Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Kingdom Of God: When It Shall Come And How (Part 3)

Part 1 in this series is available here. Part 2 is available here.

TWH: Jesus definitely indicated that his disciples did not know when the kingdom of God would come. He warns them to be ready in Matt. 24:42, explaining that they did not know which day the Lord was coming. Verse 42 identifies what they do not know, but verse 43 picks up with what they can be sure of:
"But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into."
Did Jesus know when the end would come though? In Matt. 24:36//Mark 13:32, Jesus indicated that no one knows the day or hour of the second coming of the Messiah except one:
"But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels of//in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." 
We find in Acts 1:6-7 that even after his crucifixion and resurrection the disciples were not permitted to know the exact time when the fulfillment of God's promises regarding the kingdom would take place:
"And so when they had come together, they were asking him, saying, 'Lord, is it at this time that you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?' He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by his own authority.'"
But did Jesus know after the crucifixion and resurrection? It is interesting that Jesus only tells the disciples that it is not for them to know. He does not indicate that the Son is no longer privy to this information, whereas in Matthew and Mark he states that no created being (angels, specifically the obedient ones [not fallen], and humans) nor even the Son of Man knows the time. In Jesus' teachings in the Gospels, he makes known to them some events that will precede the coming of the kingdom (more will be explained by the apostle Paul, for example, in his letters to the Thessalonians) and urges them to prepare spiritually for that time. It is possible that this information about the specific time was kept from Jesus during his earthly ministry and only during this time. It's also possible that this is something that, among the members of the Godhead, only the Father knows. After all, Jesus declares in John 17 that he gave to them the words (or teaching) that the Father had given him to share (John 17:8). And we have to ask the question about the nature of God in relationship to their being something that one member of the Godhead knows and the other does not. If it is a temporary lack of knowledge, then we could explain that in light of what Paul describes in Phil. 2:6-11. Of course, that could be the subject of a whole long post of its own, and one probably outside the realm that I could probably safely navigate. At least we raised the question. Feel free to post a comment if you want to explore that a little bit. (By the way, your comments are always appreciated on Across the Atlantic. Feel free to chime in. We want you to participate in the blog.)

Antonio mentioned that Jesus knew the kingdom of God was very near to arriving based on Mark 1:15, which reads: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is near." One question we might have to ask is, "How does know that the kingdom of God is near, if in fact he has no fixed point by which to make such a measured assessment of its temporal proximity?" In other words, you can't say it's near unless you know when it's going to come, right? Antonio went on to say, "Though he did not know the exact time, he knew it was coming and would arrive shortly." I suppose some might think that this is just an example of Jesus' anticipation for the coming kingdom. Jesus, I imagine some might think, was part of a religious group whose ideology taught and longed for the coming kingdom.  And Jesus' teaching in Mark wasn't actually based in any sort of factual knowledge about the specifics of the arrival of the kingdom; he just knew that the kingdom was promised and it seemed like it was already a long time coming so it must be right around the corner. So I actually think there's another way to understand what's going on, especially in the first half of the Gospel of Matthew, which constitutes around two-thirds of the ministry of Jesus. And I'll just summarize it as best I can in a short paragraph:
Jesus understands at the beginning of his ministry that the nation of Israel is experiencing the curses of God (see Deuteronomy 28) because of their lack of obedience to the Mosaic Covenant. He knows that before the kingdom can come––that is, before he can be installed as Israel's king, the rightful heir of the Davidic promises, and seated on David's throne in Jerusalem––the nation of Israel has to repent of their sins. This is why both John's and Jesus' message begins with the command to "repent for the kingdom of heaven is near/at hand" (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). Just about all of the first two years of Jesus' ministry is focused on (1) demonstrating that he is the Messiah, (2) training and mentoring the apostles, while teaching a larger group of people who were interested in his message, and (3) calling the people to repentance, which was no doubt a prerequisite for the kingdom being installed (see Jeremiah 31, e.g., v. 18 and its references to grief, Ephraim's longing for God to rescue him, and repentance connected to God's willingness to demonstrate his mercy). Something takes place in Matthew 12 that changes the way Jesus is going to teach the people and paves the way for him to begin teaching the people about what he calls the "secrets of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 13:11). What happened? The people that should have repented ended up attributing Jesus' works not to the Holy Spirit, but to the ruler of the demons. Things changed at that moment and Jesus shifts into fifth gear as he begins the last stretch heading to the cross, where he would serve as the substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of the world. 
One thing is very clear after Matthew 13: The coming of the kingdom doesn't look as near as it did at the early points in Jesus' ministry. The coming of the kingdom is imminent; in other words, it could still happen at any moment, whenever it has been fixed by God the Father. But it's no longer described as "near." During the early points in Jesus' ministry, he made an offer to the people––if they would choose to repent of their sins and believe in him, then everything described in Jeremiah 31, for example, would be accomplished and the kingdom could come. Of course, Jesus knew how hard the hearts of some of the people were and he understood that ultimately they would not accept him or his message. After all, it had already been revealed through the prophet that a divine work was necessary in order for this repentance to sweep across the entire people. But to them he still offered himself as the legitimate Davidic heir and the promised one of Israel. Their rejection was as foreknown as each step that Jesus would take as he made his ascent to Golgotha. And ultimately it was this rejection in Matthew 12 that would continue throughout the remaining months of his ministry that would be used to bring about the necessary sacrifice of God's Son for the sins of the world.

