Category Archives: Biblical Theology

In Step with the Spirit

[Text:  Galatians, especially Gal. 5-6]

As I noted in my previous post, Galatians is hard going, and most of us, I bet, breathe a sigh of relief when we arrive at chapters 5 and 6.  Here the complicated theological arguments, examples and allegories of the previous chapters transition into practical instruction for the Christian community, complete with memorable lines about “keeping in step with the Spirit” and having “the fruit of the Spirit.”  This is stuff we resonate with, not to mention recognize.  We can handle this part just fine.

Not to spoil the party, but our eagerness to move on to the “relevant” teaching of these later chapters does a disservice to Paul’s message in this letter.  Reading in this way, we treat Galatians as if chapters 1-4 (and maybe the beginning of 5) were written to The People Back Then, who had this obscure issue with circumcision and Jewish law-keeping, while chapters 5-6 were written to US.  In this post I’d like to try to show how the original context of the epistle to the Galatians extends all the way to the end of the letter, and why this matters for our contemporary attempts to interpret Paul’s words.

You know the gist of Paul’s concern, I’m sure:  Gentile congregations in Asia Minor, once happily converted, were now being plagued by the teaching that their salvation in Christ was not, in fact, complete; what was missing was adherence to Jewish laws, specifically circumcision (but probably Sabbath-keeping, holidays, and dietary rules as well).  Paul’s passion for these people, and for the true gospel, comes out in his fiery words.  “Don’t let ANYBODY mess with your minds,” he says, “not even an angel of God!  There is only ONE gospel, and you’ve already got it.”

Crucial to his argument, and to our understanding of the later “practical” chapters, is the history of the Galatians’ initial encounter with the Holy Spirit.  You remember the scenes in Acts, right, where certain conversions were accompanied by highly visible and audible “signs and wonders”?  In the early days of the Church, when the original Jewish believers were first venturing outside their ethnic boundaries with their message about Jesus, God apparently turned up the volume on the Spirit’s presence—especially in born-again Gentiles, just so there would be no mistake about his acceptance of them.  As Peter put it to a council of his brethren, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”*

In Galatians, written very early in the newborn Church’s history,* Paul could appeal to these Gentile believers’ unmistakable  experience of divine acceptance in an attempt to get them to see the logic of their situation.  “Didn’t God supply the Spirit and work miracles among you, just because you believed?” he asks.  “Did he wait to welcome you into Abraham’s family until you had jumped through all the hoops of the Jewish law?  Of course not.  So having begun by the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?  That makes no sense!”

Note the contrast there, between “Spirit” on the one hand and “flesh” on the other.  Paul is emphasizing the Spirit’s obvious acceptance of these believers, and the consequent uselessness of flesh-bound  Jewish identity markers.  But we have been conditioned to decontextualize these terms, reading them not with their historical references in mind so much as “what they mean to me today.”  And “what they mean to me” naturally has to involve something other than a Jewish-Gentile tension about law-keeping, because that subject was laid to rest long ago and in a faraway land.

In our context-free interpretation, then, any mention of the Spirit is automatically understood to refer to prayerful, pious, spiritual behavior and thinking, maybe involving an inner “nudge” in a godly direction.  In contrast, flesh is sinful—often specifically lustful or sexually impure—behavior and thinking, or sometimes it is whatever we do to “try to earn God’s favor.”  Our revision of Paul’s main subject into terms that are familiar to us becomes a speedy bypass to contemporary relevance:  why belabor that first-century ethnic tension, when we are trying to keep in step with the Spirit in the twenty-first?

Here’s how the interpretive bypass plays out in our reading of the practical instruction of Galatians 5 and 6, and what we lose because of it.  I’ll give a couple illustrations, and you can test this idea further on your own.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Given our interpretative leanings, we are likely to take from this verse the idea that if we pursue pious, prayerful behavior and thinking, we will not be overcome by lust and other vices.  But is Christian morality Paul’s chief concern here?  I don’t think so: his driving passion is to protect already-believers from the unnecessary, destructive, and merely-human teaching that salvation was contingent on Jewish law-keeping.  “Walking by the Spirit” is, very simply, all about continuing on as you have started, secure in the knowledge that salvation doesn’t need the extra boost of circumcision or keeping kosher.

But what about the list of vices associated with flesh, and the virtues said to be the “fruit of the Spirit” at the end of chapter 5?

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, etc. . . . But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc. . . .

Again, we are inclined to limit Paul’s discussion to questions of morality, seeing in these lists a cesspool of vices to avoid and a wellspring of virtues to cultivate.  Certainly human morality is in view here, but the original context remains important.  What would lead a person down the path to the cesspool of vices?  Why, accepting the false gospel and giving in to those who would add Jewish law-keeping to a Christian’s “To Do” list!* On the other hand, what path leads to the wellspring of virtues?  Why, the one they are already on, salvation by grace through faith!

Finally, consider this principle from chapter 6:

For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

It seems a fairly intuitive equation—if I pursue the ungodly passions of my sinful nature, my moral character will degenerate; but if I remain prayerfully guided by the Spirit, I will get to heaven.  Actually, considered closely, the theo-logical conclusion of our intuitive interpretation should give us pause—since when is our eternal life contingent on our behavior?

It’s appropriate to have second thoughts about this familiar understanding of Paul’s principle, because a different interpretation is in fact more fitting.  Remember that “corruption” is not necessarily moral degeneracy; in fact, in the Bible it most often refers to the physical degeneration of the body after death.  Now the contrast works smoothly:  the way of the flesh, here the way of Jewish law-keeping and circumcision, is NOT the way of the gospel, and so it ends in death.  But the way of the Spirit—the way these Galatians first knew Christ, which everybody could plainly see in the signs and wonders that accompanied their conversion—is the one and only way to eternal life.

So Paul is still talking about circumcision versus plain-vanilla faith, even when we think we hear him talking only about moral choices.  Even these practical parts of Galatians are anchored in a historical context that is alien to us.  What can we hope to take away from these words, if we must shed our familiar assumptions about moral instruction and “Spirit v. flesh” in these passages?

