An Anchor for the Soul

[This article was originally featured in our hometown newspaper, The Seymour Tribune].

What does God promise his children?  Help for today?  Eternal life for the future? Healing from disease? A boat for the lake?

How we answer these questions will determine how we approach life and God. Our prayers, our plans, and our personal finances will reflect our answer, or non-answer, to this question: What does God promise those who believe in him?

Hebrews 6:19 gives one answer.  In a sermonic letter given to first century Jews, the author of Hebrews states, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.”  Using imagery from the Old Testament, this statement conveys an idea of security and access that God gives to those who continue to trust in Christ.

Notice a couple things.  First, the anchor is sure and steadfast.  Unlike the insurance plans or storm shelters we buy for our protection, this anchor comes without any riders or restrictions.  Indeed, it is not a thing which might break; it is a divine person whose pierced hands hold those who believe on him (John 10:29-30).

Second, the anchor is connected behind the curtain.  This curtain refers to the temple veil that hid the presence of God from the Jewish priests in first century Jerusalem.  Thus, while Jesus was fully human, the fact that he could freely pass behind the veil speaks of his eternal deity.

Indeed, Jesus was not merely a spiritual person who had a special access to God.  He was God in the flesh, which means that as the anchor of the Christian’s soul, his grip on humanity was secure as he was human, and his hold on heaven was as strong as he was divine.  In short, Jesus will stop being human or cease being God before his anchor fails.

Third, the anchor tethers the soul—not the body—to an eternal hope.  This is critical because it seems that sometimes God lets, even brings, storms into our calm waters.  In these moments, we are tempted to re-read the fine print to find out what we have done wrong.  We forget that God is forging an eternal soul with temporary means.

In fact, nowhere in God’s agreement does he promise placid seas.  Just the opposite: “Through many tribulations will you enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  He tells his followers that it will be hard (John 16:33), but he also promises that he will anchor our souls.

This is the promise that he makes to those who believe in him.  He promises his presence today and resurrection tomorrow.  Even when the ships in your fleet are sinking, he promises to be the anchor of your soul.   This is the kind of promise he makes to believers, and he never breaks his word.

 

Who Is Jesus?

Who is Jesus?

In his commentary, Exodus: Saved For God’s Glory, Philip Graham Ryken gives an excellent answer to this essential question.  Notice how he uses the typology of Exodus with its people, language, events, and descriptions to explain who Christ is.

Jesus is the Moses of our salvation, the mediator who goes for us before God.  Jesus is the Lamb of our Passover, the sacrifice for our sins.  Jesus is our way out of Egypt, the deliverer who baptizes us in the sea of his grace.  Jesus is our bread in the wilderness, the provider who gives us what we need for daily life.  Jesus is our voice form the mountain, declaring his law for our lives. Jesus is the altar of our burning, through whom we offer praise up to God.  Jesus is the light of our lampstand, the source of our life and light.  Jesus is the basin of our cleansing, the sanctifier of our souls.  Jesus is our great High Priest, who prays for us at the altar of incense.  And Jesus is the blood on the mercy seat, the atonement that reconciles us to God.  The great God of the exodus has saved us in Jesus Christ.

This is our Christ  He is understood not in the romantic views of our own making, but rather he is known through the revelation of God’s word.  Moreover, he is known from the descriptions of the Old Testament.  This means that failure to know the Old Testament necessitates an inability to know who Jesus the Christ is.

May we continue to press into the text of the Bible–Old and New Testaments–to see him!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Ways of Our God: God’s Servant (2)

In the second section of The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology, Charles Scobie turns from the theology proper, creation, and the history of spiritual warfare in section one to the person and work of Jesus Christ in section two.  Instead of providing a thorough summary, let me point out some of the highs and lows.

6. The Messiah:  Scobie outlines five charateristic offices of the servant of God–namely Moses, prophet, priest, king, and sage.  These offices were first established in history before they were fulfilled in Christ.  Yet, before the advent of Jesus Christ and his ultimate fulfillment there seems to be a pattern of failure that escalated the hopes of the coming Messiah.  This idea of escalation is not unique to Scobie, but his recognition of this pattern is appreciable.   The high point for me in chapter 6 was Scobie’s edifying examination of the ways in which Jesus Christ fulfilled the OT figures in similar but superior ways.  One of the best chapters in the book.

7. The Son of Man: Whereas chapter 6 discussed some of the functional offices of the Christ, chapter 7 focuses on the usage of ‘Son of Man.’  Scobie picks up the Adamic referrences here showing how Jesus is the second Adam, and he shows how he is the fulfillment of the vision in Daniel 7.   Moreover, Scobie shows how Jesus comes to represent the true humanity of God.  Moving from Israel to Remnant to The Twelve Disciples to Jesus, he shows how history narrows to Jesus Christ as the single faithful Jew who is qualified to receive the promises of God.  It is worthy to note however, that Scobie misplaces the twelve, for they should probably go on the other side of Jesus.  In other words, the Twelve are as the reconstituted twelve tribes, function as the foundation of the New Testament, not the last vestige of Old Testament Israel.  So while they may serve a place in the narrowing process of history to point up Jesus as the one son of God, they should be more carefully placed after Jesus, as the firstfruits of the new creation.

