Archive for April, 2021

O God of God! O Light of Light! Thou Prince of Peace, Thou King of kings,

April 24, 2021

The above title was taken from https://hymnary.org/text/o_god_of_god_o_light_of_light

So we came to the conclusion that Jesus is fully God and fully man.  What about the angels.  They are powerful beings and how do they compare to the Son? For early Jews and Christians angels had and still do have a role to play. 

7 And of the angels He says,

“WHO MAKES HIS ANGELS WINDS,

AND HIS MINISTERS A FLAME OF FIRE.”

8 But of the Son He says,

“YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER,

AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM.

9 “YOU HAVE LOVED RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HATED LAWLESSNESS;

THEREFORE GOD, YOUR GOD, HAS ANOINTED YOU

WITH THE OIL OF GLADNESS ABOVE YOUR COMPANIONS.”

10 And,

“YOU, LORD, IN THE BEGINNING LAID THE FOUNDATION OF THE EARTH,

AND THE HEAVENS ARE THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS;

11 THEY WILL PERISH, BUT YOU REMAIN;

AND THEY ALL WILL BECOME OLD LIKE A GARMENT,

12 AND LIKE A MANTLE YOU WILL ROLL THEM UP;

LIKE A GARMENT THEY WILL ALSO BE CHANGED.

BUT YOU ARE THE SAME,

AND YOUR YEARS WILL NOT COME TO AN END.”

13 But to which of the angels has He ever said,

“SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND,

UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES

A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET”?

14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation? Hebrews 1:7-14

Verses 7-13. The writer in these verses is pushing the point home that was found in verse 6.  The bottom line is that Jesus is God the angels are only servants. The writer does not compromise on this belief.

Verses 7 8. Make sure you don’t miss the contrast here;

verse 7 ‘and of the angel he says’. Then the quotation (according to Barclay in ancient Jewish tradition angels could become pure etheral creatures). More importantly angels are still only ‘servants’.

Verse 8 The quotation about the Son is very strong, ‘But of the son he says thy throne O God…’ According to this reading Jesus is called both ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ (Ellingworth commentary page 122).

Verses 9-12 The evidence of Jesus as ‘God’ grows as the writer heaps up the ‘and’ words. See the beginning of verse 10 (kai=and at the beginning of the sentence. The beginning of verse 12 is the same another ‘and’). If one reads especially Psalm 102 verses 125 and 126 one can see the divinity status of the king.

Verse 13 This forms the ‘inclusion of his argument in which sarcastically the writer says But to which of the angels… relating Psalm 110 to Jesus and not the angels…

Verse 14 The writer at this point has proven that Jesus is God and is then able in verse 14 to say that the angels are only ‘servants’.

 This summarises his findings.  The point has been made that Jesus is greater than the angels. You can see that these verses were not chosen by accident. All these verses point to the messiah.

Excursus: A question to the philosophers of kalam.

When looking at the truth of religion, the categories of the infinite and finite must always be taken seriously. The categories of the eternal and that of the contingent, religionists would argue that revelation takes place when the eternal and finite touch, which allows the ‘moment’ of touching to take a most profound meaning for our human lives, making it possible for us to have life in the presence of Allah/ Eloah/ Elohim/ Elgibor.  The eternal taking on physical form is an aspect that touches most religion.

In Hinduism, the divine resides in the murti. The Koran is also seen as coming from heaven and taking on physical form.

The charge has been made that Christians have committed shirk… (the unpardonable sin). The unpardonable sin is allowing an earthly category to touch the divine.  But is it not also the case that the Koran from heaven takes on physical form in this world and the same charge can be placed on Muslims?

The answer of course is that Muslims have not committed shirk and neither have the Christians!

I am not interested in winning a polemical argument because using logical categories it is so easy to put down someone else’s point of view. All I am asking is that we meet on the ground of piety and show respect for each other’s beliefs (even if we don’t agree).

This is not a negation of our beliefs because in the domain of public conversation we are talking about our future destiny which takes us either into God’s presence or away from God’s presence.  We are talking about fellowship with God which is the most serious issue in the universe.

