Before I get started on what I want to discuss in this post, I would like to take a moment and to apologize to my followers for my extended absence. Truth is that life through me a curve. I had to switch jobs which has put me on a third shift schedule. This switch meant that I am sleeping during the day time and have very little time to write. Additionally, the job change also meant a decreased income, as a result I have returned to school to complete a computer degree I started years ago. This has resulted in the reality that any free time I would have from my new job is usually spent doing classwork. Combining these factors with my family responsibilities, I quickly realized that something had to give. Unfortunately, that something was my writing, and for this I am really sorry.
Having got that off my chest, lets move directly into the topic I had intended for this post, namely- “What does it meant that Jesus is in charge?” I recently had this question posed to me and I responded with the standard seminary answers to the question. However, the more I thought about the question the more I felt the Spirit trying to point out a thread of thought that needed to be unraveled. It was a thought brings us to the heart of what God is doing or not doing.
The thought which gripped me and would not be dismissed is simply this:
If the resurrection inaugurated the kingdom, then Jesus is in charge and the world is not getting any worse. In fact, it should be getting better.
But is this a true statement? I have argued in several posts that God’s intention is the the restoration of all of creation. Assuming that is assertion is correct; it logically does not make sense that God would allow further decay; but rather would bring about agents of change to improve the situation. This He has done through His Son, Jesus, the Bible, the prophets, and everyday Christians.
Furthermore; the Bible itself suggests this is true. Jesus, himself, refers to his coming as being like the days of Noah. He tells the disciples,
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. “
Matt 24:36-39, NIV
Now look at what God said about the days of Noah,
” The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”” 8
Furthermore, in the same chapter, Jesus tells us the atrocities of war are merely routine history (vs-6-7). The world is not getting worse, it is just as wicked as it has always been. So the question becomes is Jesus in charge or not. Again, Jesus tells us,
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
So the Bible confirms that the first two parts of the proposed proposition are true: Jesus is in charge and the world is no worse than its always been. So does this mean that the world is actually improving? As noted historian and theologian N. T. Wright points out,
“For instance, most nations assume some version of human rights; however much we argue about it; however badly we implement it; we sort of assume it. Nobody, but the early Christians, dreamed of such a thing in the ancient world. Most people see poverty and disease as a problem to be addressed. In the ancient world, people just shrugged their shoulders; that’s just how things were. The world is gradually recognizing, as Jesus obviously did, though sadly the church often didn’t, that women are fully human. Much of the world knows in its bones, even though its hard to live up to it, that patience and humility and forgiveness are good things. In the First Century, nobody, apart from a few Jews and those crazy Christians, thought that way at all. We should not downplay or ignore those. Those are major cultural shifts.”
In other words, Jesus being in charge means that the “world” is getting better not worse. It is not heading to some great destruction but a great recreation (cf. Rom 8:18-30) This is what means to say what does it mean for Jesus to be in charge.
So what does this mean for us. It means that God’s kingdom is already at work. It means that we are charged, like with any newly formed government, to create the infrastructure, the culture, and the moral character under which this governance is to occur. It means we need Christian artists to create beauty for beauty sake. We need musicians to write new songs. We need Christ-following architects and construction workers to build Eco-friendly cities. It means we need politicians to push governments into just policies. It means we need school teachers to mentor our kids not just in facts and figures, but in ideas. We need Jesus loving restraunt employees to serve as Jesus served. In short, we need KINGDOM BUILDERS!
Theology is the study of God, but theology is dangerous. We make
the dogmatic statements based on what we read in the Scriptures, what
experience in life, and what we learn from others. However, JESUS CHANGES EVERYTHING!
How does Jesus change everything? Consider the following:
God is a spirit (Jn 4:24).
Paul Enns writes, “God is spirit (not a spirit) who does not
have corporeity or physical form. A body localizes, but God as spirit is everywhere,
he cannot be limited. Although God does not have a body, he is nonetheless as
substance but not material.”
Elmer Towns writes, “God is a real Being who does not exist in or through a
everything! The Bible shows Jesus after the resurrection as having a body. What
scholar N.T. Wright calls transphysicality.
“For a spirit does
not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Lk 24:39).
transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the
power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Phil
God is Holy
John S. Feinberg summarizes the Biblical use
of Holiness in this way:
As these Hebrew (qōdeš, qādaš, and ḥasȋd) and Greek (hagiazō and hagios) terms are used of God, Scripture offers
a two-fold picture of divine holiness. On the one hand, God is holy in that he
is distinct or separate from everything else…The second sense in which God is
separate or set apart from everything is in his moral purity and perfection,
the concept we most often associate with divine holiness.
Jesus changes everything!
The Bible paints Jesus as becoming like us in the incarnation (Jn 1:1-4). Paul
says that Jesus became sin (2 Cor 5:21). Furthermore, Jesus does not set
himself apart as the foot washing scene demonstrates (Jn 13:1-17).
These are only two of the many ways that the person of Jesus challenges our perception of who God is. There are many more and I encourage you to not sit and just swallow what you have been told and taught, but to prayerfully examine the Word of God. Feel free to comment on what I have written with your thoughts and opinions. Furthermore, check out my new weekly Bible study video series on you tube called GodForward.
Theology Proper, or the Doctrine of God, is inherently problematic for any individual undertaking its study. Indeed, Theology Proper is a labyrinth of topics and subtopics which if not navigated properly will inevitably create a false notion of God. This has a profound impact on people’s lives, both as individuals and corporately as a society. As Elmer Towns notes,
“But When we misunderstand God, we automatically drift in our theology. And those who drift in their theology ultimately suffer in their practical life, because proper belief is the foundation for proper action…A study of civilization shows that no culture has even risen above its religion, and no religion is greater that its view of God. Therefore, those who have the greatest view of God obviously will have the greatest civilization.”
The necessity of the scholar to provide a responsible Theology Proper is significant. Indeed, the task is a daunting one. Each topic and subtopic are, in themselves, a playing card in the construction of a house of cards. When done properly, what is in view can be absolutely astounding, but one imperfection can bring the whole enterprise down upon itself. It is the aim of this paper to examine on such card, namely the doctrine of impassibility.
Impassability is the doctrine that “God is not capable of being acted upon or affected emotionally by anything in creation.” This doctrine is irrevocably linked to the ideas that God is absolute perfection (Perfection Theology) and that he cannot change in any of his essential nature (Doctrine of immutability). These doctrines are in turned based upon Greek philosophical thought which the early church fathers used as their foundation to expound the Doctrine of God. However, it is the intention of this paper to show that the doctrine of impassibility is biblically untenable. This will be accomplished by demonstrating that the proper key to use in forming a correct Theology Proper is the revelation of God through the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, as he is revealed in scripture. Once this Christological perspective is applied it will be shown that the whole revelation of scripture is one of a God who is affected by emotional stimulus and therefore, passive.
An Overview of the Doctrine of Impassability
There is little doubt that Christian Theology has been significantly influenced by ancient Greek philosophy. Indeed, classical Greek thought and Western Christian thought have been so intertwined with each other that many of the concepts have become synonymous with one another. Commenting on this phenomenon, Tony Lane writes, “The task of the early Christian Fathers was to express the Christian faith in relation to their Greek heritage. This meant expressing it in Greek terms, yet without distorting it. To a large extent, they succeeded in doing this. In due course Greek thought became Christian thought.” Furthermore as early as the second century Christian thinkers were incorporating Greek philosophy into Christianity. Justin Martyr wrote, “I both boast and strive with all my strength to be found a Christian. Not because the teachings of Plato are different from those of Christ, but because they are not totally identical.” This fusion of Christian belief with Greek philosophy would lay the foundation for much of Christian orthodoxy, the doctrine of impassibility included.
Greek thinkers, generally, taught that human beings and their nature were made up of a two-fold anthropology, the body and the soul. This form of anthropology harkens back to Plato’s distinction between being and becoming. According to Plato, everything in the physical world changes and therefore is in a constant state of becoming. However, there is another realm, according to Plato, the realm of ideas or forms. These ideas or forms are unchanging and in a constant state of being. Additionally, this world of becoming was not considered to be transient, but also irrational. In contrast, the universe was thought to be indwelt by a “divine reason” (Logos) which came from the realm of being. The Apostle John would use “Logos” to describe Jesus in his Gospel (John 1:1, ESV). This way of viewing cosmology led the Greek philosophers to believe that human beings consisted of body (an irrational substance of becoming) which housed the soul (a divine spark of Logos from the realm of being). As a result, the goal of human beings was to shed the becoming to free the being.
With John’s use of Greek philosophical terminology, early Christian Fathers had found a point of contact to use a springboard to combine Christian and Greek thought. Thomas Aquinas and his followers (thomists) readily embraced this point of contact. They presented a God who was transcendent, simple, rational, and unchanging. Furthermore, they argued that emotions and passibility involved potentiality. Potentiality, they claimed, involved change. Furthermore, since God had to be absolute in moral perfection, thomists argued that any suffering by God would deny his divine blessedness. Novatian, a thomsist, assumed that impassability was a foregone conclusion as result that “God is incorruptible spirit who is not made up of somatic parts.” The thomists were persuasive as a result the Church of England affirmed in their 39 Articles of Faith that God is without body, parts, or passions (emotions).
However, by the late 1700’s hundreds, challenges began to arise which would persist to this day. Many scholars understood impassibility to rob of God any affectional attributes. These attributes, it was felt were essential to God’s personality and agape love. How could God be love if God were unaffected by love? In 1786 the Council of Bishops issued a statement of faith that omitted the word “passions.” This was later followed by a statement released by the Methodist which also omitted the word.
More recently, in the twentieth century, the challenge has largely arisen from the theological work of Jűrgen Moltmann, widely viewed as the forefather to modern liberation theology. Moltmann argues in his trilogy of theology against the ideas of divine immutability and impassibility. For Moltmann, the cross is the point where God enters into human suffering. This suffering is not merely experienced by Jesus, the son, through the reality of crucifixion; but also by the Father who must hand over the one in whom he is well pleased. In Moltmann’s view, the resurrection offers meaning to suffering through the promise of new creation. Still, Moltmann’s work has largely been dismissed by conservative Christian scholarship. D.A. Currie notes, “Moltmann’s thought can be characterized as Marxism with a religious soul, leaving many Marxists with doubts about its religious core and many Christians with questions about its optimistic view of human nature in revolution, in light of the basic human propensity toward evil experienced by Moltmann himself in World War II and by Jesus in crucifixion.”
