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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: Passover

I’m back, and I’m devoting a big chunk of today to catching up on blog stuff.

The authors of Pierced for Our Transgressions enthusiastically attempt to make a case for the Old Testament passover to be an instance of vicarious atonement. Their entire efforts lean on a snippet cut from a single verse, Exodus 12:12.

For those who have not read Pierced for Our Transgressions, the authors’ handling of this is sadly representative of how they handle the entire topic (Penal Substitution) throughout their book. I hope to publish some sort of summary review of that soon.

Exodus 12:12 reads “For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments–I am the LORD.”

Put the authors do not provide this entire verse (which is understandable given how long it is). What is much less acceptable is what they do say. They tell their reader: “…the plague on the firstborn is described specifically as ‘judgment on all the gods of Egypt.'”


That’s not what Exodus 12:12 says at all. It might be a reasonable conclusion to draw if we already believe in Penal Substitution AND we ignore that the Exodus story described an event from 3500 years ago within the context of world-wide idolatry.

When God says “I will strike down the firstborn… AND on the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment,” it means exactly what it says. God will do two things. The firstborn will be struck down and the idols of the Egyptians will be toppled/destroyed, etc. Had the authors quoted the entire verse, it would be more obvious (I hope) that this is what was meant… it’s hard to understand how the destruction of donkeys, goats, etc. could be construed as “judgment upon Egypt’s gods.”Moses did not crater to idolatry, yet his household would have been vulnerable to the plague on the firstborn…so the death of the firstborn could not be merely the way God was executing judgment on the “gods of Egypt.” No. When God says judgment on the “gods of Egypt” would ensue, it means precisely that: the gods of Egypt (the idols) would be destroyed. To someone in 1500 BC, that would make perfect sense. Indeed, the Old Testament has a long history of discussing this judgment on other gods in terms of destruction of the idols to which people bowed(e.g., Jeremiah 50:2, 51:47, Ezekiel 6:6, 30:13, and of course the story of Dagon in 1st Samuel 5:4)

However, it would still be possible for the Old Testament passover to be a vicarious atonement, even if there is absolutely no evidence of it in the actual account. It would be, as Dan Martin put it, extrascriptural conjecture. I made that exactly conjecture in The Gospel You’ve Never Heard.

But recently I realized there is a simple proof that the Old Testament passover could not be a case of vicarious atonement. It is based primarily on the idea that you cannot pay for something with money you don’t have. Or, to put the matter in the language of Calvinist, wrath can only be redirected to an object that would not have otherwise felt it.

This is one of the reasons given for Jesus having to be super-human and sinless. Jesus was taking upon Himself a punishment that He would otherwise not have had to bear. You cannot sacrifice something that is already marked for death. If the idea is that Person(s) A are being delivered from wrath because Person(s) B receive that wrath in their place, then none of the members of B can be members of A or else the situation is not vicarious and would not make much sense as an atonement either.

To use a courtroom analogy, we often think of all of humanity as guilty and subject to punishmen for it (of course, this courtroom drama is never portrayed in the Bible anywhere, but that’s another story). Then an innocent person takes the blame instead. In the case of Jesus the idea is that Jesus was so awesome that He could adequately receive the punishment of millions or billions, etc.

Now, imagine a different courtroom drama where instead some of the guilty stand up and offer to take the punishment for the rest. Well, that makes no sense because they are already slated for punishment. If 20 people are slated for death, one of them cannot stand up and say “Hey, just take me and leave the others alone” because we only see the innocent as being able to take the debt from another. [And, of course, it is not really vicarious to receive the punishment that was due to you.]

So, what does any of this have to do with the Passover? Well, the simple truth is that some of the lambs that were sacrificed were the ones that were slated for death. As I’ve mentioned already (though the authors of PFoT do not give it much ink), not just humans but animals as well were slated for death. It was not merely the firstborn of each Israel household, but also the firstborn donkey, lamb, goat, etc. That means that many of the lambs slaughtered in the passover were themselves going to die anyway. If the firstborn plague were actual wrath that had to be averted, then many of the lambs slaughtered in that massive first passover were themselves already the bearers of judgment.

But we’ve already established that someone who is already bearing judgment cannot atone for others. So, if the passover lambs were meant as vicarious atonement for judgment on Israel, we would reach a contradiction because we would find that someone already bearing judgment (statutorily guilty) was somehow able to atone for others.

Of course, if we allow Exodus 12:12 to mean what is says (in the context of 1500 BC culture), we would not see the passover as a case of vicarious atonement at all, and all the above problems are vanquished.

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: Gospel

Of course, most people reading this blog will have heard a version of John 3:16. Many people consider it a concise description of “the gospel,” and I would agree with that. The question is, if John 3:16 is a summary of the gospel, what gospel does it summarize?The reason I bring this up is that the surrounding verses indicate that John 3:16 cannot possibly be a summary of the gospel of evangelical Christianity. Let’s take a look at what John says after this oft-quoted verse.John 3:16-17-

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

So far, so good. Nothing odd there.John 3:18a-

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already,

At first this appears to drive home the commonly accepted gospel even more. We are told that those who do not believe have “been judged already.” That sounds a lot like the idea of everyone being condemned to hell “by default” for their sins, and Christ is pictured as saving them, hence showing the love mentioned in John 3:16

But then we get to John 3:18b-

because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

And this really should raise an eyebrow or two. The evangelical gospel is primarily focused on heaven and hell, and how everyone more or less deserves the latter but through God’s grace some receive the former. The issue here is that the “condemnation” John speaks of is not a condemnation for general sin, but rather a condemnation because someone “has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”Reformed Christianity in particular is adamant that we are not condemned due to rejecting Christ (if so, that would not condemn the millions who never knew of Him). But here that is exactly what John is referring to.

Some would say that John is not speaking of “rejecting Christ” but simply “not believing.” Those who “do not believe” (for whatever reason) are still “being judged” rather than having escaped that judgment. (Of course, this whole line of thought is contrary to those passages that describe the Judgment, where all are clearly Judged, believers and non-believers.)

But John is not talking about mere ignorance or “not believing,” because he tells us exactly what the Judgment is for in the next verse, John 3:19-21

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.

John is clearly describing two groups of people everyone who does evil and he who practices the truth. This latter forms another problem for evangelical Christianity, which says that no one can really practice the truth until they have already come to believe. But here John says the opposite: those who desire to please God are exactly those who come to Christ.

In any event, this last section shows that John is not saying “those who believe” versus “those who do not believe.” He is making a separation between those who actively rejected Christ and those who actively came to Christ. You cannot with any intellectual integrity claim that a 12th century Native American “failed to believe” for the reason John gives here.The same applies today even where some version of the Gospel is preached everywhere. If someone rejects the message of the church because history has exposed too much hypocrisy in the church to find it a solid source of spiritual wisdom, you certainly cannot say that person rejected Christ for the reason John gives.

