Saturday, 26 November 2016

Christian Holocaust Theology

Stephen R. Haynes, “Christian Holocaust Theology: A Critical Reassessment,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 62/2 (1994): 553-585, focuses on a group of thinkers, primarily North Americans, who  locate the fundamental historical failure of Christendom in its understanding and treatment of the Jew. None of them has used the term “Holocaust Theology” to describe their work, and Paul van Buren at least explicitly disapproves of it. Haynes defines
Holocaust Theology as any sustained theological reflection for which the slaughter of six million Jews functions as a criterion, whether the Shoah displaces or merely qualifies traditional theological criteria and norms such as Scripture, tradition, reason, and religious experience...
Explicitly or obliquely, each approach communicates the message that the Holocaust signals the moral bankruptcy of any theological reflection which lacks an awareness of anti-Judaism’s deep roots in Christian faith and the ongoing complicity of Christians in Jewish suffering.

Haynes explores the question whether the Holocaust has revelatory significance and what such a claim might entail, welcomes the service provided by Christian Holocaust Theologians when they assume “the role of the theological bloodhound sensitized to the distinctive signs of Christian anti-Judaism” but notes that “approaches to the complex Arab-Israeli conflict” are sometimes “simplistic, even dangerous.” He observes that for Christian Holocaust Theologians the restoration of Jewish life and culture in the state of Israel is a providential miracle that carries a message for the church. Sometimes the Shoa and Israel’s restoration replace the death and resurrection of Christ as the central theological datum. These and similar claims partly explain the cold response from many in the pews to Holocaust Theology.

The limitations of Christian Holocaust Theology:
  • “the Holocaust Theologians’ compensatory Christian Zionism is often accompanied by a less than critical perspective on Middle Eastern politics” with the suffering of Palestinians frequently overlooked
  • “its proclivity for assuming continuity between Christian Jew-hatred and Nazi anti-Semitism in ways that are unnuanced or historically problematic”

Haynes notes that some of the more traditional, apologetic theologians can be accused of a similarly simplistic rhetoric of discontinuity, as if Christians were not at all involved in the murder of Jews. But this is not helpfully countered by wedding  Christian and Nazi brands of anti-Semitism in “emotionally powerful, but historically dubious” formulations.
Ironically, it is often Jewish scholars who note the historical inconsistencies which the rhetoric of continuity tempts us to overlook. In the 1970s, historian Yosef Yerushalmi responded to Ruether’s Faith and Fratricide by observing that her description of theological anti-Semitism in the Christian tradition could not account for the fact that Jews survived at all in Christian Europe. In his critique, Yerushalmi consciously stressed what Ruether had underplayed or ignored in her early work on Christian anti-Semitism: that there is a “preservation” element in the Christian attitude toward Jews that is always found in tandem with the “reprobation” element; that in general Jews fared better than Christian heretics in the Middle Ages; that the Jews were never rightless in Christian society; and that it was not forced, but eschatological conversion which Christian theologians and monarchs most often sought for Jews.
Haynes argues that we need to acknowledge both that the Nazi regime “represented a sharp break from traditional attitudes toward the presence of Jews in Christendom” and that “the Nazi propaganda war against the Jews pandered to Christian Jew-hatred” and often successfully so. The Holocaust did indeed create a credibility crisis for Christianity
But two other facts cannot be ignored by responsible theologians. First, official policy toward Jews was never one of genocide during the centuries the church might have had the power and influence to carry out such a policy. Second, although the anti-Jewish tradition in Christianity desensitized many Germans to Nazi anti-Semitism, Nazism’s amalgamation of fascist and racist notions was compelling largely because it comprised a response to the dual crisis of modernity and a lost war. Neither of these considerations diminishes Christianity’s role as a necessary condition for the Holocaust; but they help explain why it was not a sufficient condition (Rubenstein and Roth).
  • “A final limitation of Christian Holocaust Theology-its lack of empathy for the theological universe most people inhabit-is one it shares with much of academic theology.”

By way of conclusion, Haynes wonders whether it is “worth considering whether the impulse to remove from Christian confession in the post-Holocaust world all that offends or separates... actually enhances genuine interreligious dialogue. Many have concluded it does not.”
These concerns for Christian identity notwithstanding, theological adjustment in the light of Auschwitz is required if Christianity would maintain its relevance in the post-Holocaust world. Given the limitations of Holocaust Theology, we are left with a question: Is it possible to take to heart the advice of J.B. Metz to his students-that they avoid any theology that could have been exactly the same before or after Auschwitz (1981:28)-while also avoiding the excesses and pitfalls of Holocaust Theology? Let us hope this way is open, for the alternatives are unacceptable. Christians cannot miss their opportunity to acknowledge and learn from their anti-Jewish past, nor can they allow this past to overwhelm them or convince them to relinquish a prophetic Christian voice which speaks to all people. Neither way will lead the church where it needs to go-beyond the shadow of Auschwitz and into a new day of Christian faithfulness and responsibility.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Akedah Darkness

By way of reflecting on Leonard Cohen’s song You Want It Darker and Genesis 22 (see also previous post), this is an imaginative exercise (not an exegesis), reading the song as Abraham. Genesis 22 is cited in italics in the translation offered by Robert Alter.
If you are the dealer
I’m out of the game
And it happened after these things that God tested Abraham. And He said to him, “Abraham!” and he said, “Here I am.” God asked Abraham to offer up his son Isaac as a burnt offering. And Abraham could have said, "if that’s the deal, I’m not playing."
If you are the healer
I’m broken and lame
He could have said, "if this is what healing looks like, I'm stuffed." Or maybe this could be the counterpoint to the first two lines, "if you promise to heal, I allow myself to be broken."
If thine is the glory
Then mine must be the shame
The glory belongs to God. Always. Protesting God's command would cover Abraham in shame; having for years trusted this God, can he now give up without losing face? Praising God's command would amount to praising death, surely a shameful thing!

