Friday, November 30, 2012

We Are The Nine

Many people are familiar with the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17.  The lepers call out to Jesus from afar, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”   The passage continues, "when Jesus saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed.” Their disease has been healed, their skin is whole and sound. But after this miracle, only one of the ten returns to praise God and give thanks.
The first thing to understand here is that giving thanks is not a requirement.  Jesus does not say to the ten lepers, “If you give thanks and praise the Lord, I will heal you.”  Of course not.   Jesus sees a need and fills it.  Think of Abram back in Genesis 15.  God did not tell Abram,  "I will make your descendants as many as the stars in heaven, IF you believe in me."  No, rather God saw that Abram was troubled, he had no heir, he was all alone, far from his kindred.  God saw a problem and he fixed it by giving his friend Abram innumerable sons and daughters.

I saw a video once of a young woman pulling back a man who was just about to step into the street.  He would have been hit by a car but she pulled him back just in time.  She did not do this thing so that he would thank her, she did it because she did not want  her fellow human being to be hurt or worse!  This is why God saves us and helps us.  It’s because we are in trouble and he loves us, not because he is expecting something out of us.

Giving thanks is not a requirement but certainly when we fail to give thanks we fall into many troubles.  Giving thanks to God helps us to remember him.  We are so prone to forget, and when we forget, we start to worship other gods.  We all believe in something it is only a matter of what.  We become like what we believe in.  If we depend upon and trust in cold hard cash, we become, cold, hard and in the end, as easily destroyed as paper money.  When we worship other gods we end up hurting ourselves and all those around us.  Think of the Israelites who, in the end, were sacrificing their own children to gods of stone and wood!  God’s anger goes out against oppressors like these.  It is just the same today as it was then.  He handed over the murderous Israelites to their enemies and he can hand us over as well.  I would argue that he has already done it!  As the theologians, Richard Hays and N.T. Wright remind us, the Lord hands us over to spiritual enemies who come to vanquish and burn us even more than the Philistines did the Israelites.  We can read about the effects of these spiritual enemies in the “vice list” of Romans 1.  But God raised up King David to vanquish the enemy and give his people rest.  And now God has raised up Jesus, our Living Savior and Lord to utterly vanquish those spiritual enemies that attack the souls, minds and hearts of men and women.  In his grace and might he has rescued us as individuals, communities and whole societies from "hands too strong for us."  And he is not done!  Moreover, God in his grace gathers us together in assembly each Sunday, each Lord’s day so that we may “mutually encourage one another in the faith.” Or to say the same thing in different words, he gathers us that we may remind one another of God’s faithfulness and Jesus’ resulting victory on the cross and how we have become through all of this, “more than conquerors” through him who loved us.  He does this in his great mercy that we might not forget and go astray and hurt ourselves and others.

But so often we do not give thanks, we are like the nine.

 Do we really understand what it means when the Bible says, “by his stripes we are healed”? Do we say when we are enjoying good health, “I am happy today, because Jesus was scourged with whips”?  Let me be the first to answer, “I don’t!  The philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard wrote “one man is a theologian because another man got nailed of the cross.”  Do we give thanks for all the shining insights that we have and remember that it is all because of our Lord suffered for us?  In this and in so many ways we completely miss the boat.

But the wonderful and totally surprising thing is, God is the savior of the thankless.  He is the savior of people precisely like us.  Consider how thankless and thoughtless Jacob was even in the face of God’s great assurances and promises in Isaiah 43.  What is God’s response?  How will he fix this problem?  God's  answer is abrupt, without lead in, without introduction, “I, I am he, who blots our your transgressions.”  How he will do this is not discussed, we only learn how it will be later; the messiah will come, a tender plant, a root out of dry ground and how he will bear our sins (Isaiah 53). 
So often we go astray.  How thankless I have been, but how good God is! Or as Paul puts it, “wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"Faith Of" or "Faith In?" Or Is There A Third Way?

    As we begin our discussion of the “faith (or faithfulness) of Christ” versus the concept of “faith in Christ,” it is good to go back to the source of all this contention.  Both the New and Old Testaments have much to say about faith, but our ideas about it are shaped in large part by Paul’s letter to the Romans.  And within that letter, Romans 3 is most often cited in the debates about “faith of” or “faith in.”  Romans 3:21-22 will serve to illustrate the point of disagreement. Here are the verses in the King James Version:

“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.  Even the righteousness of God which is by the faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.”

And the same verses in the NIV:
 “But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  The righteousness from God through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe”

And here, the English transliteration of the Greek, followed by my own translation: 
dikaiosyne de theou dia pisteos Iesou Christou eis pantas tous pisteuontas, that is, “the righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Anointed towards all the believing.”

Which is it?  The stakes couldn’t be higher.  How we understand “pisteos Iesou Christou” shapes our interpretation of the entire letter.  But more than that, if Western Civilization is based on a single concept, it is justification.   J. Louis Martyn writes somewhere that justification is “God’s making right what had gone wrong.”  How exactly is this accomplished? How do we stand righteous before God?  How are we made right?  The East emphasizes eternal life and the resurrection, but in the West our longing, for better or for worse has always been to understand justice.  For over a thousand years, Romans 3 has drawn students of the Bible to itself again and again as we struggle to understand.

