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Sunday, 26 September 2021

Christian Submission to Governing Authorities in the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic

In this article, we look at the Christian's obligation to submit to governing authorities, particularly in the context of government regulations put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the sections of certain New Testament epistles that provide instructions on the believer's obligations within the household, a central theme is submission to authority. In Ephesians 5-6, for instance, the general principle "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (v. 21) is followed by specific contexts in which subjection is required:
"Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord...Children, obey your parents in the Lord...Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling" (Eph. 5:22, 6:1, 6:5)1 
Colossians follows much the same template: 
"Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord... Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord... Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything" (Col. 3:18-22)
Each of these three relationships is depicted as an authority structure, with the "lower" party (wife/child/slave) obliged to submit to or obey the "higher" party (husband/parents/master). To be sure, obligations are also placed on the "higher" party, but these obligations do not include subjection or obedience; they largely have to do with correct use of the authority vested in them. Importantly, however, neither of these passages makes the "lower" party's obligation of subjection/obedience contingent on the goodness of the "higher" party. The inspired author probably would have granted that exceptional circumstances might arise in each of these relationships in which the obligation did not apply (e.g., a parent ordering a child to steal for them). However, the writer apparently did not consider such exceptions common enough even to mention.

Moreover, in a third such passage, the writer explicitly enjoins subjection/obedience even when the "higher" party is not good (and need we add that slavery is an intrinsically unjust institution!) This passage is in 1 Peter 2-3, and rather than addressing obligations within the household, it speaks to the principle, "Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles [i.e., unbelievers], so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge." (1 Pet. 2:12). How is this principle to be applied? Again, by submitting to authority:
"For the Lord’s sake be subject to every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right... Slaves, be subject to your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh... Wives, in the same way, be subject to your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct" (1 Peter 2:13, 2:18, 3:1).2
This text introduces a new authority hierarchy not mentioned in Ephesians and Colossians (which only focus on the household level): civilian/government. It is this obligation to "be subject to every human institution" that concerns us here. 1 Peter does not, as with masters and husbands, add a proviso to obey "even those who are harsh/do not obey the word." This is obviously not because the writer believes one must only obey good government officials. Rather, it goes without saying that government officials are no paragons of virtue. Remember, this letter was written in the age of emperors like Caligula (who had people killed for fun and made his horse a priest), Nero (who used Christians as garden torches and had Peter and Paul executed), and Titus (who sacked the holy city of Jerusalem and burned the temple).

The overall picture that emerges from these epistles is clear. These apostolic writers expect their charges to exercise subjection and obedience to their social superiors. This was not to be done only when or because those superiors treated them justly. Instead, the Christian obligation to submit to authority was to bear witness to Christians' submission to the Lord as the true Master from whom all earthly authorities received their power.

It is perhaps obvious, but needs to be emphasised, that submission to a higher authority entails not only granting respect to that authority and acknowledging its legitimacy, but also obeying its orders, and not only when one likes them! Should a child be considered obedient if she obeys only the parental rules that she likes? Would a slave be considered obedient if he obeyed only those instructions from the master that seemed wise and reasonable? The letter 1 Timothy makes a similar point when it observes that "law does not exist for the righteous, but for the lawless and insubordinate" (1 Tim. 1:9, my translation). The Greek word translated "insubordinate" here is anhypotaktos, a negative cognate of the verb translated "be subject to" used in 1 Peter 2-3 and elsewhere.3 

If an authority provided a suggestion and we thought it wise, we might follow it; but this would not be submission or obedience. The real test of submission or obedience is whether one follows instructions from the authority even when one disagrees with them. And it is precisely because some are disinclined to do this that laws (with penalties for disobedience attached) are required.

Books of the Old Testament written during or after the exile of Israel and Judah, such as Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel, contain much precedent for submitting to governing authorities, including those of idolatrous Gentile powers. This pattern continues in the New Testament, with explicit instructions to this effect given not only in 1 Peter 2:13-14 (discussed above), but in several other passages.

Memorably, when some opponents tried to ensnare Jesus with a question about paying tax to Caesar, he responded, "Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God" (Mark 12:17 NABRE). Jesus is under no illusion that the imperial government (under Tiberius during his ministry; probably under Nero when Mark wrote his Gospel) was a just system that would use tax revenues effectively for the common good. Some of it, yes; other funds might be used to build a temple to Jupiter, or pay the salaries of the legions that patrolled (and later sacked) Jerusalem. Yet Jesus does not vacillate on these grounds; he affirms that Caesar has—for the present—a legitimate domain of God-given authority in the land and that the Jews are obliged to submit to it.

Paul goes into more detail about the believer's obligations to the government in Romans 13 (see also Titus 3:1):
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. (Romans 13:1-7)
As in 1 Peter 2:13-14, there is a blanket commandment to be subject to the governing authorities, and Paul goes on to justify the commandment by arguing that all governing authorities that exist have their power from God and exist for God's purposes, namely to promote the common good.

Observe that in none of the New Testament passages that command believers to "be subject to" or "obey" some authority is there a condition attached, such as "provided that their decision and orders are reasonable and agreeable." This shows that exceptions to the "submit to authority" ethic are rare (indeed, as already stated, one is only really submitting to an authority when one obeys orders despite disagreeing with them). Nevertheless, exceptions do exist. In the case of governing authorities, we have several biblical examples. These include Daniel's friends' refusal to bow down to the statue of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3), Daniel's refusal to stop petitioning God (Daniel 6), and the apostles' disobedience of the Sanhedrin's order to stop teaching in the name of Jesus (Acts 4-5). The principle is simple: when one's obligations to government contradict one's obligations to God, God's authority trumps Caesar's (Acts 5:29). 

Importantly, though, exceptions are precisely that. They are not a loophole allowing Christians to disobey laws or regulations that they deem to be, or in fact are, unreasonable. The Christian must disobey laws or regulations when obeying them would directly contravene the law of God—for instance, an order to worship an idol or stop praying to God (as in Daniel) or to stop preaching the gospel (as in Acts). Or an order to take innocent life (e.g., a doctor who is compelled by law to perform abortions.) But a Christian who disobeys laws and regulations simply because s/he thinks they are ill-advised or unscientific or counterproductive is in fact sinning, by disobeying God's commandment to be subject to governing authorities.

Let us apply the moral principles developed above to the concrete and globally relevant case of regulations that governments have introduced over the past 18 months in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We will deal with three categories of regulations: mask mandates, vaccine regulations, and restrictions on social gatherings.

Before doing so, we must acknowledge that most of the world's Christians today live under governments that are far better, in many respects, to the Roman government that existed at the time of the apostles. Many Christians live in democratic countries, where the people can influence government decisions and hold government authorities accountable. Most such countries have constitutions that uphold human rights and freedoms—above all the right to life—and offer a judicial recourse for challenging unjust laws, regulations, and decisions by government. Thus, while the Christian cannot disobey the law (apart from the rare exceptions discussed above), s/he does have recourses for inducing positive change in the government and its laws.

Secondly, the Roman government perceived very little responsibility in the area of public health. This was the domain of private physicians (and religious healers), who of course understood relatively very little about the human body or illness. Today, public health is a major priority for virtually all governments, and most of these governments rely on the latest scientific research to guide law and policy. Therefore, while no government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been perfect, Christians today have a lot to be grateful for! Thankfully, all of the kinds of regulations discussed below are intended by governments to protect human life—a bedrock Christian value.

An a fortiori argument therefore applies. If the apostles commanded Christians to be subject to even unjust human authorities (e.g., unbelieving husbands, harsh slave masters, and cruel Roman emperors), how much more must Christians today be subject to governments as they seek to protect the population from a pandemic? At any rate, even if we consider today's governments to be harsh or unjust in their handling of the pandemic, this does not justify disobedience or disrespect of those governments.

This issue can be treated briefly and decisively. There is nothing about a requirement to wear a cloth mask in public spaces that in any conceivable way violates any law of God. Christians must therefore comply cheerfully with all mask mandates. Any Christian who deliberately violates a mask mandate, or encourages others to do so, is rebelling against their sacred Christian duty to submit to governing authorities. Even if one believes that masks are ineffective at preventing transmission, or that a mask mandate seems unnecessary due to a drop in local transmission rates, this does not justify a contravention of government regulations. For Christians to violate or rail against mask mandates frankly makes a mockery of the overriding principle in 1 Peter 2:12. 

Like mask wearing, coronavirus vaccines are a measure intended to protect human life from COVID-19. Like masks, they apply at the individual level. In most countries, certain COVID-19 vaccines have been approved by government authorities for use by the general public. Public health officials have then launched campaigns that encourage, but do not compel, members of the public to be vaccinated. Thus, in most jurisdictions it is a matter of free prudential judgment whether a person receives a vaccine. It is consequently not an act of insubordination to government per se to decline to be vaccinated. Factors to be considered include, inter alia, the effectiveness of the vaccine, the risk of side effects, and whether or not cells from aborted fetuses were used in the development of the vaccine (on which see here).

