Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The “Footsteps of the Messiah” and the Messianic Tribulation

Since Michael wrote such an excellent post below on Jesus as the royal and Davidic Suffering Servant, I thought I would toss out something I discovered this morning on Jesus and the Psalms. Hope you all like it (I know Michael will).

Many people who have studied eschatology know that many ancient Jews expected the coming of the Messiah to be preceded by a period of eschatological tribulation. And many also may be familiar with the fact that the messianic tribulation is frequently referred to by the Rabbis as “the birth pangs of the Messiah”—an expression which appears in both the Talmud and the Gospels (b. Sanh. 98b; Mark 13:3-8). But what many people are not familiar with is that the Rabbis had another expression—a very ancient expression—for referring to the time of tribulation. The Rabbis also spoke of “the footsteps (or footprints) of the Messiah”. We find an ancient reference to this in the Mishnah, which reads:
With the footprints of the Messiah presumption shall increase and dearth reach its height… the wisdom of the Scribes shall become insipid and they that shun sin shall be deemed contemptible, and truth shall nowhere be found. Children shall shame the elders, and the elders shall rise up before the children, for “the son dishonors the father, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law: a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.” The face of this generation is as the face of a dog… (Mishnah Sotah 9:15, citing Micah 7:6).
Here we have a classic Rabbinic description of the time of tribulation and the wicked “generation” that was supposed to accompany the coming of the Messiah. As the great translator of the Mishnah, Herbert Danby, says in his footnote to this passage, “the footprints of the Messiah” are
The signs which herald the coming of the Messiah at the end of the time of exile. (Danby, The Mishnah, 306 n. 9)
It took me six hundred pages to explain the connection between the tribulation and the end of the exile, but to anyone familiar with the Gospels, the Mishnah should sound familiar. Indeed, Jesus himself—in one of his most mysterious sayings—quotes the exact same prophecy from the book of Micah to describe the eschatological tribulation:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. (Matt 10:34-36; cf. Lk 12:51-53)
As I argued in the book, here Jesus is declaring that he has come to inaugurate the eschatological tribulation that was supposed to precede the coming of the messianic kingdom of God. He has come not to bring an era of peace, but to set in motion “the footprints of the Messiah”—the time of tribulation—spoken of later by the Rabbis.

So far, so good. This should be old hat for some of you out there. But what I learned this morning, which I had never known, was this: Not only do the Rabbis refer to the Messianic Tribulation as “the footsteps of the Messiah,” but they derive this expression from the sufferings of David described in Psalm 89! Consider the following texts, one from the Midrash Rabbah and the other from the Babylonian Talmud, which speak of the tribulation as accompanying the coming of the Davidic Messiah:

Rabbi Jannai said: If you see one generation after another cursing and blaspheming, look out for the coming of the Messiah, as it says, “Wherewith thine enemies have taunted O Lord, wherewith thine enemies have taunted the footsteps of thine anointed” (Midrash on Song of Songs 2:13, citing Ps 89:52 [trans. M. Simon, p. 127]

Our Rabbis taught: “In the seven year cycle at the end of which the son of David will come… the arrows of hunger will be sent forth; in the third, a great famine, in the course of which men, women, and children, pious men and saints will die, and the Torah will be forgotten by its students; in the fourth, partial plenty; in the fifth, great plenty, when men will eat, drink, and rejoice, and the Torah will return to its disciples; in the sixth, sounds; in the seventh, wars; and at the conclusion of the septennate the son of David will come… Wherewith thine enemies have reproached, O Lord; wherewith they have reproached the footsteps of thine anointed [Ps 89:52]. It has been taught, Rabbi Judah said: In the generation when the son of David comes, the house of assembly will be for harlots, Galilee in ruins, Gablan lie desolate… the wisdom of scribes in disfavour, God-fearing men despised, people be dog-faced, and truth entirely lacking. (b. Sanhedrin 97a; trans. I. Epstein)

These texts are clearly drawing on the same tradition found in the Mishnah. What is striking about their presentation of the Messianic Tribulation is that they both cite the line from Psalm 89 that speaks of “the footsteps of thine anointed” (Ps 89:51). The Hebrew word for “anointed” here, is, of course “Messiah” (Hb. mashiach).
All of this is important because if you go back and read Psalm 89 in context (I strongly encourage you to reread the whole psalm), you will see that it is not focused on the tribulations of the world, but on (1) the establishment of the Davidic covenant (Ps 89:1-37) and (2) the sufferings of the Davidic “messiah” (Ps 89:38-52).

Thou has renounced the covenant with thy servant;
Thou hast defiled his crown in the dust…
Lord, where is thy steadfast love of old,
Which by thy faithfulness thou didst swear to David?
Remember, O Lord, how thy servant is scorned;
How I bear in my bosom the insults of the peoples,
with which thy enemies taunt O LORD, with which they mock
the the footsteps of thy messiah. (Ps 89:39, 49-51)
I won’t say anything about the prominence of the “servant” imagery; Michael’s already covered that in his awesome post below.
But one reason all this is so striking for me is that in my dissertation, I argued that Jesus saw himself as the messianic Son of Man and suffering Servant, who would take upon himself the sufferings of the eschatological tribulation, in order to usher in the kingdom of God (see Mark 10:35-45). I argued that the tribulation was not only messianic because it would accompany the coming of the Messiah, but because the Messiah would actually undergo the tribulation and die in it. At the time, the only text I had in mind that contained an explicit link between the eschatological tribulation and the “messiah” was Dan 9:24-27, in which the Messiah dies in the tribulation. When we add the ancient Jewish interpretation of Psalm 89 to the matrix, the evidence suggests that Jesus also saw himself as the Davidic Messiah who would suffer the messianic tribulation by undergoing the days of “the footsteps of the Messiah.” And he did this—as Michael showed below—by interpreting his own imminent fate in light of the Davidic messianic psalms.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Brant and I on the Radio

Brant and I will be on Catholic Answers Radio today. Jerry Usher is out, so Tim Staples will be hosting the show.

The topic: The Historical Reliability of the Gospels

The show airs from 3pm-5pm Pacific Time.

Go here for more information. The show will be available as a podcast later on.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Houston, We Don't Have A Problem

I just got back from an incredible conference this weekend. Dr. Scott Hahn, Dr. Brant Pitre, Jeff Cavins and myself had the honor of speaking to a crowd of about 1,500 people who had come together to study God's Word. It was a blast.

I couldn't possibly mention all of the highlights, but I will name a few...

--Getting to spend time with Scott, Brant, Jeff Cavins and Rob Corzine, the Director of the St. Paul Center. What incredible friendships!

--Hearing the speakers, especially Scott Hahn--he is the master.

--Bishop Dinardo's homily. Probably the best I've ever heard at a conference, and I've heard some amazing ones! Brant turned to me at one point and said, sarcastically, "I'm just so tired of hearing homilies which discuss Septuagintal Greek in the New Testament." (Yeah, it was that good!)

--Meeting several prospective JP Catholic students. I only wish I had more time to spend with them. In fact, a number of people came up to me and had encouraging words for the school. Thanks to all of you!

--Getting time in with old friends from Steubenville, including Carson Weber

--Meeting the fine people at the Fullness of Truth Organization, such as Mary Williams and Robin Lennon. They are absolutely incredible people and their dedication is truly an inspiration. The conference went off without a hitch--they even had the photocopies of the handouts Brant and I prepared well-distributed.

--Meeting a man who recently received his Ph.D. in Old Testament Studies from CU. Amazingly, he explained that he was doing work in the final chapters of Sirach--which Brant and I had just had a great discussion about over lunch!

--Having a couple of stimulating conversations with Mark Baker, an extremely bright Catholic who is well-versed in biblical studies

--Talking with a young man named Josh who is extremely well-read!

--The music of Eric Genuis

--Speaking with countless other people about commentaries, theological works and other issues relating to biblical studies

--The dinner on Saturday night--what amazing people!

