p.ost

(how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference)

The narrative premise of a post-Christendom theology

I regard myself as an evangelical, but the social and intellectual structures that have sustained and made sense of modern evangelicalism are disintegrating, and it is not at all clear that modern evangelicalism can or should survive their collapse. My broad aim as a theologian is to endeavour to renew the biblical framework within which a new, transposed ‘evangelical’ commitment might emerge, one that might provide self-understanding and motivation for the church as it confronts an uncertain future. The key to this undertaking, in my view, is first to recover the contingent historical perspective of the New Testament as it imagined its own future – a programme which will, in fact, get us to the heart of New Testament theology; and then to set about the creative and adventurous task of re-imagining new futures for ourselves consistent with that critically, realistically, and faithfully reconstructed narrative. If you like, this constitutes a rough manifesto for this website.

It is misleading, in my view, to think of the whole of human history as being hinged theologically around the death and resurrection of Jesus. The mechanism is more complex than that. The story of the people of God is hinged (even then not in a straightforward manner) around the death and resurrection of Jesus; but the place of that story within the history of humanity cannot be defined merely as the emergence and expansion of a true religion of personal salvation through Jesus. Theology should not flatten scripture into dogmatic abstractions and generalities. Theology should seek to follow, and sympathetically narrate, the tortuous journey of faithfulness as it picks its way across the complex, broken, mountainous landscape of history.

The New Testament presupposes, describes, and predicts a long, tumultuous transition in the history of the people of God, running from the initial summons to Israel to repent in the face of imminent judgment and national destruction (John the Baptist) to the eventual displacement of the institutions and worldview of classical paganism and the recognition of Christ as sovereign over the empire and beyond (Constantine). Jesus’ death and resurrection constitutes the key redemptive event in this historical process, by which the people of God are saved from complete destruction and granted a new lease of life – the life of the age that was to come. On the outskirts of the New Testament’s vision of the future (but of much greater eschatological relevance to the church today) is the hope of a final judgment and making new of all things.

The ‘good news’ at the heart of the story begins as an announcement to Israel that its God is about to act both to punish and to restore his people; but (precisely on this basis) it becomes the announcement to the empire that God is no longer willing to overlook its idolatry, immorality and injustices. Paul’s gospel is that God will sooner or later ‘judge’ (in the characteristic biblical sense) the Greek-Roman world by a man whom he has appointed, and that this historical transformation will finally vindicate the refugees from Judaism and the growing numbers of Gentiles who have attached themselves to this Spirit-driven renewal movement. This moment of vindication, when Christ will receive the nations as his inheritance, will mark the beginning of a new age, when he (and the martyrs) will reign at the right hand of the Father over and on behalf of God’s people.

The story of Jesus includes and anticipates the story of the early believers who had to follow him along a difficult and narrow path leading to life. The New Testament in the first place, as a set of historical documents, describes the life and vocation of an eschatological community, scattered across the whole oikoumenē, which in its supra-national and ecumenical nature, in its solidarity, in its holiness, in its confession of Christ, in its experience of the eschatological Spirit, in its faithfulness and willingness to endure the most severe opposition, represented the claim of Israel’s God to be sovereign over all the gods of the nations.

From our perspective, looking back, the new age that began with the instatement of Christianity as the religion of the empire (as a consequence of the faithful witness of the Christ-like martyr church) appears to have finally come to an end: Christendom as both a social and an intellectual phenomenon has collapsed. The challenge now is to deconstruct the Christendom paradigm, which is both ecclesial and theological and within which we are still to a large degree ensnared, and ask what new paradigm, what new way of existing in the world, might emerge for the post-Christendom, post-imperial, post-modern church as it seeks to be loyal to the original calling in Abraham to be an authentic new creation.

Comments

Wonderful stuff, Andrew.

ask what new paradigm, what new way of existing in the world, might emerge for the post-Christendom, post-imperial, post-modern church as it seeks to be loyal to the original calling in Abraham to be an authentic new creation.

Would you please consider adding "post-colonial" to this list. For the interaction of the "majority world" church with the western church, colonialism was / is such a major factor that, to my mind, the list is incomplete without it.

I appreciate that "Christendom" can be taken to incorporate colonialism and furthermore, colonialism is a thoroughly modern and imperial phenomena.