So, if this passage serves as your gospel, you have to accept that it does not give a definitive description of who is condemned and who is not, for by its own words it would not apply to all people. Secondly, you would have to accept that the reason people come to Jesus is because they are dispositionally inclined to do God’s will. That is very different from the reason most people accept for how or why someone believes.

This latter idea, that people believe in Christ or not based on whether they already have a desire to do God’s will is a recurring theme of John’s. Jesus says it about as clearly as one could hope for in John 7:17-

If anyone is willing to do [God’s] will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or {whether} I speak from Myself.

This is repeated over and over, Jesus wants people to believe in Him because His words make sense. The commands He gives are ones that those who desire God naturally find value in, while those who were interested in their own gain are humiliated by Christ’s commands.

This might all seem a bit odd, but it isn’t odd if you take into consideration why and when John was written. John was written to Gentiles after the Temple had been destroyed which represented God’s prophesied judgment against the Jewish leadership for rejecting Christ.

This is what John has in mind when saying This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

Obviously, the men here does not everyone. “Everyone” didn’t reject Christ. The Jewish leaders did. And why did they reject Christ? As John tells us: For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

That is the reason the Jewish leaders rejected Christ. We are often told this fiction that the reason the Jews rejected Christ was that they were looking for a political leader rather than a spiritual one. That is simply not true. If that were the reason for rejecting Christ, then everyone would have done so. All the Jews (including Jesus’ disciples) were expecting Jesus to eventually be anointed and become the new David, the new King (just as David had to wait on the fringes for Saul to be deposed). That is why the disciples are so shocked when Jesus is actually killed. The notion that He would rise from the dead to be king was unfathomable. They thought the game was up when He died [hence their forlorn response in Luke 24:21.]

You might be asking, so what is the point if John is just talking about the Jewish leaders?

To see the point of this you have to once again look at John’s purpose. He is sharing the gospel with Gentiles, broadcasting that God’s Kingdom is now open to them. The focus is not on the God so loved the world. The focus is on the whosoever. This notion of everyone (not just Jews) shows up throughout John. In particular it shows in the verse immediately before John 3:16. John 3:14-15 reads

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

The “lifted up” has a double meaning. It refers to both Christ’s crucifixion and ascension, but it also refers to the “lifting up of Christ” for the world to see. Why? so whoever believes can receive eternal life. Note the similar language Christ uses when discussing this very idea later in John 12:32 –

And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.

So, what we are seeing in John 3:16 is really a commentary on the destruction of the Temple [has been condemned already] and the reason for that judgment against the Jewish leaders.

You might wonder why John uses the term eternal life here if it is referring to the physical destruction of the temple as an indication of the judgment on the Jews. That’s a topic for another blog, but it is linked (once again) to the context of this passage. The John 3:16-21 passage is a commentary on Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus. The eternal life here is linked to the kingdom of God Jesus refers to in John 3:3.

This Kingdom of God is not “heaven after we die,” as Jesus makes clear in that dialogue. It is the baptism by the Holy Spirit, the seal of the new covenant God makes through Christ, a covenant in which everyone is invited to participate. The term that gets translated eternal life by John, when writing to Gentiles who do not know much about the Jewish O’lam Ha-Ba was the best way to get across the blessedness of living in the spirit. Eternal life is not even the best translation. Boundless life is probably a better one. [Greek does have a word that means “eternal” in the way we would think of the term, but it is not the word used here. It is used in Jude 13]. This shows in John’s amazing definition of eternal life in John 17:3

This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

Note that this is really meant as a definition (or as close as a definition as you can get) to eternal life (or, rather, the Greek John used for that term). The grammar here is one John uses elsewhere when giving a dictionary definition or precise explanation of what something is. Other examples where John uses the exact same grammar are: John 1:19, John 3:19, John 15:12, 1st John 1:15, 1st John 3:13.

And that is why John 3:16 is a fine description of the gospel: God sent Jesus to allow all people to recieve the Holy Spirit (which, if one reads Galatians 3:13-14 closely, you’ll find Paul saying the same thing!!!) It just is not necessarily the gospel people generally think of.

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: life

(Note to anyone who got here by Google search: This post is not a discussion of whether hell is eternal or not. That debate does not interest me. It is a discussion of what “aionios” means in general, with particular interest in what the phrase “aionios zoe” (generally translated “eternal life”) means in the New Testament.)

The Greek word aion originally simply referred to life, and later came to mean “life span.” From this usage it became a general word for a “length of time.” By the time of Christ it more commonly referred to longer time-spans, and is often translated as “age” in the New Testament. It is where we get our word “eon”(or aeon). 

When Christ speaks of those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit not being forgiven “in this age or in the age to come” [Matthew 12:32], the background Greek is aion. About 75% of the time you read “age” in the New Testament, the background Greek is aion. Unfortunately, there is simply no English equivalent to the essential meaning of aion, but “age” is the most accurate of several unsatisfactory choices. Indeed, if translators were more literal, we would read “age” more frequently in our Bibles, but often aion gets translated as “world” or “forever.” Instead of “forever,” a more accurate translation would be “throughout this/the age.” To capture the notion of something transcending the/this age, writers often use the plural, as in the common reference to glory being to Jesus “forever and ever” (e.g., Hebrews 13:21) which is literally “into the ages.”

While “age” is the closest English word to what aion means, it fails to capture its philosophical trappings. Indeed, our modern understanding of time forms a real barrier to understanding the Greek notion of an “age.” We see time as a type of coordinate system that complements space. Space bounds the universe and every point in that universe travels through time. In this way, locations and events can be designated by their place and date much like points on the Earth’s surface are designated by latitude and longitude. For the Greeks, though, time was bound up with the idea of motion and (more generally) the type of gradual change perceived in the world as it evolves.

When I say aion means “age” I don’t mean to emphasize the chronological time interval moving from one date to another. In fact, the philosophical meaning of aion contrasts with the notion of chronological time. Chronological time (as understood by the Greeks) is bound to the realm of our senses. We see and apprehend events occurring in time and we mark time off from one solar cycle to another. The notion of aion is rather a “timeless present” that captures the abstract properties of the world. A new aion is marked out when the characteristics of the previous one cease to be and are replaced by new characteristics.

One example given by Philo [(On the Changing of Names (267)] is the aion signified by the birth of Isaac. The world prior to Isaac’s birth is somehow fundamentally different from the world afterward because Isaac’s birth marks the fulfillment of a promise by God. This was an aion that was, in Philo’s words, truly “strange, marvelous, and new.” So the point of an aion is not that it marks off some interval of time but rather that it represents an apprehension of abstract qualities of the world, an apprehension that does not change gradually (as the world seen through the lens of time does), but is rather a timeless present that endures until the next age commences.

Linguistically, the word “aionios” is just the adjective formed from aion. Thus, if we were using strict etymology, aionios would mean something like “pertaining to (a/the) age.” Its actual meaning (or range of meanings) has been much debated.

It is an odd word. We don’t have one in English. The words “age-y” or “time-span-y” don’t exist. The closest we come is when we say something like “That outfit is so 80s.” Words are created because of practical needs, and it is not clear why one needs an adjective form of “age.”

