JOHN1:16 – GRACE FOR GRACE?

“Doctor of Grace”?
ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ πληρώματος αὐτοῦ ἡμεῖς πάντες ἐλάβομεν καὶ χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος   -   John1:16 (original text)

Once again it has been necessary to set out the verse as John wrote it, and for the usual reason: variable translations. The (New) King James Version is again on the money:  “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace“.

The Greek preposition ἀντὶ can mean a number of things, “upon” not being one of them, yet that is how most modern versions of the Bible render the verse, i.e. as grace upon grace in the sense one would say blessings upon blessings – more of the same. But that is something the preposition  ἀντὶ would never portray. ἀντὶ expresses the idea of substitution or replacement – in this case one form (or source) of grace replacing or enriching another, not more and more of the same commodity; that sense would utilize the preposition ἐπί (upon). Again, expertise in biblical Greek is not required, the matter can be ascertained in this page from Biblehub carefully observing the 17 occurrences of ἀντὶ in the Bible and comparing it  with the use of ἐπί (HERE). You will observe that only in this verse has the preposition been translated in the sense of more of the same. Arguably the NIV has the clearest rendering: Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. Even that is ambiguous: ἀντὶ is more typically used as in 1Peter3:9 – “Do not render evil FOR evil”, i.e. one person’s evil replacing another – clearly a different meaning from “Do not render evil upon evil” which would entirely miss the point of the teaching.

There are obvious theological motivations for translating the verse as most versions have, namely the post-Augustinian perspective that man by nature is devoid of any grace or God-given enlightenment until and unless he receives the celestial variety via conversion to the Christian faith. My previous post indicates why that is not the case. It requires an understanding that a part of man, even in his fallen state, is received directly from God/Christ – that spiritual part which survives the body and brain at death and returns to its Creator:  “Then the dust will return to the Earth as it was and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Eccles12:7). What God provides is rarely if ever devoid of grace, albeit “the exceedingly abundant grace which is in Christ Jesus” (1Tim1:14) is required for those who are to be saved from the ravages of “the body of this death” whilst still incarnate (previous post) so as to be fitted for the glory that awaits them as joint-heirs of Christ. I am contesting that this is what the Bible and Paul in particular actually mean by “being saved” rather than “going to Heaven when you die” (cf. Mt25:31-46; Lk16:25). I am aware that such proof texting is quite inadequate to make the case – a fuller, more coherent analysis is set out in my book, but note also the witness of the earliest Church Fathers (see NOTE below).

As to what the Bible actually means by grace – more often than not it is referring to God’s favour and kindness towards human beings, but also His enabling power to do what pleases Him. The issue in this context is whether man by nature has any of that commodity such that he is ever able to please God by his actions. The majority of Christians since the time of the Pelagian controversy (4th/5th century) would answer a resounding “NO” as did I for the first 25 or so years of my Christian life, but now my response is more positive. That is not wishful thinking on my part but, humanly speaking, the result of my biblical and (very) early Church history studies, not to mention 50+ years as an adult observing my fellow human beings. I say “humanly speaking” for the new understanding came during what I believe to be a week-long extraordinary encounter with the Holy Spirit that I testify to in my book.

And applying some simple reasoning: does not a true Christian have the mind of Christ? (1Cor2:16) – what pleases him or her in the behaviour of others pleases Christ and His Father. But surely, some will say, “You or I may delight in the noble or compassionate exploits or well-spent life of a non-Christian who leaves the world a better place than he or she found it, but God is different – He is infinitely more holy than we are.” How true – but if you think being more holy means being less tolerant of sin and human weakness, less compassionate, less magnanimous indeed less gracious than man at his best, you haven’t begun to understand the nature of holiness or indeed the Nature of the God whom Scripture defines as love personified (1John4:8) – and  then goes on to  define love itself (1Cor13).

We can also learn from the testimony of the Christian writers of the 2nd and 3rd century who were not wholly dependent on biblical exegesis but in some cases had received the Faith from the apostles themselves or their immediate appointees. In particular Irenaeus, Justyn Martyr and the Church historian Eusebius affirm my positive view of natural law and the tripartite nature of man (comprising body soul and spirit) – concepts which Augustine came to reject [see NOTE below]. But most importantly as far as I’m concerned is the testimony of Scripture as a whole as I endeavour to demonstrate in these blogs and have set out more coherently in my book, a free PDF of which is available HERE.

