Wednesday, May 31, 2006 

Resurrection Oddities I

I've decided to do some random posts every now and then on certain idiosyncrasies dealing with resurrection. The first example deals with a Rabbinic attempt to explain which part of the body the Most High will utilize to resurrect the person. No doubt behind this explanation is also a slight apologetic attempt to deal with circumstances where a Jew's body had been mangled or almost entirely destroyed. Enjoy.

"Hadrian-may his bones rot-asked R. Joshua b. Hannaniah, "From what part in the body will the Holy One, blessed be he, make a person sprout up in the age to come?" He said to him, "He will make him sprout out of the nut (coccyx bone) of the spinal column." He said to him, "How do you know this?" He said to him, "Bring one to me, and I will explain it to you." He put it (the coccyx bone) into the fire, yet it did not burn up. He put it into water, yet it did not dissolve. He pulverized it between millstones, yet it was not crushed. He put it on a block and smashed it with a hammer. The block split, the hammer broke, yet it (the coccyx bone) remained undamaged." (Gen. Rab. 28:3)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 

Neo-Gnosticism in the Church

Sorry guys for my lack of posting the last few days, but the weekends never provide a good opportunity to post since it is my busiest time of the week. Plus, this particular weekend I was out of town, so, apologies.

I have just finished reading Oskar Skarsaune's In the Shadow of the Temple. Since it occured to me the other day that I probably give too many reviews on the books I read, I'm not going to give a review here except to say that overall the book is an entertaining read and deals with the persistence of Jewish influences on Christianity into the third century. My main criticism of Skarsaune's work is that he is way too uncritical of his sources such as Josephus, Eusebius, and others.

But when I was reading Skarsaune's section on Gnosticism and Marcion it dawned on me that many lay believers and pastors, especially those of an evangelical mode, are practicing a form of gnosticism today. Now, obviously, Christians today do not hold to the nonsense of these Gnostic systems such as an obsession with the various aeons, the notion of a pleroma, the belief that the god of the OT is an evil creator god, that Jesus did not really come in the flesh, etc. However, what is interesting is that many do, whether they realize it or not practice many other tenets of gnosticism. There are at least three things many believers today hold in common with Gnosticism:

1.) An understanding of the material world as evil and its corollary that all things spiritual are good. Thus radically spiritualizing many aspects of the gospel message.

2.) The belief that Jesus' purpose in coming to earth was to save their "soul" (divine spark) so that when they die, that "soul" (spark) can ascend to heaven to be with Jesus forever. (in other words, the divine spark ascends back to the pleroma)

3.) As a result of point number two, denying (unconciously and mostly ignorantly) the future resurrection of the dead, since it is the saving of the "soul" that is the main concern.

The following is a typical conversation that I've had with many Christians:

Me: "What is the gospel?"

Them: "That Jesus came to earth, died on the cross for my sins and that if I accept him as my Saviour I'll be saved."

Me: "What do you mean by saved? Exactly what does this salvation entail?"

Them: "Well, Jesus died for my sins so that I can go to heaven when I die?"

Me: "Go to heaven? What do you mean?"

Them: "Jesus' death on the cross provides the salvation for my soul so that my soul can go to heaven when I die."

Me: "Is that it? So that your soul can go to heaven? This is how your're saved?"

Them: "Well, yes. Isn't that what you believe?"

It's at this point that I try to explain that they have misunderstood the Christian hope, that they have collapsed the intermediate phase into the final phase of salvation. They've replaced the final hope of "resurrection" with the intermediate dwelling of the "soul." I then proceed to read and interpret 1 Corinthians 15 to them. It is amazing that many of these people that I encounter do not even know that this chapter exists in the Bible . Am I the only one that keeps running into this false soteriology and eschatology?

They are in effect doing precisely what the Gnostics did, denying the future resurrection of the dead. As Skarsaune observes (p. 256), this was a serious matter for the early Christians. To deny the resurrection of the dead was to deny the Creator God.

Now this is obviously a matter more of ignorance than it is of deliberate heresy. Yet, this is still problematic. What is happening is that most believers are not getting proper teaching from their church leaders. And apparently just reading your Bible as many of these believers assert they do doesn't help since everytime I'm told this I promptly proceed to inquire about the doctrine of salvation and almost always get that watered down verision of the gospel being: Jesus died for my sins so that I can go to heaven when I die.

In my opinion this is incomplete Christianity, yet this is the kind of Christianity practiced by the average believer. Now I do not think this is due to stupidity but rather to many of our church leaders not exercising the effort to teach properly. The doctrine of the future resurrection is not something hidden to only scholars. But the result of not teaching this to the lay believer has led to a kind of Neo-Gnosticism among many evangelical churches today.

Thursday, May 25, 2006 

Dale C. Allison and The Gospel of Matthew

Dale C. Allison is one of the premiere, if not the premiere scholar on the gospel of Matthew today. Well known is his three volume set on Matthew in the International Critical Commentary coauthored with his mentor W. D. Davies (though the majority of the work is Allison's). Unfortunately, the commentaries are pretty expensive and are definitely not intended for the lay reader. Those who haven't had at least two years of Greek will have a hard time reading and utilizing this commentary series.

But Allison has published a book entitled Studies in Matthew which functions as a sort of companion volume to his ICC commentary. It is definitely much more accessible for the lay reader who does not have the time nor the academic training to wade through the more indepth ICC volumes. I have just finished it myself and was as usual not disappointed.

The book is divided into two sections. The first section takes certain passages or phrases within the Gospel of Matthew and seeks to provide illumination on them by looking at some of the patristic literature whichAllison rightly points out has been neglected in modern biblical studies. Why this neglect? Dale Allison answers:

"As the literature in the field of biblical studies continues to grow at dismaying rate, we may be increasingly tempted to ignore old writers. How can one keep up with what is going on now if one is still catching up with what went on then-if one is spending time, let us , with books from the fourth or sixteenth centuries? Have not all the good observations and plausible hypotheses been passed down from book to book and from generation to generation and so on to us? We may be disinclined to pay the past keen attention because we are under the illusion that exegesis progresses like the hard sciences. Who among us would read a physics textbook from 1919? Surely today's work makes yesterday's obsolete, so that we do not really have to bother much with writers who have expired. Such a restricted vision, such a condescending attitude toward the past, however, impoverishes exegesis..." (p. 117)

Thus Allison seeks to remedy this by exhibiting some examples of interpretations of certain passages in Matthew from the exegetical past. For example, Allison shows how the earlier commentators were probably correct in their interpretation that the Magi's "star" was probably meant to indicate an angel and not an actually star according to our modern concept that remain inanimate. Other examples include an interpretation of "seeing God" in Matt. 5.8 as referring to actually viewing an embodied deity, Matt. 5:21-25 as an intertextual reference to the Genesis narrative concerning Cain and Abel and others.