For this reason, the adjective aionios came rather late. The Greeks got along perfectly well for several centuries prior to Plato coming up with the word. He is the first person known to use the term aionios, most notably in Timaeus, where he describes the creation of the universe. 

The thing that makes aionios so difficult to understand is that it is very often used to refer to “unceasing” or “constant,” and hence is often read as “eternal.” Yet, the Greeks already had a word for “eternal” [adios], so why did Plato feel the need to create this other word?

More important to my study is “What did John, Paul, and the other Jews responsible for the NT mean when they wrote aionios?” If they just wanted to say “eternal” or “unending,” then the Greek word that clearly means that is adios. Yet aionios is used very frequently in the NT while adios is only used twice (in Romans 1:20 to refer to God’s eternal power, and in Jude 6 to refer to the eternal chains binding the rebellious angels for punishment). Aionios is a more obscure word, so why was it favored so heavily? What did the apostles mean by it?

Much of the interest in the meaning of aionios comes from people who want to argue against the idea of hell lasting forever. This strikes me as a rather silly debate. First, whether or not hell lasts forever, the Bible is clear it should be avoided at all costs. Second, claiming that God could not possibly choose to punish people for eternity seems too much like judging the Creator. Third, those who argue for a temporal hell generally (though not always) do so as part of a Universalistic theory that claims all eventually go to heaven. This further claim seems decidedly unbiblical based on Matthew 10:28. (Luke 13:24 ff also seems to suggest that once the door is closed it won’t be reopened.)

The reason I care about the meaning of aionios is its use in the key phrase aionios zoe, generally translated “eternal life.” I claim that it rather refers to “life in the age (to come)” or “life in the (Messianic) age.” In other words, the life we have in the New Covenant. We have a type of this life now with the advent of the Holy Spirit, and it will reach fullest flower when we receive our full inheritance of a purified flesh in the resurrection (Romans 8:23).

The problem is that it is hard to tell what aionios is intended to mean in general because the life of the next age is supposed to be unending/eternal (see Luke 20:36) as well, and the life of the New Covenant is understandably linked to that life as described above. Thus, it is hard to untangle what aspect of the life we have in Christ the New Testament writers referred to with aionios. Was it intended to refer to the new creation, the “life of the new age.” Or was it intended simply to refer to immortality?

Often this is when people who don’t like theology say something like “can’t it be both?” Or, similarly, “why does it matter which meaning they actually intended if both meanings apply?”

The reason I’m pursuing the question is that our understanding of what the apostles meant by aionios zoe (typically translated “eternal life”) directly influences how we think about other topics because the idea of aionios zoe is fundamentally linked to salvation and Christ’s work in general. If you think of aionios zoe as referring to the life we have in the New Covenant through the power of the Holy Spirit, then the gospel story of Christ’s work revolves around the question of “what did Christ have to do to allow me to receive the Spirit?” In other words, it becomes centered on verses like John 16:7. This is quite a different gospel story than what many Christians are used to. Note that this question includes the key idea of the resurrection as well because the resurrected flesh is the most perfect form of this life in the New Covenant. It is the completion of the work Jesus has already begun, the final inheritance for which the Holy Spirit is a portion.

Notably absent from the above is any discussion of the Final Judgment, which I do not believe is directly linked to salvation. Jesus judges both Christians and non-Christians alike, but not as a judge assesses a defendant (who is only on trial for supposed crimes). Rather Christ judges everyone based on all their works (both evil and good) to determine whom He will choose for the New Kingdom. (This is indicated many times in scripture, some clear examples being Matthew 14:47-50; Matthew 25:31-46. Paul says it in three different ways within the Romans 2:5-16 passage and repeats it in Romans 14:10-12. 2nd Corinthians 5:11 is also notable.)

Recently I found a couple of particularly interesting passages in Philo where aionios is used in a way that completely settles the question as to the basic meaning of aionios for Hellenized Jews around the time of Christ. Before going into the details, I want to give an English hypothetical that mirrors Philo’s discussion of aionios.

Imagine you are a 5th grade student, and your science teacher says “The academic name for our Sun is Sol. I say ‘academic’ because it is not a universal name for our ‘sun.’ Our sun doesn’t have a universal name, and it does not need a universal name. People just say ‘the sun’ and most people have no knowledge of the name ‘Sol.’”

Now, as a 5th grade student, you may not know what “academic” means, but from the above discussion it absolutely cannot mean “universal” or “used everywhere” or “unlimited in space.” The teacher has specified that the whole point of her use of “academic” is to limit the scope of the term under discussion. If “academic” could in any way have “everywhere” or “universal” as its base meaning, then her statement becomes sheer lunacy.

Philo makes a statement very similar to the above, except instead of discussing something containing all of space (everywhere/universal), the discussion refers to time.

Philo comments on passages in the Old Testament where the name of God is discussed. The Greek version of the Old Testament uses the term aionios to refer to this name. Philo explains that the use of the word aionios tells us that this name is not the eternal name for God. It does not apply to the age that came before this one, but is only given in this age so man would have a term to use in prayer. Philo indicates that aionios is a fundamentally limiting term (with respect to time) and specifies that it is not only a limiting term, but it is used precisely for the purpose of specifying that God’s absolute name is not in view because God has no absolute name. Philo says that the word aionios is used to “relativize” the name of God, indicating that the name given to Moses is God’s name relative just to this age, not one that is applicable beyond or before this age. Clearly, if aionios had “eternal” as a base meaning, it could hardly be used with the purpose of limiting the noun it is modifying.

In discussing the well-known “I am who I am” passage where God is said to have given God’s aionios name, Philo says (On the Changing of Names, section 12):

For this, says he, is the “[aionios]” name, as if it has been investigated and discerned in the age [aion] in which we live, and not in the age [aion] that was before.

In another passage (On Abraham, section 51), Philo makes a similar remark. He quotes Scripture where God says “This is my [aionios] name: I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

Here, Yong’s classic translation of this passage:

…appropriating to himself an appellation composed of the three names: “For,” says God, “this is my [aionios] name: I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” using there the relative term instead of the absolute one; and this is very natural, for God stands in no need of a name. But though he does not stand in any such need, nevertheless he bestows his own title on the human race that they may have a refuge to which to betake themselves in supplications and prayers, and so may not be destitute of a good hope.

This discussion is not intended to suggest that aion or aionos can never imply or give rise to the notion of eternity.  As mentioned above there are certainly phrases using this term (“from age to age” and “into the ages”) that convey the notion of “forever and ever.” However, these very phrases indicate that aion itself cannot refer to “forever” in the philosophical sense. There cannot be multiple “forevers.” These terms can get across the notion of “ceaseless” or “enduring” because the notion of aion embodies those properties of the world that are not subject to the gradual effect that time has on the world. However, this does not mean “changeless” per se, but rather “constant within this age.” (Of course, there is nothing saying that the age in question has to end…)

The point of this discussion is to claim that when Jesus or one of the apostles used the term aionios to refer to the life made possible to us through Jesus, they were not referring to the “unendingness” of that life but are rather referring to the character of that life. The aionios zoe is the life in the age of the New Covenant and is fundamentally different from the life of those who never received the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Just as the birth of Isaac ushered in a new age fundamentally different from that which came before it, the ascension of Jesus as High Priest who sends the Holy Spirit, brings about a new age, and those who believe in Jesus have access to the special life of that age.

