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)

The rich man, Lazarus and Abraham

I’ve written about the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31) a couple of times (see below), mainly for the purpose of dismissing the popular doctrine of hell. I missed an intriguing intertextual detail, however, that is attributed to Simon Perry in a Wikipedia article, though Nolland makes passing reference to it. The fact that Lazarus is named is sometimes taken as evidence that this is not a parable, that Jesus is thinking rather of two real historical people, one of whom has gone to suffer eternal conscious torment in hell. But there appears to be a much more compelling and meaningful explanation.

The proclamation of the gospel is the “narration of past history” (Hengel)

I’m currently teaching an Introduction to the New Testament class at St John’s Nottingham. I started last week with a quotation from Martin Hengel: “There cannot… be any proclamation of the gospel which is not at the same time a narration of past history.” That can be taken in different ways, but if we are going to make “gospel” a defining factor in what we are here for, our mission, then to connect it closely in this way with the narration of past history seems to me exactly right. Perhaps we can even put it the other way round: the narration of past history is the proclamation of good news. It certainly was for the early church.

What I will try to show in this introductory course is that the historical material is not just more-or-less-optional background to the self-sufficient content of the New Testament. It is the whole point of the New Testament. If we don’t slot the story of the New Testament into the story of Israel as it was being remembered and experienced in the first century, we will misunderstand Jesus, his mission, and the message of the early church about him.


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