NOTE

[1] The major theologian of the second century Irenaeus recognised that God in His providence is present with all “who attend to moral discipline, paying heed to the natural precepts of the law by which man can be justified” [“Irenaeus against heresies” Book IV chap 13 para 1]. In a previous post I show how Irenaeus gave witness to the unity of essential doctrine within the second century churches. These were clearly not just his own views but the understanding of the churches as a whole. From the same period Justin Martyr spoke of God’s benevolence towards those who walk uprightly and in accordance with right reason ; “a God who accepts those who imitate His own qualities of temperance, fairness and philanthropy and who exercise their free will in choosing what is pleasing to Him” [first apology of Justin chaps. 43 & 46]. Such a perspective on free will and a role for natural law is affirmed by the witness of Eusebius (AD260-340). Known as the Father of Church History, Eusebius documented the succession of the earliest Christian communities in East and West, commenting on the faithfulness (or otherwise) of some of their bishops, providing in the process an invaluable perspective on the doctrinal understanding of his time. In view of his own perspective on the matter, Eusebius indicates that natural law was subsumed within the theological/anthropological perspective of the early Church:
“The Creator of all things has impressed a natural law upon the soul of every man, as an assistant and ally in his conduct, pointing out to him the right way by this law; but, by the free liberty with which he is endowed, making the choice of what is best worthy of praise and acceptance, because he has acted rightly, not by force, but from his own free-will, when he had it in his power to act otherwise, As, again, making him who chooses what is worst, deserving of blame and punishment, as having by his own motion neglected the natural law, and becoming the origin and fountain of wickedness, and misusing himself, not from any extraneous necessity, but from free will and judgment. The fault is in him who chooses, not in God. For God has not made nature or the substance of the soul bad; for he who is good can make nothing but what is good”. [quotation from “The Christian Examiner”, Volume One, published by James Miller, 1824 Edition, p. 66 – my highlighting]. These early Christian viewpoints and no doubt my own own will appear arcane if not positively heretical to many Christians these days. As I trace in my book, I believe one man is primarily responsible for this ancient seismic shift in doctrinal understanding particularly in the West – Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (AD354-430), aka “the Doctor of Grace”, or from my perspective, Sustainer of the Providential Mysteries.


JOHN1 – CHRIST ENLIGHTENS EVERY SOUL

Ἦν τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν ὃ φωτίζει πάντα ἄνθρωπον ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον

This supplements my previous post about Christ as the incarnate Logos …. But why have I quoted the verse in the original Greek? Because that is what John actually wrote and regrettably it is often poorly translated, particularly in more modern versions of the Bible. An example of a valid translation is as follows:

 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world (New King James Version)

Other suitable translations are provided in the King James Version, 1599 Geneva, Vulgate (in unambiguous Latin!), Wycliffe, Douay-Rheims, indeed any translation that links “coming into the world” with “every man” rather than with Christ or the Light. Most modern versions have re-jigged the translation so that it means something quite different. Typical of such is the New American Standard Bible which reads:

There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.

Whilst Biblical Greek can be ambiguous in view of the word ordering and lack of punctuation, in this case we can be quite specific, thanks to the parsing of the word ἐρχόμενον meaning (in this instance) “coming”. More precisely ἐρχόμενον  is a present participle in the middle or passive voice but the key point is it is accusative in case; that is it pertains to the object of the sentence not the subject, the subject being “that or “there” as the NASB has it, referring to “the Light” – the object being “every man”. I am not relying on my Greek studies at Bible college 20 years ago for this analysis, that is distinctly rusty, but if you go to the Greek interlinear HERE  it does most of the hard work for you –  providing you have some understanding of English grammar (verbs, participles, cases, tenses etc.)

 Yet no one is denying that the true Light in persona has indeed come into the world, least of all gospel-writer John – he affirms it a couple of chapters later where he writes: “And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (Jn3:19). This time the verb “to come” is in the perfect tense (i.e. a completed action) indicative mood and active voice. But Jn1:9 refers to the fact that Christ has (to a degree) enlightened the soul/spirit of every human being entering the world. That should be no surprise, at least for those (creationists) who accept that the soul is provided by God, not in some way transmitted from its parents, a doctrine known as traducianism  – follow link for the background to the doctrine. For all things were created through Christ and for Christ and there can be no created entity that is more important to God than that which has been created in His own image such as the human soul. So why should not the Cosmic Christ through Whom all things were created not wish innately to enlighten all men (cf. 1Tim2:4), knowing as He does that only a minority would come to know Christ in person or receive a faithful account concerning Himself, His Truth and His Life?

