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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Saved by grace through faith but judged according to works?

Disclaimer: I write some posts which reflect careful study of Scripture and interaction with scholarly sources. I write others which represent thinking aloud on matters I haven't studied in any great depth. This post falls firmly into the latter category.

One of the most oft-quoted passages of Scripture, especially in Evangelical Christian churches, reads as follows:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
This text appears to declare in straightforward fashion that salvation is not the result of works. There are several other similar passages in the Pauline corpus (Romans 3:23-28; 4:1-6; Galatians 2:15-16).

However, if we look at passages in the New Testament which describe the Final Judgment, they consistently declare that judgment will be on the basis of works.
For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. (Matthew 16:27) 
28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:28-29)
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. (Revelation 20:12-13) 
See also especially Matthew 7:21-23, Matthew 25:31-46, Romans 2:5-8 and Revelation 2:23.

All of this raises a conundrum: if God's people are justified by faith and not by works, why is it that judgment is according to works? Some liberal scholars might argue that Scripture is inconsistent in this matter: some New Testament writers believed that salvation depended on works, but Paul did not. The claim of inconsistency fails, however, inasmuch as Paul himself refers to judgment according to works. It is unlikely that a writer as intellectually and theologically sophisticated as Paul was incoherent on this point. Thus we ought to regard the conundrum as a paradox and not a contradiction, and to seek a theological solution.

One solution could be that those who believe have their bad deeds blotted out by the blood of Christ, so that when the books are opened, only good deeds remained. There is certainly some truth in this; the imputation of righteousness (Romans 4:22-24) explains how people can receive a favourable verdict from a just and holy God despite having sinned. However, the link to the atoning work of Christ is not made explicit any of the judgment passages above. A favourable verdict may require imputation of righteousness according to faith and through the blood of Christ, but it is also associated with what the individual has done (and not done).

Here is how I see the solution to this conundrum. People will, in a sense, be judged according to their faith. But how is faith measured objectively? By works of faith! Works are the 'units of measurement' of faith. As James says,
But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. (James 2:18)
Similarly, throughout the 'Hall of Faith' passage in Hebrews 11, the faith of people is demonstrated by what they did (and refrained from doing).

It is not as though the Lord needs to see our works in order to know whether we have faith. He knows each heart and mind (Revelation 2:23) and he knows who are His (2 Timothy 2:19). However, in the Last Judgment He will refer to our deeds as objective evidence to verify His ruling in the hearing of the one judged and any others present.

There is an interesting phrase that bookends the Epistle to the Romans: "the obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5; 16:26). While this phrase is not directly contrasted with "the works of the law", I think this term sums up how Paul regarded the behaviour of those justified by faith as distinct from those who trusted in works. Works righteousness says, 'Let me try to earn God's favour by keeping His commandments.' Faith righteousness says, 'I can't earn God's favour by keeping His commandments. Let me trust in His mercy which is extended because of what Jesus did on the cross.' However, it does not go on and say, 'So it doesn't matter how I live.' It recognizes that faith, too, is a way of life and not merely a verbal or mental assent. Behaviour is a reflection of what is in the heart. If I truly believe in my heart, I will have obedience to show for it. True faith cannot be divorced from works.

Faith begins with a single step but is in fact a lifelong journey, and it is the one who "persists" (Romans 2:6), "perseveres" (1 Timothy 4:16; Hebrews 10:36; James 1:10) and "endures" (Matthew 10:22; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 14:12) who will reap the reward (Galatians 6:9). Of course, it is the Lord who by His power enables us to endure (Romans 15:5; Colossians 1:11). It is not by our own willpower, the arm of flesh, that we persevere in doing good and refusing evil. On the other hand, we do not become automatons the moment we receive Jesus. We choose whether or not to abide in Him.

The take-home message is this: do not try to earn salvation through works, and do not try to coast to salvation on a faith devoid of works. Instead, have faith in God, and live out your faith. "Trust and obey", as the grand old hymn goes.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Satan in Rabbinic Literature and the New Testament

The New Testament was written almost entirely by Jews. Jesus is a Jew. Therefore, it goes without saying that first century Jewish religion and culture is very useful background for interpreting the New Testament. In order to better understand this background, scholars have sometimes turned to the literature of rabbinic Judaism, such as the Mishnah and the Talmud. Can rabbinic literature shed any light on our path as we seek to interpret the figure of Satan (the devil) in the New Testament?

