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Legal (Biblical) Agency

If a king sent an ambassador to another country to negotiate with another king in behalf of the king who sent him, then the ambassador’s word was as valid as if the king who sent him were physically present and speaking. The ambassador was the word of the king made flesh, or, said differently, the incarnate word of the king. Within the limits of his assignment, the ambassador was legally the king, and when the ambassador was present, the king was legally present.

George Wesley Buchanan Jesus without Fabrication (Lexington, KY: Emeth Press, 2009), pp. 19-20.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2015 in Agency, Christology

 

Chris Tilling, Dave Barron, and Jewish Monotheism

On March 4, 2014 at the Theopologetics website episode 113 (“You Are God Alone [Not A God]”) was posted. The discussion on this particular episode involved participants Dave Barron and Chris Tilling. Dave took the position that the relationship Christians share with the risen Jesus stems from God’s exaltation, while Chris Tilling maintained that such relationship stems from his being a participant in what has been termed the ‘divine identity,’ a sophisticated euphemism for ‘ontological’ oneness.

The very term “divine identity” is unhelpful unless clarified. What does it mean? What does it mean for Jesus to have been included in the divine identity? Can the language associated with “divine identity” be extended to a human being who has shown to be favored by God and therefore exalted and given equal legal status? If not, why not? Because by definition, this human being bares God’s very identity as his apostle. Yet, one wouldn’t come to the conclusion that this human being is YHWH himself in ousia. Thus, if divine identity can be understood so broadly, nothing new has been stated by Tilling and others using the same language.

Now, Tilling’s argument more precisely is that the relational language used of Jesus by Paul only mirrors the relationship YHWH had with Israel. In the podcast, Tilling goes on to say that based on the language second temple Jews used to describe their relationship with YHWH, and Paul utilizing that same language of Christ, is in “a very Jewish Christian way saying Jesus isn’t merely an exalted being, nor even some kind of divine god… [instead this language suggests] he is on the divine side of the line,” i.e., he’s included in the “divine identity.” (1:31:00-1:32:15)

Tilling doesn’t offer an explanation for what it means to be on the “divine side of the line” other than suggesting he shares in some sort of unique transcendence. (“Unique transcendence” is equally vague and unhelpful without specificity)

The question that now arises is this: Was it within a second temple Jew’s theological horizon to include another person on the “divine side of the line” in a way that is more than legal? In order for Tilling and others to justify an inclusion of another person within God’s ousia, it must be proven that second temple Jews would have not merely considered this as a possibility, but that it would have provided the proper and dominant historical and theological milieu for Paul.

In this context, when Tilling was asked about Jewish evidence for multiplicity, he states that it is more likely that Jews would have spoken about plurality in the heavens, rather than in the ‘Divine.’(2:01:00) He goes on to state that the evidence is “not clear” and that it may be anachronistic to look for plurality.

This admission seems to undermine Tilling’s conclusion. How could Paul, himself a second temple Jew, lacking the historical and theological horizons to include another person within God’s ousia, be said to have done exactly this?

Tilling in his opening statement talked about the necessity for providing proper ground work for monotheism and a need for the accounting of Paul’s epistemology, thus it is shocking that he did no such work in showcasing how Paul could have ever contemplated putting Jesus on the “divine side of the line” in the sense articulated by his thesis. Instead, it is suggested that Christians would have simply assumed it in light of the relational language. In other words, the relational language would have been so strong and compelling that Christians would have had no other choice but to come to the conclusion that Jesus was YHWH. But is this what Christians would have understood?

There are several hints in the New Testament that Christians didn’t place Jesus on the “divine side of the line.” They managed to express this in at least two ways: with the language used about Jesus and with the reasons they gave for using such language. For example, Colossians 1:15 can readily be understood as teaching Jesus is temporally conditioned. He came into being necessitating a cause for his existence. This ipso facto puts in contrast to YHWH himself.

Additionally, YHWH God is never given privileges, delegated authority, given eschatological judgment, given sheep to shepherd, and so on. Yet, all of these things were given to Jesus Christ. Note they were given to him. These are not things that are his by “nature” or roles he is inherently invested with. They are delegated functions—delegated jurisdiction. In contrast, YHWH has immediate jurisdiction because he is Sovereign as the good Creator.

