The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Feb 25, 2016

Recovering the scandal of the Resurrection, part 2: The resurrection of believers

In a previous post I suggested that we (pointing a finger at myself) have occasionally managed to force Jesus' Resurrection into the backseat, failing to recognize that it holds an equally valuable position with his death on the cross in our proclamation of the Gospel, Scripture is clear: not only is the Resurrection an essential part of the Gospel (you have no good news if all you offer is a dead Messiah), the response to the question "how do you know he lives" is: 1. the OT foretold it, and 2. multiple eyewitnesses reported it (the correct answer is not "he lives within my heart," pace that classic song; see Luke 24:27, 34; Acts 2:32; 1 Cor 15; etc.).

Now I wish to suggest that the concept of "heaven" as "a place up there above the clouds" has unbiblically replaced the resurrection and life on a New Earth and in a New Jerusalem as the true eschatological hope of the Gospel.

Nothing I saw here is new; all of it has been said by smarter people in a more scholarly format (the starting point should be N. T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God, which deals with both Jesus' resurrection and ours).

Now, if your definition of "heaven" is "wherever God dwells," then I agree with you--we will spend eternity in heaven, specifically the New Earth and New Jerusalem where God will dwell with us. As an evangelist at my church and college said last semester, "It's not about us going up to heaven, It's about heaven coming down to us" (see Revelation 21-22).

Yet American culture generally speaking thinks of heaven as "that place above the clouds." As such, it is potentially unbiblical to tell people "you'll spend eternity in heaven"; at its best, this is incredibly misleading. At its worst, this is latent gnosticism, and here's why.

First off, creation. In Genesis 1 God pronounced all his creation "good" and, despite the corruption of sin, Scripture clearly indicates that God will redeem/re-create his creation (e.g., Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1, etc.). Furthermore, Psalm 115:16-18 indicates a clear contrast between heaven and earth. The former is God's abode, not humanity's, while the latter was meant for humans. For God to not restore earth to her original purpose as the habitation of humanity in God's service would mean defeat, the idea that sin could permanently alter God's plan (which it cannot).

Secondly, we have various clues that the afterlife is not yet all it could be, e.g., the very morose attitude in Psalm 6:5, Isaiah 38:9-11, etc., and even the Lament of those in Revelation 6:10. Now, granted, it's not like "heaven" is a bad place, but it's not what God intends for believers, especially in a disembodied state (consider--the only reason we float around in heaven after death is because of sin in the first place; had Adam never sinned, we would not even be talking of "going to heaven").

Thirdly, as briefly touched on above, the "End Game" of Scripture is not "hanging out in above the clouds," as is pop-culture's view of heaven (and countless "gospel" songs, many with, anemic theology--with all due respect, here's looking at you, last verse of "Sweet Hour of Prayer"--"this robe of flesh I'll drop and rise/to seize the everlasting prize" is misleading at best, bad theology at worst). Rather, the End Game of Scripture is the New Jerusalem coming down to the New Earth where we will serve God with resurrected bodies, and God will forever dwell with his creation (Revelation 21-22; 1 Cor 15; Rom 16:5; etc.). Thus, to quote once again the evangelist I mentioned above, it's not "us going up to heaven" but "heaving coming down to us" (on the New Earth!).

Consider, then, the practical ramifications. Contra the libertarian proto-gnostics that the Apostle Paul was probably countering (1Cor 6:13-20), the body is not an evil entity that can thus be used for anything we wish without ramifications. Rather, the body is sacred! God will someday resurrect it (because he created it in the first place, and everything God created is good, corruption notwithstanding). Thus, how we treat our own bodies now (especially in regards to immorality) will truly reveal our attitude towards the resurrection God has planned. If we truly look forward to the Resurrection, with new physical bodies free from the taint of sin, we will consider that our current "robe of flesh" (to quote that gospel song again) is not something that is evil but is a member of Jesus Christ himself (1Cor 6:15). We will not long for some disembodied existence, floating around "up there," which is not what God ever intended for us. We will look forward not to "heaven" (if by "heaven" we mean "that place above the clouds") but rather the final resurrection.

Yet the very concept of resurrection remains a scandal for North American culture, conjuring up images of zombies or worse (in contrast, "heaven" is generally culturally acceptable). It's time to proclaim the Resurrection of our bodies, for those who trust in Jesus Christ, as the true hope that lies within us. The Apostle Paul proclaimed this and was mocked by the Greeks (Acts 17:32) and opposed by the Sadducees (Acts 23:6-8), yet he continued to proclaim this counter-cultural truth. So maybe, just maybe, instead of asking people "Do you know for sure if you'll spend eternity in heaven?" we should be asking "Do you know if you'll be resurrected someday?"

