“And Wisdom Became Flesh” – How the Gospel of John depicts Jesus as the incarnation of Lady Wisdom

Having already noted the theology in both Proverbs and Sirach which depicts the personified Lady Wisdom as embodied in human figures (i.e., the ideal wife and Simon the High Priest), I have observed the same trend within the Gospel of John. In fact, the connections between Jewish literature describing Lady Wisdom and Jesus within John are far greater in number than the connections in Proverbs and Sirach (and I might not have even found all of them).

The primary conclusion of this evidence suggests that if the Gospel of John repeatedly depicted Jesus Christ as the embodiment and incarnation of Lady Wisdom, which itself is a personification rather than a literal person alongside Yahweh, then this is a strong indicator that the Fourth Gospel is not thinking in terms of Jesus consciously existing prior to his birth. Furthermore, if Logos and Wisdom were understood as synonymous terms (as Wis 9:1-2 suggests), then the theology of Jesus as the incarnation of Lady Wisdom needs to be read in conjunction with the prologue (John 1:1-18).

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Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” by Daniel Kirk (part 7 – “Son of God” in Luke’s Gospel)

saintlukeHappy Labor Day and welcome to my seventh post containing my reviews and thoughts on Daniel Kirk’s newest volume, A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. Having taken a few days off to enjoy a wild weekend of college football and to observe my religious duties, I will today present on the section entitled “Son of God, Son of David, Son of Adam in Luke.” As per my custom, I will summarize his arguments in bullet points while adding a few comments of my own in italics.

  • Starting point – Luke redacts Mark, thereby using Mark’s christology as a foundation. Kirk suggests that Luke “takes the opportunity to clarify and/or reaffirm that son of God connotes messiah.” Luke does not redact Mark in any manner which indicates that he disagreed or desired to elevate the christological identity of Jesus.
  • Announcement of Jesus’ birth – Gabriel declares to Mary that Jesus will be the son of the Most High and that the Lord God would bestow upon him the throne of his ancestor David (in fulfillment of 2 Sam 7:12-16). Thus, Jesus is the human descendant of King David while also being declared to be son of God. In other words, Jesus is a lineal descendant of David, and Yahweh is not the son of David.
  • Luke 1:35 – God is the actual father of Jesus in a manner which, according to Kirk, is “creational rather than incarnational.” The act of the spirit hovering over Mary is akin to the original Genesis creation where the spirit hovered over the waters (Gen 1:2). In this way, a new being is being formed at this birth and is to be understood as an act of new creation. This makes the spirit of God the creative force enabling the coming into existence of Jesus in the womb of Mary (and if the Son of God came into existence, then he did not personally preexist).
  • Baptism – The voice from heaven declares that Jesus is the anointed son of God (or as Kirk puts it, “God’s human agent”).
  • Genealogy – After the account of the baptism Luke strategically places the genealogical record of Jesus, tracing his lineage back to Adam. Adam is called explicitly the “son of God” and Kirk takes this reference subsequent to the baptismal announcement that Jesus is God’s son as a clear indicator that Luke possesses an Adam christology. Son of God, in reference to Jesus, is therefore both Adamic and Davidic.
  • Temptation narrative – Satan tempts Jesus in three different attempts (“If you are the son of God…”) in a manner which sheds insight on the nature of this important title. The temptations are not out to get Jesus to question if he actually possessed some preexistent, divine ontology with God. Rather, they clarify for the reader that son of God is the title for the office of Israel’s messiah, the one who represents and typifies Israel. Jesus demonstrates himself faithful to the messianic vocation, succeeding where Israel as a nation failed. Furthermore, God cannot be tempted, but Jesus was indeed tempted. Why would the Devil tempt Jesus if Jesus was the Creator of the Devil?
  • Demons – The demons possess supernatural understanding that Jesus is both the son of God and the agent of the coming judgment. Jesus silences them “because they knew that he was the Christ” – Luke 4:41. Therefore, Jesus’ encounter with the demons again clarifies that “son of God” means “messiah” for Luke.
  • Transfiguration – Kirk notes that Luke goes out of his way to portray this event in light of a Moses/Exodus framework. Note the following parallels:
    • Luke changes Mark’s six days of waiting to eight days, likely to portray Jesus in light of the Israelite firstborn sons dedicated on the eighth day (according to Exodus 13 and 22)
    • Luke also changes Mark’s glowing and luminous Jesus by adding the fact that Jesus’ face also glowed, a clear allusion to Moses’ face shining the glory of God (Exodus 34)
    • Luke 9:31 speaks of Jesus’ exodus (τὴν ἔξοδον), rendered as “departure” in most translations
    • The voice from the cloud declares that Jesus is God’s “elect one” – indicating that he is chosen by God likely along the lines of corporate representation of Israel’s chosen human beings (like David)
  • The Johannine bolt from the sky – Luke 10:21-24 speaks of the intimate knowing between the Father and Jesus the son. Kirk rightly notes that this needs to be read in light of Luke’s theology, wholly detached from influence of the Fourth Gospel. The passage does not demand that the messianic secret, brought over from Mark’s Gospel, entails that Jesus is identified as Israel’s God. Rather, Jesus is the one who discloses and reveals the Father. In other words, Jesus reveals the Father to whomever he desires (reminiscent of Moses and the Israelite prophets).
  • The trial of Jesus – When Jesus is placed before the priests on Thursday night before his crucifixion the questions all regard the identification of the messianic office. The titles “Christ” and “Son of God” are parallel queries (just as they are in Psa 2:2, 7).

In sum, Kirk skillfully and persuasive demonstrates that Luke regards Jesus as the idealized human messiah, plump with Adamic, Davidic, and Israelite echoes of the title “Son of God.” In regard to Luke’s christology, Kirk aptly states that:

“the high Christology of Luke fits well within the paradigm of Jesus as an idealized human figure who takes up the primordial call to rule the entirety of the created order on God’s behalf.” (p.236)

 

Let me know in the comments below what you think of Kirk’s reconstruction of “Son of God” in the Gospel of Luke.

Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” by Daniel Kirk (part 5 – the Son of Man)

Here is post number five containing my review and thoughts on Daniel Kirk’s newest volume, A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. Today we will examine Kirk’s arguments regarding the noteworthy Son of Man in Daniel 7 and later extrabiblical sources. I will also comment briefly on his conclusions for the first chapter. Here are a few bullet points covering his arguments along with a few comments from me in italics.

  • The Son of Man in Daniel – I am happy to say that Kirk came to the same conclusion that I have in the past regarding the function of Daniel 7, a vision which deals with sonofmanthrones.JPGthe problem nations by moving from chaotic animals back to the idealized role of humanity in Genesis 1 (where humans rule over the animals). Just as the beasts represents nations, so too does the Son of Man represent Israel as a nation/people, albeit as a single figure. Much discussion and conversation with John Collins regarding the interpretation of the “holy ones” (angels or humans). Here Kirk sees the Son of Man as one enthroned alongside God in heaven and receiving universal worship, although still existing as a human figure (rather than angelic). He also notes that the Son of Man, having suffered persecution from the “little horn” in Daniel 7, is vindicated precisely as a suffering figure. It will be interesting to see where Kirk ends up going with this line of argumentation, as I can already see the dialogue with Jesus and the priest in Mark 14 as a strong candidate for this evidence.
  • Son of Man in 1 Enoch – The Son of Man here is reckoned quite clearly as the “messiah” and is the recipient of universal worship. He also possesses glory, might, and the authority to judge secret things. This Son of Man even judges the angels, suggesting that he is categorically distinct from them. Kirk notes that even Hurtado regards 1 Enochs Son of Man as “God’s chief agent.” Kirk correctly points out that the Son of Man is openly identified with Enoch. Of no small importance is Kirk’s suggestion that Enoch is better understood as a human translated to heaven before returning to judge as messiah rather than preexisting in heaven before his earthly life. Furthermore, the supposed reference to preexistence might better be explained as a development of Psa 72:17 where the messiah’s name was before the sun. Matters are complicated because it is difficult to know for certain if chapter 71 of 1 Enoch, where the reference to Enoch appears, is original to the Similitudes. In a footnote Kirk argues that concluding that the Son of Man in 1 Enoch possesses personal preexistence is debatable. It would clearly seem that this issue of whether 1 Enoch teaches literal preexistence of a messiah figure has been reopened by Kirk’s analysis, and this interpreted move will be welcomed by many readers.
  • Son of Man in 3 Enoch – Enoch is again identified as a heavenly figure. This time, however, he is described by Rabbi Ishmael as greater than all the princes, more exalted than the angels, more honored than all the hosts, and elevated over all in sovereignty, greatness, and glory. This is surely a lot to say about a human being and is therefore pertinent evidence for Kirk’s “idealized human figure” thesis.
  • Prayer of Enosh (4Q369) – This passage does not specifically deal with Daniel’s Son of Man, but it does piggyback on Enoch’s exalted status (and 1 Enoch was a highly cherished textual tradition at Qumran). This document described Enoch as God’s firstborn son, prince, and ruler over the world. In fact, the father-son relationship is precisely what enables Enoch to possess this role of rulership. The same could be said about the implications of 2 Sam 7:14 and Psa 2:7.
  • Son of Man in 4 Ezra – Although this text clearly comes after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, it shows how the traditions developed from what is articulated back in Daniel 7. The Son of Man in 4 Ezra is none other than the messiah, the son of God. This messiah figure suffers death after a 400 year reign, and so is not an eternal figure. He plays the role of judge and deliverer, both in a manner which mediates God’s initial initiative. Kirk considers these configurations ample examples of participation in the divine identity (re: Bauckham) in a manner which does not equate the Son of Man with God but instead acts as one standing in for and act on behalf of God. Kirk rightly notes that the Son of Man in 4 Ezra is a preexisting figure and does not debate this as he does in regard to 1 Enoch.

It is interesting to see how the Son of Man tradition develops over a period of 250 years. Granted, 250 years is no short span of time, as America has been an independent nation for around that much time and a lot has taken place during that period.

Kirk concludes his massively important (and what I regard as highly persuasive) survey of Jewish literature with some noteworthy quotes. I thought this one best represented the fruit of his argumentation thus far in the book:

…being identified with God is not the same as being identified as God…we find in early Jewish literature wide-ranging claims for various human figures sharing in the divine identity, without any sense that this puts pressure on the inherent identity of God, demanding its reconfiguration. (p.174)

My take on this first chapter is that it could have been an entire book itself, one which would have (indeed it does have) massive implications for understanding Jesus’ relationship with God in all of the NT documents, not just the Synoptics. 

 

 

Jesus is the Embodiment of Lady Wisdom in 1 Cor 10:4

I am experimenting with my new screen capture program and thought I would make a short video on 1 Cor 10:4. In this short clip I demonstrate that Paul was interacting with many Jewish interpreters of his day regarding the identification of the rock which provided water to the Israelites during the Exodus wilderness trek. If Paul regards Jesus precisely as the true embodiment of Lady Wisdom (i.e., God’s personified wise interaction with the world) then Paul can typologically label that rock as “Christ.” This would sugggest that 1 Cor 10:4 was never intended by Paul to refer to Christ as a physically preexistent person. 

Let me know in the comments below what you think of this interpretation.

Colossians – Introduction, Content, and Theology

Here are my short lectures discussing Paul’s epistle to the Colossians. I take some time to address the issue of authorship, the likely Jewish identity of the opponents, and I even deal with the christological hymn in chapter one. I am convinced that Paul regards Jesus as the embodiment of God’s personified wisdom, being God’s wise ordering and interaction with his creation. Let me know in the comments what you think about Jesus being the embodiment of God’s wisdom.

Enjoy!

 

Introduction to Colossians

 

Colossians chapters one and two

 

The christological hymn in Col 1:15-19

 

Colossians chapters three and four

My response to the “Did Jesus Exist?” debate between Craig Evans and Richard Carrier

evanscarrierI had the privilege of attending last night’s debate on “Did Jesus Exist?” between two well-versed debaters – Dr. Craig Evans and Dr. Richard Carrier. When I learned of this debate, I wanted to take advantage of listening to Carrier, who is probably the world’s foremost mythicist scholar. In other words, I felt that this debate would expose me to the best arguments scholars could put forth suggesting Jesus was simply made up in history. Now I took plenty of apologetic classes in my undergraduate and graduate studies to become convinced of the overwhelming evidence regarding Jesus’ existence, but I could not pass up the chance to listen to Richard Carrier live. So I piled up my car with a few of my bright students and we took off to witness the debate.