I believe it can. However, before investigating this a caveat is needed. The relevance of rabbinic literature for New Testament exegesis is disputed by scholars:
Can the rabbinic writings, and especially the Mishnah, be used legitimately as a historical resource in New Testament interpretation? New Testament scholars have argued about these questions for centuries. Many have routinely quoted or cited rabbinic texts, while others have objected that this material is too late – something like reading Shakespeare through Dickens.1
For example, the Jerusalem Talmud was redacted around 400 A.D., while the Babylonian Talmud was redacted around 500 A.D.2 but remained a work in progress until the seventh century.3

The eminent rabbinic scholar Jacob Neusner is one of those who urges caution:
overall I do not see how the rabbinic literature, which reached closure for its first document two hundred years after the beginning of Christianity, can serve in the way people seem to want to use it, that is, as a handbook of New Testament exegesis.4
He warns against the excesses of scholars such as Billerbeck and, more recently, Lachs, who 'slavishly' appealed to rabbinic parallels at every turn to illuminate what Jesus really meant. He explains that in the composition of rabbinic literature, "Sayings and stories were made up and attributed to prior times or authorities"5, and that it is therefore necessary to read the text critically. We "cannot take at face value attribution of a saying to a first-century authority as reason to assign that saying to that time"6.  

Neusner's succinct answer to the question, "What do I have to know about rabbinic literature to study the New Testament?" is, "Not a whole lot."7

Other scholars are more optimistic. Fernandez, for instance, opines that "Rabbinic texts often provide the best context in which to understand the problematical issues and religious vision underlying the text of the New Testament." 8 He explains,
All Rabbinic texts are subsequent to the New Testament. However, they may be used whenever it may be verified that they represent the crystallization of an oral tradition that dates back to the period of the New Testament, or whenever they present the unfolding of a topic from that period.9
Instone-Brewer has proposed critical methods for determining dates of rabbinic traditions.10 Unfortunately, I'm not qualified to apply such methods. We will proceed to examine the rabbis' understanding of Satan, in the hope that it might throw some light upon the New Testament, but will be cautious about the inferences we draw from any apparent parallels.

For our treatment of Satan in rabbinic literature we will depend heavily on the work of Reeg, who has recently published an essay on this very subject. Reeg describes the rabbinic Satan as a "only a marginal figure" who is seldom mentioned.11

Reeg draws attention to the famous text b. B. Bat. 16a, in which the following statement is attributed to Resh Laqish: "Satan, the evil prompter, and the Angel of Death are all one." This is indeed an important text, and a frequently misunderstood one. Whatever the original context of Resh Laqish's saying (if indeed it is authentic), in its Talmudic literary context it is clear that Satan is to be understood as a personal being. This statement occurs in a passage about Job, where Satan is clearly a personal being. Laqish's statement is best understood as highlighting Satan's different functions: that of accusation (the sense of the word 'satan' itself), that of seduction (hence the identification with the yetzer hara, the evil prompter), and that of destruction (hence the identification with the Angel of Death). In other words, the Accuser, the yetzer hara and the Angel of Death are not three independent sources of evil and calamity but three functions for which a single being is responsible. In support of the claim that Satan and the evil prompter are one, this Talmudic text quotes Genesis 6:5 (a key text for the yetzer hara concept) together with the words, "Only upon himself put not forth thine hand" (Job 1:12). The rabbis have understood this latter clause to mean that Satan was forbidden to tempt Job using the evil prompter, as he otherwise might have done. They regard the internal yetzer hara as susceptible to external influence by Satan.

This is even more apparent from another saying in the immediate context attributed to a Tanna: "[Satan] comes down to earth and seduces, then ascends to heaven and awakens wrath; permission is granted to him and he takes away the soul." Here, the three functions of seduction, accusation and destruction are clearly spelled out, and attributed to a personal being. 

Reeg comments that this Talmudic text's equation of Satan with the accuser, the evil inclination and the Angel of Death is unique and not representative of rabbinic literature in general:
The role of accuser is common to all rabbinic sources, while that of seducer is more or less restricted to the Babylonian Talmud and the Tanhuma. Finally, the role of Satan as 'Angel of Death' does not recur in other texts.12
Hence, it is Satan's role as accuser of humans before God - a heavenly prosecutor - that features most prominently in rabbinic sources (which is unsurprising, given that this is the satan's role in Job 1-2 and Zechariah 3).

Reeg notes that the description of Satan as a tempter or seducer is very common in the Babylonian Talmud and the Tanhuma, a function "known from the Bible" (1 Chronicles 21:1).13 He notes that stories about Satan in these rabbinic texts often depict Satan masquerading (e.g. as an old man, a beggar, a seductive woman, a snake, or even a river). Commenting on a story in which Satan disguises himself as a woman, Reeg makes an important observation:
He visualizes carnal desire and can therefore be equated with the evil inclination. One difference, however, cannot be ignored: Satan is an independent figure, while the evil inclination is part of a human being.14
Thus, while Satan in the rabbinic literature can represent or embody various attributes, such as sexual desire or divine justice, he is nonetheless viewed as an external, personal being and not reduced to a mere figure of speech.

