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Two more hidden assumptions

Recently I discussed three myths that prop up pop-biblical-theology.  My sights aren't set on the myths so much.  My sights are set on a unitarian hermeneutic which often (but not always) lies behind them.  But the myths are the assumptions that allow the real danger to flourish.

Allow Article 7 of the 39 Articles to describe the real bogeyman:

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises.

Today we are hearing those who 'feign' exactly this kind of nonsense.  And almost always they use these myths to support it.

Here are two more  hidden assumptions which exert a heavy influence on these discussions:

4) Antiquarian means unitarian

I was recently in a blog discussion in which a commenter asserted "There is no preface to the bible."  Good point.  God has not written a little introduction with some notes on theological assumptions etc.  We just dive into Moses and away we go.

Trouble is, this commenter was using that fact as proof that Moses etc couldn't have had conscious messianic faith because, well, apart from a messianic preface where would OT saints get that idea from?

And no, it's no use pointing to their actual words because, as myth 1 states so eloquently, they spoke better than they knew.  And it's no use pointing to other verses about their messianic faith because, as myth 3 insists, those verses tell us nothing of authorial intent.

So, the argument goes, in the absence of a messianically focussed, trinitarian preface, we ought to assume an essentially sub-messianic, unitarian faith. Right?

Well now.  The fact that there's no preface cuts both ways.  If your default assumption is that belief evolves from more primitive forms into messianic faith then you have an unwritten preface of your own.  But why should we accept such a preface?  Why should antiquarian equal unitarian?  Why not just dive into Moses and the Prophets assuming they're talking about the same triune God revealed in the One Mediator, the Divine Angel, the Visible God, the LORD Messiah?  Since we've all got unwritten prefaces, why not have this one?  Sounds a lot more biblical to me than assuming they were unitarian!  I know that comparative religion teachers would have a heart attack, but what biblical reason could we have for rejecting such an unwritten preface?

So often people assume Moses' doctrine of God was essentially Maimonides'!  There's an assumption that trinitarianism is the fruit of a progressive revelation of truth.  No-one ever says that in the bible.  Or anything like it.

In fact the NT records no doctrinal struggles whatsoever with a multi-Personal doctrine of God.  Kosher diet - that's tricky.  Circumcision - that's a dilly of a pickle.  But trinity - no worries.

So rather than seeing trinitarianism as the fruit of progressive revelation, why not assume that modern Judaism's unitarianism is the fruit of regressive reception?  That's my assumption.

It is neither obvious nor true that OT faith was essentially unitarian.  See here for more on the trinitarian OT.  Or this fascinating site The Two Powers.

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5) Progress precludes prescience

Here's another strong but false assumption.  It goes something like this:

Christ fulfills OT shadows.  Therefore there is progress in the bible - kings that come and go before The King arrives; temples set up before The Temple appears; lambs that are sacrificed before The Lamb is slain; etc; etc...

And to this we can all happily nod along.  Who could disagree?  Who would want to?

The trouble comes when this feat of logic is deployed:

...Therefore, because there is such progress, it is obvious that OT saints trusted only the shadows and were ignorant of their Fulfilment.

To which the response is: huh??  Why should this be the case?  It just doesn't follow.  In fact, consider how these shadows were set up in the OT:

Before a lamb was ever offered, it was promised "God Himself will provide the lamb" (Gen 22:8)

Before a king ever held the sceptre it was prophesied "He will come to Whom it belongs (Gen 49:10)

Before an article of the tabernacle was produced, Moses was told it was "according to a pattern." (Ex 25:9,40)

Progress does not preclude prescience.  I'm sure there were many who looked only to the shadows and not to the Substance (just as there are many who today might trust in the sacraments and not Christ).  But there's nothing about the fact of progress that means OT faith terminated on a sub-Christian object.

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So then, let's make it five myths.

1) The prophets spoke better than they knew

2) No-one expected the kind of Messiah Jesus was

3) The Apostles read unintended Messianic meaning into the prophets

4) Antiquarian means unitarian

5) Progress precludes prescience

I've never argued biblical theology without most of these assumptions being in play.  Usually all of them.

Can you think of others?

0 thoughts on “Two more hidden assumptions

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  2. dev

    God is a Spirit = no body
    i'm pretty sure this is a key factor in the absence of OT Jesus and strange eschatology

  3. Si

    I heard myth 4 yesterday on an American radio program that wants to make a "gracious defense for classical Christianity and classical Christian values" and makes lots of talk about standing in the stream of historic Christianity (I point all that out for it's irony, given it holds to myth 4, which seems in contrast to people like Justin Martyr, John Calvin and Jesus).

    It said that, unlike Muslims, modern Jews practising Judaism are worshipping Yahweh and that the OT didn't need to reveal a trinitarian God but then the incarnation meant that God needed to tell us about the Trinity.