You can judge for yourself (via the above link) but I suggest the concept of traducianism opposes both reason and Scripture – the idea that that which is pure spirit and immortal can be derived from human sperm. And as Thomas Aquinas expressed it –  “the human soul has activities beyond the capacity of matter and the existence of these activities shows that the human soul is both immaterial and immortal—but not independent of God’s causality.” The Roman Catholic Church has long taught that “every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not “produced” by the parents, and also it is immortal..” – to which I concur, but the problem for the creationist is how and why would God  (through Christ) re-create something that is inherently evil if that is what one believes the human soul to be?

There is a solution and it is provided by the Apostle Paul if only he were better understood. It pertains to what he describes as “the body of this death” (somatos tou thanatou toutou Rom7:24) which the soul inhabits during its earthly existence. Now that fleshly part of man is progenerated from our human parents, ultimately from Adam. It is not directly created by God – Adam (ultimately Satan as tempter) is responsible for it, not God. God creates what is holy – man unavoidably procreates what is unholy and the two are combined resulting in the form of moral dualism that Paul expresses in Rom7:15-25, desiring in his innermost being to do what is lawful and right but constantly opposed by his fleshly senses – unless and until he is aided by the grace of the Gospel.

Paul does indeed affirm that through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned (Rom5:12); and likewise “just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life” (1Cor15:22). But these texts are not making the case for traducianism: the source of the problem is not man’s soul, which has been created and enlightened by Christ and is governed by the conscience; it is the procreated intellectual vessel (i.e. body and brain) that it temporally inhabits that causes man to sin. “O wretched man that I am; who can deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God it is through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom7:25). And for the Christian that deliverance has already begun, such that in Paul’s words he or she is given the spiritual resources to “possess his own vessel in sanctification and honour” (1Thes4:4).

There is great deal more that could be said on this subject and it has been in “The Fellowship of the Secret”, a free PDF of which is available HERE

JOHN1 – JESUS THE INCARNATED “LOGOS”

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not [a]comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. (Jn1:1-8NKJV)

Profound and mysterious as the opening of John’s gospel may appear there are some essential truths that can be drawn from it, perhaps the most important being its irrefutable witness to the full divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The reference to John the Baptist’s witness to the Light (vv6-7) confirms that the “Word” (Greek: Logos) is that very Person who “became incarnate of the virgin Mary and was made man”. I emphasize “full divinity” for whether we realize it or not every true Christian “partakes of the divine nature” (2Pet1:4), yet none (I hope) would claim to be  “in the beginning with God”, of His very essence and the One through Whom all things were created as John declares “the Word” to be.

This is important for other Scriptures are less clear concerning Jesu’s divinity. God’s people in the Old Testament did not generally expect their future messiah to be divine, even though arguably such is indicated by the titles the prophet Isaiah ascribed to Him – “God with us” (7:14), “Mighty God” (9:6), etc. As for Jesus Himself, He goes out of His way to emphasize that He is subject to His Father (Jn14:28) and that is the case even after His resurrection and ascension to Glory (Acts1:7). Likewise, the apostle Paul: “For I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1Cor11:3). And concerning Christ’s Kingdom: “Now when all things are made subject to (Christ), then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all” (1Cor15:28).

Such passages emphasize the Monarchical status of God the Father, they are not saying the Son is not equally divine. But there is clearly an order, not to mention a great deal of mystery concerning the economy of the Godhead. An awareness of such is necessary to appreciate aspects of what Paul is teaching concerning “the fellowship of the secret (plan) hidden in God” (Eph3:9) that my book* focusses on. Yet this must be done without ever losing sight of the absolute and uniquely divine heritage possessed by the One who condescends to regard His all-too-human followers as His own kith and kin: “for both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren (Heb2:11). What a mind-blowing privilege it is to be numbered within such a family.

  • A free PDF of the e-book is available HERE

LUKE 24 – OT PROPHECIES YET TO BE FULFILLED

Jesus endeavouring to enlighten His disciples

Then (Jesus) said to (His disciples) “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” (Luke24:44NKJV)

Jesus’ words were in response to His disciples’ confusion and misgivings concerning their Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection. Yet as He pointed out to them, everything that the Law and Prophets foretold concerning the Messiah must be fulfilled at some point, the only question is when? There is no indication from Jesus Himself that He had any intention of subverting Old Testament prophecy “to fulfil His Own and Israel’s mission in an entirely unexpected way” as at least one renowned theologian has proposed (N T Wright) [note 1] .  At His arrest Jesus had challenged Peter who was trying to defend his Master by force of arms, “But how then could Scripture be fulfilled that said it must happen this way? (Mt26:54). Jesus’s arrest and execution mustn’t just happen, it must happen “this way”, as prophesied. So, on the political front, if the prophets Isaiah and Micah had inferred that the coming Messiah would personally arbitrate with people and nations to bring an end to human warfare (Is2:3-4; Mic4:3), then that is what Jesus expected at some point to be doing. Whilst the Church can pray for peace, preach peace and work for peace, there can be no lasting peace on Earth or universal justice until Satan’s seed are removed and his structures of unrighteousness are destroyed from the Earth, which is to be the task of angels (Mt13:41).

