Archive for October, 2010

Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? Col 1

October 29, 2010

Col 1:13-20: For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Christology is a major concern of Colossians. The Colossians’ fascination with or perhaps anxiety over ‘the powers’ was threatening to dethrone Christ as Lord of all. Thus, the letter was written to put ‘the powers’ in proper perspective and to argue for Christ’s absolute supremacy. A christological high point is found in the hymn-like passage 1:15-20, which looks like a further elaboration of the content of 1 Cor 8:6b: vv. 15-17 expands ‘through whom all things’, while vv. 18-20 elaborates on ‘we through him’. The basic movement of the passage is fairly clear. As Dunn notes, “from Christ’s (pre-existent) role in creation (first strophe) to his role in redemption (second strophe), from his relationship with the old creation (protology) to his relationship with the new (eschatology).” Indeed, although the hymn praises the exalted Son, the phrases ‘in him’ and ‘through him’ (1:16) leave “little doubt that a role in the original creation of the cosmos is attributed to God’s Son”. However, Dunn objects to reading this “imaginative metaphor in a pedantically literal way”, for assigning a real role in creation to the pre-existent Christ would constitute ditheism in his view. Instead,

“It must mean rather that the powerful action of God, expressed by the metaphor of the female Wisdom, in and through whom the universe came into being, is now to be seen as embodied in Christ, its character now made clear by the light of his cross and resurrection (1:18, 20).”

Again, according to Dunn’s construal, it is only Wisdom’s ideal pre-existence which is attributed to the Son. Yet, this suffers the same problems as his earlier analysis of 1 Cor 8:6 regarding both what constituted monotheism and how wisdom traditions may be applied to new situations. For instance, responding to Dunn, Schnabel states that “Paul asserts in Col. 1:16a that the act of creation (aorist ektisthē) depended causally on Christ—an assertion which does not make sense if Christ was not present at creation.” In other words, 1:16 entails the personal agency of the pre-existent Son. Thus, a solely, ideal pre-existence is inadequate. This is corroborated by the statement that the Son is ‘before all things’ (1:17), which connotes temporal priority to creation as well as pre-eminence over it. Further, a good case can be made that Wisdom is not in view in this passage either, for as Dunn acknowledges, εἰς (1:16; final causation) is not applied to wisdom in the tradition and so his straightforward identification of Christ with Wisdom is somewhat fragile. In fact, ties to Israel’s story of covenant and redemption are both explicit and closer than the alleged allusions to wisdom traditions. For example, ‘image of the invisible God’ picks up Gen 1: “The pre-existent lord of the world has become the human lord of the world, and in so doing has reflected fully… the God whose human image he has now come to bear.” (Wright) Further, as Keay argues, while ‘firstborn’ can refer to birth order, as Israel’s covenantal history progresses this meaning fades in significance, while the sense of ‘birth right’ which emphasizes special status, gains in importance. Eventually, this would centre on the promised Davidic king, so that in Col 1 we should understand ‘firstborn’ to connote a special kind of pre-eminence: messianic pre-eminence. Finally, the Son also holds all things together (1:17). Thus, in order to highlight Christ’s supremacy, Col 1:15-20 emphasizes that the Son is the eternal, pre-existent creator, the incarnate, messianic redeemer, and the sustainer of the universe. As such, the overall result is a letter in which Christ, the Son of God and exalted Lord, is absolutely preeminent – past, present, and future. And it is this pre-existent Son who was sent to rescue fallen humanity.

Up next: Gal 4:4-6; Rom 8:3-4. Series Link.


Daily Devotions with Spurgeon: 29th October

October 29, 2010

Maintain the Difference

And I will put a division between my people and your people: tomorrow shall this sign be. (Exodus 8:23)

Pharaoh has a people, and the Lord has a people. These may dwell together and seem to fare alike, but there is a division between them, and the Lord will make it apparent. There shall be great difference between the men of the world and the people of the LORD’s choice.

It is very conspicuous in the conversion of believers when their sin is put away, while unbelievers remain under condemnation. From that moment they become a distinct race, come under a new discipline, and enjoy new blessings. Their homes, henceforth, are free from the grievous swarms of evils which defile and torment many families.

