Tuesday, June 27, 2006 

The Future Resurrection of the Body: Part VI

Unfortunately, I do not think my last post was too well received. As Q pointed out in the comments section of the previous post the notion of the resurrection as Jesus' redemption is eccentric. Furthermore, there are no explicit statements in scripture to support this viewpoint (though see Acts 2:22-27). Because of this, both Q and Michael Bird suggested that I would have been better off by speaking in terms of the resurrection as Jesus justification and/or vindication. Now I certainly do not dispute that by raising Jesus from the dead, God vindicated Jesus (see especially this post) or that Jesus' resurrection is integral to our own justification (Rom. 4:23-24). This is a valid implication to draw from the resurrection event.

But resurrection as vindiction/justification and resurrection as redemption are for my purposes differentiable. What are we denoting when we say that Jesus was vindicated in his resurrection? To put it as simply as possible, we are affirming that Jesus, by God raising him from the dead, was declared to be in the right. The resurrection was the stamp of approval on Jesus and his ministry. However, this is not the same thing as Jesus' ultimate salvation and/or redemption. This happened when God loosed him from the pangs of death by redeeming and transforming his body. When I speak of Jesus' redemption this is my intended meaning. The problem is that the term(s) justification/vindication do not carry this meaning and so, in regards to the purpose of this series of posts, I cannot use justification/vindication language. We should not conflate these two terms (vindication and redemption) to force them to mean the same thing. They are parts of the whole of the entire process of salvation and so can be differentiated.

Yet as I mentioned, some say that I do not have explicit scriptural support for asserting that the resurrection denotes Jesus' bodily redemption. First, I would like to point out that the resurrection as Jesus' vindication has no explicit support from scripture either. The closest that we come to this is from 1 Tim 3:16 where it states that Jesus was "vindicated in the Spirit." Most exegetes believe (and I think rightly so) that this verse refers to the vindication of Jesus via the resurrection. But from a purely simplistic hermeneutical standpoint the text does not directly affirm this. Yet most of us (including myself) do interpret the text as such, namely, that it refers to Jesus' resurrection as his justification/vindication. We draw and infer this meaning from the text. But we must be honest and say that the text itself does not explicitly state this.

My point is that my case for the resurrection as the redemption of Jesus' body cannot be refuted simply because it lacks explicit scriptural proof. If this were the case then we would have to reject the resurrection as Jesus' vindication and doctrines like the Trinity that have to be inferred and deduced from the texts. But of course no one argues this because many of us affirm that taking subsequent steps to draw out things of theological importance and truth from the texts can and should be done (like in the case of the Trinity). And so when I read a passage like Acts 2:22-27 which says things such as "But God raised him up having loosed the pangs of death" and "nor did his flesh see corruption" or when I survey every aspect of the Adamic motif in Paul's thought, I feel justified in asserting that one meaning of the resurrection is that it indicates Jesus' redemption because this is what I believe to be a proper, theological conclusion to infer from these texts and themes.

Thus I stand by my belief that one of the essential implications of the resurrection is that it was the moment when God redeemed and glorified Jesus' body and that this can be distinguished from the resurrection as also, validly, signifying Jesus' vindication. But I fear some will not be able to get past the eccentricness of my position and so I feel I may be fighting a losing battle. Nevertheless, I hate not finishing something that I commenced so in the next and last post in this series I will conclude why I believe Jesus' resurrection provides the assurance for our own bodily resurrection in the future.

Thursday, June 22, 2006 

The Future Resurrection of the Body: Part V

Jesus: The Paradigm of Salvation

II. Resurrection as the Redemption of Jesus

For much too long Christian soteriology has tended to focus exclusively on the salvific nature of Christ's death and the benefits that can be applied to the believer from this death. The part the resurrection might play in soteriology is often not considered or simply missed altogether. When the resurrection is taken into account in aspects of soteriology it is often with the view of sealing the efficacy of the salvation moment found in Jesus' death on the cross. There are a few who have witnessed this problem and have sought to correct it such as Richard Gaffin that I quoted from in the previous post. Unfortunately, with the limitations of this series of posts this is not a discussion that I can really enter into at this time. Resurrection as a proper soteriological concept is something I intend to pursue in a full length study in the future. But there is one aspect of resurrection as soteriological that bears directly on our discussion, namely, that the resurrection functions as the redemption or salvation of Jesus.