8. Glory, Word, Wisdom, and Son:  This is a very illuminating chapter concerning OT adumbrations fulfilled in Christ.  Each of these four major themes (Glory, Word, Wisdom, and Sonship) prepares the way for the incarnation of the second member of the Godhead, Jesus Christ.  In truth, Jesus fulfills and exceeds each of these attributes/personifications of God in the OT.  It is worthwhile to meditate on how the presentations of glory, the word, wisdom, and sonship in the OT do and do not foreshadow Jesus Christ–and by ‘do not’ I mean that the Son’s incarnation outstrips all previous possibilities of hypostasis, or distinctions with God, in the Old Testament (cf. Dan. 7:13-14; Isa. 63:8-10).  Finally, I must say that this chapter did begin to evidence the prevailing weakness of this book, namely the unwillingness to examine theological issues at levels that go beyond the surface of the text. For instance, in response to the question, “Is Jesus God?” Scobie balks (395, 398ff).  His inability to affirm this metaphysical reality shows one of the weaknesses of his BT which sidesteps matters of critical theological debate.  He makes the evasive move to only say what Scripture says without defending the implications of what the Scriptures say.  There is a constant appeal to BT in Scobie’s work that he uses when he comes across a textual problem or divisive doctrine.  While I appreciate his ‘textuality,’ in this case the texts demand an answer.  Jesus is God. 

9. The Servant’s Suffering: Chapter 9 moves from the person of Christ to his work.  On page 403 Scobie writes, “In the OT there emerges what we may call a ‘profile’ of the ideal servant of God.  While embodied to varying degrees in specific historical individuals, the “Suffering Servant” is portrayed especially in certain psalms and in the “Servant Songs” of Isaiah.”  Scobie’s chapter helpfully outlines the common experience of God’s servants, showing that Jesus Christ is the ultimate servant, one who suffers and dies to ransom a people for God.  He bases his chapter not just on a limited word study but on a ‘servant pattern’ that emerges in the Bible where God’s servants, Jesus in particular, are “called and chosen by God and obedient, fulfilling his God-given mission.  He is misunderstood and mocked, suffers and dies; yet he is vindicated by God, and his death and resurrection have profound significance for Israel and for the naitons” (417).  This aspect of the chapter is very, very good.  So is Scobie’s multi-thematic understanding of Jesus’ atonement, where he defends propitiation and the substitutionary nature of the atonement.  However, the glaring abberation in this chapter is Scobie’s advocacy of ‘post-mortem evangelism.’   Scobie argues here (434) and later (540) that all people will get another chance to respond to the gospel after they die.  He bases this on 1 Pet. 4:6 and Rev. 14:6-7 (536), but fails to see the finality of death in verses like Hebrews 9:27 which reads, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

10. The Servant’s Vindication:  Finally, Scobie develops the pattern of vindication experienced by the servants of God in OT, in the life of Jesus, and in the life of believers who are united to Christ’s death and resurrection.  Unfortunately, Scobie spends little time developing the idea of vindication from the OT–only six paltry pages (441-46).  In the more substantial work on Christ’s resurrection he helpfully unpacks the fourfold meaning of Christ’s resurrection, ascension, session (being seated with Christ), and Lordship.  In this last section, he provides a helpful discussion of Christ’s Lordship in the lives of individuals, in the church, and in creation.  Unfortunately, like the discussion concerning Christ’s deity, Scobie again waffles on the evidential nature of the resurrection.  While he does not deny it, he is unwilling to affirm an evidential argument–based on eyewitness testimony–for the reality of the resurrection.  The resurrection, in Scobie’s view, is a matter of faith to be believed and less an event to be proved.  Sadly this splinters faith from history. Apparently, we are justified to believe in such an account, but we are not required to argue for its veracity. 

Overall, Scobie has some very helpful discussions on matters like the OT types that lead to biblical understanding of the Messiah and recognizing a servant pattern in the Scripture that helps develop a biblical understanding of what Christ accomplished in death.  Yet, in reading this section it becomes more apparent that Scobie and I do not share many biblical-theological convictions.  His work is to be commended for its breadth and synthesis of the biblical material.  However, in terms of analyzing and articulating many doctrines, The Ways of Our God shows itself to be theologically amiss.   Scobie does well in collecting and setting the biblical material; he just does not do equally well in explaining its theological difficulties.

We will pick up this point in the next post.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Will the real Jesus please stand up?!

Today Kevin DeYoung summarized his message from this year’s Next Conference. In his message on the “Life of Christ” he includes a thought-provoking and sadly revealing list of Jesus makeovers found throughout the bulging corridors of American evangelicalism.  Some of the false Jesuses on his list include Republican Jesus, Democrat Jesus, Therapist Jesus, Starbucks Jesus, Open-Minded Jesus, Touchdown Jesus… Hippie Jesus, Yuppie Jesus, and on it goes. 