Luke 17:20-21 occurs after the rejection mentioned in Matthew 12 though. And yet there Jesus tells the Pharisees that the kingdom of God is in their midst. If you ask me, this is a reference back to what he had began his ministry preaching with an ever so noticeable twist. Before it had been near (ἤγγικεν). At the point when Jesus responds to the Pharisees, it is described as being "among" (ἐντός) them. It is no longer near for them, though it has not disappeared from their midst either. Jesus continues being about the Father's mission, teaching the people, preparing them for period before the end during which the wheat and the tares will coexist. He remains the rightful heir to the Davidic throne, but his kingdom will come at a point sometime in the future. Yet there he is, still standing in front of them and ministering among the people. When Jesus says the kingdom is in their midst, he means the kingdom is as close as the king, the one they have rejected.

When we understand it this way, there really isn't any conflict between what Jesus says in Matthew and Mark with what is found in Luke regarding the coming of the kingdom of God.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Kingdom Of God: When It Shall Come And How (Part 2)

Part 1 in this series is available here.

AP: Now we can pick up where we left off. We are talking about the kingdom of God and wrestling with some issues found in the Gospels with respect to when it shall it come and how.

Reconciling Mark 13:24–25 and Luke 17:20–21 is difficult:
1. It's possible it could mean that once the kingdom has suddenly come and with great heavenly signs that they don't have to ask "Where is it?" (and the answer would be: "See it here or there") because the kingdom would be presented without any doubt: "The kingdom of God is among you" = "the kingdom of God will already be among you." Notice the difference between the present and future. 
2. Or it could be understood as it is most of the time, namely that the beginning of the kingdom of God is already available to everyone ("among them") even the Pharisees . . . if they repent. 
3. Or it is possible that Luke 17:21 (it's thought that this phrase was directed to the Pharisees with whom Jesus was in a serious dispute! How is the kingdom going to be among them?") is an interpretation of Luke of Jesus' statement that could mean something altogether different. We'll discuss that later. 
Either way it seems like Jesus thought that for one to be able to calculate precisely the coming of the kingdom would somehow mean subtracting from God some of his omnipotence, his independence in the decision to determine the coming of the kingdom: the when and the how. The only thing he knew was that the "time remaining" until the coming of the kingdom was very short: The coming of the Son of Man with the establishment of the kingdom is "at the gates" (Mark 13:29: "Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that he is near, right at the doors").

There is also another possibility as pointed out by Johannes Weiss and more recently Senén Vidal (Los tres proyectos de Jesús). It is possible that Jesus began to doubt the imminence of the coming kingdom, with the failure of his mission in Galilee. The people were not converted as expected. Then he decided to announce the coming of the kingdom in the capital, Jerusalem, to have a larger audience. When he arrived, he realized that his audacious teaching was going to cost him his life. In other words, he foresaw the possibility of his death. From that point forward Jesus had to interpret this death as an instrument that would accelerate the coming Kingdom. This is very likely, although it is not clear in what sense.

