3 Reasons Why Dale Tuggy is Wrong about the Father and God

There’s this self proclaimed “Biblical Unitarian,” Dale Tuggy, who is also a professor of philosophy at SUNY Fredonia, in Fredonia, NY, and whose “Trinities” podcast has gained a bit of notoriety in evangelical circles. His influence online and in academic circles is growing as well, and rightfully so. His podcast is excellent, albeit dry, and a bit loud on the bass and gate, but excellent none the less. I would love to spend this little piece arguing he is the most important, and soon to be influential, Unitarian thinker since Socinus (the famed theologian who is accredited with fathering Socinianism), but today we need to push back a bit, and call out some misleading he is doing (albeit unintentionally because he thinks he’s right so let’s put it in perspective).

Before I criticize Tuggy’s attempt at rehashing Unitarianism with 21st century intellectual tech, let me be clear. I don’t think he’s anything but a sincere, intelligent man, a hard working man, who is trying to make sense of the God he wants to worship. In a sense, he’s a Christian brother. I doubt we serve the same God, at least conceptually, but I have no ill regard for him. There’s plenty of grace and success in the world for everyone, he deserves no less, even if he is wrong on an important point.

Today we talk about a premise by which some of his work rests. As a Unitarian, he believes in an absolute and numerically 1 God. This is to say, and following 19th Century Unitarians, he believes the 1 God just IS the Father. (I will assume you know your bible in this piece.) Tuggy argues forcefully and concisely that the first Christians were in fact Unitarian for all intents and purposes, based on this premise (God just is the Father). Well, to be fair there’s more to his arguments and his best one is here: http://trinities.org/blog/podcast-189-the-unfinished-business-of-the-reformation/
The stand out premise of his argument which that link takes you to is this, “A Central New Testament Teaching is the identity of the one true God with the Father (only).” Of course this premise is patently false, in the sense Tuggy aims to make normal.

But Robert what about 1 Corinthians 8:6, or John 14:1-3, and so on? On the surface and naively read verses like these support his claim, especially in the English. And frankly they’re uncontroversial to pair with saying the father is God. All Christians say, God is the Father, it’s built into the creeds for goodness sake. But trinitarian Christianity makes an ambiguous, politically charged commitment that Jesus Christ is no less God than the Father is: a la the first big 5 councils all work this out and spell it out explicitly. And to be a trinitarian Christian you’re committed to this historical claim and development. But when Tuggy uses the words to this premise he smuggles all of modernism’s bite to identity commitments which are much later than the trinity.

If you’ve done your basic philosophy classes in college you’ll remember the logic of identity and its basic history. The latter has a narrative that follows Leibniz, who is accredited with developing the explicit formulation of the identity of indiscernibles; and if you were taught well you should end up somewhere with either Quine or Peter Geach. (We can get into more recent discussions on the subject in future posts if need be.) And the former should have been taught in your intro to logic course. Sadly, I didn’t pay too much attention in these classes (I audited one, in full disclosure), so I am woefully ill equipped to meet Tuggy on this field. However, it should be noted the notion of numerical identity developed into a positive form and is pretty much in the water of our reasoning today.

In brief, and to simplify Leibnizian-like developments to identity theory we need to only acknowledge the basic positive statement and intuition that, “if x is identical with y then everything true of x is true of y.” (See https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/identity/#2). There you have it. And if you know your bible it wouldn’t take much to see there’s an incredible leverage opportunity here to wedge between the language in it that has any difference on what many may assume to be the same thing. This is most prevalent for our purposes with the New Testaments use of “Father” and “Son” language (and as it relates to the word God). They’re two different words after all; so, there is huge differences to wedge in between these two words’ meanings. And this is what Dr. Tuggy has done time and time again through his podcast (currently over 200 episodes).

Let’s cover 3 reasons why “the Father” is NOT God in the sense Tuggy implies and argues for. And to be clear, Tuggy is saying by the simple rules of logic (like the one bit of logic covered above) the Father can’t be equivalent with the Son on the basis of their differences, not least of which they are two different words and meanings. So, Tuggy argues, it makes most sense to associate “Father” 1:1 with whomever God is, and this means the Son is outside that 1:1 relationship. The Son could be a lot of things, but he can’t be God if this is the case. Furthermore, if Tuggy is right, we would need to change the Greek lexicon to explicitly state this premise because it’s so foundational on the surface. This is the main reason Tuggy has the burden, he’s implying the definition of the word God needs to add this, and/or change to meet this claim explicitly; or he’s implying it’s already in there if it’s a good definition of the word. Both of which are not in the average Greek lexicon so it needs to be changed; or, as I will point out, Tuggy needs to change.

