1 John – Message, Theology, and Application

I got a lot of good feedback on yesterday’s post in which I critically introduced 1 John. Here are the videos on the contents of 1 John taught against the backdrop of the introductory material covered yesterday. I focus at the end on practical applications which the wider Church can take from this document.

Let me know what you think of the exegesis.

Enjoy!

 

1 John – part one

 

1 John – part two

 

1 John – part three

 

1 John – part four

 

1 John – part five

 

1 John – part six

 

 

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Part 6 – Did the Early Christians Worship Jesus? book review

Dunn’s final chapter contains his concluding thoughts on his study of early Christian worship. I will take the time here to discuss his conclusions and comment with my own.

Potential dangers and problems with a too-narrowly defined worship of Jesus: Dunn is quite nice and diplomatic when he writes this critique, but anyone familiar with American Christianity will soon realize what he is trying to get across. Many Churches, Christian songs, media, and books are worthy of the critique which Dunn calls “Jesus-olatry”- which is the giving of worship to Jesus which falls short of the worship due to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Dunn compares this to idolatry, where the idol (in whatever shape or form) takes the place of the one true God. Then he comes out and says it: Jesus has been substituted for God.

This is a rather stunning critique indeed, but upon further reflection (a week after finishing the book) I think that it is well founded. Too many Christians think that Christianity is all about Jesus. Two examples will hopefully get my point across. I overheard a conversation between a young Christian and Jew who were about to eat lunch. The Jew asked the Christian to make the mealtime prayer “non-specific.” The young Christian was puzzled and asked his friend, “Well, I have always prayed to Jesus, who else is there to pray to?” His Jewish friend replied. “You can pray to the Father.” The Christian responded that he has never prayed to the Father, only to Jesus. I personally wonder if this Christian has ever read the Lord’s Prayer where Jesus commanded prayers to be directed to the Father who is in heaven. Dunn makes a similar point that the Father has almost been forgotten by citing another book which makes the same point. My second example comes from a Christian song called ‘One Way’ which I believe is still on the radio. Here is a Youtube link to it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lP8fHN53t0 . The chorus lyrics go like this: “One way, Jesus, You’re the only one that I could live for.” These examples, I hope, show that Dunn’s critique is very real and should be heard by all professing Christians.

Dunn’s second point deals with monotheism and the unity involved therein. He states that the evidence is fair enough to remind readers that God’s oneness is not a mathematical unity. God has revealed himself in the past through his Wisdom, Spirit, angels, and his Word, without detracting from him being the one and only God. Dunn does not say that this divides that God into something other than one (like two or three) but his point is that the one God of the Shema is that he has revealed himself in many ways, expressed his purpose and mission in different outlets and opportunities. As John 1:18 states, it was Jesus Christ who ultimately exegetes the Father to the world. Early Christians in the first century never worshipped the Holy Spirit, as he points out in a footnote.

I think I am persuaded by Dunn’s logic here, even though I agreed with his reasoning prior to reading the book. I just never came to the wording of the conclusion he has on my own. I do still see God as one, but understand his way of revealing himself in the terms of agency. Perhaps I need to nuance that and say that when God sends his angel, messenger, Spirit, prophet, king, or even Messiah out on a mission that God not only invests his authority in this agent but also his presence and identity. I think that too often Christians have confused the invested authority and titles given to these agents with the one who sent them. Nobody really thinks that Steve at your front door delivering Papa John’s Pizza really is Papa John. Steve is the agent delivering on behalf of Papa John’s. It is true in some sense to say that, “Papa John’s is at the door.” But we understand that Steve is only representing the business that sent him. Since the Ancient Near Eastern culture was fully a functionally agentival readers of the Bible need to take this area of context seriously.

This realm of agency (if that is the best way to define the concept) is used in Dunn’s closing thoughts. He states that “The only one to be worshipped is the one God.” Yet he goes on to say that hymns and petitions should still be offered to Jesus, but to the glory of God the Father. This is why Christians pray “in Jesus’ name” because prayer is offered to the heavenly Father but through Jesus Christ.

Here the direction is seems to be a vertical one, going up from the congregation to Jesus (as mediator) and then on up to the Father, God. This is not a horizontal rendering.

As for the answer to the question which brings about the title of the book, Dunn admits that it is less relevant, less important, and misleading. I agree. On the whole, early Christians reserved worship for the Father and expressed it in terms of point #3 above.

Of course, what we think of the meaning of the word ‘worship’ is much narrower that it is used in the Scriptures. The point must always be kept in mind when pursuing these topics.

Part 5: Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? book review

The fourth chapter of Dunn’s book is where the previous three chapters get incorporated into the New Testament texts. This chapter is, not surprisingly, the longest in the book. I won’t be able to discuss every detail of Dunn’s arguments, but I will try to highlight all of the major points he raises.

