p.ost

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

What do I mean when I say that Jesus is my personal Lord and saviour?

In a comment on my “Could you please help me understand the practical consequences…?” post Donald asks for ‘some explanation of what our “personal” relationship with Jesus should look like and if possible how it relates to our “personal” relationship to God.’ I’m afraid it won’t be possible to answer the second part of that question here. Maybe another day.

I had noted that people sometimes find my emphasis on the historical and “political” dimension of the New Testament narrative soulless and impersonal. Evangelicals, in particular, have got used to the idea that we relate to Jesus as our personal Lord and saviour, that there is a profoundly emotional aspect to this relationship, expressed especially in worship, and that it sustains us, gives us comfort and security, and generally makes us feel good—or, at least, is supposed to.

I then suggested that the narrative-historical approach ought to make the church’s current engagement with the risen Lord Jesus more rather than less important. Why? Because it highlights the relevance of eschatological crisis for understanding what was entailed in the profession of Jesus as Lord. A complacent, short-sighted church can afford to keep soothing its members with the assurance that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives. A church that knows that it is facing obsolescence cannot.

Lord of history

In the first place, Jews who believed that their God had raised his Son from the dead understood this to mean that the Galilean prophet Jesus had been made Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). This Spirit-given insight made sense only in the context of the story about Israel. To name Jesus as “Lord” meant to identify him as YHWH’s solution to the national crisis that Israel faced: only an “Israel” that confessed Jesus as Lord would escape or survive the coming catastrophe of the war against Rome. No Jew believed that Jesus was his or her Lord and saviour apart from this prophetic narrative, and to make this profession meant direct practical involvement in this particular narrative. You had to act accordingly.

After a few years this perspective was superseded by the prospect of an even more extraordinary historical transformation. Across the Greek-Roman world, across the empire, Jews and Gentiles were coming to understand that to confess Jesus as Lord and saviour was to affirm that he would also, in a foreseeable future, act as judge and ruler of the nations.

That is to say, the prayer uttered at the end of Psalm 82, which is far more significant than all the fun stuff about the divine council, would be fulfilled in the name of Jesus, who had declined to take the conventional path to rule over the nations, but had been raised to a place of supreme authority and power (Phil. 2:6-11). The God of ancient Israel would inherit the nations of the Greek-Roman world because Jesus had been faithful unto death, which is about as extraordinary a turn of events as anything that has happened in history, I’d say.

A complacent, short-sighted church can afford to keep soothing its members with the assurance that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives. A church that knows that it is facing obsolescence cannot.

Belief in this Jesus was profoundly personal, but not because it made people feel good. The personal dimension kicked in for a very simple reason: the followers of Jesus would face severe opposition. So they were not baptised into a wonderful charismatic experience, or into a life of prosperity and happiness, or even into warm friendly community. They were baptised into his death, they identified with the martyred Jesus, knowing that they were likely to share in his sufferings, hoping that they would eventually share in his vindication and glory—if not before then after their own deaths.

That is what it meant for the early church to be “in Christ”. Jesus was the pioneer of eschatological transformation. The apostles and churches were agents of eschatological transformation, the means by which the pagan order would be overthrown and Christ acknowledged as the Son of God. They took up their own crosses and followed him. It was a very personal business.

The Martyrdom of Polycarp describes the patient suffering of the brothers and sisters who died in the outbreak of persecution that ended with the death of Polycarp:

they themselves reached such a level of bravery that not one of them uttered a cry or a groan, thus showing to us all that at the very hour when they were being tortured the martyrs of Christ were absent from the flesh, or rather that the Lord was standing by and conversing with them. (2:2)

Of course, there was more to a believer’s relation to Christ than this—we could talk about the ecstatic encounter with the risen Lord in worship, for example. But the martyr’s imitation of Christ’s suffering (cf. Mart. Pol. 1:1) anchored the whole personal experience in a narrative that would climax in the overthrow of the gods, including the god Caesar. To confess Jesus as Lord was to profess a story and to act accordingly.

Get with the programme

So if we are going to use the language of a “personal relationship with Jesus” today, we first have to identify the context, the narrative, the agenda, the task. It’s as true now as it was then. If I confess that Jesus is my Lord and saviour, I commit myself not just to Jesus but to a programme.

The programme, I think, comes in two parts.

First, the church needs to operate faithfully and obediently, at all times, as a priestly-prophetic people, serving the interests of the living creator God in the midst of a rebellious world. This, fundamentally, is what we’re here for.

Secondly, the church as a priestly-prophetic community in the Western secular context now needs to engage with the God of history as he leads his people through the massively difficult period of transition after the collapse of Christendom.

For the Jews of the exodus generation the precarious liminal experience that threatened their existence was flight from Egypt and wandering in the wilderness. For Jews in the sixth century BC it was exile. For Jews in the second temple period it was oppression by successive pagan invaders.