Section two of this work concerns various literary and historical issues pertaining to the First Gospel. Here Allison tackles certain questions such as whether or not Matthew was writing a biography of Jesus, what the structure of Matthew is, how to interpret the first two words in Matthew, and much more. He has a lengthy chapter dealing with the structure of the Sermon on the Mount. Since literary studies is a weakpoint of mine this was the most difficult chapter for me to comprehend. At times it seemed like Allison was pressing things a bit too far in trying to formulate a tightly compact structure for the Sermon on the mount. However, since I have not had any training in literary criticism or its cognate disciplines I do not know if this is a valid critique.

The best and most enlightening parts of the book for me were Allison's chapter on the various foreshadowing motifs of the passion and resurrection in the Gospel narrative and the last chapter which dealt with Matthew's theodicy. In particular, Allison convincingly argued that Matt. 10:30 does not refer, as commonly asserted, to God's will or his providence but rather to his knowledge and by inference, the ignorance of humanity in comparison to that knowledge. Says Allison:

"Exgetes have gone astray by reading verse 30 as though it were just a poetic variant of verse 29 ("Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father"). Verse 29 is about God's will, verse 30 about God's knowledge. "the hairs of their head", as has laways been recognized, a divine passive: "(your hairs) are all counted (by God)." The verse then refers to hairs in a way reminiscent of other texts that refer to the stars or to the sands of the sea, namely, in order to stress God's knowledge or human ignorance." (p. 261)

Allison has written a wonderful companion to his ICC commentary series. For those of you who do not have the time or training to read that commentary, this is a good alternative for understanding some of Allison's methodological methods and exegetical insights. Allison is one of the best scholars today in the areas of the historical Jesus and the Gospel of Matthew. I cannot wait for the day when he takes on Pauline scholarship.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006 

The Christology of the Da Vinci Code

Yesterday, at the behest of a friend, I went and viewed the Da Vinci Code. Overall, I felt that the movie was entertaining even though the performances of the principal protagonists were uninspiring and flat, namely the characters of Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks) and the character of Sophie Neveau (I do not recall who plays her). But most everyone knows the story by now and so I am not going to give a review of the film, nor am I going to point out the erroneous historical claims the movie and book make. This has been done time and time again. (For a concise list of some of these false historical assertions see Michael Barber's post here.)

I want to deal, rather, with the reasons why the Da Vinci Code (hereafter, abbreviated DVC) perturbs some Christians. The issue has to do primarily with the Christological, both implict and explicit, claims that the movie makes. Chiefly, DVC offers a very human Jesus who married and had children with Mary Magdalene and whose divinity was imposed upon by Constantine at the Council of Nicea. Now, obviously, this latter assertion is historical nonsense. Proof that many of the followers of Jesus began to view Jesus as divine crop up abundantly even within some of the NT documents themselves, most being dated in the first century. But for the sake of argument, let's say that Jesus did in fact marry and produced offspring with Mary Magdalene. Would this destroy the very foundation of Christianity as the character, Teabing (played by the wonderful Ian Mckellan), claims, because it would emphasize Jesus' mortal nature?

Absolutely not. For one thing, on a trivial level, the gospel, that is the good news, is not that "Jesus is Divine" therefore he couldn't have married and had children, but rather, "this man, Jesus of Nazareth who died for our sins, God raised from the dead." It is by believing in this good news that we are saved (or properly speaking, being saved). But even if we grant that Jesus' divinity is the very ground of the gospel, would his marrying and having kids nullify this? I still do not think so. One of the major creeds that so many Christians claim to adopt says this about this man from Nazareth who God raised from the dead:

"Following, then, the holy fathers, we unite in teaching all
men to confess the one and only Son, our Lord Jesus
Christ. This selfsame one is perfect both in deity and in humanness; this selfsame one is also actually God
and actually man, with a rational soul
{meaning human soul} and a body.

He is of the same reality as God as far as his deity is
concerned and of the same reality as we ourselves
as far as his humanness is concerned; thus like us in
all respects, sin only excepted.
Before time began he was begotten of the Father, in
respect of his deity, and now in these "last days," for
us and behalf of our salvation, this selfsame one was
born of Mary the virgin, who is God-bearer in respect
of his humanness
." (Creed from Chalcedon)

The creed affirms that Jesus was both God and Man, fully, and that these two natures:

"are not divided or cut into two persons, but are
together the one and only and only-begotten Word
{Logos} of God, the Lord Jesus Christ

The creed of Chalcedon has been a staple of Christian "orthodox" belief for centuries. It asserts that Jesus was, mysteriously, both fully God and fully man without the disruption of the two natures. Most believers affirm this creed. But I would submit that deep down, many of us unconsiously say to ourselves that, yes, Jesus was human, but surely he was more divine than human. Surely, then, Jesus could not have possibly married and engaged in (gasp!) sexual intercourse.

What is striking is that though many of us today, even many modern Catholics, have left behind the predominately medieval false notion that sex is evil, we still operate with the unconcious assumption that, though maybe not evil, the act of sex is at least less pure than celibacy. And like the Rabbis who while affirming that all Israel would have a share in the world to come, subsequently lists those groups of Jews who will not have a share in that world to come, we affirm Jesus' full humanity and then proceed to give a list of human attributes that should not be associated with Jesus such as sin, marriage, sex, mistakes, etc, lest this somehow degrade what is really important, Jesus' divinity. Whether we like it or not, and no matter how much we affirm Jesus' humanity in, say his suffering, his humanity in subtle ways will always be subsumed within his divinity (though this is precisely what the Chalcedonean creed is trying not to do) in Christian practice.

And so we cringe and we complain when a story or movie like the DVC comes along and asserts the possibility that Jesus was human in so far as he married and had children. "No!", we cry, "Jesus was divine and so could not have possibly had children!" But this does not necessarily follow. If we are to remain true to our creed, then the possibility that Jesus could have had children should not destroy our assertion that he was divine. Nothing warrants this conclusion.

All of this displays, however, the tendancy of Christianity to emphasis Jesus' divinity over his humanity. Oh, again, we may well assert that both are equally important, but, as responses to the DVC code have exhibited, our own praxis points to a different conclusion.