Thus, the relational language is not accounted for by assuming Jesus is on the “divine side of the line,” but by understanding and appreciating that YHWH God has given him jurisdiction not only of the cosmos, but of people. Jesus has been made the “head” of the church. He is the ultimate legal authority over the people of God, not by force or by vote, but by the merits of his own sacrifice and YHWH’s kindness. YHWH God has elevated him as the head of the church because of what he has done, and in so doing, has decreed that “every knee should bend” and “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

Of intense interest is the proclamation of Jesus as “Lord” in Philippians 2. While many argue that such usage of “Lord” is equivalent to saying Jesus is YHWH, this is demonstrably not the case. To begin with, to confess Jesus as “Lord” is to give God the Father glory. Such confession is theocentric. So the question must be asked: why does God receive glory when Jesus is confessed as “Lord”? The most convincing view is that such lordship is contingent on God. Indeed, God has “made him Lord.” (Acts 2:36) Thus, in recognizing God’s order, which includes delegated lordship to Jesus, one gives glory to the one who is ultimately responsible for such arrangements. In respecting and honoring God’s exalted apostle (Hebrews 3:1), we give glory, ultimately, to the sender. Bowing down to Jesus’ lordship is to bow down to the one given him that lordship, power and jurisdiction. (Matthew 28:18; Philippians 2:9)

Indeed, even within the Philippians hymn it is explicit that lordship is a status bestowed (echarisato) upon Jesus by YHWH God. Clearly, then, to confess Jesus as “Lord” is not to confess him as YHWH but rather as YHWH’s exalted one. Ultimately, the Philippians hymn and the bestowed lordship of Jesus describes what God has done. The entire status of Jesus in the New Testament is theocentric. God has made Jesus Lord, God has exalted Jesus, and God has allowed worship for Jesus, and so on. It is the theocentric nature of Jesus’ exaltation that precludes him from being placed on the “divine side of the line.”

With respect to 1 Corinthians 8:6 a few comments are in order. In the podcast and in his writings Tilling argues 1 Corinthians 8:6 has Paul including Jesus within the Shema. On this point Dave has argued that the better background is in fact Malachi 2:10. I favor Dave’s position for the following reasons:

(1) The proposition that the Shema is the source text is not at all clear. Deuteronomy 6:4, for example, says “YHWH” is one whereas Paul says “God” is one. So the wording is wrong and inverted if this were the Shema.

(2) Malachi has far more links to 1 Corinthians 8:6 than the Shema does. For instance, both texts use “Father” to refer to God in the sense of Creator. Both texts are found in contexts dealing with idolatry and utilize Jewish monotheism to combat entanglement with foreign gods, and both texts utilize the phrase “one God.” Finally, the point in Malachi seems to be the same in Paul: the uniqueness of God as Father who created us ought to be compelling enough to pull the believer away from idolatry and return to true worship.

(3) The reference to Jesus as the “one Lord” does not refer to the Shema within the very flow of Paul’s argument, but is intended as a contradistinction to the “many lords.” Thus kyrios in this context means something different than the Tetragrammaton.

So the question now becomes: where does Paul get the title “Lord” from if not the Shema? My suggestion is that he repurposes kyrios from Psalm 110:1. There are two strengths to this view: (1) Psalm 110:1 is the most widely quoted OT passage in the New Testament and (2) the consistent story in Paul is that Jesus is bestowed lordship—given the name kyrios. To the first point it seems obvious that Psalm 110:1 was the dominant and controlling passage to early Christians about the nature of Jesus’ lordship. It is quoted and alluded to nearly two (2) dozen times. As to the second point, there is no clear evidence that to Paul Jesus’ lordship was something other than a bestowed one.

Thus, what Paul is doing is not placing Jesus within the “divine identity,” but instead is showcasing how Christians should respond to the challenge of pagan culture. For us there are not “many gods and many lords,” but one God and but one Lord. In the context of Paul’s belief the “one Lord” is Jesus who has been bestowed lordship in light of Psalm 110:1.

In contrast to the suggestion above, Dave proposed in the podcast that Malachi 3:1 is the likely source of “Lord” in 1 Corinthians 8:6. There are at least two major difficulties with this. The first of which is that the messenger of the covenant in Malachi who is called Lord by way of parallelism, is an eschatological agent sent to bring judgment upon the Levites. In other words, Jesus would have borne this lordship during his earthly ministry, not his exaltation. Yet, when Paul refers to the “Lord Jesus Christ” the “Lord” is in his exaltation. Thus Malachi 3:1 lacks the exaltation (and bestowed) nuance found throughout Paul.