Nevertheless, part of the challenge of post-modernity is to ground our missiology / theology in the concrete contexts of history. To include reference to the passing of colonialism specifically is admit that the paradigmatic change is elicited out of real, human, inhuman struggle. 

Andrew, this is GREAT STUFF!  Your thoughts follow the logical process we must follow in order to gain more understanding. The implicit fear is, of course, that the fruits of modern evangelism will not be able to continue down the necessary course correction.

I've noticed that others, too, are starting to tie Gnostism to mainstream evangelism.

I believe many of the answers we're looking for are found in the Covenant people themselves.  What did they believe?  What was their role?   After all, it was their prophets and their eschaton.

Life, death, resurrection, salvation and redemption are principles the Word applies to the Covenant people.  Are we free to apply them all to all peoples of His Creation?

May we be brave enough in our faith to answer the questions that must be asked.

Andrew:

Is there a book length treatment that would detail/dovetail with your view of narrative theology. Something you could recommend?

M

Extraordinary!

You bring together many concerns close to my own heart, and you reflect upon them with faith and maturity. Thank-you so much for the work. Thank-you also for that rss feed. I'll be following in the future.

Blessings!

David

I appreciate some of the issues you are grappling with here, and enjoy reading the blog from time to time.

One of my areas of concern is that you appear (to my mind) to place too high a view of the Constantinian moment in the history of the people of God, and even imply that it was in some sense a fulfillment of the gospel narrative of Christ's vicory and reign over the nations.

There has always existed - even in the early centuries by such groups as the Montanists and, to a lesser extent, the Dontanists - a more radical critique of the thinking that gave rise to the Constantinian settlement. This critique - which reached a particularly developed point in the anabaptist movement of the late Reformation era - sees the emergence of Christendom as an essentially idolatrous development, a confusion of the nature of Christs kingdom and of the nature of the church.

According to this critique Christendom has never been a valid concept for understanding the people of God or their mission. Therefore, there is no post-Christendom paradigm needed.

Thoughts?  

Al, sorry to hvave taken so long to get round to answering this. I’ve been otherwise occupied. I’ve made a few attempts to address this objection, the latest being here.

Hi Andrew

I was wondering if your thesis is somewhat undermined by the fact that Judaism wasn’t completely destroyed during the Jewish war. It seems as though this would be the natural outcome of Jesus’ warnings to his contemporaries. And yet Judaism survives to this day. What’s your take on this?

Love your blog by the way.

Al

Wow. Simply the best piece of Christian writing I’ve seen on the internet since discovering NT Wright 5 years ago. I’ll be a regular visitor to the site.

What makes for misleading comments are comments that contradict, about as clearly as a contradiction may be made, the unambiguous and authoritative claims of Scripture. You say:

It is misleading, in my view, to think of the whole of human history as being hinged theologically around the death and resurrection of Jesus. The mechanism is more complex than that. The story of the people of God is hinged (even then not in a straightforward manner) around the death and resurrection of Jesus; but the place of that story within the history of humanity cannot be defined merely as the emergence and expansion of a true religion of personal salvation through Jesus. Theology should not flatten scripture into dogmatic abstractions and generalities. Theology should seek to follow, and sympathetically narrate, the tortuous journey of faithfulness as it picks its way across the complex, broken, mountainous landscape of history.

Scripture says,

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. 1 Co 15:16–19.

Not only does Christianity hinge on certain doctrines, Paul makes clear that any meaningful existence at all hinges on them. Specifically, all meaning in life hinges on the resurrection of Christ. The entire human existence past and future revolve around that event. History is filled with great anticipation of the redemption it would provide and the future can only be what will be because of what it accomplished.

I am amused by the accusation that such views on the resurrected Christ are guilty of flattening Scripture into dogmatic abstractions and generalities. What is shocking is the numbe of people who cannot see that you are merely exchaging one dogmatic abstraction for another. You are preferring one theology over another. You are not clearing the path of dogma or theology. You are merely using rhetoric to replace them with versions of your own perference.

You accuse orthodoxy of being misleading and you assert that theology should seek to do something…different. But you provide absolutely no standard by which you have arrived at your conclusion. And you fail to see the dogmatism in your own statements that portend to attack dogmatism while at the same time constructing some new dogmatic approach yourself.

There is nothing quite like reading a dogmatic attack against dogmatism first thing in the morning to make your head hurt. The truth is that you want all of human history to hinge around someting else. You want to propogate your own dogmatism. You think theology should do something different. And you are just as abstract and just as dogmatic about it as those you criticize. The irony is brighter than the mid-day Sun.

