Archive for February, 2008

Kidner On the Fall and Redemption

February 28, 2008

In a portion of my studies today I ran across this quotation in an Old Testament Survey book (by LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush [1982]). On page 81, they referred to Derek Kidner’s commentary on Genesis, writing these words:

So simple the act: “she took . . . and she ate”;
So drastic the results: humanity has lost the state of innocence forever;
So hard the undoing: God himself will taste poverty and death before “take and eat” become verbs of salvation.

I thought they would be sweet for your contemplation today on the work of Christ and his undoing of the effects of the Fall. Praise him!

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Mark’s Race to the Cross: Immediately!

February 18, 2008

For the past two weeks, I have been reading through the Gospel according to Mark. I have been noticing a particular adverb that is repeated throughout his testimony: “immediately” (Grk. euthus). It seems that everything in Mark happens immediately. He hardly gives any time for transition between his narratives; he moves immediately from one to the next. Jesus took his disciples into Capernaum and “immediately” they went into the synagogues where Jesus taught (1:21). “Immediately” their was a man with an unclean spirit crying out (1:23). News about Jesus spreads throughout the towns and villages “immediately” (1:28). And Mark spares no time before they “immediately” come to the house of Simon and Andrew and “immediately” speak to Simon’s mother-in-law (1:29). Hang on tight folks! That all happened in just ten verses (of the first chapter!). [For more “immediate” transitions between Mark’s narrative accounts see, for example, 6:45, 6:54, 7:25, 8:10, 9:15, 14:43, and 15:1.]

Even the scenes within the narratives occur immediately. For example, when Jesus came up from the water, he “immediately” saw the heavens opened; and after the Spirit descended on him, Jesus was “immediately” impelled to go into the wilderness (Mark 1:10, 12). Jesus calls his disciples to follow him, and “immediately” they drop their nets and follow him (1:18, 20). Later, Jesus gets out of a boat (new scene) and “immediately” a man from the tomb with an unclean spirit meets him (5:2). When Jesus instructs his disciples to go get him the colt (one that he will even return “immediately”), they will find the colt “immediately” as they enter the village (11:2). Following Peter’s denial, and serving to highlight the truth of the Lord’s word spoken in 14:30, the rooster crows the second time–you guessed it–“immediately” (14:72).

When Jesus heals people, time is not given for recuperation; they are healed/revived “immediately”: the leprous man (1:42); the paralytic man (2:12); the woman who had a discharge of blood (for twelve years!) (5:29); the synagogue official’s daughter (5:42); the boy with a spirit that made him mute (9:17-27); the blind man (10:52). Without question this highlights Jesus’ supremacy over life and all it entails, especially with the irruption of God’s kingdom in the coming and ministry of its King. Not only do human bodies respond to Jesus with immediacy, but the universe does as well: “…for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded” (6:50-51).

As I was contemplating this fast-paced testimony, and Mark’s reason for writing in this manner, I arrived at chapter 15. Judas had just betrayed Jesus “immediately” with a kiss (14:45), and Peter had just broke down weeping upon his “immediate” remembrance of the Lord’s words (14:72; cf. 14:30). Both of these events bracket the accusations and charge of blasphemy brought against Jesus (14:53-65). As I expected, now the chief priests held their wicked consulation “immediately” in the morning (15:1). To my surprise, however, everything seemed to come to a halt! Nothing more in Mark’s Gospel happens “immediately”. The word that has been repeated forty-one times(!) throughout his testimony ceases to be used. “Why?”

As I thought to myself, the answer became very clear and spoke very loudly: there is a reason, a purpose, Mark takes his reader through his Gospel so quickly. He is racing to the Cross! Mark wants his readers to behold this Jesus whom he testifies of in light of the cross he also endured (just like the centurion in 15:39). Yes, his coming, healing, teaching, life, and mission reveal that he is the Son of God. Mark nails this. But, what is more, this Jesus, this unique Son of God endures a Roman cross on behalf of sinners, and three days later, rose from the dead (15:1-16:8; cf. 10:45; 14:24). Mark races to the cross of Christ because he desires his readers to race to the cross of Christ, and contemplate all that such a cross-death means. And, furthermore, he wants his readers to reread his entire Gospel testimony in light of the cross, for all of his life and mission is pointed toward such a death.