I remember well how uneasy I felt reading Dale C. Allison's Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet and its conclusion that Jesus was simply in error thinking that the end of his age was about to occur very soon. Up to that moment I had struggled with passages like Mark 13 and ended up adopting the Caird/Wright view that passages like these were simply metaphorical devices utilized to point to the future destruction of the temple in 70 AD. But Allison's work convinced me that this was wrong exegesis. Thus I was stuck with a Jesus who made a mistake. I remember sitting there, asking myself, why did this trouble me? It was then that I realized I was doing exactly what I've just accused many Christians of doing, namely, of secretly elevating Jesus' divinity over his humanity. The idea that Jesus erred was troubling because it might entail that Jesus was not fully divine. But the more and more I reflected upon this, I began to see that it did not follow that if Jesus was mistaken he was not fully divine as well. The Chalcedonean creed itself allows for only one exception, namely, sin and not error, marriage, sex, having children, or anything else.

Now I myself do not believe that Jesus married and had children. There is no proof nor any evidence that such was the case. But even if he did, the very foundations of Christianity would not be shattered since to assert, along with Chalcedon that Jesus was fully divine and fully human would be to leave open the possibility that Jesus could have married and had children without thereby impugning on his divinity nor destroying Christianity itself.

Monday, May 22, 2006 

"Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People" Part 2

Unfortunately, the second part of Sanders' book, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, that deals with Paul's relationship to his fellow Jews is much shorter than the section on the law. I suppose this is understandable given the various problems associated with developing a comprehensive Pauline view on the law. In fact, Sanders' provides his own justification for the brevity of this section:

"If the attempt to respond to them (the questions arising from Paul's thought about the Jewish people) takes less space than was spent on the law, it is not because the problems are less momentous or less difficult, but because there are fewer passages and there is wider agreement about them." (p. 171, parenthetical comment added)

Nevetheless, I wish Sanders would have devoted a bit more of his book to these questions and passages. Sanders proceeds to deal with three topics concerning Paul's relationship to the Jewish people. The first of these is the question of whether or not believers, the ekklesia, constitute a "third race." Sanders recognizes that there is a tension in Paul's thought concerning this, which is not surprising considering his views on the law. On the one hand, Paul no doubt thought of the ekklesia as the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham, thus to posit a distinction between Israel and "true Israel" would probably be erroneous. On the other hand, however, Paul's emphasis that all become one in Christ and so erradicating distinctions such as Jew and Gentile, would lead to the conception of the church as a "third" entity. This latter emphasis, Sanders' concludes, probably eventually came to dominate Paul's understanding of the the nature of the church:

"Paul's view of the church, supported by his practice, against his own conscious intention, was substantially that it was a third entity, not just because it was composed of both Jew and Greek, but also because it was in important ways neither Jewish nor Greek." (p. 179)

The second issue Sanders proceeds to tackle is that concerning Paul's missionary practice. This section was the most enlightening for myself and ultimately I was convinced of Sanders' presentation that Paul most likely rarely engaged in missionary practices towards his fellow Jews, but rather focused purely on Gentile pagans, and not Hellenistic Jews or even Gentile God-fearers despite what Acts attempts to portray. The one point on which I departed from Sanders in this section was his assertion that both Paul and the other Apostles did not make special provision for Diaspora Jews. Sanders offers no evidence for this except to point out that a mission to the Jews of Alexandria is never mentioned in the New Testament. But this is arguing from silence and Sanders in the same paragraph asserts that Christianity did eventually come to Egypt, though he claims the reasons for this are unknown (p.189).

The last issue is, of course, the question of the salvation of Israel. Here Sanders enters into the merky exegetical waters concerning how to interpret Paul when he affirms that "all Israel will be saved." (Rom. 11:25ff) Sanders quickly dismisses the view that this passage has in mind the eschatological salvation of all Israel apart from Christ. Sanders notes that "the connection with the Gentile mission shows that the salvation of Israel does not take place apart from Christ." (p. 194) Sanders further argues that when Paul quotes from Isaiah concerning the "Deliverer" who will come and banish ungodliness from Jacob, he has in mind Christ and not God apart from Christ. However, whether the "Deliverer" is Christ or God,

"matters little...for it is incredible that he thought of 'God apart from Christ,' just as it is that he thought of 'Christ apart from God.' This is where the interpretation of Rom. 11:25ff as offering two ways to salvation seems to me to go astray. It requires Paul to have made just that distinction. By the time we meet him in his letters, however, Paul knew only one God, the one who sent Christ and who 'raised from the dead Jesus our Lord' (Rom. 4:24)" (p. 194)

On this score I think Sanders has made a valid point. To isolate Christ from God, and God from Christ in Paul's thought is surely erroneous.

Strangely, after providing some strong foundational exegetical reasons for seeing this passage as talking about the eschatological redemption of all the Jews, and saying that "it would not surprise me a great deal to discover this to be the correct interpretation of Paul's thought", Sanders asserts that he is unpersuaded that this is the correct interpretation and instead claims that the simplest reading of 11:13-36 is:

"the only way to enter the body of those who will be saved is by faith in Christ; the mission to the Gentiles will indirectly lead to the salvation of "all Israel" (that is their fullness); thus at the eschaton God's entire plan will be fulfilled and the full number of both Jews and Gentiles will be saved, and saved on the same basis." (p. 196)

Sanders ends up affirming a type of covenant theology position, promiment amongst Reformers, that the "all Israel" that is saved, is that which constitutes the elect Gentile and elect Jewish believers. But this is not the end of the matter for Sanders himself condones a two covenant approach to the Jewish situation and leaves his readers with the possibility that Paul, had he lived for two thousand more years, may well have come to adopt the two covenant position.

On the matter of the interpretation of "all Israel" I remain unpersuaded of Sanders position, as I am of the Reformed viewpoint concerning this passage. But that will be a matter for another time. On the whole I was well pleased with this book and was convinced by many of Sanders points concerning Paul and his view of the law.

At the end of the book, Sanders makes a poignant observation that I wish to leave you with concerning why Paul's views on the law and the Jewish people have given biblical exegetes many headaches throughout the centuries:

"He (Paul) sometimes sounds quite glib about transferring the promises made to Abraham to those in Christ, but it worried him. God made those promises, and he made them to a historical people. And Paul knew it. As he neared what by his own calculation must have been the last phase of his career, his doubts surfaced. And thus we have Romans; and thus New Testament professors have a continuing occupation. What is interesting is how far Paul was from denying anything that he held deeply, even when he could not maintain all his convictions at once without both anguish and finally a lack of logic. It is thus no accident that the most difficult chapters for interpreters are also the most anguished." (p. 199)

Thursday, May 18, 2006 

Sanders Interlude

I just wanted to let you guys know of some good blogs I've added to my blog list:

1.) Bashalon: This site is devoted to issues dealing with the Hebrew language and is written from the perspective of an American living in Israel. Thanks to Chris Heard for pointing this site out first.