Not only does Christianity hinge on certain doctrines, Paul makes clear that any meaningful existence at all hinges on them. Specifically, all meaning in life hinges on the resurrection of Christ. The entire human existence past and future revolve around that event. History is filled with great anticipation of the redemption it would provide and the future can only be what will be because of what it accomplished.

We do not find such a thing as “Christianity” in the New Testament. What we have are communities of renewed Israel, including grafted in Gentiles, which believe that God raised his Son from the dead. They don’t believe in a doctrine. They believe in an event. If God had not raised Jesus from the dead, then clearly the faith of these communities would have been in vain. But this does not tell us why the resurrection of Jesus was so important.

Paul does not say in 1 Corinthians 15 that “all meaning in life hinges on the resurrection of Christ”. He says that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures (15:4), which can only be a reference to Hosea 6:1-2: resurrection is what happens to Israel. Jesus’ resurrection, in the first place, embodies or prefigures the restoration of Israel following judgment. Here, if you like, is a “standard” by which I have arrived at a conclusion. Paul alludes to a scripture which makes resurrection of factor in the historical renewal of Israel following judgment.

Jesus’ resurrection also embodies or prefigures the resurrection of the martyrs, the suffering saints of the Most High (cf. Rev. 20:4-6).

Finally, Jesus’ resurrection was understood to be a sign to Israel and to the nations that God would soon judge the pagan empire (cf. Acts 17:31).

These are all historical events—they have to do with the historical experience of the people of God. This dimension gets completely lost when theology compresses the whole narrative into such statements as “The entire human existence past and future revolve around that event”.

I have tried to explain to you on a number of occasions how the historical reading differs from the theological reading. Your response has always been to ignore or high-handedly dismiss it. That’s fair enough, but you give me no reason to think that you understand how the narrative-historical paradigm works, how it is grounded, if all you can do is insist on the rightness of the dogmatic-theological construction of Christian truth. It is not a matter of preferring one theology over another. It is a matter of preferring history over theology. If that preference then leads us to rethink how we construct our own worldview, then that’s a separate matter.

Andrew,

I have repeatedly said that your disjunction between history and theology is false one. Therefore, I reject it. It is illegitimate to force “either or” into the hermeneutical process. I have asserted that an atheological perspective of history is impossible. You have proven me right on numerous occasions. I have argued that it is impossible to arrive at norms or even generalizations around second temple Judaism because of the variety of paradigms during this time. You have not even bothered to grapple with that or at least show us how you grappled with it in the past.

Paul unambiguously asserts that if Jesus Christ is not risen from the dead, then not only is our faith inVAIN, but that we Christians are of all men the most pitiful! That describes a meaningless existence in my way of reading and I think in every other way of reading, at least honest reading as you call it.

Acts 17:31 does speak to judgment, but not the papan empire your have in mind. The judgment of God is not viewed just as something that will fall on the ungodly system, but on each and every man who rejects Him. Once again, you are demonstrating that your intepretive paradigm is driven by your preterism.

John writing after 70 AD speaks of a judgment still to come. A future judgment when all men will be judged.

You argue that the entire human experience revolves around Israel. You cannot get to that position without doing some theology Andrew. History along won’t get you there.

In the end, your project that one can engage biblical history and/or biblical narrative outside of biblical theology is self-refuting. You cannot even begin to utter a syllable or predicate for a second without some theolgoical and philosophical bias from the very start. That is my argument. The thing you accuse orthodoxy of doing, you also are guilty of. You are NOT removing bias or prejudice or presuppositions. You are replacing them with your own. It is not surprising that you have several uncritical contempory minds approving of your approach. But when it is subjected to norms or standards, it falls to the ground.

What we see in the New Testament documents Andrew is Israel being cut off because of unbelief! She has not yet been renewed because she has not yet believed in Messiah. That even is still to come. God has grafted the Gentiles NOT into Israel, but into Christ. The Jewish branch has been cut off for a season. The Gentile Church serves as an element that will provoke her to jealousy soon enough. God will save His people Israel and the Messiah will sit on the throne of David, literally. The resurrection of Christ provides us with the promise of a future resurrection.

