Today you will be with me in paradise

With all the depressing talk of hell recently it seems a good idea to turn our minds in a more positive direction and give some thought to what the alternative might be. My view is that the New Testament does not make “heaven” the normal destination for those who are saved. What we have is essentially a limited “martyr theology”, worked out within a broader “meta-narrative” about the renewal of creation.

The argument goes roughly—very roughly—like this. The restoration of Israel is brought about through the death and resurrection of Jesus, which is a “new creation” event, an “ontological novelty”. There is as yet, however, no “new creation”, no “new heavens and new earth”, in which to accommodate the resurrected Jesus, so he is exalted to the right hand of the Father, as Israel’s king, from where he will reign throughout the coming ages until such time as this authority to rule may be handed back to the Father (cf. 1 Cor. 15:24)—the point being that the security and integrity of the people of God can be maintained only by the Lamb who was slain.

So the resurrected Jesus “goes to heaven”. The martyr theology of the New Testament, however, also envisages the direct participation of others in the painful narrative of this Son of Man, who took up his cross, suffered, was killed, was raised, was exalted to the right hand of God, and was given dominion and glory and authority. At numerous points in the New Testament argument, from Matthew through to Revelation, the early church, as it confronted first Jewish and then pagan hostility, is assimilated—not least through apocalyptic myth-making (terms subject to qualification; please read the small print)—into the drama of the Christ, so that he was not alone but the “firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29). So following the judgment on the supreme pagan enemy, Rome, John sees a “first resurrection” of the martyrs, who “came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:4-5).

So the suffering church also “goes to heaven”. What, then, about the rest of us? Well, it seems to me that we have a long wait in the grave—”asleep” if we cannot bear the thought of just being dead—until the final resurrection of all the dead to be judged before the throne of God (Rev. 20:11-15), followed by the final renewal of creation.

But this is all just a preamble to the consideration of a text that is sometimes cited as evidence that Christians go to heaven when they die.

When the second “evil-doer” (kakourgos) crucified alongside Jesus says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” Jesus replies, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). It is a peculiar statement. What does Jesus mean by it?

The word paradeisos is of Persian origin and generally means an enclosed garden or orchard. It is used in the Septuagint and elsewhere in Hellenistic Jewish writings for the garden of Eden (cf. Gen. 2:8-10; Ezek. 28:13). It may then naturally be used as an image for Israel: the “orchard (paradeisōi) of God” is compared somewhat unfavourably to the mighty cypress tree of Assyria, in whose branches the birds of the air nest and in whose shade “all the multitude of nations lived” (Ezek. 31:3-9). Isaiah describes the restoration of Israel following the judgment of the exile as a re-pristination of the microcosm—the wilderness of desolated Israel is made like Eden again:

Hear me, you that pursue what is righteous, and seek the Lord. Look to the solid rock that you hewed and to the hole of the pit that you dug. Look to Abraam your father and to Sarra who bore you; because he was but one, then I called him and blessed him and loved him and multiplied him. And I will comfort you now, Sion; I comforted all her desolate places, and I will make her desolate places like the garden (paradeison) of the Lord; in her they will find joy and gladness, confession and the voice of praise. (Isaiah 51:1-3 LXX)

That image may have some bearing on Jesus’ use of the term: he may mean that through his death God is restoring his people, out of faithfulness to the promise made to Abraham. But I think that there is a more relevant aspect to be brought out.

Nolland argues against finding a Jewish martyr theology in Jesus’ statement, pointing out, on the one hand, that the word “paradise” is not found in such passages as Wisdom 3:1-9 which speak of a heavenly destiny as a reward for suffering, and on the other, that the “criminal” was not a martyr.1

Fair enough. But in Revelation the exalted Son of Man, who has “the keys of death and Hades”, assures those who are suffering patiently in Ephesus that “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise (paradeisōi) of God” (Rev. 2:7). To “conquer” in this context is to overcome persecution and ultimately death; the exceptional reward for these martyrs is to “eat of the tree of life”.

In this light, we may suppose that on Jesus’ lips “paradise” is not simply a destination, equivalent to heaven, but a figure for the life that is given to those who overcome death. He includes the “criminal” in that hope in much the same way that sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes who reach out in trust are told that they will be included in the coming celebration of the kingdom of God. It is a sign of the spontaneous, extravagant and deeply controversial grace of God at work in this eschatological transformation.

So I suggest that the “paradise” of which Jesus speaks in this passage is a symbolic location that stands for the reward of the martyrs in much the same way that transportation to “Abraham’s side” in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31) stands for the inclusion of this much abused Jew in the restored people of God.