2.) Katie Eating Popcorn: Though not technically a biblical studies site, Katie has some good insights, particularly on the problem with the theological content of worship songs. Thanks to Kyle at Vindicated for pointing Katie out.

3.) New Perspective on Rob: Rob has a great quote from Wright here.

4.) Toward Jerusalem: This site is quickly becoming one of my favorites and has some great posts that indirectly relate to the issue of inerrancy (here, here, here, and here.)

Also if you guys have not been following Loren Rosson's posts concerning his "unpapal conclave" be sure to check this out. (Part 1 , part 2, part 3, and part 4)

Lastly, be sure to read Chris Tilling's delightful posts on the issue of extraterrestials here, here, and here.



"Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People" Part 1

The highlight of most of my days is typically the beginning. I work two jobs and go to school so I don't have time for much recreational activities. Thus I get a lot of my reading time done early in the morning, most often at Starbucks. Reading at Starbucks with a coffee in hand and often times my mp3 player is about as relaxing as it can get for me.

This morning I finished E.P. Sander's Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People and once again found myself pleased with Sander's work. Sanders writes in a peculiar style that is easily readable and enjoyable. Even when your mind cannot digest anymore, there is something about Sanders' style that makes you want to keep on reading. There are very few scholars who write in such a fashion (Dunn and Allison would be two others). I of course by no means subscribe to every conclusion Sanders produces but I cherish the insight I discover every time I read him.

Those of my readers who are familiar with the "New Perspective on Paul" have probably already read this book and so I'm not going to provide a thorough review. Well known is that Sanders' interpretation of Paul falls within the bounds of the New Perspective which he himself initiated with his monumental Paul and Palestinian Judaism. The purpose of the first section of the book is to lay out his argument for understanding Paul as emphasizing that the law is not a membership requirement:

"The attack on righteousness by the law is against making acceptance of the law a condition of membership in the body of those who will be saved. The reasons for his position which are thus far visible can be immediately connected with one of his primary convictions: salvation is available to all on the same basis, faith." (p. 48, emphasis added)

Thus what Paul is attacking is not a misguided Jewish legalistic use of the "works of the law" but the "works of the law" as, to use Dunn's phrase, boundary markers which highlight the distinctions between Jew and Gentile. These distinctions (circumcision, sabbath, and dietary laws) Paul seeks to obliterate by declaring that all are justified on the same basis, namely, faith. It is the misuse of Jewish privilege that's in view in Paul's critique of the law and not a Jewish legalism.

In the next section of the book, Sanders tackles the issue of the purpose of the law. Sanders highlights the dilemma that arises once Paul has asserted that justification comes from faith apart from "works of the law":

"We earlier said that Paul was in a dilemma, since he thought, as a good Jew, that God gave the law, while he also was convinced, on the basis of the revelation of Christ to him, that the law could not produce righteousness." (p. 73)

If the law cannot provide the righteousness that comes only by faith, what then was its purpose, granting that the law was given by God? This is Paul's dilemma. He now has to seek a way to hold together two incontrovertible facts: that God gave the law, and that justification is only by faith in Christ apart from that law. Sanders' concludes that Galatians provides a solution by asserting that the law fits into God's plan in a negative sense:

"the ultimate purpose of God's action was to prepare for salvation; the law was given in order to increase the trespass, with the intent that grace would ultimately reign." (p. 70).

The situation in Romans is not, at first all that different. The law for the first six chapters of Romans is viewed in a very negative light. In fact, Rom. 5:20ff agrees with the purpose of the law in Galatians: to increase trespasses and so condemn. More than this, however, is the close association of the law and sin to the point that they almost become the same entity. Yet, Paul, Sanders' informs us, shifts his thought drastically when he comes to Romans 7:7-25. It is perhaps, necessary to quote Sanders' at length here:

"in Rom. 7:7-13 paul still holds (1) that God gave the law; (2) that the law and sin are connected. But here the relationships among the law, God's will, and sin change: the law is good, it was even given 'unto life' (7:10), but it was used by the power alien to God-not by God himself, but by sin (7:8,11,13). That produced a situation contrary to the will of God. Thus there is an alteration in Paul's view of the relationship between sin and God's intention, and between God's will and the law (he gave the law to save, an intention which was frustrated, rather than with the intent to condemn). These changes seem to be required by the new role given to sin: it is now an active agent which employs the law against the purpose of God." (p. 73-74, emphasis his)

What is Sanders' trying to convey in this passage? Simply that God originally gave the law with the purpose of leading to life, but Sin (as a personified power) frustrated this plan of God by causing humanity to be unable to fulfill its requirements. Sin uses the law to its own end, to increase trespass and thus to condemn. It is the misuse of the law by Sin which brings to necessity the sending of Christ and justification on the basis of faith alone. The Law in and of itself is still a good thing. And so, rightly I think, Sanders sees Paul as inconsistent at this point from all else he has said concerning the law prior to Rom. 7 and in the Galatian epistle.

After this, Sanders' concludes with a brief discussion concerning Paul's assertions about the "fulfilling of the law" in the lives of spirit-led believers which is, not surprisingly, very similar to the covenantal nomism that Sanders described as a description of Judaism in Paul and Palestinian Judaism.

But since it is the problem of the relationship, soteriologically, between Christians and the Jewish people that has been on my mind lately I want to move onto the second part of Sanders' book which concerns this topic. Yet I've gone on too long now and so will finish this review in the next post.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006 


I watched a marvelous movie this week called Ushpizin. This about an
orthodox, though at times unorthodox, Jewish Rabbi named Moshe Belanga who smokes, regularly misses synagogue, and is married to a woman who has been unable to provide him with children. It takes place during the time of the Sukkot festival in which the Jews would build a temporary dwelling place and live there for a matter of days in memory of their former way of life after the Exodus when they were a nomadic people who had not yet inherited the promised land. They would also entertain guests during this time as well, which is what the word "ushpizin" means in Aramaic.