So Abraham says nothing. He keeps schtumm
You want it darker
We kill the flame
If God wants to extinguish Isaac's light of life, Abraham gets ready to kill the flame. No need for words. Except for the words of the Mourner's Kaddish.
Magnified and sanctified
Be Thy Holy Name
Why does he do it? Later Jesus would claim, "Abraham your father was overjoyed that he would see my day, and he saw it and was delighted." (John 8:56). God's Holy Name, "I AM who I AM," I will be who I am, the ever present one. I AM, the light of the world
Vilified and crucified
In the human frame
It is not truly God who desires darkness but it is us, we who cannot stand the light. And yet need it. We light candles for those whose life has been extinguished, not least in the Shoa.
A million candles burning
For the help that never came
Abraham's sons and daughters died and God did not turn up. He did not command the darkness, but neither did he prevent it. And in this sense
You want it darker
God must accept responsibility. But so must we.
Hineni Hineni
I’m ready, my Lord
Ready to kill or ready to suffer? Abraham's first Hineni is spoken to God, the second to Isaac.Ready to execute God's command, ready to be attetive to the sufferer. Ready to go on a walk for God (verse 3), ready to walk with the sufferer (verse 9). What faith can reconcile this? Not a faith that necessarily knows how things will work out but that trusts, "God will see to the sheep for the offering, my son."
There’s a lover in the story
But the story is still the same
Love - the word is used for the first time in the Bible here in Genesis 22, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out, your son, your only one, whom you love. Should love not make a difference? It does not change the story. The text does not say that Abraham loved God but the test is arguably one that relates to the ordering of loves. Our loves for others are rightly ordered when they are directed towards the love of God rather than takes its place. But then
There’s a lullaby for suffering
And a paradox to blame
How can love for God lead to such an hateful act? It seems unbelievable that our love for God should ever lead us to seek to kill someone.
But it’s written in the scriptures
And it’s not some idle claim
It must be true then that darkness has two causes
You want it darker
We kill the flame
Abraham sees beyond his own time and place. He sees the Messiah. He also sees the Shoa and murder before and after
They’re lining up the prisoners
And the guards are taking aim
Executions on such a grand scale put our own trials and temptations into perspective
I struggled with some demons
They were middle-class and tame
But not any more if a text gives me permission to join in
I didn’t know I had permission
To murder and to maim
If so, truly,
You want it darker
And what can I confess but
Hineni Hineni
I’m ready, my Lord
Magnified and sanctified
Be Thy Holy Name
Vilified and crucified
In the human frame
A million candles burning
For the love that never came
You want it darker
We kill the flame
 And yet. The songs ends
If you are the dealer
Let me out of the game
If you are the healer
I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory
Mine must be the shame
You want it darker
Hineni Hineni
I’m ready, my Lord
But in Genesis 22 the third Hineni is in response to the urgent "Abraham, Abraham!" which heralds the end of the trial. The one who truly fears God sees the substitute ram and knows that there is a place in which God sees to it that justice is done, where he sees and can be seen, YHWH-yireh, "On the mount of the LORD there is sight." Light at last.

Friday, 18 November 2016

You Want It Darker

The title song of Leonard Cohen’s final album You Want It Darker (booklet here) features the voice of Cantor Gideon Zelermyer of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim*, singing Hineni – the words “Here I am” used three times by Abraham in response to God in the haunting story of the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22). The song addresses God. It is he who wants it darker but it us who kill the flame.

Andre Salles observes
For his entire career, Cohen has grappled with God, with his religious upbringing and his doubts and questions and longings as an adult. This album is a frank testament from an old man about to come face to face with whatever awaits him, and here he wrestles with faith like never before.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggests that Leonard Cohen has given us a precise commentary on this passage. As he has done before in Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen conflates two figures in the song. Here it is “Abraham and Isaac, father and son, the sacrificer and the sacrifice. It’s Abraham who says ‘Hineni’ and it is Isaac who in effect says ‘I am ready, Lord’ The second thing he does is he tracks the shape of the narrative.” The three choruses reflect the three occurrences of Hineni in the narrative (verses 1, 7, 11). 

Rabbi Sacks suggests further that the song echoes a Rabbinic tradition
Said Rabbi Abba: Abraham said to Him,“ I will explain my complaint before You. Yesterday, You said to me (above 21:12): ‘for in Isaac will be called your seed,’ and You retracted and said (above verse 2): ‘ Take now your son.’ Now You say to me, ‘ Do not stretch forth your hand to the lad.’
Like Abraham, Leonard Cohen rises up in protest against the “cruelty and wilfulness of the entire story.”

“There’s a lover in the story,” sings Leonard Cohen. It is Abraham. Indeed, Genesis 22 is the first time that the word “love” appears in the Bible (verse 2). “But the story is still the same” and the paradox is this, Rabbi Sacks observes, that “out of love for God we sometimes kill in his name.”  

“This is [Leonard Cohen’s] final message to us. He’s saying ‘God, I love you but I don’t love the world you created...I love the love that you have for us but I don’t like the hate that so often that love gives rise to. And if the binding of Isaac is a symbol of that faith, then ‘If you are the dealer / I’m out of the game / If you are the healer / I’m broken and lame’. And yet for all that Leonard Cohen continued to affirm a very Jewish way.”

“In an extraordinary gesture he takes the biggest paradox of all, Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the’s a prayer for the dead but there is not one mention of death in it, it’s all about life, it’s all about God...Despite everything, in the face of death, Jews still praise God.”

“Even in the midst of darkness there is light. Even in the midst of death there is life. Even in the midst of hate there is love. And even with our dying breath we can still say Hallelujah. That is the power of love to redeem the brokenness of the world.”

“In this final song Leonard Cohen becomes Job, arguing with God, finding no answers to his questions but finding nonetheless the strength to sing and to affirm.”

It is worth listening to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in full. Leonard Cohen has clearly gone back to his Jewish roots for his final album. But this does not appear to be all that is happening. The next song (Treaty) opens with “I seen you change the water into wine” – a reference to what the Gospel of John records as Jesus’ first sign? Later the song It Seemed the Better Way confesses that “to turn the other cheek”
Sounded like the truth
Seemed the better way
Sounded like the truth
But it’s not the truth today
So when in the title song Leonard Cohen cites the Kaddish (“Magnified and sanctified / Be Thy Holy Name”) and then adds “Vilified and crucified / In the human frame” he seems to have the Christian conception of God in view as well. There is arguably still more to explore here.

PS: Rabbi Sacks often speaks of Cohen's final words. They are arguably not those of the title song which is also the opening song of the album but from the song Treaty reprised at the end of the album, "I wish there was a treaty / between your love and mine" - addressed to the one who changed water into wine.

*Shaar Hashomayim is the oldest and largest traditional Ashkenazi congregation in Canada, established in 1846. Leonard Cohen’s grandfather and great-grandfather served as presidents of the congregation and Cohen himself had his bar mitzvah ceremony there. It is there that Cohen recited Kaddish for his father whom he lost when he was nine.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Saint Pontius Pilate?

Discussing the proliferation of back stories for the Gospels among early Christians Simon Loveday comments: “Pontius Pilate is presented in such a positive light in ‘Paradosis Pilati’ that the Coptic and Ethiopian churches have made him a saint.” (The Bible for Grown-Ups: A new look at the Good Book, 179)

Pilate is indeed commemorated in the Ethiopian Orthodox church (see their synaxarium here under Senne 25), albeit not in the contemporary Coptic Orthodox church (search for Pilate in vain in their synaxarium, e.g., here).

Tibor Grüll examined “The Legendary Fate of Pontius Pilate” in Classica et Mediaevalia 61 (2010): 151–176, and offers some evidence for high regard for Pilate among Coptic Christians. He also notes that the Arabic version of Gesta Pilati has the Jews refer to Pilate as “the wicked foreigner from the land of Egypt.”

According to Josephus, Pilate was removed from his post after sending soldiers to Samaria to suppress a rebellion, resulting in a massacre at Mount Gerizim. The Samaritans complained to Vitellius, legate of Syria, who recalled Pilate to Rome where he seems to have arrived shortly after the death of Emperor Tiberius. (Whether Pilate did in fact have to face any negative consequences is unknown and in Grüll’s view unlikely.)

Within the Christian tradition there seem to be “fifteen texts of various languages, ages and affiliations” that seek to tell us more about Pilate than the Gospels (see Grüll, “Legendary Fate,” 159-160 for a list, from which also the information below is taken). Seven texts mention the later fate of Pontius Pilate; in three he becomes a true follower of Jesus and suffers martyrdom, in four “he is presented as a diabolical figure who was sentenced to exile or death by the emperor” (Grüll, “Legendary Fate,” 160).

