Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sabbath Commandment v2

“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. [Deuteronomy v, 12-15]

Sabbath Commandment v1

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. [Exodus xx, 8-11]

Naming Noah

When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” [Genesis v, 28-29]

The Sabbath

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. [Genesis ii, 2-3]

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Theology of Seed

Douglas Knight writes:
The Scriptures demonstrate Israel's concern with the producing of sons. Does Israel assume that the gentiles will either be attracted or defeated by Israel's own greater fecundity and success at producing sons for Abraham? Does the priestly teaching on Israel's purity and holiness represent the coming into being of this Son, a theology of the coming of the Christ and thus of the coming into being of Adam? For want of a more adequate account I will attempt to sketch the biological idiom of Israel's political claim. The Israelite who sees semen on the sheets (Lev. 15:16) sees something more consequential than himself there. He sees the life-substance of Israel, the combined presence of all generations, preceding and succeeding. Though it came out of him, it is the life-stuff of Adam and Abraham: it is not his, but theirs and returns to them. The single Israelite is no complete instantiation of Israel; his children are not the affirmation of his individuality, bu the gift he must return to the Lord. God gives children, and a man must take them, sow them in his wife, nurture and bring them up. He must present them to the Lord in the temple where God accepts them back from him and accepts that Israelite by accepting his gift of his children. Without children, he has no continuing being in Israel. A man's membership of Israel is confirmed by the arrival of the fruit of the seed given in him to plant in his wife. If his children also turn out to be obediently fertile, he is born again, not of a potential intrinsic to the flesh, but of the Spirit, or Seed, of Israel. Not all are Israel who are simply born to people who are, or whose parents were, Israel: they are Israel when they are born again of the living and enduring Seed and Spirit.
-The Eschatological Economy, pp. 76-77


From the Sociology of the Church:
Conversion is a turning from sin to Christ. Now, let’s think about that. Does conversion happen only once in a lifetime, or does it happen many times? That is the question, I believe, that needs answering.

From my experience, and from my understanding of the Bible and of Christianity, there are four kinds of conversion experiences. First, for a person totally outside the faith, there is an initial conversion experience, when that person comes to Christ for the first time. This kind of conversion has become the norm for everyone, unfortunately, even though it applies to relatively few Christian people.

Secondly, there is daily conversion. Each day, and many times during the day, we have to turn from sinful tendencies, and turn back to Christ. These “little turnings” are so many daily conversions. By magnifying the initial conversion experience, modern evangelism does not say enough about daily conversion.

Third, there are what I call “crisis conversions.” There are crisis points in every Christian’s life. At these crisis points, the Christian needs to reaffirm his or her faith by making a major break with some problem that has crept up, and make a major turn toward Christ.

Fourth, there are what I called “stage conversions.” By this I don’t mean conversions that are merely put on for show. Rather, I mean that God brings Christians through various stages of growth and maturity, and at each stage it is necessary for the Christian to come to a fuller understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

Now, I don’t think enough justice is done to this matter of stages of life. As a person grows, his understanding of himself, of the world, and of God will change, because he is himself changing. His understanding grows wider, and embraces more factors of life. He becomes aware of things he was not aware of before. Moreover, his understanding grows deeper, and more profound. Learning to adjust to a spouse, and then to children; learning to adjust to authorities on the job, and learning how to relate to subordinates; learning how to manage money; etc. — all of these things cause a person to deepen and widen his understanding. Hopefully, they cause a person to become more and more wise and stable.

These changes of understanding happen slowly and gradually, without our being aware of them, One day, however, we wake up and realize that we have changed. I am not the same person I was ten years ago, I realize. And my understanding of God and of His ways, of what it means to be a Christian, had better change too.My faith needs to deepen and broaden. Once again, I need to give all to Him, because my understanding of “all” has expanded. [source]

Infinite Meaning

Dennis Hou quotes Jean-Luc Marion:
The text, where the Word's effect of meaning is fixed in verbal signs, consigns the incommensurability of the Word: the Scriptures thus exceed the limits of the world (John 19:30, 21:35). The text escapes the ownership of its literary producers in order to be inspired, so to speak, by the Word: or rather, it assumes the "objective" imprint of it in the same way that the disciples receive, from the Word, an "objective" figure: apostleship. For the text also becomes apostolic--sent by another than itself to go where it did not want to go. Hence a sort of infinite text is composed (the closure of the sacred canon indicating precisely the infinite surplus of meaning). It offers, potentially, an infinite reserve of meaning (as one speaks of "the reserved Eucharist"), hence demands an infinity of interpretations, which, each one, leads a fragment of the text back to the Word, in taking the point of view of the Word; hence it implies an infinity of eucharistic hermeneutics.

And comments:
So we thank God that the Bible, properly interpreted, has infinite meaning and meanings, (which most certainly does not imply that anything goes any more than an infinite set of integers must contain the number two.) [source]


From Creation in Six Days (pp. 114-116)
Collins asks, "Does the creation speak truly?" We can reply to this very general question with a very general answer: Of course it does, but is the creation designed to speak by itself? The answer to that second question is clearly no. The creation does not "speak" at all, really. Rocks, trees, birds, and stars do not communicate linguistically. The information that is contained in the creation must be put into words by human beings, and since human beings cannot exist without language, human beings are always interpreting the creation linguistically.1

Human beings are living words and live in a linguistic environment because they are images of God, who is Word and who lives in an environment of eternal communication. Since God created the universe, His linguistic interpretation of it is absolutely correct; we think His thoughts after Him.


All of this is not to do away with the reality of "natural revelation," but it is to say that the matter of natural or general revelation involves subtleties that need to be considered. We cannot simply say, "The creation speaks truly," because in fact it is man who speaks, and man is a willing slave of the father of lies. Man seldom speaks truly.

1 As one reader of this manuscript pointed out, all creation images God in a sense, and God is Word, so therefore creation is in a sense God's speech. Speech, however, requires breath, which in this case is the Spirit, who entered the creation at the moment of creation. It is through the Spirit that the creation speaks. The Spirit entered humanity when man was created (Gen 2:7), and so it is through mankind that creation speaks. The speech of creation consists of human language, not of something else...

What is "Science"? (pp. 120-121)
This is, or should be far more obvious when it comes to things of which we have no direct experience. We have only begun to scratch the surface of an investigation of the first inch of the foyer of the universe, for instance. Yet, with supreme confidence modern scientists project theories about how the universe works, as if they already had all the facts needed to form a final theory. On the surface of it, this is ridiculous. I personally remember when the first quasars were discovered. What else remains to be discovered?

Indeed, we only finished mapping the surface of the globe a century or so ago. What is really under the ice of Antarctica? And what things lie in the depths of the sea? We have little knowledge of these things.

The amount of erroneous and prejudiced misinterpretation of data is vast. A couple of thousand years ago a few refugees lived in caves in France for a short time, and this fact has been turned into the myth that human beings lived in caves for millennia! Why should any thinking person accept such a notion? Because of carbon-14 dating? But C-14 dating is extremely subjective and frequently misleading.

We may ask: In a hundred years, will anyone still believe that you cannot go faster than light? In a hundred years, will anyone still believe that the red-shift in the spectra of the stars is caused by their rapid movement away from us in an "expanding universe"? Why on earth should anyone, especially thinking Christians, commit themselves to the temporary notions of "scientific" theories, knowing that a century ago nobody believed such things, and knowing that we have only just begun to explore the outer universe?

A scientific construct is just that: a construct. It may be quite helpful. It may be the best we can do at present. It may a be a step along the way to a better understanding, or it may be a blind alley. But when it is obvious that scientists are dealing with only a very few facts, and there is a great deal more to be learned, there is no earthly reason to accept any such construct as the final word.