It's just prior to the Sukkot holiday and Moshe Belanga has no money to buy the things necessary to celebrate the holiday including a succah (the temporary building.) When we first see Moshe, he enters a shop to look for some lemons that are used in the festival. He has his eyes set on what the dealers call "the diamond" since it is the most beautiful lemon in all of Jerusalem. But their asking price is ridiculous, a thousand shekels. Moshe, after examining the lemon gives it back to which the dealers ask, "Are you not buying?" Moshe just shrugs his shoulders and replies, "With God's help," and leaves. The next scene, Moshe is in the Yeshiva hoping to receive enough funds from the Rabbis so that he and his wife may celebrate the festival. However, they give him nothing. He goes home rejected and informs Mali, his wife, of the bad news. They get into a bit of an argument and Moshe stresses that God will provide for them.

He proceeds to quote to her a saying he heard from one of the Rabbis, "where something is lacking I know that either it was not prayed for or it wasn't prayed for enough." Mali's response is great: "so then go pray." To which Moshe replies that he's tired and doesn't feel like praying. Mali chides him for quoting such things to her if he has not intention to take the words and put them into practice. I loved this scene because this is the way a lot of us are, including myself from time to time. We spout out great words of wisdom and insight, but then when it comes time to apply such things, we recede back into our comfort zone.

At any rate, Moshe does go and pray and it is a beautiful scene. Moshe is honest with his Lord, informing him that he is "a lump of saddness" because he can't provide for his wife during the holiday. He proceeds to pray fervently for a miracle. The beauty of this scene is that it is cut with two different scenes. One in which Mali herself is praying from the Psalms, and one in which Moshe's miracle is underway with a certain man who has a thousand dollars left over to give someone and randomly picks Moshe's name. Moreover, a friend of Moshe's finds an "unused" succah that he gives to him. His wife finds the money and, in another wondeful scene when Moshe returns home, Mali is lipsinging to a contemporary Jewish song of praise to God for their miracle. She then proceeds to inform Moshe of the money and they celebrate. One of the things Moshe immediately does with the money is to buy that lemon, the "diamond" to the shock of thosed dealers.

Things could not have been going better for them. However, Moshe and Mali are placed under another test of faith as they do receive some "guests." Unfortunately, their guests are an old friend of Moshe and his friend who have escaped from jail and need a place to hide out. What follows is a trying time of patience for Moshe and Mali. Their blessing seems to turn into a curse and everything begins to fall apart. Yet, I do not wish to give away the entire plot so, go rent it!

One of the beautiful things about this film is that it is entirely in Hebrew. In fact I would suggest that once you've watched it through with the subtitles, watch it again without and just listen to the language. And even though I've had only one year of Hebrew, I was able to pick up on a lot of things, more than I thought I would be able to. One of these, is the Rabbi's consistent use of speaking of God as "Ha-Shem" which literally means, "The Name." It is of course a reference to the divine name, YHWH, and serves as a circumlocution for "God." One of the things I truly admire about the Jewish people is their reverence for God. If you've ever been around any religious Jews, you'll quickly notice that they will hardly ever say "God" in their conversations, unlike many of us believers who flippantly throw the name around, but instead will say "Ha-Shem." Unfortunately, the translation in the subtitles obscures this fact and translates "Ha-Shem" as God most of the time, and as Lord the rest of the time (Adonai is used plenty as well). Christians would do well to learn something from the Jews on this score.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006 

Some Answers

*The following is in response to some questions posed by a certain reader named agnosis00 on some earlier posts of mine. But everyone is welcome to comment. Sorry, agnosis00, that it took me a while to reply back to your questions. Thanks for these great questions and for commenting on my Et Resurrexit series.

1) Do you think that the empty tomb and any type of subsequent appearances would have been adequate to result in the use of “resurrection.” (i.e. did the appearances also have to have the impression of physicality?) And if you think they had to have the impression of physicality, do you think that this would not be sufficient to account for the use of ‘resurrection’ without the empty tomb? (Not that both could not have occurred for double confirmation).

I am inclined to believe that the appearances likely did give some kind of impression of "physicality." But I submit that this alone was more than likely not adequate to give rise to defining what had happened to Jesus as "resurrection." One thing about visions is that they can appear and even feel physical. After an interesting survey of modern day visions of apparitions Dale Allison makes this point:

"Most apparitions of the dead seen during bereavement are not, in the usual sense of the word, 'ghosts' (which is why the bereaved rarely use that word of their experiences). Apparitions instead commonly appear to be just like real human beings. It is accordingly often their odd arrival, or their sudden disappearnce, or their identification with a deceased individual that gives them away. Time and time again people not only hear and see apparitions: they even touch them. (Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, p. 290.)

Though Allison's study was in the context of modern day visions, I think the same was true of late Antiquity. Visions could have seemed very real, and physical to many people, even to the disciples. On this score, then, it seems necessary for there to be more than just visions to betoken their language of "resurrection." Thus to answer your question, even granting the physicality of the visions I do not think this would have been sufficient to give rise to the belief that God had raised Jesus from the dead.

2) How big of a role do you think Jesus’ more apocalyptic teachings and actions had on the disciples and their subsequent use of “resurrection” for the post-crucifixion appearances?

Most likely, Jesus' apocalyptic teachings and actions did have an impact on his disciples. However, even granting this influence, since Jesus probably spoke of his vindication as occuring during the general resurrection of the dead it does not seem plausible that solitary visions taking place without an empty tomb would cause them to assert that Jesus had been raised. I suppose it may be a possibilty but it's certainly not probable. Yet if we allow for the visions and belief in an empty tomb then the context of an apocalyptic setting provided by their teacher would definitely have provided a strong impetus for believing that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

3) Do you think the disciples’ use of resurrection was similar or the same as Paul’s use of the concept “first fruits of the resurrection”? With this phrase it seems to me that Paul is expanding the concept of resurrection from the view of normative second Temple Judaism. And it’s my impression that he felt comfortable doing this because of the soon to come general resurrection. Doesn’t “first fruits” have a temporal connotation? Wouldn’t he have been less comfortable using this phrase if he knew no general resurrection would occur for the next two millennia?

I think that the disciples' and Paul's use of resurrection were very similar in that both believed that Jesus' resurrection had precipitated the end of this age. Thus the phrase "first fruits" is an adequate metaphor that conveys this understanding. But since the giving of the "first fruits" was understood to be shortly followed by the rest of the harvest (i.e. the rest of the general resurrection) I'm not sure that we can positively affirm that Paul's description of Jesus' resurrection as the first fruits was an expansion of the normative understanding of "resurrection" in Second Temple Judaism. This is because, given the normative definition, the resurrection of one man would almost certainly give rise to the belief that the end had begun. Paul's metaphor of "first fruits" still conveys this belief.

