Sunday, August 13, 2017

Resources For Studying New Testament History

AP: Someone recently asked me what books I might recommend to them if they wanted to know more about the historical setting of the first century and the years surrounding the birth and ministry of Jesus. Let me just list a few of the very best and hopefully it will help you as you begin what is unquestionably a lifelong study.
1. F. F. Bruce's New Testament History (Garden City 1972). It covers the reign of Herod to Hadrian and it is highly recommended for students. 
2. H. Conzelmann's Die Geschichte des Urchristentums (Göttingen 1969). This one is brief, but rich in data. 
3. W. Foerster's two-volume Neutestamentliche Zeitgeschichte (Hamburg 1955–1956). 
4. J. Leipoldt and W. Grundmann's Umwelt des Urchristentums (Berlin 1966). This text has an excellent presentation of the historical and cultural framework of the New Testament (vol. 1) with a full selection of texts (vol. 2) and illustrations (vol. 3). 
5. B. Reike's Neutestamentliche Zeitgeschichte: Die biblische Welt 500 v.–100. n. Chr. (Berlin 1965, 1982 third edition). It was translated into English and published in 1968. The title is The New Testament Era. It is conservative with regard to chronology. And it provides a panorama of the political, social, and economic conditions of the centuries preceding and coinciding with the birth of the early Christian church. 
6. E. Schürer's three-volume The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C. – A.D. 135): A New English Version Revised and Edited (Edinburgh 1973–1987). This is a translation and adaptation of Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes I'm Zeitalter Jesu Christi (Leipzig 1910–1911). This is the best treatment of the period. 
So, I'm know there are others. I wanted to point out some that were perhaps not on the radar for some of our audience. If you want to list some other one's that you would recommend, by all means feel free to do so in the comments section. That would be great.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Paul, Eschatology, And The Kingdom Of God (Part 7)

Part 1 is available here. Part 2 is here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, Part 5 here, and Part 6 here.

AP: So the most important Pauline texts that deal with the final judgement are as follows:
1 Cor. 3:13–15: "Each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work that he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire."
1 Cor. 5:5: "I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." 
1 Cor. 6:2–3: "Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?" 
Paul imagined the Great Judgment as a trial before the divine court, presided over by God and his Messiah, in which all works were to be tried by fire, like gold in a crucible (1 Cor. 3:13–15). We do not know if Paul understood all this metaphorically or whether he believed it would actually happen like that. In that judgment, whose celebration had often been preached by the prophets in the Scriptures, an inexorable sentence must be pronounced according to the works of each one. There is no contradiction here with the general thesis of the apostle that the sinner's "justification" in itself is attained by faith in the Messiah, whose faithfulness to God is shown in the saving act on the cross, and that once justified, man is to act according to the law of Christ/Messiah, also known as  the "law of love" (Gal. 6:2). The judgment refers to the performance of these works according to this law of the Messiah according to the Pauline axiom: "The justification of humans is achieved by faith. But in the judgment, he will be judged by works = i.e., for his faithfulness."

The apostle assumes that those who are faithful to Christ, by remaining faithful, will pass the test of judgment without any problem. This is why he prophesizes that our citizenship is already in heaven (Phil. 3:20). Paul also believes that, together with God and his Messiah, the faithful to Christ will constitute what is known as a "choir" or "jury" that will actively participate in that judgment (proclaiming the justice of God and his Messiah?) The individual who during his life has committed some sin and has been purged by repentance and perhaps some punishment (this would be communal; see 1 Cor. 5:5) will be saved equally. The passage speaks only of the salvation of a person's "spirit" but it is understood, according to the Pauline doctrine contained in 1 Cor. 15:50–55 and Rom. 14:16–17, that his body will also participate in the final sentence of acquittal. In other passages that are not so explicit about the "Judgment" or "Day," one observes how Paul employs judicial language (κρίσις and its cognates: Rom. 2:5, 16; 3:5): it is a process before the court (βῆμα in Rom. 14:10), or simply before God or the Lord Jesus (1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13), who issues both positive and negative judgement (κατακρίνω: e.g., 1 Cor. 11:32; Rom. 5:14, 18).