Despite these challenges, the classical view of impassability has survived. Stephen Duby has argued for divine impassability on the grounds that the dual nature of Jesus as the God-man allows for the doctrine. He writes, “It is proper to the person to undertake actions (actus sunt suppositorum26) and to suffer, and, as the Son assumes and subsists in a second nature by which he acts and suffers, this opens up the possibility that Jesus might suffer on the cross not in his deity but in his humanity alone.”
Still, even with affirmations such as Duby offers, the doctrine of impassibility remains confused and complex. Most of the confusion revolves around what does impassibility really mean? Is impassibility simply the idea that God cannot suffer; or is it the idea that since God cannot change, he cannot experience or be affected by emotions? Such confusion is acknowledged by scholars on both sides of the aisle, even within the same denomination. Daniel Castelo, a Pentecostal adherer to divine impassibility, suggests,
Language cannot carry the burden of encapsulating comprehensively and sufficiently the glory of God; metaphysical and epistemológica؛ categories are outstripped of their rhetorical power before thepresence of God; even some of our most heartfelt convictions of who God is and how God is like can simply be scaffolding to aid us but in time require significant revision as we grow in wisdom and grace.
While Andrew Gabriel, a Pentecostal adherer to passibility, writes, “Theology must always adjust to its context. For the majority of theologians (and pastors) today, impassibility does not mean what it meant for many Patristic theologians.”
In spite of this linguistic muddle, the classical view of impassibility remains strong.
The Necessity of a Christological Framework
As previously discussed, the foundation for most of the classical thought on impassibility derives from the Christian Church Fathers of the second century and beyond who relied heavily upon Greek philosophical thought. Christianity, however, despite the Johannine passage, is primarily a Jewish derivative. Jesus Christ was a first century Jew who thought, spoke, and taught in accordance with Jewish thought. Therefore, any Christian Theology Proper must be founded upon, not Greek philosophy, but Jewish theology and philosophy. The primary source of that thought is to be found within the scriptures of the Old Testament. Overall, the Old Testament portrayal of God is one who was sorry over an action (Genesis 6:6); one who changes his mind from wrath to mercy (32:7-14); one who folds Israel into arms like a shepherd who loves the sheep in his charge (Isaiah 40:11); loving with a love which is greater than a mother’s love for her child (49:15). These Old Testament passages, along with countless others, seem to depict a God of passibility. According to John Feinberg, such passages as must be seen figurative anthropomorphic expressions and therefore does not negate the impassibility of God. While he does not deny the figurative nature of the scripture, Lewis notes, “All of these anthropomorphic expressions are figurative, but the figures of speech illustrate a nonfigurative point. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not without feeling, not without the capability of loving and feeling the hurt of love spurned.”
It would seem, then, that when one moves away from the Greek philosophical premise to a more Jewish perspective that one comes to see a God who experiences and is acted upon by emotions. However, while Christian thought is most certainly dependent of Jewish thought, this is far from conclusive. Christian thought is not limited to the Old Testament alone. Any series consideration must include the writings of the New Testament as well. As shown by the use of Logos in John ,1 the writers of the New Testament certainly included Greek philosophy as they developed their theology. Still as N. T. Wright has argued the Christian thinking in the New Testament is primarily Jewish in origin. Indeed, one of the reasons for Luke writing his secondary volume, the book of Acts, was to justify Roman tolerance of Christianity as a Jewish subsect as Judaism was a protected religion within ancient Rome.
Although dependent of Jewish theology, the God of the New Testament is very different from the God portrayed in the Old Testament. This is not to say that they are incoherent or inconsistent, rather just different perspectives. For example, Jewish thought cannot embrace a Trinitarian God. For any Jewish scholar, God is simply one (Deuteronomy 6:4). Yet, New Testament scriptures present God as one numerically, but subsisting as three persons. Additionally, no Jew would have dared to suggest that the “Son of Man” messianic passage of Daniel 7 would mean that God would take on the nature of man to become the slaughtered messiah. They would have considered that to be blasphemy, yet the Jewish authors of the four Gospels, especially John’s, do not shy away from that assertion. These are but two of the many additions and modifications that the New Testaments writers made to orthodox Judaism. This begs the question, why? Why did these writers feel obliged to change what they had spent a lifetime thinking of as sacred truths into what most of their contemporaries would have found as sacrilege?
The answer, of course, is that they began to filter these truths through the reality of Jesus. For as St. Augustine famously said, “What the Old concealed, the New revealed.” At the risk of redundancy, it may be asserted that Christianity would not be what it is without the reality of Jesus. As John Walvoord affirms,
Christianity by its very name has always honored Jesus Christ as its historical and theological center. No other person has been more essential to its origination and subsequent history and no set of doctrines has been more determinative than the doctrines of the person and work of Christ. In approaching the study of Christology, one is concerned with central rather than peripheral theological matters.
The New Testament writers agree with Walvoord. According to the writer of Hebrews,
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature… (1:1-3, emphasis added).
Therefore, Jesus is not only central to Christian theology, specifically He is the full revelation of God as a whole. This was not an apostolic idea, rather it is a claim that Jesus makes himself. He tells the scribes and the pharisees that entire Old Testament is about him (John 5:39-40). Furthermore, when Jesus is asked by his disciples to show them the Father, Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:8-9). Finally, Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth and the life” (v. 6). Since, with the exception of the Hebrews passage, these claims were made pre-crucifixion and resurrection, it may be implied that Jesus was speaking to his condition at the time. Therefore, it cannot be contended that those attributes only occurred as a consequence of the resurrection. It seems that any doctrine within a Theology Proper must be viewed through a Christological perspective.
Biblical View of Passibility
Having presented the necessity of a Christological approach to developing a theological doctrine of God, let alone one of impassibility, all that remains is to examine what the Biblical portrayal of God’s impassibility is. However, the evidence for passibility does not need to demonstrate that change actually occurred as a result of emotions, rather demonstrating that there is a potential for change is sufficient. With this caveat in mind, the evaluation of the scriptural evidence commences in the Gospel of Luke.
In the twenty-second chapter of Luke, Luke records the account of Jesus’ time spent in the Garden of Gethsemane. There Jesus prays, “Father, if you are willing remove this cup from me. Nonetheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (v.42). Luke tells us that after this prayer that Jesus “being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (v.44). These verses indicate that Jesus wanted his circumstances to change as a result of experience emotional stress. However, this does not mean that any change to God’s nature or will has occurred.
Yet this is not the end of the narrative. Matthew’s account gives more to the story. As Jesus is arrested after this emotional breakdown, one of his disciples cuts off the High Priest’s ear. (26:51) Matthew records Jesus’ rebuke of this action, “Put your sword back in its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (vs.52-53) Jesus, during this interaction with an over zealous disciple, acknowledges his freedom to change whether he is to be arrested and crucified, or not. The reality that the Father would honor Jesus’ request shows that there is the potential for the will of God to be changed, had Jesus so desired. The passage implies that Jesus could have changed his will by engaging in an alternative action. He was not, in any way constrained, to go through with what the Father had seemingly implicit. The fact, that he did go through the crucifixion, only suggests that God is committed to his word and promises. However, commitment does not make absoluteness implicit.
Another scripture which offers substantial contribution to the idea that Jesus possesses passibility is Hebrews 2:10. Here, the author of Hebrews writes, “For it was fitting that, he for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Here, the author is definitely distinguishing between the Father (the one who made perfect) from the Son (the one made perfect). Now the Apostle John tell us in his revelation that Jesus is the “lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), whereas the suffering and slaying refer to the same incident, namely the crucifixion, whereby the son is made perfect is attached to the preexistent Christ. It may be assumed that the imperfection which is changed is also attached to the preexistent Christ. This, then would suggest that Christ encompassed imperfection before the foundation of the world. This then would mean that the Logos who was God (John 1:3) changed from imperfection to perfection. Nonetheless, some scholars are convinced that the perfection referred to in the Hebrews passage deals simply with the human Jesus’ qualifying as a perfect leader. This is assertion errors by skirting the issue. As Feinberg comments, “Perfect being theology informs us that God must have all perfections a divine being can have (and each to the highest degree)…” This would mean that Jesus, who according to the creed, would possess a divine nature. Similarly, he would already have the qualifications of a perfect leader. Orthodox theology requires that God be absolute perfection, to then ascribe some imperfection to Jesus would then deny his divinity. This, then, would destroy the entire orthodox theology of which impassibility is apart of.
Additionally, the author of Hebrews further endorses a passibility scenario in respect to the attributes of God. He writes, “For because he himself suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). In this passage, the writer states that Jesus could not help those who are tempted unless he suffered when tempted himself. For the orthodox theist, who assumes that God is all powerful, this would imply that God’s all powerfulness derives from being acted upon by suffering. No denial of impassibility could be any more straightforward. Jesus, God, can only help and redeem his creation through his own suffering. This denies the possibility that God cannot be affected by emotional stress, since suffering, by default, necessitates emotional distress. This cannot simply refer to the human nature of the two-natured person of Christ. Again, as previously noted, the suffering was experienced by the pre-existent Logos. Otherwise, God would not have been able to help anyone prior to the incarnation of Jesus. That is, unless, Jesus possessed a human nature prior to the incarnation. However, if this was presumption were true, it would nullify the concept of the kenosis (Philippians 2:6-8). Such a situation would deny the unity of scripture and nullify it coherence. No, the author wanted his Hebrew readers to grasp the hope that Jesus was available to help them since he had already suffered in his preexistent state. God had suffered as they had suffered, so that God could help them through their suffering.
The entire Theology Proper of orthodox Christianity is a construct of Greek philosophical thought. This stands in stark contrast to the Jewish thought of scripture. It is hard to imagine a more incoherent symbiotic relationship. However, nonetheless, the scholar would be wise to remember Lane’s warning on judging to harshly the early Christian Father’s use of Greek philosophy. Lane writes, “But to say that the outcome was not perfect is only to say that the early Fathers were human. It is not to belittle their considerable achievement or to claim that we could have done better.”
