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

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Andrew – I don’t think we have ever discussed Malachi 3-4 before. I always find your posts highly interesting, and the fact that I dispute them does not mean that I have negative intentions. Website discussions are a cyber-game in part; you post your ideas; I dispute them – it’s iron sharpening iron, though the benefit is far more to me than you. I don’t think you can dismiss what I say quite as easily as you do, though.


If Malachi 3-4 is entirely about an impending judgement against Israel and the temple, and a narrative thereof, why is it that so many of the details do not fit the narrative to which you say the gospel writers were alluding? Were they just picking and choosing? Actually, I think you are doing that; they were being far more allusive. Jesus’s actions were eschatological, not in a sense of a 1st century story about Israel, but in the broader sense of bringing forward into his own time events which spoke of the end of time and final judgement. This was true of his introduction of the new creation through his resurrection, and the impartation of new creation realities to his followers who believed in him. The new creation speaks of a state of affairs to come at the end of time.  Some of the realities of that state of affairs were (and continue to be) experienced by followers of Jesus, when they received the Spirit (the Spirit poured out, the gift of the Spirit, being baptised by the Spirit). All you are doing is selectively limiting that Spirit baptism, which occurred at Pentecost and on subsequent Spirit receptions throughout Acts, to one aspect only of Malachi 3-4 which you pick up in the Matthew and Luke passages.


When you look carefully at the Matthew and Luke passages, you can see allusions to the Spirit which are more pertinent, such as “fire” in Luke 3:16-17, which is associated with the Spirit in its first reference (the Spirit being consistently linked with the favour of the new covenant in the OT and NT) and judgement in its second reference. “Fire” is picked up in Acts 2:3 and following, which I would have thought, as an extension of Luke’s gospel, is even more a neighbour of Luke 3:16 than Malachi 3-4. All of this I have spelled out as succinctly but carefully as I can in my comment, which you think does not merit any consideration. I have also very carefully pointed out a double-edged effect of the Spirit’s activity, so clearly presented in Luke 3:16-17, which is associated with the activity of Jesus himself, as the winnower. The wheat was preserved in the barn, the chaff discarded. Likewise, the Spirit continues the work of Jesus, in the rest of Acts, and to this very day. I’m sorry you can’t (won’t?) see the argument.


Isaiah 66, from which Luke3:17 may draw its imagery, is not simply a narrative about Israel in the sense that you want it to be; it is about the ingathering of the Gentiles. In view of the way in which the gentiles were ingathered in Acts, we have to balance how the narrative actually worked out with the scenario as  Isaiah saw it. Unlike the conclusion to your third paragraph, it can be said that the narrative here fits the worldwide consequences of Jesus’s actions (and intentions) perfectly. In the call between the two interpretations, the advantage of the viewpoint I hold to is that it is entirely credible; the problem with yours is that it is almost entirely incredible, when applied to events as they unfolded (and continue to unfold) in history.  When we face that choice in trying to apply interpretation to history, it’s best to look at whether a credible interpretation of the texts is better than an incredible one, however closely argued the incredible position may be. In any case, I have never disputed that impending judgement on Israel needs to be taken into account in the passages under consideration; I’m simply saying that this does not exhaust their significance – for the exegetical and historical reasons I have described.


There is nothing disgraceful in illustrating that the NT as a whole speaks with a surprisingly unified voice. The “gift” of the Spirit described in Acts 2 chimes with “gift” as descriptive language in Paul; reinforced by its attachment to the word “life”, which is regularly used of the Spirit. You have simply decided that the context of Matthew and Luke will be limited to – well, whatever you want it to be limited to. I’m simply arguing that there is a broader scriptural context. Nothing disgraceful in that.


Mark 10:38 suggests cup and baptism as a cup and baptism of judgement and suffering; and that is promised also to the disciples in 10:39 – so it cannot entirely be the unique suffering of judgement which Jesus was about to undergo, which he and no one else could experience (and why do you suppose that was?). However, even here there is a double-edged quality to the words; the cup is also the cup of the blood of the covenant in Mark 14:24, which Jesus and all the disciples drank together. Here, the cup speaks of forgiveness of sins, which in its broader sense means the conferring of the new covenant, which Jesus was about to share with his disciples. Not a cup of judgement to those who drank it, but a cup of grace and forgiveness. The simple, unqualified baptism of the Holy Spirit which John foretells in Mark 1:11 is far more likely to describe the eschatological favour implied in that event than judgement, but as I’ve argued, there is a double-edged significance to the Spirit’s activity and Spirit baptism, which other passages describe.


This double-edged Spirit activity can be seen in the next passage you quote – Luke 12:49-50. The fire Jesus came to cast on the land is not simply the fire of judgement, as we can see from the granting of the Spirit in Acts. The baptism he was to be baptised with was a baptism of suffering; but the division he promised on the land is entirely of a piece with the role and activity of the Spirit, bringing cleansing, power and passion to those who believed, and judgement on those who did not believe. (Passionate powerful resistance in many cases).


I’ll anticipate you over the meaning of Pentecost – you’ve advanced your interpretation before. There is, in my view, both judgement and salvation in the description from Joel which Peter employs. This is a continuation of the argument that can be seen at each significant point of the Spirit’s activity. However, you are (probably) about to selectively disregard the significance of the Spirit as evidence of the favour of the new covenant by taking Pentecost exclusively as a prophetic sign of impending disaster. Surprise me, by saying you won’t!