Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reflections on Biblical Theology I & II (Part III)

roots2 I thought I would post a few reflections on the Biblical Theology II module – that’s the practical module of the HTC BT experience.  Our four three-week seminars were addressing biblical theological questions (which the student must develop) on Marriage, the Spirit, the Nations and the City.  In the final week of the seminar the student must present an outline for a methodological approach toward answering their question.  Then, two of these must be fully written up as assessment papers.  There follow my questions and a few brief thoughts:

Marriage.  The question: ‘The Genesis creation narratives portray a foundational role for male-female relationships within the created order.  Can biblical theology reconcile this with Jesus’ teaching on marriage and resurrection in the synoptics?’  Specifically in view here are Jesus’ words to the Saducees in Mark 12:18-27 (and parallels) to the effect that ‘in the resurrection men do not marry, women are not given in marriage…for they are like angels’ (my paraphrase of the synoptic variations).  Some thoughts: interpreters who see marriage as simply transitory typology, fulfilled in the relationship between Christ and the Church, overlook (i) the relationship between male-female and the image of God in Gen 1:27, and (ii) the foundational statement in the creation narratives that it is ‘not good’ for the man to be alone, even before the Fall; this is answered by male-female relationships. As an aside, they often also reverse Paul’s metaphor in Eph 5 to say: look at your marriage and you’ll understand the greater truth of Christ and the Church, when in fact Paul is saying, look at Christ and the Church and then take that example back into your marriage.  The Church sometimes comforts lonely single people by effectively saying ‘well, we’ll all be single in heaven!’ (the dreaded gift of singleness), whereas perhaps it is better to say ‘ the Lord will answer your loneliness with perfect companionship in the resurrection.’ The answer in a nutshell: the male-female complementarity that is fundamental to the constitution of humanity will continue in the New Earth, although it cannot be sufficiently depicted by the concept of human marriage institutions in this world.  Being ‘like the angels’ means not being subject to mortality (this is clear in Luke’s account).  It is not a reference to another (heavenly-ethereal) form of existence.

Spirit.  The question: ‘The synoptic Gospels and the Fourth Gospel contain the tradition of the descent of the Spirit in the form of a dove upon Jesus at his baptism.  Explore whether there is an Old Testament background to the imagery of the Spirit as a dove.’  Some thoughts: in his account Luke is clear that what he saw had ‘a physical appearance like a dove’ (Lk 3:22 My trans).  Yahweh is depicted at several points in the OT using avian imagery.  However, the only place where the Spirit is depicted in this way is in Gen 1:2 (and only if you interpret ruah as spirit, not wind).  Interestingly 4Q521 Fr2 contains this: ‘over the poor His spirit will hover and will renew the faithful with his power.’   I do wonder about texts like Pss 18:10 and 104:3 – should we read in these the term ‘on the wings of the spirit', (al-canepey-ruah) rather than ‘on the wings of the wind’?  The key OT connection with Jesus’ baptism is with Is 42:1 where the spirit of Yahweh is put upon the servant.  The answer in a nutshell: the broader avian metaphor of the OT provides background to the appearance of the Spirit in a form akin to a dove.  However, the descent imagery is a departure driven by the ideas in Is 42:1.  There is no connection with Noah!

Nations. The question: ‘To what extent does the New Testament, and in particular the event of Pentecost, portray a reversal of the genesis of diverse languages and nations through God’s intervention at Babel in Genesis 11:1-9?’  Some thoughts: many interpreters see Babel as a curse upon an hubristic humanity trying to ‘storm heaven’. Pentecost is the redeeming act that reverses this curse.  There are three problems with this: first, a close reading of the Babel narrative gives little evidence for this interpretation (the scattering is referenced without a negative assessment in Gen 9:19; 10:18; 10:32 – God’s act rectifies humanity’s decision to huddle in Babel in disobedience to the divine command to populate the earth in Gen 9:7); second, the details of the Pentecost narrative do not allow such an interpretation (many languages are spoken, not one; only one nation is present, not Gentiles – there is a tribal reconstruction motif here for the house of Israel and the house of Judah, in fulfilment of the Jeremaic covenant promise); and third, the result of this interpretation is cultural and linguistic negativism – diversity of culture and language is a curse to be overcome.  We thus come close to justifying cultural imperialism and the destruction of minority cultures.  The answer in a nutshell: Yahweh’s action at Babel was a gracious intervention for the good of humanity, in opposition to the introspective rebellion of humanity. The separation of languages and nations secured the divine intention for humanity to spread over the earth and diversify. Hence, the diversity of the nations, including their languages, is good. Far from portraying a reversal, the Pentecost narrative reinforces this view.

City. The question: ‘Is there any theological counterpart in the New Testament to the exhortation found in Psalm 48 to consider the architecture of the city of Jerusalem as a picture of Yahweh?’  Some thoughts: Ps48: 3, 14 seem to indicate that the physical city of Zion acts as a visual representation of the God of Zion, Yahweh.  Such iconographic thought is rare in the OT.  Perhaps a consideration of the defences of Zion are intended to prompt recollection of the story of Zion, and hence the God of that story, but the visual metaphor on the face of it seems more direct -  Ps48:15 MT begins with the literal phrase: ‘for this is God’.  The only place perhaps in the NT where similar iconography is encountered is in Revelation 21.  The city of Jerusalem there has ‘the glory of God’ and its architecture is described in great detail.  God, the Almighty, and the Lamb are its temple/sanctuary.  Answer in a nutshell: architecture (the work of man) here does supply a metaphor for God, just as features of the creation often do in scripture.  This is an interesting point for a consideration of all of the arts.  That the geography of Zion supplied a metaphor for God is part of the theology of Zion expressed elsewhere in the Songs of Zion.  The larger theological point is perhaps that the creation of the city of God as a redeemed human society, comprised of individual image bearers as ‘living stones’, will indeed bear some of the attributes of God himself.  Thus the city of John’s Apocalypse bears the glory of God.  For Zion, and for the new Jerusalem, the glory of the city reflects that of the God who dwells within it.  In the Church, we consider the logos made flesh as the icon – he who has seen me has seen the Father - ‘for this is God.’   We also consider one another as the works of God, showing Christlikeness as new creatures.