Still, the Apostle Paul encourages us to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). This paper has suggested that the doctrine of impassibility is simply not good. For without preexistent Logos having the ability to be made perfect through suffering, any individual living in the time before the incarnation would have no access to the help of God. Yet, the Old Testament is full of various evidence that such help was readily available.
Furthermore, the God of Christianity has chosen to reveal himself through Jewish thought. As Paul reminds Timothy, “All scripture is breathed out by God…” (2 Timothy 3;16). This revelation came to fullness in the person of Jesus, who died in for the transgressions of the world. To create a theology which does not filter through the Christological perspective is to create an erroneous portrait of the living God. Nothing could be more dangerous.
Hill, E. and J.E. Rotelle. The Works of Saint Augustine : A Translation for the 21st Century. New City Press, 1994.
Keener, C.S. and InterVarsity Press. The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Lane, T. and A.N.S. Lane. Concise History of Christian Thought, A. Baker Publishing Group, 2006.
Lewis, G. R. “Impassibility of God.” In The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.
Moltmann, Jürgen. Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology. Fortress Press, 1993.
Radmacher, D., R.B. Allen, and H.W. House. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary: Spreading the Light of God’s Word into Your Life. Thomas Nelson, 1999.
Song, John B. “An Exploration of Novatian’s Hermeneutic on Divine Impassibility and God’s Emotions in Light of Modern Concerns.” Journal of Reformed Theology 6, no. 1 (2012): 3-23. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/156973112X643994.
Towns, E.L. Theology for Today. Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2001.
In the last post, we began to discuss the topic of Biblical authority. I highlighted the problem of viewing scripture as the database where a person goes to find the answer for specific questions. If the authority of Bible does not lie in some assumed encyclopedic quality, then maybe, its simply a collection of “timeless truths” which stand the test of time.
This approach seems to be the default fall back position of many Christians who come to understand the errors of the “encyclopedic assumption.” However, this is simply a different way of doing the same thing. A Christian who views the Bible as a collection of timeless truths are still holding on to the “encyclopedic assumption,” only now they have broken scripture up into chunks. The cohesiveness of scripture has been sacrificed for the supposed underlying truth. This leads to a sort of quasi-allegorizing of scripture. A good example of this is the interpretation of Matthew 24 as referring to Jesus second coming. When the literal sense is that Jesus is answering the question of when will the temple be destroyed (vs.1-3). Therefore, the allegorizing of the chapter results in it being stripped of its significance within the gospel of Matthew and lumped in with the book of Revelation. This causes an inverse with Biblical exegesis. Revelation becomes how Matthew 24 is understood. However, it should be that Matthew 24 and its place within the totality of Matthew’s gospel should be the key to understanding what John’s vision represented.
The question must be raised: what is the primary assumption behind these two common misperceptions of Biblical authority? The answer is a misunderstanding of how Biblical inspiration works. There is very few who would deny that the biblical books were written by specific authors to specific audiences for specific reasons within a specific cultural context. However, since we are far removed from these factors, I would suggest that Christians have largely viewed these authors as little more than dictating secretaries. In other words, God by way of the Spirit, inspired every word and punctuation within scripture for every age. Unfortunately, such a view does serious injustice to scripture.
Let us look at one example of the timeless truth perception in use. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (29:11). Now Christians have used this verse for generations to encourage those who were down in the goodness and sovereignty of God. There are plaques and decorations hanging on the walls of homes with these words on it. You see them posted on Facebook and Twitter on regular basis. It is quoted with such authority that one would rightly think that particular promise is for everyone at all times.
Newsflash! IT ISN’T!
Jeremiah 29:1l is not directed at anyone today. Jeremiah wrote it to comfort those Jews going into Babylonian exile. The verse comes after he encourages the exiles to make Babylon their home by integrating into their society. However, Jeremiah is reminding those integrated that God is not going to keep them in exile forever. No! He knows what he has planned and will see it through. Jeremiah 29:11 is not written for our generation and cultural context. It was written for a Babylonian exiled Jew that was leaving the promised land. This is the true meaning and purpose of the text. God did not inspire Jeremiah to write such words for twenty-first century Christian. It is not some timeless truth.
Furthermore, Paul tells us that some of his instructions concerning marriage are his own pastoral decision and not inspired by God (1 Cor 7:12), while other instructions are directly inspired by God (v.10). The Bible, then, denies itself as being a collection of timeless truths, for the author clearly indicates that he is doing it because of the cultural reality in which he exists (vs.25-26) It is clear then that Biblical authority is not in the nature of timeless truths.
It is no secret that Christians consider the Bible consisting of the Old and New Testaments to be their holy writings. However, what sway should these ancient writings have over a believer’s daily life? Is the Bible really at odds with modern scientific understandings? Are these sacred written records really the inspired words of God; or are they simply a mixture of ancient philosophy, poetry, history, and myths? In other words, how can the Bible be authoritative?
In speaking on this subject, decorated Biblical scholar, N. T. Wright suggested that this single question is really two. First, how can book be authoritative? Second, in what manner does a book exercise this authority? These two questions will frame our discussion.
In respect to the first question, it must first be clarified what is meant by authority. Many Christians, especially in the reformed traditions, understand authority as the database where a person goes to find the answer for specific questions. In other words, it is a collection of data to which for any question posed will give a positive or negative answer in order to control or manage any given situation. For example, we might turn to a house painter who has years of experience in order to determine the proper technique to achieve a desired result. In many ways, the Bible does function in this compacity. We find such examples in the books Leviticus, Paul’s letters, Deuteronomy, Proverbs etc.…
However, what do we do with such books Ester? What about the Song of Solomon or even the Gospels? These are mostly narrative driven books. This fact makes the view of authority when applied to the problematic. There is the well-known extreme example of the person who is struggling with suicidal ideation. So, the person prays and tells God that they will open the Bible at random and the first verse they read they will do as the will of God. So they open the Bible and read John 13:27 which says, “As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”” The person then goes and kills themselves.
Now clearly this an extreme example of the data collection perspective of authority that borders on the ridiculous. However, it highlights the problem very effectively. The Bible is a collection of different writings. These collected writings are composed of different authors, styles and genres. They have different authorial intent, and cultural content. Therefore, the Bible is not merely a collection of data upon which some basis for action can be determined. If this is true, perhaps, then, it is a collection of truths which simply stand the test of time. That will be the subject of part 2 of this discussion.
Wright, N. T. “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative? (the Laing Lecture for 1989).” Vox Evangelica 21 (1991): 7.
 N. T. Wright, “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative? (the Laing Lecture for 1989),” Vox Evangelica 21 (1991).
This is the second post in my series, Objections to Classic Theology. In my last post, I suggested a major issue with the doctrine of the immutability of God. I proposed that either God can and has changed his essential nature through the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ; or that God (at least, the second person of the Trinity) has eternally been some form of union of physical and spiritual substance. Allowing for the latter and thereby the immutability of God. This brings us to another dillema. The idea that God created out of nothing known in Latin terms as Creatio Ex Nihilo!
Scientists have long suggested that matter, itself, is eternal; while classic theists have maintained that God has created the physical world out of nothing based on Genesis 1. However, if God is immutable, then physical matter certainly must have been in existence as part of the dual substance of God. God, therefore, did not create out of nothing; rather He created out of himself. This is not to say that God is everything or in everything; or everything is God. I am not proposing any form of pantheism or panentheism. God is certainly distinct and transcends the creation. Yet, God’s omnipotence certainly includes the ability to create using his own substance.
Such a view falls directly in line with Jonathan Edwards’ argument, which was later reiterated by Ben Stevens, that God’s purpose in performing the act of creation at all was to expand himself. While I don’t have the space here to go into the details of Edwards’ argument; the crux is that God as a supreme being ought to recognize himself as the supreme value. As the supreme value, the creating would not by definition fulfill any need or want that was lacking as this would deny God’s perfection. This then means that the only motivation for God to create would be to create in order to expand something he values. God as the supreme value therefore, would be motivated to expand Himself.
This suggestion by Edwards further validates (does not prove) the proposal that God did not create ex nihilo; rather he created from something – namely Himself. This thought should not diminish the awe of God; but instead increase it. God, took apart of himself, and made a reality which contained creatures that unique and distinct from himself using the substance of his own being. Not only was it the substance of his own being; but he split that substance to create two entirely different types of creatures. Out of the spirit substance, God created angels; however, out of the physical, God created us. Our God is an awesome God!
J. Feinberg writes in the introduction to his book, No One Like Him:
But even if all the propositions of a systematic theology are true, that theology would still not be equivalent to biblical revelation! It is still a human conceptualization of God and his relation to the world… But human intellect is finite, and hence there is always room for revision of systematic theology as knowledge increases.
With this premise in mind, I propose to begin a series of posts entitled, Objections to Classic Theology. The purpose of such posts will be two bring out points of disagreements that I perceive within classical theology in the hopes of stimulating discussion. Consequently, I implore all who read these posts to feel free to leave their disagreements with my view in the reply with the expectation that we will have a respectful dialogue. Furthermore, I will not necessarily be publishing these posts in sequential order but as I randomly consider different aspects of classical theology. So, without further ado, let us delve into my first objection:
God is Immutable!
W. Grudem defines the immutability of God as “that perfection of God by which He is devoid of all change, not only in His Being, but also in his perfection and in his purposes and promises… and is free from all accession or diminution and from all growth and decay in His Being or perfections.”
Therefore, immutability is negation of any change in God’s essential being or necessary attributes. God cannot change. This seems to line up with scripture which says God cannot lie (Num 23:19); neither does he shift like sand (Jms 1:17). However, such a view does not completely line up with totality of scripture. In fact, it is an error of logic to say that it does.
First, however, I must lay out one brief presupposition: Scripture is inerrant. My entire argument is based on that one premise. So, if you do not believe in the inerrancy of scripture we can have that discussion another time; but for the present discussion indulge me. Do so, if for no other reason than the majority of those who have taught the immutability of God have done so from the premise of scriptural inerrancy.