Why not take away the message that simple, uncomplicated belief in Jesus leads to eternal life?  Be affirmed in your faith, and become familiar with the character traits that will mark you as one of Abraham’s offspring, part of God’s Church.  There’s plenty of good to strive for in Paul’s depiction of life along this path of the Spirit.  Just don’t get confused, overinterpreting his warnings about “the flesh” as a decontextualized call to struggle against our sinful nature.  As necessary as that struggle is in the believing life, it’s not a priority for Paul in Galatians.

*************************************

*Acts 11:17

*Probably around 48AD.

*Note, by the way, the shocking association of Jewish law-keeping with vice!  Paul intends to shake them up by way of this stunning incongruity, as he did when he connected Torah-keeping Jews with the decidedly un-Jewish figure of Hagar in his earlier allegory.

All Bible quotations are taken from the ESV, though sometimes I have paraphrased things.

Follow the Bible Journal on Twitter @GrassRootsTheo!

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Acts, Biblical Literacy, Biblical Theology, Epistles, Galatians, Historical Context, Instructing the Body, Theology

A Tale of Two Jerusalems

[Text: Galatians, especially ch. 4]

Paul’s impassioned letter to the Galatians can be a tricky one to track with.  Our vast cultural and historical distance from the peculiar concerns of the newborn Church leaves us baffled in the dense theological sections, and probably lets us off too easily as we sail through the “more relevant” practical parts.  In this post I want to offer some guidance through the mountainous terrain of Galatians 4, where biblical history and allegory collide; in a future post I hope to take a second look at the way we’ve always read Paul’s instructions in Galatians about “keeping in step with the Spirit.”

If you’ve read as far as Galatians 4, you’ve probably already figured out Paul’s chief concern:  these Gentile believers, who originally received the gospel message and the Holy Spirit with no strings attached, have come under the influence of some Jewish believers who insist that Hebrew law-keeping is a necessary component of everybody’s conversion.  Specifically, circumcision is being proclaimed as an imperative for these non-Jewish followers of Jesus.

Paul’s letter hits them in the middle of these deliberations.  He urges the Galatian Gentiles to reconsider the theological reality of their already-accomplished salvation, and to turn aside from the temptation to upgrade their status by way of religious requirements like circumcision.

Since circumcision is a representative example of following Jewish law, you’d think that Paul would have a lot to say about that law, and how its specific life-ordering rules had been rendered obsolete by the coming of the Messiah Jesus.  And you’d be right – in fact, that’s the gist of our Galatians 3.  In chapter 4, though, Paul does some fancy rabbinical-rhetorical footwork, playing with the flexible word “law” (Greek nomos, Hebrew torah) and making our heads spin.

Just before launching in on that difficult bit about Hagar and Sarah, he writes:

“Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?  For it is written that Abraham had two sons…”

Pause here, before we hit the two Jerusalems that are these sons’ mothers, and consider how Paul is playing with the word “law.”  Maybe these Gentiles (and maybe many of us reading today!) would typically define “law” in the Bible as all of those Jewish regulations and statutes and rituals.  But the Hebrew Torah, the big-L Law, is actually a collection of five books that includes both law (in a legal sense) and story.  And it’s the Story part of the Law that holds the key to unlocking the chains of the (legal) law that threatens the Galatians’ freedom.

Paul proceeds to identify the five dramatis personae in the part of the Story that he’s talking about:  Abraham, the slave woman and the free woman, and each woman’s firstborn son.  It must have been a familiar narrative by now even to the Galatians, who had, after all, hosted the great storyteller Paul himself on more than one occasion.  Here Paul is claiming that this Patriarch and his family history have repercussions even for former pagan Gentiles in Asia Minor:  through the continuity of the promise, even those outside Abraham’s bloodline are included now in God’s people.

So that’s the first curve ball in Galatians:  “Law” includes “story,” and it’s Story that matters in this wrestling match between faith and law-keeping.

The second curve ball involves another bit of rhetoric condoned by rabbinical scholars:  the allegorical use of real historical figures to convey a point.  Hagar and Sarah are convenient place-holders for the “law-keeping” and “promise-believing” contingents; and the respective locales, Sinai/earthly-Jerusalem and heavenly-Jerusalem, reinforce the contrast.

What ought to take the reader by surprise (but probably doesn’t, in our case) is that the Hagar/slave-woman/earthly-Jerusalem figure is the one associated with Mount Sinai, and therefore Jewish law-keeping.  There is NO WAY that this would be a comfortable allegory for a pious first-century Jew (or Jewish Christian).  Of the two women, Hagar is exactly the wrong figure to associate with all that defines Jewish identity, religion, and obligation.

And this discomfort is precisely Paul’s reason for structuring the allegory in this way.  Hagar and her son are cast off in the story, made strangers to the covenant that God had sworn to Abraham.  In the same way, God through Jesus has “cast off” Jewish law-keeping.  You don’t want to be associated with lost and abandoned Hagar, Paul insists.  And you always were associated with the other one, the Sarah/free-woman/heavenly-Jerusalem figure, because when you came into the family of faith you did it in a Sarah-way, by believing!

There is irony upon irony here, if we have eyes to see it:  the law, the pride of Judaism, linked allegorically to a despised slave woman; the law-keepers, now cut off from the covenant; non-Jewish believers in Jesus, identified with the ultra-Jewish heroine Sarah; and the despised Gentiles, now heirs of the promise.

Paul wraps up this rhetorical excursion to the two Jerusalems with these firm words:

“So, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.”

Interesting that he includes himself in this statement:  the former Pharisee here implicitly distances himself from Jewish law-keeping, at least as it relates to salvation (i.e., being counted among the people of God).* Through the allegory of the two Jerusalems, each identified with one of the women in the story of the promise, Paul has mapped out for the Galatians the alternatives presented to them by the true and the false gospels they have heard.  He prays that they will realize once and for all that they already belong to Sarah’s side of the family.

***********************

*Though Paul internalized the implications of the gospel so radically that he could behave as a Gentile among Gentiles, it was often deemed prudent (by Paul and by other Church leaders) for him to maintain Jewish practices when among Jews.

Follow the Bible Journal on Twitter, @GrassRootsTheo!