That said, compliance with non-compulsory public health advisories (such as calls to be vaccinated against COVID-19) is at least congruent with the Christian's obligation to reverence governing authorities. It may also be a bad moral decision not to be vaccinated, if for instance one has failed to exercise discretion in one's sources of information about the vaccines. Certainly, when Christians become associated with "anti-vax" conspiracy theories, it does not make it easier for the world to regard the Church as "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15).

Many governments as well as private entities have placed restrictions on unvaccinated individuals. These include restrictions on travel, restrictions on being in certain public spaces (e.g., a workplace or school), and even making continued employment conditional on vaccination. Since private companies do exercise a legitimate domain of authority over their employees and customers, they are among those "human institutions" (1 Pet. 2:13) to whom subjection is obligatory for Christians. Unvaccinated Christians therefore cannot break such restrictions without shirking this sacred duty. Christians may, of course, exercise their democratic rights to speak or litigate against such restrictions if they believe them to be unjust. They cannot, however, violate laws or regulations or deny the legitimate authority of the institutions who issued them.  

Because the coronavirus spreads person-to-person, governments have placed restrictions on the number of people who can assemble in one place, and at times forbidden public gatherings, including religious ones, entirely. This is a more complicated issue than mask mandates, because it interferes with a sacred Christian obligation to God, namely communal worship (Heb. 10:25). May Christians therefore defy government prohibitions on religious gatherings to fulfill their duty to worship God together?

Assembling for worship is a Christian duty, but so is protecting human life. Since Christians assembling for worship on Sunday is analogous to—if not equivalent to—Jewish Sabbath observance, Mark 3:1-6 is highly relevant here. Jesus' opponents wanted to accuse him of violating his religious obligations because he healed a man on the Sabbath. Jesus' response was not that Sabbath observance was unimportant, but that protecting human life was more important: "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?" (Mark 3:4) In the same vein, he gave the memorable chiasm, "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27). Sunday worship is very important for Christians, but not as important as protecting life. Since government restrictions on public gatherings are designed precisely to protect human life (without interfering with communal life more than necessary), these regulations are consonant with the law of God and must be complied with. Thankfully, technology allows for communal worship and fellowship to continue virtually in a limited way while physical gatherings are not possible.

We should note that secular government officials may place a lower valuation on the importance of religious gatherings than religious believers do. It is, therefore, important for religious leaders and communities to engage with government officials to influence them against setting restrictions that are unreasonable and excessive. Such engagement, along with litigation if deemed necessary, are ways of challenging restrictions on religious gatherings that may be unfair. Violating the regulations, however, is inconsonant with the Christian duty to be subject to the governing authorities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought much tragedy and difficulty on the world, Christians included. With numerous government regulations restricting what we used to know as normal life, it has also tested Christians' resolve to obey the apostolic commandment to "be subject to the governing authorities" (Rom. 13:1; 1 Pet. 2:13). My hope for Christian readers is that, having read this article, you will be better informed about how to do so. My hope for non-Christian readers is that, having read this article, you will be better informed about how Christians ought to be conducting themselves, and will join with me in condemning all disobedience and disrespect of governing authorities that claims to uphold "Christian values."

  • 1 All Scripture quotations are taken from the NRSV unless otherwise indicated.
  • 2 I have italicised "be subject to" in each case because I have altered the NRSV's translation, "accept the authority of." To "accept authority" is too abstract; the passive form of the verb hypotassō, literally to be put in place under, denotes a submissive relationship (see BDAG lexicon).
  • 3 BDAG define anhypotaktos here as, "pertaining to refusing submission to authority" (p. 91). The verb hypotassō is used for subjection to government authorities in 1 Peter 2:13, Romans 13:1, 5, and Titus 3:1. It is used for subjection to other authorities (parents, husbands, or masters) in Luke 2:51, Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:5, 8, and 1 Peter 2:18, 3:1, 3:5.

Sunday, 5 September 2021

"Lord of lords" and "King of kings" as Hebraic Superlatives


This article delves briefly into the meaning of the expression "Lord of lords" as used in Scripture and, in particular, draws out the Christological implications of its application to Christ in two passages (Rev. 17:14; 19:16).

The New Testament books were all composed in Greek. However, because nearly all of their authors were Jews and they contain frequent quotations and echoes from the Hebrew Scriptures, an understanding of Hebrew can sometimes shed light on the meaning of New Testament expressions. The argument of this article is that "Lord of lords" is a Hebraism and should be understood as a superlative with a sense equivalent to "greatest Lord" or "supreme Lord." Before turning to the New Testament, we need some background on the construct chain superlative in biblical Hebrew.

Construct Chain Superlatives in the Hebrew Bible

Coulter H. George, Professor of Classics at the University of Virginia, explains an important difference between modern English and biblical Hebrew:
For, in contrast to English, where adjectives are inflected for three different degrees—positive (old), comparative (older), superlative (oldest)—Hebrew adjectives do not have this option, so the comparative or, as here, superlative has to be expressed differently, with the phrase 'X of Xs' being a favored way of getting across the idea 'the most X.' But since this is a structure that requires a plural and a construct chain, and therefore works better with nouns, we can see part of what it means for Hebrew to be a language that lets nouns do a little more work relative to adjectives than would be the case in English.1
Thus, a singular noun in construct state followed by the same noun in the plural is one way of expressing a superlative in biblical Hebrew.2 Bruce K. Waltke and M. O'Connor note that the construction need not to repeat the same noun but may consist of two similar nouns.3

Let us look at a few examples from the Hebrew Bible.4 In Noah's curse on Canaan in Genesis 9:25, he declares that Canaan will be a "slave of slaves" (עבד עבדים) to his brothers. "Slave of slaves" is a literal ("formally equivalent") translation of the Hebrew, but a dynamically equivalent translation, one that conveys the sense, would be "lowest of slaves" (NRSV).5 

The Torah's instructions for the tabernacle in Exodus 26:33-34 distinguish an area designated "the holy" (הקדש) from an area designated the "holy of holies" (קדש הקדשים). The latter place could only be accessed by the high priest, and even then only once per year, on the Day of Atonement. "Holy of holies" here conveys the sense, "most holy" (NRSV).

In Qoheleth [Ecclesiastes] 1:2, Qoheleth famously declares, "Vanity of vanities!" (הבל הבלים). Again, a dynamically equivalent translation would be, "Absolutely futile" (NET) or "Utter vanity!" Another book traditionally attributed to Solomon uses a construct chain superlative in its title: "The Song of Songs" (שיר השירים, Song of Solomon 1:1). The sense here is, "the greatest song," "the most wonderful song."6

In Isaiah 34:10, an oracle against Edom foretells that no one will pass through it for "perpetuity of perpetuities" (לנצח נצחים). The sense is "forever and ever," "for all eternity." A similar construction occurs in Daniel 7:18 (composed in Aramaic), where Daniel is told that the holy ones of the Most High would possess the kingdom for "perpetuity of perpetuities" (עלם עלמיא). The Old Greek version of Daniel renders this expression into Greek as eōs tou aiōnos tōn aiōnōn ("until the age of ages"), and a nearly identical phrase occurs in Greek Daniel 3:90. This construct chain superlative may therefore have influenced the phrase eis tous aiōnas tōn aiōnōn ("to the ages of ages"), which occurs frequently in the Greek New Testament (especially in the Book of Revelation) with the sense, "forever and ever."7

There are other examples,8 but our main interest lies in construct chain superlatives that are used of God. Certain human emperors such as Artaxerxes and Nebuchadnezzar are referred to (by themselves, and even by God) as "king of kings" (מלך מלכיא in Ezra 7:12, Dan. 2:37 Aramaic; מלך מלכים in Ezek. 26:7). Recognised as a construct chain superlative, this title can be dynamically translated, "greatest king" or "supreme king." In similar fashion, the biblical writers refer to Yahweh himself as אל(הי) אלהים ("God of gods", Deut. 10:17; Josh. 22:22; Ps. 50:1; 84:8; 136:2; Dan. 2:47)9 and אדני האדנים ("Lord of lords," Deut. 10:17; Ps. 136:3).10 Daniel is informed via a vision of a wicked future king who would rise against the שר שרים ("Prince of princes," Dan. 8:25); scholars debate whether this title refers to God himself or to Michael.11 The Hebrew Bible thus uses superlative constructions to describe Yahweh as "the greatest God" and "the supreme Lord."12 The title "king of kings" is also applied to God in Second Temple Jewish literature, though not in the Hebrew Bible itself.13 Notably, in the Old Greek version of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar qualifies his use of "king of kings" as a self-reference by acknowledging (after his seven-year humiliation) that it is the Most High, "God of gods and Lord of lords and Lord of kings," who has established him on his throne.

To summarise, then, the Hebrew Bible can refer to powerful human rulers as "king of kings," and (possibly) to an archangel as "prince of princes," but the titles "God of gods" and "Lord of lords" are reserved exclusively for Yahweh. All of these titles should be understood as superlatives, i.e. "supreme God," "supreme Lord," "supreme king," etc. Subsequent Jewish literature increasingly uses "King of kings" for God, applying the title to human rulers only in a qualified manner.