My argument is as follows:
God is Spirit (Jn 4:24).
The Word is God (Jn 1:1)
The Word is Spirit (Jn 1:1)
Jesus is the Word (entire Gospel of John)
Jesus was raised to a physical bodily resurrection (Lk 24:39)
Jesus is still God, so God changed from Spirit to physicality.
Therefore, God cannot be immutable.
The immutability of God cannot be upheld by the truth of the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus. Even if one holds to the kenosis of Jesus and the creeds assertion of two natures joined into one without mixture to form the GOD-MAN. Jesus would have had to have been the GOD-MAN from all of eternity past. This is simply not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that at ordained period within human history, God broke in and took on flesh in the person of Jesus, who then was the GOD-MAN. This is simply an error of logic.
Nor can one say that Jesus was speaking metaphorically about God being Spirit. As G. Lewis points out concerning John 4:24, “Although some theologies consider “spirit” an attribute, grammatically in Jesus’ statement it is a substantive.” In other words, spirit is the substance (or essential stuff) of God. If the essential stuff of God changes then He cannot be immutable according to the definition of immutability. God has changed within his being. God cannot be immutable.
Feinberg, J.S. and H.O.J. Brown. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. Crossway, 2006.
Grudem, W.A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Zondervan, 2009.
Lewis, G. R. God, Attributes Of. Second ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.
 J.S. Feinberg and H.O.J. Brown, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Crossway, 2006), xxi.
 W.A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan, 2009), 267.
 G. R. Lewis, God, Attributes Of, Second ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 492.
Left Behind is a series of books written by Tim LaHaye and Jim Jenkins which deals with the Christian doctrine of the rapture. This account of faithful Christians simply disappearing shortly before the collapse of human civilization and the impending second coming of Christ is a work of complete fiction along the lines of Dan Brown’s DaVinci’s Code. However, the theological foundation, upon which the series’ concept rest, is indeed one of serious scholarly consideration. Furthermore, this concept is not limited to merely fringe groups and denominations within Christian fundamentalism but has spread into the culture at large. After examining the readership of the Left Behind series, Amy Johnson Frykholm notes that the rapture and dispensational theology which the series is based upon “must be understood as a fluid part of the broader culture, not as the realm of isolated believers.”
Since the doctrine has permeated such a large part of both Christian and popular culture, it is important for the lay-Christian and scholar alike to understand exactly what the doctrine is; whether or not it is biblical; and if so what does the Bible say about it. These are the questions I will attempt to answer by examining the history of the doctrine, the most prevalent of the three views of the doctrine and the biblical basis of the doctrine. Additionally, I will attempt to show that although a concept of the rapture may indeed be Biblical, the popular teaching and presentation of the doctrine as sort of escapism from the corrupt material world is not accurate based upon the witness of the early church fathers and biblical exegesis.
A Survey of the Doctrine of the Rapture
What Is the Rapture?
The term “rapture” is a designation by premillennialists to the talk about the event in which the church will be united with Christ at his second coming. The term comes from the Latin, rapio, meaning to “snatch up.” The major Biblical passage from which this teaching emerges is found in I Thessalonians 4:15-17 which states,
Let me explain. (This is the word of the Lord I’m speaking to you!) We who are alive, who remain until the Lord is present, will not find ourselves ahead of those who fell asleep. The Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shouted order, with the voice of an archangel and the sound of God’s trumpet. The Messiah’s dead will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, will be snatched up with them among the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And in this way we shall always be with the Lord.
From the interpretation of this verse, the popular teaching of the rapture is depicted through the image of the sudden disappearance of Christians from the perspective of non-Christians; leaving non-Christians left behind to deal with the aftermath. The only real point of contention with this presentation and interpretation deals with the relationship of this “disappearing event” and the tribulation which is believed to occur at the end of the age prior to the second coming of Christ. Pretribulationlists believe the rapture is to occur before the seven-year tribulation. Mid-tribulationalists believe this event to occur after the rise of the antichrist, but before the judgements that pave the way for Christ’s return. Post-tribulationist teach that church will leave with Christ after the seven-year period. In all three views, the rapture is the escaping of the Church from the corrupt physical realm to the spiritual realm of bliss for all eternity known as Heaven. However, it is important to note as Arthur B. Whiting does, that Paul’s focus is not in the direction or the final location of the “snatching away” but rather that the church will be in the presence of Christ.
The Origins of the Doctrine
Despite attempts to demonstrate otherwise, the modern presentation of the doctrine of the rapture is a relatively new concept. It isn’t until the nineteenth century, that the doctrine of the rapture becomes influential within the world of Christian thought and teaching. This is largely due to the contribution of John Nelson Darby and his pretribulation “secret rapture” teaching.
However, since it’s proposal, Darby’s teaching of the rapture has been broiled in controversy. However, many modern scholars have begun to question its validity. As Michael J. Svigel observes, “The perception among interested exegetes and theologians appears to be that rapture theology rests not on verifiable exegesis but on inferences drawn from ambiguous biblical passages and on peculiar dispensational presuppositions.” In response to this, Svigel argues that Darby’s interpretation of the passage in first 1 Thessalonians 4 rests upon his exegesis of Revelations 12:1-6 as well as other passages. He concludes,
In sum, four elements came together for Darby to construct his Pretribulation rapture teaching. The first was a consistent futurist interpretation of the book of Revelation. Second, he held to a strong doctrine of the mystical union between Christ and the church, found stunningly exemplified in the vision of the male child in Rev 12:5. The third element was an openness to distinguishing OT Israel from the NT Church, found envisioned in the woman (Israel) giving birth to the male child (the church) —two distinct entities with separate, but intertwined, destinies both past and future. The fourth element necessary to exegetically construct toe pretribulation rapture view was a literal understanding of the chronological indicators in Rev 11-13.
Three Views of the Rapture
The pretribulation view of the rapture is the one adhered to buy most of mainstream Christianity. This view holds that the church will be “snatched up” to Heaven before the seven years of tribulation supposedly described in the biblical books of Daniel and Revelations. Clouse notes the spreading of this view through the mainstream scholarship from its origins by John Darby in the nineteenth century. There are several features which are key to this view.
The foremostfeature of the pretribulation view is that of immanency. Holders of this view believe that the rapture is immanent, in so far as there are no prerequisite events which need to occur before the rapture, itself. It can and will occur without warning or notice. The notion of immanency is seen to be evidenced by the repeated biblical refrain of “no one knows the day or the hour.” These words, spoken by Jesus, can be found in three key scriptures. These scriptures are themselves responses to questions asked by Jesus’ disciples on aspects of his teaching. Pretribulationists assert that these questions are referring to the last days, a known point of Jewish emphasis.
The second key feature is the two-stage return of Jesus. The two stages being the coming to “snatch away” the church before seven-year tribulation; the second stage being the coming for the millennial reign. The church, it is believed, will escape the entirety of the tribulation.This feature is a result of the other key features of the view, namely, the literal interpretation of Revelations and Daniel’s prophecies concerning the tribulation and the millennial reign of Christ. Pretribulationalism is the almost uncontested view of those who hold to dispensationalism.
The Midtribulation is very similar to the pretribulation. Both views take a literal view of the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. Both view see the second coming of Christ as two-stage process. The main difference is that proponents of this view move the timing of the first stage to about halfway through the seven-year tribulation. This means that the Church will experience the beginning of the tribulation but escape the last three and half years of the tribulation.
The proponents of the midtribulation have three main points of disagreements with pretribulationist. First, they disagree with the secret nature of the rapture, the revival to be experienced during the tribulation, and the repeated mention of three and half years in both the books of Daniel and Revelation. These they argue are scriptural inaccuracy which require a reworking of the pretribulationalist’s view. The major critique against this view is that there is very little direct Biblical support.
The final view of posttribulation rapture will not be discussed much in this paper, however it is beneficial to briefly note it. This view came out of the direct response to the problems of the two-stage coming of Christ. The major objection of those who champion this view are the various scriptures which suggest that the rapture will be and subsequently the second coming of Christ will be very public and visible. Additionally, there is a lot of flexibility within this line of thought. Clouse notes there are at least four schools of interpretation that are recognized by scholars within this view.
The Rapture and the Resurrection of the Dead
One of the major problems with the modern presentation of the rapture within evangelical circles is its relationship to another central Christian doctrine, namely, the bodily resurrection of the dead. Michael Williams highlights the issue when he writes, “When we understand the future via the rapture doctrine, we must say that the ultimate purpose of redemption is to take Christians to heaven.” It argues against the idea of a physical, bodily resurrection by suggesting that the “good” of creation declared by God in Genesis 1 has become corrupted to the point that it is now worthless and needs to be escaped. This is made clear from the escapist teaching that heaven is the final goal and destination of the redeemed.
However, the Apostle Paul, seems to be squarely against this idea when writes to the Roman Church, “Creation, you see, was subjected to pointless futility, not of its own volition, but because of the one who placed it in this subjection, in the hope that creation itself would be freed from its slavery to decay, to enjoy the freedom that comes when God’s children are glorified” (Rom 8:20-21). Therefore, according to Paul, the present physical creation which is corrupt will be redeemed. This would seem to indicate then, that our own redemption will include our own physical nature. Indeed, Jesus, speaking of his own resurrection, said to his disciples, ““Why are you so disturbed?” he said. “Why do these questionings come up in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; it really is me, myself. Touch me and see! Ghosts don’t have flesh and bones like you can see I have” (Lk 24:38-39). Furthermore, the Apostle John writes, “Beloved ones, we are now, already, God’s children; it hasn’t yet been revealed what we are going to be. We know that when he is revealed we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2). In other words, if Jesus’s resurrection was some sort of physical bodily resurrection then ours will be also. If our redemption is physical and the physical cosmos is to be redeemed as Paul claims, then it seems that the escapism that the modern presentation of the rapture teaches seems to be in error because the corrupt created universe will once again become a “good” creation.