2 Comments

Filed under Biblical Genres, Biblical Literacy, Biblical Theology, Epistles, Galatians, Historical Context, Instructing the Body, Old Testament, Redemptive History

Chronological Contexts and Multiple Meanings

[Texts:  James, Romans, Ephesians, Galatians]

As you may have noticed, James’s letter is not easy to reconcile with Paul’s teaching on faith apart from works.  On the face of it, James seems to be saying that we do good works in order to be saved, which scrambles our brains if we also know Paul’s firm lines about nobody being able to boast about their efforts toward salvation.  Why does James seem to promote opportunities for boasting?  Is there any way to reconcile these two writers?

Here are three thoughts to pack along as you read James’s little letter with Paul leaning over your shoulder.  One thought has to do with time, and the other two focus on a couple key vocabulary words.

First, about timing:  although James’s letter follows the epistles of Paul in our New Testaments, it was actually written much earlier.* This James was not one of the Twelve (that James was murdered by Herod early on; see Acts 12), but he was a significant figure among the leaders in the Jerusalem church, which was kind of the Command Central of the Jesus movement at the outset.

As events transpired in those early days and as news of conversions began rolling in from unexpected corners of the Empire, James mediated a theological conference/strategic planning meeting in Jerusalem to figure out how to accommodate the many new Gentile believers.  Just about everybody at the start of this Messianic movement was steeped in Jewish categories of thought, which logically led many of them to assume the continuing and universal necessity of Jewish works of the law (such as circumcision, dietary restrictions, and Sabbath-keeping).

The ministry to the Gentiles challenged these assumptions, though, as it became unavoidably apparent that the Holy Spirit was already at work in these converts entirely apart from Jewish law-keeping.  At the James-led Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), the Jewish church leaders officially conceded the point.  Paul would later expound on the theological significance of it all, especially in his letters to the Galatians, the Romans and the Ephesians.  But prior to both the Council and Paul’s theological explanations came the epistle of James to the scattered Jewish believers in Jesus.

So this is the historical and theological context of James’s message that “faith without works is dead.”  Knowing this order of events helps us keep James’s thoughts, and even his vocabulary, in proper perspective.  Specifically, two words that both James and Paul use, justification and works, aptly illustrate the difference between their respective contexts.

When James writes, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone,” he seems to be contradicting Paul’s unequivocal statement in Romans that “by works of the law no man will be justified.”  But when James wrote his letter, he (and the Jewish church) had not yet wrestled formally with the reality and implications of Gentiles entering into the people of God sans Jewish particulars.  His words describe the vindication or verifying of faith by compassionate deeds,  for in this way one’s faith is justified—that is, confirmed—by one’s actions.

On Paul’s part, in his (post-Council) letters to the Romans and Galatians, both of which are theological exposés of wrong assumptions about Jewish priorities, the word justification evokes a courtroom scene in which judicial action acquits or condemns the accused.  In such a setting, Paul says, those all-important Jewish “works of the law” do not amount to guaranteed favor with the Judge.

In sum, Paul’s concern is different from James’s, and so he uses these two terms differently.  For Paul, justification has to do with acquittal before the Judge (rather than confirmation of the reality of one’s faith, as in James), and works are narrowly considered as the special obligations placed on Jews under the law (rather than merely compassionate actions).  To put it even more simply, for Paul the words have a specialized, religious significance, while James intends them to convey everyday realities.

Making this chronological and theological distinction between James’s and Paul’s use of these two terms may help put some contemporary Christian teaching into perspective as well.  If you have ever been baffled by the characteristic Reformed portrayal of Christians erring by “trying to earn God’s favor” through their deeds, recall that the Reformers who rediscovered Justification By Faith in the sixteenth century were writing and thinking in the midst of a Roman Catholic context.  In close imitation of Jewish law, Roman Catholic religion was full of do’s and don’t’s and specific demands that a truly religious person must fulfill to obtain (and maintain!) God’s favor.

In a Protestant context today, this ritualistic error feels remote, and thus this refrain about the danger of trying to “earn God’s favor” seems out of place when the “works” in view are deeds of compassion.  But perhaps the critique comes home more personally whenever we notice that we’ve fallen into “magical thinking” about religious practices, whereby our Christian rituals (prayers, communion, liturgy – or listening to Christian radio, or having our daily Quiet Time) have gained a good-luck-charm status.  (“If I do this just right – or enough times – then I’ll get my wish!”)

We should not, however, confuse the warning against vain effort in religious “works” with a caution against exerting ourselves in the just and compassionate deeds we’ve been called to do.*  As James insists, living faith actually requires some work to show it is alive.

**********************************************

*Notice, by the way, that this means that the NT letters are arranged in groups by author—i.e., Paul, followed by Not-Paul—and then by size and order within these groups.  You have to do a little more digging before you figure out their historical chronology.

*Granted, “deeds of compassion” can sometimes become our religious good-luck charms, too.  But I think the analogy of manipulating God’s favor through our ritualistic spiritual exercises fits Paul’s meaning most closely.

References to “boasting,” “justification,” and “works/works of the law” come from Ephesians 2, Galatians 2-3, Romans 3, and James 2.

Approximate dates of relevant events: Epistle of James, early 40s AD  —   Jerusalem Council, c.49 AD  —  Epistle to the Galatians, early 50s  —  Epistle to the Romans, c.57AD.  Think about how different the theological and church context is in each case, despite the proximity of these dates!

Follow the Bible Journal on Twitter @GrassRootsTheo!

Leave a comment

Filed under Acts, Biblical Genres, Biblical Literacy, Biblical Theology, Ephesians, Epistles, Historical Context, Instructing the Body, James, Paul, Romans, Theology

Paul on Jesus: Part Three

[Texts:  Paul’s life and letters]

To wrap up my summaries of Paul’s teaching on Jesus (Part One and Part Two having covered History, Salvation, and Obedience), I’d like to focus on the Benefits delivered to believers in Christ and the new Realities of our spiritual location “in Christ.”  My comprehensive chart of what Paul had to say about Jesus can be accessed here, if you’d like to see these ideas in more detail.

On my chart, I am calling “Benefits” those things that are presently in our possession through faith in Jesus, as well as those things that are promised to us in the future (but are no less certainly ours!).* For the most part, these are intangibles; yet even as the bread and drink of Communion are physical reminders of a real but untouchably distant historical event, so are our physical bodies reminders of the real, material future blessings of resurrected life in the New Heavens and New Earth.  In other words, all that we are unable to experience with our senses now will one day be thoroughly realized in our bodies, relationships, and world.

