The "Apocalypse" of Christ: Meager Thoughts on Scripture and the Revelation of History

In the beleaguered debates concerning the inerrancy and authority of Scripture in the Christian world, one can sense how tiring this debate has become. Personally, I find debates over the so-called orthodoxy of another Christian to be as helpful as a light beer: empty calories and little if any nutritional value. I came into Fuller Theological Seminary as a Masters student with a bit of a chip on my shoulder regarding the doctrine of inerrancy, mostly due to my disillusionment with much of the evangelical world. This was when members of the SBC were trashing Michael Licona over a page in his wonderful work on the resurrection.

In watching some scholars attempt to destroy Dr. Licona's work and career because of his interpretation of (an interpretation I agree with) certain events in Matthew's Gospel, I became immediately dissatisfied with this debate and was content to sling arrows from a distance.

Now, as someone whose Masters program is winding down and now has (a little!) time to reflect upon his own thinking regarding this doctrine, I feel like now is as good a time as any to, well, reflect upon my views of Scripture.

 For me, studying the New Testament is about studying history; events that shaped our world, and an event that was shaped by thousands of years of history. I was never particularly troubled by discrepancies or textual variants in the Bible because I made a promise with God on my first day in seminary before I sat in Dr. Oliver Crisp's class on Christology and Soteriology. I said, "God, I don't want to believe in anything that is not true. I will do my best to believe whatever you reveal in Scripture." Looking back, that was a bit hasty, as I haven't changed my mind on any specific point of theology, at least in a major way as far as I can tell. But, the point remains that changing my mind did not bother me, but I was hopeful that I would at least be willing to change my mind.

Rom 8:9: ἡ γὰρ ἀποκαραδοκία τῆς κτίσεως τὴν ἀποκάλυψιν τῶν υἱῶν τοῦ θεοῦ ἀπεκδέχεται ("For the expectation of creation is awaiting the revelation of the Son of God").

In reflecting back, I've begun to consider the nature of the New Testament's use of "revelation" (Grk: ἀποκάλυψις). Often this ἀποκάλυψις is in reference to Christ or the mystery of Christ (c.f. Luke 2:32; 1 Cor 1:7; 2 Cor 12:1; Gal 1:12; 2 Thess 1:7) sort of 'breaking into' the world. There is, of course, a large debate among Pauline scholars about the 'apocalyptic' (or Barthian) nature of this 'revelation,' but I'm not entirely persuaded by this notion so I only mention it here for the sake of…revelation.

Revelation is about history and how God acted in history. We now live in the 'revelation' of Jesus Christ, the one revealed to us by his life, death, and resurrection. The writers of Scripture—Matthew, Mark, Isaiah—inspired by this revelation, wrote these Epistles and Gospels and Prophetic works for us, for those who would believe and need to believe.

The chief architect is Paul who talks all about this 'apocalypse.' For Paul, the resurrected Messiah revealed this 'apocalypse' to him and hence, he wrote epistles to churches, and went into the Gentile world to tell people about this 'Gospel' about the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. That is the guiding impetus for writing the New Testament: the resurrection is the fountainhead of how we conceive and talk about Scripture and history.

Christ who is the Revelation of God points us back to a time when humanity was forsaken and broken. Most doctrinal statements that I have seen begin with assertions about Scripture (as in the Old and New Testaments), and not about the nature of history and revelation. Scripture was written so that the people of Israel would remember the past, that they would remember how God acted for them.

Scripture, then, is for our remembrance of how God has acted for us and our expectation (ἀπεκδέχομαι; Rom 8:19; 1 Cor 1:7) is the reconciliation of creation. Referring to Scripture as a 'narrative' or as a 'story,' while helpful does not demand enough imagination. Scripture should be seen as an inspired collection of writings that truthfully attest to the phenomena of history, and the chief event is the resurrection of Jesus, Son of God, Son of David, Son of Man. If Jesus is not raised, then I am writing about the wrong book.

For those wondering, I affirm the doctrine of inerrancy. I believe the initial text of Scripture, for example, as dictated by Paul to Tertius, is the inspired and authoritative word of God. And because of the vindication of Christ at his resurrection, I am now to live my life in accordance with the record of his life and the reception of his life (especially in the Pauline literature). History and Revelation are inextricably linked together, and thus form a central network for understanding and respecting the text. But debating issues of 'error' seems to miss the point and gets one lost in the 'weeds,' so to speak. I am also not entirely confident with how we've defined 'error,' a point Michael Bird made in his contribution to Five Views on Inerrancy.

In any sense, I prefer the term 'fully authoritative in my life," as it explains the orthopraxicality of how I actually read the Bible. I can claim Scripture is inerrant and not obey it in any meaningful way. To claim Scripture lays authority on my life through its attestation of history (specifically one event in history above others) is to say that history matters, has a deep impact on my life, and calls me to worship the Triune God witnessed in the revelation of Christ in our world.

Part of this post is brought on by a guy who tried to 'deconvert' me at Starbucks. I was minding my own business reading a commentary on Philippians (as you would), and a guy handed me a business card and asked for three minutes of my time. I paused, but said 'sure' and he tried to deconvert me for three minutes by talking about various contradictions in the Bible. I listened, nodding, and at the end, he asked if I was not longer a Christian. I said "No," and he went on his way. I looked at his card after a moment and he listed a dozen 'contradictions' in the Bible (most of which I had learned about at Biola in undergrad), and to paraphrase it concluded with: "this is a book of lies." I cannot word-for-word recount it here as I lost the card.

So, what of this? Is this a challenge for me?

Aspectivally, the issue of 'differences' in the Synoptic Gospel (leaving John aside for a while) has never bothered me. When you have three different people telling one story, they find certain elements to be more important or necessary to convey the point. So the issue of "Gospel Contradictions" does not bother me because of aspect. The issue of the so-called Deutero-Pauline corpus does not bother me because I believe Paul wrote everything that has his name attached to it, though I happily confess my mild doubts with the Pastoral Epistles (but not enough to say they are not Pauline). The issue of textual variants does not bother me, as I affirm the authority of the original text and not later interpolations such as John 7:52/53-8:11, Mark 16:8-20 and 1 Cor 14:34-35 among others. Personally, I'd at least put them in brackets at the very least.

So that is how I view Scripture, at least in a very streamlined and terse way. I am committed to the authority of Scripture because of how God is revealed in history, and in one major instance, changed everything I know about history – for the better indeed. Most contradictions I've seen are not particularly compelling if accounts for genre and authorial aspect. Just like if three people were to recount my life and each would emphasize certain events, I would not say they were each wrong (assuming I was alive in the intermediate state, which is unlikely).

The revelation of Christ gives flesh to the bones of history and renders my life in submission to the one who became flesh and tabernacle among us (John 1:1-18). Authority in a practical and pastoral sense means being committed to history because God is committed to history.

Mind you, this is the first time I've actually sat down and tried to really formulate my thoughts on the doctrine of Scripture. I'm not much for Systematics (mostly because I've had my face in the Greek New Testament for too long, I suspect).

Just some thoughts. More could be said, but I'm content with this for now.


Perfecting Holiness and the Promises of God: A Brief Exegesis of 2 Cor 7:1

ταύτας οὖν ἔχοντες τὰς ἐπαγγελίας, ἀγαπητοί, καθαρίσωμεν ἑαυτοὺς ἀπὸ παντὸς μολυσμοῦ σαρκὸς καὶ πνεύματος, ἐπιτελοῦντες ἁγιωσύνην ἐν φόβῳ θεοῦ

"Therefore [since] we have these promises, beloved ones, we should purify ourselves from all defilement of the body and spirit, perfecting holiness in the reverence of God"

Beginning with the particle οὖν ("therefore"), Paul indicates that he is not starting a fresh premise. Rather, he is simultaneously summing up what has been said before (i.e. the people of the living God and the Old Testament citation).

Paul's use of the plural form of ἔχοντες designates his focus upon the corporate body of believers, those who have the promises, and specifies that they already have them. The present tense illustrates the current acceptance of these Christians and acknowledges their participation in God's holy calling. The Old Testament citation in the previous chapter deserves to be quoted in full.

“I will live in them and walk among them,

    and I will be their God,

    and they shall be my people.

Therefore come out from them,

    and be separate from them, says the Lord,

and touch nothing unclean;

    then I will welcome you,

and I will be your father,

    and you shall be my sons and daughters,

says the Lord Almighty.” (NRSV)

It seems this citation is 2 Sam 7:14, although clearly expanded. In any sense, Paul's expansion emphasizes the 'separateness' of God's people as well as the comment on "touch[ing] nothing unclean." The promise worth holding onto is God's dwelling amongst his people, and his calling them "sons and daughter." This is intensified by Paul's use of the noun ἀγαπητοί ("beloved, beloved ones"), suggesting this promise has already been fulfilled and is awaiting perfection, as he will specify later.

Because of this promise, Paul enjoins the believers in Corinth (himself included) to καθαρίσωμεν ("purify") themselves "from all defilement of the body and spirit." Almost all of the uses of the verb καθαρίζω in the New Testament occur in Acts and the Synoptic Gospels, although Paul uses it twice in his other writings. In Eph 5:26, the husband is told to "sanctify" his wife by "cleansing" her (καθαρίζω) with the washing of water. This is probably not a reference to baptism, but rather a symbolic act of submission and of loving tenderness to her, as he is one flesh with her already. Caring for her flesh is caring for himself, and providing a basic requirement of cleanliness is vital for the survival of each other, especially in a time of rampant poverty and disease. The other use in Titus 2:14 is in reference to Christ ransoming himself on behalf of a people, cleansing them from "all lawlessness."

The prepositional phrase ἀπὸ παντὸς μολυσμοῦ σαρκὸς καὶ πνεύματος is fascinating. The word μολυσμοῦ seems to refer to defilement or contamination, and the references to "tainting garments" in Rev 3:4 seems to suggest a stain or a blemish of some sort, although garments are different from people, so this is not an exact or entirely certain parallel image. The point is clear, however: to purify one's self is a free action of the person, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to purify themselves of the blemishes of sin, which seems to already be present in their bodies and their spirits.

Contrary to popular opinion, Paul does not think σαρκὸς ("flesh") is a catchall word referring to the vileness of the human person as if he is a gnostic who detests the body. Rather, the word simply means 'body' apart from the resurrection, at least in this context. Paul's belief in the present nature of the promise of God means that he knows σαρκὸς and the πνεύματος are tainted or stained. The human body, in bondage to sin, is in desperate need of liberation (c.f. Rom 8:23). The believers know this and are ordered to act in response to the promise of God.

The final participial phrase is where the meat is. Paul says ἐπιτελοῦντες ἁγιωσύνην ἐν φόβῳ θεοῦ. The use of the verb ἐπιτελέω is interesting. It is a compound verb (ἐπι + τελέω) that is intensified by the suffix ἐπι. Instead of being merely "to finish" or "to be mature" as τελέω suggests, Paul's use of ἐπιτελέω is like putting an exclamation point after the word and putting it in all caps: PERFECTING (!). The notion of "mature" or "completion" lies at the root of the verb as well.

The fact that ἐπιτελοῦντες is a participial makes this so much more fun. Paul speaks of everyone (himself included) in "perfecting holiness." The noun ἁγιωσύνη ("holiness," "sanctification") occurs 3 times in the New Testament. First in Rom 1:4 where Christ's resurrection is "according to the Spirit of Holiness," and also in 1 Thess 3:13 where believers are enjoined to be "blameless in sanctification before God." Here in 2 Cor 7:1, believers are to be continually active in pursuing and perfecting their sanctification, their set-apartness, as the Old Testament citation states. They live in the "reverence of God," the same God who calls them beloved children.

Sanctification is about completing one's pursuit of God's calling, living a life of tenderness and generosity, seeking purity and gentleness in the hope of God's immanent return. God does not call his people slaves: he calls them his beloved children, children he himself has called. In response to God's call, we submit ourselves and participate in the sanctifying life he has prepared for us. The Holy Spirit, our faithful advocate, and source of empowerment, never ceases in calling God's children into a right relationship with their Father.