1. The Bible may have many modern intuitions in it, but this identity claim by Tuggy for the use of “Father” and “God” (God=1:1=Father) is NOT one of them, and we know this because the ancient genres the New Testament contains create too much ambiguity to accredit their use of these terms as implying this specific claim of identity.

The Bible doesn’t have this claim presupposed in its implied intuitions, because the genres predate expressing this intuition explicitly. Here’s what you have to understand about Leibniz and subsequent developments on his offerings. The developments post Leibniz are logical notions developed to be applied explicitly for our (or later generations) application of logical reasoning, and do not necessitate a hermeneutic on genres of literature before these ideas were developed. But this implies I’m only saying something about anachronisms here and I’m not. Let’s consider a spefic genres class to get at what is being pointed to here.

If the main reasoning being used in the biography books of the New Testament is employing allegory and figural interpretations, which are characteristic of this New Testament genre (AND unique to the time period), then any explicit identity claims may hold true to identity theory, and may be implied, but it is by coincidence and too ambiguous to say with any certainty because the characteristics of this genre is done in a contrarian mode to the precision identity reasoning explicitly demands. It’s kind of like telling a Dr. Sues story it has to follow the rules of logic at the expense of making up unique rhymes. That’s not fair, and misses the point of the story. The words Father and Son are used in the NT as new words, MORE like made up rhymes in Dr Suess, whose relationship is beautifully ambiguis on purpose. (Be charitable with that last line it’s a scaffold to help you think about the point.)

The ambiguity of the set of words in question here, by the nature of their genre, require us to consider and accept an ambiguity in relation to later identity analysis. But the beauty of this use of language is that it can also challenge us to at least try. It’s why Tuggy can use identity theory as a form of analysis and Chalcedon can use Christianized Platonism to see revelation in specific, albeit different ways. In other words, the problem of forcing a text whose genre, philosophical milieu, and chief characteristics are explicitly different than those developed in later times means forcing clarity out of a basic ambiguity the texts demands its readers to make. (Yes, I’m stearing away from trinitarianism proper so we can focus on Tuggy. Please don’t pretend that I need to be able to explain God in detail in order to prove a premise of Tuggy’s wrong.)

To go back to a specific and unique genre of the NT era for a bit. Sure, John could have intended to think there was two (numerically) different things with the use of the Father and the Son language, but John’s point is wrapped in other forms of reasoning that don’t make it logically necessary that John’s language be forced to conform to our standards of reasoning. The gospel of John is wonderful in expressing its unique genre well beyond the precision identity theory could demand; the author of the gospel writes about this logos of his, “the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” Here he sounds like aiming to sound much more like Dr. Suess than Leibniz. Tuggy misses this nuance.

Beyond ignoring the explicit ambiguity biblical texts genres demand Tuggy emphasizes a reading that is ethnocentric, and chronocentric. It’s just too convenient that his western, and modern reasoning finds modern western examples of developments he specializes in. This is a minor point however and would leads us down a rabbit trail, but I want us to remember if Tuggy is wrong this would be entailed. But, to be clear it’s not the main point of #1 here in this section. The emphasis in this section is not speaking to straight species of anachronisms, but to the nature of the literarature we’re trying to make sense of. Unfortunately, explicit post Leibnizian identity claims are too explicit to force on a genre like the ones in the Bible, and these genres use of language demand we do otherwise. We know this because every NT text throws the kitchen sink at us of who Jesis is and uses words the same way. In John, for example, Jesus was what God was to simply some messiah type figure and everything in between (he’s even alegorical bread at one point in John which is important to text critical history and entertaining to me).

The NT treats the words God, Father, and Jesus like Dr Sues treats rhymes (held together in ambiguity for the sake of sounding like revelation, because they are!), more so than Leibniz treats individual words like brittle Math which the NT words are not. Whether they’re positive and specific identity claims though, at this point of this piece I am saying be aware they’re probably not. There’s two more reasons to explore though so stick with me.