Under this reading, Christ’s claim in John 17:3 makes perfect sense: “This is the aionios zoe, that they know You, the one true God, and Jesus Christ Whom You have sent.” This verse defines the aionios life not in terms of its duration but in terms of its nature.Note that the special linguistic structure John uses in 17:3 is the same he uses elsewhere when he wants to give a definition or exact description of something or someone. See John 1:19, John 3:19, John 15:12, 1 John 1:5, and 1 John 3:11 for further examples of this grammatical structure and John’s use of it.

The life in this new age is one typified by knowledge of God, knowledge which Jesus says will be brought by the Holy Spirit. It is the sending of the Holy Spirit that Jesus claims is the reason He had to die (John 16:7).

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: Judgment

I recently wrote a post at gush on the topic of “Works-Righteousness” and reckoned it reasonable to post here:I was thinking about the term “Works-Righteousness” today and decided it is just another of those Christian Buzzwords that are thrown about without any care for their actual meaning. In this case, it’s just a pejorative that’s used to label a collection of beliefs without having a real meaning. It’s like “Nazi” or “Fascist” for evangelicals.So, I was wondering what you people think it means and if anyone can come up with a good actual definition.Here are some thoughts I had [in an effort to show why I’ve decided it is just a junk-word Christians use to attack things.]First, obviously the word indicates a philosophy/theology that links “works” to “righteousness”

The first and most important observation is that the term really cannot have anything to do with the Final Judgment if it has any meaning. People are described righteous or unrighteous throughout the Bible without any reference to the Final Judgment. So, whatever “righteous” means, it has to have a meaning/use that is not directly linked to the Judgment.

So, however one defines “works-righteousness,” it cannot be defined by using the Final Judgment as a guide.

The second issue is that the word righteous refers to a state not a prize. In fact, we should probably stop using the word “righteous” altogether because 500 years of reformed writings have corrupted what the word means. The word really just means “to be as one ought to be.” In today’s language “acceptable” would probably be a better term.

The problem is that most of the time when people describe things having to do with works-righteousness, they do not treat “righteousness” as a state but rather as prize to be won, or as a label denoting someone is worthwhile rather than the worthwhileness itself.

The third issue, of course, is what is works, really. Do works refer to “good deeds” as in “doing the will of the father”? [a’ la Matthew 7:21 and Matthew 12:50] I think that is mental definition people would often give…but often people who are attacking works-righteousness address people who are promoting “standard morality” things like not drinking, not dancing, not smoking, etc….items which are very much on the periphery of “doing the will of the father”

And, last but not least, what is the relationship that is assumed when someone decries a philosophy as “works-righteousness”?

Is it that works develop righteousness? Like pumping iron develops muscle or practicing develops mastery of the piano.

Is it that works secures righteousness, like having a majority of votes secures a person’s election to government?

Is it that works demonstrates righteousness, like how the ability to scratch all other naturally occurring minerals demonstrates that something is a diamond.

Is it that works are demonstrated by the righteous in the same way that sentimental gifts are given by those who love others without really demonstrating or proving that love.

Or is that works and righteousness are tantamount to one another, like “having tons of money in the bank” and “being wealthy.”I don’t really think people mean any of these because I believe most people use the term “works-righteousness” in a way that does not respect the fact that righteousness is a property someone has (or develops), not a evaluation or credential someone attains.

So… anyone care give a good definition for what “works-righteousness” means without appealing to the Final Judgment or treating “righteousness” as a credential?

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: November 2012

I recently began another excursion through the Bible, with an eye toward a deeper look at the soteriological topics that piqued my interest beginning in Winter ’01 (I think), and upon reaching Leviticus I spent a good deal of effort trying to work the various sacrifices into a single, cohesive structure; a goal I had sought off-and-on for quite some time. This was very important to me because it was my hope that a genuine, self-consistent understanding of these sacrifices would shed light on Christ’s work. Too often the reverse occurs, someone has a certain view on Christ’s work and goes back to find some isolated bits that match it when taken out of context.

I was unable to get the various sacrifices and their meanings to fit together. The fact that the ritual conducted after someone was found to be healed of skin disease included a “sin” and “guilt” sacrifice was particularly hard to fit into frameworks that otherwise looked to make some sense. This ritual may be quite important to fully understand because it is the only one that abstractly matches the key “Day of Atonement” ritual. (Two birds, one dies, the other flies free.)

I decided to break off reading and investigate what others had written on the topic. Two books I found particularly helpful were Milgrom’s commentary on Leviticus (Continental Commentary Series) and Purification Offerings in the Priestly Literature: Its meaning and function by Kiuchi. Interestingly, Milgrom also could not make any sense of the bird rite and chalked it up to a Pagan holdover that the priests felt compelled to keep. That’s “higher criticism” for you.

Anyways, I certainly did not go into this study seeking information about animal cruelty, but the books made some key observations that had flown under my radar. I’m relaying them here in case they have also alluded y’all. A. The sacrificial system was intimately woven into a larger cultic law (more on this in “C” below), and should be considered in context.Abstractly, the set of large land animals the tribes of Jacob could eat was determined by two questions: Does it chew the cud? Is it’s hoof split? However, for all practical purposes, the requirements meant that the tribes could only ranch 3 types of animals. Everything but goat, sheet, and ox was more or less off limits. (There were a very restricted set of wild animals, like the gazelle, that were also allowed.) Thus, the food laws (and the general value of these animals) greatly limited ranching. Also, the relative value of these animals meant that the typical person ate almost no ranched quadrupeds, eating red meat only a few times a year. [They did have domesticated birds and fish.]

B. It must be recognized that the “sacrifices” of these animals do not match what we might think of sacrifice. In fact, “sacrifice” is perhaps not even the best word to capture what is going on here. It focuses on the notion of “loss” or “payment.” Contrary to what many might make of these texts, that is not where the value of these animals lay. The focus of these sacrifices (to the extent that we can speak in general terms) was in the cleansing power of the blood.  The connotation of “sacrifice” might lead us to believe that the animals were simply destroyed or wasted without any practical value being gained (much as some might consider recreational hunting today). However, this is not the case. For the vast majority of sacrifices, only the fat was burned up. The rest of the meat was eaten, either by the priests or the person who brought the sacrifice.

[I reiterate here a point I have made before: outside the Day of Atonement (and perhaps the bird-rite) scape-goat, there is no transfer of sin going on in these sacrifices. If the animals received the sin of those who brought them, they would have defiled the temple and altar on which they were sacrificed. The scape-goat, of course, was not brought into the temple, nor killed as part of the rite. Jewish theologians note a key difference in the “laying of hands” ceremony done by the priest for the scape-goat offering as compared to others. One theory claims that the two-hand version done on the scape-goat represents transfer of sin/guilt/iniquity but that the one-hand version done in other sacrifices (including those that have nothing to do with sin) are a marking of sorts, so that the good done by the animal, or the favor it found in God’s eyes, was credited to the one who marked it by the laying of a hand. So Ibn Ezra.]

