The Putrefied Priesthood of Jesus’ Day, or Why Mark’s Gospel Calls for a New Priest

karsten-wurth-inf1783-65075-unsplash.jpgIn his excellent book The Cross from a Distance: Atonement in Mark’s Gospel, Peter Bolt shows how religion in Jesus day had soured. In one footnote, he surveys the whole Gospel to show repeated instances of religion gone bad.

I share the note in full because it helps us to see what false religion looks like, what Jesus had to contend against in his day, and what we should avoid as new creatures in Christ. As Bolt puts it, “Mark exposes religion as having multiple faults.” He then lists more than fifteen different evidences of priestly malpractice:cross Continue reading

“Whatever You Ask in Prayer”: A Christ-Centered Re-Reading of a Commonly Misused Verse

rob-bye-103200-unsplash“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
— Matthew 21:22 —

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer,
believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
— Mark 11:24 —

In my high school year book, my senior quote was from Jesus: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Young in my faith but zealous, I was learning how to follow Christ and this verse seemed to be an appropriate way to express my devotion. Not to mention, it marked something of my eighteen-year-old theology: If I put my mind to it, Jesus could do anything.

In subsequent years, I’ve seen that my introduction to Christ came through various shades of moralistic, therapeutic deism with splashes of the Bible mixed in. I believed in God, the Bible, the historical death and resurrection, and my need for salvation, but I really didn’t understand the logic of the gospel—even though I believed in Christ crucified.

I believe God, in his unspeakable kindness, used a psychologically-slanted message of salvation to create in me a simple trust in Jesus. In a way that only a sovereign God could design, he planted the truth of Christ’s preciousness in my heart, even if it would take some time to see the darker lines of the gospel—namely God’s absolute holiness, my absolute need for atonement, and that faith included a dying to self and living for his glory (in a word, repentance is part of saving faith).

For me, college served as a crash course in theology, where the doctrines of grace began to redraw my earlier understanding of Christ and salvation. But before college, I believed Christ came to save me from hell and to help me fulfill my life’s purposes. After all I had found verses that said as much—Matthew 21:22 and Mark 11:24 being prime examples.

So, in my misguided zeal, I quoted Mark 11:24, a verse that I think many people misunderstand. Continue reading

Seeing the Grace of Christ (Better) Through the Chiasm of Mark 6:7–8:30

luke-palmer-305434Chiasms are the beeessstt!
— Nacho the Librarian —

If the name Nacho is unfamiliar, I’m not sure I can or should help. But if the word chiasm is equally enigmatic, let me encourage you to do some reading on the subject. It will pay huge dividends in your reading of Scripture.

Here’s why: Chiasms are a literary device often used by biblical authors, who seek to emphasize certain points in their writing. Because Hebrew Prophets and New Testament Apostles wrote without B, I, U on their keyboards, they had to make use of other devices to stress emphasis. And following from the repetitive nature of Scripture (see Peter Gentry, How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophetsch. 3), chiasms became a regular way biblical authors made their points. On chiasms, Gentry writes,

The word chiasm comes from the letter . . . chi (X), . . .where the top half of the letter is mirrored in the bottom half. If an author an author has three topics and repeats each on twice in the pattern C B A :: C’ B’ A’, the second cycle or repetition is a mirror image of the first arrangement.

A nice example is found in Isaiah 6:10, where Yahweh explains what will happen during Isaiah’s long ministry of preaching:

Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed. (46–47)

This way of writing fills the Scriptures. And growing disciples of God’s Word must learn how to identify such structures (and how to reject fanciful literary creations of the modern interpreters that are not in Scripture). Still, more often than not, when we find repetitions in Scripture, they are there to help identify the main points of the author. Thus, rather than being some esoteric approach to Scripture, seeing the structures of the biblical authors is a necessary and vital for understanding the message of Scripture.

Thus, I share the following outline of Mark 6:7–8:30, a section of Mark’s Gospel that identifies Jesus as the Christ. By paying attention to Mark’s literary structure, I contend we can better understand who Christ is and how disciples of Christ come to know him as Lord.  Continue reading

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.