The divergence of tradition is also geographical. The four texts that present Pilate as a diabolic figure are Latin documents, except for Tiberii rescriptum (Greek, Old Slavonic – fifth century?). The three that present the later Pilate in a positive light are
  • Paradosis Pilati (Greek; fifth century)
  • Homilia de lamentis Mariae (Evangelium Gamalielis) (Arabic, Ethiopian, Coptic – medieval?)
  • Homilia de morte Pilati (Martyrium Pilati) (Coptic, Arabic, Ethiopian – medieval?)

The Paradosis Pilati has the Emperor condemn Pilate to death for the crucifixion of Christ. Pilate prays to God before his execution, pleading ignorance and bullying by the Jews but acknowledging his sin. The answer from heaven is reassuring:
“All the generations and families of the nations shall count you blessed, because under you have been fulfilled all those things said about me by the prophets; and you yourself shall be seen as my witness at my second appearing, when I shall judge the twelve tribes of Israel, and those that have not owned my name.”
“And the prefect struck off the head of Pilate; and, behold, an angel of the Lord received it. And his wife Procla, seeing the angel coming and receiving his head, being filled with joy herself also, immediately gave up the ghost, and was buried along with her husband.”

I declare ignorance on the fate of Pilate in this world or the next but I observe that Pilate has not been counted as blessed by all that many people in history and that the legendary prayer of repentance is not a good example on which to model our own prayers.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Am I better than Trump?

“Just to be clear, if we’ve understood the gospel, we know we’re no better than Trump. Anything I say about him is true about me. Do I hear an Amen?”
So a friend of mine recently on Facebook.

Disclaimer: This post is not about politics. My friend could assume that there would be wide agreement among his Facebook friends about the characterisation of Donald Trump as depraved. This might even allow for the belief that in some respects Hillary Clinton is more depraved. It only excludes people who see nothing much wrong with Donald Trump.

This got me thinking. Am I better than Trump? Without further qualification the question cannot possibly be answered. Better in what way?
Am I better than Trump at making money?
Am I better than Trump at making women feel uncomfortable?
My friend presumably means something like “better before God” – am I better before God than Trump? To my taste even this question lacks precision but I am inclined to answer yes. From what it looks like across the pond I am in Christ and he is not and this means that I am right with God and Trump is not.

More precisely, what my friend means is that we are “guilty, vile and helpless” apart from Christ. I am no less in need of God’s grace and mercy than Donald Trump or anyone else. Agreed.

And yet I am unsure whether it makes sense to declare that “on our own” we all are (would be) equally bad and wicked. It is hypothetical. None of us is, ever was, or ever will be “on our own”, as far as I can tell. All of us have been shaped by our heritage and upbringing; many people and events have impacted on us long before we can even begin to ask who we are.

To remind myself than in some (many) ways I am “no better than Trump” may strengthen my humility and if it does, it will do some good. (Of course, perverted as our hearts often are, it is also possible to take this along lines that bolster pride: I am so glad that I am aware of how sinful I am unlike this Pharisee over there who thinks himself better than Donald Trump.)

Still, there is something that bothered me and as I reflected on it further I came to the conclusion that it is probably this: the danger of nothing-buttery.

I am a bunch of cells, a mass of molecules. So is Donald Trump. No difference then, eh?

Nothing-buttery is usually a way of avoiding moral and theological questions. "Embryos? Nothing but a bit of tissue." It can be useful in some contexts to simplify and focus by way of deliberately ignoring some of the complexities of a situation, but maybe more often nothing-buttery sidesteps what is most important.

“There but for the grace of God” is a helpful sentiment. I remind myself regularly of my privileges. My upbringing and the contexts in which I lived my life enabled me to become less of a crook than I might have been. And the grace of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, has positioned me differently before God. Not only that but it changed my life down to ways of thinking, relating and acting.

I am what I am by the grace of God. If it helps me to remind myself of my ongoing need of Christ then saying “I am no better than Trump” fulfils a useful purpose.

And yet, precisely because Christ is everything should I spend much time thinking about me apart from Christ? It would be a reductionism, and in the end there can be nothing but the most general answer to the question what I would be apart from Christ. What would I be like if I had not married 24 years ago? Who knows? Who cares? What would I be like if I had not lived half my life in England? Is it not futile to speculate for more than a few minutes?

If I had been born in the USA and spent my life there I would be as American as Donald Trump. But I was not and I have not.

If I had spent as much time in unhealthy locker room conversations as Donald Trump apparently has, my way of relating to women might well be as corrupt as his. But I have not, and I am grateful for that.

I am German albeit maybe not as German as I might be if I had not made my home in England.

My ways of relating to others are less corrupt than Donald Trump’s although my life could have turned out very differently.

If I am better than Donald Trump, it’s not down to a splendid achievement on my part.

And yes, there are ways in which I am no better than Trump; my heart can still be pretty twisted. But I am reluctant to shout about it for fear of dishonouring the one who has begun a great work in me.

If it helps to magnify Christ, I will declare that I am no better than Trump. But to the extent that it obscures the real difference Christ makes in people's lives I will not agree to the proposition. Nor would it bear true witness to God to pretend that he does not know the difference between relative good and evil.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Tears in Heaven

Suggestions towards an interpretation of Eric Clapton's famous ballad in preparation for a funeral at which this was requested. It is well known that Tears in heaven was written in response to the sudden, tragic death of the singer's four-year old son Conor.

The first two strophes ask hypothetical questions.
Would you know my name,
If I saw you in heaven?
They are hypothetical questions because the singer confesses "I know I don't belong here in heaven." It is probably not only that his own time has not yet come ("I must be strong and carry on"), given that the second stanza ends with "'Cause I know I just can't stay here in heaven." There may be glimpses of heaven for him but heaven is not a place that suits the singer, or probably better, not a place for which he feels suited. Maybe a legacy of thinking that heaven is for good people and sweet little boys like his own son? The singer expresses no doubt that the person addressed in the song is in heaven.

But even if the singer could see his son in heaven. Would the son acknowledge him? This question seems to be a good part of his anguished grief. The singer has failed and, having apparently made up his mind only the day before to make up for this, he will now not be able to do so.

It is often said that "Time heals all wounds." The singer is not convinced.
Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees.
Time can break your heart, have you begging please, begging please.
The first half of each of these two lines expresses the belief that there is a lot of damage that can be done by time as well - it does not necessarily get easier, but the second half suggests that it can also lead you to prayer.

And this changes everything. There is now a different sort of knowledge, one that is no longer centred on what the singer knows about himself or wants to know about himself, and there is a certainty ("I'm sure").
Beyond the door there's peace I'm sure.
And I know there'll be no more tears in heaven.
How does the singer know that? He doesn't tell us but I reckon Eric Clapton had Revelation 21 in mind.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.
Cf. Isaiah 25:8Revelation 7:17. Prayer helps us to look beyond ourselves and to trust God's revelation and so come to a new and better knowledge. The next step would be to ask God himself, "Will you know my name? Will you acknowledge me?" This is the most important question of them all.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Bavinck on the Eastern Understanding of the Trinity

“For the Eastern church the unity of the divine essence and the Trinity of persons does not arise from the divine nature as such but from the person of the Father. He is the sole originating principle (αἰτια). The three persons, according to the Orthodox, are not three relations within the one being, not the self-unfolding of the Godhead; rather it is the Father who communicates himself to the Son and the Spirit. From this it follows, however, that now the Son and the Spirit are coordinated: they both have their originating principle (αἰτια) in the Father. The Father reveals himself in both: the Son imparts the knowledge of God, the Spirit the enjoyment of God. The Son does not reveal the Father in and through the Spirit; the Spirit does not lead [believers] to the Father through the Son. The two are more or less independent of each other: they both open their own way to the Father. Thus orthodoxy and mysticism, the intellect and the will, exist dualistically side by side. And this unique relation between orthodoxy and mysticism is the hallmark of Greek piety.”