This brings up a very important question: What about the scriptures that seem to indicate that people go to heaven when they die such as Jesus’ statement to the brigand on the cross (Lk 23:43). In his book on the resurrection, noted scholar, N. T. Wright argues for a two-stage post-mortem resurrection. He argues that Jesus and the brigand did go to heaven. Jesus returns to Earth in his new physical body, while the brigand awaits his physical body at the second coming of Christ. Wright suggests that when people die they go to Heaven and await Jesus second coming. It is only at the second coming that the believers receive their resurrection bodies. This then would lend support to the “good” creation argument previously expounded as well as deny Heaven as the final destination. As Wright is fond of saying, “Heaven is important, but not the end of the world.”
The Witness of the Early Fathers
As previously stated, the doctrine of the rapture is a relatively new idea. It isn’t until the Darby’s “secret rapture” teaching of the nineteenth century that any great consideration was given. As Clouse notes, “It is obvious that throughout most of the history of the church those that taught premillennialism did not have such a detailed interpretation of the endtimes.” However, despite this lack of endtime interpretations, there are still clues as to what the early church fathers were thinking concerning the second coming and the events which surround it.
One such clue is to be found in the writing of Tertullian. He states,
He teaches them that they must “not sorrow concerning them that are asleep,” and at the same time explains to them the times of the resurrection, saying, For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus shall God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of our Lord, shall not prevent them that are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we be ever with the Lord.”
Tertullian does not seem to think of the second-coming of Christ as two stage process. In the passage quoted above, the church father implies that the resurrection and the being caught up in the air happen simultaneously with Christ’s return to Earth with the saints. In other words, for Tertullian there is not one coming in which Christ gathers the saints to escape and another in which Christ returns to Earth accompanied by the saints. There is simply one second coming in which the saints meet Christ in the air and accompany him to Earth.
Another such clue is given by Cyprian. On first glance it appears that Cyprian advocates an escapist reality of the rapture. Cyprian is, in reality, dealing with his present situation of Roman persecution. He writes,
We who see that terrible things have begun, and know that still more terrible things are imminent, may regard it as the greatest advantage to depart from it as quickly as possible. Do you not give God thanks, do you not congratulate yourself, that by an early departure you are taken away, and delivered from the shipwrecks and disasters that are imminent? Let us greet the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us hence, and sets us free from the snares of the world and restores us to paradise and the kingdom.
In the last line of the quoted passage Cyprian speaks of a restoration. Certainly, he knows that believers will be “snatched up” as Paul describes. However, his point is not that Christians are snatched away to escape a corrupt physical cosmos, but rather that they are saved from intense persecution. When this salvation occurs, according to Cyprian, the kingdom and paradise of the Garden will be restored. This does not speak of two-stage coming, rather it speaks of a single event. At Christ coming, the paradise and the kingdom of God will be consummated in a very real and physical sense.
The crux of any theological proposition must be that it is supported by scriptural evidence. Does the scriptural evidence support the idea? Svigel argues that Darby’s exegetical treatment, which was the basis of his argument, of Revelations 12:5 and in conjunction with Daniel 7, Revelation 3 and 1 Thessalonians 4 certainly do. However, there are several problems with Darby’s exegesis which need to be addressed.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 states, “The Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shouted order, with the voice of an archangel and the sound of God’s trumpet.” The Greek word for “come” is Parousia. Parousia has the meaning of a visit by a royal dignitary. This means that Paul’s intention was not to speak of some escapism from the world, but talk about the escorting of the true king into his sovereignty. St. John Chrysostom confirms this, writing,
If He is about to descend, on what account shall we be caught up? For the sake of honor. For when a king drives into a city, those who are in honor go out to meet him; but the condemned await the judge within. And upon the coming of an affectionate father, his children indeed, and those who are worthy to be his children, are taken out in a chariot, that they may see and kiss him; but those of the domestics who have offended remain within. We are carried upon the chariot of our Father. For He received Him up in the clouds, and we shall be caught up in the clouds. Acts 1:9 Do you see how great is the honor? And as He descends, we go forth to meet Him, and, what is more blessed than all, so we shall be with Him.
This presents serious problems for Darby’s two-stage advent. Chrysostom is saying that the purpose of the “snatching up” is not to escape the tribulation and then return with Christ at some later time, but rather to escort Christ to his sovereign land.
Revelations 3 and 12
The key component to Darby’s “secret rapture” interpretation of scripture is the immanency of the “snatching away.” This comes primarily from the interpretation of Revelations 3:3 which states, “So remember how you received the message, how you heard it and kept it—and repent! So if you don’t keep awake, I will come like a thief, and you won’t know what time I’m coming to you.” Darby and others point to the phrase “like a thief” as support for their immanent rapture. However, this completely ignores the point that the scripture is making by it’s inherent caveat. The church at Sardis is told to repent, then the warning is issued. The implications are if you are not focused on Christ, then he will come unexpectedly. The unexpectedness is for those not focused on Christ; not believers.
This brings the discussion to Revelations 12:5. This is the Crux of Darby’s argument. It is his corporate understanding of the image of the child who is snatched away in this verse. As Svigel explains that Darby understands the verse as the “vision of the woman in heaven refers to the positional reality of the church, whose subject is Jesus Christ, while the later actions of being pursued and fleeing refer to the actual historical experiences of God’s people.” Darby even has support in this view from Methodius in the fourth century
This does not seem to take into account the historical context from which John’s audience would have understood the image. Radamacher et al, understand this verse to be an echo of Psalm 2:9 and therefore the snatching away as they ascension of Christ. This seems to be more in line with historical context. Commenting on this verse, Keener writes,
Virgil and other Roman also extolled the birth of a divine boy who would bring deliverance to the world, glorifying the first emperor, Augustine…In the various forms of the Greco-Roman and Near Eastern myth, the divine child was sheltered until he returned to slay the dragon. Here he is kept at God’s side until he comes to destroy the dragon. In the light of Psalm 2:6-9, Isaiah 9-6-7, and Micah 5:3, the “birth” probably indicates Jesus death, resurrection and messianic enthronement, not his literal birth.
The first century audience to who John was writing would have understood this to represent Jesus. They simply would not have applied it to the corporate church as Darby and his later followers had. This again presents a huge problem as it is this passage which allows Darby to place the timing of the “Secret Rapture” as pretribulation.
Darby’s whole idea of a “secret rapture” hinges on the idea that certain passages within the Gospel accounts are meant for the church and others for the Jews. It has as its foundation the theology of dispensationalism. Darby argues that Matthew 24 is not intended for Christians, rather it is solely addressed to the Jews. In this manner, Darby dismisses passages such as Matthew 24:29-34 which seeming contradict his immanency and secret rapture theories.
However, Brock Bingaman highlights four deficiencies within the concept of dispensationalism. First, it sees scripture as compilation of facts rather than a narrative moving towards a specific conclusion. Wright supports this view insisting that we have misunderstood the Gospel as compilation of facts rather than a narrative and thereby diminished the significance of the resurrection. The second deficiency given by Bingaman is that it is hermeneutically faulty by committing too strongly to literalism. Third, he suggests that by seeing scripture as a compilation of facts, the interpreter does not give proper emphasis to the historical context. Two examples of this is Paul’s reference to the last trump and Jesus’s “no man knows the hour” references. These are probably references to the Jewish festival of Rosh Hashanah. This feast is determined by the new moon which in biblical times meant no one knew when it would come. Furthermore, it was celebrated by blowing trumpets and the last blast was known as the last trump. Finally, he states it is deficient in their approach to central tenets and particular texts which are must be imposed upon the text itself.
In sum, the rapture has it has been presented by Darby and most of main stream evangelicalism is simply deficient. The exegesis used to support the claim simply does not pass muster once a close examination of the relevant passages has been completed. Additionally, the underlying dispensational theology which underlies the doctrine is also deficient in several areas. As Benjamin Willis Newton, a contemporary of Darby, pointed out, if one were to accept the Darby’s teaching on the rapture that person would also have to accept that many of the Gospel passages as “not rightfully ours.” This means that many of the promises of hope that Christians cling to do not rightfully apply to us either.
This dilemma begs the question that was asked at the beginning; is the rapture a biblical concept or not? The answer: It certainly is if one means that at the second advent of Christ the church will be “snatched up” to meet Jesus somewhere in the physical atmosphere and escort the King of Kings back to the Earth. However, if you mean the secret rapture of Darby’s imagination then the answer is unequivocally no. Jesus and Paul’s use of Jewish metaphors simply does not allow for the dispensationalism that Darby and others have expressed. There is simply too many deficiencies within the doctrine to conclude that the modern expression of the rapture is biblically valid.
Global mission is central to the Christian worldview. Since the Garden of Eden, mission has been a part of the plans and purposes of God. However, the theology of mission has been skewed within the Western Church by the Platonian split level view of Heaven and Earth. In this view Heaven has been seen as another realm in another reality and has had led two dire consequences in terms of church mission. On the one hand, it has transformed missions into merely a “soul-harvesting” endeavor. The purpose of which seems to be to collect as many souls as possible before the second advent of Christ. On the hand, it has made missions irrelevant since we are all escaping this Earth at the supposed rapture. In this view, Christianity needs to be nothing more than individual experience.
Neither of these views of express the Biblical theology of missions. Indeed, Jesus’s earthly ministry and his subsequent death and resurrection.denounce such a view. As the source and prototype for the “new creation,” Jesus insists that missions are to be the Spirit empowered work of reclaiming the cosmos for God’s kingdom by the reclaimed image bearing creatures known as human beings. If this is then the Biblical purpose of mission, it is incumbent upon the people of God to announce the good news that Jesus has been inaugurated as king of the whole created order (both Heaven and Earth) and that God’s future kingdom has burst in upon the present by installing wise, divine-image bearing stewards to reclaim the entire space, time and matter universe. This, as will be discussed, is the unanimous cry of both the Old and New Testaments. This cry has a profound impact of the theology and the life of the Christian believer. But first, the cry must be heard; so, it is to the scriptural witness the discussion will now turn.
The sheer number of scriptural passages which deal with the theology of mission is too vast deal with in a paper such as this. As a result, only selected passages will be chosen, however these selected passages ought to be sufficient enough to demonstrate the continuity of the purpose of mission throughout the entirety of scripture. They will include selections from both Testaments with the purpose of developing the Biblical narrative of the plans and purposes of God and how the theology of missions fits within those purposes. As with any theological study of scripture, it wise to begin with Jesus as your starting point. Therefore, it is now to the book of Acts, and the ascension scene this paper will now turn.