I pray you, run to the cross with Mark, immediately! And behold the Savior, Jesus Christ. He is alive. God raised him from the dead (16:1-8). Therefore, heed his words: “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come” (4:26-29).

The Patience of God in My Wife

February 14, 2008

Yesterday evening, we had a members’ meeting at our home church. Rachel and I left earlier than normal because I had fixed some tables for the church and wanted to put them together beforehand. I began putting them together rather quickly being that I wanted to be finished before the meeting. She offered to help me with one piece of the project and I told her what she could do while I bolted them together.

It did not take me too long before I caught up to her on the last table. I noticed (as my patience was growing thin) and Rachel told me that she was unable to finish this one aspect on her own. So, knowing that I might be able to do it for her, she simply stepped aside. Now frustrated that she could not do it, and that the one who offered help was now asking me for help, I took the matter of the entire project into my own hands with a sigh, fixed the last table, put it up quickly, and took her with me to the meeting. In a matter of about twenty seconds (twenty seconds!), I had made a project for the church, even one that I got to do with my wife, a very rushed, impatient, get-it-done-now-before-the-meeting-starts time together.

During the meeting I pondered what had just taken place. The Lord quickly revealed my rebellion against him and sin against my wife. Moreover, I was struck by the fact that my wife proceeded to pour out her love to me despite my impatience. As I grew impatient, she abounded with patience. As I sighed with ingratitude, she offered to help pick up my trash off the floor. As I “took charge” in haste and frustration, she quietly continued making herself available with a servant’s heart. As I rejected the opportunity set before me to serve my wife, she did so to me with gladness (regardless of whether or not she was able to finish the task). Without question, the Lord had again poured out his mercy on me, and so, through the patience of my wife.

I am very grateful for the Lord opening my eyes to the error of my ways and the blessing he has granted me in Rachel. Through his patience in and of itself, and in her towards me, I will trust that he continue to work repentance and sanctification in me as her husband. For from him and through him and to him are all things (including my merciful wife), to him be the glory forever!

Diagram for Paul’s Threefold Gospel Ministry

February 12, 2008

Last semester, I posted a four-part series that attempted to explain the important interconnectedness between right doctrine, persevering faith, and godly conduct. In sum, we saw that (1) right doctrine must inform and ground the Christian in the Gospel; (2) persevering faith must be placed in and encouraged by the Gospel explained by right doctrine; and (3) godly conduct must flow from a persevering faith as demanded by right Gospel-doctrine so as to reflect the truth of the God’s triumph for sinners in Christ. Together, these convictions make up “Paul’s Threefold Gospel Ministry”. I only mention these conclusions again here, because I have made up a chart/diagram that will hopefully help us to see and understand how these truths work together to produce a Gospel-centered ministry. Click here to view and save this diagram.

VIII. Conclusion on NT Theology & Its Application

February 10, 2008

This post concludes what we have been looking at concerning the coherent testimony of the NT and its theology. To be sure, I have only scratched the surface of all that this rich discipline entails. Thus, I pray such observations serve not as ends in themselves, but as lenses whereby we, together, might behold the majesty of Jesus Christ all the more clearly from the text of Scripture.

In sum, the observations in the previous posts show that the NT’s historical narrative about God’s revelation in Jesus is indeed a theological one; and despite the critics’ claims, these two are not at odds. “Christ died” (historical fact); and he did so “for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (theological truth) (1 Cor 15:3). Furthermore, all twenty-seven books of the NT, though unique in their own right, do provide its readers with one unified proclamation. Undoubtedly, this is because the main character in their authors’ lives is the one crucified, resurrected, and coming Lord and Christ, Jesus. In this Jesus, NT theology finds its beginning and end, and thus the church her master and head, for whom she lives, about whom she sings.