In place of these extrabiblical examples, DeYoung turns to the language of biblical promise and fulfillment to describe who Jesus is.  Instead of painting a velvet Elvis, fad Jesus to enforce any number of partisan policies, DeYoung simply turns to the Bible to say that the Messiah is

the Son of David and Abraham’s chosen seed, the one to deliver us from captivity, the goal of the Mosaic law, Yahweh in the flesh, the one to establish God’s reign and rule, the one to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, freedom to the prisoners and proclaim good news to the poor, the lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world…

He embodied the covenant, fulfilled the commandments, and reversed the curse. This Jesus is the Christ that God spoke of to the serpent, the Christ prefigured to Noah in the flood, the Christ promised to Abraham, the Christ prophesied through Balaam before the Moabites, the Christ guaranteed to Moses before he died, the Christ promised to David when he was king, the Christ revealed to Isaiah as a suffering servant, the Christ predicted through the prophets and prepared for through John the Baptist.

Reading this catena of descriptions, I was reminded of the simple fact that apart from the Bible in general and the Old Testament in particular, we cannot know Jesus as the Christ.  Just to name the name of Jesus is not enough.  Even to simply quote an isolated verse, “Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” may not be enough, if this verse is removed from its canonical context and antecedent meaning.  The question that has to be asked then is, “Which Jesus are you talking about?”

In a world of competing Jesuses, Kevin DeYoung calls us back to a biblical portrait of Jesus, so that we might not confuse Jesus the Christ with Jesus the brand name, Jesus the salesman, or Jesus the talisman.  May we endeavor more to know the Christ of the Bible and the Bible which all points to Christ.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss


 

King David: The High Point of Old Testament Typology

For the last few weeks I have been considering the subject of typology and Christology in the OT, asking the question: Is there a progressive and increasing nature to the conception of typology in the Old Testament?  Looking particularly at personal types of Christ in the OT (i.e. Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, etc…), I believe that there is an element in which the mediatorial leaders marked out by the Spirit in the OT do in fact show more and more likeness to the Christ as redemptive history moves forward towards Christ.  So that, we can say that David depicts Christ in a more full way than does Abraham or Adam.   That is my hypothesis, at least. 

I have found some very illuminating and helpful contributions to this subject, but perhaps no more succinct and enriching as Herman Bavinck’s consideration of David as the highpoint of OT typology (and Christology).  He writes in general of typology,

The Old Testament does not contain just a few isolated messianic texts; on the contrary, the entire Old Testament dispensation with its leading persons, and events, its offices and institutions, its laws and ceremonies, is a pointer to and movement toward the fulfillment in the New Testament (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ [trans. J. Vriend; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006], 243).

Then he highlights Davidic typology as the zenith of the OT revelation for the person of Christ to come,

Especially the office of king achieved such typical [i.e. typological] significance in Israel.  The theocratic king, embodied especially in David with his humble beginnings, many sided experience of life, deep emotions, poetic disposition, unflinching courage, and brilliant victories, was a Son of God (2 Sam. 7:14; Pss. 2:6-7; 89:27), the anointed one par excellence (Pss. 2:2; 18:50).  People wished for him all kinds of physical and spiritual blessings (Pss. 2:8f; 21, 45, 72), and he was even addressed as “Elohim” (Ps. 45:6).  The king is the bearer of the highest–of divine–dignity on earth.  Theocratic kingship…found its purest embodiment in David; for that reason the kingship will remain in his house (2 Sam. 7:8-16).  This promise to David, accordingly, is the foundation and center of all subsequent expectation and prophecy (244).

Bavinck’s comprehensive survey of Davidic typology affirms what the entire OT is seeking demonstrate–the coming of a Davidic son who will reign on the throne.  From Genesis to 1-2 Samuel, the Spirit of Christ is inspiring Biblical writers to anticipate David:  The covenantal promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob point to the emergence of mighty king (Gen. 17:6, 16; 35:11; 49:9-12); Deuteronomy 17 makes legal preparations for the rule of this king; Numbers 24:15-24 announces a scepter who will rise from Israel who will rule over the nations; in Judges the nation of Israel spirals out of control without a king in Israel (21:25); while the book of Ruth chronicles YHWH’s providential control of history that results in a Davidic genealogy (4:18-22).  Moreover, when David comes onto the seen in 1-2 Samuel (and Chronicles), his life is a divinely-intended adumbration of the Christ who is to come.  In this, the account of David’s life is genuinely historical.  Yet, all the while, it typifies the life of Christ to come.