--Giving a presentation in which I could say, "Building on what Dr. Hahn just said..." and, "As Brant Pitre explained in the last session..." I love it when you have a conference where all the presentations work together and build on one another!

--Similarly to the one above, being part of a panel Q & A session where, upon hearing the question posed by a participant, all three panel members reach simultaneously for their copies of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and turn to the very same page at the very same moment. It was like synchronized Catechism reading. I thought it was great.

--Getting to the airport on time!

--Having my Uncle Terry and my cousin Monika around. Monica, I owe you huge for all your help!

--Supplying to and receiving from Brant some great reading material for the plane trip back. I was actually disappointed the flight ended when it did--I was having such a blast reading.

We'd love to hear from any of you who attended--feel free to post in the combox!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Zechariah and the Birth of John the Baptist

Given that this Sunday we will be celebrating the Birth of John the Baptist, I thought I'd say a few words here about the Gospel from the Vigil Mass. Most know the story of the announcement of Jesus' birth. But Luke deliberately contrasts that angelic encounter with another--the story of Gabriel's appearance to Zechariah. Without knowing this story, one really fails to see the big picture of Luke 1.

Of course, Luke begins his gospel by telling us about the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth. Zechariah, who was serving as priest in the temple, hears the word of the Lord through the angel Gabriel (cf. Luke 1:5-25). Zechariah, a priest, a man one would expect to have great faith, fails to believe the word of the Lord.

Luke then contrasts Zechariah’s disbelief, with Mary’s response of faith (cf. Luke 1:26-38).

Indeed, there are many similarities between the account of Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah and the Annunciation to Mary. In both instances the angel Gabriel comes to announce the miraculous birth of a key figure in salvation history. Both Zechariah and Mary are “troubled” by the appearance of the angel (Luke 1:12, 29). They are also both told, “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:13, 30). In addition, both are given the name of their future progeny (Luke 1:13, 31). Finally, both inquire as to “how” the plan announced to them shall be fulfilled (Luke 1:16, 34).

Yet, the similarities underscore the striking difference between Zechariah’s response and Mary’s. Whereas the priest Zechariah fails to believe, Mary, a poor young peasant woman, responds in faith.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

From Around the Web

Martin Harold, author of the excellent blog, Fides and Film, has a new article up on the Intellectual Conservative on the soon-to-be-released movie Bella. It's an amazing film and Martin's article does a great job explaining why it's so important. Be sure to read the article, entitled, "Bella: A Powerful Pro-life Movie; But Will Christians Accept It?"

The blog, Exiled Preacher, has a great interview with one of our favorite bloggers around here--Michael Bird from Euangelion. Make sure you check it out.

In case you didn't know, Doubleday is publishing the Pope Benedict's recent series of lectures on the Twelve Apostles as a hardbound book, The Apostles. The book is due out on July 20th. Amy Welborn is working on some helpful study materials for adult religious education classes to be released in connection with the book.

Finally, Mike Aquilina, who runs the superbly written Fathers of the Church blog, has a new book out: The Resilient Church: The Glory, the Shame, and the Hope for Tomorrow. Mike Aquilina is among the finest and clearest writers producing works today. His books are always a treat. In fact, I assigned his book, The Fathers of the Church, Expanded Edition as a text book last quarter for my students here at John Paul the Great Catholic University. I'm sure this book will be yet another award-winner.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Jerome on Daniel 7

Daniel 7:14: And He is the one whom all the peoples, tribes, and language-groups shall serve. His authority is an eternal authority which shall not be removed, and His kingdom shall be one that shall never be destroyed ...

Jerome writes: "Let Porphyry answer the query of whom out of all mankind this language might apply to, or who this person might be who was so powerful as to break and smash to pieces the little horn, whom he interprets to be Antiochus? If he replies that the princes of Antiochus were defeated by Judas Maccabaeus, then he must explain how Judas could be said to come with the clouds of heaven like unto the Son of man, and to be brought unto the Ancient of days, and how it could be said that authority and royal power was bestowed upon him, and that all peoples and tribes and language-groups served him, and that his power is eternal and not terminated by any conclusion."

Big Conference This Weekend

For those of you in the Texas area (and that's about 50% of people in America, I believe!), I just want to remind you of the big Fullness of Truth conference coming up this weekend.

Brant Pitre and I will be joining Scott Hahn and Jeff Cavins for this huge event in Houston, TX.

I am presenting twice:
1) The Kingdom of God is at Hand!: Jesus, David & the Church
2) Singing In The Reign: The Liturgy of God's Kingdom

The great thing about this conference is that it is being done in connection with the St. Paul Center. This will not be your typical popular level conference, with a hodge-podge of different presenters and topics. This is a conference with four speakers who all belong to the same "think-tank". You can count on all of the talks building upon one another.

If you haven't been to a St. Paul Center conference such as the Applied Biblical Studies Conference at Franciscan University, the St. Paul Center's Conference for Priests, Deacons and Seminarians or the Annual West Coast Biblical Studies Conference, you really don't know what you're missing.

I love these conferences because it's great to see a thousand Catholics walking around with beat-up, marked-up, Bibles, who come up and ask incredibly sophisticated questions. This is where you find those well-read, highly motivated Catholics coming out of the woodwork. It is very inspiring.

And, of course, I'm thrilled to hang out with my dearest friends who live on the other side of the country!

For more information, go here.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom (3.1.4. The Davidic Suffering Servant of God)

One of the most important ways Jesus is presented as a New David in the Gospels also happens to be one of the most overlooked. While Christians today immediately link Jesus’ suffering and death with Isaiah’s prophecy of the “Suffering Servant” (cf. Isa 53), the Gospels writers―indeed, all four of them―draw primarily from the imagery of another book: the Psalms. In particular, the Evangelists draw on imagery from psalms attributed to David.

Before going further, it is important to point out why this dimension of the portrait of Jesus―so clearly an essential part of the dominical tradition as evidenced by a number of features[1]―has been neglected in modern times and the contemporary discussion. It seems clear that the Davidic echoes are lost due to the fact that certain modern critical presuppositions obscure connections that would have been clear to a first century audience. While in the first century it seems to have been universally believed that David was the primary author of the psalms, readers today come to the text looking through a different set of lenses―that of Gunkel or some other form critic. Such an approach inevitably fails to “catch” much of what the original audience would have understood.

The evidence that the Psalms were associated with David is nothing short of overwhelming. The Old Testament itself makes allusions to David’s reputation as a singer and composer (e.g., 1 Sam 16:18, 23; Amos 6:5). 2 Chronicles 7:6 attributes the instruments used in the temple to David: “The priests stood at their posts; the Levites also, with the instruments for music to the Lord which King David had made for giving thanks to the Lord” (cf. also 2 Chron 23:18; 29:25-27; Neh 12:36). In fact, the very songs (i.e., psalms) sung in the temple are attributed, with Asaph, to David: “Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praises to the Lord with the words of David and of Asaph the seer” (2 Chron 29:30).

This tradition was clearly well-known in the first century. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, we read in 11QPsa reads:

“And David ben Jesse was wise. . . and he wrote 3,600 plsams. . . and all the songs that he composed were 446, and songs for making music over the stricken, four. And the total was 4, 050. All these he composed through prophecy which was given him before the Most High God.”[2]
Likewise, the New Testament makes numerous references to David’s role as the author of the Psalms (Matt 22:43; Mark 12:36; Acts 2:34; 4:25).

Of course, the Psalms themselves contain superscriptions assigning them to David’s hand. Moreover, the superscriptions of several of the psalms even attach them to specific episodes from David’s life. With one exception―Psalm 51, which is attached to David’s sin with Bathsheba―the episodes involve contexts wherein David is being pursued and/or persecuted by his enemies.