For the church today the difficult liminal experience is not exodus or exile or pagan-imperial oppression but marginalisation, and we need to reconfigure our understanding of what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus in light of that.

Just as Paul, or the saints in Philippi (eg., Phil. 1:29-30), or the martyrs in Smyrna were deeply conscious of the fact that to confess Jesus as Lord was to participate in his sufferings for the sake of the defeat of classical paganism, so the church in the West today needs to align the “personal relationship with Jesus” with the task at hand. To confess Jesus as my personal Lord and saviour today is to tell a compelling prophetic story about crisis and reformation and to act accordingly.

Can we be more specific about what this would entail? We can make a start.

If I am going to get involved in this personally and confess Jesus as my Lord and saviour, I need a sense of history—some grasp of the story that has brought us to this point, much like Stephen’s provocative recapitulation of Jewish history in Acts 7 or Paul’s in Acts 13:16-41.

By telling this story to myself and to the church, perhaps even to “outsiders”, I open up the question of the future. Where is this taking us? Where is God taking his people? For all the difficulties involved in this sort of undertaking, I think we need to generate a plausible vision for the future. What sort of people does God’s future require us to be?

I can then begin to reformulate my personal “faith” in terms of this narrative. It becomes less about me, more about the God who has chosen a people to serve him and has provided everything necessary for his people to fulfil that service under difficult, changing historical circumstances. Fundamentally today, I think that I will be justified for believing in the programme and acting accordingly even though the secular West has almost entirely abandoned its Christian heritage in any meaningful sense.

The next step, I guess, would be for me as a church leader—this is not entirely hypothetical—to set about the task of aligning church communities with this narrative of faith. I don’t hold out much hope of turning the monstrous container ship of modern evangelicalism in a narrative-historical direction, but there is already a flotilla of small experimental missional communities at sea (in more than one sense of the expression), in need of a compelling biblical-prophetic sense of direction.

Comments

At core, whether people agree with you or not, I hope it’s clear from the biblical narrative that the individual experience with God is defined by and has meaning within the corporate experience of God and not the other way around. I have a personal relationship with God because I belong to the people who have a relationship with God.

This is strictly oppositional, however, to many (I won’t say all) evangelical trajectories, which center around you forming an individual, personal relationship with God, and now you can get together with a large group of other individuals who also have individual, personal relationships with God for your own personal, individual growth and benefit.

But I also agree with and am inspired by the missional element the history of this people entails. Knowing where we’ve come from, what crises do we face, now, and what should our responses and priorities be? Is it time to repent, be faithful, and wait for a sign? Does anyone foresee big changes on the horizon? Are we just now entering a long period that will get worse before it gets better? Any of those scenarios and more would have practical ramifications.

The problem with all this, as I see it, is that after the (supposed) judgment of the Roman Empire, there is no further narrative. Why should we assume that what God did in the past is any guide to what he may or may not do in the future? Everything about your approach looks backwards, interprets the past, and then leaves everything else to speculation (apart from an equally distant future).

We don’t even have a personal relationship with Jesus to fall back on. Assuming this does, actually, amount to a relationship with God, since the one acts on behalf of the other, we are left with less than the OT, in which the richest of relationship with God is demonstrated in the narratives and their characters. It is expressed in the Psalms, which continued to be the hymn book of the church which supposedly had abandoned an emotional relationship with God. (Does ‘personal’ equate with ‘emotional’, by the way?).

Or can we have a personal relationship with God but not with Jesus?

Just trying to be helpful, as usual.

“Why should we assume that what God did in the past is any guide to what he may or may not do in the future?”

One thing that comes to mind is that the biblical narrative itself makes this assumption. As the “episodes” progress, each one rests on the idea of God’s faithfulness to His covenant and promises and that He will act in the present as He has for His people in the past.

But there’s also elements of change and newness at each point as well, and that’s where prophets tend to come in.

So, yes, if we read the Bible as describing a succession of events that occurred over literally millennia, the idea that God acts according to His promises and there is some bedrock continuity to be found there is present everywhere. It’s an assumption present in Jesus’ ministry as well.

I suppose there’s always the theoretical chance that God could up and decide to be totally different than He has been to this point, but I’m not sure how that theoretical chance is any greater under a narrative historical reading.

Seems a bit vague to me. According to the ‘historical’ view, as I understand it, the covenants were only for their time, and for instance, to ensure the survival of God’s people, at least until the demise of the Roman Empire. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong).

God’s faithfulness might be taken as a given, but within the ‘historical’ framework, faithful to what, except perhaps the distant future?

Well, I guess it might seem vague but it is a regular point of reference for the people of God throughout the biblical story. Even the Exodus was performed on the basis of the promises made to Abraham.

Andrew can articulate specifically the way he sees things; I can only speak for myself. But those promises to Abraham for God to form a people for Himself to be a priestly, new creation community in the world called by His name is something that precedes both the covenant at Sinai and the New Covenant, and we find God in the biblical stories consistently acting in faithfulness to that promise (which could in some ways be described as faithfulness to His own vision) throughout history, manifested in different ways depending on the historical particulars.