An Unexpected Answer
In the first chapter of the sequel to his Gospel account, Luke records the following exchange between the resurrected Jesus and his disciples:
So when the apostles came together, they put this question to Jesus. “Master,” they said, “is this the time when you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” “It’s not your business to know about times and dates,” he replied. “The father has placed all that under his own direct authority. What will happen, though, is that you will receive power when the holy spirit comes upon you. Then you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the very ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8).
There is very little doubt that this passage contains a command of mission from Jesus. There is even a mission strategy built into his response. The disciples mission was to begin in Jerusalem so that as a major cultural hub, the message would then spread to the surrounding areas and eventually the entire known world. However, whether mission is a requirement, as a follower of Jesus or not, is not the question posed by this passage. The actual question is: Was Jesus’s response to the disciples question a positive or negative one?
Many scholars take the view that Jesus’s response is a rebuke towards asking the question. Ajith Fernando, commenting on this passage, sums up this interpretation:
The question that the disciples asked about the time of restoring the kingdom of Israel elicits two explicit rebukes from Christ (vv. 6-8): about eschatological inquisitiveness and about parochialism. Despite his earlier statements about the time of end time events, they still ask him about it. And when Jesus is thinking about the “kingdom of God” (v. 3) and “the ends of the earth” (v.8), they are thinking of their own nation.
While this negative response is common among interpreters and commentators, it simply will not suffice as it does not take into proper account of how the disciples would have heard Jesus’s words. Since Acts is a sequel to Luke’s gospel, it is helpful to look back at what is recorded there. Luke writes the words of Jesus to his disciples shortly after his resurrection, “This is what I was talking to you about when I was still with you. Everything written about me in the law of Moses, and in the prophets and the Psalms, had to be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Bible.” (Lk 24:44-45). The Old Testament narrative is clear that the nation of Israel would be restored at the coming of the Messiah. This statement recorded at the end of Luke’s gospel, that Jesus taught the disciples that his resurrection meant the Messiah had come. Naturally, their question in Acts 1 stems from this teaching. Jesus’s response to that question is a positive one. He says, “Yes, but it’s not the way you think. Now go and announce that I am Lord and Caesar is not.” This positive interpretation is strengthened when one notices the deliberate way in which Luke divides the book of Acts. It is this arrangement that must be looked at next.
Luke’s Arrangement of Acts
Scholars have offered various suggestions as to the purpose for Luke’s authoring the book of Acts. Radmacher, et al, suggest “Luke wrote the Book of Acts to show the fulfillment of Jesus’s words, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt16:18).” Craig Keener, on the other hand sees Luke’s purpose as presenting a legal defense and apologetic: “to argue that Christianity should enjoy continued legal protection within the empire. While these most certainly were secondary considerations, Luke’s primary intent was to demonstrate that the Church was faithful to the commission statements commanded by Jesus (cf. Mt 28:18-20; Lk 24:46-47; Acts 1:8) through the announcement of Jesus as Lord and the breaking in of God’s kingdom. Luke’s entire narrative through Acts highlights this theme.
Luke’s arrangement of Acts can be split roughly in half, dividing the narrative into two distinct but coherent parts. Part one begins with the ascension of Jesus includes two watershed moments. The first water shed moment is the stoning of Stephen (7). In his encounter with the Jewish religious council, Stephen announces Jesus as Lord to the people who should the have been able to recognize the fact most readily, the High Priest. His stoning is Luke’s transition into the Gospel (Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not, remember) and the Kingdom reaching the faux-king of the Jew, Herod (8-12). Still, Luke does not let his readers forget that Jesus is the true king by anticipating the world-wide kingdom through the narrative of the conversion of Paul (9) and the Gentile convert, Cornelius (10).
Luke’s second watershed moment of the first part of his book is the death of King Herod. Here is the parody king killing one messenger (James) and arresting another messenger (Peter) of the true king, Jesus (12:1-5). To make matters worse, Herod allows his subjects to ascribe attributes of divinity (v.20-22). As a result, God simply deposes him through death (v. 23). There has never been another human being to hold the royal title of king in Judea since – except of course Jesus!
Luke, then, turns his attention to the events of Paul. He describes Paul’s missionary efforts with gusto. He highlights Paul’s frustration with his own people, the Jews (18:4-6). He includes, as Keener, rightly noticed, the vindication of Paul by different Roman courts (16-17:1-4; 18:12-17; 24-25). He records Paul’s mixed results with sharing the Gospel in Greece (17:22-34). Luke writes all these events with the express purpose of building to his crescendo, the watershed moment of the second half of the book. This moment comes in the form of the final words penned by Luke, “He announced the kingdom of God and taught the things about the Lord Jesus the Messiah with all boldness, and with no one stopping him” (28:31).
What an anticlimactic ending to the narrative of the man who risked prison, floggings, and shipwrecks to spread the gospel. Luke had diligently recorded all these catastrophes to leave Paul under house arrest receiving visitors and awaiting an audience with the Emperor. What a let-down. Unless… Luke’s purpose for writing had nothing to do with the narrative of the church or Paul except that they fit within his primary narrative. What if Luke’s narrative was simply that Jesus was announced as Lord because through his death and resurrection the kingdom of God had been inaugurated? In that case Paul announcing the kingdom of God unhindered under the Emperor’s nose in Rome is the only ending there could be.
Augustine is paraphrased as saying, “What was concealed in the Old Testament is now revealed in the New.” This holds true for any theology of missions as well. Indeed, the announcement of Jesus as Lord so the cosmos is redeemed only make sense under the understanding that a creator God has created a good creation (Gen 1:31). In fact, the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus is only necessary because of the cosmic redemption.
The narrative highlights the necessity of the work of Jesus’s and the church’s command to missions throughout its entirety; however, it can be seen most clearly by looking at the narratives of the Garden and the narrative of Abraham. These two narratives form the backbone of the purposes of God. Since missions are a command from God, it is wise to look at the purpose of such commands.
The second chapter of Genesis records, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die”” (vs. 15-17). It must be noted that this command was given before God creates woman (vs. 18-25). Therefore, the seeds of sharing the words and promises of God are planted at the beginning.
Yet, it appears that Adam did not perform his task of sharing God’s word in a very clear manner because Eve adds to God’s promise when answering the serpent’s inquiries (3:2). This failure to communicate opens the door for the serpent to deceive Eve into idolatry, who in turn, enticed Adam (3:6). This idolatry led to some dire consequences for the created cosmos, namely the cursing of the good creation and exile from the land (vs. 14-24).
After generations of idolatry, that is worshiping that which was created rather than the creator, God performs the first missionary act. Enter the pagan Abram, later to called Abraham. God says to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (12:1-3).
In this command and promise, two specific points need to be highlighted. First, the command to “go to the land I will show you” is to be understood as a reversal of the exile from the Garden. God is redeeming the idolatrous man and placing him back into the God-given land to work (cf. 2:15). The other noteworthy point is that Abram will be a blessing to all peoples on earth.” This can only occur because Jesus will redeem all of creation including those image-bearing creatures known as human beings. Therefore, the gospel was preached by God to Abraham in the first evangelistic mission (Gal 3:8). And that gospel message was simply this: I will redeem what was lost in the garden through your seed. Who was Abraham’s seed that redeemed what was lost? Answer: Jesus Christ.
Mission and the Nature of God
The idea that a creator God would want to redeem his image-bearing creatures and through them redeem the whole of the created space, time and matter cosmos is clear from simply from the nature of God. John tells us that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). This means that all creation was made out of, though, and by love. God’s love permeates everything that was created. Therefore, it simply makes sense that God would want to redeem that which he loves.
Additionally, Since God is love it makes sense that God would want those creatures whom he created and redeemed to be in fellowship with to be apart of the redemption process of the rest of creation. God would desire the redemption process to begin with him and flow through those created beings who were made in his image (Gen 1:26) so as to reflect the plans and purposes of God into the created universe. If, then, redemption is the plan and purpose of God then mission-focused image bearers are exactly what are in order. Indeed, it has already been demonstrated that God performed the first act of mission to Abraham. This was done to set the example of how the redemption of the creation was to take place – through the missionary efforts of those who were redeemed by the announcement of the Lordship of Jesus. This is a plan that only a God, who is love, could develop and execute.
Mission and the Rest of Theology
Missions are not an isolated aspect of the Christian life. It is deeply integrated in to the Christian theology as a whole. Missions, simultaneously, impact and are impacted by the other areas of theology. This paper will discuss two of these areas, Christology and Eschatology, as these are the two areas in which missions is most integrated.
In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes, “So, my dear family, be firmly fixed, unshakable, always full to overflowing with the Lord’s work. In the Lord, as you know, the work you’re doing will not be worthless.” (1 Cor 15:58). Read out of context, this line seems to be merely another exhortation to mission. And certainly, it is. However, this is only the surface purpose behind the statement. Only by looking at the rest of the chapter where this Pauline command is located does the reader understand the true significance.
This statement from Paul comes at the end of the chapter in which Paul has spent explaining the meaning, implications, and nature of resurrection. He begins by arguing that the resurrection of Jesus is the first of a two-stage resurrection (vs. 1-20). He, then, relates how the resurrection of Jesus and our future resurrection should direct the moral and ethical behaviors of Christian lives. Paul continues by painting a picture about the nature of resurrection, both of Jesus’s and our future one. After all this, he says, now sit back and wait to be with resurrected with me in heaven.
No! what Paul concludes is that because there is a resurrection, Jesus is king, and Caesar is not! Therefore, it is the responsibility of the people of God to go out announce this. Why are Christians responsible for announcing this because of the resurrection? Paul answer this in the preceding two verses, “The “sting” of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thank God! He gives us the victory, through our Lord Jesus the Messiah” (56-57). Jesus resurrection inaugurated his Lordship; declared his victory of death; and fulfilled the requirements of the law. As a result, human beings have been redeemed by God, ensuring their freedom. Those who have recognized this and live under this new freedom ought to be shouting the truth from the rooftops as Jesus commanded (Matt 10:27).
