Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The use of Scripture in Christian Zionism: a critical examination. Pt. 8

I’ve just been on the phone with the London based NT scholar, Steve Motyer, to confirm that I can upload his article (‘Israel in God’s Plan’, a paper originally written for the 2003 EA consultation) for your reading pleasure. In this article he develops, to my mind, a very important argument, and one that analyses the hermeneutical question clearer than any other I’ve read. Though some of his thoughts, especially in relation to Rom 9-11, are developed in more depth in Israel in the Plan of God (Leicester: IVP, 1989), this article will certainly give readers a fresh and informed perspective on the whole debate. Perhaps the precise exegesis of Acts 15:13-21 may need to reworking, but this is a small matter for his exegesis is consistently well informed yet not too wordy. Indeed, anyone can read and understand it.

Actually, his article will also serve to furnish the argument developed in this series with further ‘snapshots’ concerning the hermeneutical strategy of NT writers.

It will be no secret, given the nature of my argument, that I have learnt a lot from Steve on this issue, and I think he’s dead right, but I would love to hear your thoughts about the thesis of ‘Israel in God’s Plan’, especially if you disagree.

Here is the article.



At 9/26/2006 9:51 PM, Blogger roodee said...

While I appreciate Steve Motyer's position I think he has drawn some conclusions that don't match with the evidence. I'll focus on just one for now.

"the first Christians (led here by Paul, of course) by and large rejected this

Here Steve is attempting to advance an argument that states the earliest church did not support a Jewish reading and understanding of the old testament.

He makes mention of Judaisers as a powerful force that advocated such a reading. But really, Steve confuses some issues here. The Judaisers and the early leadership were concerned with what practices made a person part of the "movement". So, naturally, the Judaisers had the understanding that strict observance to Torah was required for gentile converts. Paul, of course, argued otherwise. What Steve fails to make mention of here is that we are talking about the "gentile problem" and not the overall "Christian" population.

We don't have any evidence that "converted" Jews (which comprised the majority of Jesus earliest followers) suddenly stopped observing Torah. So, I think, Steve is confusing the term Christian here and not taking into account the variety types of people that made up this group.

Certainly the early leadership had struggles with how to move forward, but this occured at multiple levels and not at the larger Christian level. To presume there was a "one size fits all" solution that accounted for Jews and Gentiles is an error. We know that most of the early leadership understood that membership in this newly created kingdom no longer depended on a certain form of Torah observance. This is why they could require much, much less from gentile converts. This did not mean that the Jewish members could significantly alter their Torah observance.

This dichotomy, I think, presents us with additional data that needs to be accounted for as part of a larger explanation.

At 9/27/2006 12:23 AM, Blogger David Wilkerson said...

Great minds think alike, Roodee. I tripped on the same sentence as you.

Obviously Paul disagreed with the Judaizers, but why? Motyer offers only that the Spirit "jumped ahead" of the decision-making process and Paul's interpretation won the day. But still, why not then go on and circumcise converts and speak of land fulfillments and such.

More important but related, perhaps, is Motyer total lack of mention of the Spirit/flesh dichotomy which I think clearly drives Paul's thought on these matters. Motyer allows that Paul closely associates LAW and ISRAEL and "does away" with both, but he doesn't mention "flesh" which falls under the same category but presents a more sweeping argument for Paul.

It's an argument I think that wouldn't be based on a salvation historical/eschatological scheme substituting Jesus to fulfill Israel's well-known mission to the gentiles. Rather it would be an Apocalypse of Adam which makes Israel just another sad species of flesh, but whose holy book contains the oracles about it all in advance.

Israel distinctive status as a nation and history is then just so much "flesh" to Paul. So too with Christ's ethnic background and historical existence. In Rom 1:3-4, "According to the flesh" he's the son of David (who cares? Paul might say) but "according to the Spirit" he is the Son of God (his true identity). Note it's the resurrection which allows this juxtaposition of flesh and Spirit.

