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

Some standing here will not taste death...

Sitting in the London School of Theology library yesterday I was flicking through David Turner’s Baker Exegetical Commentary on Matthew and came across his discussion of this passage:

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. (Matt. 16:27–28)

Turner thinks that verse 27 “clearly refers to the coming of Jesus to the earth and the final judgment”, listing a number of passages in support: the parable of the harvest at the “close of the age” (Matt. 13:40-41), Jesus’ statement about the coming of the Son of Man in the Olivet discourse (24:30-31), the judgment of the nations, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne accompanied by his angels (25:31), and Jesus’ retort to the high priest that he will “see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (26:64).

Turner then notes the problem of verse 28, which is ‘perplexing because it stresses the certainty of this future coming by stating that some of Jesus’s contemporaries will live to see “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”’.

Sinning against Christ and the argument for a divine christology

Chris Tilling has taken the trouble to reply at some length to my review of his contribution to How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature. I want to address the issues he raises, not with a view to picking a fight with him—honestly, Chris—but because the points he makes are astute and I think worth exploring further. Plus he’s annoyingly entertaining.

The main issues have to do with  my so-called “lordship narrative”, how it relates to the Pauline data, and my dubious reasons for promoting it. I’ll get on to these weighty matters in another post, but to cover myself I will say this: I do not regard the “lordship narrative” (as I understand it) and a “divine christology” as mutually incompatible, but I do not think that the current proponents of an early high christology take adequate account of how the apocalyptic narrative works, not just in Paul but in the whole of the New Testament. 

Meanwhile, here I want to deal with a particular bone of contention—1 Corinthians 8:12:

Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

Origen, Jesus, and the kingdoms of the world (in narrative-historical perspective)

I’ve been reading the Fathers, trying to get a better idea of the catastrophe that befell the Jewish story about Jesus, which is part of the story of Israel, as the church put down cultural and intellectual roots in the Greek-Roman world. Somewhat by-the-by, I came across this passage from Origen in J. Stevenson’s A New Eusebius (220-21). Origen is explaining why he doesn’t think everything in scripture is to be taken literally. He considers first the creation story: “what man of intelligence will believe that the first and the second and the third day, and the evening and the morning existed without the sun and moon and stars?” Well, John D. Morris, PhD, from the Institute for Creation Research, for one—the old man must be rolling his eyes in his grave. But then Origen moves swiftly on to the Gospels:

Even the gospels are full of passages of this kind, as when the devil takes Jesus up a high mountain in order to show him from thence the kingdoms of the whole world and the glory of them. For what man who does not read such passages carefully would fail to condemn those who believe that with the eye of the flesh, which requires a great height to enable us to perceive what is below and at our feet, the kingdoms of the Persians, Scythians, Indians and Parthians were seen, and the manner in which their rulers are glorified by men? (Origen, De Principiis 4.16)

Missional pneumatology: is the Spirit active outside the church?

The piece I wrote last week on the difficulties that post-charismatics can have finding an honest place for the gifts of the Spirit in a justice-oriented “missional” framework provoked a rather aggrieved response from Michael Frost on Facebook. That appears to have been largely a matter of misunderstanding, for which I must take some responsibility. It was cleared up, more or less, in the comments. But as part of his response, in order to show that the missional movement has a strong pneumatology, Michael put up a series of excerpts from his chapter in a book called Following Fire, edited by Cheryl Catford. There is much in this material that seems uncontroversial—or perhaps better, controversial in a good way. This paragraph, for example, sums up rather well at least part of what I was trying to say in my misunderstood post:

But if the Holy Spirit is present in a local congregation then surely he would be saying more to us than that we are loved by the Father. Certainly the Spirit’s work is that of building up the assurance of the individual disciple, but we must adopt a stance that reckons the Spirit’s voice also calls us to champion justice, to demonstrate mercy and to announce the Lordship of Jesus and that these callings have practical, local outworkings.

But one section stands out—to my mind—as being seriously problematic if we are going to maintain continuity with a biblical understanding of the Spirit and mission. Under the heading “The Spirit Beyond the Church” Michael makes the following assertions….

How might the post-charismatic “missional” church rediscover the gifts of the Spirit?

We had an interesting session on the gifts of the Spirit last night in Harlesden. Many in the church are from a charismatic background but seemed wary about pursuing the conversation. One young woman put the choice rather starkly—she could spend her time praying that someone’s back-ache would improve, or she could work for social justice.