 In the meantime, we look out of our window and observe the world becoming ever more dangerous and ever more secular as the end of the gospel age approaches. And that in spite of the Church, without whose salt and light things would no doubt be far worse. Yet according to Oxfam, the richest one percent of the world’s population own more than the rest of the world put together: the world is not currently in any executive sense under the government of Christ and His people. Isaiah had foretold that the Son who had been born of Mary would “establish (His government) with judgement and justice” (Is9:7). Neither has Our Lord’s judgement been received nor His justice practiced by the world’s authorities in the current age. What one currently can perceive is the Church as the mystical Body of Christ, or at least that part of it that understands it has any socio-political mandate, doing all within its power to renew humanity along Kingdom principles. But we are two thousand years into that process and the kosmos (world order) is as much under the Wicked One’s influence as it ever has been (cf. 1Jn5:19). Satan has been granted a continued jurisdiction (cf. Eph2:2) and has a particular hold over “the sons of disobedience” (same verse). That would not be the case in the messianic age, during which time the arch-fiend would be bound and out of harm’s way (Rev20:2), as will those who have become his accursed agents (Mt25:41 cf. Greek). The full realization of God’s Kingdom on Earth anticipated in the Old Testament has been deferred, in Paul’s language, “until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom11:25). That deferment is something “the Law and the Prophets” never anticipated, pertaining as it does to “the fellowship of the secret (plan) hidden in God from the previous age” (cf. Eph3:9) – the secret or mystery (Greek: musterion)  that I endeavour to unravel in my book, a free PDF of which is available HERE

Note

  1. “What St Paul Really Said” – N T Wright

LUkE 21 AWAITING FINAL REDEMPTION

Have they begun?

25 “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; 26 men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” (Luke21:25-28NKJV)

Jesus is referring in this passage to the “tribulations” that proceed the end of the age. Rather than be distressed by these things, the Lord urges His followers “lift up your heads for your redemption draws near. For what it’s worth, my assessment is that the tribulations are now starting in earnest but that is not the focus of this short post. What intrigues me is Jesus’ reference to “redemption” (Greek: ἀπολύτρωσις) in this context. The word literally means to be freed or delivered from something by means of a payment. Most Christians would understand that they had already been redeemed, and in a sense they have. Paul affirms this when he writes that Christians, being those who have faith in Christ in advance of His coming (Eph1:12 Greek: προηλπικότας) –  have already been sealed with the Spirit as a down-payment of their glorious inheritance. He affirms also that this pertains to “the ἀπολύτρωσις (redemption) of the purchased possession (Eph1:14). We know the price paid – it is the Saviour’s blood, no less. As to whom (if anyone) the payment is made, that is another mystery which may feature in a later post. What I’m concerned with here is what is to be redeemed and when it will have been accomplished.

For like Jesus, Paul also refers to an aspect of the Christian’s redemption that is yet to occur. He is more explicit about the matter in another passage where he writes: “ We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the “ἀπολύτρωσις” (redemption) of our bodies” (Rom8:22-23 NRSV). And in the same epistle when speaking of the inner struggle we face between the desires of the flesh and the nobler aspirations of the God-given spirit, he writes “I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom7:23-24NRSV).  I believe Paul to be saying** that it is the procreated intellectual vessel our soul inhabits at birth that is the source of man’s problem with sin – not the soul itself, having been planted by God, hence “who will deliver me from this body…”, the “me” being the soul/spirit that returns to God when the body and brain dies. Yet the soul being pliant is itself liable to corruption, for which reason Peter urges Christians to “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul”.  Christians are a people called out from the world, elected through unmerited grace to serve the living God in spirit and truth whilst still within this “body of death”. To do so they need to be spiritually regenerated, cleansed through the Blood and empowered by the Spirit.

Yet, Paul is saying, even this is not the end of the story – what will ultimately be needed is a new body. And for those who are joint-heirs with Christ and are to inherit the kingdom in the age to come (cf. previous post) this will be provided: “those who eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself  (Phi3:20-21). Only then will the Christian’s redemption be complete.