Science and Dominion (pp. 122-126)
What science cannot deal with is time, because God alone is Lord of time. God is eternally active and infinite, and as a result, the future always brings new things into play as God does new things, revealing new aspects and implications of His being and plan, bringing forth new things that were hidden and embedded in the creation at the beginning. Thus, it is simply not possible to imagine the future accurately. When men imagine the future, they imagine something very much like their own present, only more so in some particular way: more money, more steam, more sexual license, more computers, etc. - thus, it is amusing to read the science fiction written a century ago, or fifty years ago. For this reason, the biblical pictures of the future are always presented in symbols that point to future realities that cannot presently be described. Ezekiel, for instance, is shown a picture of the Restoration Era sanctuary in the form of a huge Temple and City (Ezek. 40-48), but these were not actually built; rather, they pointed to the Spiritual realities of the period after the Babylonian Exile.

If the future cannot really be envisioned, then it cannot be controlled, which means the believer lives a life of faith and obedience, not of planning and dominion. Human dominion is exercised toward the lower world, the world of sciencel history, however, must be accepted as authored by God and lived by faith.

Because men cannot control the future, they deny it. Human beings exist, after the Fall, in a war with time. They want to escape time, to escape the unsettling changes of the future. The works of Mircea Eliade explore this phenomenon in some depth. All pagan religions seek to "externalize time" and thereby escape God's ordination of the future. They all look back to a golden age, which they can understand, because if they were to look to the future they would have to bow before their Creator.

A "spatial" mode of thinking is very much present in Western Civilization, especially since the so-called Enlightenment. After all, science works: It brings good things, such as light bulbs and velcro. Science can be understood. Science is under human dominion. Science is free of the "messiness" that is involved with the understanding of history. Thus, the exploration of space and place and dominion over creation have become the models for all human inquiry, as the various works of such thinkers as Herman Dooyeweerd and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy have pointed out.

This mode of thinking has greatly affected theology and Christian religion. One effect has been to assist the widespread belief that we are living at the end of history and that Christ must come soon, a belief that has distorted the thinking of Christians for several generations. The fact that this belief is shown false decade after decade has not lessened its credibility, because men like to believe that no significant changes are to occur in the future; in fact, Christians will be "raptured" so as not to have to go through any such changes. Biblical prophecy is repeatedly reinterpreted in terms of contemporary events, phenomena, and devices. Another legacy of this mode of thinking is the notion we have already examined, that nothing new remains to be discovered that will significantly alter current scientific constructs.

Still another effect of this mode of thinking is the notion that the way things are now is the way things have always been. Virtually all historical fiction, for instance, project modern Western-type people back into historical times. The characters in such fiction think and act like modern people. Few are the authors who are able, or even willing, to try and think like people in other cultures.

Yet, if the future is unpredictable and certain to be different from the present. There is absolutely no "scientific" basis for the notion that the way things are now is how they have always been, and that is true whether we are considering the character of human society, the psychology of human beings, the behavior of animals, or the way the universe runs. Clearly things were different during the first two thousand years of human history in one respect at least: People lived much longer lives. It may well be that the universe functioned somewhat differently under the angelic administration of the Old Creation before the change of the world in A.D. 70, when that creation was fully superseded by the humanly administered New Creation. It may well be that the "natural revelation" that impelled men to sacrifice animals under the Old Creation will impel men not to do so under the New.

The only way we can know anything about the past is through historical study, in the broad sense: the study of present-day relics of the past. For instance we may know that right now there is a certain amount of carbon-14 that lodges iteelf in plants and then deteriorates, but we cannot know if the identical same conditions were in place in 1000 B.C. We may know that right now the solar system has a certain configuration, but are we certain that it had exactly the same configuration four thousand years ago? Do we know that the earth turned on its axis at precisely the same rate four thousand years ago as today?

Now, it may be a good working hypothesis to assume such continuities, though we cannot be certain of them. Indeed, we should assume a general kind of continuity based on God's faithfulness to His covenant. If, however, we have good evidence from the ancient world that things were different, we need to take that into consideration. For instance, it seems that comets were quite a bit more plentiful in ancient skies than today; the ancients had them categorized into as many as thirty different kinds. It is conceivable that comets did indeed appear as warnings of catastrophes in the ancient, angelically-governed skies, which is what all the ancients believed. Are we certain they were wrong?

Or again, the Bible (in Job) speaks of dinosaurs. Indeed, dragons and great lizards are found in stories all over the world. If all these people just coincidentally made these things up, it is curious that what they made up corresponds, at least generally, with bones not unearthed until the nineteenth century. But we moderns assume that (a) ancient people were primitive and stupid, and so they did not know what they were talking about when they spoke of great dragons; and (b) that our dating methods are sound. The bones "say" that they are millions of years old, so we ignore the testimony of the Bible and of other ancient literature.

The point of all this is that the past is not subject to the kinds of controls and observation that science requires. Interpreting the past involves guesswork to a far greater degree than observational science, and thus there is far more room for presuppositions and assumptions to play a role.

Which brings us back to Genesis 1. Is there any real evidence that the earth is older than the Bible seems to say it is? Is there any real evidence against the traditional view of Genesis 1? No. All there is against the idea of a recent creation is a series of scientific constructs, all based on the examination of present states of affairs. When science tries to speak of past or future things, it moves rapidly into constructs that are very much open to challenge.

Peter Leithart is Against Christianity

These are two things you need to know in order to know what Peter Leithart is all about. There is, of course, more that could and should be said, but the following excerpts from his book Against Christianity say alot.

Firstly, Peter Leithart is Against Christianity (pp. 31-32):
Against ChristianityAsk the average Christian about the relationship between the "church" and "salvation," and you are likely to get one of two answers: either (if the Christian is a rather old-fashioned Roman Catholic) that the Church is a reservoir of salvation, to which one must repair to receive grace; or (if the Christian is a rather common sort of evangelical) that salvation occurs apart from the Church, though it is a help along the way.

Despite the apparent differences between these two views, they are fundamentally similar. Both conceive of "salvation" as a something (almost a substance) that can be stored in a reservoir or infused into sinners directly by God. Both believe that the whole point is the salvation of individuals: for the Catholic, the Church is an essential conduit of grace, but salvation is what happens to the individual. For the evangelical, the Church is a nonessential aid to individual salvation. In both cases, [Gnostic] Christianity is looming in the background.

Biblically, however, salvation is not a stuff that one can get, whether through the Church, or through some other means. It is not an ether floating in the air, nor a "thing," nor some kind of "substance." "Salvation" describes fallen creation reconciled to God, restored to its created purpose, and set on a trajectory leading to its eschatological fulfillment. Ultimately, "salvation" will describe the creation as a whole, once it is restored to God and glorified (Rom. 8:18-25). Grammatically, "salvation" is a noun; theologically, it is always adjectival.

Nor is salvation adjectival merely of individuals. If salvation is the re-creation of man through Christ and the Spirit (which it is), then salvation must be restored relationships and communities as much as individuals. If Christ has not restored human community, if society is not "saved" as much as the individual, then Christ has not restored man as he really is. Salvation must take a social form, and the Church is that social form of salvation, the community that already (though imperfectly) has become the human race as God created it to be, the human race that is becoming what God intended it to be.

The Church is neither a reservoir of grace nor an external support for the Christian life. The Church is salvation. [source]

And secondly, Peter Leithart is Against Sacraments (pp. 75-78):
Six overlapping tendencies make it difficult for evangelicals to grasp baptism and the Lord's Supper.

First, a spiritualizing reading of redemptive history: "When Jesus removed the special status of Jerusalem as the place where God was to be worshipped (John 4:7-24), he signaled the abolition of all material forms that constituted the typological Old Testament system." The move from Old to New is thus seen as a move from ritual to non-ritual, from physical to less physical forms of worship. Baptism and the Supper seem anomalous throwbacks to an earlier era: what use do "spiritual" churches have for these rituals?

Second, the prophets: Israel's prophets inveighed against empty formalism, and some conclude from this that the prophets condemned form and ritual as such.

Third, the Reformation: The Reformers taught that the Word has priority over the sacraments. Salvation comes from hearing the Word with faith, not by mechanical adherence to the sacramental system of the Church. Sacraments are an "appendix" to the Word.

Fourth, individualism: The frame of reference for nearly everything, including worship and sacraments, is the individual person and his experience of the world. So, in sacramental theology we ask questions like, "What benefit do I receive from the sacrament?" or "What grace does the individual child receive from baptism?" And we wonder why we need these objects and substances to communicate these benefits.

