Friday, November 30, 2012

Advent: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel, 
And ransom captive Israel, 
That mourns in lonely exile here 
Until the Son of God appear. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high, 
Who ordered all things mightily; 
To us the path of knowledge show, 
and teach us in her ways to go. 

Oh, come, oh, come, our Lord of might, 
Who to your tribes on Sinai's height 
In ancient times gave holy law, 
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Oh, come O Rod of Jesse's stem, 
From ev'ry foe deliver them 
That trust your mighty pow'r to save; 
Bring them in vict'ry through the grave. 

Oh, come, O Key of David, come, 
And open wide our heav'nly home; 
Make safe the way that leads on high, 
And close the path to misery. 

Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high, 
And cheer us by your drawing nigh, 
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, 
And death's dark shadows put to flight. 

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind 
In one the hearts of all mankind; 
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease, 
And be yourself our King of Peace. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!

November and December are my favorite months of the year. All vestiges of summer's oppressive heat and humidity are gone, the trees here in the Northeast drop their leaves after gracing all with their magnificent panoply of yellows, oranges, and reds, and  best of all  festivity constantly rules as we Americans celebrate the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Yet ... curmudgeon that I am, some common elements of the season, at least as it is celebrated in the early 21st century, bug me (maybe that's why I so appreciate Frank Costanza's "holiday" of "Festivus," the celebration of which began with the airing of grievances!). One of these is the relentless push to begin "holiday" preparations, and the constant playing of "Christmas" music, in early November, if not earlier. Another is the increasingly oppressive banality of said music itself, deliberately shorn of all "religious" sentiment, let alone content (for a similar complaint from theologian Roger Olson, see his post, "Merry Idolatry Season"). Another, less commonly expressed irritant is the lack of differentiation between, and consequent confusion of, the distinct seasons of Advent and Christmas. Christmas, at least as it has been celebrated historically according to the church's liturgical calendar, begins on Christmas Eve and continues for 12 days  hence "The Twelve Days of Christmas"  until the Feast of Epiphany on 6 January. But such technical niceties as this hardly ever concern American Christians, particularly those in its "Evangelical" manifestations, who are as likely to sing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "O Come All Ye Faithful," and "Joy to the World" (the three greatest Christmas hymns) in early December as they are such Advent hymns as "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," whose lyrics I have reproduced above. And this is unfortunate.

What is missing in this conflationary confusion is the sense of anticipation and longing involved in the Advent season, in which the people of God place themselves in the shoes of those faithful Israelites who, for 500 years (!), even after the partial "return" from Babylonian exile, still awaited the full-blown end of their exile and Yahweh's return to Zion promised in Isaiah 40-55, not to mention the "shoot from Jesse's stump,"  the "branch from Jesse's root" (Isa 11:1), whose arrival was adumbrated/prefigured by the birth of one deemed "Immanuel" (i.e., "God with us") (Isa 7:14; 8:10; cf. Matt 1:23).

Sunday marks the beginning of the Advent season, and no hymn better expresses its thrust than "O Come, O Come, Immanuel." The hymn, as we Americans know it, is a 19th century translation, by John Mason Neale and Henry Sloane Coffin, of the medieval hymn "Veni, veni, Emmanuel." Its music perfectly conveys the solemnity and longing portrayed by its words. And those words! Reading them again, I was struck by its up front declaration that the Israel of first century Palestine was de facto still in exile  a true sentiment, despite the incomprehensible resistance to this idea in some sections of New Testament scholarship. More importantly, it places the context of Messiah's advent in the national hopes of Israel for their "redemption" from exile. This is a context that individualistic American Christians perennially have difficulty grasping, but it emphatically is the correct place to start in understanding Jesus' famous statement in Mark 10:45 (for my exposition of this text, see my post here).

I leave you with a marvelous performance of the hymn by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, recorded at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, England, demonstrating once again the unsurpassed refinement of the Cantabrigian choral tradition.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Remembering Jimi Hendrix on His 70th Birthday

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest and most influential popular musicians of the 20th century, James Marshall Hendrix. Reflecting on this fact makes one wonder what is harder to believe: that he would have been so old, or that the incredible music he created and performed in his youth could ever have been "popular" with a wide audience.