The second major problem is that Malachi 3:1 was never utilized by any second temple Jew or first century Christian to argue for the Messiah’s lordship. In light of this, would Paul’s audience have understood 1 Corinthians 8:6 in light of Psalm 110:1, a text fundamental to early Christians, or Malachi 3:1? It seems the weight of the evidence is on the former, as suggested by the near two (2) dozen quotes and allusions in the New Testament.

While it is true that Malachi 3:1 shares the word “Lord” and the concept of agency in common with 1 Corinthians 8:6, they are not used the same way. “Lord” is used in both contexts entirely different, while the agency aspect in Malachi is not instrumental. So while Malachi 3:1 may share some things in common, their usage is contextually different.

Finally, it should be noted, especially in the context of “the divine side of the line,” that Paul regularly makes the blanket, unchallenged statement that the Father is the God of Jesus:

(2 Corinthians 1:3)  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . .

(Romans 15:6) . . .YOU may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Ephesians 1:3) . . .Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . .

What does it mean to say that the Lord Jesus Christ, who has all authority in heaven, all the angels under his command, all the power in the world, and who has every knee bowing to him, that he has a God, a theos, just like every other monotheistic religionist? Indeed, what does it say about Jesus’ monotheism? Does this not exclude him from the “divine identity” ipso facto?

NOTE: See also:

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2014 in Christology

 

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DEBATE: David Barron vs Dr. Phil Fernandes- Is Jesus Almighty God?

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2013 in Christology

 

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A Little Lower than the Angels

Hebrews 2:9 reads in the New World Translation:

but we behold Jesus, who has been made a little lower than angels, crowned with glory and honor for having suffered death, that he by God’s undeserved kindness might taste death for every [man].

There’s debate whether the Greek word brachy ought to be understood spatially or temporally. Most commentators favor the latter, translating the phrase as “for a little while lower than the angels.” The difference in understanding is obvious. The spatial sense suggests Jesus was made lower than angels and in fact continues to be so in his resurrection, while the temporal only says he was lower than angels for a restricted time phase, leaving the period of his resurrection open ended.

I tend to favor the spatial meaning. Certainly the citation and allusion to Psalm 8 buttresses the point. Humans were made “lower” than angels, not for the time being, but in their categorical existence.

This interpretation has several consequences, but I will highlight the most significant: Jesus in his resurrection is “lower” than angels. That is not to say that he is underneath them in power and authority, for clearly Jehovah God has given this man jurisdiction over all things. Rather, it is to say that he is “lower” because he remained human in his resurrection.

If Jesus was raised a spirit being as Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, why is Jesus lower than them in even his resurrection according to Hebrews 2:9?

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2013 in Christology, Resurrection

 

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Is God’s Name Worth More Than 2.25 Million Dollars? No, says NIV Committee

Below I share the now infamous NIV translation committee’s letter:

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2013 in Bible Translation

 

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Christ was Not Tempted, Christ was Not the Rock

According to some interpreters, Paul places Christ in the wilderness with Israel in 1 Corinthians 10: as the Rock (vs 4) and as the one who was put to the test by Israel (vs 9).

1 Corinthians 10:4

Some find that Jesus was the “rock” in the wilderness based on examples found in Philo (“the flinty rock is the wisdom of God…from which he satisfies the thirsty souls that love God”)[1] and from Wisdom 11:4 (“when they thirsted, they called upon you, and water was given them from the sheer rock, a quenching of their thirst from the hard stone”) where there appears to be a tradition of identifying the wisdom of God with the rock in the wilderness. The logic follows Paul is identifying Jesus as the wisdom of God who was in the wilderness necessitating his preexistence and involvement in Israel’s history. (Rock= Wisdom= Christ)

The problem with such examples is that no such identification is made. Philo’s work is allegorical and a plain reading reveals he did not regard “wisdom” as a person. Instead, as Philo himself says, the water that flows from the rock is the “wisdom of God” that ‘changes souls’ from their “passions” to “love [for] God.” Thus “wisdom” is understood as a power of God not a person, nor as the literal rock in the wilderness.

In Wisdom 11:4 the “you” is not personified wisdom but God himself. Thus the identification of wisdom with the rock is never made.[2] Making things even more of a stretch is that it is entirely unclear if Paul was even familiar with such document so as to appeal to it. So there’s really no reason in Wisdom of Solomon or Philo to suppose Paul was alluding to any sort of wisdom tradition associated with the rock in the wilderness.

I am not aware of anyone seriously proposing Paul was saying the rock was Christ in a literal sense. It is to speculate into the absurd to suggest Christ was a literal inanimate sedimentary rock formed from minerals in his preexistence. This makes it rather obvious ‘the rock was Christ’ must be taken allegorically: the rock represents Christ in some spiritual way, probably in providing sustenance.