On the connection between Satan and Sama'el, Reeg notes the tendency of scholars to identify Satan with another figure, Sama'el (who is a fallen angel, evicted from heaven and sometimes identified with the Angel of Death). However, Reeg himself argues that "Sama'el and Satan are two different figures"15, whose names seem only to be interchangeable in the late midrash Exodus Rabbah and in medieval literature. (Nevertheless, Encyclopedia Judaica states that from the Amoraic period (c. 200-500 A.D.) onward, Sama'el was "the major name of Satan in Judaism.")16. He notes that Sama'el can be addressed as 'wicked' and the name implies he is an angel, whereas Satan is never denoted as wicked and "We cannot be sure about the status of Satan as an angel."17 Satan "is a celestial being that can also appear on earth" and "When masquerading he resembles a demon." Nevertheless, "The sages did not speculate on the origin or the nature of Satan at length."

Finally, "The figure of Satan in rabbinic literature is not connected to, or integrated into, an apocalyptic concept like Belial in the Qumran texts or Satan in the Apocalypse of John in the New Testament."18

Based on Reeg's analysis, what comparison can we make between Satan in rabbinic literature and Satan in the New Testament? First, we can draw attention to the differences. As just noted, Satan in the New Testament is very much an apocalyptic figure and features prominently in eschatological contexts (e.g. Matthew 13:38-43; 25:41; Luke 11:17-22; John 12:31; Acts 26:18; Romans 16:20; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 12:7-10; 20:2). Furthermore, Satan is much more prominent in the New Testament than in rabbinic literature. He is still only part of the supporting cast in the drama of salvation history, but he can be contrasted with God or Christ in a kind of cosmic dualism (John 8:41-44; Acts 26:18; 2 Corinthians 6:15; James 4:7; 1 John 3:10; 2 Corinthians 6:15). The relative prominence of Satan in New Testament theology can probably be attributed to the historical Jesus himself, to whom are ascribed 17 distinct sayings about Satan or the devil in the Gospels. To these we can add the wilderness temptation narrative (which must derive from an oral account given by Jesus), and the references to Satan and the devil in the letters of Jesus to the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 2-3).

Furthermore, unlike rabbinic literature, Satan in the New Testament is unmistakably wicked. This is clear enough from the epithet ho poneros (the evil one), as well as the prophecies of his impending doom (Matthew 25:41; Romans 16:20; Revelation 20:10).

What about the similarities? In the first place, the three main functions attributed to Satan in rabbinic literature (accusation, seduction and destruction) are likewise attributed to Satan in the New Testament. He accuses (Luke 22:31; Revelation 12:10), seduces (Matthew 4:1-11; 1 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11; 2 Timothy 2:26), oppresses and destroys (Luke 13:16; Acts 10:38; Hebrews 2:14; 1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 2:10). Moreover, like in rabbinic literature he masquerades (2 Corinthians 11:14), and in some instances resembles a demon (Luke 22:3; John 13:27). 

As in rabbinic literature, the New Testament writers show little interest in Satan's origin or precise nature, but clearly presuppose that he is a celestial being linked closely with angels (Matthew 25:41; 2 Corinthians 11:14; 2 Corinthians 12:7; Jude 9; Revelation 12:7-9). In the association with angels, as well as his eviction from heaven (Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:7-10), the New Testament Satan more closely resembles the rabbinic Sama'el than the rabbinic Satan (assuming Reeg is correct to challenge the previous consensus that these Sama'el and Satan are two names for the same being in rabbinic Judaism).

Particularly noteworthy is the way in which the rabbis correlated Satan with the evil inclination (yetzer hara) without confounding the two. This is helpful in interpreting New Testament texts which associate Satan with the heart or evil desires (Mark 4:15; Acts 5:3-4; 1 Corinthians 7:5). It shows that such associations in no way imply that Satan does not exist as an external figure. As Dahms comments, two rabbinic texts (b. Sanh. 107a and Ex. R. xix.2) seem to imply "that temptation is by the permission of God, that the evil yetzer is its internal possibility and that Satan is the external power responsible for its onset."19 Similarly, Wilson describes the logic of James 1:14-15 and 4:5-7 thus:
the internal conflict with desire can be seen to correlate with an external conflict against the devil and his 'evils.' Failure to resist the internal, desiring impulse leaves one vulnerable to the temptations to sin that supernatural evil contrives.20
In summary, in spite of some obvious differences, broadly speaking there is much common ground between the picture of Satan that emerges from rabbinic literature and that which emerges from the New Testament. To what extent rabbinic literature can be said to form part of the background to the New Testament picture of Satan, I would not want to speculate. However, it appears that rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity followed similar trajectories in their views of Satan based on their shared background in the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism. Importantly, both bodies of writings reflect a belief that Satan is a real personal being and not merely an abstraction. In neither case is the interpreter justified in taking the correlation between Satan and the yetzer hara to mean that Satan has no independent existence.