The story of Hendrix's short life and drug- and alcohol-related death from asphyxiation on 18 September 1970 is as well-known as it is tragic. What endures, however, is his musical legacy, established by his three studio albums with his English band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience  all of which Rolling Stone Magazine ranked among the top 100 of all time (I myself ranked his debut, Are You Experienced?, number 27)  and single live album, Band of Gypsies, recorded with Buddy Miles and Billy Cox. Simply put, for any young, real music-appreciating lad growing up in the late '60s and early '70s, there were many guitar heroes, but two stood head and shoulders above the rest: Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. Clapton was known and revered as a blues purist through his work with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds, and  despite its psychedelic excursions  Cream. Hendrix, on the other hand, while reared in the blues and R&B (even having backed Ike and Tina Turner and Little Richard), was more experimental, ultimately expanding beyond the blues and psychedelic rock to funk and fusion. To me, it was this visionary quality that is his real legacy. Younger readers might remember the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Dallas-reared guitarist who was the last artist to take the blues into the mainstream of popular music. Well, without Jimi Hendrix there would never have been Stevie Ray Vaughan, at least the Stevie Ray as we remember him. And Stevie was all too willing to acknowledge it.

Experimentation aside, Jimi could still play the straight blues with the best of them. I leave you with a clip of his classic slow blues, "Red House," recorded live in Stockholm on 9 January 1969 (for the studio version, see here):

Monday, November 26, 2012

Penal Substitution, Part 3: The Ransom Logion (Mark 10:45)

As I have discussed in earlier posts (here and here), the venerable Protestant doctrine (and fundamentalist “fundamental”) of penal substitution has fallen on somewhat hard times in recent decades. Characteristic of those who dispute the doctrine is New Testament scholar James McGrath, who succinctly summarizes what he considers the fatal weaknesses of the theologoumenon: it is unbiblical and it is immoral. Consideration of the morality (or otherwise) of the doctrine must await a future post. In the present installment I would like to continue my exploration of central New Testament texts bearing on the issue. Previously I looked at 1 Corinthians 15:3, perhaps the most significant text because it provides, if the Apostle Paul’s word can be trusted, the earliest theological interpretation of Jesus’ death, courtesy of the Palestinian (Jewish) church circa 35 CE (at the latest). In that text, Jesus’ death is proclaimed as expiatory, endured in the execution of his “Messianic” vocation, and hermeneutically controlled by the lens provided by the Hebrew Scriptures. More importantly, it remains a striking fact that, as I said before, “there never was a time in which a non-theological interpretation of Jesus' death prevailed.”[i] This begs the question as to where such an idea originated. Could it possibly, as difficult as this is — humanly speaking — to imagine, have been from Jesus himself? Two texts in the Synoptic Gospels, Mark 10:45 (//Matt 20:28) and Mark 14:24 (// Matt 26:28; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25) are prima facie relevant in this regard. In the present post I intend to deal with the former of these, leaving the latter for a subsequent installment.

Mark 10:45 reads as follows:

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Not surprisingly, the ink spilled in the interpretation of this text has been, like the spirits afflicting the Gadarene demoniac, legion. Three primary issues, all of which have a direct bearing on the text’s meaning, have dominated the scholarly discussion: (1) the contextual appropriateness of the saying; (2) the possible interpretative horizon provided by (Second) Isaiah (Isa 40-55), particularly the fourth so-called “servant song” (Isa 52:13-53:12); and (3) the authenticity of the saying (i.e., did Jesus actually say something quite like it?).

This verse provides the climax to Mark’s central section, which artfully revolves around three passion predictions (8:31; 9:30-32; 10:32-34) and is bracketed by two healings of blind men, which the author presents as symbols of Jesus’ disciples initial blindness and subsequent illumination concerning the suffering path Jesus’ Messianic mission would take. Most importantly, in Mark 10:45 Jesus for the first time provides his uncomprehending disciples with the reason why he (“the Son of Man”) had to (δεῖ [dei]) suffer and die.

Traditional exegesis took for granted that Jesus’ saying should be interpreted through the lens provided by Isaiah 52:13-53:12 — in particular, the “Servant of Yahweh” figure who suffers unjustly and vicariously for the sins of the people, whose death functions as a guilt offering, as a consequence of which he is vindicated and “justifies” many. For example, Dick France quotes I. Engnell, who as late as 1948 spoke in his John Rylands lecture of the “indisputable role that the ‘Ebed Yahweh figure and its ideological world played for Jesus and his messianic interpretation of himself.”[ii] Things changed in a hurry, however, when in the 1950s a series of studies by prominent and up-and-coming British scholars strongly questioned the widespread assumption.[iii]

Morna Hooker and (especially) C. K. Barrett marshaled a bevy of arguments against the proposed Isaianic allusion, some stronger than others, but most revolving around the acknowledged fact that the verbal parallels between the two texts are somewhat slim. Hooker adds another, somewhat draconian stipulation: verbal similarities or allusions are insufficient; what is required is explicit application of Isaiah 53 to the meaning of Christ’s death.[iv] Such artificial limitations, however, fail to persuade both at the level of method[v] and in terms of the details of exegesis. Indeed, I believe a careful reading of Mark 10:45 in conjunction with Isaiah demonstrates a deliberate connection between the two passages, justifying the apparent swing of the scholarly pendulum back to a chastened adherence to the traditional view of the passage.[vi] The two  relevant linguistic/conceptual connections are as follows:

1. “The Son of Man did not come to be served (diakonhqnai [diakonēthēnai]) , but to serve (diakonsai [diakonēsai] …”

In English the connection appears, at first blush, to be obvious. The subject of the Isaianic oracle, after all, is designated “my servant” (‘abdî) in Isa 52:13 and 53:11. Upon closer examination, however, what appears obvious at first blush becomes somewhat less than certain. Indeed, the Greek Old Testament (the LXX) uses the noun παῖς (pais), not diάkonoς (diakonos) to translate ‘ebed (“servant”) in these verses. Moreover, when the servant is later said to “serve many” (53:11), the LXX uses the Greek term douleύω (douleuō) rather than the diakonέω (diakoneō) used by Mark. Hence the simple English term “servant” in itself cannot bear the weight of any proposed identification. On the other hand, neither can such bare linguistic data disallow the proposed allusion. For instance, it may not be without significance that the term diάkonoς only occurs 7 times in the LXX. More significantly, Mark uses the terms diάkonoς and doloς (doulos [“slave”], cognate to the verb douleύω used in Isaiah 53:11) interchangeably in verses 43-44 to describe the proper stance of Jesus’ disciples, thus demonstrating the synonymous nature of the terms (i.e., “overlapping fields of meaning”) at least in certain contexts. Most importantly, however, the linguistic appropriateness of Mark's language in reference to the task of the Isaianic servant cannot be gainsaid. As Davies and Allison note simply, “diakonsai accurately describes what the ‘ebed does.”[vii]

Hooker was right to point to an additional background here in Daniel’s vision of “one like a son of man” in Daniel 7:13, who is “served” (douleύsousin) by all peoples and languages (7:14). The Markan Jesus’s point here is thus seen to be deliberately ironic. Far from rejecting the Danielic scenario, Jesus is reinterpreting it through the lens of Isaiah 53. Better, the dominion exercised by the “son of man” of Daniel’s vision must be attained by virtue of his having previously undergone the vicarious or representative suffering described in Isaiah 53. That this is Mark’s intention is all the more likely in view of his narration of Jesus’ baptism, where the voice from heaven identifies Jesus in such a way that his Davidic Sonship is qualified by an allusive identification with the Servant of Isaiah (Mark 1:11).[viii] In other words, it is Jesus' role as the Suffering Servant that must be allowed to qualify the naive, triumpahalist understandings of  his explicitly kingly roles to which the Jews of his day, chafing under Roman rule and still, in a real sense, in "exile," were prone. 

2. “… and to give his life (donai tn yucn ato [dounai tēn psyche autou]) as a ransom ([lύtron [lytron]) for many (ἀnt polln [anti pollōn]) …”

Conceptually, the phrase “to give his life” closely matches the thought found in Isaiah 53:10 (“when you make his ‘soul’ [MT = נפשGk. yucὴ]) and Isaiah 53:12 (“because he poured out his soul to death”). More controversial, however, is the possible connection between Mark’s lύtron (“ransom”) and Isaiah’s אשם (’āšām, “guilt offering”). Noting that the noun lύtron is not found in Isaiah 53, and that it never is used to translate אשם in the LXX (where it regularly translates גאל and פדה ), both Hooker[ix] and Barrett[x] deny a connection, even claiming that the two terms occupy divergent semantic fields (’āšām relating to guilt and expiation, lytron speaking of equivalence and compensation).[xi]

Things are not so simple, however. For, as all acknowledge, the primary concern of Isaiah 40-55 is to announce the return of Israel and Judah from exile, which return the author portrays as a Second Exodus and as a redemption (e.g., Isa 41:14; 43:1, 14; 44:22-24; 52:3) akin to his prior deliverance of the nation from servitude to Egypt. Indeed, the literary structure of Isaiah 52-54 is telling:
  • 52:1-12 — Exhortation to prepare for/participate in the New Exodus
  • 52:13-53:12 — Fourth Servant Song
  • 54:1-17 — Song of Zion’s Restoration 

The point is that Isaiah 53 describes the way Yahweh’s servant would bring about the second Exodus and Israel’s promised restoration, to wit, by bearing the covenant curse and guilt incurred by Israel, thereby redeeming her through his suffering and, indeed, death.[xii] When one adds the consideration that Mark 10:45 is one of only three texts involving an object complement construction with the idea of “giving” or “taking” a “life” (i.e., he gave his life as a ransom; cf. also Isaiah 53:10 [MT] and 4 Maccabees 6:29),[xiii] one is inclined to accept the probability that Mark is deliberately alluding to the Isaianic text at this point.[xiv]