Psalm 3 “A Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom”
Psalm 34 “A Psalm of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech”
Psalm 51 “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba”
Psalm 52 “A Maskil of David, when Doeg, the Edomite came and told Saul, ‘David has come to
the house of Abimelech”
Psalm 56 “A Miktam of David, when he fled from Saul, in
the cave”
Psalm 59 “A Miktam of David, when Saul sent men to watch his house in
order to kill him”

It would seem just from this that David’s sufferings were believed to be an especially important element of his life.

In particular the Psalms seem to hold up David as a kind of model for holiness. Of course, this concept is found frequently in the Old Testament. 1 Samuel 13:14 refers to David as “a man after [God’s] own heart.” Despite his sinful handling of his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba―a matter for which he would pay for dearly and repent of―references to David’s exemplary holiness abound in the Old Testament. Indeed, he is the model for piety. This is true not only in the book of Chronicles, but also in the books of 1-2 Kings. Consider some of the following passages[3]:

1 Kings 3:3, 6: Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father… Solomon said, “Thou hast shown great and steadfast love to thy servant David my father, because he walked before thee in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward thee…

1 Kings 3:14: if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked…

1 Kings 9:4: And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my ordinances…

1 Kings 11:6: So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done.

1 Kings 11:34: Nevertheless I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand; but I will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of David my servant whom I chose, who kept my commandments and my statutes.

1 Kings 11:36: if you will hearken to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did…

1 Kings 14:8: yet you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commandments, and followed me with all his heart, doing only that which was right in my eyes,

1 Kings 15:5: because David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.

1 Kings 15:11: Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as David his father had done.

1 Kings 22:2: [Josiah] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.
The last passage from 1 Kings 22:2 is especially interesting in that it equates “walking in all the way of David” with “doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” Something similar may be found in Sirach 48:22 (cf. Sir 47:1-11; 49:4). This tradition was clearly present also in Jesus’ day. Josephus writes that Josiah was holy because he held up David as a model of holiness: “[Josiah] was of a most excellent disposition, and naturally virtuous, and followed the actions of king David, as a pattern and a rule to him in the whole conduct of his life” (Ant. 10.29).

The way the Psalms hold up David as a model of holiness may be seen in the close combination of Psalms 1-2. Psalms 1-2 clearly form an introductory unit, which sets the tone for the whole Psalter.[4] This is highlighted by the fact that the LXX Psalter includes superscriptions for every psalm except these two.[5] Furthermore, the link between the two psalms is evident from the inclusio formed by the blessing at the beginning of Psalm 1 and at the end of Psalm 2. Psalm 1:1 begins, “Blessed is the man”, while Psalm 2 ends, “Blessed are all who take refuge in Him”(2:11). This observation has been made in rabbinic tradition.[6]

Along with the blessing inclusio there are other parallels as well. In Psalm 1:6 we read that “the way of the wicked will perish”, while in Psalm 2:11, we find that those who do not fear the Lord will “perish in the way”. Likewise, in Psalm 1:1 the blessed man “sits not in the seat of scoffers”, whereas in Psalm 2:4, the Lord “sits” in heaven and laughs, scoffing at the wicked, so to speak. Finally, in Psalm 1:2 the blessed man “meditates” on the law of God, while in Psalm 2:1 the same word used for “meditate”, the Greek word in the LXX and the Hebrew word in the MT, is used for those who “plot” in vain.[7]

Scholars recognize numerous wisdom themes in Psalms 1-2. The first psalm’s contrast of the righteous and the wicked is a common theme found throughout the sapiential (wisdom) tradition. Moreover, the Edenic imagery used in the psalm describing the righteous man as a tree planted by streams of water (v.3), is much like wisdom passages such as Sirach 24, which we looked at earlier. Also, the inevitable judgement of the wicked, who will be “like chaff which the wind drives away”, is also a theme found in the wisdom literature. The idea that the blessed man walks not in the “counsel” of the wicked is a dominant theme in the wisdom collection as well.

Psalm 2, with its close parallels to Psalm 1, thus displays David as the exemplary “wise” man. As the wisdom literature teaches, David elevates the “fear of the Lord” over the fear of impending death of his enemies – trusting that the Lord is capable of delivering him.[8] Sheppard further explains:

“The profane nations and rulers in Ps 2 are identified with those who walk the way of sinners and the wicked in Ps 1. Opposite these, one finds the divine king depicted in the language of Nathan’s oracle as one who, by contrastive implication, walks in the way of the righteous. Consequently, David is represented in Ps 2 both as the author of the Psalms and also as one who qualifies under the injunction of Ps 1 to interpret the Torah as a guide to righteousness.”[9]
Hence, David is understood to be the model “wise” man depicted in Psalm 1. Furthermore, since he is the author of the psalm, he is portrayed as the teacher of wisdom: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise, be warned O rulers of the earth” (2:10).

The wisdom nature of Psalms 1-2 is further highlighted by its close relationship with Proverbs 1. Proverbs 1 introduces the book with many of the same themes Psalms 1-2 introduce at the beginning of the Psalter. These include: the contrast of the two ways (Ps 1:1; 2:11; Prov 1:15); the wicked as “scoffers” (Ps 1:1; Prov 1:22); description of the “righteous” (Ps 1:5; Prov 1:3); the motif of “walking” (Ps 1:1; Prov 1:15); accepting right “counsel” (Ps 1:1; 2:2; Prov 1:25, 30); the use of “torah” (Ps 1:2; Prov 1:8 – mother’s “teaching”); “fruit” (Ps 1:3; Prov 1:31); the fear and knowledge of the Lord (Ps 1:6; 2:10, 11; Prov 1:7, 22, 29); “laughing and mocking / derides” (Ps 2:4 ; Prov 1:26).[10]

From all of this it seems possible to conclude that Psalms 1-2 introduce the “law” to be meditated on in the five books of the Psalter as wisdom. However, just as the Mosaic Law, the Pentateuch, taught by not only the words of God but also the actions of the Patriarchs, so too the Psalter will teach Israel wisdom through the words and deeds of David. Sheppard explains:

“The entire Psalter, therefore, is made to stand theologically in association with David as a source of guidance for the way of the righteous. In this fashion, the Psalter has gained, among its other functions, the use as a source for Wisdom reflection and a model of prayers based on such a pious interpretation of the Torah.”[11]
Thus, as we have seen, the Davidic psalms are often closely linked with some event in his life.[12]

In the Passion narrative, the sufferings of Christ are connected with the sufferings of David, the exemplary righteous man known for his sufferings in the Old Testament. As Jesus was betrayed by Judas, David was likewise betrayed by someone close to him―Ahithophel. Ahithophel is called “David’s counselor” in 2 Samuel 15:12. We read about David’s flight in 2 Samuel 15:

And all the country wept aloud as all the people passed by, and the king crossed the brook Kidron, and all the people passed on toward the wilderness. But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered; and all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went… And it was told David, "Ahith'ophel is among the conspirators with Ab'salom." (2 Sam 15:23, 31).
Here we see many parallels with the passion narratives found in John as well as the other Gospels: both cross the Kidron (2 Sam 15:23; John 18:1); both go to the Mount of Olives (2 Sam 15:23; Matt 26:30); both are followed on their way out of Jerusalem by people who weep for them (2 Sam 15:23; Luke 23:27). Like Jesus, David is betrayed by a close confidant, Ahithophel. Ahithophel later goes on to hang himself (2 Sam 17:23)―prefiguring Judas who does the same (cf. Matt 27:3-5). As Jesus prays to his Father in the garden, so too David prays, "O LORD, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahith'ophel into foolishness" (1 Sam 15:31).

During the Passion three Davidic psalms in particular come into focus: Psalm 22, Psalm 69 and Psalm 109. All three relate the sufferings of David. First, lots are casts for his garments, fulfilling Psalm 22:18: “they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots” (cf. Matt 27:35; Mark 21:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:23-24). While the allusion is clear in the Synoptic accounts, John explicitly calls this a “fulfillment” of the psalm. The language seems to indicate that the Psalm was more than a mere song but also a messianic prophecy. The crucifixion, which involved nailing Jesus to the wood of the cross (cf. John 20:25) may also have been seen in connection with another verse of the Psalm 89:25: “they have pierced my hands and feet.”