In this chapter, Dunn seeks to bring the discussion in ways which will answer these questions:

  1. Was Jesus remembered as a monotheist? Did he restrict worship solely to the God of Israel?
  2. What is the significance of the post-resurrection proclamation “Jesus is Lord?”
  3. In what sense is Jesus the embodiment of God’s Wisdom (and/or Word)? What was meant when Paul described him as the life-giving Spirit?
  4. In what ways did the Book of Revelation offer worship to the Lamb?
  5. How and in what ways did the early Christians call Jesus god/God?
  6. How were the terms “Last Adam,” “mediator,” and “heavenly intercessor” understood?

As to the first question of wondering whether or not Jesus was a monotheist, Dunn acknowledges that this line of inquiry would be shocking to those who suppose that Jesus is to be understood in line with the debates of the fourth and fifth centuries. It is argued that Jesus’ upbringing would have placed him firmly within the educational system of the synagogues of his time. This would have introduced him to the Shema of Israel, the central creed of Judaism which affirms the oneness of God. Jesus was remembered in Mark 12:28-32 as affirming the Shema as the foremost commandment (even above the command to love one’s neighbor). Dunn also recalls the previous discussion in which it was pointed out that Jesus sought out worship for God alone (Matt. 4/Luke 4.), the God who alone was good (Mark 10:17-18). I was actually surprised that Dunn did not talk about the clearest statement of monotheism in John 17:3, but this perhaps comes from his hesitation to attribute the sayings in the Fourth Gospel to the lips of the historical Jesus. Nevertheless, Dunn concludes that Jesus was indeed a monotheist.

The discussion moves onto the subject of Jesus as Lord. Dunn rightly points out that the master Christological text governing this topic, especially in the New Testament, is Psalm 110:1, where YHWH speaks to adoni to sit at his right hand until he makes his enemies his footstool. The title of ‘lord’ is simply a title given to a human master, but it is also used of pagan gods as well as the Roman Emperor. This brings about the issue of the YHWH (LXX kyrios) texts which were used of Jesus. Dunn proposes that this could mean one of two things: that in Paul’s thinking Jesus is Yahweh, or that God has bestowed his unique saving power on the Lord who sits at his right hand via Psalm 110:1. Dunn argues that the second option is more likely. He notes in Phil. 2:5-11, where the YHWH text of Isa. 45 is attributed to Jesus, that the final stanza of the hymn attributes worship ultimately to God the Father. In 1 Cor. 8:6, where Paul speaks of there being one God, the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ, Dunn actually seems to have changed his mind on how this passage is to be interpreted. Previously, Dunn saw this verse as an affirmation of the Shema in which Paul split open to include Jesus within the creed of Israel. Dunn now argues, along with his student James McGrath (which he footnotes) that:

“It is quite possible to argue, alternatively, that Paul took up the Shema, already quoted in 8:4 (‘there is no God but one’), only in the first clause of 8:6 (reworded as ‘for us there is one God, the Father’); and to that added the further confession, ‘and one Lord Jesus Christ’…A distinction remains between the one God and the one Lord.”  

He goes on to state that this statement from Paul is the natural outworking of Psalm 110:1. When Dunn gets around to talking about 1 Cor. 15:24-28 he concludes that this passage, which while quoting Psalm 110:1, ends by placing God the Father as the one who will be “all in all” in which Christ will be included.

Dunn moves on to looking at how the NT authors pickup the themes of God’s Wisdom, Word, and Spirit and incorporate them into their discussions of Jesus. The first text (and most controversial in my opinion) is John 1:1-18. The author of the Fourth Evangelist has obviously taken up and developed the metaphor of the Word in ways which are coinciding with how other writers used it as a way to speak of God’s action in creation, revelation, and salvation. Dunn questions whether it is right to attribute to the Word the opening pronoun of ‘he’ (is can be translated as ‘it’). Dunn speaks of the common interpretation of the poem, that which speaks of Jesus’ preexistent life with God. He offers another option which points out that nothing written in the poem which would be strange to a Hellenistic Jew (such as Philo). Dunn makes the comment, “Properly speaking, then, it is only with 1.14 what Jesus comes into the story…Jesus is not the Word; he is the Word become flesh.” Jesus then is the one who personally reveals the character of the Logos, a character which previously was only able to be expressed in terms of personification. In Col. 1:15 where Jesus is said to be the image/eikon of God, this according to Dunn, should be read as Jesus embodying the wisdom which God wisely uses to act in his world. Jesus is God acting and outgoing, expressing the very purpose and character of God himself. Wisdom christology is also found in Heb. 1:1-3 in Dunn’s reading.