Feb 11, 2016

Which candidate would make fulfilling the Great Commission easier (or harder)? (A very rare political post)

Slight update on 3/4/2016 for clarification

I very, very rarely post political material here; while my own views on church and state have definitely trended more Anabaptist-ic and Hauerwas-ian in recent years, I generally prefer to focus this blog into a resource for Bible students rather than a discussion of current affairs

I do wish, however, to raise a very important question in regards to politic candidates and the reasons a Christian should vote. We do have, of course, Paul's statement in 1 Timothy 2:2 that we should pray ". . . for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." I do believe that if the Apostle were alive today, he would apply that, to a certain degree, to voting.

However, I want to make a different point here: namely, what about the fulfillment of the Great Commission? The "End Game" of the spread of the Gospel is seen in Revelation 7:9-10, "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." We, as Christians, have the awesome privilege of participating in God's incredible plan that is even now creating a "holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9) made of up all races and nationalities. One blessed feature of America is that, as the "melting pot," one does not necessarily have to go overseas to take part in reaching all races and nationalities.

So, dear Christian, my question is this: will the candidate you vote for make it easier or harder to fulfill the Great Commission? You see, as citizens of heaven, our primary concerns should not be about "what makes America stronger" but rather, as a citizen of heaven first and foremost, what assists me in fulfilling my duties to the King of Kings? 

In other words, would a candidate that desires to keep Muslims from coming to America and build a wall to keep other people from coming north--would that type of candidate make it easier or harder to reach Muslims, etc.? Furthermore, would it help or harm evangelical Christians to be associated with a man who has a foul mouth and often speaks hateful comments?

There are, of course, other legitimate political issues, though abortion is the only one that I consider of primary importance, since actual beating hearts are in the balance. If I felt that a particular candidate would make it more difficult for at least late-term abortions to occur, I would vote for that candidate. If this is not a factor, however, then for the first time in my life, in a presidential election, I am seriously considering voting democrat instead of republican [clarification: I'm not voting for Mrs. Clinton!], because I am more concerned about possible repercussions for Christian testimony and ability to reach others with the Gospel than I am about economic policies! (More likely I will vote for a third party candidate--I have no problem "throwing my vote away" if it's the only way to avoid harming my conscience).

I may be wrong, and if anybody wishes to politely disagree with me, you are more than welcome to do so (limit your posts to a few paragraphs or I might not post them). Just answer this question: since Jesus Christ alone holds our ultimate allegiance, should we not be first and foremost concerned with how our vote could facilitate our service to Him over whether or not our vote benefits America?

Quotations from the King James translation unless otherwise  noted.

Feb 1, 2016

Recovering the scandal of the Resurrection (Jesus' and ours): Part 1 (Salvation)

I've become a bit obsessed about the resurrection recently, ever since getting a copy of Acquittal by Resurrection by Markus Barth and Verne H. Fletcher (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1964). I've come to realize that quite often we tend to relegate the Resurrection to a footnote in our preaching, our witnessing, and our theological meditation, not considering the fact that without the Resurrection, we actually do not have a "Gospel" (good news). (I'm preaching to myself here as well--I've been sloppy with this in the past). 

In other words, statements like "Jesus died for your sins and if you trust in him, you can go to heaven for ever," if simply left on their own, are missing a core piece of the Gospel, for a crucified Messiah who does not rise again does not equal "good news."

This, then, is why in 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul makes it explicitly clear that the Resurrection is an essential part of the good news. In fact, verses 14-19 declare that Jesus Christ - resurrection = "vain faith" and "no hope."

This, then, is why the vast majority of speeches and sermons in Acts have some emphasis on the resurrection at some point. Thus Peter, in his Pentecostal Sermon (Acts 2) goes to great length to prove that David prophesied of the Messiah's resurrection. In Peter's second recorded sermon twice (Acts 3:15 and 26) focuses on the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. The Apostle Paul was mocked by the Greeks and persecuted by the Jews for preaching the resurrection of the dead (Acts 17:18-32, 23:6, and 24:10-21).

Dead messiahs do not start world-changing movements. This can be amply illustrated throughout history. In approx. 132 AD, a Jewish military leader named Shimon Bar-Koseva, under the name Shimon Bar-Kokhba ("Simon, Son of the Star"), also called Nasi ("Prince"), both names loaded with Messianic implications, of Davidic lineage, led a revolt against Rome. Not only did he manage some incredible early success and field approx. 400,000 troops, he forced the Roman Empire to allocate one-third of the entire Roman army to put him down, in the process possibly decimating the Legio XXII Deiotariana. However, in the end, the great Roman general Julius Severus managed to put down the rebellion, and Shimeon Bar-Kokhba was killed at the final battle in his headquarters in AD 135. (For more information about this revolt, click here, here, here, and here).