Paul never once ties the resurrection to Israel in 1 Cor. 15. In addition, the Greek word οἰκουμένη used in Acts 17:31 is never used to describe a pagan empire. It is used to describe the entire inhabited world. Surely that is how Paul uses it with the Areopagus in Athens, a council of Greeks. Paul NEVER referenced Israel in his apologetic. In fact, the resurrection of Christ is never used to symbolize the renewal of Israel.

Dodd shows how the early church used OT texts to elucidate the kerygma. This entailed not so much citing isolated “proof-texts” as using extended portions of textual units as wholes, especially from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Psalms, and some of the prophetic books. In a coherent and patterned way, these served to provide “regulative ideas” for the “substructure” of NT theology (e.g., According to the Scriptures, 127).

Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000).

The resurrection of Christ prefigures the resurrection of all believers, not only the martyrs.

Your interpretive paradigm is based on a theological bias devoted to preterism and a false understanding of the role of Israel in the redemptive program of God. You place Israel at the hub and spoke of salvation while the Church, from the beginning, places Christ there.

I am reviewing your seven rules for interpretation on my blog: http://reformedreasons.blogspot.com/

Acts 17:31 does speak to judgment, but not the papan empire your have in mind. The judgment of God is not viewed just as something that will fall on the ungodly system, but on each and every man who rejects Him. Once again, you are demonstrating that your intepretive paradigm is driven by your preterism.

Not at all. First, I am not a preterist. I simply argue from a historical point of view—and if you can’t see the point of that, we are probably not going to get any further.

That is admittedly a hermeneutical commitment, but it is a reasonable one in view of the nature of the scriptures as a witness to the historical faith of Israel and the churches. Given the form that judgment takes elsewhere in scripture, given the nature of apocalyptic writing, given the historical perspective of the early church, given the meaning of oikoumenē (see below), given the emphasis on the imminence of divine judgment against the Greek, not against humanity, I think we are fully entitled to reach the conclusion that the Fathers reached, namely that the defeat of the pagan gods was a world-changing act of divine judgment.

On the meaning of oikoumenē see The Future of the People of God, 54-56. Josephus routinely uses the word to denote the geographical extent of the empire (eg. Jos. Ant. 18.187). In the LXX the word can have a politically restricted scope: for example, God sends a nation to destroy the oikoumenē of the Babylonians (Is. 13:4-5, 9, 17-19). Luke tells us that a decree went out from Augustus that all the oikoumenē should be registered (Lk. 2:1). He does not mean all the world. He means all the empire under Augustus’ rule. Agabus warns of a famine in the days of the emperor Claudius that will afflict the whole oikoumenē (Acts 11:28). In the same chapter as Paul’s speech in the Areopagus we are told that men acting against the decrees of Caesar have turned the oikoumenē upside down (Acts 17:6-7).

Also from BDAG:

2. the world as administrative unit, the Roman Empire (in the hyperbolic diction commonly used in ref. to emperors, the Rom. Emp. equalled the whole world [as e.g. Xerxes’ empire: Ael. Aristid. 54 p. 675 D., and of Cyrus: Jos., Ant. 11, 3]: OGI 666, 4; 668, 5 τῷ σωτῆρι κ. εὐεργέτῃ τῆς οἰκουμένης [Nero]; 669, 10; SIG 906 A, 3f τὸν πάσης οἰκουμένης δεσπότην [Julian]; cp. Artapanus: 726 fgm. 3, 22 Jac., in Eus., PE 9, 27, 22: God as ὁ τῆς οἰκ. δεσπότης; POxy 1021, 5ff; Sb 176, 2.—Cp. 1 Esdr 2:2; Philo, Leg. ad Gai. 16; Jos., Bell. 4, 656, Ant. 19, 193; Just., A I, 27, 2; Ath. 1, 1) a. as such Ac 24:5 (as Jos., Ant. 12, 48 πᾶσι τοῖς κατὰ τὴν οἰκουμένην Ἰουδαίοις, except that οἰκ. here is used in the sense of 1 above as surface area. Cp. PLond VI, 1912, 100). b. its inhabitants 17:6.—GAalders, Het Romeinsche Imperium en het NT ’38.

There seems ample reason to think that when Paul tells the men of Athens that God will no longer overlook the system of pagan idolatry and will judge the oikoumenē, he means the civilisation that directly confronts him.

John writing after 70 AD speaks of a judgment still to come. A future judgment when all men will be judged.

This is irrelevant if we are talking about judgment on the Greek-Roman oikoumenē.

