GOD’S INFINITY: QUALATATIVE OR QUANTATATIVE?

handsIt is understood that God is all powerful as well as all knowing. The question that has to be answered is ‘how,’ in what capacity is God’s infinity to be understood?

No scripture confesses that “God does not know all things,”[1] wrote Ron Highfield. This statement while seemingly true, and I believe it is true, seems innocent. But, when we say God knows all things, the question that comes to mind is what “all” does God know and when does he know? Did God know of the Paris or San Bernardino terrorist attacks before they happened? Or, did God know about them perfectly as the unfolded, whereas man knew of them in some partial form as they transpired?

What needs to be separated and understood is do we speak of God’s infinity as quantitative or qualitative?  But can God’s perfect knowledge be limited to ‘what can be known at a given time.’ This allows God to respond to man’s actions and God’s infinite knowledge can remain intact. Right now it is 12:40 am. God has perfect knowledge of 12:40 am. But there is no knowledge of 12:41 as it is not yet 12:41. Thus God’s knowledge is perfect and up to date. Hmmm? God has perfect and infinite knowledge of everything that is; but can/does he have knowledge of what is not? 12:41 is not yet here so can there be any knowledge of it? God knows all things that can be known at any given time.

Psalm 147 states, “… his understanding is beyond measure.” But the question that has to be answered is this quantitative or qualitative? Can God know what is yet unknown, when he created beings with free-will? It seems that God’s infinite knowledge is best to be seen as qualitative. God can and does know everything at any given point perfectly. He knows everything there is to know about whatever there is to know at any given time. But, being as the future is not a point in time (the future is not anything, nothing is anything until the time it comes into being), in fact the future may not even come to pass, God’s knowledge is perfect and infinite in what can be know. His infinite knowledge is in regards to what is, as what is not cannot be known; the minute it become known it is.  It is unlimited in that God can and does know everything that can be known—what is knowable. It is infinite in quality in that God knows perfect. He is not bogged down in his knowledge with pre-conceived notions. The Apostle Paul wrote that now he—in essence mankind—knows ‘in part’ but at some later time the ‘partial things will pass away. (1 Corinthians 13:9-10).  God’s knowledge is not partial as is man’s. Everything that is ‘knowable’ God knows and perfectly whereas man only knows in part and even then that knowledge is clouded. There is a difference in the quality of the knowledge. This allows for man’s free-will and God’s infinite knowledge—qualitative—both to remain intact.

Important for understanding evil is understanding God’s providence. It has to be understood that God can know infinitely everything that is knowable; he can do infinitely everything that is logically doable. Yet, man’s free-will choice is something not known even when man commits to it—though the intent can be known, it is only knowable when man engages his free-will choice. God’s immanence— immanence means that God is present to and in the natural order, human nature, and history[2]—has to also be kept in the equation. Understanding God’s infinite knowledge as qualitative as opposed to quantitative keeps God’s immanence in proper check for to venture to far along the lines of quantitative can led on to pantheism. Feinberg asserts, “As Barth frequently reminds us, in Christ God both draws near to us but remains also hidden. God is veiled in his unveiling and unveiled in his hiddenness”[3]

It can be argued then that God cannot control every event, as wells, it can be argued that God does not control every event. Both lead to their own particular conundrums. If it is argued that God cannot control every event then the conclusion can be drawn that God is not all powerful. If research then concludes that God does not control every event then it could be argued that God does not care. It would be hard to see a symbol of a benevolent God a God that does not care. Yet, if the free-will defense is factored into the equation the results change.

If man acts upon his own free-will it does not limit the power of God for God can act in response to what is knowable. It also sets up the premise that it is not God who does not care but man. For God has set his ways in the heart of man; man chooses to act contrary to God’s ways. Yet, when man engages a plan of evil God can and does act. There is an immense difference in the fact that God does not control every event and in that God cannot control every event.

King writes, “The Christian religion, in the modern period has been its failure to deal adequately with the problem of evil. Innocent suffering both as a result of natural calamity and human malevolence is presumed to count decisively against the existence of a benevolent and omnipotent God. A ‘God of Love’ such as Christians profess to worship, surely would not permit such wanton destruction of human life as represented by the Lisbon earthquake or the Holocaust.”[4]

Yet, when God’s omnipotence is seen as qualitative as opposed to quantitative this situation does not exist. God has the power to work in everything that is logically doable—it is not logical to stop a tsunami before it happens as it is not known until it happens, until it becomes known. Yet, God can, and does, work in all these situations.

The free-will defense keeps man’s free-will intact and as well keeps God’sinfinite knowledge and power both intact. As Plantiga asserts, “A world where creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures but he can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, he must create creatures capable of moral evil: and he can’t give these creatures their freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so.”[5]

While Bonting believes in the existence of evil, it is creatio ex nihilo where he has the problem. “In my view the commonly accepted creation theology, creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”), is at fault because it implies that God created everything, including evil.”[6] Geisler combats this problem writing, “God made evil possible by creating free creatures; they are responsible for making it actual.”[7] He continues, “Given that He has willed to create free creatures, it would go against His own will to destroy our free will.”[8]

With God controlling everything can there be free-will? With God controlling everything can there be real love for God, or is simple forced, built in, robot love? God created man with free-will; with free-will cane the possibility of man doing evil. For God to stop man from doing evil would be to go against the very order, free-will, that God created. With God’s infinite knowledge he can know everything that is knowable, and know it perfectly. With his infinite power he can do everything that is logically doable. God (1) cannot know evil until it happens because before it happens it is not knowable and (2) God cannot not stop the evil of man—even when it is knowable—because to do so would be to go against what he created and called good—freewill-beings.

For Plantinga, “A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all.”[9] Geisler sums it up well writing, “So more properly speaking, omnipotence means God can do anything that is possible to do, not what is impossible or contradictory. Given that He has willed to create free creatures, it would go against His own will to destroy our free will. There are some things even God cannot do. He cannot force anyone to freely accept Him. Forced freedom is a contradiction in terms.”[10]

Collect:

Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that the course of this world
may be peaceably governed by thy providence; and that thy
Church may joyfully serve thee in confidence and serenity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with
thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Until next time, may the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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[1]William Lane Craig, Ron Highfield;  Gregory A. Boyd, Paul Kjoss  Helseth, Four Views on Divine Providence (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), Kindle Location 2788.

[2] John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 29.

[3] Feinberg, 31. Referencing Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 1, part 1 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1960), pp. 368-372.

.[4] Robert King, “Review of Diogenes Allen’s The Traces of God,Princeton Seminary Review, vol. 3, no. 3 1982, 336.

  [5] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1974), 30

[6] Sjoerd L. Bonting, “The Problem of Evil,” Sewanee Theological Review 47, no. 4 (2014):405.

[7] Geisler, 31.

[8] Geisler, 37.

[9] Plantinga, Chapter 4 under The Free Will Defense.

[10] Geisler, 38.

Tale as Old as Time: The Problem of Evil and the Book of Job

job “Tale as old as time, true as it can be, true as it can be,” wrote Howard Ashman in the theme song from the musical “Beauty and the Beast.”[1] In another form the story of “Beauty and the Beast” is a tale as old as time: the battle between good and evil. Even at this writing the word is reeling from terrorist attacks that have claimed the lives of good people. Scarcely into the Holy Bible the statement is made, “And God saw that the light was good” (Genesis 1:4 ESV[2]). It could be argued that for the ‘light’ to be called good, bad, evil, had to exist at the same time to provide the contrast. Throughout the scriptures the battle between good and evil occupies the pages. At one time the prophet Habakkuk asked of God, “Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise” (Habakkuk 1:3). The story of evil continues through the scriptures from the beginning unto its end in the Revelation. But nowhere does the problem of evil get addressed in the same way as it does in the book of Job; the entirety of the book is addressing this problem.

