dianoigo blog
Showing posts with label doctrine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label doctrine. Show all posts

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Jude's Quotation from 1 Enoch: Straightforward Citation or Subtle Irony?

In Jude 1:14-15 we find the one and only formula quotation of apocryphal literature in the New Testament.

The text in the ESV reads as follows:
It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him."
The 'these' here are the ungodly people (v. 4) about whom Jude is warning his readers. Jude is almost certainly quoting from 1 Enoch, a Jewish apocalyptic work. 1 Enoch 1:9-10 reads thus in R.H. Charles' translation:
And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones To execute judgement upon all, And to destroy all the ungodly: And to convict all flesh Of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed, And of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.
Scholars have generally dated this portion of 1 Enoch (called the Book of the Watchers, chapters 1-36) to the second or third century B.C., although Nickelsburg notes that the earliest traditions "may predate the Hellenistic period" (Nickelsburg, George, 1 Enoch 1: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch, chapters 1-36, 81-108, p. 7). Collins adds, "No section of 1 Enoch as we have it can be dated prior to the Hellenistic age, although it undoubtedly draws on older traditions" (Collins, John J., The Apocalyptic Imagination, p. 44).

What are we to make of Jude's use of this text? A surface reading gives the impression that Jude straightforwardly attributed these words to the Enoch of Genesis, and believed them to be prophecy. But is this the case?

Steven Cox's Interpretation

The Christadelphian writer Steven Cox says no. According to Cox, Jude's main purpose in writing was to oppose false teachers who were endorsing the myths found in 1 Enoch. He thus uses irony to condemn the false teachers from their own literature:
Here Jude makes it clear that this particular "Enoch" (i.e. the Book, not the Genesis patriarch) did not prophesy "concerning" these false teachers "to" Jude himself, nor "to" the faithful, but only prophesied "to" the false teachers. This is Jude's way of making it clear that the quote that follows is not from the real Enoch of Genesis, but from the Jewish author who styled himself "Enoch the Seventh from Adam" and who only prophesied to those that were taken in by his book. (Cox, Steven, The Angels that Sinned, part 2)
On the principle of Occam's Razor, Cox bears the burden of proving that this subtle irony is what Jude was "clearly" getting at. Shouldering this burden, he gives two main reasons for his position:
  1. The phrase "the seventh from Adam" is also a quotation from 1 Enoch (60:8; cf. 93:3). He therefore takes this to be a specific reference to the author of that book, and not to the real Enoch of Genesis.
  2. The rendered as "prophesied about" (or "prophesied concering") in most English translations is proepheteusen...toutois in the original Greek. The word toutois is a dative plural pronoun which would be best rendered 'to' rather than 'about' or 'concerning'. Thus Jude is stressing that the author of 1 Enoch "did not prophesy 'concerning' these false teachers 'to' Jude himself, nor 'to' the faithful, but only prophesied 'to' the false teachers" (Cox, The Angels that Sinned, part 2).
In what follows I will show why I find Cox's explanation is unsatisfactory. My argument will consist of the following five main points.
  1. It is more likely that "Enoch, the seventh from Adam" is a reference to the real Enoch of Genesis.
  2. The verb 'prophesy' should not be taken as lightly as Cox takes it here.
  3. The use of the dative plural pronoun toutois does not prove that Cox's interpretation is correct; and the translation "about these" found in most English versions is grammatically viable.
  4. The writers of the early church followed the straightforward interpretation noted above, even though Jude's quotation of 1 Enoch was very inconvenient for some of them.
  5. There is virtually no contemporary scholarly support for Cox's interpretation.
These points are in addition to other contextual clues that Jude had sympathies with 1 Enoch, such as his support for the fallen angels interpretation of Gen. 6:1-4 (see previous post on this). The above five premises will now be discussed in more detail.

