The Lord’s Supper in narrative-historical perspective

There are two main debates that the church has engaged in over the Lord’s Supper, one having to do with theory, the other with practice. First, what is the relation between the physical elements of the “meal” and the person of Jesus? Is Jesus really present in the substance of the bread and the wine? Or are they merely symbolic representations of his sacrificial death for the sins of humanity? Or something in between? Secondly, should the Lord’s Supper be celebrated ritualistically, as a profound sacramental mystery, or pragmatically, as a common fellowship meal? Or something in between?

The two questions are closely linked. If we believe that the bread and wine have been changed into the actual body and blood of Jesus, then we will handle them with great reverence and ceremony. If they are the symbolic means of commemorating a past event in the context of an ordinary meal, then the celebration can be much more informal. Or something in between.

The meteor sighting on the road to Damascus: why do we believe what we believe?

William Hartman is the co-founder of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, which presumably makes him a reputable scientist. In a March 2015 article in the journal Meteorites and Planetary Science, which is presumably a reputable scientific publication—you get a bit wary about these things—he argues that the bright light that Paul saw as he approached Damascus could have been a fireball meteor like the one seen above Chelyabinsk in Russia in 2013. The points of correspondence are moderately impressive.

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.


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