In the context which the writer to the Hebrews was writing, it is possible that some of these Jewish Christians were involved in angel worship. It was very important that the writer pointed the readers to the Son, true God of true God, true light from true light.

For Christians as with Muslims, belief in the one true God is of primary importance.  The paths separate only at the point when we try to understand this Unity.  Thus, Aquinas and al Ghazali could believe and agree on most of the ninety nine names of God. The problem came at the place of understanding this Unity.  For Christians there are eternal relations within the unity.  For Islamic theology there is only unity.

There are heresies as well that would want to make Jesus just a creature.  That he was the first of the creatures therefore the most elevated.  This is false teaching.  As well as the first four verses say 8 But of the Son He says,

“YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER,

AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM.”

Arianism of the 4th century taught; “Arianism is also used to refer to other nontrinitarian theological systems of the 4th century, which regarded Jesus Christ—the Son of God, the Logos—as either a begotten creature of a similar or different substance to that of the Father, but not identical (as Homoiousian and Anomoeanism) or as neither uncreated nor created in the sense other beings are created (as in semi-Arianism). “

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arianism

This is an interesting article of Arian belief within the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

From https://www.evangelical-times.org/22235/arianism-and-jehovahs-witnesses/

Reflection

The book of Hebrews has a lot to teach us in the 21st century.  Jesus has commanded us to love our neighbour, whoever our neighbour is.  Angels play a very important role in the 21st century and they are here to serve us.  We need to be careful not to elevate angels to the point of divinity because once that line has been reached, we switch to demonology.   The writer to the Hebrews had already seen the danger of what we call Arianism.  As Hebrews shows Jesus is greater than angels as he has always existed but, in his humanity, just for a short while he humbled himself and became lower than the angels to save us. As a pre-taster of what we will write later it says in the next chapter.

9 But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. Hebrews 2:9 NASB

And Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature and upholds all things by the word of His power. When Jesus had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, Hebrews 1:3

April 18, 2021

18 04 2021

Chapter 1 On reflection when the writer speaks of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is seen as fully divine.  In the economy of the Trinitarian God, Jesus is divine.   We will continue with verse one because I want to dig deeper until we reach verse 6.

Although there are scholars who would choose to water down the divinity of Christ in this book we are not of that school.  They are mistaken. The writer starts from the side of the infinite ‘heaven’. Jesus is fully God and that is the only way that the introduction can be interpreted.  The writer does not speak of the angels being the ‘radiance of God’s glory’. Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory.  The whole argument in chapters 1 and 2 proves that Jesus is greater than the angels. In the order of creation angels were placed in the presence of God… Yet Jesus is greater than the angels.  Jesus is no ordinary prophet. It was the Father’s good pleasure to create the universe through and for the Son (Heb1/2- Jn1/3) So then the mystery:

‘Jesus is fully God’.

The movement of thought in this epistle is in terms of who Jesus was starts from an infinite category.

Verse 3. Jesus is not ‘compared’ to the Majesty on High but is given the seat of Honour.  Jesus is referred to as sitting ‘on the right hand’. There is no language of comparison only symbolism of power and authority.  God’s goodness to the universe is channelled through the son not angels.

The next movement of thought is Jesus being moved into the infinite categories.

Verse4 sets the agenda for the rest of the chapter. Jesus has ‘inherited’ a more excellent name than the angels. The word inheritance conveys the idea of ‘rightful ownership’. The angels could not be spoken of in terms of ‘inheritance’. Angels could only be servants.

Verse 5. There are two quotations in this verse, and they are both Messianic (that is they relate to the king of Israel). Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7.14. Both quotations point towards the relationship of the father and the Son within the Godhead. 

Some scholars have suggested that these quotations were taken in some sort of haphazard way… This is not the case……………. 