Together, both the final judgment and the kingdom of God in Paul has been spiritualized, and dejudiazed as much as possible. The undoubtedly Jewish apocalyptic background of his thinking has been shifted to make it accessible to his mostly Gentile readers. It is also possible that, in reformulating the concept of the kingdom of God, Paul had in mind the idea of ​​manifesting an express opposition to the notions of authority, kingdom and rule to the earthly Caesars, the emperors of the Roman Empire, from Tiberius to Nero, under whose reigns he had lived. There are no other lords than God and his Messiah.

Like the immense majority of Jewish apocalyptics, Paul chose not to describe the life beyond the grave for the righteous who are saved. But there are texts that give us some hint as to what he thought about such matters. This life will be
· Something far superior to what has ever been seen in this world (2 Cor. 4:18)
· In a great light and glory (2 Cor. 4:17; Rom. 8:18)
· Always with the Lord: (1 Thess. 4:17; 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:–8; Phil. 1:23)
· Marked by fullness of knowledge (1 Cor. 13:12)
· Fullness of the complete being of man: the body will also participate in that life beyond the grave, only spiritualized (1 Cor 15:44)
In summary, the apostle, who wrote years before the theology of the Synoptic Gospels developed, has in fact profoundly transformed the notions of the kingdom of God from the Jesus of history. From his perspective of the necessary reinterpretation / re-reading of the Bible and tradition in the messianic age, Paul believed he was impelled by the Spirit to reinterpret such matters for a geographical and conceptual world that much wider than that of the Jews, the concept of the kingdom of God which the earthly Jesus had. The Bultmannian synthesis is still a good summary of the fact that in Paul, Jesus moves from preacher of the Kingdom to the object of his preaching: from "proclaimer to proclaimed." Paul thinks of the kingdom, the judgment, and life beyond the grave in totally apocalyptic terms, no doubt, but he disobeys them as far as he can according to what might be admissible in the empire. Jesus is considered almost exclusively the Risen and the Exalted, a divine heavenly Messiah (4:13) who will have his own kingdom and subjects resurrected, transformed, endowed also with a body but spiritual, not in the land of Israel, but in a land beyond this world. But in carrying out this kind of transposition, Paul behaved like a Jew of his time, pious, apocalyptic, operating with a worldview largely rooted in the Israel of his day, for, despite the changes, the kingdom of God was about to come and was nothing more than the fulfillment of the final, irrevocable promises of God to Israel.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Paul, Eschatology, And The Kingdom Of God (Part 6)

Part 1 is available here. Part 2 is here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, and Part 5 here.

AP: Senén Vidal (2002, p. 143) presents a summary of the Pauline apocalyptic events, in which the theme of the kingdom of God is naturally included as evidenced in the whole of Paul's letters. Here is the scheme of events as presented by Vidal:
1. The resurrection of Christ as the "firstfruits" (1 Cor. 15:23b and many other texts).
2. The appearance or parousia of Christ (1 Cor. 15:23c; 1 Thess. 4:16). This event consists of the following events: (a) the resurrection of believers who had already passed away (1 Cor. 15:23c; 2 Cor. 4:14); the transformation of the living and the dead (1 Cor. 15:51–55; Rom. 8:11; Phil. 3:21); (c) the gathering of believers in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:23c; 1 Thess. 4:14–17; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor. 4:14; Rom. 11:25); (d) the judgment of believers (1 Thess. 3:13; 1 Cor. 3:13–15). 
3. The reign of the Messiah together with believers (1 Cor. 15:24, 28; 1 Thess. 4:14–17; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor. 4:14; Rom. 11:25–27 [cf. Rev. 20:1–6]). 
4. The resurrection of everyone else and the judgment presided over by the Messiah together with believers (1 Cor. 6:2–3; 1 Cor. 15:24–28 [cf. Rev. 20:11–15]). 
5. The kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:24–28, 50; 1 Thess. 2:12 [cf. Rev. 21:1; 22:5]). 
Vidal points out that this logical sequence is not fixed in the Pauline texts and that the various nuances do not fit well with each other. In this scheme, a description of the end of the world is missing, since Paul does not provide one, except for the slight allusion to the end of Satan in Rom. 16:20. In fact, it seems that the Pauline thought is quite different from the apocalyptic norm, and especially from the Apocalypse of John. Just as we said, there seems to be no clear cosmic drama that unfolds. There is no destruction of the Roman Empire, just the annihilation of "powers": sin, death, Satan. In Romans 11, the scheme expands with the theme of Israel's final salvation, especially in vv. 26–29: "And so all Israel shall be saved . . . for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." This is the subject of tremendous debate today––what in the world does Paul mean when he says "all Israel shall be saved" in v. 26?