  • 1. J. Nolland, Luke 18:35-24:53, 1152.

Comments

Also worth noting here that "I say to you today" is an aramaic idiom similar to a "I declare this right now".  I've only done a little aramaic study but that was something that stuck with me.  So, slight alternate to this would be paradise at the later resurrection.

Daniel, it’s an interesting thought. The argument would carry more weight if there were similar constructions elsewhere in the Gospels. Jesus uses the “Truly I say to you” formula repeatedly but it is never qualified with sēmeron (“today”).

The closest we get, I think, is Mark 14:30, where we have: “And Jesus says to him, Truly, I say to you that you today this night before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.” But here “today” is clearly in the subordinate clause.

Also I couldn’t find any examples in the LXX where legō is used with sēmeron to mean “I say to you right now”—though admittedly on the basis of a very hasty search. I wonder what the evidence is for the Aramaic idiom.

I rather think that if Luke had meant the sentence to be translated as you suggest, he would either have brought sēmeron forward (“Truly, to you today I say with me you will be in paradise”) or have inserted the conjunction hoti as in Mark 14:30 (“Truly, to you I say today that with me you will be in paradise”). Either would have avoided the ambiguity. As it stands “today” seems to be rather emphatically positioned at the beginning of the “you will be with me in paradise clause”.

I was getting along with this well, and adding, in my mind, that what God was doing for Israel through Jesus was so that the very same 'blessing' might be released on the wider arena to the world (thus fulfilling the promises to Abraham).

Then I came to:

 At numerous points in the New Testament argument, from Matthew through to Revelation, the early church, as it confronted first Jewish and then pagan hostility, is assimilated—not least through apocalyptic myth-making (terms subject to qualification; please read the small print)—into the drama of the Christ, so that he was not alone but the “firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29).

The divergence here between myself and Andrew, of course, is that I don't see why it is exclusively the early church that is assimilated into the drama of Christ. But this is well trodden ground. I read a NT which speaks to today's church through what it says to the early church, with only one resurrection for both, and one resurrection of the martyrs with the non-martyrs.

For Paul, resurrection was connected with sharing Christ's sufferings - Philippians 3:10, but that's not to say that those who did not share in those sufferings in quite the same way would not "attain to the resurrection". That was simply the path Paul knew he was called to tread. There is no suggestion by Paul of a separate resurrection preceding the resurrection at the day of judgement.

How numerous are the points in the New Testament where apocalyptic myth-making suggests an extraordinary resurrection of the martyrs?  I see this perhaps least of all in Revelation 20:4-5, where many have tried to build entire eschatological systems on an eschatological novelty. My own interpretation, shared by G.C. Berkouwer and A. Koenig, which avoids any new eschatological categories, may be found at http://www.opensourcetheology.net/node/747

I share Nolland's difficulties with seeing the repentant thief as a martyr. Jumping then in the argument to the martyrs of Revelation 2:7 doesn't seem to me to provide a continuation of the argument. Here we are back to martyrs who are commended, not repentant executed criminals. The martyrs here, rather than being allotted, in symbolic terms or otherwise, a special place in advance of "the rest of the dead", are being reasssured in metaphorical language. They will 'eat the fruit of the tree of life in the paradise of God', where the fruit represents life continuing in the hereafter, and paradise represents heaven.

This reward is also offered to faithful non-martyrs, except that the martyrs might expect to receive a "better resurrection" - Hebrews 11:35, though this might equally be interpreted "better" in the sense of "better" than compromising with their torturers, rather than "better" as "superior than the resurrection of others".

He (Jesus) includes the “criminal” in that hope in much the same way that sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes who reach out in trust are told that they will be included in the coming celebration of the kingdom of God.

Isn't this diverging from the argument? I thought the point of the paradise and the repentant thief discussion  was about the thief sharing the reward of proto-resurrection with the martyrs, assuming there was such a separate category. There is no suggestion that those drawn to Jesus in his earthly ministry, as described, would also share in such a unique destiny.

Going back to the premise which opened the discussion, that the non-martyred dead remain just that, dead, until the final resurrection, I refer to my argument at

http://www.postost.net/commentary/2-thess/1/punishment-eternal-destruction#comment-540

which lists not simply proof texts, but rests on the more overarching argument of an uninterrupted union with Christ for those believing in him. It would be odd for Paul to say "nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" - including death - Romans 8:37-39, when death is reintroduced after all for those who thought Jesus had included them in his resurrection life - on both sides of the grave, without hiatus.  "In all these things" suggests we are looking at martyrs and non-martyrs.