Herman BavinckReformed Dogmatics, vol. 2: God and Creation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 317.

Bavinck on the Generation of the Son

Notes from Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2: God and Creation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004).
“God’s fecundity is a beautiful theme, one that frequently recurs in the church fathers. God is no abstract, fixed, monadic, solitary substance, but a plenitude of life. It is his nature (οὐσια) to be generative (γεννητικη) and fruitful (καρπογονος). It is capable of expansion, unfolding, and communication. Those who deny this fecund productivity fail to take seriously the fact that God is an infinite fullness of blessed life. All such people have left is an abstract concept of God, or to compensate for this sterility, in pantheistic fashion they include the life of the world in the divine being.” (308-309)
The generation of the Son is (1) spiritual, not physical. 
“The most striking analogy of divine generation is thought and speech...Just as the human mind objectivizes itself in speech, so God expresses his entire being in the Logos [Christ]. But here, too, we must note the difference. Humans need many words to express their ideas. These words are sounds and therefore material, sense-related. They have no existence by themselves. But when God speaks, he totally expresses himself in the one person of the Logos, whom he also “granted to have life in himself” (John 5:26 NIV).” (109)
The generation of the Son is (2) out of the being of the Father, not out of nothing by the will of the Father.
“This is not to say, of course, that the generation is an unconscious and unwilled emanation, occurring apart from the will and power of the Father. It is not an act of antecedent decreeing will, like creation, but one that is so divinely natural to the Father that his concomitant will takes perfect delight in it.” (110)

The generation of the Son is (3) eternal
“For if the Son is not eternal, then of course God is not the eternal Father either. In that case he was God before he was Father...rejection of the eternal generation of the Son involves not only a failure to do justice to the deity of the Son, but also to that of the Father.. It makes him changeable, robs him of his divine nature, deprives him of the eternity of his fatherhood and leaves unexplained how God can truly and properly be called “Father” in time if the basis for calling him “Father” is not eternally present in his nature...It is not something that was completed and finished at some point in eternity, but an eternal, unchanging act of God, at once always complete and eternally ongoing. Just as it is natural for the sun to shine and for a spring to pour out water, so it is natural for the Father to generate the Son. The Father is not and never was ungenerative; he begets everlastingly...For God to beget is to speak, and his speaking is eternal.” (110)

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Reflecting on Habakkuk 2 Verses 4-5

The message of Hab. 2:4-5 is not dissimilar to “What you sow, so shall you reap” (Gal. 6:7; see also Hos. 10:11-14, Gal. 6:7, Lev. 26, Deut. 19:21). Those who pursue greed will finally be overcome by it; those who remain loyal to God will live. Wellhausen asked whether this needed revelation and suggests that Habakkuk received precious little here.[1] But the anguish expressed in chap. 1 arose from the fact that the Babylonians did not simply act on their own accord; they were said to be God’s instrument. It seemed to the prophet as if God was prepared to overlook the atrocities the Babylonians committed, probably on the grounds that they were his instrument. In this light the revelation affirms that the ends do not justify the means. God uses the Babylonians for his own ends but the means they employ will lead to the end determined for such evil; the greed with which they pursue the conquest will be their downfall. The elaboration of the principle that evil falls back on the one who commits evil in the following verses confirms that we are here not dealing with some new truth but it was nevertheless important in this context to re-affirm the validity of this principle and so to exhort the righteous (in the words of Acts 11:23) “to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion.”

Who are the righteous in Habakkuk? The chapter will continue to offer a fuller description of its opposite, the arrogant who is no other than the wicked in the words of the oppressed nations. But the righteous are characterised negatively only – they are the oppressed innocent ones (1:4, 13) whom the law proves unable to declare innocent. The wicked are the Babylonians in the first instance. But given that the Babylonian oppression made internal injustice only worse, it would be a mistake to identify the righteous with the whole of Judah. The righteous are those who have become victims of injustice and of the inability of Torah to set things right. They are characterised by weakness. The only other thing that must mark them out is that they cling steadfastly to God. While the text in Habakkuk does not tell us explicitly how righteousness and faith are related, taking faithfulness (steadfastness in faith, see previous post) with “live” rather than with “righteous,” it is clear that those who abandon their trust in God would no longer be counted among the righteous.

The ultimate outcome of the Babylonian domination is not yet spelled out in the book of Habakkuk. But we know of course that the breakdown of Torah as governing instrument for the people of God prefigured the end of the Davidic monarchy and the destruction of the temple. In other words, the revelation given here had to be able to address a spiritual crisis even deeper than the one reflected in the text itself. With the temple in ruins and much of Torah legislation in abeyance in so far as it related to and depended on a central sanctuary, the exiles had to face the question whether it was still possible to live faithfully in relation to God, to be righteous. Habakkuk would have given grounds for believing that even those who live in a society not governed by Torah and unable to access the provisions made in the Torah, e.g. for expressing repentance and receiving forgiveness, can still remain loyal to God.

This, along with the theme of Torah’s inability to declare the innocent righteous in chap. 1, makes the verse attractive to the apostle Paul and others. As in Habakkuk, the Spirit-receiving faith of which Paul speaks belongs to a persistent habit of trusting in God. It is not a one-off posture in which assent is given to a truth which can then be compromised by subsequent attitudes without loss. “Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3). It is faith from the beginning and throughout one’s life (cf. Gal. 2:20, also implied in Rom. 14:23). But Paul expands the argument beyond Habakkuk by drawing explicitly on Deut. 27:26 rather than Hab. 1:4 in his letter to the Galatians. The phrase ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν in Rom. 1:17 could be understood to stress the centrality of faith: righteousness from God is a matter of faith from beginning to end (cf. “from strength to strength” in Ps. 84:8 [Greek 83:8]; “from evil to evil” in Jer. 9:2 [ET 3]). But the phrase could also imply a movement of faith from one person or group to another (cf. “from town to town” in Sir. 36:26 [ET 35] and “from your [sg] generation to your [pl] generations” in Lev. 21:17) and there are still other interpretations on offer.[2] See further below.

In Habakkuk continuing trust in God is surely thought to be expressed by continuing to cling to God’s commandments in spite of the apparent uselessness of such obedience in the face of Torah’s numbness. This means arguably that the obedience flows out of trust in God’s promise rather than faith in Torah’s rewards. Even in Habakkuk the call is not for Judeans to find their identity anew in Torah but to keep faith in spite of the inability of Torah to reward such faith. Paul goes beyond this in arguing that Torah was not merely ineffective in bringing about righteousness but even brought a curse on God’s people due to their disobedience. Paul’s premise is that Israel as a whole is not “in the right” with God but that God has done something about this. God has demonstrated his righteousness in another event, part of which from one angle can be described as unspeakable wickedness.[3] If Torah as such is used as the defining factor of the community, it defines a community under the curse of the law. It must be faith in God that defines the community and this God has in Christ done another deed one would hardly believe but which commands a response of faith for salvation (Rom. 1:17).