Here are some of my observations of last night’s event:

 

Evans’ Opening Statement

Craig Evans provided a well-rounded presentation with the typical Christian apologetic stance on Jesus’ existence. None of the arguments were new nor controversial. He noted that Paul and James (Jesus’ brother) were converted after the risen Jesus appeared to them. evansEvans pointed out that Paul had conversed with Peter, one of the early disciples of Jesus. He also noted all of the early Greek and Latin authors who mentioned Jesus or who were aware of Jesus’ existence (Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny, Suetonius, Celcus, Lucian of Samosata, and Mara ben Serapion). Evans furthermore indicated that the four Gospels were written within a reasonable time from Jesus’ death to contain reliable information about him. I was actually impressed that Evans noted openly in his opening statement that the ‘Jesus passage’ in Josephus Antiquities 18 had indeed been doctored up by Christians. He gave this PowerPoint slide to note, in italics, evansJosephuswhich sections he felt were added. I applauded Evans for admitting this
honestly, although perhaps he was getting it on the table for discussion early, thinking that it would be heavily discussed (which it eventually was throughout the debate). All in all, Evans demonstrated that, at his age, he is sharp and well-versed in the Christian responses to historians and mythicists.

 

Carrier’s Opening Statement

Richard Carrier stuck me as a very eloquent speaker. He appeared very confident and was not afraid of being in the minority in regard to scholarship. I suppose taking a mythicist position requires you to develop thick skin. The first thing Carrier presented was basically that early Christianity was really no different than other pagan religions which honor a carrierdying and rising savior deity, albeit packaged into a Jewish form. I was struck at how he tended to take the position that if there was any possibility at explaining away the evidence for Jesus’ existence that it should be considered. Carrier did admit that it was plausible that Jesus historically existed, an admission which I found interesting coming from Carrier. I was disappointed that he dismissed the existence of Q, citing Mark Goodacre as one of the Christian scholars who does the same. Then things got interesting. Carrier suggested that Philo believed that an archangel was called ‘the firstborn son of God,’ the ‘image of God,’ and was depicted as God’s agent in creation in addition to being the celestial high priest. Then he cited Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 4:4; 1 Cor 8:6; and Heb. 4:14 to suggest that early Christians believed the very same things about Jesus. Of course there are different ways to interpret Jesus’ title of ‘firstborn’ and the meaning of 1 Cor. 8:6, but Carrier seemed adamant that his reading was the correct reading. He continued by noting that Mark, Matthew, and Luke, being the earliest Gospels, possessed a christology without preexistence. So far, so good (I thought). Then he suggested that these early Gospels had deliberately suppressed an early high christology of Paul, who, according to Carrier, believed and preexcarriertaught that Jesus was an archangel who became incarnate in the human Jesus. He cited Phil. 2:5-11, which he repeatedly referred to throughout the debate, as the primary evidence for Jesus being a preexisting archangel (more on this later). He also suggested that angelos in Gal. 4:14 was best understood as an angel rather than a human messenger (as I would argue Paul intended). He then suggested that Jesus knew Moses according to 1 Cor. 10:4 (despite the fact that a few verses later Paul declared that he is speaking typologically). Carrier ended his opening statement by noting that early Christians spoke of resurrection appearances of Jesus in a way which he best felt are explained as ‘visions,’ visions which other pagan cults (ancient and modern) cite to validate their made up religious claims. In sum, Richard Carrier felt that Christianity is no different than other dying and rising savior deities in the ancient world.

personal

 

Moderation

I was disappointed at the moderator of this debate, who seemed to be infatuated with the discussion taking place to the point of multiple times forgetting his moderating responsibilities. During the cross examination time, he never called Evans out when he spent three minutes making a rebuttal to Carrier which was not in the form of the question. Carrier was, however, polite and did not appear upset that the moderator was failing in his responsibilities. When it came time for audience Q&A, the moderator furthermore seemed unprepared of how the questions were to be asked and where the audience members were to form a line.

 

Audience Q&A

I do want to share the question which I asked both Carrier and Evans. I posed a challenge (at first to Carrier) that his argument regarding how the earliest christology was supposedly high, depicting Jesus as a former archangel according to Phil. 2:5-11. I read the Greek from Phil. 2:5-6a and asked what sense was Paul supposedly making to his Philippian converts if he expected them to “have this attitude among yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus [Phil 2:5]” if Jesus used to be an archangel and, one day, decided to become a human? “How in the world,” I asked, “were Paul’s converts to imitate that attitude?”

Carrier responded to my question gracefully, but in a way which only proved my point of how Phil. 2:5-11 is to properly to be interpreted. Carrier admitted that Paul didn’t expect his audience to imitate Jesus becoming incarnate from an archangel, citing instead examples from Jesus’ human life which could realistically be modeled for Christian behavior. In sum, Carrier confusingly said that Paul argues in Phil. 2:5-11 that although Jesus was formerly an archangel, he does not expect his readers to “have this attitude among yourselves [Phil 2:5],” thus indicating that Paul commands something for his converts to do which he believes is impossible.

I grabbed the mic and asked Evans if he would mind responding. He told me rather casually that, “Well, I think he [Carrier] hit the nail right on the head.”

I rest my case.

 

I also wanted to share something funny which one of my students (Nathan) told me. During the scheduled break in the middle of the debate, Nathan was washing his hands in the bathroom and Carrier was washing his hands in the sink next to him. Nathan noted how short Carrier was and almost told him, “You are about the same height that the historical Jesus was – 5 foot 7!” But he didn’t. He told me afterwards and I laughed with him.

I still feel that the arguments for Jesus’ existence are strong and that Christianity is actually more different from the local cults of its times rather than being similar to them.