Regarding the Pauline concept of the Last Judgment, as a complementary element to his notions about the kingdom/reign of the Messiah and God, I must confess that I am not as sure as S. Vidal about where this fact should be placed precisely in the mental scheme of Paul. Should it come after the parousia of Christ or immediately after the establishment of the kingdom of the Messiah, before he gives his kingdom to God after defeating all enemies. This last option seems more likely. In defense of the first proposal, though, Vida quotes 1 Thess. 2:19, "For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming?" and 1 Thess. 3:13, "so that he may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints." The problem is these passages do not seem to indicate any judgment at all.

Be that as it may, we find mention of the wrath of God associated with the "coming" or parousia passages. Take 1 Thess. 1:10 for example: "and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come." This is an imitation of "the day of Yahweh" expression that appears so frequently in the Old Testament. It speaks of the "day" in which the wrath (of God) will be revealed and this is wrath from which Jesus will save those who believe in him. Paul mentions the "wrath of the Lord" about fifteen times in his letters. For example, it will be "a day of great wrath" (Rom. 1:18), of "vengeance" (Rom. 12:19), likened to the days of Sodom and Gomorrah (Rom. 9:29). That day (also mentioned in 1 Cor. 1:8; in 1 Cor. 1:7 it is characterized as the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ) is without a doubt the final judgment, with which Paul would be in agreement with the following apocalyptic writings: Biblical Antiquities 10:5; Apocalypse of Elijah 5:22; Sibylline Oracles II 170ff., IV 159ff; 1 Enoch 62:12).

I'll point out the three most important passages from Paul dealing with the last judgment in the next post. In the meantime, which ones do you think they are?

Monday, July 24, 2017

Paul, Eschatology, And The Kingdom Of God (Part 5)

Part 1 is available here. Part 2 is here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here.

AP: 1 Corinthians 15:54 is clear that in the kingdom of God and his Messiah, death will no longer exist: " . . . 'Death is swallowed up in victory' [by God's agent]." This refers to a kingdom that belongs to another world, very different from the one on earth.

Although not exactly clear for modern-day readers, 1 Cor. 15:23–24 explicitly affirm that before the future kingdom of God (the Father), there is a previous kingdom of the Messiah. It is understood that between his "second coming" (v. 23 = parousia) and the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father (v. 24), the Messiah has to reign for a certain period of time. This reign will be somewhere (in this transformed world? in the air, according to 1 Thess. 2:10–12?). And it has to take place long enough to "abolish all rule and all authority and power." Whatever Paul's opinion as to whether the Messiah Jesus was a pre-existing "son of God" before being sent by the Father into this world, it is clear that he holds the position that, once resurrected, Jesus occupies a special place in heaven, at the right hand of the Father, and can be considered totally divine yet subordinated to the one and only God, the supreme monarch.