The yielding of the Roman Empire to Jesus is a key historical event in that progression, an event that some Scriptures describe as the next, proximate eschatological event for the people of God from the perspective of the first/second century. But God has still made promises, the known world is bigger than the NT authors saw and it still works in ways that harness and reward humanity’s worst impulses rather than the image of God.

There is still a people of God that is no longer defined by the signs of membership to the nation of Israel but is rather defined by faith and evidenced by the presence of the Spirit. These people are still here and this still happens and they still have trials and travails shaped by their present historical circumstances.

I think you might be portraying Andrew’s view as Constantine coming to power suddenly makes all Scripture obsolete and devoid of any useful information - sort of how dispensationalists see the Old Testament. But that’s not the case anymore than the stories of Abraham were useless to the community at Sinai or the stories of Moses being useless to first century Israel when Jesus shows up. These past accounts of God and His people tell us many important things about ourselves, how we got here, and what kind of God we’ve been following for thousands of years.

At the same time, we also have to acknowledge that we face situations that aren’t directly addressed by these accounts, just like the story of Israel in Egypt didn’t directly address Israel in Babylon and the prophets of the Exile didn’t directly address Israel in first century Rome.

I guess that’s why I’m still not clear about your complaint, because it seems like the experience of the people of God -in the Scriptures themselves- demonstrates the very pattern and way of understanding the past that you seem to critique. I guess that can work if your contention is that the events around Jesus were so apocalyptic and definitive that this pattern came to an abrupt halt and we are no longer to understand God and His people in history the same way they did prior to Jesus - that this relationship is now frozen in a transhistorical state never to progress until… the end of the world, maybe? I don’t know.

But as for a narrative historical reading, I think you have pushed this freezing event onto the fourth century, and I don’t see it that way and I’d be surprised if Andrew did as well because that’s not how I’ve understood him. This relationship of God acting in history to preserve His priestly people continues. We’re just now in a new historical context just as the people of God have been many times throughout their history, and just like they have had to do -with reference to their past-, we have to figure out what’s going on with us.

Gosh. Thanks! As far as I can see, there are only two short paragraphs in Andrew’s long piece which address anything like the declared intention to provide a practical outcome for today of the historical hypothesis. The first is to be a ‘priestly prophetic’ people representing the interests of God in a rebellious world. The other is providing a way through the collapse of Christendom.

I don’t know what either of these suggestions means in practice, since most of what we can know about God, according to Andrew, was used up in the period leading to Constantine. The NT has no further direct relevance to anyone.

The OT is remarkably silent about the promises to Abraham relating to ‘the nations’, and I don’t see any evidence of a priestly function being exercised or encouraged by Abraham. That idea can only then come from the Levitical priesthood, but they were entirely focused on Israel. As regards the NT mention of priesthood, it’s more consistent with the historical thesis to view that as for that unique time only. That’s what has been done with the rest of the NT.

On the other hand, if the normal view is taken that the NT was not limited to its immediate historical context, then we still have the life changing promises based on the historic events, with a Spirit empowerment directly related to Pentecost. This is something tangible to get hold of, giving actual content to phrases like ‘priestly prophetic’, and a sure way of engaging with all historical situations, Christendom or no Christendom.

Thanks, Peter.

Would you say the OT was “limited to its immediate historical context?” I would say the OT was in terms of immediate, practical applicability, but what it presents about God and His people are formative stories that are useful going forward - not only in the information they contain, but in how they can be repurposed for later contexts to make sense of those situations and offer hope and reasons to trust. This is not just the case moving from the OT to the NT, but I would say is the case across the biblical stories over time even within the same “testament.”

If I’m an exile in Babylon, what do stories we find in Exodus have to say to me? Nothing? It is all obsolete and totally irrelevant? Well, no. But are those stories -about- my situation in Babylon? Do they tell me exactly what’s happening to me and what I should be doing about it? Well, no, they aren’t that, either.

I disagree that the OT is silent on how promises to Abraham relate to the nations. Isaiah 19 comes to mind. The idea is that, through the faithful priesthood of Israel, other nations will be called “my people” and be “a blessing in the midst of the earth” - terms that come directly from God’s promise to Abraham. But obviously, at that stage in history, there is a cognizance that these nations are still these nations and Israel is still Israel. So, for example, Isaiah 60 where the nations come to a regathered Israel’s light and build up her walls, etc.

This idea does not take on any new facets, really, until after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and we find that this event has removed the dividing signs between Israel and the Gentiles to give way to a new dividing line which is faith in Jesus. In this way, Gentiles are grafted into the Abrahamic promises.