It is here in Jesus’ Davidic-like sufferings that his “kingship” is finally revealed for all to see as the words, “King of the Jews”, is finally fastened to the Cross. After the sign is fastened above his head we read: “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads, and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ (Mark 15:29; cf. Matt 27:39). Here is an allusion to David’s words in Psalm 109:25: “I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they wag their heads.”

At the climax of his passion, Jesus quotes directly from Davidic psalms. In Mark and Matthew we read that he quotes explicitly from Psalm 22: “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Elo-i, Elo-i, lama sabach-thani?” which means, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (cf. Ps 22:1; Mark 15:34; Matt 27:45-26). Luke records Jesus alluding to another Davidic psalm, Psalm 31: “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” (cf. Ps 31:5; Luke 23:46).
All four Gospel accounts relate that Jesus’ final moments on the cross involved an allusion to Psalm 69:21b: “for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” In Mark we read that immediately prior to his death someone ran to get some “vinegar” for Jesus: “And one ran and, filling a sponge full of vinegar, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink (Mark 15:26). Matthew 27:49 tells us that Jesus was given the sponge to drink. In John, it is especially clear that Jesus initiated the event and did so to deliberately fulfill Psalm 69:21b:

“After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the scripture), ‘I thirst.’ 29 A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished”; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:28-30).
John goes on record that the soldiers did not break Jesus' legs in order to fulfill another passage: "For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, 'Not a bone of him shall be broken'"(Jn 19:36). While this is likely a reference to the Passover instructions of Exodus 12 (cf. Exod 12:46), another passage is clearly being alluded to--a Davidic psalm: "Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken" (Ps 34:19-20).

Jesus’ death is thus inextricably linked to David’s identity as the royal suffering servant of God.

Continue to the next post in this series...

Complete outline (with links) of first two parts of "Jesus and the Restoration of the Kingdom" series

[1] Even the most skeptical scholars would have to recognize its coherence with the so-called “criteria of authenticity” including “multiple attestation,” and “discontinuity”.
[2] The text is from, James A. Sanders, “The Qumran Psalms Scroll (11QPsa) Reviewed,” in On Language, Culture, and Religion: In Honor of Eugene A. Nida (The Hague: Mouton, 1974): 136.
[3] Some scholars have tried to argue that there is a difference between the “high view” of David in the Chronicler and the “pessimistic” view of David in the historical books. Yet, a close reading reveals that the books of Samuel and Kings hold up David as an exemplar of holiness every bit as much as the Chronicler does.
[4] Patrick Miller, “The Beginning of the Psalter”, in The Shape and Shaping of the Psalter (J. Clinton McCann, ed.; England: Sheffield Press, 1993): 85: “[The connections between Psalms 1-2] indicate, at least on the editing level, that Psalms 1-2 were to be read together as an entrée into the Psalter.”
[5] David M. Howard, "Editorial Activity in the Psalter: A State-of-the-Field Survey," in The Shape and Shaping of the Psalter, 58: “Most introductions and commentaries . . . note that while the Masoretic text (MT) of the Psalter carries superscriptions for only 116 psalms, the Septuagint (LXX) carries superscriptions for all but Psalms 1 and 2, lending credence to this idea.”
[6] See Gerald Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (Chico: Scholars Press, 1985), 205.
[7] For these three connections see Scott Harris, “Proverbs 1:8-19, 20-23 As ‘Introduction’”. RB 107-2 (2000): 211-212.
[8] See Psalm 2:10-11: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise. . . serve the Lord with fear.” Proverbs 9:11 states: “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.”
[9] Sheppard, Wisdom As A Hermeneutical Construct (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1980), Wisdom, 142.
[10] Harris, “Proverbs”, 215-218.
[11] Sheppard, Wisdom As A Hermeneutical Construct, 142.
[12] The superscription to Psalm 51 reads: “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheeba.”

Friday, June 15, 2007

Tilling's Statement on Scripture

Chris Tilling's blog Chrisendom continues to fascinate. Tilling is now writing some excellent posts in which he is trying to write a statement on the "inerrancy of Scripture" (part 1; part 2). Of course, his project has turned out to be a little more than just that. The proposed statement he has come up with has offered a concise summary of the biblical witness regarding the authority and role of Scripture.

I don't agree with everything he says necessarily. My preferred statement would still be the one so beautifully laid out in Dei Verbum. In fact, I know a number of non-Catholics who secretly agree with me--this document is a real work of art.

But that's not to ignore the merits of what Tilling is doing. What he is doing is very interesting. Speaking about the importance of testifying to the truth of Scripture by our lives is especially important and I appreciate that tremendously.

There are a number of issues his statement raises that I find especially fascinating as a Catholic.

Of course, the recent conversion of Francis Beckwith has highlighted the common ground and differences between Catholics and Evangelicals on Scripture. In particular, many in the Evangelical Theological Society insist that Beckwith's conversion means that he can no longer hold to their statement of faith, which holds that “the Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written..." Beckwith (and I agree with him) holds that there is no contradiction here with official Catholic teaching.

The sticky issue here is that clearly Beckwith no longer holds to sola scriptura--something never explicitly articulated by the ETS statement. While Catholics do not hold to sola scriptura they do believe that the Bible alone is the inspired Word of God written. No Catholic who knows his theology would EVER call a papal encyclical or even a Church Council's documents inspired. The Bible alone is the inspired Word of God for Catholics. That's why you can never read anything--even something written by Pope Benedict himself--other than Scripture at Mass during the "Liturgy of the Word". The readings are taken from the Bible--not Church documents or papal encyclicals--for a reason. But I digress...

To me, as a Catholic, one of the things that is truly striking about Chris Tilling's statement is the absence of sola Scriptura language. For sake of argument, if his statement became the official statement of a group like the ETS or a school, I'm not sure I would have any problem, as a Catholic, joining.

I would love to ask Chris therefore, Is that an oversight you made? Or is that a recognition that Scripture doesn't specifically teach that it is our only authority? Or is that a combination of both--in other words, you pulled together all the various witnesses you could find and, since Scripture never includes such a dogmatic statement, it never found its way into you statement.

By the way, ETS members began to recognize that their own statement is a bit unclear on the matter of sola scriptura (though some still, wrongly insist that it contradicts Catholic teaching!). The more well-read members and are now insisting that Catholics cannot affirm the statement because what the statement means by Scripture is the Protestant canon, not the Catholic one. However, it should be pointed out, this is never stated in their own statement. (For more on the canon debate see my series of posts "Loose Canons".)

And, I should point out, what constitutes the "canon" is not spelled out in Tilling's statement either. That's appropriate, of course, since Tilling is trying to stay so close to the witness of Scripture and there is no list of the canonical books in Scripture. Making that observation is, clearly, an implicit recognition of the limitation of sola Scriptura--for clearly some other authority is needed simply to establish what Scripture is. But again, I digress...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Did Jesus Claim to Be The Messiah?

I’m currently writing an article for a Bible dictionary on the Messiah, and so was recently working on the question of whether Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, when I noticed a curiosity of New Testament scholarship that I had not noticed before. In his article for the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary on “Messiah,” Joseph Fitzmyer raises the question of whether Jesus claimed to be the Messiah:
Did Jesus use the title of himself? It is not easy to answer that question.

After giving several other (highly problematic) reasons for doubting that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, Fitzmyer’s final argument is this:

At his interrogation before the Sanhedrin, when asked whether he is “the Messiah,” he answers in Mark, “I am” (14:62), but in the Matthean parallel, his answer becomes, “You have said so” (Matt. 26:64); and Luke completely rewords the high priest’s question (HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, p. 678)

The exact texts are as follows:

And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him. “You have said so.” (Matt 26:63-64)

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am.” (Mark 14:62)

They said, “If you are the Messiah, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer…” And they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” (Luke 22:70)

In other words, Fitzmyer is arguing that while in Mark’s account Jesus explicitly identifies himself as Messiah, this evidence has no weight because in Matthew and Luke, he only says: “You have said so.”