2. And related to 1. Tuggy’s premise presupposes a naive reading of the text.

Tuggy sees technical identity claims being made left and right because of the simple language use the texts of the Bible can seem to have. But again this is bad hermeneutics dressed in the garb of logic. And since he’s wrong he’s really appealing to ones’personal psychology rather than to the truth of the matter. I don’t know about you, but I don’t read ancient literature and immediately think it just means what it says in the language I’m familiar in. I, as a mature reader of these ancient texts (not saying Tuggy isn’t), know they have their own context, and a reader should treat the texts on, and here’s the key, by their own standards. We already established Leibniz is a historical development and later standard, so any relation is at best a coincidence and not an explicit intent of the Biblical texts. Naively pulling out words because their used in the New Testament and applying them flippantly as examples of this latter logical principle requires one reads the New Testament in the language we’re familiar with (even at the expense of being foreign to the biblical genre, texts, and words).

Before we appropriate the biblical texts to say what we want to communicate we have to treat these texts as they are. This is no delicate matter because we have no modern equivalents. For goodness sakes it’s not like John wrote his gospel with a laptop and an English dictionary. A pen and a pad weren’t even invented yet, let alone using language the way we do. These texts come with an incredible layer of nuance missed by the modern mind, and to associate the 1:1 translation of text to mean complex identity claims is just bad; we need to hear these texts on their own terms, and on the terms the communities these texts developed out of, which weren’t Unitarian ones mind you.

Let’s say 60% of the Biblical writers were strict Unitarians, to give Tuggy the benefit of the doubt; and let’s say they saw Christ as a separate thing than the father in the technical sense Tuggy wants to push (an explicit identity claim on the level of 1:1 is technical, mathematically speaking), this still doesn’t change the fact these texts are scriptures of communities with their own and much different intentions for their use. Hell, any official recognition by a church body of the cannon of scripture post dates the doctrine of the trinity. To appropriate any of these texts as authoritative enough to fundamentally speak of a Unitarian God over a trinitarian one is to abuse their history to say the least, precisely because a strict doctrine of God is not adopted universally in the Biblical texts. And it wasn’t even a concern for the Biblical texts, so how could they even chime in on our notions of Unitarianism and trinitarianism? How could these texts unequivocally chime into a modern issue before these issues were an issue? I even have heard one Jewish scholar argue strict monotheism was an invention partly in reaction to Christianity! The point is, not through this premise, whatever you think the answer is to those questions.

Anyways, Tuggy takes words and leverages their naive surface meanings into a naive and explicit identity claim intuitive to our usage of language, but anyone who as studied the history, texts, and original language knows these texts mean anything but the naive sense we want to apply to them in a surface translated form. This is just bad form. the Bible’s words are translated words, and must receive further translation with Tuggy’s premise in order to have any relation to modern logic; and to do this as Tuggy does it, after the fact they’re already translated into English forces the words to be lost to their translation rather than their usage. This leads us to our final point. What do these words mean?

3. The word “God” in the Bible doesn’t mean 1:1 alone with the word “Father.”

Here Tuggy ignores the text critical history and the lexical apparatuses’ content (perhaps he’s just unaware of them?). For example, did you know the NA28 apparatus (lexicon of the Greek text) takes into consideration Unitarian scholarship from a prior era? That’s right, the word God and Father as they’re used technically in the original language have been studied, and the Unitarian case has been considered and found insufficient to support a strict Unitarian claim! Rather what the NA28 does is say the Greek uses the word “Father” (pater in the Greek) WITH the word God (theos in the Greek). The problem here is, for Tuggy’s claim, the same is done with words that signify Christ as well. Admittedly, it’s in a much smaller set of cases than the Father, which carries the super majority relationship with the word God. But, whatever the case may be, if the Biblical writers intended a strict identity claim, in the numerical sense, as opposed to say a relative one, there would be strict usage associated with the word God. But the fact is, there isn’t a strict usage of the term. And that’s besides the point here: the way the Greek works in the New Testament, at best we get the word father used WITH the word God but not an explicit claim that would mean equivalent AND with, if this latter was the case the rules of the greek grammar would exclude any other thing from similar uses, but there are other uses so this can’t be the case.

This error that Tuggy unwittingly promotes gets worse. The oldest and most foundational Biblical texts we have received have no grammar! A little tidbit Tuggy has to dismiss for his whole premise to stand any muster. To pile on and make Tuggy’s case even worse, the Biblical texts we inherited via manuscript documents reflect an oral culture not a linguistic one! Again Tuggy’s use of identity theory usage as a hermeneutic commits an ambiguity fallacy (Or an equivocation, or is just misplaced and wrong, or all of the above. He’s the philosopher he can figure out how he’s wrong). This point destroys his whole premise.

