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

Digging for deeper meanings that don’t exist

Jerel Kratt has been making a vigorous case against my suggestion that Isaiah 60-66 describes an enhanced but essentially historical future for Israel that was not fulfilled, either in the decades after the return from exile or in the events narrated in the New Testament.

He thinks that Isaiah was not talking about a new Jerusalem on earth but a new Jerusalem in heaven. I don’t see anything in the text to support that contention.

Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: the eschatology of Isaiah 60-66

In “21 reasons why the coming of the kingdom of God was not the end of the world” I stated that “There is no new creation in the Old Testament…, only kingdom.” There are, however, two explicit references to new creation in the Old Testament, both in the third part of Isaiah: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth”, and “as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me” (Is. 65:17; 66:22). Have I got it wrong, then?

21 reasons why the coming of the kingdom of God was not the end of the world

I recently took part in a recorded conversation with Matt Hartke for Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? programme on Premier Christian Radio. It will be broadcast and made available on podcast some time in the next few weeks, I believe.

Matt has been on a long journey of faith and theology. You can read his story on his Fifth Act Theology blog. He set out from the bondage of a rigid futurist eschatology a while back, and after a sojourn in sunny Caird-Wright-land, which he documents very well on his blog, he has now ended up in bleak agnostic exile. That’s disappointing because I’m inclined to think that the historical method of Caird and Wright, or something like it, is the best hope that the church has for maintaining the relevance of the Jesus-story after Christendom.

Signs in the heavens and distress on earth

In Matthew and Mark Jesus speaks of events in the heavens prior to the revelation of the Son of Man: the darkening of sun and moon, the falling of the stars, the shaking of the powers of heaven (Matt. 24:29; Mk. 13:24-25). In response to Dale Allison’s argument that Jesus expected a literal remaking of the natural order to come at the climax of Israel’s history, I made the point that actually Jesus has nothing to say about events on earth. Cosmic-scale events are confined to the heavens.

Dale Allison on Jesus and the end of the world (or not)

Shortly before his arrest in Jerusalem, as Mark tells the story, Jesus made a prediction: after a period of severe tribulation the sun and moon would be darkened, the stars would fall from heaven, the powers of heaven would be shaken, people would see “the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory”, and the Son of Man would send out his angels to “gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (Mk. 13:24-27).

The “tribulation” is a reference to the sequence of events described in Mark 13:3-23, which can reasonably be understood as a prediction of war against Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Jesus is telling his disciples what they should expect and how they should behave as the crisis unfolds, culminating in a warning about false Christs and false prophets.

But at verse 24 the language shifts gear; we enter a vividly apocalyptic mode of discourse, and the question arises whether we have moved beyond the stuff of ordinary history. It sounds as though Jesus is now talking about disruption on a cosmic scale.

Son of Man: title, self-reference, or narrative?

I’m a little mystified by Larry Hurtado’s argument about “the son of man” as an “Obsolete Phantom”.

He is taking issue with the now rather dated view that when Jesus spoke of “the son of man”, he was referring to someone other than himself, namely a heavenly, eschatological redeemer figure bearing the title “the Son of Man”, familiar to a sufficient number of apocalyptically minded first century Jews for him not to have to explain whom he was talking about.

The reason this idea is now out of fashion is that since the 1970s it has become apparent that there is no evidence for the ‘supposed use of “the son of man” as a fixed title for any figure in second-temple Jewish tradition’.

Did Jesus believe that Gentiles would be included in the renewed people of God?

I argued last week that Jesus believed that his mission would lead not to a fundamentally new people of God, following the destruction of national Israel, but to the restoration and renewal of Israel, on the basis of repentance and Jesus’ atoning death, under a new covenant and a new régime.

But what about the Gentiles? Is there any indication in the Synoptic Gospels that Jesus expected Gentiles to be involved in this whole thing? I will suggest that the answer to this question is yes, but not in the way we usually think.

Just to be clear, I am neither a Preterist nor a Unitarian

I saw a comment on a Reddit thread which said that this blog “takes a conservative unitarian view of things”, adding, “It’s very well-argued.” I also get accused of being a Preterist from time to time, though not so much recently. I understand how the misunderstandings arise, but I want to make it clear that, as far as I am concerned, I am neither a Preterist nor a Unitarian. Call it disingenuous, but there you are.

The hermeneutic I work with is the narrative-historical one. It leads to a reading of the New Testament that emphasises the historical perspective of Jesus and the apostles, in continuity with Israel’s telling of its story. One consequence of this is that I relate a good chunk of New Testament “eschatology” to historical events—basically the catastrophe of the war against Rome and the eventual confession of Jesus as Lord by the nations of the Greek-Roman world. I also think that there is a final horizon of a final judgment and renewal of heaven and earth.

Jesus and the restoration of Israel according to Matthew

My response to Peter Wilkinson’s attempt to show from Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus had no thought of reforming or restoring Israel as a nation has grown too long to post as a comment. My contention, more or less in agreement with Caird and Wright, is that the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels announced a coming judgment on the state of Israel, largely because of the corruption and obduracy of the ruling elites, but he nevertheless expected the people of Israel to continue under a new covenant in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies, with himself as its true king.

What took us so long? G.B. Caird on the historical Jesus

I was pointed to G.B. Caird’s Ethel M. Wood Lecture “Jesus and the Jewish Nation” last week. The lecture was delivered in 1965 and published by The Athlone Press. It can be downloaded from Rob Bradshaw’s BiblicalStudies.org.uk.

I tend to trace my understanding of Jesus’ eschatology back to Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, which was published in 1996. But Caird’s lecture gives us a brilliant, vivid, precise and very accessible sketch of the reading, in much the same language, from thirty years earlier. Wright acknowledges the influence of Caird—“it was his little book Jesus and the Jewish Nation that provided the clue to a fresh line of thought” (JVG xix). But still, you have to wonder why it has taken us so long.


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