Given that the martyrdom and resurrection of Christ are decisive here, another reading of the phrase ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν in Rom. 1:17 is worth considering. Some have proposed that Paul sees the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel “by means of faithfulness (namely, of Christ), with the goal of faith or faithfulness (in the Christian)”.[4] God’s righteousness, and indeed his faithfulness although this is maybe not stressed here, is demonstrated in the faithfulness and vindication of Christ. This in turn evokes a response in us.[5] Christ’s fidelity is the source, the Christian’s fidelity the goal. This suggests a Christological re-reading of Hab. 2:4. Christ is “the righteous one” (so also in Acts 7:52; 22:14; cf. Acts 3:14; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 2:1)[6] who lives by faithfulness, namely the one whose fidelity brought him (and those who are “in him”) resurrection life.[7] While ἐκ πίστεως in the citation of Hab. 2:4 in Rom. 1:17 has often been read as adjectival (belonging with δίκαιος) rather than adverbial (belonging with ζήσεται), there are compelling arguments for allowing the phrase to modify the verb just as in Habakkuk.[8]

Jesus’ act of righteousness, undergoing suffering and death in faithfulness to God, effects righteousness leading to life for all (cf. Rom. 5:18-19). Those who are “in Christ” are vindicated not through Torah, which proved unable to prevent the death of Christ, but by his resurrection into the new creation. This new creation is characterised by life in the Spirit rather than by adherence to the Mosaic law. Those who today insist on defining God’s people with reference to the Torah are still arguing from within the old creation and thus implicitly deny the new work God has done. In so far as they come first to the law and then with appeal to their obedience, presumed to be meritorious, present themselves to God, they adopt a way which is not commended in Habakkuk where the righteous live in their loyalty to YHWH and so, as those who keep faith with God, seek to do his will. It is not that obedience leads to a right relationship with God but being right with God leads to obedience. Such faithfulness and obedience was expressed in Habakkuk’s days in obedience to the Torah and is today expressed in Christian discipleship. Habakkuk did of course not yet reckon with God’s supremely new work which effected a change in the law. This is why the apostle has to do more than simply repeat Habakkuk. And so do we. With more revelation comes a responsibility to say more.

Habakkuk may have inspired Paul also in seeing a double antithesis to true loyalty to God. One is obviously to stop trusting God, the lack of faithfulness against which Hab. 2:4 implicitly warns (and which is picked up in Hebrews). Another is the contrast drawn in Hab. 2:4 between pride and faith which may have inspired Paul’s references to false boasting (Rom. 2:17, 23; 4:2). And while the idea that God’s wrath is not an alternative to salvation but its vehicle can be found elsewhere, it is certainly found in Habakkuk and may have prompted Paul to link the revelation of the Gospel with the revelation of God’s wrath.[9] Without speculating about what went on in the apostle’s mind, it is certainly possible to draw numerous links between his letters and Habakkuk and to read them together as harmonious and mutually enriching one another. Both allow for the possibility of being “righteous” without (yet) being publicly vindicated as such and so encourage faithfulness, even if Habakkuk is only concerned with how the righteous are to live (and implicitly how to remain righteous), while Paul explores the question how we become righteous.

Like Habakkuk we live “in the midst of the years” (Hab. 3:2) between an astonishing act of God, which in Habakkuk’s days numbed Torah in its effect (cf. Rom. 8:3) and in our days has set it aside as law with the establishment of a new priesthood (Heb. 7:12), and a further act of God which will judge the proud, wicked oppressor and prove the righteousness of those who in loyalty to God find life. (In Habakkuk, too, the designation “righteous” would not be worth much, if there was no difference of outcome between the righteous and the proud.) Both these acts of God can be read as judgement and an expression of God’s wrath, the conquests of the Babylonians as well as their downfall, the cross of Christ as well as the final judgement. God vindicates the righteous when he reveals that injustice and wickedness will not have the last word. He has done so supremely in the cross and resurrection of Christ but will confirm this in the final judgement. Therefore our faith, like Habakkuk’s, is forward looking (“wait for it,” v. 3). It will be fully vindicated only in the future when it will be evident that its end is life rather than death.

In the meantime the good news are proclaimed in a context in which God’s wrath is revealed on human society and God’s people suffer (cf. Rom. 1:18-25 and Heb. 10:32-34 with Hab. 1). There is therefore still need for the encouragement “not to abandon that confidence of yours” (Heb. 10:35), trusting the promise that such confidence has a great reward when “the coming one” will come (Heb. 10:37, citing Hab. 2:3 in a modified version of the Greek Bible, see the reflection on 2:2-3 above). Faithfulness is still expressed in doing the will of God (Heb. 10:36). This is, however, no longer understood in terms of obedience to the Mosaic Torah (cf. Heb. 7:12 mentioned above). Using a verb found in the Old Greek tradition (ὑποστέλλω, “to draw back”), the alternative to keeping faith is to shrink back. By reversing the two clauses the letter to the Hebrews makes it easier to see not so much a contrast between two groups of people but two actions open to “my righteous one.”[10] Of these only the former is appropriate for the Christian community: “But we are not people of hesitancy towards destruction but of faithfulness towards the preservation of our lives.” This contrast is in fact a fundamental pastoral concern in the letter to the Hebrews.[11]

Life has to be received from God. It cannot be sustained by greed, nor even by obedience to God’s Torah.


[1] Wellhausen, Skizzen, p. 163. So also Lindström: “But is this really revelation, ‘vision’ (2.2-3)? Is it not rather experience?” (“‘I am Rousing the Chaldeans’ – Regrettably?” p. 51).

[2] For details and discussion see commentaries on Romans, e.g. Colin Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), pp. 71, 74-78. The literature concerning the use of Hab. 2:4 in the NT is vast and complex. See, e.g., Desta Heliso, Pistis and the Righteous One: A Study of Romans 1:17 against the Background of Scripture and Second Temple Jewish Literature (WUNT II/235; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007).

[3] The Gospel event is the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. On the cross we see the death of an innocent victim at the hand of an oppressor, aided and indeed promoted by internal enemies, with Torah unable to provide vindication.

[4] Building on important contributions by Richard B. Hays and Glenn N. Davies among others, see, e.g., Douglas A. Campbell, “The Faithfulness of Jesus Christ in Romans and Galatians (with special reference to Romans 1:17 & 3:22),” a paper offered at the SBL Annual Meeting in San Diego on 16th Nov 2007, cf. The Righteousness of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), esp. 601-38, 1091-98, cf. pp. 323-26, 350-53, 377-80, 1033-34.

[5] One of the arguments against taking the first πίστις as faith in Christ is that such faith is better considered a response to God’s righteousness rather than something that reveals God’s righteousness. The same would be true for Habakkuk where God’s justice is not revealed in human faith but in God’s word and deed, expect that in the NT the decisive acts involve the one who is both human and divine, i.e., God acts in and through the faithfulness of Christ. For a recent defence of reading “faith in Christ” here see Francis Watson, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith (London: T. & T. Clark, 2004), pp. 50-53.