The expression "rule, authority, and power" (1 Cor. 15:24) refers almost certainly to angelic beings, in this case demonic ones, evil beings, who have controlled the universe until the moment of Jesus' parousia. Maybe Paul is thinking of the agents of the "prince of this world," i.e., Satan (1 Cor. 2:6, by analogy, and Rom. 16:20: And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet very soon"). We do not know if Paul alludes to a final cosmic battle like we find in Revelation; probably not. Death is not personified in the Pauline text as one of those evil spiritual powers, so you can speak of his defeat. Then, in a mysterious way, the whole universe, the whole of creation, will be transformed into a "new creation" (Gal. 6:15; 2 Cor. 5:17), one not subject to sin. Romans 8:19–22 explicitly states this, although there is nothing in Paul's writings to explain this process:
"For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now." 
It is clear that Paul lays the foundations here so that his disciples, the authors of Colossians and Ephesians (especially the latter), speak of Christ even more sharply than their master Paul as of a power of cosmic transcendence. The author of Psalm 8:7, which is quoted in 1 Cor. 15:26 ("because he put all things under his feet"), refers to the human being in general, whom God establishes as "king of all creation." Paul takes the freedom, which was normal among the thinkers of his time, to ascribe the meaning of this text to a Messianic meaning and apply it to the Messiah Jesus. But the kingdom of the Messiah will only last a little while (?) and will then be replaced by the full kingdom of God or kingdom of the Father.

15:27b–28 (especially "then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who has subjected all things to him") are clear in a "subordinationist" and "monarchist" sense. The divinity of the resurrected Messiah is of the second degree, "subordinate" in everything to a single God, the "king" or "Father." The apostle thus saves his "strict" Jewish monotheism, although in reality he is establishing again the basis for a clear binitarianism, and later for a true "diteism." Paul was a monotheist. There is no question about that. But he was so in the sense of his own day, which admitted obscure and somewhat confused notions about the divinity that we now distinguish clearly. There is no doubt that, according to the christological interpretations of the councils of Nicaea (AD 325) and Chalcedon (AD 451), Paul would have been condemned as a heretic. And it happened after his texts were rethought, reinterpreted, and rewritten by giving them a clearer sense, just as he reinterpreted and rewrote the Bible of his day.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Paul, Eschatology, And The Kingdom Of God (Part 4)

Part 1 is available here. Part 2 is here. And Part 3 is here.

AP: What about Rom. 14:16–17? These verses fall within the exhortatio or what you sometimes hear called the paraenetic section of a discourse. Paul is focusing on the importance of the unity of this community. According to Paul, it is the group that is saved before God and found within it, the individual. Based on this, those who have a better understanding of the faith––the "strong" (i.e., those who know perfectly well that nothing is unclean when it comes to food, and impurity comes by divine decision––must have patience, respect, understanding, and love towards the "weak," who are not as mature in their faith. The latter are tripped up easily with "scandal." In a metaphorical sense, this use is very Jewish; see Lev. 19:14; 4Q 271:1–3. The term is used later by Josephus, the Mishnah, and two Talmuds. The "weaker" believers are drawn by the example of the "stronger" and end up eating what their consciences tell them is impure. That scandal can be an impediment to salvation, according to Paul. It is in this context that we encounter v. 17, which deals with the future kingdom of God and the ethical preparation necessary to enter it. Paul argues that, in the moments preceding the actual reign of God and his Messiah, such preparation is not affected by what you eat or drink.

In fact, says Paul, everything is lawful. He uses a two-part argument: (1) The law of Moses that discriminated between clean and unclean foods, was not already in force for the Gentiles who have believed in Christ; (2) the gods, those to whom certain foods have been offered, do not really exist. They are demons (1 Cor. 8:4–7). The world to come will be a spiritual space, marked by goodness, full of life and joy, granted by the indwelling of God's Spirit in every believer.