Therefore, be constantly perfecting yourself, seeking righteousness, and participating in the promises that await their consummation.

Or, as John Wesley once said:

“By salvation I mean not barely according to the vulgar notion deliverance from hell or going to heaven but a present deliverance from sin a restoration of the soul to its primitive health its original purity a recovery of the divine nature the renewal of our souls after the image of God in righteousness and true holiness in justice mercy and truth.” (Found in An Introduction to World Methodism, p.104).


Piercing the Veil: Spiritual Gifts, Mystical Experiences and A Relationship With God

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” --Acts 4:12

They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is
“‘the stone you builders rejected,
    which has become the cornerstone.’
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:7-12

Who is God? And Why We Only Contact Him

I spoke to a friend recently about some of his demonic encounters in Indonesia (I know, light conversation), and got some very good insight on the reason for the tabernacle and temple before the coming of Jesus. In this era, it is common for people to want to make God ambiguous or pluralistic in ways he has not made himself out to be, to say he can be known by many names (names attached to very different ideologies and conceptions of God and in a biblical worldview other names mean other powers). But the reality is that God has revealed himself, he has a name and to change it freely does not guarantee that when you think you are speaking to him when you address him as Allah or Baal, you will get him.

My friend's insight was to point out that the tabernacle or temple functioned as a sort of guarantee that your prayers would reach God and not someone else pretending to be him. I know from my studies that there were many similarities to what we perceive as strange rituals in the Old Testament and the surrounding peoples and yet, great pains were taken to avoid other pagan practices aimed at piercing the veil between our world and the spirit world. For instance, instructions were given to burn the entrails of sacrifices. In the pagan world, you kept those to look through and get a message about the future or other pits of inaccessible information. As Christians, we do not seek special knowledge of the future because it belongs to God and we have decided to trust him.

We also know that we are continually told in the Bible not to contact the dead or worship other gods. In the biblical world, gods were often local deities or entities you could contact, bribe and get special favors from. Yahweh in contrast, is not a local deity or spiritual entity. He is not part of the earth either. In Genesis, we learn that he is not part of the earth (the Spirit hovers over the waters, he is not the waters), but created it and even fills it. Yahweh cannot be bribed in exchange for favors. Sacrifices were not given in order to get stuff. Prayer is not about conjuring up God to get new cars or careers. We ask God for things sometimes, but prayer is not about getting those things. We are not entitled to them on this side of the escaton even though God cares about the little things and sometimes helps us.  Similarly, we may pray for spiritual gifts but must consider: to what end?

Jesus is the ultimate icon of God because he is God who became human. In John 1 we read that he "dwelt" or "tabernacled" among us. We have access into a relationship with God by HIS name through the Spirit. Jesus is the gate.

Now, I am not speaking as though the literal name of Jesus is a magical word that conjures up God! What I mean is that now one only has a guarantee that they are communing with God because of Jesus and if they are in relationship or entering into a relationship with him. The Bible seems to indicate that someone can indeed have access into what we call the spiritual world (though perhaps rare) by other means, but as Christians, we are forbidden from this. Why? Human beings were made to be in relationship with God who is inherently relational as the Triune God. God has also made us physical creatures and likes us that way! Our hope in a future salvation is not to live disembodied but to be resurrected to live an embodied life that is healed physically and in our character. 

Spiritual Gifts and Mystical Experiences in Perspective

We are so struck by abnormal events and yet the Bible seems to want us to seek the formation of our character the most. Over and over again in various ways, we are told to love one another and to love God. If we love God this will flow into our love for others concretely, in reality and if we love others rightly God seems to measure it as loving him (C.f. Matt 10:42; Matt 25:37-40...etc). Regarding spiritual gifts, what we are so dazzled by is only a small window for what is to come and really they aren't as important as love.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. … But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:8, 13).

I am not a cessationist. I believe God interacts with us in profound and multifaceted ways. I personally have had a mystical experience when I gave my life to God and he has interacted with my in unusual ways before (though not often or usually). I am not special, he does this with lots of people and not with lots of people. I don't know why he decides to do various things when he does them. I do believe he likes people and I believe he is continually drawing everyone to himself in various ways (Acts 17:26-28) and sets up opportunities for all of us to do good things for other people (this is all throughout Ephesians).

All of this to say that it is a HUGE mistake to seek after "spiritual" experiences in themselves. The way I see it, we should seek out God and be in relationship with him. Other things will follow, or not. The true mark of the person who has "pierced the veil" and is in relationship with God--talking to him, listening, and loving others--is how their character has been formed and transformed by Him. Part of this is positive i.e. they are genuinely loving people who embody the fruits of the Spirit and part of this is negative i.e. they avoid the things God forbids not because they are arbitrary rules, but because they flow out of a trusting relationship with God. If someone is living habitually in sin and not coming out of it, they are far from God no matter what other good is present.

The reality is that God is not far away. He fills all of creation (C.f. Jeremiah 23:24, Acts 17:27-28, Psalm 139:7-10), and his act of creating is continuous as he sustains our very existence (C.f. Col 1:15-17). He wants us to live in harmony with him.

Whether or not we speak to God, part of being God means he alone is capable of always being there acting and watching.

Yahweh tells us:

"Am I a God
    who is only nearby and not far off?
Can people hide themselves in secret places
    so I might not see them?
        Don’t I fill heaven and earth?

I have heard the prophets prophesying lies in my name. They claim, “I’ve had a dream; I’ve had a dream!” How long will deceitful prophecies dominate the minds of the prophets? Those prophets are treacherous. They scheme to make my people forget me by their dreams that people tell each other, just as their ancestors forgot me because of Baal. Let the prophet who has a dream declare it, but let the one who has my word proclaim it faithfully" (Jeremiah 23:23-28).

Salvation or "Enlightenment" is Not Gained by Spiritual Experiences

When we act in ways that are God-honoring by loving God (also avoiding false deities, having sexual relations that do not express unity and diversity the way God intended...etc), and when we speak to him and listen intently perhaps by reading the Bible asking "how should I live or be?" we are piercing the veil between our life and God's and are transformed in the process. Spiritual gifts in themselves do not accomplish this nor do those closer to God necessarily have more experiences. Frankly, God can contact anyone in unique ways. He picked a donkey, he chatted with a pagan prophet who did favors for money, and he prophesied through the High Priest Ciaphas who was against Jesus about Jesus (John 11).

We can only have salvation (wholistic healing, redemption, and glorification) in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit by grace through faith. It is not something we accomplish for ourselves by ourselves. Good works flow out of the Spirit's work in and around us (hence "fruits of the Spirit"), not the other way around. We do not do good works or pursue experiences to get closer to God. We have no chance. God enables us to respond back to him and others in love in the first place.

In sum:

Our goal in life is a relationship with God that begins to transform our relationships now while we look ahead to the complete healing of our bodies and characters in the resurrection. This relationship is with a Triune, relational God Yahweh, who became a human being named Jesus giving us access to God in ways we never had before.

Pursuing relationships (whether human or not) or spiritual experiences as goals in themselves detract from our relationship with God. If we try and reach the "other side" ourselves we open ourselves up to real danger and have no guarantee that who we are talking to is who we think they are. Worst yet, we are opposing the call of God on our lives.

God is near and God is here. We can talk to him and be changed by him in whatever way he decides. Salvation is not far away from any of us.





The Trinity in Our Image? Reconsidering an Evangelical Social Agenda for the Trinity Pt.3

In the last two posts I spent time showing that 1) Grudem and Ware's understanding of an authoritative hierarchy that is inherent in the Trinity are NOT in the creeds or the early church fathers. Their position is not the orthodox position. 2) I went into detail on why thier position is at best incoherent. It is not ok to hold to an incoherent position. Not understanding every detail about the mystery that is the Trinity is one thing, a lack of logical cohesion fails an important standard of truth.

Now, having briefly overviewed the particular way Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware conceive of eternal differences within the Trinity, it is time to consider some of the view’s more serious problems. My basic claim is that Although Grudem and Ware intend to uphold an orthodox view of the Trinity, their view is at best incoherent and at worst entails a heterodox position. Basically, if we were to assume Grudem and Ware's position was not incoherent or illogical what would we have?

A Partative God?

It is difficult for Ware and Grudem to continue consistently affirming the doctrine of divine simplicity given the way they articulate the Son’s subordination to the Father. Linked to this problem is a key obstacle alluded to earlier, which is the appearance of what seems like two essences arising from the content of what they claim. Their difficulty comes in trying to maintain only one divine essence even though they also have what are called mere personal relations but function like personal essences. How does this problem lead to difficulty maintaining divine simplicity?  Consider the following detailed definition of the Doctrine of the Divine Simplicity:

According to the classical theism of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas and their adherents, God is radically unlike creatures in that he is devoid of any complexity or composition, whether physical or metaphysical. Besides lacking spatial and temporal parts, God is free of matter-form composition, potency-act composition, and existence-essence composition. There is also no real distinction between God as subject of his attributes and his attributes. God is thus in a sense requiring clarification identical to each of his attributes, which implies that each attribute is identical to every other one. God is omniscient, then, not in virtue of instantiating or exemplifying omniscience — which would imply a real distinction between God and the property of omniscience — but by being omniscience. And the same holds for each of the divine omni-attributes: God is what he has as Augustine puts it in The City of God, XI, 10. As identical to each of his attributes, God is identical to his nature. And since his nature or essence is identical to his existence, God is identical to his existence. This is the doctrine of divine simplicity (DDS)... The simple God, we could say, differs in his very ontology from any and all created beings.[1]

God cannot be conceived of in parts. This means the Holy Spirit does not make up part of God nor does God hold various attributes in such a way that one member of the Trinity exemplifying something like omnipotence more fully than another.[2] God is such that what he has, he is. “Divine simplicity affirms not that God has a nature but that God is his essential nature.”[3] Augustine explains, “whatever is authentically and truly divine is said to be simple because its qualities and its substance are one and the same, and because it is not by participation that it is divine, or wise or holy.”[4]

Ware affirms there is one undivided divine nature, but undermines his statements to that effect with how he conceives of trintiarain distinction. In describing the authority-submission relationships among the members of the Trinity in the context of the future subjugation of the Son to the Father in 1 Corinthians 15:28, quoting Colin Gunton approvingly Ware explains:

[I Corinthians 15:28] has “implications for what we may say about the being of God eternally, and would seem to suggest a subordination of taxis—of ordering within the divine life—but not one of deity or regard. It is truly divine to be the obedient self-giving Son as it is to be the Father who sends and the Spirit who renews and perfects”…it is in the nature of God both to exert authority and to obey in submission. And since this is the eternal nature of God, we may know that it is beautiful and it is good, and because of this, we are prompted to marvel a bit more at the glory that is our Triune God.[5]

What is meant by the idea that distinctions within the Trinity have implications for the “being of God” or “God’s nature?” If one were to talk about the being of God—the Godhead, then one is referring to what he is—his divine essence because God is indeed identical to his nature. When Ware says that he is going to talk about the nature of God and that to submit is divine and to exercise authority is divine he is communicating this characterizes the divine essence. Unfortunately, he has also already made it clear that these are only supposed to be personal properties—because they apparently cannot be anything else. Despite intentions to the contrary, we end up with a view that is articulated in such a way that God has one essence that is composed of parts since God’s very nature is to be both submissive and authoritative when only the Father is characterized by supreme-authority otherwise he would not be the Father and only the Son is characterized by submission…etc. Or, that elusive second essence is again looming in the background. Perhaps the reason for the language of “God’s being” being used when speaking of the personal distinctions is that conceptually the category of essence is simply that difficult to avoid in the way Ware conceives of difference.