** All this is worked out in detail in my book – a free PDF is available HERE

LUKE 20 – HINTS OF A MILLENNIAL AGE

The Sadducees question Jesus concerning resurrection

Those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection (Lk20:35-36NRSV)

 Proceeding chapter by chapter through the New Testament I have come to perceive that one does not need to rely on Revelation alone to make a case for pre-millennialism. The apocalyptic passage (ch20:5-6) is explicit on the matter whereas Jesus’ statement in Luke 20 which was in response to the Sadducees’ attempt to trick Him concerning the resurrection of the dead at the least implies there will be two resurrections (as does Jn6:44+54). For, says He, those who are “found worthy” will be resurrected at the end of the current age  whereas the Bible is clear enough that everyone is to be resurrected at some stage, worthy or otherwise. Likewise, the righteous, says Jesus, will be “worthy of a place in that age” (Greek: kataxiothentes tou ainos ekeinou tuchein), which again would appear to support the case.

Premillennialism appears to have been the predominant view of the ante-Nicene Church Fathers such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus of Rome, Tertullian, Cyprian, Barnabas and Lactantius and by deduction others whom they had instructed or by whom they had been instructed. Such were supported initially by Augustine of Hippo together with a good number of his contemporaries inside as well as some breakaway groups outside the Church. It was initially Marcion who challenged the consensus in the second century; he was later clearly shown to be a heretic. But the key influencers were undoubtedly Augustine (who changed his mind) and Origen of Alexandria (who was inclined to a Platonic spiritualism); these colossi of the Western and Eastern Church ensuring that Millenarian views came to be rejected by the fourth century, reinforced one suspects by the conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine which transformed the Church’s perspective with regard to its relationships with the political structures of the world. More background to why the churches largely came to reject premillennialism can be found HERE but although it is not the primary consideration I will continue to draw out evidence for such a concept as we proceed through the rest of the New Testament.   

Free PDF of The Fellowship of the Secret available HERE

LUKE19 JESUS WEEPS OVER JERUSALEM

Jesus weeps over Jerusalem

41 Now as (Jesus) drew near (to Jerusalem), He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, 44 and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke19:41-44NKJV)

The Jews’ two-stage rejection of Jesus and His Kingdom

Confusion has arisen with regard to the implications of the rejection of Jesus as Messiah by His people in terms of the apparent subversion of Old Testament prophecy that, to the mystification of many, Paul refers to a number of times in his epistles. I have utilized one such reference as the title of my book: that is where the apostle explains that he had been called in order to  “enlighten everyone concerning THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE SECRET (plan) known only to God who had created all things through Jesus Christ; (this mystery or secret) having been hidden through the ages from the authorities of Heaven is brought to light through the Church, so revealing the multi-faceted nature of God’s wisdom regarding His purpose for the ages which He accomplished in Christ (Eph3:9-11).

The passage from Luke 19 quoted at the top of this post relates to the first of two rejections by the Jews of their Messiah resulting in turn in two subversions to Old Testament prophecy. Paul refers to it as “the mystery (or secret) that has been hidden through the ages even from the authorities of Heaven (Eph3:9). The first subversion is recognized by Christendom but not Jewry whilst the second has not really been understood by either, being the fellowship of the secret; initial incredulity for Christendom, potential Good News for Jewry and great news for the world. I endeavour to unpack what I mean by that statement in my book and little by little within these posts.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, many ordinary Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem will have welcomed Jesus to their city but their leaders were indignant and already plotting His downfall. This was the first rejection culminating in the crucifixion, and as Jesus stated (Lk19:42) it put paid to the prophecies indicating that the coming of the Messiah would bring an end to Israel’s political and military problems. The promise of peace and security for Jerusalem, evident in much prophecy including the angelic annunciations concerning the birth of Jesus and John Baptist, would not be secured by Jesus in His earthly lifetime, quite the contrary in fact; worse was to come for Israel in about a generation’s time. We should not be so surprised that historically the Jews have not perceived the crucified Nazarene prophet to be their Messiah – for truly, He did not in any substantive sense fulfil the geopolitical promises anticipated of Him in the Old Testament. But Jesus has just explained why that should be the case, at least as far as the current age is concerned (note Lk24:44), and Paul clarifies the matter for the churches in his Ephesians reference to God’s secret plan that (humanly speaking) resulted from the Jews’ rejection of their Messiah.