In his treatment of this subject, Bavinck arrticulates how preexilic and postexilic prophets develop this Davidic typology.  Moving from the historic David to the more excellent prophecies about his greater Son, Bavinck points out that the prophecies consistently take on a Davidic shape, 

Prophecy, which is added to interpret typology, looks out from the past and present to the future and ever more clearly portrays the — to be expected — son of David in his person and work.  To the degree that kingship in Israel and Judah answered less to the idea of it, to that degree prophecy took up the promise of 2 Samuel 7 and clung to it (Amos 9:11; Hosea 1:11; 3:5; Mic. 5:1-2; Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1-2, 10; Jer. 23:5; 30:9; 33:17, 20-22, 26; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:22-24).  This anointed king will arise from the dynasty of David when–in utter decay and thrust from the throne–it will resemble a hewn trunk (Isa. 11:1-2; Mic. 5:1-2; Ezek. 17:22).  God will cause him to grow as a branch from David’s house (Jer. 23:5-6; 33:14-17), so that he himself will bear the name “Branch” (Zech. 3:8; 6:12).  Despite his humble birth, he will be the true and authentic theocratic king.  Coming from despised little Dethlehem, where the royal house od Savid origniated and to which, driven from the throne, it withdrew (Mic. 5:2; cf. 3:12; 4:8, 13), the Messiah will nevertheless be a ruler over Israel; his origins as ruler–proceeding from God–go back to the distant past, to the days of old.  He is God-given, an eternal king, bears the name Wonderful, Counselor, mighty God (cf. Isa. 10:21; Deut. 10:17; Jer. 32:18), everlasting Father (for his people), Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6-7).  He is anointed with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and courage, of knowledge and the fear of the Lord (Isa. 11:2) and laid as a tested, precious foundation stone in Zion (Isa. 28:16).  He is just victorious, meek, a king riding on a donkey; as king he isnot proud of his power but sustained by God (Jer. 33:17, 20, 22, 26; Zech. 9:9f.), a king whom the people call and acknowledge as “the Lord our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6f–cf. 33:16, where Jerusalem is called the city in which Yahweh causes his righteous to dwell).  he will be a warrior like David, and his house will be like God, like the angel of the Lord who at the time of the exodus led Israel’s army (Zech. 12:8; cf. Mal. 3:1).  He will reign forever; found a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and prosperity; and also extend his domain over the Gentiles to the ends of the earth (Pss. 2, 45, 72; Ezek. 37:25; Zech. 6:13; 9:10; etc.) (244-45).

All in all, I believe that the entire OT finds organic, covenantal ties (historically) and inscripturated revelation (textually) that point to or build off David’s person and kingdom.  Resultantly, it seems legitimate to conclude that one of the reasons why Jesus can say that all Scripture speaks of him (John 5:39), is because of David’s central role in the canon of the OT.  Since Jesus is the greater David, he fulfills in a more exalted way, the mediatorial role (i.e. prophet, priest, and king) lived out by Israel’s first true king, thus fulfilling the typological life of David in the OT, as well as all the other covenantal mediators in th OT.  In this way, David is the greatest personal type of Christ in the Old Testament, or at least that is what I am arguing.  Would love to hear your thoughts.

If this Davidic typology peaks your interest, I encourage you to listen or read  Jim Hamilton’s “The Typology of David’s Rise to Power: Messianic Patterns in the Book of Samuel.”

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Bauckham’s Jesus and The God of Israel (pt. 2): Other Studies in NT Christology

Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

Chapters 2-8

Chapter 2 was first published in Out of Egypt, volume 5 in the Scripture and Hermeneutics series, and addresses the “problems of monotheism” in recent interpretation. Bauckham spends over twenty pages addressing current opponents of biblical monotheism (i.e. Nathan McDonald: monotheism as an organizing principle (Enlightenment); Robert Gnuse: monotheism as evolutionary model (history of religions)), and then appeals to early sources and the biblical canon to show how monotheism is understood biblically. Scripture reserves unique and unparalleled language for God. Moving from Old to New, Bauckham shows how NT texts like Rom. 28-30; 1 Cor. 8:1-6; John 10:30 use monotheistic texts from the OT in ways that preserve the singular nature of God and yet expand the application to include the identity of Jesus.

Chapters 3-5 consider three biblical concepts or themes that relate to the topic of monotheism and Jesus identity. Chapter 3 makes the case that El Elyon is not akin to the gods of Greek mythology, who exist in some kind of pantheon or divine council. Rather in the biblical witness, El Elyon refers to the God who is utterly transcendent, unique, and solely Divine. Bauckham distinguishes between ‘exclusive’ and ‘inclusive’ monotheism (108), and proves from texts like Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and other Jewish literature that the God of Israel is exclusively God. Moving from uniqueness in name and identity to uniqueness in worship, Bauckham considers the worship of Jesus in chapter 4. Since worship is absolutely reserved for God alone (cf. Ex. 20:1-3), it would be forbidden for Jesus to receive worship unless he was God. Bauckham points this out and then describes the historical records to prove how the early church unanimously worshiped Christ, proving again the mutual identification of Jesus and God. Finally, in chapter 5, Bauckham considers the “throne of God and the worship of Jesus.” Like in the last chapter, worship of Jesus proves his identification with God, but now Bauckham goes a step further highlighting the way Jesus shares in God’s throne. Speaking of Daniel 7, he writes, “the Son of Man participates in God’s unique sovereignty, and accordingly portrays him seated on the divine throne” (170). This OT vision is corroborated by the New Testament’s unique use of Psalm 110 and John’s apocalypse, where both indicate a kind of shared throne. Bauckham’s conclusion is that this again proves his thesis.