This may seem a bit strange to speak of Jesus' redemption since (no doubt due to the exclusive focus on the death of Christ as the salvation moment in redemptive history) Christians are used to speaking about the redemption and salvation that Jesus brings. Perhaps it is best to quote Gaffin again first:

"His (Jesus) death is the wages of the sin he became (cf. Rom. 6:23), and the state of death he endured for a time is the nadir of his exposure to the wrath of the Father...It is, then, not only meaningful but necessary to speak of the resurrection as the redemption of Christ. The resurrection is nothing if not his delieverance from the power and curse of death which was in force until the moment of being raised...The resurrection is the salvation of Jesus as the Last Adam..." (Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption, p. 116)

To understand this one needs to recall the importance of Paul's Adamic Christology. (Unfortunately much Christian theology has tended to focus on Logos or Incarnational Christology and to place Adamic Christology in a subordinate position. But that is also a discussion for another time.) There are several passages of scripture that posit an understanding of Jesus as Last Adam (most notably Rom. 5:12-21 and 1 Cor 15: 20-22). Not only did Jesus in his death identify with Adam but it was his resurrection from the dead which actually cemented Jesus' role as Last Adam.

Why? Precisely because it is the resurrection and not the death of Jesus which reverses and undoes the death brought into the world by the First Adam. No matter how sacrifical the death of Jesus may have been so long as the body remained in the tomb, death would have remained victorious and triumphant. The death that the first Adam introduced into the world would not have been undone. And so if Jesus had never been raised, he could never have been declared to be the Last Adam. But Paul believes that Christ has been raised and so can declare "for as by a man death came into the world, so as by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."(1 Cor 15:21-22)

What then does this have to do with the resurrection as Jesus' own redemption? Well, not only did the First Adam bring death into the world but he also felt the sting of death. In other words the effects of Adam's disobedience did not extend to only those whom he represented, but applied to himself as well. The First Adam died. He was essentially the pattern of death for humanity but it was a pattern that first had to be applied to himself.

Likewise, Jesus as Second Adam forms a pattern for those whom he represents, namely, the "in Christ" group. But Jesus' pattern is that of salvation and of life. However, just as the First Adam had to first undergo the effects of the consequences of his actions so did Jesus since he was acting in an Adamic role. However, unlike the First Adam whose disobedience brought him death, the Last Adam's obedience brought him life and this by his resurrection from the dead. If Jesus was to constitute a new Adamic paradigm, namely, one of salvation, then he first had to be redeemed. And it was this that the resurrection accomplished. Jesus' redemption forms the pattern for ours. Unfortunately, this is something that is not emphasized in soteriological studies. Gaffin rightly condemns this:

"A soteriology structured so that it moves directly from the death of Christ to the application to others of the benefits purchased by that death, substantially short-circuits Pauls own point of view. For him the accomplishment of redemption is only first definitively realized in the application to Christ himself at the resurrection of the benefits purchased by his own obedience unto death." (Ibid, 117).

Next time I want to take the insights from this post and the previous one and combine them to draw some conclusions as to why we can hope for our own, future bodily resurrection from the dead.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006 

The Future Resurrection of the Body: Part IV

The first three posts in this series were primarily structured as replies to Patrik's two posts on this issue of the future resurrection body of the believer. Now in the next couple posts I want to present my arguments for grounding our hope in a future resurrection (bodily) of believers. Since my arguments ultimately hinge on Jesus' resurrection I will proceed on the rather huge assumption that his resurrection was bodily such that an empty tomb was left behind. If one does not believe this, then my arguments will not be persuasive. But to argue that Jesus' resurrection was indeed bodily would require another series of posts, something I am not prepared to do at the moment. However, Patrik has not denied Jesus' bodily resurrection and I will assume that he believes as I do on this point (another assumption perhaps). Moreover, the majority of my readers most likely believe in Jesus' bodily resurrection and so I will proceed with my arguments.