But the Jew’s role in the crucifixion of their intended Messiah is not per se what resulted in the rejection of their nation as sole inheritors of the Kingdom that Paul is actually referring to in Ephesians 3 and also Romans 11 (vv11-15). Such is affirmed in Acts where the apostle indicates that even after Pentecost it was still the Jewish people’s “day of visitation” and they were still not appreciating it. Paul gave this warning to certain Jews at Antioch:

So be careful! – or what the prophets say will happen to you: “Cast your eyes around you mockers; be amazed and perish!  For I am doing something in your own days that you would never believe if you were told of it” (Acts13:40,41 New Jerusalem Bible)

Note the warning is about what will or might happen to the Jewish nation, not what already had happened. Their day of visitation did not end when they crucified Christ: that event that Jesus referred to as His other baptism had been both divinely planned and prophesied (Acts2:23; Is53:5); what was shortly to occur was undoubtedly planned or foreknown (by God) but never prophesied; it concerns the secret fellowship (or community partnership) “hidden in God” even from earlier prophets; it concerned the establishment of a universal Church. So the second rejection pertained to the fact that so many Jews refused to acknowledge that the resurrection and the miraculous signs associated with the apostles’ teaching were the vindication of Jesus’s earlier claims. They still rejected His Messiah-ship even now that He had been raised to the highest Heavens and empowered His disciples to work miracles in His name. That, in modern parlance is where they finally blew it. They had already blown the prospect of political peace and security through their rejection of Jesus in His lifetime, now something even more radical was at stake: Kingdom inheritance. The very next Sabbath, these same leaders “filled with jealousy” towards the apostles, just as they had been toward Jesus used blasphemies to contradict everything Paul said (v45), which prompted the apostle to add this:

We had to proclaim the word of God to you (Jews) first, but since you have rejected it, (i.e. the apostle’s message) since you do not think yourselves worthy of eternal life, here and now we turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord commanded us to do when He said “I have made you (Israel) a light to the nations, so that my salvation may reach the remotest parts of the world” (Acts13:46,47).

The prophecy from which Paul quotes (Is49) declares Israel to be God’s servant, through whom He would manifest His glory (v3) and by whom He would bring saving enlightenment to the whole world (v6). They as His chosen people and future heirs of the world (cf. Rom4:13,14) would have come to know “eternal life”, i.e. an intimate relationship with God and life of an eternal quality (Jn17:3) through sanctification in Christ blood (Zech13:1); but as the same prophet foretold this had been prophetically linked with the restoration and liberation of their nation and holy city through the direct intervention of a returning messiah, who as well as residing with his people would act as judge and arbitrator with opposing nations (Is2:4; Mic4:3.) Now, says Paul, as a result of their rejection, the universal enlightenment would go ahead without them by means of a newly formed universal assembly founded by their Messiah and His apostles, none of whom had been drawn from the ranks of the Jewish sacral hierarchy. Although it is only briefly alluded to in Scripture, the longed-for national liberation and the re-instatement of Israel to “the Kingdom” would now have to wait (Acts1:6). After issuing this warning, Paul and Barnabas symbolically shook the dust from off their feet as they left Antioch (13:51), just as the disciples had done to towns and homes that rejected the “gospel of the Kingdom” preached during Christ’s earthly ministry. Shortly afterwards at Corinth, preaching as usual in the synagogue, certain Jews “turned against (Paul) and started to insult him”. Paul took his cloak and shook it out in front of them, saying:

“Your blood be on your own heads; from now on I will go to the Gentiles with a clear conscience” (Acts18:6 New Jerusalem Bible).

One is bound to ask why Paul’s conscience would not have been clear (literally: clean) if he had brought this gospel to the Gentiles and the Jews hadn’t rejected his message: wasn’t his message of salvation intended for all? Well, yes and no: “for as a result of the Jews’ rejection, salvation has come to the Gentiles to provoke them to jealousy” (cf. Rom11:11).  I had previously understood this to be merely a question of order, but there would no logical reason for such if the privileges of Kingdom service and the eternal life pertaining to it were from the time of Pentecost being offered to the world; apart from which the apostles would have been quite clear in their minds about the matter, which they certainly were not, with the obvious exception of the lately-commissioned Saul of Tarsus. Apart from which, Paul writing to the Romans is adamant: salvation came to the Gentiles as a result of the Jews’ rejection; it was not a question of protocol or order.  For as I am seeking to explain there is salvation and there is SALVATION. The latter was earmarked for the Jews alone in Old Testament prophecy but was to be made available to the nations through Paul’s revelation of what in short-hand I refer to as “the fellowship of the secret”. “Salvation” as foretold for the Gentile nations meant one would be enlightened, pardoned in the name of Jesus if one acknowledged Him as Lord, leading to acceptance as a subject in God’s Kingdom, for all who call on the name of the Lord would be saved (i.e. spared perdition). SALVATION on the other hand was to be born again by water and Spirit, delivered from corruption by means of sanctification in the blood appointed for sprinkling provided through Calvary (Heb12:24 cf. Greek) resulting in interior communion with Christ, eternal life, participation in God’s royal priesthood and a joint-inheritance with the Son of God, no-less. Once this mystery is grasped it has wondrous implications to broader providence. This is explained more fully in my book*, along with how such a concept can be reconciled with the rest of the Bible’s teaching.

