Monday, 27 February 2017

The End of the World

Review of Ian Paul, Kingdom, Hope and the End of the World: The ‘Now’ and ‘Not Yet’ of Eschatology, (BS 82; Cambridge: Grove Books, 2017). Pbk/pdf. £3.95 from
“The End of the World” makes a nice title for a blog post but if this evoked the future only, the heading has misled you. The full title and sub-title of this latest offering in the Grove Books Biblical Series reminds us of the striking claim made in the New Testament that the end of the world has in one sense already arrived, while in another it is still to come.
With a doctoral thesis on the book of Revelation and a research focus on New Testament, Ian Paul, managing editor of Grove Books and author of this booklet, can be expected to know his stuff and he does. Running a very popular blog and being engaged in church teaching in a variety of ways, Ian can also be expected to communicate well and he does. So, in short, this is a very well written and reliable short introduction to biblical teaching on “the last things”.  
Eschatology is a big field and it would be impossible even for someone of Ian Paul’s calibre to do justice to it in such a short booklet. Here you’ll find a reasonably detailed discussion of Jesus’ Olivet discourse (Matthew 24-25; Mark 13) but only a short comment on the “millennium” (Revelation 20) on which there is in fact a separate Grove booklet (B 5 The Meaning of the Millennium: Revelation 20 and Millennial Expectation) by Michael Gilbertson. You’ll find a short but effective discussion of “rapture” but not of “soul sleep” and related matters (in spite of a hint towards the end). Such decisions are inevitable and the ones made here about what to include and exclude seem to me good ones.
The booklet’s introduction highlights the importance of eschatology, as in a way does the final chapter. Leaving the field to those that go crazy about it is not an option, if we take the New Testament seriously. Eschatology is too important for the fabric of Christian faith for us to be able to avoid getting a handle on it without compromising our faith. A brisk walk through the Old Testament gives us the “background to the theme of God as king and the hope of his intervention in the world” before chapters 3 and 4 explore the Gospels and Paul’s theology (with a glance at Revelation on which the author already published Grove booklets B 28 How to Read the Book of Revelation and E 136 The Ethics of the Book of Revelation). The Gospels, while written later than the letters of Paul, are treated before them on the grounds that they present the teaching of Jesus which shaped the apostle. The final chapter teases out some implications for pastoral practice.
A few more comments under three headings: 
Old Testament
Ian identifies three key assumptions on which biblical eschatology is founded.
First, “the God of Israel is the rightful ruler of the world.”
Second, “humanity does not recognize his rule.”
Third, “God’s authority will not, in the end, be frustrated.”
This is a simple but effective way of showing, among other things, the link between creation and new creation and between God’s kingship over Israel and hope for the whole world. Indeed, as I tried to show in my The Rhetorical Function of the Book of Ezekiel, the concept of God’s kingship is the key for the future hope in Ezekiel.
Ian claims that the third “flows from” the first two but it seems to me in fact a distinct third claim which arguably flows from who God is as much as the first one does. It is only God’s character which makes the third a necessary development beyond the first two assumptions.
Ian rightly points to “delegated dominion” as critical for understanding biblical eschatology as well as other areas of Christian theology. Maybe a stronger link between this concept in general (humanity in the image of God) and the development by which “kingship, especially as exercised by David, becomes the vehicle through which God most clearly exercises his sovereignty” should have been made.
A number of comments on the prophetic eschatology are, maybe due to space constraints, more descriptive than analytical. Thus, e.g., Ian tells us that Jeremiah 30-33 express “profound hope for a full political, geographical and spiritual restoration of the people to new obedience and faithful worship” but does not explore where this hope comes from, logically or theologically.
Where commentary is offered, I was not always at ease with them. E.g., Ian speaks of cosmic expressions in Joel and Isaiah 24-27, moving into “apocalyptic anticipation” in the final parts of the book of Isaiah: “it will not be enough for God to intervene in the present world in order to put things right and restore his authority, for it is the world as it is which is part of the problem (Isa 49.6).” The use of “apocalyptic” for “the final parts of the book of Isaiah” (especially as distinct from Isaiah 24-27!) seems questionable to me.
Other comments do their job well. Thus Ian cleverly speaks of Ezekiel 37 as “a vision which finds full flower in the hope for resurrection from the dead for both the whole people and individuals by the time of the New Testament,” thereby hinting that originally the vision was not read in this way, while doing justice to the fact that this is where reception history took it.
New Testament
There is in the NT both a strong sense of experiencing the fulfilment of OT hopes in Christ and a firm future expectation. Ian captures this well with the phrase “surplus of hope” which he describes as “the difference between what we see already realized of the kingdom in Jesus, and what we do not yet see realized in the present age.” The discussion in chapters 3 and 4 does well to show that the NT can be heard to speak coherently about eschatology and it puts the emphasis where it also lies in the NT, on the giving of the Spirit in the end times, the language of ‘old’ and ‘second’ Adam, the distinction between this age and the age to come, the resurrection of the body, the vindication of Jesus in the destruction of Jerusalem, and the anticipation of his return to earth.
Pastoral Implications
A proper understanding of biblical eschatology 
  • helps answering some sensationalist claims that every now and again hit the news, 
  • guards against seeing the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 as an eschatological event, and 
  • helps with relating an expectation that God can and does offer healing and alleviation of suffering in answer to prayer with the experience that he does not always do so. 