King of kings and Lord of lords in the New Testament

With this background in hand, we can turn to the New Testament. The expression "God of gods" does not occur, but "Lord of lords" and "King of kings" occur thrice each, always together (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; 19:16). In the first instance, the referent is God:
I charge you 14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. (1 Tim. 6:14-16 NRSV)
This passage is plainly emphasising God's exclusive divine status: note the repeated use of the adjective monos ("only"; "alone"). We should understand the author to be using the titles "King of kings" (ho basileus tōn basileuontōn) and "Lord of lords" (kyrios tōn kurieuontōn) as Hebraic superlatives; hence "supreme King" and "supreme Lord." These titles emphatically convey God's unique divine status and power.

Within the wider context of the Hebrew Bible, Second Temple literature and this text from 1 Timothy, it is therefore remarkable to find that in the Book of Revelation, the Jewish Christian author uses the titles "Lord of lords" and "King of kings" for Christ. In Revelation 17, John sees a vision that has obvious resonances with Daniel (e.g., evil kings represented by horns on a beast). An angel explains part of the vision to John, stating that these kings "will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords (kyrios kyriōn) and King of kings (basileus basileōn) ." In view of the Danielic connections, it is impossible not to see here an allusion to the "God of gods and Lord of kings" of Daniel 2:47, as well as to occurrences of the exact title "Lord of lords" in Deuteronomy 10:17 and Psalm 136:3.14 The author of Revelation therefore deliberately assigns a divine title to the Lamb, with meaning equivalent to "the Supreme Lord and King." Not content to do so once, the titles are repeated in Revelation 19:16, as the climax of a fearsome Christological vision.15

Christological Implications

What are the Christological implications of Jesus Christ being designated as "the supreme Lord and King," using a title ("Lord of lords") that is reserved exclusively for God in the Hebrew Bible? Two implications will be drawn out here: one concerning the Christological significance of the title kyrios and the other concerning the idea of Christ's supremacy.

Firstly, the application of this title to Jesus gives the lie to those who—to preserve a "low" Christology (or a confessional commitment to unitarianism)—downplay the Christological significance of the title kyrios. Such interpreters insist that, as used of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, kyrios designates master or ruler in an earthly sense.16 They emphasise that "God" (theos) is very rarely used of Christ in the New Testament, but overlook that "Lord" (kyrios)—one of the most common New Testament titles for Jesus—is just as lofty a title. Not only is kyrios the usual Greek translation of the Hebrew divine title אדני (which unitarians acknowledge is used only for God), but it is also the word usually used in the Septuagint to render the divine Name itself, יהוה, into Greek! If Christ, then, can be described as "the supreme Lord," can this be anything other than a divine claim? (This is not to deny, of course, that kyrios can be used in a mundane sense like "sir," "lord," "master," and is sometimes used of Jesus in this sense in the Gospels. But it is precisely texts like Revelation 17:14 and 19:16 that show conclusively that a much loftier sense is in view.)

It appears to this writer that, rather than the New Testament writers shying away from calling Christ theos and opting for what they saw as an inferior title, kyrios, they witness to the emergence of a pattern whereby the Father is typically designated theos and the Son kyrios (with some exceptions on both counts), these both being divine titles.17 The most striking occurrence of this pattern occurs in 1 Corinthians 8:6, where Paul quotes a creedal tradition that—according to the majority of New Testament scholars—splits the language of the Shema` (Deut. 6:4) between "one God, the Father" and "one Lord, Jesus Christ."18 It is remarkable that this text (like Ephesians 4:4-6) can profess belief in "one Lord" alongside "one God," without any qualification in light of the fact that Second Temple Judaism professed belief that God is the one Lord.19

Secondly, let us move beyond titles and reflect on what "supreme Lord and King" conveys conceptually about Christ's majesty and power. I am reminded of a post from several years ago on a unitarian apologetics Facebook page that commented on a 6th-century Byzantine depiction of Jesus as "Christ Pantokrator." The writer notes, "'Pantoraktor' [sic] is the Greek word for 'almighty.' Note that Scripture never refers to Jesus in this way; it is a title reserved exclusively for God." He goes on to observe that, in the painting, Christ looks beyond and away from the viewer, which "reflects the imperial aloofness with which Jesus was now associated. He is no longer a man: he is a god-emperor, like the original Caesars."

There are several problems with this argument. It presupposes a false dilemma, as though Jesus can either be human shepherd or divine emperor but not both, and that an artist who depicts him as one denies the other. If we take scenes from the New Testament, would we expect an artist painting the Transfiguration or the Ascension—or Jesus as envisioned in Revelation 1:12-15, for that matter—to depict him as making relatable eye contact with the viewer? A second problem with the argument is that it dwells too much on the title Pantokrator. While it is true that pantokratōr ("almighty"; "omnipotent") is not used of Christ in the New Testament, it is not a common word there (occurring only ten times, and in two books). Further undermining this argument from silence is the observation that the concept conveyed by pantokratōr is applied to Christ. Pantokratōr is a compound formed from pas ("all") and kratos ("might"; "power"; "sovereignty"). The operative question, therefore, is whether the New Testament ascribes universal power to Jesus. In the title "supreme Lord and King," we already have our answer. Of course, the evidence goes far beyond this. Since nine of the ten NT occurrences of pantokratōr for God are in Revelation, it is significant that this book twice ascribes kratos ("might") to the exalted Christ.20 Moreover, if we consider the occurrences of pantokratōr in Revelation, it is unlikely that the word is intended to emphasise God's power as distinct from Christ's.21 Meanwhile, other New Testament writings describe the exalted Christ as having been given "All authority in heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28:18), as "Lord of all" (Acts 10:36), as having "power that enables him...to bring all things into subjection to himself" (Phil. 3:21), as "before all things" (Col. 1:17), and as sustaining "all things by his powerful word" (Heb. 1:3). The question arises: what power is lacking in Christ, exactly, that he must be not be called Pantokratōr?22


In conclusion, then, with the Christological title "Lord of lords and King of kings" properly understood as designating Jesus the supreme Lord and King, we can recognise that the Book of Revelation offers a high Christology, in which Christ shares in the exclusive prerogatives of deity, such as absolute sovereignty over the cosmos. While this title is unparalleled in other New Testament texts, it is congruent with the high Christology that emerges from the letters of Paul and the letter to the Hebrews.