Enoch, the Seventh from Adam

Cox claims that because "the seventh from Adam" is applied to Enoch in 1 Enoch, Jude must be referring to the author of 1 Enoch and not the real Enoch of Genesis 5:18-24. I cannot see how this inference is justified for the following reasons:
  1. It can be inferred from the genealogy of Genesis 5 that the Genesis Enoch was the seventh from Adam. Thus this was not a clear way for Jude to distinguish "apocalyptic writer Enoch" from "Genesis Enoch" since it also applies to Genesis Enoch in a straightforward and obvious way.
  2. This expression is not peculiar to 1 Enoch. It also occurs in the Rabbinic literature (Leviticus Rabbah 29:11), where it obviously refers to the Genesis Enoch and is given numerological significance.
  3. The passage of 1 Enoch from which the phrase "the seventh from Adam" is taken (60:8) is actually a fragment of another work called The Book of Noah, which was apparently merged with the Enochic writings at some point. The ostensible narrator at 60:8 is Noah, not Enoch, and he refers to his "grandfather" as the seventh from Adam; an obvious allusion to the Genesis Enoch.
In summary, there is little basis within 1 Enoch for taking "the seventh from Adam" as a reference to the book's pseudonymous author. It is more likely that Jude is attributing the quotation to the Genesis Enoch. We must not shy away from this simply because it leads to a historico-critical difficulty (in that either the quotation does come from the real Enoch, or Jude was mistaken about this). The early church was aware of this difficulty and faced it head-on (see below).

Cox further claims is that Jude does not use the word 'prophesy' here with reference to actual prophecy, but to the words of a charlatan which ironically will come to pass upon those who believe it. This would be a highly exceptional use of the verb propheteuo. The only thing comparable in the New Testament is Caiphas' inadvertent prophecy of Jesus' death in John 11:51; but in that case it is obvious from the text that Caiphas' words carried a double meaning not intended by him. In Jude 1:14-15 we are not told any such thing regarding the "prophecy" of Enoch.

Moreover, the content of the prophecy - that the Lord is coming to judge the ungodly - is not controversial but echoes many Old Testament passages (Deut. 33:2Jdg. 5:4; Ps. 18:9; 46:8-9; 68:17; 76:9; 96:13; Isa. 19:1; 31:4; 40:10; 66:15; Jer. 25:31; Dan. 7:10; Amos 1:2; Joel 3:2; Mic. 1:3; Hab. 3:3; Zeph.1:7-9, 12; Hag. 2:22; Zech. 3:8; 9:14; Mal. 3:3-5; cf. Charles, J.D., Jude, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 13, p. 561). It would be odd for Jude to stress that these words are only prophetic in a limited, ironic sense when there are so many genuine prophecies in Scripture that say basically the same thing!

Prophesied "to these" or "about these"?

The crux of Cox's argument is grammatical in nature, and so what follows here is necessarily quite technical. Cox boldly asserts that every English translation since William Tyndale's has made a "grammatical error" in the translation of Jude 1:14. It is remarkable that a person of unknown competence in biblical Greek should so confidently assail the work of hundreds of committees of experts through the centuries as mistaken. However, let us consider the case on its merits.

Jude 1:14 introduces the quotation from 1 Enoch with the words "proepheteusen…toutois". Nearly all translations render this "prophesied about these" or "prophesied concerning these", but Cox claims this is a grammatical error and the only permissible rendering is "prophesied to these". On the basis of his rendering, Cox argues that Jude was stressing that the author of 1 Enoch
"did not prophesy 'concerning' these false teachers 'to' Jude himself, nor 'to' the faithful, but only prophesied 'to' the false teachers. This is Jude's way of making it clear that the quote that follows is not from the real Enoch of Genesis, but from the Jewish author who styled himself "Enoch the Seventh from Adam" and who only prophesied to those that were taken in by his book." (The Angels that Sinned, part 2, not paginated)
We may observe that Cox has assumed without argument that if "to these" is the correct reading, then the limited, ironic application of the prophecy automatically follows. That this is not the case is evident from the fact that several commentators who note the possibility of the "to these" rendering provide simpler, more plausible interpretations thereof (Painter and de Silva, 2012, James and Jude; Green, 2008, 2 Peter and Jude, p. 103).

Cox states,
"If Jude had wanted to say "prophesied ABOUT these men" (NIV) he would have written proepheteusen peri touton (verb + preposition PERI + genitive case pronoun plural), but instead what Jude actually wrote was proepheteusen toutois (verb + dative case pronoun plural) "prophesied TO these men". The difference between these two constructions is always observed elsewhere in the New Testament."
Now, we can observe that while a number of commentators on Jude (Sidebottom, Bauckham, Kelly, Green) have noted the "oddness" of the dative construction in Jude 1:14, this is not the only such instance in the epistle. There is also an "anomalous" use of the dative in Jude 1:1 and a "curious" example in Jude 1:11 (Moule, An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek, p. 47). Knowing that Jude's use of the dative is unusual elsewhere should cause us to exercise caution before leaping to conclusions about how he may or may not have expressed himself.

