Tim’s Blog

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 »

Matthew 18 and Church Discipline

August 30, 2016

Matthew 18 is a series of portraits of grace: the grace to those who humble themselves as children, the parable of the lost sheep, and the parable of the unforgiving servant, with its attendant call to forgive our brothers 70×7 times. It also includes a warning against putting a stumbling block in front of other people (which is not at all the same as the modern notions regarding “being offensive”; rather, it is about not being the occasion of tempting others to sin).

In the midst of this is a short passage that, if considered carefully, provides discomfort for various Christians. I am referring in particular to vv 15–20, which in some Bibles comes under the heading “If Your Brother Sins Against You.”

The little passage is uncomfortable for those who pretend the Church has no authority, who think “Judge not, lest you be judged” means accepting everyone no matter what they do. In these verses, Jesus gives the Church the authority of binding and loosing, so that the impenitent are set outside the Church, with the promise that such activity will be ratified in heaven. All of that implies, of course, that the Church is supposed to exercise discipline. It implies that there is such a thing as sin, and more importantly, that recalcitrance (an insistence upon maintaining wrongdoing; a refusal to be corrected) is grounds for expulsion.

But the details of the passage also prove problematic for those who like to think of these verses as outlining “the steps of discipline,” which in fact is simply not true. read more »

Why the Resurrection of Jesus the Messiah Matters

March 27, 2016

In 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul identifies the resurrection as one of the cornerstone truths of the Christian faith. Along with the Messiah’s death “for our sins,” he identifies the resurrection with “the gospel” (1 Cor 15:1–4). He even goes so far as to say that if the Messiah has not risen, we believers are of all men most pitiable (v 19); indeed, we are still in our sins (17) and our faith is vain (14).

But why? Isn’t the resurrection just a proof of the deity of Christ? Is it really necessary for us?

Much in every way.

We see why this is so when we understand Romans 4:25, which says (literally) that Jesus our Lord was “delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised because of our justification.”

We like to talk about Jesus’ death as representative—carried out on our behalf. But that representative death by itself is an enactment of condemnation. (This is why the concept of substitution, while valuable, cannot carry within itself the whole significance of Christ’s work.)

It is Jesus’ resurrection that constitutes His vindication in the face of the condemnation against Him and us. In other words, His justification, which is why in 1 Timothy 3:16 Paul writes that God was “manifest in the flesh, justified by (Greek en) the Spirit, seen of angels, proclaimed to the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”

This is why if Jesus died but did not rise, we are still in our sins. If the representative Man was not justified, neither are the represented men. If the representative death did not issue in representative resurrection, then death and only death is rightly ours.

The resurrection is not simply a sign of the glory of Christ. It is that, of course—it is in response to it that James blurts out, “My Lord and my God!”

But it is more than that.

It is our hope.

Jesus the Water-and-Spirit Man

June 3, 2015

John’s Gospel is loaded with references to water.

The purification jars of water in Cana get transformed into wine jugs. Jesus tells Nicodemus that Israel must be reborn of water and Spirit, and then goes beyond the Jordan, where His disciples start baptizing more disciples than John. Meanwhile, John’s disciples are in a dispute with the Pharisees over purification—whose point of reference would be the baptisms of the Mosaic law.

Subsequently, Jesus goes “out of His way” (i.e. takes the direct route that self-respecting Jews wouldn’t take) to ask a Samaritan woman for some water, and then promises her “living water” (an allusion to the law’s requirement for living water). Then He goes back to Jerusalem and meets a man who has no one to throw him into the healing waters of Bethesda. Jesus heals him, and in so doing instructs him to break the rules against carrying burdens on the Sabbath.read more »