Results tagged “biblical theology” from Reformation21 Blog

Christ in Flesh and Spirit

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Over the past 150 years or so, there has been a biblical theological development in our understanding of Paul's use of the σαρκ/πνεύμα (i.e. flesh/Spirit) distinction--specifically in relation to the Person and work of Christ. The most significant passage in this regard is Romans 1:3-4. The "ontological view," represented by Calvin, Hodge, Cranfield et al, held that Paul was merely referring to the two natures of Jesus when he wrote that Christ was "the seed of David according to the flesh" and "declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of Holiness through the resurrection of the dead." The "redemptive-historical view," represented by Warfield, Vos, Murray, Skilton, Gaffin and Ridderbos, understood Paul to be referring to two sequential stages of experience in existence--one according to the flesh (i.e. according to the old age) and the other according to the Spirit (i.e. according to the new era of the Spirit). 

In his essay, "The Christ that Paul Preached," B.B. Warfield* set out the "ontological view" of the passage when he wrote:

If we reduce what he tells us to its lowest terms it amounts just to this: Paul preached the historical Christ as the promised Messiah and as the very Son of God. But he declares Christ to be the promised Messiah and the very Son of God in language so pregnant, so packed with implications, as to carry us into the heart of the great problem of the two-natured person of Christ. The exact terms in which he describes Christ as the promised Messiah and the very Son of God are these: "Who became of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was marked out as the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead." This in brief is the account which Paul gives of the historical Christ whom he preached.

In his defense of the "ontological" view, Warfield stressed the truth about the two natures united together in the one Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. While this was representative of the way in which most older theologians read the passage, Warfield also saw a "redemptive-historical" shift in the juxtaposition of the language used in vv. 3 and 4. He went on to explain that he saw something of a redemptive-historical teaching in the passage as well:

Of course there is a temporal succession suggested in the declarations of the two clauses. They so far give us not only a description of the historical Christ, but the life-history of the Christ that Paul preached. Jesus Christ became of the seed of David at His birth and by His birth. He was marked out as the Son of God in power only at His resurrection and by His resurrection. But it was not to indicate this temporal succession that Paul sets the two declarations side by side. It emerges merely as the incidental, or we may say even the accidental, result of their collocation. The relation in which Paul sets the two declarations to one another is a logical rather than a temporal one: it is the relation of climax. His purpose is to exalt Jesus Christ. He wishes to say the great things about Him. And the two greatest things he has to say about Him in His historical manifestation are these - that He became of the seed of David according to the flesh, that He was marked out as the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead.1

Geerhardus Vos explained the "redemptive-historical view" when he wrote:

...As to the one He was "from the seed of David," as to the other He was "out of resurrection from the dead." The resurrection (both of Jesus and believers) is therefore--according to Paul--the entering upon a new phase of sonship characterized by the possession and exercise of unique supernatural power. That this should apply to Christ's body alone, or to the exertion by Chris of somatic power on the bodies of believers alone, while not here expressly denied, is in itself highly implausible. The above interpretation does not, of course, imply that Paul denied the supernatural conception of Jesus by the Spirit. Precisely because speaking of the pneuma-state in the absolute eschatological sense, he could disregard here the previous Spirit-birth and the Spirit-endowment at the baptism.2

Following Vos' exegesis, the late John Murray also held that Romans 1:3-4 was teaching two progressive stages in the redemptive-historical experience of Jesus. He helpfully explained what the shift in the two stages of experience meant for Jesus--and for believers in union with Christ--when he wrote:

Just as "according to the flesh" in verse 3 defines the phase which came to be through being born of the seed of David, so "according to the Spirit of holiness" characterizes the phase which came to be through the resurrection...

...The only conclusion is that Christ is now by reason of the resurrection so endowed with and in control of the Holy Spirit that, without any confusion of the distinct persons, Christ is identified with the Spirit and is called "the Lord of the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18). Thus, when we come back to the expression "according to the Spirit of holiness", our inference is that it refers to that stage of pneumatic endowment upon which Jesus entered through his resurrection. The text, furthermore, expressly relates "Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness" with "the resurrection from the dead" and the appointment can be none other than that which came to be by the resurrection. The thought of verse 4 would then be that the lordship in which he was instated by the resurrection is one all-pervasively conditioned by pneumatic powers. The relative weakness of his pre-resurrection state, reflected on in verse 3, is contrasted with the triumphant power exhibited in his post-resurrection lordship. What is contrasted is not a phase in which Jesus is not the Son of God and another in which he is. He is the incarnate Son of God in both states, humiliation and exaltation, and to regard him as the Son of God in both states belongs to the essence of Paul's gospel as the gospel of God. But the pre-resurrection and post-resurrection states are compared and contrasted, and the contrast hinges on the investiture with power by which the latter is characterized.3