However, Cox's argument does have things in its favour. "Prophesied to these" would be (from a grammatical standpoint) the most natural and literal rendering (Moule, Ibid.; Robertson, Word Pictures of the New Testament), and it is on the grounds of context that most scholars and translators have preferred the rendering "prophesied about these" or "concerning these" (Moule, Ibid.). 

Indeed, a study of uses of the verb propheteuo with an indirect object in the LXX and NT reveals that the distinction alleged by Cox does hold in most cases, especially in Jeremiah LXXIn the following passages of Jeremiah LXX, the propheteuo + dative construction is used of false prophecy: Jer. 14:14, 16; 20:6; 34:10, 14, 15, 16; 36:9, 31; 44:19 (bear in mind that the versification of Jeremiah in the LXX does not match that of the MT/English Bible). Outside of Jeremiah, the propheteuo + dative construction is used of prophecy which was deemed to be false in the Apocrypha at Judith 6:2. It is also used in the New Testament in Matt. 26:68 in a scornful context (the only occurrence in the NT other than Jude 1:14).

By contrast, the propheteuo + preposition construction is often used of authentic prophecy: Jer. 33:11, 12, 20; 35:8 (in 33:12 and 35:8 the preposition is epi; in 33:20 it is peri; in 33:11, kata). Outside Jeremiah, this construction occurs in the LXX of 2 Chr. 20:37, Ezra 5:1, Amos 7:15 and numerous times in Ezekiel (4:7; 12:27; 13:2; 34:2; 36:1, 6; 37:4, 9; etc.) In the Apocrypha such a usage can be found in 1 Esdras 6:1. In the New Testament, four such examples can be found: Matt. 15:7; Mark 7:6; 1Pet. 1:10; Rev. 10:11.

Based on the above evidence, one might be tempted to propose that a special idiom existed by which propheteuo + dative denoted false prophecy and propheteuo + preposition denoted true prophecy. However, a closer examination reveals things are not so black and white.

In Jer. 33:11 LXX, the false prophets denounce Jeremiah and accuse him of prophesying against the city of Jerusalem. The propheteuo + preposition (epi) construction is used, but it is evident that they do not view Jeremiah's prophecy as authentic. It is more likely that the preposition serves to emphasize the negativity of Jeremiah's content ("against" Jerusalem), and this negative vs. positive content distinction may explain the two syntactical constructions in Jeremiah LXX better than the true vs. false distinction.

Furthermore, according to Brenton's LXX text (differing from the NETS as well as the MT and English Bible), Jer. 36:27 LXX has God asking a false prophet, "And now wherefore have ye reviled together Jeremias of Anathoth, who prophesied to you?" (propheteuo + dative) Thus according to at least one manuscript tradition, the dative construction is used of authentic prophecy in Jeremiah LXX.

Furthermore, if we compare 1 Kings 22:18 to the parallel in 2 Chr. 18:17, we find that 1 Kings LXX uses the dative construction and 2 Chronicles the prepositional construction to render the same Hebrew. Here, Ahab is asking Jehoshaphat, (with reference to the authentic prophet Micaiah), "Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?" Moreover, even within 1 Kings, the same question occurs (identical in the Hebrew) in 1 Kings 22:8, but is rendered with the prepositional construction in the LXX (although in this verse the verb laleo is used and not propheteuo). If the two constructions can be used so interchangeably, it is difficult to claim that the dative construction is a special idiom with a meaning distinct from the prepositional construction.

As a final counterexample, in Ezek. 13:16 LXX, the propheteuo + preposition construction is used with reference to false prophecy.

Thus, while it would be broadly correct to observe a tendency toward using the prepositional construction for authentic prophecy and the dative construction for false prophecy in the LXX and NT, it is not true that the distinction is always held consistently. Thus the use of the dative construction in Jude 1:14 does not imply that Jude saw the prophecy as false. (Remember too that, even under Cox's interpretation, Jude is not labeling his quotation as false prophecy but as true prophecy from a fraudulent source).

The Grammatical Basis for "About These"

The question to which we now turn is whether the rendering "about these" or "concerning these", followed almost unanimously by English Bible translators, is grammatically viable or a grammatical error as Cox claims. Wallace's Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament specifies 27 distinct functions of the dative in koine Greek, so we ought not to oversimplify the dative as if it were merely equivalent to the English word "to". One of the functions of the dative listed by Wallace is the "dative of reference". We are instructed that with a dative of reference, "Instead of the word to, supply the phrase 'with reference to' before the dative. (Other glosses are concerning, about, in regard to, etc.)" (Wallace p. 145). 