  • 1 Coulter H. George, How Dead Languages Work [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020], 211.
  • 2 This is by no means the only way that superlatives are expressed in biblical Hebrew. For a broader discussion, see D. Winton Thomas, "A Consideration of Some Unusual Ways of Expressing the Superlative in Hebrew," Vetus Testamentum 3 (1953): 209-24.
  • 3 Bruce K. Waltke and M. O'Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 267.
  • 4 Most of these are drawn from Waltke and O'Connor, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, 267.
  • 5 The Septuagint translator has also understood the expression to be idiomatic and has rendered it with pais oiketēs ("house slave"), which perhaps represents the lowest rank among slaves.
  • 6 The New Living Translation conveys the superlative sense with a gloss: "This is Solomon’s song of songs, more wonderful than any other."
  • 7 E.g., Gal. 1:5; Eph. 3:21; Phil. 4:20; 1 Tim. 1:17; 2 Tim. 4:18; Heb. 13:21; 1 Pet. 4:11; Rev. 1:6; 1:18; 4:9-10; 5:13; 7:12; 10:6; 11:15; 15:7; 19:3; 20:10; 22:5. Revelation 14:11 uses the anarthrous construction aiōnas aiōnōn. That this verse departs from the ordinary usage in Revelation is interesting, since Revelation 14:11 alludes to Isaiah 34:10, where a construct chain superlative occurs. The phrase eis tous aiōnas tōn aiōnōn is attested once in the Greek Old Testament, in Psalm 83:5. However, Psalm 84:5 MT does not have a construct chain superlative. The concept of a future eternity is nearly absent from the Hebrew Bible.
  • 8 Jeremiah 3:19 is an interesting case. The KJV renders, "How shall I put thee among the children, and give thee a pleasant land, a goodly heritage of the hosts of nations?" It follows the MT, which has צבי צבאות, literally, "beauty of hosts" of nations. However, many scholars argue that this should be emended to צבי צבות, literally "beauty of beauties." R. Abma states, "The word צבאות in the apposition צבי צבאות גוים is, in spite of the א, to be understood as a plural of the noun צבי ('beauty') rather than of the noun צבא ('host'). This is the only case that the noun צבי is found in the plural, so that this plural form may be an unconscious adjustment to the common plural צבאות (cf. the expression 'Yhwh of hosts'). The construction of two identical nouns with the second in the plural expresses a 'superlative idea'... which explains the translation 'an inheritance most beauteous among the nations." (Bonds of love: Methodic Studies of Prophetic Texts with Marriage Imagery (Isaiah 50:1-3 and 54:1-10, Hosea 1-3, Jeremiah 2-3) [Assen: Van Gorcum, 1999],  231). Hence, the NRSV has, "the most beautiful heritage of all the nations." In Jeremiah 6:28, Yahweh describes his people as סרי סוררים (literally, "rebels of rebels"). A dynamically equivalent translation would be, "the most stubborn of rebels" (NET).
  • 9 Daniel 2:47 (composed in Aramaic) reads אלה אלהין. The Old Greek version of Daniel adds several further references to God as the "God of gods" ([ὁ θεὸς τῶν θεῶν] in 3:90, 4:30a, 4:30c, 4:34, and 11:36.
  • 10 The nearly equivalent expression מרא מלכין ("Lord of kings") occurs in the Aramaic of Daniel 2:47, while the Old Greek version of Daniel 4:34 refers to the Most High as "God of gods and Lord of lords and Lord of kings."
  • 11 See Amy C. Merrill Willis, "Heavenly Bodies: God and the Body in the Visions of Daniel," in S. Tamar Kamionkowski and Wonil Kim (eds.), Bodies, Embodiment, and Theology of the Hebrew Bible (London: T&T Clark, 2010), 29-30 n. 63.
  • 12 The expression "the greatest God" (like its literal rendering, "God of gods") might seem to undermine monotheism, since it implies the existence of other gods. However, it is clear that monotheism is a concept that develops through the course of biblical revelation. In earlier strata of biblical literature one finds Israel called to monolatry (exclusive worship of God), who is understood as the highest member of a council of divine beings. The status of these other "gods" is gradually degraded until they are reduced to sub-divine beings like angels or demons.
  • 13 E.g., as (ὁ) βασιλεὺς (τῶν) βασιλέων in 2 Maccabees 13:4, 3 Maccabees 5:35.
  • 14 The Septuagint of both of these passages has the title in the form (ho) kyrios (tōn) kyriōn.
  • 15 That the one seen in this vision is Christ is evident not only from his wearing a robe dipped in blood, and the allusion to Psalm 2:9 ("he will rule them with a rod of iron"), but also from the correspondences with the vision in Revelation 1:12-18, where one who likewise has eyes like a flame of fire and a sharp sword coming from his mouth identifies himself to John as the one who lives and had been dead.
  • 16 See, for instance, my recent review of a unitarian polemical work, Review of and Response to The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity's Self-Inflicted Wound, especially pp. 9-10, 25-27.
  • 17 The Father is more commonly called kyrios than the Son theos, but this is to be expected due to (a) it being the established practice in Hellenistic Judaism to use kyrios for God, and (b) the application to the Father of biblical quotations containing the word kyrios.
  • 18 See further discussion of this text on pp. 16-18 of my recent Review and Response.
  • 19 See Deuteronomy 6:4 and Zechariah 14:9 (both MT and LXX). Note also the Old Greek version of Daniel 3:17, where Daniel's three friends testify, "there is one God who is in heaven, our one Lord, whom we fear, who is able to deliver us from the furnace of fire" (New English Translation of the Septuagint).
  • 20 "To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion (kratos) forever and ever. Amen." (Rev. 1:6 NRSV). A hymn in the throne vision of chapter 5 ascribes "blessing and honour and glory and might (kratos) forever and ever" "to the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb" (5:13). In 1 Peter 4:11 and 5:11, two doxologies ascribe kratos to Christ and to God, respectively.
  • 21 For instance, in the first instance (Rev. 1:8), the Lord God introduces himself as "the Alpha and Omega...the one who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." "Alpha and Omega" (or its semantic equivalent, "first and last," drawn from deutero-Isaiah) are applied repeatedly to Christ in this book (1:17-18; 2:8; 22:13). In another instance, heavenly saints sing to "Lord God Almighty...king of the nations," in what is described as "the song of Moses...and the song of the Lamb." Since Revelation contains other songs sung about the Lamb but none sung by the Lamb, some scholars take the second genitive as objective: "the song about the Lamb" (see David E. Aune, Revelation 6-16 [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998], 872-73; Keith T. Marriner, Following the Lamb: The Theme of Discipleship in the Book of Revelation [Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2016], 174 n. 447). If so, the Lamb is at least indirectly included in the title pantokratōr. Moreover, God's "almighty" status is characterised in terms of his being "king of the nations," which is equivalent to what the book says elsewhere about Jesus, who is "ruler of the kings of the earth" (Rev. 1:5). In Revelation 19:15, it is Christ who treads out in the wine press the wrath of God Almighty. In Revelation 21:22, the new Jerusalem has the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb jointly as its temple.
  • 22 Note that the Church Fathers applied the title Pantokratōr to Jesus long before the famous sixth-century painting. According to Lampe's Patristic Greek Lexicon, the term is applied to the Son or the Logos already by second- and third-century writers like Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Hippolytus of Rome (G.W.H. Lampe, Patristic Greek Lexicon [Oxford: Clarendon, 1961], 1005.

Sunday, 22 August 2021

Review of "The Immortality of the Soul: Is it Biblical?" by Fr Emmanuel Cazanave

This article reviews an article entitled, «L'immortalité de l'âme est-elle biblique?» ("The immortality of the soul: Is it biblical?") by Fr Emmanuel Cazanave.1 Rev Dr Cazanave is a priest of the diocese of Toulouse, France and a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Theology at the Institut catholique de Toulouse. The topic is of interest to me as a reader who has moved from a confessional community that answers an emphatic "No" to the titular question (the Christadelphians),2 to one that affirms the immortality of the soul as a matter of dogma (the Roman Catholic Church).3 In my view, Fr Cazanave offers insights that could be useful to a diverse audience. I refer firstly to those who deny the immortality of the soul and hold an "annihilationist" position (that death reduces the human person to nothing). Secondly, I refer to myriads of Catholics who are misinformed about Church teaching and regard death as a welcome escape from bodily existence. Since the article is probably inaccessible to most readers of this blog, due to being written in French, I thought I would offer a review with a little of my own commentary. I should mention that I also do not have access to the published version of the article, but Fr Cazanave kindly sent me a preprint.4

The article is broader in scope than the title suggests. It is divided into four main sections, only one of which deals primarily with biblical exegesis. Fr Cazanave first explains what the Magisterium—the teaching office of the Catholic Church—has stated on the subject of the immortality of the soul. Secondly, he lists some theological objections to the doctrine of the soul's immortality and attempts to answer them. Thirdly, he surveys biblical evidence pertaining to the topic. Fourthly, he discusses the contributions of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), one of the Church's most important theologians.


In the article's introduction, Fr Cazanave briefly surveys much of the ground that he will dig into more deeply later on. He begins by acknowleding an apparent incongruity between the notion of the immortality of the soul—understood as the existence of a disembodied human soul after death—and the biblical vision of the human person, which exhibits a profound unity that seems to exclude any notion of a separable soul. He further points out that the idea of an immortal soul brings with it the danger (also highlighted in recent times by Protestant luminaries such as Oscar Cullmann and N.T. Wright) of a distorted Christian doctrine of resurrection. He admits that many Christians conceive of resurrection as simply an afterlife of the soul without the body, and indeed that the majority of Catholics no longer believe in the resurrection of the body (notwithstanding that Catholics testify to such belief at every Mass when reciting the Creed).

In view of these problems, Fr Cazanave concedes that the opposition of some theologians to any concept of a soul or an immortal soul, which they denounce as a pollution of Judaeo-Christian thought by Greek philosophy, is understandable. But what is the alternative? One option is what he refers to as "total death": after death, the body returns to dust and whatever is meant by "soul" also no longer exists. Death is therefore the annihilation of the person. Corresponding to "total death," therefore, is "total resurrection," whereby God at the eschaton resuscitates humans in both their bodily and psychological or pneumatic dimensions. This doctrine both preserves the unity of the "biblical human" and avoids any confusion between the resurrection and ideas about the soul.

Nevertheless, Fr Cazanave expresses a number of reservations about accepting this "total death and total resurrection" doctrine. First, and obviously significant for a Catholic priest such as himself, the Church's Magisterium has for many centuries affirmed and reaffirmed the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Second, while conceding the Bible does not offer a notion of the immortality of the soul in the manner of a philosophical definition or a positive affirmation, he argues that this observation leaves the question unresolved, because the Bible is not written like a theological manual. This seems to me to be a vital point, since many Protestants—particularly of a fundamentalist or sectarian disposition—approach the Bible precisely as a doctrinal treatise or dogmatic constitution, and therefore presuppose that if a doctrine is "biblical," it must be expressly defined within the Bible.5 And, as Fr Cazanave observes, there is no shortage of biblical passages that at the very least call into question efforts by "total death" theologians to annul the notion of  a soul and its immortality.

Fr Cazanave proceeds to ask whether the doctrine of "total death for total resurrection" really corresponds to biblical anthropology. What, he asks, would it mean to be created in the image of God if that image in no way reflects the eternity of its Creator? Fr Cazanave also underlines the notion of progressive revelation: the idea of the "biblical human" is not static, but evolves organically throughout the biblical revelation. The later texts do not contradict the earlier, but develop their ideas further in the same direction.6

Fr Cazanave concludes his introduction by emphasising that the notion of an immortal soul existing in a disembodied state is paradoxical, since God wills for humans to be whole, which entails embodiment. The notion of a disembodied soul is thus tied up in the mystery of sin, of death, and of the permanence of the divine purpose despite them. No one faithful to the biblical idea of resurrection can deny, he says, that a soul no longer giving form to matter in its own body is «une absurdité». Yet it is an absurdity in the same measure that sin is absurd! Since neither sin nor death was part of God's purpose for humanity, the same is true of a disembodied soul, which is only possible in death. Nevertheless, could not, asks Fr Cazanave, the latter be the sign of the permanence of the divine plan in the face of sin?