    Digging around a bit on their site, it seems to me like they share in the myth that "modern Judaism is the continuity of OT faith" (which flows out of myth 4) - they believe we need to tell Jews about Jesus and the true nature of Yahweh and all that jazz, and how the Old Covenant doesn't apply any more as the New one has come - they (rightly) believe modern Jews don't have salvation without Jesus, but they (very wrongly) believe that ancient Jews had salvation without Jesus.

  4. Tim V-B

    8) Signs, symbols, physical stuff (land, kings, temples, blood, etc) belong to the OT and are less spiritual than whatever we have now.

    Couldn't say this is in every biblical theology argument, but it's pretty common. And interesting that lots of the churches who hold to the myths you mention have services that are very cerebral (essentially a bible talk + padding) e.g. low view of the sacraments, no liturgy, no physical movement.

  5. Chris w

    9) Modern, Orthodox Judaism *essentially* has the right idea with regard to the OT, with the exception of a few prophetic passages (Isaiah 53, Zechariah 13 etc).

    Though some would even dispute that those passages were originally intended that way, eg. Isaiah 53 originally being about the nation of Israel and so on.

    I think it stems from (or is at least influenced by) a largely dispensational view of the scriptures, it's very fashionable these days. I'm not really a covenant theology type, but I find it to be much less wishy-washy than disp in its view of OT salvation. You start with a rigid distinction between Israel and the Church and you end up with two peoples who have two faiths. Jesus ceases to be the God of Israel, he just turns up uninvited, steals his dad's name and presides over Israel like she belongs to him.

    "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." (Matt 23:37)

    Honestly, this guy has some nerve, just showing up like this! How dare he speak in this way!

  6. Rich Owen

    It's not just that these myths are squeezing Jesus out the picture....

    Myth 10) There is no indwelling Spirit for OT saints

    And like Dev says - the anthropomorphic and anthropopathic assumption.

    *rant alert*

    It's just so frustrating how all pervasive this thinking has become. It's EVERYWHERE. It's not some archaic thing which is dying out either. It is spreading like wildfire through ministry training, apprentice schemes, bible colleges, pop-level theology books, commentaries.... blah. I am glad you've taken a proper swing at it Glen, cause the nice guy stuff just isn't working.

    BOOM

  7. John B

    Hi Rich,

    Although I think that we've reached different conclusions on this, I'm grateful that you've identified what I likewise believe is the underlying issue on the question of the continuity/discontinuity of the covenants. So I echo your encouragement of more discussion on this topic.

  8. Hiram

    "…Therefore, because there is such progress, it is obvious that OT saints trusted only the shadows and were ignorant of their Fulfilment."

    I actually had someone tell me this last week. I almost choked on my coffee! He was using that type of argument to argue that many people who have never heard the Gospel, but who believe in things that are vaguely true about God (as revealed in Scripture), are probably saved.

    Fail.

    After our discussion, I went to Genesis 3:15 to see what God revealed in the protoevangelium.

    Here's what I came back with:

    The Messiah would be born for the express purpose of crushing the serpent (who was culpable for introducing death, in some sense) by suffering as He did so. He would do this for the seed of the woman, as their representative.

    Um, that's quite a bit of information if you ask me!

    -h.

  9. Chris E

    "I’m sure there were many who looked only to the shadows and not to the Substance (just as there are many who today might trust in the sacraments and not Christ)."

    Sure, but there is a maximalist and a minimalist version of this argument.

    It's hard to sustain the maximalist version of this - which you seem to prefer - because it isn't supported by any of the literature of the time. One could ask why the prophets didn't make a sharper distinction between the two comings of the messiah if they understood clearly how the shadows would be fulfilled.

  10. Glen

    Hi Chris,

    I'm very glad you say "sure"! Millions today don't!

    My concern, first and foremost, is to set the absolute minimum at "conscious (i.e. knowing) trust in the Person of Christ." My first aim is to convince people that anything below this watermark is a catastrophic compromise of 'Christ alone'. If people are above the watermark - somewhere between your minimalist and maximalist positions - then I'm relieved. But I hear and read evangelicals every day who fall far below this.

    I think the assumptions we bring both to the prophets and to the 'literature of the time' have a massive effect on our reading of them. It's amazing to me how careless evangelicals can be with the details of the Hebrew Scriptures - but if they think that the original audience only grasped, at best, the broad brush-strokes, then of course they will be careless. Jesus modelled a very careful reading - noticing the present tense of Exodus 3:6; asking how David's son can be Lord etc. I assume that this was how the best of OT believers poured over Scripture. I'm sure many came up with some wacky ideas about Christ's coming (many today have some pretty wacky ideas about Christ's coming - including how many time He will come!) - but my 'maximalist' assumptions are not about what the pop-religion of Israel thought, but just about reading the prophets with an assumption that they are fellow believers in the same Lord and His same gospel and they know what they're talking about.