Some of the invisible Benefits belonging to believers are improvements on the old order of things, as set out in the Hebrew Scriptures:  freedom from the law of sin and death; inclusion, if we are Gentiles, in the promises and family of the great patriarch Abraham; access to God in the first place.*  Other Benefits trump the oldest enemy of every human being, Death itself: for in Christ, Paul assures us, we have already died and been made alive with never-ending life; and though we will die physically, we shall yet hope to live again in our resurrected bodies.

Still other Benefits explain our present situation, however contrary to evidence these truths may seem:  we are adopted children of God; we are gifted by God for service and with the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit; and we have the blessings of comfort, joy and encouragement in Christ.  Truly, as Paul says himself, we by Christ’s poverty have become rich.

Finally, the Benefits of life in Christ include our salvation from judgment and extend to the formation of our characters into his likeness.  Righteousness and holiness, flowing from our deliverance from the power of sin, law, and death, will increasingly mark the people of God.  And in all of our challenges and changes, we are guaranteed to find ourselves safe in the love of our Father God.

Knowing these Benefits is the key to bearing the Realities of the Christian life, which, Paul does not hesitate to admit, will often be painful and sorrowful in our broken world.  Those believers whose political and social settings most closely resemble Paul’s own will best be able to appreciate the power of these truths for the shouldering of suffering.

While some of the Realities that I have listed on my chart rather cross over into the Benefits category (e.g., belonging to Christ, having already been buried and raised with him, being members together of his body), other Realities do not feel like Benefits at all.  Our close identification with our Lord, both individually and collectively, opens for us the possibility of suffering, an experience that Paul knew only too well.  He recognized in his imprisonment, maltreatment and hardships the fulfillment of a prophecy once made about him by the Lord himself:  “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name,” and he identified the same in the lives of his friends:  “For the sake of Christ you not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”

It’s the phrase “for his sake” that puts the Realities in perspective.  Since for our sake Jesus was condemned, bringing into being the Benefits that Paul celebrates, our temporary sufferings for his sake can be borne in grateful response and the confident hope of receiving unshakeable life at the end of our story.  Without this perspective, no believer over the whole course of Christian history could have withstood the cruel persecutions devised by the world. By God’s grace, Paul’s life and letters provide us with a verbal picture of the noble soldier who bears all for the sake of his Commander in Chief.  Let’s learn from him, and keep on standing firm.

**************************************

*It would actually make just as much sense to call these Benefits “Realities” of the Christian life; but here I’ve used the “Reality” category to collect those things that we experience in this life because we are believers, as well as for a few more invisible and intangible implications of belonging to Christ.

*I’m not going to give you the verse references in this post!  If I did, your eyes would skim these paragraphs and you wouldn’t really read these amazing statements.  (Am I not right?)  You see if you can remember the specific verses that I’m referring to.  If you can’t, look up these ideas under the Benefits and Realities categories on my chart “What Paul Said About Jesus.”

Follow the Bible Journal on Twitter @GrassRootsTheo!

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1&2 Corinthians, Acts, Biblical Theology, Christ, Ephesians, Epistles, Eschatology, Historical Context, Jesus, Paul, Philemon, Philippians, Redemptive History, Romans

Paul on Jesus: Part Two

[Texts:  Paul’s letters and speeches]

In a previous post I shared some of the fruit of a year-long study with friends in which we read the NT books in chronological order.  As I went along in my perusal of the Epistles, I gathered answers to the question, “Who is Jesus in this letter?”  This resulted in a chart of Paul’s collective teachings on Jesus, which can be accessed here.  Earlier I surveyed who Jesus is across time; now I’ll take a look at some of Paul’s major themes as he teaches about the Savior.

What does Paul spend the most verses talking about, across all of his letters and his speeches in Acts?  Any guesses?  Three categories stand out to me as the fullest sections on my chart:  Redemptive History, Forensics, and words about the Commander-in-Chief and His Troops.  So, speaking broadly, Paul was apparently most concerned to communicate Jesus’ historical significance, the judicial aspects of our salvation in Christ, and the duties and experiences of the soldiers of this Kingdom.  Let me dive a little more deeply into the details of each of these subjects.

Paul conceives of Redemptive History in its full sweep, from past through present to future, and emphasizes always the accompanying revelation that makes sense of it all.  Jesus is the Long-Expected One, and Paul seems to delight in connecting the dots in Scripture and in human history to show that this is so.  Much of his apologetic speech to Jews in Acts is concerned with how Jesus fulfills Hebrew prophecy, especially regarding the identity of the anticipated Christos.  Though his letters to the churches no longer have this evangelistic purpose, Paul cannot seem to help mentioning Jesus’ historical connections; to him, they are part and parcel of Jesus’ identity and role as Savior.

Among the many details of Redemptive History, two receive special emphasis when Paul speaks or writes about his Lord.  First there are all the ways that Jesus fulfills prophecies and promises, types and signs that have appeared throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.  He emphasizes Jesus’ connection to David’s line and Abraham’s family, showing how he fulfills “the promises to the patriarchs”; regarding Moses and the Law, Paul makes much of Jesus’ substantial embodiment of past “shadows” and hints, from the Passover lamb to the identity-marker of circumcision to the special Jewish holidays.

The second detail of Redemptive History that receives the most attention is the anticipation of Jesus’ return from heaven—a future event that has bearing on Paul’s (and our) present.  Again and again, Paul casts the behavior and hope of the church in terms of, and in light of, the expected reappearance of the Savior.  His “coming,” as Paul typically puts it, is as certain an event as his entrance into human history in the first place, and as certain as the suffering, death, and resurrection that form the foundation of our confession.  In his desire to persuade Christians to suffer faithfully, Paul continually returns to this certainty.  It is notable, by the way, that with one exception* he does not mention the Second Coming in his speeches in Acts: it seems that this information is most relevant to Christians who need reasons and reminders to persevere, but not yet to potential converts.