C. The idea in point B actually works in reverse as well. Not only were (most) sacrifices eaten, but all of these ranched animals had to be “sacrificed” before they could be legally eaten! This is a key and amazing point that is easy to miss. It might be better to term these sacrifices as “consecrations,” because they represented the only way any of the animals could be eaten. If an Israelite killed a sheep for food, but did not bring the sheep to the temple to be “sacrificed,” then he was liable for murder. [See Leviticus 17:3 ff].

This redoubled the effect mentioned in A. It reduced the actual amount of ranching and killing that occurred by adding to the expense involved in raising animals for food. In some sense you could consider the temple sacrifice as a type of tax on eating meat, because anytime someone slaughtered an animal for food, they had to give some of it to the priests.

D. Finally, once again in the vein of thinking of these rites as not being “sacrifices” in the typical use of the term, one should consider the Israelite mind when contemplating the meaning of these rites. As mentioned above, much of the point of the sacrifices lie in the cleansing effect of the blood on the sanctuary (and, perhaps, on the people who brought the sacrifice). The life of the animal was “in the blood” and by bringing the animal to the tabernacle, sacrificing it, and spilling its blood on the altar, the owner and priest were bringing the animal into communion with God. Recall that the Israelites did not have our understanding of the afterlife. At this point in time, there were two competing frameworks for thinking about the “soul.” In the older of these frameworks, which may have been predominant at the time, there was no such thing as an individualized “soul.” Living men were animated by the “breath of life” received from God (c.f., Adam becoming a living being when God breathed into him). Upon death, that life went back to join God.

For animals, the “life was in the blood,” which is why the Israelites were not allowed to eat any blood, and the “sacrifice” rite can be viewed as returning the essence of the animal being killed to join in communion with God when its blood was dashed upon the altar to cleanse it. Thus, attempting to put these things into a modern context, one could conceive of the cultic law as essentially demanding that every rancher perform an individual funeral of sorts for every animal they killed.

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: March 2009

The evangelism of the apostles revolved about three main notions: The Gift, The Hope, and the Promise. To often Christians see these as merely vague terms [or they assume they all mean “life in heaven after I die.”]Putting a fine point on these terms allows not only to interpret individual passages better, but also grants a richer understanding of what apostolic evangelism was about.

Christian Hope

When the apostles speak of “Hope,” they do not refer exactly to “eternal life in heaven for believers.” The hope they refer to is the idea that what God had done to Jesus already [bodily resurrection], the Almighty would do to everyone later.

To understand why this Hope is so exclusively Christian, you have to understand the culture of 1st century AD. Some Jews believed in a bodily resurrection that would occur far in the future, and many Jews did not. Those outside Judaism generally did not believe in a bodily resurrection at all.

What no one believed was that the Messiah would come, die, and be resurrected before everyone else. Not even Jesus’ disciples understood that [which is why they deserted Him… the Messiah was supposed to lead the Jews to victory over the Romans [and everyone else who had oppressed them: Luke 1:71 ] How could He do that if He were dead??

This is why they wonder in Mark 9:10 what Jesus means, since He cannot possibly mean He is going to literally die. It also comes through loud and clear in Luke 24:20-21, they had hoped (but no longer)…and what did they hope for, that the Christ would redeem Israel. Like David, they were waiting for Jesus to take His position as true King. Having Jesus die crushed these beliefs, for they did not understand He had to die [John 20:9, Luke 24:25-27]

So, the resurrection not only proves that the Christian God lives, but gave hope in their own resurrection later. Note the wording of Acts 4:2 and Acts 17:32 — this was the central message of their evangelism (as well as Jesus as the Christ and Jesus as Judge, see post on evangelism in Acts.) Paul also avers that belief in resurrection of the dead is absolutely required of believers [1st Corinthians 15:12-14].

This Hope in the resurrection of the dead was the main reason Paul was in so much hot water in Acts. It was, after all, directly opposed to the beliefs of the ruling sect of Judaism. [Acts 23:6, Acts 24:15, Acts 24:21, Acts 26:6-8.]

The Gift

People use the term “a free gift” often in evangelism today, but for Paul and the other apostles, the term had a different meaning. The Gift is nothing other than the Holy Spirit.Jesus uses this to refer to the Holy Spirit in John 4:10, Peter refers to the Spirit as “The Gift” three times: Acts 2:38, Acts 8:20, and Acts 11:17. Luke uses the term in this way in Acts 10:45, and Paul does so in 1st Timothy 4:14, and 2nd Timothy 1:6. The writer of Hebrews follows suit in Hebrews 6:4.[Note it is important to separate “The Gift” (with the “the”) from situations where there is no “the,” also there are 3 words for “gift” common in the NT, and only 2 of them appear to be used in this way, the other is more of a term for “offering.”]

The (Promised) Promise

And now we come to an interesting term. “The Promise.” We know that God promised Abraham to bless the world through his seed, but how was God going to do that? Peter answers this question for us as well, in Acts 2:33. This is the promise Jesus refers to in Luke 24:49, and in Acts 3:26, we find that it is, in fact, the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham.The Holy Spirit is further referred to as “The Promise” in Acts 2:39, Galatians 3:14, Ephesians 1:13, Ephesians 3:6, Hebrews 9:15-(The writer views us as receiving the Holy Spirit as an inheritance from Christ. Note this is definitely referring to the Holy Spirit available now that was not available earlier before Christ died: see Hebrews 9:16, Hebrews 9:8, and, most notably Hebrews 11:39-40, where the Spirit is once again referred to as what was “promised.”)But, the Holy Spirit is not only the fulfillment of a promise, it also acts as a promise…a reminder of the full salvation available when our bodies are transformed and New Jerusalem arrives [ Revelation 21:2]. The Holy Spirit, in granting us power over the desires of a flesh set against God [Romans 6:6] grants us a slice of our transformed future. It allows us to already begin living the life of the next era today. Indeed, it calls us to do so, for we are no longer to live for ourselves, but rather live for Christ.In this way, the Holy Spirit is then a Promise itself. Not on an individual basis wherein we “know we are going to heaven because we have the Spirit.” The Spirit allowed those in Matthew 7:22-23 throw out demons and prophesy in Christ’s name, but it did not see them through the Judgment, and Hebrews 6:4-6, Hebrews 10:26-27, and 2nd Peter 2:20-21 all describe that the Spirit is not a personal guarantee but a global one. God will not be mocked.

Understanding “The Promise” is crucial to getting a handle on Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Romans, where the term is used very often.