    If pop-biblical theology did that then you'd find all the sting coming out of my arguments. But the truth is, it falls far below the minimal mark you speak of.

  11. Chris E

    "It’s amazing to me how careless evangelicals can be with the details of the Hebrew Scriptures – but if they think that the original audience only grasped, at best, the broad brush-strokes, then of course they will be careless."

    However, if your argument is that (some of) the original audience would have grasped most of the detail then the burden of proof is on you :)

    If you look at Judaism in the second temple period you have all sorts of sects with different ideas, conspicuous by their absence are any sects looking for a messiah like the one that God actually sent .. though you could always argue that the faithful communities never committed their thoughts to writing.

    Even if you take the disciples as examples of 'faithful Israel' you have a range of beliefs, from Philip who seems to get things very clearly in John 1, to whoever was speaking in Acts 1.

  12. Josh VB

    I suspect trying to work out what OT Jews understood the scriptures to mean would be as difficult as succinctly saying what modern people (of all nations and religions) make of the Bible today. If we happen to read Dawkin's book we'd be far off the mark of what the original authors meant.

    As to the OT not prophesying clearly the two advents of Christ, are we sure this is something that's present in the OT or in our ignorance? Justin Martyr thought that Jacob predicted the two advents of Christ (Dialogue, LII). If we assume it's not a distinction isn't made in the OT we're unlikely to find one. Alternatively maybe the OT doesn't make much of the two advents of Christ, in which case should we conclude ignorance of the OT or see our present age as somehow "abnormal"? Christ has been made ruler over all, yet we don't see that now.

    Chris, I'd be interested to see if you think there is anything to be gained by having the OT be a book that needs the NT to interprete it (forgive me if this misrepresents your views). In my mind if the OT is explicitly Christian, then the arguement that was can be saved outside conscious faith in Christ stands. This makes me inclined to favour a more maximal view of the OT (which hopefully falls short of eisegesis).

  13. Rich Owen

    Hi Chris

    Interesting points there, but it seems to me that David understood that the shadows would be fulfilled. Psalm 53 - the sacrificial system, the witness of the walls of Jerusalem etc - all this physical stuff had a future reality which David had in clear view.

    The first and second advent thing has been brought up a couple of times and is a really interesting and engaging point as it is dealing with scripture in a simple way. I guess I wondered that if the Spirit of Christ pointed the prophets to his suffering and glory, leaving only the time and circumstances unclear, then its not too surprising that first and second advent blur into one. Not even Jesus knows the time of his second advent. What do others think?

    The thing about the max and min stuff is that the NT goes for the max. Jesus just assumes that people haven't read the scriptures and that they face judgement when they fail to believe in Him from their witness alone. Pretty maximalist don't you think? A Hegelian search for balance is always (maximalist!) going to squash how black and white Jesus was about this.

    Does that make sense?

    In Jesus

    Rich

  14. Chris E

    "I suspect trying to work out what OT Jews understood the scriptures to mean would be as difficult as succinctly"

    That is correct, and I'm not claiming that there wasn't a diversity of views, quite the opposite! The point was more that it there isn't a lot of historical support for the claim that the maximalist approach outlined actually existed. We can glean some of what communities like Qumran and sects like the Pharisees and the followers of Philo were thinking, but mysteriously the maximalist approach is absent.

    "Chris, I’d be interested to see if you think there is anything to be gained by having the OT be a book that needs the NT to interpret it"

    Yes! Either it calls into question why Hebrews and Romans and similar passages in the epistles are in the Canon at all, or it undermines our confidence in scripture itself - because it seems that the way that God works through Means to communicate himself is being downplayed in favour of on-going direct revelation of redemptive history.

  15. Chris E

    "Interesting points there, but it seems to me that David understood that the shadows would be fulfilled. Psalm 53 – the sacrificial system, the witness of the walls of Jerusalem etc – all this physical stuff had a future reality which David had in clear view. "

    True, but there is a difference between believing a promise will be fulfilled and knowing how it will be fulfilled.

  16. John B

    In the description of assumption #4 I'm in agreement with the criticism of the unitarian hermeneutical preface. But your observation that, "Since we’ve all got unwritten prefaces..." seems to me to get to the root of the difficulty. Yes, the unitarian preface is horrible. The dispensational preface is better, but deeply flawed. The covenantal preface is the best of the group. If I was ever looking to add an unwritten preface to the Bible I'd choose this one.

    But I'd rather take scripture without an unwritten preface of any stripe. The Father, revealed through the Son, by the Holy Spirit—only knowable by self-revelation. This ground is absolute—solid and sure, and only understandable in its uniqueness, with no higher or deeper ground above or below. The subject of this revelation is God himself, and not the prophets who are his instruments.

    So, as for me, again I say, away with *any and all* "unwritten prefaces"!