Rest assured, tried believer, that though you have your troubles you are saved from swarms of worse ones, which infest the homes and hearts of the servants of the world’s prince. The Lord has put a division; see to it that you keep up the division in Spirit, aim, character, and company.

Daily Devotions with Spurgeon: 28th October

October 28, 2010

Sins of Ignorance

And it shall be forgiven them; for it is ignorance. (Numbers 15:25)

Because of our ignorance we may not be fully aware of our sins of ignorance. Yet we may be sure they are many, in the form both of commission and omission. We may be doing in all sincerity, as a service to God, that which He has never commanded and can never accept.

The Lord knows every unintentional sin. This may well alarm us, but faith spies comfort, for the Lord will see to it that stains unseen by us shall yet be washed away.

Our great comfort is that Jesus, the true priest, has made atonement for all the congregation of the children of Israel. His precious blood cleanses us from all sin. Whether our eyes have seen it and wept over it or not, God has seen it, Christ has atoned for it, the Spirit bears witness to the pardon of it, and so we have a threefold peace.

Father, I praise Thy divine knowledge, which not only perceives my iniquities but provides an atonement which delivers me from the guilt of them, even before I know that I am guilty.

Chris Wright: Integrity – Confronting Idols

October 27, 2010

This is a link for Chris Wright’s talk at the Lausanne conference in which he challenges the people of God to confront the idols of power and pride, wealth and greed. He calls the Church to repentance and simplicity.

Integrity – Confronting Idols.

Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? 1 Cor 8

October 27, 2010

1 Cor 8:4-6: Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth– as in fact there are many gods and many lords– yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

As we saw in Phil 2, Christ’s pre-existence is both real and personal, and includes equality with God. However, other texts add a new dimension to this pre-existence. Although, conceivably, Christ might have pre-existed as an angel or some other intermediary figure who later took on human form, texts such as 1 Cor 8:6 and Col 1:15-20 assert that ‘all things’ came into being through him (cf. Heb 1:2; John 1:3), which entails that he was therefore uncreated and, hence, eternally pre-existent. In 1 Cor 8-10, Paul has provided the Corinthians with a christological centre on which to base their beliefs and actions within a pagan world. Within this explicitly monotheistic argument Paul modifies the Shema (1 Cor 8:6, cf. Deut 6:4: The Lord our God, the Lord is one), glossing ‘God’ with ‘the Father’ and ‘Lord’ with ‘Jesus Christ’. Thus, Paul declared both the Father and the Son as intrinsic to the divine identity (i.e., who God is), and redefined Jewish monotheism as “christological monotheism”. To reinforce his argument, Paul also splits a familiar statement about God’s all-encompassing work of creation between Father and Son (cf. Rom 11:36a “all things are from, through, and for God”). There was no more unequivocal way to characterize God’s unique identity than to describe him as the creator of all. Thus, to speak of Christ as the instrumental cause of creation (δἰ οὗ τὰ πάντα), not only confirms his divine identity but also affirms his eternal pre-existence. Importantly, Paul does not argue for this but uses it as a position to argue from, which demonstrates as Fee notes, “that it can scarcely be other than the common stock of early Christian belief.” Nonetheless, there have been a number of objections to this conclusion.

Firstly, Kuschel argues that ‘all things’ does not refer to the totality of creation, but only to the new creation. Thus, Christ as the exalted lord is the one through whom the new creation was brought into being. Consequently, there can be no question of pre-existence. Yet, ‘all things from, through, and for’ was familiar God-talk and there is no evidence that Paul means anything less than Jewish writers normally meant by this phrase. Moreover, although by comparison with Rom 11:36 only one of the three prepositions is applied to Christ, “this does not mean that they no longer all describe the Creator’s relationship to the whole of creation. On the contrary, it means precisely that Christ is included in this relationship as the instrumental cause of creation.” (Bauckham)

Secondly, Giblin also denies pre-existence is connoted by ‘through whom are all things’ by arguing that it has a solely soteriological function. However, his interpretation is dependent on denying any connection to the similar phrase in Rom 11:36, and this is not convincing. Indeed, in 1 Cor 8:6b, ἡμεῖς δἰ αὐτοῦ is used to emphasize Christ’s redemptive role. Thus, both Christ’s creational and salvific roles are incorporated into Paul’s Christianized Shema.

