What Romans 13 is really about

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June 15, 2018

Yesterday, The Attorney General of the United States Jeff Sessions referenced Romans 13 to justify the separation of children from people illegally entering into the country. While many have rightly spoken against this as a misappropriation of Scripture, the main emphasis has been on how Romans 13 doesn’t justify such unnecessary actions as separating children from their parents. However, what has gone less under the radar is the actual meaning of Romans 13 in context of the rest of the letter and the larger socio-political context.

Most of Paul’s letter to Romans is addressed towards Jews, not Gentiles, who were familiar with the Torah of the Old Testament. This is significant because the historian Suetonius records an expulsion of the Jews from the city of Rome by the emperor Claudius; Acts 18:2 probably refers to the same event. Why? Suetonius records it is because of a conflict surrounding a person named “Chrestus,” which may be a mispronunciation of the title of Christ/”Christos”/χριστος. If this is the case, then Jews were forced to leave their homes in Rome because of religious conflict that happened over the person of Jesus Christ. Regardless of whether that is actually what had happened or not, such an expulsion would have stoked a lot of feelings of antagonism towards the Rome Empire amongst Jews, many of whom would feel a great unease in a society that worshipped many gods and had a very different set of ethical practices.

At some point, many of the Jews returned back to Rome, but the memory of such an injustice would not have been forgotten. As a result, there would have most assuredly been a growing militaristic zeal, wishing to overthrow the Roman Empire, which we know did become fully realized in 66 AD in a rebellion. The story of Maccabees as part of Israel’s history would have been a source of inspiration, where they overthrew the oppressive rule of Antiochus Epiphanes and the Seleucid Empire. The last words of Mattathias in 1 Maccabees 2:49-68 are particularly important as a speech recounting Israel’s history from Abraham down throughout the history of Israel to motivate vengeance against the Seleucids. The Apostle Paul shows familiarity with this speech throughout his epistle to the Romans. For instance, in Romans 4:1 he is alluding to way Mattathias references the story of Abraham in 1 Maccabees 2:52, but suggesting the idea has a mistaken premise. Then, in the context of Romans 13, he uses similar language of vengeance (ἐκδίκησις) and repayment (ἀποδίδωμι) as 1 Maccabees 2:67-68 (ἐκδίκησις; ἀνταποδίδωμι), but in a different way. Paul encourages his audience to let God get vengeance in Romans 12:19 rather than taking vengeance for oneself as Mattathias encourages; Paul tells people to not repay evil in Romans 12:17 but to give to the government what is due in Romans 13:7, rather than imitate the reciprocation of evil that Mattathias dreams of.

Thus, Romans 13 is a statement to a people who feel oppressed. But, it isn’t a statement of “you need to submit to the oppressive rule of the Romans.” Rather, Paul’s statement is much more subtle. Paul tells the Roman Christians to submit to ἐξουσίαις ὑπερεχούσαις, which is commonly translated along the lines of “surpassing authority.” ὑπερεχούσαις can be interpreted to mean two things in this context. It can be taken to be a reference to the person who is highest in the political hierarchy, that is the Roman Emperor Caesar. If a Roman official were to find this letter, he might read Paul’s statement as an unqualified statement of accommodation to the political powers. However, the alternative interpretation could be a statement about moral exemplary authorities. In that context, Paul would be saying submit to those rulers who judging in a righteous manner, which by implication would mean do not submit and obey injustice. To an audience that is grieved by the injustice of the Roman rule, they could have heard this moral qualification.

This moral exemplary interpretation then sets the context for what Paul immediately writes after that: οὐ γὰρ ἔστιν ἐξουσία εἰ μὴ ὑπὸ θεοῦ (literally, “authority is not except from God.”) While one could read this to mean all authority comes from God, an alternative interpretation would suggest that Paul is speaking elliptically, intentionally not ὑπερεχούσαις (“surpassing”) in this clause; the attentive reader would have to fill that in. If that is the case, Paul is saying that authority by nature is not morally exemplary, except when God makes it so. Far from actually given a blank check of political authority to political powers, Paul is subtly speaking of a very qualified, limited legitimation of political powers. Political powers are by nature offensive to God’s justice except when God makes them just. For these Jewish Christians then, Paul is encouraging them to allow for the righteous usage of political power, while by no means simply telling them to submit to any and all political decisions, no matter how unjust.

Thus, Paul’s view of political power is stated in a subtle manner so as to evade suspicion from avid supporters and officials of the Roman Empire. Christians were to not seek to take vengeance against them, but instead trust that God will take vengeance for any injustice. Instead, Christians should seek to obey the righteous power that the Roman Empire does wield, even as much of it may be unjust, and to pay the taxes, customs, fear, and honor that should be reciprocated for when political power does serve God’s justice. Why? Because the way to be victorious over the world as Christians is to suffer with Christ,1 not by seeking a military and political victory over the world.

While many people today might not agree with this stance of addressing unjust political regimes, my point is not to offer an apologetic here for this non-aggressive resistance of political injustice. Rather, my main point is to point out that Romans 13 is not a blank check for governmental power to enforce their laws. It was a carefully worded statement to an oppressed people, giving them instructions on how to respond to the grievous suffering and oppression they saw and felt: do not take vengeance for evil done, but seek good and let God arrange for vengeance. Submit to the righteous usage of authority, and support it as far as it serves God’s purposes. But what Paul did not intend is the legitimation of any and all political and legal power for whatever purpose they think it should be used for, but it can be read that why who seek to justify their power as immune from criticism, and their interpretions reveals the actual leadings of their heart.

Why it is better to be an atheist than to be “born again.”

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June 15, 2018

Amongst Christians circles, it is “common sense” that atheists stand as the greatest threat to faith. They are “godless” and they reject everything we stand for. Besides, doesn’t Psalm 14:1 tell us that a fool says “There is no God.” Instead, didn’t Jesus say that you must be “born again” to enter into the kingdom of God in John 3? Isn’t it obvious that the born again are better off than atheists?

But hold up. Is that really what is said? Psalm 14:1, and the equivalent passages in Psalm 10:4 and 53:1, literally says in Hebrew “no God.” In our modern world where the debate is between the existence of God and not makes that topic very salient, we will be inclined to here the negation of “no” here as a rejection of God’s existence. But in a time where there are multiple gods and goddesses to worship, the salient concern is about what god or goddess is in power and whether that god or goddess cares. Therefore, to say “no God” wouldn’t be a rejection of the existence on a single, monotheistic God. Rather, it would be closer to stating “God is not here” as if God is unconcerned about what happens or is incapable of doing anything. The implication within all of these psalms is that the person who thinks to themselves that God isn’t concerned about what they are doing are people are someone who engages in evil, unjust acts. Far from saying “God does not exist,” the fool in these psalms speak of persons who think God is not paying attention to what they do, thus legitimating their evil deeds.