1 Harrington, D.J. (2005). Review Article: Can New Testament Interpreters use Rabbinic Literature? Sewanee Theological Review, 48(3), 335-340. p. 336.
2 Unterman, A. (2010). Historical Dictionary of the Jews. Scarecrow Press, p. 168.
3 Baskin, J.R. (Ed.) (2011). The Cambridge Dictionary of Judaism and Jewish Culture. Cambridge University Press, p. 582.
4 Neusner, J. (1994). Rabbinic Literature and the New Testament: What We Cannot Show, We Do Not Know. Wipf and Stock Publishers, p. 2.
5 Neusner, op. cit., p. 13.
6 Neusner, op. cit., p. 15.
7 Neusner, op. cit., p. 2.
8 Fernández, M.P. (2004). Rabbinic texts in the exegesis of the New Testament. Review of Rabbinic Judaism, 7(1), 95-120. p. 118.
9 Fernández, op. cit., p. 118.
10 Instone-Brewer, D. (2004). Traditions of the Rabbis from the Era of the New Testament: Prayer and agriculture, Vol. 1. Eerdmans, p. 28f.
11 Reeg, G. (2013). The devil in rabbinic literature. In I. Fröhlich & E. Koskenniemi (Eds.), Evil and the Devil (pp. 71-83). Bloomsbury T&T Clark, p. 82.
12 Reeg, op. cit., p. 73.
13 Reeg, op. cit., p. 78.
14 Reeg, op. cit., p. 79.
15 Reeg, op. cit., p. 72.
16 Scholem, G. (2008). Samael. In Encyclopedia Judaica. Accessed at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0017_0_17378.html. Keter Publishing House.
17 Reeg, op. cit., p. 82.
18 Reeg, op. cit., p. 83.
19 Dahms, J.V. (1974). Lead us not into temptation. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 17(4), 223-230. p. 228.
20 Wilson, W.T. (2002). Sin as sex and sex with sin: the anthropology of James 1:12-15. The Harvard Theological Review, 95(2), 147-168. p. 163.

Monday, 8 September 2014

The Son of Man, the Parables of Enoch, and New Testament Christology

In J.D.G. Dunn's monumental study Christology in the Making,1 he argued that incarnational Christology (that is, a Christology which views Christ as a pre-existent divine being who assumed humanity) can be found in the New Testament only in the Gospel of John. One of the premises that led him to this conclusion was his assessment that there was no precedent in Judaism for such a Christology.

Some scholars prior to Dunn had believed the title 'Son of Man', used by Jesus as a self-referent in all four Gospels, already conveyed the idea of a pre-existent divine being.2 This they regarded as derived either directly from Daniel 7:13 or from an apocalyptic Jewish text known as the Parables of Enoch (sometimes known as the Similitudes of Enoch). This text comprises chapters 37-71 of the work known today as 1 Enoch or Ethiopic Enoch. Dunn denies that a pre-existent heavenly individual is a plausible interpretation of the "one like a son of man" in Daniel 7:13, but he does acknowledge that "it would almost certainly seem to be the case that in the Similitudes the Son of Man is thought of as pre-existent. Note particularly 48.2-6 and 62.6-7."3 He is referring to personal pre-existence here: "a pre-existent heavenly individual."

The passages from the Parables of Enoch referred to by Dunn read as follows (R.H. Charles' translation):
48:2 And at that hour that Son of Man was named In the presence of the Lord of Spirits, And his name before the Head of Days. 3 Yea, before the sun and the signs were created, Before the stars of the heaven were made, His name was named before the Lord of Spirits. 4 He shall be a staff to the righteous whereon to stay themselves and not fall, And he shall be the light of the Gentiles, And the hope of those who are troubled of heart. 5 All who dwell on earth shall fall down and worship before him, And will praise and bless and celebrate with song the Lord of Spirits. 6 And for this reason hath he been chosen and hidden before Him, Before the creation of the world and for evermore.
62:6 And the kings and the mighty and all who possess the earth shall bless and glorify and extol him who rules over all, who was hidden. 7 For from the beginning the Son of Man was hidden, And the Most High preserved him in the presence of His might, And revealed him to the elect.
Now, not all exegetes have shared Dunn's view that the Son of Man in the Parables is depicted as a pre-existent heavenly being. For instance, VanderKam,4 following the earlier analysis of Manson,5 regards the Parables as describing the Son of Man only as a predestined being. However, the predestination view has been ably criticized by Collins,6 Knibband Reynolds. Given that 1 Enoch 48:2-3 refers specifically to the name of the Messianic Son of Man, we may note the oft-quoted statement of eminent Jewish scholar E. Urbach that "there are no grounds...for a distinction between the pre-existence of [the Messiah's] name and the pre-existence of his personality."