Despite everything, I enjoyed and appreciated the nuanced way in which Andrew developed his argument in the post, and I will probably not include the repentant thief quite so crudely in an argument for continuation of conscious existence after death in future. The references to paradise provided in the LXX are really helpful.

For Paul, resurrection was connected with sharing Christ’s sufferings - Philippians 3:10, but that’s not to say that those who did not share in those sufferings in quite the same way would not “attain to the resurrection”. That was simply the path Paul knew he was called to tread.

I appreciate the fact that you are predisposed to make that argument, but it is very curious that both here and in Romans 8:17 Paul makes participation in the resurrection, not just for himself but for many, directly and necessarily dependent on participation in Christ’s sufferings.

There is no suggestion by Paul of a separate resurrection preceding the resurrection at the day of judgement.

If Paul’s time frame and horizon is the vindication of the emerging churches in Europe against their pagan enemies and the empire-wide confession of Jesus as Lord, there’s no particular reason to expect him to differentiate between a resurrection of those who shared in Christ’s story and of all the dead before a final judgment. That simply imports our perspective into the story. Having said that, there is a case for thinking that in 1 Corinthians 15:23-24 Paul differentiates between the resurrection of Christ, the resurrection at the parousia of those who share in Christ’s suffering and vindication, and an “end”, when the kingdom is delivered back to God after all enemies have been destroyed.

My question would be: Where does Paul speak of the resurrection in a general sense apart from the theme of suffering? Given the fact that personal resurrection arises in Jewish thought from martyr theology and that the New Testament consistently speaks of resurrection as the outcome of faithful suffering, it seems to me that the onus is actually on the modern evangelical theologian to demonstrate that it has a broader frame of reference.

How numerous are the points in the New Testament where apocalyptic myth-making suggests an extraordinary resurrection of the martyrs?

Peter, as so often happens in these debates, you misquote me. This is what I actually wrote:

At numerous points in the New Testament argument, from Matthew through to Revelation, the early church, as it confronted first Jewish and then pagan hostility, is assimilated… into the drama of the Christ, so that he was not alone but the “firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29).

If you are looking for references to the “resurrection of the martyrs”, you won’t find many. If you look for places where the suffering church is understood to participate in the story of Jesus’ suffering and vindication, you will find many.

I share Nolland’s difficulties with seeing the repentant thief as a martyr.

So do I, which is why originally I felt that Isaiah 51:1-3 was the more relevant background.

This reward is also offered to faithful non-martyrs, except that the martyrs might expect to receive a “better resurrection” - Hebrews 11:35, though this might equally be interpreted “better” in the sense of “better” than compromising with their torturers, rather than “better” as “superior than the resurrection of others”.

Surely the distinction in Hebrews 11:35 is between a “resurrection” to life in this world (the reference is to the widow of Zaraphath in 1 Kgs. 17:17-24, who “received back” her dead son) and the “better resurrection” of the martyrs—”better” because this was a resurrection to a glorious life beyond death. That rather underlines my point that resurrection in the New Testament belongs mostly to a martyr theology.

It would be odd for Paul to say “nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” - including death - Romans 8:37-39, when death is reintroduced after all for those who thought Jesus had included them in his resurrection life - on both sides of the grave, without hiatus. “In all these things” suggests we are looking at martyrs and non-martyrs.

I don’t quite understand what you’re saying here, but what are “all these things”? They are “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword”. These are the experiences of a church suffering persecution. They are the same afflictions that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 and 12:10, and indeed which Jesus says his disciples will face (Matt. 25:31-36).

Finally, the point is reinforced by the quotation from Psalm 44 about sheep led to slaughter:

The quotation of Psalm 44:22, finally, in Romans 8:36 makes it clear that the “sufferings of the present time,” which will culminate in glory, presuppose a context of eschatological conflict. Israel has been routed in battle and scattered; they have become “a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples” (44:14). Suffering has come upon them even though they have been faithful to YHWH: “All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant…. Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” (44:17, 22). The suffering of righteous Israel and the urgent expression of hope that YHWH will deliver them “for the sake of your steadfast love” are a template for Paul’s reassurance to the saints in Rome that no powers in creation—not even the power of Caesar himself, though this is not Paul’s particular argument—can separate them “from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39). (The Future of the People of God, 119-20)

Paul is saying quite specifically that no persecution, not even death, can separate the believers from Christ. Non martyrs don’t enter into it.

Paul’s theology has almost exclusively in view the future path of churches that would face sporadic but intense persecution for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of Jesus. His assurance to them is that although they will have to share in Jesus’ sufferings, they will also share in his resurrection and vindication.