Jesus could interpret his death as purification for the sins of the people who paid no heed to his proclamation; or as an impetratory sacrifice to God that would "soften" his heart towards the people and finally to agree to establish the kingdom. Whichever way, it seems clear that given the absolute confidence of Jesus with God (perhaps only broken in the explicit time of his death, Mark 15:34 "Why have you forsaken me?"), his death could not mean absolute failure of his mission, which only depended on God, but another way to accomplish it. In the view of many interpreters it does not seem like Jesus interpreted this death as a strictly vicarious sacrifice (the doctrine of Paul), ie, as a substitutionary death for others.

In the mind of Jesus it is absolutely certain that there will be a solemn divine judgment before the coming of the kingdom. However, it is unclear whether this judgment will immediately precede the regeneration of the present world or follow it; most likely it refers to the first, as seems to indicate the scene of the last judgment in Matthew 25.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Kingdom Of God: When It Shall Come And How (Part 1)

AP: So when exactly will the kingdom of God arrive? Well, this is something that Jesus did not know with certainty, nor was he overly concerned or focus on the exact date. We can see this in Luke 17:20:
"Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them and said, 'The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be calculated (οὐκ . . . μετὰ παρατηρήσεως).'"
Jesus simply knows that the arrival of the kingdom of God is very close (ἤγγικεν), as shown for example in Mark 1:15:
"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is near."
He believed the time was so close that he sent his disciples out to proclaim its coming to all of Israel. Though he did not know the exact time, he knew it was coming and would arrive shortly. Not only that, the arrival is so imminent that if a city did not receive those disciples (as a result of the hardness of their hearts or because they lost an opportunity to be converted), they were instructed to shake the dust off of their sandals and rush to the next city:
"Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet." (Matt. 10:14)
If the kingdom were already here, even if "somehow" (a catchphrase of some commentators such as J. P. Meier), Jesus would not have acted so urgent.

I've translated the expression οὐκ . . . μετὰ παρατηρήσεως (in Luke 17:20) as "not . . . with calculations." This expression is actually difficult to translate though. But we cannot translate the phrase, this time with the verb included, "no se producirá aparatosamente" (as translated by R. Aguirre). It simply means we cannot determine the exact day, hour, or place using astronomical calculations or astrological signs. Only the Father knows the date:
"But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone." (Mark 13:32)
And unless we attribute a larger part of the heavenly eschatological signs of the coming in Mark 13 not to Jesus but to the early church, the kingdom of God will come ostentatiously, with great signs with cataclysms, tribulations, wars, flights, etc.:
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give off its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken." (Mark 13:24-25)
In Luke 17:20, though, Jesus only means that his fellow Pharisees––even though they were very clever, despite their fondness for calculations and combinations of signs––did not realize that the decisive beginning of the kingdom was already present among them. In other words, that it was "within their reach," as this verse in Luke demonstrates:
"Nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:21)
In our next post we need to deal with how these two texts (Luke 17:20–21 and Mark 13:24–25) relate to one another. And we'll also delve further into the discussion.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Update: The Hidden Life Of Jesus

TWH: Just wanted to let everyone know we received the proof copies of Antonio's book The Hidden Life of Jesus. We are approaching the finish line with this project. I'll keep you posted on the publication schedule as things develop. I should have the proof copies back to the publisher in the next ten days or so.

There is a lot of interest in this book already. The apocryphal Gospels are not unknown by people, but people generally have a very limited knowledge of their contents. And many would just assume stay away from them. Reading them individually can be a difficult task too. In Part II of the book, Antonio provides a synthesis of the life of Christ according to these apocryphal texts. Such a synthesis is not really found in any other English text. It's definitely unique. And you'll definitely want to check it out when it's available. More details to come. Stay tuned.