Then there are the two passages in 1 Corinthians 15 (vv. 22–28 and 50–55). These must be read very carefully since they contain the essential information needed to investigate Paul's understanding of the kingdom of God. Here are those texts one more time:
1 Cor. 15:22–28: "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ will all be made alive. However, this will happen to each person in the proper order: first Christ, then those who belong to Christ when he comes. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has done away with every ruler and every authority and power. For he must rule until God puts all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be done away with is death, for 'God has put everything under his feet.' Now when he says, 'Everything has been put under him,' this clearly excludes the one who put everything under him. But when everything has been put under him, then the Son himself will also become subject to the one who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all."
1 Cor. 15:50–55: "Brothers, this is what I mean: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and what decays cannot inherit what does not decay. Let me tell you a secret. Not all of us will die, but all of us will be changed––in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the sound of the last trumpet. Indeed, that trumpet will sound, and then the dead will be raised never to decay, and we will be changed. For what is decaying must put on what cannot decay, and what is dying must put on what cannot die. Now, when what is decaying puts on what cannot decay, and what is dying puts on what cannot die, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory!', 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?'"
In these texts, Paul argues that the disobedience of one man (Genesis 3) brought about the most terrible of consequences for all of humanity. In the same way, the obedience/faithfulness to God all the way to the cross by one person, the Christ, had an absolutely transcendental effect: forgiveness and forgetfulness (that is, the not taking into account mentioned in Rom. 3:25) of sins by God and the final reconciliation of humanity with its creator.

So, according to Paul, those who believe in the Messiah who died prior to the second coming of Jesus––in fullness of power, in the parousia––will be resurrected. That general resurrection is Jewish: It takes place before the Judgment. Paul holds that it is the whole person that will be raised from the dead; therefore, not just the soul, but also the physical body of each person. This concept is very Jewish and Semitic in general. But these bodies, he argues, will be immediately transformed into "spiritual bodies." The reason for the necessity of this change is based on Platonism (the opposition of the material world to the realm of spiritual ideas). For this reason, Paul says, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Nor does corruption inherit incorruption (1 Cor. 15:50). Those who are still living at the time when the kingdom comes (and this includes Paul as far as he was concerned up to this point when he wrote 1 Thessalonians––will have their bodies transformed into that corporeal-spiritual entity, just as the bodies of those who were raised first (of the dead). For Paul, there is no contradiction in this area between "physical" and "spiritual," as it is understood today. Therefore, those who participate in the future kingdom of God and his Messiah will have a "bodily-spiritual" existence in the world to come, even if no one knows exactly how it will be. The whole man is an indissoluble "soul-body" for Paul.

There's more to come. We'll pick up in the next post.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Paul, Eschatology, And The Kingdom Of God (Part 3)

Part 1 is available here. Part 2 is here.

AP: Perhaps Paul identified Jesus as the mysterious "son of man" found in Daniel 7:13–14, although he does not use that Aramaic expression, since it would have been absolutely unintelligible to his Gentile audience. The syntagma is replaced by "son of God." But it does employ the characteristic background image: Christ will come carried by clouds traveling through the air. This is the same vehicle by which he had been brought before God as the son of a man (mentioned in Daniel). The imagery of being transported by clouds is found throughout the Old Testament to the divine realm. And in this way Paul signals that the resurrected Messiah is the character mentioned in Daniel.

The image of the angels who accompany Jesus with their trumpets announcing the Judgment and the beginning of the reign of God or his messiah is also very common in apocalyptic literature (Apocalypse of Zephaniah 9:1–12:1; Paralipomenos of Jeremiah 3:1ff.; and above all IV Esdras 6:22ff.). After the faithful of Jesus are called up in the clouds and meet the Lord Jesus, his kingdom will take place for a moment (it is presupposed) on earth, to put an end to all his enemies (1 Cor. 15:22–28) as the divine Messiah according to Paul. The definition of the content of the Kingdom seems to be summarized in the laconic expression "so we shall be with the Lord forever" (also in Philippians 1:23: "to be with Christ"). "To be with God and his Messiah" is the highest reward for the righteous. It is understood that this will occur in heaven or final paradise, according to the common apocalyptic belief, although Paul does not specify it here. There is, however, another passage from the apostle that seems to clarify this question:
"For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord––for we walk by faith, not by sight––we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord." (2 Cor. 5:1–8)
This passage is relatively clear and fits into the general Pauline conception of the last days, as a variant of the Jewish apocalyptic. The future kingdom of God and his Messiah––pointed out indirectly with the mention of longing to be stripped of the body as it is in this world (before clothed with incorruption; 1 Cor. 15:22–28, 50–55)––are seen as ultra-terrestrial, although perhaps the Messiah has a small role on earth, as we have indicated. The future heavenly existence, bodily but transmuted, as we shall see in the commentary on the text 1 Cor. 15:50–55, is conceived of in a way that is both very Jewish and very Greek. We therefore reaffirm that there seems to be no idea of ​​a lasting kingdom of God on earth in the apostle's way of thinking, much less a millenarian concept as expressed diaphanously in Rev. 20:1–7.