Now my question is this: Presupposing the Two-Source Hypothesis, when else do historical Jesus scholars use the later “redactional” alterations of Matthew and Luke to discard the historical information present in Mark’s (supposedly older) account? Shouldn’t scholars be saying, “Yes, Jesus claimed to be the Messiah”—as the most ancient account in Mark tells us—but Matthew and Luke obscured this particular point? Even more to the point, shouldn’t historical Jesus scholars who use the criteria of authenticity be pointing to Mark 14:62 and John 4:25 as a case of multiple independent attestation for the fact that Jesus saw himself as the Messiah? The latter text—which Fitzmyer never even mentions—reads:

The [Samaritan] woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all thing.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:25)

As far as I can tell, a strict application here of the criterion of multiple attestation, working under the two-source hypothesis, should lead to the conclusion that Jesus did see himself as Messiah, and explicitly said so on at least two different occasions. So what’s the problem? It seems to me that what’s driving this apparent “difficulty” is the assumption that Jesus did not or could not have claimed to be the Messiah. Scholars like Fitzmyer (or Sanders) seem to have their minds already made up when they turn to the Gospels. Any evidence to contrary is either ignored (as in John) or inconsistently dismissed (as in Mark). Is this sound argumentation? Can anyone give me a good reason for accepting Fitzmyer’s approach (which is certainly not limited to him)?

As many of you may already know, Fitzmyer has just published a new book on the Messiah, entitled, The One Who is To Come (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007). It will be interesting to see what he does with this in this more substantial work.

Least in the Kingdom

Just a bit of spiritual reflection on the readings for the Wednesday lectionary.

There we read from Matt 5:17-19 (I pulled the following from the wesbite of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops--sorry that it is the New American Bible translation!):

"Jesus said to his disciples:“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law,until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”
Aside from questions about justification, let me just address a more basic issue that this passage raises. If one breaks one of the least of these commandments they are considered least in the Kingdom of heaven. But what if someone relaxes one of the ordinary commandments?

Up front let me say that I don't know exactly which commandments Jesus is referring to by those that are least--but he does seem to say that the one who "obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven."

I think the lesson here isn't that we should seek to categorize the commandments--Jesus doesn't go on to do that after all. That kind of legalism misses what Jesus is getting at. I think the point here is that we cannot simply dismiss certain commandments as being of "lesser" importance.

That is the danger--rationalizing sin and seeking to justify our actions. Telling myself, "I don't
need to change this particular attitude or behavior because it's really not seriously sinful"--that would not have cut it for Jesus. That distinction between sin that is "mortal" and sin that is "not mortal" (1 John 5:17) does not grant license. In fact, a few lines later in this sermon Jesus will insist, "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt 5:48). Such perfection is humanly impossible, but with God's grace we can say, "with God nothing will be impossible.” (Luke 1:37)

Of course, another passage comes to mind: "“If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Here Jesus, I think, is telling us two things. First, if we love Christ must truly live the way he asks. Second, if we love him--and we truly have that as our goal--keeping his commandments will flow from that commitment. Augustine said it best, "Love God--and the do what you will."

If we truly love the Lord, everything else will fall into place.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Augustine on the Sermon on the Mount

Augustine, On the Lord’s Sermon: “I think that whoever meditates in earnest love upon the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, found in St. Matthew’s Gospel, will find there a perfect model for Christian living… At the close of the Sermon we see that it has brought together all the precepts we need for our guidance in life… I have made these observations to show that this Sermon is perfect, since it gives us all the precepts needed for Christian living."

Friday, June 08, 2007

Joel Willttis Talks About His Thesis

The author of a soon-to-be published dissertation sure to rock the scholarly world and reconfigure the way people look at Jesus' ministry, is now discussing it on-line. Joel Willitts, who is about to publish Matthew's Messianic Shepherd-King, which looks at Jesus' ministry in light of both Davidic hopes and hopes for the restoration of the twelve tribes, is now discussing an email he received about his thesis on Euangelion, the blog he shares with the eminent Michael Bird. I am all over anything Joel Willitts writes on this topic--in fact, I usually read Euangelion first thing every morning--and I just want to encourage you to:

1) Read his post.

2) Add Euangelion to your daily rounds (or blog roll). Bird and Willitts are on the cutting edge and always have interesting posts. They really have their finger on the pulse of the latest scholarship.

3) Start saving up. The book is $118 dollars and while that may seem like a lot, in this case I suspect you'll get what you pay for--a book worth $100 dollars plus. If you are doing Jesus research or New Testament studies, I think you're going to want to have this book as a resource.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Feeding of the Five Thousand (Matt 14:15-21)

This Sunday we read the account of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes as we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi--the Church's great Eucharistic celebration. Because of that I thought I'd post some comments on the feeding of the five thousand. In the Bible study I'm conducting on Matthew in San Diego and in Los Angeles it just so happened that this week we are covering Matthew's version of the story. Here are a few highlights... (Some of this is going to reappear in my ongoing series on Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom, but I couldn't wait!)
Matt 14:15-21: "When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children."

First, Jesus' miracle reminds of 2 Kgs 4:42-44. There Elisha multiplied 20 barely loaves and fed a hundred men, even having some left over. So let me say two things about this.

Elisha was the successor of one of the greatestest Old Testament prophets, Elijah. Just before Elijah was taken up into a whirlwind, Elisha asked to receive "a double portion" of Elijah's spirit once he had been taken up (2 Kgs 2:9). The language here is of sonship--inheritance. In fact, Elisha calls Elijah his "father" (2 Kgs 2:12). We can say two things about this. First, Jesus is compared to Elisha--the spiritual successor of Elijah. Jesus is a prophet like Elijah. In fact, when Jesus asks the disciples, "Who do men say that I am?", they respond by telling him that many people think he is Elijah redivivus (Matt 16:14).

Second, since Matthew tells us that John the Baptist was a kind of "Elijah" (Matt 17:10-13), we might be able to say something else here. Jesus is to John the Baptist what Elisha was to Elijah. Indeed, the similarity between Jesus and John was not lost on the people. We might point out that in Matthew 16 another opinion being floated around was that Jesus was John the Baptist redivivus (Matt 16:14). Now saying that Jesus was the Elisha to John's Elijah might seem a little off the mark at first--wasn't Elijah the greatest prophet? In Jewish tradition that may be true, however, if you read the book of 2 Kings carefully you'll discover that Elisha actually performed an even greater number of miracles than Elijah--in fact, they were also oftentimes much more impressive. Perhaps here then we can see Elijah as a type of John the Baptist and Elisha, who came after him and performed even greater miracles, as a type of Christ.

Third, the miraculous feeding of the five thousand in the wilderness evokes the image of the manna given to Israel in the wilderness. The connection is clearly drawn out in John's Gospel, where the miracle is followed by the "Bread of Life" discourse, where Jesus describes himself as the true manna from heaven. This allusion ties nicely into a major theme in Matthew's Gospel, namely, Jesus' role as the New Moses.
• Like Moses, he was born during the reign of a ruthless king, Herod.
• This ruthless king killed the other Hebrew male children (“The slaughter of the innocents”).
• He finds safety in Egypt.
• He is called back to His birthplace after a period of exile
• He passes through waters and goes out into the wilderness where He is tested.
• He fasts for 40 days and 40 nights.
• He teaches from a mountain (The Sermon on the Mount).
• He takes three companions up a mountain where his appearance radiates God’s glory (The Transfiguration).

The imagery of Jesus as the New Moses also fits into the larger hope for the New Exodus. Jesus is coming to regather the twelve tribes―something probably alluded to in the fact that after the miracle twelve baskets were left over. In fact, note that in John’s Gospel the disciples are told to “gather” (synagomai) the pieces (John 6:12).