On these I would be in full agreement with Ian. Ian also points out that it guards against the belief that “social reform is the sum total of that the kingdom of God is about” and the view that technology offers human life unlimited possibilities (transhumanism). I agree with what he says here but wonder whether he short-changes us by not teasing out how a future expectation grounded in Scripture might in turn nourish a commitment to social reform.
Finally, a fuller understanding of eschatology reveals to us that there is something not quite right about statements frequently made in the context of funerals. This booklet can help begin addressing an often privatised and disembodied vision of the afterlife.
To order the booklet for £3.95 and post-free in the UK, go to the Grove website

Friday, 24 February 2017

‎Pausal Forms and Accents

The following three examples in which vocalization and accentuation reflect divergent views of the syntax or semantics of a text are noted in E. J. Revell, Raymond de Hoop, and Paul Sanders (ed.), The Pausal System: Divisions in the Hebrew Biblical Text as Marked by Voweling and Stress Position (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2015). They have been taken from the review in RBL 02/17 by Jerome A. Lund.

Psalm 10:15 
שְׁ֭בֹר זְר֣וֹעַ רָשָׁ֑ע וָ֜רָ֗ע תִּֽדְרוֹשׁ־רִשְׁע֥וֹ בַל־תִּמְצָֽא׃

According to the accents, וָרָע goes with what follows (ASV: “Break thou the arm of the wicked; And as for the evil man, seek out his wickedness till thou find none”).
According to the vocalization (conjunctive waw with qamets), it belongs with what precedes (ESV: “Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none”). The Greek (Ps 9:36) reflects the vocalization division by reading σύντριψον τὸν βραχίονα τοῦ ἁμαρτωλοῦ καὶ πονηροῦ, ζητηθήσεται ἡ ἁμαρτία αὐτοῦ, καὶ οὐ μὴ εὑρεθῇ δι᾿ αὐτήν (NETS: “Crush the arm of the sinner and evildoer; his sin shall be sought out, and he shall no more be found on account of it”).

Deuteronomy 6:7b
  בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֤ בְּבֵיתֶ֙ךָ֙ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ֣ בַדֶּ֔רֶךְ וּֽבְשָׁכְבְּךָ֖ וּבְקוּמֶֽךָ׃

Note the pausal form  בְּבֵיתֶךָ (contextual form: בְּבֵיתְךָ). According to the vocalization, there are two groups of words of unequal length, the first “at home” in general and the second consisting of three specific actions included in the “at home” context. [TR: Is it possible to be בַדֶּרֶךְ and בְּבֵיתְךָ at the same time? I doubt it. Maybe the pausal form singles out  בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ as the most intentional context for teaching, while the other three examples are about snatching every opportunity?]
By contrast, the accents divide the four items into two contrasting pairs, homelife and travel, rest and activity.

