Our entemplement at baptism is not merely a dedication to service, let alone a dedication to a Christian life. In receiving the Spirit in baptism we receive the promise that God will forgive us. We receive the beginning of God’s grace in baptism; the Spirit indwelling us is the continuing fulfillment of that promise in this age, and the promise that we will be forgiven on the last day.

So Pentecost provides evidence that Jesus is the definitive Davidic seed – i.e., the greater Solomon – that Jesus is Lord (via Ps 110), and that Jesus is the messiah, bringing reconciliation and forgiveness to God’s people.

"Jesus is Lord" as the Gospel

I recently had a discussion in which a person working with a basic law/gospel approach argued that affirming "Jesus is Lord" is not properly a receipt of the Gospel (and, hence, of justification), because Lordship is concerned only with authority and, hence, with law.

Aside from passages like Ro 10.9, which seem directly to contradict the claim, I think we should also resist the notion that Jesus' Lordship is "only" about obedience for at least two reasons.

First, if Jesus is Lord, then Satan isn't. "For [the Father] rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son" (Col 1.13). Satan's dominion gives us death and condemnation; Jesus' Kingdom gives us forgiveness and life.

Secondly, in Jesus' kingdom, the one who rules is he who serves. "[T]he one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines? But I am among you as the one who serves" (Lk 22.26-27). Matthew adds that "the Son of Man did not come to served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mt 20.28).

Jesus is a peculiar Lord, at least by the world's standard. Submitting to his lordship means not that we work, but that we rest. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Mt 11.29).

So it seems to me that Jesus being our savior is inextricably tied up with Jesus being our Lord. Jesus establishing his lordship through the work of the cross is the Gospel. Receiving Jesus as Lord is receiving the forgiveness and salvation offered to us in the Gospel.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Hope of the Law

Melanchton wrote the following in his introduction to Martin Chemnitz's exposition of the Decalogue (in chapter VI of his Loci Theologici):

"In the third place, the Law by implication quietly instructs us concerning the restoration of the human race and concerning eternal life. It further points out to what greater excellence we are recalled. For because God has repeated the word of the Law after the fall of our nature, He surely wills that the Law in some way be fulfilled. Therefore there will be a restoration of the human race and there will be an eternal life."

Wright on Resurrection

I'm about 250 pages into N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God. The polemical center of the book aims at Christians who deny bodily resurrection. And that's just great. Wright's strategy in making that argument mainly is to insist that "resurrection" means bodily resurrection, and nothing else.

While I am entirely sympathetic with Wright's goal to defend bodily resurrection, his argument forces him to speak a lot about "metaphorical" resurrections, regarding baptism, being born again, the first resurrection in Rev 20 & etc.

I just don't buy it. I believe that we are really and truly resurrected in baptism; I believe that the first resurrection spoken of in Rev 20 is being born again, etc.

"Death" is not extinction, it is separation. Physical death is the separation of the spirit from the body; spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God. Spiritual death is the worse of the two (Lk 12.4-5). Adam and Eve died on the day they ate the fruit, just like God told them they would. They did not die physically, but they did die spiritually; they were separated from God because of their sin.

So we are resurrected in baptism -- because of Christ's work, our souls are no longer separated from God's presence. That is the first resurrection. And, after we die physically, our souls will once again be united with our bodies at the second resurrection.

To be sure, it may make it more difficult to persuade liberals that Paul is speaking about bodily resurrection in 1 Co 15, but "my" way of talking about resurrection preserves what I take to be the reality of new life in this age. We were dead, but now we are alive. We have been resurrected in Christ, yet there is a resurrection yet to come.

As for 1 Co 15.44 itself, and its reference to the raising of a "spiritual body," I don't see that we need to limit "resurrection" to bodily resurrection in order understand that Paul refers here to bodily resurrection. In 1 Co 10.3, Paul refers to Israel eating "spiritual food" in the wilderness. He's of course referring to manna. It seems to me that the "spiritual" adjective refers to the food's heavenly derivation; it certainly does not refer to the food being non-corporeal. So, too, referring to the resurrection of a "spiritual body" does not at all mean that the body is non-corporeal. It instead refers to the heavenly derivation of the body, which is where we are currently seated in Christ.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Basic Anti-Platonism of Christianity

The contrast may already be obvious to others, but the very pointed contrast just occurred to me: The Greek or platonic view (speaking very broadly), is that the material world traps the soul yearning to be free to re-unite with God. So the soul is pure, and the body is evil. The soul longs to escape the pollution of the body.

Jesus, however, instead teaches that reality is just the reverse of this -- he teaches that the soul pollutes the body:

"What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean' " (vv. 20-23).

The Greek conceit is that, if you dig deep enough within, you'll find a spark of natural innocence or purity; a spark of the divine. Jesus teaches us that there is no light within. We are darkness through and through, and we love it that way, irrespective of our conceit. Light comes to us not by digging deep within our nature, but by miraculously receiving a new new nature.