Dunn carries the discussion over to include the Apocalypse of John and the honors given to Jesus in it. In this book Jesus is seen in visions which are reminiscent to the Ancient of Days found in Daniel 7. Both God and Jesus share the Alpha and Omega titles. And at times they both share the same throne. Yet Dunn asks whether these descriptions were written to be understood as literal facts or not. He concludes by stating that the hermeneutical rule on interpreting the various apocalypses should not be ignored: to interpret them literally is to misinterpret them.

The title of ‘god/God’ is sometimes given to Jesus in the NT documents, although many of them are disputed for syntactical reasons. Dunn offers his opinion on the debate. Rom. 9:5 he leaves open, although his Romans commentaries state that answer should be negative. Titus 2:13, which Dunn reminds us that the thing which is to be revealed in the glory of our great God and Savior, he attributes to Jesus (but with some qualification). Matt. 1:23 is to be read as symbolical according to Dunn. John 1:1c is qualified with a parallel in Philo who distinguishes theos with the article and theos without it. 1 John 5:20 is left open as ambiguous. Heb. 1:8 is cited as quoting one of the looser elohim texts in the Hebrew Bible where the Davidic king is called ‘god’. The very next verse, Heb. 1:9, says that Jesus has a God. Dunn concludes by saying the following:

“The traditional attempt to capture this fuller portrait has been to emphasize the human as well as the divine in Jesus. But the distinction is too crude, already for the New Testament writers.”

Discussion of the Last Adam comes up with reference to 1 Cor. 15 and 1 Tim. 2:5. Dunn sees this line of thinking as the expressing of Jesus as the beginning of the new creation of God. Both Adam and Jesus are spoken of in ‘image’ terminology. 1 Tim. 2:5 is read as the natural outworking of Paul’s previous statement in 1 Cor. 8:6. The title of the heavenly intercessor is interpreted as one who, as the priest, becomes the intermediary between God and mankind.

Dunn then interacts with Bauckham and asks if it is really helpful to interpret all of this data in terms of ‘divine identity.’ He argues that this terminology runs the risk of actually confusing rather than clarifying. Dunn points out that the NT writers are careful to not identify Jesus with the one God of Israel. He goes on, “He is not the Father. He is not Yahweh.” Dunn suggests that the language of ‘divine agency’ or ‘plenipotentiary’ hold together the data better. Jesus is the one who embodied God’s immanence. The NT writers say that Jesus, as the divine agent, is never the source (‘ek’) of the act of the Creator, to where God the Father is constantly described as such.

Dunn concludes the chapter by stating that the best way to understand Jesus in light of all the evidence is to see that the early Christian writers saw him as God’s extension to the world in his redeeming action. Yet God remained the God and Father of Jesus. Jesus was not worshipped as wholly God. If he was worshipped, worship was offered to God but through Jesus.

The next chapter of the book is the Conclusion where Dunn wraps up all of the evidence surveyed and offers his closing remarks. I will reserve my own until that time. Thanks for reading.

Part 4: Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?

 In the 3rd chapter, Dunn puts away the toys and brings out the big guns, err, the theological big guns. It is by far the most complex and important chapter up to this point. Since the end of the previous chapter the driving question was forced to be revised. Therefore, Dunn seeks the consideration of the following points:

  1. Generally, what did Israel’s monotheism entail?
  2. How did the mediation of angels small and great reflect the one true God of Israel?
  3. How were God’s Spirit, Wisdom, and Word understood by Israel?
  4.  In what sense were select human beings spoken in terms of apotheosis?

Monotheism is summarized in the first section. Dunn reminds his readers that the Shema denoted the oneness of Israel’s God. This is similar to what we read in the first of the Ten Commandments. Dunn cites both Philo and Josephus who both report in their writings that Jews understand God to be one, even amidst their pagan neighbors. Only one God was deemed worthy of worship: the God of Israel.

That being said, Dunn points out that the noun ‘god’ does not carry only one meaning within the pages of the Hebrew Bible. Moses, acting as God’s agent, was called ‘god’ in the book of Exodus. The Davidic king (probably Solomon) who ruled on God’s behalf was called ‘god’ in Psalm 45. Even human judges, who judge in place of God, are given the title ‘god’ on a few occasions. Dunn concludes this section that even though the Shema was of central and crucial importance for Jews it was not something which restricted the use of the title ‘god’ in metaphoric or poetic fashion.