The most obvious point of comparison between Mark 10:45 and Isaiah 53 is the striking, idiomatic use of “many” to refer to “all” (or the totality of the “elect”[xv]) who benefit from the work of the Servant (cf. Isa 53:11-12). Barrett demurs, thinking polln too common a term to make such a sweeping assumption of dependence.[xvi] In isolation such a conclusion might be warranted. But the complex web of allusions and conceptual similarities already demonstrated between Mark and Isaiah 53 is almost certainly not coincidental, and has thus caused almost all subsequent scholars to acknowledge a deliberate allusion here. And if so, we can confidently claim that Mark portrays a Jesus who consciously defined his ministry as the fulfillment of the Isaianic servant. In the words of Oscar Cullmann, “It is as if Jesus said, ‘The Son of Man came to fulfill the task of the ebed Yahweh.”[xvii]

That Mark, writing in the 50s-60s CE, should have had a “Servant of Yahweh” Christology is not surprising. After all, as I have previously argued, the traditional formula cited by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3 likely has Isaiah 53 in mind. Even clearer is the allusion to Isaiah 53:12 in the traditional formula cited by Paul in Romans 4:25 (for details, see here). The question is whether or not it is adequate to attribute such a Christology to the creative genius of the earliest church. That Jesus likely anticipated his eventual martyrdom is generally accepted.[xviii] But did he place an atoning significance on that death prior to the fact? Scholars have been less likely to affirm this point. Long ago the august Rudolf Bultmann lamely attributed the theology of the ransom saying to Hellenistic Christian “redemption” theories.[xix] More circumspectly, J. D. G. Dunn suggests that “the final clause of the Markan/Matthean version (assuming the allusion to the Isaianic Servant) is an elaboration, presumably at an early stage, of the core tradition, in the light of the developing use of Isaiah 53, to illustrate the significance of Jesus’ death.”[xx] But where, I ask, is there any evidence of such a “developing use of Isaiah 53”? It is said that an ounce of evidence is worth a pound of presumption. In the present case, the scales fail to register even a meager ounce, and presumption in such a case is worse than worthless. Indeed, the evidence we have inexorably compels us, as Martin Hengel said, “to push our enquiry back to Jesus himself.”[xxi] In my mind, the only adequate explanation of the evidence is one that attributes the origin of the soteriological interpretation of Jesus’ death to Jesus himself, who interpreted his mission in terms of the ministry of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant.

What, then, does Mark 10:45 say about Jesus’ understanding of his death? Two primary features stand out. First, Jesus death was a ransom price. A lύtron (lytron) was the price paid for the manumission of a slave from servitude or a soldier from imprisonment.[xxii] In other words, a “ransom” refers to deliverance by means of a payment of equivalence. Contextually, the point is obvious: apart from Jesus’ death, the “many” could not have been set free from their bondage. And from Isaiah 53:11-12, it is clear that this bondage is, at one level, the bondage of the covenant curse that had led the nation into exile; at another level, it is the bondage to the “iniquities” and sins that characterized them as “transgressors” in need of “justification.” Jesus, in other words, is portraying his death as the necessary means to bring about the promised return from exile/Second Exodus. And, insofar as his death as ransom substitutes for the Gentiles who had been appointed to that role (Isa 43:3-4), it provides the basis for their inclusion in the “many” who benefit from it.

Second, Jesus’ death was substitutionary in character. The substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death is implied in its ransoming capacity. But it is explicit in the simple prepositional phrase “for many” (ἀnt polln [anti pollōn]). The preposition ntis best rendered “in the place of” or “in exchange for.” Jesus’ point is thus very clear: Jesus gave his life in exchange for the forfeited lives of others.

As Davies and Allison note with reference to Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45 leaves a lot of interesting questions unanswered.[xxiii] It offers no developed “theory” of the atonement. But it does portray Jesus’ death as an atonement that operates on the principle of substitution to provide a ransom for sins. In other words, it does not offer a full and developed theology of penal substitution as would later be articulated by the likes of Luther and Calvin. But, not only does it come close to doing so, it also provides the necessary foundation upon which the developed theory might later be constructed. And what it does teach gives the lie to the claim that penal substitution is “unbiblical.”