Objections to “The Faith of Jesus”

    Nowadays a growing number of scholars contend that “pisteos Iesou Christou, ought to be translated the “faith of Jesus,” but what’s the argument on the other side?
The most basic issue might be grammatical. Consider the phrase,“the love of my mother.”  I might be writing of the love that my mother has, or I might be writing of the love my sister and I have for my mother.  The latter example would be an “objective genitive.”   Many scholars have concluded that “dia pisteos Iesou Christou” is like that, an objective genitive; the “faith of Jesus Christ” is the faith we have in Jesus. But there are far more potent arguments to support, “faith in Jesus Christ.”  Two in particular come to the fore:  First, most if not all, of the earliest commentators take pisteou Iesou Christou to mean our faith IN Christ.  Augustine, for instance, took “pisteou Iesou Christou” to be “faith in Jesus Christ.” Who are we to disagree?  But second, an even more compelling argument by the scholar Douglas Moo:  In Romans 3 Jesus is passive, not active.  If we translate pisteou Iesou Christou as the faith or faithfulness of Jesus Christ, we are making Jesus active, and this is out of line with the chapter as a whole. I can almost hear Professor Moo saying to us with some exasperation, “Look at the context, yes, look up and down Romans chapter 3, is Jesus active?  In Romans 3 is Jesus Christ doing anything or on the other hand, is he presented as passive?”  Professor Moo is right. To take one example, Jesus is “set forth by God a mercy seat,” while “God is “just and justifying” (vss. 25, 26).  In other words, God is doing something whereas Jesus is “set forth,” “presented.”   Jesus’ obedience, Jesus’ activity or work is not in view in Romans 3, rather it is God (the Father’s) work and activity that is in focus.  Jesus’ faithfulness, argues Moo, is out of keeping with the chapter as a whole and indeed with all the early chapters of Romans.  Admittedly Jesus is most certainly faithful, most certainly obedient, but here in Romans, Paul wants to emphasize something else.  Paul wants to emphasize the activity of God not Jesus therefore the most likely translation of “pisteous Iesou Christou” is “faith in Jesus Christ.” 

Emboldened to Ask Further Questions

    Emboldened by Moo’s challenge, the door is opened for scholars to ask two important theological questions of the “faith of Jesus Christ” crowd. First, “If Jesus is the faithful one, what role does the Father play?” The historically inclined (may their number ever increase!) might add a second follow-up question: “Isn’t it too easy to fall into Anselm’s doctrine of atonement?” Anselm was a theologian of the 11th century. Attempting to understand the cross philosophically, Anselm asserted that God was like a great lord whose honor must be satisfied.  Our sin was a great debt, unable to be paid by mortals.  Jesus, infinitely worthy, pays our debt by dying on the cross.  His sacrifice ensures that God’s honor remains intact.  God must be paid.  Forgiveness of one iota of wrong-doing dishonors him and violates his strict sense of justice.  One cannot help but be reminded of Edward I, the cruel English king of the 13th century who collected what you owed him down to the last pence.  And woe betide him who couldn’t pay.  It would seem that Anselm pictures God as a kind of Edward.   But the question must be asked, is God really such a sourpuss as Edward I?  To be sure Anselm would never call God a sourpuss but doesn’t it come to the same? It’s hard to sympathize with a God who is so loathe to release us from debt that only the sacrifice of his only begotten son will reconcile him to us.  He’s the stereotypical German pater familias, strict, unbending, immovable.  A Catholic divine once wittily remarked, “God the Father hasn’t been heard of since the Reformation.”  And why hasn’t he been heard of?  The answer is because even if God the Father isn’t a crab, he certainly doesn’t have his heart in our atonement.  But this God is not in keeping with the Bible.  Jesus pictures the Father running towards the prodigal son, all dignity forgotten.  Isaiah sees God loving foolish, deceitful Jacob with a love that throws caution to the winds (Isaiah 43).   The God of the Old and New Testaments is simply not Edward I.  He is not a sourpuss or a German pater familias.  He is not Anselm’s God.  But we, all of us, from the guild of the theologians and hopeful doctoral students, to the Sunday congregation, seem to forget this God, the God pictured by the Bible.  There’s a song called “Jesus Loves Me,” but no song with title, “The Father Loves Me,” because the truth is we often doubt it deep down in our hearts.  Maybe he doesn’t love us. Not really.   All we like sheep have gone astray.  Do proponents of the “faith of Jesus” have anything, have any weapon in their arsenal to fight this misunderstanding or does their theory actually feed into it by emphasizing Jesus’ work at the expense of the Father’s?

Everything You Want, Can Be Had, or Can It?