Most likely one of the earliest books of the Bible—probably from the time in around the patriarch Abraham—Job faces many catastrophes in the course of a few days. He has come to be remembered for his patience. He loses the measures of his wealth, his children, and lastly, he loses his health. Yet, through all of the character of Job remains faithful to God, in spite of being told to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9). For Job it is the understanding that if people are given good then they should also expect bad (Job 2:10) and “Blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21).

The question that arises from Job is why do good people suffer? Job is an “upright man.” He has wealth, measured by the goods he has as wells as the size of his family. He is “blameless.” Yet, being blameless does not exempt Job from trials and tribulation, all which seem to come at the same time giving validity to the old saying “when it rains it pours.”

If God is good, and most people will not argue that he is not, why does he not do something about the problem of evil? The reader of Job has information that Job does not have, the fact that God has allowed Job’s suffering. But, the question is still left unanswered.  And, with the righteousness of Job the bigger question, as Bullock puts it, “The most obvious issue in the book is the suffering of the righteous”[3] For McKenzie, “”We have no answer to the problem.”[4]

Accepting that there is no answer has not slowed the plethora of books and articles written on the subject. As well, for some, it has been this very issue that has caused some to renounce their faith in a good God, the God of the Bible, and take agnostic and atheistic positions. Kaufman has pointed out, and rightly so, that “the suffering of the righteous leads inevitably to the larger question of whether there is a moral order in the world at all.”[5]

Can the very existence of God, a good and benevolent God, rest on the problem of evil in the world? While Job’s friends do not proffer that there is no God, in modern times that argument has been put forth. As Geisler has noted many thinkers have come to the conclusion that evil must be co-existent with good, Augustine was a proponent of this theory.[6] And, while Geisler’s comment is correct, it does not argue against the existence of God, not that God is good. Geisler puts forth the following syllogisms:

  1. God created all things.
  2. Evil is a thing.
  3. Therefore God created evil.[7]

While there are fallacies in the preceding premise, Geisler also writes, “Evil is a real lack, privation, or corruption of a good thing. That is, evil does not exist in itself: evil exists only in a thing or substance – and all things God made are good. In short, there has to be some good thing in order for evil to exist in it as a lack, corruption, or privation of it.”[8] While in Job the main character does not turn evil, or even do evil, evil befalls him.

The problem of evil, theodicy, is as real today as it was during the time of Job, as it has been at least since Genesis chapter 3. And, while the explanation of it may never be fully understood, there are some points about evil and its use(s) that can be made on the positive side and not infringe on the fact that there is an all-powerful and benevolent God.

 

Retribution

 

Eliphaz comments to Job, “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:8). This seems to point forward to Galatians 6:7. But, can all evil be said to come from sowing evil? And, even at that, what about people who it is known sew evil and yet still seem to reap good? While Simundson writes, “Maybe it was the result of human sin, a rebellion against God’s commands,”[9] it has to be remember that the reader is given knowledge that Job is upright, staying away from evil. Yet, for Job and his less than comforting friends it has to be remembered that for the most part their belief was that Job’s problems came as Divine retribution for something Job had done. And as Simundson points out, “Most of the biblical efforts to explain suffering try not to blame God without abandoning belief in God’s power to control events.”[10]

Evil has been used by God to bring about his judgment. Throughout the scriptures God is seen using evil as a way to bring Israel back into rights. Habakkuk questioned God on how loing he would have to watch the sin of his own people, Israel. And God answers Habakkuk’s petion saying, “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own” (Habakkuk 1: 5-6). That God does get justice and that God does use the evil in the world to enact that justice and cannot and should not be argued against. Yet, this does not seem on face value to be the case in Job; even if the dialogue between Satan and God were totally omitted it would be hard to make the case that in Job’s case divine retribution was involved.

New Testament scholar, and former Bishop of Durham, N. T. Wright asserts that the struggle in Job is not between Job and God, only the readers can understand this point, but it is a struggle between Job and Satan. Wright writes, “Satan is trying to get Job in his power, to demonstrate that humans are not worth God’s trouble, while job for his part continues to insist both that God ought to be just and that he himself is in the right.”[11] While Wright points out that it was sin that led God to exile Israel, God using other nations—and evil, to bring about his purpose, he also points out that that is not the case in Job. “The whole point of the book of Job is that Job was innocent. The normal analysis of the exile was that Israel thoroughly deserved it; the whole point of Job is that Job didn’t.”[12] Wright asserts that “Satan is trying to get Job in his power, to demonstrate that humans are not worth God’s trouble, while job for his part continues to insist both that God ought to be just and that he himself is in the right.”[13]

While it has to be understood that all sin, and all have sinned, retribution seems to be ruled out in Job. If the evil visited upon Job was simply due to evil he had committed would the author have gone to such pains to make the case that Job was a good man? As well, God says to Satan, “Although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason” (Job 2:3, emphasis mine); and Job’s own comment, “For he crushes me with a tempest and multiplies my wounds without cause” (Job 9:17, emphasis mine), seems to totally rule out retribution. The text from Job’s point of view supports a non-retribution theory. Apart from Job’s point of view, the reader also understands that Job is not suffering a punishment for sins committed.

Neiman has argued that understanding the theodicy in Job has changed through the years. “Earlier writers identified with Job’s friends, the theodicy makers who found justification. Later ones identified with Job, who found none.”[14] But this does little to address the problem as the solution has to take both sides of this equation in to account. God’s side and the position of Job, as well as his friends, have to harmonize. The understanding of Job has taken different positions during different eras and does not solve the problem. In all eras God is God and in all eras bad things have happened to good people.

Many have suggested that Christianity is a religion where the people all prosper and do not suffer. Many take John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly,” as foundational that good things will not happen to good people. If this be the case then retribution could easily be argued. Yet, throughout the Bible good people suffer so the context of John 10:10 cannot apply to the situation of Job. Even then it would have to be asked, do we serve God for what he can do for us?

 

Serving God for God’s Sake

 

Mahn writes, “The question of whether Job serves God for naught comes back to haunt all Christians. Do we serve God for the rewards (that is, for our sake) or do we serve God for “nothing {that is, for the sake of God and the other). Can we worship God truly—that is, in Meister Eckharts phrase, without a why or a wherefore.”[15] Mahn makes the statement, “How do we know Job doesn’t fear God for the kickbacks involved—a fence around his house, productivity in work, increasing possessions (Job 1:8-10)?”[16] Do Christians serve God for the stuff or do they serve God simply for God’s sake?

It is hard to make a case that anyone serves God for the stuff. Job lost his stuff yet continued to serve God. And, in modern times it would be hard to make the case that people serve God simply for the stuff when terrorist groups such radical Islamic terrorists group ISIS is beheading Christians. Yet a look at many modern churches could lead to that opinion. Many present day churches are full of the so called stuff. Many church grounds look like Six Flags Over Heaven and have sanctuaries that could easily qualify to be the Taj Mah Jesus. Even in these churches though, bad things still happen to presumably good people: Recently in South Carolina several people were killed while having a Wednesday night Bible study.