But you are surely right that the concept of "first fruits" contains a temporal connotation. If Paul were somehow able to know that the general resurrection would not occur for some millenia he probably would have been uncomfortable with the phrase and most likely would not have utilized it to describe Jesus' resurrection.

4) The term resurrection has several connotations for 2nd Temple Judaism. I tend to agree with you and others who say one connotation was something happening to the actual bodies of individuals. How much was the temporal aspect connected and a part of the concept of the general resurrection for 2nd Temple Judaism (i.e. that the resurrection would occur at The End, or right before God’s rule, etc.)?

That the resurrection would occur at the end of the (their?) present age permeates the literature. It is of course found in the book of Daniel, but it permeates the apocraphal, pseudepigraphical, Qumranic, and Rabbinic literature. Nowhere is there found the notion that resurrection will be divided into two chronological phases, with the resurrection of one (or many) first and then the rest at a later point. This is certainly a Christian innovation that eventually arose in light of the fact that the general resurrection of the dead was not immediately subsequent to Jesus' own resurrection from the dead.

Saturday, May 13, 2006 

Second Thoughts on Dunn's "Unity and Diversity"

Recently, I gave a brief and very critical review of James Dunn's Unity and Diversity. There I lamented against Dunn's proposal that the person of Jesus was enough to hold together the unity of the New Testament in the midst of its diversity. However, when I gave this review I had not read the appendix which is not found in the first edition of Unity and Diversity. I simply skimmed through it and it seemed just another summary of the arguments in the book so I didn't read it. But for some reason, this morning I decided to read that appendix which is entitled, "Unity and Diversity in the Church: A New Testament Perspective." Strangely, it is in this essay that Dunn clarifies further what is the ground of unity in the New Testament. Here Dunn goes beyond my chief criticism that the person of Jesus is the strand of unity holding together the unity of the NT and declares that the unifying element in earliest Christianity was:

"the unity between the historical Jesus and the exalted Christ, that is to say, the conviction that the wandering charismatic preacher from nazareth had ministered, died and been raised from the dead to bring God and man finally together, the recognition that the divine power through which they now worshipped and were encountered and accepted by God was one and the same person, Jesus, the man, the Christ, the Son of God, the Lord, the life-giving spirit." (p. 437)

Dunn summarizes this foundation as Easter and Pentescost. The former being the conviction that God had raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead and the latter being the moment when the Spirit was poured out on the early believers. In regards to the former, Easter, I could not help but smile when I read Dunn saying,

"In short, if anything can claim to run through the NT writings like a golden thread is the conviction that God raised Jesus from the dead." (p. 439, emphasis his)

And in regards to the latter, Pentecost, Dunn says:

"Experience of the Spirit of God, belief that what they were experiencing was God's eschatologically new out pouring of the Spirit is part of the most basic stratum of Christian faith attested by the NT writers." (p. 441, emphasis his)

These were the sort of "checks" I was looking for. Why they come in an appendix and why this appendix was not in the first edition is beyond me. This is much better than Dunn's assertion that the person of Jesus is that solitary thread of unity holding together the diverse perspectives of the NT witnesses.

Moreover in the appendix, Dunn also highlights the fundamental tension within the NT that I've been preoccupied with lately, namely, the problem of the Jew and Christian relationship. Dunn makes a great point when he asserts that:

"The greatest schism in salvation-history is not between Catholic and Protestant or between East and West, but between Judaism and Christianity." (p. 444, emphasis his)

In conclusion, this appendix was the most satisfying of the book for me. And to think, I almost didn't even read it! Why this is an appendix and not the actual conclusion to the book is baffling. At any rate, though there are still some things that I have difficulty accepting in Dunn's book, my attitude is now much more positive and favorable given Dunn's more explicit statements concerning what grounds the unity in the NT among its diversity.

Next blog I am going to (finally) reply to a certain reader's questions concerning some of the implications from my Et Resurrexit series of posts. I apologize to this reader for taking so long to get back to this, but the Jew/Christian issue was on my mind and I felt the need to blog on this first. But next time I promise to have a reply to your questions. For my other readers here are the questions at which I will attempt to answer in the next few posts:

1) Do you think that the empty tomb and any type of subsequent appearances would have been adequate to result in the use of “resurrection.” (i.e. did the appearances also have to have the impression of physicality?) And if you think they had to have the impression of physicality, do you think that this would not be sufficient to account for the use of ‘resurrection’ without the empty tomb? (Not that both could not have occurred for double confirmation).

2) How big of a role do you think Jesus’ more apocalyptic teachings and actions had on the disciples and their subsequent use of “resurrection” for the post-crucifixion appearances?

3) Do you think the disciples’ use of resurrection was similar or the same as Paul’s use of the concept “first fruits of the resurrection”? With this phrase it seems to me that Paul is expanding the concept of resurrection from the view of normative second Temple Judaism. And it’s my impression that he felt comfortable doing this because of the soon to come general resurrection. Doesn’t “first fruits” have a temporal connotation? Wouldn’t he have been less comfortable using this phrase if he knew no general resurrection would occur for the next two millennia?

4) The term resurrection has several connotations for 2nd Temple Judaism. I tend to agree with you and others who say one connotation was something happening to the actual bodies of individuals. How much was the temporal aspect connected and a part of the concept of the general resurrection for 2nd Temple Judaism (i.e. that the resurrection would occur at The End, or right before God’s rule, etc.)?

Friday, May 12, 2006 

Jews, Christians, and Robert Jenson Part 2

I'm not sure that I am convinced by Jenson's modified two covenant solution, but I am in agreement with him in so far as there is a crucial need for believers to construct a Christian theology of Judaism. For all the trouble Paul has caused us with Rom. 9-11, he sought to do what Jenson and others are proposing, to develop a Christian theology of Judaism. If I can be honest about my feelings for a moment I am rather sick and tired of those believers who treat the subject of Jews and Judaism with an irrelevant and sometimes condescending attitude. The grief Paul was stricken with over his fellow Jews, should be our grief as well, especially in this post-Shoah time. The Jews are in fact our elder brothers and just as we would be concerned about the relationship with our own flesh and blood siblings, so then should the Christian community be concerned about its relationship to the Jewish people. This can be done only by properly working out a theology that is Christian and which concerns itself with the Jewish people.