Compounding the entire difficulty with divine simplicity is again how Ware and Grudem hold to omnipotence. They want to say, “each person of the Trinity has all the attributes of God, and no one person has any attributes that are not possessed by the others,”[6] but they articulate their position on subordination using ontology language that the Father by virtue of being the Father essentially and necessarily exercises authority over the Son and that the Son could not have authority over the Father. Why could not all members of the Trinity be equally omnipotent in Grudem and Ware’s system? Lewis Ayres gives an explanation of how other words such as rule and power were used in pro-Nicene theology in order to convey God’s nature and essence:

It is fundamental to all pro‐Nicene theologies that God is one power, glory, majesty, rule, Godhead essence, and nature. In summaries of pro‐Nicene Trinitarian theology found across the Mediterranean, and in countless asides in the course of exposition and polemical argument, the assertion that God is a unity in these respects is universal. Summary accounts of pro‐Nicene theology tend to focus on identifiably philosophical terms such as ousia, φύσις, natura, and essentia. It is, however, important to note that pro‐Nicenes use many other terms for the divine unity, drawn from a variety of (often scriptural) sources, whose metaphysical senses modern readers tend to miss. Thus, for example, terms such as ‘light’, ‘power’, and ‘glory’ should not be read as ‘merely metaphorical’…we should also add the terms carrying both philosophical and legal histories of usage: Damasus of Rome and Gregory Nazianzen, for example, both use terminology expressing the one rule and authority in the Godhead.[7]

In other words, one cannot just say the Father is necessarily and always the one with supreme authority because he is distinctly the Father. That is conveying that he is the one who is all-powerful and the Son is not. This is because the Son’s authority is limited—meaning he is not able to do something because he is constrained by his authority relationship with the Father, which itself is part of his very nature.[8] The Father ends up having a divine attribute entirely or to a greater degree than all other members of the Trinity so that he has a piece of the divine essence, and the Son and Spirit another. Or they all share a nebulous divinity essence and another personal essence that makes each person a particular divine substance. This latter option will now be explored in more detail.

Arianism or Tritheism? 

Thus far it has become more than clear that Ware and Grudem’s position is at best incoherent. Unfortunately, this incoherence has allowed for a plethora of statements that entail theologies that are less than orthodox. This is a serious problem(s) and not one that can just be retracted because Ware and Grudem assert their beliefs are not heretical. They want to defend against the erosion of traditional values, but at what cost? Whether preferable or not, the eternal subordination of the Son entails a different essence between the members of the Trinity in the form of what amounts to either the Son not being homoousion with the Father or a slip into tritheism with two essences: personal and divine.

 Much of Grudem and Ware’s efforts have been to distance themselves from Arianism. However, McCall has shown they do in fact end up with a Son who is subordinate in essence rather than merely function. This means that if they decide to continue referring to only one essence, then the Son is subordinate since “if we do not have ontological equality, not all the persons are fully God.”[9] Following McCall’s argument, they end up with a version of Arianism that does not believe the Son is merely a divine creature, but still has a different divine essence and is hierarchically ordered with   

eternal functional subordination as its corollary.[10]  

On the other hand, it is perhaps more helpful to take their articulation of the authority-submission relationship as conveying two entirely different essences: one essence that gives them divinity and another personal essence. At times it seems they are confident that if they just hold to a generic divine essence then each person of the Trinity will be equally divine, but they do not believe the divine essence can only be generic. For example, Ware states: “Their equality then, is not merely an equality of kind but an equality of identity. There is no stronger basis for equality than this.”[11]  However, it is still difficult to see how they actually can avoid tritheism by implication of the other things talked about where they end up describing two essences for each member of the Trinity if not one that ends up with Arianism any way. If they each have distinct personal essences then this means there are three individuals, each with their own will and centers of consciousness. This is a difficulty even partially recognized in the new book Ware edited: One God in Three Persons. Kyle Clauch explains, “in order for the Son to submit willingly to the will of the Father, the two must possess distinct wills” something one must avoid in order to not be “counter to the pro-Nicene tradition.”[12] Given how Ware and Grudem describe personal distinctions, they are not able to have a divinity in that it only exists within the triune persons. That is, there is a universal nature they all share, but they are separate divinities by virtue of their distinct personal essences. In sum, neither Grudem nor Ware are trinitarian heretics, but the content of what they argue strongly seems to entails such.

 Does one have to base eternal Trinitarian distinctions in authority-submission? Is there a better option? Perhaps we can avoid the problems that come with making subordination and hierarchy within the immanent Trinity something that is true in all possible worlds and say something like: “The Son will always submit to the Father in his role as representative of his creatures because in the order of origination he is the one generated. The one who is generated is always sent to bring about the glorification (or theosis) of creation. The glorification of creation involves creaturely submission to God.” Unlike authority-subordination relationships, origination relationships coinhere. They are an “intrinsically mutual movement of loving self-communication.”[13] Yes, there is a logical cause order or sequence, but not an order of authority and so one dos not run into the same problems with omnipotence talked about previously. If one wants to press the potential problems for degrees of deity with the monarche of the Father, one only needs to consider a more ecumenically arrived at option agreed upon even by the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches:

All fourteen Orthodox patriarchs in the Pan-Orthodox Communion attended the meeting ratifying the “Joint Statement of the Official Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches,” issued on March 13, 1991. It announced that an “agreed Statement on the Holy Trinity” had been reached. They concluded that the monarchy is the divine triune being of God, not the person of the Father.[14]

In this ecumenical form of origination the Father is not the only source of the Son. Instead, “the Son is eternally begotten of the being of the Father and the Spirit proceeds ‘from the Father through the Son.’”[15] The divine nature flows from the father to the Son, but the divine nature is no longer considered exclusively the person of the Father’s passed down as the divine life meaning he is no longer the ultimate source of divinity.


Since the eternal subordination of the Son as articulated by Grudem and Ware has tremendous problems with coherence and entailments of various forms of heterodoxy (depending on how one interprets the actual content of what they say), why does this form of the view persist? Why not ground the submission of the Son in his origination and/or role as the incarnation? Why not ground trinitarian distinction in something else—even if one ends up deciding there are immanent distinctions but we are not yet entirely privy to what they are? I suspect there are other strong intuitions at work. It is not a great mystery that Grudem and Ware are preoccupied with defending their views on gender and that their conception of gender role relations looks suspiciously like the view of the Trinity they are championing.[16] At the same time there appears to be a certain kind of interpretation of the biblical data at work enabling their connection between the Son’s subordination in the economic and the immanent Trinity, but also a connection between the authority-submission relationships they perceive as part of gender distinctions and the authority-submission relationships in perceived in the Trinity. Seeing these connections more clearly will allow us to make more informed decisions when reading their biblical cases for hierarchy in the Trinity, the practical exercise of which is beyond the scope of this paper. At the very least, I hope to establish there is an improper connection being made between gender relations and the Trinity.


[1] Vallicella, William F., "Divine Simplicity", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =

[2] Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 45.

[3] K. Scott Oliphint, “Simplicity, Triunity, and the Incomprehensibility of God” in One God in Three Persons eds., Bruce Ware and John Starke (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway, 2015), 216.

[4] Augustine, The City of God, trans. Gerald G. Walsh and Grace Monahan, (O.S.U) 11:10.

[5] Ware, Father Son and Holy Spirit, 85.

[6] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 253. Cf., 252.

[7] Lewis Ayres, Nicea and its Legacy; An Approach to Fourth Century Trinitarian Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004): 279-280.

[8] And he is not constrained in such a way that is merely by covenant agreement for the sake of salvation.

[9] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 251.

[10] Kevin Giles, Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 2006), 133.

[11] Bruce Ware, “Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles: Eternal Functional Authority and Submission among the Essentially Equal Divine Persons of the Godhead” in The New Evangelical Subordinationism?, 14.

[12] Kyle Claunch, “God is the Head of Christ” in One God in Three Persons, 88.

[13] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (NY: T&T Clark, 1996), 133.

[14] Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son, 243.

[15] Ibid., 242.

[16] Wayne Grudem is the one who started the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1987 in direct response to the emergence of Christians for Biblical Equality. In 1986 he had convinced members from the Evangelical Theological Society to join his efforts in creating a new organization “dedicated to upholding both equality and difference between men and women in marriage and the church.” He was also encouraged into his 37 (then 30) years of writing on gender by George Knight credited as the one who started “complementarianism” by legitimizing the equality in essence with subordination in role for women by an appeal to the Trinity. Wayne Grudem, “Personal Reflections on the History of CBMW and the State of the Gender Debate” JBMW, 14.1. Some of the many works he has contributed to include: Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?, The TNIV and the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy, and countless articles. Bruce Ware has contributed to Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance, One God in Three Persons both in which he connects those disagreeing with his view on gender to be generally allergic or resistant to authority period. He has done countless interviews and articles on gender, and served with JBMW

Humbleness is next to Christlikeness

In thinking about ministry (not that I want to be a pastor, but I'm keeping my options open), I've had a chance to listen to a lot of podcasts and sermons, most of which I enjoy. I was there for the 'fall' of Mark Driscoll, for example. I've seen pastors fall from grace constantly, and most of these 'falls' seem to reflect a growing unease with power. As someone who was raised in the church, fell away for a few years, and then came back a time later, it is quite clear to me that humbleness is not a virtue many take seriously. I hate typing that, and I doubt it applies to you, but it is enough of a problem to warrant a short post.

My father, for instance, is quite humble. He worked in ministry and ended up being burned quite badly, and in hindsight, humbleness was not a virtue that was exercised by those who fired him. More could be said, but being an insider lets one see all of the foibles and warts and narcissistic elements of humanity featured inside church walls. A worship pastor wants to be a lead pastor, a youth group director wants to leave because he or she thinks they know better, and so on an so forth. We've all seen this, and if you haven't count yourself blessed.

So, when I was thinking about pastoral ministry and how the local church functions in a community, I came across a text in James—leave it to James to drop a truth bomb on my lap. James 4:10 reads: ταπεινώθητε ἐνώπιον κυρίου, καὶ ὑψώσει ὑμᾶς: "humble yourself before the Lord, and he will exact you." In the Synoptic Gospels, the verb appears often with the pronoun ἑαυτὸν ("himself," "herself," etc). In Matthew 18:4, Jesus tells his listeners to "humble themselves" (ταπεινώσει ἑαυτὸν) as this child. A child, of course, is not humble in the sense we think; rather a child is not set in his or her ways, and is open and is not concretized as a recalcitrant sinner.  Matthew 23:12 is quite similar in its parallelism: ὅστις δὲ ὑψώσει ἑαυτὸν ταπεινωθήσεται, καὶ ὅστις ταπεινώσει ἑαυτὸν ὑψωθήσεται: "therefore whoever exalts themselves will be humbled, and whoever humbles themselves will be exalted" (see also the Lukan parallel in 14:11 and in 18:14). Luke 3:5 speaks of the mountains and hills being "brought low."

Paul may have echoed this sentiment in 2 Corinthians 11:7 when he talks about humbling himself (ἐμαυτὸν) so that the Corinthians might be exalted. Of course, Paul is being a bit of a pillock there, as is his custom. In 2 Corinthians 12:21, Paul speaks of God ταπεινώσῃ him ("humbling").

In the famous so-called "Christ-Hymn" in Philippians 2, Paul speaks of the preexistent Christ "humbling" himself (ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν) by becoming obedient to death, and Paul himself knows how to be humbled (ταπεινοῦσθαι) in Philippians 4:12. Finally, the author of 1 Peter tells his readers to "humble yourselves" (Ταπεινώθητε). Throughout the New Testament, the verb ταπεινόω (tapeinoō) is used to refer to "humbleness" or "being brought low" and so on. I am reminded of several things.

First, humbleness does not come naturally to me. When I am lectured by someone who I know does not know as much as I do, I tend to puff out my chest and tilt my hat forward and attempt to put that person in his place. Usually, that only happens once in a while, but it is something I should work on.

Second, being humble requires a special move of the Holy Spirit and one's theological community. If one is acting in a self-righteous way, call them out kindly. It's for their benefit, and your community's benefit as well.

Third, you can actually humble yourself. Scripture says you can, so you should. I can humble myself, you can humble yourself, and we can all humble ourselves. Just make sure we give credit to God for the grace given to us.

I end this little post with a comment by John Wesley: "mock humility which teacheth us to say, in excuse for our willful disobedience, 'Oh, I can do nothing,' and stops there, without once naming the grace of God" (Outler, Sermons, 3:208).


The Trinity in Our Image? Reconsidering an Evangelical Social Agenda for the Trinity Pt.2

For part one of Allison's series, click here.