By the way, if you're interested in seeing the book in Spanish, you can find it by clicking here.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Year Of Jesus' Death

AP: I invited a friend and esteemed colleague in the field of philology to contribute a post on my personal blog a while ago. His name is José Montserrat Torrents, truly a world renowned scholar. The subject of the post was the year of Jesus' death. His answer is very important to the discussion and, given its importance, I've provided a translation of the post here for our English-speaking audience. It begins below:

Three Latin authors and one Greek author fix Jesus' death in the year A.D. 29, without any confusion. The sources are as follows:
1. Tertullian, Adversus Iudaeos 8: (sc. Tiberii) quinto decimo anno imperii passus est Christus, annos habens quasi 30 cum pateretur (Translated: "In the fifteenth year of the reign (of Tiberius) Christ suffered passion; he was around the age of thirty when he suffered passion") . . . Quae passio... perfecta est sub Tiberio Caesare, coss. Rubellio Gemino et Fufio Gemino, mense martio, temporibus Paschae, die VIII Kalendarum Aprilium, die prima Azymorum (Translated: "This passion took place under Tiberius Caesar, during the consulship of Rubelio Geminus and Rufus Geminus, in March, on the eighth day of April on the Roman calendar, the first day of Unleavened Bread").  
2. Lactantius, The Death of the Persecutors 2.1: "During the final years of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, as we read, our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified by the Jews, on March 23, during the consulate of the two Gemini." 
3. Sulpicius Severus, Chronicle II 27.5: "During the reign of this one [Herod Antipas], in the eighteenth year, the Lord was crucified, under the consulship of Rufus Geminus and Rubelio Geminus." 
4. Acts of Pilate (Greek), Prologue: "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, emperor of the Romans; in the nineteenth year of Herod, king of Galilee; on the eight day of the calends of April, which is March 25; during the consulship of Rufus and Rubelio; in the fourth year of the Olympiad 202; when Joseph the son of Caiaphas was high priest." 
Now for some observations.

First, there is some confusion in these texts about the reigns of Tiberius and Herod Antipas, and on the exact day of the Passion (Epiphanius summarized the various option in Panarion H 50.1); but there is no confusion about the consulship of the two Gemini (i.e., L. Rubellius Geminus and C. Fufius Geminus). According to the Consular Fasti and Annals of Tacitus (V 1), they entered this role in A.D. 29. Accordingly, Tertullian, Lactantius, and Sulpicius Severus, followed by the Acts of Pilate, categorically affirm that Jesus was executed in A.D. 29.

Second, the priority of the two consuls and their names differ in the documents. Tacitus: Rubellio et Fufio consulibus, quorum utrique Geminus cognomentum erat (Anales V 1); Fasti Capitolini: Rubellio et Fufio; Chronicle (= Fasti Siculi, siglo VII): Rufo et Rubellino. Tertullian mentions the order in the Annals and the Fasti Capitolini. Sulpicius Severus mentions them in the order of Fasti Siculi, but with the correct names. The Acts of Pilate adopts the order of Fasti Siculi and the names are entered incorrectly.

Third, the Gospel of Luke (3:1) places the beginning of the preaching of John the Baptist in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, which corresponds to A.D. 28/29 in the Latin calculations and A.D. 27/28 according to the oriental calculations. Neither calculations account for the death of Jesus on Easter of A.D. 29,  leaving him with only a very brief public life. Tertullian, a fine analyst of Luke against Marcion, could not ignore this fact. nor could he ignore Lactantius and Sulpicius Severus. However, they fix the date of the passion at A.D. 29. It seems that they had a secure source (Lactantius says "as we read") and they argued the data by bypassing an explanation of the discrepancy with the Gospels

Fourth, Tertullian knew Tacitus. However, in the work preserved by Tacitus, the only chronological fact about Jesus' death is vague: during the rule of Pontius Pilate (Annals XV 44), i.e., between A.D. 26 and A.D. 36. The precise reference to A.D. 29 could have been found by Tertullian  in book V of the Annals, which opens with the consulships of the two Gemini in the year A.D. 29. But, as is known, in this part of book V of the Annals is a vast lagoon. We do not know if this place provided Tacitus his data about the death of Jesus. It is a mere possibility, but dutifully explains the unusual dating of Tertullian.

Fifth, Lactantius undoubtedly depends on Tertullian, although the expression "as we read" could refer to the same hypothetical African source: book V of the Annals of Tacitus.

Sixth, with Sulpicius Severus we are on somewhat more stable ground. Indeed, Sulpicius had the Annals of Tacitus before him, and he literally cites them with respect to the fire of Rome and the persecution of Nero (ulpicius Severus, Chronicles II 29.1-2). He is the only author of antiquity that echoes this extraordinary passage from Tacitus. Sulpicius certainly provided the full text of book V of the Annals, and it is possible to read in it a review of the execution of Christ by Pontius Pilate under the consuls of Rubelio Geminus and Rufus Geminus. The fact that order is reversed in the text of Tacitus does not invalidate this assumption, as he quoted them by their correct names.