One of the examples given by Wallace is Luke 18:31: "And taking the twelve, he said to them, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished." The Greek reads, panta ta gegrammena dia ton propheton toi huio. Thus, although 'write' is the verb here and not 'prophesy', the noun 'prophets' comes immediately before the dative construction. According to Cox's rules, it would be a grammatical error to translate "about the Son of Man" and we must instead render it literally: "everything that is written to the Son of Man by the prophets". To be consistent, Cox must further insist that the "to" is emphatic: the prophets wrote to the Son of Man and not to anyone else! Thus, Cox's approach to Jude 1:14 results in absurdity if applied consistently.

Instead, it must at least be allowed as grammatically possible that the dative in Jude 1:14 is a dative of reference. This construction is rare but it shows that "about these" is a viable translation in Jude 1:14. The translators have not committed a simple grammatical error. In light of the context, they have identified Jude as using a rare but legitimate function of the dative, namely the dative of reference.

Bauckham provides a possible explanation for Jude's unusual grammar here, noting the similarities in grammatical structure of Jude 1:14 with the formula used to introduce Scripture quotations in certain Hebrew Qumran texts. The circumstance in these Qumran texts matches Jude’s: “where the contemporary reality to which the text is understood to refer has already been mentioned and the text is introduced as referring to it” (Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church, p. 206). Based on this parallel, he concludes that “Jude’s rather odd use of the dative toutois represents al (which is regularly used in Qumran exegetical formulae to indicate what the text refers to)” (Ibid.) In other words, Jude's introduction of the quotation may read awkwardly in Greek because it is a Hebraism.

This is a more convincing precedent for Jude's use of propheteuo + dative than, for instance, the uses in relation to false prophets in Jeremiah LXX, none of which introduce quotations.

Jude 1:14 in the Early Church

The earliest extant Christian commentary on the Book of Jude comes from Clement of Alexandria, writing c. 182-202. His comment on Jude 1:14 (in Fragments of Clemens Alexandrinus) is simply this: "'Enoch also, the seventh from Adam,' he says, 'prophesied of these.' In these words he verities the prophecy." Not having access to the Greek text, I do not know whether Clement also uses the dative or not; however, it is plain that Clement took Jude's words at face value and not as an ironic, disparaging reference to 1 Enoch. This is important because Cox claims that the conclusion that Jude was disparaging 1 Enoch is unavoidable from the Greek. If so, it is surprising that the early church fathers (who were far more familiar with ancient Greek than ourselves) should have completely misunderstood Jude here.

Indeed, the idea that Jude appealed to the prophetic authority of an apocryphal text led to much debate on the canonical status of Jude itself:
"[D]oubts arose [as to Jude’s canonical status]…since Jude cites works such as 1 Enoch that by then were considered noncanonical…These doubts appear to have been short lived everywhere but in Syria (where it was accepted only in the sixth century)…The main issue was apparently Jude’s citation of 1 Enoch by name…While Tertullian believed that this made 1 Enoch canonical, other church leaders thought this disqualified Jude.” (Peter H. Davids, 2 Peter and Jude, pp. 7-8)
Thus, Jude's quotation from 1 Enoch caused no small controversy in the early church. This controversy could have been quickly settled by pointing out that Jude was quoting 1 Enoch pejoratively. It stands to reason that this would have been pointed out had it occurred to the early church fathers as a viable interpretation. Indeed, one of the most important witnesses against Cox's interpretation is a writer he cites favourably in his pamphlet. Augustine of Hippo vehemently opposed the Enochic tradition and was probably responsible more than any other individual for its marginalization from mainstream Christian theology. He wrote that 1 Enoch contained many falsehoods and lacked canonical authority. He certainly had every reason to support the view that Jude was citing 1 Enoch negatively, had it occurred to him as a plausible interpretation of Jude. Instead, however, he said this: "We cannot deny that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, left some divine writings, for this is asserted by the Apostle Jude in his canonical epistle" (City of God 15.23).

It seems, therefore, that if Jude cited 1 Enoch's "prophecy" in an ironic way meant to disparage that book, he did so with such subtlety that his intended meaning was completely and (as far as we can tell) unanimously reversed by the early church writers - both those who viewed 1 Enoch favourably (like Tertullian) and those who viewed 1 Enoch negatively (like Augustine).

Few, however, would read Jude's epistle and use the word "subtle" to describe its message. Jude's rhetorical style would be better described as forthright and outspoken. He does not mince words when referring to his opponents as blasphemers, unreasoning animals, etc., so it would be uncharacteristic for him to denounce 1 Enoch in a subtle, roundabout way if that was his intention.