In the book of Job God finally responds to Job’s petitions. It is here that the reader comes to believe God will clear up the problem. But as Burleson writes, “God speaks as a poet. One would think that since toe theodicy question had been raised, and this is the Bible’s opportunity to solve toe [sic] mystery, God would take the opportunity to clear things up. But God does not. It is not preacher, philosopher, politician that is given the microphone; God speaks as a poet.”[17] God not only speaks as a poet, he speaks in the form of rhetorical questions.

Carney writes, “In this familiar speech, God’s booming voice shouts a question that puts it all into perspective: who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?”[18] Job has only knowledge of the earthly events that have transpired; he has no knowledge of the Heavenly dialogues. He has coupled the earthly events with the help—or lack thereof—of his friends. Job does not know/understand the ways of God. It may be as Mahn writes, “The God of the theodicists is one capable of some abstract attributes.”[19]

 

Faithfulness

 

The essence of the problems Job faces is will Job walk away from God?  Wright asserts, “[Satan] doesn’t exactly tempt job to sin, though perhaps part of the point is that he’s tempting him to curse God, and Job refuses.”[20] Job is even encouraged to curse God by his wife. This leads to the question of when someone is told to come to Christ and have life to the fullest are they being misled? Noted atheist Christopher Hitchens thinks so. Hitchens he insists that more deleterious to religious faith than its unfounded claims is the false consolation that it offers.[21] Yet, it seems if Christianity was ‘made up’ the founders would have made up a religion without the conundrum of evil having to be explained. But, the idea of making up God is not a foreign idea to philosophers. Voltaire believed if God did not exist it would have been necessary for man to create, make up, God. But would man not do a better job than making up a God full of pitfalls to have to explain? Yet, Voltaire concluded, “all nature cries out that he must exist.”[22]

.

 

 

God Uses Evil

 

As it has been alluded to earlier God has used evil as punitively for the disobedience of Israel. Israel is sent into exile due to the fact that it disobeyed God almost from the beginning. Yet, with the advent of Christ the exile is over. God has begun the process that sets the world back right. Christ fulfills what Israel cannot fulfill. Both Israel and Christ are called God’s son. God’s only begotten Son will do what God’s chosen son, Israel, did not do. But under the New Covenant it has to be ask is any country, in the same way as Israel was, God’s chosen country? Is any one nation of people God’s chosen people? Will God, no matter what Dr. Falwell or Pat Robertson have declared earlier, bring a nation—a nation never prophesied as being God’s chosen nation—back to the foil by using the evil that exists in the world? It would best be seen with the coming of the long awaited Messiah that Israel’s special place has given way to a special place for all under the New Covenant. If Israel still has a special place then all under the N.C. occupy that same space regardless of geographical habitation. Gentiles who confess the Christ are grafted into the same tree as Israel. So to argue that God is using evil to bring countries under control seems to be a weak response at best to the problem of evil in today’s world.

But even with the advent of the Messiah evil still exist. So, as Bullock writes, “The assumption of this [existential] mode is that the experience of Job is paradigmatic of what others, regardless of time in history, have suffered. They, therefore, find their experience in Job and identify with him.”[23] The experience of evil in today’s world is one in which the world can identify with Job and not the children of Israel. As Bullock asserts, “In Job the suffering saint has one with whom to identify.”[24] After a round of bad luck so to speak the author of Job writes, “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped” (Job 1:20, emphasis mine).  Could it be that the point of the Job is not why evil happens, but a better way to look at Job is a proper response to suffering? In Jobs words, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil” (Job 2:10)? Ngwa writes, “’ The Prologue explores the reality of disaster not primarily through the prism of human piety, but largely through the tripartite nexus of the causal theory of suffering (with an underlying ethical uncertainty), the reality of suffering (with its overt horror and ethical crisis), and the reception theory of suffering (with its perspectival ethics).”[25] Ngwa continues, “Curiously, it is not escape from suffering that distinguished the noble religious Job. Rather, it was Job’s ability to endure suffering, and this ability was referred to as ‘blessed’ (Jas 5.10-11). Apparently unaware of the text of Ezekiel or desirous of highlighting a different tradition about Job, the writer of James directed his audience to an oral tradition according to which Job endured suffering.”[26]

 

Conclusion

 

Evil has been around as long as man, and it seems it will continue to be around as long as man is around. Currently evil seems to rear its ugly head more days than not. While the problem of evil in Job does not answer the question of evil the book declares two things that can be stated with certainty. Everyone no matter of social status or state of righteousness will suffer at some time during their lives. Some it seems suffer more than others. The other point, and probably the main point, that should be taken from Job is that Job lets the reader know that it is okay to question God when happenings are not understood and Job also provides the reader with a proper response to evil: remain faithful to God no matter what situation one finds him/herself in.

 

Until next time may the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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[1] Howard Ashman, Beauty and the Beast, 1991.

 

[2] All verses Holy Bible English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

[3] Hassell C. Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), Chpt 3, under The Central Issue of Job.

 

[4] John McKenzie, The Two Edged Sword (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2009), 237).

 

[5] Yahezkel Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel, trans. Moshe Greenberg (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1960), 334.

 

[6] Norman Geisler, If God Why Evil? (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010), 17.

[7] Geisler, 17-18.

 

[8] Geisler, 19.

[9] Daniel Simundson, “What Every Christian Should Know About Job,” Word and World 31, no. 4, (2011): 350.

 

[10] Simundson, 350.

[11] N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God (Downers Grove: IVP Press, 2006), Under Job.

 

[12] Wright, under Job.

 

[13] Wright, under Job.

 

[14]  Susan Neiman, Evil In Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002) 17.

[15] Jason Mahn, “Do Christians Serve God For Naught? Job and the Possibility of ‘Disinterested Faith,’” Word and World 31, no. 4 (2011): 389.

 

[16] Mahn, 390.

[17] Burt Burleson, ‘Out of the Storm,” DaySpring Baptist Church Website, 22 October, 2010, accessed 11 December, 2015, http://www.ourdayspring.org/documents/sermons/2006.10.22_Out_of_the_Stormpdf.

 

[18]Josh Carney, “Holding the faith: Lessons on suffering and transformation in the book of Job,” Review and Expositor 111, no. 3 (2014): 284.

 

[19] Mahn, 391.

 

[20] Wright, under Job.

 

[21] Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Twelve, 2007), 3-11.

[22] Voltaire quoted in John Dietrich, “Thoughts on God,” Relig Hum 23 (Summer 1989): 110.

 

 

[23] Bullock, Chapter 3.

[24] Bullock, chapter 3.

 

[25] Kenneth Ngwa, “Did Job Suffer for Nothing? The Ethics of Piety, Presumption and the Reception of Disaster in the Prologue of Job,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 33, no. 3 (2009): 361.

 

[26] Ngwa, 370.

The New Life To Come

“For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have”

Jesus, Luke 24:39

Jesus-ResurrectionEveryone holds a belief about what happens at death, from a “you are dead and that is it” belief of the atheist to a “you inhabit your own planet” type belief of the LDS church. There is a fascination with the after death, and afterlife, happenings of the body and soul. At a death most people try offering comforting words to the bereaved, but in most cases these words, while they may comfort, offer little of a biblical understanding of the afterlife, and most especially the resurrection.

Even in Christian circles among scholars the view varies by as many different people who are putting forth the views. Views have been put forth everywhere from a “Life in the Air” existence to a “full bodily resurrection here on earth.” Yet, all use the same Bible. As with many things Christian many times finding agreement elusive.

