Tuesday, 19 September 2017

LJC S2 Part 10: Invocation and Confession of Jesus

In the last posts in our second series on Larry Hurtado's book, we looked at Jesus' role in the prayer of the earliest stages of the Christian movement, firstly with a summary of Hurtado's own content, and secondarily with my own concerns of mapping out a first-century form of trinitarianism, I wanted to highlight the Holy Spirit's perceived central place in the religious life of the community, including prayer.

Today is somewhat a continuation of the theme of prayer as Hurtado opens a section he calls Invocation and Confession of Jesus. On "invocation", you can practically hear the Old Testament thunder rumbling already (at least I do, as my work on my commentary on Joel continues slowly behind the scenes). Let's see, though what Hurtado's key points are in this section.

One great piece of textual evidence for dating this back to a pre-Greek phase (Aramaic), is the invocation of Maranatha, that is preserved in 1 Corinthians 16:22. Hurtado points out the lack of any need for Paul to translate this saying to his Corinthian recipients. He may overstate things by assigning this lack of need to translate to its place in a super-early liturgy.

On p. 141, Hurtado dips slightly into Christian-mode, I think, when he states: Such a corporate cultic appeal to Jesus simply has no analogy as a regular feature of any other known group connected to the jewish religious tradition of the time [ok so far], and it, too, indicates, public devotional life of early Christians in a way that is otherwise reserved for God. My emphasis. I get fidgety every time someone says that some kind of possessive usage of Lord - e.g. Come, Our Lord! - was reserved for God. We have frequently noted on this blog, and in part at the instigation of a couple of blog posts made by Hurtado himself (e.g. here) that the Septuagint translators' opting for the anarthrous LORD as a translation for the tetragrammaton of Yahweh, God's personal name given in Hebrew, is not compatible with "my, your, their, our" etc. All such forms of language are essentially with reference to a title, something which Yahweh was not. Further, the translators (the first Alexandrian wave in any case) were careful to maintain that distinction via the anarthrous use. For newcomers to the blog, what we are talking about here is something a little akin to "Pharoah" or "Caesar". It was a bit like a title, but since it was so attached to this one individual, LORD (as opposed to the LORD) functioned in a similar way (one exception was discussed on the blog - "LORD of hosts", which you can read more about in The Name of [the] LORD if you would like to find out more).

So is Hurtado about to cut some Kyrios corners here? Actually, he is headed to a well-known (to the first century Jews) text of 1 Enoch, which is an eschatological reference reframed to have Jesus coming with all his holy ones: And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones To execute judgement upon all, And to destroy all the ungodly. (Ch. 1v9) That is certainly extremely interesting that God's visitation in judgement would be reframed via his glorified Messiah, but it's perhaps a little strange to paint this systematic invocation or programmatic inclusion starting here. But we quickly arrive at the more familiar references of Romans 10:9-13 and its reference to Joel 2:32. Here we truly have something phenomenal, which I won't have time to expand on in today's post, but LORD's anarthrous usage is applied to or finds fulfilment in Jesus ( τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου ) !

Thursday, 14 September 2017

LJC S2 Part 9: Prayer - where was the Spirit?

In Part 8, we realised that a minority of passages during the canonical era included direct prayer or calling to the Lord Jesus, while reserving prime recipient to God (the Father) himself as the standard Christian pattern. I failed to note that no mention of the Holy Spirit was included in this section - an error on my part. Hurtado's focus is on the ultra-early explosion of Jesus devotion in a Jewish monotheistic context. My focus is on a first-century establishment of a triune hub mutation to the Jewish Christian faith, so the impetus is on me to spot that, research and expand as appropriate.

Since we are on Paul, we should be careful not to fall prey to an "under-realized eschatological perspective" (G. Fee, Paul, the Spirit and the People of God p. 141;), "for Paul prayer has been radically transformed by the coming of the Spirit" (idem. p. 146)" and "[t]he  beginning of Christian life is marked by the indwelling Spirit's crying out 'Abba' to God (Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15). On all occasions,' Paul urges elsewhere, 'ray in/by the Spirit'; this injunction applies to every form of prayer (Eph 6:18)." (idem. p. 146). This seems of utter importance to realise that the departed Lord Jesus has given this greatest gift that indeed permits that he and the Father might remain present with his people. Among his people. Literally, in their minds. It's literally mind-blowing! Imagine having a personal life-giving power within you that actually helps you to pray when your own words fail you?