  17. Josh VB

    Chris,

    thanks for your answer. Here's my thoughts on some of the New Testament books:

    If the content of OT and NT are the same (except with respect to, say, the place of the Gentiles) this doesn't mean that the clarity must be the same. An Israelite growing up in Israel would be learning gospel truths from history, geography (everytime they visited a place the name would conjure up some Biblical image) culture, the holidays, food etc. As a child grew up faithful people could teach them the meanings of these things which had been learnt through a lifetime of studying scriptures. Generations of faithfullness would result in the blessings of greater clarity and understanding.

    In the missional context of the NT Paul would want to be very clear so that those not steeped from birth in the gospel could grasp the gospel.

    Also, having different perspectives on the same truth doesn't require new truth to be useful.

    Finally, could you clarify something? It seems your wanting to hold on to the absolute necessity of all the books of scripture and consistency that God reveals himself in only one way throughout history - namely through the Bible. It seems to me that either the NT isn't necessary for salvation (however one defines/clarifies that) or in the OT age some other means of communication is needed: regardless of how one might view the content/clarity of the OT. Have I misunderstood your point?

  18. Chris w

    Chris E,

    From what I can tell, you acknowledge that the OT saints trusted in Jesus. That they looked beyond the types and symbols of the law and saw Jesus. They may not have known that there would be such an enormous gap between the first and second comings, but they knew that suffering would have to come before glory (following the natural progression of Isaiah 53-55, Gen 22:15-18, the story of Joseph and many other examples). A point which has been emphasized a lot is that even Jesus did not know when he would return, he entrusted such knowledge to the father.

    One point which Glen made rather well is that Jesus never understood the scriptures to be unclear. He blamed the hardness of the human heart when it came to a lack of understanding about the scriptures, not a lack of clarity. And Jesus is the man ;)

  19. Glen

    Hi Chris E - at 11:03am you said "Sure" - I'm not so sure you mean "sure" after all. I'm less and less sure that your 'minimum' is higher than the minimum I'm trying to argue for.

    As Chris w has summarized for us above - the minimum position is that OT saints trusted Jesus, they looked beyond shadows and types and saw Jesus, they trusted in His sufferings and later glories.

    At 11:03 you sounded to me like you wanted to accept that 'minimalist' position but baulked at further detail - like 1st and 2nd comings etc.

    But then at 5:11pm you said of my position:

    "it seems that the way that God works through Means to communicate himself is being downplayed in favour of on-going direct revelation of redemptive history."

    Why is it a problem to speak of 'on-going direct revelation of redemptive history'? Why must the End of all these means remain a mystery to those involved?

    I'm not denying that God works through means - just that the faithful OT saints knew they were means and not the End. Do you think the OT saints were ignorant that the means were means? And do you think they were ignorant of the Messiah Himself as the End? If so - you drop below the minimum.

    I wonder further whether you are denying personal knowledge of Christ to believers in your next comment (also at 5:11 - that was fast!!) -

    "there is a difference between believing a promise will be fulfilled and knowing how it will be fulfilled."

    If you mean by this that OT saints trusted promises which turned out to be fulfilled by Christ, yet their faith wasn't fixed on Christ - then this isn't a minimalist-maximalist disagreement. It's about whether you're even minimally minimal.

    I firmly disagree with your comment at 12:00:

    "if your argument is that (some of) the original audience would have grasped most of the detail then the burden of proof is on you :)"

    A) I'm wondering whether we're really talking about degrees of 'detail' or whether we're actually talking about whether or not Christ was known and trusted.

    B) The burden is not with our side. Paul says plainly "I am saying nothing beyond what Moses and the prophets said would happen - that the Christ would suffer, rise and proclaim light to the Gentiles." Christ never sympathises with a lack of clarity in understanding.

    The burden of proof is definitely on your side.

  20. Chris E

    "“I am saying nothing beyond what Moses and the prophets said would happen – that the Christ would suffer, rise and proclaim light to the Gentiles."

    I absolutely agree, but there is a difference between recognising the fulfillment of a prophesy when it occurs, and knowing beforehand how it will be fulfilled in detail. If the latter was true, then the prophets would be far more explicit. As it is the messianic prophecies are scattered in passages that speak about earthly, spiritual, and eschatalogical simultaneously.

    Even the disciples - the canonical example of faithful Israel - got their chronology wrong at times, i.e they misinterpreted what Moses and the prophets said would happen - and Jesus' rejoinder to them in Acts 1 wasn't "You of little faith".

    "Why is it a problem to speak of ‘on-going direct revelation of redemptive history’?"

    Because you are then questioning the sufficiency of scripture and make salvation in the OT to be a very disjointed affair that largely bypasses the covenant God makes with his people.

  21. Rich Owen

    Hi again Chris E,

    You said in response to my comment "True, but there is a difference between believing a promise will be fulfilled and knowing how it will be fulfilled." And you've brought that up again in your last comment.