A key to understanding and interpreting resurrection pericope, as well as any biblical subject for that matter, lies in the worldview of the biblical author and the message he was trying to impart to his original audience. While it is understood that the Bible is a book inspired by the Holy Spirit, it is also understood that the writers wrote to particular communities and the information was shaped around the particular community’s needs. This accounts for the differences in tone of Paul’s letter to the Galatians as compared with Romans or Timothy. Thus the differences in the Gospels can be seen showing a truer picture of Christ when examined together as all communities are seen together.

Understanding, then, the worldview of the author and original audience is essential in understanding the concepts that writings put forth. As Duvall and Scott put it, Since God spoke his message in specific, historical situations (i.e., to people living in particular places, speaking particular languages, adopting a particular way of life), we should take the ancient historical-cultural situation seriously.”[1] While most commentators have capitalized on one verse, 1 Corinthians 15:50, and from that one phrase, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God,”[2] the Second Temple period had a distinct understanding of what the resurrection would be.

Stendahl, Sanders, and others have spoken to the importance of the Second Temple worldview when interpreting 1st century Jewish documents. Yet, many times this worldview is not factored in as it would challenge preconceived notions held by the commentator. The best interpretation will be the one that takes into account both the biblical record as well as the biblical worldview. And as will be shown the Second Temple worldview was of a full bodily resurrection. It was with this worldview that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 50. It is with this world view that scripture needs to be interpreted.

The Intertestamental period writings shed light on the worldview of both Jesus and Paul. It was in this world, with this worldview, they lived. It will be in this period that the worldview pertaining to resurrection will be brought out. This worldview will be long beside Paul’s writing to the church in Corinth. Modern views will not be filtered in but will be filtered out, as N.T Wright has asserted, “Resurrection belongs within the revolutionary worldview of Second-Temple Judaism.”[3] For purposes of this paper that is where it shall stay.

With the biblical evidence at hand, filtering in the Second Temple Worldview, this paper will argue in total agreement that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom,” while asserting that flesh and blood will inherit the kingdom. It will be the position that in 1 Corinthians 50 “flesh and blood” is used as a euphemism for the unredeemed, the lost, those who have never had a relationship with Christ, or those who have had a relationship and from it they have walked away.  The Bible teaches a full bodily resurrection—flesh and blood—as the renewed form of mankind at the end of time.

 

The Need for a Proper Worldview

In 1963, Krister Stendahl put forth the proposition that 1st Century, Second Temple documents should not be viewed through a modern Western lens, through the lens of a modern Western worldview[4]. Interpreters have the need to take care in not reading a 1st century Jewish document with a modern worldview.  Unlike Luther, who seemed to read his own personal disgust with a corrupt church, 1st century documents have to be examined with as near as possible a 1st century, Second temple world view.

After Stendahl, E. P. Sanders came in 1977 making the same claim.[5] Sanders set theologians on end with has come to be known as the New Perspective on Paul. Since Stendahl and Sanders others have picked up the mantle and followed with the assertion that we need to interpret 1st Century, Second Temple documents as close as possible within a Second Temple Judaism context. While, as it will be shown later in this essay, those who push for this New Perspective do not always agree—Dunn and Sanders will argue for an “in the air” experience while Wright contends for a physical body resurrection—it will be with this New Perspective—which is not new at all, but the Bible’s original perspective—in mind, looking more towards original documents to gain an understanding of resurrection from a Second Temple perspective, which is in fact the perspective of Jesus, Paul, and all the New Testament, as well as intertestamental period, writers.

 

Second Temple Resurrection

While the Bible teaches resurrection, it has to be admitted that there is not a ton of information given as to the particulars of the event. Most people would immediately turn to the Resurrection passage of 1 Corinthians 15. And while this paper will go there, to lay the ground work for that passage, it is best to start in the Old Testament and Intertestamental periods.

The hope of a physical body resurrection is apparent in the writings of the Maccabees. Second Maccabees states, “Better to be killed by men and cherish God’s promise to raise us again” (2 Maccabees 7:14, New English Bible with Apocrypha, 1970). It could be argued that “raise us again” does not have to be raised to a physical existence. And while Dunn, is a proponent of the New Perspective, it is Dunn’s contention that this “raise us again” will be an “in the air experience. Dunn asserts, “the resurrection body will be other, no longer flesh and blood, beyond the reach of corruption and atrophy, and vivified by the life-giving Spirit” (emphasis added).[6] Sanders concurs with the otherworldly existence and an “in the air” type of existence.[7]  It is Dunn’s belief that the transformation of which Paul speaks (1 Corinthians 15:51-52) is a transformation from physical to spiritual existence. This would then be somewhat in line with Teichman who held the opinion that Paul believed at the end time everything would be annihilated except for the spirit.[8]  Yet, a closer look at the Second Temple understanding of resurrection will paint a quite different picture.

Two Baruch poses a question to God, “In which shape will the living live in Your day? Or, how will remain their splendor after that” (2 Baruch 49:2)? The answer, which sheds a bit of life on the Second Temple view is, “For the earth will surely give back the dead at that time; it receives them now in order to keep them, not changing anything in their form. But as it has received them so it will give them back. And as I have delivered them to it so it will raise them” (2 Baruch 50:2, emphasis added). For the writer of 2 Baruch a bodily resurrection was in store at the end times. Though a Jewish pseudepigraphical text, it gives insight into the Jewish worldview of the late 1st and or early 2nd century.[9] From the time of the Maccabees until the time of 2 Baruch little had changed in the thought process of the afterlife. While Dunn looks for an “in the air” experience, and Sanders sees a shift from before the cross—bodily resurrection—to after the cross—a spiritual, “in the air” resurrection—the written record does not bear this out.

Leaving apocryphal works and turning to the Bible works accepted as canonical, Daniel 12:2 asserts, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” While apparently borrowed from Isaiah 26:19,[10] the verse points to a bodily rising up from the dust. As Senior asserts, “resurrection expectation in connection with the coming of the messianic age was a strong current in intertestamental Judaism. A biblical text which seemed to have particular influence in this regard is the vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37.”[11]

 

The New Testament

Having seen that the Second Temple period—this is the era in which Christ lived and Paul wrote—as well as later writings after Messiah held to a belief in physical bodily resurrection. It is time to turn to the New Testament writings. In Particular the writings of Paul will be looked at.

Before turning to Jesus resurrection, however, there was a resurrection in conjunction with that of Messiah. In Matthew 25:51-53, it is recorded that “the earth shook, and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (emphasis added). As Senior writes, “It is the death of Jesus which triggers the resurrection of the saints.”[12] This resurrection, material particular to Matthew, is of a bodily resurrection—people, saints, rising from the tomb. This not a floating down from an “in the air” experience; this is a coming out of the tombs resurrection: physical body resurrection.

Turning to the resurrected Christ, it has to be asked if His resurrection is a paradigm for the resurrection of the saints at some future time? While Senior believes it is, then the words of Jesus have to be remembered, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). By His own testimony the Christ was resurrected physically. Here we are faced with a dilemma. Paul asserts in 1 Corinthians 15:50 that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, yet the Messiah—who ascended into Heaven—was raised, resurrected, with a physical body of flesh and blood. The two ideas have to harmonize.