Genesis 16:4 
 ויָּבֹ֥א אֶל־הָגָ֖ר וַתַּ֑הַר וַתֵּ֙רֶא֙ כִּ֣י הָרָ֔תָה וַתֵּקַ֥ל גְּבִרְתָּ֖הּ בְּעֵינֶֽיהָ׃ 

According to the accentuation the main division comes with וַתַּהַר which is marked by the accent atnaḥ, the first half of the verse leading to the pregnancy, the second half describing what happened as a result.
According to the vocalization, the pausal form הָרָתָה designates the main verse division, thus making Sarah’s reaction to Hagar’s pregnancy stand out. Cf. the way in which in Gen. 17:27 the pausal form עָשָׂתָה (with atnaḥ; here vocalisation and accentuation agree) highlights the information that follows, “into the hand of Jacob her son.”

Poetry and Scripture

The weakness of this volume, however, lies in the fact that it perpetuates serious methodological confusion common to our discipline. In assuming that the book of Isaiah is a “collection or anthology” (13), Couey strongly implies that final-form readings of Isaiah are inherently anachronistic to the text, in that such readings inevitably treat Isaiah as a modern novel while recusing themselves of serious engagement with the text’s history of composition. While true of some scholarship, this characterization appears to misunderstand B. Childs’s primary historical-critical insight: the Bible in general, and Isaiah in particular, is a kind of literature generically distinct from nonscriptural literature. This distinction is relevant not because later readers frequently discuss theology with reference to biblical texts but because Isaiah has been written up to be a “scripture” in its “original,” written iteration. The only text to which we have access has been constructed for a reception community that is ancient and historical but also one that moves forward in tradition. In treating Isaiah’s poetry “in much the same way as other poems” (14), Couey reads the text as if it were a transcript of the prophet’s own words, originally uttered in the late eighth century BCE and preserved in hypostasis since that time. Redaction scholars have taught us that this assumption does not hold water. Isaiah has been constructed and reconstructed again and again for an ongoing audience, not an audience lodged at one specific point in time.
Daniel J. Stulac in a review (not generally accessible) of J. Blake Couey, Reading the Poetry of First Isaiah: The Most PerfectModel of the Prophetic Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015) in RBL 02/2017. While Stulac rightly points out that this is a serious methodological flaw, he nevertheless commends Couey's work as an important contribution to the study of Isaiah and, more generally, Hebrew poetry.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Bonhoeffer on Proving Ourselves

For strong and moral people defeat shows the need for their powers to continue to grow before they can prove themselves in the test. This is why defeat for them is never final. Christians know that each time they face a trial all their powers will leave them. This is why the time of trial is a dark hour for them which can become final. This is why they do not look to prove themselves but pray, do not lead us into the time of trial...

But the God who brings forth day and night is the God who gives times of refreshment following times of thirst. God gives storm and peaceful passage, God gives times of sorrow and fear and God gives times of joy...

For Christians what is important is not how life is in and of itself but how God works on me at this moment. God casts me out and he accepts me again, he destroys my work and he builds it up again. “I am the LORD, and there is no other I form light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil” (Isaiah 45:7). Thus Christians live within the times appointed by God, not from their own conception of life. Thus they do not say that they are always in trials, always asked to prove themselves, but they pray in times of safekeeping, God would not let the time of trial come upon them.

Rough English translation of the following:
Eine Niederlage zeigt dem vitalen und ethischen Menschen, daß die Kräfte noch wachsen müssen, ehe sie die Probe bestehen. Darum ist seine Niederlage niemals unwiderruflich. Der Christ weiß, daß ihn in der Stunde der Versuchung jedes Mal alle seine Kräfte verlassen werden. Darum ist für ihn die Versuchung die dunkle Stunde, die unwiderruflich werden kann. Darum sucht er nicht nach Bewährung seiner Kraft, sondern betet: führe uns nicht in Versuchung…
Der Gott aber, der es Tag und Nacht werden läßt, der gibt auf Zeiten des Durstes Zeiten der Erquickung, Gott gibt Sturm und er gibt ruhige Fahrt, Gott gibt Zeiten der Sorge und Angst und Gott gibt Zeiten der Freude …
Nicht was das Leben an sich sei, sondern wie Gott jetzt mit mir handelt, ist dem Christen wichtig. Gott verstößt mich und er nimmt mich wieder an, er zerstört mein Werk und er baut es wieder auf. »Ich bin der Herr und keiner mehr, der ich das Licht mache und schaffe die Finsternis, der ich Frieden gebe und schaffe das Übel« (Jesaja 45, 7). So lebt der Christ aus den Zeiten Gottes und nicht aus seinem eigenen Begriff vom Leben. So sagt er nicht, er stehe allezeit in Versuchung und alle Zeit in der Bewährung, sondern er betet in den Zeiten der Bewahrung, Gott wolle die Zeit der Versuchung nicht über ihn kommen lassen.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Illegale Theologenausbildung: Sammelvikariate 1937-1940, DBW 15, 373-374