[i] Cf. also Martin Hengel, The Atonement: The Origins of the Doctrine in the New Testament (tr. John Bowden; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981) 71.
[ii] I. Engnell, BJRL 31 (1948) 54; cited by R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament: His Application of Old Testament Passages to Himself and His Mission (London: Tyndale, 1971) 110. The classic, and in many respects still the best, defense and exposition of the traditional position is found in Walther Zimmerli and Joachim Jeremias, The Servant of God (rev. ed.; London, SCM, 1965), an update on their famous article in the Kittel-Friedrich Wörterbuch.
[iii] C. F. D. Moule, “From Defendant to Judge — and Deliverer: An Inquiry into the Use and Delimitations of the Theme of Vindication in the New Testament,” in The Phenomenon of the New Testament (London: SCM, 1967 [1952]) 82-99; Morna D. Hooker, Jesus and the Servant: The Influence of the Servant Concept of Deutero-Isaiah in the New Testament (London: SPCK, 1959 [1956]) 74-79; C. K. Barrett, “The Background of Mark 10.45,” in New Testament Essays: Studies in Memory of Thomas Walter Manson (ed. A. J. B. Higgins; Manchester: MUP, 1959) 1-18.
[iv] Hooker, Jesus and the Servant, 155.
[v] Indeed, I would argue that conceptual parallels without direct verbal allusion often indicate a deeper level of coherence, in that such conceptual parallels demonstrate tacit, assumed knowledge shared between two parties. If indeed Mark was writing to Christians in the 50s or 60s who already knew the early church’s teaching about Christ’s death, there was no explicit need to spell out the OT background by direct quotations or allusions to specific terminology.
[vi] The literature is massive, but a few studies stand out. Cf. e.g., Oscar Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament (tr. Shirley C. Guthrie and Charles A. M. Hall; London: SCM, 1959) 60-69; France, Jesus and the Old Testament, 116-21; Hengel, The Atonement, 56-71; Douglas J. Moo, The Old Testament in the Gospel Passion Narratives (Sheffield: Almond, 1983) 122-27; Peter Stuhlmacher, “Vicariously Giving His Life for Many, Mark 10.45 (Matt. 20.28),” in Reconciliation, Law, and Righteousness: Essays in Biblical Theology (trans. of Versönung, Gesetz und Gerechigkeit; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986 [1981]) 16-29. G. B. Caird and L. D. Hurst, New Testament Theology (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994) 310-16; Rikki E. Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997) 270-84. Among commentators, cf., inter alia, C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel according to St. Mark (CGTC; Cambridge: CUP, 1959) 341-44; Robert H. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 586-93; Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (WBC; Nashville: Nelson, 2001) 119-25); R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002) 419-21); Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994) 404; W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Jr., Matthew (3 vols.; ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988-97) 3:94-100; R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007) 760-63.
[vii] Davies and Allison, 3:96, emphasis added.
[viii] The combined influence of Daniel 7 and Isaiah 53 on Mark 10:45 has recently been defended by G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011) 194-97, 396-98. Cf. also Seyoon Kim, “The ‘Son of Man’” as the Son of God (WUNT; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1983) 38-60.
[ix] Hooker, 76-78.
[x] Barrett, 5-7.
[xi] Though Aquila uses the cognate lύtrwsiς to translate אשם in Leviticus 5:18, where, in the judgment of D. Kellermann, אשם means a “compensatory payment” (TDOT, 1:430-33. Cf. also BDB, 79-80..
[xii] On this, cf. especially Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, 155n.135; 277-80.
[xiii] Cf. Gundry, Matthew, 404.
[xiv] This is all the more likely in view of Mark’s programmatic interest in presenting the Isaianic New Exodus as having been fulfilled in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. This has been massively demonstrated by Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark.
[xv] As was the sense in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Cf. the discussion by Ralph Marcus, “‘Mebaqqer’ and ‘Rabbim’ in the Manual of Discipline vi, 11-13,” JBL 75 (1956) 298-302. It goes without saying that using such a text to adjudicate discussions concerning “unlimited” or “limited” atonement asks the text answers it was never designed to answer.
[xvi] As an alternative background, Barrett suggested the vicarious atoning effect of the death of Maccabean martyrs found in Hellenistic Jewish texts such as 2 Maccabees 7:36-38 and 4 Maccabees 17:20-22. Cf. Sam K. Williams, Jesus’ Death as Saving Event: The Background and Origin of a Concept (HDR; Missoula, Mont.: Scholars, 1975) 211-13. There is no need to deny the significance of these texts. Indeed, they provide helpful contemporary evidence that Jews could portray the suffering and death of a human being as having beneficent, even atoning, significance. But the choice, either Isaiah 53 or 2/4 Maccabees, is a false one. Indeed, it has been suggested — rightly, in my view — that the authors of these texts are dependent on Isaiah 53 for their theological ruminations on martyrdom. Cf. Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:98.
[xvii] Cullmann, Christology, 65. More than thirty years ago Werner Grimm made the intriguing suggestion that the conceptual background to Mark 10:45 is to be found in Isaiah 43:3-4 (“For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give man in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life”) (Die Verkündigung Jesu und Deuterojesaja [2nd ed.; Frankfurt am Main, Bern: Peter Lang, 1981]) 231-77); cf. also Stuhlmacher, “Vicariously Giving His Life for Many,” 22-26. The verbal parallels are indeed impressive, despite Gundry’s reservations (Matthew, 404; Mark, 592). Indeed, they are, in my judgment, significant enough to make coincidence unlikely. But, once again, one wonders whether an either/or choice must be made. Could it not be that the “many” who are “justified” by the Servant’s vicarious suffering include the Gentiles who, according to Isaiah 43, were to serve as the “ransom” price for Israel’s redemption? (i.e., the obedient suffering and death of the Servant substitutes also for them and effects the redemption of both groups). Cf. Kim, “The ‘Son of Man’” as the Son of God, 55-57; Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus, 282-85.
[xviii] N. T. Wright goes so far as to say that anticipating his ultimate demise at the hands of the Romans “ did not … take a great deal of ‘supernatural’ insight” (Jesus and the Victory of God [ Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996] 610). Dale C. Allison, Jr., after listing 31 texts from every strand of the New Testament, concludes: “They obviously reflect a very widespread belief: Jesus did not run from his death or otherwise resist it. On the contrary, anticipating his cruel end, he submitted to it, trusting that his unhappy fate was somehow for the good” (Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010] 432.
[xix] Rudolf Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition (rev.ed.; Oxford: Blackwell, 1972) 144. In fact, such a position is inexplicable in light of such explicitly Semitic/primitive features as the “son of man” title and the “comprehensive” use of “many.” A comparison with 1 Timothy 2:5-6, clearly an adaptation of the logion for a different cultural location, is instructive with regard to the saying’s tradition history: “… the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” This is what the saying would look like had it been articulated originally in a Hellenistic context.
[xx] James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Christianity in the Making, vol. 1; Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2003) 813-14.
[xxi] Hengel, The Atonement, 71. Scholars affirming authenticity include Cranfield, Cullmann, France, Gundry, Moo, Watts, Stuhlmacher, Grimm, Barrett, Hooker, Evans, and Wright.
[xxii] Cf. Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (3rd ed.; London: Tyndale, 1965) 11-64.
[xxiii] Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:100.