Fourth, as I’ve explained elsewhere, the hope for the New Exodus was often linked with the imagery of an eschatological banquet. Here I cannot go into great detail (read here for more), but this miracle may be understood within that larger context.

Fifth, Jesus’ constant practice of table-fellowship also reminds us of David, who was also known to extend covenant bonds through meals. In 2 Sam 7:9-13, David extends manifests his covenant loyalty to Jonathon by inviting Mephiboseth to his table. Likewise, David encouraged Solomon use table-fellowship as a means of extending bonds to others. In 1 Kings 2:7 David urges Solomon to show hesed [i.e., covenant fidelity] to the sons of Barzallia by letting them “be among those who eat at your table.” Is it any wonder that the Son of David linked participation in the Kingdom to sitting at table? (Cf., e.g., Matt 8:10-11).

In fact, the later prophets would associate the coming of the Davidic Messiah with the eschatological banquet imagery and feeding God’s eschatological people. Among other things, we might also point out that 1QSa 2:1-22 associates the Davidic Messiah with the Messianic banquet. Here we cannot go into too great a detail, but let’s just consider one prophecy:
Ezek 34:23-25: And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken. 25 “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.
Note that the dawning of the (new) covenant of peace is linked with the coming of a Davidic figure who would, at that time, feed God’s people. In fact, Mark’s account of this miracle is preceded by the following verse: “As he went ashore he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34).

Seventh, this miracle also points us forward to the Last Supper. In fact, according to Matthew’s next chapter, Jesus repeated the miracle in another place. In both instances we see clear allusions to the Last Supper. Consider the way parallels between the accounts:

Matt 14:19: taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed [Grk: εὐλογέω; eulogeō], and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds...

Matt 15:36: he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having blessed [Grk.: εὐχαριστέω; eucharisteō][1] he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
Matt 26:26-28: Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed [Grk: εὐλογέω; eulogeō], and broke it, and gave it to the disciples. And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks [Grk.: εὐχαριστέω; eucharisteō] he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Looking at the broader context the parallels are even more striking. For example, both the last supper and the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves take place "when it was evening" (14:14/26:20). In fact, W. D. Davies and Dale Allison list a number of parallels between 14:13-21 and the Last Supper account in 26:20-29:
14:14 / 26:20
Ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης / Ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης
And when it was evening/ And when it was evening

14:19 / 26:20
ἀνακλιθῆναι / ἀνέκειτο
(he commanded the crowds to be) reclined / he reclined

14:19 /26:26
λαβὼν / λαβὼν
having taken / having taken

14:17 / 26:26
ἄρτους / ἄρτον
the bread / the bread

14:19 / 26:26
εὐλόγησεν / εὐλογήσας
he blessed / he blessed

14:19 / 26:26
κλάσας / ἔκλασεν
having broken / he broke

14:19 / 26:26-27
ἔδωκεν τοῖς μαθηταῖς / δοὺς τοῖς μαθηταῖς― ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς
he gave to the disciples / having given to the disciples―he gave to them

ἔφαγον / φάγετε
they ate / eat

πάντες / πάντες
all / all

Davies and Allison write, “While these parallels can and have been dismissed as simply due to common features of Jewish meals, influence from the Eucharist on 14.13-21 is assuredly to be reckoned with. First, the parallels occur in precisely the same order in the two passages. Secondly, the parallels extend beyond typical motifs or themes associated with Jewish meals (e.g., Ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης [“and when it was evening”], ἔδωκεν τοῖς μαθηταῖς [“he gave to the disciples”], πάντες [“all”]). Thirdly, Matthew has introduced certain changes which increase the parallelism. These include (a) the addition of Ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης [“and when it was evening”] in 14:15 diff. Mk 6:35 (cf. Mt 26.20), (b) the changing of ἐδίδου [“he was giving”] (Mk 6:41) to ἔδωκεν [“he gave”] (Matt 14.19; cf. 26.27, and (c) the omission of fish from 14.19 = Mk 6:41. It seems to us evident that Matthew intended 14.13-21 to be closely related to the institution of the Eucharist.”[2]

Furthermore, in light of what we saw in Ezekiel 34 concerning the image of the coming Davidic Messiah who would feed God’s people at the time the (new) eschatological covenant would be established, the words spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper, which Matthew and Luke associate with “covenant” imagery, come into a greater focus. Jesus is the true Davidic Shepherd Messiah, who establishes a New Covenant through the Eucharistic feeding of God’s people.
[1] Of course, in John’s account of the miracle the Eucharist imagery is even more pronounced, since the word for Jesus’ “giving thanks” is εὐχαριστέω (eucharisteō) (John 6:11). Jesus uses the word also in the parallel miracle in the next chapter (cf. 15:36).
[2] W. D. Davies and Dale Allison, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (ICC; London: T&T Clark, 1991): 3:481.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Pope Benedict on NY Times Best Seller List

Pope Benedict's book is currently #8 on both the New York Times Best Seller List as well as the Wall Street Journal's Best Seller List.

A book on Jesus written by a believer who wants to demonstrate that it makes good historical sense to "trust the Gospels"--and in little over a month it sells over 1.5 million copies.

And it is written by the current Pope.

What a great time be a Catholic!!!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Lost Tribes of Israel, the Promised Land, and the New Creation

A few weeks ago, one of our (obviously intelligent) readers, David, asked a great question: If Jesus seeks to bring about the restoration of Israel, then what happens to God’s promise to gather the lost tribes of Israel back to the land (cf. Isa 11; Ezek 37; Mic 4, etc.)? Is this promise simply abandoned? Or does the New Testament “over-spiritualize the gospel” (David’s words) it by referring it to the heavenly Jerusalem (e.g., Heb 12)? As he said, “Doesn’t there have to be a bit more to it than that?”

Yes, there is a bit more to it than that.

In the midst of preparing a very lengthy response to David’s question, I realized that the blog would not be the appropriate place to go into the kind of detail I need to on a question of this magnitude. However, I have recently discovered some texts that I think will at least take us further down the path that Michael already started us on by pointing to the fact that the Levites inheritance was not the land of Israel but God himself (see below)—and, as Taylor Marshall has pointed out, the “micro-cosm” of the Tabernacle (see his blog). To add to these points, I would make the following.

First, for ancient Judaism itself—not simply Christianity—the Promised Land is not considered the ultimate “geographical” destiny of Israel. The ultimate destiny of Israel is the new Promised Land of the new Creation: “the new heavens and the new earth” promised by God (cf. Isa 65-66).

Second, Jesus ties his own eschatological hopes not to the earthly Promised Land, but, like other Jews, to this new Creation—the life of “the world to come.”

One does not have to look far to find evidence of this in ancient Judaism. Take, for example, the teaching of the Mishnah:
All Israelites have a share in the world to come, for it is written, “Thy people also shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land forever; the branch of my planting, the work of my hands that I may be glorified (citing Isa 60:21) (m. Sanh. 10:1).
As W. D. Davies points out in his monumental (and monumentally ignored) work, The Gospel and the Land, regarding this text: “here ‘inherting the land’ is equated with having a share in ‘the world to come’” (Heb ha olam habba) (p. 123). This equation is of fundamental significance: even for Rabbinic Judaism, which is often characterized as “this-worldy” in its eschatology, the earthly Promised Land could be considered merely a sign of the new Creation and “the world to come.” And note well that this is no case of “eis-egesis,” for the text cited by the Mishnah—Isaiah 60:21—is a prophecy of the New Jerusalem, which describes a realm where “the sun shall be no more” because “the LORD will be your everlasting light” (Isa 60:19-22). Is this a prophecy of a mere earthly return to Palestine? Or is it about “the new heavens and the new earth” that Isaiah himself will go on to describe (Isa 65-66)?