Andrew - I'm doubtful that you will want to respond to this, as you are not always happy about pursuing protracted discussion which questions your viewpoint, but anyway:

I appreciate the fact that you are predisposed to make that argument, but it is very curious that both here and in Romans 8:17 Paul makes participation in the resurrection, not just for himself but for many, directly and necessarily dependent on participation in Christ’s sufferings.

In Philippians and Romans, Paul is writing in the context of his times: namely, the present experience and expectation of hardship and persecution. In Romans 8:17, he doesn't actually mention resurrection, but does link suffering (with Christ) to glorification (with him). This is not to say that glorification will not occur where suffering has not been experienced in precisely the same way. The message is that where the pathway of loyalty to Jesus leads to suffering, then suffering has to be endured in order to obtain the reward. Paul says the same thing of resurrection in Philippians.

However, it is true that for Christians in all times, sharing in Christ's sufferings in some way is normative. Even if that does not mean experiencing directly the hardship of persecution, it does mean experiencing with Christ hardships of all kinds, not least the identifying with the hardships of others - "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it" - 1 Corinthians 12:26. It is not normative for Christians to live a life cushioned from the hardship and suffering which Christ experiences in identification with the sufferings of his world and his people.

If Paul’s time frame and horizon is the vindication of the emerging churches in Europe against their pagan enemies and the empire-wide confession of Jesus as Lord, there’s no particular reason to expect him to differentiate between a resurrection of those who shared in Christ’s story and of all the dead before a final judgment.

Why not?

Having said that, there is a case for thinking that in 1 Corinthians 15:23-24 Paul differentiates between the resurrection of Christ, the resurrection at the parousia of those who share in Christ’s suffering and vindication, and an “end”, when the kingdom is delivered back to God after all enemies have been destroyed.

Yes, and it's a very flimsy case, since the passage does not say that "the firstfruits" are those who are raised in a special resurrection, following Christ's, but ahead of a general resurrection.

Peter, as so often happens in these debates, you misquote me. This is what I actually wrote:

I'm really surprised you say this, as the paragraph in question begins and ends with resurrection - so it's natural to assume you include that in the 'assimilitation' of the church into "the drama of Christ". Since the context is persecution, it's natural to assume you are talking about physical resurrection (ahead of general resurrection) as a result of persecution. On the other hand, as your following paragaph suggests, I think at times you talk of resurrection as a metaphor of the church being brought through hardship and persecution to what you call 'the life of the age'. 

Surely the distinction in Hebrews 11:35 is between a “resurrection” to life in this world (the reference is to the widow of Zaraphath in 1 Kgs. 17:17-24, who “received back” her dead son) and the “better resurrection” of the martyrs—”better” because this was a resurrection to a glorious life beyond death.

I've never heard that said before; is this idea of a "better resurrection" as a "resurrection to life in this world" suggested by anyone else? Martyrdom (and persecution) are linked with resurrection in the passage. Whether this proves an exclusive and limited connection, I am less convinced. More to the point, I'm still less convinced that this proves anything like a resurrection of the martyrs at some time in the 1st century ahead of the general resurrection.

I don’t quite understand what you’re saying here, but what are “all these things”? They are “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword”. These are the experiences of a church suffering persecution. They are the same afflictions that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 and 12:10, and indeed which Jesus says his disciples will face (Matt. 25:31-36).

Paul is talking about suffering all the way through Romans 8:17-39. He is not talking exclusively about persecution, though that figures large. He is talking about the entire creation "groaning as in the pains of childbirth" - v.22. This includes trouble, hardship, famine, nakedness, danger as well as persecution and sword - the last two being the only sufferings which might be taken to refer directly to persecution. Famine certainly is not persecution or martyrdom.

I know that you interpret things differently, but I think it is more reasonable to suppose we are still in the period of creation being "in the pains of childbirth", which will continue until the old creation is replaced by the new.

It is therefore reasonable to suppose that Romans 8:37-39 does apply to all believers at all times, as participators in the suffering of the old creation, and not just to that part of the 1st century church which was experiencing persecution. It is therefore reasonable to assume that inseparablity from the love of Christ is experienced by all believers who go through physical death, and that the passage does support the continuation of conscious existence immediately following physical death.

Since this interpretation has exegetical validity, if I had to make a call between this and the limited interpretation of the passage, I would choose the former every time. Why have a bible which does not include me, if there was no necessity to do so?

Romans 8:36 was certainly true for Paul, and large parts of the church in his time. But as I have just shown, it does not sum up all that Paul says in the whole passage. It does sum up where the hostility of the world to the church finally leads, and this is as true today as it was in Paul's time. If we think otherwise, we are living in a fool's paradise. If the church obtains the world's favour, as it can and sometimes should do, it is an uneasy thing. The agenda of world and church are ultimately in opposition.

