Rethinking Matthew’s coming of the Son of Man

I came across this comment from Peter Enns this week: “I am very amenable to Andrew’s approach and others like it—although I still do a double-take at Matt 24:30-31.” That sort of remark—particularly from someone as sane as Peter Enns—usually makes me go back and look at the text again. I think I’ve got this whole thing right—the historical frame of reference of Jesus’ eschatology—and it troubles me when people disagree, especially when they are otherwise amenable to the narrative-historical approach.

But it’s funny how sometimes it doesn’t take much to cast a passage in a new light. Working through Matthew’s version of Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse again in reaction to Peter’s scepticism, it occurred to me that I may have over-restricted the scope of Jesus’ statement about the Son of Man (Matt. 24:29-31). Maybe.

The stories we get so animated about

My view is that one of the main challenges that the church in the West faces—at least from my late-Protestant and somewhat post-evangelical perspective—is to learn to tell our “story” differently. This has to do, in the first place, with how we understand ourselves as a biblical people, but it also has powerful missional implications: the story we tell about ourselves determines how we present ourselves to the world and how we engage with the world. Most of what I have written on this site is an attempt to address this challenge, one way or another.

Who was the suffering servant of Isaiah 52:13-53:12?

I have written a few times about the controversial doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement (see below). A friend got in touch this week asking whether I thought the word “chastisement” in Isaiah 53:5 should be read “through a filter of penal substitution”—she had discovered (via the Septuagint) that the word can also mean “instruction”. Here’s the passage:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement (musar) that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Is. 53:4–6)

Does Jesus have anything to say about homosexuality? Simple answer, no.

Scot McKnight has recently proposed three (or four) teachings in the Synoptic Gospels where Jesus may have had homosexual behaviour in mind. The discussions I’ve been involved in over the last few weeks have focused primarily on the prohibitive texts in Leviticus and Paul. It’s been assumed that while Jesus had some things to say about heterosexual misbehaviour and divorce, he kept quiet about—or had no reason to talk about—same-sex relations. Scot is careful not to draw firm conclusions from the evidence, but we can understand why people on either side of the debate might want to recruit Jesus in support of their cause. Since this is becoming an ongoing project for me at the moment, I thought I would take the opportunity provided by Scot’s post to review the arguments here.

The resurrection of the Son of God (and the rationalisation of God the Son)

It was put to me in a comment on FaceBook this week that from time to time I “point out the weaknesses of the Trinity”. That’s true, but the statement needs careful qualification. I point out the weaknesses of the theological formulation of Trinitarian belief for hermeneutical reasons—I think that it constitutes a misleading grid for interpreting the New Testament narrative.

I replied that I don’t argue with the Trinity as a “post-biblical theological rationalisation” of the New Testament story, which elicited, understandably, the response: “I’m not sure on what basis one can validate it as a post-biblical rationalisation without also validating other enculturated doctrines for the same reasons.” So as a rather oblique way of celebrating the resurrection of the Son of God, which is not the rationalisation of God the Son, I will try to explain what I mean. Naturally, this will be an over-simplification.

Judgment, kingdom, and sexual immorality

The previous post (“Resurrection, judgment, and sexual immorality”) was an attempt to locate Paul’s condemnation of sexual immorality in general and homosexuality in particular in Romans 1:24-27 in the eschatological narrative that I think controls his thought in the letter. Here I will try to do the same for the reference to the exclusion of “men who practise homosexuality”, as the ESV rather misleadingly has it (though see the footnote), in 1 Corinthians 6:9.

Resurrection, judgment, and sexual immorality

This week began with a class on Acts in Nottingham and ends with a three day theological forum in Glasgow on healthy sexuality and the LGBT debate. Here I attempt to track the route between the two topics—to show how Acts sets the eschatological frame for Paul’s condemnation of sexual immorality and of homosexual behaviour in particular in Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.

The standard (evangelical) way to think about the missional narrative in Acts runs roughly along these lines: Jesus ascends to the Father, the disciples are filled with the Spirit thus becoming the church, they preach a gospel of salvation from Jerusalem into Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, and so the church grows. Something like that certainly happens, but I don’t think it gets us to the heart of the “mission” that drives Luke’s narrative.

The argument of Galatians: justification by faith in a new future

As much as any other of Paul’s letters, Galatians is written with an eschatological narrative frame firmly in place. It’s not immediately obvious—it’s been squeezed to the periphery by the argument about faith and the Jewish Law which dominates the letter. But that does not mean that eschatology has no bearing on interpretation. Quite the contrary. The argument about faith and the Jewish Law is important precisely because of eschatology, as I intend to make clear as we get on to Acts and Galatians next week in my class at St Johns Nottingham.

The skeletal narrative of the Synoptic Gospels

Some more sketchy notes on the Synoptic narrative for my teaching at St Johns Nottingham before moving on—rather hesitantly—to John’s Gospel.

The story told about Jesus and the coming kingdom of God in the Synoptic Gospels does not stand on its own; it is not a self-contained narrative. It is an integral part of the story of first century Israel and second temple Judaism. The connections with the historical frame are established in a number of ways, but most importantly through the reworking of, let’s say, five principal Old Testament themes relating to the clash between Israel and the nations….

The kingdom of God: a down-to-earth explanation

Tomorrow in Nottingham we will be looking at the narrative skeleton of the Synoptic Gospels as an outworking of the history of second temple Judaism and as the ground for the emergence of the church in the third century. I shall quote Wright’s criterion of “double similarity”, though perhaps not quite to the end that he had in mind:

…when something can be seen to be credible (though perhaps deeply subversive) within first-century Judaism, and credible as the implied starting-point… of something in later Christianity, there is a strong possibility of our being in touch with the genuine history of Jesus. (N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 132)

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