1. The Teaching of the Magisterium

Fr Cazanave does not discuss the teachings of the Church Fathers concerning the soul. However, as I have written elsewhere, it is clear from the earliest post-apostolic writings that, even as early Christian writings such as 1 Clement and Justin Martyr strongly emphasised bodily resurrection or even polemicised against Neo-Platonist ideas that denigrated bodily existence, they nonetheless affirmed the real existence of the faithful between death and resurrection.7 Fr Cazanave instead focuses on magisterial teaching that has emanated from ecumenical councils. At the Fifth Lateran Council (1512-17), the Catholic Church dogmatically affirmed the existence of a human soul as well as its immortality. An implication of this is the notion of an "intermediate state" between individual death and resurrection during which the human soul may be said to subsist "separately" without a body. Moreover, Pope Leo X at the Fifth Lateran Council condemned those who assert that the soul is mortal. This teaching has been constantly reaffirmed since, including in the document Gaudium et Spes from the most recent ecumenical council, Vatican II (1962-65). In a 1979 letter to bishops, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed the use of the word "soul" for that conscious element of the human "me" that subsists after death, without ignoring that this word takes on several meanings in Scripture.

2. The Difficulties Posed by the Doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul

2.1. Is the immortality of the soul incompatible with resurrection?

Fr Cazanave next addresses theological objections that have been raised against the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, some of which had already been mentioned in the introduction. He quotes Protestant theologian Philippie-Henri Menoud to the effect that the ideas of immortality of the soul and resurrection of the body are not compatible but mutually exclusive notions between which one must choose, with the New Testament coming down decisively on the side of the latter. In response, Fr Cazanave reiterates an important point he has made earlier: Sacred Scripture is not a treatise on psychology and does not give conceptual definitions as a work of systematic philosophy would. He describes the practice of looking for an anthropological treatise in the biblical writings as a «piège» (trap), commenting that even if one were to assemble all the passages that describe man,8 this would not equate to the logical components of a systematic discourse on the subject.9 

Instead, Fr Cazanave argues that research into biblical anthropology must be theologically oriented, focusing not on man in himself but on God and the intent he reveals through the manifestations of his presence and action in the economy of salvation. Hence, he regards as a key text Wisdom 1:13-14, which asserts that God "did not make death nor does he delight in the destruction of the living. For he created all things that they might exist..." (NETS)10 Fr Cazanave comments that death certainly exists and things disappear when it reaches them. Nevertheless, man exists by virtue of a form that transcends his matter while constituting only a single actus essendi (Latin, "act of being"), matter and form. It is this paradox by which man uniquely exists in the image of God. In a world characterised by signification (the presence of divine signs), the sustenance of the human form beyond the destruction of its matter is the sign of persistence of the divine plan. Fr Cazanave reiterates the analogy between sin and death: just as sin has wounded mankind but not annihilated it, so death does not annihilate man but signals the absurdity of sin by the unthinkable separation of soul from body. The disembodied soul subsists without realising what it is essentially made for—to "in-form" matter, thereby making it into a body—and thus conveys the gravity of sin and the tragedy of death. In this sense, the terminology "immortality of the soul" is rather unfortunate.11 In Scripture, immortality is not mere existence but a hoped-for reward: life in all its fullness. Moreover, the term "immortality" suggests imperviousness to death, whereas—in terms of Fr Cazanave's description—the soul is wounded or denuded by its paradoxical separation from the body. The term "immortality" in "immortality of the soul" should be understood in the sense of subsistence and not in the biblical sense of eternal blessedness.

Fr Cazanave then points out a central truth of biblical revelation, namely that God created man to be in covenant with him. God does not change and his covenant is eternal. Yet how can a covenant continue when one of the parties to it no longer exists? He therefore argues that the subsistence of man's being after death, the fact of his remaining without returning to nothingness, provides a point of connection between the One who simply Is and his creature. The immortality of the soul thus witnesses to the irrevocability of God's covenantal plan. Fr Cazanave thus summarises that the apparent absurdity of the soul's subsistence without the body is a sign conveying two important truths:
  1. The gravity of sin, which upsets the order of God's creation but does not cause him to renounce it altogether; 
  2. The irrevocable power of the Creator's merciful plan of redemption
A key text cited by Fr Cazanave in support of this theological anthropology is Romans 14:7-9, where St. Paul declares that we belong to the Lord in death as in life. The Lord, infers Fr Cazanave, is not the Lord of nothingness or of a memory of that which has lapsed into nothingness.

2.2. Is the idea of the immortality of the soul a pollution of Christian thought by Greek philosophy?

Having quoted some theologians—including the great Karl Barth—who describe the idea of the immortality of the soul as a contamination of Judaeo-Christian thought by Greek philosophy, Fr Cazanave poses two questions. Firstly, is there really a clearly defined Greek anthropology that posits a body/soul dualism? Secondly, is Christian thought in its development—especially the scholasticism of the second millennium—truly dualistic and does it really oppose soul and body?

To the first question, Fr Cazanave responds that, according to recent research, the Greek heritage is one of questioning and exploration rather than of clearly established definitions. It would be reductionist to think of "Greek philosophy" in monolithic terms. Even Plato, although influenced by the mystery religion of Orphism (in which the soul is clearly distinct from the body and imprisoned by it), only uses this tradition in the service of a philosophical vision. Plato did not bequeath a coherent philosophical definition of the soul and its relation to the body that could simply be passed on by others. Fr Cazanave grants that the school of Neo-Platonism systematised some of Plato's ideas in the direction of a dualistic anthropology in which the body imprisons the soul. However, he warns, this line of thought is not the only representative of Greek philosophy. On the contrary, in Aristotelian thought, the principle of animation (the soul) and the matter so animated (the body) are so unified and interdependent that they disappear together in death (though some interpreters of Aristotle maintain that, for Aristotle, something of the soul remains after death.) It is clear, therefore, that early Christianity did not simply inherit a well-defined "Greek anthropology." The thought of the Church Fathers and later the scholastics draws on various currents of the Greek tradition but does not adopt them uncritically. And Magisterial teaching on the soul, as promulgated dogmatically in the second millennium, is unambiguously Aristotelian—not Neo-Platonist—in its philosophical orientation.

2.3. Is "total death for total resurrection" biblical?

Fr Cazanave next observes that contemporary theologians present us with a stark choice: either be faithful to the unitary anthropology of the Bible and adopt a "total death for total resurrection" doctrine, or pollute biblical faith by clinging to the notion of an immortal soul that subsists in an "intermediate state" between death and eschatological resurrection. The first option not only entails choosing the Bible over Greek influence, but also restoring the primacy of divine action over against an exaltation of human autonomy expressed in the natural immortality of the soul. He notes that at their most extreme, detractors of the immortality of the soul concept regard it as an exemplification of human pride just as occurs in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) and at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11).

The notion of "total death for total resurrection" may appear to do justice to biblical notions of divine primacy and unitary anthropology, but for Fr Cazanave a serious concern arises: what of the intermediate time between the moment of death and that of resurrection? The annihilation of the deceased makes it impossible to think of a continuity of the personal "me" and in this respect is hardly biblical, for there is then not a resurrection but a re-creation.12 The person who is rewarded is not the same "me" as the one who died. Fr Cazanave notes two solutions to this conundrum that theologians typically offer. The first is that the dead person is held in God's memory (cf. Isa. 49:15-16). However, is it really "existence" for one to exist only within the memory of God? To refer to an earlier point, can annihilation really be the sign and witness of the irrevocability of the divine plan? Can a covenant subsist while one of its parties does not? Moreover, does the notion of an annihilation that is attenuated by an absorption into the memory of the divine Word not resemble the Neo-Platonist idea of the divine part of the soul merging with the divinity?13 This resemblance is ironic, given that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is often accused of being a Neo-Platonist corruption of Christianity.

Fr Cazanave notes that other theologians have sought to address this problem by positing that resurrection takes place immediately after death (e.g., due to the dead passing outside of linear time). However, such a doctrine is at odds with the biblical vision of history and time, which compels us to situate the resurrection of the body at the Parousia of Christ.

3. The "Biblical Man"

3.1. The human person and death in the Hebrew Bible

Fr Cazanave quotes the Protestant theologian Oscar Cullmann to the effect that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul represents a serious misunderstanding of both Old and New Testaments. In response, Fr Cazanave surveys biblical anthropology. Beginning with the Hebrew Bible, he asserts that it presents a man who is fundamentally one, and that any kind of soul/body dualism is foreign to it. A man is characterised by three dimensions or elements: the nefesh, the basar, and the ruah.14 Nefesh designates the throat and respiration and can be understood as the breath that signifies man as a living being who desires, who possesses an appetite. Nefesh is therefore the person, who is not self-sufficient but fulfilled by aspiring to something beyond oneself. The basar is then the bodily and carnal expression and manifestation of the nefesh, the two being dimensions of one psycho-physiological being. The ruah is the spirit of God, which communicates to man something of divine energy and establishes him in relation to God.