Johnson might have the answer writing, “the dead will be raised with a πνευματικόν body, which for all its discontinuity and newness, will have a definite material continuity with the ψυχικόν body that is buried.”[13] What will that continuity Be? The continuity will be the physical body. The discontinuity will be what animates the body. N. T. Wright suggests that the body will be animated by the Holy Spirit, “The present unity of the church is important not least because it will thereby anticipate the perfect harmony of the resurrection world, when members of the soma Christou, the Messiah’s body, who have each exercised their pneumatika, spiritual gifts, are finally raised to life, to be given the soma pneumatikon (15:44–6), the entire body energized and animated by the divine Spirit.”[14] While Sanders, Dunn—among many others—see an existence of a spiritual body, Wright, on the other hand sees a body animated by the God’s own Spirit. Wright explains, “Here is a sub-puzzle within Paul’s language; strictly, the Greek forms ending in –nos refer to the material of which something is composed, while the forms ending in –kos are either ethical or functional, and refer to the sphere within which it belongs or the power which animates it.”[15]

The body, with all of its flesh and blood—just as had the risen body of Christ—will be raised and animated by the Spirit of God. Christ’s resurrection is a paradigm for all believers’ resurrection.  Paul wrote, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). Christ as the fristfruits serves as type of the resurrection of the faithful that will come on the last day.

Kistemaker rightly observes that, “The expression [flesh and blood]is a figure of speech for the physical body. It is a Semitic phrase that occurs repeatedly in rabbinic sources to denote the utter frailty and mortality for a human being.”[16] While under its normal operating power the physical body is frail and mortal. And, Kistemaker uses this to make is case for an “in the air” type of resurrection. Yet, where he fails in his analysis is the resurrected physical body will be animated by the Holy Spirit. If Christ’s resurrection is the paradigm for all believers’ resurrection—and Paul says it is—then the animating force will be the same—the Holy Spirit (Romans 1:4). Instead then of being animated as a spirit the resurrected body is animated by the Spirit.  Thus, the resurrected Christ is able to say He has flesh and blood as he has been raised imperishable as the body is animated—not just brought to life, but continually filled with life—of the Holy Spirit. It has to be remembered in writing to the Corinthians Paul is not trying to prove that there is a resurrection, as has been shown by the intertestamental works. Paul is showing (1) that Christ’s resurrection is a paradigm for their own future resurrection and (2) that resurrection would be of their physical bodies animated by God’s Divine Spirit. A few passages, canonical and deuterocanonical, serve to show this point.

Sirach 14:18 states, “Like abundant leaves on a spreading tree that sheds some and puts forth others, so are the generations of flesh and blood: one dies and another is born” (NRSV, emphasis added). Flesh and Blood here refers to mortal living man. Jesus says, “He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:15-17, emphasis added). Flesh and blood is used as an idiom for mortal, living, man. The body sown corruptible, will rise incorruptible. While Jeremias is write to contend that the dead will rise in bodies that are incorruptible,[17] he fails in seeing the continuity that is seen in Jesus’s resurrection and in Paul’s analogy of the seed. The physical body rises—the continuity is kept as it is the same body—yet, there is discontinuity in that it was corruptible and now by the animating force—God’s Spirit—it is raised incorruptible.

 

Conclusion

There are almost as many theories about the resurrection as there are commentators interpreting the biblical literature. And, among those who agree on certain of the points, few, if any, agree on every individual point. Many, if not most, people believe the afterlife experience will be and “in the air,” spiritual existence. Yet, the record of Second Temple Judaism paints quite a different picture. Among the various verses, both canonical and apocryphal, all seem to point the belief in a physical body resurrection. This resurrection has continuity with the past life in that it is the same body, but there is discontinuity in the fact that the body is animated in a different way, by God’s Spirit. Paul uses “flesh and blood” as an idiom for mortal man; it is used that way in other scriptures. Yet, mortal man is just that, mortal. At death, the physical body is sown corruptible; at the resurrection it is raised incorruptible by the animation of God’s Holy Spirit.

 

Until Next time, may the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

 

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[1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 99.

 

[2] All verse The Holy Bible English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

[3] N.T. Wright, “Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem,” Sewanee Theological Review 41, no. 2, (1998): Paragraph 14. Retrieved from http://ntwrightpage.com.

 

[4] Cf. Krister Stendahl, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West,” Harvard Theological Review 56, no. 3 (July 1963).

 

[5] Cf.  Ed Parrish Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1977.

[6] James D. G. Dunn, “How Will The Dead Be Raised? With What Body Do They Come? Reflections on 1 Corinthians 15,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 45, no. 1 (2002): 18.

 

[7] E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), Kindle location 3439.

 

                   [8]Ernst Teichmann, The Pauline Notions of Resurrection and Judgment and their Relations with the Jewish Apocalyptic (Freiburg-Leipzig: Mohr, 1896), 46-53.

[9]Frederick Murphy, “2 Baruch and the Romans,” Journal of Biblical Literature 104, no. 4 (1985), 663.

[10] Daniel Bailey, “The intertextual relationship of Daniel 12:2 and Isaiah 26:19: evidence from Qumran and the Greek versions,” Tyndale Bulletin 51, no.2 (2000): 305.

 

[11] Daniel Senior, “Death of Jesus and the Resurrection of the Holy Ones,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 38, no. 3 (1976): 320.

 

[12] Senior, 328.

[13] Andrew Johnson Jr., “On removing a trump card: flesh and blood and the reign of God.,” Bulletin For Biblical Research 13, no. 2 (2003 2003): 178.

 

[14] N.T. Wright, Resurrection of the Son of God (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), Kindle location 677-6780.

[15] Wright, ROSG, Kindle Location 6500-6503.

 

[16] Simon J. Kistemaker, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1993), 520.

[17] Joachim Jeremias, “Flesh and Blood Cannot Inherit the Kingdom of God,” New Testament Studies 2 (1956): 152.

Have We Neglected Going Down In The River?

alexDr. John Mark Hicks makes that claim that for the early church being a Christian meant one was baptized and that it was understood that if one was not a Christian one was not baptized.[1] As well, Bruce contends, “the idea of an unbaptized Christian is simply not entertained in the New Testament.”[2] Yet, in recent years the same case cannot be made. Baptism has been reduced by many simply to an initiatory rite for church membership, membership into a local church body. Yet, looking at the biblical record shows baptism to be something more than just a rite of passage into a church membership. It has to be remembered that “church membership,” in its current/modern understanding is quite different than what it would have meant in Frist Century, Second Temple Judaism.  While the Bible presents baptism as a salvific event, a sacrament, the modern church has reduced the salvific event to a prayer that is never found in scripture. The biblical record shows baptism, when coupled with belief, to be the event whereby salvation occurs.

Preliminary Concerns:

Before diving into the waters of biblical baptism there are a few preliminary concerns that need to be addressed: The thief on the cross and the definition of church.

For most people “the thief on the cross” provides the test case for baptism not being an essential for the salvation event. Without rehashing a story known to all, a few brief details will be given to set the story given in Luke 23. The “thief” was crucified beside Christ. In his last minutes he asked Christ to remember him when he, Christ, comes into his kingdom. Christ answers by assuring him that he would that day be in paradise with Christ.

Two points of clarification are all that need be made about the thief to dispel that he represents salvation apart from baptism. First, the command for baptism was given by the risen Christ in Matthew 28. So, at the time of the thief’s death there was no command to be baptized. A second point, and a major point, is that the thief, just as Christ, died under the Old Covenant. The New Covenant was not in force until the death of its mediator, Christ: Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.  For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established.  For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. (Hebrews 9: 15-17).[3]

Another argument could be put forth that it is known whether the thief was baptized or not.  While some may argue that the thief did not have time to get off the cross and be baptized, it cannot be said that he was not baptized before going to the cross. It is biblical record that both the disciples of John the immerser and the disciples of Jesus were both baptizing. So it could well have been that the thief was a baptized person. This case is weak an unprovable, and the first two provide enough emphasis to disqualify the thief as a test case, a scriptural proof, that baptism is not essential for a true New Covenant conversion.