    But this is not all that the proponents of faith in Christ have to say.  They hurry to assure the “faith of Christ” camp of two things.  First: Faith is a gift.  Second, faith is not something we “do.”  They are saying, and again, I broadly paraphrase: “Look, everything you ‘faith of Jesus Christ’ people want, can be had!  It can be yours, but without departing from the traditional translation of the phrase as an objective genitive.  You are distressed by the implication of “faith IN Jesus Christ” justifying us.  You are worried that we “do” something to secure our own justification.  Nonsense!  Luther himself knew very well that our faith was a gift.  As proof, read Luther's Small Catechism. There it states: ‘I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.’  Luther refers to faith as a gift throughout his works, Calvin too, thought of faith as a gift. Really, you ‘faith of Jesus’ people have nothing to fear!”  “Moreover,” they add, “the gift of faith is not in itself a work of man.  It is not something that we ‘do,’ in any case!”  It might be well to explain the last sentence.  Luther wrote that our faith “clasps Christ as a ring clasps its jewel.” Nothing more.  To borrow another oft used metaphor, it is “an empty hand.” Calvin wrote, “We compare faith to a kind of vessel; for unless we come empty and with the mouth of our souls open to seek God’s grace, we are not capable of receiving Christ.” Karl and Markus Barth, following these Church Fathers, and in my opinion, improving on them, imagined our faith was like a vacuum.  A vacuum, a “nothingness,” that is filled by God’s grace. A vacuum is even “less” than a clasp. The instinct of both Karl and Markus Barth was for us to do less, much less, and God to do much much more.  In Dr. Joel Beeke’s small but helpful article that can be found online, he points out that faith is not even a condition of our justification.  Rather it is an instrument, “faith is not a builder but a beholder; it has nothing to give or achieve, but has all to receive.  Faith is neither the ground nor substance of our justification, but the hand, the instrument, the vessel which receives the divine gift proffered to us in the gospel.” What are the “faith of Jesus Christ” people worrying about?

Things To Be Worried About

      First of all, looking at the context of Romans 3, a problem emerges.  In Romans 3, pisteos Iesou Christou is translated “faith in Jesus Christ” but in the very next chapter we read “pisteos Abraam,” that is, the “faith of Abraham.”  It is exactly the same grammatically as “pisteos Iesou,” and yet we translate one as “faith in” and the other as “the faith of.”  Is it possible that Paul, within thirty verses, would use the exact same grammar in such disparate ways? Second, faith as an instrument as elucidated by Dr. Beeke and many others, does not satisfy.   Think of the minister trying to explain to his congregation that“faith is an instrument.”  Even the Sunday school children listening to the story of the Exodus might suspect that something is amiss.  When the Israelites see the bodies of the dead Egyptians wash up on shore, “they believed in God and in his servant Moses.”  Belief is not an instrument here.  It is a powerful change of heart.  It is a seeing into the nature of things; it is a glimpse of the truth: the children of Israel grasping the truth with both hands.  Moreover, Jesus clearly says that our belief is a work: “Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he sent’” (John 6:28-29).  Faith as an “instrument” is impossible to preach on and defend because it is not Biblical.  Further, faith as an instrument is unsatisfying philosophically.  Even if faith is an instrument, it is necessary.  Even if faith is a vacuum it is necessary.  Even if faith is but the hand of the beggar, it is necessary.  The Mayan children of Chiapas, Mexico begged from me, their little hands reaching out for a coin or even a bit of food.  Without their hands I would not have had the opportunity to give.  If the beggar were not there to receive the divine gift, there would be no gift.    If my faith is necessary and essential for justification it follows where there is no belief, no little hand outstretched, there is no gift.  Consider the following anecdote heard a long time ago.  It is said that in those towns in Germany where Luther was most loved and his doctrines taken to heart, in those same towns hundreds of years later, anti-semitism flourished most virulently.  Even if the anecdote is not true, it stands to reason that where “faith in Christ” is embraced, anti-Jewish sentiment would easily spring up.  After all, if my faith is a little cog, even the tiniest of little cogs, it is necessary to the great machine of justification.  My Jewish neighbors, so runs the unspoken and murderous logic, have no faith.  They do not believe, therefore they have no part in God’s justice.  They are not part of God’s righting of all that is wrong.  What standing do they then have?  What worth?  Are they not in fact, worthless?  In Hitler’s Germany and long before it, the Jewish people were often compared with vermin.  They were not human; they were roaches, rats.  And what is more intrinsic to the German soul than to clean and exterminate vermin?  This they did, I would argue, in the Shoah of the 1930’s and 40’s.  But it was not only in Hitler’s Germany where hatred of the Jewish people was reaching a fever pitch.  All we like sheep had gone astray, and there were none who remembered that Israel was and is the apple of God’s eye.  What doctrine might cause such willful forgetfulness?  Only one has the power and the might to oppose the clear teaching of God, and that is the doctrine of faith in Jesus Christ.  The power of sin is often helped along with our doctrines, “man’s imagination is evil from his youth.”

Anecdote from Scotland

    Attending the Galatians conference in St. Andrews Scotland in 2012, I was witness to a sharp exchange between scholars.  Professor Bruce McCormack of Princeton Theological Seminary was arguing hard for “faith in Christ.”  He repeated and refined arguments by Moo and James Dunn among others, making a case that could not fail to impress.  But he also argued from a personal standpoint.  Bruce McCormack is a Presbyterian like myself.  Both he and I have seen first hand the terrible distress of our denomination.  I am a seventeenth generation Presbyterian and I suspect with a name like McCormack and the looks of a true Scotsman, his entrenchment as Presbyterian might even be deeper than my own.  He took issue sharply with the scholars Richard Hays and N.T. Wright because their efforts were undermining the doctrine of faith in Christ.  The apple cart of the denomination was shaky already, would the two worthy theologians upset what was already greatly weakened?  “We have no unity.” he said, “Would you take away our one last remnant of it, would you undermine our Book of Confessions?”  The Book of Confessions forms the first part of our denomination’s constitution and it clearly speaks of our faith in Christ as the means of justification.  But in the Question and Answer period, N.T. Wright replied at some length, and his last point was simple but cutting, the gist of it being, “Isn’t it the doctrine of the faith in Christ that has caused such disorder, isn’t it really that doctrine that has rent Presbyterianism to shreds?”