Forensics, or the judicial aspects of our salvation, comprises another major category of thought in Paul’s writings and speeches.  This theological topic is probably what usually comes to mind first when we think of what Paul had to say to the church, and with good reason.  Although not any more prevalent than the other two subject areas discussed here, Paul’s reasoning and teaching on forgiveness, judgment, law and faith, sin, salvation, and justification (to name just a few prominent terms!) certainly stand out as deeply important to him.

While there has historically been much debate over the exact meaning of some of Paul’s terms (especially justification), there is no question that he sees salvation in Christ Jesus as intricately bound to questions of sin and righteousness, wrath and favor.  The news in Christ is always good for those who have accepted him:  there is true and ultimate rescue in this Savior, a gift of innocence in place of guilt.  There are also wrong ways to go about solving the problem of our standing before the Judge of all—errors that have persisted since ancient times, and that still threaten to undermine the message of Paul’s gospel.

Finally, we could probably say that the relationship between a living and powerful Commander-in-Chief and His Troops is the topic at the forefront of Paul’s thoughts in his letters.  His own experience and that of his friends give Paul real-time illustrations of what it means to serve the Lord, and his explanations and exhortations provide a verbal framework for the embodiment of life as “good soldiers of Christ Jesus.”  Courage, perseverance, kindness, responsibility, generosity, and faithfulness to the delivered message of the Kingdom are qualities constantly reinforced in Paul’s epistles.  If you read through this section of the chart I created, I think you’ll get a sense of the nobility of our calling in Christ—something lovely to reach for, something worthy to strive after.  Paul’s many words still urge us on towards the finish line, so many centuries later.

**********************************

*The one exception is a mention in Acts 17 (in the Areopagus at Athens) of a resurrected man who will one day judge the world on God’s behalf.

You can follow the Bible Journal on Twitter @GrassRootsTheo!

1 Comment

Filed under Acts, Biblical Genres, Biblical Theology, Christ, Epistles, Eschatology, Instructing the Body, Jesus, Messiah, Old Testament, Paul, Prophets, Redemptive History, Theology

Paul on Jesus: Part One

[Text:  Paul’s Sermons & Letters]

After joining some friends in 2015 to “ride a fast horse” through the NT books in chronological order, I’ve ended the year’s race with four small notebooks full of observations and many a likely topic to Journal about.* I’m a Notebook Person (because I can’t remember anything I read unless I write it down), and I approach any kind of study with research questions to keep me focused.  This year I kept three queries in mind as we approached the Epistles:

What’s on [the writer’s] mind?

Who is Jesus?

What is faith?

The first kept me alert to the main ideas of the letter, the second to the letter’s presentation of the Savior, and the third to the multifaceted nature of biblical belief.

In this post I’d like to at least begin to organize the data I collected on Paul’s teachings about Jesus.* Whenever we read works of “systematic theology,” we’re looking at collections of information on different theological topics (Father, Son, Spirit, human beings, the church, etc.), really the results of research efforts that the theologian has made over time in his reading of the Scriptures (and of other theologians).  Each scholar presents the data in a different way, having decided what’s most important to communicate and how to arrange the material.  My own [very small-scale] theological overview will offer the ideas Paul communicates about Jesus, ordered from most often to least frequently mentioned.*

I’ve written elsewhere about Paul’s unusual and very personal use of Christ Jesus as a designation for his Lord, probably my favorite discovery out of the year’s study.  Of course he also makes use of the Kingly title, Jesus Christ, and continually resorts to the shorthand name-title, Christ, when he really gets going in his theological explanations.  He calls Jesus the Son of God (though, unlike the author of Hebrews, only once does he call him simply the Son) and also our Lord, usually in company with Jesus’ name.* So what does he have to say about this Jesus?

The first thing I noticed from my survey of Paul is that there is a LOT to tell about the Savior.  I found it helpful to group the Jesus-details that I found in Paul’s writings into thirteen subcategories, which are listed at the end of this post.  What I’ll highlight here is the fascinating way the Lord Jesus inhabits and owns all of Time—Past, Present, and Future.  This is what I discovered (and if you just read these Bible verses through in order, you’ll get a big-picture sense of Christ’s involvement in history!):

  • Paul teaches that the Son existed in Eternity Past and was active in Creation:

He was in the form of God, but did not count equality with God something to be grasped.

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

For [by means of] him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.

  • He surveys Redemptive History, showing Christ’s relationship to it and fulfillment of it:

To [the Jews] belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever.

…which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh…

All the promises of God find their Yes in him.

  • He names what has been accomplished by Father and Son in the Near Past:

He was manifested in the flesh.

God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

Christ Jesus . . . in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession.

He was crucified in weakness.

Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father.

God has highly exalted him!

  • …and celebrates what our Lord is doing in the Present:

Christ Jesus . . . is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Christ nourishes and cherishes the church.

  • Finally, Paul holds out the promise of Christ’s activity in the Future:

We await a Savior from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. . .

. . .on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of man by Christ Jesus.

For as in Adam all die, in Christ all will be made alive.

Paul has much more to say, of course, about the theological meaning of these events, about the relationship between the Commander and his Soldiers, and about the blessings that are ours even during our earthly lifetimes because of our spiritual location “in Christ”; and I’ll bring out those themes in future posts.  For now, just savor the above statements about the Savior as a summary of his movement through time and his intersection with human history—exciting things accomplished and anticipated, and thoroughly true.

************************

*If my Bible Journal entries have seemed haphazard to you, this is why.  It was a very fast horse.

*I’m also including material from Luke’s account of Paul’s sermons in Acts, because I’m curious to understand Paul’s whole picture of Jesus.

*Obviously, the discipline of systematic theology holds particular appeal for tidy minds like mine.  But don’t think of the product as being just a dry recitation of propositions fitted neatly into pigeonholes!  The best theology should lead to the praises of doxology. A good systematician will fill in the bigger picture for you, since you might see only individual details when you read the Bible in your occasional devotions and classes.

*On the other hand, when Paul refers to the Lord, it can be tricky to decide whether he’s speaking of the Father or his Son.