My point is this: after Shimeon's death, you did not see people going around declaring that they believed he was the Messiah, or that they believed "Shimeon was in their heart" or that they believed Shimeon would some day come back to judge the world. His death eliminated the possibility. As N. T. Wright aptly states, " If, after the death of Simon bar-Giora in Titus’s triumph in Rome, or if, after the death of Simeon ben-Kosiba in 135, you had claimed that Simon, or Simeon, really was the Messiah, you would invite a fairly sharp response from the average first-century Jew.  If, by way of explanation, you said that you had had a strong sense of Simon, or Simeon, as still being with you, still supporting and leading you, the kindest response you might expect would be that their angel or spirit was still communicating with you—not that he had been raised from the dead" ("Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem").
This is why, then, the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 were rather downhearted, assuming that Jesus' death actually ruled out the possibility that he was the One they were waiting for. Only seeing and talking with a literal and physical Jesus (not "Jesus in their hearts") gave them cause to rejoice.

This also completely rules out the Resurrection of the Messiah as a personal spiritual experience, i.e., "I feel Jesus in my heart" a la the liberal theology of Rudolf Bultmann and Gerd Ludamann. As Wright has pointed out, it is one thing to feel that a man you admire is now in the presence of God, or that you feel a special emotional bond with him. However, this is not what people in the first century meant by "resurrection"! Indeed, as Wright states, " If you had said to a first-century Jew that you had had a wonderful experience of the forgiveness (or the love and grace) of God, she or he would have been delighted for you.  But if you had gone on to say that the kingdom had come, that a crucified leader was the Messiah or that the resurrection had occurred, they would have been deeply puzzled if not downright offended.  This language is simply not about private experiences, even communicable private experiences, of forgiveness.  It is about eschatology, about something happening within history that resulted in a world being now a very different place" ("Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem").

In other words, if all Peter had experienced was a "warm and fuzzy" feeling, the other disciples would have tried to comfort him and encourage him and share their own "warm and fuzzy feelings" about their leader who had led a good life and died in betrayal. Yet they would not have gone around claiming that a Resurrection had occurred. They would have disappeared into the woodwork like all other followers of failed messiahs. 

My point is this: we must emphasize a literal, physical Resurrection for the Scriptural data to make sense--indeed, the description of Jesus' burial both in the four gospels and 1Cor 15 makes it explicitly clear that this is a physical resurrection, not a "spiritual" resurrection (I am indebted to Anthony Thiselton's New International Greek Testament Commentary on 1 Corinthians for stressing this point).

One side note--it is precisely for this reason that I am very uncomfortable with the last two lines in the chorus of the otherwise great hymn "I serve a risen Savior"/ "He lives" (with all due respect to Alfred Ackley). When asked, "How do I know He lives," the biblical answer is not "because he's in my heart" (shades of Ludamann, though no-doubt unintentional). Rather, the correct answer according to Scripture (Luke 24:27 and 34f; 1Cor 15:4-8; etc.) is the two-fold testimony of OT prophecy and contemporary eyewitnesses.

Thus the Resurrection is essential to the Gospel. In fact, Paul states in Romans 4:25 that we are justified by the Resurrection. This lies in the fact that the Resurrection represents God the Father's declaration, via resurrection, that Jesus is indeed Messiah and Savior of the World. Had Jesus lain in the grave, this would have been evidence that he was not who he claimed to be. The resurrection of Jesus Christ, "in the light of Old Testament texts . . . is an act of vindication which was performed by God, and which could be performed by God only!" (Markus Barth, Acquittal by Resurrection).

Consider, then: we ourselves can only be justified (and resurrected) before God because Jesus Christ Himself was declared righteous and resurrected by God the Father. The former cannot exist without the latter. If Jesus Christ, who claimed to be the Son of God, was not resurrected by the Father, then it was all a lie. Yet we can thank God that rather than staying dead, Jesus was indeed "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4). Amen and Amen!

Make no mistake, the Resurrection is a scandal. If Jesus' body was physically raised and infused with life, this means we cannot be content with a tame "Jesus the good teacher" who simply dies for being a good teacher or, for the more "spiritually-minded," a cosmic-guru Jesus who becomes one with the "Life-force" upon his death, remaining as a sacred memory with his disciples. Not only that, but "Jesus as an immortal soul" doesn't even cut it. As
Markus Barth points out "Resurrection and immortality of the soul are not the same. The resurrection of which we intend to treat is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which was from the beginning not a welcome equivalent to the immortal soul of some philosophers, but a laughingstock to both Stoics and Epicureans. By resurrection we understand the bodily resurrection of the one Jesus Christ" (emphasis added).

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a footnote to the Gospel, and we need to stop treating it as such in our proclamation to the Gospel. The Resurrection and the Crucifixion go hand-in-hand as the foundation for our hope that Jesus saves us from the penalty of our sins. It remains an essential part of the good news, for if Jesus was not physically and bodily raised from the dead, we cannot be saved. Period. End of story. Eternal thanks to God the Father, then, for raising the Son and thus procuring our salvation.

 Next post I will discuss the other side of the scandal, namely our own physical and bodily resurrection, of which Jesus Christ was the first-fruits.

Direct Scriptural quotations taken from the King James version unless otherwise noted.

The article by Wright cited above, available here, is N. T. Wright, "Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection as a Historical Problem," Sewanee Theological Review vol 41.2 (1998). I highly recommend it.