Seventh, Orosius knew Tacitus and sometimes quotes him literally. But he places the death of Jesus in the seventeenth year of Tiberius, that is, according to the Latin calculations A.D. 31 (History VII 13), without mention of the consuls.

And eighth, no Greek Christian author of the first four centuries mentions the consuls of the year A.D. 29 in connection to the death of Jesus. It is an exclusive feature of the Latin tradition, probably found in non-Christian documents (records or histories). The prologue of the Acts of Pilate, drawn up in the fifth century (the body of the text is earlier), probably depends on a distorted Latin tradition, as it alters the names of the consuls.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Other Books On The Apocalypse

AP: I have a book that was published back in 2007 that you might be interested in. The title is Los Apocalipsis: 45 textos Apocalípticos Apócrifos Judíos, Cristianos y Gnósticos (published by EDAF). Translated the title would be The Revelations: 45 Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic Apocryphal Apocalyptic Texts. The title isn't wrong though, I assure you. I'm sure you noticed how I used the plural los not el (in Spanish) and Revelations not Revelation (in English). These other texts were written over a period of 600 years. My friend Fernando Bermejo was kind enough to write a review of the book when it was published. I've gone through and put his words in English so that you can get a feel of what the book is about. By the way, you can find a number of Fernando's publications at his page (see here). Here is what he wrote about the book:
The hallmark of this new book edited by Antonio Piñero is how he has assembled and made readily available a number of apocalyptic texts from different eras and cultural provenances.
These writings are of great interest for various reasons. On the one hand, the panoply of texts included in this comprehensive anthology allows a better understanding of the hopes and eschatological representations of Judaism and religious world of Late Antiquity. In addition, it helps to understand the apocalyptic matrix of various christianities, in which several of the texts reproduced have exerted considerable influence.
But interest in these texts does not end there. In some of them (Revelation of John, Coptic Apocalypse of Elijah) literary justification of beliefs in the millennium (the belief that the righteous, before moving to the final paradise, must joyously live a thousand years on this earth, surrounded by all kinds of goods and fortunes) played a very important role in the expectations of some of the most important Christian thinkers of the early church, such as Justin, Melito, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and others, and then declared some movements heretical; as is known, these beliefs in the millennium would persist into Late Antiquity––for example in Apollinaris of Laodicea in the fourth century, especially in the frequent "chiliastic" outbreaks of the late Middle Ages and Modern Age.
In addition, some of the selected writings, as in the case of the Hebrew Apocalypse of Enoch, contain ideas and developments that are connected to the speculations of Jewish mysticism, or Kabbalah.
The book edited by A. Piñero also deserves our attention because interest in the apocalyptic is not restricted to Jewish and Christian traditions. For example, Manichaeism (born in Mesopotamia in third century, but survived in China at least until the sixteenth century) was also influenced by Jewish and Christian apocalyptic tradition. For example, in the Cologne Mani-Codex (found in 1970) is a long digression citing various fragments of 5 apocalyptic texts (Adam, Seth, Enosh, Shem, and Enoch). 
The reader should note that, despite having been included under the category of "Jewish Apocalypse," some of the selected texts (e.g., the Book of the Prophet Ezra ) are actually Christian texts, or Jewish texts that were significantly manipulated by Christians. Comments on the "twelve tribes" in the publisher's general introduction should also be taken cum mica salis since, as several studies have shown, the notion of the twelve tribes seems more a theological construct than that of a historical reality.
In any case, we can only congratulate the success of this new initiative by A. Piñero and EDAF. The book cover showing a ominous skyline over a modern city expresses very accurately how such texts, with their powerful imagery, continue to feed the fears, dreams, and hopes of humans, and even a non-negligible number of our contemporaries.
You can see a sample of the book over at Google books (in Spanish, of course). Just click here. But I wanted to alert you to it, in case you are interested in seeing for yourselves what these texts are all about.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Philological Studies In Honor Of Antonio Piñero