Finally, chapters 6-8 each look at a different NT author and the way they worked out Jesus divine identity. Chapter 6 looks at the apostle Paul; chapter 7 examines Hebrews; and chapter 8 finishes with a study of Mark. With Paul, Bauckham finds that his interpretations are unique and unprecedented in antecedent Jewish literature. Therefore, the kind of exegetical method he employed is not appropriated from his culture, but was revealed to him—probably on the road to Damascus, certainly by the Spirit of Christ. This interpretive novelty resulted in theological formulations of Christ’s divine Sonship that transcend Jewish contemporaries. The book of Hebrews is no different. From the “full divinity of the Lord” described in the opening chapters, to the heavenly mediation of his priesthood, to the simple ascription of Jesus unchanging nature (13:8), all of Hebrews points to Jesus identity as God. In chapter 8, Bauckham concludes with a brief exegetical consideration of Mark’s portrayal of the passion. He concludes once more that Jesus is identified with God in the book and that this theme reaches its zenith at the cross, where ironically as God fades in view, God’s son is revealing the very heart of God—“self-giving love.”[1]

In the end, there are points where Bauckham overstates his case and the steady drum he beats becomes drone-like.  Yet, this weakness only complements his greatest strength, which is convincingly proving his point and expounding his thesis—“the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity” (19).  The reader, this one at least, comes away from the book feeling very compelled by his argument–Jesus shares the Divine Identity with the Father.  (I must insert here that Andrew Chester, in his book Messiah and Exaltation, is less convinced than this reader by some of Bauckham’s handling of Jewish literature–no doubt because he knows this material much better than I.  See Jim Hamilton’s book review, especially his notes on chapter 2, for a synopsis–or take out a loan and buy the book, $200+).

In all his biblical research, his arguments touch on many systematic doctrines—Christology, Theology Proper, and Theological Hermeneutics, being a few—yet, staying in his field of expertise, he has not interfaced his conclusions with doctrinal formulation. In this way, his conclusions seem to be most directed toward the biblical exegete. Therefore, there is much that can and should be done with this data to integrate it with other more philosophical and theoretical Christologies. Applications for Trinitarian research and theological method are only two possibilities. Moreover, how does the Holy Spirit fit into the paradigm?  And, how does this Christology of identity interface or improve functional and ontic Christologies?  Bauckham wants to dismiss these categories, I would prefer to reform/inform with more biblical data.

On the whole, Bauckham’s book is a fine work. He is a meticulous scholar, whose biblical theological insights are well-researched and spiritually-enriching. I look forward to the completion of his project on this subject.


[1] Here again, I hesitate, because I am not sure what Bauckham is saying about God (i.e. Theology Proper). Much of his language does not distinguish God the Father and God the Son; it only speaks of God and Jesus. This kind of generic language for the cross is unhelpful, because it was God the Son, alone, who died on the cross. Ironically, while Bauckham, in his whole presentation, is comparing Jesus to God, I recall little Trinitarian notions of Son and Father. It is primarily Jesus (the man) and God (the divine).  But I will not fault him greatly, because his work is intentionally exegetical, not systematic.

Bauckham’s Jesus and The God of Israel (1): God Crucified

Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

Chapter 1: God Crucified

Richard Bauckham is an insightful and well-published New Testament scholar from the United Kingdom. In Jesus and the God of Israel, he expands his shorter 1998 work, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament. Yet, this current volume is still not the detailed work he promised in the preface to his early work. Instead, it is a set “of working papers on the way on the way to that book” (xi). Nevertheless, its contents richly defend and develop the thesis of God Crucified, which states “that the highest possible Christology—the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity—was central to the faith of the early church even before any of the New Testament writings were written, since it occurs in all of them” (19). The rest of the book goes on to explicate this thesis and to prove its truthfulness from many New Testament authors with answers to many contemporary objections. (Today we are only addressing the first chapter).

In chapter 1, Bauckham raises the debated question: How did Jewish monotheism coexist with or evolve into New Testament Christology? To introduce his subject, Bauckham highlights two contemporary approaches to answering this question. The more traditional approach maintains “strict” monotheism, but has minimized the claims of Christ in the New Testament, while revisionist approaches expand divinity to include “intermediary figures” who possess a “semi-divine status” (2).  The latter approach affirms Jesus deity, along with a host of other supernatural beings.  Bauckham contends against both methods. While agreeing with the notion of strict monotheism, he does not conclude that Jesus is somehow lesser. The goal of the whole book is to show Jesus divine uniqueness.