Finally, Dunn says that there is pre-existence in view in 1 Cor 8:6, “But it is the preexistence of divine Wisdom. That is, the preexistence of God.” Thus, it is “not so much that Christ as Jesus of Nazareth had preexisted as such, but that preexistent Wisdom was now to be recognized in and as Christ.” So Christ is not the real and personal, pre-existent agent of creation, rather, he may be assigned only Wisdom’s ideal pre-existence. However, this is both artificial and improbable. As Hurtado responds “The problem with this is that it is not what the Pauline passage says.” Firstly, it is debatable that Wisdom is even in view here, for διά is never used to describe her role in creation. Further, whatever background traditions are drawn upon, we must allow for their adaption when applied to new situations. Thus, unlike Wisdom, since Christ is a person, his personal preexistence is presupposed. In fact, it seems certain that Christ’s pre-existence must be real and personal, for the same preposition is used to describe both his historical work of salvation and his role in creation (δἰ οὗ; δἰ αὐτοῦ). Therefore, although Dunn recognizes “conceptuality in transition”, he does appear to apply it inadequately on this issue. Indeed, Christ’s sharing in God’s eternal transcendence as the pre-existent agent of creation is even more explicit and apparent in Col 1:15-17.

Up next: Col 1. Series Link.

Daily Devotions with Spurgeon: 27th October

October 27, 2010

His Service, Face, Name

His servants shall serve him: and they shall see his face; and his name shall be on their forehead. (Revelation 22:3-4)

Three choice blessings will be ours in the Glory Land.

“His servants shall serve him.” No other lords shall oppress us. We shall serve Jesus always, perfectly, without weariness. This is heaven to a saint: in all things to serve Christ and to be owned by Him as His servant is our soul’s high ambition for eternity.

“And they shall see his face.” This makes the service delightful: indeed, it is the present reward of service. We shall know our Lord, for we shall see Him as He is. To see the face of Jesus is the utmost favour that the most faithful servant of the Lord can ask. What more could Moses ask than “Let me see thy face?”

“And his name shall be in their foreheads.” They gaze upon their Lord till His name is photographed upon their brows. They are acknowledged by Him, and they acknowledge Him.

O Lord, give us these three things in their beginnings now, that we may possess them in their fullness!

Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? Phil 2

October 26, 2010

Phil 2:5-11: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

For many, the only proper place to start this discussion is Phil 2:6-11, which is the scene of the most intense fighting over the question of pre-existence in Paul, especially 2:6-8. As Dunn observes, “Phil 2.6-11 certainly seems on the face of it to be a straightforward statement contrasting Christ’s pre-existent glory and post-crucifixion exaltation with his earthly humiliation.” Yet, he and others argue that this natural reading is in fact mistaken and that pre-existence has been read into the hymn by its subsequent interpreters. The most convincing argument for a purely human Christ is one which contends that Adam-theology is the hymn’s context: that the self-sacrifice of the human Jesus is contrasted with the Genesis story of Adam’s hubris in grasping at divinity. Like Adam, Christ was in the form/image of God, but instead of choosing to grasp at equality or likeness to God, Christ emptied himself, freely receiving the form of a slave (i.e. Adam’s condition after the fall), and became in the likeness of men who are now subject and enslaved to sin and corruption. Thus, Christ humbled himself, choosing “to embrace Adam’s lot, the fate which Adam had suffered by way of punishment”, being obedient even unto death. Therefore, in contrast to Adam’s condemnation and disgrace, God exalted Christ to cosmic lordship, which fulfils the destiny God had always intended for humanity. Thus, according to Dunn, it follows that “If Christ walks in Adam’s footsteps then Christ need be no more pre-existent than Adam.” Indeed, the very notion of pre-existence is more a “distraction than a help to interpretation.” However, this construal is riddled with difficulties.

