Shuck and Jive

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Post #10: Jesus, Titles, and Resurrection

Here is the latest in Conversations with Bob! Bob's at bat!

John, just so you know, I looked at and listened to the song on You Tube about creation science. Then with a little skipping around I found it only takes 5 clicks to go from there to Woodstock! Just thought you would want to know. I also took the 1st Amendment quiz and got 18 out of 21 correct.

Ahem . . . Anyway, it seems we agree about cosmology and evolution and even agree about some of the meaning of Jesus, the titles given to Jesus and the resurrection in the Bible.

And I am not a progressive. In fact I have some concerns about the term that I’ll talk about later. I’m a Christian, a theological descendant of the reformers, particularly of the Reformed crowd from Switzerland, and an Evangelical. Oh, and while we are on the subject of titles, please don’t call me a conservative. I don’t want to be tied to evolutionary economics, (which was liberal in the 1870’s but is now conservative), that believes in the survival of the fittest in economic terms. Personally I try to be radically Biblical.

Now, just a bit of showing off before we get down to business: John your picture of the ancient view of the cosmos is accurate. But did you know that the word used in Hebrew in Genesis 1 for the firmament is literally translated “beaten brass?” Just a bit of useless knowledge I picked up teaching adult Bible classes. I want Christians to be educated about what the Biblical writers originally said and meant, about how the Old Testament messages are reinterpreted in the New Testament and how to apply the Biblical text in life today! Personally I like to use the Kerygma studies.

The things we agree upon:

  1. The Bible, taken as a whole and not just the New Testament, is a radical book. The Biblical writers quite often, although not always, speak against the principalities and the powers. (The big exception is some of the wisdom literature.) The Exodus describes how God conquers empire and frees people. The prophets criticize the powerful among the people of Israel who lord it over the poor and the powerless. Even the 1st chapter of Genesis, which I think was written in exile in Babylon, was an in your face message to the Babylonians: “All that stuff you think are your gods? My God created them! And they aren’t gods they are as much a part of creation as you and I!” And on top of that it’s a complicated rhythmic poem too. The early Christians did say to Caesar and the Roman Empire, “You are not in charge, you are not a god and we will not worship you. Jesus, when he died, exposed you for what you are: evil!”
  2. Some of the titles used for Jesus in the gospels were also used for Caesar.
  3. I think we agree that the New Testament writers and editors used some apocalyptic imagery to talk about Rome. We have, I think, agreed that I think Jesus used apocalyptic imagery and you aren’t sure if he did or not.

Now for some stuff that I am not sure we agree or disagree about, given your last post:

  1. Some titles used for Jesus in the gospels and in other parts of the New Testament were originally used for kings in Israel. You see the king called the son of God in the Psalms, (see Psalm 2:7). Others come from titles for God, such as savior and redeemer, referring to YHWH’s gracious action leading the people out of Egypt. I suspect that you did not intend to take the 1st century issues in Israel out of the context Jewish history, tradition and poetry. Still, if we fail to examine the interrelationship between the Old Testament and the ways the New Testament writers reframed the messages of the Old Testament to talk about Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament, we miss an important part of the background.
  2. The title, Son of Man. In the gospels this is the title Jesus most often uses for himself. Now the big question is what did Jesus mean when he used the term? Some think it simply meant human being. There are OT referents for that. Some think it meant prophet, as used about and in Ezekiel. Some, and this is where I fit in, think it comes from Daniel, referring to the Son of Man, the apocalyptic judge who would come at the end of the age. Matthew and Mark both have Jesus quote Daniel 7:13 during his trial. Curiously, Mark and Luke refer to the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God. We might disagree about the meaning of this title and we also might disagree as to whether Jesus used this title himself or whether it was added later.
  3. Jesus avoids calling himself and allowing others to call him Messiah and son of God like the plague, in part because he did not believe it was his task to be the violent revolutionary Messiah expected by many of his contemporaries. This, by the way, may be one of the reasons Jesus died, from a human perspective. His non-violent way disappointed those who wanted a violent Messiah. On the other hand, if we believe the gospel stories, he acted in ways during his final week that almost begged the Roman and temple leaders to arrest him and kill him. The parade into Jerusalem on the donkey and the cleansing of the temple were like waving red flags before a bull.
  4. The gospel writers and Paul make a very big deal of the death and resurrection of Jesus being fact and having meaning. The writer of 1 John and 1 Peter make it a big deal too (1 Jn. 1:1-4, 2:1-2 and 1 Pt. 1:3-5). See Paul in 1 Cor 1: 18-2:5 for his emphasis on the crucifixion. Does the crucifixion have power simply because it reveals the power of Rome as evil or does it have power for other reasons as well? See also Romans 1:5-11 for talk about Jesus’ death and resurrection bringing salvation. Also, see Eph. 2 and Col 1. (I recognize that we might disagree as to whether Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians were written by Paul or not. At the very least we can agree that they are Pauline.) The gospel was a stumbling block for many Jews in the 1st century because they did not believe that the Messiah could die. The gospel was scandalous to Greeks because they had a real problem with the idea of bodily resurrection. See Paul’s speech in Athens, Acts 17. I’ll talk more about Greek philosophy and world views that brought horror to Greeks at the idea of a bodily resurrection later if you want.