I have to say that it is hard to write about the topic of prayer and the Holy Spirit's inclusion without becoming personally excited and involved!

Praying also gives way to praying in tongues, something else we know that Paul practised and is connected with a series of other spiritual gifts demonstrating the life of the eschatological people of God. Praying in this new way embraces the person's and the congregations' entire mind, it is transformational, it utterly embraces weakness and glorifies God and Christ in the wake of our own inability.

Definitely worth a mention, wouldn't you say?

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Big T Little t: It's time to call in the A-Team!

Remember The A Team? What a great show!

One of the great characters from that 90s classic was Mister T. You don't mess with Mister T!
Today I want to reflect again on Tuggy's dichotomy between little-t big-T, which continues to bug me. I have already blogged on the Jewish Roots of the Trinity and especially in my Responding to Dale Tuggy on Trinitarian Conceptualisation. Dale's amazing at showing distinction where there appears to be just mud. He's a trained analytic philosopher, he's just doing his job and doing it well. But there are problems in applying dichotomies across time and culture, especially with regards to this multi-personal God issue that has provoked so much inquiry in his own life and also in my own.

I've hinted at this before, but I'm going to emphasise it again now. Biblical Unitarians - to whom I owe so much and whom I love, at least those that I have had the privilege of meeting - are fully capable of accepting quite unaware the very fourth-century categories they so firmly oppose. Let me give you an illustration of what I mean. Not so long ago, I blogged quite a successful blog summary (What On Earth Has John Been Up To?) in which I included some of my next goals (one of those was a study on John the Baptist, which is already completed, hurrah). Believe it or not, my intuition about the Restitutio interview seems to have been pretty well dialled in - presenter Pastor Sean Finnegan read my blog summary hyperlinked above and has expressed interest in doing an interview. So, that plug aside (watch this space!), my point is that in preparing to speak to Sean I looked up a debate he did on Youtube way back in 2008ish, up against a Trinitarian. I didn't make it all the way through. It was the sort of debate that just makes you think how do those people even think that fast?! One sentence caught my attention, however, where Sean said something along the lines of: "no, I do not believe that Jesus is of the same essence as the Father". The same essence?

I should be careful here! Sean, you might even be reading this, so in maximum warp-speed 10 respect, please hear me right. I'm just trying to point out that it is very easy for any of us to take our opponents' categories for granted. Perhaps Sean wouldn't say that nine years later, either way, it doesn't matter for the purpose of this example. Back to Small T vs Big T.

Dale Tuggy's point is that "small-t" trinitarian refers to a triad. All "small-t" trinitarians are in fact, according to Dale's tightly defined definitions, biblical Unitarians. That is to say that God himself, remains one individual, no matter how much he and his actions are bound to his Son and his Spirit. Over the past year or so, I have come from a point of curiosity, through scepticism now to rejection on the possibility of some almighty conceptual switch. As I have understood the dichotomy thus far, the radical switch from Point A (God Is A Single Person Deity) to Point C (God Is A Three-Person Deity) shift is too great. As I stressed in my response to Dale, to which his response is still due at some point I hope, there has to be a Point B. That Point B is not adequately described as "biblical Unitarian". I'm sorry, but I find that almost as guilty as the back-projecting as some Trinitarians are in their own apologetics.

In my view, the whole perspective is upside down. It wants to start with ontology, which is precisely where Paul Ricoeur has warned us not to begin. If we begin there and disregard the goals, loyalties, injuries, politics, history and other stakes then we can miss important data - this data is so much more complex and nuanced its complexity and nuance require a more hermeneutic approach. It is this hermeneutic approach that says: how do we perceive? How do we conceptualise the seen realm and the unseen realm? If we do that, and we are able to factor in the historical probability of the first-century Christian mutation of Judaism having started to vocalise, ritualise and (although they did not know it) immortalise its "Triune Hub" via the baptismal rites, then we are released into realising that it is, in fact, the Triune God version of the Trinity that should receive the "small T", since it is interpretative of that which precedes it. It is, therefore, the earlier, Jewish-Christian expression and understanding from which it is developed is that which should truly bear the "Mister T" belt.