    I agree. Of course there is a difference. But scripture teaches that David DID know how these things would be fulfilled. In Acts 2, Peter is preaching on Psalm 16 to a bunch of people who thought David didn't know who he was writing about and he says "Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah"

    Peter is going maximal. It was about Jesus. But then he says that David consciously knew that Psalm 16 was about Jesus. He then goes on to prove that David knew Jesus as his personal Lord and quotes Psalm 110.

    I love that piece for so many reasons, but one reason is because the Apostle Peter actually does a practical bit of bible study. It's a "how to" moment which goes along nicely with what he writes in his fist epistle about the prophets knowing about the sufferings and glory of Jesus.

    Just reading through Hebrews 11 also ought to leave us in no doubt that the saints looked beyond the shadows to the reality. For example, the Patriarchs lived in tents because they looked beyond the shadow of the Promised Land to the reality of the New Creation.

    Hope that is helpful. Sorry if you feel a bit rail roaded!

    In Jesus

    Rich

  22. Paul Blackham

    Several years ago I had some conversations about the kind of world we live in: what are the most ‘natural’ assumptions to make about it? As you can imagine this got nowhere because what appears to be ‘natural’ is already determined by our inner convictions, the state of our heart, the framework of our minds, our spiritual state.

    Some people I spoke to, including atheists and Christians, genuinely believed that the most ‘natural’ assumptions to make about the world are that it is almost a ‘neutral’ or ‘value-free’ or ‘meaning-less’ environment in which the actors [humanity and if applicable god/gods/demons/angels etc] play. Thus the meaning comes from the players, from the things they say and do, whereas the stage itself has no message as such. Some of the Christians did concede that an indirect knowledge of the existence, power and wisdom of ‘God’ might be derived from the ‘stage’ but that no substantial or saving or personal knowledge of ‘God’ was available from the stage itself. Needless to say the atheists and agnostics tend to be more aggressive than that, arguing that there is nothing at all in the whole universes that has any intrinsic meaning, nothing beyond religious humans/documents that speak of the Person and Work of Christ, no ‘bare facts’ that tell the gospel story.

    It would not be too hard to trace the genealogy of these assumptions and that view of the universe to the Enlightenment split between fact and meaning, the attempt to start from an ‘objective’ or ‘value-free’ view of reality. That is precisely what the early modern writers were trying to do and they explicitly speak about excluding ‘tradition and theology’ from all observation. [The contrast with Jonathan Edwards is amazing, when we consider when he is writing and observing the world around him.]

    Now, obviously, with this kind of assumption will make us read not only ‘nature' but also history in a particular way. If the world is essentially either devoid of meaning [atheists/agnostics] or else the meaning is ambiguous or of limited value [a non-specific deity who is powerful and wise etc] then it is easy to see how ancient people would be regarded. They are too early in the labourious upward climb of science/progressive religion/ethical development/civilisation. If there is no meaning [as the atheists suggest] then the only knowledge to be gained is the ‘brute facts’ of the mechanisms of the universe and because the ancients had clouded such knowledge with mythology and religion their grasp of such things was at best basic but more likely completely absurd. For those who accept the basic framework but allow ‘God’ to be another player who has ‘intervened’ in the mechanical system, then yes, perhaps ‘God’ was able to somewhat boost the progress of his own religious group, introducing hints of further heights on the long road ahead, whilst ensuring that the people at the current stage of development kept their minds fixed on the stage they were at.

    So, now we are at our current stage [final?] of the progress we can look back on those on the lower slopes in antiquity and with affectionate congratulations applaud those who were able to glimpse beyond the slope they were climbing to the fog-shrouded heights of the mountain. It was good that they did that, and perhaps the glimpses of the higher slopes encouraged them on, but ultimately all they were required to do was labour on up the specific slope they were on.

    However, what if the world is radically different than that?

    What if the universe is packed full of meaning and theology? What if [to use the Enlightenment terms] the myth is fundamental and the ‘mechanisms’ are superficial? What if, to put it in stark terms, it is of quite trivial importance to know how electric works but extremely important to know what Adam and Eve did when they listened to a talking snake?

    Far from a world empty or light on meaning, the world around us is utterly overflowing with the Person and Work of Christ and His gospel. The world is full of the glory of the Living God, full of the shining expression of the character and ways of the Father, Son and Spirit. Far from struggling to find hints, as a race we run around with our fingers in our ears and our eyes shut tight desperately trying to suppress the truth about this glorious Living God.

    Romans 1:18-20 is remarkable. Paul does not suggest that general hints of a non-specific deity are deducible from sustained meditation on the heavens but that “what may be known of God” is plain and not just the visible and superficial aspects of God’s work are revealed but even the invisible divine nature is “clearly seen’. At first sight it seems ridiculous, if we have anything like the ‘neutral’ view of the universe. How is it even conceivable that the INVISIBLE divine nature can be mediated into expression in the creation let alone the sheer avalanche of knowledge that this would imply?!?