Do we Christians, who are predominately Gentile, need to be reminded again that we were grafted into the olive tree and our supported by the root? Unfortunately we do need this reminder. The warning Paul issued remains true to this day and we need to heed that warning:

"do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, 'Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.' That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches neither will he spare you." (Rom.11:18-21)

Part of this "boasting" I would submit is the failure of many believers to enage in the task of formulating a Christian theology of Judaism. Jenson may be wrong in his proposal, but at least he is undertaking the crucial task to better understand, from a Christian theological standpoint, those to whom "belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises." Let us not fail to enage in this same task.

Thursday, May 11, 2006 

Jews, Christians, and Robert Jenson Part 1

Those of you who have been reading my blog since the beginning know that one of my chief interests is the relationship between Jews and Christians. I posted very briefly on this in a book review of Jews and Christians: The Parting of Ways that I did here. I am currently reading another book dealing with some of these issues entitled Jews and Christians: People of God edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson. Though I have enjoyed reading T.B. Vick's quotes from Robert Jenson (here and here), I myself had not read any of Jenson's work until now. His is the first essay in the book and I must say that I was impressed. In that particular essay Jenson highlights the need for developing a Christian Theology of Judaism.

In this essay Jenson proposes the central problem in the relationship between Judaism and Christianity as the question of who now is "Israel" after Israel. Jenson makes a distinction between what he calls "canonical" Israel and Judaism. The canonical Israel is that Israel which

"denotes the national political and cultic entity that was established through Moses and David and endured, in one recognizable form or another, for something like a millennium. This Israel came to an end when Rome terminated temple-worship and made the land of promise foreign territory, this time apparently for good." (p. 2)

The problem then for Christians is figuring out how to undestand and incorporate this latter Judaism's "theological claim to be Israel" with Christian belief. (p. 3) Jenson further explains:

"That there should be any difficulty in understanding Judaism's claim to be Israel may, of course, seem preposterous to Jews. But for Christian theology it is not merely a difficulty but a torment. Christian faith is the conviction that the God of Israel has raised his servant Jesus from the dead and installed him, if hiddenly and prolepticaly, as the Messiah of Israel, and that by this prolepsis he has opened the ingathering of the gentiles to Zion. That the vast majority of Abraham and Sarah's descendents have rejected and do reject this claim, and maintain a claim to be faithful Israel without acknowledging Jesus' resurrection, must indeed give the church furiously to think, and has done so since at least the time when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans. From a certain angle of vision, the mere existence of Judaism looks much like a refutation of Christianity-and may indeed be just that." (p.3-4)

This is problematic for Christians especially for those who see the law and the prophets as being fulfilled by Jesus' death and resurrection. If it has been fulfilled then what do we do with Judaism? Can we still call them God's people? Can we accept their theological claim to be "Israel"? Are Christians now the new "Israel"? These are questions that have vexed me in the past and they are questions that need answering from a Christian theological standpoint.

Jenson himself rightly dismisses "supersessionism" as being the theological answer. This is the belief that all things Judaic have become obsolete and that the term "Israel" now defines only Christian believers. Jenson's own proposal is a somewhat modified two covenant theory. He speaks of God mysteriously taking two detours, one of which is beneficial for the ekklesia and one which is concerned soley with Judaism. Says Jenson:

"I propose to my fellow Christians that God wills the Judaism of Torah-obedience as that which alone can and does hold the lineage of Abraham and Sarah together during the time of detour. And that lineage must continue, until the day when lineages shall end."

Jenson's proposal is that God still wishes to have a people who are to be identified as seperate from everyone else. This seperation being marked out by their ancestral lineage and their obedience to the Torah. By virtue of being predominately Gentile, the ekklesia cannot fulfill this desire of God because it cannot claim physical descent from Abraham and Sarah and cannot affirm itself as being marked out by the Law and obedience to that Law. Moreover God wishes for the Torah to not only be heard in this time of detour but to believed in. The former is the job of the Jews, the latter the job of Christians to believe that "the Torah became flesh and dwelt among us." (p.12) Jenson concludes his essay with one final proposal:

"My final-and perhaps most radical suggestion to Christian theology (not, let me say again, to Jewish self-understanding) is that, so long as the time of detour lasts, the embodiment of the risen Christ is whole only in the form of the church and an identifiable community of Abraham ad Sarah's descendents. The church and the synagogue are together and only together the present availability to the world of the risen Jesus Christ." (p.13)

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 

No Posts till Friday

I just wanted to remind everyone that I am finishing up a paper (along with a power point presentation) this week for a class. Thus I probably will hold off posting until Friday. Till then take a look at a unique way to do a Christian fundraiser here.

Monday, May 08, 2006 

Unity and Diversity: A Review

James Dunn's work has always impressed me. I first encountered Dunn in his edited work entitled Paul and the Mosaic Law. I was immediately impressed by his essays in that book and was prompted subsequently to purchase his Theology of the Apostle Paul. Since then I've read much of his work including Christology in the Making which has been very influential on my thought concerning the place of Adamic Christology in Paul. Though I obviously do not agree with everything Dunn has proposed in his career my thought is probably closer to his (with a mix of Dale Allison) than any other NT scholar. So then it is with much sorrow that I came away from Unity and Diversity with a critical attitude.

Though I agreed with the basic position that there is substantial diversity within the NT and early Christianity such that it is probably not best to speak of single "orthodoxy" during the first centuryI found it hard to be convinced, as is Dunn, that the one unifying strand that creates unity amongst the diversity is simply the person of Jesus. This claims Dunn is the one thing that allows Christianity to be diverse, but at the same time also acts as protective barrier to ensure that the diversity does not get out of hand and so become unacceptable. However, this is simply to cast the net too wide. There needs to be a standard, uniform tradition which further keeps Christianity in check. Because without further qualifications it is difficult to see why extreme versions of Christianity such as later Gnosticism should be regarded as unacceptable diversity since for all their excess, they could still be said to be centered around an exalted Jesus thus meeting Dunn's criteria.

To Dunn's credit, he tries to bracket this diversity with a discussion concerning the Christian canon as the "norm that norms the norm" such that later diverse forms of Christianity can be deemed as unacceptably diverse since they are not within the canon. But to use this argument one has to address the question of the "authority" of the NT. And though Dunn has a section specifically concerning this topic he does not offer any answers but simply raises questions to leave with his readers to ponder. So then to use the NT as the endpoint of diversity is of no use without a reason for first accepting the NT as authoritative. In short Dunn leaves us with a severely pluralistic understanding of early Christianity and then proceeds to assert the validity of each simply because they remain centered on the person of Jesus. Dunn downplays the importance of tradition significantly and though I do not wish to impose later creeds onto anyone I think there is still a need to adopt a common tradition that can serve to keep in check diverse forms of Christianity. Otherwise we are forced to call any movement that claims to center itself around the person of Jesus as a genuine development of Christianity no matter how far off from the center they may be.