You argue that the entire human experience revolves around Israel.

No, I argue that God’s purposes in the world revolve around the family of Abraham. A critical moment in the history of the family of Abraham was the resurrection of Jesus. That makes the resurrection critical for the world but only via the narrative of God’s people.

In the end, your project that one can engage biblical history and/or biblical narrative outside of biblical theology is self-refuting.

I have not said “outside of biblical theology”. Biblical theology is biblical thought as it engages with its narrative and historical context. Judgment on Israel, judgment on the pagan world—these are clearly matters of theology. What I am challenging is the sort of theology which squeezes out the content of the New Testament and throws away the rest of the fruit.

What we see in the New Testament documents Andrew is Israel being cut off because of unbelief!

What we see in the New Testament is the fulfilment of hopes expressed in the Old Testament, including the hope—arguably the highest hope—that YHWH would rule the nations which had formerly oppressed his people (Ps. 2; 110; Is. 45; Dan. 7). That came about at the expense of national Israel, but it is still to be understood as the outworking of the Jewish narrative.

Paul never once ties the resurrection to Israel in 1 Cor. 15.

So where in your Old Testament is there reference to a resurrection on the third day, if not in Hosea 6:1-2, which speaks of the resurrection of Israel after judgment?

I am reviewing your seven rules for interpretation on my blog: http://reformedreasons.blogspot.com/

Do you think you could try to represent my views correctly? This is not a good start:

Andrew asserts that John’s prologue (1:18) is primarily the influence of Philo…

I’ve corrected this claim once already.

Also you make a whole lot of unsubstantiated statements. If you’re going to claim that “When asked about his understanding of Phil. 2:5-11, Andrew categorically denies any hint of divinity in Paul’s words”, you need to provide a quote or at least a link so people can judge for themselves whether you have correctly summarized my view. Where did I categorically deny any hint of divinity in Paul’s words? This is a very shoddy way to engage in debate.

Similarly, you make this statement:

Additionally, I have requested that Andrew treat Col. 1:16-18, which states emphatically and in no uncertain terms that Jesus Christ created all things, that He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. There has been no interaction with this text from what I can tell at this time.

I did reply, here.

But I would also point out that the text does not say “Jesus created all things”. The “firstborn of every creature” cannot be the creator of every creature. That would be nonsensical. And to say that all things were created “through him and for him” can only mean, as F.F. Bruce states, that “He is denoted as the agent by whom God brought the universe into being” (The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon and to the Ephesians, 62).

Bruce also writes:

The title “firstborn” echoes the wording of Ps. 89:27, where God says of the Davidic king, “I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” But it belongs to Christ not onluy as the Son of David, but also as the Wisdom of God. (59)

I said that your interpretation of John’s prologue is primarily the influence of Philo. Perhaps I should have said others. You do assert that John’s influence comes from non-canonical sources.

You do in fact deny that Phil. 2:5-11 point up to Christ’s divinity. You clearly deny there is anything to the kenosis. But I will correct my comments on my blog here and now if you will admit that you DO believe Paul is pointing to the deity of Christ in Phil. 2:5-11. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to reach some clarity on your position in that regard.

I stand corrected. I will post a correction to my next blog post before I begin reviewing your rules. For now, a brief response: ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα does not say that all things were merely created through him. It says all things were created by Him. Paul then says, τὰ πάντα διʼ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται· All things through Him and in for Him were created. John said πάντα διʼ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο. All things by Him became. The similarity is striking. Apparently, what Paul says of Jesus, you claim John said of Wisdom. I think Paul and John were talking about the same person. What is fascinating is that the writer to the Hebrews claims that God Himself said the same thing of Jesus when he wrote, YOU, LORD, IN THE BEGINNING LAID THE FOUNDATION OF THE EARTH, AND THE HEAVENS ARE THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS; (1:10) I am convinced that John, Paul, and the author of Hebrews were all talking about Jesus. And they all said clearly that He was the Creator of all that is, both in the earth and in heaven.

The “firstborn of every creature” cannot be the creator of every creature. That would be nonsensical.