Death, then, occurs when God withdraws the ruah (Qoh. 12:7) and the basar perishes (Job 34:14-15). Fr Cazanave states that, since the biblical man is characterised by profound unity, one could be tempted to conceive of biblical death as the disappearance of the whole person. However, while the early biblical vision of the afterlife is less than cheerful and akin to the Babylonian idea of a dark abode, there are indications that the deceased do not return to nothingness. The deceased are rephaim, mere shadows of themselves (e.g., Job 26:5; Prov. 9:18; 21:16; Isa. 14:9); but being reduced to a shadow, to sleepiness or a comatose state, is not equivalent to ontological annihilation. Thus, Fr Cazanave infers that the nefesh, despite being deprived of the vital breath (ruah), does not return to nothingness at death. In a similar vein, Fr Cazanave argues that descriptions of the dead as being in a place, Sheol—albeit a place of darkness, shadow, and disorder (Job 10:20-22; cf. 3:13-19, Ps. 88:9-12)—imply that the dead have not completely ceased to exist.15 Death in the Hebrew Bible is an unenviable, unfulfilling state but it is not annihilation.

3.2. Not the God of the dead, but of the living

Fr Cazanave asserts that Jesus' affirmation to the Sadducees, "He is not the God of the dead but of the living" (Mark 12:27 par.) confirms the evolution of intertestamental Jewish eschatology, in which faith in bodily resurrection appears, the fruit of reflection on the faithfulness of God to his covenant. While some early biblical texts on resurrection probably refer—at the grammatical-historical level—to political or national revivals within history (e.g., Isa. 26:19; Ezekiel 37), the hope of individual bodily resurrection at the end of history appears explicitly in late strata of the Old Testament, such as Daniel 12:2 and 2 Maccabees 7. 

Jewish faith in the resurrection required, argues Fr Cazanave, a harmonisation between two convictions: (i) a certain continuation of the "I" after death, albeit in a shadowy state; and (ii) the eschatological resurrection of the flesh. Together, these two affirmations necessitate an "intermediate state" in which the person exists in a kind of "standby" between death and resurrection. Fr Cazanave reasons that later biblical authors—particularly the author of Wisdom of Solomon—adopted the Hellenistic notion of the immortality of the soul to help conceptualise the post-mortem continuation of the nefesh. He emphasises that this adoption is not a pollution of biblical thought by "Greek philosophy" (which did not offer a monolithic concept of the soul) but the assimilation of a concept useful in the ongoing development of biblical thought. Moreover, it was not Greek thought in its entirety, nor even a thoroughgoing dualism, that was adopted. The selective and discerning assimilation of Greek ideas about the soul does not necessarily result in a dualism that elevates the soul, denigrates embodiment, and destroys the unity of the human person. Fr Cazanave warns that reductionism on this point is the source of widespread misunderstanding.

A further clarification offered by Fr Cazanave is that a doctrine of the immortality of the soul that is compatible with Scripture would not be a doctrine of natural immortality. That is, the soul's immortality is not due to its own intrinsic nature but to the faithfulness of God (Wisdom 3:1-4).

3.3. The Soul in the New Testament

Fr Cazanave points to Matthew 10:28 ("Fear not those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul") as a text that mentions the soul/body distinction. He acknowledges that psyche ("soul") in this text designates the whole person in her capacity to transcend the earthly dimension of life. Nonetheless, he considers it significant that a distinction between body and soul is made (and that the whole person is not annihilated by earthly death).

Our author identifies the Gospel of St. Luke as the New Testament book with the greatest interest in the question of the fate of the dead before the Parousia. In this respect, he points to the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31) and Jesus' saying on the cross to the good thief, "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).16 The emphasis in the latter text is on presence with Christ. This same emphasis emerges in St. Paul's concept of the intermediate state (2 Cor. 5:6-8; Phil. 1:20-24). Fr Cazanave asserts that, by equating his death with "being with Christ," St. Paul clearly shows that he does not think of death in terms of annihilation. Moreover, if he was thinking merely of a datum in God's memory, he would not have used the term sun Christō einai ("being with Christ"). These passages draw out the afterlife implications of Paul's assertion in Romans 14:8-9 that "whether we live or die, we are the Lord's" and that Christ is "Lord of both the dead and the living." St. Paul's experience of union with Christ is so intimate that he cannot conceive of it being dissolved, even temporarily, by death (cf. Rom. 8:38).

Fr Cazanave draws another important insight on Pauline anthropology from 2 Corinthians 12:2. This text is concerned with a mystical experience rather than death, but for Paul to twice say of the experience "whether in the body or out of the body I do not know" shows that a strict identification of the "I" with the body is not in accordance with Paul's thought. Indeed, his words imply some separability from bodily existence (without in any way denigrating embodiment).

There are numerous other New Testament texts relevant to the subject of the intermediate state that the article does not discuss. The subject is obviously not a major concern of the New Testament writers (why would it be, since they expected an imminent Parousia?) and is never treated systematically, but there is enough evidence to conclude that they anticipated the ontological continuation of the person in Christ's presence between death and resurrection.

4. St. Thomas and Scholasticism: A Keen Awareness of the Difficulty

In the last part of the article, Fr Cazanave interacts with the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Common Doctor's anthropology draws on Aristotelian thought, in which the soul is the form of the body: it in-forms (gives form to) matter, allowing it to realise its potential as a human body. The soul is for a body and the body is for a soul; they are so profoundly united that the body is like the skin of the soul. The soul is a single actus essendi ("act of being") with the body, but being made spiritually in the image of God, is personal and immortal. The body and soul are not two beings that come together but together constitute a single being.

Within this framework, the notion of a human soul without a body is a contradiction, and St. Thomas so acutely appreciates the difficulty of thinking of a soul separated from its body after death that he wonders whether such a soul can even be described as a person. Clearly, St. Thomas cannot be accused of a Neo-Platonic dualism in which death is the soul's liberation from its bodily prison. Fr Cazanave quotes at length from Joseph Ratzinger's assessment of the anthropological problem faced by medieval theologians and St. Thomas' solution thereto. Theological anthropology had, on the one hand, to recognise in each human person a unique creature of God, created as a unified whole and willed to exist. On the other hand, it had to distinguish between that which is ephemeral in man and that which endures. The ephemeral accounts for the reality of death brought on by sin, while the enduring opens the way to resurrection (as opposed to re-creation ex nihilo). 

Although St. Thomas' anthropology is Aristotelian in orientation, he does not adopt Aristotelian anthropology uncritically. For Aristotle, "form" is a reality only when united with matter, and thus the soul dies with the body. If, conversely, the soul is "immortal," it is immortal in a universal, not an individual, sense. The idea that the human soul is at once personal and "form" of matter would have been inconceivable to Aristotle. Thus, St. Thomas goes beyond Aristotle by conceiving of the soul as an intellectual substance, a substantial form of matter. In short, St. Thomas' idea of the soul as the substantial form of the body provides a philosophical anthropology that at once preserves the fundamental unity of the human person (against the Neo-Platonist idea of the body as the soul's instrument), the particularity of each human person (against any notion of a "universal spirit" into which one is absorbed at death), and the substantial soul as the subject of rationality (against the materialist idea of the rationality of un-in-formed matter).


Fr Cazanave begins his conclusion by acknowledging that the idea of the immortality of the soul presents dangers (that do not, however, invalidate the doctrine). Firstly, there is the danger of veering into a Neo-Platonist anthropology in which the soul is the real person and the body a mere vehicle. This danger is all too commonly seen in popular Christian piety, including among Catholics, and reduces resurrection to a redundant afterthought. The profound unity of the human person, as taught by the Bible, must be reaffirmed, and the resurrection of the body reaffirmed as the Christian hope.

Secondly, there is a danger that the idea of an immortal soul leads to a proud self-exaltation by man in the face of his Creator. If the Church affirms that the soul endures in death, this is not to surrender to the quest for vain consolation, but is a reflection of the eternal purpose of God for his image-bearers. The absurdity of a soul without a body to give form to is not bypassed but becomes the sign of another absurdity—sin—that however did not defeat the Creator's plan.

It seems, therefore, that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is widely misunderstood by many of its adherents and detractors alike! Many on both sides seem to conceive of the doctrine as elevating the soul at the expense of the body and obviating the need for resurrection. In my estimation, Fr Cazanave's article makes an important contribution toward correcting misconceptions of the Church's teaching. 