Jesus: The Paradigm of Salvation

I. The Organic Relationship Between Jesus' Resurrection and the Future Resurrection of Believers.

"But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first
of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a
man has come also the resurrection of the dead." (1 Cor 15:20-21)

The key word I want to target in on is "first fruits." This is the most obvious place in the NT where we see a connection made between the two resurrections. Though the word has temporal connotations this by no means exhaust this particular phrase's meaning. Along with the temporal dimension, there is also an inherent organic meaning. Richard Gaffin explains further:

"There can be little question that the Septuagint provides the background for its use here. There, with few exceptions, 'firstfruits' has a specifically cultic significance. It refers to the 'firstfruits' offerings of grain, wine, cattle, and the like, appointed by Moses. The point to these sacrifices is that they are not offered up for their own sake, as it were, but representative of the total harvest, the entire flock, and so forth...it does not bring into view the initial portion of the harvest, but only as it is part of the whole...the word is not simply an indication of temporal priority. Rather it brings into view Christ's resurrection as the 'firstfruits' of the resurrection-harvest, the initial portion of the whole. His resurrection is the representative beginning of the resurrection of believers. In other words, the term seems deliberately chosen to make evident the organic connection betweeen the two resurrections." (Richard Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption, pp 34-35)

Gaffin's observation is that the concept of 'firstfruits', the initial portion of the harvest, was representative of the complete harvest that would follow the firstfruit offerings. Paul's use of the term in 1 Cor 15:20ff more than likely carries the same organic meaning. This organic relationship is made clear in the surrounding context in which the term is used:

"Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead." (1 Cor 15:12-21)

Notice the interesting correlation(s) Paul makes here between the two resurrections. Paul argues in an inverse apologetic manner. Instead of predicating the future resurrection of the believer to Jesus' own resurrection Paul instead argues that if there is indeed no future resurrection of the dead then Christ could not have been raised. The reality of Jesus' resurrection (and, I would argue, its effective work) depends upon the future resurrection of the dead. But notice what Paul then says, "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead." Thus, because of this assurance that Christ has in fact been raised from the dead, the believer's future resurrection of the dead is likewise assured for "by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead." To summarize Paul's argument, if there is no future resurrection of the dead, then Christ was not raised. However, Christ has indeed been raised and so we know the dead will be raised in the future.

This clearly indicates that for Paul, the two resurrections are integrally related to one another. To express this relationship Paul, quite understandably, utilized the terminology that best described this relationship, namely, "first fruits." Next time we will look at the part resurrection plays in soteriology in regards to Jesus own redemption and how this connects with the relationship between his resurrection and our future one.

Thursday, June 15, 2006 

The Future Resurrection of the Body: Part III

In his post entitled The Body and the Self, Patrik, in response to a reader's comments, presents us with a tentative interpretation of the Pauline view concerning the resurrection taken from the context of 1 Cor 15. In this post I want to comment briefly on a certain section of that post:

Patrik says,

"the immediate problem I see is the assumption that we can agree on what a 'real physical resurrection' would mean, not to mention know what St. Paul would mean with such a phrase. Both the terms "real" and "physical" are modern concepts. My point is that even if one would attest that Paul did in fact believe in a real physical resurrection, one would still have to address what this means. I guess my interpretation is an attempt to address that question."

First, Patrik's assertion that "the terms 'real' and 'physical' are modern concepts" is baffling to me. The Ancient Near East and Late Antiquity surely had concepts such as these. Patrik must have in mind a philosophically loaded understanding of "real" and "physical". And if that's so, I do not see how that applies to the discussion.

However, perhaps Patrik is right to assert that we can never agree on what a real physical resurrection would mean. But what I think Patrik is implying is that we could never really conceive what a resurrection (physically) of a body would mean. For my part, it is enough to affirm that God will redeem our bodies and that we call this "resurrection." I'm not concerned with the particulars of the resurrection body and neither was Paul:

"But some one will ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?' You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain." (1 Cor 15:35-37)

As Patrik has rightly pointed out before, Paul is stressing discontinuity and transformation of the body. But this should not detract us from seeing that Paul is still emphasizing that resurrection is something that happens to these bodies. Paul never has in mind two absolutely distinct bodies. What is sown and what is reaped are still, in someway, the same. All Paul wishes to affirm is that resurrection is something that happens to our present bodies and that probing beyond this to ask particulars about certain qualities of the new body such as whether it will wear clothes, have sex, eat, etc. need not be our concern.