The first section of the chapter is spent tracing the historic “strict” monotheism of Second Temple Judaism and the way in which intermediaries function. His historic analysis shows its divergence with New Testament Christology, and sets up the second part of his introductory argument.  In section two of “God Crucified,” Bauckham advances an approach built on the progressively revealed, mutual identity of YHWH and Jesus Christ. He writes of this approach:

I shall concentrate on illustrating a way of reading the texts which puts the whole question of the character of the New Testament Christology in a new light. In this argument, the understanding of Jewish monotheism which I have propsed will funation as the hermeneutical key to understanding the way I which the New Testament tests relate Jesus Christ to the one God of Jewish monotheism… In this way, they develop a kind of Christological monotheism which is fully continuous with early Jewish monotheism, but distinctive in the way it sees Jesus Christ himself as intrinsic to the identity of the unique God (19).

With this framework in place, Bauckham moves through the second section (and really the rest of the book) showing how Christ takes on the identity of Israel’s God. At the end of the section, after testing biblical texts against his “hermeneutical key,” Bauckham posits “identity” as the way to go forward in Christological formulation. Against functional and ontic Christologies, he contends:

A Christology of divine identity will take us, I suggest, beyond the fundamentally misleading contrast between ‘functional’ and ‘ontic’ Christology as categories for reading the New Testament texts. In my view, these categories have proved inadequate to the task of illuminating the texts, not least because they do not reflect an adequate understanding of the way Jewish monotheism understood God (30).

This appeal to identity leads into Bauckham’s third and final section in chapter 1, where he argues that God’s identity is revealed in Jesus Christ in new and greater ways than the Old Testament. Still, in this new revelation the veracity and consistency of the Old Testament revelation is unquestioned. The God of Israel who revealed himself in the Exodus has now become the God of Jesus Christ, and the God who is Jesus Christ, who is revealed most completely on the cross (52-53).[1] Bauckham calls this kind of divine recapitulation, “consistency and novelty,” and it proves very useful in putting the OT monotheism together with NT Christology and Trinitarian thought.

The rest of the book builds on this opening chapter, thus the reason why so much attention has been given to it here. However, even before moving on, there are two questions that arise from Bauckham’s model. First, how much is his chapter, “God Crucified,” shaped by Moltmann’s book of similar name, The Crucified God? Is it possible that the God that Bauckham describes, while being clearly monotheistic, is yet a panentheistic God (cf. John Cooper, The Other God of the Philosophers)? I am totally supportive of understanding the God of Israel through the full revelation of Jesus Christ (cf. Heb. 1:1-3), but when he begins to appeal to theologians like Moltmann who make the cross to be the place where Deity dies and reveals himself, I hesitate. 

Second, is his dismissal of functional and ontic Christology necessary and/or helpful? Perhaps for NT exegesis it is helpful to delimit Christology to identification, but for systematic theology, these questions cannot be ignored. Even if at points we admit uncertainty or ineffability, we still are within our epistemic rights to ask questions and make assertions of function and ontology. Overall then, his attention to divine identity is helpful and, as he demonstrates in chapters 2-8, exegetically faithful and theological fruitful…but (and this is the theologian coming out) this YHWH-Christ identification must help us formulate ontological and functional components of Christology as well, not deny them carte blanche.

On the whole, I think Bauckham’s proposal is very helpful.  We will pick up the rest of the book tomorrow.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss


[1] Bauckham goes on to appeal to Luther’s “theology of the cross” and Moltmann’s The Crucified God as representatives of this kind of thought, namely that God has revealed himself most completely in Jesus’ death.

Gathercole’s The Preexistent Son: Excellent Exegesis, Transcendent Theology, and a Methodological Model

Gathercole, Simon. The Pre-Existent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006.

In The Pre-Existent Son, British New Testament scholar, Simon Gathercole, makes a convincing exegetical argument for Christ’s pre-existence as the eternal Son of God in the synoptic gospels. As he puts it, “The really controversial point to be made in this book is that the preexistence of Christ—which he defines as ‘the life of the Son prior to his birth’—can be found in the Synoptic Gospels” (1, emphasis his). The significance of his research is that Matthew, Mark, and Luke have been regarded by scholars as possessing a lower Christology than John, Hebrews, or Revelation. His aim is to argue against this notion and prove exegetically that the Synoptics possess a high Christology. His method is four-fold: 1) historically, he argues that Paul’s influence promoted pre-existence; 2) textually, the “I have come” + purpose statements indicate a heavenly preexistence; 3) theologically, he surveys the terrain of wisdom Christology; and 4) lexically, he examines four Christological titles (messiah, Lord, Son of man, Son of God) searching for evidence for pre-existence.

In Chapter 1, Gathercole aims to prove that preexistence was commonplace in early Christianity and should be “expected” in the writings of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He appeals to Paul, the letter to the Hebrews, and Jude to make a simple background argument that the notion of preexistence was already extant. Continuing his background work in chapter 2, Gathercole “[offers] evidence that the Synoptic Gospels present Jesus as a transcendent, heavenly divine figure” (46). Appealing to the heaven-earth and Creator-creation distinctions found in these three books (47), Gathercole overwhelms the reader with evidence for Jesus transcendence and primes the pump for his next section.