Fifth, inwardness: Grace is invisible, so why do I need visible substances to receive grace? Moreover, what is really important is my spiritual heart-relationship with God; my outer physical action are of lesser significance. What matters is the "me" lurking behind the roles I play and the things I do. What happens on the outside never touches that inner self that is unchangeably me. What good then is external bath, physical food?

Finally, privatization: Religion is a matter of belief and personal devotion. Public rituals can be faked, and so those who tie religion to public rituals tempt us to be hypocrites.


In the end, all these factors reduce to one: the Church has embraced modernity's disdain for ritual, though we have given pious glosses to our worldliness.

In the end, all these factors are part and parcel of our adherence to Christianity.


Baptism and the Supper as appendixes to the Word: Despite its venerable pedigree, this is not a useful way to approach the issue. We are able to understand the Word without the help of appendix, as we can read many books with profit without reading the appendix. So long as baptism and the Supper are seen as "appendixes," they will be seen as expendable. Characterizing baptism and the Supper as "appendixes" to the Word, further, is part and parcel a Protestant tendency toward the "primacy of the intellect." It is rationalism, in that it reduces baptism and the Supper to a means for communicating information. But that is not what rituals are for. Treating baptism and the Supper as disguised sermons reduces them so they can be encompassed and tamed by Christianity.

Individualism: As God is one and three, as God's being is being in communion, so human being is being in communion. Made in the image of the triune God, we are always embedded in networks of relationship, long before we are conscious of that fact. Before we could talk or "make up our own mind," we were addressed, talked to, kissed, smiled at. The only individuals in the Bible are idols and their worshippers, who have all the equipment for relating to others and the world but cannot make use of it (cf. Ps. 115). Because of our individualistic bias, we cannot recognize that the "sacraments" are rituals of a new society, public festivals of a new civic order. And, individualism is part and parcel of the heresy of Christianity.

Religion and interiority: This has a certain plausibility because Scripture does talk about inner man and outer man, about body and soul. Yet, Scripture makes no hard or absolute demarcation between inner and outer. When people eat and drink, Scripture says their "souls" are refreshed (e.g., 1 Sam. 30:12), and exterior discipline of our children purges foolishness from their hearts (Prov. 22:15). So, outer events invade the inner life. And, inner things come to outer expression, for out of the thoughts of the heart come murders, adulteries, and other evils (Mk. 7:20-23). The mere fact that the Bible often names the "inner" man by reference to bodily organs (heart, kidneys, liver) is a hint that Scripture does not sharply distinguish inner spiritual from outer physical realities; even the "inner" man is conceived physically, not as an unbodied, ghostly self. Scripture thus teaches a complex interplay of inner/outer in human existence, a duality within unified human being. There is more to us than appears on the surface but human being is always "being in the world" because it always means "being a body." Whatever else we might say about a baptized person, we can say with utter confidence that he is baptized, and this is an irreversible moment in his "being in the world."

Religion is private: This is the heresy of Christianity in a nutshell. [source]

You can buy the book here.

On Pascha

The good Bishop of Sardis writes a creative account of the original Passover and then expounds on its significance in light of Christ:
On Pascha16 But while the sheep is being slaughtered,
and the Pascha is being eaten,
and the mystery is completed,
and the people is [sic] rejoicing,
and Israel is being sealed:
then came the angel to strike Egypt,
those uninitiated into a mystery,
those with no part in the Pascha,
those not sealed by the blood,
those not guarded by the spirit,
the hostile,
the faithless;
in one night he struck them and made them childless.


24 If anyone grasped the darkness
he was pulled away by death.
And one of the first-born,
grasping the material darkness in his hand,
as his life was stripped away,
cried out in distress and terror:
"Whom does my hand hold?
Whom does my soul dread?
Who is the dark one enfolding my whole body?
If it is a father, help me.
If it is a mother, comfort me.
If it is a brother, speak to me.
If it is a friend, support me.
If it is an enemy, depart from me, for I am a first-born."


34 What is this strange mystery,
that Egypt is struck down for destruction
and Israel is guarded for salvation?
Listen to the meaning of the mystery.


38 To each then is its own time:
the type has its own time,
the material has its own time,
the reality has its own time...


41 So the type was valuable in advance of the reality,
and the illustration was wonderful before its elucidation.
So the people were valuable before the church arose,
and the law was wonderful before the illumination of the Gospel.

42 But when the church arose and the Gospel came to be,
the type, depleted, gave up meaning to the truth:
and the law, fulfilled, gave up meaning to the Gospel.

Starting at about stanza 72, he starts getting hardcore on the Jews:
72 This is the one who has been murdered.
And where murdered?
In the middle of Jerusalem.
By whom? By Israel.
Why? Because he healed their lame,
and cleansed their lepers,
and enlightened their blind,
and raised up their dead;
and therefore he died.
Where is it written in the law and the prophets:
"They repaid me bad things for good and childlessness for my soul.
They planned wickedness for me saying:
'Let us tie up the just man because he is a nuisance to us'"?

73 What strange injustice have you done, O Israel?
You have dishonored the one who honored you,
you have disgraced the one who glorified you,
you have denied the one who owned you,
you have ignored the one who made you known,
you have murdered the one who gave you life.

74 O Israel, what have you done? ...

This is some really great stuff. I had a great time just reading it aloud last night. I recommend buying a copy of it, but you can read the whole thing here.

Wright on the Parables

A few years ago I read through Wright's The Challenge of Jesus. This particular excerpt (pp. 40-42) has stuck in my mind more than any other section. For me, it was paradigm shifting:
The Challenge of JesusJesus' parables were not simply shrewd stories about human life and motivation. Nor were they simply childish illustrations, earthly stories with heavenly meanings. Again and again they are rooted in the Jewish Scriptures, in the Jewish narratives that were told and retold officially and unofficially. We could look at these at great length, but there is only space here to glance at two of the best known and suggest dimensions to them that may be unfamiliar.

I begin with the parable of the sower in Mark 4:1-20 and its parallels. This parable is not simply a wry comment on the way in which many hear the gospel message and fail to respond to it appropriately. Nor is it merely a homely illustration taken from the farming practices of Galilee. It is a typically Jewish story about the way in which the kingdom of God was coming. It has two roots in particular, which help to explain what Jesus was about.

First, it is rooted in the prophetic language of return from exile. Jeremiah and other prophets spoke of God's sowing his people again in their own land. The Psalms, at the very point where they are both celebrating the return from exile and praying for it to be completed, sang of those who sowed in tears reaping with shouts of joy. But above all the book of Isaiah used the image of sowing and reaping as a controlling metaphor for the great work of new creation that God would accomplish after exile. "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand for ever." "As the rain and snow water the earth, so shall my word be. It shall not return empty, but it will accomplish my purpose." New plants, new shrubs, will spring up before you as you return from exile. All this goes back to the story of Isaiah's call in chapter 6, where the prophet sees Israel like a tree being cut down in judgment, and then the stump being burnt; but the holy seed is the stump, and from that stump there shall come forth new shoots.

It is that passage - Isaiah 6:9-10 - that Jesus quotes in Matthew 13:14-15, Mark 4:12 and Luke 8:10 by way of explanation of the parable of the Sower. The parable is about what God was doing in Jesus' own ministry. God was not simply reinforcing Israel as she stood. He was not underwriting her national ambitions, her ethnic pride. He was doing what the prophets always warned: he was judging Israel for her idolatry and was simultaneously calling into being a new people, a renewed Israel, a returned-from-exile people of God.

The second Old Testament root of the parable of the sower is the tradition of apocalyptic storytelling we find in, for instance, the book of Daniel. In Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar dreams of a great statue composed of four different metals, with gold at the top and a mixture of iron and clay at the bottom. The statue is demolished, the feet of clay is being crushed by stone, cut out of a mountain, which in turn becomes a mountain that fills the whole earth. So too, in Daniel 7 the four beasts make war on the human figure, one like a son of man, until God takes his seat and the son of man is exalted over beasts. Even so, says Jesus, the story of God's people is being encapsulated, recapitulated in his own work. Some seed falls on the path; some on the rock; some among thorns. But some seed falls on good soil and bears fruit, thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold. The kingdom of God, the return from exile, the great climax of Israel's history, is here, Jesus is saying, though it does not look like you thought it would. The parable itself is a parable about parables and their effect: this is the only way that the spectacular truth can be told, and it is bound to have the effect that some will look and look and never see, while others find the mystery suddenly unveiled, and they see what God is doing.

