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

Not all who say, “Lord, Lord”, know what they’re talking about

What it means to call Jesus “Lord” has been a big bone of contention over the last decade or so. I have had a lot to say on the matter here, there, etc., and on Facebook recently. Many people are convinced by a syllogistic Trinitarian logic: YHWH = Lord, Jesus = Lord, therefore Jesus = YHWH. Others, myself included, think that Jesus is confessed as “Lord” because the authority entailed in lordship has been graciously bestowed upon him by God (cf. Phil. 2:9-11).

This latter ante-Trinitarian line of thought can be made to serve different theological agendas. My own view is that it is not an argument against Trinitarianism (that is, anti-Trinitarian). It is an argument for a narrative-historical reading of the New Testament that foregrounds the kingdom-political significance of Jesus in the first century context. This is not the whole story, but it is by far the most important narrative thread in the New Testament, running from the announcement to Mary that her son would receive the “throne of his father David” (Lk. 1:32) through to the fall of Babylon the great in Revelation 18-19. I think it needs to be better understood—at the expense of the classic Trinitarian paradigm if necessary.

Did God die on the cross? Part 1

This has been giving me a headache.

Luke has Paul say to the Ephesian elders: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). In a sermon posted last week on The Gospel Coalition site Jason Helopolous insists that the last part means what it says—or, at least, what it appears to say: God saved or preserved the church “through his own blood” (dia tou haimatou tou idiou).

This has to be wrong, surely?

Trump vs. Kim: what does Jesus have to say about it?

In good off-the-cuff biblical language Donald Trump has warned that North Korea’s recent salvo of threats “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”.

Jesus said that the Roman assault on Jerusalem would result in “such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be” (Mk. 13:19). Josephus shared his view: “Accordingly it appears to me, that the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to these of the Jews, are not so considerable as they were” (War 1.12). Both of them, I imagine, were recalling Daniel 12:1: “there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time”.

The centurion at the cross and the lack of a definite article

What did the centurion at the cross believe about Jesus? Did he believe that Jesus was the true Son of God? Did he believe that he was equivalent to the divinised emperor? Or did he merely agree with popular Jewish opinion that Jesus was a righteous man (and not the first), who had been unjustly put to death by the corrupt régime? In other words, why was last week’s post about “a son of God” and not about “the Son of God”?

The problem for interpretation, in the first place, is that in this type of sentence it can be difficult to know whether the Greek phrase huios theou (“son of God”) is definite or indefinite—“the Son of God” or “a son of God”.

When the centurion, who stood opposite him, saw that he expired in this way, he said, “Truly, this man was a son / the Son of God (huios theou ēn).” (Mk. 15:39)

Melchizedek and the Son of God

This is a quick response to Mark Nieweg’s question, following yesterday’s post on Jesus as the Son of God, whether Hebrews 7:13 is an argument for the eternal existence of the Son of God: “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever” (ESV).

It is, and it isn’t.

Truly this man was a son of God: Jesus, kingdom and the divinity of Caesar

Theological accounts of Jesus tend to portray him as a divine figure who descended to earth at a certain moment in human history, died on the cross for the sins of humanity, and then returned to heaven. Historical accounts place him firmly within a story about Israel under Roman occupation in the first century.

In the theological paradigm Jesus is the eternal Son of God—or God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. In the historical narrative “Son of God” has quite different connotations, but since Caesar was also acclaimed as “son of a god” or “god”, perhaps it can be argued that history arrives at the theological conclusion by another route.

From Augustus onwards the emperor took the Latin title divi filius, “son of the divinised”, which in Greek inscriptions was translated theou huios. In the Latin West the basic procedure was to divinise an emperor after his death; therefore, his son was the son of a divine person. In the Greek-speaking eastern part of the empire, which is the setting for the writing of most of the New Testament, the tendency was to regard the emperor as theos while he was alive.

How does Paul fill up what is lacking of Christ’s sufferings?

My friend Joel White—well, technically I suppose he’s the brother of my friend Wes, but the brother of my friend is my friend—kindly sent me a copy of an article he wrote on Colossians 1:24 because we had a chat about this once. It’s a pet theme of mine. The article is entitled “Paul Completes the Servant’s Sufferings (Colossians 1:24)” and was published last year in the Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters (6.2). This post is really just a personal rejoinder to Joel.

The article offers a solution to this puzzling verse, and not one that I had come across before.

Now I rejoice in the sufferings for your sake, and I complete (antanaplērō) what is lacking of the afflictions of the Christ in my flesh for the sake of his body, which is the church.

The theological problem is immediately apparent. How could Paul think that there was a deficiency in Christ’s sufferings? How could he be so presumptuous as to imagine that he could remedy the matter?

Christian political witness and the stone of stumbling

What is Christian political witness? In an age of both political upheaval and the headlong marginalisation of the church it’s a good question to ask. In a cogently written piece on Political Theology Today Alastair Roberts argues that:

Christian political witness must be built around and declare Christ as the great eschatological stone laid by God. He must either be approached as the stubborn obstacle, arresting the development of all idolatrous political visions, or as the chief cornerstone, the sure and solid basis from [which] all else can take its bearings.

He arrives at this conclusion by way of a reading of 1 Peter 2:4-10. The passage is a call to those who are “elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Pet. 1:1) to become part of a living, eschatological temple, built on the stone that was rejected by the builders but which God used as “the very head of the corner”.


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