As a bit of a tangent. My favorite example of this last point is the incredible ambiguous ending in 1 John 5:20. It appears John in the original manuscript just loses all reservations about Tuggy’s God and leaves us an oral tradition that can say just about whatever you want in a linguisticlay centered culture like our own. But, Tuggy ignores these facts and claims every writer in the New Testament wants to communicate some exact identity claim by language rules non-existent to 1 John (or any writer of the New Testament for that matter). If Dr. Tuggy is right the Biblical writers couldn’t even find the time to place punctuation marks, but they had the gall to spell out explicitly what they mean about the numerical identity relationship between two words placed next to each other in a language where word order doesn’t matter. For Tuggy, this means Father and God are to be interpreted as 1:1 in the greek because of this gall, and the the fact they ignore grammar is of no consequence to him. This leads me to wonder how prevalent math ratios are in the New Testament? I jest, Tuggy is just simply wrong. No biggy.

Dr. Tuggy has a bunch more arguments to support his claim. This little piece only debunks one premise. But if Tuggy has so over stepped his bounds on this simple case it draws this reader of Tuggy to suspect there may be other mistakes hidden within his work with witty appeals to ones personal psychology wrapped in the pious garb of logic…Time will tell. For today, I hope you see Tuggy is wrong to make this premise a premise of the New Testament, it’s not. It’s Tuggy’s, not the Bible’s.

(I am being facetious there at the end, please don’t take this personal.)

The Theology of Crypto and Bitcoin

I’m not a true believer in crypto-currencies, there’s obviously a bubble for the space as a whole. And true believers are going to gain and lose a whole lot of value when that bubble pops. BUT, if you don’t recognize Bitcoin (and more importantly crypto) has a fundamental value and market viability as a new tech that’s been genuinely added to the economy, then you probably missed all fundamental market changes in your lifetime. The finance sector, the housing sector, internet and tech innovations galore, all these spaces have evolved dramatically in our lifetimes, and they’re here to stay (as much as one can predict the future at least).

Crypto is another one of these spaces, a technological innovation, that has been officially added to the economy and it’s here to stay too! Today, at the time I write this, reveals the new ground of viability of the face of this tech. With $10,000 per Bitcoin (at the time of this post) we now can see the significance of this tech and why it represents the value of the crypto space and technology as a whole, despite the wholes’ inflated price tag of crypto-currencies in general. And it will represent that tech space as a whole for the foreseeable future. You’d be wise to get in and take profits while you still can, and if you know how to do so. But that’s not the point of this post.

You don’t have to get in now. But one day we will all be using crypto based tech whether we like it or not, just like you never thought you’d regularly associate with people more so on social media than face to face (like you’re doing now), or text more than you call people. The ways of the world change. Bitcoin represents one of these really trendy, but important new changes. But I say all this very aware I’m a Christian first, and I’m training to be a theologian, so it is my obligation to let you know the theological implications of this change. So stop the lust for the quick buck and remember you’re a free moral agent. Act like it. And ponder these 3 points about crypto.

1. Money is becoming language. If you get out of debt or outgrow it with investments and hard work you can use this language to speak to the world. Learn to speak good words. Train your thoughts now to use all language for the kingdom. Render your words unto the Lord. Let’s learn to tithe our languages.

2. Crypto is yet another marker to the exponentially decentralization of technological interaction and its exponential growth in our lives. This means exponential growth of tech in your life will rule you, or you’ll rule it, and the same goes for your most common social relationships. Learn now to use tech for good, Good for yourself (improve yourself), and others; connect for the better of another not because they can benefit you in some potential pyramid scheme. If we seek out other perspectives, don’t get delusional in our technological spaces...Listen, we can keep consensus over power, and dignity over difference. Be all things for all people, and tech helps you ground yourself for God and others. Utilize it wisely.

3. Crypto is the demand for ethics with the information part of our lives. Communication and technology mean you’ll be able to share yourself in ways you never even would have thought of otherwise. But again who rules who? Why are you communicating in these dramatically new ways? These questions demand us to hear our responsibility, it's calling. Any tech innovation demands we instrumentalize it and moralize it. Crypto is not different. We must learn to use it, use it well for ourselves and others. But we must learn to moralize it. Apply it as an expression of light over darkness, truth over lies, goodness over badness.