From an exegetical standpoint, one of Fr Cazanave's most significant observations is that the Bible cannot be approached as though it were a systematic theological treatise (either at the level of individual passages or formed by assembling various texts). Scripture does not conform to human expectations by treating subjects with a level of detail and precision proportional to our level of interest. Scripture does not, in fact, offer us either a philosophically precise account of the human person or of human death. It does, however, offer a vision for man, individually and collectively, as purposed by his Creator. In reflecting on that vision, the Church has seen fit to promulgate a doctrine of the immortality of the soul—or, as it might be termed to avoid confusion—the subsistence of the human person despite death and until resurrection.
  • 1 Cazanave, E, «L'immortalité de l'âme est-elle biblique?», Bulletin de Litterature Ecclesiastique 120 (2019): 7-43.
  • 2 Article 7 of the Doctrines to be Rejected of the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith reads, "We reject the doctrine - that man has an immortal soul." The main statement affirms belief in the Resurrection of (some of) the Dead at the Second Coming of Christ, with the final judgment leading to one of two destinies: bodily immortality or annihilation.
  • 3 See, for instance, articles 362-68 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Following St. Thomas Aquinas and others, the Catholic Church follows an Aristotelian anthropology in which the soul is described as the "form of the body." The Church does not in any way denigrate corporeality or materiality. The Catechism states that "every spiritual soul is created immediately by God—it is not 'produced' by the parents—and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection" (CCC 366). The Church's teaching on what happens at death is summarised thus: "Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers to his life in Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven—through a purification or immediately,—or immediate and everlasting damnation" (CCC 1022). Thus, the Church affirms an intermediate state that is incorporeal but already anticipates the final state that will occur after the Resurrection of the Dead and the Last Judgment.
  • 4 For this reason, I will not cite page numbers in referencing the work.
  • 5 No one who has spent much time with Scripture can suppose that Scripture always reveals truths in this way. The New Testament epistles, much as the Old Testament prophets, for instance, are largely of an occasional nature. They bear witness to theological truths as often as they explicitly teach them. Hence, rather than imposing on the Holy Spirit an obligation to reveal the dogma of the immortality of the soul (or any other truth) on our terms, our task is to carefully interpret what Scripture does reveal, even indirectly.
  • For instance, contemporary biblical scholars now widely agree that the earliest texts in the Hebrew Bible convey nothing of a beatific afterlife, including personal resurrection; this is a development that appears only well into the Second Temple Period.
  • 7 On 1 Clement, see my article, A Systematic-Theological Analysis of Mortalism as an Evangelical Position (written while I was still an Evangelical). On Justin Martyr's ideas about the soul and afterlife, see my article, Justin Martyr, the Soul, and Christadelphian Apologetics.
  • I follow Fr Cazanave in using the term "man" to describe humanity or the generic human; this term should be understood in a gender-inclusive sense.
  • 9 The point was already made in the introduction but bears repeating since this seems to be precisely the hermeneutical methodology taken by some interpreters of Scripture.
  • 10 A number of important biblical texts bearing on our subject come from the deutero-canonical books, which are of course not considered as divinely inspired by Protestants. The reader may to refer to my prior article here for evidence that the early Church regarded these books as Scripture long before the canon was formally defined at councils held at the end of the fourth century.
  • 11 This is my own observation, not Fr Cazanave's.
  • New Testament language about resurrection, as exemplified by the noun anastasis and the associated verb anistēmi, depicts it not as an act of creation ex nihilo but as a rising. The dead are therefore conceived of as compromised—fallen, prostrate, in a state analogous to "sleep"—but not as non-existent.
  • 13 Since the creature loses its separate existence, its distinctness from God, after death, the notion of "total death for total resurrection" seems to border on pantheism and call into question the particularity of the human person. This is my observation, not the article's.
  • 14 I am following the transliterations as they are in the preprint version of the article.
  • 15 Other Old Testament texts that imply an ontological continuation of the person after death include 1 Samuel 28:11-20, where a medium succeeds in summoning Samuel from beyond the grave, and 2 Maccabees 15:12-16, where Judas Maccabeus relates a dream in which two deceased saints, Onias the high priest and Jeremiah the prophet, offer prayers and encouragement in the Jews' battle for their city and law.
  • 16 For my own commentary on these and other passages, see my article, A Systematic-Theological Analysis of Mortalism as an Evangelical Position, as well as—on Luke 23:43—my more detailed article, "Today in Paradise? Ambiguous Adverb Attachment and the Meaning of Luke 23:43," Neotestamentica 51 (2017): 185-207.

Sunday, 1 August 2021

The Church as Spiritual Israel (4): Israel, Not-Israel, and the Olive Tree

In the first article of this series, we called attention to a statement that early Christian apologist Justin Martyr made to a Jewish interlocutor in which he described the Church as "the true, spiritual Israel." We undertook to investigate whether the idea of the Church as Israel in a spiritual sense goes back to the New Testament, with particular attention to the Apostle Paul. We recognised the sensitivity of this matter in view of the subsequent painful history of Christian persecution of Jews, but nonetheless sought to take the New Testament evidence at face value and not engage in a fallacious appeal to consequences. In the second article, we studied three passages from Galatians (3:6-29; 4:21-31; 6:16), finding that this early Pauline letter does indeed lay the foundation for an ecclesiology that identifies the Church, spiritually speaking, with Israel. In the third article, we went further afield and found evidence of a Pauline "spiritual Israel" concept in 1 Corinthians 10:18, Philippians 3:3, and Romans 2:28-29.

In this final article, we turn our attention to the only passage in Paul's letters—indeed, in the entire New Testament—that treats at length the subject of where Israel fits into God's purpose in the wake of the Messiah's founding of a new eschatological community. This passage is Romans 9-11, and is far too rich and complex for a single blog article to do it justice. However, by looking at a few texts within this great section of Paul's greatest letter, we hope to offer some insight into Paul's spiritualisation of Israel and where this leaves ethnic Israel in his theology.

Romans 9:1-8

While Paul does not explicitly give the reason for the "great sorrow and unceasing anguish" that he refers to (Rom. 9:2 NRSV), it is clear from the context that he is acknowledging that—already by the late 50s C.E.—the Christian message has been largely rejected by the Jewish people. He seeks to show, therefore, that rather than God's failure (9:6), this sad reality is part of God's ingenious and merciful plan of salvation—a plan that will have him extolling God's wisdom by the end of the section (11:33).

In Romans 9:3, Paul describes the Jews as his "kindred according to the flesh," using the phrase kata sarka that we have seen previously to stand in implicit contrast with kata pneuma, "according to the spirit." Given that Paul frequently calls his Roman addressees "brothers," goes without saying that he thinks of believers in Christ (regardless of ethnicity) as his kindred kata pneuma. In 9:4-5, Paul lists the privileges that had been granted to the Jewish people, and he begins simply with, "They are Israelites." This reinforces the inference we drew previously from 1 Corinthians 10:18: while the Church may be spiritual Israel, this does not mean ethnic Israel is now nothing. All ethnic Jews are Israelites kata sarka.

Yet, in Romans 9:6, we have this remarkable statement: "not all who are of Israel are Israel" (NABRE). This sounds self-contradictory, until we realise that Paul is using the term "Israel" in two different ways. It could be glossed, "not all who are of Israel according to the flesh belong to Israel according to the spirit."1 This basic sense is confirmed by Paul's synonymous parallelism: "nor are they all children of Abraham because they are his descendants". Paul then quotes Genesis 21:12 to prove this point, and explains the nature of the distinction he has introduced: there are "children of the flesh" and "children of the promise," i.e. "children of God" (language already discussed under Galatians 3-4).

Most scholars agree that Paul is making a distinction within ethnic Israel, between those who are Israelites kata sarka only and those who are Israelites kata sarka and kata pneuma.2 Strictly speaking, Gentiles are not in view in Romans 9:1-13. Yet, as Jason A. Staples observes, he does not restrict the meaning of "Israel" to Jews here,3 and we have seen clear evidence from elsewhere in Paul's writings that he does consider Gentile Christians to be part of Israel kata pneuma. Michael J. Cook therefore infers the following unstated corollary from Romans 9:6b:
many ethnically descended from Israel now happen not to belong to the Israel of God's promise, while many others not ethnically descended from Abraham do indeed belong!4
Romans 9:23-26

What is implicit in Romans 9:1-13 becomes explicit later in the chapter. The Gentiles are introduced into the argument in v. 24, where he describes the objects of God's mercy as "us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles" (NRSV). Paul again explicitly refers to the Gentiles in v. 30: "What then are we to say? Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith..." (NRSV) In the intervening verses, he quotes several biblical texts with minimal commentary. Especially intriguing for our purposes are the quotations from Hosea 2 in Romans 9:25-26. Immediately after the statement about the called-ones being "not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles," Paul introduces the quotation with the words, "As indeed he says in Hosea..." This suggests that the quotation from Hosea is cited as scriptural proof of the statement that the objects of mercy—the aforementioned children of God or spiritual Israel—include Gentiles.

Paul's quotation from Hosea is made up of a paraphrase of Hosea 2:23 and a nearly verbatim quotation from Hosea 1:10:
As indeed he says in Hosea, 'Those who were not my people I will call "my people," and her who was not beloved I will call "beloved." And in the very place where it was said to them, "You are not my people," there they shall be called children of the living God.' (Romans 9:25-26 NRSV)
Battle notes that there is near-universal scholarly agreement that, in its original context, the oracle of Hosea 1-2 "has literal, national Israel in view—particularly, the ten northern tribes."5 The oracle foretells how God will have mercy on the disobedient northern kingdom and reunify his people. Pablo T. Gadenz notes that there are three scholarly positions on how Paul has understood these lines from Hosea: (1) Paul applies the oracle to the disobedient Israelites of his own day; (2) Paul applies the oracle to Christian believers, both Jewish and Gentile; (3) Paul applies the oracle to Gentile Christians.6 In my view, the Gentiles are definitely in view: the statement about the call of the Gentiles in v. 24 requires biblical substantiation, and the phrase hōs kai at the beginning of v. 25 can be understood as linking the statement to its biblical proof.