  • A free PDF of the e-book can be accessed HERE

THE UNITY OF 2nd CENTURY CHURCH

Irenaeus – 2nd century theologian

Irenaeus was a staunch defender of the Christian faith, the essentials of which, according to this man at least, were uniformly understood by all the globally expanding churches having recently been established by the apostles and their immediate successors. In stark contrast to 4th century Augustine, Irenaeus features very positively in my book, since much of what I believe the Spirit has revealed to me accords with his teaching and more importantly that of the churches of his time. Here is a quote from chapter three of my book: 

“This (teaching concerning law and grace) will be a new interpretation to many but it is what it I have been shown and it works: the teaching of Jesus, Paul and the other apostles acquire perfect coherence once the re-interpretations and various linguistic ameliorations presented in this package are taken on board. How do I know that? – simply by reading the New Testament with reference to the Greek, over and over again and observing how it now entirely gels. What many will regard as my novel interpretations actually accord more with that of the Ancient Church, i.e. the teaching of the ante-Nicene fathers; perhaps most clearly in the case of Irenaeus, who was hardly a maverick but a staunch defender of the Faith as it had been received from the apostles. He had personally come under the tutelage of Polycarp who in turn was an immediate disciple of the Apostle John. Not that the other ante-Nicene Fathers contradict my assertions in this area, but second century Irenaeus not only affirms Christ’s filling out of the Decalogue[note 1] but also the purpose and context of gospel salvation within broader providence, the restoration of physical creation at the Parousia, pre-millennialism, a tripartite anthropology, a positive role for natural law, the utilisation of Enoch as an important reference source and the affirmation of an “Elijah” to come. These have been cross-referenced where they occur in the book.

Irenaeus of course was but one man but note what he writes concerning the UNIFORMITY OF ESSENTIAL DOCTRINE WITHIN THE 2ND CENTURY CHURCHES:

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“The Church having received this preaching and this Faith although scattered throughout the whole world yet as if occupying one house carefully preserves it. She also believes these points of doctrine just as if she had one soul and one and the same heart and proclaims and teaches them and hands them down with perfect harmony as if she only possessed one mouth. For the churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain or Gaul. . . But as the sun, that creature of God is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the Truth shines everywhere and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth ” [note 2]

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Irenaeus’ depiction of the 2nd Century churches’ doctrinal uniformity may be  exaggerated but equally it could not have been the case that the essential doctrines concerning the nature of faith and salvation could have UNIFORMLY BEEN IN ERROR given that each of the churches he refers to could trace its origins just two or three generations back to the apostles.

It is not that all the second century churches will have come to agreement through a sublimity of biblical exegesis, it is because a good number of these assemblies will have been FOUNDED AND SUPERINTENDED BY THE GREAT APOSTLE HIMSELF OR HIS DIRECT APPOINTEES. These leaders knew what Paul was talking about because they or their leaders had heard Paul and talked to him; they did not have to rely entirely upon his pastoral epistles that even his fellow apostle Peter observed were “hard to understand” and misunderstood by many (2Pet3:16NKJV). I am not claiming that such an historical affirmation can be provided for ALL the assertions in my book [note 4], for as third century Origen had observed, certain mysteries were left to be explored and resolved over the course of the Church’s pilgrimage. But I say again that cannot apply to the ESSENTIALS OF CHRISTIAN SALVATION which were made clear from the start and have always been adequately set forth within the Apostolic Church in East and West, at least in terms of the “hows” (i.e. what is required for salvation), if not always the “whys” and “wherefores”, such as the context of gospel salvation within broader providence and the nature of man’s future participation with the Godhead, being mysteries destined to be revealed in their due time (cf. Rev10:4-10)”

Excerpt from “Fellowship of the Secret” chapter 3 (Justification and the Faithfulness of Christ)

References:

[1] “Irenaeus against heresies” Book IV chap. 13 (paras 1 and 2)

[2] “Irenaeus against heresies” Book I chap. 10 para 2

[3] The Early Fathers’ writings are available on the internet HERE

[4] “The Fellowship of the Secret” – a free PDF is available HERE

LUKE 16 – THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS

Lazarus comforted by dogs

19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 So it was that the beggar died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.24 “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ 27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ” (Luke16:19-31NKJV)

Remarkably, this is effectively the only account we have in Scripture of experience in the afterlife: the account of the rich man and Lazarus, the text of which requires careful attention. It is generally taken to be a parable, although it us unusual for a person to be named (i.e. Lazarus) in such, so many, including the medieval Church, believe Jesus to be referring to real individuals. Although often utilized as such, the narrative is referring neither to Heaven nor Hell but to Hades, the place of the dead. That is an intermediate state between death and resurrection in which, according to Luke’s interpretation of Jesus’ teaching, disembodied spirits are nevertheless conscious and aware of either pain or comfort. They also clearly retain a memory of their past life (“Son, remember that in your lifetime” etc.)