Chapters 3-7 unfold the centerpiece of Gathercole’s argument. Chapter 3 introduces his thesis that the “I have come” + purpose statements are the primary evidence for pre-existence in the synoptic gospels. In chapters 4-6, Gathercole defends his thesis against potential defeaters. He summarizes on page 87:

  • None of the other scholarly options [i.e. the idiom of a prophet; merely an aramaic idiom, locative reference to Nazareth; simply the words of a leader] can be considered plausible (chapter 4).
  • The ‘I have come’ + purpose formula of the Gospels is most clearly, and most abundantly, paralleled in the announcement of angels of their comings from heaven (chapter 5)
  • The preexistence interpretation is confirmed by the content and literary context—in particular, the heavenly and dynamic features (chapter 6)

Gathercole denotes the similarities and differences between angelic visitations and Christ’s coming to earth in chapter 5.[1] Then in chapter 6, he posits a “new reading” of the “I have come” + purpose formula, basically asserting that the ‘cosmic scope’ (i.e. heaven to earth) and the ‘dynamic movement’ (i.e. the salvific intention to save, to ransom, to preach, etc) find their best understanding in the pre-existence of the Son (149ff). Gathercole adds support to his findings in Chapter 7 as he surveys those references which speak of Divine ‘sending.’ On their own, Gathercole does not think they constitute a belief in pre-existence, but taken together with the “I have come” + purpose statements, they add weight to the claim.

In section three (chapters 8-9), Gathercole critiques the prevalent notion today of wisdom Christology and argues from Matthew 23:37, a text with allusions to wisdom literature, that the Son of God is preexistent. Against wisdom Christology, he explains that the feminine, created, and anti-personal attributions of wisdom do not comport with the eternal, person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, wisdom cannot advocate pre-existence on its own, while doing justice to the New Testament vision of Jesus. Instead, Gathercole quotes Jesus words in Matthew, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how long I have desired to gather your children” (23:37), and shows how this quotation with its wisdom parallels attests to Jesus as “a trans-historical figure” (211-14).

Finally, in chapters 10-13, Gathercole considers whether the four titles—Messiah, Lord, Son of Man, Son of God—connote preexistence. Drawing particular attention to Luke 1:78, he asserts that “Messiah” in the Synoptics is more than simply royal, Davidic language; rather, like Melchizedek, the anointed one does not find his origin on earth—Jesus comes from heaven. Similarly, like YHWH in the OT, Jesus comes down to visit the earth.

Concerning the language of “Lordship,” he shows convincingly that OT references to YHWH are applied to Jesus and that instances of Father-Son conversation are heavenly court conversation. He concludes by asking if these evidences do not point to preexistence. From each gospel, Gathercole shows how the “Son of Man” is linked into the eternal purposes of redemption (Mark 10:45; Matt. 20:28; Luke 19:10). Moreover, in Matthew the predominate kingdom motif shows the son of man as an eternal king in conjunction with an eternal kingdom (6:10; 25:34). Finally, concerning “Son of God,” Gathercole shows how the age-old spiritual beings, Satan and his demons, and God himself address Jesus with knowledge that extends to the heavenly places. The former do this at the temptation and in direct confrontation; the latter does this at Jesus’ baptism and the transfiguration.

Overall, The Pre-existent Son presents the historic Christian position that Jesus of Nazareth existed eternally before he was born of the flesh. In this, it will find a sympathetic reading from Bible-believing Christians and will hopefully give academic skeptics something to chew on. The lasting value Gathercole’s work is not in anything novel or innovative, but in its painstaking and precise exegetical detail. It bolsters confidence in God’s word and shows attention to nuanced details of Scripture result in powerful presentations of doctrine. Likewise, his attention to the early Synoptics helps convince readers that the Christological doctrine of preexistence did not materialize later; it was always a part of the faith. In this way, Gathercole destroys any notion that preexistence is reserved for John and his gospel, while at the same time, he illustrates how high Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Christology really is. Moreover, Gathercole’s method of argumentation is exemplary. In his thorough treatment of the subject, our trans-Atlantic brother has shown us how to craft an argument and how exegetical-theological research ought to be done.

Selah.

After writing the book review, it hit me that as important as it is to consider arguments about pre-existence, it is more edifying and soul-enriching to consider the Pre-Existent One Himself. 

Dwelling on the One in whom the fullness of God dwelled bodily (Col. 2:9) enlarges the mind and quickens the heart.  It is far more spiritually salubrious that simply assessing theological polemics and regurgitating the thoughts of others.  For Christ’s Pre-existence means is truly unfathomable.  It is a truth that we can believe, but one we will never fully grasp.  He had no beginning.  God the Son is autotheos.  Thus, his incarnation is all the more majestic. 

