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On Making a Prophet: Pentecost and the Church’s Mission, Part 2

Part 1

Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. – Acts 2:1

In setting the scene for the events of Pentecost, Luke immediately draws our attention to the fact that all of the disciples are assembled together in one place. Remarking on the ‘togetherness’ of the disciples, Richard Thompson observes:

Although Luke does not explicitly state why this corporate quality is important or how these believers concretely demonstrate such a quality, such an emphasis suggests that this characteristic is critical both to the narrative and potentially to what follows.[1]

What are we to make of the corporate character of the events of Pentecost?

A Community of Prophets
Pentecost (re)constitutes the community of the early church in a powerful way, representing an event of decisive importance for its formation and identity. For this reason it is perhaps significant that we find a number of possible echoes of the events of Sinai in the immediate context. Sinai was an event of immense importance for Israel in its life as a nation, being the occasion of a group theophany, their reception of the Torah and their entrance into a covenant with YHWH. Kenneth Litwak writes:

There are several striking elements which suggest that Luke shaped his account on the basis of the Sinai tradition. Acts 2 opens with a theophany, which includes fire and a loud sound (Acts 2.1-4; cf. Exod. 19:16 [sound of a trumpet] and Exod. 19.18 [YHWH descended upon Sinai in fire]). At Sinai God spoke to Moses, and in Acts 2.11 the people hear the disciples speaking of the mighty works of God. On a broader level, the theophanic event in Acts 2.1-4 is formative for the first followers of the Way, just as the Sinai theophany was formative for God’s people in Exodus.[2]

In Exodus 19:1 we read that the children of Israel arrived at Sinai three months after leaving Egypt, where, after a few days of preparation, they received the Law. As the feast of Pentecost occurred 49 days after the Feast of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:15-16), which took place in the latter half of the first month, the possibility of a chronological connection between Pentecost and the giving of the Law and forming of the covenant in Sinai is raised.[3] This connection did not go unnoticed by the rabbis, who identified Pentecost as the feast celebrating the gift of the Law. Whether such a connection was established by the time that Luke wrote the account of Acts 2 is uncertain and continues to be a matter of debate among scholars.

Taken by itself this connection between Pentecost and Sinai may appear rather slight, but it is given more weight when we consider it alongside the presence of the other echoes of the Sinai account in the early chapters of Acts.[4] At Sinai Israel was set apart as a ‘kingdom of priests and a holy nation’, giving the children of Israel a special role to play within God’s purposes for the wider creation. The parallels to the event of Sinai are important chiefly on account of the way in which they frame the event as one through which the disciples are set apart as a people with a new vocation.

In contrast to the examples of prophetic succession that we previously observed, the example of Sinai involves the reconstitution and setting apart of a whole people and not just of one person. The events of Pentecost are not of mere private significance to those involved, but herald the establishing of a new reality in the realm of history. Sinai inaugurates a new era and not merely a period of leadership limited by one man’s lifespan. Consequently, the event of Sinai has much light to shed on Luke’s account of Pentecost. Stronstad writes:

…[W]hat is happening on the day of Pentecost is not only as dramatic as, but also as significant as what happened at Mt Sinai. In other words, the creation of the disciples as a community of prophets is as epochal as the earlier creation of Israel as a kingdom of priests.[5]

The Distribution of the Spirit of Jesus
A number of commentators have argued for some form of connection between the narrative of Numbers 11 and that of Acts 2, a connection that can illuminate certain dimensions of the church’s prophetic character.

In Numbers 11 Moses appeals to YHWH to ease the burden of leadership that he is bearing. Responding to his plea, God instructs Moses to gather seventy of the elders of Israel and bring them to the tabernacle of meeting. There God will take of the Spirit that is on Moses and give it to the elders, so that they can share the task of leading the people with him.

Following a day of preparation, the elders are gathered together and the Spirit rests on them. They then begin to prophesy, although they never do so again (Numbers 11:25).[6] Two of the seventy elders—Eldad and Medad—were not present at the tabernacle of meeting at the time, but received the Holy Spirit nonetheless and began to prophesy in the middle of the camp. Joshua, Moses’ assistant, concerned by this, asks Moses to instruct them to stop. Moses, however, was unconcerned: ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!’ (verse 29).

There are a number of echoes of the theophany at Sinai in the account of Numbers 11, including: (1) the granting of a new vocation to a body of people (Exodus 19:5-6; Numbers 11:16-17); (2) the command for the people to sanctify themselves for the coming day when YHWH will act decisively (Number 11:18; cf. Exodus 19:10); (3) the gathering of the people around a particular location, Mt Sinai in the Exodus account and the tabernacle in that of Numbers (Numbers 11:24);[7] (4) a theophany in which God comes down in the cloud and speaks with Moses (Exodus 19:9; Numbers 11:25).

Although some might argue that the ‘spirit’ given to the seventy elders is Moses own spirit, rather than YHWH’s, a reading of Numbers 11 that understands the ‘spirit’ as YHWH’s own Spirit seems far more satisfactory (cf. verse 29). Nevertheless, it is important that we recognize that the Spirit that is given to the seventy elders is spoken of as the Spirit that is upon Moses himself (Numbers 11:17, 25). Although we are not here dealing with a ‘sacramental transfer’ in which Moses is active, Moses is seen as the one who mediates the elders’ reception of the Spirit. The elders do not receive the Spirit as a direct bestowal from God, but with ‘Moses as the intermediary’.[8]

Williams contrasts this with the case of leadership succession that occurs when Joshua receives authority to lead and the ‘spirit of wisdom’ through the imposition of Moses’ hands (Deuteronomy 34:9). In Numbers 11 Moses does not abandon certain aspects of his leadership to others. The elders are rather empowered to help fulfil Moses’ task of leading the people. Their ministry does not displace that of Moses, but involves a partaking in Moses’ ministry.[9]

At Pentecost Jesus mediates the gift of the Spirit to the church (Acts 2:33), and, much as the elders’ reception of the Spirit in Numbers 11 gave them a share in the Spirit of prophetic leadership that belonged to Moses, so Pentecost brings the church to participate in the prophetic authority of Jesus, an authority that never ceases to be the exclusive possession of Jesus himself.

At this juncture a further dimension of the ‘baptism’ imagery (cf. Acts 1:5) may come to the fore: baptism does not merely initiate into office, it can also fulfil an incorporative purpose, bringing people to participate in the life, authority, status or privileges of another (Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 10:1-2; Galatians 3:26-29). Just as Israel was led by Moses prior to being ‘baptized’ into a greater union with him,[10] so the disciples were led by Jesus prior to the baptism of Pentecost. What Pentecost effected was the disciples’ reconstitution as the church—the body of Christ—bringing them into a new relationship with their master. They now shared in the power of his Spirit, being bound to him by a bond of relationship far stronger than any they had previously enjoyed.[11]

The temporary and unrepeated character of the elders’ act of prophesying merits closer examination. While we have good reason to believe that the Spirit remained with the elders, enabling them to fulfil their role, the fact that they did not prophesy again suggests that prophesying was not necessary for this. The initial ecstatic manifestations were not normative for the ongoing performance of their duties. A similar occurrence can be found in 1 Samuel 10:10-13, where the Spirit comes upon Saul, causing him to prophesy. It is through this experience that Saul is set apart and personally prepared for leadership (1 Samuel 10:6). Apart from one other exceptional occasion,[12] we never read of Saul prophesying again. The prophecy was an effect and an authenticating sign of the Spirit’s coming upon him; the continuance of the Spirit with him did not necessitate repeated occurrences of prophetic manifestations.

There is a strong analogy to be observed between the prophesying of the elders and the glossolalia of the disciples, and a few writers (Gordon Wenham, for instance) have even suggested that we equate the two. As Dunn observes, Luke does not share Paul’s sharp distinction between speaking in tongues and prophesying. In his use of the passage from Joel in his sermon, Peter appears to equate the tongues-speaking of the disciples with the prophetic speech which the prophecy promises. In light of this OT background, it seems that the purpose of the glossolalia in the context of Acts 2 was primarily that of serving as an authenticating sign of the Spirit’s coming upon the disciples. There is no reason for us to believe that glossolalia would continue to be practiced by all of the disciples present at Pentecost. Tongues-speaking primarily served as a temporary authenticating sign.

The passage from the prophet Joel that Peter uses in his sermon is strikingly parallel to the wish of Moses that all of the people were prophets (Acts 2:17-18; Numbers 11:29).[13] This connection between the prophecy of Joel and Numbers 11 is also found is rabbinic midrash texts. If, as Litwak maintains, the Joel prophecy provides a ‘programmatic text’ and lens for Luke’s understanding of Pentecost, it is also a lens through which passages such as Numbers 11 illuminate the text. The ‘prophethood of all believers’ that is desired in Numbers, is prophesied in Joel and receives a form of fulfilment in Acts.

Perhaps we can even hear echoes of Eldad and Medad when we read of the Gentiles who received the Spirit in Acts 10. Eldad and Medad were outside of the group of elders at the tabernacle. Nonetheless, they still receive the anointing of the Spirit just as the others. In a similar manner, the Gentiles may have appeared to be outside of the gathering to which the Spirit was specially promised, but they received the Spirit in much the same way, in a sort of aftershock of the original event. By giving Cornelius and his household the Spirit before they had become members of a Jewish church, God demonstrated the freedom of the Spirit and the fact that Jews and Gentiles were accepted on an equal footing.

Endnotes
[1] Richard P. Thompson, Keeping the Church in its Place: The Church as Narrative Character in Acts (London: T&T Clark, 2006), 38
[2] Kenneth Duncan Litwak, Echoes of Scripture in Luke-Acts: Telling the History of God’s People Intertextually (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 165-166. Roger Stronstad, The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 58-59 highlights a number of further common features of the Sinai and Pentecost narratives, including the days of preparation and the occurrence of the theophany in the morning.
[3] A number of writers reference Jubilees 6:17-21 in this context. Others have observed the connection that Jubilees draws between Pentecost and covenant renewal.
[4] Besides those already mentioned, there are a number of further echoes of Sinai narrative in Acts 2. The ascension of Christ into the cloud (Acts 1:9) might be an echo of the ascension of Moses onto Mount Sinai. The number added to the church (‘cut to the heart’) in Acts 2:41 may also echo the number slain by the sword at Sinai (Exodus 32:28). Wedderburn argues for a connection between the events of Sinai and those of the Day of Pentecost as they are recorded in Acts, but claims that this connection was not made by Luke, but by some of his sources. Hovenden has a very helpful discussion of some further possible literary connections, including that of a Lukan allusion to Psalm 67:19 (LXX) in Acts 2:33, a verse applied to Moses at Mount Sinai by some of the rabbis. Johnson highlights the similarities between the statement concerning Moses in Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:38 and that of Peter concerning Jesus in Acts 2:33.
[5] The Prophethood of All Believers, 59
[6] The meaning of the phrase ולא יספו is not entirely clear. In light of the similar phrase used in Deuteronomy 5:22, we have opted to understand it as a denial of their continuance in prophesying.
[7] The possibility of the disciples being gathered around the temple on the Day of Pentecost will be discussed in a later post.
[8] David T. Williams, ‘Old Testament Pentecost.’ Old Testament Essays, 16:130-1
[9] Ibid, 132
[10] As we shall later see, one dimension of this ‘baptism into Moses’ was Israel’s entry into Moses’ own experience.
[11] The incorporative purpose of the baptism of the Spirit is explored in such places as 1 Corinthians 12:12-13.
[12] 1 Samuel 19:21-24. This incident occurs after the Spirit has departed from Saul (1 Samuel 16:14).
[13] John Barton, Joel and Obadiah: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 95 relates Joel 2 and Numbers 11 together, claiming that Joel’s prophecy ‘reads almost as a fulfillment of Moses’ hope expressed in Num. 11:29.’