Jude 1:14 in Modern Scholarship

If ancient scholars missed the irony which Jude allegedly "made clear" in the quotation formula of Jude 1:14, it remains true of modern scholars. Commentaries on Jude have abounded in the last couple of decades. Plenty of these have pointed out the odd way in which Jude introduces the quotation from 1 Enoch, and a minority even prefer the rendering "prophesied to these". However, one is hard-pressed to find any support for Cox's interpretation. The closest thing I have come across is a reference to an unpublished suggestion:
"In a private communication David R. Jackson, author of the important book Enochic Judaism, suggests that Jude expects his words to be taken in some ironic sense. But I have not seen that view defended anywhere in print, convincingly or otherwise, so at this juncture the claim still strikes me as odd" (D.A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament, p. 1078).
It is not clear to what extent the 'ironic sense' suggested by Jackson parallels the ironic sense argued by Cox. One hopes that Jackson will put pen to paper so that his interpretation can be put forth for peer review. Until that time, it can only be said that Steven Cox has gone to great lengths to avoid what has been fairly obvious to nearly all readers of Jude, both lay and scholarly, ancient and modern:
  • When Jude wrote "Enoch, the seventh from Adam", he meant Enoch, the seventh from Adam
  • When Jude wrote that Enoch "prophesied", he meant that Enoch prophesied
  • Whether Jude indicated that Enoch prophesied "about these" or "to these", he meant that the prophecy applied to the false teachers whom he opposed in his epistle, who ought to have heeded the warning that the writer of 1 Enoch left, "not for this generation, but for a remote one which is for to come" (1 Enoch 1:2).
In the next blog post (the final installment in this brief series) we will further examine Steven Cox's claim that the book of 1 Enoch and its adherents were the primary targets of the polemic in 2 Peter and Jude.

Friday 12 July 2013

Is an understanding of the promises to Abraham necessary for salvation?

In my own estimation, the greatest contribution that Christadelphians have made to biblical theology has been their understanding of the close relationship between the promises God made to the patriarchs of Israel (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David) and the gospel or good news preached by Jesus and the apostles.

