Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” by Daniel Kirk (part 2 – Adam, Moses, and the Prophets)

This is the second installment of my review and thoughts of Daniel Kirk’s newest volume, A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic GospelsI will take the time now to begin working through the contents of Chapter 1 – Idealized Human Figures in Early Judaism.

 

Adam as Past and Future

In Kirk’s search of the Synoptic evangelists’ sources for shaping Jesus of Nazareth as an idealized human being, being neither personally preexistent nor angelic, the primordial figure of Adam is discussed at length. Here is a summary of the texts which Kirk covers:

  • Genesis – Adam is placed by the Priestly writer not simply as God’s representative but adamevean actual living representation who points creation to the true God in heaven. Adam is made in God’s image and likeness and rules as God’s viceroy. Rulership over creation is a divine prerogative given to Adam. This makes Adam an idealized human figure. I would like to add to Kirk’s analysis that the P source of Genesis 2 tells of God letting Adam name the individual animals (another divine prerogative as observed in P’s record of God himself naming the day, night, sun, moon, etc.). 
  • Psalm 8:6 – Human beings (initially Adam) are crowned with glory, honor, and majesty. These traits are divine qualities shared with Adam (as depicted in Genesis 1). These attributes are not merely expressed by the psalmist as Adam representing God but more likely regarding the human as the embodiment of elohim’s power and presence here on earth.
  • Ezekiel 28 – The King of Tyre (not Satan) is poetically described as the initial human being in Eden, the garden of God. This king is described as formerly possessing divine glory (now lost due to his transgression) in a manner reminiscent of the Adam story in Genesis 1-3.
  • Wisdom of Solomon – The unknown author of this document puts into the mouth of Solomon words which equate the role of the Israelite king with the initial vocation given to humanity, thus indicating that Solomon reckons that he is taking upon himself the role of Adam in all of his idealized human glory. This suggests that the author of Wisdom of Solomon used Gen 1:26-28 as the lens through which to understand the role of Israel’s kings.
  • Dead Sea Scrolls – Kirk surveys the pertinent scrolls mentioning the “glory of Adam” as an inheritance promised to the Qumran covenant community. These texts indicate that the authors of the scrolls regarded themselves as the ones who will one day receive the role given originally to Adam, namely rulership on God’s behalf. These roles make better sense as relating to humanity rather than to angels, Kirk persuasively notes. It would be interesting to know of 4Q381 originally read that the remnant of Israel would rule with God over the “heavens and the earth” (although I cannot imagine what the text could say other than shamayim there in the decayed part of the scroll). Either way, part of the nation of Israel looked forward to regaining the idealized human function given to King Adam by God.
  • Philo – The famous Alexandrian Jew notes in De opificio mundi that the animals of the original creation were to worship the human being Adam as their natural ruler and despot. Worship, as an act, is therefore not limited to the Creator alone. Humanity is described as functioning as God’s sovereign ruler, acting as God’s delegated viceroy. Even Noah, the head of the creation after the flood, is understood by Philo as the ruler likened unto Adam, embodying divine rule upon the earth.
  • The Animal Visions of 1 Enoch – Images of Adam and the Davidic king are depicted as the earthly embodiment of God. These figures appear to exercise judgment precisely as the judge, a prerogative initially belonging to God alone.
  • Life of Adam and Eve – Humans are distinct creatures from the angels. Adam is promised to sit on a divine throne in the restoration of humanity. Kirk notes that angels do not share in God’s throne nor do they receive worship. It is rightly noted that this text probably has been influenced by early Christians and therefore needs to be bracketed out of possible influences on the New Testament Christologies.
  • Testament of Abraham – Adam is again depicted upon a divine throne. This time, however, Adam shines in heavenly glory, appearing like the Lord. This suggests that humans appearing with heavenly glory are not to be taken as direct indicators of being angelic in nature or existing as divine persons.

It is clear that the Apostle Paul was influenced by these depictions of Adam as the idealized human figure. Romans in particular notes how all persons, sharing in Adam’s likeness, suffer from his sin and loss of initial glory (Rom 3:23). However, the redeemed people of God hope and boast/celebrate in the glory of God (Rom 5:2), namely a restoration to the image and position of rulership of Adam. Christ himself is the type of Adam as clearly described in Rom 5:12-21. Christians are therefore co-heirs with Christ in the restoration of the idealized human vocation (Rom 8:17). 