Galatians 5:19–21 was written by Paul in Ephesus around A.D. 54–58, according to most scholars. In this passage, Paul uses, probably from memory, the lists or catalogs of vices common among the listeners of the propagandists Cynics and Stoics in the Roman Empire. The concept of "inheriting the kingdom" is typically biblical, for Israel will inherit the world in the time of messianic restoration and will rule over all nations.

1 Corinthians 6:9–10 is similar to Gal. 5:19–21 and requires no special comment as to its content.

1 Corinthians 4:18–20 should be seen as a response to the so-called "eschatology of the present" (typical text: John 5:21–29: the world is already judged; the resurrection has already happened) held by some of Paul's audience in Corinth. Such individuals boasted of having already achieved the resurrection and entrance into the kingdom of God in this life thanks to the fullness of the Spirit of God that they had received. A key idea of these individuals, ironically referred to by Paul in his own letter, was the following (vv. 8–9):
"You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men." 
According to the ironic tone of this passage, Paul thinks that the opinion of the Corinthians is not entirely true (they do not possess the Spirit as they think), even if he does accept the foundation, namely: the possession of the Spirit of God, or Christ, is what allows someone at the time, in the future, to enter the kingdom and reign with Christ. By not describing how this kingdom is, Paul implies that between him and his readers there is no substantial difference in their understanding.

There's lots more for us to comment on. I'll pick up here in the next post. Please feel free to post some comments. Thomas and I would enjoy seeing some interaction in the comments sections.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Paul, Eschatology, And The Kingdom Of God (Part 2)

Part 1 is available here.

AP: The first thing that catches your attention as you read the passages mentioned in Part 1 is that something seems like it is missing in the letters of Paul. Missing is the common Jewish understanding that the kingdom of God would come to the physical land of Israel, as the material aspect of that kingdom. That is quite different than the concept for he kingdom of God in the teachings of Jesus, even though in the Gospels even that characteristic is not jumping off the page. According to Jesus, the kingdom of God will have material goods, such as plentiful food and drink. There would also be spiritual goods, and among them will be the renewed fellowship with God, the joy of fulfilling his law, and spiritual peace. But Paul did not think of the kingdom (βασιλεία) in this way. His theology was conditioned conditioned by the needs and characteristics of most of his readers within the Roman Empire: former polytheists, most likely those known as "God-fearers," for whom a Jewish kingdom of God in the land of Israel and full of material goods made no sense whatsoever. Paul, on the contrary, indicates that the true kingdom of God is not something intramundane (i.e., occurring within the physical world) but ultramundane (i.e., something beyond this world). Not only this, but Paul seems to distinguish between "kingdom of the Messiah" and "kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 15:22–28).

The absence of material goods in the kingdom of God, according to Paul, is easily elucidated because for him (1 Thess. 4:15–18) the "carnal" goods do not belong to an ultramundane kingdom of God; therefore, food and drink are not matters that affect that kingdom (Rom. 14:17), neither then nor in the future. Nothing carnal or perishable will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). This theology helps spread the Stoic concept of "indifferent" material, referring to food, drink, wealth, etc. In addition, the end of the world was imminent because "the time that remains" until the end is very short (1 Cor. 7:29: "I say to you, brothers, time is short").

According to Paul, the first assurance of the coming of the kingdom is the resurrection of Jesus as the first fruits (1 Cor. 15:23) followed by those who believe in him, each according to his order (1 Cor. 15:23); Paul tells the Thessalonians that the dead in Christ (i.e., those who have believed in Jesus and already died; lit. "those who are asleep") will experience the resurrection first. The second assurance is the divine "call" by grace to enter that kingdom (1 Thess. 2:10–12). We already know that, in Paul's theology, those who are to be saved have been predestined by God from eternity past.

