Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Resurrection Sequence in Hannah's Song

Not a big point, but I thought sequence in this verse of Hannah's song of thanksgiving was notable:

"The LORD kills and makes alive; he brings down to Sheol and raises up" (1 Sam 2.6).

Now perhaps all Hannah means is that God is the one who begins and ends people's lives. But even then, you'd sort of expect the sequence to be "the LORD makes alive and kills," since people need first to live before they die.

But the first part of the verse seems to parallel the second part of the verse: Just like those whom he brings down to Sheol he also raises up, so too those whom he kills he also makes alive. In which case, the unnatural sequencing of "kill" and "alive" is there for a purpose -- Hannah is talking about God resurrecting people. After all, in order to be resurrected you first need to be dead.

A similar argument could be made respecting Dt 32.39, "It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded, and it is I who heal." Just as wounding precedes healing, so death here precedes life.

So God gives life to those he kills. And to push the pont even further, in light of St. Paul's baptismal argument in Ro 6.3-8 (and CPA's comments below), in order to receive life from God we must first be killed by God. The Christian's central hope is not that we avoid death, but that we resurrect after we die. After all, dying frees us from sin, and from the fear of death.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Two "Uh, Duh" Items

They're "uh, duh" not as a reflection on the points, but as a reflection on my not seeing them before now.

First, Jesus' crown of thorns (Mt 27.29): This almost certainly provides a bookend-echo to the curse in Gn 3.18, "Both thorns and thistles [the ground] shall grow for you."

Jesus is here "crowned" with the curse. Not only is it a sign that he carries the curse (Gal 3.13), but also that this is his glory (1 Co 1.18, 23-24, 2.7-8).

The second "uh, duh" moment comes from CPA. The story of Solomon's wisdom and the dispute between the harlots over who is the infant's true mother (1 Kngs 3.16-28).

CPA observes that the behavior of the true mother is her willingness to give up her child rather than have him split it two (and so killed) sets up a implicit contrast with the actions of King Rehoboam, who preferred to split the kingdom in half rather than to give up his prerogatives (1 Kng 12.1-24).

This is an irony in the extreme. The lowest-status person in Israel acts more regally than the king, whose vocation it is to serve all rather than himself. The harlot loves her son more than her prerogatives, and so sacrifices her prerogative to her love. King Rehoboam loves his prerogatives more than he loves his son -- the nation Israel -- and so sacrifices the nation to his prerogatives.

And irony upon irony: Through her sacrifice, the harlot keeps her baby. In making his sacifice, King Rehoboam loses the vast bulk of his dominion.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Shiloh as the Model for the Judgments on the First & Second Temples

So the ark of the covenant was at Shiloh, from where Israel (and, particularly, Eli's sons, Hophni and Phinehas) brought it, and God's presence, to fight for them against the Philistines at the battle of Ebenezer/Aphek.

Instead, because of Israel's faithlessness, Israel suffers devastating defeat -- tens of thousands dead -- and the Philistines capture the ark. "The glory has departed from Israel" (1 Sm 4.21).

(Interestingly, in a twist, God himself defeats the Philistines and their god, Dagon, in the ark's exile. The Philistines then get rid of the ark by returning it to Israel.)

But God's presence does not return to Shiloh.

God's presence inhabits Solomon's temple. Yet the people ultimately prove faithless, and Jeremiah prophesizes that Shiloh stands as the example for Solomon's temple as well (Jer 7.12). The temple is destroyed, so God's presence never returns to Solomon's temple.

Jesus comes to the Second temple, and rebukes those in it for faithlessness, famously quoting Jeremiah's "Shiloh" dicourse regarding the temple being a "den of thieves" (Mt 21.13, cf., Jer 7.11). (Note that the "den of thieves" reference comes in Jer 7.11, and "Shiloh" is invoked in the next verse, Jer 7.12.)

Jesus' point seems obvious: As the people of the Second Temple partake of the same sins as the people of the First Temple, so the Second Temple will receive the judgment of Shiloh as well -- their house/temple will be left desolate (Mt 23.38) with not one stone left upon another (Mt 24.3).

(I should note that there is a certain ambiguity about the second temple -- if I recall correctly, there is no theophanic indwelling for the second temple as there is for both the tabernacle and for the First Temple. The indwelling/end of exile might only be provided with the coming/indwelling of the Spirit at Pentecost. Of course, this indwelling is of an entirely different order of scope and intensity than the OT indwellings, for the Spirit makes a temple of, and indwells, God's people.)

Jesus’ Prayer in Gethsemane

I’ve blogged about this before -- that the traditional take on Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane seems to be that Jesus asked God the Father to spare him from the Cross, and that God the Father said “no.”

The traditional view requires what seems to me to be two problematic assumptions: first, that God the Father would reject one of his Son’s prayers, and, secondly, that Jesus would actually ask his Father to be spared the Cross.

Neither of these assumptions seems consistent with what the Scriptures teach.

My argument is two-fold: Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane was not a prayer to be spared from the Cross, but rather was a prayer to be resurrected from the dead after his death and judgment on the Cross. And so, secondly, God the Father answered Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane in the affirmative.

Let’s start with the second point first. It seems to me that Heb 5.7 pretty much states that God answered "yes" to Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer (while the traditional view requires that God answers "no" to Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane):

“In the days of his flesh, he offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the one able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his piety” (Heb 5.7).

How could this be, particularly since Jesus did in fact die? If the traditional view is correct, then Heb 5.7 must be wrong, because the Father did not save Jesus from death on the cross; he did not "hear" his prayer to be spared the cross.

But that’s not the point of Heb 5.7. The point is that God the Father "heard" Jesus’ prayer and so Jesus was saved from death by resurrection from the dead.