Therefore, I do not see the importance of agreeing, in a complete and exhaustive sense, what a real, physical resurrection would entail. It is enough to say that the resurrection indicates God's desire to save this fleshly body of mine. And even if we have to live with the supposedly insolvable paradox of a "spiritual body" or of trying to figure out what Paul meant by "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God", the purpose of resurrection remains the same: the salvation of the believer's body, even if that salvation takes on an almost completely different form (spiritual body) that is inconceivable to us.

Monday, June 12, 2006 

The Future Resurrection of the Body: Part II

Sorry for the lack of blogging. It was a busier weekend than expected. One of my jobs is as an agent for a cell-phone company and so I've been dealing with customer issues all weekend. One of the cons of selling cell-phones is that I have to give these people my personal cell-phone number and so, naturally, when problems arise they call me. Well, enough of the complaining. In this part of my new series of posts concerning the future resurrection of the body I want to comment briefly on each of the propositions I gave concerning what I felt to be the substance of Patrik's (sorry for the misspellings earlier) view. Here was the first proposition:

1.) First, discussions on the afterlife are problematic to begin with since we know so little about existence after death (granting there is such a thing).

Patrik is certainly correct, from a purely epistemological perspective, to assert that we know very little about post-death experience. However, there is a difference in epistemological certainity and hoping for certain conceptions of the afterlife. As I will try to argue in future posts, I think there are reasons for hoping in a future, and in some sense more than metaphorical, resurrection of our bodies. The key term here is hope. This is how I want to frame this discussion, by affirming that, yes, our knowledge about the after life is limited but that this limitation should not hinder us from having certain (hopeful) conceptions about it.

2.) Furthermore, the Bible does not offer any detailed discussions concerning life after death and the common perceptions of this post-death existence have more to due with the influence of such literary works as Dante's Inferno.

3.) What the Bible does offer is" essentially a 'negative theology'" about the afterlife.

Patrik is a bit wrong on these two points. Granted, most of the Hebrew Bible does not offer much in regards to an afterlife and when it is clearly asserted it is not until the Book of Daniel, which many scholars believe to be one of the latest books in the Hebrew canon. However, once we cross the intertestamental divide into the NT it is an entirely different story. I must admit to being somewhat perplexed as to how Patrik can assert that the Bible says very little about existence after death. The hope of a future resurrection permeates the NT (even in individualized eschatological schemes such as John's Gospel there remains a hope for future resurrection). What the Bible is silent about is the intermediate phase between death and resurrection. But it has much to say about the final state of salvation.

4.) And though Paul takes up the issue of future bodily resurrection in 1 Cor. 15, Rom. 6ff offers a better guide to Paul's thoughts on the believer's body where he uses it as a symbol for what the believer has become or who they currently are (personality).

In Romans 6, Paul never actually uses the body as a symbol in and of itself. Paul's discussion concerns our being crucified and baptized into Christ's death. This is the symbolism being utilized (though I think if Paul were here he would reject our talk of 'being baptized into Christ' as merely symbolic). Yet even if we allow that Paul is using the body in a purely symbolic sense in this passage this would by no means signify that that is how Paul always understood the body. Indeed, later in Romans we see clearly Paul's understanding of the body as more than a symbol for "ourselves." Consider the following passages:

"But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you." (Rom. 8: 10-11)

"We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved." (Rom. 8: 22-24)

In regards to the first passage two things need to be noted. First, Paul makes it clear that the life given to our mortal bodies is provided for on the basis of the life given to Jesus' mortal body when he was raised from the dead. The connection would imply the salvation of our bodies as similar to that of Jesus' when God, through the Spirit, raised him from the dead. Secondly, Paul places an attributive adjective with the word body (Greek: soma), namely, mortal. The use of this adjective is inexplicable if Paul merely has in mind a metaphorical body.