Should there be any doubt about the strength of this ancient Jewish link between the Promised Land and the new Creation, we need only turn to the Talmudic commentary on the Mishnah. This text—much to my happiness—not only links the Promised Land and the World to Come, but ties both of them to the return of the lost tribes of Israel! Again, in the context of debating whether or not the ten tribes would ever return to the Land—something Rabbi Akiba doubted—the Mishnah reads as follows:
The ten tribes will not return [to Palestine], for it is said, “and cast them into another land,” as is this day: just as the day goes and does not return, so they too went and will not return: this is Rabbi Akiba’s view. Rabbi Eliezer said: as this day—just as the day darkens and then becomes light again, so the ten tribes—even as it went dark for them, so it will become light for them.
The Talmud commentary on this passage reads (and this is where it gets cool!):
Our Rabbis taught: The ten tribes have no portion in the world to come, as it says, “And the Lord rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation.” “And the Lord rooted them out of their land” refers to this world, and cast them into another land—to the world to come; this is Rabbi Akiba’s view. Rabbi Simeon ben Judah… said on Rabbi Simeon’s authority: If their deeds are as this days, they will not return; otherwise, they shall. Rabbi said: They will enter the future world, as it is said: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blow and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount of Jerusalem (b. Sanh. 110b, cited in Davies, p. 124).
Notice the Rabbis commentary: the Promised “Land” is equated both with “the world to come”—as distinct from “this world”—and “the future world.” Notice that this even applies to exile from the Promised Land, which seems to have eternal significance as well. Perhaps most important of all: for the Rabbis, the “return” of the lost tribes of Israel to “the land” is equated with their entry into the “future world” and their ability to “worship” on “the holy mount of Jerusalem”! The significance of this is staggering: the Rabbis themselves are recognizing that the hopes of ancient Israel—including the return of the lost ten tribes—will not be fulfilled in “this world,” but in “the world to come”—the new Creation—and the new Jerusalem that will be part of that new Creation. The return of the lost tribes to the Promised Land, the inauguration of the new Creation, and the restoration of Jerusalem are all bound up with one another. It is important to note again that the Rabbis are rooting these connections is Scripture itself, by alluding to prophecies of the return of the lost tribes from Assyria in Isa 11 and to “the holy mount of Jerusalem” described in Isa 27:13.

But I forget myself. What does all this have to do with Jesus? Well, just like the Rabbis, he too connected the restoration of the twelve tribes with the coming of a new Creation and the “world to come.” I submit only one text here: Peter asks Jesus what he and the disciples will get for giving up this-worldly goods, and Jesus says:
Amen, I say to you, in the new creation (Gk palingenesia), when the Son of Man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for my names sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life (Matt 19:28-29)
Here Jesus equates the restoration of creation—the “regenesis”—with the restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel and the “inheriting” of “eternal life.” But wait—I thought the Old Testament said Israel was to “inherit” the land? Yes, but not the earthly land of the fallen creation—rather, they will inherit the new Promised Land of the restored creation, which Jesus, like Rabbi Akiba, equated with the new Creation. Should there be doubts about this connection, notice that that in Mark’s version of the saying, Jesus says “in the age to come eternal life”—using the exact Rabbinic expression (Mark 10:30).

There is, of course, much more to say here, but I hope this partially answers David’s question. The early Christian hope was not simply for a new, heavenly Jerusalem, it was for a new Creation. It, like the hope of some Rabbis—and, more importantly, of Isaiah—was a cosmic hope for the restoration of all Israel and all creation.

This is, of course, why at every Sunday Mass, we Catholics profess in the final line of the Nicene Creed: “We believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come.”


Saturday, June 02, 2007

Caught in the Web

Peter Kirby, an expert in the early Church fathers (see his extremely well-known site Early Christian Writings, full of great resources), explains why he became a Christian in a new post from his blog The Darkling Thrush. Tip of the hat to Michael Bird for that one.

You can find a number of great popular level Catholic blogs on the web. Without taking anything away from them, I have to say that I especially appreciate those blogs written by Catholic writers who are academic in their outlook. In that spirit I want to highlight one blogger whom Brant and I have been talking a lot about (and interacting with) quite a bit recently. You've probably seen his name in our com-box.

Taylor Marshall runs the blog Canterbury Tales. The title of the blog is an allusion to his personal background. Marshall is a former Episcopal priest who recently came into the Catholic Church. He is currently the Assistant Director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., however, in the Fall he begins Ph.D. work at the University of Dallas.

He just recently posted some interesting thoughts on the "elemental spirits" mentioned by Paul in Galatians. I encourage you all to check out his site...

Friday, June 01, 2007

A Post for Trinity Sunday

Since Sunday is Trinity Sunday, I'm reworking an old post and running it here:
The New Testament & the Trinity
Michael Barber © 2007

Clearly the full articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity found in Nicea is not found in Scripture: nowhere does one read that God is three persons or one divine substance. Moreover, since the word Trinity comes from Latin, one would certainly not expect to find it in the New Testament, which was written in Greek. Nonetheless, that does not mean the doctrine is unbiblical. A careful reading offers a clear indication that the belief that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one Lord with the Father was not merely invented later on. Moreover, as we shall see, the doctrine of the Trinity is not found by mere proof-texting, but through reading the New Testament in light of the Old. By reading the biblical books in light of one another we can see the origins of later Nicean formulation.

I do want to qualify this post by saying up front that what follows is not an exhaustive study by any means. There are many related issues--philosophical, hermeneutical, methodological, epistemological, grammatical, textual critical, etc.--that I cannot even touch upon. Here I merely offer an introduction to some of the important areas of the discussion. I hope it is helpful. __________________________________________

The Divinity of Jesus
Let us begin with one of the most important texts--John 1. In Isaiah 44:24 the Lord asks, “I am the Lord who made all things, who stretched out the heavens alone. Who was with me?” The implication here is that the Yahweh was by himself at creation. John, however, identifies Jesus as the Word, of whom John says, “He was in the beginning with God and all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3; cf. John 17:5). Something similar is found in Acts 3:15, in which Peter addresses those who put Jesus to death, telling them that they have killed, “the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” Reading these passages within their Jewish context and the backdrop of the Old Testament one can see the clear implications for the divinity of Jesus.

In Isaiah 44:6 the Lord is described as the “fist and… the last.” This imagery is picked up in the Apocalypse. In Revelation 1:8, we read, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” At the end of the book, Jesus speaks of himself using the same terms: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13). Thus when John falls down to worship an angel, he is told, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” (22:9). However, Jesus allows John to do the exact same thing to Him (1:17; compare language of 22:8 and 1:17).

Aside from John 1, there are other clear references to the divinity of Jesus in the Gospel of John. In chapter eight, Jesus uses the divine name in reference to himself, insisting, “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). The Jews clearly understood what Jesus meant—he was identifying himself as the God of Israel (cf. Exod 1:14). When they took up stones to stone him for it, Jesus makes no attempt to clarify his statement—“I didn’t mean to say I myself am Yahweh!” Jesus’ statement in 10:30 needs to be understood within this context: “I and the Father are one.” Again, the Jews pick up stones to throw at him because his meaning was clear—he was either uttering blasphemy or he was revealing the greatest truth about who he was, there is no middle ground.

Some might say that Jesus' identity as "Son of God" indicates something less than equality with God. Such a view though is problematic. In John 5, the Jewish leaders protest Jesus’ Sabbath healing of the lame man at Bethzatha. We read why they opposed him: “This is why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God (John 5:18). Although others in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition were given the title "son of God," Jesus was clearly claiming something for himself.[1]

At the Last Supper, Philip asks Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied” (John 14:8). Jesus responds, “He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?” (John 14:9-10). This is similar to Colossians 2:19, “For in [Christ] the fullness of deity dwells bodily” (cf. also 1 Tim 2:15-16).