In all matters concerning ethnic claims for Israel or Jesus, 'flesh' reappears:
Romans 4 - was Abraham ever our forefather "according to the flesh"? No. Romans 7 written at least partially to Jews (v.1) denigrates their "flesh" as compelled to sin and calls them to serve in the newness of the Spirit. Romans 9:5 grants that Jesus is Israel's "according to the flesh" but it is sore comfort. As 9:6-8 has it, it is not the "children of the flesh" (Israel) who are the children of God (the true Israel). Jesus is not the Son of God that way either.

Still, why all of this denigration of 'flesh'? As resurection was already mentioned as the cause, 1 Cor 15:39-49) and Adamic Christology must contain the answer. Adam's body was flesh, but Christ 'became' a life-giving 'Spirit'. Thus the flesh/Spirit distinction arises from Christ's own transformed experience. Christ left his 'flesh' existence behind at the resurrection becoming the 'Spirit' (1 Cor 15:39-45). Remember Paul thinks the Son came "in the LIKENESS of sinful flesh" (Romans 8:3) to perform a mission (i.e. die), so he could raise us to walk in the Spirit. It is "sinful" and he only came in its "likeness", so it's clearly bad.

Thus Christ according to the flesh avails nothing and thus Paul "regards no man according to the flesh" (2 Cor 5) anymore. This all also partly explains Paul's lack of concern with Jesus 'earthy' mission or biographical details. That would be viewing Jesus "according to the flesh".

Israel's privileges have just become a distinct example of sinful human 'flesh' claims. The life of/in the new "heavenly" Adam has made them "earthy" destined to be left behind like Jesus "according to the flesh" whom "we know no longer" (2 Cor 5).

Whether one agrees with my conclusion, I think this flesh/Spirit dichotomy is key and needs to be included in any explanation. Further the dichotomy's origin itself needs to be explained adequately. I don't think it is enough to say that the Spirit pouring out on the Gentiles was enough to justify Paul's moves. One has to explain why this pouring out caused him to go back and oppose flesh vs. Spirit lumping Israel and all its ethnic claims in the former category. Something like the Galatians 4 allegory which goes so far as to call Jews sons of Hagar born "according to the flesh" and the related privileging of the "Jerusalem above" can only be explained by relating them to the Jesus who was "flesh" but now is the "man from heaven" (1 Cor 15:47).

I am suggesting that Paul's view of this "Israel issue" may be connected to much larger issues of mythological Christology and views of the resurrection body so that it is not a peripheral hermeneutical move that Paul made (which fortunately carried the day!) as Motyer makes it appear.

At 9/27/2006 12:01 PM, Anonymous James Mendelsohn said...

In due course I'll read Motyer's piece and write some comments of my own from a Messianic Jewish perspective.

In the meantime, I'll pick up on this sentence of Roodee's which I liked: "We don't have any evidence that "converted" Jews (which comprised the majority of Jesus earliest followers) suddenly stopped observing Torah." Indeed not - Paul had Timothy circumcised and bent over backwards to emphasise his observance of the law.

At 9/27/2006 3:17 PM, Anonymous Shane Clifton said...

Chris - i know this is a tangent, but i thought you might be interested to hear that Yisrayl Hawkins is claiming that his prophecy was fulfilled. I listened to 1/2 hour of a you tube message trying to justify this claim (something about a secret weapon fired by bush) - but it is so amazingly confusing i couldnt really follow what he was saying. Aparently we now have another 13 months. Sept 12 was merely the start of the end!

He suggests we need to listen to his message and read his articles, which are vital to our salation. I have tried, but if salvation is this confusing then i guess i am doomed.

At 9/28/2006 1:31 AM, Anonymous Shane Clifton said...

I must be completetly insane - but i watched some more, and at around 70 minutes it become clear. They showed a video of Bush talking about the 5 year anniversary of 9/11, and then another video of some sort of buring rocket - and claimed that these two events entailed Bush launching a nuclear attack.

I reckon that this is an extreme example of the sort of eisegesis that is often done by contemporary dispensational theologians - including many those Christians who assume the restablishment of the nation of Israel was fulfilment of biblical prophecy.

At 9/28/2006 9:42 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

@ Shane:

for crying out loud!

This perhaps deserves a little post ...


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