Strange Fruit

As many others have noticed, the doctrine of the faith in Christ produces at least two rather fearful results, strange fruit from a strange tree.  First, the horror of an individualism, an individualism that does away with community and isolates neighbor from neighbor.   After all, if it all comes down to “my” faith, doesn’t it all come down to me?  The “vacuum” of faith may approach nothingness but it is a powerful nothingness that draws all eyes to itself.  “Me” and “mine” become central.  And second, as the scholar Ernst Kasemann famously noted, the doctrine of faith in Christ cuts us off from the Old Testament.  What real need do we have of the Old Testament when it’s all about my faith, my belief.  Why would I need to remember the story of Adam and Eve or even the story of Abraham?  All the stories of the Old Testament are but props to support my own story and when my story is firmly secured they can be kicked away and disposed with.  It is worth noting that the disciples of the theologian Rudolph Bultmann, following the inner logic of the doctrine, were inclined to dispose with the “in Christ” part of “faith in Christ.”  Our faith was the only thing necessary.  Even the Messiah could be forgotten.  But this kind of self-centeredness is a nightmare.   Proponents of the “faith of Jesus” are striving against a kind of living nightmare.


    And yet, the battle has ground to a kind of standstill.  There are insuperable objections to both the “faith of Jesus” and “faith in Jesus.”   Some scholars, particularly those from Germany have sought a third way.  They argue that “pisteos Iesou Christou” is a metonym.  What is a metonym?  The word metonym comes from the Greek words “meta” meaning “beyond, and “onama” meaning name.  The “faith of Jesus” “transcends” the name, it goes “beyond” the name.    “Hollywood” is often given as an example.  Hollywood is a place in California but it goes beyond this, it is a way to talk about the whole movie business in the United States.  “Wall Street” is a street in New York City but it goes beyond that.  It’s a way of talking about money-making throughout the nation and even the world.  In the same way, the “faith of Jesus” goes beyond itself; faith is the “Christ event,” faith is the “new salvific reality” (The Faith of Jesus Christ, Binder, p. 169).  Faith is the “gospel message” (The Faith of Jesus Christ, Schenk, p.170).  How admirable are these scholars for seeing and sensing that something is wrong with both the “faith in” and the “faith of” camps, and for seeking a solution!  And yet, I do not believe it is a new solution.  In Luther’s commentary on Galatians he often substitutes “gospel” and “grace” for faith.  Scholars today refine the idea one hundred fold but it is still not clear how such a move is to be justified.  Luther himself seems to have sensed the difficulties that“faith in Christ” presents.  In his letters and in his preaching he does not refer to it, rather he speaks of the promises of God.  Perhaps this is why somewhere in Calvin’s writing, Calvin speaks, rather astonishingly, of us being “justified by the promises of God.”  For Luther and Calvin it would seem there is no consolation in the doctrine of faith in Jesus.

The “Other” Third Way

    But what if the faith of Jesus Anointed (I translate “Christ” into English), is not a metonym but shorthand?  I want to propose another “third way.”  As my ballet teacher Fred Alexson once corrected me, as the class tendued (a tendu is the extension of the pointed foot) to the left and I went to the right, he laughed and said, “the other left, Amy, the other left.”  In Acts 13, Paul and his companions are asked by the official of the synagogue at Psidian Antioch is they “have any word of consolation for the people.”  Paul stands, and with a gesture begins to speak.  He tells of the resurrection of Jesus Anointed.  How was it accomplished?  Paul cites a specific promise, one found in the Septuagint of Isaiah 55:3, “I will give you the pities of David, the faithful ones” (13:34).

Here is the English transliteration of the Greek in Acts 13:34,

“doso humin ta hosia David, ta pista” or as I translate, “the pities of David, the faithful ones”

Whatever the meaning of the “pities of David, the faithful ones” is, we do know this: Paul is saying that by their power Jesus was raised.  But how?
 To understand this we need to recall a story which I believe to be essential to our understanding of “faith.”  Look back in your Bibles to Isaiah 55: 3.  There it says, “I will make with you all an eternal covenant, the pities of David, the faithful ones” (my translation), clearly in Paul’s word of consolation at Psidian Antioch he is alluding to this place in the Bible.  But what does it mean in Isaiah?  I think we can answer that question.  A commentator in the early part of the 20th century said that this phrase, “I will make with you an eternal covenant, the pities of David, the faithful ones” sums up what is going on two chapters before, in Isaiah 53. 
Isaiah 53 is familiar to many of us.  It tells of the man of sorrows, who in Isaiah 52:13 and following is “exalted...and very high” and yet is also “marred more than any man.” Isaiah 53 goes on to tell his story.  He will save Israel and even the nations of the earth.  How?  He will bear our iniquities, he will carry our sorrows.  Isaiah, who knows himself to be a sinner (see Isaiah 6) says, “we esteemed him stricken.”  In other words, “we thought that God had struck the man of sorrows for his own fault” but it was not so.  We esteemed him stricken, “but he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”  The story continues as we read on in Isaiah 53, the man of sorrows dies because of the transgression of “my people,” “all we like sheep had gone astray.”  But his death was not the death of a criminal, by the power and “good pleasure” of God (vs.10a), he was made a “sin offering,” that is a holy offering taking away the power of sin.  God says of this mysterious slave, “the just one my slave will make many just.” Nor is the death of the man of sorrows the end.  When the Lord puts him to grief he will then “see his seed,” that is, his descendants, and “prolong his days” and “the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.”  He will “see the travail of his soul and be satisfied by his knowledge,” (my translation) that is, he will know that his suffering will accomplish so much.  The chapter closes by saying“because he hath poured out his soul unto death and he was numbered with the transgressors” he will divide the spoil of the great and the strong (translation, Jhan Moscowitz).