    “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

    This is why Athanasius says that everybody who considers the world can clearly see that a Divine Word is mediating the revelation of the Invisible God.

    Nevertheless, when we look at real ancient religion we do not find a neat progression from animism to polytheism to monotheism and onto [possibly] Trinitarianism. The concept of blood atonement [substitution, expiation] is surely at the very pinnacle of gospel truth and divine revelation, yet the need for atoning blood, even a human sacrifice, is understood [if in corrupted terms] by almost the entire human race in every continent. The natural world around us constantly teaches us of the Father, Son & Spirit and the gospel: whether in the way that seeds die and are resurrected into glorious new bodies; the daily triumph of light over darkness; the inability of the chaotic oceans to overwhelm the land; the gospel story of the seasons; the biography of Jesus in the stars; the fact that the eight-legged spider destroys the flies; the clean animals live together in harmony; the invisible wind has such power; the worship of the trees constantly clapping their hands in the presence of that wind; the glory of the clouds; the way in which we become one flesh to produce a third; the pattern of fatherhood/parenthood derived directly from the Father Himself across the whole world in so many varied ways; what happens to bodies when the life is taken from them; the structure of music; the inter-relation of colours; the patterns of mathematics; the hydrologic cycle of rain and evaporation; the sun with its light and warmth… and so on and so on. Just throwing down the first ones that come to mind is an almost overwhelming process.

    Job 12:7-10 – “ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”

    Even when we come to consider the confused ways that human beings have acknowledged all these truths in their religions and myths we are constantly bumping into half-remembered and twisted versions of the full truth. Nuggets of extremely sophisticated theology are found in rotting mounds of human religion.

    The ancient world is packed with stories of dying and rising gods. Although James Frazer did a great service in bringing many of these stories back into general circulation, the church fathers mention them as further confirmations of the gospel. Going back to the earliest roots of human civilisation we find these stories of a father-son relationship at the centre of the gods [Odin-Thor is the one most Europeans are familiar with] and the cycle of death and resurrection/rebirth for the gods. If the Eleusinian Mysteries really do go back as far as 1800 BC then at the very centre of this most ‘sacred’ mystery there is this story of Persephone returning from the underworld. The Egyptian Osiris myth may go back to the 3rd millennia BC. Of course we find these patterns of myth/theology all over the world because the entire world not only preaches all this to us but also the ancient church itself taught all this things when Noah was the senior minister of the global church. When I read ancient Hebrew writers I expect them to be thinking of the Father, Son & Spirit, of the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, of the coming day of judgement and the new creation to follow etc. I expect to learn from them how to live as a follower of Jesus in a pagan world. I expect them to be at least as sophisticated and profound in their theology as the pagan religions around them!

    “The Divine Light, we are told, ‘lighteneth every man’. We should, therefore, expect to find in the imagination of great Pagan teachers and myth makers some glimpse of that theme which we believe to be the very plot of the whole cosmic story – the theme of incarnation, death and rebirth. And the differences between the Pagan Christs [Balder, Osiris etc] and the Christ Himself is much what we should expect to find. The Pagan stories are all about someone dying and rising, either every year, or else nobody knows where and nobody knows when. The Christian story is about a historical personage, whose execution can be dated pretty accurately…” [C. S. Lewis Is Theology Poetry?]

    In other words, then, we are not only asking what kind of assumptions do we have about the ancient Hebrew people, but we are also asking what kind of assumptions do we have about the entire world. What kind of world do we live in? When we preach the gospel of Jesus we are giving expression to the truths that are written into and shouting from all the natural world around us. The ancient Hebrew church was living in a world where the story of Jesus death and resurrection was already being told in demonic religious corruptions.

  23. Paul Blackham

    When I read Philo and the Dead Sea Scrolls I find myself reading people who had minds full of deep gospel, who understood the Trinitarian God in incredible ways. Yes, the language is usually different and the terms are not the ones settled by later Mediterranean Christianity, but the ideas are the same. I’ve learned so much of Christ from them. Philo’s preaching of Christ from in Who is Heir? is glorious.

    I’m well aware that the new religion of Judaism that comes in the second century AD and after is a very different affair. The kind of writings preserved there are not nearly so Christological or gospel-filled. We even find prayers explicitly against ‘the Nazarenes’, rejecting the followers of Jesus as heretics! I’m very nervous of projecting that later Judaism that has rejected the Hebrew religion back into the first century and earlier.

    Michael Heiser has specialised in Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Scriptures from the time before Jesus’ birth. In one chapter of his book “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Jewish Literature” he examines the way that Christ was represented in the literature of the time. It certainly goes a long way to explaining why Jewish theologians of the time did not have a problem with “Trinitarianism”: why the multi-personal One God of Israel was far from being a new idea.