Friday, November 23, 2012

N. T. Wright and Michael Bird on the Women Bishops Kerfuffle in the Church of England

The talking heads on both sides of the Atlantic are atwitter with concern over the fate of the venerable Church of England now that it voted on 20 November to continue disallowing women to serve as bishops in the national church. For such a change to have been allowed, the measure would have had to receive two-thirds support from each of three voting blocs: the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy, and the House of Laity. As it happens, the measure did receive 94% approval from the Bishops and 77% from the Clergy, but "only" 64% from the Laity, thus sending it down to defeat. In the aftermath of the vote, the hand-wringing began immediately and opprobrium was heaped on the supposedly "old," "traditionalist," and "out of touch" lay people who "disproportionately" voted against the measure.

The arguments used by the "shocked" supporters of the measure are quite telling in that they clearly manifest a church more interested in "keeping up with the times" than in faithfulness to Scripture and responsible hermeneutical application of the biblical text to today's world. Archdeacon of Norwich Jan McFarlane opined that “a church so out of step with the world around us becomes an irrelevance.” Labour MP Diana Johnson likewise warned direly, "The Church of England now stands to be left behind by the society it seeks to serve, looking outdated, irrelevant, and frankly eccentric by this decision." She then offered this assessment of the naysayers' character: "A broad church is being held to ransom by a few narrow minds." Using even more purple language, Tory MP Sir Tony Baldry likened the C of E to a "sect": "What has happened as a consequence of the decision by general synod is the Church of England no longer looks like a national church, it simply looks like a sect like any other sect." Most importantly, Sir Tony raised the key philosophical issue behind the kerfuffle: "If the Church of England wants to be a national church, then it has to reflect the values of the nation."