(Quoted verses are from the ESV:  Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:17, 16; Rom. 9:5; 1:2,3; 2 Cor. 1:20; 1 Tim. 3:16; Gal. 4:4; Eph. 2:17; 1 Tim. 6:13; 2 Cor. 13:4; Rom. 6:3; Phil. 2:9; Rom. 8:34; Col. 3:1; Eph. 5:29; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Thess. 4:14; Rom. 2:16; 1 Cor. 15:22)

I decided that Paul’s details about Jesus fall into the following categories:
Ontological Essence (what sort of Being is he?)
Place in Redemptive History
Near-Past Historical Events
Present Activity
Substitutionary Death (he died “for you”)
Forensics (the legal meaning of his death)
Resurrection, Ascension & Exaltation
Commander in Chief & His Troops
Example to Imitate
Subject of Preaching
Benefits to Believers
Reality of Believers (what is life like because of the Savior?)
Subject of Misunderstandings & Unbelief

1 Comment

Filed under Biblical Genres, Biblical Theology, Christ, Epistles, Instructing the Body, Jesus, Paul, Redemptive History, Theology

The Messiah in the Old Testament

In two previous posts I outlined how the word “Christ” changed in its reference over the course of the books of the New Testament and those of the Old.  The big-picture sweep of that change goes like this:

Slide18

So in the Old Testament Christ (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Mashiach), with its literal meaning of “anointed one,” mainly referred to kings – sometimes specific kings, like David or Solomon or even Cyrus of Persia; sometimes any king of David’s line; and rarely, with much mystery, to a particular figure who would come in the unspecified future and set everything to rights.

But by the time we get to the Gospel accounts, the reference of the term Christ has obviously narrowed from this broad OT usage.  At this point, whenever anybody uses this word he or she is consciously referring to that mysterious Coming One, on whom all of Israel’s hope seems to depend for defeating the Roman overlords and reestablishing the Davidic monarchy in the Land.  Those who interact with Jesus, both enemies and friends, must contend with his claim to the title and decide if he is the one who fits the bill.  As we advance into the Epistles in our Bibles, we see that Christian believers, at least, have made that judgment in the affirmative:  for now the word Christ is used as a shorthand name-title for Jesus, who, they assert, has powerfully proven himself worthy of it.

The question I want to consider in this post is how the word Christ (or Messiah) gained this specific, exciting meaning in the Gospels, given the rarity of the term itself being used in the OT to describe what a special Coming One would be or do.  How had the people in Jesus’ day gotten to the point where they all agreed (in its broad outlines, at least) on a job description for THE Christ?  They must have had some idea in their minds already of what to expect, before they could connect the dots and decide whether Jesus matched that expectation.  So where did their mental “Wanted” poster come from?  How did they get from “king” to “Expected One”?

Apparently, it was sometime during the centuries in between the end of the OT and the beginning of the events described in the Gospels, this “Intertestamental Period” of about 400 years (see the lavender bar on the timeline above), that the word Christos or Mashiach began to take on that full-fledged, pregnant meaning, so that when people wrote or spoke the word they were consciously referring to that Expected Figure, the Jewish Messiah.  That’s when this idea seems to have congealed in history around the term, during this time when the Jews labored under so many oppressive conquering regimes.

And for the most part, the first-century idea of the Christ or Jewish Messiah wasn’t tied to the word Mashiach or Christos, but was an amalgam of different descriptions and expectations found throughout the Scriptures.  I invite you to listen to my 2015 talk “Traces of the Christ” to hear a creative rendering of this big sweep of messianic expectation in the Hebrew Scriptures, narrated as if Jesus were “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets” to explain himself to his despondent disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Here’s just a sketch of some of the things he might have told them, giving them a picture of the Messiah from the Old Testament:

  • In the Garden we learned that the Coming One was to be a human being who would suffer but have the victory;
  • from Abraham’s time and Jacob’s and Judah’s, that he would be Jewish, and royalty, and a blessing to many nations;
  • from Moses’ day, that he would be a prophet who would speak the very words of God;
  • from David’s story that he would be of this particular kingly line;
  • from Isaiah, that he would bring forgiveness through suffering.*

Remember, too, that by Jesus’ day, whatever had been the biblical expectation of the Christ had become encrusted with folk legend and popular yearnings for a powerful political and military leader — maybe somebody like Judas Maccabeus and his brother Simon, who for an all-too-brief time had managed to restore to Israel an independent monarchy about 160 years before Jesus. This event is fresh in the people’s historical imagination by Jesus’ day; and it turns out that, even for Jesus’ followers, unless someone set those imaginings aside and were steeped in the words of the Scriptures instead, they might well miss seeing how Jesus fit the bill for the Lord’s Christ – and so the seeming end of his story would be especially shocking for them.

The key piece that people tended to miss was Isaiah’s, this idea that the Expected One, THE Christ, would be a king who would suffer.  But for those who grasped this crucial element of the Messiah’s job description – usually after the fact, with some help from Jesus himself or his messengers – the details of Jesus’ story clicked into place and revealed his worthiness to bear the title.  And this is, ultimately, the Christian confession:  that Jesus of Nazareth truly did meet all of the scriptural requirements, even the ones that had dropped off the popular radar.

******************************

*The verses that supply these ideas are, respectively: Gen. 3:15; 17:6; 49:10; Deut. 18:18; 2 Sam. 7:13; and Is. 53:5. Note that this list of messianic references is representative, not comprehensive.

Parts of this post were adapted from my 2015 talk “Traces of the Christ.”

Follow the Bible Journal on Twitter @GrassRootsTheo!

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Biblical Theology, Christ, Epistles, Gospel of John, Historical Context, Instructing the Body, Messiah, Old Testament, Prophets, Redemptive History, Synoptic Gospels, Talks

Christ in the Old Testament

In a recent post I explored the progressive development of the title “Christ” over the course of the New Testament books, noting that as events unfolded the role of the term evolved from simply identifying an anticipated Jewish Messiah-figure, THE Christ (in the Gospels), to designating Jesus himself with the shorthand name-title, “Christ” (in the Epistles).  If you enjoy tracing the development of ideas, it may interest you to know that the word “Christ” has an even older history in the biblical canon.*  Here’s a peek at some of the earliest uses of the word in the Old Testament.