Earlier it became evident that although Grudem and Ware appeal to the creeds and early church fathers as though they proclaimed Ware and Grudem's view of authority relations within the Trinity, they don't in actuality. Grudem and Ware's position is far from the orthodox position. Nowhere in their citations of either Augustine or the creed is there an explicit connection made for the sending or originating relationship being an authoritative relationship based in the nature of the Trinity. This is at best an implication that Grudem and Ware arrive at on their own, though they appear not to be saying this is an implication (which is never worked out), but a direct communication of the idea in Augustine and the Creed.  However, the actual position of the early church, differing origination (the mere language of which Grudem and Ware appeal to), is not actually held by either of them. They hold to a different view.

In sum, we saw that they were lacking clear reasoning for why “sending” had to only mean differing authority relations, and the novelty of their view demands better argumentation.


 Having briefly over viewed the particular way Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware conceive of eternal differences within the Trinity, it is time to consider some of the view’s more serious problems. My basic claim is as follows: Although Grudem and Ware intend to uphold an orthodox view of the Trinity, their view is at best incoherent and at worst entails a heterodox position.


The eternal functional subordination of the Son to the Father should be rejected because, as it is currently expressed, it is incoherent. That is, there is a lack of cohesion in Grudem and Ware’s argument between the Son being eternally subordinate to the Father and trinitarian orthodoxy. I suspect they simply want to have it both ways yet are unable to provide an argument allowing for both. Worse yet, they do not seem cognizant of it. This is more than evident in the written back and forth between Ware and Thomas McCall.

In Which Trinity? Whose Montheism? McCall takes one chapter to critique eternal functional subordination.[1] Specifically, he wants to critique those who would make eternal functional subordination what God is ad intra. McCall allows for positions that teach the Son is always subordinate in his work in redemption as the incarnation in this possible world, indicating subordination itself is not what functions as the eternal distinguisher within the Trinity. McCall brings in the question of whether the Son is subordinate in all possible worlds in order to tease out the nature of the Son’s subordination. If one answers that the Son is subordinate in all possible worlds, this means it is an essential property of the Son since it is necessary to the inner life of God and not just something that happens in relation to creation. If subordination ends up being something that is an essential property then it means there is something essentially different between the Father, Son and Spirit meaning they have difference essences.

How can Grudem or Ware get distinction within the Trinity if distinction must be necessary and yet not compromise the divine essence? If McCall is right they end up with a personal essence and generic essence of “kind” (i.e. divine) so that each trinitarian person has his own personal essence but also shares a divine essence with the others.[2] Whether or not they opt for having a second essence, their options from here are to base the personal essences in “origination relationship” (also known in terms of “generation” and “spiration”) or functional personal essences (i.e. having authority over). Since the latter (they do not subscribe to the former), they have articulated a Son who is in personal essence subordinate to the Father because of the argument summarized in the last paragraph necessitates that they are indeed speaking of essence or ontology whether or not they want to say the word “essence.”[3] According to Grudem, admitting the Son is not of the same essence as the Father is not an option because “If we do not have ontological equality, not all the persons are fully God.”[4] Of course, this statement of Grudem’s does not anticipate a member of the Trinity with two essences! Grudem is trying to protect his view against Arianism rather than tritheism and so the risk stemming from two essences is entirely missed. McCall ends his critique wondering, “How someone might coherently affirm both homoousios and Hard EFS is far from obvious, and to say that such a position is internally strained is to put it rather mildly.”[5] How will Grudem and Ware reveal that they actually can coherently affirm homoousios and keep the authority-submission relationship?

Ware has recently given a direct response to McCall in the last chapter of One God in Three Persons. Still thinking in terms of there being only one essence in each divine person, he immediately defends against the notion that his view entails a denial of the homoousios. His first defense is simply to claim that if he has fallen into this error, then Athanasius and the Nicene fathers have too because they believe the essential personal distinguisher is being “begotten” and the conditions for this distinguisher are the same as subordination. They are both necessary personal properties and so if Ware’s position entails a denial of homoousios then so does Nicene orthodoxy.[6] Of course, he is not escaping from McCall’s argument; he is merely attaching his position to Nicene orthodoxy as a sort of theological trump card so that he cannot fail despite what is logically entailed by each stage of acceptance.[7]

If considered from the vantage point of one shared divine essence, submission-authority relationships already have by their very makeup a key difference from origination differences. Rather than being “strongly internally-related properties,” Ware and Grudem’s position has what amounts to a difference in omnipotence. [8]   McCall refers specifically to the Father being unable to do an action that is logically and morally possible such as becoming incarnate. It should be further noted that there is a difference in power-relationships between members of the Trinity in such a way that does not merely remain functional as much as Grudem and Ware would like it to.

Ware’s next rebuttal unfortunately only amounts to asserting that he is talking about “a property of the person of the Son, not a property of the essence or nature which the Son shares fully with the Father and the Spirit” and he is not referring to an attribute.[9] He does not seem to realize that McCall is claiming Ware’s understanding entails that he is actually talking about essence or nature ending in a different essence between the Son and the Father—Ware has to argue otherwise.[10] Ware is in a position where he can decide to posit two natures for each person of the Trinity or, say there is only one divine nature demonstrating how the Son can have the necessary subordinate personal property without it being essential and without it becoming a different essence from the Father. Instead, Ware gets angry with McCall for not providing this “solution” that it is really a personal property and insinuates McCall is trying to be deceptive when instead Ware has gravely misunderstood the force of McCall’s objection.[11]

Lastly, Ware accuses McCall of getting confused between adjectives and nouns. Ware clarifies he is talking about something “essential” not “essence.”[12] Of course, earlier he had also claimed:

Clearly, the distinction of persons requires that there are distinguishing properties of each person as opposed to being merely contingent or accidental, are true of them in every possible world, are held with a de re kind of necessity, and hence are essential to the distinctive personhood of each Trinitarian person.[13]

If he had followed McCall’s argument he would have realized that by reasserting that the Son is subordinate in all possible worlds he was committing himself to subordination being necessarily and if subordination is a necessary property (de re), then he has this essentially, and if the Son has this essentially and the Father does not then he is of a difference essence than the Father. “Thus, the Son is heteroousios rather than homoousios.”[14] There is no confusion of terms in McCall’s work, just a progression of argument that Ware does not follow or answer for. Instead, his attempt at a defense amounts to saying other people are also guilty and crossly re-asserting his position again.

There is a final point of incoherence that is unresolved in Grudem and Ware’s trinitarian theology. Since their theology necessitates a difference that is hierarchically based, the Holy Spirit serves as a disruption to their all-encompassing categories of authority and submission. [15] In their scheme, the Father is no longer the Father if he is not in authority and the Son is not the Son if he is not subordinate to the Father and the Spirit it similarly not the Spirit if he is not subordinate to both the Father and the Son in the economy and for all eternity. Grudem explains:

So we may say that the role of the Father in creation and redemption has been to plan and direct and send the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is not surprising, for it shows that the Father and the Son relate to one another as a father and son relate to one another in a human family: the father directs and has authority over the son, and the son obeys and is responsive to the directions of the father. The Holy Spirit is obedient to the directives of both the Father and the Son...These roles could not have been reversed or the Father would have ceased to be the Father and the Son would have ceased to be the Son. And by analogy from that relationship, we may conclude that the role of the Holy Spirit is similarly one that was appropriate to the relationship he had with the Father and the Son before the world was created.[16]

Similarly, Ware states:

This view holds that God reveals himself in Scripture as one God in three persons…the Father is revealed as having the highest authority among the Trinitarian persons, such that the Son, as agent of the Father, eternally implements the will of the Father and is under the Father’s authority, and the Holy Spirit likewise serves to advance the Father’s purposes fulfilled through the Son, under the authority of the Father and also of the Son.[17]

The Holy Spirit’s distinctiveness is construed as doubly subordinate, just as a child is submissive to both her father and mother. The Spirit’s role, like the Father and Son is an eternal one perceived in the economy. The authority-submission relationship cannot be otherwise because it would mean that what makes each distinct is actually interchangeable. Curiously, Ware breaks these absolute categories he and Grudem have built up in admitting that in the biblical testimony the Son submits to the Holy Spirit. Uh oh.

Even though the Spirit is given authority over the incarnate Son, so that the Son follows the lead of the Spirit and performs his miracles in the power of the Spirit, nevertheless the Spirit knows that this authority is not permanent. And he knows that this authority is not over the eternal Son of the Father, but only over the Son incarnate.[18]

Rather than perceiving this move of the Holy Spirit as undermining his absolute authority-based understanding of trinitarian distinctions, Ware decides this is a special instance that only applies to the Spirit’s authority over Jesus’s humanity. Of course, he is not willing to allow this in the case of the Father exercising authority over Jesus, because such would undermine what makes each of the trinitarian persons distinct. This is inconsistent and instead of trying provide resolution, Ware arrives at an unusual practical lesson of not being bitter when one’s delegated authority comes to an end and for women to be happy working behind the scenes at church.[19] However, if the Holy Spirit serves as an exception to authority-submission relationships, then this is not an absolute distinction and the door is open for other possibilities. In sum, the Holy Spirit’s authority over the Son when he should be always submissive to the Son (lest he cease to be the Holy Spirit) derails their entire, mostly binary project.

Next time we will look more closely into potential entailments of Grudem and Ware's views. I say "potential" because on the whole their view appears incoherent. The point is that if it is not incoherent and thus should not be dismissed outright, depending on the direction they take we are left with some disturbing options. Do we end up with a partative God (the Holy Spirit is part of God, the Son another part...etc not the Holy Spirit is wholly God...etc) which threatens divine simplicity? Do we have a form of tritheism (one divinity composed of 3 distinct gods or individuals each with separate domains) or Arianism (Jesus is not truly "God" in the way we understand God, he is a lesser god with a different essence) entailed?



[1] Thomas H. McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI.,: Eerdmans, 2010), 175-188.

[2] Ibid., 95-97, 180, 201-202.

[3] Ibid., 181.

[4] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 251.

[5]McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?,188.

[6] Ware, One God in Three Persons, 241.

[7] In the backdrop is the problem of having two essences: a divine and a personal one. Does this entail heterodoxy? However, McCall and Ware are still assuming one essence is being discussed.

[8] McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?,180, 182.

[9] Ware, One God in Three Persons, 243.

[10] Ware does something similar in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 79. When describing the authority-submission relationship between the Father and Son he recognizes he cannot (or rather should not) be describing essence or nature so he simply asserts, “Since this priority cannot rightly be understood in terms of essence or nature (lest one fall into Arian subordinationism), it must be understood in terms of relationship.” Rather than get upset over other theologians, philosophers and historians saying his view entails Arianism, it behoves Ware to actually demonstrate why his view does not end up describing a difference in essence and with it Arianism rather than offering complaints. 

[11] Ware, One God in Three Persons., 243-244.

[12] Ibid., 246-247.

[13] Ibid., 246.

[14] McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?,179-180.

[15] Although there is not enough evidence compiled in her short book on the destabilizing impact of the Holy Spirit on theology, Sarah Coakley’s at least provides a starting point for further research into this tendency. Cf. God, Sexuality and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

[16] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 249-250.

[17] Ware, One God in Three Persons, 237-238.

[18] Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 128.

[19] Ibid., 129-130.


The Trinity in Our Image? Reconsidering an Evangelical Social Agenda for the Trinity Pt.1

Inspired by Oliver's class on the Trinity where he put up the Trinity from the Matrix as his course picture on Moodle.

Inspired by Oliver's class on the Trinity where he put up the Trinity from the Matrix as his course picture on Moodle.