Meanwhile, in John 3:1-9, Jesus is engaging in a discussion with Nicodemus. Jesus begins by saying “no one can see the kingdom of God unless one is born ἄνωθεν.” ἄνωθεν has two different meanings. It can mean to start afresh, which is where we get the common translation of “again.” It can also mean from above. The Gospel of John is notorious for using words that have double meanings, where people interpret the words one way when in fact the word is used in a different manner.1 That is what happens here. Nicodemus interprets Jesus as talking about a second birth in vs. 4, thinking Jesus is talking about being born again.

Jesus then offers a clarification by describing it as a birth from the water and the Spirit. Now various interpretations have been offered as to what born of water refers to. Does it refer to baptism? Does it refer to the first type of birth? While I think the baptismal explanation is closer than an explanation of a first birth, the joining of water and Spirit, which also means wind” is an echo of creation, where the world has been un-formed and at that moment there is a wind/Spirit of God hovering over the waters. Jesus is speaking of a creative act of God, who resides “above” in the “heavens.” Then, Jesus clarifies the original statement about being born from above by a reference to the metaphor of wind, which is invisible and yet people hear it. To be born above is a mystery that you see happen but it is not something you ever understand or grasp. In the end, to be born from above entails God’s creative action, entailing a looking forward to God rather.

Thus, the difference between being “born again” and being “born from above” is about where our attention is. Is our attention within ourselves, in some experience we have, that we have some fixed status within ourselves that sets us apart? Or, is our attention to what God is doing, looking for God’s power to make something real instead of attention on something we possess ourselves within ourselves? Being “born again” is about my experience and about my state. Being “born from above” is about God’s action. In the case of being “born again” we are the center and God is the legitimation of my experience of change, forgiveness, etc.; frequently this is joined together in many evangelical, “conversionists” circles with a sense of absolute certain ourselves as individuals. In the case of being “born from above” God is at the center and we are left in a state of mystery and ambiguity as to how this is all supposed to happen; there is a hopeful trust in God but not a lot of clear knowledge about how it is all supposed to go down.

Which leads me to my point: it is better to be an atheist than to be born again. Why? Because being born again means God becomes defined by my experience, which means I will make a lot of statements about God that are veiled statements that serve the interest of my own self-esteem, interests, status, power, etc. I am the center of what God is about. However, the whole trajectory of the prophetic tradition starting in Moses and came to expression in the prophetic literature is that God is a holy God, who is not to be fashioned into an idol, whose kindness and mercy is not some automatic possession of the people, no matter what they do. The prophetic tradition would say so much of what is said about God is self-serving; even as the people appealed to the traditions and practices that God had given to them, the prophets point out how the very meaning and intentions of those practices were forgotten and distorted for other purposes.

If we were to take the prophetic tradition seriously today, we might say 95% of what is said about God today in religious circles or by religious persons is either outright false or deeply mistaken; appealing to Scripture does not justify them. Guess what? Atheists would say 100% of what is said about God is outright false. The difference between taking the prophetic tradition serious in this manner and atheists is only on about 5% of things. While we would disagree with atheists on propositions pertaining to God’s existence, we would agree that so much of what is done in the name of religion is false and frequently self-serving. Furthermore, so much of what is said by Christians, or people of other religions, is said in such a way to justify ourselves, to suggest that God is on our side. Hence, we can be tempted to say something similar to Psalm 14:1 – “God is not concerned about me and what I do” because we have made ourselves, our desires, our dreams the center of God’s intentions. And so, in a self-cloaking in darkness, those who are “born again” can be tempted to think what they do is justified and that God will not enact justice against them for their actions. Atheists do not work with such an egocentric idea of God.

What if in the secularizing West, atheists, agnostics, and people who have serious doubts about God are closer to the kingdom of God than many of us Christians who think we are on the right side? What if the problem of the Pharisees is the self-serving, self-justifying nature of their religion that was used to indemnify them from their own ethical responsibilities and to mask their own injustice? What if the reason Jesus chose sinners to eat with was that they, despite their sin, were not caught in a web of religious self-justification that blinded them from seeing what was truly good, appreciating it, and receiving it? So, what if atheists, agnostics, and those who have serious doubts about God are closer to God’s kingdom than many Christians because atheists, agnostics, and those who doubt are actually closer to the truth and thus more open to receiving it? Would that throw your whole world upside down?

To be clear, the problem isn’t the existence of some theological or ethical error among us Christians. The problem is that when we believe something to be true, but the deeper, more subconscious reason we believe it is true is that it somehow serves our own interests, and then we resist letting those beliefs go because it would threaten us. Theological self-justification of our own interests creates a resistance to true, godly repentance because we have already place our property stake in the ground about what we think about God and we want to keep the property lines where they are. Theological self-justification can absolute erode any sense of humility is ourselves, making ourselves the center rather than in humility allowing God to be the center. Meanwhile, those who have reservations about God may have their reasons for why they do believe in a God or trust in God, but they do not justify their lives and interests based upon their lack of belief in God. And while there are the militant atheists such as the New Atheists for whom much of what is said would not be applicable, most people who question God and His existence are not caught in such a vitriolic state; they simply fail to be convinced or they have been deeply hurt by religious people.

To be “born from above” entails a posture where our hearts are wide open as we stand in a mystery, not presuming we know enough to legitimate ourselves and our dreams, but where we look towards the power and action of God to bring about new creation of His Kingdom and us as His people. Atheists are closer to this status because they do not use God to legitimate themselves, rather than many Christians whose lives are defined by the inward posture of being “born again” where God legitimates them. That is why it is better to be an atheist than to be “born again.”

The tragedy of suicide and it’s antidote

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June 13, 2018

“Suicide” is a painful word for me. For many people, it is a word that evokes feels of sadness and compassion, wishing that there was something they could have done to help. For others, it is a damnable sin, the epitome of selfishness. However, for me, it is a story of pain. It is a word that haunted the hallways of that corner of mind that I avoided for many years of my life.

My brother took his own life when he was approaching the apogee of his life; he was absolutely brilliant, scoring 35 on the ACT and would have graduated second in his high school class. He had many things going hm. But he did it for reasons I never truly understood, although I have my intuitions and I knew he was a victim of persistent teasing, if not even bullying. I remember the moment that I saw his body; I was the reason we ended up finding him. From that day, my life began to be defined by the pain that caused my brother Evan to take his life.

Prior to this, I myself was the repeated target of teasing during the middle school years, where children can be cruel to each other. Then, in the aftermath, I was treated differently, as if I had a stigma of being Evan’s brother. There was certainly compassion and the cruel words stopped, but I was left in a world where I never knew who cared and who didn’t. Then, late in my high school years, I began to seriously consider it myself, as I was so deeply alone, feeling so distant from everyone. However, life changed as I moved to college and began to start in a new direction of life; I had avoided recapitulating my brother’s narrative. But I could still hear that ghost still howling in the abandoned hallways of my mind, even as I was moving forward. Then, I was the victim of a never-ending, objectifying, isolating, humiliating harassment that pushed me to my emotional and mental limits and forced me to walk into that hallway I never wanted to go down again. I again gave it serious consideration. But, I had parents I loved and while my life had been absolutely shattered into pieces and I was in the throes of the deepest emotional pain I had ever experienced in my life, I moved forward. I was forced to fight that ghost to hope for it to be exorcised from my mind and heart.