As for the second passage, Paul clearly makes a correlation between the redemption of the created order with that of our bodies. Just as the creation eagerly groans to be redeemed, so too do our bodies. To make Paul's use of body as merely symbolic for our personalities or what have you would not make sense in this passage.

So then for Patrik to divert the discussion concerning Paul's view of the body from 1 Cor 15 to Rom 6 is not helpful since, in my mind at least, other passages in Romans would seem to suggest the same type of understanding of body as that found in the famous resurrection chapter.

5.) Based on this observation, the hope of salvation after death should be understood as the redemption of our personality, that which constitues who we truly are. Resurrection of the body is simply a way of affirming that after death, God will make us "whole."

Since this is the crux of Patrik's position. I do not think Patrik is necessarily wrong in what he is saying but it is incomplete in my opinion. The rest of the posts in this series will attempt to clarify why I think this is incomplete and why I think we can hope for the resurrection as more than the salvation of our personalities. In the next post I will engage Patrik's interpretation of 1 Cor 15 (be sure to read Patrik's intepretation here).

Thursday, June 08, 2006 

Resurrection Dogmatics: Restatement of Purpose

Before continuing my series on the resurrection of the body I want to clarify some things about my blog. I named this site Resurrection Dogmatics partly in honor of Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics but also because in my experience and reading, the topic of the resurrection has become very marginalized. When the topic is treated it is almost always in reference to Jesus' resurrection with apologetic motives. Rarely is the true significance of the resurrection examined and propounded. Furthermore, except for a few scholars resurrection as a proper soteriological concept is non-existent. Salvation is almost always exclusively dealt with in terms of Jesus' sacrificial death and the atonement it brings for humanity's sin. In my opinion, most of Christian exegesis and theology has been insufficient due to this exclusive focus on Christ's death.

But that's a discussion for another time. I'm saying all of this to emphasize that the resurrection has become in most Christian circles an appendix to the gospel message and to theology in general. My site exists in part to correct this by posting periodically on issues related to the topic of resurrection. Thus the title of my blog, Resurrection Dogmatics. What is not the purpose of my site is to beat people over the head with resurrection. My site is not dogmatic in this sense. I hope that I do not come across like this. I apologize if at times I have seemed to act in such a manner.

As I enter into dialogue with Patrick over the issue of the resurrection of the body, I would ask my readers to make sure I do not inadvertantly cross the line into the kind of dogmatism that this site is not meant to be characterized by. If any of you at any time feel like I'm doing this, please let me know. In the meantime, I have added Patrick's blog to my list and I would encourage you to visit. He has some very keen insights on various issues and updates very regularly. Tomorrow, part 2 to my current series should be up. But the weekend is approaching, and those who regularly visit my website know, because of my two jobs, that is the hardest time for me to post. Regardless, part 2 should not be up any later than Sunday.

*Note: See original statement of purpose here.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006 

The Future Resurrection of the Body: Part I

My next series of posts will be in part a response to Patrick Hagman's two posts at God in a Shrinking Universe where Patrick argues for the resurrection of the body as predominately a symbol and/or metaphor for the salvation of our personality. Be sure to first read Patrick's insightful posts here and here before reading my series on why I believe that the resurrection of the body is something that we can hope in as more than a metaphor.

Before tackling Patrick's view on the future resurrection of the believer I think it's best to lay out in proposition form what I consider to be the substance of Patrick's arguments:

1.) First, discussions on the afterlife are problematic to begin with since we know so little about existence after death (granting there is such a thing).

2.) Furthermore, the Bible does not offer any detailed discussions concerning life after death and the common perceptions of this post-death existence have more to due with the influence of such literary works as Dante's Inferno.

3.) What the Bible does offer is" essentially a 'negative theology'" about the afterlife.

4.) And though Paul takes up the issue of future bodily resurrection in 1 Cor. 15, Rom. 6ff offers a better guide to Paul's thoughts on the believer's body where he uses it as a symbol for what the believer has become who who they currently are (personality).

5.) Based on this observation, the hope of salvation after death should be understood as the redemption of our personality, that which constitues who we truly are. Resurrection of the body is simply a way of affirming that after death, God will make us "whole."