The reason I’m sometimes reluctant to pursue these discussions very far is not that I object to having my viewpoint questioned—on the contrary, I generally welcome the challenge. It’s that for whatever reason we too often talk past each other. In fact, I often hear you talking over my head to readers as though you are trying to mitigate the damage caused by what I have written.

This is not to say that glorification will not occur where suffering has not been experienced in precisely the same way.

But where is the evidence for that? As I said before, the conceptual background to personal resurrection (not corporate resurrection) is in martyrdom theology. With the exception of Revelation 20 and possibly 1 Corinthians 15 the New Testament appears always to speak of resurrection, exaltation, glorification and vindication in connection with the theme of the suffering church. So what pushes us to generalize the New Testament argument? Why can’t we just let the New Testament say what it says without exegetically inflating it, blurring the distinctions, disconnecting it from its literary and historical context, just to make it address our concerns?

It is not normative for Christians to live a life cushioned from the hardship and suffering which Christ experiences in identification with the sufferings of his world and his people.

I agree with that wholeheartedly, but it is not what Paul is talking about. His argument about resurrection appears to be grounded on the premise of a particular form of suffering, and I’m not sure he gives us clear reasons for extending the specific hope of resurrection at the parousia to all believers. You are reading a post-Pauline theology back into the texts. It’s understandable. We do it all the time. But it doesn’t do justice to his argument.

Yes, and it’s a very flimsy case, since the passage does not say that “the firstfruits” are those who are raised in a special resurrection, following Christ’s, but ahead of a general resurrection.

No, you’re missing the point. Christ is the “firstfruits” of those who will share in his sufferings and be raised at the parousia, when he “comes” to deliver the persecuted saints from their enemies and vindicate them publicly. It is the same as Paul’s argument in Romans 8:29: Christ becomes the “firstborn among many brothers” when those who have been predestined to suffer and be glorified are “conformed to the image of his Son”.

I’ve never heard that said before; is this idea of a “better resurrection” as a “resurrection to life in this world” suggested by anyone else?

Sorry, I can’t have made myself clear. There are two types of “resurrection” in Hebrews 11:35: i) a resurrection back to normal life, which we would normally call a resuscitation (the passage has in view the resuscitation of the son of the widow of Zaraphath; Jesus’ resuscitation of the widow of Nain’s son is in the same category); and ii) a “better resurrection” to a life after death, which is the reward of those who are “tortured, refusing to accept release”. The latter is a resurrection in the sense that we have been discussing here; and although the verse does not explicitly exclude the thought that all believers are raised, it is another clear example of how resurrection is made a reward for those who are persecuted.

Paul is talking about suffering all the way through Romans 8:17-39. He is not talking exclusively about persecution, though that figures large. He is talking about the entire creation “groaning as in the pains of childbirth” - v.22.

Yes, as I said at the outset, the martyrdom theme is set against a metanarrative of the renewal of creation, but Paul says here neither that creation is “suffering” nor that it will experience resurrection. Apart from this the passage is about the participation of the early churches in the sufferings of Christ. I agree with you that we are in a period of the groaning of creation for new birth, but I think that we have to distinguish that from the inner narrative of the New Testament about the renewal of Israel through the suffering of Jesus and of those who followed him.

Since this interpretation has exegetical validity…

Well, I disagree because it ignores what Paul actually says in 8:17—that to be fellow-heirs with Christ, rather than simply “heirs of God”, entailed (“provided that…”) suffering with him in order to be glorified (that is, raised, exalted, vindicated) with him.

Andrew - you're right about us talking past each other - but then that's sometimes helpful, as the misunderstandings which are highlighted receive correction - esecially my misunderstandings of you. There are some helpful corrections in your previous post.

I hope I'm not talking over your head to a wider audience. I don't think there is much of an audience out there!

Also fair observations on personal resurrection and martyrdom, though at the moment I remain to be convinced by your line of thinking. It's not surprising to see resurrection linked with suffering when that is perhaps a more commonly experienced phenomenon - particularly in Paul's own life. But the link seems to me to be with suffering in Romans 8, not martyrdom in particular.

I think you have missed what I was saying about Romans 8:17-39, where persecution is set in the context of more general kinds of suffering, which includes the creation being in the pains of childbirth. Of course, you would interpret that one way, and I would interpret it the other, but the observation on the range of suffering remains. It's not all persecution. For that reason I think Paul is saying something about suffering being normative.

I clearly have missed what you were saying about Christ the firstfruits. Maybe I confused your interpretation with preterist interpretation, which I think does see "firstfruits" as a separate group of people.