As Dunn admits, his interpretation is “not immediately obvious.” In fact, “No mention is made of Adam” and his case is entirely based on “the recognition of allusions to Adam”. Thus, firstly, showing that μορφή and εἰκών are “near synonyms” is insufficient to demonstrate that ‘form of God’ is intended to refer to Adam as in the ‘image of God’. As Hurtado makes clear, the issue is whether “the specific expression en morphē theou is actually used interchangeably with eikōn theou in Greek texts.” And while ‘image of God’ is consistently used by subsequent writers to allude to this idea, “By contrast, morphē theou is never used anywhere in any allusion to Adam… [nor] in any other pre-Pauline Greek writing.” Dunn’s attempt to surmount this linguistic difficulty by appealing to poetic allusion will not do, for how could this be caught as an allusion, when even the prepositions of Gen 1:26 and Phil 2:6 are different (κατά; ἐν)? Secondly, for a purely human Christ, τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ must connote something which neither Adam nor Christ possessed, but at which Adam grasped (ἁρπαγμός), while Christ did not. However, as Wright points out, this is unlikely, for τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ must be held “in close connection with ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων [which] is the regular usage of the articular infinitive (here, τὸ εἶναι) to refer to ‘something previously mentioned or otherwise well known’.” Thus, as they function in a “nearly appositional way”, Christ already possesses equality with God. Furthermore, although “ἁρπαγμός” has been much debated, a growing consensus has emerged around Hoover and Wright’s analysis, which treats οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο as an idiomatic expression which refers to “the attitude one will take towards something which one already has… specifically, to the question of whether that attitude will or will not consist in taking advantage of this possessed object.”

Therefore, in this case, 2:6 indicates that Christ already possessed divine equality but refused to take advantage of it, thus affirming both his divinity and his attitude toward it. On this basis, 2:7 (‘but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness’) must be interpreted as the pre-existent Son choosing to become incarnate. Thus, as ‘emptying’ is the consequence of Christ’s free choice, it is also the crucial factor marking off a pre-existence that is truly personal from one that simply amounts to being elected, with respect to role and destiny, in the mind or purpose of God. Furthermore, the dramatic sequence of Christ ‘being in God’s form’ to ‘having taken a slave’s form’ does clearly seem to imply in this context the transition from one state (divine pre-existence) to another (human existence). Dunn recognizes this problem and argues that taking a slave’s form reflects Christ’s entire life, but this blurs the clear-cut nature of the exchange and the three aorist participles make this intrinsically unlikely. A traditional three-stage Christology (form of God, form of slave, exaltation) makes the best sense of the hymn. It is unnecessary to rule out completely any echo of Adam grasping at that to which he had no right by contrast with the humble Christ who refused to exploit what was already his. However, using an Adamic framework as an interpretive straightjacket to deny pre-existence, in the end, seems untenable. Dunn himself even admits that it is possible to conclude there is an allusion here to Adam without that ruling out pre-existence. Overall, in contrast to oriental despots, the pre-existent one who became known as Jesus understood his divine equality, not as something to exploit, but as involving self-negation even to the point of redemptive suffering and death. His humility thus serves as the supreme example for the squabbling Philippians to follow (2:1-4).

Next up: 1 Cor 8:4-6. Series Link.

Daily Devotions with Spugeon: 26th October

October 26, 2010

Because of Us

For the elect’s sake those days will be shortened. (Matthew 24:22)

For the sake of His elect, the Lord withholds many judgments and shortens others. In great tribulations the fire would devour all were it not that, out of regard to His elect, the Lord damps the flame.

What an honour is thus put upon saints! How diligently they ought to use their influence with their Lord! He will hear their prayers for sinners and bless their efforts for their salvation. Many a sinner lives because of the prayers of a mother, or wife, or daughter to whom the Lord has respect.

Have we used aright the singular power with which the Lord entrusts us? Do we pray for our country, for other lands, and for the age? Do we, in times of war, famine, pestilence, stand out as intercessors, pleading that the days may be shortened? Let us get to our knees and never rest till Christ appeareth.

Recent Methodist-Anglican Dialogue in Ireland

October 25, 2010

As most of you will know, the Lausanne Movement for mission and evangelism is currently meeting in Cape Town. In my humble opinion, the holy grail for more successful mission is a unified church. What better witness could there be to the powers and principalities than that they are forced to say of us “see how they love one another”? In fact, didn’t someone say at some time something about being one as he and his Father were one? Or, some wordy bloke, who wrote lots of letters, scribbling some piffle about being one body with one baptism under one Lord? Yeah, you vaguely remember hearing that somewhere, don’t you?