If Dunn acknowledged that the Son of Man in the Parables of Enoch is a pre-existent heavenly individual, why did he insist that this view of the Son of Man could not have influenced the historical Jesus or the Gospel writers? The reason is simply that he dates the Parables to the post-70 AD period. On this basis he reasons that "so far as 1 Enoch is concerned the Son of Man as a pre-existent heavenly individual cannot be traced back within Jewish (non-Christian) circles to a pre-70 date."10

Soon after Dunn published his study, Holladay noted:
"It is far more crucial for him to determine whether the Son of Man was ever conceived in pre-Christian Judaism as a heavenly (pre-existent) figure who would appear as a Messianic figure to redeem the people of God. Since the clearest expression of this occurs in the Similitudes of Enoch, their date becomes crucial."11
After cautiously allowing the possibility of a late date for the Similitudes (Parables), Holladay went on to say,
Dunn errs on the side of chronological overprecision, so much so that if any genuine conceptual or historical analogue were to be found prior to the Christian formulation of the doctrine of the incarnation, the whole thesis would collapse.12
In the ensuing three decades since Dunn wrote, Holladay's warning has been vindicated. The consensus about the date of the Parables of Enoch has changed. Hence Charlesworth writes, "Dating the Parables of Enoch to the time of Herod the Great and the Herodians has become conclusive."13 Walck notes that dating the Parables around the time of Herod (late first century BC or early first century AD) "was confirmed by a broad consensus of scholars at the Third Enoch Seminar in Camaldoli, Italy in June 2005."14

In other words, Dunn's view that the Son of Man as a pre-existent heavenly individual appears too late in Judaism to have influenced Jesus and the early church can no longer be maintained. This truly represents a paradigm shift in early Christian studies, as the name of a recent collection of essays implies: Parables of Enoch: A Paradigm Shift.15 

The implication of the new consensus on the date of the Parables is stated by Walck: 
"This widely accepted consensus means that the Parables of Enoch are pre-Christian and need to be considered for possible influence on the writings of the New Testament."16
Of course, if the Parables are pre-Christian then their importance for New Testament scholarship does not require any direct influence of the Parables upon the New Testament writers (though this possibility needs to be explored, and Walck himself thinks Matthew shows literary dependence on the Parables17 ). It simply means that the view of the Son of Man reflected in the Parables already existed in Judaism when Jesus used the term as a self-referent and thus provides important tradition-historical background for interpreting Jesus' (and the Gospel writers') use of this term. The importance is only heightened if Charlesworth is correct that the Parables were written in Galilee.18 

Gathercole's case that Jesus' "I have come..." and "The Son of man came..." statements in the Synoptic Gospels imply pre-existence is strengthened by the early date of the Parables (in his monograph on the subject he claimed only that the Parables are "roughly contemporary with the Synoptic Gospels."19 ) Reynolds contends that Jesus' sayings about the descent of the Son of Man in John (3:13 cf. 6:62) are to be interpreted as paralleling the pre-existence of the Son of Man in the Parables.20 Boyarin argues that the Parables of Enoch provide a precedent for the early church's 'high Christology': 
All of the elements of Christology are essentially in place then in the Similitudes. We have a pre-existent heavenly figure, identified as well with Wisdom, who is the Son of Man. We have an earthly life, a human sage exalted into heaven at the end of an earthly career, enthroned in heaven at the right side of the Ancient of Days as the pre-existing and forever reigning Son of Man.21
Boyarin proceeds to argue on this basis that the only great innovation of the Gospels is to declare that this Son of Man has already come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. "The insistence in the Gospels that Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man is thus critical and probative of high Christology as essential to the Gospels." 22 Similarly, Talbert wrote concerning the Christology of Revelation,
Of all the particular sources of the idea of a second figure associated with the throne of God, 1 En. 37-71 is the closest to Revelation. Here, the pre-existence of the Elect One/Son of man/Messiah is assumed; a human, Enoch, is identified with this heavenly one; he sits on the throne of glory; he functions for God at the last judgment; he dwells with God's people forever thereafter. An auditor would have sensed that Revelation was speaking about Christ in these terms.23
The dust has yet to settle from this paradigm shift concerning the date of the Parables of Enoch, and it remains to be seen what enduring effect it might have upon New Testament scholarship. Certainly, "the origin and meaning of the 'Son of Man' in the Jesus traditions remains a question that deserves focus and more development,"24 and the idea that a pre-existence Christology could only have arisen in a late, Gentile setting has received a significant challenge.