On Making a Prophet: Pentecost and the Church’s Mission, Part 1

The following is the first in a series of several posts, exploring the prophetic role of the church and the meaning of the Baptism of the Spirit.

The first chapter of the book of Acts presents us with both an ending and a beginning. Bringing to a close the period of his earthly ministry, Jesus’ ascent into heaven also marks the beginning of a new act in the drama of the NT, that of the public mission of the church.

The exact nature of the relationship between the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of his church is a matter that I will explore in some depth in the posts that will follow this one. In particular, I will be attempting to demonstrate that the events of Pentecost set the church apart as a prophetic community. Bringing the text of the opening chapters of the book of Acts into conversation with particular texts within the OT, I hope to explore the manner in which accounts of prophetic call, anointing and succession can provide a helpful lens through which to view the events of Pentecost. In making this case I will be devoting considerable attention to a closer analysis of Acts 2:1-4. Having established this exegetical groundwork, I hope to proceed to make some observations about the way in which I believe that the event of Pentecost should shape the Church’s self-understanding. While my focus will be on constructing a positive account of the significance of this event, I will also be entering into critical dialogue with alternative understandings.

A number of writers have explored the subject of prophetic anointing in Acts 2. In The Prophethood of All Believers, Roger Stronstad devotes a chapter to the event of Pentecost, which he claims inaugurates ‘the prophethood of all believers.’[1] The theme is also highlighted by some commentators in the course of their treatment of the passage, and in wider treatments of Luke-Acts. Within Echoes of Scripture in Luke-Acts, Kenneth Litwak identifies a number of the OT passages that the narrative of the early chapters of Acts evokes, unearthing some neglected allusions to prophetic call and succession narratives in the process.

Building upon the foundation that these writers have established, and entering into constructive conversation with them, I hope to probe deeper into the OT background for the prophetic themes that surface in Luke’s account of Pentecost. Attempting an intertextual reading of Acts 2, I want to prove the theological and exegetical value of understanding the account in terms of OT accounts of prophetic call, anointing and succession.

Jesus and the Church in Luke-Acts
For Luke the ministry of the church is inseparably connected to Jesus’ own ministry, something highlighted by the resumptive character of his introduction to the book of Acts. As Ben Witherington argues, Luke situates his account of Jesus within a ‘wider historical framework’, giving considerable prominence to the events preceding the birth of John the Baptist at the very outset of his narrative and closely following the subsequent growth of the church in the second volume of his work.[2] Remarking on the limited attention that Luke gives to Peter’s confession in his gospel, in contrast to the accent placed on the accounts of the commissioning of the Twelve and the Seventy between which it is sandwiched, Witherington writes:

Nowhere is it made more apparent than in this sequence that Jesus is the initiator of a series of events and proclamations that his disciples undertake during and then after his time. The focus is not just on Jesus but on the historical Jesus movement of which he was the catalyst and focal point.[3]

In adopting a narrow focus on the identity and personal ministry of Jesus we are in danger of failing to appreciate the degree to which the Lukan treatment of the early church is driven by more than a merely biographical or historical interest. For Luke the church plays a key role in the drama of God’s salvation, both as the place where that salvation is realized and as the agency through whom it is borne witness to and spread.

Baptism, Ascension, and Elijah Typology
Immediately prior to his ascension, Jesus promises his disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift for which they must wait in Jerusalem. Recalling the contrast drawn by John the Baptist in Luke 3:16, Jesus speaks of the reception of the Spirit in terms of the language of baptism. By describing the church’s forthcoming reception of the Holy Spirit in such a manner, Jesus presents the event that is about to occur to the church as somehow analogous to the type of event that John’s baptism represented. The baptism with water administered by John the Baptist will now be followed by a baptism with the Spirit that Jesus will perform on his disciples.

Within Lukan theology, John’s baptism is presented as playing a preparatory role (cf. Acts 19:1-6). It prepared the people for the coming kingdom of God and also served as the ‘launching-pad’ for Jesus’ own work. In Luke’s gospel we see that Jesus’ own baptism by John the Baptist marked the beginning of his public ministry (Luke 3:20-22), a detail that is given significance in the first chapter of Acts (Acts 1:21-22). In the narrative of Luke’s gospel, John’s baptism of Jesus also marks the end of John’s place in the foreground of the gospel narrative. Once the ministry of Jesus has got off the ground, the purpose of John’s ministry has more or less been accomplished.[4]

Within the gospels John the Baptist is presented ‘as in some sense Elijah redivivus.’[5] In an allusion to the prophecy of Malachi 4:5-6, the angel Gabriel declares to Zecharias that his son John will go before the Lord ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah’ (Luke 1:17). Elsewhere, Jesus declares that John was the Elijah that was promised to come (Matthew 17:10-13). The description and narrative of John the Baptist is also replete with allusions to the description and narrative of the prophet Elijah.[6]

Perhaps it is significant that John’s baptism of Jesus takes place on the far side of the Jordan: this was the place where Elisha succeeded Elijah (2 Kings 2) and Joshua took over from Moses (Joshua 1). In all cases the succession involves a crossing or coming out of the river and a reception of the Spirit (Deuteronomy 34:9; Joshua 1:10-18; 2 Kings 2:9-15; Luke 3:21-22).

At Jesus’ baptism by John, the Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove (Luke 3:22), fills him and leads him into the wilderness (Luke 4:1). Within Lukan theology, there is a very close connection between filling with the Spirit and prophecy (Luke 1:15, 41-45, 67; Acts 2:4, 17-18; 4:8, 31; 7:55-56; 13:9-11).[7] Jesus’ characterization of himself as a prophet in Luke 4:24, in the context of his reading of Isaiah 61:1-2 is significant. It is the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism that sets him apart as a prophet. The connection between baptism and investiture is an important one for our purposes:[8] the church’s reception of the Spirit in the ‘baptism’ of Pentecost needs to be understood as an ordination for prophetic ministry.

Luke does not limit his deployment of Elijah imagery to his treatment of John the Baptist. As N.T. Wright observes, there is strong evidence to suggest that the synoptics also understand the work of Jesus in terms of Elijah typology.[9] It is at the point of Jesus’ ascension that this imagery assumes a greater prominence. Commenting on the ascension account in Luke 24:50-53, Kenneth Litwak writes:

If Luke’s audience encountered a story of someone approved by God ‘going up’ to heaven, they would surely have thought of Elijah’s ascension … since his is the only ascension account in the Scriptures of Israel. The statement in Lk. 24.49 that the disciples would be empowered by the Spirit recalls Elijah’s bequest of his ‘spirit’ to Elisha (4 Kgdms 2.9-10). The use of ενδύσησθε in Lk. 24.49 may also be an allusion to Elijah’s mantle which was passed on to Elisha (2 Kgdms 2.13)…[10]

The OT speaks of the future return of the ascended Elijah to restore all things (Malachi 4:5-6; cf. Sirach 48:10), a theme that also appears in the NT (Mark 9:12; Matthew 17:11). Significantly, Luke ascribes to the ascended Jesus that which was traditionally ascribed to Elijah: in Acts 3:21 he speaks of Jesus as the one ‘whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things’ (Acts 3:21; cf. Acts 1:11).[11]

Given the dominance of such Elijah imagery in the context of the ascension, Jesus’ promise of the Spirit immediately prior to his rapture must take on an added significance. The Elijah imagery provides the typological adhesive binding together ascension, Pentecost and parousia. Within the frame provided by the Elijah typology, an intimate connection is seen to exist between the ascension and Pentecost narratives. Consequently, any attempt to understand the events of Pentecost must begin by giving attention to the Lukan ascension accounts.[12]

The Ascension and the Prophetic Anointing of the Church
Just as Jesus’ baptism by John marked the beginning of his prophetic ministry and his succession from John’s own ministry, so the ascension and Pentecost mark the time when the church is anointed for its prophetic ministry and the transition from Jesus’ public earthly ministry to that of the church.

The two most important prophetic succession narratives of the OT involve the transition from the leadership of Moses to the leadership of Joshua (Numbers 27:12-23) and the transition from the prophetic ministry of Elijah to that of Elisha (2 Kings 2:1-15).[13] In both of these cases the mission started by the first prophet is completed by his successor.[14] Moses’ mission to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land is only fulfilled in the ministry of his successor Joshua. Similarly, the mission that Elijah is charged with in 1 Kings 19:15-17 is only completed in the ministry of Elisha (2 Kings 8:13; 9:1-3).[15]

Elisha is a new Elijah (2 Kings 2:15), just as Joshua is a new Moses (Numbers 27:20; Joshua 1:5). The parallel between the ministries of Joshua and Elisha and the ministry of Jesus’ disciples is worth highlighting. Both Joshua and Elisha serve as apprentices to prophets, whose ministries they inherit following the time of their masters’ departures. The same pattern holds in the case of Jesus’ disciples: having left their work to follow Jesus as disciples, they receive their master’s Spirit following his departure and continue his mission.

The relationship between the prophet and his apprentice is akin to the relationship between a father and his son. In Numbers 13:16 we see that Joshua’s name was given to him by Moses. Moses also lays his hands on Joshua (Deuteronomy 34:9) in a manner reminiscent of the patriarchs’ blessings on their sons (Genesis 48:13-20). A similar relationship exists between Elijah and Elisha. Elisha receives a ‘double portion’ of Elijah’s spirit, the inheritance appropriate to the firstborn (Deuteronomy 21:17),[16] and, as Elijah is taken into heaven, Elisha addresses him as his ‘father’. Jesus’ farewell discourse and blessing of his disciples (Luke 24:51) belongs within this pattern of prophetic succession.

