February 18, 2023
When Moses asks to see Yahweh’s glory, God tells even this beloved, familiar servant: you cannot see my face, for no man shall see me and live (Ex 33:20).
And yet Yahweh called upon Israel to “seek his face” (1 Ch 16:11; 2 Ch 7:14). He said, “Seek my face,” and the psalmist responds, “Your face, Yahweh, will I seek” (Ps 27:8).
Are two different things meant by this?
Yes, and no.
Yahweh was telling Israel to seek his pleasurable countenance (“may his face shine upon you”), which could only happen through faith and faithfulness — living in a spirit of repentance and true worship. He wasn’t saying he would literally show his face to them.
To be sure, God is not a man and doesn’t have a “face” in the sense that creatures do. In that sense, it is impossible to “see God’s face.”
And yet … there is a face he could have shown Moses if he wanted to destroy him. There is a mysterious truth there about the incomprehensible God who is not embodied like we are.
But Israel could not see that face and live. That’s why in the tabernacle and temple, only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and only once a year, and only in a cloud of smoke.
We approach the mystery in Revelation 1. John is “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” i.e. the Day of the Lord, divinely admitted into the church’s worship even while alone in exile. The glorified Jesus, the son of man who is the son of God, with eyes like a flame of fire and a voice like the roar of many waters — the visual form of this God who cannot be seen without the one seeing him dying as a result — Jesus speaks to John, and when the apostle turns and sees him, he “fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev 1:17). But Jesus lays his right hand on him, and describes himself as the living one who has indeed died, but is now alive forevermore (1:17–18).
There is a sense in which when we approach God in Spirit we do die, in order to be raised up. The Day of Yahweh is the meeting place, the day of death and resurrection.
Worship in Spirit and truth means worship in the heavenly Spirit who unites us to God and one another in the heavenly worship which John witnesses in Revelation. And it is in “truth,” i.e. the Truth, Jesus (I am the way, the Truth, and the life, Jn 14:6). We die and are raised with Jesus again and again in worship.
When God calls us to worship, he calls us to come and die — and to come and live.
January 7, 2023
Last week, Peter Leithart of the Theopolis Institute interviewed me in connection with my book, Exchanging the Glory: Idolatry and Homosexuality in Romans 1 (2022 Athanasius Press, Theopolis Explorations series). This interview is available on these podcast platforms:
December 28, 2022
… to be sure, it sounds very humble to say, as many Anglicans have, “We have no theory. We just believe Jesus’ words, ’This is my body’ without positing any further explanation.” But this is not really a humble or neutral response. It is in fact an audacious claim about Jesus’ communication to His disciples in
the Upper Room. It is a claim that Jesus was deliberately saying something His disciples could not understand; that, in fact, they did not understand it; that Jesus offered no further explanation to alleviate their incomprehension; and finally, that the disciples said nothing to express their bewilderment on this occasion. For that is what we are commenting on: not a ritual or a miracle yet. Even if it might turn out
to be those things on further investigation, we will only discover it to be so by first examining Christ’s words as an utterance, an act of communication. If our account of the meaning of Jesus’ words renders
them incomprehensible to His disciples, or renders the disciples’ reaction a non sequitur, then we may be sure that we have not understood Him correctly.
— Matthew Colvin, The Lost Supper
October 2, 2022
Talk about irony. Jacob repeatedly gets pegged as “the deceiver.” Supposedly, he was all about treachery and lies in order to gain advantage. Which is itself a misreading of the Genesis text, but that’s beyond my scope here.
The interesting thing about the description of the characters of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25:27 is that Jacob is described as “a tam [Heb] man, dwelling in tents.” The word tam is frequently rendered as “quiet” or “mild” but that is doubtful. More commonly it stresses completeness or blamelessness. But even more fascinating is that the LXX (Greek version of the OT) renders it ἄπλαστος, which means unmoulded and even unfeigned, i.e. true and transparent.
In other words, pretty much the opposite of the stereotype.
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.
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.
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.
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.read more »
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.
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.read more »