So, how do we pull these 3 points together theologically? Easy, we do it in love, by the power of the Spirit, in solidarity with our local churches. What good is screaming how important your internet cause is if you have not taken care of yourself, and the ones you’re screaming at? (I think we all have sinned here.) Basically, point one is a practical one, about taming the tongue if you will. Read James and apply it to crypto if you’re a bible centric person. Point two is about Christ. Who is Lord of your life? And point three is about ethics. Is the sermon on the mount your ethical guide or does money trump every decision no matter what? Put crypto into perspective. Heavens’ perspective.

Crytpo is making us think in counterintuitive ways theologically. Kind of like loving your enemies. We do not get to define who our enemies are, that’s their job. We are to relieve them of that unreasonable duty. But are we doing that in reality? No, in America evangelicals are one of the least morally credible sets of people in the nation. And I say that sadly and embarrassed because I am an evangelical!

We were born again to learn and teach IN love. Truth for truth’s sake in a technological culture turns truth into control, and for the control of people rather than an invitation to the ultimate reality. God grounds his grace in his freedom not his control. I once heard John Cobb say these powerful words in an interview, “the power of God is love, and this love is collaborative.” Tech should be a grace in your life bound in mutuality and respect of others.

Don’t forget Christians, we are made out of 2 important realities we receive by grace through faith. God is real, and Christ is Lord. The Spirit is the breath of this reality compelling us to share this revelation, this greatest of all truths with her. The Holy Spirit is truth and without love she is not with us, but with the other. Learn, use, share crypto in love or die.

Much love. And enjoy the new gains from Bitcoin, and computers, and entertainment online. But don’t get lost in it. It isn’t real, and it isn’t Lord unless you make it so.

Sent from my iPhone

God

When God Dies and Where People Live

What does a theologian do when death is in the air? I’m not there yet. But in the midst of death, when it’s fresh on my mind because it’s affected the community around me due to the loss of a dear individual, it’s in this space that the artist in me becomes alive, not the aspiring theologian (and philosopher). Here’s my emotional response with prose out of that space.

When God Dies and Where People Live

One of my last memories of my dad is him picking scabs the size of the palm of his hand off his cancer ridden body. The cysts formed on him like his skin was forming un-scalable mountains that looked like mole hills. The radiation treatments did in fact make them worse, and despite the fact they usually lift people from the deepest trenches of illness. My father’s must have been deeper still. The scabs though. Why the scabs?

He held one in the whole of his left hand once. He looked at it. He looked at me. He smiled. I don’t remember my response, but I think we both died inside, no matter what my young child’s face did. Sure he’s dead. But in these experiences with him I’m a little dead too.

Since then I’ve grown very contemplative. Theology and philosophy have become my hopeful future aims. Nightly I sit here on my couch, with books, prayers, thoughts. And all this was triggered because I’m haunted by many things like these memories of my dad, and more so by God.

Honestly, I can almost feel God like the air is thicker for me, with his great immensity all around me. Most of the time it’s pleasurable, but it’s never not a little weird.

Anyways, put it all together and I always think about God, but I don’t think about my dad much anymore. I don’t know why? Certainly I’ve lost God more than a few times in life. And in some ways more so than my dad. Like all, I’ve had my doubts. In a sense we’ve stared at each other and have died inside, like me and my dad did once together. At least that’s how I imagine these rare but many times the air is empty of his presence.

So, here’s to today. Another good one has died. I’m reminded of my dad. I’m contemplative of Jesus. God is heavy but an easy load to bear. And here I am. A man now. Far from the scabs. Full of life, and that life is full of itself. How did this happen? How is there so much death, and pain, and thoughts, and life keeps on being alive despite its constitutive nature that is made of so many negative things? (If such a thing is possible?)

At some point in our lives God dies. He dies for all of us. That is not a loss of innocence, or naïveté, but an exodus. Death gives everyone an opportunity to pick an infected scab. But I have a hunch that no matter who has the scabs the greatest things are the ones with them.

I want to be with him again, as much as I am with God now. But I’m alive. Maybe despite death we are just picking the scabs off our bodies and smiling? Maybe this is the space to be human? To put up a smile in between the death inside and the scabs others see in our hands. Certainly having my dad in that moment, with a smile, is better than now.

I must go back to my books, my prayers, my haunted thoughts.

When We Need Power Less

Never stop learning about Jesus.

Some out of context thoughts about the Spirit, being human, and first person experience

But, to keep the examples general enough for our questions in focus here, it is Moltmann who provides clearer words to illustrate how the Spirit plays in giving this holistic dimension a voice. In his book, The Source of Life, he writes, “In charismatic experiences God’s Spirit is experienced elementally, not personally. And from these experiences we can deduce and discern that the Holy Spirit is the source of life, the origin of the torrent of energy” (Moltmann 1997, Kindle Edition, location 863). To answer our question here directly, a strong pneumatology interplays in the orthopathic life by literally being the ground of this life. But how do we point to specific modes of being and learning in order to understand how we are mediated the benefits of this ground in affective ways?