This is, in brief, what I see as the substance of Patrick's arguments for resurreection as a metaphor for "wholeness". Now, on my reading of Patrick, he does not appear to dogmatically believe that the afterlife will not be an embodied one but rather he seems to remain somewhat agnostic asserting that we do not know how wholenesss "will feel, look, or take place." Yet the subsequent post does suggest that Patrick leans away from viewing the afterlife as embodied. However, contra Patrick, I think a plausible case can be made for the hope of the resurrection of the body as something that goes beyond the symbolic and/or metaphorical. This is what I want to explore in the next few posts. Any comments and/or criticisms, as usual, are always welcome.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006 

Resurrection Oddities II

Here's part two of my periodical "Resurrection Oddities" series. The following passage occurs in the context of Jerome's attack on Origen's view of the resurrection of the body which is taken up by a certain John with whom Jerome is debating. Jerome takes issue with Origen for affirming a resurrection of the body but denying the resurrection of the flesh. Jerome first explains Origen's viewpoint and then argues why its in error. Here's the passage:

"I (Jerome) shall explain briefly the teaching of Origen concerning the resurrection...He says we would be simple-minded and flesh-loving to say that these bones and this blood and flesh-that is, face and members and the whole complex of the body-will rise again in the last day, that is, that we will walk with feet, work with hands,...and digest food with stomachs...Those who believe this tell us [he says] that we will then produce feces, give forth humors, take wives, and produce children. For why are there genitals, if not for marrying?"

Jerome's reply: "You, heretic, say 'body and do not mean 'flesh' at the same time, for you wish to deceive the ears of the ignorant. Believe me, your silence is not simple. For 'flesh' has one definition and 'body another...Job said:'And I shall be surrounded again with my skin and in my flesh I shall see God' (Job 19.26) Does it not seem to you, then, that Job writes against Origen and for the truth of the flesh which he sustained torments: For it grieves him that the suffering is in vain if another rises spiritually when this flesh has been carnally tortured...If he is not to rise in his own sex and with the same members that were thrown on the dung heap, if the same eyes are not opened for seeing God by which he then saw worms, where therefore will Job be? You take away the things in which Job consists and give me empty words concerning resurrection; for how, if you want to restore a ship after shipwreck, do you deny a single part of which the ship is constituted."

Taken from Caroline Walker Bynum's The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336, pp 87-88.

Saturday, June 03, 2006 

Jesus the Rabbinic Sage?

For some people, many of the regulations and rules (halakha, halakhot) that are given as supplemental (or complemental) to the written Torah by the Rabbis of the Mishnaic and Tannaitic periods may seem superfulous to us today or even legalistic as it seemed to many interpreters before E.P. Sanders paradigm shifting Paul and Palestinian Judaism. One need only look at the various Rabbinic discussions concerning what actually constitutes breaking the Jewish shabbot (sabbath) for a prime example of this adding to the law. Consider the following the discussion about what actually constitutes work on the sabbath:

"The main classes of work are forty save one: sowing, ploughing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, cleansing crops, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, shearing wool, washing or beating or dyeing it, spinning, weaving, making two loops, weaving two threads, separating two threads, tying a knot, loosening a knot...writing two letters, erasing in order to write two letters..." (From Shabbath 7.1ff: taken from C.K. Barrett's The New Testament Background: Selected Writings, p. 195)

Though seemingly excessive to us, the Rabbis did have their reasons for adopting these various halakhot as is given in the following passage:

Pirqe Abot 1:1
A. Moses received the Torah at Sinai and handed it on to Joshua, Joshua to elders, and elders
to prophets.
B. And prophets handed it on to the men of the great assembly.
C. They said three things:
1.) "Be prudent in judgment."
2.) "Raise up many disciples."
3.) "Make a fence for the Torah." (emphasis added)

The Rabbinic sages believed that part of what Moses handed down through a chain of tradition (oral Torah) involved the injunction to "make a fence around the Torah." The purpose of this "fence" was to keep people as far away as possible from breaking a commandment and so transgressing. The Oral Torah, as written, compiled, and redacted in the Mishnah (and further commented on in the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds) was precisely the barrier placed around the written Torah to prevent as much as possible Jewish transgression of that Torah. Thus the halakhot.