The next section deals with angels/messengers who bear messages on God’s behalf. Within the Hebrew Bible there are various accounts of these messengers not only bringing forth the word from the LORD but also carrying his name and very presence. Sometimes the narrator of these accounts seemingly switches back and forth between the voice of the messenger and the LORD himself. Dunn argues that the best way to understand these accounts is to recognize that the angel was not God as such but could be said to be God in his self-revelation. The Hebrew concept of the ‘agent bearing the authority of the one who sent him/her’ seems to be the best piece of context in bringing the meaning of these passages to light. Dunn cites Exodus, various pseudopigraphal texts, and the Dead Sea Scrolls which identify the messenger as ‘the angel of the presence’. The Apocalypse of Abraham bears an account where the angel Yahoel is spoken of having God’s very name in him. Yahoel itself seems to be a combination of YHWH and el, the divine name and the Hebrew word for ‘god’. The level of the divine presence represented by this angelic messenger is at one of the highest levels possible.

Dunn turns next to the complicated subjects of defining God’s Spirit, Wisdom, and Word within the Hebrew Bible, apocrypha, and pseudopigrapha. These terms were used to express God’s interaction and intervention within his creation. The Spirit of God is defined by Dunn as “a way of characterizing God’s presence and power.” It also is used as a synonym for ‘breath’, God’s ‘presence’, and God’s ‘hand’. In the 2nd Temple literature the Spirit of God seems to have taken the role of a semi-independent divine agent. Various passages in the Psalms, Proverbs, Book of Wisdom, Judith, and even 2 Baruch depict the Spirit in ways which are more poetic and independent from God. The evidence, according to Dunn, seems to be describing how the unseen and invisible God can interact in revelation, salvation, and inspiration to his creation. Also, Dunn points out that worship is never ascribed to his Spirit in any text. He concludes from this fact that Israel never understood this poetic way of describing God’s action as something “semi-independent of God.” God reveals himself and is active by means of his personal and powerful Spirit/breath.

The pursuit of wise and honorable living came to be expressed by the personification of divine Wisdom within the literature of the Jews. In the Book of Proverbs Wisdom is depicted as a lady sought after by young men. She is also seen as God’s personal companion in the poetic reconstructions of creation. This same theme is picked up in Sirach as well as the Book of Wisdom. Dunn summarizes the available evidence to argue that Wisdom should be understood as metaphorical and poetic in nature, not as an independent being from God. In both Sirach and Baruch it is ‘Torah’ which is the ultimate interpretation of Wisdom.

God’s word is the general way of depicting God in his communication and speech with his creation. The various days in the Genesis creation are opened by with God speaking them into existence. Dunn points out that over 90 percent of the occurrences of ‘the word of the LORD’ refer to inspired prophecy. God’s word also seems to at times take on a personality of its own, such as when God establishes his word, or when the word gets praised, gets trusted in, and even hoped in. Many of the poetic sections of the Bible and the post-biblical literature speak of God’s word being the means of God’s creation, such as Psalm 33:6 where the word is used synonymously with his ‘breath’. Dunn argues that these passages hardly constitute the designation of a semi-independent or hypostatic status to the word itself. He cites Philo who in his most extended discussion of God’s creative activity likens it to an architect who plans the city he is building in a blueprint. For Philo, the Logos (word) is “the archetypal idea, the overall plan that comes to material expression in creation.” In similar fashion to God’s Spirit, the divine Word/Logos of God was never worshipped, even in Philo’s writings.

What might be the most surprising part of this chapter to readers unfamiliar with the subjects and literature would be the next section Dunn tackles: that of the exaltation of select human beings within Israel’s understanding. He points out that “we need to be alert to the fact that the concept of a human person being divinized was not unfamiliar in the world as Jesus’ time.” He cites evidence of Moses, Elijah, and Enoch all being exalted into the heavens. Other literature suggests that even Adam was thought of having been exalted to a heavenly throne. Dunn states that this evidence raises the possibility within monotheistic Judaism of a great human figure being exalted to heaven as permissible.

Dunn’s next chapter will seek to take all the evidence surveyed up to this point and place the New Testament rightly within this very context. As for my own comments, these are my thoughts at the moment:

-It is interesting that within a strict monotheistic religion that human beings appointed by God can rightly be called ‘god’. What is even more interesting is that when the book of Hebrews wishes to call Jesus ‘God/god’ that it cites one of these looser passages (Heb. 1:8-9/Psalm 45:6-7).

-Angels/messengers seem to unambiguously carry the divine presence and even God’s very name in the way which can only intelligently be understood under the principle of agency.

-I’m not sure what to think of the thought of exalted human beings, but it seems that figures of importance within the Israelite religion surely were honored with exaltation and even worship at times.

-Dunn’s assessment of Wisdom, Spirit, and Word need to be taken seriously by anyone looking at this subject in relation to Christology or multiple persons of the Trinity.

-Philo in particular should be read by anyone who wishes to make any definitive statements about the interpretation of John 1:1-18, especially his De Opificio Mundi 16-44.