Using the Trinity to promote a social agenda is nothing new and often it seems there are more than enough ideologies to go around. If only we could all see the connection and enact whatever implication being promoted, then our society, government, church or family would be better off. It is not unusual to hear of appeals to the Father and Son relationship as a template for homosexual relationships[1] nor is it unexpected to hear the doctrine of the Trinity is being used to promote a particular type of egalitarian society within the church or at large, as is the case with Jürgen Moltmann.[2] In commenting on this broader tendency to use the Trinity to promote a social agenda Keith Johnson satirically remarks:

But why not argue that the threeness of God constitutes the blueprint for governmental structures with three “equal” yet “distinct” branches of authority: an executive branch (corresponding to the Father), a legislative branch (corresponding to the Word) and a judicial branch (corresponding to the Spirit, who is described in John’s Gospel as “Counselor”)? On this basis we could claim that the American government is an image of the Trinity![3]

It is not difficult to see why one might make a connection between the Trinity and whatever social program is in vogue or happens to align with an individual or group’s existing sentiments. Doing so not only provides another layer of authority for a social agenda otherwise lacking, it can on a less sinister level simply serve to make the Trinity relevant for one’s everyday life—the sentiment behind Karl Rahner’s project.[4] Not surprisingly, some evangelicals are rightly suspicious of groups that perceive a connection between the Trinity and another agenda they are passionate about.  For example, Michael Bird and Robert Shillaker, both subordinationists in regards to the Trinity, helpfully share their concerns regarding the often-perceived link between subordination in the Trinity and gender:

We are suspicious of the fact that, generally speaking, most complementarians are functional subordinationists while, generally speaking, most egalitarians are in favor of co-equality in function…This partisan perspective leads us to infer that prior theological commitments on both sides have influenced the debate and discussion is not really about trying to describe the ineffable mystery of inter-personal relations within the Trinity as much as it is about trying to advance or obstruct a certain view of women.[5]

These sorts of tendencies to make improper connections between the Trinity and other aspects of life we wish to change should be firmly resisted. If not, at the very least such a link should inspire reservation if a precise link cannot be clearly demonstrated from Scripture or if it entails a rejection of the historic faith.

For years there has been a debate within evangelical circles concerning the nature of the Son’s obedience to the Father.[6] One perspective claims the Son’s submission to the Father is to be understood in terms of his incarnation, a role he enacts as a representative of humanity in the economic Trinity. The other position alleges the submission of the Son characterizes the Son as the Son in the immanent Trinity, meaning the Son is eternally subordinate—though merely in a functional manner. What is relatively new in this longer debate is that a movement comprised of gender “complementarians” has commandeered the latter of these positions in order to promote their own social agenda, in turn attracting responses from evangelical egalitarians.[7] As a result, it has become difficult to separate the initial discussion from various gender biases and yet such a connection is now prevalent and cannot be ignored. For this reason a multifaceted approach to the issue is needed, one that still focuses on the initial question concerning the nature of the submission of the Son, but also considers the new landscape of the discussion without reducing one position to the other.

Through several blog series adapted from a class paper it will be argued that although many evangelicals utilize the idea of an eternal functional hierarchy within the Trinity to legitimate a similar role-relationship between men and women, such a position entails an improper understanding of the Trinity. In this case, an improper understanding of the Trinity is conceived of as one that is wrongly construed to include gender, is incoherent, or at worst one that entails a heterodox understanding of the Trinity. Since it is the very connection being made between the Trinity and gender that will also be under consideration, I will be focusing primarily on the works of two main proponents of this connection: Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware. The goal of the above thesis will be accomplished by first reviewing their positions on the Trinity, briefly highlighting some areas where I believe Ware and Grudem do not give a basis for their view. Second, I will be arguing against the affirmation that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father based off of four main concerns: 1) at best, the position as expressed is incoherent, 2) at worst it entails a rejection of God as simple, 3) and a different essence between the members of the Trinity in the form of what amounts to the Son not being homoousion with the Father or a slip into tritheism with two essences: personal and divine. Lastly, I will consider intuitions giving rise to an embrace of the eternal subordination of the Son, which are a version of Rahner’s rule and their position on gender.

Eternal Functional Submission: A Summary with Considerations

How do evangelicals such as Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem articulate their understanding of the eternal functional submission of the Son to the Father? Ware refers to his view as, “eternal relational authority-submission” and offers the following description:

God reveals himself in Scripture as one God in three persons, such that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are fully equal in their deity as each possesses fully and eternally the one and undivided divine nature; yet the Father is revealed as having the highest authority among the Trinitarian persons, such that the Son, as agent of the Father, eternally implements the will of the Father and is under the Father’s authority, and the Holy Spirit likewise serves to advance the Father’s purposes fulfilled through the Son, under the authority of the Father and also of the Son.[8]

Ware is clear that he affirms basic Trinitarian orthodoxy. Each of the members of the Trinity shares only the one divine nature, meaning there is one God, not three. Further, this nature is undivided. He clarifies this further:

So we cannot say, for example, that the Father has the attribute of omnipotence, and that’s what distinguishes him from the Son and the Spirit. No, the Son and the Spirit each possesses fully the attribute of omnipotence by possessing fully the undivided nature.[9]

For Ware, if one of the Trinitarian persons did not fully have the attribute of omnipotence for example, then he would not fully possess the divine nature. Still, not only must there be one God, this God must exist in three distinct persons without compromising divine unity or personal difference within the Godhead. Historically, the church has understood this distinction in terms of a specific type of relation: differing origination or eternal generation.[10] Where Grudem and Ware differ from this understanding is that they choose what they perceive to be a different type of relation to establish the distinctions between the persons of the Trinity. When it comes to the Father and Son relationship, this amounts to “replacing eternal generation with obedience as the Son’s distinguishing personal property.”[11]

It is common for the different type of relationship characterized as a personal property to be articulated as a difference in “role” or function. It is crucial to note that role is not being used, to describe every day changeable jobs or functions, but rather something that is unchangeable and basic to personal identity. In the case of Grudem and Ware it is the distinguisher of the Son from the Father and women from men. Consider Grudem’s following explanation:  

Therefore the different functions that we see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit performing are simply out workings of an external relationship between the three persons, one that has always existed and will exist for eternity. God has always existed as three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These distinctions are essential to the very nature of God himself, and they could not be otherwise...This truth about the Trinity has sometimes been summarized in the phrase 'ontological equality but economic subordination,' where the word ontological means 'being.' Another way of expressing this more simply would be to say 'equal in being but subordinate in role.'...If we do not have ontological equality, not all the persons are fully God. But if we do not have economic subordination, then there is no inherent difference in the way the three persons relate to one another, and consequently we do not have the three distinct persons existing as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for all eternity[12].

For Grudem then, distinction is based exclusively in authority-submission relationships that are particular to each person of the Trinity. The Father could not be subordinate to the Son otherwise he would no longer be the Father and the Son could not be in authority over the Father, otherwise he would not be the Son. If this relationship were removed, then for Grudem there would be absolutely no inherent difference between the members of the Trinity and so there could be no Trinity.

Curiously, even though historically differences between the members of the Trinity have been based in differing origination, and not at least explicitly, in authority-submission relationships, Grudem and Ware strongly insist anyone who does not share their version of what distinguishes the members of the Trinity is deviating from orthodoxy. For example, under the lengthy heading “Arguments That Deviate from the Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity: Denying the Trinity by Denying Any Eternal Distinctions between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” Grudem singles out Kevin Giles as an example[13] because he denies the Father always has authority over the Son even though Giles bases trinitarian distinction in eternal generation.[14] For a reason unstated, Giles is strongly disqualified from believing in eternal distinctions within the Trinity even though he does—a small detail even noted by Robert Letham in his forward to The Eternal Generation of the Son.[15] They are clearly at an impasse and Giles’ frustration is evident:

The Nicene fathers insisted that differing origination was the one safe way to indelibly differentiate the Father and the Son (and the Holy Spirit) because this alone did not call into question divine oneness and equality or allow the subordination of the Son in the eternal life of God in any way. It is because the Son is eternally begotten of the Father that he is, as the Nicene Creed says, ‘God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,  … one in being with the Father.’  Differentiating the Father and the Son on the basis of differing authority, all the pro-Nicene fathers clearly saw, entailed the sub-ordering of the Son, the essence of the Arian error.[16]

It is indeed difficult to miss that differing origination is how the early fathers perceived distinction within the Trinity and that it served as their trump card against heresy (as evident in the Nicene creed).[17] Interestingly, Grudem and Ware see differing authority as what is actually being presented in the Nicene Creed through the sending language. Grudem asserts:

This is why the idea of eternal equality in being but subordination in role has been essential to the church's doctrine of the Trinity since it was first affirmed in the Nicene Creed, which said that the Son was 'begotten of the Father before all ages' and that the Holy Spirit 'proceeds from the Father and the Son.' Surprisingly, some recent evangelical writings have denied an eternal subordination in role among the members of the Trinity, but it has clearly been part of the church's doctrine of the Trinity (in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox expressions), at least since Nicaea (A.D. 325).[18]

Similarly, Ware claims Augustine is actually endorsing his view after citing The Trinity, IV.27:

Notice two observations from Augustine’s statement. First, Augustine sees no disparity between affirming, on the one hand, the full equality of the Son to the Father, and on the other hand, the Son’s eternal position as from the Father, with the responsibility of carrying out the will of the Father. The claim of some egalitarians[19] that the functional subordination of the Son would entail his essential inferiority to the Father is here denied by Augustine. Second, notice that Augustine denies the egalitarian claim that all subordination of the Son to the Father rests fully in the Son’s incarnate state. To the contrary, Augustine affirms that ‘the Son is not just said to have been sent because the Word became flesh, but that he was sent in order for the Word to become flesh.” In other words, the sending of the Son occurred in eternity past in order that the eternal Word, sent from on high from the Father, might make take on human flesh and then continue his role of carrying out the will of his Father.[20]

By appealing to the creeds and fathers as though they proclaimed their view of authority relations, Grudem and Ware give the appearance of having their specific position being the orthodox position. Oddly, nowhere in the creed nor in Augustine is the explicit connection made by them for us that the sending or originating relationship is an authoritative relationship based in the nature of the Trinity. This is an interpretation Grudem and Ware arrive at on their own, an additional step other theologians or scholars may not necessarily be willing to take.

Stranger is that the actual position of the early church—differing origination— the language of which Grudem and Ware appeal to—is not held by either of them.[21] Perhaps even though they are saying the creeds are expressing their view they mean to say that their view is entailed by the creed or Augustine’s appeal to differing origination? Or, are they merely ignoring the whole early understanding of origination and are instead entirely assuming the sending language only means the Father’s authority or priority is being demonstrated? At the very least it would seem they believe only their position is the truly orthodox position regarding distinction among members of the Trinity, but on what concrete basis? In sum, they are lacking clear reasoning on why “sending” has to only mean differing authority relations, and the novelty of their view demands better argumentation.

In the next post I will consider some of the more serious problems with Grudem and Ware's understanding of the Trinity. I will be arguing that although they intend to uphold an orthodox view of the Trinity, their view is at best incoherent and at worst entails a heterodox position. Note that this is different from saying that they are heretics. Someone can hold to a view that entails more than what they actually hold. Still, if a view entails heresy, give it up immediately!


[1] Cf: Eugene F. Rogers, Sexuality and the Christian Body: Their Way into the Triune God (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 201-203 and David McCarthy Matzko, “Homosexuality and the Practices of Marriage,” Modern Theology 13:3 (1997) 394-395.

[2] Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 197-202.

[3] Keith E. Johnson, Rethinking the Trinity & Religious Pluralism: An Augustinian Assessment (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity, 2011), 201.

[4] Kark Rahner, The Trinity (NY.: Crossroad, 1967), 10-15.

[5] Michael Bird and Robert Shillaker, “Subordination in the Trinity and Gender Roles: A Response to Recent Discussion,” in The New Evangelical Subordinationism? Perspectives on the Equality of God the Father and God the Son eds., Dennis W. Jowers and H. Wayne House, (Eugene, OR.: Wipf and Stock, 2012), 305.

[6] Documented in: M. J. Erickson, Who’s Tampering with the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate (Grand Rapids, MI.: Kregel, 2009).