This idea of being a priestly people most certainly does not need to come from the Levitical priesthood. Before the establishment of the Levitical priesthood, God tells Israel (via Moses) at Sinai, “Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” (Ex. 19:5-6)

Before the priesthood was defined as a job description for certain Levites, it was a statement of identity for Israel’s special calling in the world and gives plenty of content to that phrase for God’s people, today. Indeed, it is formative for that understanding. How does Pentecost tell us what it means to be a nation of priests?

The next time that bit of Exodus is quoted is in 1 Peter 2 where he defines being a priestly people pretty much along lines consonant with the Old Testament, pointing out that our sacrifices are spiritual sacrifices. Through faith in the Christ that the others reject, we are that nation of priests, and on that basis, we conduct ourselves honorably amongst the Gentiles so that they will see our deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge. This is Israel’s role back in the OT.

I feel as though you have a very sharp division in mind when you think about the biblical text. Either it directly speaks to our immediate situation, or it’s obsolete and useless. This does not appear to me to be the way later biblical writers think about or use past biblical texts, nor does it seem to fit the actual lived out historical experiences of the people of God through history. It seems to be a very dispensational way of understanding the biblical texts, where the texts are divided into these historical zones and their value lives and dies inside of that zone.

Under that rubric, you’re sort of forced to extend all the New Testament passages (or rather force the extension of the “zone”) so that both we and the first century church are in exactly the same historical situation as the people of God, because if we’re not, then the New Testament is worthless. I just do not see it that way. It just does not seem to be the way the people of God have ever thought about the texts that preceded them.

If I’m mischaracterizing you, please forgive me. I probably do have you wrong. That’s just how it sounds to me.

I think I agree with most of what you say Phil. But some of the OT prophecy you refer to was not fulfilled for historic Israel, but the new covenant people of God (sorry, this is not Israel). So we do now as believers in Jesus become a priestly kingdom and holy nation. I think you may have misreferenced Isaiah 19. I definitely think OT stories are ‘repurposed’ for later contexts: that’s exactly what Jesus and Paul do to the OT.

However, I think it’s Andrew who exhibits the ‘sharp division’ you refer to. The content which is given to OT precursors of NT realities in the NT is available to all believers. The historic thesis strips this content out for later believers, and leaves them with, well, nothing. By content, I mean Christ’s death on the cross, and the direct promise of Spirit visitation, transformation and habitation. If these things are not for us, I don’t see what right we have to talk about confident removal of sin and Spirit empowerment as if they were. Without these, I think any priestly prophetic role and talk of fulfilment of the promises to Abraham are pretty empty and meaningless.

The historic thesis strips this content out for later believers, and leaves them with, well, nothing.

Peter, this is really unfair. It’s a blatant misrepresentation of my whole argument on this site and a perverse reading of the current article. On the one hand, I have always said that becoming a member of the people of God entails life-transformation and a commitment to service and righteous by grace through the power of the Spirit. On the other, if we take seriously our historical identity as the people of God, heirs to the calling of Abraham, then it is a thoroughly good thing that we affirm the importance of historical events, such as the death of Jesus for the sins of Israel and the removal of the Law as a barrier to participation in the life of God’s new creation.

I don’t think it is a misrepresentation of your whole argument at all. Or perhaps you can help me here.

You emphasise elsewhere (not in this article) that the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost was for prophetic proclamation of forthcoming events, especially relating to the AD 70 crisis. I don’t think that is a good reflection of what scripture accurately says, but it seems to be what you believe. Once the crisis is past, there is no reason to think that the Spirit has any further purpose, as far as scripture is concerned. If you say that the Spirit has a continuing role to play in the believer’s life, it is not on the basis of the Spirit given at Pentecost. According to you, that was for a specific historic purpose. This is my understanding of your view of the Spirit in Acts. I’d have to look again at previous articles to remind myself if you have anything further to say about, for instance, Paul’s treatment of the Spirit.

Paul’s treatment of the Spirit leads to a further issue, however. Again, according to you, the death of Jesus on the cross, and his resurrection, were for that generation of Israel, to atone for sins of Israel the nation, and to fulfil promises to Israel of a ‘resurrection’ from historic exile. The rich content of Paul’s treatment of the death of Jesus, Romans 6 and Galatians 2 being outstanding examples, applies to 1st century Israel, not subsequent generations. Your way of accommodating this disjunction is by using qualifications like “the terms and conditions changed” for future generations, though I’ve never seen that fully explained.

On the traditional view, there is a reason why the Spirit is given to believers in a way that had not happened in the OT. The death of Jesus on the cross, and his resurrection, for all believers, obtained on our behalf the removal of the obstacle of sin which had prevented permanent Spirit endowment for previous generations. This is a classic summary of Paul’s teaching in Romans in particular, but it is reinforced in 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians and Ephesians especially, although the last may be less academically respectable to cite as Paul’s teaching. It nevertheless repeats key phrases from other letters about the gift of the Spirit.