So, as much as I am thankful for Gathercole’s treatment of the subject of Pre-Existence of the Incarnate Word, I am even more thankful for the almighty, omnipotent, indomitable truth that Jesus Christ (God in the flesh) existed from all eternity and coming into time, he has promised to be our eternal mediator to approach God the Father.  We can trust that because, he is eternally God, full of grace and truth, eternally powerful and able to save.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss


[1] For the record, Gathercole does not promote an angel-Christology. Rather, he cites their origin and their sender to demonstrate that like angels, Jesus Christ the Pre-existent Son of God is coming from heaven at the sending of the Father.

Worship Tests Truth :: Doctrine Determines Doxology

In Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the God of Israel (2008), the British NT scholar quotes John MacIntrye to make his final appeal that the worship of Jesus in the early church signifies a first-century consensus that Jesus was God, and that the notion of Jewish monotheism included Jesus.  Though Bauckham’s presentation deals with the history of theology, his point bears personal inquiry and application for those in the church today.  Here is the illuminating quote:

[We] shall not be satisfied with any christological analysis which eliminates from its conception of who he [Jesus Christ] is all valid basis for an attitude of worship to him.  It is on this very score that humanistic interpretations [read: the Jesus Seminar, Protestant liberalism, and strands of the emergent church] of the person of Jesus Christ fail, that they present to us someone who cannot sustain human worship; admiration, perhaps, even a sense of wonder at the courage he had in the face of danger and death, but never worship.  That is given only to God.

Theology that does not purify and empower doxology is false!  For worship is a telling litmus test for doctrine; and the veracity of any truth-claim must always generate worship.  Remember, believers worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24), and if our worship is weak, the cause may be the truths we believe.

Sadly, this worship-doctrine connection is often overlooked.  Many Christians have substandard beliefs about God and wonder why they struggle to have a quiet time.  They assume that their failing worship requires a newer and more sensational experience, but in truth, their hunger for God lags, because they have tasted vaporous imitations and turn again to empty substitutes.  Moreover, they, we, buy into the latest fads in evangelicalism, without considering how these new spiritualities of theological notions might impact their worship.  But as we are created to worship, surely, true truth must convince the mind and move the heart. 

So, the next time you encounter something about Jesus the Christ, ask yourself, is this a vision of God that will fuel my worship.  If the answer cannot be quickly affirmed, reconsidered the matter, and take pause before buying into the speaker, the system, or the soundbite.  Instead, return to the Scriptures to see the inspired revelation of God, Jesus Christ, who is the glorious Son of God, the eternal lamb, the desire of the nations, and the only one who can sustain a lifetime of white-hot worship.  Fill your heart with truths about Jesus, for nothing else will satisfy (cf. John 10:10).

May our worship purify our theology, and may all of our theology fuel worship.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Hapax Legomena? Six Resources to Help Read Biblical Literature Better

This weekend, September 26-28, Bethlehem Baptist Church will be hosting Desiring God’s National Conference for Pastors.  This years plenary sessions will discuss “The Power of Words and the Wonder of God.”  This is a grand subject and one that I look forward to considering more as the MP3’s become available.  Why?  Because the Words of God are the Words of Life, and while they are sufficient for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4) and clear to the Spiritual man (1 Cor. 2:14-16; cf.  Deut. 29:29), they are not equally accessible.  In other words, reading the Bible requires a renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:1-2), able teachers (Eph. 4:11), and Spirit-empowered study (2 Tim. 2:7).  Just ask Peter about the difficulty of Paul’s writing (2 Peter 3:16).

The words of the Bible are not the only difficulty however in ascertaining a proper reading of Scripture.  Language employed to discuss the Bible can also be difficult.  When was the last time you were reading or listening to something about the Bible and got tripped up by unfamiliar langage–things like hypostatic union, pericope, or hapax legomena.  A dictionary sidebar or a parenthetical explanation might be helpful.  Biblical scholars and students of the Scripture have adopted a bevy of words, phrases, and descriptions to synthesize larger concepts and ideas.  Stepping into this river midstream can seem intimidating to the novice interpreter or the young Christian.  Hopefully what follows may help.

Spurred by Chad Knudson’s ‘Biblical Theological Glossary’, I have linked a number of cites that may be of assistance in reading the Bible better by having handy resources to give simple definitions of key terms and concepts in biblical theology, systematic theology, historical christology, archaeology, etc.  I hope these resources are helpful.  If you know of others, let me know and I will update the list.

Theological Word of the Day : A daily blog that provides helpful words, terms, and ideas in theology.  You can sign up to receive RSS feeds, or you can go to their website and browse previous terms.  Consider it a theological dictionary.com.

The Road to Emmaus Glossary: A short list of biblical-theological definitions for those beginning to study the Scripture’s diachronically.

Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology: This book is a helpful resource for biblical theology, and the whole of its contents can be found online.

Biblical Archaeology Glossary: Lots of terms about the history and exploration of biblical archaeology.

Biblical Studies Glossary: Contains many definitions and descriptions of terms and words associated with biblical interpretation, theology, and Church history.

Christological Dictionary: A helpful list of historical events, people, and discussions that helped formulate the Christology of the church leading up to Chalcedon.  (See also the Chart for Christological Heresies)

Sola Deo Gloria, dss