In other words, I see no reason to reject the importance of the crucifixion and resurrection as salvific events that, in the power of the Holy Spirit release humans from the power of sin and death simply because the gospel also speaks to how God, through the life and message of Jesus, wants us to live in the present age. I suspect this might be our fundamental area of disagreement. I believe that God liberates us in Christ both for life in service to Christ in this present age and for life in the age to come. Indeed the parables of Jesus about the Kingdom of God/Heaven tell us what life will be like in the Kingdom therefore we are to do all that we can to make the Kingdom alive in the present age. And anyone who claims to be a Christian but just sits around trying to calculate when Jesus will return or worse oppresses people and destroys God’s good earth will have some serious explaining to do when Jesus returns. Just like there are going to be a bunch of white separatists who call themselves Christians who will be very surprised when they see black folk in the Kingdom of God waving as they themselves descend into hell.

I learned about being Kingdom people from Reformed types in college and seminary. My wife learned back then to read the fine print on soup cans in the grocery store to see just what international corporations try to feed us. She insisted then and insists now that we look at the real price of an item which includes the payment of a living wage to the grower or miner, the factory worker and also the cost to the earth. We don’t see these as a part of the message of the New Testament that is boiled down to remove the accretions of the 1st century Church’s desire for redemption and eternal life but an integral part of the same message.

Frankly, John, I don’t see why you seem to feel the need to separate the New Testament explanation of the meaning of the crucifixion and the resurrection from the call to live for peace and justice. I suspect it has something to do with your ideas of the cosmology of the 1st century as compared to the cosmology of today and with your ideas about being a progressive. Maybe you can explain this to me because I just don’t see the contradiction.


  1. You guys are having too much fun and I need to butt in.

    I put some notes down in rapture wrap up #2. There I say that in the theology of the Incarnation I don't see a problem with God literally using the cosmology of the day to send a message, any more than I see a problem with Him having a male "born" son speaking Aramaic to send a message.

    But I left out one important point. John, you stated "The miracle or the scandal of the faith is not that Jesus rose from the dead or ascended to heaven. Gods and divine men did that all the time."

    I don't think that is right.

    The bodily resurrection of Jesus violates every cosmology of his time as much as it violates our own.

    The Greeks believed in the immortality of the disembodied soul, and the the Hebrews believed in either the finality of death or the resurrection of the body in the last days, but nobody expected a bodily resurrection of Jesus, son of God or not. Sons of God always died to be replaced by the next guy to get the title. That was the whole point of war and assassination as a means to regime change. Still is.

    So I guess I have two points.

    One, just because a cosmology is obsolete as are the ancient languages of Aramaic and Greek, it doesn't mean God - or Jesus for that matter - did not use it. That is the whole point of the incarnation.