The second parable that opens a dramatic window on the kingdom of God is the one we call the Prodigal Son, in Luke 15. Among the dozens of things people regularly and often rightly say about this parable, one thing is missed by virtually everybody, though I submit that it would be blindingly obvious to most first-century Jewish listeners. A story about a scoundrel young son who goes off into a far pagan country and is then astonishingly welcomed back home is - of course! - the story of exile and restoration. It was the story Jesus' contemporaries wanted to hear. And Jesus told the story to make the point that the return from exile was happening in and through his own work. The parable was not a general illustration of the timeless truth of God's forgiveness for the sinner, though of course it can be translated into that. It was a sharp-edged, context-specific message about what was happening through Jesus' welcome of outcasts, his eating with sinners.

This story, too, has a dark side to it. The older brother in the story represents those who are opposed to the return from exile as it is actually happening: in this case, the Pharisees and lawyers who see what Jesus is doing and think it scandalous. Jesus' claim is that in and through his own ministry the long-awaited return is actually happening, even though it does not look like what people imagined. The return is happening under the noses of the self-appointed guardians of Israel's ancestral traditions, and they remain blind to it because it doesn't conform to their expectations.

In these two parables and in dozens of other ways Jesus was announcing, cryptically, that the long-awaited moment had arrived. This was the good news, the euangelion. We should not be surprised that Jesus in announcing it kept on the move, going from village to village and, so far as we can tell, staying away from Sepphoris and Tiberias, the two largest cities in Galilee. He was not so much a wandering preacher preaching sermon, or a wandering philosopher offering maxims, as like a politician gathering support for a new and highly risky movement. That is why he chose to explain his actions in the quotations from Isaiah: some must look and look and never see, otherwise the secret police will be alerted. Again, we should not imagine that politics here could be split off from theology. Jesus was doing what he was doing in the belief that in this way Israel's God was indeed becoming king. [source]

Wright on Various Types of Duality

One very helpful feature of The New Testament and the People of God begins on page 252 where Wright discusses the idea of 'dualism.' I have noticed that in popular theological and philosophical circles, dualism seems to be the plague du jour that must be avoided at all cost. What is generally meant by the word is the opposition of two concepts which might otherwise occur together in nature. Some common dualities might include body-soul, good-evil, light-dark, and so forth.

The danger of thinking dualistically about a thing is that, in doing so, one runs the risk of perceiving a dual opposition that simply is not there, thus undermining any hope of truly understanding a normally holistic entity. This is a valid concern and one which Wright takes to heart at a number of places in his works. However, I have noticed - and I am sure that I am not the only one - a sort of dualism-phobia wherein all dualisms are treated equally as false, simply on the grounds that they are dualistic. This is, of course, a dreadfully simplistic way of thinking about things. And this is one place where I have found Wright to be enormously helpful (though, really, what he does is not that extraordinary).

On pages 253-4, he enumerates ten types of duality and describes them thusly:
The New Testament and the People of God
  1. Theological/ontological duality. The postulation of heavenly beings other than the one god, even if these beings exist at his behest and to do his will. This belief is called 'dualism' in some recent scholarship.
  2. Theological/cosmological duality. If pantheism is a classic form of monism, the differentiation between the creator god and the created order is often seen as itself a sort of 'dualism'.
  3. Moral duality. The positing of a firm distinction between good and evil, e.g. in the realm of human behaviour. Most religions maintain some such distinction, but some forms of pantheism have tried to remove it, not least by labelling it 'dualism' and associating with it other dualisms that are deemed to be unwelcome.
  4. Eschatological duality. The distinction between the present age and the age to come, usually reckoning the present age as evil and the age to come as good.
  5. Theological/moral duality. Expressed classically in Zoroastrianism and some forms of Gnosticism, this view postulates that there are two ultimate sources of all that is: a good god and a bad god. In 'hard' versions, the two are locked in struggle for ever; in 'soft' versions, the good one will eventually win.
  6. Cosmological duality. The classic position of Plato: the world of material things is the secondary copy or shadow of the 'real' world of the Forms, which filtered down as a mainline belief of the Greco-Roman (and the modern Western) world: that which can be observed in the physical world is secondary and shabby compared with that which can be experienced by the mind or spirit. (In some modern versions the order is reversed, putting the material first and the spiritual second.)
  7. Anthropological duality. The human-centred version of cosmological dualism. Humans are bipartite creatures, a combination of body and soul, which are arranged in a hierarchy: soul ahead of body in many religions and philosophies, body ahead of soul in many political agendas.
  8. Epistemological duality. The attempt to differentiate sharply between that which can be known by means of human observation and/or reason and that which can be known only through divine revelation.
  9. Sectarian duality. The clear division of those who belong to one socio-cultural-religious group from those who belong to another.
  10. Psychological duality. Humans have two inclinations, a good one and a bad one; these are locked in combat, and the human must choose the good and resist the evil.

This list is helpful in the way that all definition is helpful: it concretizes the often numinous concepts which we always already (and often unconsciously) use. Seeing, for example, that it is possible to presuppose Wright's 'epistemological duality' raises the questions "Do I presuppose a dichotomy between revelation and reason?" and "Should I?"

Much more, having these well-defined categories allow us to examine the thoughts of others and identify the presence of some dualities as well as the absence of others, rather than merely labeling a whole corpus 'dualistic'. Wright immediately puts these categories to use, showing how one might begin to talk about 'dualism' in early Jewish thought. The following table (taken from p. 256) summarizes his own suggestions as to the shape of Second Temple Jewish thought:

Ten Types of Duality in Second Temple Judaism
regularly acceptedpossiblemarginal
1. theological/ontological5. theological/moral
2. theological/cosmological6. cosmological
3. moral7. anthropological
4. eschatological
8. epistemological
9. sectarian
10. psychological

Theology and Power

Peter M. Candler writes:
While the question of power is an extremely important one as regards the question of the construction of theological systems and texts and the grammar which I am attempting to describe, and while it does employ the provisions of power to its own advantage, it is not so subversive as de Certeau suggests. Where tactics assume the existence of a prior strategy according to which it must adapt itself, theology cannot be wholly tactical insofar as it assumes itself to address itself to everything that is. Thus inasmuch as theology refers all things to God as their source and end, it seems that it does contain an element of the strategic as well as an element of the tactical. However, theology can never assume the status of political sovereignty - rather it must call into question the legitimacy of such absolutist strategies, while tactically subverting them, not by the imposition of a finally authoritative dictum, but from within. That is to say, theology makes use of languages foreign to itself in order to undo them, to expose them as improperly ordered and internally incomplete, but also to order and to perfect them, to consummate them…

Typological Reading

Jordan discusses typological engagement in Judges: A Practical and Theological Commentary (pp. xii-xvii):

The symbolism or typology of Scripture is more or less vague. There is nothing wrong with vagueness. We have to have some vague words in our language as well as some more specific words. For instance, to tell someone that a room is "large" is vague compared to telling him that the dimensions are 12 X 12 X 120 feet - yet "large" conveys information better than the specifics would. Similarly, to say that the sun rose today around 6:00 A.M. is perfectly clear, yet it is relatively more vague than to say that the horizon of the earth lowered to reveal the sun at precisely 5:58:45 A.M., Eastern Daylight Time, as viewed from Athens, Georgia.

Some of the parables of Jesus are very specific, so specific as to be virtual allegories (such as the Parable of the Wedding Feast, Matthew 22:1-13), while others are more vague or general. This is also true of the stories of the Old Testament. Some events are clearly and pointedly symbolic and typological, while some are only vaguely and generally so.

