canon sense

"every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Month: March, 2013

the real circumcision

In Philippians 3 Paul contrast two groups.  There are those who walk according to his example (τύπον) and there are those who walk as enemies of the cross of Christ (τοὺς ἐχθροὺς τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῦ Χριστοῦ).  The language Paul uses is very interesting.

It is not entirely clear who these “enemies” are that Paul has in mind, but many think that he is referring to the Judaizers of 3:2 (i.e., those who mutilate their flesh, which is a pejorative way of saying circumcision).  In other words, Paul’s biggest opponents were not pagans, but religious folk.

If it is the Judaizers that Paul has in mind, then two thing are worth noting.  First, confidence in the flesh (i.e., circumcision, nationality and pedigree) is no different then serving ones own appetite.  Second, Paul inverts the cultural narrative of his day, as he shows the contrast between glorying in the cross versus glorying in ones own shame (i.e., putting confidence in the flesh).  The irony obviously being that the cross is a symbol of shame in Greco-Roman culture.

The overall point being, that if one embraces the shame of the cross (what Jesus embraced for our salvation) it is to their glory, while the one who embraces the glory of some particular culture (circumcision, food laws, etc.) it becomes ones shame.  In other words, the self-generating identity that we so often seek to build through social advancement, status, intelligence, degrees, food, etc., is ultimately rubbish/poop (σκύβαλα) when compared to life in Christ.

Ultimately for Paul, the real circumcision put no confidence in flesh, but rather glory in Christ Jesus.  They have a righteousness that is not gained, earned or calculated through merit (or through being culturally acceptable) but rather is gained through faith in Christ alone.  In the end, the real circumcision see that it is better to suffer the loss of all things in order to gain Christ, than to gain all things and ultimately suffer without him.

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House of Gold- Patty Griffin covering Hank Williams

People steal, they cheat and lie
For wealth and what it will buy
Don’t they know on judgement day
Gold and silver will melt away

I’d rather be in a deep, dark grave
And know that my poor soul was saved
Than to live in this world in a house of gold
And deny my God and doom my soul

What good is gold and silver too
When your heart’s not good and true
Sinner hear me when I say
Fall down on your knees and pray

I’d rather be in a deep, dark grave
And know that my poor soul was saved
Than to live in this world in a house of gold
And deny my God and doom my soul

Was Jesus political?

According to John 11, the authorities in Jerusalem feared that Rome would come and take away their place (temple) and nation (semi-autonomous status).  It seems Jesus was perceived as a political threat because his stirring of the crowds might lead the Romans to see Israel as bad for civil order.  Therefore the leaders in Jerusalem saw Jesus as a threat to their security.

In synagoge and temple, Jesus spoke to the crowds about the coming kingdom of God. As well, through miracles of healing, exorcisms, and subversive teaching, Jesus was leading Israel out of her wilderness like existence (she had returned home but politically and spiritually was still in exile) and into her Eden like calling where she was to represent the reign and rule of God to the Gentiles.

By using titles like Son of Man and conjuring up the eschatological hopes tied to the Son of David and the Son of God, Jesus led many to believe that he was inaugurating the kingdom Israel had been waiting for.  So most certainly he would have been seen as political.   And the truth is, Jesus was inaugurating the kingdom Israel had been waiting for, but he was doing it in a way they did not expect or like.  Jesus knew himself to be the Messiah, Israel’s eschatological deliverer, but not the sort of Messiah popularly expected.

His message was one of faith and repentance, as he called Israel to adopt his way of being Israel (faith) and turn from her way of being Israel (repentance).  He called people to have faith in him and to take up their cross (which could mean losing Roman security and being rejected by Rome) and to follow him in order to become the new Adam who would represent God to the nations.  Through the meager 12, Israel’s original calling was now being renewed in Jesus.

Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God sought to shift the people’s hopes away from their distorted national allegiance (we are true Israel) and their boastful boundary markers (circumcision and food laws), which were never meant to be signs they boasted in, but evidence of their election and their special calling.  Jesus called people to trust him even though he was going to die.  Because in three days, the new Adam, the new Israel would be resurrected and God would once again be on mission to redeem the nations.

Christology and Methodology

Does the Old Testament foreshadow a high Christology?  Was Israel expecting a divine Messiah?  These are a couple of the questions I am hoping to tackle in my thesis.  If postmetaphysical theology has taught us anything it is that we are to build our Christology not upon the metaphysics of Aristotle and subsequent Greek philosophy, but upon the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  Yet I realize that any methodology wanting to be completely Scriptural, that is, seeking to avoid all metaphysical speculation, is not without serious challenges.  Biblical fidelity requires phenomonological self-awareness in its grasp for the “pure”.  So one needs nuance and must be willing to move forward in a non-reactionary, non-captive, yet catholic way. A good methodology can appreciate and learn from the past while still moving forward.

Adolph von Harnack, for example,  governed by historical concerns and convinced he could uncover the true essence of Christianity, sought to find a Christology that was rid of all Hellenized influence.  Yet this Hellenization thesis he advocated was ultimately dubbed a complete failure (James Barr, et al.) In fact, Stephen Long, contra Harnack, speaks of the Christianization of Hellenism rather than the hellenizing of Christianity.[1] Yet Harnack’s impulse was a good one, just built on a very bad foundation.

So if the Hellenization thesis taught us anything, according to its failure, it is that Greek and Hebraic thought are not two realities that can be clearly parsed, but rather were the inevitable (providentially guided) coalescing of two worlds, each challenging and informing the other, whether that be for good or for ill.

In the end, a truly biblical Christology must allow for two things. One, a belief in the incarnation, even if the OT does not provide the clear typico-prophetic patterns to go to back to and say, aha, this is what this was saying all along (though I think the fact of YHWH’s coming in an unexpected way is clearly seen throughout the OT). Second, allow for the OT to govern our Christology, not only typologically and prophetically, but also, historically and socio-politically.  Docetism still lingers in the background if we fail to situate Jesus in his actual first-century context, born of woman, born under the law.

Currently though, for me, the burden of constructing a high Christology from the Old Testament is that particular titles in their original context (especially Son of God) seem to have an adoptionistic overtone, similar to those found in the ANE (king, son, servant, etc.).  How do you get from this adoption formula to a non-adoptionistic Christology?

My thesis is going to try to push through some of this stuff by using Psalm 2 and to see how it was used in the subsequent literature of the OT (Isaiah for example), Second Temple Judaism, and the NT.


[1] pg. 183 of Speaking of God… D. Stephen Long

Wright on Daniel 7

Wright’s understanding of the “one like a son of man” eschews any literal socio-historical connection or ontological speculation (i.e., metaphysical representation.)  He argues that just as the monsters represent (in the literary sense) enemy nations, so the “one like a son of man” should be understood in a literary fashion.  This literary representation is key for Wright’s interpretation.  Following Morna Hooker, Wright notes that this symbol is “pregnant with the meaning of Genesis 2, evoking the idea of the people of God as the true humanity and the pagan nations as the animals.” [1] According to Wright, a first century Jew would have seen in Daniel 7 the human figure representing Israel (son of man/true humanity) who after suffering at the hands of pagans (animals/false humanity) is about to be vindicated.

On the surface then, Daniel 7 shows us that the “son of man” is not trying to denote a transcendent heavenly figure or angel or literal historical figure, but rather as literary representation.

So in the final analysis, the “one like a son of man” is the one who represents the saints of the most high and who is promised vindication.  Son of man is a title loaded with the hope of victory, vindication and dominion.  So when Jesus uses this title to refer to himself he is not announcing that he is divine (though he is), or that he will literally float on a cloud, but rather, he is cryptically announcing that the Ancient of Days will surely vindicate his cause.


[1] New Testament and People of God, Page 296