To conclude, I still thoroughly enjoyed reading the book even if most of its conclusions failed to convince me. The important contribution of Dunn's book is to highlight that a certain amount of diversity did exist during the 1st century and can be found in the pages of the NT documents themselves. But I remain unconvinced that the person of Jesus is enough to hold the thread of unity together.

Friday, May 05, 2006 

Pentecostals, Ecology, and Resurrection

Chris Tilling has alerted his readers to a new blog called Pentecostal Discussions. Since I have charismatic roots (Assembly of God) I'm glad to see a site dedicated to charismatic/pentecostal discussions. Thanks to Chris for pointing them out. They have a very good post that highlights the lack of ecological concern in many strands of pentecostal and/or fundamentalist movements. As the post points out this is partly due to their "other worldly orientation" and their obsession with "end time" catastrophes.

One of the great things about the doctrine of resurrection is that it points to the Creator's own ecological concerns. Resurrection is a signifier that God cares about his creation. The goal of eschatological consummation is not a discarding of the physical world, but its redemption. The Most High is not going to trash his creation. The "good" he declared when he completed his creation is still valid today even with all its failings. It is telling that Paul when he asserts the future redemption of the believer's body places the discussion in the overall context of the redemption of creation:

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." Rom. 8:18-23

Let us not forget that the Almighty still values his creation and He will redeem it just as he will redeem our bodies. Thanks again to Chris for pointing out this excellent new site.


New Things

I have added a new look to my blog. The previous green design I had became an aesthetic headache. There's only so much plain green that you can take, but I am rather pleased with the new look of the blog (except for the picture which is a bit off-center for some reason). I have also added many other blogs to my list. Particularly I want to single out Derek Ryan's Eucatastrophe. For those of you not aware of his site and Christology is one of your interests then promptly check out Derek's blog.

Also, as for my Et Resurrexit series I am going to hold off finishing it until June. I have a paper to write and some exams this month. But next post I will have a review of James Dunn's Unity and Diversity which I have almost finished reading.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006 

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 in the NBV ( New Blogger's Version)

"If I blog with the tongues of scholars and emeritus professors, but have not love, I am but a noisy keyboard.* And if I have the highest blogging aptitude, and I understand all other blogs to the fullest, and I leave the most erudite comments, but have not love I am nothing. And if I give up totally blogging and turn over all my posts to be burned, but have not love, then I gain nothing." 1 Cor. 13:1-3 (NBV).

*Note: some ancient manuscripts contain "typewriter" instead of "keyboard."

Monday, May 01, 2006 

The Empty Tomb: Why Doesn't Paul Mention It?

"For I delievered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve." 1 Cor 15: 3-5

Well known is this passage from 1 Corinthians in which Paul reminds the believers at Corinth of the tradition that he handed down to them. Here we find some of the bare essentials of the faith: Christ's death, burial, and resurrection all said to have been "in accordance with the scriptures." Most scholars agree that we are dealing with a tradition that reaches back further than Paul and that, with the exception of verses 6-8, this formulation of the tradition was probably left mostly intact in its original form.

Some however have seized upon what Paul does not mention: the empty tomb. This, they say, is grounds for rejecting an early tradition about an empty tomb. The argument usually runs in this manner: "Paul did not know about Jesus' grave, and if he did not know about it, then surely no one else before him did either. The story of the empty tomb must, it follows, have originated after Paul." (Dale C. Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, p. 305-6) Thus the tradition of the empty tomb is concluded as being secondary to the Jesus tradition. Furthermore, what was of chief importance were the appearances of Jesus and not an empty tomb. For my own part I think this argument from silence is less than compelling.

However, my concern right now is not to prove that there was an empty tomb tradition prior to Paul but to attempt to answer the question: if Paul did have knowledge about an empty tomb tradition why does he fail to mention this? The simple answer is that he didn't see it necessary to make explicit. To understand this we must realize that Paul is passing on a very compact tradition that is lacking in many other details we might expect, most notably the event of crucifixion (Allison, p. 306).

Paul would have expected the believers at Corinth to know that the phrase "Christ died for our sins" refered implicitly to the Christ's death by crucifixion. What is striking is that this tradition concerning the mode of Jesus' death is not as prevalent as one might expect in the New Testament documents that predate the Gospel accounts and Acts. In fact, if we took away 1 Corinthians, 2 Cor. 13:14, the letter of Galatians, Rom. 6:6, and Rev. 11:8 you would have effectively removed all references to Jesus' death as crucifixion in the rest of the NT! Yet very few would assert that Jesus' death by crucifixion was not part of the tradition.

A similar argument could be made concerning the empty tomb. Paul by the simple phrase "he was raised on the third day" could have been making an implicit reference to the empty tomb that he knew the Corinthian believers would have inferred. And so just as the phrase "Christ died" implied the mode of death, crucifixion, so the phrase "he was raised" implied the leaving behind of an empty tomb. In fact, what is implicit in the phrase is that the "raising" was from the dead. That Paul doesn't qualify with "from the dead" exemplifies just how terse Paul meant this statement of tradition to be. In conclusion, due to the nature of the statement, Paul would have found the mentioning of the empty tomb to be superfulous and redundant since it was already implicit in the phrase "was raised on the third day."

Moreover, we have an example from latter Christianity that does precisely what I'm postulaing Paul may be doing here. Here's the example from a well known creed:

I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried:[ He descended into hell:]
The third day he rose again from the dead:
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
I believe in the Holy Ghost:
I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
The forgiveness of sins:
The resurrection of the body:
And the life everlasting. Amen.

Though this is obviously much latter than the tradition that Paul cites it still exhibits a tendancy of the early church not spell out every detail that they would have viewed as already implicit. Here Jesus is said to have risen on the third day, but there is no mention of an empty tomb. Yet we know that by this time the empty tomb tradition was a significant factor in Christian belief. However, since the assertion that Jesus was raised from the dead would have implied the tradition of an empty tomb, the creators of this document did not see the need make explicit the implicit. Thus Paul could have plausibly acted likewise in his summary of the tradition he passed on to the Corinthian believers.

Of course none of this proves that Paul received a tradition about an empty tomb, but it at least provides a plausible account of why he would have failed to mention this tradition if he in fact knew of its existence.

Hit Counter
Free Web Counter />