The modern push of Eastern Orthodox thinkers to illuminate personhood in light of a strong doctrine of the Trinity actually has its roots in the mystical tradition of Christianity and goes back as far as the beginning of Christianity. However, modern Eastern Orthodox thinkers are right to emphasize patristics. The study is very illuminating for our attempt here to build a theological voice for the orthopathic life. However, the study of the patristics, because they are so foundational to the doctrine of the Trinity, is not merely for the Orthodox. Mark Del Cogliano of the University of St. Thomas St. Paul, Minnesota, has an illuminating note in his book review of Richard Norris’ translation of Gregory of Nysssa: Homilies on the Song of Songs, and illustrates this point well. He writes,

Norris highlights Gregory’s belief that God is beyond the perceptible and intelligible created order and so must be mediated to humanity. But this mediation takes place primarily within the human being who has been created in the image of God. Since this divine likeness was lost through the fall, the more the divine image is restored in a person, the more one knows the archetype of that image. So, knowing (or seeing) God amounts to the same thing as being like God. In other words, progress in either virtue (being like God) or knowledge (seeing God) entails progress in the other (Cogliano 2013).*

And, as Kallistos Ware said under inspiration by Gregory of Nyssa’s reflections on the Song of Songs said, “we see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder” (Kallistos 1995, 10). The point being of these two quotes is that the Holy Spirit is a partner of our first-person experiences, by the grace of being the source of life, and can be mediated through the scriptures (which was Nyssa’s stance), or through the participation in the Church (which is Kallistos’ stance), or in charismatic experiences in and of themselves (my own view echoed in thoughts like Moltmann’s quote from earlier). There’s plenty of space for us to be affected before we’re ever effective, and the Spirit is the ground of this affect.

*this is a copy and paste from a paper I’m in the process of editing so proper citations are correct in that paper but due to lack of HTML skill was not able to make them show up here. I apologize!

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What are Christians to do with the OT Law?

He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. -NRSV

One thing that often trips up Christians as they try to make sense of the Old Testament is that Jesus’ Bible, WAS THE OLD TESTAMENT! I mean that’s a bit over simplified as our Bible is not quite like his was, because we carry 2,000 years of history that the context of the New Testament didn’t carry. But, never-the-less Jesus was NOT opposed to the “Law and the Prophets.” For example, according to Matthew Jesus said, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (NRSV).” So the question is inevitably begged to be asked and answered, what does the Christian do with the Old Testament Law?

What I’ll set out to do here is accentuate, theologically, one way of explaining how some of the New Testament writers characterized the Old Testament law (but you can include the prophets too). But I’ll shape this theological accent through a sociological and then a literary move, so bare with me as I guide us through the context of the Biblical texts.

Please understand I’m using the term “Old Testament Law” very loosely here, and simply mean the spirit of the law and the prophets as it was culturally baked into the psyche of the 1st century texts and traditions. As you can imagine some of this stuff is as much an art as it is a science to understand because the Hebrew scriptural traditions during the time of Jesus were passed on more through orality, culture, and religion (temple practices), than they were passed through books (of course NOT as we understand books today, because back then books weren’t even invented yet, but that’s a different story). Literary tradition is important to this reflection here so we can see the context of the law as a whole.

I have read that perhaps as much as 90% of the population in Jesus’ day were probably illiterate (by our standards). Where this gets interesting is that the literacy rates seem to be dramatically higher if you were a member of a specific religious sect, like say a disciple of Jesus (see pages around 98 of Rodney Starks’, “The Triumph of Christianity”). And that is a point of this reflection here: much of the New Testament is an opinionated commentary about their context, but much of that opinion is about what they thought of the Law and the Prophets meant for their times, struggles, and needs. In fact, it’s highly likely Jesus told Christians how to go about doing this process as his teachings seemed to be recordings done much in this mode. (But what came first the chicken or the egg? If you get my drift.) So what is this underlying opinion that guided their reflections of the times they wrote out of?