It is not nonsensical at all. I can make sense of it, to a degree at least. And orthodoxy has made sense of it all along. What you mean is that it is nonsense if we go along with your philosophical conjectures. And that is precisely what I am objecting to. You are thinking of firstborn as one who is actually the first to be born as if He did not exist prior to that? This is hardly reconcilable with your defense. If you do believe Jesus existed prior to His taking on human nature, why would you raise such an objection? Firstborn in that He existed prior to something else. That we are adopted into the family of God through faith in Christ makes Christ our brother, and it places Him first because He was prior to us! It is a non-sequitur to contend that firstborn requires a beginning. It only requires existence prior to a thing. Secondly, firstborn is also understand as superior. In other words, Jesus was before all of creation. Where have we read this before?

“He is denoted as the agent by whom God brought the universe into being”

Now I am having a hard time reconciling this F.F. Bruce quote with what you just said previously. In one breath you object to Jesus creating everything because he was the firstborn of all creation and now you call on Bruce to help you by saying that Jesus was God’s agent through whom He created. It seems to me that If Jesus was used by God to create everything, then He had to exist prior to everything else which is something you just objected to. In addition, if you claim that God created Jesus first and then Jesus created everything else, this would make your initial objection very difficult to understand.

Are you actually contending that God created Jesus?

F.F. Bruce also says about John 1:1, “And the language which follows shows that our Evangelist has no mere literary personification in mind.” He goes on to say, “So, when heaven and earth were created, there was the Word of God, already existing in the closest association with God and partaking of the essence of God.” Bruce later adds, “What he is concerned to emphasize here is that God, who had revealed or expressed Himself - ‘sent his word’ - in a variety of ways from the beginning, made himself known at last in a real historical human person: when ‘the Word became flesh,’ God became man.” [The Gospel & Epistles of John]

I will certainly be fair to your views Andrew. If I get something wrong, and you correct me, I will be sure to point it out. I have no interest in misrepresenting your position. However, you should also know that I do not allow for equivocation. A person in our culture may be able to say I do not love God nor do I hate God and get away with it. We both know they would not get away with it according to Christ’s standards. Men are either friends of God or enemies of God. There is no neutral ground. If you refuse to confess that Jesus is God, that amounts to a confession that you do not believe He is. Either you believe that the NT claims that Jesus is divine or you do not believe that it does. There is no middle ground. I shall press you on that matter until we reach a solid and clear answer.

As for the hermeneutic you bring, I aim to point out its flaws but at the same time, I hope to learn from its strengths.

Thank you, Ed.

You do assert that John’s influence comes from non-canonical sources.

Of course I do. Every New Testament writer was influenced by non-canonical sources. None of them lived in a biblical isolation chamber. Paul quotes Epimenedes. Jude quotes 1 Enoch. I think it makes a lot of sense for John to present Jesus in the thought forms of Hellenistic Judaism. Though I would also point out that the basic argument about Wisdom is found in Proverbs 8.

I think Philippians 2:6-11 can be construed as an argument for the divinity of Jesus but on the basis of the contrast with the self-divinizing pagan ruler. Jesus is given the divine authority or sovereignty to which blasphemous kings aspired, because he was obedient unto death. I’m in two minds at the moment as to whether the passage affirms pre-existence, I don’t think that ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν means “he emptied himself of his divinity”, and I think that apocalyptic narrative needs to be kept in the firmly foreground. Nevertheless, the passage can probably be read as a statement of how Jesus acquired equality with God.

For now, a brief response: ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα does not say that all things were merely created through him. It says all things were created by Him.

I think this is wrong. The preposition ἐν is not used to define the person who performs the action of a passive verb. It would have to be ὑπό, or perhaps a dative. ἐν is instrumental, signifying here a personal agent (Blass-Debrunner §219). So ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη means “was created (by God) by means of him”. In effect, there is no difference between ἐν and διά.

What you mean is that it is nonsense if we go along with your philosophical conjectures.

It has nothing to do with philosophical conjectures and everything to do with the meaning of words. πρωτότοκος means “firstborn, the one born first”. There are some important LXX echoes: Israel is YHWH’s “firstborn” (Ex. 4:22); YHWH will make his king “my firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:27 = 88:28 LXX). “Firstborn” is probably an eschatological title. But as O’Brien notes: “this title belongs to Jesus Christ not only as the Messiah of David’s link but also as the Wisdom of God” (Colossians, Philemon, 44).

It seems to me that If Jesus was used by God to create everything, then He had to exist prior to everything else which is something you just objected to.

How so? If Jesus is “firstborn of every creature”, he existed prior to every creature, just as Wisdom existed prior to creation. So God created all things by means of his firstborn. But the main point is that Paul only says that Jesus was the means by which God created all things. Your statement “Jesus created all things” is not what Paul says.