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: October 2008

Recently a post at Between Two Worlds discussed a letter written by Dan Wallace describing the angst he feels over maintaining the hard gender roles described by Paul, in particular in 1st Timothy 2:11-15. He writes I may not be comfortable with my complementarian position, but I am unwilling to twist scripture into something that it does not say. He then describes And my conscience tells me that after all the exegetical dust has settled, to deny some sort of normative principle to 1 Tim 2:12 is probably a misunderstanding of this text. Unfortunately, Wallace falls into the same practice that many pastors do when delivering a sermon. The letter says what he believes and why without giving any indication as to what might be said for the other side. It is this kind of “This is what the Bible says, and if you don’t like it, you’re a liberal” mentality that I cannot stand in the modern church.The above may sound like I’m demonizing Wallace. I’m not. He sounds genuinely apologetic regarding his beliefs, and I completely affirm those who defend unpopular positions based on Biblical principles. My belief here is that he, like many others on this and other views, has allowed the beliefs of those Christian thinkers who came before us to unduly marginalize the importance of a raft of Scripture arguing against the conservative viewpoint.Most of the time when people try to defend women in positions of authority they appeal to anthrocentric or sociologic reasons. They wonder why we restrict women who are willing to do good. They wonder why we allow the church to implicitly support gender inequality elsewhere. I do not find these arguments personally compelling, as they attempt to interpret and judge biblical principles through human ones.Others make deductions based on passages like Galatians 3:28. While these can add support to an argument, they are so broad that we wonder what other principles we could deduce.Paul’s verses are very specific [actually, not as specific as might be thought, but we will get to that later], and this is why they are exalted so highly in the debate. But are there other passages of specificity that argue against the notion that women should be so barred?Yes. Yes there are.

First, there is the important case of Deborah, the 4th Judge of Israel.

The fact that Deborah was raised up by God[Judges 2:16], spoken to by God[Judges 4:6], led Israel [Judges 4:4], did so ably, and was venerated for doing so [Judges 5:7] is an insurmountable, thoroughly biblical objection to the absolute exclusion of women in positions of authority.How does the complementarian respond to Deborah? Does he [or she] lament “Oh, what great sadness that God did not have Paul to warn The Almighty against calling a woman to rule. If only God had waited so that Paul could disclose this wisdom, the Lord would not have done something so embarrassing”?

No. Instead, amazingly, Wallace claims that Deborah’s presence actually supports his view! He (and others, such as Piper (I am told)) say that it was shaming to Israel that it had to have a woman rule them. Nevermind that such poppycock is never stated in the Bible. Nevermind that Israel got into trouble when they didn’t follow the Judge raised up [Judges 2:17]. Nevermind that it is God who chose the Judge. It wasn’t an election. There were not nominees.

The discussion between Deborah and Jael indicates that Jael was unfaithful (for it should have been enough to have been told God would deliver the enemy to him), but that hardly says anything about God’s decision to have a woman rule over Israel.

If you brought Deborah up to a random evangelical, my guess is that the best response he or she could give is “Oh, but that was the Old Testament.” So, are we to believe that New Testament Christianity [where there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave or free, man or woman, etc.] is somehow more restrictive than the God of the Old Testament?

But there is plenty of New Testament passages regarding women…many written by Paul himself. In Acts 18:26 we read of Priscilla and her husband Aquilla both teaching a man who was already teaching others. This same Priscilla was very dear to Paul. He called her a “co-worker” in Romans 16;3, and he references their church in 1st Corinthians 16:19 and 2nd Timothy 4:19.Priscilla is not the only woman teaching the Gospel to others. Paul refers to 2 more in Philippians 4:2, and the “book” of Philemon is actually written to 3 people who run a house church, one of whom is a woman. Nympha also had a church in her house [Colossians 4:15], to whom Paul wrote.

Finally, in a disputed passage (Romans 16:7), Paul appears to refer to a woman, Junia, as an apostle! [Many Bibles read “Junias” here, claiming that it is actually a male’s name. There are many problems with that view, not the least of which being that no one anywhere has been able to find a single example of “Junias” ever being used as a name in any Greek or Latin writings.

What is interesting about this last bit is not so much that Paul called a woman an apostle [it is possible that Paul just meant that she had a good reputation among the apostles, but my guess is that the first Bible you pick up will say that “Junia(s)” actually was an apostle.]

The interesting thing is how much of a historical coverup has ensued trying to turn Junia into a man.But getting back to the point regarding women. Not only did they teach and preach, but they also prophesied [Acts 21:9], and were deaconesses/ministers of churches [Romans 16:1.] (Note, this word can be translated as merely “servant,” but strangely enough the ONLY time the word is translated as servant when discussing someone in church is when a female is mentioned. The other 23 times, it is translated “minister” or “deacon.” Greek has a perfectly good word for “servant,” used over 100 times in the New Testament.)One has to wonder why Paul is commending and greeting all these teachers and deaconesses and why the prophetesses were not rebuked. One also has to wonder, while we’re at it, how Paul can say women should only “pray” and “prophesy” (which can also mean “teach”) with head coverings [1st Corinthians 11:3] if they are not supposed to speak at all!!! [1st Corinthians 14:35]Keep in mind a couple other things about the early church.

  • Prophets were not mere seers. They also taught and preached about God, as well as selected officers in churches.
  • In the earliest churches, the “teaching” was, in fact, evangelism. The idea of a “message” to those who already believed did not come about until later.

So, all the descriptors of women as evangelists and prophets also made them teachers as well.So, what are we to make of all this? What is the real story here? It would be an incredible task to convince yourself that God appointed Deborah in a moment of insanity and multitude of women Paul mentions all somehow avoided having any authority or teaching while being ‘co-workers’ and “sharing [his] struggle,”…and somehow the women “prophesy” and “pray” without speaking, etc.Instead, I give some alternatives:i) The Greek word for woman is the same as the word for wife. Given the wording in 1st Timothy 2:12 and 1st Corinthians 14:35, Paul might be more concerned with women not submitting to their husbands. The poor widow would have little recourse based on the “woman” reading as she has no husband to enlighten her. Perhaps Paul does not want a wife teaching her husband.Note, just as the word for wife is the same as the word for woman. The word for man is the same as the word for husband, so “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” would have the same Greek as “I do not allow a wife to teach or exercise authority over a husband. You might say “hey, but wouldn’t you say “her husband,” instead of “a husband.” In English you would, but in Greek you never say the “a” and the “her” can be implied. In fact, that is exactly what happens in Ephesians 5:33. There is no “her” in front of the “husband” there. Same thing in Romans 7:2, 7:3, 1st Cor1nthians 7:3, 7:10, 7:11, 7:34. In fact a quick look only shows one place where Paul actually put the possessive there.]Also note that Paul uses the singular. He says for a woman/wife not to have authority or teach a man/husband. Of course the situation where a woman is actually preaching in church is one where a woman is preaching “men.”This explanation (possibly mixed with iii below) is the best way of making Paul not look like a moron. If the point is that a wife should not have authority over her husband, then all the cases where Paul personally greeted women who taught [as prophets and evangelists and perhaps apostles] and where Priscilla taught Apollo would all dissolve. This solution also lets God off the hook for allowing a woman to lead Israel.ii) Paul could be more concerned with married women not fulfilling their roles as women. This would make sense in the context of Paul’s teaching in 1st Corinthians 7:34. This would not really get around Priscilla, though.

iii) I do not like to bring it up, but it should be pointed out that 90% of critical scholars believe 1st Timothy, 2nd Timothy, and Titus were not written by Paul [or so says the late Fr. Raymond Brown, who was a member of the Vatican’s Roman Pontifical Biblical commission and was considered by many to be not only the the premier Catholic scholar of North America but the most important theologian [of the Catholic church] to ever arise in America. The 4 “pastoral” epistles are the only Pauline works missing from the earliest known suggested Canon [Marcion’s. While Marcion’s views are very far removed from the views of the church expressed just a century later, Marcion absolutely loved Paul, so the absence of the pastorals strongly suggest they either were not known, or were known to be pseudonymous at the time.]