Uniting with the "Other": A Christological Speculation on the OT Anti-Consanguinity Laws

As I argued in brief in the previous post, and elsewhere (see, e.g., my August 4, 2006 post on the Bitter Waters' test of Numbers 5), the regulation of sexual relations in the Bible is only secondarily concerned with human sexuality. It's main referent is the relationship between Yahweh and his bride/church. I think that we often miss this message because we conflate which marriage is the type and which is the anti-type. When we read that Israel/the church is the Lord's bride, I suspect that we usually think that the author is analogizing the relationship of the Lord to his church with the human marriage relationship. Lord/church is the analogy while human marriage is the reality.But I'd argue that this gets it exactly backward. The real marriage is that between God and his church; human marriage is only a type of that primary marriage.

So I would argue that all of the teaching dealing with sex in the Bible should be read Christologically: the immediate application is to the relationship between God and his bride. Human marriage is of course the type or picture of that relationship, and so must be governed by that teaching as well. Mutatis mutandis, God's relationship to his church is revealed in and through the human marriage relationship. Maintaining the clarity of that picture or revelation is what the laws dealing with sexual relations in the OT are concerned with.

So what about the OT laws forbidding marriage/sexual relations within a certain degree of consanguinity (see, e.g., Lev 18 & 20)?

Here's a speculation.

I'd argue that these laws teach us is that the husband must make a bride of the "other," i.e., it unites two fleshs into one flesh. The husband must reach beyond those who are of his own flesh, that is, beyond those in his own family, and must join with someone with whom he is not already united. He can only join with a woman who is, as it were, an other or a stranger in the flesh.

Recall that Gn 2.24 provides that husband and wife "shall become one flesh." I think the "one flesh" not only suggests biological children, who are literally "one flesh" of the parents, but also means a spiritual or mystical union that seems to arise between a man and a woman who have sex (cf., 1 Co 6.16). Both by the union that marriage and sex create, people of two fleshes are made into one flesh.

So the upshot of the anti-consangunity laws is that they require a potential bridegroom to seek a bride only from those who have different flesh than he has.

If the point be granted, then the Christological upshot seems apparent: Fallen humanity is the complete other to Christ. We are Christ's enemy. Being fallen, our flesh has no life in it, only death. So we are utterly unrelated to Chrsit; we have no consanguinity at all with Jesus. Yet the church's bridegroom, Christ, reaches out to us and brings us near, uniting our flesh to his, making us "one flesh" with his own, and thereby redeeming us. In this way, the anti-consanguinity laws in the OT point us to the Gospel.

A Christological Basis for the Move from Polygamy to Monogamy

I sent a version of my argument to Peter Leithart some time ago, and he posted it on his blog. In light of my next post (above), I thought I'd post this argument here as well.

Why is polygamy tolerated in the OT (Ex 21.10, Dt 21.15-17) but not in the New? OT patriarchs had plural wives, and there is nothing prohibiting priests or Levites from having plural wives in the OT. Nonetheless, NT bishops cannot be polygamous (Titus 1.6). But why should this be, let alone that polygamy is prohibited to laymen by church practice (and by law in Christian-influenced countries)?

Here's an argument:

[1] The critical move in the argument is the first move -- that human marriage is fundamentally typological. It's a picture of Christ and the church etched into human conduct. Eph 5.32 & lots of others.

As for marriage being "primarily" or fundamentally typological, simply consider Christ's teaching in Mt 22.30, "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage . . ." The cessation of human marriage in the eschaton is easy to explain if it is understood as fundamentally a type. If so, then the fulfilling antitype is the marriage of Christ and the Church (Rev 19.7,9, 21.2,9). After this, the typological purpose of human marriage is fulfilled, so it passes away as Jesus teaches.

[2] The OT reality, although transitory, was that Israel is separated from and distinguished from the other nations. So in the OT there are two (or more) distinct peoples of God. These plural people become one in the NT.

Eph 2.14-16 The two are made into one.John 10.16. Other sheep not of this fold; brought in and all made into "one flock."John 11.52. Jews and Gentiles "gathered into one."Gal 3.28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile . . . You are all One in Christ Jesus.Ro 11.24 Two olive trees.Ez 23.4, 37 -- God talks about different peoples being plural wives in the OT. (Think here also of the progression of the Spirit in Acts -- from Israel, to Samaria, to the Gentiles. Incorporating the different people into one people in the Spirit.)

[3] So polygamy is transitory precisely because the OT separation of Israel from the Gentiles is transitory: While Israel is the first "bride" (the bride whose portion cannot be reduced, Ex 21.10, nor whose son can be disinherited, Dt 21.15-17, compare with Ro 1.16, 2.9-10 & etc), redemption was never exclusive to Israel. (Think about all the Gentile believers mentioned in the OT, the Ez passage, etc.)

So plural wives in the OT showed forth the fact that God's redemption extends to all peoples. Nonetheless, God's redemptive plan temporarily required that Israel be separated out for the OT era, until the coming of Christ. With the coming of Christ, the separation is done away -- the many are made one in Christ. Since marriage is fundamentally and primarily typological, creating one people in Christ out of the plural people in the OT means that the antitype has come, and polygamy no longer serves as a type of anything real.

So the monogamy implicit at the creation is reestablished (Gn 2.24) as Christ breaks down the dividing wall between Jew and Greek, making all into his one bride, the Church.