John Skilton, in his outstanding 1996 WTJ article "A Glance At Some Old Problems in First Peter," appealed to the importance of adopting the redemptive-historical view of Romans 1:3-4 and arriving at a similar conclusion on the difficult exegesis of 1 Peter 3:18-20:

Readers of the NT have been puzzled at times by statements that seem to indicate that our Lord has become something that he already had been before. For example, in Matt 28:18, Jesus says: "All power has been given unto me in heaven and on earth." The reader asks, "Did he not have all power previously?" In Acts 2:36, Peter says: "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made that same Jesus whom you have crucified both Lord and Christ." One inquires, "Was not Jesus both Lord and Christ already?" Other verses raise similar questions. The answer to these questions will be found in a right understanding of 1 Pet 3:18. At the close of that verse Peter writes: θανατωθεὶς μὲν σαρκὶ ζῳοποιηθεὶς δὲ πνεύματι....Flesh and spirit represent two spheres 
of existence or two successive conditions of Christ's human nature... 

 ...Marked off in 1 Pet 3:18, as in Rom 1:3-4, would be two successive stages in our Lord's messianic work. These different stages are reflected also in such verses as Matt 28:18 and Acts 2:36...The second stage, introduced by the resurrection, was "one all-pervasively conditioned by pneumatic powers." The πνεύματι in 1 Pet 3:18 accordingly refers not only to the resurrection, but also to the state of power that followed it.4

While the "ontological view" falls entirely within the realm of the analogy of Scripture and analogy of faith, it does not do full justice to the exegetical construct of Romans 1:3-4. Much more satisfying is the explanation provided by Warfield, Vos, Murray, Skilton, Gaffin and Ridderbos. Understanding the σαρκ/πνεύμα (i.e. flesh/Spirit) distinction in redemptive history helps us understand more of what we have as believers living in the new age (i.e. the age of the Spirit) waiting for the consummation of that age when Christ comes in His glory.   

1. B. B. Warfield, "The Christ that Paul Preached," in The Person and Work of Christ (ed. Samuel G. Craig; Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1950), 73-90. 

2. Geerhards Vos The Pauline Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1961) n. 10 pp. 155-156. For a continued treatment of this passage see Vos' chapter, "The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Concept of the Spirit" in the Princeton Seminary Biblical and Theological Studies p. 228ff. 

3. John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) 6. 


The Climactic Word - Transfigured Hermeneutics 6

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This is the sixth of a ten part treatment of the significance of the Transfiguration for Christian theology and biblical reflection. I am currently exploring the way in which the Transfiguration draws upon associations with the events of the Exodus and Mount Sinai and upon broader Old Testament themes.

At Sinai, the Law of God was given to Israel on tablets of stone. At the Transfiguration, God declares that Jesus is his Son and his Word to the world: 'This is my beloved Son. Hear Him!' Jesus is God's climactic word, the Word that all of the other words anticipated. Although Jesus' identity as God's Son and Word given to the world is the fundamental implication of the gospels and the New Testament in their entirety, it is here, at the Transfiguration, that God's gift of his Son as his revelation to the world is declared in a direct and unmediated word from God himself.

Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, both persons who had spectacular yet fleeting visions of God's glory at Mount Sinai and both persons who had experienced a form of transfiguration by the Glory of God themselves (Moses' shining face and Elijah's ascent in the divine throne chariot in 2 Kings 2). Moses was the one through whom God gave the Law; Elijah was the one through whom God established a remnant prophetic movement. Between them they are the two greatest OT witnesses: some have seen Moses as representing the Law, and Elijah the prophets. They stand for all of the revelation that had come beforehand, revelation that witnesses to and is exceeded by God's gift of his Son.

Moses and Elijah speak with Jesus concerning what he is about to fulfil. Jesus' superiority to them is apparent, especially as they are removed from the scene and God testifies to his Son. Even the most important prophets and mediators of revelation in the Old Testament are surpassed by Jesus.