What Paul actually says in Romans 8:17 is that we are co-heirs with Christ provided we also suffer with him. I don't see it saying provided we also suffer martyrdom. Paul goes on in 18-39 to describe suffering of many kinds - inluding danger, famine, nakedness (poverty?) etc. Doesn't this support my case? 

Paul goes on in 18-39 to describe suffering of many kinds - inluding danger, famine, nakedness (poverty?) etc. Doesn’t this support my case?

Not in my view, no, for the reasons I gave—the clear overlap with Paul’s lists of his own sufferings elsewhere as a consequence of his ministry and the sufferings that Jesus expects his disciples to have to endure in the course of their mission and for his sake (Matt. 25:31-36). These are not general troubles—not in Paul’s argument—they are the sufferings that come with proclaiming the gospel in an extremely hostile context. So, for example, both “famine” (limos) and “nakedness” (gymnotēs) are found in 2 Corinthians 11:27 where Paul speaks of his suffering as an apostle, except here limos is translated “hunger” and gymnotēs “exposure” in the ESV here.

Just to clarify:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress (stenochōria), or persecution (diōgmos), or famine (limos), or nakedness (gymnotēs), or danger (kindynos), or sword? (Rom. 8:35)

…in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger (kindynois) from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger (limōi) and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure (gymnotēti). (2 Cor. 11:26-27)

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions (diōgmois), and calamities (stenochōriais). For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:10)

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked (gymnos) and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. (Matt. 25:35-36)

Romans 8:35 is a catalogue of sufferings for the sake of Christ. These sufferings would not always culminate in martyrdom, but that was the narrative trajectory that the early believers entered when they were baptized into the death and resurrection of the first martyr Jesus.

Just going back to what I said earlier in the thread: 

The message is that where the pathway of loyalty to Jesus leads to suffering, then suffering has to be endured in order to obtain the reward. Paul says the same thing of resurrection in Philippians.

I wasn't talking about suffering in general. I agree with you that the sufferings mentioned are especially those identified with the apostolic ministry, and the word studies are helpful. However, this did not mean the church in general was immune from sufferings, and I think that as an apostle, Paul was in some way identifying with Christ as Christ identified with the suffering church eg Colossians 1:24.

When Paul says we are "heirs" provided (NIV) we also suffer with Christ (Romans 8:17), that surely also means that the kinds of suffering which Paul expected to come on the church (in Rome especially) had to be endured as a condition of sonship. But what about places and times where persecution (and suffering) were not necessarily going to be the norm?

Suffering might have been the norm for the church at one time or another in any place in the 1st century. Nor has that ceased since, but today it would be unreal to apply a similar theology of suffering to churches in parts of the world where suffering is not the norm.

I'm just thinking out loud here, but what is the force of εϊπερ (NIV provided, KJV if so be)? Does it have the force of a condition, or is it saying provided we remain faithful when (or even 'if'?) suffering (which is wider than direct persecution or martyrdom) comes?

You might say: that doesn't concern us, since Paul's letters were only written for his 1st century audience, and eschatological conditions changed after AD 70 and judgement on Rome. I would say that Paul's letters have authority for all time, but very careful interpretation is needed for times and contexts beyond Paul.

I’m just thinking out loud here, but what is the force of εϊπερ (NIV provided, KJV if so be)? Does it have the force of a condition, or is it saying provided we remain faithful when (or even ‘if’?) suffering (which is wider than direct persecution or martyrdom) comes?

But Paul doesn’t say, “provided that we remain faithful when or if we suffer”. That introduces a further conditional clause which would completely change his argument. Eiper is simply a conditional. Moo and Fitzmyer agree that the emphasis is on the condition: “if it is indeed true”, “if, in fact”. Others suggest an assumed condition: “since we are suffering with him…”. Earlier in the chapter we have an example of the latter:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact (eiper) the Spirit of God dwells in you. (Rom. 8:9)

But in any event, the main assertion is made conditional on the eiper clause: it is under conditions of suffering that they become joint-heirs with Christ—and for obvious reasons: they experience what he experienced, they will receive what he received.

Well, that raises further issues. In what sense was Paul/the church at Rome sharing in the sufferings of Christ by suffering with him?

They would be sharing in those sufferings in the sense that Jesus was an example of martyrdom for the sake of the kingdom of God, which he called his followers to imitate.

They would not be sharing with Christ's sufferings, in the sense that he had personally brought Israel's history to its climactic conclusion - completing the Exodus story, inaugurating the new covenant - which only he could do.

This does have a bearing on the meaning of Romans 8:17. Which sufferings of Christ endured by Paul and the church at Rome are being alluded to? The same kind of question is raised in Colossians 1:24. It must be the first, and not the second.