Australian theologian and New Testament scholar Michael Bird responded in classic, Birdian fashion:
I can understand people advocating the elevation of women to the episcopacy as a matter of scriptural principle and missional imperative, in fact I’m broadly sympathetic, but I’m hearing others advocate the position because there is a widespread belief that the church, as a state church no less, is morally obliged to mirror the values of society. To which I would reply, “Ahm, no it’s bloody not.” This is the Church of England, not Die Deutsche Reichskirche we are dealing with here. We are not beholden to the state to do its bidding in social policy.
Former Bishop of Durham N. T. Wright, in an editorial well worth reading and jointly published today in both The Times and the evangelical Anglican website Fulcrum, weighed in on the matter with devastating precision, correctly challenging the modernist pretension that "progress" must be the final arbiter of truth and praxis:
It won’t do to say, then, as David Cameron did, that the Church of England should “get with the programme” over women bishops. And Parliament must not try to force the Church’s hand, on this or anything else. That threat of political interference, of naked Erastianism in which the State rules supreme in Church matters, would be angrily resisted if it attempted to block reform; it is shameful for “liberals” in the Church to invite it in their own cause. The Church that forgets to say “we must obey God rather than human authorities” has forgotten what it means to be the Church. The spirit of the age is in any case notoriously fickle. You might as well, walking in the mist, take a compass bearing on a mountain goat.
What is most significant here is that Professor Wright has gone on record supporting women bishops. But he rightly notes that the issue is not one of cultural "relevancy," but one of faithfulness to the New Testament, applied seriously and with hermeneutical sophistication. "Traditionalists," of course  and by that term I, of all people, mean no disrespect  look to such passages as 1 Timothy 2 and conclude that women teachers and preachers (i.e., "pastors" or those who lead men), let alone bishops, are disallowed on the authority of Paul the Apostle. But a growing number of evangelicals have been having second thoughts (see, e.g., Scot McKnight's The Blue Parakeet and Junia Is Not Alone, not to mention my friend Bill Webb's hermeneutical exploration, Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals). The choice, in other words, is not between outdated, troglodytic "traditionalists" and "progressive" types who see the relevance of the church in terms of its adoption of "up-to-date" cultural ideas and mores. If the relevance, or indeed the future, of the church depends on the latter, one can seriously question Jesus' promise that "the gates of Hades [would] not prevail against it" (Matt 16:18).

What happens in and to the Church of England matters to me as one whose spiritual ancestry can be traced to the (Anglican) Church of Ireland, and as one who has benefited most from Anglican New Testament scholars from the days of B. F. Westcott and J. B. Lightfoot to Charlie Moule to Tom Wright. But those who fancy that the current vicissitudes of that church can be traced to"traditionalist"-inspired blocking of cultural "progress" demonstrate thereby a fatal inability to read the spiritual tea leaves. One suspects, and surely hopes, that the church realizes this, and that the recent selection of an evangelical, Justin Welby, to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury, is evidence that God isn't yet done with the unwieldy Church of England.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Remembering Dad

Dad in the early 1940s

Thirty-two years ago C. F. D. Moule, in the Introduction to a Festschrift honoring F. F. Bruce on the latter's 70th birthday, claimed that he had "never known a man in whom the virtues of grace and truth were so perfectly wedded" as in the great Scottish New Testament scholar. As one who had the privilege of meeting that great man and benefiting immensely from his work, I do not doubt it. But I would not hesitate to say that the venerable Cambridge professor, who died in 2007 just two months shy of his 99th birthday and himself was once dubbed "Holy Mouley" because of his piety, could never have made that claim had he known my father, the Reverend Dr. John F. McGahey, who died  could it possibly be?  twenty-six years ago today.

Dad at Winterthur, Delaware in the early 1940s

All these years later not a day goes by in which I don't think about him and his towering legacy. As a child, he was my hero  brilliant and athletic, yet kind and generous to a fault. In later years, he served as my role model and greatest teacher. Even though he was the first teacher at Philadelphia Bible Institute (later Philadelphia College of Bible, Philadelphia Biblical University, and now Cairn University) to hold an earned doctorate, he was chronically under-appreciated (one of his former deans, who later served as President of the college where I taught, referred to him as a "troublemaker" because he wouldn't simply do as he was told) and, ultimately, mistreated by that institution's administration (upon his 65th birthday, three weeks before his death, he was "informed" that he had to retire at the end of the year; what the ensuing events proved was that it was his teaching of the Bible that kept his long-failing heart alive). The same, happily, cannot be said of his family and students, both of which I can luckily count myself.

Dad receiving his Th.D. degree from John Walvoord and Charles Ryrie, May 1957

I inherited and learned many things from dad: the love of sports, books, and everything British; the importance of family  though I wish I carried through on the practical outworking of this as well as he did  and transparency of character; and the futility of both careerism and the quest for transitory material prosperity. Most importantly, however, I can confidently say that, humanly speaking, I am a Christian today because of him. Columbia historian Randall Balmer, himself the son of a prominent Midwestern minister, has said  correctly, in my view  that "conversionist" Evangelicalism's greatest problem is the passing on of the faith from generation to generation. Dad had his theology straight, of course (more on that anon). More importantly, however, he served as a living, breathing, walking embodiment of St. Paul's message of "Christ crucified." In a word, his life served as an embodied apologetic for the Christian faith. As one who has painfully experienced the "left foot of fellowship" from so-called "Christian" "leaders," it would have been easy to throw it all away, like Esau and his birthright. Indeed, I know plenty of people, both raised as Christians and lifelong unbelievers, who reject Christianity because of the behavior of so-called "conservative Christians," not least those who deem themselves "leaders" of "evangelical" "ministries." And they have a point. But I know what genuine Christianity is because I have experienced it firsthand, not just in my "heart"  emotions, after all, are fleeting and can deceive  but in the life of one who paid more than lip service to the notion of the Lordship of Christ. And for that I indeed thank the Lord each and every day from the bottom of my heart.