This would not get around the 1st Corinthains verses [some say they were inserted later.] I know of no one of note who doubts the Pauline authorship of 1st Corinthians.iv) Paul could be simply be wrong. He appears to have been wrong about suggesting people not marry because “the time has been shortened” [1st Corinthians 7:29]. Paul appears to have been wrong about the innocence of eating food sacrificed to idols [1st Corinthians 8:4-8, 1st Corinthians 10: 19-28], that is to say if Jesus is any judge on the matter [Revelation 2:14, Reveation 2:20]. However, this would not explain why he would refer to women praying and prophesying in church in one breath while in the other he says they should not speak at all.What’s your theory?

[Incidentally, why are there so many churches who are willing to have Paul tell them not to let women speak…but yet those same churches (in general) do not require their women to wear head coverings? The message about head coverings is even more clear than the message of 1st Timothy 2:12, and none of the scripture I mention here really contravene it?]

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: New Covenant

Sweetdreams asked a question on a previous post, and after writing up my response I decided I wanted to make it a full blog post.Jeremiah 31:31-34, is one of the most important in all the prophets as it describes most fully the new covenant. It is an amazing passage in that it describes:1. The partakers of the covenant. (verse 31)2. The reason for the covenant. (verse 32)3. The timing of the covenant (verse 33a)4. The content of the covenant (verse 33b-34a)5. The boundary between the last covenant and this one (verse 34b)But I think the above is not even the best way to look at the wording (though it certainly suffices)Instead, consider verses 31-32 as one block put in parallel with 33-34. The each indicate:A. A timingB. Who the covenant is withC. How this covenant differs from the last.D. An indication as to why this new covenant can stand over the last.In the first chunk we are told:A. The covenant is in the future.B. The covenant is with Israel and Judah (“Israel” later stood in metonymy for all nations outside Judah).C. The covenant will be unlike the first one because it will succeed where the first had failed to produce a godly nation.D. The new covenant is allowed because Israel and Judah violated the older one.In the second chunk we are told:A. The covenant is “when Israel is planted back in the land.”B. The covenant is with the “whole nation of Israel.”C. The covenant will be unlike the first in that the laws would be written on the hearts of Israel.D. The covenant is allowed because God will forgive all the sins Israel and Judah had done prior to it.This last part is standard fare in the prophets: After Israel/Judah suffers, God forgives them…and then delivers them or proffers a hand of reconciliation. We see the same thing in the Exodus: the Israelites are forgiven for all their past idolatry, which allows God to start anew with a clean slate. The Israelites are never punished for any sins done prior to crossing the Red Sea, when they were “baptized into Moses.”This has a strong counterpart in Jewish philosophy of Jesus day. When someone converted to Judaism, it was considered their own person crossing of the Jordan/Red Sea and everything about the prior life was blotted out (even to the point that a Gentile converting to a Jew could, in theory, marry those people who were his blood relatives, for the new convert was considered not to have a mother or father). The most common day for such conversions were on Passovers, which has other obvious connections to the crossing from the dead life of Egypt to the new life found in the wilderness with God.

The point of all this is to understand the “For I will forgive their sins and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done.” It refers to God’s setting aside the sin done by Israel and Judah to allow for the new covenant and a new slate, just as was done in the Exodus, and just as Paul refers to in Romans 3:25 when Paul (already speaking in the past tense) refers to the sins “previously committed.” [In other words, sins committed previous to Christ’s death, the event he refers to. However, just as in the Jewish conversion, this forgiveness would apply on an individual level upon conversion: the sins done by a Christian prior to entering the New Covenant are washed away.]

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: February 2013

During an Ash Wednesday service last week, the pastor brought up the notion of signs in the Old Testament and spoke of Jonah. This got me thinking about Christ’s discussion of Jonah’s fish challenges as “the only sign given to this evil generation.” Matthew saw this as important enough to mention two separate times. (Matthew 12:59, Matthew 16:4, and Luke provides it in Luke 11:29-30.) The relevance of Jonah may also be linked to Jesus’ stress on Peter’s lineage, which the gospel writers pass along “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.” (Matthew 16:17, John 1:42, John 21:15-17.) Note how in Matthew’s gospel this note on Peter follows nearly immediately the proclamation to the crowds about Jonah and Nineveh. For decades I had assumed that the only relevance of this passage is that Jesus was in the ground and rose on the 3rd day as Jonah was in the “great fish” for the same length of time. It just seemed like Jesus was predicting His own resurrection and the gospel writers were providing evidence that this resurrection was a sign from God. However, that seems now like a rather naive view. Jesus’ resurrection would be recognized as a sign of God regardless of whether it was predicted to the masses, and there are plenty of other instances where the gospel writers indicate to their audiences that Jesus’ resurrection was foretold. Also, the version given in Luke 11:30 suggests a closer connection between the sign of Jonah and the sign of Jesus. As I thought about this, two separate points came to mind. If Jesus’ resurrection is a sign like Jonah’s, what would that mean, especially to a Jewish audience who fully understood Jonah’s whole story?

The first connection is clear (though it was actually the second one I thought of). Jonah was sent to call Nineveh to repentance [c.f. Luke 11:32]. The story of Jonah is interesting because it shows that simple repentance has authentic value even when done by a people who have no notion of Christ whatsoever. Nineveh was not in Judah. They were neither cognizant of nor had any portion of the promised salvation for the Jews. The repentance they showed was based only on a belief that the God who sent Jonah was real and a hope that if they showed humility toward God and changed their ways to do works pleasing to God, then maybe God would relent.

This is important because most evangelists today suggest that repentance has no effectual value in itself. (Repentance is portrayed as a by-product and not directly dispositive toward how we are judged by God.) Similarly, it is highly suggested that it is impossible to do works pleasing to God without faith in Christ. The story of Jonah in Nineveh disproves both assertions.

