Tim’s Blog

Laying on of Hands

September 17, 2022

There is an interesting sequence in Numbers 8:10–12. The people of Israel are to lay their hands upon the Levites, so that Aaron can offer them to Yahweh as a wave offering. The Levites in turn are then to lay their own hands upon two bulls, and offer one for a sin offering and the other as an ascension offering, to make atonement. Thus laying on of hands ties together threads both of representation and of vocation.

One of a myriad of texts both familiar and less familiar that I’m looking at in connection with next month’s Zoom class for Theopolis.

Wisdom and Maturity

September 2, 2022

As I am preparing to teach my Theopolis Zoom class (“Infancy and Maturity in the Messiah’s Kingdom”), I have been reflecting on the integral relationship between maturity and wisdom.

Wisdom is not simply knowledge. It is true that biblical wisdom has as its core the intimate knowledge of God’s Word. But in Scripture, experience with conflict seems to be a key element in applying that knowledge in mature wisdom. Wisdom arises within the context of conflict and suffering. This is the pathway to maturity.

We can see this in the juxtaposition of Adam and Jesus (the new Adam). Adam in some ways is created as an adult but has no life experience, and therefore he is not just “given the car keys.” The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (a function of mature wisdom) is withheld from him. When conflict arises in the form of the tempter, instead of growing through applying the word he has received, he waits to see what will happen to Eve, and then grasps for something for which he is unprepared.

In the case of Jesus, immediately upon his baptism he is driven into the wilderness to be tempted by the serpent. As with Eve, he cites the word of the Father, but in his case that word trumps what the tempter has to say. This is part of the process of conflict and suffering by which he is “perfected” (i.e. matured and completely prepared for his task; the Hebrew and Greek words carry similar ranges in this regard). This often does not sound right to us (“Jesus didn’t need to undergo such a process! He’s God!”) — but it’s what we are explicitly told in Hebrews 2:10 and 5:8–9.

Do you want to grow up in Christ? Learn the Word, and face conflict and suffering in faith and faithfulness.

Killing and Getting Dressed

July 24, 2022

It’s interesting that in the contrasting lists in Colossians 3, the contrast is not between mortification and giving life, but between mortification (3:5) and getting dressed (3:12). I suppose the reason for this is that while we must kill the deeds of the old man, we do not in fact give life to the marks of the Spirit. That life comes from God himself.

Of course, the mortification section does also speak of divestment/getting undressed (apekduomai) of sin, 3:9. This is a link not only to the contrast of being dressed in vv 12ff, but also to what the Messiah accomplished on the cross, where he accomplished the removal (apekdusis, stripping off, undressing) of the body of the flesh (somatos tês sarkos), 2:11. We can mortify the old man, because the elements of the stoicheia were put to death in him; and we can strip off the old man, because the Messiah has already stripped off the body of flesh. Our mortification is an outworking of the accomplishment of Jesus on the cross.

Another interesting feature in Colossians 3 is that in both the “sin list” and the righteousness” list there is one articular item (something like a the rather than just a general reference to a characteristic) that gets explanation/epexegetical treatment. In 3:5, Paul refers to tên pleonexian (the covetousness/avarice), “which is idolatry,” and in 3:14, he climaxes the virtue list with “above all, tên agapên (the love), which is the bond of teleiotêtos (completeness, maturity, perfection). It’s fascinating to ask whether those two particular characteristics are intended to be specifically contrasted. Certainly, covetousness or even idolatry is not the first thing that comes to mind when we are looking for a contrast to love. Yet there are ways in which it is an apt juxtaposition. Pleonexia seeks its own, while agape seeks the other. Moreover, in comparing the old fallen kosmos, we note that the action of Adam and Eve is one of pleonexia, whereas in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul describes agapê as the eternal virtue, and thus (as here) the hallmark of the new creation (the heaven-and-earth kosmos).

It would also be pertinent to discuss Philippians 2, which implicitly contrasts the grasping of Adam over against the obedient loving service of the Messiah Jesus, whose self-giving is the very embodiment of agapê (cf Phi 2:1).

I do wonder whether we reflect deeply enough upon the matter of covetousness or avarice. As Paul himself says, it is form of idolatry and it stands in definitive antithesis to the new creation.

Between Two Insurrectionists: Riots in the Capital

April 15, 2022

No, not that capital, silly. We’re talking about real insurrectionists here. It is Good Friday, after all.

So first things first.

Insurrectionists, Not Thieves

Jesus did not die between two thieves.

“What??” you exclaim. “My Bible tells me he did just that, in both Matthew and Mark” (Matthew 27:38, 44; Mark 15:27).

The Greek word used, however, is lestai (singular lestes). While this term apparently can refer to violent bandits (and thus “robbers”), it is not a term associated with what we generally think when we hear the word thief (pickpockets, burglars, larcenists etc). Such thieves would almost certainly never have been crucified.