You get all worked up with me for equivocating, and then you go and put words in Paul’s mouth! Shame on you.

Response to Phil. 2:5-11:

I do not agree that Christ “emptied” Himself of His divinity. Nevertheless, here was your chance to state plainly if Paul is asserting that Jesus is divine. Instead, you muddy the waters with speculations about apocalyptic narrative influences. No non-God can ever become God. Your view of the nature of God, or what it means to be God, seems more than a little disturbing. God is eternal. He is unchanging. Most theological errors indeed can be traced to errors in the understanding and nature of God.

Response to: ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα

Douglas Moo comments, “The translation of the first clause is uncertain, the ambiguity of the Greek preposition en being the issue. A number of English versions (e.g., NIV; ESV; NLT; NASB; HCSB; NET; TEV) and interpreters148 take the word in an instrumental sense: “by him all things were created” (NIV) Moo goes on to say, “The latter might seem at least as probable.”

Rom. 11:36, speaking of God, says the following at the close of the hymn: ὅτι ἐξ αὐτοῦ καὶ διʼ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν τὰ πάντα· If you are correct, and God is the agent of all things here just as Christ is in Col. 1:16, who was the controlling agent behind God?

Melick tells us, “The first of these is the Greek expression translated literally “in him.” It should be understood as in his mind or in his sphere of influence and responsibility. Practically, it means that Jesus conceived of creation and its complexities. Creation was his idea. Hendriksen illustrated the term by saying Jesus is the cornerstone from which the whole building takes its bearings. The illustration is limited, however. The phrase points to Jesus as the “detailer” of creation.”

This preposition can mean “by means of, in, or in the realm of.” The context suggests that the whole of creation originated in Christ, in His realm. Hence, it seems redundant to understand en as by means of when dia is used just a few words away.

The question this raises concerns your view of Jesus Christ creating the world. I matters not to me if you want to say that God spoke and Christ created. That is a different subject. What I am interested in knowing is if you accept the view that Jesus Christ created everything that is.

Response to PROTOTOKOS:

You seem to think that necessary connections exist based on mere conjecture. In other words, you do as you do here. You make a statement and fail to support it with a reasonable argument. It is not enough to suppose a connection exists. You must show how and why a connection exists. Saying that the word is used elsewhere does not demonstrate a connection between any of these ideas. Israel was viewed as first, in order of significance to all the nations of the earth. David is viewed as God’s first king in that he was before all the others. Of course he is a picture of Christ. This response merely begs the question. Firstborn as applied to Israel is nuanced differently than when applied to David and the same is true when it is applied to Christ.

How so? If Jesus is “firstborn of every creature”, he existed prior to every creature, just as Wisdom existed prior to creation. So God created all things by means of his firstborn. But the main point is that Paul only says that Jesus was the means by which God created all things. Your statement “Jesus created all things” is not what Paul says.

I believe this argument is off the mark. God can certainly be said to have created all things and Jesus can be said to have created all things as well if it is true that God accomplished creation through the agency of the Son. God is triune. Just as we can say that God saved me, Jesus saved me, and the Spirit saved me. Or, I have been saved by God, by Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit.

Of course I do. Every New Testament writer was influenced by non-canonical sources. None of them lived in a biblical isolation chamber. Paul quotes Epimenedes. Jude quotes 1 Enoch. I think it makes a lot of sense for John to present Jesus in the thought forms of Hellenistic Judaism. Though I would also point out that the basic argument about Wisdom is found in Proverbs 8.

I treat your argument about wisdom in an upcoming blog. My basic premise is that you miss the entire point of Proverbs 8. That chapter is not an argument about wisdom, but rather an impassioned plea from wisdom to embrace her in all that one does. The book ends are perfect. And what is the beginning of wisdom? The fear of God of course. And that is what the Jew was supposed to understand. All wisdom whatever is found in God. God was preparing the Jewish mind for the hellenization that would threaten their relationship with YHWH. If one would fasten himself to divine wisdom, then pagan philosophies would be checked at the door.

You get all worked up with me for equivocating, and then you go and put words in Paul’s mouth! Shame on you.