In fact, Paul's letters--which give us a clear window into primitive Christianity--contains a number of clear indications of Jesus' pre-existence and divnity. In Philipians 2 we read the famous Christ hymn, which tells us:
"though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:6-8).
In fact, Paul seems to assume that his readers known about Christ's pre-existence. In 2 Corinthians we read this clear allusion to the belief: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" (2 Cor 8:9). The stunning matter-of-fact way Paul mentions this is remarkable.

Turning from John and Paul let us now look at the Synoptic Gospels. Some insist that while "high Christology"--including the affirmation of Jesus' divinity--may be found elsewhere in the New Testament, the Synoptics give us a less exalted picture of Jesus. However, that doesn't hold up to close scrutiny. In Matthew 4:10, Jesus cites Deuteronomy 6:13, stating, “You shall worship the Lord your God, him only shall you serve.” Moreover, continue reading that Gospel and it is clear that Matthew goes on to describe others worshipping Jesus (Matt 2:11; 14:33). There are other ways which the Synoptic Gospel writers imply Christ is God. Certainly this is hinted at in the beginning of Matthew where Jesus is described as “God with us” (Matt 1:23).[2]

Mark is considered by many to be the most "primitive" Gospel? It is said to contain the "lowest" view of Jesus. Yet, from the very beginning of the Gospel it seems Jesus' divinity is not only alluded to but underscored. Jesus’ identity as divine the whole point of one of the first controversies recorded in Mark's Gospel. In chapter 2, Jesus tells a paralytic, "your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2:5). The Pharisees protest: “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). Jesus responds to their complaint by healing the paralytic, so that that would know that he had such authority. It is hard not to see the implications here--Jesus is demonstrating his divinity.

Even more striking is Jesus' statement later concerning his authority on the Sabbath. When criticized by the Pharisees for allegedly breaking the Sabbath rest Jesus responds: "the Son of man is lord even of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). Such an affirmation puts Christ on par with Yahweh, whom the first century Jews would have undoubtedly recognized as the "Lord of the Sabbath."

Now, some people might dismiss these passages as later Christian inventions. Here I do not have the space to comment on methodological issues relevant in Jesus research (see this series for more on that). What I will point out is this: in both of these instances Jesus describes himself as the "Son of Man". Unlike "son of God" or "Christ," this is not a term that was used by later Christians. Because of this it is especially hard to deny the authenticity of these statements. Having pointed that out, these passages make it hard to easily dismiss other passages where Jesus claims divinity on the grounds that Jesus did not speak in such a way.

Other passages in Mark also point to Jesus' divinity. In Mark 9, Jesus implies that the greatest good to be lived for is--not merely the Torah, not Yahweh--but himself:"For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it" (Mark 8:35). In the episode of Jesus' miracle of walking on water, he tells the disciples, “Take heart, I AM (Grk.: ego eimi)” (Mark 6:50), alluding to the divine name revealed to Moses at the burning bush (Exod 3:14). In Mark 10 Jesus is approached by someone who calls him "Good Teacher" and responds, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18).

However, we have yet to mention two of the clearest statements regarding the deity of Jesus. In John 21:28, Thomas addresses the resurrected Lord as “My Lord and My God” (John 22:28). Notwithstanding the Jehovah Witnesses’ claim that this is simply a spontaneous prayer uttered by Thomas, the only natural way to read this is to see that Thomas calls Jesus Lord and God.We can also look to Hebrews 1, in which we read not only that the angels are to worship Christ (1:6), but where we also see the Son addressed as “God”: “But of the Son he says, ‘Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever’” (Heb 1:8). In fact, the language at the beginning of the chapter is quite similar to the language we find in John 1:1-3: “He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power” (Heb 1:3). It should be mentioned that we know from Qumran that at least one strand in Jewish thought described the coming Messiah in terms used of God in the Old Testament (cf. 11QMel).

One last item that we should consider as we consider biblical Christology is the use of Psalm 110 by the New Testament writers. In explaining who Jesus was, the New Testament writers turned to Psalm 110 more than any other Old Testament text.[3] In fact, all three synoptic Gospels trace the Christian usage of the psalm back to Jesus himself, who employed it to describe his identity.[4] Furthermore, Psalm 110 forms the basis for a traditional Christian creedal assertion, often made within the Church's liturgical context: “He is seated at the right hand of the Father…”[5]

Martin Hengel has detected Psalm 110 traditions in the book of Revelation. Particularly, Hengel turns Revelation 3:21 which describes Jesus as sitting on the Father’s throne. In connection with this, Hengel examines Hebrews 8:1 and 12:2, and argues that these texts describe Christ as taking his position on the same throne on which Yahweh sits. Hengel argues that these texts should be understood within the larger context of a rabbinic debate regarding whether or not the messiah would sit on a throne to the right of God, or whether he would sit on the right side of the throne with Yahweh. Psalm 110:1 for many in Jesus’ day came to mean, “sit down at my right side on my throne.” By insisting that Jesus sits on the same throne as Yahweh, Hengel argues that the author of Revelation made a bold statement about Jesus’ divinity.[6]

The Divinity of the Spirit
Many who deny the doctrine of the Trinity argue that the Spirit is simply to be understood as the Lord’s impersonal force. So let me add a few words about the Spirit here. The "impersonal force" view of the Spirit is not supported by the evidence in the New Testament. Throughout John 16 Jesus speaks of the Spirit as a “he” who will be “another advocate” (John 14:16), who will be sent to the apostles after he himself has gone to the Father. He will “teach” them (14:26), “testify” to them (15:26), “reprove” them (16:8-11) and “guide” them (John 16:12). Other passages likewise speak of the Spirit in personal terms: he can be “grieved” (Eph 4:30); he “wills” (1 Cor 12:11); he “desires” (Gal 5:17); he “loves” (Rom 15:30); he “calls” (Acts 13:2). The Spirit can also be blasphemed against (Mark 3:29).

Looking at the New Testament in light of the Old we can also make some important observations about the Spirit. The Spirit, like the Word, was there from the beginning and helped in the work of creation (Ps 104:30, Job 33:4). Also, the Spirit is spoken of as having attributes associated with God alone—he is “everlasting” (Heb 9:14); the Israelites put him to the test in the wilderness (Heb 3:9; cf. Exod 17:2); he puts God’s law into our hearts (Heb 10:16; cf. Jer 31:33).

In the book of Acts, Peter tells Ananias that by lying to the Holy Spirit, “You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3-4). Moreover, while Paul tells us that there is only one Lord (Eph 4:5), the Spirit is also given the title (2 Cor 3:17; 1 Cor 8:5-6). How can there be only one Lord and yet the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all said to be him?

Finally, I think the most significant passage for understanding the Trinity is found at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus tells the disciples to baptize, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). We have seen that Jesus is clearly described as being equal to the Father, sharing his divinity. The same can be said of the Spirit. Here Jesus mentions the Spirit with the Father and himself. Significantly, Jesus tells the disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—not in the names.[7]


[1] Much, much more could be said about the meaning of Son of God, especially as it relates to Jesus’ Davidic identity.

[2] Of course, this is only a hint—it was probably originally understood as a reference to Hezekiah. However, I think it was clear that Hezekiah only partially fulfilled the Isaianic vision of the Emmanual prophecy—which implies partial non-fulfillment.

[3] David M. Hay, Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1973), 15; C. Hassel Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms: A Literary and Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 182-83; Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms (Ben Lomond, Ca.: Conciliar Press, 2000), 217; Barry C. Davis, “Is Psalm 110 a Messianic psalm?” in Bibliotheca Sarca 157 (200): 172.

[4] Mt 22:44; Mt 26:64. For a list of occurrences and analysis see Hay, Glory at the Right Hand, 45, 163-66.

[5] For a full discussion of the use of this Psalm in the creedal affirmations of the New Testament and early church, see Martin Hengel, Studies in Early Christology (Repr.: London: T&T Clark, 2004), 119-226.

[6] Hengel, Studies, 119-226.

[7] For more analysis on this passage see, Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody: Hendricksen, 1994), 839-42; Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999), 717 n 343.