I don’t think you would disagree with the previous paragraph, except to say that the death of Jesus and the Spirit endowment were for 1st generation Jewish believers of Israel, not subsequent generations of believers from other nations. You might go on to say that the death of Jesus “changed the terms and conditions” for subsequent generations. You haven’t yet spelled out clearly what that means, and especially since the narrative which you now locate in a 1st century context is in these particular respects exclusive to believers at that time, and does not actually include subsequent generations. I don’t think you have ever adequately overcome the criticism that the narrative as you now frame it is frozen in time. The argument will need to be more than “the terms and conditions changed”.

To summarise: my understanding of you is that the death (and resurrection) of Jesus were atonement (and sign) for historic Israel, and not directly for subsequent generations of believers. (You can correct me about the resurrection, since as a prelude to the ascension of Jesus it clearly must also have a broader significance; I’m simply echoing what you have emphasised in previous posts). The Spirit was a gift for prophetic proclamation for that generation. If this view is held consistently, it means that the rich layers of content concerning the death of Jesus and the Spirit endowment described in the NT are not, actually, on that basis for any generation beyond that first generation. There would be no basis for believing that this was the case, according to your reading of scripture as I understand it, other than wishfully hoping, perhaps, that association with a historic narrative might allow us access to these things on its coat-tails, as it were.

What actual grounds then do you have for saying that “becoming a member of the people of God entails life-transformation and a commitment to service and righteous by grace through the power of the Spirit”? How can you actually be confident of this, when your particular historic interpretation has an exclusive scriptural application to them, and not to us? This is what I mean by saying the content of NT promises to subsequent generations has been stripped out by your interpretation.

As I said, you have misrepresented my argument. Goodness knows how, after all these years.

The apostle Peter interpreted the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, with reference to Joel, as the empowerment of the disciples to continue the proclamation of the kingdom of God to Israel, which, yes, has to be understood in light of AD 70. But in the wider context of the New Testament the outpouring of the Spirit also marked the beginning of a new covenant existence for the people of God, in keeping with prophesies in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, which means that the church lives not by the Law but by the Spirit.

You’ve asked this question several times, I think, and I’ve always provided the same answer. The giving of the Spirit was both the empowerment of the Jerusalem church to prophesy to Israel and the beginning of a new covenant existence for the people of God, with the Law now written on their hearts.

My argument about the death of Jesus is that it is understood, according to the main New Testament narrative, as an atonement for the sins of Israel as a nation, which had the further effect of removing the barrier of the Law, allowing participation of Gentiles, including all subsequent generations of Gentiles. No one has reinstated the barrier.

Again two parts: both a death for the sins of Israel and the removal of the impediment of the Law.

The gift of the Spirit is then given to the redeemed community. So because I believe in this whole story about Jesus, my sins are forgiven, I am justified, I become part of a community that was redeemed from the consequences of human sinfulness by the death of Jesus, and I receive the gift of the new covenant Spirit. All the components are there, but the logic works primarily at the level of the historical community.

There is no sense, as far as I can see, in which this narrative is frozen in time. Historical events have far-reaching repercussions. They change what follows. How we live and serve the creator God today was determined by the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. We serve God as a priestly-prophetic people in the name of a risen Lord and in the power of the Spirit.

How can you actually be confident of this, when your particular historic interpretation has an exclusive scriptural application to them, and not to us?

The hermeneutical point is that the New Testament has limited historical horizons—the war against Rome, the defeat of Rome and the conversion of the nations. That is a simple historical judgment. The Bible doesn’t talk about what it doesn’t know about. But the changes that happened within those horizons inevitably had lasting consequences.

So the New Testament foresaw the overthrow of imperial paganism through the faithful witness of the suffering churches but made no attempt to describe what would happen after that—I think we only have John’s “thousand year” period of Christ’s reign with the martyrs. That’s how prophecy works. It’s not there to give a blueprint for the rest of history. It is there to give the assurance that God will deal with the immediate challenges faced by his people.

But that narrative put in place the lasting conditions under which this people would exist—worship and service of the living God, for the sake of his reputation in the world, under the lordship of Jesus, in the power of God’s Holy Spirit. It’s a properly trinitarian existence.

My argument about the death of Jesus is that it is understood, according to the main New Testament narrative, as an atonement for the sins of Israel as a nation, which had the further effect of removing the barrier of the Law, allowing participation of Gentiles, including all subsequent generations of Gentiles. No one has reinstated the barrier.

Again two parts: both a death for the sins of Israel and the removal of the impediment of the Law.

The gift of the Spirit is then given to the redeemed community. So because I believe in this whole story about Jesus, my sins are forgiven, I am justified, I become part of a community that was redeemed from the consequences of human sinfulness by the death of Jesus, and I receive the gift of the new covenant Spirit. All the components are there, but the logic works primarily at the level of the historical community.

That was so wonderfully worded and on target, I’m going to keep that as a quote.

Actually, your defence of your position breaks down, and for precisely the reasons I’ve already given.