[7] Initially it was George Knight III who first introduced the link between gender hierarchy and the Trinity in his book New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Woman (Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker, 1977), 33, 55-56. He argued that since the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father and yet still equal in essence, women can also be said to be equal in being yet functionally subordinate. A similar argument is frequently made by various complementarians (to be discussed in this paper). Although evangelical egalitarians are also known for responding to complementarian arguments, they are not on the whole basing their gender theology in the Trinity. They are not saying

that because the members of the Trinity are functionally and ontologically equal, women are too. It is not a position found in Christians for Biblical Equality’s statement, nor does it appear in the book Discovering Biblical Equality except though there is a response to complementarians using the Trinity towards the back of the book by Kevin Giles.


[8] Bruce A. Ware “Does Affirming an Eternal Authority-Submission Relationship in the Trinity Entail a Denial of Homoousios? A Response to Millard Erickson and Tom McCall” in One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life eds., Bruce A. Ware and John Starke (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway, 2015), 237-238.

[9] Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles and Relevance (Wheaton IL.: Crossway, 2005), 45.

[10] Kevin Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology (Downers Grove, IL.: IVP, 2012).

[11] Swain and Allen, “The Obedience of Eternal Son,” in Christology Ancient and Modern eds., Oliver Crisp and Fred Sanders (Grand Rapids, MI.: 2013), 75.

[12] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1994), 251.

[13] This is an especially deceptive characterization because Kevin Giles has a whole book dedicated to defending “the doctrine of the eternal begetting or generation of the Son, so central to the doctrine of the Trinity.” He continues, “indeed, this is what the entire book is about...This doctrine sheds light on how the One God is self-differentiated for all eternity.” Kevin Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity, 2012), 17.

[14] Wayne Grudem, “Doctrinal Deviations in Evangelical-Feminists Arguments about the Trinity,” in One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life eds., Bruce A. Ware and John Starke (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway, 2015), 18-19.

[15] Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son, 9-10.

[16] Kevin Giles, An extended review of One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life eds., Bruce Ware and John Starke, Pending Publication, 18.

[17] Even Wayne Grudem is at least aware that the early church had eternal generation in mind in the specific context of eternal relations and the creed. Cf: Systematic Theology, 246-245, 1233-1234. Ware also shows some knowledge that the early church thought of difference in terms of being begotten. One God in Three Persons, 241.

[18] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 251-252.

[19] A reference to “egalitarians” is yet another reminder that Ware constantly has his mind set on gender as he discusses the Trinity, revealing a bias guiding his theology.

[20] Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 80-81.

[21] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1233-34; Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 162 n. 3.

The Incorruptible God: Corruption, Mortality and the Triumph of Paul's Eschatology

Only in Paul's epistles do we have the Greek word ἀφθαρσία (aftharsia). Many believe it refers to 'immortality' and has been translated as such in numerous Bible translations. However, there is reason to expand the semantic range of this word to include concepts of "imperishability" or "incorruptibility." I will walk through several of Paul's epistles, and we will see that this word has an eschatological flavor—not because of the word itself per se, but because of how Paul uses the word.

I will translate the following Pauline texts, with some commentary on why I chose to render certain terms in the way I do, and then I will explain the significance of the word in Paul's narrative. Finally, I will attempt a synthesis on why this word is important and what it means for Christians today.

Also, Merry Christmas.

Rom 2:7 τοῖς μὲν καθ᾽ ὑπομονὴν ἔργου ἀγαθοῦ δόξαν καὶ τιμὴν καὶ ἀφθαρσίαν ζητοῦσιν ζωὴν αἰώνιον·

"And those who persevere by good work, seeking glory and honor and incorruptibility, will gain life eternal"

The noun ὑπομονὴν refers to 'perseverance,' especially within certain Pauline contexts. For instance, 2 Thessalonians 1:4 refers to those enduring διωγμοῖς ("persecution") and θλίψεσιν ("oppression"). Paul elsewhere tells the church to "pursue" (δίωκε) good things in 1 Timothy 6:11—among these attributes is ὑπομονήν. The conjunction καὶ linking δόξαν καὶ τιμὴν καὶ ἀφθαρσίαν suggests these attributes are a unit, or at least are meant to be taken as a single concept. Glory and honor are comparable to incorruptibility, and if one seeks after these things, there is "life eternal."

Immortality, while a likely facet of incorruptibility, is too narrow here. Rather, glory and honor suggest a kind of virtue that lacks corruptibility, especially of the human (Gentile) person not identified by the sins of Romans 1:18-32. 

1Cor 15:42 Οὕτως καὶ ἡ ἀνάστασις τῶν νεκρῶν. σπείρεται ἐν φθορᾷ, ἐγείρεται ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ·

"In this same way also the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption."

Most of the uses of our noun in question occur in the discourse of 1 Corinthians 15.

The verbal linkage is fairly obvious with the contrast: both verbs (singular third person middle) refer to an object via the preposition ἐν ("in," "by," "among"). The contrast is highlighted by the comparative noun φθορᾷ, which in other contexts refers to slavery (Romans 8:21) and general depravity and destructive tendencies (Colossians 2:22). Paul seems to imply that the human person—the body—is born into a world of depravity and subjection by foreign powers (Death and Sin being two sides of that coin: c.f. 15:26), and instead of the person in Christ being raised again into corruption and death, she is raised instead to incorruptibility. Mortality, driven by the kingship of Death, is what is sown naturally according to the known rules of the world.

However, for Paul, to be raised by Christ is to participate in his incorruptible body: where glory and honor and an inability to be subjected to Death's reign.

We will see a further Pauline contrast in 15:50 and 53.

1Cor 15:50, 53, 54 Τοῦτο δέ φημι, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα βασιλείαν θεοῦ κληρονομῆσαι οὐ δύναται, οὐδὲ ἡ φθορὰ τὴν ἀφθαρσίαν κληρονομεῖ…δεῖ γὰρ τὸ φθαρτὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσασθαι ἀφθαρσίαν καὶ τὸ θνητὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσασθαι ἀθανασίαν. ὅταν δὲ τὸ φθαρτὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσηται ἀφθαρσίαν καὶ τὸ ⸃ θνητὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσηται ἀθανασίαν, τότε γενήσεται ὁ λόγος ὁ γεγραμμένος· Κατεπόθη ὁ θάνατος εἰς νῖκος.

"But this I say, my brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood is unable to inherit the Kingdom of God, not can corruption inherit incorruption…for it is necessary for this corruption to put on incorruptibility and this Mortal to put on immortality, but whenever this corruption should have put on incorruptibility, and this Mortal should have put on incorruptibility, then this word that has been written will come to pass: Death has been devoured in victory."

Whole monographs could be written on this particular section, and I believe it is a concretized exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:26, where Death is utterly annihilated. However, some exposition is needed. The contrastive nature of φθορά and ἀφθαρσία confirms Paul's distinction between a present reality (φθορά) guided by the dictatorship of Death, and Paul's hope in ἀφθαρσία, where Death cannot exercise rule over any Mortal.

Paul uses similar words that are complementary, but they are not synonymous. He uses ἀθανασίαν which does refer to immortality (literally 'not dying'), which displays an affinity with his chosen vocabulary. The corruptible Mortal must be clothed in both incorruptibility and immortality, in order that both concepts may abolish Death. One can be immortal, and still sin, at least in theory. However, to be incorruptible suggests that the future eschatological age is a place where all of those in Christ are in a state of 'not dying' and also in a state of being unable to be corrupted by Sin and Death.

No longer does Death reign, nor will Death have any presence in God's Kingdom. Rather, the mortal person, she is enveloped by Christ in the power of the Spirit, where Death has no sting.

Eph 6:24 ἡ χάρις μετὰ πάντων τῶν ἀγαπώντων τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ.

"Favor be with all of the one's who are loving our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruptibility."

Paul ends his exhortation to the church with battle imagery earlier in chapter 6. Paul, here, is capitalizing on said imagery and exhorting the believers to remain incorruptible. Instead of referring in a blanket sense to immortality, Paul desires that they live a life "loving" God and the Messiah. This is characterized by εἰρήνη ("peace") in 6:23, and suggests that warfare, spiritual or literal, should not characterize the believer's identity: for these things corrupt, but faithfulness to God is incorruptible.

2Ti 1:10 φανερωθεῖσαν δὲ νῦν διὰ τῆς ἐπιφανείας τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ⸃, καταργήσαντος μὲν τὸν θάνατον φωτίσαντος δὲ ζωὴν καὶ ἀφθαρσίαν διὰ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου,

"And made manifest now through the appearance of our Savior Jesus Christ, the one indeed annihilating Death, and having illuminated life and incorruptibility through the Gospel."

The theophany of the Messiah signals something interesting. Life and incorruptibility are connected (same case ending) and suggest, in already similar fashion, that Paul is playing these terms together in a complementary way. To have the life of Christ is to have incorruptibility. Death being utterly annihilated, removed from the cosmos, suggests that now life and incorruptibility may reign. Only once Death has been destroyed can these two things thrive. This suggests a coordinate meaning with 1 Corinthians 15, where Death/Mortality/Corruption are first destroyed, so that Life/Immortality/Incorruptibly may reign supreme in the Kingdom of God and Christ.

Tit 2:7 περὶ πάντα σεαυτὸν παρεχόμενος τύπον καλῶν ἔργων, ἐν τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ ἀφθορίαν, σεμνότητα,

"In all things making yourself a model of good works by teaching, incorruptibility, dignity."

In a short word, this pericope is concerned with how one lives as a minority within a world of oppression. By living in a manner worthy of the name of Christ, one must live by these three nouns (though one is not limited by them). I translate the preposition ἐν as "by" because I think the active agency on the part of the recipients of Titus are enjoined to live a certain way: hence, make yourself a model "by" doing these three things.

Immortality, unlike elsewhere, is not in view in most of Paul's uses of ἀφθαρσία. Rather, the noun in question refers to the conduct and character of one's witness to the world: not being guided by corruption or falsity, but rather through the incorruptibility of Christ.

In short, the term ἀφθαρσία, while it may denote a concept of immortality, is far more concerned with the character of how one lives, and what one inherits. Incorruptibility refers to something given by God eschatologically, it must be sought after (Romans 2:7), and Death and depravity are the chief opponents to this ἀφθαρσία. Death, with its reign of decay and slavery, cannot co-exist with ἀφθαρσία. Only one may win, and one might say, one already has.

Thus, ἀφθαρσία has an ethical component that cannot be ignored or dismissed. Eschatology, at least in Pauline perspective, is about ethics and the life of hope lived for future anticipation.

Merry Christmas again.


What Christmas is all about: Paul, ἀπολύτρωσις and the Grinch

I was baking dark chocolate chip peanut butter cookies (sprinkled with sea salt) and had a thought. Well. I had many thoughts, but the one I wanted to write down and share was this:

What did Paul say about Christmas?

Obviously, this is rather dumb, but roll with me for another paragraph or two.

Paul has been called many things throughout Church history. Thomas Jefferson believed he "corrupted" the doctrines of Jesus. In short, many think Jesus is Cindy Lou Who and Paul is the Grinch, except Paul's heart never grew.

Paul obviously did not have a doctrine of Christmas, nor would he likely be down with American Christmas—not that there is anything wrong with that. Rather, I'm curious about how Paul approached something similar to how we celebrate Christmas. In celebrating the birth of the Messiah of Israel, I harken back to two Pauline texts:

Ephesians 4:30: καὶ μὴ λυπεῖτε τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον τοῦ θεοῦ, ἐν ᾧ ἐσφραγίσθητε εἰς ἡμέραν ἀπολυτρώσεως—"and do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you have been sealed for the Day of Liberation."                                                                                 

Galatians 4:4: ὅτε δὲ ἦλθεν τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου, ἐξαπέστειλεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ, γενόμενον ἐκ γυναικός, γενόμενον ὑπὸ νόμον—"but when the fullness of time came, God sent his son, born from a woman, born under the law."

Monographs have been written exploring these two texts, but taken together on the eve of Christmas Eve, they convey a powerful Pauline truth: the day of Liberation (ἀπολύτρωσις), the Day of being set free from Sin and Death has been inaugurated. These powers have been capsized. The birth of Christ codifies the hope of liberation, and Christmas is one small part of that. That is worth remembering.