According to my own definitions, then, I think that makes me a Capital-T Trinitarian! It might frustrate, however, to realise that it is not in any way an outcome of a one-self or three-self decoding process of the ontology of God, since it begins with the social human psyche.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

LJC S2 Part 8: Prayer

THIS IS WHERE Hurtado's study gets up, close and personal, if we will let it. Why? Because: "Who did they pray to" is just a tiny step from "who do I pray to". Also, in ways surely never glimpsed by the disciples when they asked for assistance on how to pray to Jesus, the issue of how to pray seems complex when there are at least two, closely related potential recipients. So how does Paul handle it?

Paul's prayers seem to primarily aim for God, although as ever, Jesus is never far removed from view. In Romans 1, the prayer is even offered "through" Jesus. However, as Hurtado rightly notes, there are other occasions when both are addressed, such as 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13:

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

There are also petition moments that include Jesus, such as Paul's famous petition to the Lord Jesus for the removal of his "thorn" in 2 Corinthians 12. Fascinatingly, Hurtado also informs us that in the "unsuccessful mutations" of Christianity, direct prayers to Jesus are actually more prominent than in the canonical material, which seems to keep something of a balance. Hurtado concludes:

Overall, we get the impression of a remarkably well-established pattern of prayer in which Jesus features very prominently, either as recipient or as unique agent through whom prayer is offered. Moreover, there is simply no analogy in Roman-era Jewish groups for the characteristic linking of Jesus with God in the prayer practice reflected in Paul's letters. (p. 140)

You may have noticed that I have been treating God as a uni-personal individual. This is in keeping with Hurtado and, I strongly believe, with Paul. We also are clearly thin on Holy Spirit in this area, certainly as a recipient of prayer. That obviously does not mean that Paul dos not have a great deal to say about the Holy Spirit, and indeed sees the Sprit as interceding/praying for us in Rom 8.

Monday, 4 September 2017

LJC S2 Part 7: Paul assumes and does not criticise Christ-worship and Jesus centrality

In Part 6 we tracked the development of the Gentile inclusion process, from Peter addressing Jews from all nations in Acts 2, through understanding (and rejoicing) that non-Jews could be partakers in the great eschatological people via their legitimate receiving of God's great outpouring of his Spirit, to the eventual dawning in Galatians that the scope of Christ's salvation for his People of God was far wider - far greater - than Torah observance of circumcision.
Before advancing in Hurtado's chapter today in Paul, perhaps I could just add in the tension enhanced by Matthew's later addition in Matthew 5:18: "For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." (NIV). So, hopefully it is starting to become more obvious as we allow Hurtado to immerse us in the first-century world, just what a whopper of an issue male circumcision was to the flourishing Christian movement.

Remember how in Chapter 1 we surveyed Hurtado's general thesis? We looked at his four major reasons that helped shaped Christian worship the way it did, and I praised it for its clarity. We had (the rather epic) Jewish monotheism, Jesus himself, religious experience and the religious environment. Here now Hurtado dips briefly into this model and asserts that for Paul indeed Jesus was this ultimate model for Christian living: "Jesus also functions as the inspiring model of the ethical qualities that are to characterize the present life of the redeemed and of the eschatological outcome of their redemption as well." (p. 134)