So you say that the gift of the Spirit is both for proclamation of the kingdom of God (though you misinterpret Acts 2 to reach this conclusion) and for the formation of the new covenant people. Thanks for the correction on the latter. Nevertheless, the gift of the Spirit is stripped out by you for non 1st century Jews and all Gentiles, as you have removed the basis on which it is given to every believer - the death of Jesus for sins, followed by his resurrection and ascension.

The death of Jesus is the first part of the content of faith which is stripped out by you for all but 1st century Jews. There is simply no distinction in the NT of the kind you have introduced: the death of Jesus for the sins of Israel but not the sins of Gentiles. His death was not anatomised into different parts for different categories of people. Romans 3 is perfectly clear - the righteousness of God comes “to all who believe - there is no difference - all have sinned and are justified freely through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ - there is only one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised by faith”. What is the means by which this is done? “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood” - v.3:25.

The gift of the Spirit is also, actually, stripped out by you for all but 1st century Jews. That gift is not, and cannot be given to anyone without the death of Jesus, and a person’s inclusion in that death to become by the resurrection and Spirit a new creation. Romans 8, 1-4 especially, describes the process, and verse 8:3 like 3:25 explains exactly the means by which this done: “For what the law was powerless to do … God did by sending his Son in the likeness of sinful man to become a sin offering”. There is no distinction at all by Paul between what applies to (1st century) Jews and what applies to Gentiles. The death of Jesus avails for all.

I stand by my previous comments. I am not being unfair, or misrepresenting your position, either blatantly or otherwise. It’s a straightforward matter of common sense and reading of the scripture.

Hi Peter,

Well, first of all, you’re hanging quite a bit of your argument on the premise that the only people who can receive the Spirit are people for whom Christ died. However, there’s no passage that says this. Such a mechanic would rule out any of the people who were filled with the Spirit in the OT, not too mention John the Baptist. The passages you cite do not say this, and in fact, the promise of the Spirit that Peter directly cites as being fulfilled at Pentecost is Joel 2, which says that the outpouring of the Spirit follows God’s apocalyptic deliverance and restoration of Israel.

Obviously, Jesus’ death was a pivotal moment in God’s deliverance and restoration of Israel, but that’s just as true for Andrew’s position as anyone’s. The big shock is that Gentiles should receive the Spirit. Everyone is surprised by this. That phenomenon becomes a key polemic in the Jerusalem Council as well as Paul’s letter to the Galatians. If your views are correct, it’s more likely that this would have surprised no one. It is surprising because God’s deliverance of Israel has brought the Spirit to the Gentiles.

But whether we agree on this or not, and that’s fine, I want to say about your last paragraph that the things you have said about Andrew’s view in response to this article look nothing to me like Andrew’s views. Either you have greatly misunderstood him for a very long period of time, or you are trying to push his views into what you feel are logical conclusions and stating them to be Andrew’s beliefs. You may not be consciously intending to misrepresent him, but I’m telling you as an observer that the things you claim he thinks seem very alien to me and I genuinely cannot understand why you’d think those were his beliefs. It truly appears you are either being obtuse on purpose or, because you believe Andrew to be wrong, you are willing to put your own conclusions about his views in his mouth. If that is not the case, I’m sorry, but you should probably pay attention when Andrew tells you, “That’s not what I think” and you respond with, “Oh yes it is. I understand what you think better than you do, and here it is.”

Thanks Phil. The NT position is that the new covenant people are those who receive the Spirit on the basis of faith in Jesus, and particularly through his death for sins and resurrection from the dead. This Spirit reception is different from OT Spirit reception, which was a temporary endowment for particular tasks. NT Spirit reception was for a new identity (Romans 8:16), and a new relationship with God and each other (2 Corinthians 13:14), as well as new tasks. A significant element of the argument of Romans connects the atoning death of Jesus for everyone at all times with the gift of the Spirit. Romans 3:25 places the death of Jesus at the centre of an argument about the death of Jesus for Jew and Gentile alike on the basis of universal sin. Romans 8:3 places the death of Jesus at the centre of an argument about the provision of the Spirit, where 3:25 has already established the universality of the death of Jesus as its foundation. Romans 8 is a key passage which draws together the threads and provides the most thorough explanation of the Spirit in the life of the believer on the basis of the necessary death of Jesus for everyone.

It would certainly have been a surprise, and in fact was, that Gentiles like Cornelius received the Spirit. No one could have second guessed such a development. The occasion was an early illustration that the Spirit was given to Jew and Gentile alike because Jesus had died and ascended, had poured out the Spirit at Pentecost, and continued to pour out the Spirit on those who were not present at the first outpouring. Cornelius heard and believed in Jesus - his death, his resurrection/ascension, and that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” - Acts 10:39-43. This does not anywhere remotely suggest the distinction that Andrew is making between how forgiveness works for Jews and how it works for Gentiles, or what Jesus provided for Jews and what he provides for Gentiles. This I believe is the fatal flaw in the narrative historical proposal, and if the logic of the narrative leads to this proposal, I suggest that the narrative is flawed and would benefit from being revisited.