For many in the missional, postmodern-evangelical—or whatever we want to call it—camp the whole charismatic phenomenon appears now as a claustrophobic, self-indulgent, sensationalist, stultifying, and all too often abusive aberration. If we are not bored with it, we are confused by it. If we are not confused by it, we have been let down by it. If we have not been let down by it, we have been badly burnt by it. The bottom line? We don’t want to go back there. Can we please now just get on and do something useful in the world?

Why does Jesus give the kingdom back in the end and become subject again to God?

Bob Macdonald is feeling a little grumpy but he asks a good question about Paul’s belief i) that at the end Jesus will deliver the kingdom to God the Father, and ii) that “the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:24-28). Bob wonders:

…how can one who is Lord, and who is given the Name that is above every name, refuse his own identity at the end? What roots in the OT resonate with this? It almost seems like groundless theological speculation.

True, there is nothing in the Old Testament that would directly account for this eschatological twist—at least, nothing that I can think of. But I wouldn’t dismiss it as “groundless theological speculation”.

Is Jesus included in the “divine identity” in 1 Corinthians 8:6?

Following a bit of an exchange on Facebook, I have been looking again at the now widely accepted contention, associated especially with Wright, Bauckham and Fee, that in 1 Corinthians 8:6 Paul has taken the extraordinary step of including Jesus in the Shema and therefore in the divine identity. The Shema reads: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4 LXX). The argument is that Paul has taken this traditional confession and divided it between the Father and the Son: “for us one God, the Father, from whom all things and we for him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things and we through him” (1 Cor. 8:5-6).

The book of Acts as political-religious narrative

I’ve put this up for a couple of reasons. First, I’m pulling together some ideas for teaching on Acts at a mission conference in the summer, and a rough narrative outline is a good place to start, though how much use I’ll make of it remains to be seen.

Secondly, someone got in touch recently asking if I could recommend a commentary on Acts that takes a narrative-historical line. Not really, to be honest. I imagine Tom Wright’s Acts for Everyone - Part 1 Chapters 1-12 (New Testament for Everyone) (Chapters 1-12 Pt. 1) would go some way in the right direction. I’m also looking forward to Steve Walton’s commentary when it eventually appears. Robert Wall reads Acts as part of a “master” story about “what God has done to bring salvation to the world” ( The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 10: Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians , 18). That rather downplays the “kingdom” motif, I think. I haven’t made much use of Craig Keener’s incomplete  Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: Introduction and 1:1-2:47 , but judging by the introduction it appears to take a more or less standard approach—historical-critical, on the one hand, salvation-historical, on the other.

Who are the “elect” in Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse?

I argued in a couple of posts recently that Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse in Matthew 24 has reference exclusively to the siege of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the significance of this catastrophe for Jesus’ disciples. I maintain, in agreement with Dick France on this point, that the paragraph about the shaking of the heavens, the appearance of the Son of Man, and the sending out of the angels speaks of circumstances that would transpire in conjunction with the fall of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:29-31). See It’s not eschatology, folks, it’s just a story and Assessing Dick France’s argument about the parousia of the Son of Man in Matthew.

The imagery of abnormal cosmic darkness is commonly used in the Old Testament for judgment on a city or nation. The tribes of the land will see the Son of Man who suffered—that is, Jesus—vindicated, and coming with power and glory. He will “send out his angels to gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other”. As these things unfold, the disciples will know that the Son of Man is at the gates, their redemption is drawing near, the kingdom of God is near (Matt. 24:33; Lk. 21:28, 31).

Assessing Dick France’s argument about the parousia of the Son of Man in Matthew

In a comment on my recent post It’s not eschatology, folks, it’s just a story Ian Paul kindly took me to task for not consulting Dick France’s The Gospel of Matthew (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) . I used France’s commentary on Mark when writing The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church , but the Matthew commentary came out a couple of years later. I have since got hold of a copy, and I have to say, it hasn’t changed my view.

France’s argument is basically that whereas in Mark 13 Jesus speaks only about the fall of Jerusalem and its significance for the renewal of God’s people, in Matthew 24-25 he makes a fundamental temporal distinction between the vindication of the Son of Man in conjunction with the destruction of the temple and the parousia of the Son of Man at the close of the age. There are five main lines of support for this argument, which I have summarized below. I give my reasons for not being persuaded. Be warned. It’s a little complex….


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