[6] Cf. Richard B. Hays’ 1988 essay reprinted as “Apocalyptic Hermeneutics: Habakkuk Proclaims ‘The Righteous One’,” in The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as an Interpreter of Israel's Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2005), pp. 119-42; see his The Faith of Jesus Christ: An Investigation of the Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11 (SBLDS 56; Chico: Scholars Press, 1983), pp. 151-57, for the question in relation to Galatians. It is of course not necessary to accept “The Righteous One” as a known title for Jesus in order to allow that “the righteous one” in Rom. 1:17 refers to Jesus, “the paradigm for the life of faith” (Hays, “Apocalyptic,” p. 134 on one of the roles of Jesus in Hebrews, see Heb. 12:2). N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (London: SPCK, 2013), pp. 1466-71, thinks that identifying the righteous one with Christ “is probably a bridge too far” (p. 1470) but argues against Watson (see above) for a reference to divine faithfulness.

[7] Cf. Walter Zorn, “The Messianic Use of Habakkuk 2:4a in Romans,” Stone-Campbell Journal 1 (1998): 213-30. On the tradition of reading Hab. 2:4 as a messianic prophecy see also Strobel, Untersuchungen, and Dietrich-Alex Koch, “Der Text von Hab 2.4b in der Septuaginta und im Neuen Testament,” ZNW 76 (1985): 68-85, p. 73, n. 25. Already C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures: The Sub-Structure of New Testament Theology (London: Nisbet & Co., 1952), pp. 49-51, argued that Hab. 2:3-4 belonged to the key OT passages considered to testify to Christ “from the earliest period” and was therefore agreed ground between Paul and others.

[8] See D. Moody Smith, “ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται,” in Studies in the History and Text of the New Testament in Honor of Kenneth Willis Clark (ed. Boyd L. Daniels and M. Jack Suggs; Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1967), pp. 13-25, for a detailed argument, summarised in Campbell, Deliverance, pp. 1094-95. The phrase is sometimes taken by commentators on Romans to apply both ways.

[9] This is explored in Mark A. Seifrid, “Paul’s Use of Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17: Reflections on Israel’s Exile in Romans,” in History and Exegesis: New Testament Essays in Honor of Dr. E. Earle Ellis (ed. Sang-Won Son; London: T & T Clark, 2006), pp. 133-49.

[10] Unlike MSS A and C which read the same text as Heb. 10:38, most LXX manuscripts have the pronoun not with “righteous” but with “faith.” The genitival relationship could be understood as objective (“faithfulness towards me”) or subjective (“my faithfulness”) with the former maybe the more natural reading here. 8ḤevXIIgr, Aquila and Symmachus are closer to the MT, reading the third person pronoun. There are manuscript differences in the text of Heb. 10:38 as well, assimilating the text either to MT by omitting the pronoun or to the majority LXX tradition by shifting the place of the pronoun.

[11] So, e.g., Cockerill, Hebrews, p. 510.

Habakkuk 2 Verses 1-5

1   At my watch I will stand
and I will station myself on the rampart;
     and I will keep watch to see what he will say about me,
and what I will answer when I am reprimanded.
2   And YHWH answered me and said:
Write down a revelation and document it on tablets
                   so that one will run who reads it.
3   For still there is a revelation for the appointed time,
and it is a testifier to the end; and it does not lie.
     If it lingers, wait for it,
            for it will surely come, it will not be late.

4   Look, swollen, not judicious is his appetite within him,
but the righteous: in his faithfulness he will live.
5   And furthermore, the wine deals treacherously;
            a proud man will not abide.
Indeed, he is like the death and is not sated.
He gathers to himself all the nations
and collects to himself all the peoples.

Verse 1 employs what appears to be formal, official language, such as might be used in a court setting.

Verse 2 stresses not the legibility of the writing but the importance of the content and its official nature.
The use of the plural “tablets” is best explained as a reference to duplicates, ensuring the documentation of the witness.

Running is regularly associated with messengers, as, e.g., in 1 Sam. 4:12; 2 Sam 18:19; Jer. 23:21; 51:31; Zech. 2:8 (Eng. 2:4).

It is possible that an earlier version of verse 4 asked, “Consider the doer: Is not his desire in him right?” in a reference back to 1:5-6. See my “An Emendation of Hab 2:4a in the light of Hab 1:5,” JHS 13/11 (2013). The LXX offers a significantly different text, “if he/it should draw back, my soul has no pleasure in him/it” (with variations surrounding the positioning of the personal pronoun). The Targum similarly offers two contrasting responses to the prophecy, “Behold, the wicked think that all these things are not so, but the righteous shall live by the truth of them.”

The debate about the reference of the pronoun (his/its) with faithfulness is of little consequence as far  as the underlying dynamics are concerned: The loyalty of the righteous rests on the dependability of YHWH which finds expression in the reliability of the revelation. The righteous will live because they faithfully cling to the reliability of the revelation given by a faithful God.

Likewise, the contrast between (a) the “righteous by faithfulness” shall live, and (b) the righteous shall “live by faithfulness” may be smaller conceptually than syntactically. The revelation is not given in answer to the question how someone becomes righteous but in answer to the question how the righteous can live in the face of brutal assault. The expression “by faithfulness” therefore surely goes with “live” but there is little doubt that any who abandon faithfulness would no longer be considered “righteous” in accordance with this prophecy and it would be no overstatement to say that in Habakkuk the righteous are characterised by faithfulness, even if this is not the precise statement being made in this verse.

The word translated “faithfulness,” when applied to the character and conduct of persons, including God, elsewhere carries the notion of “honesty, integrity, dependability, steadfastness,” i.e. trustworthiness more than trustfulness. The promise does not so much call the arrogant to repent and adopt faith in God but urges those who put their trust in God to continue to do so. In other words, it calls for faithfulness in keeping faith, as it were. It does not address the temptation to imitate Babylonian greed and arrogance but the temptation to give up trust in God in the face of the earlier prophecy’s (1:5-11) disastrous outcome in the Babylonian devastations and Torah’s inability to tackle injustice (1:4).

Verse 5 originally may have referred to “presumption” dealing treacherously – a true statement in this context, as is the statement that “wealth is treacherous” (1QpHab, cf. Prov. 13:11; 28:8). But “wine” is a suitable object for developing the metaphor of the previous verse. It is is treacherous because at first it gratifies the drinker, increasing elation, but consumed in greater quantities turns against drinkers and leads to their downfall (cf. Prov. 23:32). Drunkenness is an apt image for someone whose unbounded appetite will lead to their downfall.

The Babylonians are not named but there can be no doubt who is in view as being in the process of gathering and collecting nations.  He – the empire embodied in its ruler – is the glutton who like death will always be hungry for more. He is a proud man who will not be able to enjoy living in rest and peace. He is the one whose intoxication will be his downfall.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Why was it the Son who became incarnate?

“Because the Mediator must be God, redemption requires that one of the three persons becomes the Mediator (and thus the God-man, with two wills)” (Mark Jones). Why was it the Son who became incarnate and not the Father or the Holy Spirit?