As regards Joel 2 in Acts 2, imminent events may well be part of the significance of the apocalyptic language in which the outpouring of the Spirit is couched. The prophecy is part of an even bigger narrative that the restoration of a messiah/king in the line of David would include the return of the king to Jerusalem, the defeat of his enemies, the outpouring of the Spirit, and the resurrection of the dead. Israel was not actually apocalyptically delivered and restored by Jesus in AD 70. The new covenant people are “neither Jew nor Greek/Gentile” - Galatians 3:28, and not Israel. The only enemy to be defeated and directly referred to in the NT is death (1 Corinthians 15:54-55), where the meaning of Hosea 13:14 in its OT context is totally reversed by Paul. Most translations mistranslate Hosea 13:14 to make it fit with Paul’s use of the text in 1 Corinthians. In context, Hosea 13:14 actually says the opposite of what Paul makes it mean. This should alert us, along with many other deliberate ‘misuses’ of OT texts by Paul, to the strong possibility that he is not using the OT narrative in a straightforward way.

I have been following the development of Andrew’s views over many years, and although I’ve sometimes got hold of the wrong end of the stick, to which I’ll willingly admitted I was wrong, I do think I have as good a grasp of the overall argument as anyone, and that there are some basic, fatal flaws. There simply is no Spirit reception in the NT without there also being the death of Jesus for the sins of the Spirit recipient. There is no distinction between the basis on which 1st century Jews received the Spirit, their sins having been atoned for by Jesus on the cross, and that for Gentiles, who according to Andrew did not have their sins atoned for on the cross. There is nothing in the NT to suggest that the death of Jesus is divided up in this way. There is one inextricably connected series of events in one person, Jesus, which avails for all - the death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus and Spirit outpoured by him. If a narrative says that this is not the case, I suggest that the problem may be with how the proposed narrative.

I don’t think I am being obtuse, as my points are very clear, simple, scripturally corroborated, and perhaps more significantly, corroborated by my own experience, those of others, and throughout church history. Each time Andrew responds, I feel he tends to sidestep the criticisms by repeating, perhaps in a different way, his interpretation of the narrative, or overlooking the key points I am drawing his attention to. I certainly don’t say he doesn’t respond to some of my points.

Outside the bubble of the theological blogosphere, if the church has got it wrong for all these centuries, how on earth has it survived until now? It seems unlikely in the extreme that elements of the faith which are consistent through all ages and all varieties of church and churchmanship in all parts of the world should now be found to have been flawed all along. I don’t think the church would have survived, let alone become the world’s major faith, on that basis. But then again, we do say that (some of us) that variant faiths are even more flawed, and they have survived also. Maybe we’re all too gullible.

These are all arguments about point of view. I separate these totally from my personal attitude to you or Andrew. I’ve always got on well with Andrew personally, though it’s been quite a while now since we met (I think it’s your turn, Andrew). I feel I would enjoy your company Phil. I did orchestrate a meeting of contributors to the previous incarnation of PostOst. It was - weird, and wonderful. In the end, I don’t have the same investment in proving myself right, in the way that Andrew clearly has a great deal invested in a viewpoint he has uniquely spent a great deal of time working on and developing as his own. I think this makes disagreement between us difficult, and perhaps in the end incapable of resolution. For me it’s just an exercise which helps me to hone and develop a viewpoint. For Andrew it’s his baby, and so when it’s passed to me, I should handle it with care. I hope at least I’m able to remain respectful.

I don’t know what either of these suggestions means in practice, since most of what we can know about God, according to Andrew, was used up in the period leading to Constantine. The NT has no further direct relevance to anyone.

I have never suggested that what we know about God was “used up” in the period leading to the conversion of the Roman Empire. We might say that the story told about God was mostly used up in this period, but that certainly does not mean that what was learnt about God has no further relevance. On the contrary, we learn precisely that God remains faithful to his people and to his purposes when the future appears extremely uncertain. We learn from the New Testament experience in the same way that Jesus and the apostles learnt from the exodus, the exile and, most importantly, the experience of pagan-imperial oppression under Antiochus Epiphanes.

With regard to the idea of a “priestly” people, Exodus 19:6 most clearly captures the idea. 1 Peter 2:9 perhaps has the eschatological context primarily on view, but I don’t see that the priestly function is essentially eschatological. There is plenty of reason to think, generally, that Israel was expected to represent YHWH and his Law well to the nations and eventually to receive the gifts that the nations brought in tribute to YHWH.

On the other hand, if the normal view is taken that the NT was not limited to its immediate historical context, then we still have the life changing promises based on the historic events, with a Spirit empowerment directly related to Pentecost.

I have not argued that the new covenant in the Spirit was abrogated when the nations of the Greek-Roman world confessed Jesus as Lord. I have said many times that we live according to the Spirit, which has to be a transformative and empowering experience. See, for example, How might the post-charismatic “missional” church rediscover the gifts of the Spirit?