Again, though this may seem a bit excessive to us, especially those of us who like to affirm that we are justified by faith and not by "works of the law" Jesus acted in a very similar manner to the Rabbinic sages. Consider the following from the classic Sermon on the Mount:

1. "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill...' But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable" (Matt. 5:21-22)

2. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (5:27-28)

3. "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.' But I say to you, 'Do not swear at all'" (5:33-34)

What is Jesus doing here? He is, like the later Rabbis, putting his own "fence" around the Torah. The Jewish Rabbinic scholar Jacob Neusner elaborates further:

"Not only must I not kill; I must not even approach the threshold of anger that in the end leads to murder. Not only must I not commit adultery; I must not even approach the road that leads to adultery. Not only must I not swear falsely by God's name; I should not swear at all. These formulations represent an elaboration of three of the Ten Commandments. In the language of a text of Judaism attributed to authorities long before Jesus' own time, 'Make a fence around the Torah.' That is to say, conduct yourself in such a way that you will avoid even the things that cause you to sin, not only sin itself." (Jacob Neusner, Judaism When Christianity Began, 24-25)

So then, Jesus in a similar manner as his Jewish successors provided his own version of halakhot to prevent as much as possible transgression of the Torah. Jesus on this score was not too far from his Jewish brethern as is sometimes maintained (as in the oft-repeated, "the Jews stressed rules and regulations, but Jesus preached love and mercy").

However, though Jesus was very similar to the Rabbinic sages in constructing a fence around the Torah, he differed from the Rabbis at an important point. After praising Jesus for acting as the later sages do, Neusner is quick to point out what is problematic with Jesus' assertions concerning the Torah:

"But what kind of Torah is it that improves on the teachings of the Torah without acknowledging the source-and it is God who is the source-of those teachings? So sages would be troubled not so much by the message, though they might take exception to this or that, as by the messenger. The reason is that in form these statements are jarring. On the mountain, Jesus' use of language, 'You have heard that it was said...but I say to you...' contrasts strikingly with Moses' language at Mount Sinai. Sages, we saw, say thing sin thier own names but without claming to improve on the Torah, to which they aspire to contribute. The prophet, Moses, speaks not in his own name but in God's name, saying what God has told him to say. Jesus speaks not as a sage nor as a prophet...So how are the sages to respond to this 'I,' who pointedly contrasts what 'you' have heard with what he says?" (ibid, p. 25)

In this passage Neusner highlights the difficulties from a Rabbinic perspective concerning Jesus' additions to the Torah. Where as the Rabbis were accustomed to acknowledging preceding sages (and ultimately God) as the source of their "fence" (as exhibited by their speech, 'Rabbi so and so said this, and Rabbi such and such said that) Jesus' 'I' points to himself as the source of the changes. Ulitimately, the sages and Jesus part ways at this point on the Torah.

Even so, Jesus' own building of a 'fence' around the Torah should cause us to be less apt to criticise the Rabbis for their own fence constructions even if their fence may seem to have been built a bit too high. Jesus and the sages ultimate telos in adding to the Torah was congruous: to further prevent possible disobedience to the Most High's law.

Friday, June 02, 2006 

Biblical Studies Carnival VI

Biblical Studies Carnival VI is up at Faith and Theology. Be sure to give it a look. Many thanks to Ben Meyers for his hard work in gathering up these great posts from across the biblioblog kingdom.

Thursday, June 01, 2006 

Karl Barth and the Resurrection

"The Resurrection is the revelation: the disclosing of Jesus as the Christ, the appearing of God, and the apprehending of God in Jesus. The Resurrection is the emergence of the necessity of giving glory to God: the reckoning with what is unknown and unobservable in Jesus, the recognition of Him as Paradox, Victor, and Primal History. In the Resurrection the new world of the Holy Spirit touches the old world of the flesh, but touches it as a tangent touches a circle, that is, without touching it. And, precisely because it does not touch it, it touches it as its frontier-as the new world." (Karl Barth, Epistle to the Romans, p. 30)

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