I tell you this story to say, I know the reality of suicide, both as one who lost a loved one and the impact it had and as one who contemplated it. As I hear the voices of compassion and judgment in the wake of Anthony Bourdain’s and Kate Spade’s suicides. I know the throes of the pain that can cause one to contemplate it and the throes of the pain it causes to one’s family and friends. I can only say this: it is simultaneously an act of selfishness in throwing pain onto others and an act of helplessness where one has little left to manage with. It can be perceived as an act of betrayal and it can be perceived as an act of selflessness.

At the core of the act of suicide is this: feeling the inability to bear the burdens of life anymore. But for the vast, vast majority of people, the burdens of life is not simply about the mere biological life of existence, but a socially embedded reality. While in some occasions, suicide is the result of some deep biological struggle, such as some forms of medical conditions that take its mental toll on a person, more often than not it is the response to one’s social relations. Perhaps one is the victim of bullying; perhaps one has done something they believe to be terrible that other people will reject you for; perhaps one is so self-absorbed that the mere inability to handle disapproval drives one to extreme conclusions. There are a variety of scenarios and circumstances that can lead to it, but for the vast majority, it stems from an actual or perceived separation from any or all significant relationships. And so, the antidote begins to suggest itself from this.

It is tempting to think it is to show people that you care. Many people have reminded us on social media about the importance of reaching out to others. But, a well-intended and truly caring as these attempts are, it doesn’t solve the problem but only delays the problem. The conditions that make suicide a serious consideration is not simply the result of one or two painful events. It is the years of accumulation; there may be salient events that trigger the decision such as a divorce, rape, a foolish decision, etc., but the consideration of suicide in those events stems from the person who has been formed by the events prior to those traumas. It is the years of being ignored or being bullied or setting up unreasonable expectations about oneself and one’s relationship to others and so on that set the scene. So, your kindness in a moment can impact a person’s decisions; never let me diminish the impact something like that can have. But this treatment of the condition rather than prevention.

Suicide is a response to the absence of the giving of grace and truth. It is the absence of grace that colors every interaction with people, that signals they are not that important, that they are hopelessly lost, that they are of little importance. It the absence of truth that sets up unrealistic expectations about oneself and one’s life that leads to the despair when the dreams fall apart. Each interaction of a person’s life impacts a person’s future, and when the interactions are largely devoid of grace and truth, it sets up the conditions for suicide to occur. But the problem is that we are so often oblivious to these subtle relational realities and how they build up over the course of life. It is a culture that overemphasizes the imagination of one’s future in setting up unrealistic dreams, that leads to the diminishment of value of people who will not help you to fulfill those dreams. It is a culture that in response to this social diminishment from others, encourages us to dream even more to compensate, thus tempting us yet again to diminish the real values of others. Since we don’t directly perceive the relationship between the unrelenting pursuit of our dreams and how it impacts who and what we value, we miss the connection between unrelenting ambition and unrelenting graceless and falsehood. To be clear, this isn’t about dreaming about one’s future. It is about how our Western culture through the media dramatically (mal)forms our sense of selves and our relationships to others, that fails to temper enthusiasm with humility and love.

The antidote is becoming people of grace and truth. It is a culture that shifts how we see and value people such that we don’t have to rescue people from their pain, but rather the very way people are encultured prevents its occurrence. But the painful reality of this is that it entails repentance, a repentance that many are unwilling to acquiesce to.

Meanwhile, if you are reading this, and you feel such a deep pain that you would consider taking your life, feel absolutely free to contact me to talk. Even if I barely know you or you are an entire stranger, I want to hear your pain and struggle. On top of having served as a pastor for multiple years, I have been there myself.

Predestination and the preexistence of Christ

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June 13, 2018

The word “predestination” is enough to send shivers down many Christians of my own Wesleyan-Arminian heritage. Hearing the word conveys images of an angry God arbitrarily damning people to hell for entirely arbitrary reasons while letting others get a free pass. While this is certainly a stereotype of Calvinist theology, certainly the word “predestination” carries a lot of baggage as a result.

The primary response by my theological tradition has been to offer an alternative ordo salutis to the Reformed tradition that adds some condition of faith to the decision of predestination, such as appealing to God’s foreknowledge in Romans 8:29 to explain predestination. The problem with this response is that it treats the Bible, particularly the Gospels and Paul’s Letters as a how-to guide of salvation. This is not to mention the problem of treating salvation as something close to a regularized, assembly line process where there is a specific order that occurs each time. Put quite simply, the authors of the New Testament are not concerned about developed an extended metaphysics of salvation; rather their concern is phenomenological, only occasionally foraying into what we might term metaphysics, and even then, the main metaphysics pertains to the action and power of God. While one can trace a certain chronological pattern of Christian phenomenological experience throughout the letters of Paul, it is a mistake to try to trace out a correspond metaphysical chronology of salvation.

However, another option comes from Karl Barth. Barth reinterprets the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. He suggests that the election of God occurs in one person, Jesus Christ,1 with whom we may then be joined together. There is a substantial problem with this from a Biblical perspective, however. While Christ is called elect in some passages such as Luke 9:35, nowhere is a direct analogy drawn between Christ’s election and the election that other people are a part of. Furthermore, this would assume that election is used in equivalent senses when it comes to both Christ and other people. The idea of choice implicitly entails the purpose for which one is chosen, and so the election of Christ and the election of other people may be for two distinct goals or purposes; there is no necessary semantic equivalence between the language of election. So while Barth’s idea is certainly creative, would explain some concept such as being “elect in Christ” in Ephesians 1:4, and would undercut some of the problems with Calvinist predestination, it’s creativity is it’s downfall; it just doesn’t match the way the New Testament speaks about Christ and other people.

However, while Barth’s doctrine of election goes too far in order to make sense of the Biblical narrative, there is something important undergirding the concept: election, and thus also predestination, is deeply connected to the person of Jesus Christ. It is commonly assumed that what people are predestined to is eternal life and destruction; John Calvin writes: “To many this seems a perplexing subject, because they deem it most incongruous that of the great body of mankind some should be predestinated to salvation, and others to destruction.” 2 The goal of predestination for Calvinism is one’s final state of existence. However, for Paul in Romans 8:29, predestination isn’t about eternal life, but rather to be like Christ in some capacity.

Furthermore, the language of predestination isn’t employed in a universalist fashion for all people. Rather, Paul’s subject is about the people who are “foreknown.” Romans 11:1 shows this to be the language used to refer to Abraham and his descendants, and thus foreknowledge that is about the people of Israel.3 It is Abraham’s descendants who are predestined to be conformed to Christ. This makes sense of Romans 8:29-30 coming after a long discussion on Torah in Romans 7:1-8:8. Paul is concerned about connecting Israel’s story to the story of Christ.