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Hebrews 1, Angels and Elements

February 27, 2022

Yesterday, it occurred to me that in Hebrews 1, the author quotes, “He makes his angels winds/spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire,” and it suddenly occurred to me that those are two of the four classical elements. A neat connection to the stoicheia kosmou (“elements of the world”) passages in Galatians and Colossians, I thought, particularly since both Galatians 3 and Stephen in Acts 7 (as well as quite probably Colossians 2:18 in context) connect angels to Torah. And of course, like Galatians, Hebrews has a very strong focus upon the ending of the old covenant administration (although Galatians focuses more primarily upon circumcision and calendrical observance, whereas Hebrews is more focused upon the temple service).

Well, today I looked up the passage that Hebrews 1 is quoting, and whoah! — all the classical elements are there: “He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on wings of the wind; he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire. He set the earth on its foundations….” (Psalm 104:3–5).

Water, wind, fire, earth.

So without outright saying so, it appears that Hebrews is using the same concept of stoicheia kosmou as Paul is in Galatians 4 and Colossians 2. Moreover, this provides further support that the phrase does not mean “elemental spirits” or “elemental/rudimentary teachings,” but rather refers to the consitutive elements of the old creation.

The Climate is the Lord’s

September 28, 2019

Reflections on the Man-made Climate Change Discussion

I do not frequently write about the perceived climate crisis.

There are numerous reasons for that. I am not a science buff, much less a scientist.

Moreover, I don’t have time to write all the things I really want to write. There are books in biblical studies and novels residing in my head, along with numerous shorter pieces, and they await me impatiently: I frankly have little time to write at this stage of my life.

Aside from that, the climate issue is a polarizing debate, and it’s not necessarily the discussion I want to serve as the cause of alienation.

Nonetheless, I am writing now in spite of it all. I am not presenting myself as an expert in climate science, nor am I primarily interested in putting forward expert expositions of others defending competing scientific viewpoints. My curation would surely be inadequate for such a task.

My aim here is to approach things from another angle. (Although I do want to come back — and who would not? — to the wonderfully scientific subject of cow farts, attributed with being responsible for more greenhouse gas [!] emissions than “cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.”) The reason I am willing to risk such a polarizing discussion is that biblical reflection is at the heart of my calling, and the crisis of the times virtually demands at least a bit of such reflection. So here it is, very briefly.

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The Debtor Metaphor of Romans 6

November 9, 2017

In Romans, Paul has an extended development of the idea of slavery and liberation—fundamentally, an exodus theme. In the midst of that development, he writes in Romans 8:12 that we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.

That cryptic statement in context raises questions. Is this is a simple negation (“we are not debtors to the flesh”), a denial with an unspoken corresponding affirmation of where our debt genuinely rests (“we are not debtors to the flesh, but to the Spirit”), or perhaps an emphatic statement about a new situation that was previously not the case (“we are no longer debtors to the flesh”)?

Perhaps Paul doesn’t want us to answer the implicit question in just one of these ways; perhaps he wants us to acknowledge the truth of some or all of these ways of reading his statement.

It is interesting, though, to trace the idea of debtorship in connection with Paul’s theme of slavery. Under the social and de facto legal conditions of Paul’s world and Israel’s history, one could be sold into slavery for one’s debts, and was therefore bound to serve the creditor. That seems to shed some light on Paul’s argument in much of Romans 5–8, not least 6–7.read more »

Righteousness in Romans 6

October 27, 2017

Wright suggests that in Romans 6, “righteousness” (dikaiosune) is a virtual proxy for God himself. In extensive use in chapter 3, “the righteousness of God” (dikaiosone theou) refers to God’s covenant faithfulness, and much of Romans 3–8 has an underlying narrative substructure of exodus—a transition from slavery to freedom. But then, 6:18 speaks of “slaves of righteousness.” Here’s Wright:read more »

A Note Re: Wright on Israel’s Future

October 25, 2017

In his article, “Romans and the Theology of Paul” (reprinted most recently in Pauline Perspectives), N. T. Wright emphasizes that the narrative of Paul’s letter to the Romans is keyed to the story of Israel, seen within the light of Jesus as the Messiah. This is a crucial point that is often overlooked, but in a number of places, I think he takes wrong turns or doesn’t quite get the grasp of the handle in the right place.

For example, in regard to Israel’s “fall” of which Paul speaks, Wright frequently notes that Israel was called to be a light to the nations and she failed, largely because of pride in covenantal position.

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Abraham’s Faith Revisited

June 26, 2017

When we correlate Genesis 15, Genesis 22, Romans 4, and James 2, we will come to understand that there is no tension whatsoever between Paul’s view of faith and works over against that of James. Both appeal to how Abraham’s faith in Genesis 15 is accounted for righteousness, but both in fact go beyond that.

Like Paul, James affirms that Abraham’s faith in Yahweh’s promise was counted as righteousness (i.e. in Genesis 15, when God made the initial promise of seed). He affirms that within the framework of stating that Abraham was justified by works when he offered up Isaac on the altar (Gen 22, frequently referred to as the akedah). The point he makes is that the faith of Abraham (which Yahweh counted as righteousness) was active, and that it was completed by action. The offering of Isaac, says James, fulfilled the Genesis 15 statement that Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.read more »