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

Jörg Frey’s critique of the neutralisation of apocalyptic in Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God

Jörg Frey offers a useful critique of N.T. Wright’s understanding of Paul’s apocalyptic in his chapter in God and the Faithfulness of Paul—the massive response to NT Wright’s massive Paul and the Faithfulness of God. I was asked what I think about it, so here’s my brief assessment and a quick overview of how I understand Paul’s eschatology.

The key question, according to Frey, is whether Paul’s apocalyptic vision constitutes a continuation of the “covenantal traditions of Israel” and the narrative of salvation history or a radical interruption of it, the introduction of something fundamentally new (522). The first position is represented by Wright, who insists that Paul’s apocalyptic language must be thoroughly assimilated into the covenantal narrative of Israel. The second position is represented by the cosmic, a-historical apocalypticism of the “Union School” of Martyn and de Boer, and more recently by Douglas Campbell.

Alexandria and Antioch: a revised tale of two cities

I make the point frequently that there are two basic approaches to the interpretation of the Bible operative in the church today, a theologically determined method and a historically determined method. The church tends to regard the historical method as detrimental to orthodox belief and the theological method as supportive. My argument is, to the contrary, that “history”, understood principally as the story that the historical community told about itself and its experience of God, gives us a much more credible and robust account of Christian origins—and of the purpose of the church—than any method that, knowingly or otherwise, obliges scripture to conform to the theological presuppositions of the church.

I tried to give a simple schematic overview of the history of interpretation in a post some years back called “The history of biblical interpretation—a tale of two cities”.

Noah—the guy who saved humanity by making wine

I’ve been reflecting on the flood story this week in preparation for a sermon on Noah as a risk-taker. This is not the content of the sermon, just some notes on the background narrative of Genesis 1-11.

Theological readings of the Bible tend to isolate Genesis 1-3 as a foundational account of creation and fall, culminating in the need for an “offspring” of the woman who will bruise his head, which supposedly justifies the jump ahead to Jesus as the saviour of humanity. Both assumptions are misleading.

Does Daniel say that the nations will “worship” the one like a son of man?

I am firmly of the view that in the symbology of Daniel 7 the “one like a son of man” who is brought to the throne of the Ancient of Days stands for the persecuted people of the saints of the Most High, in much the same way that the four beasts in the first part of the vision stand for malevolent and destructive empires. I also think that Jesus identified himself with this narrative as a way of speaking about his own suffering and vindication in connection with the judgment and renewal of Israel.

However, Daniel says that all peoples and nations would “serve” (yiflchun) this “son of man” figure (Dan. 7:14, cf. 27), and it is sometimes argued from the use of this verb that the “one like a son of man” is a divine figure who will be worshipped by the nations. If that’s the case, then Jesus’ self-reference as the Son of Man must be an implicit assertion of his divinity. It’s a fairly obscure point of interpretation, but since the claim has again been made here, I want to try and show once and for all why I think it is wrong.

The resurrection of the just and the unjust in Daniel 12:2, and the horizons of New Testament eschatology

I think that the best way to understand New Testament eschatology is to organise the material according to three future horizons: i) a disastrous war against Rome, which would result in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple; ii) the overthrow of classical Greek-Roman paganism and the confession of Jesus as Lord by the nations; and iii) in a very hazy distance, the final destruction of sin and death and the renewal of heaven and earth.

I have also argued that what Jesus’ resurrection anticipated, as an act of divine vindication, was not, in the first place, the final resurrection of all the dead but the resurrection of the martyrs, in conjunction with the figurative “resurrection” of the people of God, at the parousia. This seems to me to be required, not least, by John’s distinction between a first resurrection of those who had been “beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God” and a second resurrection of all the dead at the end of the thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6, 12-13). It points to the fact that the overriding practical challenge facing the disciples of Jesus, the apostles and the churches was to remain true to their calling in the face of persecution until they were finally vindicated in the eyes of Israel and the nations for their beliefs regarding Jesus.

Armageddon and the making of history

The relocation of the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has given airtime to a right-wing, fundamentalist-Zionist (I refuse to use the word “evangelical” in this context) eschatological narrative that regards this provocative endorsement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as a big step towards a cataclysmic Armageddon in the Middle East and the second coming of Jesus. People in Australia are asking, “Is Trump a reincarnated King Cyrus, destined to herald the end of days?”

The answer, of course, is no. The chaos of the modern Middle East is as horrendous as history gets, but the fundamentalist theology that is being projected upon it is sheer fantasy, a flagrant and reprehensible abuse of scripture. In my view.

Why didn’t Jesus just come out and say it: God is going to punish you with violent destruction?

If Jesus believed that the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, with massive loss of life, would be an act of deliberate divine punishment, why didn’t he say so explicitly? Why is it that so many of the sayings about judgment that I listed from Luke’s Gospel come in the form of parables or rather cryptic allusions? Why is there no direct statement to the effect that the God who sent Jesus to Israel would violently punish his people within a generation.

Did Jesus avoid proclaiming a “day of vengeance” against Israel in the synagogue in Nazareth?

It is sometimes argued by people who think that Jesus had no interest in violence that when he applied Isaiah 61:1-2 to himself in the synagogue in Nazareth, he deliberately stopped short of proclaiming judgment against Israel:

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour….” (Lk. 4:17–19)

The violence of Jesus in the temple: setting a bad example

I am generally a hesitant tweeter, but yesterday, in an idle moment, I tagged Derek Vreeland in a tweet suggesting that his republished Missio Alliance article asking “Did Jesus Really Usher in the Kingdom of God?” underplays the future aspect of the coming of the kingdom of God. He kindly tweeted back with a link to an article on the wrath of God and the Christian response to terrorism, which goes some way towards correcting that impression but raises questions about how we understand the “wrath of God”.


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