My recent debate on the nature of Jesus Christ’s preexistence in the Bible

Last Saturday I participated in my very first formal debate. The title of the event was: “Does the Bible teach that Jesus Christ literally preexisted his birth?” Those who are regular readers of the blog or those in possession of my latest book The Son of God know that I regard the ‘preexistence of Jesus’ within the Bible to be notional, that is, within God’s mind and plans. My debate partner, David Barron, argued that the Bible does indeed depict literal preexistence.

Being my first debate, I feel that although I prepared well I was a little rough around the edges. So forgive me if I do not appear calm during the entire engagement, as I was very excited and passionate about my subject.

Here is the video to the debate, which lasted 2 hours and forty-five minutes.

Did Mark Identify Jesus as a ‘Preexistent Heavenly Figure?’ A Response to Michael Bird

235-2There has been quite a fuss on the internet recently (eg., here and here) regarding Michael Bird’s assertion that Mark, our earliest Gospel in the New Testament, presents Jesus Christ as a preexistent figure from heaven. In a rather short blog post, Bird stated the following,

The Marcan Jesus participates in the kyricentricity of Israel’s God. He is identified as a pre-existent heavenly figure who has come to earth, who carries divine authority, who embodies royal and priestly roles; and in his person, words, and deeds he manifests the holy presence, the redemptive purposes, and the cosmic power of the Lord of Israel.

This will be my first interaction with Bird’s work, although Bird himself is not unfamiliar with me as he was actually a reviewer of my latest book The Son of God: Three Views of the Identity of Jesus. I hope to meet Michael one day in person, as I hear that he is a very pleasant fellow. However, I do feel that he is grasping at straws be arguing that Mark presents a Jesus who preexisted in heaven. In this post, I will break down his two sentences with evidence from Mark which I feel runs counter to Bird’s position.

  1. The Marcan Jesus participates in the kyricentricity of Israel’s God. – I can only surmise that this phrase, being a combination of kurios and centricity, is an adjective suggesting the Lord [God] as the center point. Despite my attempts to really get at what Bird is saying this word (which Darth Vader would describe as a “technological terror you’ve constructed”) I cannot seem to lock down what is intended. The correlating indication that Jesus “participates” in this centrality of the Lord God further begs for clarification. All Christians would agree that Jesus participates in the will of God (Mark 14:26) by obediently carrying out his ministry in Mark’s Gospel. It is quite another thing to insist that Mark teaches that Jesus participated with Israel’s God as the second member of the Trinity, a theology wholly absent from Mark (see esp. Mark 12:29). I wonder if this ‘participation’ language is a rehashing of Bauckham’s similar terminology.
  2. He is identified as a pre-existent heavenly figure who has come to earth – I respectfully suggest that there is absolutely no evidence to back up this claim. Jesus in the Gospel of Mark is identified as the descendant of his mother Mary (Mark 6:3), who is called his mother (3:31). Furthermore, Jesus is hailed as the Son of David, a messianic title referring to the promised king among the descendants of David (Mark 10:47, 48; 12:35). To put it plainly, it is impossible for Jesus to be a preexisting figure if he is younger than and originating from Mary and David. Mark makes no attempt to suggest, imply, or hint that Jesus is anyone other than the human Messiah, a lineal descendant of King David carried forth down to Mary, Jesus’ mother.
  3. in his person, words, and deeds he manifests the holy presence, the redemptive purposes, and the cosmic power of the Lord of Israel – Again, the real questions regards what all is meant by these words. As an authorized agent, Jesus could carry with him a delegated and even empowered authority. The redemptive purposes, as admitted by Jesus, seem to be expressed in Mark 14:62 with a combination of Dan. 7:13 and Psa. 110:1. Mark 14:62 presents Jesus claiming to be the ‘Son of Man’ from Daniel 7 (a figure distinct yet empowered by the Ancient of Days), who will be exalted to the right hand of Yahweh as the adoni figure (a nondeity figure in all of its OT occurrences) of Psalm 110:1. In other words, both passages alluded to distinguish Jesus from Israel’s God while simultaneously indicating that Jesus is/will be exalted and empowered by that very God. It is quite another thing to suggest that Jesus is the embodying presence of God with incarnational connotations from the later creeds of 325 and 451 CE. In fact, the crowds understand Jesus as he rides humbly into Jerusalem as the one who rightfully “comes in the name of the Lord” (11:9), indicating an authorized agent of Israel’s God. Does the Markan Jesus embody all of God’s attributes? The answer would have to be no, since Jesus did not know the day of his return (13:32) and since Jesus died (15:37). Jesus also attributes the role of Creator to Israel’s God and not unto himself (Mark 10:6).

In sum, I suggest that Bird’s description of the Markan christology needs further clarification and fails to take into account off of the available data. There is no use presenting a hypothesis that is both unclear and unwilling to take seriously all that Mark has to say to his readers.

Newly released: “The Son of God: Three Views of the Identity of Jesus”

coverI am excited to announce that my second book has finally been released. In this book, Charles Lee Irons, Danny Dixon, and I present opposing arguments in regard to the identity of Jesus. The three views expressed in this volume are: the Trinitarian perspective (the Son of God always existed as the second person of the Trinity), the Arian perspective (the Son of God literally preexisted as a created being, but is distinct from God), and the Socinian perspective (the Son of God is the human Messiah who preexisted strictly in the mind and plans of God).

There is actually no other book which approaches the subject of Christology in this manner, that is, by allowing three different interpreters to civilly engage each other in a scholarly manner (similar to a debate).

The volume can be purchased directly from Wipf and Stock here, but we hope that it will soon be available on Amazon.com.

 

Defining Jewish Preexistence – 2 Baruch 4:1-6

templeThis is another installment of my continuing study regarding how Jews understood the concept of ‘preexistence.’ In today’s post we will be examining a passage within the pseudepigraphal document known as 2 Baruch. This work was penned after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in the year 70 CE, with one of its key themes being an attempt to wrestle with the problem of why God allowed for the Romans to triumph over the Jewish house of worship. Scholars are fairly unanimous in dating this document to either the end of the 1st century or the beginning of the second century CE.