The words of God's declaration concerning his Son in verse 35 resonate deeply within the world of the Old Testament. Richard Hays observes the presence of Genesis 22 and Isaiah 42:1--'Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights'--in the background of God's declaration at Jesus' Baptism. The Isaiah echo is more prominent in Luke 9, where it is 'amplified into a more explicit allusion' as Jesus is referred to as the 'chosen one'.[1] This designation as the Isaianic Servant presents Jesus as the True Israel, and as God's faithful covenant partner.

In contrast to the divine voice at Jesus' Baptism, the voice here is directed to the disciples, not to Jesus himself. The disciples are instructed to 'hear' Jesus, a probable allusion to Deuteronomy 18:15-19. The promised Prophet like Moses is one that the people must 'hear' (cf. Acts 3:22). Jesus is the One for whom Elijah was preparing the way and he is the great Prophet like Moses that was foretold. His word comes with a glorious finality in the history of redemption, the revelation that will not be surpassed. 'God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son ... the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person' (Heb. 1:1-2).

In Malachi 4:4-6, the final verses of the Old Testament prophets, the coming Day of the LORD is announced and the people are told to remember the 'Law of Moses,' God's servant. It is also promised that 'Elijah' will appear 'before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.' This prophecy is prominent in the context of the Transfiguration account, where Matthew's account records Jesus referring the prophecy concerning Elijah to John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-13). As Moses and Elijah are the great witnesses and the ones who will prepare the way for the climactic coming of the LORD himself, their appearance with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration is very fitting.

Moses and Elijah speak with Jesus about his departure--literally his 'Exodus'--that he was about to 'fulfil' in Jerusalem. The use of such a resonant term at this juncture is worthy of attention: Moses and Elijah are not merely referring to Jesus' coming death as an event about to befall him, but to his purposeful and powerful outworking of a new Exodus, in which all previous and anticipatory 'exoduses' will be fulfilled and all the promises of God realized. Jesus' departure--his 'Exodus'--is more than merely his death: it is also his resurrection, ascension, and his deliverance of a great multitude of captives. By his death and resurrection Christ tears open the sea of Death and Hell, allowing all of his people to pass through unscathed, while drowning all of their pursuers behind them.

The literary purpose of the overarching Exodus motif in this passage in Luke, to which I drew attention earlier, should become more apparent now. Luke's use of a mini-exodus pattern in this passage is akin to the composer of the film score who allows the hero's theme to surface in the background, readying the audience for its full expression as the hero achieves his magnificent victory. Luke wants our minds to be on Exodus, so we will understand both what is taking place on the mountain and what Jesus is about to go to Jerusalem to achieve. Jesus' Exodus will be the culmination of redemptive history, the decisive, definitive, and dreadful statement of fundamental themes that had been hitherto only quietly, yet pervasively, intimated.

Within the next post, I will discuss the relationship between the Transfiguration and the parousia.

Notes:

[1] Richard Hays, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014) p. 60.

The High Priest and the New Temple: Transfigured Hermeneutics 5

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This is the fifth of a multipart discussion of the importance of the event of the Transfiguration for Christian theology and biblical reflection. I have argued for illuminating parallels between the events of Sinai and that of the Transfiguration. My previous two posts explored the gospels' presentation of Christ as God's glory theophany. Within this post I will turn to the themes of priesthood and sanctuary, which the gospel accounts of the Transfiguration also share with the events of Sinai recorded in Exodus.

If Jesus' baptism by John in the Jordan was, as Peter Leithart has argued, an initiation into priesthood, his Transfiguration declares his great high priesthood as the Son over God's house:
Other details of the transfiguration have priestly connotations: The event occurs on the "eighth day," which was the beginning of Aaron's ministry (Lev. 9:1; Luke 9:28); Jesus' clothing is transformed into garments of flashing glory like those worn by the High Priest (Luke 9:29); glory surrounds Jesus (Luke 9:31, 32); Peter wants to build "tabernacles" (Luke 9:33); and Moses and Elijah disappear after a cloud overshadows the mountain (Luke 9:34; cf. Exod. 40:34-38). Shortly after, Jesus begins His march to Jerusalem, where He will cleanse the temple, begin to teach, and eventually offer His once-for-all sacrifice (Luke 9:51; cf. v. 31). The transfiguration publishes the truth of the baptism: Jesus has been, and will be, glorified as High Priest over the house.[1]
In light of Jesus' revelation as the great and glorious High Priest, the sacrificial character of his death becomes more apparent. As Jesus sets his face towards his death in Jerusalem, he unveils himself as the archetypal High Priest and Son over the heavenly sanctuary. Jesus is not overtaken by events nor cornered by the political machinations and conspiracies of his enemies: he goes to the cross with the power and determination of the heavenly High Priest who will accomplish his sacrifice.