David Kirk notes that ‘while the creation is a work of the whole Trinity…it also stands in a peculiar relation to the Son’ (citing Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:423).
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made… (John 1:1-3 ESV)
The Logos becomes flesh because he is the one through whom and for whom all things were made (Colossians 1:16). The world, made through the Son, is to be saved through the Son:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17 ESV)
Mark Jones offers the following reasons (my headings and combining the last two reasons):

(1) The title "Son" for one person of the Trinity only
The Son of God is, by virtue of his title, more appropriately the Son of Man and the Son of a woman. In other words, it was not “fit” that in the Trinity there should be two persons who both bear the title of “Son,” which would have been the case had the Father become incarnate.
Turretin argued that the Holy Spirit, for example, could not be sent to be Mediator because “there would have been two sons, the second person by eternal generation and the third by an incarnation in time.”
(2) The Son is the middle person within the Trinity
the Son, as the “middle person” bears the best resemblance of the work as Mediator. He comes between us and God.
Turretin argues that “he who is between the Father and the Holy Spirit should be Mediator between God and men.”
 (3) Adoption as sons of God is the aim of salvation
The Son is peculiarly fitted to be Mediator since, according to Thomas Goodwin, “the main end of his being Mediator,” that is, the adoption of his people into the family of God, is “made one of the greatest benefits of all others” (Eph. 1:5).

The Son is the most suitable person to convey this soteric blessing insofar that as a Son Christ conveys sonship upon his people by virtue of his union with them (Gal. 4:4-5).

Again, in similar fashion, Turretin argues that it was fitting that “he who was a Son by nature should make us adoptive sons by grace.” Besides Trinitarian reasons, soteric factors – i.e. the doctrine of adoption – explain why the Son should be Mediator.
(4) The offices of priest, prophet, and king are most apt for the Son
Regarding the office of priest, it is the birth-right of the eldest Son in the family to be the priest. Therefore, to prove he was a Priest (Heb. 5), the author cites Psalm 2: “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” As an intercessory priest the Son is uniquely able to approach the Father, which is a function grounded both in ontology (i.e. their natural subsistence) and economy (Christ’s work of mediation).

As a prophet, the Son is especially fit to be Mediator because he is the Word and Wisdom of the Father (Heb. 1:1; Jn. 1:18).

As a King, there is none so fit as the heir, “none so fit to have all Judgment and the Kingdom committed to him as God’s Son” (Goodwin).
[The last paragraph is an assertion rather than an argument. The argument may be in the first paragraph, given that the citation of Psalm 2 is more apt for kingship than priesthood. Priesthood and kingship are of course combined in Melchizedek, cf. Psalm 110.] 

Hermann Witsius Florilegium

Mark Jones draws attention to The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man by Hermann Witsius (1636-1708), from which I make a note of the following:

The Scriptures represent the Father, in the economy of our salvation, as demanding the obedience of the Son even unto death, and, upon condition of that obedience, promising him in his turn that name which is above every name, even that he should be the head of the elect in glory; but the Son, as presenting himself to do the will of the Father, acquiescing in that promise, and in fine, requiring by virtue of the compact, the kingdom and glory promised to him. When we have clearly demonstrated all these particulars from Scripture, it cannot, on any pretence, be denied, that there is a compact between the Father and the Son, which is the foundation of our salvation. (2.2.2)

I consider three periods, as it were, of this covenant. Its commencement was in the eternal counsel of the adorable Trinity: in which the Son of God was constituted by the Father, with the approbation of the Holy Spirit, the Saviour of mankind; on this condition, that, in the fulness of time, he should be made of a woman, and made under the law; which the Son undertook to perform. (2.3.2)

The second period of this covenant I place in that intercession of Christ, by which, immediately upon the fall of man, he offered himself to God, now offended, in order actually to perform those things to which he had engaged himself from eternity; saying, thou hast given them to me, and I will make satisfaction for them: and so he made way for the word of grace to be declared to, and the covenant of grace to be made with them. (2.3.3)

The third period of this covenant is that, when, on his assuming human nature, he suffered his ears to be bored; compare Ps. 40:7, with Heb. 10:5; that is, engaged himself as a voluntary servant to God, from love to his Lord the Father, and to his spouse the church, and his spiritual children (for the ears of such voluntary servants were bored, Ex. 21:5, 6), was "made under the law," Gal. 4:4, by subjecting himself to the law: which he solemnly testified by his circumcision on the eighth day after his birth, whereby he made himself "a debtor to do the whole law," Gal. 5:3. (2.3.4)

The Son, as God, neither was, nor could be subject to any law, to any superior; that being contrary to the nature of Godhead, which we now suppose the Son to have in common with the Father. "He thought it no robbery to be equal with God." No subjection, nothing but the highest super-eminence, can be conceived of the Deity. In this respect he is "King of kings, and Lord of lords." 1 Tim. 6:15. The emperors Gratian, Valentine, and Theodosius said, long ago, that "he is a true Christian, who believes that the Deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is one in equal power; that, under the same majesty, there is one Deity; and he who teaches the contrary is a heretic;" (2.3.6)

Nor is it any objection against this, that the Son, from eternity, undertook for men, and thereby came under a certain peculiar relation to those that were to be saved. For, as that engagement was nothing but the most glorious act of the divine will of the Son, doing what none but God could do, it implies therefore no manner of subjection: it only imports that there should be a time when that divine person, on assuming flesh, would appear in the form of a servant. And by undertaking to perform this obedience, in the human nature, in its proper time, the Son, as God, did no more subject himself to the Father, than the Father with respect to the Son, to the owing that reward of debt, which he promised him a right to claim. All these things are to be conceived of in a manner becoming God. (2.3.7)

But since in Christ, as Mediator, there is an union of the divine and human natures, this difficulty remains to be discussed, whether both natures were in some measure subject to the law. We may easily affirm this of the human, as we have already so often shown; but it seems, from what we have confirmed [2.3.6], it must be denied with respect to the divine. However, as the human nature does not, without the divine, complete the person of the Mediator, it does not appear that the Mediator, as such, did not engage to be subject to the law, without bringing his divine nature likewise to share in that subjection. (2.3.16)

In order to remove this difficulty, we are accurately to distinguish between both natures, considered separately, and the same natures united in the person of God-man. It was proper, that both natures should act suitably to themselves and their distinct properties. Since the divine nature, as subsisting in the Son, could not truly and really be subject; therefore, by virtue of the covenant, it did not exert or display all its majesty, in the assumed form of a servant; nor hinder that nature, to which it was united by the hypostatical union, from being truly subject to the law, both as to the condition of the reward, and as to the penal sanction; which, indeed, was neither a real renunciation nor degradation of the divine superiority, but only a certain economical veiling of it for a time. (2.3.17)

We commonly ascribe to the person, God-man, the relation of an inferior to a superior, by a constitution or appointment; that, both by doing and suffering, those things might be accomplished, according to the condition of each nature, which were requisite to our salvation: so that the very obedience and sufferings themselves, are not only to be appropriated to the human nature, but to be considered as truly performed and suffered by the God-man. If this were not the case, they would not be of infinite value and dignity, nor sufficient for our redemption. Hence he, who is "in the form of God," is said to have "made himself of no reputation, and became obedient unto death," Phil. 2:6, 7, 8; and to be the Lord of glory, who was crucified, 1 Cor. 2:8. (2.3.19)