In the fourth chapter the unknown author describes a dialogue between God and Baruch. It is necessary that I quote the passage in full (verses are given in parentheses):

(1) And the Lord said to me: “This city will be delivered up for a time, and the people will be chastened for a time, and the world will not be forgotten.”

(2) Or do you think that this is the city of which I said: “On the palms of my hands I have carved you?”

(3) It is not this building that is in your midst now; it is that which will be revealed, with me, that was already prepared from the moment that I decided to create Paradise. And I showed it to Adam before he sinned. But when he transgressed the commandment, it was taken away from him–as also Paradise.

(4) After these things I showed  it to my servant Abraham in the night between the portions of the victims.

(5) And again I showed it also to Moses on Mount Sinai when I showed him the likeness of the tabernacle and all its vessels.

(6) Behold, now it is preserved with me–as also Paradise.

There are a lot of interesting things which I could say about this passage. However, since my inquiry regards Jewish preexistence, I will limit myself to the points which shed light on the study at hand.

First of all, it should be pointed out that the Jewish temple was “already prepared (4:3)” from the time when God created Paradise (i.e., from the foundation of the world). I have noted in previous installments of this study that the temple was often spoken of as having preexisted within God’s plans and purposes (Gen. Rabbah 1:4; b.Pes. 54a; b.Ned. 39b). In those studies it was concluded that this manner of preexistence was not literal, that is, where the temple structure physically existed in space and time up in heaven. Rather, those texts described this magnificent building, which is of no small importance to Jewish theology, as already planned within God’s mind. The author of 2 Baruch seems to be saying the same thing here. In 4:5 the author additionally notes that this building was shown to Moses along with the the “likeness” of the tabernacle and the accompanying vessels (which were eventually crafted and built later). It should also be noted that 2 Baruch predates both Genesis Rabbah and the Babylonian Talmud references.

Secondly, the language used the prepared temple is that of it being “with me,” used twice in this passage (4:3; 6). This is extremely fascinating, especially in light of the Prologue of John’s Gospel where the personified Logos is spoken of having been “with God” in the beginning (John 1:1b). Since the temple seems to only be preexisting as a concept rather than as a literal structure, the meaning of it being “with God” further suggests that it is a part of God’s plans and purposes. Similar uses of such concepts being “with God” can be observed in Job 10:13; 23:14; 27:11; Prov. 2:1; Wis. 9:9; Sirach 1:1. I suggest that the close proximity of the dating of John’s Gospel with the dating of 2 Baruch strongly allows for the interpretive overlap of these themes.

In sum, it seems that the document of 2 Baruch demonstrates that Jews spoke of the important things of Jewish theology as having been prepared beforehand in God’s purposes, even going so far as to say that they were with him. This further contributes to my working hypothesis that ‘preexistence’ within Jewish modes of discourse was conceptual and ideal, rather than literal.

This certainly has consequences for the interpretation of such ‘preexistence’ passages as John 1:1; 8:58; and 17:5.

 

Defining Jewish Preexistence – 2 Kings 19:25

In today’s installment of our inquiry into the manner in which Jews understood the elusive term ‘preexistence,’ we will examine a passage from 2 Kings. This passage appears in the midst of the episode where the Assyrian king Sennacherib’s utters a threat toward the kingdom ruled by Hezekiah. The Judean king, however, sincerely prays to the God of Israel for deliverance. The God of Israel hears the plea from King Hezekiah and sends word through the prophet Isaiah.

Yahweh’s response spoken through Isaiah is quite long, but within the reply comes these words:

“Have you not heard? Long ago I did it.

From ancient times I planned it.

Now I have brought it to pass, that you should turn fortified cities into heaps of ruin.” (2 Kgs 19:25)

It is important to take note of the verb tenses in this passage. The action in question is spoken of as having already occurred “long ago,” using the qal perfect of the Hebrew verb asa. In the next line, the parallelism unpacks the former statement with another completed action, “I planned it,” also in the qal perfect. This Hebrew verb, however, is yatsar, which means ‘to form or create.’ I have translated it here as “planned” because these actions of God, having already accomplished and created the act (and choosing this very moment in the narrative to bring them to pass), strongly suggest that we are talking about Jewish preexistence. As we have observed in my previous case studies, Jewish preexistence speaks of things stored up in God’s plans and purposes, often speaking of them as having already occurred. The same phenomenon, I suggest, is occurring here in 2 Kings 19:25.

fotolia_17326095_mGod reveals that he has planned from a long time ago to demolish Sennacherib’s cities. These plans are so sure to come to pass that they can be spoken of having already occurred in the past. Even the Septuagint translates the two primary verbs in the aorist. This is textbook Jewish preexistence, my friends. Imagine coming to this text without any understanding of how Jewish writers portrayed God’s plans and purposes for the world. The sincere (but uninformed) reader would instinctively read this passage literally, immediately becoming confused.

This manner of preexistence is notional, rather than literal preexistence, further strengthening my case that Jewish preexistence deals with plans and concepts within God’s contemplations.

How might 2 Kings 19:25 illumine, say, a disputed christological passage like John 17:5?

Defining Jewish Preexistence – Jeremiah 1:5

Having already looked at some of the extra-biblical evidence for ‘preexistence’ (and having concluded this Jewish preexistence was maintained within the plans and purposes of God rather than literally existing) it is now prudent to look at some of the biblical passages where this theme occurs. To quickly recap our findings from the previous five installments of this study, we observed that within Jewish preexistence speculation:

-things such as the Patriarchs, the nation of Israel, the temple, and the name of the Messiah preceded the creation of the world within God’s contemplations

-the name of the Messiah could (therefore) be spoken from the beginning

-Moses was designed, devised, and prepared from the beginning for a specific purpose

-the most noteworthy things within Judaism (Torah, repentance, the temple, the name of the Messiah) could be spoken as having been created before the world was made

-Abraham and Isaac were similarly spoken of in preexisting terms

I suggest that the best way of accounting for all of this evidence is to conclude that everything of value exists with God in his mind, even from the beginning of creation. The manner of this ‘preexistence’, it seems, is notional rather than literal. With this in mind (no pun intended), let us look at the commissioning of the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah. The opening chapter of his book records a dialogue between the prophet and God, wherein the following words are spoken:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

and before you were born I consecrated you;