First of all, it’s important to realize that the original meaning of the Greek term christos (and its Hebrew equivalent, mashiach*) is simply “anointed one.”  Though we now associate with it ideas like “Son of God” and “Savior,” which Jesus-the-Christ certainly turned out to be, originally it merely conveyed the notion of somebody being anointed for a special purpose.  And in the ancient world, that special purpose was usually kingship.* This is kind of another surprise about the word “Christ”; and as it introduces another wrinkle into the progressive history of the meaning of the title, it’s worth taking a look at some of the earliest appearances of the word to get a sense of the historical continuity and discontinuity of its use.

Now, if you’re on your game about the biblical languages, you should be wondering how the Greek title “Christ” could be found in the Hebrew Scriptures at all.  Of course it isn’t there; but if you could read Hebrew, you would see the equivalent term mashiach appear occasionally from 1 Samuel through Habakkuk.  In our English versions, this is usually translated “the Lord’s anointed,” or “the anointed one.”

Now, about 300 years before Jesus’ time a Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures was developed for the many Greek-speaking Jews scattered around the Mediterranean world.   In the Septuagint, as it was eventually named, anytime the translators saw mashiach in the original they replaced it with christos, the same Greek word behind “Christ” in our NT.  In the following verses I’ve given you a translation as if reading from that Greek OT text, so you can feel the historical continuity of the word while also gaining an awareness of the discontinuity of what it’s referring to.

I think some of the most fascinating OT uses of the term come in four verses* talking about four different kings in Israel’s history (though not all of them kings of Israel, as we’ll see).  First, a statement made by David after he sneakily cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe and then has a crisis of remorse:

David said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s Christ, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s Christ.”

David leaves no room to doubt that he considered King Saul (of all people!) to be the Lord’s Christ.  Later, during a rocky time in David’s reign, his retainers use the term to describe their own king, who in their perspective has suffered a grave offense from a mud-slinging critic:

“Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s Christ?”

Maybe it’s not too much of a surprise for us to hear David designated “the Lord’s Christ,” given his superior status among the kings of Israel; but even here the term retains its generalized meaning, and it is easily applied by David’s son Solomon to himself in a later prayer:

“O Lord God, do not turn away the face of your Christ!”

Most astonishing of all, though, is Isaiah’s use of the word.  As he looks down the decades to a time beyond the nation’s pending conquest by Babylon, he envisions a season of restoration, and a kingly benefactor who would return Israel to her land.  He begins his prophecy like this:

“Thus says the Lord to his Christ, to Cyrus…”

…adding Cyrus, King of Persia, to the roster of “Christs.”

So apparently there is a difference in the reference of the term “Christ” over the expanse of the biblical story, from Old Testament to New.  In our OT, if we recognize “Christ” behind the English translation “the anointed one,” we have to acknowledge that it usually refers to a king; in the Gospels, it very clearly refers to a special Expected One, whose coming will put the world to rights; and in the Epistles, it has a still more specific reference, the God-man Jesus of Nazareth who is now identified by this name-title forever.  But how did these changes in the usage of the term occur?

Slide18

As I noted in my last post on this intriguing topic, the Jews of first-century Palestine, both followers and enemies, were confronted with Jesus’ claims to be the Christ of expectation, and they had to connect the dots between their anticipated Messiah and this particular rabbi before the title could adhere to him as if it were his very name.  In other words, they had to have some notion in their minds already of what to expect of THE Christ when he showed up, before they could recognize that Jesus was the one.

But as we have seen above, they couldn’t just unroll their scrolls and find specific verses stating directly that the Mashiach (or, if they were reading their Septuagint, the Christos) was going to do or be one thing or another.  The word was in their Scriptures some 38 times, but its reference was slippery:  sometimes it referred to one king, sometimes to another; sometimes to any king of David’s line; and sometimes, very rarely, to an ambiguous figure who was to arrive in the unspecified future.

How, then, did the term “Christ” go from being mainly about kings, to bearing the very pregnant sense of a singular Jewish figure that it clearly has in the Gospels?  I’ll explore this question for you in a later post!

******************************

*If you don’t much like history, this will probably be a pretty dull journal entry.

*From which we derive the word “messiah.”

* We do see examples in the Old Testament of prophets and priests being anointed, but when the term appears in the OT scriptures it’s almost always in the context of a kingship.  Interestingly, what we call the “Three Offices” of Jesus – he’s our Prophet, Priest, and King – are all offices of anointing, triply reinforcing that title, “Christ.”

*From 1 Sam. 24:6; 2 Sam. 19:21; 2 Chr. 6:42; and Is. 45:1, respectively; emphasis added.

Portions of this post are taken from my recent talk, Traces of the Christ.”

Follow these Bible Journal posts on Twitter @GrassRootsTheo!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Biblical Genres, Biblical Theology, Christ, Epistles, Historical Context, Instructing the Body, Messiah, Old Testament, Redemptive History, Synoptic Gospels

New Talk: Traces of the Christ

I’m excited to share with you the final product of a lot of research, writing, and talking to the furniture in my office!  This is a 36-minute talk that offers a sense of the historical continuity of the Christian Scriptures, observed through the lens of “the Lord’s Christ.”  The talk was originally commissioned by and delivered to participants in the 2015 Women in the Word Workshop, a Bible study conference held in Willow Grove, PA in October of this year.  (Please note that while the context was a women’s Bible conference, the content is not gender-specific!)  It’s on YouTube not because it’s a video of me speaking, but because I made some snazzy slides to illustrate it.  Enjoy!

Leave a comment

Filed under Acts, Biblical Genres, Biblical Theology, Christ, Epistles, Gospel of John, Historical Context, Instructing the Body, Messiah, Prophets, Redemptive History, Synoptic Gospels, Talks, Women in the Word

Christ in the New Testament

[Texts: Gospels, Acts, Epistles]

Having accomplished my recent speaking assignment on this subject, I can now spill more beans about what I discovered about the word Christ in the NT without stealing my own thunder.  I wrote earlier about the surprising significance of the name Christ Jesus in its appearance in the Epistles; now here’s some further insight into the progressive development of this figure and this idea through the three main sections of the New Testament, the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles.

Let’s start by taking a look at a few select verses from the NT that involve the word “Christ.”  I’m assuming that you know this is not Jesus’ last name; there’s a specific meaning to it (which I’ll explore in a future post); but have you ever really noticed the variety of uses it’s put to, in the Gospels, and in Acts, and in the Epistles?  See what you can observe here:

Gospel:  All were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ.