TWH: El Almendro recently published a Festschrift honoring Antonio Piñero of the Complutense University in Madrid, Spain. This book contains a collection of essays written by some of Antonio's dearest friends, colleagues, and students. There simply is no denying how influential Antonio has been in the field of New Testament studies over the last forty years. A simple glance over his long academic publications is evidence of his influence. The extent of his research is quite broad. Honestly, when I think there is something he hasn't written on in the field, I need only review his publications and out jumps a resource on that very subject. And Antonio continues to contribute to the field. New works are published regularly, such as his book on the apostle Paul and his theology––Guía para entender a Pablo de Tarso. Una interpretación del pensamiento paulino (Trotta, 2015)––and the forthcoming English translation of his book La vida oculta de Jesús (in English The Hidden Life of Jesus).

Here is the bibliographic information for the Festschrift:
In Mari Via Tua. Philological Studies in Honour of Antonio Piñero. Estudios de Filología Neotestamentaria 11. Edited by Israel M. Gallarte and Jesús Peláez. Córdoba: El Almendro, 2016.
The book is not yet available on the publisher's website, but should be shortly.

Interested in what types of studies you will find in this Festschrift? Well, let me just give you a sample. There's thirty-four total, but here's just a highlight from each of the five sections of the book.

From the section covering the Old and New Testament Apocrypha, you'll find a study on the Apocalypse of Abraham, one on the Testament of Job, and one on the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla.

From the section on New Testament philology, you'll find contributions by Paul Danove, Stephen Levinsohn, Jesús Peláez, Luis Gil, Keith Elliott, David Alan Black, Fernando Bermejo, among others. There are studies on translation, syntactical issues, lexical studies, and even a very interesting textual-historical study pertaining to the manuscripts undergirding the Complutensian Greek New Testament. This section (the largest in the book) spans some four hundred pages. It's packed with research.

From the section on the origins of Christianity, you'll find studies like Stan Porter's on assigning dates to the composition of the New Testament texts and the importance doing so has on reconstructing the historical milieu of Christianity at its conception.

From the section on the patristics, you'll find three studies, such as Gonzalo del Cerro's on Pseudo-Clement. And a final section contains some miscellaneous studies, one of which is Chrys Caragounis' discussion on the term "Greco-Roman."

This is truly one of the most impressive Festschrifts I've ever seen. It's really no surprise why so many people agreed to offer a contribution. Antonio Piñero's impact on Greek philology over the past decades certainly deserves the applause offered by his friends and colleagues in this book. Definitely get your hands on a copy of it when you can.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Did Jesus Fulfill Requirements Of The High Priest?

TWH: There is no question that Paul refers to Jesus as a high priest throughout his letter to the Hebrews. (Yes, I genuinely believe that the evidence favors Paul as the author of this text.) The first reference to Jesus as high priest is found in chapter two:
"Therefore, he had to be like his brethren in all things, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since he himself was tempted in that which he has suffered, he is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted." (Heb. 2:7–8)
In Heb. 3:1 Jesus is referred to as "the apostle and high priest of our confession." And in chapter four Paul writes:
"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin." (Heb. 4:14–15)
In Heb. 6:19–20 we find the following:
"This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." 
And there is a lengthy discussion about the nature of Jesus' priesthood in Hebrews 7–9. The last reference to a high priest is found in Heb. 13:11, but there the attention is on Jesus as sacrifice, not as high priest.

So I mention all of that to get to the main subject of this post. When I was in college I remember reading an article by Joseph E. Zimmerman titled "Jesus of Nazareth: High Priest of Israel's Great Fall Festival––The Day of Atonement" (published in Evangelical Journal 17:2 [1999]:49–59). You'll remember Jesus' words in Matt. 5:17 I'm sure: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill." So Zimmerman asks the question: "If, in fact, Christ was the high priest for the perfect Day of Atonement, might he not have been consciously fulfilling the responsibilities of that priestly role as if it were the eve of Yoma and the night before the sunrise of Yoma in the activities, for example, of the last supper and in the Garden of Gethsemane?" Let me just point out a couple of the observations about the high priest's activities on the eve of Yom Kippur that Zimmerman mentions in his article. I assure you, it's very interesting stuff.