Since these sufferings were already being endured by Paul, and if not already, were about to be endured by the church, Romans 8:17 comes as a reassurance as much as a condition.

I was also raising the question of what happens to the church in times and situations where suffering of this kind is not the norm? You might say, the question doesn't arise, since Paul was only addressing the recipients of his letter in the 1st century. And I would say suffering continued to be an issue through the Jewish and Roman period, and then within the Roman church as it persecuted its non-compliant members.

So we have a distinction between one kind of suffering and another which Jesus's followers shared with him. We also have apostolic sufferings, and sufferings endured by the church. Suffering was not confined to those specifically set aside for the purpose of apostolic mission. The sufferings were also wide in range, and not limited to persecution, or even eventual martyrdom.

Identification with Christ seems to be a key here. Identifying with him in his life also meant (means) identifying with him in his sufferings, and death.

Being unpersuaded that we can safely leave all this to the unique conditions of the 1st century, or that we are now in a new eschatological phase in which those conditions do not apply, it raises the question of how these verses apply to church and apostolic ministry today.

 

 

 

I don’t have much more to add here, though I did manage to post something on Colossians 1:24.

If this statement was meant to be taken literally, Jesus would have been incorrect, since he spent three days in the grave, no?

This is where I get a kick out of the inerrantists saying we shouldn't be so literal.

Like Peter above, I can't go all the way with you as regards the two resurrections, Andrew.  But I do find interesting the points he mentions.  It's also interesting to think about your speculations in a conditional sort of way.  The book of Revelation is an interesting bird, and I think the vast majority of what's said about it conditional...  Something about Orthodoxy that provided me with a sense of relief is the lack of "end times" doctrinal fighting, and I will be happy to be found "in Christ", whatever that means.  In O., Revelation is viewed as canonical and there is some commentary on it- though not a lot- and my understanding is that there is no dogma formed specifically from it.  It is never read in the public worship of the Orthodox church, where all that is dogma is expressed.  There are some "fundamentalist" types of "fire and brimstone"-preaching Greek monks, but they are outside the mainstream, not least because of a lack of sobriety on this topic.

And, of course, there is a huge emphasis on the martyrs in Orthodoxy; most of the saints commemorated on the calendar are martyrs, and there are special liturgical poems chanted to them and about them throughout the church year.  I do see a connection between the Jewish "martyr theology" and the early Christian veneration of martyrs and willingness to be martyrs, and Orthodoxy's continued veneration of them.  Even now, there is a great emphasis in Orthodoxy on askesis, "contesting" for the kind of virtue obtained through physical denial (fasting, prostrations etc.) that prepares us for inner transformation and formation of faithfulness, and "contesting" is the word used in hagiography for the sufferings and death of martyrs.

The emphasis on martyrs reminds me of what dawned on me years ago, now, when I first finished Willard's "Divine Conspiracy", and again while reading Wright's JVG, and actually made me catch my breath in both cases:  there is an expectation that Jesus' followers will likely suffer death, and a sort of preparation for that to which the narrative points, as well as giving continued reassurance.  That realization made me want to walk up to Christians I knew and tell them, "Don't you see the gravity of what we are called to?!!"  I found that even more subversive, in light of current expressions of Christianity, than the anti-empire language.

So now I have a two part question:  If the destruction of the temple means that Judaism is "finished", how do you answer accusations of "supercessionism", and what is the meaning of the continued existence of the Jews as an ethnic group?  I don't have "a dog in this fight"; I've come to my own conclusions- part of the disengaging from American Evangelicalism I have done over the last 15 years- so I'm simply curious in light of your three-horizon explanation.

Thanks-

Dana

 

Dana, sorry I didn’t reply on this earlier. I had every intention of coming back to it, though once comments disappear of the bottom of the list, it’s very easy to forget about them.

I entirely understand the reluctance that a lot of people have regarding the apocalyptic material in the New Testament. It’s certainly not just the Orthodox who steer clear. The problem, however, is that the apocalyptic vision lies right at the New Testament. Revelation, being the most extreme instance of the genre and being stuck on the end, gives the impression that it can be treated as an appendix. But from the preaching of John the Baptist all the way through, the New Testament speaks of decisive future events. My view is that the New Perspective approach offers a way of making sense of this material that acknowledges its centrality while avoiding the lurid fantasizing that has accompanied end-time preaching throughout the ages. Apocalyptic is historically and theologically serious once we grasp both the nature of the language and the reasons for making use of it.

Yes, it has occurred to me that there is a significant line running from Jewish martyr theology through the New Testament into the martyrdoms that were so central to the theology and experience of the church in the Greek-Roman world and on into the later veneration of the saints and the quasi-martyrdom of the ascetics.