    “The word for “word” in Aramaic is memra. That means in the passages we looked at a few paragraphs ago, instead of talking about the Logos of God or the “Word” of the Lord, we’d be talking about the “Memra of the Lord” coming to people. It just so happens that in the Targums—those Aramaic translations of the Old Testament the Jews of Jesus’ day were used to reading as their Bible—the Memra of God as a manifestation of God or as a “second God” shows up in many places.
    The Memra actually became a well-known character in the Old Testament for Jewish readers of the Aramaic Bible. Throughout the Aramaic Bible, the Memra is introduced or “used” in passages where it looked like there was more than one Yahweh in a passage, or where there was a second god figure who seemed to be interchanged with Yahweh. Let that sink in: Jews who went to synagogue before Jesus’s day werereading a Bible that had the Word—the Memra—as a deity figure in addition to the God of Israel. Jews knew that “the Memra was God” before John ever wrote.
    For example—and this one is curious in Hebrew and English—take a look at Genesis 19:24, which describes the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah:
    Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.
    Kind of odd, isn’t it? The Lord (Yahweh in Hebrew) is the one raining fire out of heaven from the Lord (Yahweh). It really looks like there are two Yahwehs here! My view is that’s the case, in a manner of speaking. There is the invisible Yahweh, God the Father who is spirit. The other is the visible Yahweh that appeared to Abraham in Genesis 15 as the Word, who later appeared to him again to share a meal and speak to him about these wicked cities. As I will argue in this book at length, Yahweh in flesh or manifest as a visible person is Yahweh the Son, the second person of a Jewish godhead. The other was Yahweh in heaven, the Father. Amazingly, the Targum picked up on this and “solved” the odd wording of Genesis 19:24 by inserting the Memra into the verse. Here is how the Targum renders Genesis 19:24:v
    Then the Memra of the Lord [Yahweh] rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.”

    In one sense I regret posting this because I don't want to waste our time with studies of non-Biblical material.

    It was claimed that the prophets would have been far more explicit about Christ if they had really understood it all. However, from my own perspective, that seems to beg the question. The prophets seem to me to be extremely explicit. the LORD God of Israel is Jesus and they speak about Him [and to Him] all the time. The pattern of the Hebrew Scriptures is not 90% God the Father with little bits of the Son popping up every now and again. Rather, it is the Son and the Father being mediated by the Son at all times. Remember, as Jude said, it was Jesus who delivered the people from Egypt.

    For myself, I found that as I understood the way that the prophets and the patriarchs speak about Christ and the gospel, I understood more and more of what they were saying. The classic example is the new creation and Abraham. Abraham was preaching about his new creation hope by living in tents in a region where the most desirable living was in the new urban cities. If I am looking for moments when Abraham stood on a soap box and preached 'sermons' on the Second Coming then I wonder if I am imposing an alien expectation onto that ancient patriarch. This is true in so many different ways. How did Abrarham express his faith in the resurrection in Genesis 22? How did Moses show that he preferred Christ over all the luxuries of Egypt? Instead of expecting the patriarchs and prophets to talk in the Greek categories and language of 3rd century bishops [or even 21st century Bible students] perhaps we need to be careful to allow them to express the Christian Faith in their own way, using the actions and terms that they really did.

  24. Chris E

    "Peter is going maximal. It was about Jesus. But then he says that David consciously knew that Psalm 16 was about Jesus. He then goes on to prove that David knew Jesus as his personal Lord and quotes Psalm 110. "

    Hi Rich -

    Not every old testament believer was David, or the conduit of special revelation in the way David - as a Prophet of God - was.

    The average OT believer would have believed in the promise based on the Scripture they had available to them.

  25. Rich Owen

    Thanks for replying Chris.

    So do I take that you accept that *some* OT saints had faith in the promised Messiah?

    That is basically all Glen, Paul myself and others are claiming. We certainly wouldn't say *all* OT people had this conscious faith, otherwise Peter wouldn't need to explain about Jesus to the gathered people, Jesus wouldn't need to rebuke people for not *knowing Him* through the Hebrew scriptures and so on.

    I guess we might want to say that David's role as prophet and king and Israel's teacher is significant. He wrote things down for the ancient church to use, he taught and lived (mostly!) what he believed. Any "average OT" guy *should* have listened, understood and been saved in Christ because Christ is who David taught, and his sufferings and glory are what he taught.

    The fact that they didn't doesn't change the point that Glen's original post (and the previous one on 3 foundational myths) set out to make.

    The revelation is clear - salvation in Christ, the eternal Word of the Father.

    In Him

    Rich

  26. Rich Owen

    And the fact that the majority did not believe is what Paul is on about in Romans 10. He says with Isaiah, "who has believed our message?"