Now, what does this have to do with “I will make an eternal covenant with you all, the pities of David the faithful ones”?  I answer that question with a question: How is it that the man of sorrows, this “root out of dry ground” (53:2) is victorious?  How is it that an ordinary, depressing, death of a criminal (53:8-9) is turned into a holy offering for sin that will make “many just”?  That commentator in the early 20th century that we spoke of earlier had the right idea.  The power that made the man of sorrows into a holy offering, the power that raised him from the dead so that he would “see his seed” and “prolong his days” is the “pities of David, the faithful ones.”  Not only do the "pities of David, the faithful ones raise Jesus from the dead, they are also the power that sent him into the world, the power by which he ministered, the power by which he was saved in the garden of Gethsemane and the victor on the cross.  But at the salesmen say on the infomercials, "Wait, there's more!" because Isaiah is also saying that the power that did all this, “the pities of David, the faithful ones” are for “you all.”  What he gets we get, in other words.

But to really understand the “pities of David, the faithful ones” we need to go further back.   Isaiah himself is alluding to something. In Second Samuel 7, David offers to build God a house.  God has lived in tent since the Exodus.  David lives in a beautiful cedar house.  Shouldn’t God have the same thing?  Nathan the prophet gives David the green light.  But that same night the word of the Lord comes to Nathan: David is not to build God a house, instead, God will build David “a house that will last forever;” “ David’s kingdom will be established... forever”(vs.16)  [A note on the Hebrew word for “established.”   It is based on the word “emun” or to make up an English word that most closely approximates it’s meaning in vs. 16, “enfaithed.”  David’s kingdom will be “enfaithed” forever.  I think that the KJV translation “his kingdom will be established” is sufficient but we need to keep in mind the Hebrew.] Moreover, God makes another astonishing promise, “if he (David’s seed or descendant) commits iniquity I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the stripes of the children of men, but my mercy or “pity” (“hesed” in Hebrew) shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul whom I put away before thee” (see verses 13-16).

Now, let’s page forward to Isaiah.  What does Isaiah mean when he speaks of the “pities” (“hesed” in Hebrew) of David, “the faithful ones” (“na-emun-im” in Hebrew).  The answer is clear.  Isaiah is alluding to this story in 2 Samuel 7.  When he writes that God will give us “the pities of David, the faithful ones” he is alluding to that story in 2 Samuel 7, expecting us to know it and study it.
Let’s see where we are.  How does knowledge of this story that we have just traced from 2 Samuel 7 to Isaiah 53-55 help us to understand Romans 3?  The long and short of it is that Paul is alluding to this story when he writes the words, “the faith of Jesus.”  He is cluing us in to how we are justified, how we come to believe, how we are declared right, how we are made right before God.  If we understand the story of 2 Samuel 7 and the revelation that God gave to Isaiah about it, we understand justification.  We are not justified by our faith in Jesus but rather by a sequence of events stemming from God’s promise to David, by a plan of salvation that was fulfilled in Jesus’ birth and ministry, in his cross, resurrection the exaltation into heaven to receive the Holy Spirit.  Although I have not detailed how the Holy Spirit comes into the story, we find allusion to the Holy Spirit in Isaiah 55.  In other words, the outline of the whole story of justification is there in poetry form in Isaiah 53-55.


We might have a question, why does Paul speak of it in Romans as “the faith of Jesus” that is, why not continue to speak as he did at Psidian Antioch, of the “pities of David, the faithful ones?”  There is an answer to that in Isaiah as well. Not in Isaiah 53 this time, but in Isaiah 11.  Isaiah 11 speaks of the Messiah and it is clear that as Isaiah writes he thinking of 2 Samuel 7.  Isaiah says of the “rod of Jesse” who has the “spirit of the Lord” has “establishment” ( ha-emunah) as his war-belt (vss. 1,2 and 5)  The imagery is vivid.  Isaiah sees that the faithfulness that we just read about in 2 Samuel 7, this “emun” will be like a war-belt to the Messiah.  These days we may not be familiar with a “war-belt” but I know that some of us have been to nursing homes.  Think of what you may have seen some of the staff wearing.  They are wearing those striped belts around their waists.  The belts help them to lift the patients out of bed.  The belts protect their backs.  The belts help them bear the weight of those for whom they are caring.  A war-belt does much the same thing.  It is the Messiah’s support.  It allows him, if you will, to support the enormous burden of sin.”  When we look at Romans 3 and wherever “the faith of Jesus” is spoken of we are to be reminded of this story.  This is why Paul in Romans 3 speaks of “pisteous Iesou Christou” he wants to remind us not only of the story outlined in Isaiah 53-55 but also the story in Isaiah 11.
Another question arises in relation to Romans 4.  Romans 4 speaks of “the faith of Abraham” (vs. 16).  What does this mean?  It means that Abraham too was established, was supported and won the victory.  Abraham lived thousands of years before Jesus, before us, but he was given “the mercies or pities of David, the faithful ones” ahead of time.  He is truly the “father of us all” (vs. 16).  To explain, we are given, according to the promise of Isaiah 55:3, “the pities of David, the faithful ones” and we are justified and we believe because of them but Abraham was given these mercies ahead of time, he was a glimpse of what was to come for us.