The Law as Prognosis



One way to understand the NT writer’s understanding of the Torah tradition they were saturated in, is to see Torah as both revelation and a preserved tradition that served as a prognosis on the people of God. The law and the prophets were a subversive way of diagnosing the disease of human sin and worldly disorder in a universe ruled by a God of the opposite type of nature. The law wasn’t an ideal, it was a rule of life to reveal this tension between the Righteous King over all and his unruly subjects. The key here is the writers of the NT saw and expected this tension to have an inevitable breaking point. That’s the scene Jesus was born into. He walked onto the stage and said I’m the outcome of this tension and we’re going to settle this once and for all because he was that Lord.

You can imagine when God called out this tension for the first time, not through the chaos of historical turmoils, like wars, or periods of feast to famines, but rather chose to do it through a head on battle of messiah versus the worldly powers of Rome and the Temple, it was sure to end badly one way or another. Jesus was fulfilling the law because a good diagnosis understands what is the inevitable prescription. Let me illustrate this quickly with a different but contemporary tie in.

In the news a few days ago there were stories of human devastation on world wildlife populations. Apparently we have killed off a significant percentage of animal life on earth. But should one be surprised by our ignorant opposition to the good nature God created? God visited here once and we killed him too. God knew the inevitable outcome of his prognosis because the law and prophets said as much accordingly. At least the NT writers interpreted the Law and Prophets as such. And this is why the NT writers could say so often, “according to the scriptures,” or similar phrases like that.

The law and the prophets were not only a tradition, but a literary lesson that set an expectation: God was coming to set things right one day. Jesus and his teachings, and his Church, and most importantly, His Spirit, are the outcomes of that prognosis. 

Christ as the New Prognosis



So what should Christians do with the law? Well, that’s the problem. The writers of the NT kept the tradition going. They accepted the prognosis they inherited is the reality of the earth as long as it is spared from complete dismantling and rebuilding from the neutrino up. The continuation of history with any God given prognosis is the fate of life. Christ as the new prognosis on the world was seen as the patience of the Father, Jesus and his teachings are seen as grace and mercy, and the Holy Spirit as the ultimate gift and help until the end. This triune reflection is the new prognosis resurrected out of the outcome of the old prognosis. Much of the NT is basically inferring that the grace of God the world has received through Christ will inevitably have its own fulfillment like the law did.

So, “when will this cycle end!?,” is a good question to ask here. No one knows. But just as the NT was expectant of the law, not to be abolished but fulfilled and transformed into something new, we too, look forward to being fulfilled and transformed into something new. The law, such that it is still relevant is a slave, like us all, to the service of Christ. The point of the Law in the NT is, don’t obsess about the details of the law but pay attention to the prognosis of it. So, if you must flirt with the question, “what to do about the law?” I suggest see the law as, in fact, abolished, because our current situation, in light of Christ, has a much more existential crisis and prognosis: the law of Christ is here and its inevitable fulfillment is a scary one. God himself is directly with us not some easy law to fulfill.

Every year around Halloween I’m reminded most are haunted by ghouls and ghosts but I’m haunted by God. Trust me, I’d rather have the ghost problem because God’s is Holy and I am not. The law systems we have to navigate with today are way more complicated and harder to keep, like American law and the law of Christ, but I digress.

In summary, Jesus inaugurated something dramatically new to the world but the New Testament presents this newness from a world view ok with cyclical thinking, in a historical sense. But don’t be fooled. The law has been abolished and its authority made subservient to Christ. As the scripture says (in the NRSV),

“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.”

Light In Uncertain Times

Complimentarianism Vs Egalitarinism and their place in the Bible

The Gospel’s stance on gender is to establish a common sharing of origins and derivative characteristics in relationship to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. Christ calls all to be reestablished into the family of God by accepting their place in the kingdom of God: a kingdom big enough for all! But, there is no general ontological role for either gender in this call. Gender is the wrong lens by which to define this call and is frankly too broad and ambiguous a lens to make work given the specificity of this call on people. 

Read Romans 11:36-14:19 as one unit to get the next point…

An example of the approach above, that is, to understanding gender accurately in general biblical/theolgical terms here is to ask both Complimentarians and Egalitarians, have either of you ever read Proverbs 31:10-31? A better approach for understanding these types of texts, where a representative of a gender is living an idealized life, is not to force the vision of an idealized life into either of those models (Complimentarianism or Egalitarianism) but to see that kinship and glorification of the ideal individual are key to making an ideal “kingdom” if you will. There’s not a reducible model in the ideal for genders because an ideal society and individual flourish as they simultaneously flourish in their relationship to God.