The section I want to focus on today is simply entitled "Binitarian Worship". Readers might remember that in the first series I had a post entitled: What does Hurtado mean by "binitarian"? I don't want to re-hash all of that here, but I'd like to give a shout out to blog reader, Richard Wilson, who astutely pointed out in a comment he left on one post that Hurtado has distanced himself over the last decade or more separating us from this important 2003 publication Lord Jesus Christ over this term, preferring to speak these days more of "dyadic worship". This is indeed evidenced over the exchange I had with Hurtado concerning his differences with Dunn here and here, alsoace given to Jesus in Pauline Ch in the first series. Good spot Richard! This problem of quite how we describe this early Christian worship is indeed not satisfactorily solved by calling it "binitarian". Binitarian sounds a lot like trinitarian-minus-one. Trinitarianism itself suffers from a lot of ambiguity, but given its ultimate form of the Triune God, then we could indeed agree that Hurtado's move away from binitarian to be a good one. Our author is certainly not implying that for our first-century founders that God himself is binitarian, otherwise his use of "both" would be entirely redundant: "The christological material we have surveyed here reflects an impressive... place given to Jesus in Pauline Christianity. As Kreitzer and Richardson have shown, in Pauline Christianity we see a remarkable "overlap" in functions between God and Jesus, and also in the honorific rhetoric used to refer to them both." (p. 134)

What I can say in summary and in strong agreement with Hurtado throughout this part is to assert the following: Is it not extraordinary that in all of the Pauline correspondence, despite all the issues that he addresses, that the centrality of Jesus and his overlap in functions with God are never critiqued? Hurtado goes into some detail to attempt to demonstrate that this would have included the earliest, Aramaic-speaking followers of Jesus themselves.


I am particularly pleased with what follows. I am a bit of a stickler for detail, as my queries on the precise definition of "binitarian" have probably shown. This time, however, on the question of "Christ devotion", which is clearly demonstrated, Hurtado is going to take head on the challenge (particularly from the likes of Dunn) that this should not be overlapped with how we might define "worship". Does the devotion to Christ reflected in Paul's letters really amount to "worship" in the sense of reverence directed to a deity? (p. 137) Here, Hurtado throttles up to full power and unleashes dense summaries of a string of publications he has published over the years that demonstrate the unique and divine status and "programmatic inclusion" of Jesus alongside the one true God of the Israelites. He is able to compellingly sweep aside allusions to occasional alternative intertestamental Jewish figures who had received some honorific recognition, or some sort of emergence of Jesus in the pagan sense of the Roman religious context of the time, highlighting the consistent "constellations" of practices evidenced and assumed by this earliest extant Christian writer, Paul.

In my next  post, we'll see what Hurtado has to say about prayer in particular, which I hope should cause us who believe in Christ and the Father to reflect afresh about how we address them in light of the earliest Christian practice.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

LJC S2 Part 6: Hurray - *they* can become Jewish Christians too!

WHEREVER YOU ARE and whoever you are, you probably know the experience of being on the outside of a group you'd like to be in, or being comfortable in a group, perhaps with a certain role to play and being glad of it. Perhaps the group is quite informal or abides to strict rules. Perhaps there is a leader present to give guidance and instruction, even discipline, like the teacher in the class.

Group dynamics are a part of our way of life and have affected every human life on the planet since the dawn of our species. Today's post, number 6 in our second sequence on Larry Hurtado's 2003 book Lord Jesus Christ, is concerned precisely with religious group dynamics about who's in and who's out.

In this second chapter focussed on Paul, Hurtado reminds us that we are not examining a specific man's theology, but rather the kind of church communities that were supported by him (and vice versa), as he expands a chapter section he calls "Jesus' Redemptive Death and Resurrection".

Most folks know that one of the most defining aspects of the Christian message is that "Christ died for our sins", which is certainly not something that Paul came up with:

Everyone he is writing to obviously already believes in Jesus' redemptive death, resurrection and exaltation, and it gets "tucked away" into a good number of his exhortations or instructions etc., sometimes on quite different topics and often without expansion. Two major exceptions exist, however, but before we get to those, I need to share an insight about the "who's in in and who's out" revolution in the New Testament.

As I took a break from writing this post (the shower is always a great place for new insights I find!) I was struck with a deep urge to study Acts 11 afresh. As I did this I noticed two things.

Firstly, as I have taken for granted like most Christians do, I was reminded of the nonetheless profound discovery of Peter - gentiles are "in". Not only is their food "OK", but the true purifier and enabler, the Holy Spirit is just as freely given to the Gentile believers as the Jewish believers who rejoice (v. 18). It is very hard to describe quite how powerful a paradigm-shift that would have been, and indeed it seems to have needed this profound spiritual encounter in Acts 11 and direct command from the Lord (I presume Jesus) for Peter to grasp it.