Paul, far from being a Grinch during the holiday season, gives us cause to rejoice, to laugh, and to consider our own status as being "bought back" from the Powers of Sin and Death. This makes sense of Galatians 4:5 where the aorist verb ἐξαγοράσῃ is used to speak about us being bought back from the law and from being enslaved. Everything, for Paul, was about liberation.

Plus, Paul was totally down with wine. How could he be a Grinch after that?

Christmas, then, is liberation from the sins of the world. This is actualized in the birth of the Messiah, and our hope of resurrection.

So. Yeah, this was kinda silly, but I was thinking a lot about it, and I suspect Paul has a lot more to say about Christmas than I can offer in this blog post.

Blessings and Merry Christmas!


Why Romans 7:7-25 is not about You: Paul, Adam, and "Speech-in-Character"

When I was doing a bunch of exegetical work in Romans, I came across Ben Witherington's commentary and read his comments concerning the perplexing language Paul uses in chapter 7. I had always been bothered by the language of 7:7-25 because it seemed quite unPauline and I saw it adopted by pastors in order to experience what a famous scholar said "the introspective conscience of the West" (Stendhal). Instead of Romans 7 being about this modern introspection, Paul was doing something completely different. Believing I had discovered something new (always a bad thing to assume in the work of New Testament scholarship, but hey), I ran to my wife and explained it to her.

A minute later, she nodded and said something to the effect of, "yeah, when I was in undergrad I randomly read a book on ancient rhetoric and Romans 7 fit that. Yup. Its Adam."

So, in order to briefly argue my point, I am going to offer several reasons why I think Paul is using prosopopoeia ("speech-in-character") in Romans 7:14-25. This post is not exhaustive, of course, but it seems to be the best option out of many. Others have proposed Israel as the voice, humanity as a whole, Jews as a whole, Gentiles as a whole, and other Christians who struggle with sin. I suspect it is none of these.

Stanley Stowers (Toward a Rereading of Romans, 16-21 specifically) explains προσωποποιία as "a rhetorical literary technique in which the speaker or writer produces speech that represents not himself or herself but another person or type of character" (pp.16-17). Stowers argues that Romans 2:1-5, 3:1-9, 3:31-4:2 and 7:7-8:2 are best read as προσωποποιία. He also notes that προσωποποιία is often in the first person singular (p.20).

Witherington (hereafter BW3: Paul's Letter to the Romans, 180) states ""Since the important work of W.G. Kümmel on Romans 7, it has become a common, perhaps even majority, opinion in some NT circles that the 'I' of Romans 7 is autobiographical." Given how Paul speaks about the law in Galatians 2:11-14 and Philippians 3:1-11, it seems safe to say he did (or more accurately, "does") not have a major problem with the Jewish law. BW3 rightly then says that this does not tell us "who" the voice of Romans 7 is.

Instead of autobiography, BW3 offers us Adam in Romans 7.

Regarding typology and sequence, one needs to offer some sort of lens or person in which they can speak. The last person Paul has talked about is Adam in Romans 5:12-21—this of course assumes that Paul is not speaking of the inner turmoil of Jesus in Romans 7! For instance, Jesus had the Law—Adam did not. Adam was "separate" (χωρὶς) from the Law (singular: νόμου) in 7:9. However, Adam did have a singular commandment, and it was not the Mosaic Law.

Adam did not know about lust or sin before the Fall (7:7), and because of the primordial couple's sin, Sin came to life (ἀνέζησεν: 7:9)

Second, Sin is personified here as it was in 5:12-21. For instance, ἡ ἁμαρτία ("Sin") is active in "accomplishing" something in Adam (κατειργάσατο) in 7:8 and this Sin kills in 7:11 (ἀπέκτεινεν). It is unlikely that this could be referring to Israel or to Paul or even to the believers, but it makes sense under an Adamic paradigm. The reason why it most probably does not refer to the believer is the comment in 8:1: Οὐδὲν ἄρα νῦν κατάκριμα τοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ("Now then there is no condemnation to the ones in Christ Jesus").

If one adopts the Adamic reading as opposed to the other readings (which are legion), then one may find themselves identifying with Adam. The purpose of προσωποποιία is for the audience to find themselves in a specific line of dialogue or monologue, to understand the deep contrast between life and death that characterizes Adam and Christ.

7:24: τίς με ῥύσεται ἐκ τοῦ σώματος τοῦ θανάτου τούτου ("Who shall rescue me from this body of Death?") Adam's introduction of Death gave birth to the human condition of Sin. We are born into sin, although whether or not we are guilty of Adam's sin is a concept not apparent in Romans 5-7.

Paul is not speaking about the person's inability to follow the Law, or about your sin, or my sin, or your mother's sin, or anything like that. He is using Adam as a rhetorical device to assert that a former state is now undone. Because one is in Christ, condemnation is now a relic. Having been rescued from the Adamic state of Death and Sin and utter destruction, we now have life in Christ and in the Spirit (c.f. Romans 8:1-11). Adam is the contrast to the new life that we have in Christ.

Christ is bigger than Adam, and Paul's use of προσωποποιία showcases his remarkable rhetoric and his incisive analysis of the ones apart from Christ, destined for death and slavery, and the ἐλευθερόω ("liberation") by Christ from the law of sin and Death (Romans 8:2). Instead of those formerly in Adam being condemned, Sin itself is condemned (κατέκρινε: 8:3) as we walk now in the "Spirit" (πνεῦμα).

Read Romans 7:7-25 with Adamic eyes and see for yourself. There are other options, but given the context and nature of ancient rhetoric, Adam seems to be the best exemplar of Paul's language.

More could be said, but check out BW3 commentary or his long blog post based on a paper he gave in 2013 which covers this ground is more detail. He has me convinced!


People of Hope Are People of Peace: 1 Timothy 2 Speaks to The Current Political Climate?

"But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." --1 Timothy 1:5

It is unsurprising, or at least it shouldn't, to hear from the lips of peers, acquaintances, family or friends that YOU--whoever you are--are a litany of evil things you may or may have never done or even thought. Why? You may have had the misfortune of being one of most Americans who committed the great sin of voting for the wrong Hitler. "Hitler" being relative to your opponent's political persuasion. Or maybe you didn't say something precisely the way you were "supposed" to say it or accidentally said something that is really code for something else by a certain narrow ideological narrative you are not privy to or merely refuse to buy into. Worse yet, dare I say it, you DISAGREED with them.  Thus, you must be called out, emotionally blackmailed into an apology, put in your place with a barrage of insults, threatened, silenced or otherwise shut out and shut down. Being found dissimilar to your moral superiors, you are no longer deserving of basic human respect or treatment. This has become the atmosphere of a highly polarized United States.

The ambiguity concerning ideological persuasion is intentional as a rabid need to stifle free inquiry and have to answer for one's own views or treat others with respect has taken on a life of its own in both of the major parties. There are other people of all stripes who want to feel moral by shaming others into submission. Worse yet if you have engaged in this behavior yourself.

Unfortunately, you can't reason or attempt constructive dialogue with those that act as described above. They don't want to hear anything that challenges their paradigm. They simply know you are evil and must repent. It is a mistake after several attempts to have respectful dialogue to then spend hours trying to defend yourself. Do not give into their demands to turn or burn or even apologize, except when you are responsible (you are not responsible if they are offended, you are responsible if you were a jerk, unkind or legitimately miscocmunicated...etc).

In the end, you are responsible for yourself. You must take care not to get swept up into the tide of name calling, taking constant offense, being dismissive or overall: treating others the opposite of how you would like to be treated. As you strive for justice, respect and equity for all people, treat others justly with equity and respect

1 Timothy has often been used narrowly to silence women in churches. Ironically, this is the opposite of its message. Rather, it is about how believers should live in an atmosphere of partisan quarreling, retributive anger, and the self-aggrandizing, and self-appointment of ignorant teachers who reject a life characterized by peace and reject the God who desires all people to be saved (2:3-4).

In contrast, we must be people characterized by hope. Our only hope is in Christ Jesus (1:1) and his new life described in the end goal of 1 Timothy's teaching: "But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1:5, C.f. 1 Cor 13:4-7). This is the goal of the Christian life and is also well summarized in 1 Timothy as leading a"tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity" (2:2). The Human One, who is the representative for all humanity (Anthropos ἄνθρωπος in both instances), offered himself for the liberation of all. We to are asked to do the same. This reference in 2:6 takes us back to an instance in Mark 10:35-45 where James and John want to be the ones in authority positions at Jesus' right hand, but are told rather not to be like those who want to be great exercising authority over others, but to seek a lowly position like a servant or slave.

This is manifested in concrete ways in 1 Timothy 2 where men are told not to be wrathful or participate in dissension but to lift their hands in prayer as the church has been told. We are told to be people of prayer. Why? Because God loves us all and if we are his, we will also. We will want the good of everyone and for this reason will pray for others, even our leaders. Women are told to clothe themselves with good works rather than costly garments aka status symbols. They are also told not to be those who assume authority and teaching over others (like the false teachers were doing in chapter 1), but to be characterized by the same quietness and submission described earlier (Titus 3 has a summarized version of this same message including being subject to all people and those in authority). We are not to be setting ourselves as moral authorities over things we are ignorant on and we are not to try and pull rank on other people.

What does this also mean? When others are cruel and ignorant to you, don't return the favor. Pray for them. Love them. Tell the truth but in loving kindness and genuine care for who they are. Realize you yourself do not know everything and assume they may have something valuable to contribute--let them prove you wrong on that (a guard against your own pride). Be a patient person that seeks a quiet life of peace and tries to give preference to others (submission). The similar passage Titus 3:3 compels us to remember: "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another."

None of us are immune to pride and the will to power (absolute power corrupts absolutely). However, for Jesus, what others find to be of supreme importance are actually of little importance. It is the 2nd who will inherent his kingdom of justice and peace.




The Failure of the Evangelical Imagination: A Brief Rant on Hell, Method and History

Well, my quarter is nearly over. In my directed study with Tommy, Chad and Banning, we spent a lot of time reading Second Temple Jewish literature, especially 1 Enoch and various articles on "eternal punishment" in Jewish belief.

It was this week that I had a thought that wouldn't leave me alone.

It came when I was reading 1 Enoch, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other Jewish texts around the time of Paul. In reading material about the death or destruction of the wicked (particularly in the Dead Sea Scrolls), I lingered on the idea that modern Christian doctrinal formation needs to take these texts into account when conceptualizing our doctrine of hell. I'm not alone in having this thought of course, but it came to full fruition when I read the second edition of the 4 Views on Hell book edited by Preston Sprinkle.

I want to start with some positives before I get into the meat of my criticism. As the editor, Sprinkle exhibited his common attitude of grace and charity toward all three views represented. Yes, only three views are represented, as Jerry Walls and Denny Burk are warring siblings within the family of eternal conscious torment. Second, the essays are generally well written in terms of presentation and engaging (which is both positive and negative).

Thus, my criticism of the volume is not directed at Sprinkle, but to the methodological lack of imagination displayed by the contributors in their avoidance of Second Temple Jewish texts. This is not a full-scale critique of the book, but I am using the book as a springboard for a larger criticism.

That criticism is this: evangelicals, in forming doctrine, often detach the text of Scripture from the history in which it was written. This is evident, as all four contributors do not speak at all of the surrounding history that inhabits their alleged views in the New Testament. Not even a footnote.

This leads to the title of my post. For instance, Denny Burk's argumentation simply treads a well-worn path set by others before him (c.f. his adoption of Robert Peterson's "Big Ten" on p.21 n.8). At this stage, if these three (four?) are the only evangelical options, one is left wondering how history fits into our doctrine, and if there exists a latent Supersessionism regarding how we read these Jewish texts—insofar as we are permitted to ignore history and simply strip-mine a few texts to create a wall of "distinct identity." One does not need a multitude of texts in order for a doctrine to be true: that is not my point.

But the point is that there is a reductionistic hermeneutic at play in our modern discourse on hell, one that prefers certain obscure verses in the Apocalypse to the broader language of destruction in Paul, Matthew, Mark, Peter, 2 Peter and elsewhere. Why are the two texts in Revelation given more prominence?

How has evangelicalism, however broadly defined, reduced the complex narratives of Scripture down to propositional slogans? How is this acceptable?