One more question.  It says in Romans 4 that“Abraham believed and it was reckoned to him for righteousness” (vs. 3)  Doesn’t that mean that we are justified by our faith in Christ?  There is no doubt that our trust in the Lord saves us.  When we believe we are “reckoned righteous” before God. This is clear.  Later, in Romans 10 Paul will say, “if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (vs. 9).  We most certainly are saved when we believe.  Belief, like all our good deeds, is taken into account by God because God is, after all, a good God; how could he not see and reward the good that we do? However, Paul is saying that the primary way that we are justified, made righteous is, through “the faith of Jesus” and all that that means, and not through our belief.
  But how do we believe? The way that sinners come to belief is also through “the faith of Jesus” that is “pities of David, the faithful ones.”  We believe in the same way we are justified: through the work of the Father and the Lord Jesus.  This is nothing new.  Remember the story of the Israelites.  When they saw the bodies of the dead Egyptians wash up on shore, they believed in God and in his servant Moses.  How did they believe?  Through God’s work.  Look at Romans 3:21-22 at the beginning of this pamphlet once again.  As my teacher Dr. Miller of Princeton Theological Seminary told me so long ago, “the faith of Jesus” results in “all the believing.”  He did not know what “the faith of Jesus” was, but he know that whatever it was it results in the believer.
Let’s sum up. I want to try to be as clear as possible here. When we believe we are reckoned righteous. Our belief comes from the “faith of Jesus” but this reckoning as righteous is secondary.  The primary way that we are made righteous is through the “faith of Jesus.”  As all of us know, our belief can fail.  Think of Peter when he saw the waves.  His belief failed, but we have a rock that can never be shaken, that rock is “the faith of Jesus,” shorthand for a story that spans the Old Testament and is fulfilled in the New.

There are many more questions, and much to explore.  Think of all the places in the New Testament that speaks of the “faith of” Jesus.  My paper is the briefest of sketches concentrating on one small place in the New Testament.  Yet, I think the idea has promise.  I have found the idea of “the faith of Jesus” as “shorthand,” as an allusion to a much larger story, answers many of the questions that come to mind as we read Paul’s letters and the New Testament in general. 
As an exercise I once read Galatians through aloud but when I would come to the places where it spoke of the “faith of Jesus,” I would read instead the “establishment” of Jesus.  “Establishment” is a better translation of “pisteous” or “faith” for the simple reason that it reminds us of 2 Samuel 7 and the whole story of justification that springs from that place.  Reading through Galatians in this way, I was conscious of a huge mental burden lifting and it was as if a window had been opened and finally light and air were streaming through.

No Old Testament

But there is a huge problem to overcome.  New Testament scholars today are generally wary of letting the Old Testament interpret the New.  Some of this wariness is wise.  We want to be careful not to read Old Testament allusions into the New Testament where there are none.  We want to avoid flights of fancy and irresponsible imaginings.  We want to be scientific.  I see no problem with caution, however, I am afraid that there is a much larger problem.  A huge pit has been dug between the Old and New Testament.  I have written before of how Kasemann said that “faith in Christ” put a wedge between the Old and New Testaments.  I am afraid he is right.  If it is all about my faith, all about me, we are step by step forced to ignore the Old Testament.  The Old Testament simply does not tell a story like the one we have made up to explain justification; how a little something of ours (clasp, vacuum,empty hand or vessel) grasps the grace of God.  The overall narrative of Paul’s Bible (the Old Testament) is about how God saves and how his Messiah saves a people who were trapped in sin; how he revives dry bones incapable of life.  The overarching story Old Testament is about a sinful people, a sinful world and God’s reconciling work through the mysterious “man of sorrows.”  What if the caution of the scholars masks an inability to really see the Old Testament?  What if “faith in Christ” makes us unable to bridge the gap between the New Testament and the Bible of Paul and Jesus?

Morna Hooker

There is more to it of course.  In 1959 a brilliant doctoral student wrote a dissertation called “Jesus and the Servant” that roused the theological world from their lazy sleep.  It had been taken for granted that Isaiah 53-55 described the cross and resurrection and that Jesus understood himself to be the man of sorrows in his suffering, death and resurrection.  Morna Hooker questioned this and in large part continues to question it to this day.  Although I do not have time in this paper to address these issues, I believe that all of her well-founded doubts can be set to rest.  There is a way.  Moreover, I would like to call attention to a desire that she expresses early in her dissertation.  She wanted the death and resurrection of Jesus to have a broader basis than Isaiah 53-55 alone.  In other words she want the whole Bible to play into Jesus’ death and resurrection. I believe that this desire was an excellent one, a desire that I share but that I believe is satisfied if “the faith of Jesus” is shorthand, an allusion to a much larger story, a story spanning the Old Testament and elucidated in the New.