However, it seems unlikely that Paul would have spiritualised the ethnic language of Hosea 1-2 in its entirety and simply equated references to "Israel" here as Gentiles who are spiritual Israelites. As D. A. Carson notes, Hosea depicts Israel as disowned by God ("not my people") only to be restored to his favour. If God is prepared to restore disowned Israelites to the status of "my people,", what is to stop him from granting this status to Gentiles?7 Gadenz agrees that the phrase "not-people" "enables Paul to associate the salvation of the nations with the restoration of Israel."8 In Paul's understanding, the eschatological restoration and reunification of Israel prophesied by Hosea includes not only the re-inclusion of previously disowned portions of Israel, but also the inclusion of the nations.9

Romans 11:16-32

Constraints of space require us to skip to the latter part of Paul's argument, where he uses his famous olive tree metaphor. Three important details of this passage will be considered: firstly, the identity of the "root" in vv. 16-18; secondly, the significance of the grafting metaphor in vv. 17-24; and thirdly, the meaning of "all Israel" in v. 26.

At least four interpretations of the "root" can be found in the literature: (1) Israel, (2) the remnant consisting of Jewish believers in Christ (including the apostles), (3) Abraham/the patriarchs, or (4) Christ.10 Arguments can be made in favour of all four options. For instance, Christ is referred to as "the root of Jesse" in Romans 15:12 and as "firstfruits" in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 (note equivalence of "firstfruits" and "root" in the parallelism of Rom. 11:16). Abraham features prominently in Romans 4 and 9 as ancestor and archetype of God's children, and it is on the patriarchs' account that disobedient Israel remains beloved (Rom. 11:28). However, these two individualising interpretations are difficult to reconcile v. 18, since the reminder "that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you" would then be too obvious to require emphasis. That the root is Israel seems to conflict with the apparent correspondence between the olive tree and Israel in the verses that follow. Hence, the "believing Jewish remnant" view is most plausible, with the nourishment provided by the root corresponding to the preaching of the (Jewish) apostles (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 3:5-6). The term "firstfruits" is used of individual (presumably Jewish) believers in Romans 16:5 and 1 Corinthians 16:15.

As for the olive tree itself, Israel is depicted as God's olive tree or plant in the Jewish Scriptures (e.g., Ps. 80:9; Jer. 11:16; Hos. 14:6). Given Paul's earlier distinction between Israel kata sarka and Israel kata pneuma, we should clarify that the tree represents not ethnic Israel but Israel kata pneuma. Ethnicity is denoted by the the natural/wild duality of the branches. Hence, the breaking off of natural branches refers to ethnic Israelites who are cut off from spiritual Israel due to unbelief in Christ, while the grafting in of wild branches refers to ethnic Gentiles who become part of spiritual Israel by faith in Christ.11

This is all seemingly very good news for Gentile Christians and very bad news for non-Christian Jews. However, the matter is not so simple: the former group are warned against complacency while the latter are provided with hope. Philip F. Esler notes that the olive tree allegory is actually "most unflattering" in its depiction of Gentile believers, since Paul has reversed the normal horticultural practice of grafting cultivated olive branches onto a wild olive tree. In this case, wild branches are attached "contrary to nature" (v. 24) to the cultivated olive tree, where they "will not produce fruit, but...are actually parasitic upon its richness."12 They should therefore "not become proud, but stand in awe" (v. 20).13 There also remains hope for the natural branches to be grafted in again (vv. 23-24).

In vv. 25-27 Paul reveals a "mystery," supported with scriptural quotations: 
a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, 'Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.' 'And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.' (NRSV)
 Once again, there are several distinct scholarly views on what "all Israel" means: (1) the church (both Jews and Gentiles saved during the present age); (2) the remnant of believing Jews (saved during the present age); (3) ethnic Israel (to be saved at the end of the present age). The prevailing view in modern scholarship is (3).14 I follow the majority view, but with a twist. 

Verses 28-31 continue to refer by verbs and pronouns to the referents of vv. 25-27: "they are enemies of God for your sake...they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors...they have now been disobedient, in order that...they too may now receive mercy." It is thus clear that the people group referred to in vv. 25-27 are ethnic Israelites (descendants of the patriarchs) who are currently disobedient. Paul thus envisions some climactic expression of divine mercy upon ethnic Israel at the eschaton. This demonstrates conclusively that, while Paul does spiritualise "Israel" so as to include Gentiles, he also retains a place for ethnic Israel qua Israel in God's plan.

It is therefore evident that "all Israel" in v. 26a includes disobedient ethnic Israel. But does this group exhaust its meaning? In my view, this phrase refers to the totality of "the Israel of God," Israel kata pneuma, the Israel of promise. It is inclusive of disobedient ethnic Israel—those who are the focus of vv. 26-31—but also of the full number of Gentiles who are "coming in," and the remnant of Israel who were not hardened (v. 25). "All Israel" finally encompasses both Israel kata pneuma and Israel kata sarka.15 It should not, however, be universalised in an individual sense, as though to include every ethnic or spiritual Jew who ever lived. In the Hebrew Bible, the phrase "all Israel" is often used with the sense "representatives of all parts of Israel" (e.g., Joshua "summoned all Israel, including their elders, leaders, judges, and officers," Josh. 23:2).16


Our first major conclusion from this four-part study is that the letters of Paul do indeed reflect a concept like that described by Justin Martyr to Trypho: the Church, consisting of believing Jews and Gentiles alike, are "spiritual Israel." Yet Gentile believers are part of God's Israel not because the Church has swept ethnic Israel aside and supplanted her, but because the Church is the eschatological continuation of what already existed within ethnic Israel. Gentile believers are spiritual Israelites by adoption. Our second major conclusion follows from this first one: Gentile Christians should not look down on ethnic Jews (including non-Christian ones), as they often have. Rather, they should regard them as kin, and look forward to their eschatological redemption by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the King of Israel.

  • 1 In fact, it is possible that "of Israel" (ex Israēl) here refers to Israel personally, i.e. the patriarch Jacob (cf. Num. 24:17 LXX). In that case, the sense would be, "Not all who are descended from Israel belong to the spiritual Israel."
  • 2 See, e.g., Charles M. Horne,  "The Meaning of the Phrase 'And thus all Israel will be saved' (Romans 11:26)," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21 (1978): 329; Michael Cranford, "Election and Ethnicity: Paul's View of Israel in Romans 9.1-13," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 15 (1993) :31.
  • 3 "What Do the Gentiles Have to Do with 'All Israel'? A Fresh Look at Romans 11:25-27," Journal of Biblical Literature 130 (2011): 378. Notice also how the term "children of God," used in Romans 9:8 of elect Israelites, is used of all believers in Romans 8:14-17.
  • 4 "Paul's Argument in Romans 9-11," Review & Expositor 103 (2006): 96, emphasis added.
  • 5 John A. Battle, Jr., "Paul's Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9:25-26," Grace Theological Journal 2 (1981): 117.
  • 6 Called from the Jews and from the Gentiles: Pauline Ecclesiology in Romans 9-11 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), 102-103.
  • 7 "1 Peter," in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 1032.
  • 8 Gadenz, Called from the Jews and from the Gentiles, 108-109.
  • 9 Notice how, in a similar way, Paul appears to interpret Isaiah 65:1-2 in Romans 10:20-21 as a positive statement about the Gentiles and a negative statement about Israel, whereas in the Isaianic context, both verses are negative statements about Israel.
  • 10 See survey of views and their proponents in Svetlana Khobnya, "'The Root' in Paul's Olive Tree Metaphor (Romans 11:16-24)," Tyndale Bulletin 64 (2013): 259-61.
  • 11 J. C. T. Havemann, "Cultivated Olive - Wild Olive: The Olive Tree Metaphor in Romans 11:16-24," Neotestamentica 31 (1997): 87-106.
  • 12 "Ancient Oleiculture and Ethnic Differentiation: The Meaning of the Olive-Tree Image in Romans 11," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 26 (2003): 122-24.
  • 13 Paul, in fact, seems to be opposing some Gentile Christians who seem to believe that the Church has simply replaced Israel without remainder as the people of God (Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996], 704).
  • 14 So Christopher Zoccali, "'And so all Israel will be saved': Competing Interpretations of Romans 11.26 in Pauline Scholarship," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30 (2008): 290.
  • 15 cf. Staples, "Fresh Look at Romans 11:25-27," 376-387.
  • 16 See, similarly, Judg. 20:34; 1 Sam. 3:20; 25:1; 2 Sam. 17:11; 1 Kgs 4:7; 1 Chr. 13:5.