Zwiep notes the parallel between the stress on the visibility of the master’s departure in both the account of Elijah’s rapture and that of Jesus’ ascension.[17] Seeing Elijah taken up was an indispensable condition for Elisha’s right to succeed him. Moberly explains the logic of the test: ‘…it is the responsibility of the prophet to be able to see God, and if Elisha cannot see God in this critical instance, then he is not able to take on the role of one who sees God in other instances; Elisha cannot be a prophet like Elijah unless he has the requisite spiritual capacity.’[18] The Lukan stress on the disciples’ witnessing of Jesus’ ascension might serve to underline their suitability for prophetic office.[19]

Elijah and Moses typology is multilayered within the Lukan literature. However, in the critical movement in the narrative with which we are concerned, the disciples are typologically related to Joshua and Elisha. As their master departs, they will inherit his Spirit and continue his mission. The Spirit that the disciples will receive is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit that supervised and empowered his own mission.[20]

Endnotes
[1] Roger Stronstad, The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 70
[2] Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MN: Eerdmans, 1998), 21-24
[3] Ibid, 23-24
[4] A point made more explicitly in the fourth gospel (John 1:29-34; 3:27-30).
[5] N.T. Wright,
Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1996), 167
[6] John the Baptist is an ascetic and peripatetic prophet who, like Elijah, calls Israel to repentance in light of coming judgment. He dresses like Elijah (Mark 1:6; cf. 2 Kings 1:8) and, like Elijah, is associated with the wilderness. Like Elijah, his ministry is opposed by a tyrant with a manipulative wife (Herod & Herodias / Ahab & Jezebel). Significantly, John the Baptist’s ministry begins at the geographical location where Elijah’s ministry ended (Matthew 3:1; Mark 1:4-5; cf. 2 Kings 2:4-11).
[7] James D.G. Dunn, The Christ and the Spirit: Volume 2 – Pneumatology (Grand Rapids, MN: Eerdmans, 1998), 11-12
[8] Although its focus is on the connection between baptism and priestly ordination, much of Peter Leithart, The Priesthood of the Plebs: A Theology of Baptism (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2003), 87ff is relevant to our case.
[9] Jesus and the Victory of God, 167
[10], Kenneth Duncan Litwak, Echoes of Scripture in Luke-Acts: Telling the History of God’s People Intertextually (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 147
[11] A.W. Zwiep, The Ascension of the Messiah in Lukan Christology (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 114-116
[12] There is also a sacrificial pattern to be observed in this movement. Leithart observes [1 & 2 Kings (SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible: London: SCM, 2006), 176]:

The story of Elijah’s departure into heaven follows the sequence of a sacrificial rite (Lev. 1). By their mutual journey around the land, Elijah and Elisha form a unit, a “two of them” (2 Kgs. 2:7). They cross the Jordan, as parts of a sacrificial animal will be washed before being place on the altar. Fire descends from heaven, dividing them in two, one ascending in fire to God, as the altar portions of the animal ascend in smoke to heaven. In the ascension (or “wholly burnt”) offering, the skin of the sacrificial animal is given to the priest, and the mantle-skin of Elijah, the hairy garment of the “baal of hair,” is left for Elisha. Through this human “sacrifice,” Elisha becomes a successor to Elijah, and a new phase of prophetic history begins. In this sense too the story is a type of the sacrifice of Jesus, who is washed in the Jordan, gives himself over to be cut in two, ascends into a cloud, and leaves his Spirit and his mantle with his disciples.

[13] Peter Leithart, A House For My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2000), 170-171, and John I. Durham and J.R. Porter, Proclamation and Presence: Old Testament Essays in Honour of Gwynne Henton Davies (London: SCM, 1970), 119-121n62 observe some of the parallels between Moses and Joshua and Elijah and Elisha.
[14] Joshua’s succession from Moses is presented as a prophetic succession in Sirach 46:1.
[15] 1 & 2 Kings, 213
[16] Elisha is thus given the pre-eminent position among the ‘sons of the prophets’.
[17] The Ascension of the Messiah in Lukan Christology, 116, 194. Observe the repeated use of verbs of visual perception in Acts 1:9-11.
[18] R.W.L. Moberly,
Prophecy and Discernment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 135
[19] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992), 31. The encounters with the risen Christ as recorded by the gospels might also be worth considering in this context. Delayed recognition of—or failure to recognize—the risen Christ is a recurring feature in the post-resurrection narratives (Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:13-35; John 20:14-18; 21:12; cf. Mark 16:12). The liturgical structure followed by the Emmaus road account of Luke 24:13-35, accompanied by the disciples’ initial failure to recognize their companion on the road, might suggest that, although firmly embodied and visible as such, the identity of the body of the risen Christ is something that can elude mundane perception and is only truly accessible to those granted spiritual vision (Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 2000), 218-219).
[20] Yves Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit (New York: Crossroad, 1983), 45.

In Which Alastair Invites His Readers to Take His Newly-Created Biblical Comprehension Test


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How Old Was Joseph When He Was Sold Into Slavery?

The chronology of Genesis 29-45 is interesting for a number of reasons. Not just interesting for its own sake, it serves to open up certain dimensions of the narrative that would not be otherwise apparent. It gives us information that a surface reading of the narrative does not. For example, study of the chronology can teach us that Judah and Joseph were most probably born within a year of each other. Given the fact that Reuben (35:22), Simeon and Levi (34) all disqualify themselves through committing serious crimes, the birthright would naturally fall to Judah (presuming that the sons of Rachel’s handmaid don’t have a claim to the birthright in the same way as the sons of his wives). This gives greater significance to the way that the stories of Judah and Joseph are placed alongside each other in Genesis, particularly in chapters 38-39.

Study of the chronology can also make clear that the events of Genesis 38 took place after the descent into Egypt (which took place when Joseph, and hence Judah also, was under 40 years of age). This suggests that Israel maintained a presence in Canaan even after relocating to Egypt, much as they continued to keep their sheep in Shechem after Jacob relocated to Hebron.

The following is a question of chronology is one that I would appreciate any helpful comments on. It has to do with the problem of working out the age at which Joseph was taken into Egypt.

1. Joseph was born at the end of the first seven years of Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel (Genesis 30:25).

2. As the births of Gad, Asher, Issachar and Zebulun intervene, Dinah was probably born at least 6 years after Joseph (29:35; 30:9-21).

3. Dinah has obviously reached about the age of 15 when the events of chapter 34 take place, by which stage Joseph would be 21.

4. Chapter 34 seems to be set during the period while Jacob is still settled in Shechem.

5. After his time in Shechem, Jacob moves to Bethel and then to Hebron (Genesis 35).

6. The selling of Joseph into slavery seems to be set during Jacob’s time in Hebron (37:14). This is the reason why I find it hard to follow Jordan’s chronology here.

6a. However, the beginning of chapter 37 speaks of Joseph as ‘the son of [Jacob’s] old age’, which suggests that that part of the chapter at least is referring to a time before the birth of Benjamin, It also seems to take place before the death of Rachel (37:10).

7. Joseph is 30 when he stands before Pharaoh (41:46) and thus around 28 when he interprets the dreams of the butler and the baker (41:1).

8. In 44:20 (when Joseph is 39 years of age, 30 + 7 years of plenty + 2 years of famine), Benjamin is spoken of as ‘a child of [Jacob’s] old age, a little one’.

My guess is that there is a chronological jump between 37:11 and 37:12. Joseph is sold into Egypt sometime between the age of about 21 and 25, both extremes being quite unlikely. When Joseph is sold Benjamin is no more than 1 or 2 years of age, which would make him around 14-19 years of age when Joseph sees him in Egypt. Any help on this question would be greatly appreciated.

Qumran Isaiah Scroll Online

You can virtually scroll through it here. [HT: Matthew Johnson of BHT

]

The Finger of God


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James Jordan, N.T. Wright, and Double Resurrection

James Jordan has argued that the Scriptures teach two resurrections and justifications. The final justification is a justification that includes the person’s works and is only possible once the first justification has taken place. We cannot do any good works until the initial justification has taken place. In support of this notion Jordan cites Numbers 19. In Numbers 19, when a person has become contaminated through contact with a corpse, they go through two stages of purification. They are purified on the third day and on the seventh day their purification is completed with a final purification and baptism (quite possibly the ‘baptism for the dead’ referred to in 1 Corinthians 15; certainly the most likely contender in my estimation).

Most contemporary Christians would believe that such a passage is far too obscure to play any role in our doctrine of justification and that Paul’s theology never could have been informed by such a thing. This is the natural response for Protestants, who have very little time for liturgy. The assumption is that the ‘Bible’ is the only place where God’s revelation of saving truths is to be found. There are a number of problems with this notion. Chief among them is the fact that what we call the ‘Bible’ is a relatively recent creation. The people of God of previous ages encountered the Scriptures in the form of liturgical performance not as we do, by reading words off the pages of our mass-produced, privately-owned Bibles. It should not surprise us that, approaching the Scriptures as they do, most modern Christians make little sense out of it.

Once we appreciate this, we will need to reweight the significance of different parts of the Scriptures. The book of Leviticus, for example, is one of the most important books in the OT canon. Obscure as it may seem to us, the book of Leviticus shaped the daily worship of Israel. You will not really understand books like Romans until you have grasped something of the message of Leviticus.

Numbers 19 is a good example of a text that seems insignificant to us, but would have been many times more significant to an Israelite. In a time of higher mortality, when death was not something that took place away from the context of life in modern hospital wards, people would be far more likely to come into contact with corpses. The Israelite who came in contact with a corpse would have to go through the week long ritual of Numbers 19. Living out such a biblical text for a week’s period of time at a moment that was most probably one of profound personal transition following the death of a friend or relative would likely cause Numbers 19 to leave a far deeper impression on your consciousness than it does for the modern reader of the book of Numbers. One would not regard Numbers 19 as an obscure text.

Numbers 19 presents us with a baptismal resurrection. The person who has become unclean through contact with a corpse is separated from the realm of fellowship with God and is symbolically dead as a consequence of his contact with the dead body. They are only restored to the life of fellowship with God through a baptism.

Jordan insists that the ‘resurrection’ of the third day, whilst analogous to the ‘resurrection’ of the seventh day, is a distinct event. It does not ‘participate’ in the resurrection of the seventh day. The third day justification is not a case of the seventh day justification being brought forward into the present. Nor, for that matter, is the seventh day justification merely a reiteration, recognition or validation of the third day justification.