    Two, having firmly planted himself within the boundaries of a human culture, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is >the< evidence that God is doing something totally new and different precisely >because< it challenges any cosmology known to man, old or new.

    As a PS, as I happen to be well trained in science, I have to say that disembodied souls living in some other dimension of reality are more difficult to imagine than a resurrection of the body. Too much of people's personalities are tied to the biochemical machine we call a body. Just ask any living relative of a brain injured person, or even of a bodily injured person. We are very much a function of our bodies.

    Here I think the Greeks and our own popular culture have it wrong. Unless and until the day our bodies come back to life, when we die we die. The end.

  2. Alright, this is too interesting of a conversation not to jump in. In particular I am interested in addressing the question of eschatology and apocalypticism.

    One thing Bob and John seem to agree on is that pre-millenarian dispensationalism is wrong. It's both "bad exegesis" as Bob says and it encourages sitting on your hands as John says. One thing John seems to do however, is apply this same critique not just to the Left Behind types but to any form of apocalyptic or second coming eschatology at all. He seems to do this for two reasons - 1) it is difficult at best to harmonize an apocalyptic eschatology with what we know of modern cosmology, and 2) he thinks apocalypticism leads to complacency.

    Let me say right out - I think that apocalypticism is deeply embedded in the DNA of Christianity. I think we lose something crucial to the faith if we aren't continuing to proclaim the immanent arrival of God's Kingdom. I think that Jesus was an apocalyptic thinker. I think his immediate followers were apocalytpic thinkers. I think the church in all of its better moments has been apocalyptic. This is not, however, the same as saying I affirm ridiculous ideas like the Rapture. So let us look at John's 2 concerns...

    1) there is no question that it is difficult to harmonize a modern cosmology with most forms of apocalypticism. No one should just pass over this lightly as if it wasn't a serious issue. If Jesus is coming back, then where is he coming from, how is he getting here etc... These are legitimate questions. Nevertheless I also think they are red herrings. We aren't given to know the day and the hour, nor the manner of the Lord's coming - nor even precisely what that means. John is right in some ways to make a distinction between theological language and scientific language. We don't have in scripture or anywhere else a scientific description of what the eschaton is going to be like. We shouldn't bother ourselves therefore with attempting to nail down all the details. It is enough to affirm it is coming and that it will not come in the way we expect and leave it there.

    2) John's second concern, complacency, is easier to answer. A healthy apocalyptic eschatology doesn't lead to complacency at all. Quite the contrary. Virtually, every other speech Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave contained references to the coming kingdom, "going to the mountain", "the promised land" etc... The Civil Rights movement was powered by an engine that was fed apocalyptic eschatology as fuel. In fact, the church is more than a club, the church becomes a movement when it properly proclaims the immanent arrival of God's kingdom. It is the immanence of that arrival, it is the fact that GOD is doing it, which frees human beings to act for the improvement of the world. Progressive ideology (in the sense that we have confidence in human "progress") is actually the most hopeless of all positions, because left to our own devices we humans make a mess of things. There has never been a single day in recorded history without a war going on somewhere on this planet. No, we are not going to get ourselves out of this muck. What we need is confidence in the God of the exodus, the God who acts in history, in order to be free to take risks, because the results are in God's hands.

  3. Hey Jodie and Aric!

    Glad you are both butting and jumping! Bob may have some responses, but rather than respond here, I will try and take it up in my next response to Bob!

    Ain't this fun!!

  4. For once I agree with Jodie. Maybe the Eschaton has arrived.

  5. I'm not sure that I see a direct connection between a bodily resurrection per se and cosmology. Cosmology has to do with how the universe as a whole is formed and how its components related to one another. So a bodily resurrection isn't directly related to that. Physical laws, yes--but cosmology specifically, not really. The ascension is another matter altogether. That is a story right out of myth, and it fits in neatly with the ancient cosmology that we now know not to be true.