Verse 6. Here is a quotation from verse from Psalm 97.7. I assume he is using the LXX that the angels are expected to worship Jesus! If the Writer was to use the Masoretic text, the meaning would be even sharper than angels!! That the ‘gods’ are expected to worship Jesus. The Hebrew word here is Elohim.  Although Elohim can be translated as angels, it may not always be the situation. You need to realize that some of these writings go back into almost pre-history in which El was used in the sense of the ‘titular head of the gods’. Clay tablets have been found which show this to be the case. Thus, I would argue for the reading of ‘gods’ rather than angels.

The writer is moving in high theology that Jesus is fully divine.  He will also move onto him as fully human.  I think of Hebrews in some ways as steppingstones.  He starts from the heavenly realms and verse 6 sets up Jesus Contrasted to angels and that Jesus in greater than angels.  I do not remember where, but I think FF Bruce mentioned that there was a real danger of some people worshiping angels.  We too need to be careful and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and not worship gods.  The gods of today might look different but they are the same.  Maybe not stone, clay special stones and metals but football, technology, the ego…

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. Hebrews 1:1-2 NASB

April 10, 2021

A while ago I wrote an unpublished commentary on Hebrews.  I wrote this soon after leaving King’s College London in my spare time.  For me this is another Gospel form.  It is a beautiful picture of our Saviour Jesus Christ our King, High Priest, and sacrifice.  There is so much more.  For the Christian Jesus is greater than the prophets, higher than the angels, greater than Moses…

Chapter 1

The opening verses of Hebrews gives us the theme and agenda for the whole book. ‘That in these last days God has spoken to us in His Son’.  Throughout this book the speech of God is unfolded.  From this point of view the commentary sets out on an incredible journey of discovery to find out the meaning of this holy scripture.  We must begin and say that Hebrews is couched in the culture and language of Hebraic and Hellenic rhetoric.  It seems so far removed from the modern world yet for the follower of Christ it is a jewel of spiritual inspiration. We don’t even know who the writer was (although I personally think Apollos wrote it).

In verses 1-4 we do not find any full stop until the end of verse 4.  This is a significant point because it shows a single argument.  It is trying to explain to some Jewish Christians that they should stay faithful to Christ.  Serious assumptions are made in these four verses in which the readers are expected to agree with.  Whatever the case might be, the writer to the Hebrews knows his OT inside out and the Greek in these verses also reflect a training in some Hellenic school of thought (Alexandria).

The first assumption he makes in verse one is that God spoke to the Jewish nation through the prophets to the leaders.  The second verse works this out. Yet it goes a stage further and explains that in the ‘Son’ God has spoken his final and ultimate word.  This is backed up with the statement that all things exist because of and through the Son.

Obviously, this is no small claim because it is a statement that goes to the heart of a central motif, namely the motif of Kingship that is found in the Royal Psalms.

Verse 1.  At the end of this claim we find out the reason for the existence of all things is because of the Son.  The Son is a title of Royal kingship and the original readers of the OT would have understood it as such.  The relation of Jesus to God the Father must always be understood in terms of the OT and especially that of the Messianic Psalms such as Ps110/1, “YHWH says to Adonay sit at my right hand…” Or in the LXX no difference is made between Kurios and Kurios!

To the Jewish Christians who read this letter, they would have known the Greek version rather than the Hebrew version.  Both versions carry equal authority. In sum the source of the Trinitarian theology is found here in the OT.

Verse 3.  So then, royal Kingship is the contextual understanding for the identity of the Son.  It is only in this context that we start to comprehend verse three.  Here the writer is trying to explain the relation of the Father to the Son.  On reflection the main reason I think that the writer is struggling to explain the uniqueness of the Son in relation to the Father is because we have crossed the boundary of our natural and physical understanding to the realm of the meta-physical.

Yes, for believers Jesus is God incarnate.  In = in, carne= flesh, body.  This is a beautiful book and I’m told that the first few verses are some of the finest Greek from the ancient world. 

Anselm on Reconciliation and the Atonement

April 2, 2021

ANSELM

Last Week we looked at Irenaeus and how his method was more Biblical and historical withing the framework of the rule. Anselm is not like that. He is more philosophical and he grinds things down to basic premises. Without atonement and reconciliation there would be no relationship with God. Anselm is another way of looking at these great themes of our salvation especially now at this Easter Weekend.