It is here usual to inquire, whether Christ, as Mediator, is inferior to the Father and subordinate to him. But this controversy, it seems, may be easily settled among the orthodox: if the Mediator be considered in the state of humiliation and the form of a servant, he is certainly inferior to the Father, and subordinate to him. It was not of his human nature only, but of himself in that state, that he himself said, John 14:28. "The Father is greater than I." Nay, we may look upon the very mediatorial office in itself, as importing a certain economical inferiority or subordination; as being to be laid down, when all things shall be perfectly finished, and "God himself shall be all in all," 1 Cor. 15:28. Nevertheless this undertaking and mediation, and the bringing of fallen man to God, to grace, and glory, is not so much beneath the excellency of the Deity, but we may, without the least hesitation, affirm, that this glory of mediation is incommunicable to any creature. It is the glory of Jehovah to be the righteousness of Israel. This glory he gives to none who is not God: to be Mediator does not merely denote a servant of God, but the great God and Saviour; who, as the first and principal cause of saving grace, equal to the Father, works by his own power, our reconciliation with God, by means of the subjection and obedience of his human nature, without which the co-equal Son could neither perform his service, nor obey the Father. (2.3.20)

John Owen on the Tri-une Will of God

Two scholars who have spent a good deal of time with John Owen, Mark Jones and Matthew Barrett, have drawn attention to a passage in John Owen's Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews which seems worth reflecting on:

“But this sacred truth must be cleared from an objection whereunto it seems obnoxious, before we do proceed. ‘The will is a natural property, and therefore in the divine essence it is but one. The Father, Son, and Spirit, have not distinct wills. They are one God, and God’s will is one, as being an essential property of his nature; and therefore are there two wills in the one person of Christ, whereas there is but one will in the three persons of the Trinity. How, then, can it be said that the will of the Father and the will of the Son did concur distinctly in the making of this covenant?’

This difficulty may be solved from what hath been already declared; for such is the distinction of the persons in the unity of the divine essence, as that they act in natural and essential acts reciprocally one towards another,—namely, in understanding, love, and the like; they know and mutually love each other. And as they subsist distinctly, so they also act distinctly in those works which are of external operation. And whereas all these acts and operations, whether reciprocal or external, are either with a will or from a freedom of will and choice, the will of God in each person, as to the peculiar acts ascribed unto him, is his will therein peculiarly and eminently, though not exclusively to the other persons, by reason of their mutual in-being. The will of God as to the peculiar actings of the Father in this matter is the will of the Father, and the will of God with regard unto the peculiar actings of the Son is the will of the Son; not by a distinction of sundry wills, but by the distinct application of the same will unto its distinct acts in the persons of the Father and the Son. And in this respect the covenant whereof we treat differeth from a pure decree; for from these distinct actings of the will of God in the Father and the Son there doth arise a new habitude or relation, which is not natural or necessary unto them, but freely taken on them. And by virtue hereof were all believers saved from the foundation of the world, upon the account of the interposition of the Son of God antecedently unto his exhibition in the flesh; for hence he was esteemed to have done and suffered what he had undertaken so to do, and which, through faith, was imputed unto them that did believe.”

The citation is from Exercitation XXVIII on Federal Transactions between the Father and the Son which is found in volume 2 (pages 87-88).

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Augustine's Chalcedonian Exegesis

Provided then that we know this rule for understanding the scriptures about God’s Son and can thus distinguish the two resonances in them, one tuned to the form of God in which he is, and is equal to the Father, the other tuned to the form of a servant which he took and [in which] he is less than the Father, we will not be upset statements in the holy books that appear to be in flat contradiction with each other. In the form of God the Son is equal to the Father, and so is the Holy Spirit, since neither of them is a creature, as we have already shown. In the form of a servant, however, he is less than the Father, because he himself said, The Father is greater than I (Jn 14:28); he is also less than himself, because it is said of him, he emptied himself (Phil 2:7); and he is less than the Holy Spirit, because he himself said, Whoever utters a blasphemy against the Son of man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever utters one against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him (Mt 12:32). He also worked his deeds of power through him, as he said himself: If I in the Spirit of God cast out demons, the kingdom of God has come upon you for certain (Lk 11:20). And he says in Isaiah, in a lesson which he read in the synagogue, and declared without the slightest hesitation to be fulfilled in himself, The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; wherefore he anointed me, to preach the gospel to the poor he has sent me, to proclaim release to the captives, etc. (Is 61:1; Lk 4:18). It was precisely because the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, he says, that he was sent to do these things.

In the form of God, all things were made by him (Jn 1:3); in the form of a servant, he himself was made of a woman, made under the law (Gal 4:4). In the form of God, he and the Father are one (Jn 10:30); in the form of a servant, he did not come to do His own will, but the will of him who sent him (Jn 6:38). In the form of God, as the Father has life in himself, so he gave the Son also to have life in himself (Jn 5:26); in the form of a servant, his soul is sorrowful to the point of death, and, Father, he said, if it can be, let this cup pass by (Mt 26:28). In the form of God, he is true God and life eternal (1 Jn 5:20); in the form of a servant, he became obedient to the point of death, the death even of the cross (Phil 2:8). In the form of God, everything that the Father has is his (Jn 16:15), and all yours is mine, he says, and mine yours (Jn 17:10); in the form of a servant, his doctrine is not his own, but his who sent him (Jn 7:16).

Augustine, De Trinitate, I, 22.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Augustine on How God Send His Son

“What we are saying may perhaps be easier to sort out, if we put the question this way, crude though it is: In what manner did God send his Son? Did he tell him to come, giving him an order he complied with by coming, or did he ask him to, or did he merely suggest it? Well, whichever way it was done, it was certainly done by word. But God’s Word is his Son. So when the Father sent him by word, what happened was that he was sent by the Father and his Word. hence it is by the Father and the Son that the Son was sent, because the Son is the Father’s Word.” (De Trinitate 2.9)

Augustine stresses that this was not a word in time but that in the Wisdom of God “there was timelessly contained the time in which that Wisdom was to appear in the flesh.”

“Since then it was a work of the Father and the Son that the Son should appear in the flesh, the one who so appeared in the flesh is appropriately said to have been sent, and the one who did not to have done the sending.” (De Trinitate 2.9)

“If however the reason why the Son is said to have been sent by the Father is simply that the one is the Father, and the other the Son, then there is nothing at all to stop us believing that the Son is equal, and consubstantial, and co-eternal, and yet that the Son is sent by the Father. Not because one is greater and the other less, but because one is the Father, the other the Son; one is the begetter, the other begotten; the first is the one from whom the sent one is; the other is the one who is from the sender. For the Son is from the Father, not the Father from the Son. In the light of this we can now perceive that the Son is not just said to have been sent because the Word became flesh, but that he was sent in order for the Word to become flesh, and by his bodily presence to do all that was written. That is, we should understand that it was not just the man who the Word became that was sent, but that the Word was sent to become man. For he was not sent in virtue of some disparity of power or substance, or anything in him was not equal to the Father; but in virtue of the Son being from the Father, not the Father from the Son.”

“The Son of course is the Father’s Word which is also called his Wisdom. Is there anything strange, then, in his being sent, not because he is unequal to the Father, but because he is a ‘certain pure outflow of the glory of almighty God’ [Wis 7:25]? But in this case what flows out and what it flows out from are of one and the same substance. It is not like water flowing out from a hole in the ground or the rock, but like light flowing from light…” (De Trinitate 4.27)