Jordan argues that Jesus’ original hearers would have heard the background of Numbers 19 when Jesus claimed that He would be raised on the third day. They would not have believed that there was only one resurrection awaiting them in the future (or, if they did, they shouldn’t have). Rather, they would have expected two resurrections, an initial one and a later final and consummative one. The NT teaching of two resurrections in such places as John 5 and Revelation 20 was not, therefore, a theological novelty (whilst Jordan does not believe that the first resurrection in these passages refers to quite the same thing, they can be seen as evidence for his basic point). There is an initial resurrection, followed by a later, final resurrection.

The pattern of two justifications is something that Jordan does not merely see in Numbers 19. One can also see this pattern in the sacrifices of Israel as the tribute/memorial offering, in which human works can be presented to and accepted by God on the basis of the earlier sacrifices. One can see it in Christian worship in the relationship between Baptism, which is initial justification, and the Eucharist, which foreshadows final justification in which our works are taken into account (symbolically presented to God in the bringing forward of the bread and the wine and own offerings in the offertory).

Jordan contrasts his position to that of N.T. Wright, claiming that Wright shares the same error as most Reformed approaches, which presume that justification is one event. Whilst most Reformed approaches see final justification merely as a reiteration of present justification, Wright errs by seeing present justification as being based on the bringing forward of future justification through the work of Christ. As Wright argues, what the Jews had expected to take place at the end of history had taken place in the middle of history in the case of one Person.

I have yet to be convinced that Jordan’s position is as far removed from Wright’s position as he generally presents it to be. Jordan claims that Wright holds to only one justification and that he holds to two, the first apart from works and the second including the person with all of his works. Jordan presents Wright as holding to a position in which God plays games with time, by bringing the future into the present.

I believe that this a misleading way to portray Wright’s position. Wright’s position is rather that the single future event of justification has taken place ahead of time in the case of one Person. There is no monkeying with time here. On the basis of this ‘bringing forward’ of the event of justification we can enjoy a present justification on the basis of faith, the positive verdict corresponding with a later verdict on the last day that will be delivered on the basis of the whole life lived.

The point where Wright might seem to be suggesting that God is tinkering with time is better understood as a claim that the future event is already present in principle — or in embryo — in the case of Jesus Christ and that we participate in an event that awaits us in the future as we are united to Jesus Christ. There is a single event of justification, which has different stages to it. There are not ultimately two separate justifications, but two phases of the one justification. This, it seems to me, is perfectly biblical as well. If justification is to be seen in the event of the resurrection of the dead, then it seems that we have to acknowledge that we are talking about a single event with different stages, not two separate events. Christ is the firstfruits of the event, which for us largely awaits us in the future. This future event is truly anticipated as we are united to Christ in Baptism. I think that Wright is correct to hold that there is ultimately only one justification, with plurality to be found within it. I also believe that his claim that the end of history has taken place in the middle of history is essentially true, provided that we add the proper qualifications and do not presume a meddling with time on God’s part.

On the other hand, it seems to me that Jordan is perfectly right to claim that there are plenty of OT reasons to argue that justification was not regarded as a single event awaiting Israel at one point at the end of history (although I would like to see some evidence from extra-canonical Second Temple Jewish texts that people actually held what Jordan argues is the OT position). A plurality of phases to the one justification was not a surprising development of OT belief in the NT, but was anticipated in many and varied ways in the OT text. Wright is wrong to see a two-stage justification as a teaching peculiar to the NT.

The weight of Wright’s understanding of justification is placed on a single event of justification, which, surprisingly (in the light of Christ’s resurrection), has two separate phases. The weight of common Reformed understandings of justification seems to be placed on a single event of justification that takes place by faith on the basis of the death and resurrection of Christ and will be reiterated in the future. Wright disagrees with such a position in its failure to give proper weight to a future justification on the basis of the whole life lived as essential to the single event of justification.

I believe that Wright would take issue with Jordan’s position in other ways. I imagine that he would argue that Jordan detaches the two phases of justification too sharply. Rather than seeing the future justification as already having occurred in principle but yet to be fully realized in our cases, Jordan’s position sometimes seems to present justification in the present as an event to which a future event must be added. It is the idea of future justification as the addition of a new justification separate from the present justification that Wright would take issue with. Future justification for Wright is rather the consummation of the single event that is already present in embryo through the resurrection of Christ. It is a distinct phase of the single event, but the event itself cannot be split into two events.

I believe that both Jordan and Wright have important things to teach us here. I believe that Jordan’s treatment of OT evidence is helpful and can serve to counteract some of the weaknesses of Wright’s position on that front. Jordan’s position is also useful in counteracting the weak view of the final judgment in relation to justification that one finds in many Reformed contexts. Whilst I believe that his stress on two events of justification goes a little too far, the idea of justification having two distinct — albeit closely interrelated — phases is very helpful and can help to balance Wright out a bit.

On the other hand, I think that Wright is correct to teach the unity of justification. Present justification by faith is an accurate anticipation of future justification according to works and is in many senses a bringing forward of the final verdict. Although the fullness of the event of resurrection and justification await us in the future, this will involve conforming to what has already become true of Christ. For that reason, the resurrection of the ’seventh day’ is already anticipated in the resurrection of the ‘third day’. Wright also clearly distinguishes present justification from final justification, even whilst closely interrelating them.

I think that some questions remain for Wright’s position, that could be helped by some of the emphases that one find in Jordan. Wright helpfully sees the future verdict of final justification as being present in the vindication of Christ in His resurrection. Jordan does not like any “already/not yet” approach to understanding redemptive history that would suggest that the future comes into the present in Christ, or anything like that. “Already/not yet” for Jordan is understood in terms of a linear timeline in which the future breaking into the present has little place.

I do not share Jordan’s position on this matter and believe that a purely linear account of redemptive history is insufficient. However, I believe that a linear approach to redemptive history is an essential perspective that must be retained and is too easily neglected. Without denying that the future has in some sense arrived in the present, we can see redemptive history as a continuing progression with stages that have yet to take place.

However, and this point is crucial, redemptive history can truly be viewed, not so much a progression beyond Christ’s resurrection, as a progression into Christ’s resurrection (I am not sure that Wright does justice to this either). This is where the “already/not yet” approach has so much to offer us. History is cyclical as well as linear. History is taken up in the resurrected Christ. What awaits us in the future is a full entry into something that has already taken place. This full entry will involve new redemptive historical events, but there is an important sense in which these events are not events that involve any progression beyond what has already taken place in Christ. It is this point that Jordan fails to do full justice to, whilst presenting us with the oft-forgotten perspective in which redemptive history involves a genuine progression beyond the resurrection.

Sunday School Material

I have only skim read some parts of it, but, from my first impressions, there is some superb Sunday School material here for any church that wishes to encourage its children and young people to engage with the Bible on a more than superficial level. It also draws heavily on the scriptural insights of James Jordan and Peter Leithart.

Oliver

Oliver O'DonovanIt is important to understand the emergence of the individual in Israel historically, but equally important not to succumb, as we have said, to ‘Whig history’, supposing that the trend from community to individual could simply be extrapolated to authorise any kind of radical individualism as its final term. For what Israel affords is a strong concept of the individual on a quite different basis from the individualism of the West. The community is the aboriginal fact from beginning to end, shaping the conscience of each of its members to greater or lesser effect. But when the mediating institutions of government collapse, then the memory and hope which single members faithfully conserve provide a span of continuity which can reach out towards the prospect of restructuring. The fractured community which fashioned the individual’s conscience is sustained within it and renewed out of it. And from having been preserved through single members’ memory and hope, Jeremiah anticipates, it will be the stronger, for it will incorporate that direct knowledge of Yhwh’s ways which each has won by his, or her, faithfulness. (We add the words ‘or her’ at this point without gratuitousness; for Esther is one of the models by which this faithfulness was commended.) The distinctive strengths of a voluntary community have been grafted on to the racial stock.

To generalise, as we have done before, we may say that the conscience of the individual members of a community is a repository of the moral understanding which shaped it, and may serve to perpetuate it in a crisis of collapsing morale or institution. It is not as bearer of his own primitive pre-social or pre-political rights that the individual demands the respect of the community, but as the bearer of a social understanding which recalls the formative self-understanding of the community itself. The conscientious individual speaks with society’s own forgotten voice.

Taken from The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology, p.80.

Good Death?

Paul Duggan has some thoughts in response to some statements in the recently adopted Missouri Presbytery Federal Vision Study Report. The relevant section of the report reads as follows:—

We affirm that Adam mediated the first covenant in the original integrity of the creation order. We further affirm that having created Adam in and for covenant blessing, God called Adam to loyalty and fruitfulness: so long as Adam walked with God in love and obedience, God promised to bless him, his posterity, and the entire earthly creation, but should Adam fail to obey God’s word, he would bring frustration into the creation, and would subject himself and his posterity to the enslaving power of sin and the reign of death. We deny that God’s creational intention was for Adam to mature, eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, die, and be raised from the dead; and further deny that Adam’s sin was only seizing the fruit of the Tree prematurely; and thus deny that death coming upon Adam and his posterity was part of God’s creation purposes instead of a threatened response to human disobedience.

As Paul observes, it is quite obvious that this is written in response to the position put forward by James Jordan in The Federal Vision. It is also quite obvious that it is based on a confused reading of Jordan’s argument. I find Jordan’s position — that the prohibition on the tree was temporary and would have brought about a ‘good death’ for Adam, leading to a more glorious form of life — quite compelling. Some further arguments for the position can be found in these lecture notes that I wrote last summer.

What are the ‘Works of the Law’?

I have been asked to elaborate a bit on my understanding of the connection between the ‘ceremonial’ aspects of the Law and death and sin. Rather than merely doing so in the comments of the post that led to the question, I thought that I would write a new post to deal with the matter. In much of the following I am deeply indebted to the insights of James Jordan. Rather than referring you to his work at each stage I will just state that most of the good material that you are about to read is James Jordan’s; the dross is mine.

One of the greatest problems with contemporary biblical scholarship is the manner in which the distinction between the OT and the NT has become reified. Rather than merely treating the OT/NT distinction as a division that is largely just one of convenience, we tend to split the Bible into two entities — the OT and the NT. As a result of this split we have OT scholars and NT scholars, whose disciplines are, all too often, hermetically sealed off from each other. Even those of us who find this unhelpful find it hard not to fall into the error, as you can see from my post categories! NT scholars often have little more than a nodding acquaintance with the OT; OT scholars are unwilling to allow their discipline to be polluted by insights that come from the realm of NT scholarship.