Monday, 20 February 2017

The Opponents in 2 Peter

"The opponents’ ethical practice, in which sexual immorality seems prominent, is plausibly seen as an accommodation to the permissiveness of pagan society, a perennial temptation in the early church, especially when Christian morality impeded participation in the social life of the cities. The false teachers may therefore be seen as aiming to disencumber Christianity of its eschatology and its ethical rigorism, which seemed to them an embarrassment in their cultural environment, especially after the evident failure of the Parousia expectation. From a general familiarity with Hellenistic religious debate they were able to deploy current skeptical arguments about eschatology and divine revelation. Perhaps they saw themselves as rather daring young radicals trying to clear a lot of traditional nonsense out of the church. Whether they also had any positive religious teaching our evidence does not allow us to say. The analogy with radicals in other generations suggests that a largely negative message could have sounded impressive enough (cf. 2:18a)."

Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (WBC 50; Waco: Word Books, 1983), 156.

"They have abandoned Christian morality and embraced sexual immorality (2:2, 10, 14, 18), giving themselves over to the inordinate satisfaction of their desires, including drunkenness and gluttony (2:13). They engage in self-indulgent behavior and revelry in the context of the common banquet of the Christians. Although they promise “freedom” (2:19), they are people who live without moral law and are not subject to the divine command (2:21; 3:17). In truth, they are nothing more than “slaves of corruption” (2:19). One of their principal motivations is avarice (2:3, 14), viewing others as a means of gain, people to be exploited for their own ends. The heretics are arrogant in their denial of the Lord and their slander of celestial beings (2:2, 10, 12, 18), a trait especially evident in their strident skepticism (3:3–4)...

"The error of the heretics is doctrinal and not only moral. Peter calls them “false teachers,” who have tried to introduce “heresies of destruction” into the congregations (2:1) by using deceptive means (2:3). At the heart of the error is their skepticism regarding the coming of the Lord and the divine judgment on the day of the Lord (3:3–10). Their argument is that future judgment will never occur, and they rest their case on the apparent delay in the Lord’s advent (3:4, 9; cf. 2:3). They criticize the apostolic preaching regarding the coming as an invention of the preachers themselves and tag their proclamation as nothing more than “myth.” They even place prophetic inspiration in doubt, claiming that the prophets spoke of their own accord and incorrectly interpreted their own visions (1:20–21). This eschatological skepticism translates into an affirmation of liberty that throws off moral restraint (2:19; 3:3–4). Moreover, the heretics have sought support in Paul’s Letters, whose message they have twisted (3:15–16). The doctrinal and moral errors of the false teachers are joined at the hip. In fact, at the head of his denunciation Peter declares that the heresy is a denial of the Lord, who has bought them (2:1). At the heart of this denial is the rejection of his sovereignty over their moral lives (2:10).

"The false teachers are members of the Christian communities among whom they promote their error...

"The differences between the situations presented in Jude and 2 Peter argue against identifying the opponents as the same in both letters. The root of the moral problem that Jude combats is a perversion of the doctrine of grace (v. 4). On the other hand, the doctrinal error that is the foundation for the immorality of the opponents in 2 Peter is the negation of the parousia of Christ and future judgment (3:3–10)."

Gene L. Green, Jude and 2 Peter (BECNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 151–153.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Hauerwas on Matthew 5, Part Two

Jesus charges members of the church to confront those whom we think have sinned against us. He does not say that if we think we have been wronged we might consider confronting the one we believe has done us wrong. Jesus tells us that we must do so because the wrong is not against us, but rather against the body, that is, the very holiness of the church is at stake. Moreover, to be required to confront those whom we believe have wronged us is risky business because we may find out that we are mistaken.