Christadelphians have correctly highlighted how much the New Testament writers emphasize the patriarchs and the covenants of promise that they received. This is particularly evident in the teaching of Paul. For instance, preaching in the synagogue at Antioch, Paul addressed the congregation as "sons of Abraham's family" (Acts 13:26 NASB). Having described the events of the death and resurrection of Jesus, he then declared, "And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers" (Acts 13:32 NASB). Later, explaining his relationship to Judaism as he stood on trial before Agrippa, Paul declared, "And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers" (Acts 26:6 NASB).
In Paul's epistles, the same emphasis comes across. After a lengthy analysis of the promises to Abraham in Galatians 3, Paul concludes, "And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise" (Gal. 3:29 NASB). And again, in Romans 4, Paul emphasises that the promise to Abraham "will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all" (Rom. 4:16 NASB).
Now, it is not only Christadelphians who have grasped the importance of the promises. One only needs to pick up a book such as The Promise-Plan of God by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. to see that there are also Evangelical scholars who have understood that the promises are the unifying thread that runs throughout Scripture. Where Christadelphians have differed, however, is in their insistence that comprehending the promises to the fathers is a prerequisite for salvation in Christ. The Christadelphian argument goes something like this:
C1. Salvation is by faith in the gospel of Christ.
C2. The gospel of Christ is none other than the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham.
C3. Therefore, one cannot understand the gospel of Christ without understanding the promises to Abraham.
C4. Therefore, one who does not understand the promises to Abraham does not have saving faith.
This, I believe, is a flawed argument with a thrust that is very different than Paul's. I would express Paul's argument as follows:
P1. Salvation is by faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
P2. The gospel of Christ is none other than the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham.
P3. Therefore, whoever puts their faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes an heir of the promises to Abraham.
P4. Therefore, Gentile believers are heirs of the promises to Abraham, regardless of whether they keep the Law of Moses.
Observe that the first two premises are the same in both arguments. The difference is in the implications of these two premises. I would assert that premise C3 is nowhere in the New Testament, and consequently the conclusion C4 cannot be inferred.
By contrast, premise P3 is central to Paul's argument. In Galatians 3, Paul's central concern is not with the promises to Abraham per se, but rather with basis on which Gentile believers receive the Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:2 NASB). Paul uses Abraham as a vehicle in his argument. He emphasises that the gospel was preached to Abraham in the words, "All the nations will be blessed in you" (3:8), inasmuch as all those who have faith are blessed just like Abraham was (3:9). Thus in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham comes on the Gentiles, so that they can receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (3:14). This promise is contingent on faith in Jesus Christ (3:22). Whoever has faith in Christ Jesus is a child of God (3:26) and consequently becomes a descendant of Abraham and an heir of the promises (3:29).
A similar line of argument appears in Romans 4. As we read earlier, Paul writes there that the promises to Abraham's descendants are for those who have the faith of Abraham. The faith of Abraham does not refer to an explicit understanding of who Abraham was or what he believed. Abraham had an embryonic understanding of what has now been revealed more plainly through Jesus Christ. The key element of Abraham's faith was his belief that "what God had promised, He was able also to perform" (Rom. 4:21). This faith was credited to him as righteousness. Paul's conclusion is then unmistakable: righteousness will in like manner be credited to all those who "believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification" (4:24-25). This is none other than premise P3: whoever believes in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ effectively has the faith of Abraham and is a joint-heir of the promises made to him.
Space does not allow us to proceed much further, but it is worth mentioning that most discussion of the promises to Abraham in the New Testament occurs when speaking or writing to Jews or concerning Judaism. There is no mention of the promises to the fathers, for instance, in the message Peter preached to Cornelius (Acts 10:34-43), or Paul's speech to the Athenians (Acts 17:22-31). Although an argument from silence, this is contrary to what one would expect if the author of Acts sought to convey that understanding these promises was a prerequisite for Gentiles to be saved.
Now, all of this does not mean that the promises to the fathers are irrelevant or unimportant to Gentile Christians. An understanding of the covenants of promise in Genesis, and indeed of the whole Old Testament, is highly profitable for any servant of Christ (2 Timothy 3:16). One who is ignorant of these things is weak in his or her knowledge of the Word, and Christadelphians have done well to emphasize the promises in their teaching. However, there is a world of difference between saying a person's knowledge is limited and saying that such a person's faith is void.
What is wrong with the Christadelphian stance that a person cannot be saved without understanding the promises to Abraham? Firstly, it creates an unnecessary fellowship barrier. Secondly, and more seriously, it imposes a requirement for salvation the apostles did not impose. It comes dangerously close to violating the principle of Acts 4:12, by adding a second name (Abraham's) by which we must be saved.
Mercifully, God does not refuse to justify us due to flaws or limitations in our understanding of his Word:
"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen." (Eph. 3:19-20 NASB)

Thursday 18 April 2013

1 Cor. 8:6: A Swing Verse

When it comes to hotly disputed doctrines such as the Trinity, the two sides typically each have certain Bible texts that they claim in support of their position.

For example, in a debate on the Trinity one might expect the Trinitarians to use texts such as Matt. 28:19, John 1:1 and Heb. 1:10-12 in their argument, while the unitarians might use texts such as Mark 12:29, John 14:28 and 1 Tim. 2:5. Each side would go on the offensive with their own texts, and attempt to defend their position against the challenge posed by the other side's texts. (Of course, one would hope that the arguments were more substantial and systematic than simply quoting 'proof texts').

We could draw an analogy with the so-called "swing states" in U.S. presidential elections. Democratic candidates don't bother campaigning in Texas, and Republican hopefuls steer clear of New York, because they know they can't win those states, despite their importance to the electoral vote tally. Instead, they focus on states that could go either way, such as Ohio. Similarly, Trinitarians know that they can't make their case from Mark 12:29, and unitarians know they can't make theirs from John 1:1, so they try to provide a plausible counter-proposal to their opponents' claims and then re-focus the debate on their own biblical "territory."

I would suggest that 1 Cor. 8:6 is one of the Ohio's of the Bible -- a veritable "swing verse" -- because both Trinitarians and unitarians use it to argue positively for their position. On the unitarian side, for instance, the 1877 Christadelphian Statement of Faith cited this verse as a reason for rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity. Moreover, one of the most comprehensive books written in defense of biblical unitarianism is entitled One God and One Lord, presumably taken from this verse. On the other hand, Trinitarians have also used this text to make positive arguments for their position; indeed, this text has become one of the most important in claiming that Paul's theology was a prototype for Trinitarian theology.
The text reads thus: "Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him." (1 Cor. 8:4-6 NASB)
Unitarians point out that v. 6 says, "For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things" while mentioning Christ separately. Jesus is explicitly excluded from the "one God" and therefore cannot be a person in the Godhead. Jesus is given a subordinate, intermediary role, while the Father is the source of all things. New Testament scholars such as James D.G. Dunn see Ps. 110:1 (a pivotal Christological text for the early church) as the main background to the use of the word "Lord" here. Thus the title emphasizes how the Father has exalted the human Jesus to a heavenly position.