Once this division has been created there are many questions that will not be tackled by either party, as they fall between the two disciplines and demand a degree of dialogue between the OT and NT that seems impossible within the current academic climate. One of the consequences of the split between the OT and the NT is that questions such as the one that is being treated in this post are seldom adequately treated. (more…)



On Making a Prophet: Pentecost and the Church’s Mission, Part 2

Part 1

Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. – Acts 2:1

In setting the scene for the events of Pentecost, Luke immediately draws our attention to the fact that all of the disciples are assembled together in one place. Remarking on the ‘togetherness’ of the disciples, Richard Thompson observes:

Although Luke does not explicitly state why this corporate quality is important or how these believers concretely demonstrate such a quality, such an emphasis suggests that this characteristic is critical both to the narrative and potentially to what follows.[1]

What are we to make of the corporate character of the events of Pentecost?

A Community of Prophets
Pentecost (re)constitutes the community of the early church in a powerful way, representing an event of decisive importance for its formation and identity. For this reason it is perhaps significant that we find a number of possible echoes of the events of Sinai in the immediate context. Sinai was an event of immense importance for Israel in its life as a nation, being the occasion of a group theophany, their reception of the Torah and their entrance into a covenant with YHWH. Kenneth Litwak writes:

There are several striking elements which suggest that Luke shaped his account on the basis of the Sinai tradition. Acts 2 opens with a theophany, which includes fire and a loud sound (Acts 2.1-4; cf. Exod. 19:16 [sound of a trumpet] and Exod. 19.18 [YHWH descended upon Sinai in fire]). At Sinai God spoke to Moses, and in Acts 2.11 the people hear the disciples speaking of the mighty works of God. On a broader level, the theophanic event in Acts 2.1-4 is formative for the first followers of the Way, just as the Sinai theophany was formative for God’s people in Exodus.[2]

In Exodus 19:1 we read that the children of Israel arrived at Sinai three months after leaving Egypt, where, after a few days of preparation, they received the Law. As the feast of Pentecost occurred 49 days after the Feast of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:15-16), which took place in the latter half of the first month, the possibility of a chronological connection between Pentecost and the giving of the Law and forming of the covenant in Sinai is raised.[3] This connection did not go unnoticed by the rabbis, who identified Pentecost as the feast celebrating the gift of the Law. Whether such a connection was established by the time that Luke wrote the account of Acts 2 is uncertain and continues to be a matter of debate among scholars.

Taken by itself this connection between Pentecost and Sinai may appear rather slight, but it is given more weight when we consider it alongside the presence of the other echoes of the Sinai account in the early chapters of Acts.[4] At Sinai Israel was set apart as a ‘kingdom of priests and a holy nation’, giving the children of Israel a special role to play within God’s purposes for the wider creation. The parallels to the event of Sinai are important chiefly on account of the way in which they frame the event as one through which the disciples are set apart as a people with a new vocation.

In contrast to the examples of prophetic succession that we previously observed, the example of Sinai involves the reconstitution and setting apart of a whole people and not just of one person. The events of Pentecost are not of mere private significance to those involved, but herald the establishing of a new reality in the realm of history. Sinai inaugurates a new era and not merely a period of leadership limited by one man’s lifespan. Consequently, the event of Sinai has much light to shed on Luke’s account of Pentecost. Stronstad writes:

…[W]hat is happening on the day of Pentecost is not only as dramatic as, but also as significant as what happened at Mt Sinai. In other words, the creation of the disciples as a community of prophets is as epochal as the earlier creation of Israel as a kingdom of priests.[5]

The Distribution of the Spirit of Jesus
A number of commentators have argued for some form of connection between the narrative of Numbers 11 and that of Acts 2, a connection that can illuminate certain dimensions of the church’s prophetic character.

In Numbers 11 Moses appeals to YHWH to ease the burden of leadership that he is bearing. Responding to his plea, God instructs Moses to gather seventy of the elders of Israel and bring them to the tabernacle of meeting. There God will take of the Spirit that is on Moses and give it to the elders, so that they can share the task of leading the people with him.

Following a day of preparation, the elders are gathered together and the Spirit rests on them. They then begin to prophesy, although they never do so again (Numbers 11:25).[6] Two of the seventy elders—Eldad and Medad—were not present at the tabernacle of meeting at the time, but received the Holy Spirit nonetheless and began to prophesy in the middle of the camp. Joshua, Moses’ assistant, concerned by this, asks Moses to instruct them to stop. Moses, however, was unconcerned: ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!’ (verse 29).

There are a number of echoes of the theophany at Sinai in the account of Numbers 11, including: (1) the granting of a new vocation to a body of people (Exodus 19:5-6; Numbers 11:16-17); (2) the command for the people to sanctify themselves for the coming day when YHWH will act decisively (Number 11:18; cf. Exodus 19:10); (3) the gathering of the people around a particular location, Mt Sinai in the Exodus account and the tabernacle in that of Numbers (Numbers 11:24);[7] (4) a theophany in which God comes down in the cloud and speaks with Moses (Exodus 19:9; Numbers 11:25).

Although some might argue that the ‘spirit’ given to the seventy elders is Moses own spirit, rather than YHWH’s, a reading of Numbers 11 that understands the ‘spirit’ as YHWH’s own Spirit seems far more satisfactory (cf. verse 29). Nevertheless, it is important that we recognize that the Spirit that is given to the seventy elders is spoken of as the Spirit that is upon Moses himself (Numbers 11:17, 25). Although we are not here dealing with a ‘sacramental transfer’ in which Moses is active, Moses is seen as the one who mediates the elders’ reception of the Spirit. The elders do not receive the Spirit as a direct bestowal from God, but with ‘Moses as the intermediary’.[8]

Williams contrasts this with the case of leadership succession that occurs when Joshua receives authority to lead and the ‘spirit of wisdom’ through the imposition of Moses’ hands (Deuteronomy 34:9). In Numbers 11 Moses does not abandon certain aspects of his leadership to others. The elders are rather empowered to help fulfil Moses’ task of leading the people. Their ministry does not displace that of Moses, but involves a partaking in Moses’ ministry.[9]

At Pentecost Jesus mediates the gift of the Spirit to the church (Acts 2:33), and, much as the elders’ reception of the Spirit in Numbers 11 gave them a share in the Spirit of prophetic leadership that belonged to Moses, so Pentecost brings the church to participate in the prophetic authority of Jesus, an authority that never ceases to be the exclusive possession of Jesus himself.

At this juncture a further dimension of the ‘baptism’ imagery (cf. Acts 1:5) may come to the fore: baptism does not merely initiate into office, it can also fulfil an incorporative purpose, bringing people to participate in the life, authority, status or privileges of another (Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 10:1-2; Galatians 3:26-29). Just as Israel was led by Moses prior to being ‘baptized’ into a greater union with him,[10] so the disciples were led by Jesus prior to the baptism of Pentecost. What Pentecost effected was the disciples’ reconstitution as the church—the body of Christ—bringing them into a new relationship with their master. They now shared in the power of his Spirit, being bound to him by a bond of relationship far stronger than any they had previously enjoyed.[11]

The temporary and unrepeated character of the elders’ act of prophesying merits closer examination. While we have good reason to believe that the Spirit remained with the elders, enabling them to fulfil their role, the fact that they did not prophesy again suggests that prophesying was not necessary for this. The initial ecstatic manifestations were not normative for the ongoing performance of their duties. A similar occurrence can be found in 1 Samuel 10:10-13, where the Spirit comes upon Saul, causing him to prophesy. It is through this experience that Saul is set apart and personally prepared for leadership (1 Samuel 10:6). Apart from one other exceptional occasion,[12] we never read of Saul prophesying again. The prophecy was an effect and an authenticating sign of the Spirit’s coming upon him; the continuance of the Spirit with him did not necessitate repeated occurrences of prophetic manifestations.

There is a strong analogy to be observed between the prophesying of the elders and the glossolalia of the disciples, and a few writers (Gordon Wenham, for instance) have even suggested that we equate the two. As Dunn observes, Luke does not share Paul’s sharp distinction between speaking in tongues and prophesying. In his use of the passage from Joel in his sermon, Peter appears to equate the tongues-speaking of the disciples with the prophetic speech which the prophecy promises. In light of this OT background, it seems that the purpose of the glossolalia in the context of Acts 2 was primarily that of serving as an authenticating sign of the Spirit’s coming upon the disciples. There is no reason for us to believe that glossolalia would continue to be practiced by all of the disciples present at Pentecost. Tongues-speaking primarily served as a temporary authenticating sign.

The passage from the prophet Joel that Peter uses in his sermon is strikingly parallel to the wish of Moses that all of the people were prophets (Acts 2:17-18; Numbers 11:29).[13] This connection between the prophecy of Joel and Numbers 11 is also found is rabbinic midrash texts. If, as Litwak maintains, the Joel prophecy provides a ‘programmatic text’ and lens for Luke’s understanding of Pentecost, it is also a lens through which passages such as Numbers 11 illuminate the text. The ‘prophethood of all believers’ that is desired in Numbers, is prophesied in Joel and receives a form of fulfilment in Acts.

Perhaps we can even hear echoes of Eldad and Medad when we read of the Gentiles who received the Spirit in Acts 10. Eldad and Medad were outside of the group of elders at the tabernacle. Nonetheless, they still receive the anointing of the Spirit just as the others. In a similar manner, the Gentiles may have appeared to be outside of the gathering to which the Spirit was specially promised, but they received the Spirit in much the same way, in a sort of aftershock of the original event. By giving Cornelius and his household the Spirit before they had become members of a Jewish church, God demonstrated the freedom of the Spirit and the fact that Jews and Gentiles were accepted on an equal footing.

Endnotes
[1] Richard P. Thompson, Keeping the Church in its Place: The Church as Narrative Character in Acts (London: T&T Clark, 2006), 38
[2] Kenneth Duncan Litwak, Echoes of Scripture in Luke-Acts: Telling the History of God’s People Intertextually (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 165-166. Roger Stronstad, The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 58-59 highlights a number of further common features of the Sinai and Pentecost narratives, including the days of preparation and the occurrence of the theophany in the morning.
[3] A number of writers reference Jubilees 6:17-21 in this context. Others have observed the connection that Jubilees draws between Pentecost and covenant renewal.
[4] Besides those already mentioned, there are a number of further echoes of Sinai narrative in Acts 2. The ascension of Christ into the cloud (Acts 1:9) might be an echo of the ascension of Moses onto Mount Sinai. The number added to the church (‘cut to the heart’) in Acts 2:41 may also echo the number slain by the sword at Sinai (Exodus 32:28). Wedderburn argues for a connection between the events of Sinai and those of the Day of Pentecost as they are recorded in Acts, but claims that this connection was not made by Luke, but by some of his sources. Hovenden has a very helpful discussion of some further possible literary connections, including that of a Lukan allusion to Psalm 67:19 (LXX) in Acts 2:33, a verse applied to Moses at Mount Sinai by some of the rabbis. Johnson highlights the similarities between the statement concerning Moses in Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:38 and that of Peter concerning Jesus in Acts 2:33.
[5] The Prophethood of All Believers, 59
[6] The meaning of the phrase ולא יספו is not entirely clear. In light of the similar phrase used in Deuteronomy 5:22, we have opted to understand it as a denial of their continuance in prophesying.
[7] The possibility of the disciples being gathered around the temple on the Day of Pentecost will be discussed in a later post.
[8] David T. Williams, ‘Old Testament Pentecost.’ Old Testament Essays, 16:130-1
[9] Ibid, 132
[10] As we shall later see, one dimension of this ‘baptism into Moses’ was Israel’s entry into Moses’ own experience.
[11] The incorporative purpose of the baptism of the Spirit is explored in such places as 1 Corinthians 12:12-13.
[12] 1 Samuel 19:21-24. This incident occurs after the Spirit has departed from Saul (1 Samuel 16:14).
[13] John Barton, Joel and Obadiah: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 95 relates Joel 2 and Numbers 11 together, claiming that Joel’s prophecy ‘reads almost as a fulfillment of Moses’ hope expressed in Num. 11:29.’