According to Zimmerman the high priest would remain isolated from most of the other priests and the people at large on the eve of Yom Kippur. The only exception was a small group of priests. They were tasked with staying with the high priest and keeping him awake all night. The primary reason he was to stay awake was the belief that he could keep himself clean. He would do this by prayer and meditating on the Scriptures. For the high priest on the eve of Yom Kippur, the greatest temptation was falling asleep and becoming impure. Now contrast this with what Jesus does on the eve of his crucifixion (remember Jesus died on Passover, not the Day of Atonement). Jesus likewise went away from the people, including most of his own disciples. He took with him three disciples and charged them with staying awake and told them to pray. It seems very similar to what was going on during Yom Kippur in the first century. There is one striking difference though. The most difficult temptation for Jesus was not falling asleep. Jesus went off to pray, but he wrestled with something that no earthly high priest ever wrestled. He thrice mentions a "cup" and he agonizes over what he was about to endure the coming day. Instead of his disciples keeping him awake, Jesus has to keep them awake.

The most interesting connection Zimmerman makes regarding Jesus' actions and the Day of Atonement rituals deals with the washing of the disciples' feet. There was a symbolic cleansing that took place on the Passover, but, as Zimmerman points out, the disciples would have already performed that cleansing. Then he writes this, "What Peter (and the other disciples) would not have understood was why a supplemental washing was necessary and why Jesus had to be the one to perform the required Passover washing." The Passover required no subsequent cleansing, and this is Zimmerman's point. For the Day of Atonement, according to Yoma, those who received the benefit of the atoning sacrifice needed additional cleansing if they had become unclean or impure due to actions taking place after the ceremonial immersions earlier in the day. Zimmerman's point is if Jesus is focused on fulfilling the expectations of Yom Kippur and the Passover on the same day, then this supplemental washing would have satisfied the Yoma requirements. Actually it involved cleansing the hands and feet, but not the whole body.

He has some other parallels that are pretty interesting. I'm not entirely sure what I think about all of this. The washing of the disciples' feet is easily explained without all of this. Jesus uses it as one final opportunity to teach his disciples what it looks like to serve others, especially since (according to Luke) they had begun to fight about who was to be greatest in the kingdom (this was actually the third time they fought about this issue). Instead of telling them what was required to be great, Jesus showed them and gave them the perfect example. Fulfilling the law, in my opinion, has more to do with fulfilling the obligations and requirements set forth by God in his Word, not manmade expectations or criteria. But that doesn't mean that Jesus didn't fulfill these expectations, especially as a Jew living in the first century. Perhaps had he not, when others pointed to his role as high priest, a cloud of doubt would have deterred Jews in the first century from accepted him as such. In any event, the article is interesting and worth the read for sure.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Importance Of The Hebrew Bible

AP: Scholars unanimously agree that it is impossible to find one's way in the New Testament without recourse to the Old Testament. It is quite evident that the New Testament in general, and the Gospels in particular, contain numerous quotations from the Old Testament. And there are even more allusions to Old Testament texts. It is impossible to deny the continuity that exists between the Old and New Testament. In order to understand the literary genre in which the various books of the New Testament were written, especially the Gospels, it is important to explore the concepts and symbols featured in the Old Testament texts. Consider the words of J. Mateos and F. Camacho in their book Evangelio, figures y símbolos:
"[We must consider] the conceptual and symbolic universe in which they moved. It will be necessary to examine the images and symbols inherited from the Old Testament or from Jewish culture, and the modifications and adaptations made by the evangelists and other writers of the New Testament. It is necessary to note also the new images and symbols that they present following traditional lines, and to notice the new meanings they give to old terms to enable them to express different realities, as well as the ways of indicating the existence of a theological meaning in passages which at first sight appear to be mere historical accounts. In this regard the Gospel writers do not invent a new style, but rather are influenced by the methods applied to the OT Scriptures in Rabbinic schools. In these schools, they commented on the ancient books, adapting them to the circumstances of the day and in accordance with the new demands of the day. In oral or written exposition, the commentary could take the form of Madras, which consisted in glossing an ancient narrative, amplifying its contents with new additions and adapting it step by step to the new message they wished to convey. It is also necessary to consider, in a more limited form, the use of already existing symbols that had been assimilated into the culture, separately or together, as appropriate. The writers could also take the main idea of a passage or verse and develop it into narrative form. With this material at their disposal, the Gospel writers sometimes allude to particular Old Testament passages, which at other times they use the many and varied prototypes and symbols that were being formed within the Jewish culture."
To that extent the Old Testament was the primary and essential referent of the New Testament. Augustine recognized the importance for Christians of understanding the Old Testament, asserting that "[t]he New  Testament is hidden in the Old, and the latter is revealed in the New" (Quaestionum in Heptateuchum libri Septem 2.73). The New Testament cannot be correctly interpreted without knowledge of the Old Testament and its conceptual, figurative, and symbolic universe.