Note carefully, the only stated criterion distinguishing these two men was that one had had a life of ease and comfort whilst the other had been poor and wretched (Lk16:25). It may be deduced (from vv27-31) that the rich man was suffering because of the way he had utilized his wealth; living wantonly whilst failing to show care and compassion for miserable beggars like Lazarus (with whom Jesus personally identifies – Mt25:45), yet no reason is given at all why Lazarus should be comforted after his death other than that he had experienced a life of poverty and sickness (Lk16:25). The redistributive and compensatory aspects of judgement at death are also emphasized in the letter of James who exhorts the oppressive rich to weep and howl for the miseries that are to come upon them (Ja5:1KJV). It is clear from subsequent verses that James is referring to the materially wealthy who obtained their wealth by defrauding and exploiting of the poor. James (as ever) is reflecting the teaching of Christ, who had other words of warning for the well-to-do:

Alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now. Alas for you who have plenty to eat now: you shall go hungry.  Alas for you who are laughing now: you shall mourn and weep (Lk6:24,25). 

I now understand this to be partly a question of redistributive justice but that it also relates to the role and necessity of human suffering (salting) explained in the theodicy (chapter seven of my book).

The Law and the Prophets

In pleading for Lazarus to be raised from the dead so as to warn the his five brothers of their impending doom if they do not change their ways, Abraham chides the rich man that as Jews his brothers should be acquainted with “Moses and the Prophets”, an underlying principle of which being the need to care for the needy – loving one’s neighbour as oneself. Those who do not believe that to be at the Law’s heart should take heed to the apostle Paul:  “The entire Law is fulfilled in keeping this one command “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Gal5:14). For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, they are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Rom13:9)

But in a sense who needs the Law to determine these matters? – they are intuitive to every human heart. For as hinted at above and suggested within this parable, the wellbeing of the human spirit when the body dies is not determined by one’s religion or lack of it but by one’s dealings with one’s fellows (likewise the final judgement passage in Matthew25 – note religious faith is nowhere mentioned). However, religious faith and a living relationship with Jesus Christ certainly plays a part in the soul’s eternal destiny, in particular who are to be the co-inheritors with the Lord of Glory at the resurrection of the dead? “Fellowship of the Secret”* explains all, or at least as much as Scripture has revealed.  

LUKE 14 – THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP


Take up YOUR cross

Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it 29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? 31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. 33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. (Luke14:27-33NKJV)

It may not be the emphasis that comes across from many pulpits these days but Jesus tells His would-be disciples carefully to evaluate the cost of discipleship, like someone intending to build a tower or a king about to go to war. This implies substantially more than obtaining Church membership, receiving a sacrament, making a profession of faith or reciting a prayer; it is the assessment to be made by those who are to enter pilgrimage as a learner of the Christ. And such who are called, chosen and faithful will be those who are ultimately fitted for Kingdom service in eternal partnership with the One before Whom every knee must bow once He is revealed as Lord of all.

That will have been the context of the resurrection and imperishable crown for which Paul strove and disciplined his body like an athlete so as not to be disqualified (1Cor9:24-27). It requires God’s grace for sure but also personal self-discipline and effort – “Strive to enter (the Kingdom of God) by the narrow gate, for many I say to you will seek to enter and will not be able” says Jesus. The irony is that those who take up the challenge of the gospel and in Paul’s words, “aim for glory and honour and immortality by persevering in good works so as to obtain eternal life” (Rom2:7) will find that as they take the Master’s yoke upon them and learn from Him, He is gentle and lowly of heart, and they will find rest for their souls. Even from an earthly, material perspective, Jesus indicates they will gain “a hundredfold” more than they have sacrificed in service for the Kingdom (Mt19:29). It should also be evident from Jesus’ illustrations and his “narrow gate/broad road” language that this is not to be the destiny of the majority. How such an indication aligns with Scripture’s insistence that God wishes to reconcile all redeemable humanity to Himself is set out in my book*.

*For a free PDF or to purchase the paperback go HERE

Exploring the mystery of divine providence