I agree that there are aspects of Christian experience that are relevant under all historical conditions. My point is simply that the Bible makes it clear that the prophetic witness always takes into account historical conditions, and that modern evangelicalism has no way to embrace or articulate or embody this fact.

Phil has given, to my mind, an excellent, very clear account of the relation between the known and unknown in the biblical story. I’ll just pick up on a few specific points here and in subsequent comments.

Everything about your approach looks backwards, interprets the past, and then leaves everything else to speculation (apart from an equally distant future).

The prophetic imagination looks squarely at the current or impending crisis, reviews God’s past dealings with his people, and sketches a new hopeful future for a people called to serve the interests of the living God throughout history. I think that’s exactly what is needed today, except that our past includes the history of the last two thousand years—the rise and fall of western Christendom and the emergence of an all-conquering secularism.

We don’t even have a personal relationship with Jesus to fall back on.

If you read the whole article, you will see that I strongly affirm the believer’s personal relationship with the Jesus who has been made Lord of history.

Just trying to be helpful, as usual.

No, Peter, you’re just being your usual contrary self.

That is to say, the prayer uttered at the end of Psalm 82, which is far more significant than all the fun stuff about the divine council, would be fulfilled in the name of Jesus

Andrew,

That sounds as if you think the ending prayer is not related to the judgement of these “gods”. It isn’t! The judgement of these “gods” is directly connected to ruling the nations. That is the point of the Psalm. God would judge (destroy) these gods (divine beings – elohim - called Sons of the Most High) and take back the rule of the nations which these corrupt elohim were given to rule over (Deut. 32:8) by YHWH. As you pointed out, that was the mission of Jesus, but for some reason you only seem to see the outward manifestation – the fall of Rome – as the goal. Jesus’ mission was way more than that. There was much more going on than what you seem to understand. This process of reclaiming the nations starts from events that happened back in Genesis and the divine counsel is at the heart of it all. It’s not some peripheral concept that doesn’t have anything to do with anything. Something that can be ignored and sidelined as something fun to refer to here and there.

That sounds as if you think the ending prayer is not related to the judgement of these “gods”.

I don’t think that at all. Certainly, it was by judging and destroying the gods of the nations that YHWH would inherit the nations. You read this post, didn’t you? Whether we find the sort of coherent “divine council” narrative in the biblical and second temple Jewish texts that you seem to be arguing for, I’m not so sure. But clearly there are important things going on in the heavenly places.

Andrew,

Perhaps I read more into your words than what is there. I don’t know. What I do know is we do find “the sort of coherent ‘divine council’ narrative in the biblical and second temple Jewish texts”. That is the problem. Nobody seems to address it. It’s all there but it seems that people have been conditioned against seeing it - just has people have been condition to see hell in every passage that speaks of judgement. I know until I read Heiser’s book and then stated to really investigate it I never saw it either. But, now that my eyes have been opened to it it’s literally everywhere. Even the NT is inundated with references. These corrupt gods are in the background of much of Paul’s words. For example, Paul states in 1 Cor. 11:10

That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on here head, because of the angles.

This passage, and some others, used to completely baffle me. But then as I was reading the book The Watchers in Jewish and Christian Traditions in chapter six Because of the Angles: Paul and the Enochic Tradition Scott M. Lewis addresses this reference.

About second temple Jewish texts. Section two of this book Part II: Second Temple Developments fours authors put forth the following amazing chapters.

8. The Watchers Traditions in the Book of the Watchers and the Animal Apocalypse by Karina Martin Hogan

9. The Watchers Traditions in the Book of Jubilees by John C. Endres

10. Watchers Traditions in the Dead See Scrolls by Samuel Thomas

11. The Watchers Traditions in 1 Enoch’s Book of Parables by Leslie Baynes.

Part III: Reception in Early Christianity and Early Judaism is equally eye opening and amazing.

Highly recommend this book. You’ll never be able to read the Bible again the same way especially if one has read Heiser’s book Unseen Realm first.

Andrew,

In what ways would you say that the current state of the world is “rebellious”? What “sins” are in need of turning from? And what would be the “god” of this age that if not worshipped will lead to persecution for Christians?

D

Not answering for Andrew, but I thought I would add my thoughts. As I understand, the early christians were persecuted mainly because they were seen as a threat to the well being of their societies. They had abandoned their family, local, and imperial gods. Those gods would be unhappy about being shorted in their worship and might bring famine, plague, invasion, or something equally bad.

For christians to be persecuted in the west I think we would need to be seen as some kind of threat to our societal or economic status quo. I don’t know what form that would take, but I’m pretty sure it would have to be political, or at least seen as a political or economic threat. With evangelicals in the U.S. firmly ensconced in and upholding the Republican party I don’t expect that happening anytime soon

Very helpful, thank you Andrew