On Making a Prophet: Pentecost and the Church’s Mission, Part 1

The following is the first in a series of several posts, exploring the prophetic role of the church and the meaning of the Baptism of the Spirit.

The first chapter of the book of Acts presents us with both an ending and a beginning. Bringing to a close the period of his earthly ministry, Jesus’ ascent into heaven also marks the beginning of a new act in the drama of the NT, that of the public mission of the church.

The exact nature of the relationship between the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of his church is a matter that I will explore in some depth in the posts that will follow this one. In particular, I will be attempting to demonstrate that the events of Pentecost set the church apart as a prophetic community. Bringing the text of the opening chapters of the book of Acts into conversation with particular texts within the OT, I hope to explore the manner in which accounts of prophetic call, anointing and succession can provide a helpful lens through which to view the events of Pentecost. In making this case I will be devoting considerable attention to a closer analysis of Acts 2:1-4. Having established this exegetical groundwork, I hope to proceed to make some observations about the way in which I believe that the event of Pentecost should shape the Church’s self-understanding. While my focus will be on constructing a positive account of the significance of this event, I will also be entering into critical dialogue with alternative understandings.

A number of writers have explored the subject of prophetic anointing in Acts 2. In The Prophethood of All Believers, Roger Stronstad devotes a chapter to the event of Pentecost, which he claims inaugurates ‘the prophethood of all believers.’[1] The theme is also highlighted by some commentators in the course of their treatment of the passage, and in wider treatments of Luke-Acts. Within Echoes of Scripture in Luke-Acts, Kenneth Litwak identifies a number of the OT passages that the narrative of the early chapters of Acts evokes, unearthing some neglected allusions to prophetic call and succession narratives in the process.

Building upon the foundation that these writers have established, and entering into constructive conversation with them, I hope to probe deeper into the OT background for the prophetic themes that surface in Luke’s account of Pentecost. Attempting an intertextual reading of Acts 2, I want to prove the theological and exegetical value of understanding the account in terms of OT accounts of prophetic call, anointing and succession.

Jesus and the Church in Luke-Acts
For Luke the ministry of the church is inseparably connected to Jesus’ own ministry, something highlighted by the resumptive character of his introduction to the book of Acts. As Ben Witherington argues, Luke situates his account of Jesus within a ‘wider historical framework’, giving considerable prominence to the events preceding the birth of John the Baptist at the very outset of his narrative and closely following the subsequent growth of the church in the second volume of his work.[2] Remarking on the limited attention that Luke gives to Peter’s confession in his gospel, in contrast to the accent placed on the accounts of the commissioning of the Twelve and the Seventy between which it is sandwiched, Witherington writes:

Nowhere is it made more apparent than in this sequence that Jesus is the initiator of a series of events and proclamations that his disciples undertake during and then after his time. The focus is not just on Jesus but on the historical Jesus movement of which he was the catalyst and focal point.[3]

In adopting a narrow focus on the identity and personal ministry of Jesus we are in danger of failing to appreciate the degree to which the Lukan treatment of the early church is driven by more than a merely biographical or historical interest. For Luke the church plays a key role in the drama of God’s salvation, both as the place where that salvation is realized and as the agency through whom it is borne witness to and spread.

Baptism, Ascension, and Elijah Typology
Immediately prior to his ascension, Jesus promises his disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift for which they must wait in Jerusalem. Recalling the contrast drawn by John the Baptist in Luke 3:16, Jesus speaks of the reception of the Spirit in terms of the language of baptism. By describing the church’s forthcoming reception of the Holy Spirit in such a manner, Jesus presents the event that is about to occur to the church as somehow analogous to the type of event that John’s baptism represented. The baptism with water administered by John the Baptist will now be followed by a baptism with the Spirit that Jesus will perform on his disciples.

Within Lukan theology, John’s baptism is presented as playing a preparatory role (cf. Acts 19:1-6). It prepared the people for the coming kingdom of God and also served as the ‘launching-pad’ for Jesus’ own work. In Luke’s gospel we see that Jesus’ own baptism by John the Baptist marked the beginning of his public ministry (Luke 3:20-22), a detail that is given significance in the first chapter of Acts (Acts 1:21-22). In the narrative of Luke’s gospel, John’s baptism of Jesus also marks the end of John’s place in the foreground of the gospel narrative. Once the ministry of Jesus has got off the ground, the purpose of John’s ministry has more or less been accomplished.[4]

Within the gospels John the Baptist is presented ‘as in some sense Elijah redivivus.’[5] In an allusion to the prophecy of Malachi 4:5-6, the angel Gabriel declares to Zecharias that his son John will go before the Lord ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah’ (Luke 1:17). Elsewhere, Jesus declares that John was the Elijah that was promised to come (Matthew 17:10-13). The description and narrative of John the Baptist is also replete with allusions to the description and narrative of the prophet Elijah.[6]

Perhaps it is significant that John’s baptism of Jesus takes place on the far side of the Jordan: this was the place where Elisha succeeded Elijah (2 Kings 2) and Joshua took over from Moses (Joshua 1). In all cases the succession involves a crossing or coming out of the river and a reception of the Spirit (Deuteronomy 34:9; Joshua 1:10-18; 2 Kings 2:9-15; Luke 3:21-22).

At Jesus’ baptism by John, the Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove (Luke 3:22), fills him and leads him into the wilderness (Luke 4:1). Within Lukan theology, there is a very close connection between filling with the Spirit and prophecy (Luke 1:15, 41-45, 67; Acts 2:4, 17-18; 4:8, 31; 7:55-56; 13:9-11).[7] Jesus’ characterization of himself as a prophet in Luke 4:24, in the context of his reading of Isaiah 61:1-2 is significant. It is the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism that sets him apart as a prophet. The connection between baptism and investiture is an important one for our purposes:[8] the church’s reception of the Spirit in the ‘baptism’ of Pentecost needs to be understood as an ordination for prophetic ministry.

Luke does not limit his deployment of Elijah imagery to his treatment of John the Baptist. As N.T. Wright observes, there is strong evidence to suggest that the synoptics also understand the work of Jesus in terms of Elijah typology.[9] It is at the point of Jesus’ ascension that this imagery assumes a greater prominence. Commenting on the ascension account in Luke 24:50-53, Kenneth Litwak writes:

If Luke’s audience encountered a story of someone approved by God ‘going up’ to heaven, they would surely have thought of Elijah’s ascension … since his is the only ascension account in the Scriptures of Israel. The statement in Lk. 24.49 that the disciples would be empowered by the Spirit recalls Elijah’s bequest of his ‘spirit’ to Elisha (4 Kgdms 2.9-10). The use of ενδύσησθε in Lk. 24.49 may also be an allusion to Elijah’s mantle which was passed on to Elisha (2 Kgdms 2.13)…[10]

The OT speaks of the future return of the ascended Elijah to restore all things (Malachi 4:5-6; cf. Sirach 48:10), a theme that also appears in the NT (Mark 9:12; Matthew 17:11). Significantly, Luke ascribes to the ascended Jesus that which was traditionally ascribed to Elijah: in Acts 3:21 he speaks of Jesus as the one ‘whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things’ (Acts 3:21; cf. Acts 1:11).[11]

Given the dominance of such Elijah imagery in the context of the ascension, Jesus’ promise of the Spirit immediately prior to his rapture must take on an added significance. The Elijah imagery provides the typological adhesive binding together ascension, Pentecost and parousia. Within the frame provided by the Elijah typology, an intimate connection is seen to exist between the ascension and Pentecost narratives. Consequently, any attempt to understand the events of Pentecost must begin by giving attention to the Lukan ascension accounts.[12]

The Ascension and the Prophetic Anointing of the Church
Just as Jesus’ baptism by John marked the beginning of his prophetic ministry and his succession from John’s own ministry, so the ascension and Pentecost mark the time when the church is anointed for its prophetic ministry and the transition from Jesus’ public earthly ministry to that of the church.

The two most important prophetic succession narratives of the OT involve the transition from the leadership of Moses to the leadership of Joshua (Numbers 27:12-23) and the transition from the prophetic ministry of Elijah to that of Elisha (2 Kings 2:1-15).[13] In both of these cases the mission started by the first prophet is completed by his successor.[14] Moses’ mission to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land is only fulfilled in the ministry of his successor Joshua. Similarly, the mission that Elijah is charged with in 1 Kings 19:15-17 is only completed in the ministry of Elisha (2 Kings 8:13; 9:1-3).[15]

Elisha is a new Elijah (2 Kings 2:15), just as Joshua is a new Moses (Numbers 27:20; Joshua 1:5). The parallel between the ministries of Joshua and Elisha and the ministry of Jesus’ disciples is worth highlighting. Both Joshua and Elisha serve as apprentices to prophets, whose ministries they inherit following the time of their masters’ departures. The same pattern holds in the case of Jesus’ disciples: having left their work to follow Jesus as disciples, they receive their master’s Spirit following his departure and continue his mission.

The relationship between the prophet and his apprentice is akin to the relationship between a father and his son. In Numbers 13:16 we see that Joshua’s name was given to him by Moses. Moses also lays his hands on Joshua (Deuteronomy 34:9) in a manner reminiscent of the patriarchs’ blessings on their sons (Genesis 48:13-20). A similar relationship exists between Elijah and Elisha. Elisha receives a ‘double portion’ of Elijah’s spirit, the inheritance appropriate to the firstborn (Deuteronomy 21:17),[16] and, as Elijah is taken into heaven, Elisha addresses him as his ‘father’. Jesus’ farewell discourse and blessing of his disciples (Luke 24:51) belongs within this pattern of prophetic succession.