1 Dunn, J.D.G. (1980). Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation. London: SCM Press.
2 See, for example, Marshall, I.H. (1966). The Synoptic Son of Man Sayings in Recent Discussion. New Testament Studies 12(4): 327-351, esp. pp. 328, 332.
3 Dunn, op. cit., p. 75.
4 VanderKam, J.C. Righteous One, Messiah, Chosen One, and Son of Man in 1 Enoch 37-71. In J.H. Charlesworth (Ed.), The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity (169-191). Minneapolis: Fortress.
5 Manson, T.W. (1949-50). The Son of Man in Daniel, Enoch, and the Gospels. Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 23: 171-193.
6 Collins, J.J. (1992). The Son of Man in First-Century Judaism. New Testament Studies 38(3): 448-466. See pp. 454-455.
7 Knibb, M.A. (1995). Messianism in the Pseudepigrapha in the Light of the Scrolls. Dead Sea Discoveries 2(2): 165-184. See pp. 171-172.
8 Reynolds, B.E. (2013). The Enochic Son of Man and the Apocalyptic Background of the Son of Man Sayings in John’s Gospel. In D.L. Bock & J.H. Charlesworth (Eds.), Parables of Enoch: A Paradigm Shift. (294-314). London: T&T Clark, p. 300.
9 Urbach, E.E. (1987). The Sages, Their Concepts and Beliefs, Vol. 1. Harvard University Press, p. 685.
10 Dunn, op. cit., p. 78.
11 Holladay, C.R. (1983). New Testament Christology: Some Considerations of Method. Novum Testamentum, 25(3): 257-278. p. 273.
12 Holladay, op. cit., p. 275.
13 Charlesworth, J.H. (2007). Can We Discern the Composition Date of the Parables of Enoch? In G. Boccaccini (Ed.), Enoch and the Messiah Son of Man: Revisiting the Book of Parables (450-469), p. 467.
14 Walck, L.W. (2011). The Son of Man in the Parables of Enoch and in Matthew. London: T&T Clark, p. 23.
15 Bock, D.L. & Charlesworth, J.H.(Eds.). (2013). Parables of Enoch: A Paradigm Shift. London: T&T Clark.
16 Walck, op. cit., p. 251.
17 Walck, op. cit., p. 251. Note that Dunn still maintains the Son of Man traditions in the Parables of Enoch have not influenced the Gospel of Mark at least (Dunn, J.D.G. (2013). The Son of Man in Mark. In D.L. Bock & J.H. Charlesworth (Eds.), Parables of Enoch: A Paradigm Shift. (18-34). London: T&T Clark)
18 Charlesworth, J.H. (Ed.) (2013). Parables of Enoch: A Paradigm Shift. London: T&T Clark, p. xiii.
19 Gathercole, S.J. (2006). The Pre-existent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 268.
20 Reynolds, op. cit., p. 305f.
21 Boyarin, 
D. (2013). Enoch, Ezra, and the Jewishness of 'High Christology'. In M. Henze & G. Boccaccini (Eds.), Fourth Ezra and Second Baruch: Reconstruction after the Fall (337-362). Leiden: BRILL, p. 348.
22 Boyarin, op. cit., p. 353.
23 Talbert, C.H. (1999). The Christology of the Apocalypse. In M.A. Powell and D.R. Bauer (Eds.), Who do you say that I am? Essays on Christology. (165-184). Westminster John Knox Press, p. 178. At the time of his writing, Talbert noted that a consensus had formed dating the Parables of Enoch to the first part of the first century C.E. He does not claim literary dependence of Revelation on the Parables of Enoch, but only a similar type of thought.
24 Bock & Charlesworth, op. cit., p. 365.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Justin Martyr and the 'Man of Men' Christology (Part 3)

This is the final installment of a three-part series on the 'man of men' Christology mentioned by Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho 48.4. In the first post we looked at the content of this Christology and that it regarded Jesus as the Christ but denied his virgin birth and pre-existent divinity. In the second post we looked at Justin's view toward the proponents of this doctrine. This was more difficult to determine. He has nothing positive to say about them, and describes it as a human doctrine as opposed to the teachings of the prophets and Christ himself. On the other hand he does not use the kind of strong language with which he denounces heresies elsewhere in the Dialogue. This leaves open the possibility that he regarded the proponents of the doctrine as fellow Christians in spite of their error.

We now turn to the third question we posed at the beginning of the series: how did Justin view the age and popularity of the ‘man of men’ Christology relative to his own Christology?

a.      Which does Justin regard as the older belief?