In Matthew's account of the Transfiguration, temple-building themes are present in the near vicinity. In 16:17-19, in response to Peter's confession, Christ declares that he will build his Church--his assembly--upon the rock of Peter. As Leithart observes, there is a mixture of imagery here. The architectural language of building would suggest Temple-construction, as would the context, where Peter has just identified Jesus as the Christ, the figure who would establish the true Temple. However, the specific term used for the Church is not the term for a building, but for a human assembly, an assembly that can carry military connotations (connotations that are live in Matthew 16, where conflict with the gates of Hades is prominent). This fusion of imagery is suggestive: the 'building' of the new Temple is not a physical building made with hands, but an assembly of people that God would indwell.

These themes of building resurface in a surprising way within the narrative of the Transfiguration, where Peter suggests that they build three tabernacles, one for Jesus, one for Elijah, and one for Moses. Peter's proposal, especially as it features within Luke's gospel--where it is uttered as Elijah and Moses where parting from Jesus--seems to be an attempt to get them to stay.

Many commentators have seen in the word 'tabernacles' a possible allusion to the Exodus Tabernacle or, alternatively, to the Feast of Tabernacles (a feast commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, Leviticus 23:39-43). Whether this is reading too much into the term or not, God takes Peter's mundane proposal and responds in a manner charged with theological meaning, implying that Peter unwittingly said more than he knew (v.33b).

We should recognize the cloud that descends as the Glory cloud--the Shekinah--that came upon Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16), the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-38), and the Temple (1 Kings 8:10-13). Peter had suggested that they build 'tabernacles', so that they might continue to enjoy the presence of Moses and Elijah. God's responds by removing Elijah and Moses, but causing the Shekinah to descend upon Jesus and his disciples. Peter's desire that Moses and Elijah tarry with them in temporary 'tabernacles' is answered by God's enacted declaration that Jesus is the Tabernacle of his personal dwelling, the glorious Son who must eclipse all lesser reflective lights.

Peter believed that it would be good to delay the departure of Moses and Elijah. However, Moses and Elijah must decrease so that Christ can increase. They are witnesses that must step back when the One they foretold arrives. The Law and the Prophets are passing and temporary: Christ is lasting and permanent. Peter and the disciples would be called to build something. However, it wouldn't be a temporary tabernacle, but an eternally enduring Temple.

Just as God gave Moses the plans for the Tabernacle on Mount Sinai in Exodus and revealed the plans for a new prophetic temple to Ezekiel on a high mountain in Ezekiel 40, so God reveals his new Temple on the mount of Transfiguration. The Temple is Christ himself, in whom all of the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, and the assembly of his people. Peter, James, and John are fellow cornerstones of the new Temple, with Christ himself the chief. Christ is both the glorious High Priest and the new Temple.

Within my next post, I will conclude my discussion of the parallels between the Transfiguration and the events of Sinai.

Notes:

[1] Peter Leithart, The Priesthood of the Plebs: A Theology of Baptism (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2003), p. 119-120

This is the fourth part of a multipart discussion of the importance of the event of the Transfiguration for Christian theology and biblical reflection. In my first three posts, I argued for the significance accorded to the Transfiguration by its location within the narrative structure of the gospel, I explored the manner in which it is cast in relation with the events of Sinai, and I argued that it implicitly presents Christ as the divine glory theophany that was partially witnessed in the old covenant. Within this post I will turn to the gospel of John which, despite not recording the event of the Transfiguration, manifests a robust appreciation of Jesus as divine glory theophany.

John 1:14-18 is another instance where the Exodus theophany to Moses on the mountain is alluded to within the gospels. Jesus is the glorious only begotten of the Father, 'full of grace and truth,' the Word that has become flesh and 'tabernacled' among us. God's presence in the world in Jesus Christ is comparable to his presence in the midst of his people in the Sinai tabernacle. In verse 32 of the chapter, John the Baptist bears witness to the Spirit descending and remaining upon Jesus, much as the Glory cloud descended and remained upon Sinai and the tabernacle (cf. Exodus 33:9; 34:5).