The author of Hebrews has Jesus asking God the Father not to be spared from the Cross, but to be resurrected after dying on the Cross. And that prayer God the Father dramatically answers in the affirmative. This answers the first problem with the traditional view – whether God the Father said “no” to Jesus in Gethsemane. Heb 5.7 says that the Father answered “yes" to his Son's prayer in Gethsemane.

This, in turn, raises the question of what Jesus asked of the Father in the Garden. If Jesus asked to be spared the Cross, then the Father must have said “no” (since Jesus in fact went to the cross). So the passage in Hebrews requires that we look again at what Jesus asks in the Garden.

Before going there, though, consider first a couple of other passages.

For example, in the Book of John, Jesus expressly rejects the idea that he would ask God the Father to be spared from the cross:

"Now my soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (Jn 12.27-28).

It's a reductio. Jesus basically says, "How can I pray to be saved from this hour, since this hour is the purpose for which I came."

The traditional view requires Jesus several hours later to pray what he says in John that he would not pray.

So, too, later in John, Jesus reaffirms his mission:

"Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, 'Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?'" (Jn 18.10-11).

Also, recall in the Gospel of Matthew, that Jesus rebukes Peter with a “get thee behind me Satan” when Peter wishes Jesus to avoid the Cross (Mt 16.21-23). Yet the traditional reading of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane would have Jesus asking God the Father for the same thing that he rebuked Peter for wishing.

But given the passages above, is there a reasonable way to understand Jesus’ petitions in the Garden that is consistent with those other passages?

Jesus’ prayer that the cup pass away is not necessarily a prayer that he not drink of the cup at all, but that he not drink of the cup of judgment eternally – i.e., that he would be resurrected after the cross.

The cup is the cup of judgment (compare Rev 14.10). Consistent with Heb 5.7, that Jesus was not asking to avoid the cup altogether seems obvious from Mt 26.42, when Jesus prays, “My father, if this cannot pass away until I drink it, your will be done.”

Note here that Jesus contemplates that the cup “pass away” after he drinks it. Nonetheless, the “if” makes it sound as though Jesus is requesting that the cup pass away without his drinking it. But the Greek word “if” can also be translated as “since.” More consistently with Heb 5.7, perhaps Jesus is praying, “My father, since this cannot pass away until I drink it, your will be done.” That is, Jesus is willing to endure eternal judgment if it is the Father’s will. (This is consistent with the fact that Jesus went to the cross “for the joy set before him” in redeeming humanity, Heb 12.2).

Jesus’ first prayer in the Gospel of Matthew can be similarly translated, “My Father, since it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mat 26.39).

This is Jesus praying not to avoid the Cross, but to be resurrected after the cross – that the cup of judgment pass away after Jesus drinks it, rather than that Jesus suffer death and the curse eternally (i.e., that Jesus drinks the cup of judgment forever).

Friday, March 14, 2008

Idolizing America -- Literally

This, from a Fourth of July oration in 1832 (quoted in Henry L. Watson, Liberty and Power (Hill and Wang, 2006), p. 43):

"The independence of the United States of America is not only a marked epoch in the course of time, but it is the end from which the new order of things is to be reckoned. It is the dividing point in the history of mankind; it is the moment of the political regeneration of the world."

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Temple -- Old and New

The thing is, we're tempted to think that when Jesus and the Scriptures talk about his body/the church being the "temple," that they're speaking metaphorically. It's cute and suggestive, the thought goes, but it's not really the temple.

The thing is, though, that the temple is where the Spirit resides; it's where God dwells with us. When the Spirit indwellt humans -- at Pentecost and then at baptism from then on -- humans became God's temple; there's no metaphor about it. God now tabernacles with humanity in his church.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Forensic Justification & Ontological Change in the Believer

Here's a thought.

In forgiving us in Christ, God frees us from the fear of death, which means that we are no longer slaves to sin. So it seems to me that the forensic act renders an ontological change. The ontological change is the fruit of the forensic act.

Heb 2.14-15:

"Therefore, since the children share in blood and flesh, he himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death he might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives."

It is the fear of death that causes us to flee from God (Gn 2.17, 3.8). Forgiveness allows us to draw near to God rather than flee to flee (Jn 1.9-10).

Something of an irony, though, is that God still kills us (Ro 6.1-7, Gal 2.20, Heb 4.12). But we no longer fear that death, because we trust that God resurrects us as well (Eph 2.5-6).

Like Sacraments, Good Works Accept Forgiveness from God through Faith

An interesting passage from the Apology. Like sacraments, good works are means by which our faith accepts forgiveness from God. (Recall that the Apology does not necessarily limit the sacraments to two, when they are defined as means by which we receive grace.)

From the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Art. IV.275-278

"Christ frequently connects the promise of forgiveness of sins with good works. He does not mean that good works are a propitiation – for they follow reconciliation – but he does so for two reasons. One is that good fruits ought to follow of necessity, and so he warns that penitence is hypocritical and false if they do not follow. The other reason is that we need external signs of this exceedingly great promise, since a terrified conscience needs manifold consolations. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, for example, are signs that constantly admonish, cheer, and confirm terrified minds to believe more firmly that their sins are forgiven. This same promise is written and pictured in good works, which thus urge us to believe more firmly. Those who fail to do good, do not arouse themselves to believe, but despise these promises. But the faithful embrace them and are glad to have signs and testimonies of this great promise. Hence they exercise themselves in these signs and testimonies. Just as the Lord’s Supper does not justify ex opera operato without faith, so almsgiving does not justify ex opera operato without faith.
. . .
"[I]n penitence we must consider faith and fruits together, so we say in reference to almsgiving that it is the whole newness of life which saves. Almsgiving is an exercise of that faith which accepts forgiveness of sins and overcomes death as it becomes ever stronger through such exercise."