What, then, does a coherent theology of the NT mean for us and for the world? One of my professors, Dr. Paul Wolfe, answered this quite clearly at the closing of our last class meeting in the Fall. He stated,

“If even only the broad contours of the NT, or the inescapable central points, if you prefer, are correct, then the personal accountability to respond appropriately is a profound reality with which we must all deal. It truly is a matter of life and death, a matter of eternal consequence. Let the reader be warned, the subject at hand has a transforming claim upon your life and destiny from which you may never escape.”

If I may reiterate, the coherent message proclaimed by the writers of the NT means that Jesus Christ does have ultimate claim over all his creation, and none will thwart his purpose to redeem those trusting him, and to damn those rejecting him; to save those abiding in his grace, and to condemn those spurning his grace. There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. Therefore, repent of your sin; believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ; and you will be saved. Moreover, church, obey your Master. Submit to him in all things. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. Sing and shout for joy. Be devoted to prayer. And come, magnify the Lord.

VII. The Coherence of the NT’s Theology

February 7, 2008

If the NT’s twenty-seven books interrelate with one another in the respective roles mentioned in the previous posts, then theological synthesis becomes possible while simultaneously valuing the uniqueness of each book’s historical situation. From this approach, NT theology honors the historical nature of and theological proclamation in the apostolic word. With respect to the writers’ corporate unity in their individual diversity, the following is an attempt to summarize the theology of the NT using the aforementioned conclusions.

The testimony of the NT did not emerge in a vacuum; in a sense, its authors picked up the pen the Chronicler laid down and continued the Gospel-narrative set forth by the OT. Thus, Matthew opens his Gospel with the intriguing phrase biblos genesews (lit. “book of genesis”), which introduces a genealogy identifying Jesus with the expected Messiah from David’s royal line and Abraham’s progeny. Part of Matthew’s aim, then, is to acknowledge Jesus as the climax of redemptive history-hence his repeated fulfillment motif (Matt 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 5:17; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 27:9) (cf. G. E. Ladd, A Theology of the NT, 219). The other Gospels are not shy about such emphases either. They too see Jesus as the fulfillment of, doubtless the one exceeding, Israel’s hopes and longings, and around whom all salvation history revolves (e.g. Mark 1:1-3, 14, 24; 11:10; Luke 2:29-32; 4:21; John 1:41; 4:26; 6:12-14). Furthermore, under such umbrellas all the Gospels tell their readers about Jesus, his life, teachings, ministries, obedience, cross-death, and resurrection. Still more, they explain with unique testimony the theological meaning of these historical events. In unison they proclaim Jesus’ unswerving allegiance to his Father’s will (Matt 11:27; 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42; John 5:17; 8:28-29), his atoning cross-death in light of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant (Isa 53 [cf. Matt 8:17; Mark 9:12; 14:49; Luke 22:37; John 12:38]), his triumph over evil in the ushering in of God’s kingdom (Matt 12:28; Mark 1:1-14; Luke 4:18-19 [Isa 61:1-2]; 10:9; 11:20; John 3:5), his victory over death in the Christ-exalting resurrection (Matt 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20-21), and the forgiveness and bounty he bestows on his followers (Matt 26:28; Mark 10:45; Luke 1:77; 24:47; John 10:7-18).

Acts of the Apostles shares the Gospels’ testimony. In this book, Luke portrays the extended ministry of Jesus, post-Easter. His and the apostles’ concerns are not with new doctrine, but new emphases of eschatological proportions (cf. Ladd, 353). Jesus is both Christ and Lord by the resurrection and now ministers by the Holy Spirit through his apostles and his rapidly growing church. Furthermore, he shows the promises of the OT and Jesus regarding the Gentile’s soteriological participation in God’s covenant people to be true. By the preached word, “the ends of the earth” become the primary participants in “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; 13:36-48). Therefore, in the apostolic ministry there is a swift unfolding of redemptive history that can only be explained by the supernatural work of Christ’s Gospel and the irruption (not eruption) of the kingdom of God.