Anyway, over the past few years in particular there seems to be genuine hope that the dialogue between the Church of Ireland (Anglican) and the Methodist Church in Ireland, which has led to a Covenant between the Churches, might actually bring us down a path towards eventual unity (or something like that). Who knows? One can dream. Anyhow, as I’m very, very slowly trying to get on top of Anglican and Methodist history and theology at the moment, I thought it might be of interest to my fellow ecumenical dreamers if I sketched out what’s been happening on the little emerald isle. Thankfully, a very good friend of mine, the Rev. Peter Thompson (peace be upon him) who is Rector of St. Michael’s Castlecaulfield and St. Patrick’s Donaghmore is on the inside and in the loop and will keep me right as I proceed with a few posts dedicated to summarising the dialogue (based principally on his thesis and bending his ear).

So, to follow over the next while will be posts briefly outlining the divisions between the Churches from the beginning of Methodism to the unity in India between Anglicans and Methodists, and through to a quick depiction of early 20th century dialogue in Ireland. Further, some description of the contribution of the Joint Theological Working Party in Ireland and the Covenant which was agreed upon, as well as how matters might be furthered. At least, that’s the plan. We’ll see what happens 😉

Pre-existence of the Son in Paul?

October 25, 2010

Mark Goodacre’s latest NT Podcast fairly and succinctly argues that Paul did believe in the pre-existence of Jesus the Son of God. However, while scholars tend to agree that the attribution of a full-blown notion of pre-existence to Christ is found in the later Johannine literature, there is far less consensus with respect to Paul. Indeed, with the greater interest in all things christological in recent years, the denial of a Pauline doctrine of pre-existence by Kuschel and others has become something of a flashpoint in contemporary discussions of Pauline Christology.

Moreover, this division is compounded because the historical question of what exactly the ‘pre-existence of Christ’ connotes, elicits no simple answer. For example, at one end of the spectrum, Kuschel and Dunn (who must be major conversations partners in this discussion) argue that only an ‘ideal’ pre-existence is attributed to Christ by Paul; something similar to the ‘pre-existence’ of Wisdom or of the Torah in later rabbinic thought. However, while this ‘ideal’ pre-existence is essentially the same as divine foreknowledge or predestination, it is in stark contrast to the traditional Christian view of Christ’s ‘real’ pre-existence: the belief that the one subsequently known as Jesus Christ somehow had a personal history with God prior to his human life. In fact, its denial has prompted several robust responses for it seems to stab at the very heart of the Christian doctrines of Christ’s deity, incarnation and his redemptive actions, in which the pre-existent Son embarks from heaven on a mission to rescue fallen humanity. Just as sheer indulgence, I’m going to blog some musings this week on the focal points in the debate – those texts which garner the most support for a Pauline doctrine of real pre-existence, namely: Phil 2:6-8; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15-17; Gal 4:4; Rom 8:3; 1 Cor 10:4, 9.

Series Link.

Daily Devotions with Spurgeon: 25th October

October 25, 2010

God First, Then Extras

Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)

See how the Bible opens: “In the beginning God.” Let your life open in the same way. Seek with your whole soul, first and foremost, the kingdom of God, as the place of your citizenship, and His righteousness as the character of your life. As for the rest, it will come from the Lord Himself without your being anxious concerning it. All that is needful for this life and godliness “shall be added unto you.”

What a promise this is! Food, raiment, home, and so forth, God undertakes to add to you while you seek Him. You mind His business, and He will mind yours. And just so, all that we need of earthly things we shall have thrown in with the kingdom. Away with anxious care; set all your mind upon seeking the Lord. Covetousness is poverty, and anxiety is misery: trust in God is an estate, and likeness of God is a heavenly inheritance.

Audio: Duke’s Convocation & Pastor’s School

October 24, 2010

The audio recordings for Duke Divinity School’s recent conferences are now available on iTunesU, and can be found here. These includes lectures by, among others, Tom Wright, Rob Bell, and Andy Crouch.