We have to explain this in order to distance ourselves from the "interpretive minimalism" that has come to characterize evangelical commentaries on Scripture in recent years. We do not need some specific New Testament verse to "prove" that a given Old Testament story has symbolic dimensions. Rather, such symbolic dimensions are presupposed in the very fact that man is the image of God. Thus, we ought not be afraid to hazard a guess at the wider prophetic meanings of Scripture narratives, as we consider how they image the ways of God.

Such a "maximalist" approach as this puts us more in line with the kind of interpretation used by the Church Fathers. It seems dangerous, because it is not readily evident what kinds of checks and balances are to be employed in such an approach. Do the five loaves and two fishes represent the five books of Moses and the Old and New Testaments? Almost certainly not. What, however, is our check on such an interpretation? We have to say that the check and balance on interpretation is the whole rest of Scripture and of theology. As time goes along, and we learn more and more, our interpretations will become refined. If we do not plunge in and try now, however, that day of refinement will never come.

Let me take an example now. In Judges 1:11-15 we have the story of Othniel and Achsah. The characters here are the Enemy (giants), the Father (Caleb), the Son (Othniel), the Daughter (Achsah), and two other factors: springs of water and a donkey. The Son destroys the Enemy in order to win the Bride from the Father. Can we see a vague image of the gospel here? Certainly; it fairly leaps off the page. After the marriage, we find the Bride asking the Father for springs of water. Can we see in this a vague image of the Church asking for and receiving the Spirit? Also, we see the Bride riding on an ass, an unclean beast. Given the fact that unclean animals signify the unconverted nations (Acts 10, 11), and that the false Bride of Revelation is seen riding on the back of the Beast (Rev. 17:3), can we see in this a vague picture of the Church riding on dominating the heathen world? I think so.

These are vague images, snapshots of truth as it were. It would be stretching matters to try to make this story into a prophetic type in the full sense, but at the same time we ought not to blind ourselves to the possiblity that a more general picture of the kingdom of God is presented here. Without any doubt, the story of Othniel and Achsah is designed to picture for us the winning of the kingdom, and the blessings that come to the righteous after the kingdom is won. In a general way, this is parallel to the work of Christ in winning the kingdom, and the blessings that come to the Church afterwards. Given this general truth, we are invited to inspect the passage more closely to see more specific parallels, as I did above.

One does not burn at the stake for interpretations such as this. At the same time, we would not be doing our duty to the text if we did not at least give some reflection to them. In this commentary, I shall be interpreting the text "maximally." The reader must consider the ideas I throw out, and if he finds that some are not really well supported, or not credible, that is find. The important thing is to engage in the interpretive discussion, and strive for a fuller understanding of the prophecies before us.

The second "secret" is to keep an eye on the interaction between God and man. We ask three questions:
  1. What is God's Word of promise and command?
  2. What is man's response (rebellion or faithfulness)?
  3. What is God's Word of evaluation (judgment or blessing)?

Every Biblical narrative contains all three elements, at least by implication. Sometimes the Word of promise/command is not expressed, because it is contained in the Law, which is the background for all the later books of the Bible. Every promise is a command, for the faithful knows that he needs to pursue the blessing in the promise; and every command is a promise, for God will always bless those who submit to His commands. We then come to man's response. Men are either faithful or rebellious - sometimes a mixture of the two. Then, third, we come to God's evaluation or judgment, which entails either curse or blessing.

This threefold action underlies every narrative in Scripture. Adam was given a command/promise. He rebelled. God came to judge him. Humanity as a whole is given a command/promise from God. Human history as a whole is the response of humanity. The Last Judgment is the final evaluation made by God. Abram was given a command: move to Canaan. Abram obeyed. After he arrived in Canaan, God met him and blessed him - and gave him his next orders, which Abram obeyed, and God blessed him and then gave him his next orders, wich he obeyed, etc., etc.

The third "secret" is to take note of the larger covenant-historical context of the book. The Bible presents one basic story over and over again, with variations each time, designed for our instruction. This is the story of creation, fall, decline, judgment, and re-creation. This pattern happens in three very large historical sweeps during the Old Covenant. The first occurence is the creation of the world, the fall of Adam, the decline recorded in Genesis 6, the judgment of the Flood, an the re-creation in Noah.

The second occurence of this pattern in its large form begins with the re-creation of the world after the Flood. This re-creation takes the same form as the first creation: First the wider world is made (Gen. 1; Gen. 10, the nations), and then the sanctuary is set up (Gen. 2, Eden; Gen. 12, call of Abram). The creation section continues until Israel is fully settled in the land, when David finally conquers all of it. Then comes the fall, with Solomon, and a progressive decline until the Exile, when the new Adams and Evees are once again cast out of God's sanctuary. The re-creation comes with Daniel and Ezra.

The third occurence of this pattern begins with the re-creation of the world under Daniel, and the re-establishment of the sanctuary by Ezra. The big fall comes when God's people crucify the Lord of Glory. The decline continues until A.D. 70, and issues in the destruction of the sanctuary. The final, third re-creation is, thus, the Church, which is permanent.

I have identified these three large occurences of the pattern by using the rule of the sanctuary. In spite of all the ups and downs in Israel's history, they were not cast out of the land until Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem. Thus, from Abraham to Nebuchadnezzar is one large history. Accordingly, the first three "days" of history have at their centers three sanctuaries: Eden, the first Tabernacle/Temple, and the second (Ezra's) Temple. Christ's death in the third cycle (on the third "day") broke this cycle forever. In spite of her ups and downs, the history of the Church will be one of progressive re-creation and culmination.

Now, within the second great occurence of this pattern (from Abraham to the Exile), there are three smaller manifestations of the pattern:
  • Basic pattern No. 2a:
    • Creation: Abraham to Exodus
    • Fall and Decline: Wilderness
    • Judgment: Death of that generation
    • Re-creation: Death of Aaron, as high priest, enabling people to leave wilderness "city of refuge" and once again take possession of their lands (Num. 20:29 and 21:1ff.)
  • Basic pattern No. 2b:
    • Creation: Joshua and the conquest
    • Fall: Judges chapter 1
    • Decline: book of Judges
    • Judgment: capture of the Ark at the time of Samson, Samuel and Ruth (I develop this in detail in chapter 12 of this book)
    • Re-creation: the return of the Ark
  • Basic pattern No. 2c:
    • Creation: Samuel and David
    • Fall: Solomon, who breaks all the laws for kings (compare Deuteronomy 1716f. with 1 Kings 10:14ff., 26ff.; 11:1ff.)
    • Decline: the two monarchies
    • Judgment: the destruction of Jerusalem and the Exile
    • Re-creation: Ezra, Nehemiah

Throughout the Bible, there are smaller manifestations of this pattern as well. Our concern in this third "secret" of interpretation is to note the position of the book of Judges in the overall sweep of redemptive history. Judges records the fall, decline, and judgment of Israel, and also (in Samson and in the last chapter) the beginnings of re-creation. This is an important structure for understanding the book.

The fourth "secret" of interpretation is to pay close attention to the specific details in the text. God does not waste words. God has absolute superintendence of events, and every detail recorded in the text is to be pondered for significance. Judges 9:53, for instance, does not say, "Someone threw a strone and hit Abimelech so that he was dying." Rather, it says, "A certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech's head, crushing his skull." Every detail is important, as we shall see in chapter 8 of this study: that it was a woman, that it was a stone, that it was a millstone, that it hit and crushed his head.

Similarly, numbers are usually important as symbols in the text. Ancient writers always used numbers symbolically, and it strains credulity to think that the writers of the Bible did not do so. People today don't think of numbers symbolically, but in the history of the world, modern man is a great exception on this point. To be sure, the numbers are also literally true, but since God has superintended all events, we are certainly invited to consider the deeper significance of the number of patterns in the text.

The writings in the Bible are carefully constructed literary masterpieces. Failure to keep that fact in mind leads to sloppy interpretation. (Undoubtedly there is a fair share of sloppy work in this present commentary, but let us agree at the outset that we shall at least try to be as careful as possible.) If something is repeated in the text, it is repeated for a reason. If someone's name is given, or omitted (as with Samson's mother), there is a reason. If attention to called to specfic numbers, there is a reason. In other words, a "host of 7000 men" is not interpretively the same as a "large host of men." Details are important.