With Acts of the Apostles, the missionary journeys have taken their course and communities of believers now gather all over the Mediterranean. Without question, these sinners-turned-saints are in need of great instruction. Without doubt, they know Jesus. Still, they need Jesus (i.e. all that they have received in the Gospel traditions) explained for their varying situations. Paul’s epistles, Hebrews, and the General Epistles, serve these ends with pastoral care and urgency. By interpreting the person and work of Jesus, they all agree that (1) Christ suffered for sinners, was raised from the dead, and is the exalted and reigning king; (2) justification is by faith in his finished work; (3) holiness accompanied by good works should characterize the church; (4) the nature of this age demands perseverance through suffering, yet is promised by God; (5) and the new age has dawned, yet awaits its consummation. In sum, the letters inform their recipients of the present reality and meaning of Christ’s kingdom and further exhort them in how they must live until its consummation.

Revelation, then, asserts to be “the revelation of Jesus Christ“. Its central concern is Jesus, who existed before history, entered history, and will bring history to its designed end (Rev 1:4, 8, 17, 18). He is the slain Lamb (5:6; 13:8), the root of David (22:16), the King of kings and Lord of lords (19:16). Essentially, therefore, it is Christological in its focus as are the previous twenty-six (sixty-five!) books. Nevertheless, largely accompanying its testimony about Jesus are also the severe and glorious events he will cause to transpire for the final establishment of God’s kingdom. This apocalypse explains more thoroughly, what was more so implicit in the rest of the NT; that is, redemptive history is not merely a matter of prophecy-fulfillment, but a matter of God’s sovereign control and omniscient guidance of all history. Nothing will thwart his purpose in Christ to set up his reign among his redeemed society in the New Jerusalem forever free from evil (21:1-22:5). With regard to NT theology, therefore, what Gospel-narrative beginnings the Evangelists articulated, Acts of the Apostles continued, and the epistles interpreted, Revelation concludes.

VI. The Role of The Revelation

February 4, 2008

What role does the Revelation play in doing NT theology?

Though this final canonical book is distinct when compared to other NT genres, the Revelation still continues much of the central theological concerns of the NT. It testifies of the same Christ promised in the OT, revealed in the Gospels, and explained in the epistles (e.g. Rev 1:7 [Dan 7:13; Matt 24:30; 26:64; Acts 1:9-11; Phil 2]; Rev 5:5 [Gen 49:9-10; Isa 11:1-10; Matt 1:1; Rom 15:12; Heb 7:14]; Rev 5:9-10 [Dan 7:18; Isa 53; Mark 10:45; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 2:4-10]; Rev 7:17[Ezek 34:11-31; John 10:1-18]; Rev 20-22[Isa 65-66; 1 Cor 15:20-28]). Yet, it does something more that all of them do not; that is, it brings all of their Gospel-testimony, theological argumentation, and practical application to their appropriate climax in Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It gives the final declaration that the sovereign Lord of history directs all reality of the present age and will bring all things to their proper place under the feet of the slain-though-standing Lamb (Rev 5:6). Whatever major themes one may find the NT carrying on at this point (e.g. Salvation History, New Exodus, Kingdom of God, End of Exile; etc.) the Revelation proves are only means to an end, namely, to magnify the Christ of all of Scripture, not shove him to the peripherals of one’s reconstruction. In a word, such themes become merely episodes in the grand Christocentric narrative of the whole Bible as the Revelation places God in Christ on the throne front-and-center, to whom the universe bows. Therefore, Revelation plays the unique role of wrapping up the NT canon and bringing its theological agenda to its expected consummation.

V. The Role of Hebrews & General Epistles

February 3, 2008

Do the other NT epistles function like Paul’s? Are they in unison with Paul?

