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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.

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