You Save Me And I'll Save You

    In Romans 1:11-12, Paul writes that he longs to come to the believing communities in there that“we may be mutually encouraged in the faith.”   The depth of this statement becomes clear when we understand that Paul is alluding to a story in the Old Testament, the story of Joab and Abishai in II Samuel 10.   The Ammonites have gone to war against Israel and hired a host of Syrian soldiers to fight with them. It ends up that King David’s general, a man named Joab faces the Syrian army and his brother Abishai faces the host of the Ammonites.; the brothers and their warriors are fighting back to back against two enemies.  When the battle is about to begin Joab says to Abishai, “if the Syrians are too strong for me, you come and save me, and if the Ammonites are too strong for you I will come and save you.”  We might pass over what Paul has to say in Romans 1:11-12 without a backwards glance, but when we look just a bit more closely at the grammar and surrounding context, we see something wonderful.  We find that he is alluding to the story of Joab and Abishai, the moral of which could be summed up as, “you save me and I’ll save you.”
 Recently I have been trying to understand the idea of love in the New Testament.  Here’s what I have learned so far: Both faith and love are gifts from God, but love comes in a very specific way.  The Holy Spirit seems to go hand in hand with love.  It’s almost as if when we breathe free through the Holy Spirit, our hearts expand and warm and we are able to love.  But God directs that love and compassion toward the brother.  Like someone might re-direct a spring, God directs that spring of love toward one another.  Jesus does not say in John “just as I have loved you, love me” instead he says, “just as I have loved you, love one another.”   Of course, we love the Lord with all our hearts, this is just as it should be, but at the same time we see again and again that Jesus wants to emphasize the love we are to have for one another.  Jesus says to Peter in the last chapter of John, “Do you love me?”  When Peter answers that he does, Jesus responds, “Feed my sheep.”  The Lord loves us so much, laying down his life for sinners and enemies.  Those sinners are now part of the Lord’s assembly, those who were once far off have been brought near.  Jesus is now saying to Peter, “Go and do likewise” and “As I have loved my people you are to love them,” feeding the hungry not only with good food but most importantly with the word of God. 
Many of us remember the story of Joseph and his brothers.  Joseph is kidnapped, sold as slave, falsely accused, thrown into prison before he become second in command to Pharaoh in Egypt.  It is a position that allows him to save the family of Israel (and indeed the known world) from starvation.  But he has one thing to say to brothers as they return home to Canaan to bring their father, Israel to Egypt.  He tells them, “do not quarrel on the way” (Genesis 45:24).  Joseph has suffered for his brothers’ sake, that they might be one, that they might love one another and be saved.
What does all this mean for us?  We can be saviors to one another.  Luther said that we can be “little christs”  to one another.  We can be a port of refuge in the storm to one another.  Jesus gives us the gift of the Spirit and the love that goes along with it, so that we can “love one another,” mutually encouraging one another, bearing with one another, mourning with one another, consoling one another with the consolations we ourselves have received from the Lord, all these things and more.  This world can be a stormy place, a place of trouble.  There are situations, institutions, powers and spiritual enemies fighting who are actively in opposition to the Lord Jesus. But the good news is that have been enabled by the Lord to help one another.  We can be “a place of quiet rest” for one another.  We are only clay jars, subject to so much weakness, but within us is are great powers from our Father in heaven, and “the greatest of these is love.”

Friday, July 06, 2012

Marriage From A Philosophical Standpoint

Marriage From A Philosophical Standpoint

A few years ago, I read in the New York Times that French feminists were against the legalization of “gay marriage” in their country.  Now these philosophers certainly didn’t run with the church going, Bible reading crowd.  Why then, were they against something as seemingly harmless as two women, for instance, marrying one another?  It took me years to understand their argument.  Admittedly sometimes I’m a little slow on the draw.  Today, however, I think I can paraphrase it.  They believe that most of us look at marriage all the wrong way.  We see marriage from a self-centered standpoint, instead of a communal one.  To put it bluntly, for them, marriage is not about two people. Marriage is not about what is “best” for me and mine.   Rather, marriage is the smallest unit of expression for a basic fact, that there are two sexes, male and female, in the larger community that covers the broad earth.
 Many times the argument that marriage should only be between a man and woman is under-girded by saying that a man and a man, for instance, cannot make babies.  This is a fact, but at the same time, there are many couples that have not had children or perhaps will never have children.  Children are a gift from God, a miracle, but does their presence solidly under-gird the traditional understanding of marriage?  I think the theory of the French feminists is better.  For them, marriage between a man and a woman (with or without children) expresses truth, that men and women need one another and always will.  To put it another way, we are in this together.  They were against changing the law in France to redefine marriage because a law that says that there is marriage between two men, or marriage between two women is a decision to smother community, to smother truth.  Marriage between a man and woman is the most basic expression of the community between men and women.  But it’s not only an expression, it is the most basic building block, the bricks that hold the house up.  When we lose touch with marriage being between a man and a woman we fall deeper into dark delusion. The delusion that we can make it on our own, that we are on our own, that men don’t need women and women don’t need men, the delusion of misogyny and misanthropy, and that sweet sounding lie to which Americans are particularly prone, the delusion of individualism and isolation.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Being Merciful to God