The remaining NT epistles, Hebrews and the seven “general” epistles, seem to function in the same manner as Paul’s. Their explicit references to the Jesus traditions are almost nonexistent, with the exception of Peter’s “Transfiguration” experience (2 Pet 1:17-18). This, however, does not mean the traditions were unknown to them or their audiences. Textual evidence supports that they at least presupposed the Jesus traditions in their letters, especially the testimony passed on by the apostles (e.g. Heb 2:3; 13:7; Jam 1:19; 1 Pet 1:12; 2 Pet 1:16-18; 3:2; 1 John 2:24; 3:23; Jude 3, 17). Thus, they too interpreted Jesus for the people in the believing communities spread abroad. For the purposes of theology, then, they function primarily as explanatory or instructive epistles.

The question of whether or not these writers agreed in interpretation of the Gospels’ testimony for their communities should not be a large concern either, considering the noticeable agreement among them and in their teaching. For example, despite their disagreement at Antioch (Gal 2:11-14), Paul still shows that he and Peter (and the other apostles) are “servants of Christ” for the common cause of stewarding the “mysteries of God” (1 Cor 1:10-4:21). Furthermore, Peter readily speaks of Paul as a “beloved brother”, and affirms his writings as Christian Scripture (2 Pet 3:15-16). On an even larger scale, Markus Bockmuehl keenly points out that the mere decision of the “implied interpreter” to bind together into a single canon “writings in the name of Paul and the Jerusalem ‘pillars’ Peter, James, and John” surely highlights there was a common subject among them, namely, the Gospel (Seeing the Word, 132). Therefore, not only do these latter letters function like Paul’s, but they also do so in union with him.

Peter and Paul

[I would like to insert a brief parenthesis here, and mention something my wife and I had the opportunity to observe this past weekend at the Kimbell Art Museum. Recently, this museum has been displaying some of the earliest Christian art in their “Picturing the Bible” exhibit. The exhibit contains paintings, sarcophagi, mosaics, sculptures, medallions, etc. dating from the late third century on into the sixth. One room seemed to be devoted particularly to the apostles Peter and Paul. What was fascinating about each piece in this room was the fact that Jesus, Peter, and Paul were in union with one another. In several cases, Jesus was passing on a scroll to Peter while Paul applauded or raised a hand of affirmation. In others, the two of them were embracing one another. They even had a fourth-century belt-buckle with Paul and Peter embracing on the face of it. What a great addition to the wardrobe! 🙂 What made it so meaningful was that these pieces revealed what the early church believed about the apostolic testimony, namely, it was unified. There was no pitting Jesus against Paul, or Paul against Peter, as the critics have done with their hermeneutic of suspicion in the wake of the Enlightenment. Instead, the Church saw all of the apostles and their writings as applauding and explaining the Son of David.]

This leaves us with one more book to consider, the Revelation.

IV. The Role of Paul’s Contribution

February 2, 2008

What is the problem between Paul and Jesus for critical scholars in interpreting the NT?

Even if the previous conclusions regarding Acts of the Apostles are valid, critics have not been so welcoming to Paul following their journey from the Gospels’ picture of Jesus. Since the days of F. C. Baur (1792-1860), who argued that significant variations existed between Paul’s theology and the beliefs of the Jerusalem church, NT scholarship has been rather suspicious of any affirmations of continuity in the teachings of Jesus and the Apostle to the Gentiles. Scholars arguing along the same lines as William Wrede (1859-1906) have insisted that Paul’s “innovative” ideas, theological commitments, and pioneering mission work wrecked the original intentions Jesus had for his followers. Consequently, today’s Christianity would be better off without Paul’s emphases. If the critical scholars are right, then the search for theological coherence and synthesis even within the first two-thirds of the NT is vain.

David Wenham’s thorough and very helpful contribution in showing unity between Paul and Jesus.

In his Paul, Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), David Wenham finds such claims about Paul’s dissimilarity to Jesus unwarranted. On the contrary, he argues that Paul was not so much an innovator of Christianity as he was a follower of the Christ, who died and rose again on his behalf. Although his epistles make few explicit references to Jesus’ life and ministry, Paul provides plenty of theological connections that bear witness to his own awareness and embrace of the historical traditions of Jesus (11).