In 1 Thess. 4:15–17, Paul affirms he relies on "a word of the Lord" when it comes to what he teaches on this matter. He does not, however, expressly tell the Thessalonians the content of that revelation. It probably refers to something similar to the tradition recorded in Matt. 16:28: "There are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." And Paul considered himself among those who would not taste death, initially that is. He seems to waiver on this conviction later in his life. When he writes to the Philippian believers, he seems almost certain that he will receive the death penalty (Phil. 1:21; see also Acts 19:23–40).

Paul does not paint the whole picture when it comes to this final event. He only gives them a few brush strokes, and assumes that his readers are satisfied with only a few details, despite some shortcomings in matters of faith that they unfortunately still have (1 Thess. 3:10). In general, the outline of the final events is that which can be found in the Jewish apocalyptic leading up to the final judgment (Jubilees 36:10, Pseudo-Philo, Biblical Antiquities 3:10; 19:12, 2 Bar. 51:11).

We'll pick up here next.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Paul, Eschatology, And The Kingdom Of God (Part 1)

AP: In order to understand the kingdom of God in the writings of Paul, they must be viewed both in light of Jewish apocalyptic literature in general, which varies greatly, but also (and especially) in contrast to the kingdom of God in relationship to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. While this concept occupies a central position in the message of Jesus, the same cannot be said of Paul. In his writings, the phrase "kingdom of God" (or "reign of God") appears only eight times: Rom. 14:17; 1 Cor. 4:20; 6:9–10; 15:24, 50; Gal. 5:21; 1 Thess. 2:12. Let me just go ahead and give you those verses here so you don't have to look them up. My friend David Alan Black was the base translator for the International Standard Version (ISV) New Testament, so I thought I would give you all of these verses using that translation. If you haven't used that translation before in English, you really need to consult it. Instead of presenting the verses in the order that they occur in your New Testament, I've decided to mix it up and present them to you in the order in which Paul probably wrote them, beginning first with 1 Thessalonians and ending with Romans. I've also added some context so that it helps you get a better feel at first read for what Paul is discussing. Here we go:
1 Thess. 2:10–12: "You and God are witnesses of how pure, honest, and blameless our conduct was among you who believe. You know very well that we treated each of you the way a father treats his children. We comforted and encouraged you, urging you to live in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his kingdom and glory."
1 Thess. 4:15–17: "For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who have died. With a shout of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of God's trumpet, the Lord himself will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever."
Gal. 5:19–21: "Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, rivalry, jealously, outbursts of anger, quarrels, conflicts, factions, envy, murder, drunkenness, wild partying, and things like that. I am telling you now, as I have told you in the past, that people who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."
1 Cor. 4:18–20: "Some of you have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon if it's the Lord's will. Then I'll discover not only what these arrogant people are saying but also what power they have, for the kingdom of God isn't just talk but power."
1 Cor. 6:9–10: "You know that wicked people will not inherit the kingdom of God, don't you? Stop deceiving yourselves! Sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, greedy people, drunks, slanderers, and robbers will not inherit the kingdom of God."
1 Cor. 15:22–28: "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ will all be made alive. However, this will happen to each person in the proper order: first Christ, then those who belong to Christ when he comes. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has done away with every ruler and every authority and power. For he must rule until God puts all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be done away with is death, for 'God has put everything under his feet.' Now when he says, 'Everything has been put under him,' this clearly excludes the one who put everything under him. But when everything has been put under him, then the Son himself will also become subject to the one who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all."
1 Cor. 15:50–55: "Brothers, this is what I mean: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and what decays cannot inherit what does not decay. Let me tell you a secret. Not all of us will die, but all of us will be changed––in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the sound of the last trumpet. Indeed, that trumpet will sound, and then the dead will be raised never to decay, and we will be changed. For what is decaying must put on what cannot decay, and what is dying must put on what cannot die. Now, when what is decaying puts on what cannot decay, and what is dying puts on what cannot die, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory!', 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?'"
Rom. 14:16–17: "Do not allow your good to be spoken of as evil. For God's kingdom does not consist of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy produced by the Holy Spirit."
Go through on your own and make some observations based solely on what you read in these verses. Feel free to look them up and read some more of the context. This is where we are going though. I want to work through these verses and synthesize what Paul taught about the end and especially the kingdom of God.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Liberty University's Reformation Conference