Yesterday, as I am wont to do on anniversaries of his death, I listened once again to my tape of the memorial service held in dad's honor at our home church of Grace Chapel in Havertown. At this stage I can almost recite the various tributes by heart  the pained testimonials spoken by my brother and me, as well as the words of dad's best friend, the Rev. Dave Haines, former student (and my college roomie) Matt Meeder, and esteemed colleagues like Julius Bosco and the late, lamented John Cawood, Gordon Ceperley, and Sam Hsu. Listening to these tributes once again brought tears streaming down my face as I reflected that these were all testimonials of a greatness that is rare in this world, a greatness to which I could aspire but never achieve. That night twenty-six years ago I chose to summarize dad's impact via the rubric provided by Professor Moule in his praise of Fred Bruce: grace and truth. Right now I would like to do so again.

Picture from 1965
(yearbook dedicatee)

When I reflect on what made dad special, my mind always returns to two characteristics of his that stand out. The first is his legendary zeal for the truth. This, I think, is the trait for which he is most famous among those who knew him only as a teacher or preacher. His nickname, which I later inherited for somewhat different reasons, was "the Snapper" or "Snappin' Jack." Indeed, anyone who ever took a course he taught can regale an audience with stories of dad's legendary (or infamous, depending on one's point of view) rants ("I get a kick out of these guys ...") against Arminians, charismatics, or the ever-popular covenant theologians ("Israel is not the church"). Writing about these brings a smile to my face even as I now disagree with his views on such matters as sanctification and salvation-history. For, like Luther and Calvin before him, dad took his stand on the Word of God as he understood it, and he was conscience-bound to proclaim only what he, through diligent study, believed to be true. Theology, in other words, despite the powerful pull of an anti-intellectual American pietism, mattered. And this meant, among other things, that truth, no matter how unpopular or inconvenient, must always trump the shibboleths of any human tradition, no matter how venerable or powerful. Today I honor his legacy, even if I don't always agree with his views, by adopting the same, entirely admirable stance, all the while realizing that doing so can result in having to pay the ultimate professional cost.

The second characteristic of dad's is one that his closest friends and relatives know best: his commitment to the doctrine of, and lifestyle determined by, grace. Dave Haines, his best friend from Newark dating back to the 1940s, said it best:
He was saved by grace and he never got over it. He knew that he was what he was by the grace of God; and if ever anyone ever spoke about anyone's failures, John would always say, "But for the grace of God, there go I" ... John was a personification of grace."
Indeed, I consider his commitment to the doctrines of God's sovereign grace, and the ramifications of these doctrines for how we must treat people, to be his greatest legacy. He embodied St. Paul's great principle of considering others to be more important than oneself (Phil 2:3) better than anyone I have ever known. And, as my brother said that night so long ago, he always thought the best of anybody. Never can I recall him ever saying anything negative about any other person. The reason for this is that he, in a way unparalleled in my experience, understood what St. Paul meant when he spoke of the grace of God. If indeed one is cognizant of having been dealt with graciously, one can never be an arrogant, condescending, or self-righteous person, for one will know in the depth of one's being that the favor with God she has received is entirely undeserved. The ramifications of this, as I learned from dad's example, are legion. But perhaps the two most important are as follows: (1) mercy and forgiveness ought to take precedence over strict justice, which can  and usually does  serve as a cover for vengeance and the assertion of control and power; and (2) people matter more than institutions and abstract rules, and thus one should always strive to be an advocate for the powerless. 

As I said, not a day passes that I don't think of dad. These twenty-six years have passed remarkably quickly. Sometimes it is hard for me to appreciate how short life is, and that I am now only 9+ years younger than dad was when he passed into the presence of his Lord. But that means one thing: it won't be long until I too leave this earth to be with Christ, which, as Paul himself said, is "better by far" than remaining in this world (Phil 1:23). And, as that day approaches, I increasingly anticipate that day when we both can sit together at the feet of the one who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20). Marana Tha!

Dad shooting baskets in Persia while in the
Army in WWII

The two most influential men in my life: Dad and his brother Bill, Havertown, 1985
(photo by author)

Dad and family, Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, Early 1950s