In Dave Burke's talk about second century Christianity (which was the impetus for this series), he tells his audience that "crucially, [Justin] admits that [the man of men Christology] is the older belief, which is very interesting." However, there is simply no evidence to support this claim. Furthermore, there is considerable evidence against it. Right in Dialogue 48.4 we see that Justin regards his own Christology (which affirms pre-existent divinity and the virgin birth) as something which had been taught by the prophets and Christ himself.

Justin Martyr elsewhere refers to the pre-existence of Christ as something "we have been taught" (First Apology 46).1 References to what "we" have been taught are used frequently by Justin to earlier Christian tradition, including even the words of Jesus (First Apology 4; 6; 10; 12; 13; 14; 15; 17; 19; 23; 27; 32; 33; 44; 46; 67; Second Apology 4; Dialogue 18.1; 96.2-3; 118.3; 133.6). It is likely then that Justin has here preserved an earlier tradition (probably dependent on Colossians 1:15 or Hebrews 1:6) which takes πρωτότοκος (first-born) as an indication of Christ's pre-existence.

As to the virgin birth, Justin refers in First Apology 33 to traditional material which is probably dependent on both the Matthean and Lukan birth narratives.

We can also note here that within a generation of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus could assert that the doctrine that the Son of God "became incarnate for our salvation" was part of the faith "received from the apostles and their disciples" (Against Heresies 1.10.1). So the Christians at this time regarded the doctrine of incarnation as a tradition they had received.

There is no indication that Justin regarded himself as an innovator of Christian doctrine. Dave’s statement that Justin admitted the ‘man of men’ Christology is older than his own is without any basis.

b.      Which does Justin regard as the more popular belief?

Dave does not comment on the relative popularity of Justin's Christology versus the 'man of men' Christology. There is, however, an intriguing (albeit difficult) statement which may be an acknowledgment of the popularity of the latter view in Justin's day. The Greek clause in 48.4 following Justin's expression of disagreement with the 'man of men' doctrine (οἷς οὐ συντίθεμαι, οὐδ' ἂν πλεῖστοι ταὐτά μοι δοξάσαντες εἴποιεν) is ambiguous and could be translated in two different ways, expressed by Bobichon as follows:

1) Avis que je ne partage pas avec eux, et ne partagerais pas davantage, quand bien même le plus grand nombre, qui pense comme moi, affirmerait la même chose2
2) Je ne suis pas de leur avis, et un très grand nombre qui pense comme moi ne consentirait pas à le dire.3

Here is an English translation of the above (with thanks to my friend Bernard Kengni for his assistance with the translation):

1) An opinion that I do not share with them, and would never share either, even though the largest number of people who think like me should affirm the same thing.
2) I do not agree with them, and a very large number of people who think like me would not agree to say so.

The matter largely hinges on whether we take οὐδε to mean 'nor' or 'even if', both of which are syntactically possible. Importantly, the syntax ἂν...εἴποιεν can be recognized as a potential optative. This means we have here a fourth class condition, which "indicates a possible condition in the future, usually a remote possibility."4 This suggests that, under either translation, ‘affirm the same thing’ or ‘agree to say so’ is viewed as a future possibility (perhaps an unlikely future possibility) rather than a present reality.

Hence, under the first translation, Justin would seem to be saying that in the event that the majority of Christians adopted this doctrine, he himself would not. Under the second translation, Justin would seem to be saying that the majority of Christians, if presented with this doctrine, would not agree with it. In neither case is Justin making an explicit statement about the present popularity of the ‘man of men’ Christology.

Having said that, if the first translation is correct, one might ask why Justin would concern himself even with the possibility of the ‘man of men’ Christology being the majority view unless it was already very popular. Bobichon comments that the second translation suggests that Justin’s view was more popular. Of the first translation, however, which he prefers, he writes:

“Elle laisse entendre au contraire que cette certitude [que le Christ était Dieu, et préexistant] n'était pas partagée par la majorité des chrétiens” (It suggests instead that this view [that Christ was God, and pre-existent] was not shared by the majority of Christians)5 (my translation)

In support of this reading, Bobichon observes that Justin proceeds to offer a justification for his admittedly ‘paradoxical’ view of Christ’s origin. Paget, on the other hand, suggests that since Justin does not devote much space in the Dialogue to these Jewish Christians (whom he equates with the law-following Christians of chapter 47) they were “very much a minority within the church.”6 He does allow that Justin’s attitude of compromise, “particularly in relation to law-observing gentile Christians, might imply a greater presence.”