TWH: Liberty University is hosting a conference on their campus in Lynchburg, VA in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The title of the conference is "The Legacy of the Reformation." There are four plenary sessions: Timothy George, Carl Trueman, John Woodbridge, and Paige Patterson. And there will be a number of breakout sessions. You can read more about it here. Hope to see some of you there on September 28–29, 2017.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Change From Saul To Paul (Part 2)

Part 1 is available here.

AP: The name "Paul" appears to be the nickname that he gives himself as a sign of the change that took place in his life. It pointed to how he went from being the Jew of Jews, traditionalist in every sense of the word, and former persecutor of the followers of Jesus to being the "slave" of God (corresponding to the Greek word δοῦλος). His mission entirely changed. Formerly, he fought zealously against the message of Jesus' followers. From Damascus forward he would focus all of his energies and efforts on the salvation of the gentiles.

To understand the name change we need to keep in mind the custom of changing an individual's name when he transitioned from being free to slave or, when already enslaved or indentured, there was a change in ownership. For example, there was a free Greek man named "Hippodamus" who had been taken into slavery during war. He was often called "Helleno," "Arcadio," "Lidio," or "Lycian", according to the region of origin. His name was changed by his owner so that the slave himself and others were always aware of the fact that his personal and social situation had been transformed.

When such a change was alluded to, there was a fixed formula both in Latin and Greek. For example, take Lucius qui et Porcellus ("Lucio who is also called "Pig"]); Manlius qui et Longus ("Manlio who happens to be called "Long"). Notice that the person's name is listed first. This is followed by the new name using the formula qui et which means "who is also called."

In Acts 13:9, we find the name change for the apostle to the Gentiles. The formula qui et is also present in Greek (Σαῦλος δέ, ὁ καὶ Παῦλος). The ὁ καί is equivalent to qui et. Translated, it reads, "And Saul, who is also called Paul." The use of this formula tells us that, according to Luke, Saul changed his name to Paul when he experienced this status change of free person to slave. From whom? ––From freedom to a slave of God and his Messiah, a point he make often in his letters.

This change takes place after his call by God to a new mission. Paul felt like he had been transformed in a radical way. He had gone from being a free man to a slave of the Messiah, "bought" by him to fulfill the task of proclaiming the gospel, which included the salvation of the Gentiles that was now possible. And it is also possible that this commercial designation (i.e., as a slave or property) is realized at one's baptism "in the name of the Messiah." In other words, it would be the same as becoming the property of the Messiah.

Why does he choose Παῦλος? The answer is simple. ––It means "small." It offered a perfect play on words with Σαῦλος and because he was always considered the least of the apostles and the last to be called an apostle. He writes this to the Corinthians:
"And last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me." (1 Cor. 15:8–10)
Earlier in the same letter, Paul wrote the following: "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong" (1 Cor. 1:27). This is no doubt an indirect reference to himself. It was because of this view of himself––purchasing his life and making him a slave––and based on what he believed God had done in his life––transforming him and giving him this new mission and life purpose––that Paul began to refer to himself as "Paul, the slave of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle" (Rom. 1:1).

In conclusion, he went from being Saul the persecutor and freeman to Paul the slave of the Messiah who had been given a new mission. To call attention to this huge change in his life, the apostle changed his name: Saulos qui et Paulus, "Saul who is also called Paul." Paul understood his socio-religious status had changed. No longer a Jewish persecutor, now an apostolic preacher of the Messiah. And as an apostle, he became a slave of God and of Christ. Paul saw himself as a human instrument (Παῦλος) and a person who in and of himself was of little value, but God had chosen him for such an important mission.