Trinitarians, on the other hand, claim that the text includes the Father and Christ together on the heavenly side of the Creator-creature divide that was all-important in Jewish monotheism. Scholars such as Tom Wright and Richard Bauckham see Deut. 6:4, the Shema, as main background to the language Paul uses here. Indeed, they argue that Paul has rearranged the words of the Shema, "the Lord our God is one Lord," to include Jesus within the identity of the one God.

So which interpretation of this pivotal text is more convincing? For me it is undoubtedly the latter. Firstly, if 1 Cor. 8:6 excludes Jesus from being God, it also excludes the Father from being Lord. But Paul is not using these titles for the Father and Son to the exclusion of one another, but to the exclusion of all other claimants to these titles. What should strike us in 1 Cor. 8:6 is not that Jesus is excluded from being God, but that Paul included Jesus in his argument that "there is no God but one." Surely a mere creature has no place in such discourse!

Secondly, 1 Cor. 8:5 appears to be an allusion to Deut. 10:17: "the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords." This is the only place in the Old Testament where "gods" and "lords" occur in the same sentence (Ciampa and Rosner in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, p. 718). Thus it is reasonable that Paul expected his readers to interpret v. 6 with reference to Deuteronomy as well.

Thirdly, as I have argued elsewhere, the use of the Greek preposition dia followed by a genitive requires that we see Christ as participating in creation: "through whom are all things and through whom we exist." The very same language is used of God in Rom. 11:36 (by Paul) and Heb. 2:10. Paul is writing on the nature and existence of gods; there is no indication in the immediate context that he is limiting the scope of his statements to the new creation. Thus, the "all things" should be taken as absolute, or qualified only with "in heaven or on earth" (v. 5).

It is not wrong to say that the man Jesus was exalted to the status of Lord by God  (Acts 2:36). However, for early Christians, this exaltation was an impetus for questions about Christ's identity rather than the answer to those questions. 1 Cor. 8:6 shows that for Paul, Jesus' Lordship ties into the very definition of Christian monotheism.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Having neither beginning of days nor end of life (Hebrews 7:3)

One aspect of the doctrine of the Trinity is the concept of the eternal Sonship of Christ. This is the idea that Christ is, always has been, and always will be the Son of God.

When they hear about the eternal Sonship, unitarians tend to roll their eyes and think, "There they go again with their unscriptural jargon." At least, that's what I did when I was a unitarian. However, my studies of the Word of God have led me to the conclusion that the eternal Sonship is a biblical idea. One of the strongest pieces of evidence for this is found in Hebrews 7:1-3:
"1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. 3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually." (NASB)
This text doesn't come up a lot in Christological debates or discussions because the argument the writer of Hebrews is making is rather cryptic. Once the idea is unpacked, however, the implications for our understanding of Christ are unmistakable. One recent commentary on Hebrews explains the point very well:
"In Genesis 14, Melchizedek is introduced out of the blue and disappears as quickly, his brief appearance interrupting a narrative that deals with the king of Sodom (vv. 17, 21-24). We know his name and office but nothing of his family or his previous or subsequent history. In terms of the biblical narrative, he is thus ‘without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life.’ His literary persona therefore suggests to our author a parallel with the Son of God, who is in very fact ‘without beginning of days or end of life,’ and the psalm, which speaks of ‘a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek,’ reinforces this thought. It is not a historical argument – nothing in the OT suggests Melchizedek historically had no parents, was not born, and did not die, and our author’s argument does not necessarily show that he thought this to be the case (though v. 8 may point that way). It is rather an argument from literary silence, setting Melchizedek up as a literary model for the eternal Son of God. In his very rootlessness and timelessness, he forms a suitable model for the one who was to come, the Son (not of any man but) of God, who shares God’s eternal existence and can thus uniquely exercise that eternal priesthood Psalm 110:4 has claimed to be the prerogative of ‘the order of Melchizedek.’ To our historically tuned minds, this may seem a bizarre conclusion to draw from silence, but it is an argument from the text, not from history, following the well-attested Jewish hermeneutical principle (found both in rabbinic and in Alexandrian writings) that what is not mentioned in the Torah does not exist. The comparison serves to underline the eternity of our true high priest in contrast with the transience of the OT priests, a theme that will be developed in vv. 23-25." (R. T. France, Hebrews, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Hebrews - Revelation, ed. Longman and Garland, p. 92)
The comparison made by the writer of Hebrews cannot merely refer to the Son of God in his humanity, because as a human being Christ did have a genealogy, a beginning of days and a mother. It is also worth noting that the writer likens Melchizedek to the Son of God, and not the other way around. This would be anachronistic unless the Son pre-existed (cf. John 1:30; 8:58).