    Isaiah was frustrated at the lack of Christ focused love and trust and so was Paul, and in 21st Century Leeds, so am I! It's the daily pain of the evangelist!

    Rich

  27. Chris E

    "So do I take that you accept that *some* OT saints had faith in the promised Messiah?"

    All OT *saints* had faith in the promised Messiah - they just wouldn't have been able to explain it in the terms Peter (or David) would have used, they would not necessarily have been able to spell out in detail how their redemption would take place, they would all trust in the promises of God that it would take place.

  28. Chris E

    "It seems your wanting to hold on to the absolute necessity of all the books of scripture and consistency that God reveals himself in only one way throughout history – namely through the Bible. It seems to me that either the NT isn’t necessary for salvation (however one defines/clarifies that) or in the OT age some other means of communication is needed"

    The OT sets forth the promises of God, and the NT shows us how all the promises of God are fulfilled in Christ. Flattening this distinction usually ends up with people taking an overly analogical approach to the text (in the service of trying to take a christocentric reading of Scripture), or parallelomania.

  29. Chris E

    "Chris E – was it *personal* faith, i.e. faith in the Person of the Messiah who would save them?"

    Yes. It was faith in God and in God's anointed one.

    Questions for you; imagine a selection of ordinary OT saints - who are neither Prophets or from any priestly family. What facts would they have known about the coming redemption?

  30. Rich Owen

    Ok...saints, people. I kinda hoped the spirit of my question would have been clearer. Sorry about that. Let me try again...

    Do you accept that what is revealed and recorded in the Hebrew scriptures was clear and *should* have lead Israel to concious, saving faith in Jesus Christ, as was the case with David, Isaiah, Moses and so on?

    I don't think there is parallelomania going on here.

    Jesus *expects* that studying the scriptures *should* have lead the Israelites to a personal (thanks Glen) saving, following, trusting, knowing faith in Him. He rebukes them for not seeing beyond the shadows. "You think that by *them* you will be saved". Paul also talks in damning terms in Colossians 2 about not seeing past the shadow to the reality which is Christ....

    To coin a phrase.... I'm not saying anything beyond that which Paul and Jesus said ;-)

    Rich

  31. Glen

    Hi Chris:

    imagine a selection of ordinary OT saints – who are neither Prophets or from any priestly family. What facts would they have known about the coming redemption?

    I think it'd be fair to assume that the understanding ratio of author to first-recipient was about equal in both testaments. So the hearers of Moses understood about as much of Moses as the readers of Paul understood of Paul.

    I don't see any biblical reason whatsoever for thinking that the 'understanding ratio' changed between testaments, do you?

    As for facts... Let's start with Gen 3:15 as Hiram quoted it - the redeemer would be the miraculous offspring of a woman who would suffer and be glorified. Gen 4:1 ("I have begotten the LORD-man" - most literally) shows how Eve understood it. She had her hopes fixed on the sufferings and glories and got the timing wrong - just like 1 Pet 1 says.

  32. John B

    Your description of assumption #5 is very convincing, and the parallel that you draw in your conclusion between trust in shadows over Substance, and trust in sacraments over Christ, is a most illuminating comparison.

    There often seems to be an implicit "mere" that modifies the word "symbol" in the modern usage of this term. So prophetic symbols only "foreshadow", and sacraments only "memorialize". I think that the term "icon" gives us a better sense than "symbol". Icons, whether in the OT or NT, are windows, through which Christ, who is unique and beyond any of our systems or categories, is revealed to us by faith. Symbols they are, but certainly not "merely" so.

    Article 7 states the essential truth that "The Old Testament is not contrary to the New". But I understand this truth in light of the clear teaching of Scripture that the OT signs have been revealed to us for our instruction, as those "upon whom the ends of the world are come." And further, that Christ is now our high priest in heaven having "obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises." (Hebrews 8:6)

    "The Old Testament is not contrary to the New", but that is not to say that they are the same and in complete continuity. The latter view is contradictory to Scripture. I want to hold these truths together in tension, while resisting the impulse to systematize, or impose harmony where Scripture doesn't do so.

  33. Pingback: What kind of world do we live in? [Paul Blackham] « Christ the Truth

  34. Chris E

    "I think it’d be fair to assume that the understanding ratio of author to first-recipient was about equal in both testaments. So the hearers of Moses understood about as much of Moses as the readers of Paul understood of Paul.

    I don’t see any biblical reason whatsoever for thinking that the ‘understanding ratio’ changed between testaments, do you?"

    No, I don't, but I'm not talking about all hearers of Moses though. I'm talking about OT saints or OT believers.

    So again: Imagine a selection of ordinary OT saints – who are neither Prophets or from any priestly family. What facts would they have known about the coming redemption?

    What level of understanding did the publician in Luke 18 demonstrate in order to be justified?

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