I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:5)

Again we are faced with the similar theme of God knowing (Heb: yada) an individual before they were born. The parallelism in this passage helpfully interprets the manner in which God ‘knew’ Jeremiah, for the prophet was consecrated for the specific purpose of being God’s mouthpiece unto the nations. This act of consecration (Heb: kadash) sets Jeremiah aside as a special figure, a prophetic figure. We have already noticed that such noteworthy figures such as Abraham, Isaac, Moses, and the [name of the] Messiah were described as, in some way, ‘preexisting’ for designated purposes. Jeremiah seems to be described in similar terms. Before he came into existence in the womb of his mother, Jeremiah was already set apart and appointed by God as a major prophetic figure.

jeremiah (1)This, I suggest, is another instance of notional preexistence, where a noteworthy figure resides within God’s plans and purposes prior to his birth. It would be an ill-conceived exegetical move to read this language literally as if the human being Jeremiah literally existed prior to his birth, something which commentators are reluctant to do. The consensus of Jeremiah commentators (Holladay, Craigie, Kelley, Drinkard, Bright, Thompson, Miller) regard Jer. 1:5 as an exposition of the prophet’s elect choosing by God before he was born in order to function as a prophet. This is ample evidence for Jewish preexistence within the pages of the Hebrew Bible, a preexistence which is within God’s plans and purposes.

Defining Jewish Preexistence – part 5

jacob_wrestling_the_angel_by_21stcenturydamocles-d3buwcaIn today’s installment of our inquiry into how Jews spoke and wrote concerning the illusive subject of ‘preexistence’ we will examine a passage within the Prayer of Joseph. The Prayer of Joseph appears in the collection of texts called the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. This document was composed in the first century CE, written in either Aramaic or Greek. The third century CE Church Father Origen notes that the Prayer of Joseph was being read by Jews in his day (Commentary on the Gospel of John 2:31). This suggests that this document made an impact within at least some Jewish communities over the first three centuries of the Christian church.

The opening verses, based loosely off of Genesis 32:24-31,  narrate Jacob’s dialogue with an angel (with whom he wrestles). During his introductory speech he makes the following admission concerning his forefathers:

“Abraham and Isaac were created before any work of God” (Prayer of Joseph 1:2)

The author of the Prayer of Joseph puts into the mouth of Jacob this comment concerning Abraham and Isaac. Before God created any work, he made these two figures. This sounds very similar to what we observed regarding Moses whom the T. Moses describes as having already been designed by God from the foundation of the world. We likewise observed in Genesis Rabbah that the Patriarchs were spoken of as preexisting within God’s plans and contemplations.

Regarding the Prayer of Joseph, however, it sounds as if Abraham and Isaac literally existed prior to their respective births.  The translator of this text, J. Z. Smith, offered a helpful footnote regarding this particular question. In Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Smith comments that the term “created before” should be rendered literally as “pre-created.” This seems to give the impression that Abraham and Isaac were, in some sense, pre-created, i.e., with God from the beginning. The divine passive “were pre-created” indicates that God was the active Creator. It would seem very strange to argue from this passage that these two patriarchs literally existed before the Genesis creation.

All in all, it seems that the preexistence spoken of in the Prayer to Joseph involves Abraham and Isaac as existing notionally and conceptually with God from the beginning, giving them a higher status worthy of the founding fathers of Israelite religion.

Defining Jewish Preexistence – part 4

I have received a lot of good feedback regarding my previous three installments (here, here, and here) of this inquiry into how Jews articulated the concept of ‘preexistence’ in written form.

Today’s post will look at a passage in the Babylonian Talmud. The Talmud is the rabbinic commentaries of the Mishnah collected into written form. The Hebrew word talmud means “teaching, study, and learning.” This collection is the embodiment of rabbinic Judaism’s concern to study the Torah in meticulous detail. In some ways, the Talmud has had a considerably stronger influence on Jewish life and practice than even the Hebrew Bible.

Within the Babylonian Talmud is a passage of noteworthy interest for our study. In the tractate Pesahim (which means “Passover”) we find this statement:

 “Seven things were created before the world was made, and these are they: Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehenna, the throne of glory, and house of the sanctuary, and the name of the Messiah.” (b.Pes. 54a)

It would be prudent for us to examine the specifics of this passage closely. Seven particular concepts are mentioned as having been created prior to the creation of the world. However, a discernible difference can be observed when we attempt to categorize these seven concepts. The Garden of Eden, Gehenna, the throne of glory, and the house of the sanctuary are all tangible things, either objects or locations. The remaining three concepts (Torah, repentance, the name of the Messiah) are intangible (I mean, how can God create an act of repentance apart from it existing as a concept?). A almost identical statement regarding these ‘preexistent’ concepts appears latter in the Talmud (b.Ned. 39b), suggesting that this line of thinking was not isolated with one particular sage.

talmudRegarding “the name of the Messiah,” one of the concepts within our ‘intangible’ pile, it is prudent for our study to speculate how this relates to Jewish understandings of a preexistent Messiah. Is the tractate Pesahim saying that the human Messiah physically existed in space and time prior to the creation of the world? Sadly, it would see that this is not the best reading of this passage. Rather, the manner of preexistence ascribed to the name of the Messiah, strictly speaking, is notional and conceptual preexistence. I have already demonstrated in a previous post that the Targum on Zechariah speaks of the preexistence of the Messiah’s name within God’s plans and purposes. It would seem that something similar is occurring within our current passage.

How might this passage illumine, say, John 6:62: “What if you see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” In other words, if Jews could speak rather freely about the Messiah’s preexistence in a way which was notional (rather than literal), would the Jewish Christian author of the Fourth Gospel have necessarily meant that the Messiah literally preexisted his birth?