Despite the complicated and interrelated issues surrounding the comparative study of Paul and Jesus (e.g. Pauline authorship, the so-called “New Perspective[s]”, the Synoptic problem, various quest(s) for the historical Jesus), Wenham maintains that a survey of the NT material, based on cautious historical and textual-linguistic analyses, produces a much larger, cohesive portrait that is often forfeited for the details. He develops and substantiates his argument with several components.

First, Wenham hones in on the teachings of Paul and Jesus through a wide array of “tradition indicators,” verbal links, and similar-thought connections, paying special attention to the unifying theological elements between the two men (26-29). Both Paul and Jesus taught that (1) Jesus’ incarnation inaugurated the presence of God’s eschatological kingdom on earth, promised by the OT and to reach its consummation at his Parousia; (2) Jesus, God’s Son and the expected Davidic king, suffered “redemptively” on behalf of others through his cross-death; and (3) Jesus’ mission as Israel’s Messiah included the post-Easter celebration of God’s soteriological benefits encompassing the Gentiles, and thus the ingathering of an eschatological community zealous for fulfilling the Law through love wrought by the Spirit (chs. 2-7). Therefore, Wenham finds theological congruity between Paul and Jesus, a synthesis not hindered even by their differing expressions of these great truths.

Second, Wenham sets out to discover whether Paul was familiar with the complete “story” of Jesus, from his birth to his resurrection, or only Jesus’ teachings. The data shows that Paul knew something of Jesus’ birth and Davidic lineage (Rom 1:3; Gal 4:4), as Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospel traditions portray (338-43). There is a good case he knew of his baptism and connected it with entrance into the Christian community (344-48). Moreover, Paul was well aware of the disciples’ ministry under Jesus, some of Jesus’ miraculous healings, his humble lifestyle, and the nature of the transfiguration event (350-63). Most familiar to Paul from these traditions, however, were the events surrounding the Passion and resurrection narratives, both of which played a large role in shaping Paul’s theology and mission (363-71). Paul’s letters, then, indicate a large dependence on at least a Gospel tradition, if not several. Jesus’ life and ministry, therefore, was for Paul “common knowledge” (371).

Lastly, Wenham summarizes his interconnected findings and draws all-encompassing conclusions in order to answer the question with which he began his quest: Did Paul found Christianity, or follow Jesus? The evidence of the Jesus tradition(s) in Paul’s teachings surely points to the latter. Many differences do remain between Paul and Jesus; and the very few explicit references to Jesus’ life and ministry could cause disbelief in any unity at all. This, however, makes perfect sense for Wenham since Paul ministered post-Easter, following the commencement of the Gentile mission and the birth of many churches struggling to understand and live out Jesus’ teachings (378-80). Paul, therefore, presupposes the Jesus traditions in his letters and writes “to clarify what was unclear or disputed” (405). For Wenham, Paul was faithful to explain the truth of Jesus in new contexts with which he was involved (409). Without question, this identifies Paul as he would like to be remembered, “a slave of Jesus Christ [Gal 1:10-11], not the founder of Christianity” (410).

What does this mean, then, for our understanding between the Gospels, Acts, and Paul’s epistles in doing NT theology?

Wenham’s observations allow students of the NT, therefore, to link closely the teachings of Paul with those of Jesus instead of pitting them against one another. The Gospels’ testimony concerning Jesus is primarily foundational and assumed among the believing communities, while Paul’s epistles then become primarily instructive for the outworking of Gospel-truth within those communities. The people need to understand the soteriological and ecclesiological implications of Jesus’ life, cross-death, resurrection, and glorification. The testimony of Jesus, therefore, continues to be passed on within the Christian communities as Paul consciously writes Scripture to expound the Jesus tradition, clarify what may have been disputed, or rebuke those undermining its message. For NT theology, then, Paul’s epistles are explanatory and exhortative.