 

Moses and the Prophets

Kirk also sees in the Jewish depictions of Moses, Elijah, and Elisha further representation of his “idealized human being” category:

  • Moses in the Bible – Moses is called “god” precisely as the agent/representative of Yahweh. Kirk sees in Moses the one who brings God’s rule to earth just as the vocation was given to Adam. Throughout the Exodus narratives Yahweh speaks and performs miracles in and through Moses. The same God who conquered the chaos in Genesis 1 divides the Sea of Reeds in Exodus 14, yet this feat is performed through the prophet Moses.  God’s glory is even reflected off of Moses’ face. The famous passage in Deut 18:15 further indicates that Moses was regarded as the ideal figure and prophet (and the NT clearly regards Jesus as the “prophet like Moses”).
  • Philo’s Moses – Philo continues the line of thinking exhibited in the Pentateuch by regarding Moses as God and as the one who shares in God’s sovereign rule over humanity. Moses is both theos and King according to Philo. It might even be the case that Philo prays to Moses in Somm. 164-65. More work could be done on this passage, for sure.
  • Moses in The Exagogue – In a vision, a nobleman summons Moses so as to give up his Charlton-Heston-as-Moses-001throne unto Moses. As Moses looks over the created order, some of the stars bow down before him. If these stars are a reference to angels them Kirk has a good argument against Bauckham and even Fletcher-Louis regarding how humans can be given roles which are regularly reserved for God alone. This reminds me of the Apocalypse of John in the NT where human beings are to be worshiped but angels refuse the very same action. 
  • Moses at Qumran – Moses is again depicted as reflecting the glory of God upon his face. If the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6 wishes that the face of Yahweh shine upon the Israelites, then the fact that Moses already possesses this glory indicates that he is embodying God in some measure as his representative. This further contributes to the notion that Moses was understood as in idealized human being
  • Elijah in the Scriptures – The deuteronomistic author of 1 Kings regards elijah Elijah the Tishbite as controlling aspects of nature in ways which are generally reserved for God alone. In fact, the awesome episode upon Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 17 indicates that it is the human Elijah, and not Baal the storm god, who controls the storms. Yet no one honestly thinks that Elijah is divine. Rather, everyone knows that he is a faithful prophet of God empowered to do miracles and wonders. Kirk notes the many ways in which the deuteronomist sees Elijah as the parallel figure to Moses, noting where both persons do the same miracles and feats. If Moses was an idealized human figure then certainly Elijah is depicted in Scripture to be similarly understood!
  • Elisha – Elisha the prophet begins his career by receiving upon him the power and blessing of Elijah. Therefore, Elisha shares in Elijah’s ministry as the idealized human prophet. I thought it was great for Kirk to point out that the same sort of passing the torch from master to disciple can be observed in the Moses narratives, perhaps even from John the Baptist unto Jesus, and certainly with Jesus unto his disciples. One of my favorite parts of this discussion was the point where Kirk noted that Elisha was able to extend his personal presence in places where he was not physically present (just as Paul did in 1 Cor 5:3-4). Excellent insight here.
  • Elijah in Sirach – There are many Jewish traditions which regard Elijah as physically taken to heaven without dying. Sirach works this material and suggests that the heavenly Elijah as the instrument of God who controls the natural world with “glory.”
  • Elijah in Qumran – Kirk again surveys the various scrolls referring to “the prophet” (i.e., Elijah the expected one). Perhaps a prophetic figure will share in the eschatological role of raising the dead in 4Q521. That there were traditions steaming from the biblical book of Malachi regarding the expectation of Elijah returning can be observed in 4Q558, perhaps hinting that this unnamed figure will share in the coming judgment of God. Personally, I didn’t find the Qumran arguments regarding Elijah as sharing in the coming judgment of God very persuasive, although I admit that Jesus and John the Baptist are aware of such expectations and interpret them for their own purposes (so Kirk’s thesis still stands on the NT evidence).

It is fairly clear in my mind that Adam, Moses, and Elijah are significant examples meeting the criteria for Kirk’s idealized human being. The case for Elisha is not as strong, but he certainly deserves to be included in the discussion. I had formerly been pointed to these figures by reading John Collins and James Dunn, but no one has worked the material as exhaustively as Kirk has demonstrated in this chapter.