But there is a second thing that I noticed. Imagine you are Peter and your heart has been broken about these outsiders, you now see them as your brothers and sisters and a sort of ancient, deep-rooted "racism" has just powerfully fallen from your eyes and dissolved into joy. We have nothing over them, we are all equally indebted to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, equally empowered by God through the precious sending of his Holy Spirit. WE ARE EQUALS. This still leaves the following possibility open: So, of course, they can get circumcised - they're "in" now! 

If we look even further back at the Pentecost described in Acts 2, whom is Peter addressing? They may well be people of different languages, but you can be clear on one thing - sorry to be so crude - there were probably few foreskins in that crowd. These were "fellow Jews" (v. 14), "Fellow Israelites" (v. 22, 29). That's why chapter 11 is after chapter 2, and it's chapter 11's unfinished business with regard to the terms of that wonderful new inclusion that gives rise to an important disagreement between Peter and Paul described in Galatians 2:11-14. Because of James' firm Jewish stance and Act's 11's unfinished business, Paul would attempt to lever Peter and his influence in Jerusalem back toward a fuller understanding of what Peter had already had revealed to him in part. The issue of circumcision may seem trivial to us now, but underneath it lay a huge theological question about the nature of salvation and Jesus' centrality that is far from trivial: The salvation is universal; his centrality is cosmic.

This, then, is how I propose we arrive at Hurtado's two exceptions to Paul's relative quiet on Jesus' redemption: Galatians and Romans. In Galatians, Paul describes his disagreement with Peter; In Romans, Paul is presenting his ministry more fully since he is writing to a church that he did not plant.

It is certainly worth noting that Paul presumes a familiarity with the idea that Christ’s death and resurrection are redemptive among the Roman Christians to whom this epistle is addressed, circles he had no role in founding, and that had been established at a very early point by other Jewish Christians who “were in Christ before I was” (such as Andronicus and Junia, Rom. 16: 7) (p. 129, emphasis mine)

In both the letters of Galatians and Romans, then, there are different contexts that both required a fuller treatment of God's redemption by Paul:

In both letters Paul explicates and defends the validity of his mission to Gentiles, and his message that all believers are redeemed through Christ, and so Gentiles are not required to supplement their conversion by observance of Torah. (p. 130)

As I already mentioned, the massive issue of "who's in and who's out" was clearly not yet fully resolved for the Galatian churches. For a lot of these Jewish followers of Christ, they could believe that Christ had borne their sins redemptively, even that he had been resurrected by God and now reigned on high at God's right hand, having sent the Holy Spirit to God's people to advance God's kingdom until Christ's climactic return. And some had had the insight that this included, not just Jews from all nations (as in Acts 2), but everyone is welcome to the Jewish Jesus club of being God's children. But:

Jewish = Circumcision = Torah observance = Insufficiency of God's salvific work in Christ + hindered access to Gentiles.

Hurtado conjectures interestingly that along with Peter, perhaps Paul himself too had had to seriously rethink his own position on this issue first as a Torah-abiding Jew (p. 131).

Friday, 25 August 2017

It all started with **B A P T I S M** (4): The Star Points To Another Who Points To Another

IF ANY FIRST-century historical individual could be credited with the largest pressure on the primitive Jewish Christians to adopt a form of trinitarian thinking, it would be the wilderness apocalyptic preacher known as "John the Baptist". It sounds kind of whacky, but it's true! Let's take a moment to recap our Journey thus far, in this the last of four instalments into John the Baptist, and why I reach this conclusion.

In Part 1, I just wanted to get straight to the point and offered 9 bullets that reconstruct how John's ministry was necessarily contrasted with Jesus' baptism with the Holy Spirit, and concluded: This trinitarian saying [trinitarian baptismal formula] was said over converts by Jewish Christians in the latter half of the first century as a part of their baptism rites, and the confusion was at last resolved. This mutation of Judaism had astarted to vocalise, ritualise and (although they did not know it) immortalise its "Triune Hub".