The experience of the thief would best be seen, as Schroeder writes, “When Jesus responds, ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise,’ the ‘today’ focuses not only on what awaits the repentant criminal, but equally on what Jesus is accomplishing, namely, coming into his kingdom. ‘Today, Jesus is dying with sinners.”[4] Instead of viewing the thief as a proof text for the lack of necessity of baptism, it is best viewed as centered on the work of Christ.

Of equal concern is the definition of the word “church.” The term is use almost without thought while its meaning seems to dangle in the undefined. For purposes of this paper church will be defined in two ways. Designated by a capital “C” it will represent the church universal: the entire body of Christ. When written with a lower case “c” it will represent the local church: the place where believers meet typically on, but not limited to, a Sunday morning. As some claim baptism to be an initiatory rite into one or both of these the definitions will aid in the understanding.

ACTS 2:38 and 1 Peter 3:21

No matter who one interprets Acts 2:38, those who were baptized that day were added to the Church or the church.

After the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, Peter, through a sermon, explains to those present what has just happened. After his sermon, he is asked what they must do now. Peter’s response, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2: 38).  Without consulting commentaries or journals it seems that apart from baptism there is no remission of sin. Yet, many, in order to safeguard “salvation by grace alone, have diminished the phrase. Gaertner writes, “This position disregards the very common use of eis in the New Testament to mean ‘for the purpose of, in order to.’ In Matthew 26:28 where this exact phrase appears, Jesus says his blood is poured out’ for (eis) the forgiveness of sins. It would be absurd to argue that the phrase means ‘because of’ and that Jesus’ blood was poured out because sins had already been forgiven.”[5] Gaertner continued writing, “Whatever Peter says about the forgiveness of sins follows from both imperatives. Just as repentance is needed “for the purpose of” the forgiveness of sins, so is baptism. This position need not rob the plan of salvation of its basis in the grace of God. Both imperatives expect action to be taken on the part of the sinner. [6] For Gaertner, whatever repentance means in the salvation process, baptism means the same.

Horton on the other hand, takes the position of baptism “because of  … .” Horton writes, “That is, they must repent first, then [Peter] would baptize them. We are saved  by grace through faith, not through baptism. After repentance, water baptism becomes a ‘pledge’ or testimony, of a good conscience that has already been cleansed.”[7]

The problem with Horton’s assessment is he works to hard to protect a doctrine instead of letting scripture say what is says. Instead of allowing scripture to set doctrine, he is good with the idea of letting doctrine set what scripture says. As has been shown earlier the error in this line of exegesis, his outcome fails to take into account other scripture which declares that baptism does in fact now save.

Peter wrote, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). For Peter, salvation happened at the baptism event. Black asserts, “any view of baptism which finds it a rather embarrassing ceremonial extra, irrelevant to Christian salvation, is not doing justice to New Testament teaching.”[8] This, a ceremonial act, it is what much of modern Christianity has reduced the sacrament of baptism to. Bock backs this statement writing, “The act of baptism portrays a washing and signifies what repentance produces, cleansing.”[9] But, can repentance by itself produce such an event? A Radical Islamic Terrorist known for the murder of Christians may repent from murder; he may stop murdering. Yet, he has made no profession of Christ or been baptized. Has his repentance alone saved him? To answer this question one need look no farther than the case of the Apostle Paul.

 

Paul of Tarsus

 

Paul himself claimed to be the chief of sinners. Yet, on the Damascus road he had an encounter with the risen Christ. Two points need to be made here. First, Paul, or Saul as he was known at that time, was on a mission to persecute Christians. And, after his encounter with Christ that mission was thwarted. One need not look too far to see that there was repentance. If this was the only story available about Paul, the outcome would have to be that he had relented. But, the story of Paul goes a bit farther. Paul was told to go on to Damascus. When there, in his own words, “Ananias came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name’ (Acts 22:13-16, emphasis added).

For Paul, the sins were not washed away until the baptism. Paul’s account of his salvation affirms Acts 2:38:

Acts 2:38                          Paul’s Salvation account

Repent                              Repented

Be Baptized                      Was Baptized

Remission of Sins              Sins Washed Away

 

These elements in Paul’s conversion can be found throughout the New Covenant writings as well as early church writings. And, it has to be remembered that it was Paul gave the doctrine of salvation by grace (Ephesians 2:8-10). Man, in an attempt to clarify what was never murky has come upon and taught something never taught or implied in scripture.  If baptism is relegated to a “work” repentance has to be given the same status; Acts 2:38 presents them on an even keel where salvation is concerned. In all fairness to the question, repentance is much more of a work than baptism. One has to work at repentance; one simply submits to baptism.

The biblical case has been made that apart from belief AND baptism there is now salvation. At baptism sins are washed away. Apart from baptism there is no biblical case that can be made for remission of sins. All New Covenant conversions contain baptism either directly stated or implicit.  As Cukrowski sums it up, “Luke’s exclusive mention of one of these three items is not a denial of the other two. Thus, in writing to a Christian audience, Luke presumes that his readers know an obedient response to God involves faith, repentance, and baptism.”[10] The question now turns onto church membership.

 

Big “C” or Little “c”

Acts 2:41 reads, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” The question then that has to be answered, and is the subject and summation of a rather lengthy introduction of sorts, is simply, “where were they added?”

One could throw out all commentaries and writings and from a simple reading of Acts come to the logical conclusion that the souls added were simply added to the number of souls saved. There are roughly 15 language groups mentioned in Acts chapter 2. Each of these groups in Jerusalem for Pentecost. Pentecost being one of three feast that required the Jew to travel to Jerusalem. Logically speaking, if they traveled there, they would again travel home. If the souls added were added to a local church—if baptism was simply an initiatory rite into local church membership—which local church were they added to, the church in Jerusalem or the church from where they came?

The problem with this is there were no local churches from where they came—nor even in Jerusalem for that matter as this was the day the church was born! At best, Luke presents a beginning of sorts to a budding community of people who have repented and been baptized. But, the community that Luke follows at this point is one that remains in Jerusalem. While the others who were added would have went on their way setting up communities in their native lands. For Jervell these souls were added to the “flock of disciples.”[11] Horton seems to agree using an upper case “C,” “we can be sure that all three thousand new believers were added to the Church received the of the Father as Peter said they would and were filled with the Spirit, speaking in other tongues as in Acts 2:4” (emphasis added).[12] The second part of Horton’s quote cannot be defended and is in itself a research paper. The point though being, there was no church at this time for these souls to be added. Yet, there was a Church. If the doctrine is based on biblical record, from Acts 2:41 the only conclusion that can be drawn is baptism was into the Church, the Body of Christ universal.

Another biblical case against baptism being an initiatory rite in to local church membership presents itself a few chapters later.