Defining Jewish Preexistence – part 3

This is the third post in my series concerning how Jews understood and articulated the concept of ‘preexistence.’ I have already surveyed texts in both Genesis Rabba and in the Targum on Zechariah.

moses&joshuaToday’s post will look at a noteworthy passage within the Testament of Moses. This document is located in modern editions of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, a collection which, among other fascinating works, contains a group of Jewish documents called  ‘testaments.’ Testaments are writings which place the final farewells and instructions into the mouth of a famous figure from Israelite history. Today scholars have identified and categorized testaments written about such figures as Abraham, Job, and each of the twelve sons of Jacob. The Testament of Moses was likely composed in the first century CE, making it very relevant for NT studies. It details Moses’ final instructions to his successor Joshua before he enters into the promised land. Since the figure of Moses was highly regarded within Jewish circles, surely his final will and testament would contain valuable words and exhortations (which readers of the Testament of Moses were to surely cherish).

The first chapter of T. Moses is fragmentary, likely beginning with the year of Moses’ life in which he gives this testament. Moses summons Joshua unto him and begins speaking about God and the purposes of creation. In the midst of this speech, Moses says something striking about himself:

“But He did design and devise me, and He prepared me from the beginning of the world to be mediator of His covenant.” (T. Moses 1:14)

In this statement Moses recounts how God “designed” him and “devised” him. Additionally, Moses was “prepared by God.” When did these designs and preparations take place, one might ask? Moses says that it occurred “from the beginning of the world.” However, these plans of God were for an intended purpose, namely that Moses would be the mediator of the covenant.

It seems that noteworthy figures such as Moses could be described as ‘preexisting’ by second temple Jews. However, this sort of preexistence was within God’s designs, devises, and preparations. This, I contend, is notional preexistence, a preexistence which is in God’s mind and plans. This is not saying that Moses literally existed with God in heaven before the world. Rather, he is such a prominent person in God’s purposes for Israel (mediator of the holy covenant) that he was divinely planned long ago.

I again wish to speculate how this sort of preexistence, being in God’s plans for a particular purpose, would influence readings of, say, John 8:58.

Defining Jewish Preexistence – part 2

In yesterday’s installment of my inquiry into the ways that Jews perceived the concept of ‘preexistence’ I examined two passages within Genesis Rabba.

Today I want to look at one of the targum readings from the biblical book of Zechariah. A targum is an Aramaic paraphrase/translation of the Hebrew text. The targum readings had their beginning around the inception of the second temple period where they would be spoken during times of worship. Eventually these oral readings of the Hebrew texts were put into written form. When one examines various targum readings of the Hebrew Bible, it becomes apparent that they regularly served as interpretations of how the respective passages were being read.

Orange-spaceThe targum reading which I am interested in for this post comes from Zech. 4:7. In this text an angelic intermediary is speaking to the prophet Zechariah. In the midst of an oracle concerning Zerubbabel the angel says, “What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!'” In this passage, the targumist latched onto the “top stone” which God promises to bring forth. In interpreting this top stone the targumist wrote:

“[God] will reveal His Messiah whose name is spoken from the beginning.” (my translation)

The topstone is interpreted as the promised Messiah. However, the targumist adds a noteworthy tidbit concerning this figure. The Messiah has had his name spoken from the beginning. This is similar language to what we observes in Genesis Rabba 1:4 where the name of the Messiah was contemplated before the creation of the world. I argued in that instance that the Messiah (or perhaps simply his name) preexisted notionally, that is, in God’s mind and purposes. The targumist uses similar terminology here when he speaks of the preexisting name of the Messiah. There is no indication here that the targumist thought that God’s Messiah literally preexisted. Rather, it was his name which goes all the way back to the beginning. For the targumist, God has already planned out a particular name for the Messiah who, from the perspective of the prophet Zechariah, is still yet to arrive on the scene.

Again I want to chalk up this text to Judaism’s understanding of the preexisting Messiah in a manner which is notional rather than literal. The Messiah’s name was planned from the beginning.

Defining Jewish Preexistence – part 1

I apologize to my faithful and loyal readers for my months of silence. I have been in the process of contributing to a book regarding three different views of Christology (in addition to my full teaching load of undergraduate courses). Rest assured, this blog is alive and well. You will seeing more of me in the future. Huzzah!

high-def-space-sun-earth-wallpaperOne of the things which I have learned regarding how preexistence is used within the pages of the New Testament is that it overlaps with the hopes, theologies, and lingo of Second Temple Jews (and their successors) in their understanding of preexistence. It is my firm conviction that interpreters of the New Testament who fail to properly set biblical texts regarding preexistence within this Jewish framework will result in flawed and confused conclusions. This post will be the first of many which will examine Jewish texts (and some Christian) which attempt to recreate this contextual resource.

Today’s text comes from the Jewish midrash on the Book of Genesis known to scholars as B’reshith Rabba (“Genesis Rabba”). It reads similar to the Mishnah (for those familiar with the Mishnah’s style), offering rabbinic commentary on various biblical passages. It is mostly written in Aramaic with the remainder in Hebrew. It was probably written in the 5th century CE, so I grant that it is somewhat dated. Nevertheless, it demonstrates rather significant and noteworthy lines of thinking which can be traced back to the Second Temple period (as we will soon see).

Its opening chapter and verse make an interesting comment regarding God’s plans and purposes:

“The architect moreover does not build it out of his head, but employs plans and diagrams to know how to arrange the chambers and the wicket doors. Thus God consulted the Torah and created the world, while Torah declares, ‘In the beginning God created,’ ‘beginning’ referring to the Torah, as in the verse, ‘The Lord made me as the beginning of His way.’” (Gen. Rab. 1.1)

The author begins with an illustration of an architect who uses plans and diagrams in order to create his project. This illustration is then applied to that way God consults his Torah in order to create the world, thereby equating the Torah with the plan/diagrams and the world with the architect’s project. While every Jewish reader of the five books of Moses is well aware of the fact that Torah was not officially given until Sinai (in Exodus 19-20), the author of Genesis Rabba thinks otherwise. For him, the Torah is so important and valuable within the plans and purposes of God that it must have preexisted. This author goes so far as to say that Torah was consulted by God when he created the world as indicated in Gen. 1:1. Torah is also equated with the personified Lady Wisdom (Prov. 8:22).