In Part 2, I wanted to demonstrate how significant John the Baptist was from a non-Christian source, the Jewish historian Josephus. Here John receives as much attention from Josephus as Jesus. He is understood to have had massive influence such that even that God himself would overturn Herod's army in vengeance against the execution of his beloved prophet, John.

In Part 3, I took on the problem of the date of John's death, which is problematic if you cross the gospels' chronology with that of Josephus, but also a good angle from which to look at how the portrayal may have developed over the later stages of the first century. Here I present, gospel author by gospel author, the portrayal of John the Baptist, noting first in Mark the basic events and assumed death of John and Luke's expanded version which includes John's own birth narrative alongside Jesus'. Then we saw that Matthew almost seems to take on the challenge against the Josephus chronology, integrating narrative that explicitly informs Jesus of John's tragic demise. Finally, we saw in John's gospel that the author simply allows Jesus to "steal the show", allowing John to slip from view once he has served his purpose to point to the light.

What I failed to note in looking at Matthew (and regular readers will know I have a special relationship with Matthew!), is the relevance of the date of Antiquities, where Josephus describes John's ministry and death. It was written no later than 94 AD, but possibly earlier. Given all the other late indicators I am seeing for Matthew, I would suggest that this over-emphasis on Jesus' interaction with John's death is a firm contribution to a composition date of Matthew around the 90s close to John. It obviously contributes to the strong consensus that composition by the disciple Matthew is very unlikely.

Another thing we didn't do was look at the passages in Acts that refer to him. We'll not lose too much time on them individually now, as there are actually 9 of them, but they really do consistently echo what we have been saying all along: the contrast between the two main first-century Jewish figures, and that John points to Jesus. For that to mean something big so much decades later, can only mean that John's ministry continued to make a huge splash in Judea and beyond for decades.

Thus, regardless of when John really died, John's memory is dedicated to being that of a star player that nonetheless pointed to the hero and saviour of all, Jesus Christ, the inaugurator of the new Eschatological Age of the Spirit! It is with these ideas in mind that I called this last part: The Star Points To Another Who Points To Another.

Thank you for following the journey, blessings.

For reference, those 9 bullets again, followed by all New Testament references to John.
  • John's impact was really very big indeed and his renown mid-first-century may have been comparable with Jesus', see for example Apollos' of Alexandria's familiarity with his ministry in Acts chapter 18 and Paul's encounter with 12 disciples in Ephesus in the following chapter.
  • A clear historical relationship connects these major first-century Jewish players of John and Jesus; some credible scholars, have Jesus first being John's disciple before starting his own movement.
  • We have no texts of any followers of John.
  • For Jesus followers, Jesus has to be bigger and better than John. If John was great, and Jesus much greater than him. This could only have contributed to his final exalted status.
  • Contrary to popular Christian apologetics, killing a leader does not necessarily kill off the sect he started unless he is resurrected. John is solid proof of that. 
  • John and Jesus are firmly differentiated on the following grounds:
    • the Christ was more successfully understood to have really been raised back to life, unlike the rumours that surrounded a resurrection for John, 
    • John's humility seems genuine and may indeed have heralded the coming Messiah, turning down offers of honour, recognition and prestige (which ironically had the opposite effect), while Jesus combined humility and the messiahship,
    • Jesus baptised with the Holy Spirit; John baptised with water.
  • Since both martyrs were hugely influential baptisers and their ministries overlapped, their baptisms (and order of death) were at times confused.
  • Someone, somewhere, decided: enough is enough and came up with the threefold baptismal formula to clear it up once and for all. This may have been the author of Matthew's gospel, (whom I strongly believe wrote later than Luke and Acts, which bear witness to the confusion), or it may have been the author of the part of the Didache that also contains the baptism formula. Since both those sources are Jewish, that someone was almost certainly a strongly Jewish Christian (leader). 
  • Conclusion: This trinitarian saying was said over converts by Jewish Christians in the latter half of the first century as a part of their baptism rites, and the confusion was at last resolved. This mutation of Judaism had started to vocalise, ritualise and (although they did not know it) immortalise its "Triune Hub".

New Testament References