What reinforces this point is Paul says the entire affair was a typoi (vs 6) and describes it as happening to the Israelites as typikōs (vs 11). Thus we are dealing with types and typology, not literalness. The manna from heaven and the water from the rock were types of spiritual sustenance received by Christians from Christ. (vss 3-4) Thus to say “the rock was Christ” is not to say he was an inanimate rock formed from minerals, but is to say that he provides spiritual sustenance to Christians now as the water from the rock did to Israelites then.

1 Corinthians 10:9

This text doesn’t explicitly say anything about preexistence as such but is necessarily implied. However, the issue here is contingent on a text critical issue. Consider the following translations:

(ESV) We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,
(NASB): Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.

The question becomes should it read “Christ” or “Lord”? Admittedly, “Christ” has earlier attestation, in particular in P46. Bruce Metzger states in his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament:

The reading that best explains the origin of the others is Χριστόν, attested by the oldest Greek manuscript (P46) as well as by a wide diversity of early patristic and versional witnesses (Irenaeus in Gaul, Ephraem in Edessa, Clement in Alexandria, Origen in Palestine, as well as by the Old Latin, the Vulgate, Syriac, Sahidic and Bohairic). The difficulty of explaining how the ancient Israelites in the wilderness could have tempted Christ prompted some copyists to substitute either the ambiguous κύριον or the unobjectionable θεόν.

Thus the argument goes copyists found it difficult to say the ancient Israelites tempted Christ in the wilderness and therefore changed it to “Lord.” This view has the good textual evidence, P46 as noted, as well as the majority of Western and Byzantine manuscripts.

However, this view is not persuasive or convincing in light of other evidence. As Bart Ehrman has noted, “we know that most Christians had no difficulty at all in understanding how Christ could have been active in the affairs of the ancient Israelites. Most of them believed he was actively involved and read his involvement into the Old Testament narratives on every possible occasion.”[3]

Thus the view that Christians found it difficult to find Christ in the OT is inaccurate. They did, in fact, find him in the OT in plenty of places. So this cannot be used as argument appealing to the “difficulty” of the reading. As Ehrman points out, “one need simply peruse the commentaries and homilies of the church fathers” to see this point illustrated.

Moreover, in his study he further notes 1 Corinthians 10:9 was used repeatedly to “counter adoptionistic Christologies during the period of the text’s corruption.” This, then, gives us a historical (and theological) reason why “Lord” would be changed to “Christ”: to combat adoptionists.

Contextually, “Lord” is to be preferred. For Paul it was God, not Christ, who brought judgment upon the Israelites. Verse 5 is explicit: “God” laid them low in the wilderness. There’s no contextual or grammatical justification why God would cease to be the subject. It was God, the Lord, who was tested—not Christ.

Given the above two arguments—one from history, the other from context—we should agree with the Alexandrian witnesses, which are “otherwise understood to be superior,” that “Lord” is original.[4]


[2] Cf. Gordon Fee Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2007), page 96.

[3] Bart Ehrman The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), page 90.

[4] Ibid.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2013 in Christology

 

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Anthony Buzzard and John 1:1

David Barron from ScripturalTruths has posted a new article taking Buzzard to task on John 1:1. It’s worth a read.

In a personal exchange I had with Buzzard I asked the following:

In your recent August, 2013 issue of “Focus on the Kingdom” you argued logos is a nonperson because of the preposition pros. But the problem is that John does use it of persons in 1 John 2:1. Additionally, John never uses the word theos to refer to nonpersons. He always uses theos personally, that is, of persons thus implying personhood. How do you respond?

He replied:

Ivan, thanks, yes in the GOSPEL pros is not person to person. In I Jn 1:2 the sense is “in relation to the Father.
But John says that the FATHER is theos! The word is theos means that the expression of God is God himself, God is love and God is light and God is wisdom too. But you must show that John wrote (contradicting Matt and Luke and the OT) that “in the beginning was the SON” Is that wha you think? If so are you proposing two who are YHVH? Is the Father YHVH and the Son YHVH. If you could give simple a clear answer, please.
Have you read Dunn or Kuschel, etc in our time?

I challenged his reply:

Why do you limit the argument only to the gospel? When we consider the other writings of John it’s clear he does use pros for person to person.

This particular point never received a reply.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2013 in Anthony Buzzard, Christology

 

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