The emphasis on martyrs reminds me of what dawned on me years ago, now, when I first finished Willard’s “Divine Conspiracy”, and again while reading Wright’s JVG, and actually made me catch my breath in both cases:  there is an expectation that Jesus’ followers will likely suffer death, and a sort of preparation for that to which the narrative points, as well as giving continued reassurance.  That realization made me want to walk up to Christians I knew and tell them, “Don’t you see the gravity of what we are called to?!!”  I found that even more subversive, in light of current expressions of Christianity, than the anti-empire language.

That is a marvellous paragraph with which I whole-heartedly agree.

Ah, yes, supercessionism… You know, I’m not sure I really understand what’s at stake here. This seems to me to be another one of those very American political-religious minefields that it’s best keep out of. But my view is pretty straightforward. I don’t think the New Testament has anything to say directly about the present state of Israel. The prophetic witness of John, Jesus, the disciples in Jerusalem, Paul and the early church generally was that Israel faced judgment in typical Old Testament terms for its persistent failure to live according to the Law. This judgment would be an event of national destruction within the lifetime of Jesus’ disciples. Alongside this dreadful prophecy, Jesus and those who followed believed that YHWH was preparing a way of salvation for a family of people reconfigured around Jesus.

As far as I can tell from Romans 11 Paul held to the hope that following this judgment national and diaspora Israel would repent and believe that YHWH had indeed made Jesus Lord and King—more than that, that through Jesus YHWH would judge the pagan world. Paul did not live to see how things would turn out, but although many Jews after the war interpreted the event as divine judgment, they did not put two and two together and come to the conclusion that Jesus had been wrongly condemned by the rulers in Jerusalem. So the Gentiles who had been grafted into the rich root of the patriarchs eventually displaced the Jewish-Christian remnant almost entirely.

Thanks Andrew.

Agreed about the New perspective, though I only know Wright's slant on it well- other folks simply by quotes I run across.

It's wise to stay out of minefields ;)  Confusion about Israel is one of problems many American Protestants have, which stems from giving equal weight to the whole bible; inerrancy is threatened if some parts of the bible are held to be more significant than other parts.  So in that light, many of them believe that God's promises to Israel from the OT continue into our own day, esp because they do not see the Jewish Wars as judgment on Israel, except for them not accepting Jesus, or as having anything to do with apocalyptic in the NT.  Again, JVG was significant to me; it was clear like never before that the J. establishment had to kill Jesus, and a shiver runs down my spine when I read,  "We have no king but Caesar!"

I'm with Wright:  the NT sees one "people of God" into which anyone, Jew or gentile, may be received.  The Law did its work as a tutor and has handed off the students to what was anticipated.

I've downloaded the PhD thesis of my favorite Orthodox bible teacher, Eugenia Constantinou; it's on Andrew of Caesarea's commentary on Revelation, which I believe is the first complete one ever done, and which influenced the later patristic writers.  I'll have a look at it and see what the angle is.  It's not that Revelation was ignored, only that no dogma was formulated with R. as the foundation.

Dana

 

 

I appreciate gleaning some of the historical context from your posts, but sometimes I can't help but think some of what you're saying really takes the wonder out of the story. Todays post is a case in point. If after we die we just wait around in non existence for a few millennia that just seems like a let down.

Yes, Mark, I’m sure a lot of people would regard it as a let down, but that’s not a very strong argument exegetically. Presumably, though, millennia of non-existence would pass in the blink of an eye, subjectively speaking, and we would be raised—or awoken—at the dawn of a whole new world. Surely there’s some wonder left in this eschatology?

My intention was no to make an argument, but simply a personal comment. If the biblical evidence points in the direction you suggest then I think it makes sense to line up one's expectations with scripture. However, if the goal is to convince other people that this is the right teaching then I think it bares consideration that you are pushing against the tide of assumed opinion, and it will take humility as well as clear biblical evidence to convince people.

Regarding the topic, I would be interested to hear what you think Paul means by his statement "We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). Does his statement not imply an expectation of life after death?

Thank you. Wise words. I’ll have a look at 2 Corinthians 5:8 when I get the chance.

And that statement perfectly sums up how we get our conception of the afterlife. It's depressing to think that upon death it all just ends, whether permanently or temporarily. But just because it may not be what we want doesn't mean that isn't what is going to happen.

And if you look to the bible a your guide, certainly there are different theories about the afterlife, absolutely none of which include immortal souls going to heaven upon death.

Andrew, did you miss my question?

I'd realy like to know what you think.

Dana