Zwiep notes the parallel between the stress on the visibility of the master’s departure in both the account of Elijah’s rapture and that of Jesus’ ascension.[17] Seeing Elijah taken up was an indispensable condition for Elisha’s right to succeed him. Moberly explains the logic of the test: ‘…it is the responsibility of the prophet to be able to see God, and if Elisha cannot see God in this critical instance, then he is not able to take on the role of one who sees God in other instances; Elisha cannot be a prophet like Elijah unless he has the requisite spiritual capacity.’[18] The Lukan stress on the disciples’ witnessing of Jesus’ ascension might serve to underline their suitability for prophetic office.[19]

Elijah and Moses typology is multilayered within the Lukan literature. However, in the critical movement in the narrative with which we are concerned, the disciples are typologically related to Joshua and Elisha. As their master departs, they will inherit his Spirit and continue his mission. The Spirit that the disciples will receive is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit that supervised and empowered his own mission.[20]

Endnotes
[1] Roger Stronstad, The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 70
[2] Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MN: Eerdmans, 1998), 21-24
[3] Ibid, 23-24
[4] A point made more explicitly in the fourth gospel (John 1:29-34; 3:27-30).
[5] N.T. Wright,
Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1996), 167
[6] John the Baptist is an ascetic and peripatetic prophet who, like Elijah, calls Israel to repentance in light of coming judgment. He dresses like Elijah (Mark 1:6; cf. 2 Kings 1:8) and, like Elijah, is associated with the wilderness. Like Elijah, his ministry is opposed by a tyrant with a manipulative wife (Herod & Herodias / Ahab & Jezebel). Significantly, John the Baptist’s ministry begins at the geographical location where Elijah’s ministry ended (Matthew 3:1; Mark 1:4-5; cf. 2 Kings 2:4-11).
[7] James D.G. Dunn, The Christ and the Spirit: Volume 2 – Pneumatology (Grand Rapids, MN: Eerdmans, 1998), 11-12
[8] Although its focus is on the connection between baptism and priestly ordination, much of Peter Leithart, The Priesthood of the Plebs: A Theology of Baptism (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2003), 87ff is relevant to our case.
[9] Jesus and the Victory of God, 167
[10], Kenneth Duncan Litwak, Echoes of Scripture in Luke-Acts: Telling the History of God’s People Intertextually (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 147
[11] A.W. Zwiep, The Ascension of the Messiah in Lukan Christology (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 114-116
[12] There is also a sacrificial pattern to be observed in this movement. Leithart observes [1 & 2 Kings (SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible: London: SCM, 2006), 176]:

The story of Elijah’s departure into heaven follows the sequence of a sacrificial rite (Lev. 1). By their mutual journey around the land, Elijah and Elisha form a unit, a “two of them” (2 Kgs. 2:7). They cross the Jordan, as parts of a sacrificial animal will be washed before being place on the altar. Fire descends from heaven, dividing them in two, one ascending in fire to God, as the altar portions of the animal ascend in smoke to heaven. In the ascension (or “wholly burnt”) offering, the skin of the sacrificial animal is given to the priest, and the mantle-skin of Elijah, the hairy garment of the “baal of hair,” is left for Elisha. Through this human “sacrifice,” Elisha becomes a successor to Elijah, and a new phase of prophetic history begins. In this sense too the story is a type of the sacrifice of Jesus, who is washed in the Jordan, gives himself over to be cut in two, ascends into a cloud, and leaves his Spirit and his mantle with his disciples.

[13] Peter Leithart, A House For My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2000), 170-171, and John I. Durham and J.R. Porter, Proclamation and Presence: Old Testament Essays in Honour of Gwynne Henton Davies (London: SCM, 1970), 119-121n62 observe some of the parallels between Moses and Joshua and Elijah and Elisha.
[14] Joshua’s succession from Moses is presented as a prophetic succession in Sirach 46:1.
[15] 1 & 2 Kings, 213
[16] Elisha is thus given the pre-eminent position among the ‘sons of the prophets’.
[17] The Ascension of the Messiah in Lukan Christology, 116, 194. Observe the repeated use of verbs of visual perception in Acts 1:9-11.
[18] R.W.L. Moberly,
Prophecy and Discernment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 135
[19] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992), 31. The encounters with the risen Christ as recorded by the gospels might also be worth considering in this context. Delayed recognition of—or failure to recognize—the risen Christ is a recurring feature in the post-resurrection narratives (Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:13-35; John 20:14-18; 21:12; cf. Mark 16:12). The liturgical structure followed by the Emmaus road account of Luke 24:13-35, accompanied by the disciples’ initial failure to recognize their companion on the road, might suggest that, although firmly embodied and visible as such, the identity of the body of the risen Christ is something that can elude mundane perception and is only truly accessible to those granted spiritual vision (Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 2000), 218-219).
[20] Yves Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit (New York: Crossroad, 1983), 45.

In Which Alastair Invites His Readers to Take His Newly-Created Biblical Comprehension Test


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Why I Will Never be a Biblical Scholar


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How Old Was Joseph When He Was Sold Into Slavery?

The chronology of Genesis 29-45 is interesting for a number of reasons. Not just interesting for its own sake, it serves to open up certain dimensions of the narrative that would not be otherwise apparent. It gives us information that a surface reading of the narrative does not. For example, study of the chronology can teach us that Judah and Joseph were most probably born within a year of each other. Given the fact that Reuben (35:22), Simeon and Levi (34) all disqualify themselves through committing serious crimes, the birthright would naturally fall to Judah (presuming that the sons of Rachel’s handmaid don’t have a claim to the birthright in the same way as the sons of his wives). This gives greater significance to the way that the stories of Judah and Joseph are placed alongside each other in Genesis, particularly in chapters 38-39.

Study of the chronology can also make clear that the events of Genesis 38 took place after the descent into Egypt (which took place when Joseph, and hence Judah also, was under 40 years of age). This suggests that Israel maintained a presence in Canaan even after relocating to Egypt, much as they continued to keep their sheep in Shechem after Jacob relocated to Hebron.

The following is a question of chronology is one that I would appreciate any helpful comments on. It has to do with the problem of working out the age at which Joseph was taken into Egypt.

1. Joseph was born at the end of the first seven years of Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel (Genesis 30:25).

2. As the births of Gad, Asher, Issachar and Zebulun intervene, Dinah was probably born at least 6 years after Joseph (29:35; 30:9-21).

3. Dinah has obviously reached about the age of 15 when the events of chapter 34 take place, by which stage Joseph would be 21.

4. Chapter 34 seems to be set during the period while Jacob is still settled in Shechem.

5. After his time in Shechem, Jacob moves to Bethel and then to Hebron (Genesis 35).

6. The selling of Joseph into slavery seems to be set during Jacob’s time in Hebron (37:14). This is the reason why I find it hard to follow Jordan’s chronology here.

6a. However, the beginning of chapter 37 speaks of Joseph as ‘the son of [Jacob’s] old age’, which suggests that that part of the chapter at least is referring to a time before the birth of Benjamin, It also seems to take place before the death of Rachel (37:10).

7. Joseph is 30 when he stands before Pharaoh (41:46) and thus around 28 when he interprets the dreams of the butler and the baker (41:1).

8. In 44:20 (when Joseph is 39 years of age, 30 + 7 years of plenty + 2 years of famine), Benjamin is spoken of as ‘a child of [Jacob’s] old age, a little one’.

My guess is that there is a chronological jump between 37:11 and 37:12. Joseph is sold into Egypt sometime between the age of about 21 and 25, both extremes being quite unlikely. When Joseph is sold Benjamin is no more than 1 or 2 years of age, which would make him around 14-19 years of age when Joseph sees him in Egypt. Any help on this question would be greatly appreciated.

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James Jordan, N.T. Wright, and Double Resurrection

James Jordan has argued that the Scriptures teach two resurrections and justifications. The final justification is a justification that includes the person’s works and is only possible once the first justification has taken place. We cannot do any good works until the initial justification has taken place. In support of this notion Jordan cites Numbers 19. In Numbers 19, when a person has become contaminated through contact with a corpse, they go through two stages of purification. They are purified on the third day and on the seventh day their purification is completed with a final purification and baptism (quite possibly the ‘baptism for the dead’ referred to in 1 Corinthians 15; certainly the most likely contender in my estimation).

Most contemporary Christians would believe that such a passage is far too obscure to play any role in our doctrine of justification and that Paul’s theology never could have been informed by such a thing. This is the natural response for Protestants, who have very little time for liturgy. The assumption is that the ‘Bible’ is the only place where God’s revelation of saving truths is to be found. There are a number of problems with this notion. Chief among them is the fact that what we call the ‘Bible’ is a relatively recent creation. The people of God of previous ages encountered the Scriptures in the form of liturgical performance not as we do, by reading words off the pages of our mass-produced, privately-owned Bibles. It should not surprise us that, approaching the Scriptures as they do, most modern Christians make little sense out of it.

Once we appreciate this, we will need to reweight the significance of different parts of the Scriptures. The book of Leviticus, for example, is one of the most important books in the OT canon. Obscure as it may seem to us, the book of Leviticus shaped the daily worship of Israel. You will not really understand books like Romans until you have grasped something of the message of Leviticus.

Numbers 19 is a good example of a text that seems insignificant to us, but would have been many times more significant to an Israelite. In a time of higher mortality, when death was not something that took place away from the context of life in modern hospital wards, people would be far more likely to come into contact with corpses. The Israelite who came in contact with a corpse would have to go through the week long ritual of Numbers 19. Living out such a biblical text for a week’s period of time at a moment that was most probably one of profound personal transition following the death of a friend or relative would likely cause Numbers 19 to leave a far deeper impression on your consciousness than it does for the modern reader of the book of Numbers. One would not regard Numbers 19 as an obscure text.

Numbers 19 presents us with a baptismal resurrection. The person who has become unclean through contact with a corpse is separated from the realm of fellowship with God and is symbolically dead as a consequence of his contact with the dead body. They are only restored to the life of fellowship with God through a baptism.

Jordan insists that the ‘resurrection’ of the third day, whilst analogous to the ‘resurrection’ of the seventh day, is a distinct event. It does not ‘participate’ in the resurrection of the seventh day. The third day justification is not a case of the seventh day justification being brought forward into the present. Nor, for that matter, is the seventh day justification merely a reiteration, recognition or validation of the third day justification.