Anselm 1033-1166 was archbishop of Canterbury, thus he always had responsibilities on the political scene. Anselm’s life thus revolved around the monastery and one of the functions of any monk was to pray. Southern says that from the time that Anselm arrived in Bec (in 1059), one can see ‘three threads running through the whole development’ of Anselm’s life and thought; 1) Anselm received his intellectual tools from Lanfranc in who’s footsteps he followed. 2) Anselm immersed himself totally in St Augustine’s thought and language. These two points in some way influenced the writings of ‘Prayers and Letters’ and the ‘Proslogion’. 3) From 1078 new influences in the world took Anselm outside of the Monastery. His theological questioning was also growing due to contact with Roscelin. Jewish arguments were brought to the attention of Anselm via Gilbert Crispin. There were also the teachings from the Laon school which was brought to the attention of Anselm via Boso. These were contributary factors for the culminating works of the Proslogion of 1078 and his more mature work of the Cur Deus Homo in 1098 (15/437). In our search for Anselm’s understanding of reconciliation and atonement we shall concern ourselves mainly with the Cur Deus Homo? (why did God become man?).

Anselm is one of the first theologians to have written a systematic theology on the atonement (1/87). Anselm rejected the view that, ” The Devil, it was held, had obtained, as a result of the Fall certain rights over humankind, either on his own account or by divine permission. Freedom from this bondage was won by means of the payment represented by the blood of Christ” (1/87). (It would be unfair to say that Irenaeus held this view completely as there is also atonement language in his writings). Anselm rejected this view. He wanted to give an account that was rational in relation to the Atonement. Gunton says that at places Anselm is being too systematic with his approach to the atonement and the incarnation (1/88). This does seem to be the case, as in the CDH Anselm does put a great deal of emphasis upon the death of Christ and not enough emphasis on other historical questions in the second part of the CDH.

Anselm viewed the Fall,”…as sin, which was the cause of our condemnation, had its beginning from a woman, so should the author of our righteousness and salvation be born of a woman. And as the Devil had conquered man by the tasting of a tree, to which he persuaded him, so by the suffering endured on a tree, which he inflicted, should he, by a man, be conquered” (2/38). It is interesting to see in this quotation that Anselm does give the Incarnation a high priority, as does Irenaeus. But it must be said that in between the Incarnation and the Passion, the historical works of Christ (for example the miracles etc) are omitted.

Whatever the case maybe concerning the ballance of atonement ~n the CDH there are important points to consider for the rejection of the ransom language which was mentioned before. If one for example holds to the ransom language it does have too much of a dualism in ~t. In Mark 10/45 for example where it says, ” to give his life a ransom for many” (1/88). If the blood of Jesus is treated as a literal price which was for payment to the Devil, then this is going beyond what the NT actual ly al lows in its language (1 /88). The next point to realize

is that ransom language gives too much autonomy and too much authority to the Devil. Gunton quotes CDH1/7,” the Devil and man belong to God alone, and neither one stands outside God’s power; what case, then, did God have to plead with his own creature, in his own affair…?” (1/88 and CDH 1/7).

Satan can only give out punishment according to what God allows. Ransom language does not give an account that is reasonable enough to explain the atonement. Satan is only a creature like all of the other creatures and if he should be given a priority of place as is implied in the ransom language, then the authority of God is undermined. With the rejection of ransom language Anselm turns to a new metaphor which is language of ‘satisfaction’. ‘Satisfaction’ was taken from the legal establishment (1/89). The starting point for Anselm is,” The entire will of a rational creature ought to be subject to the will of God” (2/63). If this formula is broken by sin, then the one that has committed the sin is ‘owing to God’.

Anselm has a particular concept of Justice. God will not allow injustice to have its own way in the universe, otherwise the universe would be seen as irrational (1/89-90). If the universe is seen as irrational, then God does not deserve the name ‘God’. Sin must be punished, ” And since it is not possible to bring sin into accordance with right order without satisfaction being made, except by punishing it, if it is not punished, it is let go without being brought into due order” (2/65).