By keeping these four "secrets" in mind, we can have a God-centered approach to the message of Judges. Primarily, after all, these are not moral tales of what men did rightly and wrongly. Primarily they are stories about how God deals with man, in judgment and redemption. The interplay between God and man is the heart of history.

So, as we retell these stories, we shall be looking at their prophetic meaning. What did they mean to the people of that time? What lessons were they supposed to draw from the text? And what lessons are we to draw, as well? [source]

A Most Wonderful Apatheia

David Bentley Hart on the supreme importance of God's "apathy" (p. 158):
The Beauty of the InfiniteOne might even say - as alarming as it may sound - that God does not even need us to be "our" God; all we are, all we can ever become, is already infinitely and fully present in the inexhaustible beauty, liveliness, and "virtue" of the Logos, where - as the infinitely perfect reflection of the divine essence that flows forth from the Father, fully enjoyed in the light of the Spirit - it is present already as responsiveness and communion; thus, God indeed loved us when we were not (Rom. 4:17) and to participate in the being he pours into us is an act of generosity wholly fitting to, but in no way determinative of, his goodness. Indeed, one should even say that all that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Son of God was and is in the supereminent, timeless eternity of his act of being, and would have been and would be with or without a world. This may seem the height of theological austerity, even of hellenization, but it is actually quite the opposite. The freedom of God from ontic determination is the ground of creation's goodness: precisely because creation is uncompelled, unnecessary, and finally other than that dynamic life of coinherent love whereby God is God, it can reveal how God is the God he is; precisely because creation is needless, an object of delight that shares God's love without contributing anything that God does not already possess in infinite eminence, creation reflects the divine life, which is one of delight and fellowship and love; precisely because creation is not part of God, the context of God, or divine, precisely because it is not "substantially" from God, or metaphysically cognate to God's essence, or a pathos of God, is it an analogy of the divine; in being the object of God's love without any cause but the generosity of that love, creation reflects in its beauty that eternal delight that is the divine perichoresis and that obeys no necessity but divine love itself. [source]

Symbolism and Christian Ontology

This is James Jordan at his best (Sociology of the Church, p. 283):
The Sociology of the Church[W]e have to bear in mind that man was created as the particular symbol of God (Gen. 1:26, 27), and the universe is the general symbol of God (since all creation reveals - symbolizes - its Creator). Thus, the foundational level of all human intellectual apprehension is symbolic. The true meaning of any thing or event can be found only when it is seen as revealing (signifying or symbolizing) God and His relations to man and the cosmos. This Biblical creationist perspective inverts the normal (sinful) way of thinking, which assumes that things and events have meaning in themselves, and that any symbolic dimension (which may or may not be present) is added to the fundamental non-symbolic and self-contained meaning of things and events. [source]


Augustinian and Jordanian Hermeneutics

One controversial aspect of James Jordan's theology is his proneness to depend on heavily "literary" readings of biblical texts. My own doctor "Hurricane" Bruce Waltke described Jordan's method as basically eisegetical (the opposite of exegetical) and would probably be more comfortable calling Jordan's hermeneutic "allegorical" before he would call it "typological." Others might describe his technique anywhere between "biblical maximalism" or just plain "weird." Jordan himself has confronted these criticisms in his "Apologia on Reading the Bible" (in an old issue of Contra Mundum [pdf]) and a bit in the introduction to his commentary on the Book of Judges. Alastair Roberts, as well, has chimed in to defend the Jordan-ian breed of typological reading.

In a recent reading of the Sociology of the Church (pp. 212-215), I found the following to be an excellent example of the sort of thing that tends to annoy an otherwise satisfied reader:
The Sociology of the ChurchLet us go on to the basic cross shape, as the Bible sets it out. First of all, as always, we go to Genesis 1-4, and in 2:10-14 we find that the fountain in Eden produced a river that split into four heads, and went out to water the four corners of the earth...

...Later in Scripture, the same picture recurs, with water flowing from a rock, or from the Temple, or the headwaters of the Jordan flowing from the great rock at Caesarea Philipi. The theological continuity among all these pictures lies in their symbolic form.

Notice ... how the fundamental cross or X form produces a square. The square fills out the space that is fundamentally defined by the cross. The cross has a center, and it has four extensions, which are either the corners of the square, or the centers of the sides of the square. The Bible repeatedly uses this fundamental shape to portray the kingdom of God.

At the center is the initial sanctuary. Adam and Eve would follow the four rivers out, extending dominion along their lines, and branching out to fill and cultivate the whole world. One of the most common ways of portraying the cross as the center of the world, with influences spreading everywhere, is the labyrinth design. Here the four rivers of influence are shown "curving" around the world in ever expanding squares, until the whole (square) world is transformed.

...In addition to the Edenic manifestation of the cosmic cross/square design, we also find it in the architecture of the Tabernacle. The holy of holies was, of course, a square (actually, a cube). The holy place was a rectangle twice as long as it was wide. Within the Tabernacle, the furniture was arranged in a fundamentally cross shape, with the Ark and Incense Altar at the head, the Showbread and Lampstand forming the crosspiece, and the Altar of Burnt Sacrifice at the feet.

Arranged around this sanctuary was a gigantic cross, which might have been visible to Moses from Mount Horeb. According to Numbers 2, the camp on the east side numbered 186,400 men, while the camp on the west numbered 108,100. The camp on the west numbered 157,600, while that on the south numbered 151,450...

Even if we were to modify this configuration, to fill in the empty spaces and form more of a rectangle, it would still retain a cross shape, with the shortest side west and the longest east.

The cross shape is that of a man with his arms extended. It is the shape of the body of Christ, incarnate, and of the church of Christ, His body mystical. The church is "one new man" according to Ephesians 2:15. Cruciformity is humaniformity. Naturally, then, the shape of the church in the wilderness was that of one large man, a cross shape. To be in Christ is to be in a cross shaped architectural model... [source]
And so on. Essentially, the nature of Jordan's hermeneutic seems to be a sort of reading that attends not only to "plain" meaning of words, but also attends to the properties of the things written about as part of the "plenary" meaning.

Whether such an approach to reading is acceptable (especially when reading Holy Scripture) is indeed no simple matter, but it is important. I recently came across a passage of Saint Augustine, from De Trinitate, that seems to bear significantly on the issue. In Book IV, Chapter 4, Augustine writes:
De TrinitateBut this ratio of the single to the double arises naturally from the number three, for one and two are three; but the sum of these numbers that I have mentioned makes six, for one and two and three are six. Therefore, this number is said to be perfect, because it is completed in its own parts, for it has these three: sixth, third, and half, nor is any other part in it which can called an aliquot part. For its sixth part is one, its third two, and its half three. And one, two, and three amount to the same six. Sacred Scripture commends the perfection of this number to us especially in this, that God completed His works in six days, and made man to the image of God on the sixth day. And the Son of God came in the sixth age of the human race and was made the Son of Man, in order to re-form us to the image of God...

We note that this number six serves as a sort of symbol of time, even in that threefold division of it that we made, where we reckon the first age as before the Law, the second as under the Law, and the third as under grace. We have received the sacrament of the renewal in this last age, in order that we may be also renewed in every part at the end of time by the resurrection of the flesh, and thus may be healed from every weakness, not only of the soul but also of the body. Wherefore, that woman whom infirmity, through the binding of Satan, had bent over, and who was healed and made erect by the Lord is understood to be a type of the Church. For that voice in the Psalm complains of such hidden enemies: 'They bowed down my soul.' Now this woman had an infirmity for eighteen years, which is three times six. Furthermore, the number of months in eighteen years is found to be in number the cube of six, that is, six times six times six. For near that same place in the Gospel, there is also that fig tree that was found to be guilty by the third year of its wretched barrenness. But intercession was made for it under this condition, that it might be let alone for that year, so that if it bore fruit, well, but if not, then it should be cut down. For these three years also belong to the same threefold division, and the three months in a period of three years make the square of six, which is six times six. [source]
Discussion of this sort carries on for a couple of chapters. Hopefully, the similarity between Augustine and Jordan (at least, in this respect) is clear. At the end of Chapter 6, Augustine closes out the topic with:
And now a word about the reasons for these numbers in the Sacred Scriptures. Someone else may discover other reasons, and either those which I have given are to be preferred to them, or both are equally probable, or theirs may be even more probable than mine, but let no one be so foolish or so absurd as to contend that they have been put in the Scriptures for no purpose at all, and that there are no mystical reasons why these numbers have been mentioned there. But those which I have given have been handed down by the Fathers with the approval of the Church, or I have gathered them from the testimony of the divine Scriptures, or from the nature of numbers and analogies. No sensible person will decide against reason, no Christian against the Scriptures, no peaceful man against the Church. [source]
Which means, if you think that Saint Augustine has been trafficking in idle speculation for the past two chapters, he wants you to know that you stand against reason, the Scriptures, and the Church. Such a statement obligates us to at least reflect on why exactly we might object to these sorts of hermeneutical techniques. Then, of course, we must ask, "Does Scripture have these same objections?"