I see we still have our sense of humor about us. That is always a good thing. I always welcome the insertion of humor in these discussions. If nothing else, they remind us that we must remember NOT to take ourselves too seriously even if we are discussing very serious of matters. :-)

Douglas Moo comments, “The translation of the first clause is uncertain, the ambiguity of the Greek preposition en being the issue. A number of English versions (e.g., NIV; ESV; NLT; NASB; HCSB; NET; TEV) and interpreters148 take the word in an instrumental sense: “by him all things were created” (NIV) Moo goes on to say, “The latter might seem at least as probable.”

Ed, this seems to miss the point. The instrumental sense “by” or “by means of” does not make Jesus the one who creates. Moo is presumably choosing between “in” and “by” as meanings for en. That is reasonable. I think “by” is a good translation, but it does not have the sense that hupo would have—check a decent grammar. It does not denote the one who does the creating. It denotes the means by which which the creator creates.

Rom. 11:36, speaking of God, says the following at the close of the hymn: ὅτι ἐξ αὐτοῦ καὶ διʼ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν τὰ πάντα· If you are correct, and God is the agent of all things here just as Christ is in Col. 1:16, who was the controlling agent behind God?

The question here is whether διʼ αὐτοῦ has reference to the act of creation. Unlike Colossians 1:16 there is no verb in the sentence: “from him and through him and to him all things”. I would argue that διʼ αὐτοῦ has reference to the fact that creation is sustained through him (so Fitzmyer: “Paul thus acknowledges God the Father as the creator, sustainer, and goal of the universe”, Romans, 635). This is the context of the quotation from Isaiah 40:13 in Romans 11:34. Note the preceding verse in Isaiah:

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? (Is. 40:12)

Also note Pseudo-Aristotle, De Mundo 6: ὃτι ἐκ θεοῦ πάντα καὶ διὰ θεοῦ συνέστηκα. I think Dunn is probably right in saying that this reflects a Stoic formula that has already been “domesticated within Jewish monotheism” (Romans 9-16, 702). But interestingly, Dunn misses the point that dia denotes the sustaining power of God. He agrees with you that “Paul saw no conflict whatsoever between ascribing agency in creation to God and ascribing it also to Christ”. I think he’s wrong.

So I don’t think you can set Romans 11:36 alongside Colossians 1:16 and say that all things were created through God just as all things were created through Jesus. In Colossians it is clearly stated that God “created” en and dia Jesus—through the agency of Jesus (cf. 1 Cor. 8:6). In Romans 11:36 all things are from God (cf. 1 Cor. 8:6) and are sustained through him. Jesus doesn’t feature in this doxology.

It would be better to say that when ἐν + the dative expresses the idea of means (a different category), the instrument is used by an agent. When agency is indicated, the agent so named is not used by another, but is the one who uses an instrument.

Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics - Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, 373.

According to our definition, if ἐν + dative is used to express agency, the noun in the dative must not only be personal, but must also be the agent who performs the action.

Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics - Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, 373.

However, the slightly different phenomenon of ἐν + the dative is considered by many to express agency on a rare occasion. Yet no unambiguous examples are forthcoming. Thus what can be said about the dative of agency can also be said of ἐν + the dative to express agent: it is rare, at best.

Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics - Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, 375.

BDF states that it is used for the simple instrumental, but also to designate personal agent. (BDF, §219)

Another text that claims Christ as the agent by whom all things exists is 1 Cor. 8:6, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

I hope to get my initial comments posted by week’s end. I have a conference to prepare for in July on an apologetic subject and time is quite pressed these days and becoming more so.

Would you be interested in a live webcast debate on this subject, say, later in the fall? I could chat with the C.S. Lewis chapter of South Africa to see if there is an interest.

I don’t have Wallace’s book, and it’s not entirely clear what point you are trying to make from those isolated quotations. I would like to see a solid example of a text where en with the dative determines the person who does the action of a passive verb and not the means or agent by which or the circumstances under which a person does the action of the verb—in other words, where en is used as equivalent to hupo.

Otherwise, what we have is a statement analogous to “the letter was sent by courier”. The courier does not send the letter, he is the agent by whom the letter is sent. This is what we have in 1 Corinthians 8:6: Jesus is the agent by (dia) whom God created or creates all things.

I actually find it amazing that an important doctrine, such as the divinity of Christ, which we’re told is salvation dependent, gets down to arguing about a Greek preposition! Really?? A persons “salvation” hinges on this? Is that the best God could do for man?

Thank you, Arie. Interesting indeed.