Anger and lust are bodily passions. We simply are not capable of willing ourselves free of anger or lust. Jesus does not imply that we are to be free of either anger or lust; that is, he assumes that we are bodily beings. Rather, he offers us membership in a community in which our bodies are formed in service to God and for one another so that our anger and our lust are transformed...Alone we cannot conceive of an alternative to lust, but Jesus offers us participation in a kingdom hat is so demanding that we discover we have better things to do than to concentrate on our lust. If we are a people committed to peace in a world of war, if we are a people committed to faithfulness in a world of distrust, then we will be consumed by a way to live that offers freedom from being dominated by anger or lust.

Our speech always takes place in the presence of God. “Thus disciples of Jesus should not swear, because there is no such thing as speech not spoken before God. All of their words should be nothing but truth, so that nothing requires verification by oath. An oath consigns all other statements to the darkness of doubt. That is why it is ‘from the evil one’” (Bonhoeffer)

[Jesus] does not promise that if we turn the other cheek we will avoid being hit again. Nonretaliation is not a strategy to get what we want by other means. Rather, Jesus calls us to the practice of nonretaliation because that is the form that God’s care of us took in his cross. In like manner Christians are to give more than we are asked to give, we are to give to those who beg, because that is the character of God.

To be a disciple of Jesus, to be ready to be reconciled with those with whom we are angry, to be faithful in marriage, to take the time required to tell the truth – all are habits that create the time and space to be capable of loving our enemies.

We are be perfect, but perfection names our participation in Christ’s love of his enemies.

Excerpted from Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew (SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible; London: SCM Press, 2006), pp. 68-72.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Hauerwas on Matthew 5

The Sermon on the Mount cannot help but become a law, an ethic, if what is taught is abstracted from the teacher...the ecclesial practices that have legitimated questions about whether Jesus‘s teachings in the sermon are meant to be followed are but reflections of Christologies that separate the person and work of Christ...
The not a list of requirements, but rather a description of the life of a people gathered by and around Jesus. To be saved is to be so gathered. That is why the Beatitudes are the interpretive key to the whole sermon – precisely because they are not recommendations. No one is asked to go out and try to be poor in spirit or to mourn or to be meek. Rather, Jesus is indicating that given the reality of the kingdom we should not be surprised to find among those who follow him those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek. Moreover, Jesus does not suggest that everyone who follows him will possess al the Beatitudes, but we can be sure that some will be poor, some will mourn, and some will be meek.
For the church to be so constituted, according to Bonhoeffer, requires the visibility of the church. To be salt, to be made light for the world, is a call for the church to be visible...Christians, however, are tempted to become invisible, justifying their identification with the surrounding culture in the name of serving the neighbor...

This does not mean that those who would follow Jesus do so that they may be seen. Nor are disciples called to be different in order to be different. Jesus clearly thinks that disciples will be different, but that difference is because of what he is – the Son of God...

Each of the Beatitudes names a gift, but it is not presumed that everyone who is a follower of Jesus will possess each beatitude. Rather, the gifts named in the Beatitudes suggest that the diversity of these gifts will be present in the community of those who have heard Jesus’s call to discipleship. Indeed, to learn to be a disciple is to learn why we are dependent on those who mourn or who are meek, though we may not possess that gift ourselves...

the source for any understanding of the Beatitudes must be Jesus. It is from Jesus that we learn what it means to be “poor in spirit.” Thus Paul can commend the Philippians to have “the same mind...that was in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 2:5-8]

Paul does not assume that our poverty of spirit is the same as Jesus’s self-emptying, but rather that Jesus’s poverty has made it possible for a people to exist who can live dispossessed of possessions. To be poor does not in itself make one a follower of Jesus, but it can put you in the vicinity of what it might mean to discover the kind of poverty that frees those who follow Jesus from enslavement to the world. Not to be missed, moreover, is the political significance of such poverty. Too often we fail to recognize our accommodation to worldly powers because we fear losing our wealth – wealth that can take quite diverse forms.

Perhaps no beatitude is more christocentric that Jesus’s commendation of those who mourn, for they are, like him, prepared to live in the world renouncing what the world calls happiness and even peace...Like Jesus, moreover, the disciples endure injustice with the hard meekness that still hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Yet the righteousness of this new people is blessed by the mercy seen in the forgiveness that Christ showed even to those who would kill him. Such a people are capable of peacemaking because they are sustained by the purity derived from having no other telos but to enact the kingdom embodied in Jesus.

Excerpted from Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew (SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible; London: SCM Press, 2006), pp. 58-65.