Acts:  Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

Epistle (Paul):  But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Epistle (Peter):  Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous.

Do you notice a difference in the way this word Christ is used in these examples?* Think you could explain what you’re seeing?

As you’ve probably figured out, two of the verses include the article (that’s the label we give to little words like the and a), and two of them don’t.*  There’s a difference in reference in each case, isn’t there?  When someone is thinking about THE Christ, they have in mind what we’ve learned to call the Jewish Messiah, an anticipated figure who will somehow spectacularly set the whole world to rights.  It’s an ambiguous reference, because at this point in these particular narratives (Luke and Acts) the actual identity of this Expected One is as yet undetermined for at least somebody in the scene.

But when Peter and Paul use the word Christ in their letters, they’re referring to a specific man, Jesus of Nazareth, who is now designated by this name, Christ. It’s really the title of a particular role, and somehow it has come to be used as a name when the NT writers refer to Jesus in the Epistles.  So there’s a suggestion here, just among these four verses, that there’s something different going on between the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles regarding this word Christ.

This apparent difference sparked my curiosity, which is why I did a detailed survey of the NT books to find out how the writers employed this word Christ.* Here’s what I noticed.  First of all, the word Christ appears in four different forms: sometimes it’s used alone, sometimes with the article, and sometimes with Jesus’ name – Jesus Christ, or Christ Jesus.  You can see on this graph, where I’ve set out the percentage of the time that Christ is used in any of these ways in these three different sections in the NT.*

Christ Graph

What I found was that in the Gospels, it’s almost always the case that people are wondering about the Expected Figure –THE Christ – while in the Epistles it’s almost always the case that the writer is using the word to express truth about the specific God-man, Jesus.  So that’s where we’re more likely to see Jesus Christ, Christ Jesus, or just plain Christ. In fact, when we get to the Epistles, Christ MEANS Jesus for these writers and readers.

But almost nobody has gotten to that truth in the Gospels yet; they’re all still trying to figure it out.  Who is THE Christ?  When is he coming?  What will he do? In fact this use of Christ (with the article) in the Gospels should reinforce to us that we’re still in an OT context when we read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The people in these narratives are still looking forward to a fulfillment, and we’re watching that fulfillment take place as we read these books.

In Acts, as you might expect, there’s a transition in the usage of the word.  That’s in keeping with this transitional part of biblical history, when Christians are actively engaging a culture that doesn’t know the gospel yet.  On the one hand, when Christ is used by itself, without Jesus’ name, it’s always in the context of somebody explaining to a Jewish audience about the Expected One, and we always see the article – it’s always “THE Christ”; but now that more people are versed in the Christian storyline, either Luke in his narration or the people in these scenes will sometimes refer to Jesus as “Jesus Christ.”

All this to say, there’s a historical development going on right there in the NT, visible in the way the word Christ is used.  We might say that the people in the narratives are progressing in their understanding of THE Christ, moving from wondering about that Expected Figure to embracing the specific identification of the Man who embodies that expectation.

We see those dots being connected in Acts as people learn about the Lord Jesus; and in the Epistles we find that the transition is complete, and writers can refer to Jesus with this shorthand name-title, Christ, because they’re writing to Christians who have made that transition in their minds, too.

Read more about the progressive development of the meaning of the word Christ in my next post!  Remember you can follow this Bible Journal on Twitter @GrassRootsTheo!

************************************

*These verses come from Luke 3:15, Acts 9:22, Rom. 5:8, and 1 Pet. 3:18 (ESV), respectively.

*Fun fact:  What I noticed in my English translation about the article (“THE Christ”) is only visible in languages that typically use the article before nouns.  Some don’t.  For example, it has recently been brought to my attention that a Russian translation of the Greek doesn’t retain the articles from the original!  An interesting and somewhat rare instance of the English language paralleling the NT’s highly inflected koine Greek.  And another research moment where it’s handy to know some Greek.

*My research steps to discovering the use of Christ in the NT went like this:

  • I did a word search for the use of Christ in the ESV through https://www.biblegateway.com/, turning up 534 results.
  • I created a table to record the reference & the text of the verses, copying and pasting the texts from the search results (dismissing those that were counted because Christ was mentioned in the heading!).
  • I color-coded (using highlighter & font color) to show the different usages.
  • I double-checked the Greek text wherever Christ appeared in the ESV without the article (the), discovering that sometimes the word Christ was not in the original text at all (the editors just thought we needed it, I guess!), and sometimes the word actually DID have an article attached in the Greek. (See second note, below.*)
  • I tallied usage according to the different arrangements of the title, keeping separate tallies of the preferences of different NT authors & Paul’s usage by book.
  • Using my totals for the different main sections of the NT (Gospels, Acts, & Epistles), I calculated the percentage of time that each of the four forms of the word appeared in each of these sections, and created this graph.

*Pace Greek scholars:  I realize that there are a few anarthrous “Christs” scattered among Matthew, Luke, John and Acts; but since in context these are all ambiguous references to the Coming One, I have counted them with the Messianic collection (yellow bar).

*Our English translations hide a couple details, though.  For one, as I mentioned already, sometimes the translators add “Christ” to make sure we know who the writer is talking about (where the Greek just says “he” and leaves the identity ambiguous).  Also, there is sometimes a subtle distinction between “the Christ” and just plain “Christ.”  Although it’s not uncommon in Greek to add a definite article (the) before a proper noun (“the Jesus,” “the John,” etc.) without affecting the meaning, in the case of “the Christ” one of two things may be happening:  either the writer is merely referring to the Savior Jesus by this shorthand name-title, or he is referring to – or especially emphasizing Jesus’ fulfillment of – the specific Jewish Messiah figure.  Evidently the ESV translators voted in favor of the first option more often than the second in the Epistles (83 times vs. 7 times!).  But I think a few occurrences of “the Christ” in Greek, translated merely as “Christ” in the Epistles, could arguably have possessed that specific Messianic emphasis in the original.  Maybe I’ll write you a paper on this someday.

Portions of this post are taken from my recent talk, Traces of the Christ.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Acts, Biblical Genres, Biblical Theology, Christ, Epistles, Gospel of John, Historical Context, Instructing the Body, Messiah, Redemptive History, Synoptic Gospels, Women in the Word