Being Merciful to God

 In Hebrews, chapter four, we are told, “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart.” We don’t want stone hearts but soft and merciful hearts. But did you know that we can be merciful to God? This idea is spoken of in several places throughout the Bible and is in the form of a poignant question in Hosea 6:4 & 7, “ O Ephraim, what shall I do with you? O Judah your mercy (toward me) is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.” God concludes in verse 7, “they betrayed me.” So, how can we merciful to God? How can we have soft hearts toward Him? How can we avoid acting treacherously toward the Lord?
 My seventy-one father is visiting. He told me today that he wanted to clean under my refrigerator! He plans on doing the refrigerator and then washing the entire kitchen floor. Isn’t my Dad nice? I told him that he doesn’t have to do this, but he is insisting! But imagine the following scenario: What if I came in from Bible study at Red Wing and decided to dump dirt all over the floor he is scrubbing? Picture my Dad, laboring over my kitchen, and I bring in the yucky stuff. Is this kind of behavior merciful to my Dad? The answer is, “No!” In one place in Isaiah, God is pictured as a kind of janitor, laboring in the muck of our sins and weaknesses and burdens. He’s cleaning it up and he’s glad to do it because of his great love for us. But if we continue in sin without even trying to do better aren’t we just mucking up God’s great work through Jesus?
 Because of my ministry and because of my particular personality, I am often tempted to people-please, a fatal flaw if allowed to continue! In me, people-pleasing takes the form of making promises too quickly and then not being able to keep those promises. The author of Hebrews is telling me to have mercy, to have a tender heart, not only towards my fellow man but also towards God himself. I have shed many tears because I have hurt people important to me. But I also need to remember that I am hurting God, adding to his burdens. It is very easy to deceive oneself. People-pleasers tell themselves they are being kind, but there is no kindness in disobedience toward the Lord. In the end, we will fail both God and man.

Friday, January 27, 2012

David's Prayer

David's Prayer
In most, if not all of our Bibles, Acts 3:16 reads something like, “By faith in his name, this man whom you see and know was made strong.” The apostle Peter is here addressing the crowds who have come running. He is talking of the man born lame, for 40 years a beggar at the “Beautiful Gate” who is now walking and leaping and praising God in the temple. How was all this done? Not by the power or piety of the disciples but by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (3:13). How was the man healed? By “faith in the name of Jesus” (NIV). But this is not what the Bible actually says. In Greek, the original language of the New Testament, we read, “by the faith OF his name.” What could this mean? Indeed many times in the Bible we see “faith of...” The King James Version, cleaving to the original language, furnishes some examples of this, as in Romans 3:22, Galatians 2:16 and many other places.

To understand what the “faith of the name of Jesus," we need to review the story of faith. One of the first times we see the word for “faith” in the Bible is with Abraham. In Hebrew the word for faith is “emunah." We read that Abraham “believed in the Lord” (Genesis 15:6). For me, the word faith gets very confusing. I find that the word "established” is a better translation for the emunah/faith word of the Bible. We could then say of Abraham, Abraham was “established" in God, that is, "solid" on the Lord. But with Abraham’s descendants it is not so. In fact, God says specifically that they are not faithful, not “established" in God, “they are a perverse generation, sons in which there is no faithfulness” (Deut. 32:20). How does God deal with this faithlessness, this lack of being established or solid? We glimpse the answer in Deuteronomy 7:9. Where we let the banner of faith fall to the ground, God picks it up. The word for faith is now attached only to God, “God has caused you to go out with a strong hand, and redeemed you from the house of slaves, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Because of this know that the Lord your God, he is God, the faithful God.”

But the story of faith does not end here. Remember David: how he wanted to build a house for God but God says, “No, I will build a house for you.” And here the word “emunah” is used again, God says that he will be faithful to the house of David, he will establish David’s dynasty (2 Sam. 7:16). And in David’s prayer we begin to know how glorious this promise is. David understands that God's establishing David's dynasty is going to be as big as the Exodus (vs. 23) The Lord’s establishing David and his seed will mean freedom and rest and peace and life for the people.

But the final scene in the story of faith is yet to come. The prophet Isaiah has a vision. He sees that God will indeed establish the son of David...and how! In his vision the son of David, this root of Jesse, is a “root out of dry ground,” a suffering servant, but in the midst of his suffering, God will be faithful and loving. We see the effects of that faithful, establishing love in Isaiah 53. This Jewish man of sorrows is beaten but “by his stripes we are healed,” he dies a criminal’s death but God turns that death into something holy, an offering given by God that takes away sin. This Davidic messiah goes to the grave but God in his love raises him up and promises that he will see his children. God in his establishing and established love for the servant declares him to be “in the right” and “making many right.” God in his faithful love for his “boy” gives him all wealth, many children, victory, resurrection from the dead-- the kingdom is his, all things are his.

And isn’t this all exactly what happened to Jesus? Jesus the Davidic Messiah is saved in the garden, enabled to give that triumphant shout on the cross, triumphant even in the tomb, raised from the dead, exalted at the right hand of the Father. If this isn’t the effect of faithful love, I don’t know what is! I should add one more fact, a "by the way" for us to think on: the goal of this faithful love, incredibly, is us. To paraphrase Isaiah 55:3, God promises his people, I will give you the faithful love that I give to this root of David, but more on that in another article.

All this helps us understand the mysterious phrase in Acts 3. What has made the lame man walk and leap, is the “establishment” of the name of Jesus. God has established the name of Jesus Anointed of Nazareth. This is clues us in to the meaning whenever we see the mysterious "faith of Jesus," it is the establishment of Jesus, God’s loving establishment his only begotten son.
Long ago David had prayed, Lord emunah “establish” your name, and now God has done it (I Chronicles17:24). Why did David pray this prayer? Because he knew that where the name of the Lord is established, there is healing, and David wants healing and health and life for his people. In Acts 3 and in our own lives, David’s prayer has been answered.