We see this in play in reading Romans 4. In talking about the nature of Abraham’s faith, Paul defines the content of Abraham’s faith as pertaining to God “who gives life to the dead.”4 Christ was raised from the dead, but Paul would say Abraham’s trust in God for descendants given his advanced age is essentially trust in God’s resurrection power. The content of Abraham’s faith is understood as it relates to what happens in Christ’s resurrection. Then, Paul continues to expound upon Abraham’s faith as one where he will be the father of many nations.5. Similarly, Jesus, a descendant of Abraham by human lineage, is the firstborn of a larger family in Romans 8:29. If we join these observations together, it is that Paul’s understanding of Abraham was from the very beginning echoing faith in the power of God in Christ and pointing towards the fulfillment of the promises in Christ. As Wesley Hill puts it, “Paul identifies the God of Abraham by means of what he knows of that God through the Christ-event.” 6 In this light, Paul is meaning this in Romans 8:29: God has predestined Abraham and his lineage to be formed into the pattern of Christ. Instead of a statement of individual soteriology, Romans 8:29 is a statement about salvation history. The story of Israel was Christ-shaped from the beginning before even the descendants of Abraham were called into existence.7

This explains the reference to Christ as “firstborn.” In terms of human history, Jesus is clearly not the firstborn. However, as Colossians 1:15 suggests, the concept of Christ as the firstborn may come from a Wisdom Christology based upon Proverbs 8:22-31. Thus, in order for Abraham and his descendants to be conformed to Christ with Christ as the firstborn, then this would entail a) the divine plan for Christ to be born as a descendant of Abraham in the future and b) the pre-existence of Christ that would make him before all other descendants of Abraham. In other words, for Paul, predestination was God’s predetermined plan in history to point Israel’s story to the coming of God’s Christ into the world, thereby opening up the invitation to the whole world to be descendants of Abraham and thus making Abraham a father of a large family of many nations. Christ as the firstborn is His pre-existence life who comes to define the direction of Israel.

If correct, this brings up a few potential observations:

1) The relationship between Israel’s narrative in the OT Scriptures and Christ is that of an unseen trajectory. As a consequence, one does not strictly speaking see Christ in the OT texts, but sees how the OT narrative points towards Christ, both in His pre-existent influence and the shape of His incarnated life. So, the OT is not sufficient on its own grounds to say “Jesus is how God must have had to work.” but the life, death, resurrection, and Lordship of Christ is coherent with the OT historical narrative.

2) Paul’s style of exegesis of Israel’s narrative is forward-looking.  Abraham wasn’t merely expressing a faith in future progeny, but given his age and looming mortality, it was pointing towards the power of God in the face of death in Christ. Paul was no stranger to the standard hermeneutical practices of his time that focused on the interpretations of the words of the Torah. He could on occasions engage in that form of exegesis. However, he found Israel’s story was only to be made full, coherent sense of as it pointed forward to Christ.

3) For Paul, the pre-existent Christ is actively involved in the direction of Israel’s story. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 suggests Paul interpreted Israel’s history and life, but not necessarily the letter of the Torah, as being formed by Christ. This is because Christ is involved in the whole of creation, including Israel’s story, as God’s instrumental agent of creation as in 1 Corinthians 8:6.

4) As a consequence of these views on the OT and Christ, Paul does not read the OT as the epistemic grounds of faith, but it is a witness to that faith. One believes Jesus is Lord because God raised Jesus from the dead, and it is to this nature of God’s power that the OT points to. Another way to say it is that the OT provides a plausibility structure to make sense of Jesus’ resurrection and Lordship, but it is the resurrection and not the OT that is the criteria of faith.

5) Abraham’s descendants and recipients of God’s promises are predestined in the sense that their life is brought into conformity to Christ, whether prior to or after Christ’s incarnation. As such, predestination is not an act of selecting who is one what side of the boundary marker that divides believers from unbelievers but rather God’s purposeful plans to direct those who He knows as Abraham’s descendants by faith to be formed to the pattern of Christ. In other words, predestination isn’t about who has a continued existence into eternity but about the enacted purpose to transform human anthropology through Christ, who puts an end to the powers of sin an death in human anthropology/flesh that limits existence.

Can you edit the Apostles’ Creed? – “Father Almighty” vs. “Creator Almighty”

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June 11, 2018

It has been reported that the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church recited an edited version of the Apostles’ Creed that read “Creator Almighty” rather than the customary “Father Almighty.” Predictably, this stokes up a lot of conversations amongst my fellow United Methodists as to how divided our denomination is. With tensions rising about the future of our denomination and blog posts from progressive-minded United Methodists such as here and here that are clearly standing against historical orthodoxy, it is understandable that an act such as changing a word in one of the Church’s creeds will raise alarm. While at the end, I disagree with the edit, it is prudent to be thoughtful as to why this specific edit is a problem. Theological hypervigilance is not a state in which our responses form good theology, as we will too quickly reach for regulative rules that, while ruling a problematic action out of bounds, will become problematic if universally applied.

Can you edit the Apostles’ Creed? If our understanding of the history of the Apostles’ Creed is accurate, then, yes, you can. The current version of the Apostles’ Creed is not the original form of the creed. It is derived from the Old Roman Creed, which excludes phrases such as “maker of heaven and earth” and “the communions of saints” along with some other differences in phraseology. What we know today as the Apostles’ Creed has not existed for 2000 years, as Rev. Mcilwain said, who posted about the edit on social media. Unlike the Nicene Creed that was formally agreed upon by an ecumenical council and largely unchanged, except for the famous filoque clause, the Apostles’ Creed seemd to have been accepted through convention, not a formal council decision. As a result, it was more malleable through the transmission process.

However, to say that the Apostle’s Creed has been edited therefore it can be edited is different from saying should one edit “Father” and substitute it with “Creator.” There is a general permissibility with editing the Apostle’s Creed, but that does not mean just any edit is suitable. If we look what seems to be the three of most significant edits, we can then begin to inquire what sort of changes are permissible. While the explanations offered for the edits may not end up being the actual historical reasons, but the hope is to show the general nature of the changes the Apostles’ Creed went through.

1) Old Roman Symbol (ORS) – “I believe in God the Father Almighty” vs. Apostles’ Creed (AC) – “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”

This change provides an appositional statement that clarifies the meaning of παντοκράτορα, which is a term of power. The nature of God’s power/almighty-ness is a creational power. Here, the edit provides greater clarification about the Father, which is consistent with the Biblical narrative and statements about creation.

2) ORS – “Who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary” vs. AC – “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit/Born of the Virgin Mary”

The Old Roman Symbol could be misconstrued to read a sexual relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. The Apostles’ Creed adopts a language that would define how Jesus is Son but in a manner that is different from sexual intercourse. Instead, a view of conceptive can be derived from the statement of God being maker of heaven and earth. Just like the change above, there seems to be greater theological clarity that is offered by the change.

3) ORS – “Who under Pontius Pilate was crucified and buried” vs. AC – “suffered under Pontius Pilate/was crucified, dead, and buried”

The Apostles’ Creed is more direct and vivid about Jesus humanity who is said to have suffered and died. A more docetic Christ who only appeared human could be said to be crucified and buried, but to predicate suffering and death to Jesus in the Apostles’ Creed provides, yet again, further clarity to what was already said. I would suggest the more controversial κατελθόντα εἰς τὰ κατώτατα (which is commonly translated as “descended into hell,” although it can also be rendered “descended into the lower realms” as reference to the holding place of the souls of the dead, rather than a place of punishment and torment) is also a part of making clear that Jesus shared in human life and nature.

4) ORS – “the holy Church” vs. AC – “the holy catholic Church/the communion of saints”

Here, the Apostles’ Creed offers a more robust ecclesiology, defining the church by its universal nature and providing the spiritual basis for hte Church in the communion of the saints. What was implied by the “holy Church” in the Old Roman Symbol becomes more explicit in the Apostles’ Creed.

In summary, one could say each of these four significant edits provides a greater doctrinal clarity. One could argue that nothing new was added to the creed, but it only became more explicit. Later edits respected the implicit ideas latent within the earlier versions of the creed.

However, the problem however with changing “Father” to “Creator” is that this edit offers no clarity at all. If anything, it muddies the nature of the Creedal statement further. Why say the Creator Almighty is maker of heaven and earth? Certainly, it is true, but it is trivially true. Why restate this? However, beyond simply making the creed more trivial, this edit takes away from the implicit Trinitarian structure of the creed. In the Apostles’ Creed, God is spoken of as Father, Jesus is Son, and the Holy Spirit is the one who brings about conception. The three persons of the Trinity are integrally related through the birth of Christ. But if you speak of only the Creator Almighty, you lose this structure, as being a Creator is not as closely related to having a Son and conceiving.

If I may draw an analogy: imagine a copy of the Mona Lisa painting, but because you wanted to make it more modern, you photoshopped it to look more modern in terms of clothing, hair style, etc. and you then called it the Mona Lisa in such a way as to suggest it is the same thing as da Vinci’s painting. Certainly, this new painting might gain some interest, but it isn’t the same thing as the Mona Lisa. You have changed it into some other form that would render it different from its original spirit. What you did might be an interesting parody; it might itself deserve to be a new piece of art in its own right. But what you haven’t done is given the same thing as the original Mona Lisa. That is what happens when you change the Apostles’ Creed “Father Almighty” to “Creator Almighty.”

The statements of the creeds were not constructed as a set of lego pieces, where you can simply plug in play any other equivalently sized piece. The word “Father” says something substantive within the context of the Apostles’ Creed that “Creator” does not. Sure, “Creator Almighty” is something you can say about God from a Trinitarian perspective, which I have argued previously. But by doing that, you are changing the very structure of the creed. Then, by giving it authoritative status by continuing to call it the Apostles’ Creed, you are committing an act of manipulative appropriation. This amount to a hijacking of the Christian tradition rather than appreciating it.

Now, I can empathize with some of the concerns about the patriarchal language. But it is more honest to have the courage to provide a different statement of faith and deal with the backlash from that than trying to misleadingly appropriate a statement. Trying to edit the creed in such a way that does not clarify but only dramatically alters the structure of the Creed due to modern concerns is manipulative at best, deceptive at worst. Even if it is done in the name of a more “ecumenical” approach that has language most everyone would agree with, this is still a manipulative appropriation. The creeds were meant to be specific statements on the nature of Christian that would exclude many people who would call themselves Christian, not generic statements that any and all would accept. Such an edit is foreign to the spirit of the early formation of the creed.

Respecting tradition is not simply taking the forms of early traditions as a starting point to then tear apart and piece back together for your own theological inclinations. Respecting tradition entails allowing the tradition to speak on its own terms and if you disagree with the tradition, representing that objection separately and speaking that honestly. To edit the Creed in the manner of replacing “Father” with “Creator” amounts to an act of cultural appropriation by Western, progressive elites from the early Christian Church that faced persecution for multiple centuries. The edit does not treat the original source material with respect.

Logical expression of monergist and synergistic soteriologies

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June 10, 2018

In a previous post on Romans 8, I presented what I believed to be a synergistic understanding of Paul’s understanding of Christian freedom. I said the following:

The point is this: Paul’s paradigm of transformation is synergistic. The new reality of Christians who are located in Christ by the Holy Spirit by God’s sending, which Paul refers to as justification, sets up the conditions for transformational action to take place. This new ontological reality is what enables Christian freedom by impacting how we relate to God’s instruction, doing the actions God desires for with the right focus that the Spirit leads into. Thus, for Paul pedagogy takes on a different direction when one is walking by the Spirit. In this way, Paul outlines a positive form of freedom, that takes the glory of God made known in Jesus Christ, as expressed in 2 Corinthians 3:17-4:6, as the goal that can be realized. It highlights the necessary act of God to make this goal possible, which then makes right behaviors with the right focus to be conditionally sufficent3 for accomplishing this goal of transformation.

My end sentence outlined a logical relationship between God’s action to produce a new ontological reality with human action and transformation. In a more formal logical form, what is said above can be translated as follows:

G = God’s saving action; H = Human action; T = Transformation1

(1) iff G then (1)

(2) if H then T

“iff” is logical notation for a necessary and sufficient condition. So, (2) is true only if (1) is true. G does not determine whether H will be true, therefore making T true. In other words, G only makes it such that if H is true, then T will be true. But G can be true without H being true, meaning T will not be true. Furthermore, if G is not true, then H being true will not lead to T being true. Put in more colloquial language: if God acts, then human action will lead to transformation, but a lack of human action will not lead to transformation. If God does not act, the human action will NOT lead to transformation. This is a synergistic soteriology in logical notation.

Monergistic soteriologies will typically take a different form:

(3) iff G then (4)

(4) H and T

(5) if T then G

Here, the difference is that G is the necessary and sufficient condition for both H and T being true. This means that there if there is a specific relationship between H and T, it will always be true if G is true. There doesn’t have to be a relationship between H and T, however. If G is true, then both H and T will be true, regardless of any other relationship. Put more simply, if God acts to save, then humans will act accordingly and they will be transformed.

(5) is important to suggest that T only happen if G acts; transformation will never happen if God does not act to save. This is necessary because H and T are taken to be true together in the first monergistic statement; with this second statement, then it is presumable that only one of either H or T are true without G being true. In other words, a person will not be transformed without God’s action. A person still might act in a certain way without God’s action, however, but it will not be joined with a transformation of the person.

There are a few notable distinctions when one compares these two systems. They all contain the there same conditions, God’s saving action, human action, and transformation. They also both have God’s action as a necessary and sufficient condition. The difference, however, is whether there is another condition for transformation to occur or not. In a monergistic soteriology, if God acts, then transformation will occur, without question. However, in a synergistic soteriology, if God acts, then transformation may not necessarily occur. Synergistic soteriology thus is a bit more complex, by adding a second condition for transformation to occur, whereas a monergistic soteriology has only one condition.

Now, if we were to posit a stereotypical Pelagian soteriology, it would probably look like (2), where human action leads to transformation, but regardless of whether God acts or not. This explains why synergistic soteriologies get labeled as Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian, because (2) is also a part of a synergistic system, but only in conjunction with (1). However monergistic soteriologies do not typically contain (2), although it is technically possible as it would not change the truth values. There is a basic resemblance between Pelagian and synergistic soteriologies that monergistic soteriologies do not share.

Now, in attempting to formally express a synergistic soteriology and a monergistic soteriology, the task of exegesis has a clearer target to determine which is true. Does the Bible express God’s action enabling a specific process of human action as represented by (2) to occur without making that process happen?

A personal note about my blog

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June 9, 2018

For those of my family, friends, and other important people who know me, I want to highlight something important here. Much of the content of my blogging is deeply personal in terms of the ideas, themes, and concepts I explore at times. Having gone through many difficult life events, it is one way I try to work towards bringing something good from those trying times. As a result, in those more personal times, I frequently engage in the analysis of my own experiences. Also, since childhood, I have always had an acute sense of awareness about myself and my experiences, so I have frequently introspective throughout my life, giving me a wide pool to pull from. As a result, many of these experiences include many of you, but I draw on a wide range of my own personal experiences throughout the course of my life. In addition, I have always been an observer of other people. So, my own more personal reflections are personal, but they are broad and also attempt to span beyond myself.

I say that to say this: don’t try to insert yourself into everything that I write. If you and I know each other, there is something important, and I have the opportunity to, I will let you know about it. For instance, when I wrote a blog on emotions and mentioned my experience of anger at someone I love, this was a more general reflection on life events with family and friends and how that type of anger is different from other forms of anger and not directed at any specific, recent event.

So, to my family, friends, and other important people who do read this blog: know that I love you and there is nothing that will hiding behind that the next time we see each other.

Becoming free: Transformational medium and intention in Romans 8:1-8

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June 9, 2018

The concept of freedom was a common Greco-Roman concept, routinely contrasted with having a status of a slave. In its prevailing usage, freedom was a social freedom that has much in common with our modern political conception of rights; there are certain choices only I as an individual have a right to make and no one else may abridge those rights.1. In modern language, this is a negative liberty. However, a positive liberty is one where one has the ability to act to accomplish one’s goals. This type of liberty will often times entail social and economic liberties, but it tends to become more psychological, where we overcome the various temptations, drives, and compulsive actions that work against our goals. Thus, positive freedom is much more concern with the interior of a person.

This positive form of freedom happens to be the type of freedom that the Apostle Paul visions as coming from the Spirit. For Paul, freedom in this positive is a common motif to explain the nature of the Christian way of life. Romans 6-8, Galatians 5-6, and 2 Corinthians 3 are significant passage pertaining to Paul’s understanding of freedom. Probably the most insightful summary of Paul’s understanding of freedom occurs in Romans 8:1-8. I offer here my own translation of Romans 8:1-8, although for the sake of brevity I will not justify each translation decision other than I tend to favor a more dynamic equivalence:

(1) Therefore, at this present time there is no longer any condemnation for those who are located within Christ Jesus. (2) For the instruction coming from the life-giving Spirit that is located within Christ Jesus freed me from the instruction coming from death-dealing sin (3) because the instruction’s powerlessness is weak through the flesh. God Himself sent his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and because of sin he condemned sin located within the flesh (4) so that the just actions of the instruction can be completed within us who are not walking toward flesh but toward the Spirit. (5) For those going towards the flesh think about the things of the flesh, but those going towards the Spirit think about the things of the Spirit. (6) For the thoughts of the flesh are death, but the thoughts of the Spirit are life and peace. (7) For this reason, the flesh’s way of thinking is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s instruction since it is not able to. (8) So those who are located in flesh are not able to please God.

There are two general interpretation difficulties with this passage: 1) what does Paul mean by his repeated uses of νόμος? 2) what is the purpose of the cognitive language in vs. 5-7 of φρονέω and φρόνημα?

The answer to the first question can be understood by understanding that Paul does not mean our concept of “law” as a set of regulative rules when he refers to νόμος. Nor does he simply mean Torah as the particular set of regulative rules that comes from God through Moses. While the Torah is the source of commandments he thinks about, for Paul, νόμος is used with a pedagogical emphasis. Romans 7:7 shows the role that the commandments of the Torah has in instructing a person. It is something that guides a person. However, in Rom. 8-11, sin makes instrumental use of the commandments to produce death instead of life. So, νόμος is not a mere reference to the Torah commandments, but entails a pedagogical usage of the commandments, much in line with the meaning of “Torah” as instruction So, when Paul contrasts the νόμος/instruction that comes from the Spirit and from sin, he isn’t contrasting a separate set of commandments. Rather, his concern is more an issue of how the Torah is being used pedagogically. The nature of the pedagogy is determined by two different modes of life: σάρχ/flesh and πνεῦμα/the Spirit. Vs. 8:2-3 refers to the different pedagogical effects of the Torah’s instruction of these two different modes of life.

What is a significant difference between the two pedagogical modes beyond the ontological difference between the flesh and the Spirit? The contents of thinking. The cognitive language of vs. 5-7 highlight the cognitive role and the specific contents of thinking that occur in the modes of flesh and the Spirit. The flesh has death as its focal point. Death is not understood simply as the cessation of biological life, but it includes all the ways of living and act that lead us to the ending of biological life as in Romans 7:5. We might tempted to refer to this as a “spiritual death,” but Paul is not trying to describe the status of the soul in a way that is like a dead body. Rather, “death” is used to encompass the ways of life that lead to “death.” But, Paul’s emphasis here in Romans 8 is on the contents of the phenomenon of thinking and not per se the consequences of thinking. In other words, the flesh leads to thinking about the things that lead to death. But Romans 7:14-25 suggest this isn’t referring to the intentions to act in ways that lead to death, but more a cognitive attention to such actions, whether they are our intended actions or the actions we commit that we wish we didn’t. By contrast, then, the Spirit leads to conscious thinking about things that lead to life and peace. In short, Paul is describing what today can be talking about as a psychology of attention: what is it that you are focusing on. Elsewhere, Paul uses orientational metaphors that refer to a changing of attention, such as in 2 Co 3:16.

But it is important to note Paul’s logic here. He is not saying “if you think these certain things, you are in the Spirit.” Rather, it is something more specific: “if you think these certain things, you are WALKING towards the Spirit.” Paul does not outline a self-help program of positive thinking or a Pollyanna-ish attitude of positivity. He is not describing how people can become Spirit-led followers of Christ; Romans 7:14-25 has more to say to the “how” of that than Romans 8. What is being set up is a pedagogy of Christian experience. If one is located in Christ and one has the Spirit, then you direct your intentions towards the ways of living that bring life and peace, as these are the thoughts of the Spirit, and it is through this act of intentionality that one realized the freedom to do the just actions that God wants, which He expressed through Torah.

What this means is this: two people can attempt the follow the same commandments, but A) the ontological change in one person being located in Christ and give the Spirit joined together with B) an intentionality to pursue that which brings life and peace will make all the difference between the two people. But if either A or B are not true for a person, Paul would consider them acting out of the mode of the flesh, whether as one who has the Spirit but is misdirecting themselves or one who does not have the Spirit at all and is constrained to the flesh. As it pertains to the failure of intentionality, often times, our actions are done with attention to the things that bring about death, such as the fear of negative consequences happening to us, the selfish desires that would harm others, etc. etc. While there is a diversity of ways we can direct such attention to those things that lead to death, they all have the same ultimate focus. In Christian circles, we often see this is as behavioral maintenance, where we do the right things to stave off negative consequences from God, the church we belong to, etc. At the end of the day, however, our actions have death as the focus in such a mindset.

But what is significant here is to note the role of actions in this form of freedom. Walking towards the Spirit entails this rightly intentioned behavior. Christians are not changed by a failure to do what is good but simply waiting upon some change from God; transformation is not a passive process. Rather it is an active process for Christians, who are changed by the rightly God-centered direction of those actions. What the problem with the works of the Torah, or works in general, isn’t the futility of doing good to try to earn God’s favor as is a stereotyped version of Protestant theology. Rather trying to please God apart from the gracious action of God in sending Jesus and in giving the Holy Spirit is the problem. Grace for Paul is about’s God provision of the ontological condition A that enables the right intentionality of action in condition B. Failure to act rightly or to act with the wrong intentions will impede this transformation.

In 1 Corinthians 3:1-5, Paul chides the Corinthians for their conflict behaviors that is guided with an intentionality of focusing on people of status within the Christian community, suggesting this is the reason the Corinthians have a spiritual childishness to them; while the Corinthians have experienced the ontological change of condition A, they are not doing the actions coming from the right intentionality of condition B. Later in 1 Co. 8, Paul criticizes those that eat meat sacrificed from idols simply because they know idols don’t really exist, while they fail to consider the impact their actions will have on others who do not have such knowledge. There, they have actions could be considered “right” as the idols do not impact meat itself, but because their intentionality and focus behind it excludes what would give life and peace to others, their actions are still wrongly directed, thus cutting against Christ to whom they are related to.2

The point is this: Paul’s paradigm of transformation is synergistic. The new reality of Christians who are located in Christ by the Holy Spirit by God’s sending, which Paul refers to as justification, sets up the conditions for transformational action to take place. This new ontological reality is what enables Christian freedom by impacting how we relate to God’s instruction, doing the actions God desires for with the right focus that the Spirit leads into. Thus, for Paul pedagogy takes on a different direction when one is walking by the Spirit. In this way, Paul outlines a positive form of freedom, that takes the glory of God made known in Jesus Christ, as expressed in 2 Corinthians 3:17-4:6, as the goal that can be realized. It highlights the necessary act of God to make this goal possible, which then makes right behaviors with the right focus to be conditionally sufficent3 for accomplishing this goal of transformation.

In conclusion, Paul’s notion of freedom still bears some resemblance to the Protestant idea of justification by faith, but for very different reasons that traditional Protestant explanations. For Paul, the concern isn’t the futility of doing works. For Paul, the futility is trying to do works apart from the reality of new creation in Christ and Spirit that Christians are placed into by God’s action, which can change the very way one can do those very same behaviors. Christian freedom to be transformed entails the Holy Spirit as the pedagogical medium who directs people to rightly focus their actions to the life-giving, peace-building purposes of God as is made manifestly clear in the revelation of God’s faithfulness through Jesus Christ,

Modern American and Western Politics and the Thirty Years’ War

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June 7, 2018

The printing press is invented by Gutenberg, and the trajectory of Western Europe dramatically changes. People like Martin Luther are able to write their protests against abuses of the Catholic Church and these protests gain wider dissemination. Thus, the Protestant Reformation is birthed, with the all sorts of diverse movements loosely joined together in their opposition to the Vatican: Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists on the Continent and the Anglicans on the British Isles. Then a time of bitter conflicted enveloped Europe in religious wars, climaxing with the Thirty Years’ War. Eventually, this resulted in the Peace of Westphalia, thus setting the stage for the dramatic intellectual shift that is the Enlightenment, catalyzing one of the biggest growth in economic and political power history has ever seen.

The Internet, not invented by Al Gore, is widespread, and the trajectory of the world is dramatically changed. Various individual people are able to express their own thoughts and stories for anyone across the world to see. Thus, what is born is a pluralistic postmodern paradise of various ideologies, identity groups, interest groups, etc., all of which protest the injustices and abuses of the political and social institutions of our day. Particularly in America, this conflict has developed in what might be term a Cold Civil War. What is the future of this?

I tell these two very simplified narratives to convey an important point. The nature of the 15-18th century Europe dramatically changes due to a innovation in information technology. Now, we are witnessing a similar, albeit sped up, similar type of change in the world, although my knowledge mainly extends to American and somewhat to Europe. The very change in the medium of information transfer has allowed for the expression of abuses that previously went overlooked, minimized, or forgotten. The #MeToo movement is one salient, recent example. Less visible issues of privilege and racism are brought to our attention more and more. Thus, the traditional centers of power become challenged and the protests movement have the ability to develop a critical mass, grow, and thus become persistent challengers to the traditional centers of power. And so, just as the printing press allowed the spread of information, galvanizing Europe into two bitter factions who interpret much of the same information with very different emotions and responses, we see the same happening in America and the West. What will become of this? Will America and the larger West have its own modern Peace of Westphalia moment?

Likely not. With the Peace of Westphalia, there was a conflict of identity but there was still a substantial amount of common religious ground that the rulers. The European religious wars were more like two brothers fighting with each other. But today, the two sides in the conservative and nationalist movements and the progressive coalition of various smaller identity groups, have a conflict both in identity and in ideology. The main common ground is a shared landmass and decision making institutions. If that is the case, a hopeful optimism for the future will rest upon a social, political, and/or religious movement that can be persuasive enough to draw people in, who can convince people to shift their ideological bases so that people can be drawn together into a union defined by qualified trust rather than the present persistent distrust. Otherwise, the future will be careening towards either perpetual distrust and conflict or domination by the victor.