Perhaps there is no greater theological relationship with missions than that of the area of eschatology. What a Christian believes about the end times will directly affect what message their missions will convey. On the flipside, what message a person conveys will express what their eschatology is. The two subjects cannot be separated from each other. They are inextricably linked to each other, part and parcel.
If a follower of Jesus believes that the future resurrection means some disembodied experience in which they escape the corrupt and fallen nature of the material, space and time created universe to be in the presence of God in heaven; then inevitably their missionary message will be that non-believers need to repent in order to escape the eternal torment of divine judgement on sinners. In this scenario, the present problems of the creation such as social and political injustice, illness, and even death are problems to be survived. Indeed, the daily life of the Christian becomes akin to that of P.O.W. who is imprisoned by an enemy foreign nation. The Christian hope becomes to simply survive this present reality without incurring any long-lasting mental and physical damage. Unfortunately, this has been the message of the church for the last few hundred years. Is it any wonder that non-believers have found that message irrelevant?
However, if the missionary’s message is that God’s future kingdom has burst in to the present space, time, and material creation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And that same Jesus is now firmly on the throne orchestrating the redemption of that creation through his redeemed creatures, faithful human beings; then hope is expanded. In the present, freedom is announced; healings are expected; And death has lost its sting. For in the culmination of the kingdom, the resurrection is not disembodied spirits floating in the presence of God but transformed material beings who are wisely stewarding the created cosmos. This means that what you do to advance this agenda in the present matters. The advancement of social and political justice, the curing of diseases, and the release from mental addictions matter; they matter immediately not as some future hope.
Themes of Mission
Everything discussed up until this point has been to develop two specific themes which act as the foundational framework for the theology of mission. The first theme is the that of Jesus as Lord of both Heaven and Earth. Any other message than “Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not!” is simply not the biblical gospel. Jesus confirms this when He tells his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me!” (Matt 28:18). As a matter of fact, Jesus offers this as a reason for the Great Commission in the very next verse (v.19-20). Therefore, because Jesus is Lord his followers have the responsibility of claiming the created universe in the name of Jesus. This is the end game of all mission.
The other foundational theme is that of the resurrection. It is only because of the resurrection that there is hope for the present age. Resurrection is the means by which God redeems his image-bearing creatures so that through them he can redeem the entire space, time, material universe. Paul tells the Roman church,
Yes: creation itself is on tiptoe with expectation, eagerly awaiting the moment when God’s children will be revealed. Creation, you see, was subjected to pointless futility, not of its own volition, but because of the one who placed it in this subjection, in the hope that creation itself would be freed from its slavery to decay, to enjoy the freedom that comes when God’s children are glorified (Rom 8:19-21).
What Paul is telling his audience in Rome is simply this, the resurrection of Jesus was the first installment of God’s kingdom being inaugurated. This inauguration has begun so that in the final culmination when Jesus will turn all things over to the Father (1 Cor 15:24), the faithful will be glorified and all of creation, both heavenly and material, will be redeemed into the kingdom of God. However, this does not mean that Christians should not be claiming the present reality now for the future kingdom. This is the purpose of mission.
Summing up: There is no debate that mission is a necessary, vital, and required part of the Christian daily walk. Scriptures such as those found in the Acts 1 and 1 Corinthians 15, along with Matthew’s Great Commission passage make it clear that mission is a biblical mandate. Christians must be willing to spread the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. However, what the Gospel message is that they spread is of vital significance. If the message is anything other than “Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not!” then it is not the Gospel which is presented throughout scripture. Paul understood this clearly enough when he told the Galatians,
I’m astonished that you are turning away so quickly from the one who called you by grace and going after another gospel— not that it is another gospel, it’s just that there are some people stirring up trouble for you and wanting to pervert the gospel of the Messiah. But even if we—or an angel from heaven! —should announce a gospel other than the one we announced to you, let such a person be accursed. I said it before and I now say it again: if anyone offers you a gospel other than the one you received, let that person be accursed. (Gal 1:6-9).
The power of the Biblical Gospel to bring hope lies not in some future eschatology; rather it is God’s eschatology bursting into the present through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As result of this “bursting in,” the New Testament authors tell us the followers of Jesus need to be proclaiming Jesus as Lord as they work to redeem all of creation for the kingdom. This working for the kingdom demonstrates itself in three practical ways.
First it requires the universal church to embrace politics rather than shy away from it. This may mean running for public office or simply watching and holding secular governments accountable for any injustices the regime might be imposing. Next, it requires social programs to work for wholistic, curative measures rather than band aid solutions. Feeding hungry people is a good work, eliminating the causes of hunger is kingdom work. Finally, it requires that church leadership “give God’s people the equipment they need for their work of service, and so to build up the king’s body” (Eph 4:12). This requires that pastors and church leaders instill the Gospel message into their followers and provide support in any area of kingdom work in which those followers are called. This is what the Biblical theology of mission is all about.
Fernando, A. Acts. Zondervan, 2010.
Keener, C.S. and InterVarsity Press. The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Radmacher, D., R.B. Allen, and H.W. House. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary: Spreading the Light of God’s Word into Your Life. Thomas Nelson, 1999.
Version, N.I. Niv Bible Ebook (New International Version). Hodder & Stoughton, 2011.
Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. HarperCollins, 2008.
Wright, N.T. The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation. HarperCollins, 2011.
 N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperCollins, 2008).
 Unless otherwise noted, all New Testament scripture references are N.T. Wright, The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation (HarperCollins, 2011).
Biblical scholarship has undergone a transformation in the last few decades. The emergence of the so-called “Third Quest for the Historical Jesus” has challenged the Western Church’s traditional view of how the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have portrayed Jesus. Third Quest scholars such as Ed Sanders have argued that Jesus must be a historical figure which squarely fits within first century Judaism. This historical approach to the canonical gospels presentation of Jesus has been picked up by other scholars and applied to the rest of the scripture.
One such scholar is highly respected New Testament scholar, N. T Wright. He has challenged the traditional Calvinist view of the doctrine of justification. He has suggested that Paul’s understanding of justification derived more from his Jewish temple theology rather than a law court setting. He has suggested that modern biblical scholarship has failed to correct traditional errors because it has offered “Twentieth Century answers to Eighteenth Century questions.” However, Wright does not simply offer temple theology as merely a Pauline theme of justification, he expands it to encompass all Biblical theology. He sees it as a thematic entirety of the biblical metanarrative. Biblical scholar, Ben Meyer agrees with Wright’s assessment, noting, “The indispensability of the temple, an institution increasingly laden with functions, meanings, values basic to national life, is evident from the fierce drive to rebuild it in the late sixth century.”
If scholars like Meyer and Wright are correct in asserting an overarching theme of temple theology throughout the whole of scripture, then, it is necessary to revisit all theological concepts considering this temple theology. The most obvious place to begin such an endeavor would be to understand the significance of humanity within a temple theology perspective. However, this would be a large undertaking in and of itself, therefore this paper aims to revisit the significance of Adam from the correct framework. Namely, the significance of Adam is properly understood when the concepts of “Imago Dei,” and the implications by way of “The Fall” and the “Kenosis of Jesus” are viewed through the perspective of temple theology.
No biblical or systematic theology can be considered whole and complete without the study of man. “As a matter of fact, the two anchor points of theology, like the two foundations of a cable bridge, are the doctrine of God and the doctrine of man.” Biblically, the doctrine of man begins during the creation scene when God says, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Gen 1:26). The key terms in this verse are the Hebrew terms image (tselem) and likeness (demuth). This “image” and “likeness” is known as Imago Dei
Meaning of “Image” and “Likeness”
Scholars have differed as to what these two terms of the Imago Dei mean. Some scholars have attempted to separate these terms in their meanings; while others simply see them as parallelism within the Hebraic writing style. Louis Berkhof comments on these two words,
The terms “image” and “likeness” have been distinguished in numerous ways. Some believed “image” had reference to the body, and “likeness” to the soul. Augustine held that the former referred to the intellectual, and the latter, to the moral faculties of the soul. Bellarmin regarded “image” as a designation of the natural gifts of man, and “likeness” as a designation of that which was supernaturally added to man. Still others asserted that “image” denoted inborn, and “likeness,” the acquired conformity to God.
Towns cites Stevens, who also examines the same issue,
The Hebrew words “image” (tselem) and “likeness” (demuth) mean nothing more nor less in the context than their English equivalents. The LXX translates tselem with the corresponding Greek word eikon, and demuth with the corresponding word homoisis. Whereas there is literally a distinction between an image and a likeness, the latter word being broader and more inclusive one, yet it is futile to attempt to make any precise distinctions between the two words as they are found in this context. Parallel words to give essentially the same thought are a familiar Hebrew mode of expression. The meaning of the passage obviously is that man is created to resemble God in some important ways.
Whether the scholar understands the “image” and “likeness” to be distinct or not, the concept of this anthropology cannot be understated. Since the first man, Adam, is described in the Bible as being made in the “image” of God (v.27), “[he] cannot in every respect be likened to the whole of creation.”
This significant difference of the first man, Adam, from the rest of creation begs a question: In what way does Adam and therefore humanity reflect the image of God? Henry suggests that how one answers the question of “the imago-inquiry soon becomes determinative for the entire gamut of doctrinal affirmation.” The traditional view within biblical scholarship is that the image of God is “limited to immaterial nature and serves to simply reflect specific attributes of God” while distinguishing between essential and nonessential elements in God. For the majority of scholars the image of God does not include any physical or substantive properties. Davis sums up most scholars in this way, “Both terms, therefore, point to spiritual qualities shared by both God and man. It is this image and likeness that completely distinguishes man from the animal kingdom.”
However, a couple of challenges to this view arises. First, it implies a reading of the Old Testament text which the Old Testament itself does not support. Commenting on this issue Von Rad writes,
The interpretations, therefore, are to be rejected which proceed from anthropology strange to the Old Testament and one-sidedly limit God’s image to man’s spiritual nature relating it to man’s “dignity,” his “personality,” or “ability for moral reason,” etc. The marvel of man’s appearance is not to be excepted from God’s image. This was the original notion, and we have no reason to believe that it gave way… to a spiritualizing and intellectualizing tendency.”