In Acts 8 the story of Phillip and the Ethiopian is told.  Phillip is sent by the Spirit to a desert place. Here he sees and Ethiopian eunuch reading Isaiah. When Phillip asked the Ethiopian if he understands what he is reading, the Ethiopian responds asking how can he if he has no-one to teach him. From here, Luke says, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). From Isaiah Phillip taught, or as the NASB translates it preached, Jesus. That alone is nothing to add to the current discussion. Yyet, what follows is. Luke wrote, “And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:36-38). One is left with the question, which local church was the Ethiopian baptized into membership with? He did not travel back to Jerusalem to be a part of the church there. There is one point to be made from the story: If Jesus is preached baptism is a part of the preaching. The only church in view is the Church universal. The pericope is not designed to show how one enters into a local church, but to show the spread of the gospel. As Polhill puts is a eunuch, a black, a Gentile is baptized into the Body of Christ.[13] This helps to fill out the road map of the gospel laid out in Acts 1:8— But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (emphasis added).

There were no churches in Ethiopia at this time. So, the question that has to be asked is was the Ethiopian baptized into church or Church? The story of the Eunuch was never about local church membership. It is a story to show the growth of the gospel. It shows the spread of the gospel passing barriers. Salvation, and thus Church membership, is not limited to Jews, but is now open to all people. Paul says this is the mystery of the New Covenant, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6). Luke is not concerned with membership into some local country club called the church; his concern is the Body of Christ, the universal Church.

Looking back at the Apostle Paul’s own conversion leaves the question of which local church was his baptism an initiatory rite for granting entrance? Looking back, Paul was converted in Damascus. Yet, there was no church in Damascus at the time. Into which church then Paul granted membership?

The only answer in the case of Paul can be that his baptism put him in the Church universal, not a local church establishment—they were non-existent. At best, where Paul is concerned, local church membership could be argued for Antioch, and even this is a weak argument. Acts 13 shows a local body of believers called the church at Antioch. Luke writes, “Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:1-3, NIV). While the case can weakly be made that Paul could have been a member of the body at Antioch as they seem to be the sending church for the missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, scripture shows Paul was not baptized to be a member there. It would be a much better explanation to say Paul was baptized into the universal Church and spent time with the local body at Antioch. The biblical record suggests that baptism is into the universal Church and the believer places his membership where he decides to worship.

 

A Few Loose Ends

Believer’s baptism should be accepted as the norm. Without belief baptism is simply getting wet. This should disavow any doctrine of infant baptism. If one is to believe and repent how can an infant participate?

If baptism is simply an initiatory rite for church membership why are people not re-baptized when they move from one city another and begin going to a new church? It seems this practice alone ‘shoots in the foot’ the doctrine that baptism is for local church membership. Iit alone suggests that there is something deeper in the ordinance of baptism; it suggest that baptism is into the Church Universal.

Common, modern, practice has relegated salvation to a stock prayer recited by the new believer. The prayer has come to be known as the Sinner’s Prayer. Yet, said prayer is nowhere to be found in the Holy Scriptures. This, though, is the common path to salvation. Baptism then is relegated as a secondary thought to gain admission into a local church fellowship. This differs vastly from the biblical picture that has been presented. For the biblical record does not view baptism as a rite or ordinance, but sees baptism as a sacrament. It is the only sacrament the Bible records.

 

Conclusion

 

No matter what ideas and doctrines man forms, the biblical record will always have precedence, as it should. From before the death of Christ, and the command to baptize, a thief was saved. He was saved just as any Old Covenant person would have been saved. After his resurrection Christ gave the command to baptize. And, on that first Pentecost after His resurrection the command was put into action. Yet, with no local churches it cannot be successfully argued that the command to be baptize was for admission into a local church. Numbers were added that day but not to a local church; numbers were added to the Universal Church, the Body of Christ.

From that first Pentecost the gospel spread, as Christ had said in Acts 1:8 it would. Starting with an Ethiopian, Christ was preached and he asked to be baptized. The argument cannot be made that it was into a local church as there were none in Ethiopia. He was baptized into the Universal Church, the Body of Christ.

Paul, formerly Saul, of Tarsus was encountered. On his way to Damascus he met the risen Christ. He repented and was subsequently baptized. His baptism was not for admission to a local church. The biblical record shows it was to wash his sins away. Paul’s baptism was not for entrance into a local church; his baptism was into the Universal Church, the body of Christ.

Baptism, when coupled with belief, is the salvific event. While man has formed doctrines to down play the event and make it an initiatory rite into local church membership, the Bible never places it in such a position. In the Bible baptism is never an ordinance or rite; it is always a sacrament. Too many, and too often, theologians have only looked at scripture through the lens of the Reformation theologians and endeavored to protect a doctrine of grace and faith alone. The Bible, on the other hand, puts forth the doctrine of grace and faith alone and has baptism as a part of that equation. Simply stated, baptism is not an initiatory rite into a local church membership, it is part of the salvation event into the Universal Church, the body of Christ.

Collect for Baptism:

Heavenly Father, by the power of your Holy Spirit
you give to your faithful people new life in the water of baptism.
Guide and strengthen us by the same Spirit,
that we who are born again may serve you in faith and love,
and grow into the full stature of your Son, Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit
now and for ever. Amen.

 

Until Next Time, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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[1] John Mark Hicks, Down In The River to Pray (Abilene: Leafwood, 2012), 181.

 

[2] F.F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 77.

[3] All verses Holy Bible English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

[4] Edward Schroeder, “Luke’s Gospel through a Systematic Lens,” in Currents in Theology and Mission 3, no. 6 (1976): 340.

[5] Dennis Gaertner, Acts (Joplin: College Press, 1993), S Acts 2:38.

 

[6]Ibid.

[7] Stanley Horton, Acts (Springfield: Logion, 1981), 79.

[8] Allen Black and Mark C. Black, 1 & 2 Peter (Joplin: College Press, 1998), S. 1 Peter 3:21.

 

[9] Darrell L. Bock, Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 142.

[10] Ken Cukrowski, “What Must I do To Be Saved?” in Fanning the Flames: Probing the Issues in Acts ed.

Mark E. Moore (Joplin: College Press, 2003), 297.

[11] Jervel quoted in Bock, Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 146.

 

[12] Horton, 82.

[13] John Polhill, Acts (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 226.

Lectionarily Speaking: ARE WE LETTING THE FIELDS TURN BROWN?

harvestAs the Season after Pentecost moves along toward the Reign of Christ, the sun of late Spring feels quite a bit like a mid-Summer sun. And, the plants, the gardens, are trying to hold their own.  Quite appropriate is this week’s gospel passage which includes Matthew 9:37-38—Jesus saying, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” While this particular verse holds special significance for me as my ordination service was set around these verse, for the church it holds an even higher significance.

            The church in general has become complacent with indoor Christianity: If we liken the church to a boat most are happy on a pew and sailing toward Heaven each Sunday morning, while the rest of the world goes on by. It seems that the early church, the missional church, under the missio Dei, has, in many instances, been left by the wayside. In a world where the fields need plowing, as well as planting, praying God to send workers into the field has seem to stop. Yet, the passages for this week show us another way, a preferable way.

            What if the 21st century church answered God as the people of Israel answered Moses in Exodus 19:8? “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” If the modern church took this stance Sunday morning sailing wouldn’t be enough. It would have to filter in Matthew 28:19—Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. It’s hard to go while you are simply sitting!

            The Psalmist wrote, “O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant” (Psalm 116:16). But are we serving God, or letting the church serve us with fancy lights, videos, and rock concert atmospheres? While relax inside the church are we letting the fields, once ripe for harvest, turn brown? Are we serving the Lord when a world outside the doors of the church is hurting on a grand level?

            Christ said to pray for workers to be sent into the fields. For Christ, 2000 years ago just as now, the harvest was ready. Yet, are we ready for it? Do we “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” (Psalm 100:1), but make it low enough as to not attract the attention of a hurting world? Do “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1), but keep that peace hidden from those whose lives need peace?