The important words in the above quotation are ‘right order’. If we also look at CDH I/15 (pages7l-72) where it has the expression ‘order and the beauty of the universe’, we start to see that Anselm sees satisfaction in terms of the welfare of God’s creation. Satisfaction initially is not in terms of the honour of God. Anselm writes that nothing can harm ‘the power and dignity of God’ (2/15/pages7l-72). It is with this in mind that Gunton writes, ” The point is that God does not demand satisfaction for sin because he is in some way personally affronted or offended by transgression” (1/90).

As well as God who is seen as the guardian of universal justice we must also take into account ‘the seriousness of sin’ (1/90). To do something that goes against God’s will is a very serious thing. In the dialogue between Anselm and Boso, Anselm writes,” You do not, therefore, make satisfaction unless you return something greater than that for the sake of which you were under obligation not to have committed the sin”. Then Boso replies,” I see that reason requires it, and yet, that it is altogether impossible” (2/pages 100-101//CDH/I/21). Anselm goes on to say that if it wasn’t for faith, he would despair of there being any possibility of reconciliation to God (2/100).

It is within the framework of justice that mercy must be understood. Man is in a state by which he is incapable of paying God back for his sins. At the same time God cannot forgive man without there being a payment for the debt of sin. God’s Mercy has to be understood within the framework of justice. After what has been said, it must also be noted that ‘satisfaction’ must not be understood in terms of the primary emphasis being on penal substitution.

When Anselm uses the word satisfaction we must also take into account the word ‘poena’ . Satisfactio and poena must be seen as alternatives. Gunton writes,” Satisfaction is therefore according to Anselm the way by which God is enabled not to exact a tribute of compensating penalty from the sinner” (1/90). Then Gunton writes, ” He (Anselm) is therefore not propounding a version of what came to be called penal substitution, in which Jesus is conceived to be punished by God in place of the sinner. There is a substitution, an exchange, but it is not penal in character” (1/90-91).

The framework for the theology of satisfaction in terms of ‘human fallenness’ is only a secondary consideration. The main “focus is on the goodness of God and the excellence of creation’s crown” (1/91). Satisfaction was made because of a gracious act of God. God was not willing to see his creatures annihilated. This act of God is to be understood in terms of a Trinitarian framework. Anselm writes,” Hut this Man (Jesus) freely offered to the Father what it would never have been necessary for Him to lose and paid for sinners what He did not owe for Himself” (2/166 book i I/8). Anselm in the same chapter goes on to say,”…He offered himself for his own honour, to Himself, as he did to the Father and the Holy Spirit i.e., His human nature to his divine nature, which is also one of the Three Persons” (2/170). Barth makes use of this motif and he makes this abstract motif relational, ” … the only One who is judged… He is the only who has come and acts among us as the Judge” (16/237-238). In the same context Barth is also fond of the language of Jesus Christ being ‘ for us’ (16/235). The point is that Anselm did extremely well to think up this motif, yet he misses to bring it into the context of ‘our time’ as opposed to God’s eternity.

CONCLUSON

To begin with both Irenaeus’ and Anselm’s historical settings and hence world views were different. At the same time however they wanted to make a defence of the Christian faith. In the AH, Irenaeus begins by outlining the heresies and showing what is ‘apparent’. After this groundwork has been covered, only then does he begin ~n a rational way to demolish the heretical positions. Contrasting to this method, Anselm has inherited certain philosophical tools for use on behalf of the Christian faith against other religious or atheistic systems. He begins by trying to whittle down ‘ as he sees it’ to the common denominators of the Christian faith, particularly such things as, Fall, Incarnation, Passion etc. Both theologians took the Fall seriously and though their methods differed a great deal, it is interesting that some of the motifs later to be mentioned (in our conclusion) have remarkable similarities. The point is that Anselm looked at reconciliation and atonement from a rational perspective. It has to be noted though that it is ‘faith seeking understanding’ (not natural theology) which is one of his presuppositions. Irenaeus doesn’t spell out a concept of faith seeking understanding, but maybe his ‘rule of faith can in some way be seen a loose equivalent (both presuppose the existence of God). In their search for explaining how God reconciles man to Himself, maybe a way to explain their contrasting methods, one can use the analogy of the Mathematician and the historian. The mathematician uses abstract concepts to gain insight into universal truths, Anselm tends to use this method. Irenaeus on the other hand sees the historical data and sets out to explain and evaluate the data in the best way he knows how. This is a crude analogy, but it does show that both methods are valuable in

explaining reconciliation and atonement.