The second challenge arises from the resurrection of Jesus. This challenge arises from in what manner was Jesus resurrected. If Jesus was resurrected into a body containing physical properties, and if one affirms that Jesus is the full representation of God (Heb 1:3) then it must be affirmed that physicality properties must be attributed to God. Therefore, any hermeneutical suggestion as to what the image of God is must be able to account for both the physical and spiritual attributes of man.
Image Dei from the Perspective of Temple Theology
John Walton has argued that Israelite temple tradition, as well as the Old Testament, has been heavily influenced by Near Eastern thought. Walton notes, “From the standpoint of the deity, the temple is his/her estate and residence. The earthly temple was a symbol, an echo, a shadow of the heavenly residence.” The temple therefore was the place where heaven and earth intersected. While Walton examines several aspects of temple theology, two of them bare significant relevance to the current discourse: 1. Iconism, and 2. Sacred Spaces.
No temple is complete without an idol. The idol is the image of the god and signifies the divine presence residing in the temple. According to Walker and Dick, it is on the shoulders of the god being represented to approve and initiate the manufacturing of the idol. Once manufactured, certain rituals where performed to bring about the transference of the divine presence from the spiritual world to the physical one in a process referred to as “actualizing the presence of the god in the temple.” Walton likens this process to the Christian doctrine of inspiration of scripture, in as much as the process was not viewed as a human contrivance, but rather a miraculous act of the god.
Another aspect of the idol was that it did not merely represent the deity but was the means by which the deity manifested its presence. This manifestation would include revelatory and mediation practices. In terms of temple theology, the idol could be said to have been animated by the process of actualization. However, this must not be confused into a thinking which identifies the idol with the deity, itself.  Walker and Dick compare it to the Aristotelian philosophical concept of body and soul.
Sacred spaces were the specific locations where ancient peoples believed the gods traversed. Sacred spaces, therefore, were chosen by the gods before the building of the temple. One common type of sacred space was a garden. These locales were chosen, built upon, and sculpted to preserve and signify the sanctity of the sacred place. They were filled with images of the deity to endorse the sanctification of the chosen location.
Revisiting the Creation Narrative
Looking at the creation narrative of Genesis 1 through the lenses of “Iconism” and “Sacred Spaces,” there are some striking similarities. First, it may be shown that God initiated the idol making process through the creation of the first man, Adam (vs.26-27). By imbuing Adam with his own “image” and “likeness,” God created an analogous idol of himself. This explains, the later cultic prohibition of graven images (Ex 20:4), since God had done so through the creation of Adam.
The next striking similarity is the “actualization of the idol” through ritual. Once again, God does not leave it up to the creation to provide the means of transference but does it on his own as a miraculous act of Deity. Towns suggests, “Life is a part of the nature of God, and when God gives life to something; He gives part of his nature to it.” In Genesis 2, the Bible says, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (v. 7). In this ritual act of resuscitation, God animates Adam through the transference of his nature.
Additionally, Adam is given revelation by God. He is told that all the fruit of the trees are his to eat except the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (vs. 16-17). This also fits with the idea, that man is the idol of God. He is to receive revelation from his Deity, through which his actions are to be governed.
Finally, there is the sacred space. God places his idol (Adam) into a garden which He planted himself (v.8). This effectively establishes the garden as God’s sacred space. The place where he will traverse. However, God is not content with a mere plot of ground. God tells Adam to be fruitful and multiply (1:28). This multiplication was to increase the number of idols until they covered the whole earth, thereby, designating all of the earth as God’s sacred space.
T. Wright has suggested that the Western Church is in danger of moralizing its anthropology. This seems to be due to the idea that the incident related in the third chapter of Genesis commonly known as “The Fall” is the dominate feature of God’s purposes. “The Fall” also known as original sin) is the biblical narrative of the origination of evil in the world. Many scholars and laypersons, alike, have approached the biblical narrative from the point of view that the removal of sin and its effects on human beings by redeeming the marred imago dei and whisking humanity into the heavenly residence of God as the sole purpose of God’s redemptive act. Ascribing to this view, Towns writes,
“According to its largest meaning as used in the Scriptures, the word salvation represents the whole work of God by which He rescues man from the eternal ruin and doom of sin and bestows on him the riches of His grace, even eternal life now and eternal glory in Heaven…Therefore it is in every aspect a work of God in behalf of man, and is in no sense a work of man in behalf of God.”
From this traditional view is the implied exaltation of the character of man. This presents a serious challenge for scholars to explain, “how Adam and Eve, endowed with original righteousness and no hindering force of sin, were seduced into committing sin.” Yet, if one understands the fall from the perspective of Adam as an idol, then, there is no need to presume some original righteousness. Therefore, Adam (and subsequently Eve) were status neutral. In other words, Adam was neither righteous, nor unrighteous; in as much as a statue, in and of itself, is sacred or common.
One additional point of importance must be mentioned concerning “the fall” of mankind; that is its nature. This aspect cannot be overlooked as Davis notes, “Needless to say, it is impossible to understand the rest of the Bible without understanding Genesis 3.” Therefore, in order to understand what God has been and is doing; it is important to understand precisely what occurred. Paul tells Timothy, “And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (2:14). Yet to the Roman Church, Paul would write, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—” (Rom 5:12). Two very pertinent questions come up when one looks at these two passages: 1) Why the separation between Adam and Eve in relation to deception. 2) What exactly is the nature of the sin committed.
The answer to both these questions lay in understanding the event through the lens of temple theology. Since it has been argued that primary purpose and function of human beings was to be the God created idol through which God traversed his created reality; then the nature of “the fall” is simply this: What was purposed for worship of the creator denied such a vocation and worshiped the creation itself. In simplified language, the living idol did not worship the creator and as such did not reflect the image of God into the creation. Instead, he reflected the sin-marred creation (the serpent) into himself (Gen 3).
As a result, death entered into the world, not because Eve was deceived, but rather because Adam, who was not, did not impart God’s justice into the creation. Such justice actions were seen to be the responsibility of the idol of the god it represented. As Walton notes, “In Egypt of the Early First Millennium, for instance, court cases being tried were set before god Amun.” It may also be argued that Adam failed to properly communicate the divine revelation as the medium through which God had spoken.
Kenosis of Jesus Christ
The final concept in which Adam bears theological significance is upon the kenosis of Jesus. The word itself is taken from the Greek in the Philippian 2:7 passage which reads, “Rather, he made (Gk. kenoó) himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Kenoó, from which we get kenosis, has the meaning of emptying. In the context in which Paul uses the word, he seems to be saying that the second person of the Triune God, emptied himself of his Godly attributes. In other words, God became man.
Exactly what Godly attributes were emptied and how this was accomplished is debated among Biblical scholars. However, for the purposes of this paper, the concentration will be focused upon the result of the kenosis. The traditional understanding of the result is known as the doctrine of hypostatic union. C. Blaising defines this union, stating, “In the incarnation of the Son of God, a human nature was inseparably united with forever with the divine nature in the one person of Jesus Christ, yet with the two natures remaining whole, and unchanged, without mixture or confusion.”
This doctrine is not without its difficulties. As Blaising also notes, “Admittedly, the doctrine leaves many metaphorical questions unanswered.” Temple theology does little to answer those questions. However, what it does do is hold in unity the anthropology of God with anthropology of man.
Jesus tells the woman at the well, “God is Spirit.” (Jn 4:24). Yet, we know from scripture that Jesus was worshiped as God from very early on in the church’s history (Cf. Matt 2:11, 28:9; Jn 20:28, etc.) Yet, we also find in Jesus that God became a physical being. (Jn 1:1-18). So then, if God is Spirit, how does a physical being come to be worshiped?
Temple theology suggests a very strange and unique occurrence happened. This occurrence, however, is the exception to the rule rather than its affirmation. Sometimes, the exceptions can be more significant than the rule itself as is the case here. It has already been argued that Adam was created by God to be his idol. This idol received the transference of Godly attributes in a process referred to as “actualization.” Yet, it has been maintained that the idol was never identified as the god it represented. Jesus breaks this rule. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the “express image” of God (Hebrews 1:3). The Greek word used for image here is charaktér, which carries the connotation of graven image. This connotation brings us back to the temple theology of an idol. God becomes the idol of himself through the person of Jesus by the interlocking of the divine nature with the physical nature in such a way that each nature remains separate yet are interlocked with each other so there is no distinguishing between the end of one with the start of the other—The hypostatic union.
New Testament Scholar N. T. Wright has argued for a bodily resurrection on the grounds of what he has called “transphysicality”. He uses the word in order to put “a label on the demonstrable fact that the early Christians envisaged a body that was robustly physical but also significantly different from the present one.” It must be noted that Wright’s context is dealing with the resurrected body and not the pre-crucifixion body. Still, it is not too difficult to imagine that if Jesus could maintain such a body post-resurrection, then his pre-crucifixion body would be of the same nature. Temple theology would suggest that this is true. Indeed, the first chapter of John is riddled with temple theology from his allusion to the creation narrative (Jn 1:1); to the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us (v.14).
The Significance of Adam does not lie in the narratives historic authenticity or lack thereof. It does not lie in its explanation for the problem of evil. No, it lies in the way it tells the reader who he or she is; and the way it reveals who God is. The significance of Adam is his iconistic vocation as the created idol of God meant to act as the corridor from the heavenly (spiritual, if you like) planes to the physical one. These are not two separate planes of existence but rather one large, immeasurable reality. The significance of Adam is that we are corrupted idols that have blasphemed the temple of creation by marring our representation of the creator God. As a result, God, himself took on flesh, to restore his image and sanctify his temple redeeming the marred idols in the process. This is evidenced throughout the scripture as “New Creation” (Cf. Rev 20; 2 Cor 5).  It is only when one peers at the scripture through the lens of temple theology that the whole of Biblical narrative can be understood. Therefore, when John was given his great vision of the future, he says, “The Lord God almighty and the lamb are its temple (Rev. 21:22).” For God will live in the creation and the creation will live in God.
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