            Yes, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. But, we were told to pray for workers to be sent to the field. And, if we look close at this week’s Gospel passage, as soon as Christ said to pray for workers to be sent, he sent them. He sent them to proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was near! What if the modern church was to turn back to the missio Dei and proclaim that the Kingdom of God was near? Christ has shown that if we pray for workers to be sent to the field he will send them. As we move to the Reign of Christ, let us pray the Lord to send workers into the fields and with a joyful noise proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven is a present reality! Let us not become complacent sitting on a pew sailing toward Heaven; Peter only walked on water when he got out of the boat!

 

A Collect for Missions:

Almighty God, who called your Church to witness that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself: help us to proclaim the good news of your love, that all who hear it may be drawn to you; through him who was lifted up on the cross, and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!

 

Until next time, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep you!

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HOLY TRINITY, ST. PATRICK, AND SHAMROCKS!

cloverThe church year moves right along. This week, as Pentecost has just been celebrated, the year looks at the Holy Trinity. We profess the Holy trinity each week in the Nicene creed when we say, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The are always together and in unity: God never has to call the Son and the Spirit in for an emergency meeting! It is awful hard for me as one of Irish descent to even think of the Holy Trinity without thinking of St. Patrick.  While it is debatable if St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach the trinity—as legend has it—the shamrock has come to be both a symbol of the saint as well as the Holy Trinity!

If we think of that clover leaf, we can envisage the three leaves that make the clover, each leaf standing alone, yet together with, equal to, and in unity with the others. If we look at the lectionary readings for Holy Trinity Sunday we can see the three always together, working together, and in unity.

Genesis 1:1-2 states, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” While the Messiah is not explicably mentioned, we know from John’s Gospel that “All things were made through [the Messiah], and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). Together, in unity the three work together, just as the three leaves of the shamrock work together to make up the shamrock; the same DNA. The creed says of the Father and the Son:

“God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.”

The Spirt, the giver of life, proceeds from the Father and the Son—the Son is the bread of life, the Spirit is the giver of life; the Spirit must be then one with the Son—who is one with the Father. While leaf one is not leaf two, and leaf two is not leaf three—which also is not leaf one—the Son is not the Father and the father is not the Son, the Spirit is neither of the two and the two are not the Spirit, they are all three the one God: Hear O Israel, the lord our God, the Lord is one!

In the Bible there is only one command that is given to be done in the name of the Holy Trinity. This points us to the Gospel reading for Holy Trinity Sunday: Matthew 28:16-20. Baptism is to be done in the name of the Holy Trinity: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …” Again, we look to the creed: We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. One baptism, for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), yet in the name of the three—which are always together, as are the leaves of the Shamrock. And, it is through the one baptism that the Spirit—which proceeds from and is one with the father and the son—is received.

Whether St. Patrick went to Connaught where he met two of King Laoghaire’s daughters, Ethne and Fedelm; St. Patrick had been unable to persuade the king to convert, but he convinced the king’s daughters; during their time of instruction St. Patrick used a shamrock to visualize the mystery of the Trinity, how a single plant with three leaves is analogous to the one Triune God with three separate and distinct Persons, might be open to debate. Or, possibly—or possibly not— St. Patrick was traveling and happened upon a number of Irish chieftains along a meadow. The tribal leaders were curious about the Trinity and asked St. Patrick for an explanation. So he bent down, picked a shamrock, and showed it to them, and explained how the three leaves are part of the one plant, and how similarly the three Persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, are part of one Supreme Being. Even more debatable is whether St. Patrick ran all the snakes out of Ireland.

But, the certainty lies in the fact that the Holy Trinity has existed from eternity past into eternity future. Three, are always together; they were together at the creation. They were together at Jesus’ baptism—the dawning of the new creation. They are together at our baptism—they give us life and all that is needed to have a favorable outcome at the final judgment.

However you describe the Holy Trinity, the words unity and one have to be a part of the description. Does a shamrock do justice to the mystery of the Trinity? Probably not. But, our language has trouble describing all things God. We believe in God; we are saved by the work of Christ on the cross; our bodies are animated by the Holy Spirit.

Until Next Time, may the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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REIGN OF CHRIST: Pentecost and Beyond

reignofchrist1Pentecost 2017 is now in the history books and for many it is a slow season—the season after Pentecost—as there are no ‘big’ events in the church year until the end of the year with the reign of Christ-or Christ the king. We spend the beginning of the year looking at the Advent; and too many times it seems we concentrate all of our spiritual energy from Advent to Pentecost—and for that matter focusing more of our energy on Advent and Christmas than on Easter through Pentecost. The season after Pentecost seems to get push aside. Yet, it moves toward the final date of the year—the Reign of Christ—and its teaching is rich.

We too often lose sight of the fact that the Gospels teach how Jesus—God—became King. And in the creeds themselves the middle part of the gospel message is left out. Whether you The Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed they go from being ‘born to the Virgin Mary’ to ‘suffering under Pontius Pilate.’  The miracles, the parables, as well as His teachings are sadly absent. If we rely solely on the creeds we would be left to see the Messiah as being born and being crucified and resurrected. The in between 33 years he really didn’t do much. Yet, as we look at the Season after Pentecost Christ did quite a bit and taught a lot as well.

We’ve made everything about a future hope that was to happen after the Ascension and forgotten that the Christ taught us to pray for Heaven to come on earth. We’ve re-interpreted many of the parables to be about the Christ’s second coming as opposed to their original context—his incarnation! For many the parable of the Ten Minas is all about the second coming, but it is better to see it as a parable about the first coming of the Christ. Of the ruler in the parable Christ says, “his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us’” (v. 14). If we think about that in relation to Luke’s reporting that when as what they wanted done with Jesus and the yelled, “crucify him,” the Parable of the Ten Minas can be seen in a new light—a light that puts the parable squarely into Jesus’ incarnation, not His second coming: The King has come to an unfaithful Israel.

America’s, and really all of western, theology has an obsession with the second coming—fueled in part by the Left Behind series. As such, we tend to want to interpret everything in relation to a second coming. We celebrate the birth; we celebrate Easter—though sadly it has become a second-rate religious holiday; we look forward to the Second Coming. We practice the creeds—we skip 33 years of the life of the Christ.

As we move through the Season after Pentecost, let us see Christ in a different setting. Let us see Christ as he became King. Let it build to the year ending Reign of Christ. The first reading in Matthew for the Season after Pentecost is Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23). Matthew 9:35 states, “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” The Kingdom Christ proclaimed was not a future event waiting to happen; He proclaimed a Kingdom in the here and now (Mark 1:15)! He was declared King at his baptism—sadly missing from the creeds! He proved his Kingship through his miracles and his teaching as one who had authority (sadly missing from the creeds!).

While the Reign of Christ ends the church year, the Season after Pentecost shows how the King came to rule. It shows how the King set up His Kingdom and proved he was the rightful King. He taught us to pray, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. The King was here to show us how to make that a reality. Many might see the Season after Pentecost as a ‘lull’ in the church year, but if we look at it as showing how Christ came to rule it can be one of the richest seasons of the church year!

 

Collect of the day:

Most holy God, the source of all good desires, all right judgments, and all just works: Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, so that our minds may be fixed on the doing of your will, and that we, being delivered from the fear of all enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through the mercies of Christ Jesus our Savior. Amen.

 

Until Next Time, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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