Christ, in inaugurating the Kingdom of God, makes a space for the kinship of humanity to be reestablished with its only true God. But the ideal for genders in the fullest consummation and ideal state of the Kingdom is a genuine flourishing of both genders on their own terms because God has become a part of those terms (“or rather have become known by God”). This is why it’s so hard to understand the Bible’s view on gender, because these things are left in the tension of the occasions the books of the Bible were written in rather than spelled out theories in some weird modern model or categories like we like to have. 

So, the truth is both models (Complimentarianism and Egalitarianism) fall short of the underriding logic of the Gospel and kingdom of God messages, and miss the nuance of the Jewish ideals being expressed in the relevant texts of the Bible.

What Did Jesus Mean in Matthew 7:6?

pearls
Ever try to preach Matthew 7:6?… It’s one of Jesus’ famous “hard sayings.” Here’s what he said, “do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” Yeah, very hard to exegete. But let’s take a stab at it.

First, the contextual ties here are important I think. I’ll enumerate them:

1. Jesus sounds like he’s doing a combination of wisdom/psalms sayings but he’s actually doing something more akin to Moses’ position, tone, and perspective in Deuteronomy 30:11-20; that is, in context, he’s talking on behalf of God as if he were God. So, we have to keep Deuteronomy 30:11-20 in mind.  

2. The history of interpretation on this verse comes down to 2 or 3 tactics for exegesis but the “hard saying” of 7:6 seems best to preach if the tactic used to interpret it so that it includes its context, as I inferred in point 1. The way that reads intuitively, to me at least, is to say Jesus is using proverbs/psalms language as a bridge to tie the logic and theology that the Deuteronomy verse is in: “life or death” theology. Craig Blomberg calls this a Jewish “two ways” genre (but I think it’s also a theology in a sense too). (See Blomberg on these verses, it’s super helpful.) Jesus’ words here are actually a vivid metaphorical tie and transition from verse 5 towards this two ways emphatic theology we find in verse 7-14: choose life! Jesus likes metaphor and analogy. Here he’s transiting to life.

3. Jesus doesn’t think his audience is in a place of righteousness. No, they’re hypocrites and he’s trying to correct them (7:5). This is his general assumption of his crowd from 7:5-14. So the context and logic around verse 6 is 7:5-14 and this is important.

(Yes, I’m aware there’s really not 3 points there as they’re interrelated.)

Let’s exegete the problem out of this section now that we have those preliminaries in order however…

First, what is the vivid metaphor and transition (7:5) mean? It is a unique way of saying something like, when one is able to see clearly in God’s kingdom then they’re able to see God’s word and law clearly, AND judge God’s blessings and provision appropriately. Second, these verses (5-14) act in classic Moses style by assuming one of the best ways to begin to see clearly (spiritually and covenantally) is to start by saying “do not!,” emphatically in fact. This negative technique is done in order to make one aware of their responsibilities to God’s ways and provisions in stark contrast to their own contrary inclinations. 

A key to answering the question above is asking where is verse 5 headed? Well, it’s implying that IF one gets in a place to judge God’s ways and provisions for themselves, then they will be able to be aware of how to appropriate God’s ways and provisions not only for themselves but for the equally sinful world around them. BUT, that’s the key, he’s talking to hypocrites so they can’t see God’s ways and provisions clearly. 7:6 is the preverbal “stop!” Or, the “do not,” in Jewish legal tradition terms. 

Jesus in 7:6 is essentially saying, since you Jews can’t judge people correctly (or yourselves) let me tell you the key: stop wasting the holy law by applying it to everyone else (like the Gentiles, see 15:26) and start squandering it on yourselves. He goes on to emphasize another “do not,” that is, do not be unfaithful to God’s provisions (probably referring to the blessings of the holy land and law) by essentially being no different than the Romans and other gentile nations around. In other words, verse 5 means STOP being hypocritical and return to the kingdom of God and his Christ; or, better yet, choose life! Choose the kingdom of God.

This sets up powerfully the “two ways” genre we see explicitly through the rest of the section. Blomberg brings in Psalms 16:11 here. (See his contribution in Carson and Beale’s, “Old Testament in the New” commentary.)

Well, that’s my wild stab at it. No doubt this is one of Jesus’ famous hard sayings so I’m ok with being wrong. But, I had to take up the challenge and try to figure it out. Now I feel I have a new challenge to consider for myself. Living this out… Ouch. 

Special shout out to professor/pastor Timothy Beck for bringing this text into my view as something to wrestle with. Fun times.

God bless all. 
  
 

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