The author of Genesis Rabba is not content with simply ascribing this status to Torah. He goes on to speak of quite a few other things which came before the Genesis creation:

“Six things preceded the creation of the world; some of them were actually created, while the creation of the others was already contemplated. The Torah and the throne of glory were created…The creation of the Patriarchs was contemplated…[The creation of] Israel was contemplated…[The creation of] the temple was contemplated…The name of Messiah was contemplated.” (Gen. Rab. 1.4)

In effect, six things preexisted and were with God from the beginning: Torah, the throne of glory, the Patriarchs, Israel, the temple, and the name of the Messiah. These things are divided into two groups. The former, which include the Torah and the throne of glory, were actually in existence before the creation of the world. The latter four (Patriarchs, Israel, the temple, and the name of the Messiah) were “contemplated” by God. In other words, these four things were in God’s mind, plan, and purposes from even before the Genesis creation according to Genesis Rabba.

While it would be interesting to speculate on the meaning of the preexistent Patriarchs, Israel, and temple, I wish to focus on the name of the Messiah and the way in which it preexists. Genesis Rabba is not teaching a literal preexistence, as in, something which physically and tangibly exists prior to its creation with God. Rather, this sort of preexistence resided in God’s contemplation, his mind, and his thoughts. I will call this “notional preexistence” in order to distinguish this from “literal preexistence.” The author of Genesis Rabba argues that the Torah and God’s throne literally preexisted. But the Patriarchs, Israel, the temple, and the Messiah’s name only notionally preexisted.

I think that a reasonable question can be proposed which asks, “How would the author of the Fourth Gospel be understood if he shared the theology of Genesis Rabba?”

‘Sending’ Language and the Origins of Jesus

little-scrollToo often interpreters of the Bible read the various statements which depict Jesus as having been “sent from God” with such wooden literalness. They assume that, since God is in heaven and Jesus was on earth, then Jesus must have literally descended from the location of the one who sent him (heaven). I contend that the language of sending needs to first be placed into its wider context before making an assessment of its meaning in regard to Jesus and his place of origin. Note carefully how sending language is used in the Hebrew Bible:

God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot lived – Gen. 19:29

Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ – Ex. 3:13

Then Samuel said to Saul, The LORD sent me to anoint you as king over His people – 1 Sam. 15:1

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” – Isa. 6:8

Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent you all My servants the prophets, daily rising early and sending them  – Jer. 7:25

This was only a short selection of the hundreds of passages wherein God sends (commissions) human agents. In not one of these instances which I have provided (Lot, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, the prophets) did the agent literally come out of heaven. Now it would certainly be appropriate to say that they were sent from heaven (i.e., God) in a strictly poetic and metaphorical sense, just as modern people speak of their newborn child as a “gift from heaven.” These passages from the Hebrew Bible indicate that God sends (commissions) his servants in a way that does not necessarily preclude their origins in the heavens. No one thinks that any of these human agents existed in heaven prior to their divine commissioning.

With this data in mind, we can safely move onto the New Testament data. Consider the following examples:

There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. – John 1:6

For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” – Acts 3:26

It was this Moses whom they rejected when they said, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ and whom God now sent as both ruler and liberator through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. – Acts 7:35

A few short comments will suffice for now. John 1:6 indicates that John the Baptist was sent from God. Surely he did not descend from heaven. This language arguably sets up the following ‘sending’ references in the Fourth Gospel. Moving on to Acts 3:26, the reader should notice that God first raised up his servant Jesus (i.e., put him on the scene) and then he was sent. The ‘raising up’ language is often used in this way in crucial passages such as Deut. 18:15, 18; and 2 Sam. 7:12. Finally, the Acts 7:35passage shows that the divine commissioning language used of Moses continued to be used on into the first century CE.

Some other crucial passages indicate again that language describing things “from heaven/above” is best reckoned as poetic and metaphorical:

Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above – John 19:11

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights – James 1:17

This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. – James 3:15

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle… – James3:17

Even Josephus can speak of being sent by God:

I have come to you as a messenger of great destinies. Had I not been sent on this errand by God, I knew the law of the Jews and how it becomes a general to die.” – Josephus, War 3:400 (Loeb tr.)

Therefore, when Jesus says things like “I have come out of heaven” (John 6:38) or “I am from above” (John 8:23), we should not so quickly think that the author was trying to convey that Jesus literally descended from heaven. Rather, he was God’s authoritative human agent on earth, representing the Almighty as the shaliach. He was, however, still born of Mary (cf. Matt. 1:18. 20; Luke 1:35; John 3:1618:37; Gal. 4:4; 1 John 5:18).

This evidence suggests that the sending language used of Jesus is better read as an indication of his authoritative commissioning from God rather than a statement of “heavenly origins” (in the strictest sense of those words).

Preexistence of the Messiah in the Talmud and its Implications for Christology

long time agoAs many throughout the blogosphere continue to wrestle with the new Bart Ehrman book, this has been a great opportunity to reexamine our interpretive presuppositions. Although it is admittedly difficult to ascertain the precise dating of comments situated in the Babylonian Talmud, this comment concerning the preexistence of the Messiah’s name is worth investigating:

Seven things were created before the world was made, and these are they: Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehenna, the throne of glory, the house of the sanctuary, and the name of the Messiah…  And the name of the Messiah: “His name shall endure forever and has existed before the sun” (Ps. 72:17)  – b.Pes. 54a, tr. Neusner

The nature of this manner of preexistence is notional, being in the mind of God. None of these things, I argue, literally existed prior to the original creation. It seems that everything of extreme importance in Judaism was in God’s mind from the beginning.

Since this post is focusing on the nature of the preexistence Messiah, it would be prudent to note some of the biblical passages which likewise speak in the manner:

the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. (τοῦ ἀρνίου τοῦ ἐσφαγμένου ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου) – Rev. 13:8

For He was foreknown (προεγνωσμένου) before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you – 1 Pet. 1:20)

If it can be reasonably concluded that Second Temple Jewish expectations of the Messiah carried an understanding of notional (not literal) preexistence, then such passages in the Gospel of John could quite reasonably be interpreted along similar lines:

“Before Abraham was, I am” -John 8:58

“Glorify me with the glory which I had with you before the world was” -John 17:5

 

Just some food for thought. Happy Monday.