Concerning the Fall, for both of them Mary plays an important part for its reversal . For Irenaeus Mary corresponded to Eve (in the reversal procedure), for Anselm Seeing that a woman was responsible at the Fall it was only fitting that a woman should be present at the incarnation. Obedience is also an important concept for the two of them. In Irenaeus, Christ obeyed the Father at every point of the natural sequence of human development and thus reversing the Fall at each of those particular points. For Anselm aswell the obedience of Christ was also important. Christ offered himself to his own honour. There is a contrast though, for Anselm propitiation seemed more of an abstract mathematical sum in putting the universe in harmony in relation to its Creator. For Irenaeus on the other hand, the obedience of Christ came out of love and there is more of a personal element of fellowship. With the previous statement it must also be stressed that mercy (as an abstract concept) seemed to replace the love motif as found in the Hible. This contrast must take into consideration their historical contexts. Concerning Satan, it may be true to say that he is given a more elevated role in Irenaeus due to the ‘ransom’ concept, it has to be stressed though, that even in Irenaeus Satan is still only a creature like all other creatures. In the plan of the historico-salvation, ‘the obedience of Christ’ is more important. Irenaeus and Anselm agree on the obedience of Christ but the history-salvation motif is unique to the second century theologian. Irenaeus and Anselm also contrast on the concept of sin and evil. For Irenaeus evil ~s held relative to free will thus sin is not treated as seriously as maybe it should be. Sin for Anselm is a very serious concept because it is this particular evil that knocked the universe out of right order. (presumably Anselm inherited this concept of evil from Augustine, then later after Anselm, Calvin) . So then at certain points anselm and Irenaeus do contrast but ‘at crucial points they agree’. Without the perfect obedience of Christ it would be impossible for salvation to be effected. The other point that I want to make is that, one could probably say and should say up to a point that both theologians seem to be ‘both sides of the same coin’ (colloquialism intended). The reason why I say this is that a great deal of the motifs used by Irenaeus and Anselm is found in the theological grammar of Karl Barth but that is another question.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1) THE ACTUALITY OF THE ATONEMENT/ BY COLIN GUNTON. 2) CUR DEUS HOMO?/ ANSELM.

3) EARLY CHRISTIAN DOCTRINES/ JND KELLY/ 5TH EDITION. 4) MAN AND THE INCARNATION/VINGREN

5) AGAINST HERESIES VOLUME 1/ANCIENT CHRISTIAN WRITERS/TRANSLATED HY DOMINIC J UNGER.

6) THE WRITINGS OF IRENAEUS HOOKS 1-4/ T AND T CLARK 1867. 7) IRENAEUS 2 HOOKS 4-5/ T AND T CLARK 1869.

8) IRENAEUS/ DENIS MINNS OP/OUTSTANDING CHRISTIAN THINKERS SERIES.

9) THE EARLY CHRISTIAN FATHERS/ TRANSLATED BY HENRY HETTENSON. 10) NEW DICTIONARY OF THEOLOGY/ IVP.

11) VISIBILE PATRIS FILIUS/JUAN OCHAGAVIA/ ORIENTALIA CHRISTIANA ANLECTA/171/1964.

12) THE GLORY OF THE LORD/ VOLUME II/HANS URS VON BALTHASAAR. 13) ANSELM AND A NEW GENERARION/ EVANS/ OXFORD PRESS. 14) NEW AMERICAN STANDARD HIHLE.

15) SAINT ANSELM/ SOUTHERN.

16) CHURCH DOGMATICS VOL IV,I BY KARL BARTH (THE DOCTRINE OF RECONCILIATION).