There is continuity and discontinuity between the two Testaments. Some theological lines of the Old Testament have been adopted by the New Testament writers (seeing the latter as the expansion of the former). Others, however, have been either ignored or rejected. In any case, the authors of the New Testament interpreted and developed these texts with great liberty, sometimes regarding the Old Testament as not so much a fixed given as a literary resource.

As a religious group born from the womb of Judaism, Christianity and its basic book, the New Testament, are the formal heirs of all the theological riches of the Hebrew Bible. The essential points of this tradition were pointed out by R. Bultmann. I have also discussed these connection points in some of my own publications. Let me identify three.
1. Belief in a single personal God who transcends the world while maintaining continuous contact with it.  
2. The sovereignty of God, whose salvific effects appear throughout human history, is manifested in this world. 
3. The relationship between God and human beings is measured by obedience to the Torah or Law, manifested in the Scriptures and conceived in terms of covenant, a covenant by which the people promised to worship Yahweh as the only God and he, in turn, would protect, lead, and deliver his people. Participation in this covenant was confirmed by strict compliance with the Law. Consequently, Christianity was heir to a religion that made reference to a moral demand, perfectly articulated in clear commandments, though in the Gospels Jesus reduces the plurality of these, establishing a clear hierarchy, with just two at the top. The first is: "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and al your might" (Deut. 6:6). The second is, "You shall love your neighbors as yourself" (Lev. 19:18). There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:30–31)
Along with these, New Testament Judaism also inherited the sense of guilt, sin, and expiation; the fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham and the kingdom of God; etc.

You can't study the New Testament without studying the Old Testament. It is an essential resource, one that must be within our reach as we study the texts of the New Testament.

*The above is taken with only slight modification from Antonio Piñero and Jesús Peláez, The Study of the New Testament: A Comprehensive Introduction, trans. David E. Orton and Paul Ellingworth, Tools for Biblical Studies 3 (Leiden: Deo, 2003), 213-215.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Matthew’s View On The Historicity Of The Flight Into Egypt

AP: The following paragraphs are taken from the translation of my book on the early years of Jesus' life. The title in English is The Hidden Life of Jesus. Thomas and I should receive the final proof copies shortly. That will be the final step before the book is printed and made available to the public. We're looking forward to seeing its release, and we will definitely keep you updated as we approach this final period in its publication.

This particular excerpt below focuses on what Matthew thought about the historicity of the flight into Egypt.
"What did Matthew think? Did he believe this event actually occurred? Or, was he consciously transmitting a “theological story,” knowing the event never occurred? This scenario is quite unlikely. He probably did not even think about any of this. Christians early on probably did not think about it either. Anyways, a straightforward reading of these chapters and the Gospel as a whole does not make us think so. In fact, up until the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, all of Christendom basically believed that the massacre of the innocents actually occurred.
It is not until the nineteenth century that we hear the first voices against the historicity of this portion of the narrative. It is not until the twentieth and twenty-first centuries that we hear the hypothesis that this is a “theological history,” transmitting not the events as they happened, but a religious message. Nevertheless, it is normal to think that Matthew believed everything occurred as he communicated it to his audience.
For us today, this question regarding the historicity of what we read in the Gospels is very important because it depends on the basic ideological sustenance of life. Matthew composed the story of the magi in his attempt to provide a more complete biography of Jesus. Most likely, he used previously existing legends that had been developed in his community. Matthew takes these legends, rewrites and rearranges them, and then incorporates his own new material, especially from the Old Testament. He does all of this to support one central idea, specifically that Jesus is the Messiah and had a miraculous childhood, like other heroes of old, full of wonders, which confirm that he is the true Son of God."