Within the biblical resonance chamber provided by the Exodus theophany to Moses, John identifies Jesus as the Glory-face of God. No one has seen God at any time (v.18, cf. Exodus 33:20), yet in Jesus Christ we behold the glory of God. While Moses saw the 'back' of God's glory presence, the Son is in the very 'bosom' of the Father. The Word made flesh is 'full of grace and truth' (v.14b), an expression deeply redolent of Exodus 34:6, where God describes himself as 'abounding in goodness and truth.' By such literary parallels, John reveals that the Glory-face of God is made known in Jesus Christ.

Moses, having witnessed the Glory-presence of God, was the mediator through whom the Law was delivered. Moses and the Law gave testimony to this glory, but neither of them were this glory. While the Law came through Moses, 'grace and truth'--the very theophanic presence of God--comes through Jesus Christ. Moses and the Law testified to the glory of God: Christ is that glory. In seeing Christ, we become like Moses, witnessing the very glory of God.

The claim in John 1:18--'no one has seen God at any time'--is a statement that needs to be qualified (cf. Exodus 24:10-11, which explicitly says that Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel 'saw' the God of Israel). Exodus 33:20 helps us to clear up what might be meant here. No one can see God's 'face' and live, while Moses could see God's back. Ezekiel saw the figure of a 'likeness with the appearance of a man' (the accumulation of phenomenological terms is important here, serving as linguistic veils at points beyond which direct expression dare not tread) in Ezekiel 1:26-28. However, while the body is described both above and below the waist, no description of the face is given. Moses saw the pre-existent Son, but not as we see him. The face is the focal point of the person's identity--their countenance. By contrast with the theophanies of the OT, Jesus' face is central at the Transfiguration (this is also the case in Revelation 1, which shares with Matthew 17:2 the description of Jesus' face shining like the sun in its glory). In Jesus, God's face is finally seen.

This theme of Jesus as the Glory-face of God, the ultimate theophanic revelation, continues throughout the gospel of John. 1:14-18 and presents Jesus as the glorious revelation of God that Moses witnessed upon Mount Sinai. In 1:32-34, John the Baptist has a theophanic revelation of Jesus' identity as the Spirit descends and remains upon him. In 1:51, Jesus presents himself as Jacob's Ladder (cf. Genesis 28:12), the connection between heaven and earth. Perhaps we can see a progression here: the first theophany is of the descending Word; the second theophany is of the descending Spirit upon the descended Word; the third theophany is of the angels of God ascending and descending upon the descended Word upon whom the Spirit rests. In Jesus Christ, heaven is taking up residence on earth.

John's implicit identification of Christ as both the agent and glorious fulfilment of the great theophanies of the history of Israel establishes Christ's pre-existence and discloses the deep unity of covenant history. The glory that Jesus will be raised to is the glory that he enjoyed with the Father before the world was (17:5), the eschatological glory anticipated by the patriarch (8:58), the theophanic Glory-face of the Lord witnessed by the prophets (12:41). Christ is not a new actor in Israel's history, but the once veiled One who has been active all the time and has now, in the fullness of time, made himself known.

For a time this Glory is concealed. As Meredith Kline observes, the pattern of concealment followed by glorious revelation that we see within the Old Testament itself 'has its antitypical parallel in the successive states of humiliation and exaltation in the history of the incarnate Son, whose triumphant exodus entrance into the heavenly kingdom is marked by his investiture in the clouds of glory as the glorified Spirit-Lord.'[1] The pattern of concealment followed by manifest glory is both recapitulated and escalated within the New Testament, so that, even with the dramatic displays of glory of the Exodus and Sinai succeeding the concealment of the patriarchal theophanies, the Old Testament represents, relative to the New, a period of concealment. While John may not record the event of the Transfiguration, he shares the Synoptics' concern to show forth Jesus as the temporarily veiled but now revealed Glory-face of God.

Within the next post, I will turn to explore the theme of priesthood and tabernacle in the context of the Transfiguration, discussing some further respects in which it parallels the events on Mount Sinai.

Notes

[1] Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999), p. 73

The guys at Beginning with Moses (a helpful site out of the UK on biblical theological matters) recently did an Interview with Vern Poythress on Biblical Theology. The interview is in conjunction with Dr. Poythress's introductory Survey of the History of Salvation for the ESV Study Bible.