The second way in which Jesus’ resurrection is linked to Jonah is subtler. It is the first one that came to me, partially because of something the pastor had mentioned. The story of Jonah shows the value of repentance in two ways. One is the effect that Nineveh’s repentance had on God. The second is the effect of Jonah’s own repentance inside the fish, which led to his own deliverance. What struck me about this aspect of the story is the possibility (perhaps tenuous) that one can draw a connection between resurrection and repentance. When the evangelists of the New Testament speak of the value of being in Christ, they speak of three things:

  1. Being delivered from the physical wrath that will come against the world when Christ returns. (C.f. Matthew 24:22, which makes no sense at all if the Final Judgment were in view rather than deliverance from the physical destruction of the last days.)
  2. The “baptism of repentance” (the holy spirit). (c.f. Acts 5:31, Acts 11:18, Acts 13:24, Acts 26:20 and many other places)
  3. The resurrection of the body, which is their full inheritance when their “adoption is complete.” (c.f. Romans 8:23)

Paul’s letters show that these last two items are really just stages of a two-part glorification. We are given the spirit today that strengthens our will to do God’s works, though our flesh still fights against this. Then, in the next age, we will receive a renewed body that no longer pushes us against God.

The specific repentance that we receive from Christ is a renewal of the spirit (c.f Hebrews 6:6) that Paul links to both Christ’s own resurrection and our future one in Romans 6-8. That particular discussion is worthy of its own blog post.

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: Christology

There’s a new woman working at my office. She is Italian. I think I’ll ask her out.Now, the above is completely fictional. There is no new woman at my office…I don’t even work at “my office” but rather telecommute, and I just got married.But think about that phrase “She is Italian.”Skip to John1:1-2, an oft-referenced verse that much has been made of. Standard translations go something like:”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning.”The actual Greek of this statement is:”En arche en ho logos kai ho logos en pros ton theon kai theos en ho logos. Houtos en en arche pros ho theos”Translated interlinearly we get:”In the beginning was the word and the word was [toward] the god and a god was the word. That one was in the beginning with the god.”(The “toward” here is one of several options.)

Now, the odd thing is John’s use of “the god” and “a god.” (I mean this interlinearly…not that “a god” is the proper real translation.)

“In the beginning was the word and the word was [toward] the god and a god was the word. That one was in the beginning with the god.”

Now, the first thing to know is that the Greeks used “the god” to mean God [big “G”] and they used merely “a god” as a more general term to refer to idols, fictional gods, or merely powerful beings. For example, 2nd Thessalonians refers to the anti-christ exalting himself above “every god” (little g), putting himself in the Temple of God (big “G” for it is the Temple of the Living God) and claiming he is “a god” (little g).The second thing to know is that there is really no such thing in Greek as “a god.” There is no “a” in Greek. Either a noun has the article “the” in front of it, or it doesn’t.Anyway, the question is, what does John mean by using “God” in the first part of John 1:1, switching to “god” in the second, and then going immediately back to “God” in John 1:2.Traditional translations have managed to take this grammar and claim it supports the Trinity doctrine. They claim that word order matters and the this is the only way John could have expressed exactly the trinitarian notion.The claim [straight out of “Basics of Biblical Greek” Chapter 6 by Mounce] is that:

A god was the Word would mean Jesus was a god separate from “the God.”


The Word was a god means that all the attributes God has, The Word has as well without exhausting what it means to be God… so the Word was “fully” God without being the same as God.

and would mean The Word = God as though father and son were the same[this of course already suffers from the obvious problem that it presumes “God” means “The father,” which would in itself give the Orthodox version of The Trinity problems. Indeed, even if John had literally said “Jesus is the same as God,” it would not really pose a problem for the Trinity, right? John would have to have said “Jesus is the Father” to do that…]How does Mounce and others get away with turning “a god” into “the god”? The claim is something called “Colwell’s Rule.”Colwell’s “Rule” states that when predicate noun {god in this case} comes BEFORE a “be verb” (like “was”), it never has the article, even if it is meant to.The problem with using Colwell’s rule in this way is that Colwell’s rule is wrong. There are many, many examples where a definite noun comes before a “be verb” and has the article. Even within the Gospel of John, this rule fails in John 6:51, 15:1, 21:7, and 21:12.But there are other problems as well. Let’s pretend Colwell’s rule is right and can be used in the way Mounce and others claim it can. In that case we could derive other similar claims from the grammar that make no sense.For example, consider John 4:19. The Greek of this verse is”a prophet are you” translated in our bibles as “you are a prophet.”This matches the end of John 1:1c: “a god was the word”The useful thing to note about “prophet” is that it is like “god” in that it has a special meaning when you put the “the” next to it. “The Prophet” was a very special figure in Jewish thought. John refers to “The Prophet” often. [See John 1:21 among others].So, if what Mounce and others were saying is true, when the woman says “a prophet are you” she means “you have all the attributes of The Prophet without actually being the same as him.”That would be a rather odd statement!Other examples can be found throughout John (including two I will mention later).But lets get back to the Italian woman in my office that I might ask out. Notice the difference between:

“There’s a new woman working at my office. She is Italian. I think I’ll ask her out.”


“There’s a new woman working at my office. She is an Italian. I think I’ll ask her out.”

There is a subtle difference here. Indeed, in the first sentence I get to do something I normally don’t get to do in English. Normally every noun in English has some sort of modifier in front of it. I cannot say “I picked up pencil” I either have to say “I picked up a pencil” or “I picked up the pencil.”

That is the same as Greek. Normally there are just two options: either the word has the article before it or it does not. Either “god” or “the god.”

But there is nothing wrong with saying “She is Italian.” The Italian is an “adjective noun.” It does not describe a category so much as a quality. The idea is not that she was born in Italy but rather that she has the personal attributes one associates with Italians.

However, saying “She is an Italian” suggests more that she was actually born in Italy [or at least is “full blood” Italian]… it does not really emphasize anything about her disposition or personal traits.

I think that is what is going on in John 1:1c. The statement is not a description of category. It is not saying “Jesus is a god.” Nor is it a statement of identity. It is not saying “Jesus is God” [John appears to go out of his way to get away from saying this.] Rather it is a qualitative statement indicating Jesus’ essence.

There is actually a very good verse that backs up this view. Consider the first part of John 4:24… the Greek is “a spirit is the god.”Now, if we were following Mounce’s logic here, we really would be in trouble! Note that “God” has switched over from being the predicate nominative and is now the subject. According to Mounce’s reasoning, this would be saying “All the attributes the Spirit has, God has as well without exhausting what it means to be the Spirit.” [this is backwards from what Orthodoxy would want.]

But that isn’t what Jesus means in John 4:24 at all. Jesus is not saying God is the Holy Spirit…nor is Jesus saying God is merely some random spirit [God is “a spirit”]. No, what Jesus means is that God has the quality of spirit-ness.

Note that John 4:24a has the exact same grammar as John 1:1c.I would claim, then, that when John writes “a god was The Word,” He is not claiming Jesus is “a god” (separate from God the Father), nor is he identifying Jesus as God (which he appears to go at lengths not to do) but rather claiming that Jesus has the quality of “god”-ness.Whatever that means.

Much of this information comes from BeDuhn’s excellent book Truth in Translation, but some of it is original to me [in particular the linkage to modern English and the discussion of what “The Prophet” means.]