I look forward to continuing through this first chapter as it is proving to lay the groundwork for his reading of the Synoptic Gospels in their understandings of who Jesus actually was.

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Was Elijah taken bodily to heaven without dying? (2 Kings 2:11)

“As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.” 2 Kings 2:11 

This passage is used by some in attempts to demonstrate that Elijah is now in a heavenly abode with God. However, there are certainly other ways to interpret this passage. Let’s have a look:

If the noun ‘heaven’ only had one meaning to its definition, referring to the domain of God, then their assertion would be true: Elijah really was in heaven. The problem is, ‘heaven’ can also refer to the sky. Note the following examples:

  • “heavens are as clouds” -Job 35:5
  • “birds of the heavens” -1 Kings 16:4 (see also Ecc. 10:20; Ezek 31:6; 32:4)
  • “rain from the sky/heavens” -Gen. 8:22.

If the people thought that Elijah was in heaven with God, why then did they set out to look for him afterwards?

“They said to him, “Behold now, there are with your servants fifty strong men, please let them go and search for your master; perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has taken him up and cast him on some mountain or into some valley.” And he said, “You shall not send.” But when they urged him until he was ashamed, he said, “Send.” They sent therefore fifty men; and they searched three days but did not find him.” (2 Kings 2:16-17)

A few years later, Elijah sent a letter to King Jehoram. How could Elijah send a letter if he was up in heaven with God?

“Then a letter came to him from Elijah the prophet saying, “Thus says the LORD God of your father David, ‘Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father and the ways of Asa king of Judah…” (2 Chron 21:12)

Hebrews 11:39 states that Elijah died and has not received the promises. We will be rewarded with Elijah, at the resurrection when Christ returns.

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So what does the passage mean when it says that “Elijah was taken away in the whirlwind”? Perhaps this is similar to the episode of Philip in Acts 8:39, whom God took up from where he was and was taken to somewhere else where he was needed. Elijah was simply lifted up in the sky and most likely transported somewhere else.   

Making Sense of the Transfiguration

Matthew 17:1-3 Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them… And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.

Some read this passage and assume that Moses and Elijah, who both died hundreds of years before Jesus was born, are nevertheless alive now since they seemingly just appeared before Jesus bodily. How might we understand what this passage is trying to convey to its readers? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. This passage is generally taken out of its proper context. First of all, one must remember that this event comes a few days after Jesus stated that “there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matt. 16:28). The very next verse (17:1) states that it was only six days later that Jesus took some of those who heard those very words, namely Peter, James, and John. Therefore, in some sense, the reader should expect what follows to be an expression of the coming of the Son of Man in his kingdom.
  2. Jesus, after coming down from the mountain, commands the three disciples that they are to not tell of this ‘vision’ to anyone until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. Clearly here, Jesus calls the event which they just witnessed a vision. Readers of the Bible should be familiar with visions, such as the ones that Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel had and recorded. These visions were pictures of what the future would look like, and very often depicted what the kingdom of God would look like and entail. Unfortunately, the NIV obscures the Greek here in Matt. 17:9 and removes the notion of a vision in favor of something the three simply “saw”. The act of seeing something, unspecified, is not the same as seeing a ‘vision’ of the future. The NIV therefore obscures what the passage is attempting to convey.
  3. If we are correct in discerning that this is a vision of the coming kingdom, then other elements of the story start to make sense. First of all. Jesus is depicted in the Transfiguration as one whose face shone like the sun. This metaphor is also spoken about in Dan. 12:3, the verse immediately following the famous resurrection passage (12:2). This is the resurrection of the dead which occurs when the Son of Man returns with his kingdom, this fits rather well. Matthew has already spoken of this metaphor in 13:43 when he writes that “then the righteous will shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Again, the act of shining is one connected with the kingdom time period, something clearly in the future.
  4. 2 Peter 1:16-18 makes mention of the Transfiguration event by commenting that:

For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased “– and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.

Peter here states that this event was in reference to the power and coming of Jesus, where the word for “coming” is parousia, a Greek word used throughout the New Testament to denote the return of Jesus to establish the kingdom upon this earth.

In short, the account of the Transfiguration does not indicate that Moses and Elijah, who died hundred of years before Christ was born, are actually alive (presumably in heaven). Rather, the Transfiguration was a vision of the coming kingdom in its glory, where Jesus shone brightly and communicated with two of the (then) resurrected saints.

 

Here is a word search for the kids:

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