Jordan argues that Jesus’ original hearers would have heard the background of Numbers 19 when Jesus claimed that He would be raised on the third day. They would not have believed that there was only one resurrection awaiting them in the future (or, if they did, they shouldn’t have). Rather, they would have expected two resurrections, an initial one and a later final and consummative one. The NT teaching of two resurrections in such places as John 5 and Revelation 20 was not, therefore, a theological novelty (whilst Jordan does not believe that the first resurrection in these passages refers to quite the same thing, they can be seen as evidence for his basic point). There is an initial resurrection, followed by a later, final resurrection.

The pattern of two justifications is something that Jordan does not merely see in Numbers 19. One can also see this pattern in the sacrifices of Israel as the tribute/memorial offering, in which human works can be presented to and accepted by God on the basis of the earlier sacrifices. One can see it in Christian worship in the relationship between Baptism, which is initial justification, and the Eucharist, which foreshadows final justification in which our works are taken into account (symbolically presented to God in the bringing forward of the bread and the wine and own offerings in the offertory).

Jordan contrasts his position to that of N.T. Wright, claiming that Wright shares the same error as most Reformed approaches, which presume that justification is one event. Whilst most Reformed approaches see final justification merely as a reiteration of present justification, Wright errs by seeing present justification as being based on the bringing forward of future justification through the work of Christ. As Wright argues, what the Jews had expected to take place at the end of history had taken place in the middle of history in the case of one Person.

I have yet to be convinced that Jordan’s position is as far removed from Wright’s position as he generally presents it to be. Jordan claims that Wright holds to only one justification and that he holds to two, the first apart from works and the second including the person with all of his works. Jordan presents Wright as holding to a position in which God plays games with time, by bringing the future into the present.

I believe that this a misleading way to portray Wright’s position. Wright’s position is rather that the single future event of justification has taken place ahead of time in the case of one Person. There is no monkeying with time here. On the basis of this ‘bringing forward’ of the event of justification we can enjoy a present justification on the basis of faith, the positive verdict corresponding with a later verdict on the last day that will be delivered on the basis of the whole life lived.

The point where Wright might seem to be suggesting that God is tinkering with time is better understood as a claim that the future event is already present in principle — or in embryo — in the case of Jesus Christ and that we participate in an event that awaits us in the future as we are united to Jesus Christ. There is a single event of justification, which has different stages to it. There are not ultimately two separate justifications, but two phases of the one justification. This, it seems to me, is perfectly biblical as well. If justification is to be seen in the event of the resurrection of the dead, then it seems that we have to acknowledge that we are talking about a single event with different stages, not two separate events. Christ is the firstfruits of the event, which for us largely awaits us in the future. This future event is truly anticipated as we are united to Christ in Baptism. I think that Wright is correct to hold that there is ultimately only one justification, with plurality to be found within it. I also believe that his claim that the end of history has taken place in the middle of history is essentially true, provided that we add the proper qualifications and do not presume a meddling with time on God’s part.

On the other hand, it seems to me that Jordan is perfectly right to claim that there are plenty of OT reasons to argue that justification was not regarded as a single event awaiting Israel at one point at the end of history (although I would like to see some evidence from extra-canonical Second Temple Jewish texts that people actually held what Jordan argues is the OT position). A plurality of phases to the one justification was not a surprising development of OT belief in the NT, but was anticipated in many and varied ways in the OT text. Wright is wrong to see a two-stage justification as a teaching peculiar to the NT.

The weight of Wright’s understanding of justification is placed on a single event of justification, which, surprisingly (in the light of Christ’s resurrection), has two separate phases. The weight of common Reformed understandings of justification seems to be placed on a single event of justification that takes place by faith on the basis of the death and resurrection of Christ and will be reiterated in the future. Wright disagrees with such a position in its failure to give proper weight to a future justification on the basis of the whole life lived as essential to the single event of justification.

I believe that Wright would take issue with Jordan’s position in other ways. I imagine that he would argue that Jordan detaches the two phases of justification too sharply. Rather than seeing the future justification as already having occurred in principle but yet to be fully realized in our cases, Jordan’s position sometimes seems to present justification in the present as an event to which a future event must be added. It is the idea of future justification as the addition of a new justification separate from the present justification that Wright would take issue with. Future justification for Wright is rather the consummation of the single event that is already present in embryo through the resurrection of Christ. It is a distinct phase of the single event, but the event itself cannot be split into two events.

I believe that both Jordan and Wright have important things to teach us here. I believe that Jordan’s treatment of OT evidence is helpful and can serve to counteract some of the weaknesses of Wright’s position on that front. Jordan’s position is also useful in counteracting the weak view of the final judgment in relation to justification that one finds in many Reformed contexts. Whilst I believe that his stress on two events of justification goes a little too far, the idea of justification having two distinct — albeit closely interrelated — phases is very helpful and can help to balance Wright out a bit.

On the other hand, I think that Wright is correct to teach the unity of justification. Present justification by faith is an accurate anticipation of future justification according to works and is in many senses a bringing forward of the final verdict. Although the fullness of the event of resurrection and justification await us in the future, this will involve conforming to what has already become true of Christ. For that reason, the resurrection of the ’seventh day’ is already anticipated in the resurrection of the ‘third day’. Wright also clearly distinguishes present justification from final justification, even whilst closely interrelating them.

I think that some questions remain for Wright’s position, that could be helped by some of the emphases that one find in Jordan. Wright helpfully sees the future verdict of final justification as being present in the vindication of Christ in His resurrection. Jordan does not like any “already/not yet” approach to understanding redemptive history that would suggest that the future comes into the present in Christ, or anything like that. “Already/not yet” for Jordan is understood in terms of a linear timeline in which the future breaking into the present has little place.

I do not share Jordan’s position on this matter and believe that a purely linear account of redemptive history is insufficient. However, I believe that a linear approach to redemptive history is an essential perspective that must be retained and is too easily neglected. Without denying that the future has in some sense arrived in the present, we can see redemptive history as a continuing progression with stages that have yet to take place.

However, and this point is crucial, redemptive history can truly be viewed, not so much a progression beyond Christ’s resurrection, as a progression into Christ’s resurrection (I am not sure that Wright does justice to this either). This is where the “already/not yet” approach has so much to offer us. History is cyclical as well as linear. History is taken up in the resurrected Christ. What awaits us in the future is a full entry into something that has already taken place. This full entry will involve new redemptive historical events, but there is an important sense in which these events are not events that involve any progression beyond what has already taken place in Christ. It is this point that Jordan fails to do full justice to, whilst presenting us with the oft-forgotten perspective in which redemptive history involves a genuine progression beyond the resurrection.

Sunday School Material

I have only skim read some parts of it, but, from my first impressions, there is some superb Sunday School material here for any church that wishes to encourage its children and young people to engage with the Bible on a more than superficial level. It also draws heavily on the scriptural insights of James Jordan and Peter Leithart.

Oliver

Oliver O'DonovanIt is important to understand the emergence of the individual in Israel historically, but equally important not to succumb, as we have said, to ‘Whig history’, supposing that the trend from community to individual could simply be extrapolated to authorise any kind of radical individualism as its final term. For what Israel affords is a strong concept of the individual on a quite different basis from the individualism of the West. The community is the aboriginal fact from beginning to end, shaping the conscience of each of its members to greater or lesser effect. But when the mediating institutions of government collapse, then the memory and hope which single members faithfully conserve provide a span of continuity which can reach out towards the prospect of restructuring. The fractured community which fashioned the individual’s conscience is sustained within it and renewed out of it. And from having been preserved through single members’ memory and hope, Jeremiah anticipates, it will be the stronger, for it will incorporate that direct knowledge of Yhwh’s ways which each has won by his, or her, faithfulness. (We add the words ‘or her’ at this point without gratuitousness; for Esther is one of the models by which this faithfulness was commended.) The distinctive strengths of a voluntary community have been grafted on to the racial stock.

To generalise, as we have done before, we may say that the conscience of the individual members of a community is a repository of the moral understanding which shaped it, and may serve to perpetuate it in a crisis of collapsing morale or institution. It is not as bearer of his own primitive pre-social or pre-political rights that the individual demands the respect of the community, but as the bearer of a social understanding which recalls the formative self-understanding of the community itself. The conscientious individual speaks with society’s own forgotten voice.

Taken from The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology, p.80.

Good Death?

Paul Duggan has some thoughts in response to some statements in the recently adopted Missouri Presbytery Federal Vision Study Report. The relevant section of the report reads as follows:—

We affirm that Adam mediated the first covenant in the original integrity of the creation order. We further affirm that having created Adam in and for covenant blessing, God called Adam to loyalty and fruitfulness: so long as Adam walked with God in love and obedience, God promised to bless him, his posterity, and the entire earthly creation, but should Adam fail to obey God’s word, he would bring frustration into the creation, and would subject himself and his posterity to the enslaving power of sin and the reign of death. We deny that God’s creational intention was for Adam to mature, eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, die, and be raised from the dead; and further deny that Adam’s sin was only seizing the fruit of the Tree prematurely; and thus deny that death coming upon Adam and his posterity was part of God’s creation purposes instead of a threatened response to human disobedience.

As Paul observes, it is quite obvious that this is written in response to the position put forward by James Jordan in The Federal Vision. It is also quite obvious that it is based on a confused reading of Jordan’s argument. I find Jordan’s position — that the prohibition on the tree was temporary and would have brought about a ‘good death’ for Adam, leading to a more glorious form of life — quite compelling. Some further arguments for the position can be found in these lecture notes that I wrote last summer.

What are the ‘Works of the Law’?

I have been asked to elaborate a bit on my understanding of the connection between the ‘ceremonial’ aspects of the Law and death and sin. Rather than merely doing so in the comments of the post that led to the question, I thought that I would write a new post to deal with the matter. In much of the following I am deeply indebted to the insights of James Jordan. Rather than referring you to his work at each stage I will just state that most of the good material that you are about to read is James Jordan’s; the dross is mine.

One of the greatest problems with contemporary biblical scholarship is the manner in which the distinction between the OT and the NT has become reified. Rather than merely treating the OT/NT distinction as a division that is largely just one of convenience, we tend to split the Bible into two entities — the OT and the NT. As a result of this split we have OT scholars and NT scholars, whose disciplines are, all too often, hermetically sealed off from each other. Even those of us who find this unhelpful find it hard not to fall into the error, as you can see from my post categories! NT scholars often have little more than a nodding acquaintance with the OT; OT scholars are unwilling to allow their discipline to be polluted by insights that come from the realm of NT scholarship.

Once this division has been created there are many questions that will not be tackled by either party, as they fall between the two disciplines and demand a degree of dialogue between the OT and NT that seems impossible within the current academic climate. One of the consequences of the split between the OT and the NT is that questions such as the one that is being treated in this post are seldom adequately treated. (more…)