Wright's Eschatology

A snippet from Jesus and the Victory of God (pp. 96-97) on Christian apocalypse and eschatology:
Jesus and the Victory of GodWhat then was Jesus talking about? It is time, as I shall argue in detail later on, to reject the old idea that Jesus expected the end of the space-time universe - though this does not mean, as the 'Jesus Seminar' has imagined, that Jesus did not use 'apocalyptic' language. Nor does it mean, as I find myself accused of saying by some colleagues, that we have hereby 'abandoned eschatology'. Far from it. I wish to stress that, in my view, first-century Judaism, and Jesus as firmly within it, can be understood only within a climate of intense eschatological expectation, whose character I have already tried to make clear. If this position is taken, it becomes possible to move, as Caird did, to the claim that Jesus' warnings about imminent judgment were intended to be taken as denoting (what we would call) socio-political events, seen as the climactic moment in Israel's history, and, in consequence, as constituting a summons to national repentance. In this light, Jesus appears to be a successor to Jeremiah and his like, warning Israel that persistence in her present course will bring political disaster, which in turn should be understood as the judgment of Israel's own god. But Jesus is not merely a successor, one in a continuing line of prophets. His warnings include the warning that he is the last in the line. This is, I think, what Jesus' eschatology is all about. Israel's history is drawing to its climax. [source]

Two Most Difficult Things

In the preface to Book II of De Trinitate, Saint Augustine writes:
The TrinityBut there are two things that are most difficult to tolerate in human error: taking something for granted before the truth becomes known, and when it becomes known, defending the falsehood that was taken for granted. [source]

Perrenial wisdom.

The Jerusalem Cross

The Jerusalem Cross

The Jerusalem Cross appears on the cover of James Jordan's Sociology of the Church. On the copyright page, Jordan explains:
The cross is a symbol of the death of Christ for our sins, but more than that, the cross is the design of the world as created by God, with four rivers going to the four corners of the earth. The spreading Jerusalem Cross pictures for us the Good News of Christ's death and resurrection moving out to encompass the whole world. The smaller crosses picture the principles of the Kingdom coming to life in the hearts of believers, and in the life of the nations, as these are encompassed within the arms of Jesus Christ and His church. [source]

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Heard my littlest sister breathing outside her room this evening. Went in to check on her and realized that the pneuma (breath, spirit) that kept her alive did so through a series of inhales and exhales. Being 'alive' consists of periodic fillings and evacuations of air, lungs expanded and lungs collapsed. Life is a series of deaths.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Meaning of the Millennium - An Exposition of Revelation xx, 1-10


VosGeerhardus Vos has famously written, “Eschatology precedes soteriology.” Of the many important meanings of that sentence, we understand at least that one's understanding of the end of redemptive history bears significance for the whole of redemptive history - and one's view of the millennium (described in chapter xx of the Apocalypse of Saint John the Divine) practically defines the shape of his eschatology. The meaning, then, of the millennium is of the utmost importance to the Christian Church, as that meaning shapes her very identity and vocation.

Its pressing relevance notwithstanding, the Apocalypse has historically been treated as a work shrouded in mystery. Not only is the apocalyptic language frighteningly bizarre to many readers, but the picture that is painted is so richly symbolic that many simply conclude the book escapes their own hermeneutical capacities. The book, then, is largely left untouched, with the exception of a few blinkered literalists with a knack for fantasy. But these things need not be so. The book itself is written in order to be a blessing, not a trial.1 It is my intention here to demonstrate that the good news of this book is that Christ has been granted all authority on heaven and earth, and presently reigns at the right hand of the Father until he returns to judge both the quick and the dead.

While our subject is the millennium depicted specifically in verses 1-6, context requires that we briefly address verses 7-10 as well.


While there are a number of different millennial views, the most fundamental question that pastors, theologians, and biblical scholars attempt to answer is whether or not the millennium precedes or follows the second advent. While both historic and dispensational forms of premillennialism eagerly await the second coming in order to usher in the reign of Christ, amillenialists believe that the millennium denotes the period between the first and second visitations of the Lord. Postmillenialism is an interesting case because its generic version is premillenial in that it places a gap between the first advent and the millennium. However, preterist or partial-preterist postmillenialism is amillenial in that, though it places the millennium some time after the first advent, that portion of time is so narrow (about forty years) that the millennium virtually composes the whole period between the comings of Christ. All agree there is a millennium. Revelation(Except, perhaps, Bauckham2) Some wait for it, while others wait for it to end.

WrightOnce we affirm (as Wright3 and[!] Horton4 remind us) “what time it is,” further qualification is made as to the nature of the millennium. While the premillenialist can allow for a degree of diverse opinion on the subject, the question seems most pressing for the amillenialist as he understands the time to be now. The amillenialist view is also known as the “inaugurated millennialist” view. With the millennium already inaugurated, the amillenialist has to account for the differences between the present and future fulfillment of the millennial period. The tension is often described as “the already and the not yet.” That tension will be clearer as we move on to examine the passage in question.


The beloved John is befallen by an image of angel † coming “down from heaven” (And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man). This is Johannine Incarnation language,5 so we know that the angel is the second person of the Trinity, the Son. No substantial arguments can be brought against this. Even if one is insensitive to biblical patterns of language, this is yet clear: the angel overtakes the “serpent of old.” That is, the angel accomplishes what the seed of the woman6 was always destined to do: he overcomes the wicked deceiver. Jesus, the Evangelist Matthew says, is the long awaited son who will save his people.7 These things being true, we mustn't mimic any commentator's reluctance to equate the two, the angel and the Christ.8 Why did John the Divine employ the angelic metaphor? Who can say? If one wishes to speculate into the authorial psyche of John, we can say that the a;ggelon is a “messenger” and Jesus Christ is the lo,gon tou/ qeou9 - that is, the “message of God.” MounceRegardless, we must affirm against Mounce that, even beginning with the first half of verse 1, the first advent is in view.

Noting this first point, we have an important hermeneutical key: this passage is not to be entirely understood as a forecast. The Apostle is grounding his apocalypse in history. This means, at the very least, that the events described in connection with the Incarnation are to be understood as having already come to pass as well.

The Son, then, is said to have keys.10 Keys, with their ability to bind and loose, are icons of control, authority, and power.11 He has the keys to the abyss, the bottomless pit, the grave – our Lord has dominion even over death itself. “O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting?”12 In verses 2-3, we are to understand that this power is (was) executed to overcome the serpent/dragon and thus begins the era in question, the millennium. Sacra PaginaHarrington, drawing upon the work of Boring,13 points out that the threefold description of Satan's imprisonment has the same force as the idiomatic expression, “signed, sealed, and delivered.”14 Thus, the first aspect of the millennium is that during the era, Satan is to be understood as virtually powerless, dead even (as that is what the Abyss symbolizes).

Interestingly, we read in verse 3 that there is a specific end in mind for the imprisonment of Satan: it is for the sake of “the nations.” This is not an arbritrary revelation of God's decree. Rather, it is a reiteration of a trans-covenantal theme: Salvation was never intended for the Jews alone. The scope of redemption is, and always has been, universal. Thus, in reading “the nations” we should understand something with all the biblical-theological connotations of “ha goyim.”