Nor can this argument from Heb. 7:3 be dismissed as case of "proof texting." It must be seen in the fullness of the message of the writer to the Hebrews, who describes Christ as actively existing in the (distant) past, present and future. Past: the world was made through him (Heb. 1:2). Present: he upholds all things by the word of his power (Heb. 1:3). Future: he is the heir of all things (Heb. 1:2).

Past: He laid the foundations of the earth (Heb. 1:10). Present: he remains (Heb. 1:11). Future: his years will have no end (Heb. 1:12). Past, present and future: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8).

Thus we should not be surprised to see that Heb. 7:3 implicitly teaches the eternal Sonship of Christ. It is hardly an anomaly; it fits right into the picture of Christ painted throughout the epistle.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

The Accuser of our Brethren, Part 12: Answering Objections

Here is the final installment of this series. I hope you have found it enlightening. Remember, the full study can be downloaded in written form from www.dianoigo.com

Saturday 22 December 2012

Monday 26 November 2012

The Accuser of our Brethren, Part 9: Satan and Angels

This video discusses the relationship between Satan and angels, and argues that Satan himself is an angelic being, according to the Bible. Key passages include Matthew 25:41, Revelation 12:7-9 and 2 Corinthians 11:14.

Revelation 12:7-9 makes a lot more sense against the background of Daniel 10, which teaches that angelic princes (both good and evil) are involved in human political affairs. For an excellent discussion of this topic, see the article Daniel 10 and the Notion of Territorial Spirits, by DE Stevens.

Monday 19 November 2012

The Accuser of our Brethren, Part 8: Satan, Beelzebul and Demons

This video discusses the connection between Satan and demons, with a particular focus on the Beelzebul Controversy recorded in Mark 3:22-30, Matthew 12:24-32 and Luke 11:14-22.

For the paper about demons referred to in the video, see Demon-Possession and Exorcism in the New Testament, by James D.G. Dunn and Graham H. Twelftree.

Monday 12 November 2012

The Accuser of our Brethren, Part 7: Is the devil an allegory?

Christadelphians believe the devil is an allegory - a personification of sin. Is this position supported by the biblical record? In this five minute video we look at two of Jesus' parables which have a bearing on this subject.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

The Accuser of our Brethren, Part 6: The Temptations of Christ

The next video in this series seeks to answer the question, who was the devil that tempted Christ (as per the accounts in Mark 1:12-13, Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13)?

Wednesday 31 October 2012

The Accuser of our Brethren, Part 5: Satan in Job 1-2

Five videos into this series, I've finally managed to figure out how to edit out the annoying 'white noise' in the background. I hope this will create a more pleasant listening experience from now on. Special thanks to the developers of three free software packages that have come in handy: Avidemux, Audacity and Youtube Movie Maker.

Thursday 25 October 2012

The Accuser of our Brethren, Part 4: New Testament Overview

The latest video in this series about the Biblical devil provides several observations that will be fundamental to interpreting the words Satan and devil in the New Testament.

Reminder: the full study can be downloaded in written form from www.dianoigo.com.

Saturday 20 October 2012

The Accuser of our Brethren, Part 3: Old Testament Overview

Here is the third installment of my video blog series highlighting the main points in my paper, The Accuser of our Brethren: Unmasking the Biblical Devil. This part gives a very brief overview of the devil and Satan in the Old Testament. I hope you find it enlightening.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

The Accuser of our Brethren, Part 2: Presuppositions

In this second installment of the series entitled, "The Accuser of our Brethren: Unmasking the Biblical Devil" we examine our presuppositions with the aim of keeping them in check.

Once again, if you would like to read the study in its entirety, please visit www.dianoigo.com.

Friday 5 October 2012

The Accuser of our Brethren: Unmasking the Biblical Devil (Part 1)

I've decided to go the video route for the next few blogs in order to present my lengthy study on the devil and Satan in an accessible way. If you're interested in reading the full study, you can download it from www.dianoigo.com

Here is the first video installment: