If the Dead Are Not Raised . . .

On Pascha, it helps to take a look at Paul’s prose in 1 Corinthians 15. Again, because it bears repeating, Paul (along with the other authors of Scripture), does not have a “theology of” or a pre-set view of some issue. Chapter 15 follows chapter 14, which follows 13, all the way from chapter 1. There is a narrative flow.

So there is no Pauline “view” of the Resurrection. Paul, true to Scripture, is taking the promises of God made in the law and the prophets that God’s message will reach the Gentiles, and Paul then explains this message. Anything Paul “says” about the Resurrection is what his predecessors already wrote, which he now presents to the Gentiles.

Because we have been conditioned to think that we need to find pre-Christ references in the Old Testament, we tend to see even the issue of the Resurrection exclusively in this manner, i.e., as being concerned mainly, if not solely, with Jesus Christ. But Jesus, as we have shown in Arc of the Covenant, comes at the end of the Scriptural story, where he carries the entire arc of Scripture to the Cross. As we wrote in part two of that essay, the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the Father’s restoration of the entirety of Scripture as a living word that must reach all nations. If Jesus dies and is forgotten, so are the promises of God.

Hence, as we wrote then:

“And so, if the death of Christ was supposed to lead to the loss of the “message of God,” [i.e., by the conspirators who put him to death], then what does the resurrection of Jesus from the dead mean but that this word is a word of life that can never be buried into oblivion?”

And so, to what is Paul referring when he writes that, “if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised” (15. 13)?

It helps to look at Paul’s imagery in 1 Corinthians. Throughout the letter, he uses the image of the body or a building to help the hearers understand what he is saying. In chapter 15, he introduces the image of a seed (vv. 42 – 44 ff). A seed grows after it is buried into the ground.

What was the purpose of the Resurrection of Jesus? Well, the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead happened only because God had already decided to raise all the dead. But subject to human manipulation, even the word of God could be used to cause harm, as Jesus and the prophets before him showed. Jesus’ interpretation of the law and the prophets, being the only valid one, “protects” the Scriptures as a life-giving word. His being raised from the dead by the Father was done to bring that message to us.

This is why hope is so prominent in the New Testament writings. We now have hope, based upon the teachings we have received as disciples.

But what type of “hope?”

In the Scriptural readings of Holy Week in the Orthodox liturgical cycle, an important “axial” segment were the readings devoted to Jesus’ betrayal. This betrayal was repeated so much one could not lose sight of some important messages: an innocent man was being betrayed, and a judge (Pilate) representing the prized Roman legal system washed his hands of everything and knowingly sentenced an innocent man to death.

Jesus’ death on a cross was simply meant to erase him from history and the face of the earth, to be buried into oblivion. But we remember him and the lessons he taught against the control of the Scriptures exerted by religious authorities and the crimes of unjust judges.

Hope. But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish (Psalms 9. 18). Though the world may forget you, cast you into oblivion, God will not. Jesus’ death on the cross is indeed a promise by God that no innocent human being will ever be forgotten by God, and on the “last day,” will not only be justified, by glorified in His kingdom.

Christ is Risen! Truly, He is Risen!

He Has Been Chosen!

I had a great conversation recently with someone about God’s choices, as what we hear/read in Romans 9. 11 – 13. There, in discussing the birth of Jacob and Esau to Rebekah, Paul writes:

Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, not by works but by his call) she was told, ‘The elder shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.’

As we learn, Jacob is born, and he is an ambitious fellow who has no problem being conniving and short-sighted, among other things. The question is, would you want him as a brother? A son in law? A son? A husband? A friend? He steals his older brother’s birthright and for this, Esau is exiled by Isaac.

As we addressed in one of the earlier essays, “It’s Good to See You, Bro,” Jacob is of course petrified to learn (as he is finally granted release by Laban to go home) that his older brother Esau is literally over the hills coming straight at him with an army of four hundred plus men. To repeat, Jacob was the reason for why Esau was exiled from his father’s house and became a wanderer, having to fend for himself. But, as we see, God was good to him and to Jacob — well, Jacob struggled his whole life.

So, what benefit did having been chosen bring Jacob? Is chosen-ness a de-facto benefit in Scripture?

Looking at the Bible, it looks more the case that the authors of the Bible are taking a very real human fascination with chosen-ness, which exists in every culture and tribal society — and dynamiting it from within. It’s another construct humans create — in politics, religion, sports (e.g. MVP), you name it.

But behind this outside is an inside that tells a different story. Being chosen is not a priori a safety net, but more the case that God may very well make of you an example.

So in Romans 9, Paul is not really talking about Jacob being preferred over Esau. And he is not creating a “Scriptural approach to election and chosen-ness.” All he is doing is highlighting that, whether or not Israel (another chosen group) followed the Law is irrelevant, because God can even use human failures for His purposes.

Our Friend

In one of the earliest posts on this blog (Whose View?), we discussed the importance of knowing the original languages of the Bible, as the language makes the vision possible. What you and I “see” in Scripture is what the authors place there.

This importance of knowing languages can be seen in one of the shortest, and frankly, largely ignored Pauline letters, Philemon. Bracketing the writings of Paul in the New Testament, Philemon closes out the series of canonical writings to the Gentiles that begins with Romans. If Romans is the call of the apostle Paul to the Roman society, especially to the patricians, for them to accept and submit to the Gospel, then Philemon is the test case of whether and how this happens.

In other words, Philemon is a magnifying glass looking at Paul’s call in one specific Roman household, which functions as any Roman household.

The thrust of the letter is simple enough: Paul is returning to the Roman (now a believer) patrician Philemon his (i.e., Philemon’s) runaway slave Onesimus. Appealing to Philemon’s love and respect for Paul (verses 10 – 20), the apostle calls on the patrician to welcome back Onesimus, whom Paul met in prison and who cared for Paul, and to receive him with open arms and generosity.

Oh, and to call him a brother (verse 16).

Let’s stop here and look at this. You are a Roman patrician, with power over someone’s life, especially that of slaves in your household. The whole neighborhood knows you lost a slave who ran away. Now, he shows up at your door with a letter from someone named Paul that will need to be read out loud in an assembly for everyone gathered to hear. On top of this, when you would have at least severely punished Onesimus, you cannot, because of what this letter is asking of you. And on top of all this, you have to refer to this slave. . . as your brother. You — a Roman patrician!

What will the other patricians think?

Here we do not “know” how Philemon chose. It is not for us to know but to learn. Were Philemon to welcome back Onesimus and call him a brother, then the Roman power ethic would have been conquered in his home. While his social status and Onesimus’ would have remained the same, his power over Onesimus would not.

This is why Paul refers to our recipient as Philemon, borne out of the Greek words “friend” and “our.” Philemon is literally, “Our friend.” Anyone who lives by the Gospel is a friend of the Lord, who alone tests the heart.

Identity

What happens to your identity if you bear the name of Christian? Do you lose your identity? In Colossians, Saint Paul says that, in the renewal of the “new self,” “there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free, but Christ is all and in all” (3. 11).

I have given thought to this matter over the years, coming to the conclusion that, well, you lose your identity as a believer in the Lord. The loss of identity is part and parcel of the start of the “new self” Paul mentions in Colossians. Our identifying markers have gone the way of the wind. How can one love the neighbor if one still holds onto identity? “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2. 20).

Now, I am not so sure this is what Paul is saying. This is true, but also partially true. Let’s think about this as if we were living in the first century Roman Empire.

In many regions of the Near East and Eastern Mediterranean, clothes function as social markers, but also tell a story. Clothes are an indication of social status as well as location. For example, just by being able to read the design on a traditional headscarf (i.e., hijab), one could know from which village someone comes.

Slaves wore or did not wear certain clothes; for example, they were often deprived of shoes. The higher social classes dressed better, of course. Does this now mean that if a slave became a disciple they would then have new clothes?

Likely not. Their identity remains the same, this is who they are socially in the Roman Empire. Someone from the Galatia region of Asia Minor does not change their clothing, which may be specific to the region in which they live, to look like the clothes, say, from Galilee or Antioch. Why should they?

So I think Paul is saying that your identity remains the same. What changes is the power one identity has over another person or tribe — it no longer has this power! The Gentile believer who eats with the Jewish believer forgoes the power of their identity over the other, since they are both seated at a table that is not theirs, i.e., at the Lord’s table.

So in loving the needy neighbor, there is then no need or place for you to assert your identity. Jesus told a parable about a Good Samaritan (Luke 10. 29 – 37). As the hearers, we need to know his identity as a Samaritan, as this is part of the tension of the parable. But in his service to his fellow suffering human within the parable, the Samaritan’s identity doesn’t matter.

In the next post, we will see how this mechanism functions in Paul’s Letter to Philemon.

Luke-Acts

One of the recurring comments I have read over the years about Luke the Evangelist is that he was the church’s first historian, and that his Acts is a history. You know, there’s the oft-repeated idea that the Acts of the Apostles is a history of the early church.

In the ancient Greek tradition, the two predominant historians were Herodotus and Thucydides. The latter, writing during the Peloponnesian War, which led to the ruin of Athens, considered himself the first serious historian, writing his history based off evidence — speeches he heard or had reported to him by reliable witnesses.

In the centuries since Thucydides wrote, the Romans entered the scene and took over the Mediterranean region and along with it, the remains of the empire of Alexander the Great. Building on the Greeks, the Romans had their own historians. By the first century, among the most famous was Livy, who wrote the History of Rome.

This history was an origins narrative, explaining how Rome came to be, and came to rule. But in this sense, there was a commonality with Thucydides and Herodotus — history is a search for origins. For Thucydides, the origin he examined was what led to the defeat of Athens.

Luke begins his Gospel with an explanation that he is writing a narrative (v. 1), and that these events about which he is writing “were handed down to us” by certain people (v. 2). These people, who he does not name, “became from the beginning eyewitnesses and servants [i.e., “at your service/in your service] of the word.” They were not eyewitnesses — they became so, hence the use of γενομενοι, which means “became/were made.”

In Luke 1. 1 – 2, Luke writes that his narrative is an orderly account based off what was handed down by people who became reliable eyewitnesses and servants of the word from the beginning. So Luke is establishing to the Roman ear that this narrative has an origin of Jesus’s life (Mark’s Gospel does not), and so they should listen to it. The reference to the account have been “handed down” is a phrase of familiarity to them, and the mention of Augustus in Luke 2 highlights to the Romans the period in question.

To the Romans, for whom chronology was important in history writing, this was essential to provide. And so this is how the Gospel and Acts were written. But, rather than being a history of the early church, or even the life of Jesus, as is commonly stated, Luke-Acts is a “history of the word of God,” from Jesus to Paul, from Galilee and Jerusalem to Rome (Luke 1 – 2; Acts 28).

There is something about Livy’s work which is interesting. In the beginning of the history, he writes: “It has been handed down to us, as a certain fact . . . .” Is Luke referencing Livy and Thucydides here? Both Luke and Livy begin with a reference to things handed down, as fact, and he alludes (as per Thucydides) to the presence of eyewitnesses. This word “eyewitnesses” appears only once in all of Scripture, and it appears only here, in verse 2. And in Luke 2, he announces the birth of Jesus by referencing how this happened during the days of the decree of emperor Augustus that the whole world then be registered in a census (2. 1).

If we consider that the name Luke is actually Latin (i.e., Lucas, Lucius, Lucianus), the prospect that Luke was writing specifically to the Romans as a civilization is plausible, but why did he choose this narrative format, and what was his message to them?

It is plausible, and likely, that Luke-Acts is an invitation to the Romans, within Rome and beyond, to find this word as worthy of their table fellowship, and to find common space with the people they considered barbarians or subjects of theirs, including the Jews of their time.

Think about it –the Romans considered themselves to have been the greatest civilization ever. They beat the Greeks and absorbed their culture as needed, and introduced to their known world paved roads, aqueducts, and architecture. They also introduced the notion that the accused is innocent until proven guilty, and they were proud of their legal system.

Why would the powerful Roman families adopt a teaching that had a genesis within Judaism, a people with whom the Romans kept mostly professional and strictly non-social relations? After all, the Jews functioned to the Romans as “less-than.” So, what would draw a Roman to the Gospel, whose origin (a la Luke 24) is in the law and the prophets?

Luke’s ingenious approach has much to do with answering this. Under Roman practice, practicing Jews did not have to offer incense to the emperor, merely to pray for him. The reason is that Judaism predated the Roman empire, and this was a concession and acknowledgement of Roman society. If the Good News and, therefore, Luke-Acts is a “history of the word” in the time of the Romans, but whose antecedents go back to the Law, then by extension, Rome has been made a part of Luke’s, and thus Scripture’s, history. Are we not speaking of the word of the Cross to this day?

To explain further, the Romans were presented with an opportunity to receive the Good News as a privilege; to accept the history into which they were written (by Luke) and submit to it, or to go their own way as they were and leave the world in the same condition.

Secondly, those barbarians. The natural tendency of an elitist Roman would be to see in the barbarians as uncouth and immoral peoples, with whom virtuous Romans would have no dealings. At best, they are a conquered peoples. But how could they not listen to the trial of Jesus in Luke 23 before Pilate and not also conclude that, they too, are no less brutal? Where is there virtue in a society if the innocent are so easily disposed?

Thirdly, by ending Luke with table fellowship, a staple of the Roman society, Luke now makes of his Luke-Acts the subject of table conversation. How can a powerful Roman patrician, who would dispose of a biological progeny at will, not have to re-assess his “house rules” after hearing Luke 15 and the parable of the Prodigal Son? How could a patrician bury his slaves under harshness when in Luke 18 even the blind man has been given a voice?

As such, Luke-Acts is a true book of evangelization, of the spreading of the Good News, uniting Jew and Gentile at table. Luke-Acts is thus the door through which the Gentile could come to know Jesus Christ and the word he carried with him to the cross (Luke 24. 44 – 49).

Plato’s March of Folly, Round Two — Jesus Avoids the Trap

In an earlier post (Plato’s March of Folly), we looked at the sad state of affairs humanity has had to endure, courtesy of Plato and his descendants. The beguiling aspect of philosophy is such that, were one to be fully and entirely devoted to it, the practical aspects of living would disappear.

Not convinced?

In his Republic, Plato introduces us to the image of a person living in a dark cave and then, when liberated from the darkness, that human being slowly begins to see as their eyes adjust to the light. Obviously, the cave is a metaphor for knowledge, and of course, you would have to assume the person trapped in the cave is living in a nice climate, since when they leave the cave they automatically encounter sunlight. So, clearly, this metaphor applies nicely to warm weather environments like Athens, but would not really work in, say, Seattle.

Of course, there are other logistical issues with all of this. Like, how did the person in the cave get their food? Who raised them? Who protected them? Sure, they had no sight, but their hearing would have been attenuated — what would they have heard in their many years growing up?

The logistical aspects of philosophy, clearly fail. The “what if” aspect is enticing and beguiling, and, well, it is just that — beguiling. But it is not realistic in this world. This world.

In Genesis 3, we encounter a situation where Eve is presented with a beguiling offer — to know good and evil, like God. In standard Socratic method fashion, the crafty serpent entices Eve with a question by which she is won over. To have the power of God, well who wouldn’t want that?

Is the serpent a salesman? Yes, definitely. But what is he selling? For one, a road out of the garden. How does he do it? With a question, much like the Socratic method (see Tarazi, The Rise of Scripture, p. 59).

The beguiling aspect of the Socratic method is that it puts the receiver in a disadvantageous position, as a passive participant in someone else’s line of thinking. The end result is a form of control over a person or situation, precisely because it appears to the one being questioned that they are gaining something, in Adam and Eve’s case, knowledge and power. But they gain nothing, losing even time in productive labor.

The consequence of what happened in the garden is that Adam and Eve, who were entrusted with tending the garden (“you had one job, just one!”) left their duties to go into hiding, become idle, and thereby lose their commission. So, instead of tending the garden, they and their descendants came to work the land in toil and labor (a second best option, as an act of divine mercy; Gen. 3. 17 – 19).

So, is there a way out of this?

In Luke, we have several instances where Jesus is approached with a question. In all of these cases, instead of answering the question, He responds with His own. For example, the Parable of the Good Samaritan opens this way:

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” (Luke 10. 25 – 26)

At the end of Luke, Jesus is approached by the elders, scribes, and Pharisees and is asked:

One day, as he was teaching the people in the temple and telling the good news, the chief priests and the scribes came with the elders  and said to him, “Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority?” He answered them, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell me: Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? (Luke 20. 1 – 4)

Jesus makes them work for what they think they know. Productive work is not only good for us, it is part of our calling as free people and children of the Jerusalem above.

As Paul says, let us avoid reckless and useless controversies (2 Tim. 2.23), as well as idleness (2 Thess. 3. 6 – 15). This is pastoral care 101.