An early fusion of Adamic and Servant Christologies

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June 7, 2018

In Christology in the Making, James Dunn proffers that Christological hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 does not express the pre-existence of Christ, but rather is a reflection of an Adamic Christology. For Dunn, ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ1 in v. 6 refers to Adam’s creation in the image of God in Genesis 1-3, with εἰκων2 being synonymous with μορφή.3  Linguistically, this argument is pretty convincing. The difference of word usage can be explained to the poetic nature of the hymn, which sought to marshal the concept of μορφή as a way to contrast the image of God with the status of a servant. Interpretation of the form of God in terms of the Adamic narrative is strengthened by Dunn’s observation as to the how Christ “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited” corresponds to the serpent’s seduction about the tree:12-5 of knowledge of good and evil will make the eaters like God in Gen. 3:5.4

However, his following argument that the μορφὴν δούλου5 in vs. 7 refers to the Adam as a result of the fall is not as convincing. Adam is not spoken of as a slave after the fall by the OT, nor do we see that understanding in the NT. This would actually run counter to the whole narrative of the OT where humanity ceases to be anything like a slave or servant. Instead, starting with Adam and Eve, humanity becomes disobedient to the will of God. Whereas, in contrast, obedience defines Christ as a human in vs. 8, suggesting δούλος is not simply about to losing a “share in God’s glory and [becomong] a slave”6 but rather about a role of social status that impacts how one relates to another. This manner of relating seems to be the heart of the hymn of v. 6-8. Furthermore the hymn is marshalled in support of other people considering other people’s interest’s more important than one’s own.7 Service to others is seen as a positive thing for Paul, and thus would likely not employed this hymn for this moral exhortation to do such if the “form of a slave” was seen as a loss of status due to the Fall.

However, an alternative is to suggest that vss. 7-8 is an echo of the Suffering Servant hymn in Isaiah 53. There the servant is one who has a low social status in being despised, is put to death, and yet this servant’s faithfulness is the basis of salvation for those who rejected him and this servant will given assign a high status as a result of his faithfulness. Low status, death, and being assigned high status are all features of the hymn in Phil. 2:6-11; we may also suggest salvation to others is implied by Jesus becoming their Lord. In this case, what we are seeing is the Adamic Christology is blended with a Servant Christology. This can then explain the hymn’s usage of δούλος.

We can also see this blending of Adamic and Servant Christologies in Romans 5. Romans 5:12-21 compares and contrasts the effect of Adam’s actions on the world with Christ’s actions on the world. In v. 19, Paul says διὰ τῆς ὑπακοῆς τοῦ ἑνὸς δίκαιοι κατασταθήσονται οἱ πολλοί.8 This compares with the impact upon many mentioned of the servant in LXX Isa. 53:11: δικαιῶσαι δίκαιον εὖ δουλεύοντα πολλοῖς.9

This blending of Adamic and Servant Christologies may also be in play in 1 Corinthians 15:45, where Paul contrast Adam’s reception of life with the last Adam’s giving of life. Similarly, Isaiah 53:4-6 assigns a healing role to the servant’s faithfulness. There, it is the sin of the unjust that are healed by the one who is unjustly killed. Thus contrast that may be implicit in 1 Co. 15:45 is how those who like Adam sin are healed by Christ. Whereas Adam is simply a ψυχὴν ζῶσαν,11 means one does not accept instruction from God12 and thus remain in disobedience to God, Christ as a πνεῦμα ζῳοποιοῦν13 heals the mere “soulishness” of Adam. While the allusion to the Servant Christology is more subtle, when you combine it with the blending of the Adamic and Servant Christologies in Phil. 2:6-11 and Romans 5:12-21, there is enough warrant to see the same pattern in 1 Corinthians 15.

If these three passages really do provide grounds for an early fusion of Adamic and Servant Christologies, then there are four possible observations I would make:

1) This pattern of thinking about Jesus has to be really early in the life of the Church. The blending of the two Christologies are subtle enough so as to have become a habitual thought pattern. This would have taken time to form.

2) If Philippians 2:6-11 is a blending of these two Christologies, then Dunn’s reading of it is only half correct. The hymn is not expressing a recapitulation of Adam as Dunn’s exegesis seems to imply, thereby getting rid of any need for pre-existence in the hymn. Rather, the hymn is expressing an implicit discontinuity with Adam, necessitating Jesus to being something more than human in order to not be like Adam. Hence, it is more coherent to suggest that Christ’s pre-existence is predicated in Phil. 2:6, and it precisely this pre-existence that allows Christ to be an obedient contrast to Adam once He becomes human; though equal with God Christ became a servant who was obedient to God, instead of Adam (and Eve) who sought to become like God and thus became disobedient to God.

3) It is this fusion of Adamic Christology with the Servant Christology that would be a sufficient condition for Paul to have Adam function simultaneously as a continuous comparison and a discontinuous contrast to Christ.

4) The manner in which the early Christians related Jesus to the Scriptures was not simply a simplistic pattern where they tried to match Jesus with specific passages in the OT in a proof-texting manner. Rather, what seems to be the case is that the early Christians were actually seeing Christ through the lens of the ideas that they derived from the Scriptures. Thus, the early Christian movement wouldn’t have been a simply proof-texting movement, but rather creatively explored the significance of Christ. This is consistent with Paul’s rejection of the γραμμα of the Torah, but not the Torah as a source for moral reflection, in contrast to a more creative well-spring coming from the Spirit.14

In short, for Paul and the early Church, Christ’s pre-existence allows him to be human and yet escape the corrupting power of Adam, and therefore become the last Adam who lives as an obedient, suffering servant, enduring the injustice from the disobedience of the descendants of the first Adam, thereby turning the unjust towards righteous obedience.

LATER EDIT: After posting, my friend Joshua Toepper on Facebook pointed to a similar idea NT Wright presents in his The Climax of the Covenant. On pages 57-62, Wright argues that a Servant Christology is consistent with an Adamic Christology in Philippians 2. While I have not read it thoroughly enough to comment, there is one comment I would make. Wright says that both Adamic-Christology and Servant-Christology are really Israel-Christologies, and thus on this grounds they go well together.15 My contention would be to suggest that the Servant-Christology is not understood by the early Church as an Israel-Christology, but rather fits within a prophetic strand, which would emphasize a discontinuity with Israel and Torah. It would be possible to allow for the Servant-Christology to be an Israel-Christology only through the idea of the faithful remnant of Israel. Likewise, the Adamic-Christology contains an implicit critique of Israel, as they share the very same Adamic 16 that Christ as the Last Adam redeems them from. So, on the surface of it it looks as if that the Adamic and Servant Christologies have a subtle critique of Israel. Thus, whereas perhaps Wright would make the Adamic and Servant Christologies emphasize a continuity with Israel with Christ as the fulfillment of Israel, I would say the two Christologies contain A) a latent discontinuity with Torah as a set of fixed writings and the history Israel but B) a continuity with God’s purposes that were in those points of history being expressed through Torah and were being brought forth throughout Israel’s history. But since I have not read The Climax of the Covenant except for a few sections, I can not say confidently that this represents Wright adequately, but only my understanding of his body of work. Furthermore, even if it does represent Wright adequately, the question of emphasis may ultimately boil down to a matter of semantics rather than any substantive disagreement on my part with Wright.