We note well that verses 4-6 indicate a second aspect to the millennium. Not only is it an epoch of a bound deceiver, but it is an epoch of regency. Christ is said to be seated upon a throne (as are those faithful to him). The millennial reign of Christ is not to be understood apart from his dominion over the devil. Indeed, they are intimately related. This is the point of the Ascension: that the Son might take his rightful place as at the right hand of the Father.15 The Ascension, then, is an ascension to a heavenly throne and the author of Hebrews says it is just that ascension which enables Christ to “bring many sons to glory.”16 And this is exactly why the Great Commission is given at the Ascension: because without Christ's reign over sin and death, neither Jew nor Gentile would be able to repent. (This, of course, means that one lacks the theological basis for missionary work if one fails to recognize that the Christ's reign in heaven over earth has already begun.)

There are two resurrections mentioned in this passage. This is intriguing, first of all, because one would assume that one can only be (and would only need to be) resurrected once. What seems to be necessary, is to understand that there are two sorts of resurrection. KistemakerKistemaker speaks of a “spiritual” and a “physical,” but in order to discourage physical/spiritual dualisms, we will speak of a heavenly and an earthly resurrection.17

There is no reason to suppose that the “witnesses” who reign/judge with Christ are exclusively those who have been martyred. We can assume this on two grounds: one, because no account of how the unmartyred church would be treated is given; secondly, because the concept of martyrdom receives very little theological play in Scripture – it would be peculiar if that were Blessed John's intention. More likely, it seems to me, martyrdom is employed as an icon of the sort of faith and dedication that all the saints are called to mimic.

With that said, Kistemaker outlines the double resurrection thusly:18 the saints and the wicked each experience an earthly death. The wicked, however, experience a heavenly death as well. The saints, at that same time (more or less), experience a heavenly resurrection where they reign with Jesus in the present. But saint and sinner alike will experience a final earthly resurrection where they will be judged for eternity. (v. 10) Applying these categories to the biblical text, we would identify the first resurrection with the heavenly resurrection (v. 5) and the second death (v. 6) with the heavenly death.

Quite interestingly, there is not a seamless transition from the millennial reign of Christ to the second coming. We read that Satan will be briefly released at the fulfillment of the “ci,lia e;th.” Much more, this is for the sake of war. John employs an allusion to rivals of Israel (“Gog and Magog”), numbered in parallel with the descendants of Abraham, to describe a sort of Last Battle. Israel is depicted as the encroachee and right before the wicked from all the deceived goyim close in, they are consumed in Elijahidal19 flames. Subsequently, Satan and his nations are permanently placed in a place of eternal punishment.


Hopefully, what we have seen here, in this brief reading of the text, is the exegetical necessity of reading these verses in the context of all revelation and of attending to the various biblical theological and systematic themes to which it pertains. The book is intended to be a blessing, and as we learn to read it in light of the good news that the eschaton has already arrived, I believe it can be a an excellent means of encouraging the Church to press on to maturity, towards the end of the millennium where the Dragon is finally laid to rest.

1 The Apocalypse of Saint John the Divine i, 3.
2 Bauckham, pp. 106-8.
3 Wright 1996, pp. 467-472.
4 Horton.
5 cf. The Gospel According to Saint John i, 9, 14; vi, 14, 33, 38, 41, et cetera.
6 cf. Genesis iii, 14-15.
7 cf. The Gospel According to Saint Matthew i.
Morris8 Mounce, pp. 360-3; Kistemaker, pp. 533-36; Morris, pp. 227-30.
9 cf. John i.
10 cf. The Apocalypse i, 17-18.
11 cf. Matthew xvi, 13-20.
12 Hosea xiii, 14. cf. I Corinthians xv, 55-56.
Boring13 Boring, M. Eugene. Revelation. (Louisville: Knox, 1989) p. 200.
14 Harrington, p. 196.
15 cf. Psalm viii.
16 Hebrews ii, 10.
17 Kistemaker, p. 540.
18 Substituting in, of course, my earthly/heavenly categories.
19 That is, heavenly fire such as appeared in I Kings xviii.

  1. Bauckham, Richard. The Theology of the Book of Revelation. (New York: Cambridge, 1993 [2007])
  2. CairdCaird, G.B. A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine. (New York: Harper & Row, 1966) pp. 248-259.
  3. Carson/MooCarson, D.A. and Douglas Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992 [2005]) pp. 697-725.
  4. Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. 3rd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987 [2003])
  5. Harrington, Wilfrid J. O.P. Revelation. (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1993) pp. 194-202.
  6. Horton, Michael S. “How the Kingdom Comes.” Christianity Today. (January 2006) Volume 50, Number 1. p. 42.
  7. Kistemaker, Simon J. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Book of Revelation. (Grand Rapids: BakerBooks, 2001) pp. 531-545.
  8. Morris, Leon. The Book of Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969 [2002]) pp. 227-233.
  9. Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised Ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977 [1998]) pp. 360-374.
  10. AncientWeinrich, William C. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament XII – Revelation. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2005) pp. 320-343.
  11. NTWright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992)
  12. Wright, N.T. Jesus and the Victory of God. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996)

The twentieth chapter of the Apocalypse of St. John the Divine, verses 1-6:
  1. Kai. ei=don a;ggelon katabai,nonta evk tou/ ouvranou/ e;conta th.n klei/n th/j avbu,ssou kai. a[lusin mega,lhn evpi. th.n cei/ra auvtou/Å
  2. kai. evkra,thsen to.n dra,konta( o` o;fij o` avrcai/oj( o[j evstin Dia,boloj kai. o` Satana/j( kai. e;dhsen auvto.n ci,lia e;th
  3. kai. e;balen auvto.n eivj th.n a;busson kai. e;kleisen kai. evsfra,gisen evpa,nw auvtou/( i[na mh. planh,sh| e;ti ta. e;qnh a;cri telesqh/| ta. ci,lia e;thÅ meta. tau/ta dei/ luqh/nai auvto.n mikro.n cro,nonÅ
  4. Kai. ei=don qro,nouj kai. evka,qisan evpV auvtou.j kai. kri,ma evdo,qh auvtoi/j( kai. ta.j yuca.j tw/n pepelekisme,nwn dia. th.n marturi,an VIhsou/ kai. dia. to.n lo,gon tou/ qeou/ kai. oi[tinej ouv proseku,nhsan to. qhri,on ouvde. th.n eivko,na auvtou/ kai. ouvk e;labon to. ca,ragma evpi. to. me,twpon kai. evpi. th.n cei/ra auvtw/nÅ kai. e;zhsan kai. evbasi,leusan meta. tou/ Cristou/ ci,lia e;thÅ
  5. oi` loipoi. tw/n nekrw/n ouvk e;zhsan a;cri telesqh/| ta. ci,lia e;thÅ au[th h` avna,stasij h` prw,thÅ
  6. maka,rioj kai. a[gioj o` e;cwn me,roj evn th/| avnasta,sei th/| prw,th|\ evpi. tou,twn o` deu,teroj qa,natoj ouvk e;cei evxousi,an( avllV e;sontai i`erei/j tou/ qeou/ kai. tou/ Cristou/ kai. basileu,sousin metV auvtou/ Îta.Ð ci,lia e;thÅ
  1. And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
  2. And he seized the dragon, that serpent of old, which is the Devil, the Satan. And he bound him for a thousand years.
  3. And he threw him into the bottomless pit and locked him up. And he put a seal upon him so that he would not deceive the nations until the fulfillment of the thousand years. After that, however, he must be freed for a brief time.
  4. And I saw thrones. And seated upon them were appointed judges: I saw the souls of those beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, for the word of God, men which had neither worshiped the beast nor his image, nor received his mark on their forehead or their hands. And they lived and reigned with the Christ for a thousand years.
  5. The rest of the dead did not come alive until fulfillment of the thousand years. This is the first resurrection.
  6. Blessed and holy is the one who participates in the first resurrection. On such the second death has no power, rather they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years.