Freyne likewise argues that “In Justin’s day, the Gentile Christian movement initiated by Paul had become the dominant force” and the Jewish Christian wing of the movement was in the process of being marginalized.7

I do not find Bobichon’s conclusion persuasive for several reasons. Firstly, as noted above a fourth class condition denotes a future possibility (often a remote one) and not a current reality. Secondly, Bobichon’s interpretation requires us to believe that Justin regarded not only the divinity and pre-existence of Christ but also the virgin birth as minority views in the second century church. However, Justin was very familiar with Matthew's Gospel8 and probably Luke's,9 both of which plainly declare the virgin birth. Justin's quotation concerning the virgin birth from the Gospel traditions in First Apology 33 is probably dependent on both Matthew and Luke. How likely is it that he could imagine the majority of Christians to be in ignorance or rejection of these traditions?

Thirdly, while Justin does offer a justification for his own view (an appeal to Scripture and the teachings of Jesus), he does the same when upholding his own position against opposing views elsewhere (Dialogue 35; 80). This cannot be regarded as evidence for the popularity of the position he opposes.

Fourthly, Justin's assertion that "There are some of your race..." (following the Parisinus manuscript reading as discussed in the previous post) suggests that this belief was limited to some of the Jewish Christians, who were a minority in the church by this time.10

Fifthly, Bobichon’s interpretation is only plausible if his translation of the clause is correct, which is uncertain. He himself acknowledges that both translations are possible. He cites three other scholars who fully agree with him, and another two who agree less completely, on the first translation. He also cites five scholars who favour the second translation.11

In summary, it is possible to interpret Justin as holding the 'man of men' Christology to be the majority view, and there is some scholarly support for such a reading. However, there are also reasons to doubt it and it must be judged at most uncertain, given the ambiguity of the Greek and the hypothetical nature of the fourth class condition.

Conclusion

To conclude, we can set Dave’s interpretation of Dialogue 48.4 in contrast to a balanced view of the matter as follows.

·      Whereas Dave depicts the ‘man of men’ Christology simply as an affirmation of Jesus’ literal flesh-and-blood humanity over against his pre-existent divinity, it in fact entailed rejection or ignorance of the virgin birth, which he does not mention. Moreover, Dave implies that Justin himself denied Jesus’ literal flesh-and-blood mortal humanity, which he did not.
·       Whereas Dave states without qualification that Justin accepted those who held the ‘man of men’ Christology as Christians, Justin in fact expressed sharp disagreement with them and accused them of teaching doctrines of men rather than those of the prophets and of Christ himself. It is difficult to determine whether Justin regarded them as heretical or not.
·       Whereas Dave states without qualification that Justin acknowledges the ‘man of men’ Christology as older than his own, there is in fact no evidence in Justin’s writings to support this. While it is possible that Justin acknowledges the ‘man of men’ Christology as more popular than his own, this is again disputed.

I commend Dave on his efforts to educate young Christadelphians about the history of the patristic church. However, I hope that he will exercise greater objectivity in future lectures than he has shown in his treatment of this particular subject.



1 The specific statement is "We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God", but this is clearly made in contrast to the idea "that Christ was born one hundred and fifty years ago" and thus indicates pre-existence.
2 Bobichon, P. (2003). Dialogue avec Tryphon: Introduction, Texte Grec, Traduction, Vol. 1. Universite de Fribourg, p. 305.
3 Bobichon, P. (2003). Dialogue avec Tryphon: Introduction, Texte Grec, Traduction, Vol. 2. Universite de Fribourg, p. 718 n. 11.
4 Wallace, D.B. (1996). Greek Grammar beyond the basics: an exegetical syntax of the New Testament. Zondervan, p. 699; cf. pp. 483-484. For lack of a grammar covering the second century specifically, I assume the function of the optative had not changed in the preceding century.
5 Bobichon, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 718 n. 11.
6 Paget, J.C. (1999). Jewish Christianity. In W.D. Davies et al (Eds.), The Cambridge History of Judaism, Vol. 3 (731-775). Cambridge University Press, p. 750.
7 Freyne, S. (2014). The Jesus Movement and Its Expansion: Meaning and Mission. Eerdmans, p. 339.
8 Skarsaune, O. (1987). The Proof from Prophecy: A Study in Justin Martyr's Proof-text Tradition: Text-type, Provenance, Theological Profile. BRILL, p. 100.
9 Skarsaune, O. op. cit., p. 386; Barnard, L.W. (1967). Justin Martyr: His Life and Thought. Cambridge University Press, p. 63.
10 Bobichon, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 718 n. 11.
11 "By the turn of the [first] century the majority of Roman Christians were probably of Gentile background." (Kesich, V. (2007). Formation and Struggles: The Church, A.D. 33-450, Part 1. St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, p. 120. "By the time the deutero-Pauline Ephesians was written, the Jewish community was in the minority and was at risk of being marginalized by a powerful Gentile majority." (Roetzel, C.J. (2003). Paul, a Jew on the Margins. Westminster John Knox Press, p. 87).