I am not arguing that the Wisdom of Solomon or Sibylline Oracles are inerrant and equally as authoritative as Romans or John or Hebrews or Genesis or First/Second/Third Isaiah.

What I am arguing is that evangelical academics, when arguing for their position in the so-called public square, need to use these Second Temple texts, no matter which view they are espousing. To restrict one's arguments exclusively to the New Testament, or in Burk's case ten isolated texts, is to ignore the breadth of history that got us these texts in the first place.

Third-Isaiah did not write in a vacuum, and neither did Mark or Paul when they quoted Third-Isaiah (c.f. Mark 9:43-49—Third-Isaiah 66:24; 2 Thess. 1:9: Third-Isaiah 66:15-16).

Understanding the times and rumors and events surrounding the New Testament is to enhance one's knowledge of history, and may help avoid the absolute reductionistic approach we find in many of our churches and denominations.

Jewish apocalyptic history is not a footnote to the Bible.


Trusting in Divine Providence While Experiencing Evil Part2

“There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

--Corrie ten Boom

Adapted from Deliberation by Mario Sanchez Nevado

Adapted from Deliberation by Mario Sanchez Nevado

In Chapter 4 of C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength a room is described that on the surface seems normal but if one considers it carefully it is discovered that it is not just ill-proportioned but has several distorted if not disturbing details. Growing up was like living in a small distorted room--the distortion is internalized and thought to be reality. And yet, I had more than that distorted reality. The Bible and reality of God enters our reality and places it in a new context.

I was at the mercy of an ill individual who was most likely consumed by narcissism. They were a family member who also had many interactions with me at school. They were physically, mentally and emotionally abusive and would get violent and sometimes sadistic when they felt their authority was being questioned. Some of the more disturbing images I have in my mind are things done to other children I knew. Thankfully, nothing sexual happened to me--I only mention this because some people get more twisted ideas than I have in mind. In my middle school years, I was yelled at almost every day and lived in constant fear. To make matters worse I was also bullied by the kids becoming one of two kids who had cooties to such a degree that no one would even stand on the same crack in the ground as me. Unlike most childhood games, this lasted years and was concentrated towards me and another boy on the autism spectrum. As a result, I spent every moment at school on high alert and completely isolated when someone was not trying to hurt me physically or emotionally.

Not surprisingly, I did not do well in school. I seldom paid attention and preferred to read a book, study Egyptology or try and learn hieroglyphics. Really, I engaged in anything that I was interested in and that allowed myself to completely drown out everything around me so that I could escape my constant fear if only for a moment. I would focus so much that I would not hear anything else around me even if a teacher was yelling at me to pay attention. If I had anything taken away or was told to pay attention I would retreat into a world of superheroes I created in my mind and go on adventures. I only did homework when my mom forced me to and would constantly appeal to my "disability" when I would somehow "lose" it. My abuser had decided I was not doing well in school because I was disabled and convinced my parents and teachers to have me tested. In the end, my parents took me to a school that did preliminary testing, but only on the condition that my parents consider putting me in their special ed program. Not surprisingly, I was said to be probably disabled though apparently, the exact preliminary disability didn't match since I could put a story that was told to me back in order and several other key details. My ability to learn hieroglyphics? I was such a "pictorial" person that I could memorize pictures and somehow retain information that way. The hieroglyphs represented sounds, not pictures. Everything I did was explained through the lens of my disability. My test scores were all over the map. I used to fill them in randomly when I had a headache and didn't want to do it anymore. I didn't know any of my diagnosis was fake. I was just told that I was tested and found to be disabled and this was why I couldn't learn like "normal" people.

Since then, I always wanted to be a "normal" person. Not the smartest or most talented, but minimally competant.

For much of my life I had constant headaches every day that also made it difficult to concentrate when I wanted to. I've actually had them since about 3 years ago now. Later I found out it was probably connected to whiplash injuries from a possible accident. When I got chiropractic help as an adult my fatigue and tension headaches went away.

The abusive person would also drive me angrily to remote locations and pretend to leave me there when I would challenge their authority (who knows how much since I was withdrawn and scared). Possibly when I would stand up for other children. For a very long time and even still a little bit I was terrified of people leaving me or being lost. For a while, it crippled my ability to drive anywhere new by myself. My family thought it was because I had bad direction sense rather than severe PTSD and would make fun of me for it.

Not surprisingly, I was miserable almost every day when I was younger and wanted to die constantly. I believed no one loved me--except maybe my dad and cat--that I was abnormal, unlikeable and stupid. I truly believed no one would miss me and just wanted the constant pain to go away. Far worse than the constant dread was the isolation and feeling like I was under a constant microscope. As a result, I would dress exactly the same every day. Any change was scary because I did not know if I would get picked on for it. I also developed many internal coping strategies to get through the day where I could numb myself and feel nothing for long stretched until I was somewhere safe. I was extremely compartmentalized. After a while, I resisted any physical contact from adults and would shudder and hide if they wanted to give me a hug. I was usually forced to so I would disconnect and go through the motions so it would be over soon.

However, in my isolation, I was not alone.

I already had a relationship with God (see part 1) and thankfully, church itself was a refuge. No one tried to hurt me there and I loved learning more about God. I was always encouraged to ask questions and follow my curiosity or be part of adult conversations whether they were with men or women. I still believed myself to be disabled and even thought the way I thought was disordered, but I was just so curious! I would even ask God questions sometimes and get answers. I wanted to know why he loved us--I was in the habit of asking many why questions--and got a "because" of who he was. All love came back to him.

And God was with me throughout my days. I talked to him throughout and would listen. As a result, I believed paradoxes. I understood that all worth was based in him and that he was a God of love. I knew this already by experience and when he would tell me he loved me and that I was valuable I believed him even though in moments and seasons I believed I was unloveable. I also read the Bible. I read about Jesus hanging out with the untouchables and chose to use the unlikely in powerful ways and was encouraged. I knew that if Jesus visited our school he would sit with me since I was the one by myself. He also would encourage me to help classmates in little ways, even if they were unkind. I was always afraid because I was untouchable, but if someone would drop everything and no one else was around I would help. God taught me through that inner voice and through the Bible that he loved everyone very much and very precisely, kind and unkind.

During this confusing time I was on constant alert always feeling threatened and constantly turning inwards to hide. At the same time, God gave me a sense of value, an aspect of my identity that was not warped and turned me outward to see others and to do my best to love them. I could love others because God loved me and saw all that was hidden, lost, ugly and crushed.

Part 3 to come.



Found 1 Timothy 2:15 Under the Couch!

"But she (sg) will be saved through the childbearing, if they (pl) continue in faith and love and sanctity with soundness of mind."

I was doing my womanly duty cleaning today and found 1 Timothy 2:15 hiding amidst the gender debate on 1 Timothy 2:12. It's almost like 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is not a standalone, disconnected from its entire letter and expressed theology of universal salvation through the one mediator Jesus Christ in ch.2. Its almost like Paul is giving the hope of the gospel to those distorting it who were and are deceived like Eve was--similar to what he did in 2 Cor 11:3. *Nah, must be about universal gender roles.



Having fun with my studies.

The Conundrum of Christ's Faithfulness: A Brief Introduction of the "Πίστις Χριστοῦ" Debate and its Implications

In the often contentious world of Pauline studies, one of the major debates that has been raging concerns a specific grammatical phrase: Πίστις Χριστοῦ ("the faith of Christ" or "faith in Christ"). Πίστις is the normative Pauline word for 'faith' or 'trust.' Χριστοῦ is the genitive form of Christ, or "Messiah." So when you see either term used hereafter, that is what they mean.

There are generally two options for Pauline interpreters:

  • The objective genitive: "faith in Christ."
  • The subjective genitive: "the faith of Christ."

What is curious about this entire debate is that it transcends the so-called New Perspective/Old Perspective divide and also transcends the Reformed/Arminian debate as well. For example, James D.G. Dunn (objective) and N.T. Wright (subjective) disagree with one another on this, and both also differ on their traditions. Dunn is a Methodist and Wright is a Calvinist. So this debate is not about one's soteriology or traditions per se.

So this is a debate I recently came into contact with during a Directed Study with Tommy Givens. Both Banning and Chad also are swimming in it, and this is due to our reading John Barclay who briefly covers the debate.

Many Pauline texts are involved in this. Some of these texts are more debated than others, specifically the texts in Romans and Galatians. I suspect this is mostly due to Romans and Galatians being given undue priority in the study of Paul, but that's my own snarky hang up.

Here are the main representative texts:

  • Romans 3:22—" διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ"
  • Galatians 2:16—"διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ"
  • Galatians 3:22—"ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ"
  • Galatians 3:26—"διὰ τῆς πίστεως ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ"
  • Philippians 3:9—"διὰ πίστεως Χριστοῦ"

In all of these examples, we have a specific preposition: διὰ ("through," or "by means of") and ἐκ ("from," or "by") that precedes the genitive nouns, clarifying the nouns. In two instances we have an additional preposition ἐν ("in," or "by" sometimes). In each instance, the debate comes down to intricate grammatical arguments that sometimes fail to see the forest for the trees. In any sense, as I look over these various papers and presentations, I am left with a thought:

Why is this significant? Why have entire books been written on this particular phrase?

Much of the debate boils down to the particular emphasis of the noun πίστεως. Whose faith is Paul usually concerned with? Sometimes it is Christ's faith (Rom. 3:22; Phil. 3:9) and other times Paul clarifies after with our faith (Gal. 2:20). He does this specifically in Colossians 1:4 ("ἀκούσαντες τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ: having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus"). Christ is the lens or matrix by which faith is given, but the participatory nature of faith requires our partaking of Christ's faith.

So with many issues in Paul, it is not an 'either/or.' Christ's faith is sometimes emphasized but an emphasis on Christ's faith does not negate or obliterate the faith of believers. Neither does a person's faith in Christ render faith 'anthropocentric,' as Christ is the one in whom we believe.

What is at stake?

What is as stake is how Paul emphasizes one and the other, and how we too should emphasize either option, not to the exclusion of both but in balance. For my money, I lean toward the subjective genitive for most of these texts, but I also believe one must exercise the gift of faith, and any emphasis to the exclusion of either option simply leaves one divorced from the richness of Paul's language. The human person is freed to participate in Christ, and if Paul chooses to emphasize our participation, so be it.

For a helpful book that goes over this debate, see Bird and Sprinkle.


Tokenism: Remaking Human Beings into an Image of Distortion

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

I was looking for a non-tokenizing picture to represent tokenism when I found this gem. I apparently represent diversity as a repeated blurred image. None of us but one are from another country or are in this program. We just signed off on letting people take pictures of us for marketing purposes as part of our existing job.

I was looking for a non-tokenizing picture to represent tokenism when I found this gem. I apparently represent diversity as a repeated blurred image. None of us but one are from another country or are in this program. We just signed off on letting people take pictures of us for marketing purposes as part of our existing job.

One of the greatest difficulties I have had as a woman pursuing leadership and higher education in the Christian world has been navigating the tightrope between survival and compromise in a context that continually distorts who you are for a vision not in line with God's purposes, overtly and implicitly. It is also facing reality that when others see you, they see a picture or type alien to how you understand yourself.

 I don't want to be invisible or voiceless, but I don't want to be paraded on stage as a mere empty symbol of the inclusiveness of [fill in the blank]. The constant struggle is to survive, to not let your voice be wiped off the map by naysayers and lack of resources, but also to escape being crushed into an empty mask or symbol serving the interests of others. It is fighting to have a place at the table without becoming an empty tool for the voices of those in power. The latter is perhaps worse because one's voice is snuffed out while being given the illusion of its value.

What is Tokenism

What is tokenism? Tokenism is when a group or person in power uses human beings from an underrepresented or minority group in order to appear diverse and benevolent or to avoid looking bad when in actuality the inclusion is extremely minimal and the token(s) lacks any real authority or value beyond perceived distinctive characteristics. Translation: people are used as part of a mask creating a portrait that in reality does not exist.

A token's value is generic. "We need a black person. We need a woman. We need an Asian woman....ect." Note value does not extend far beyond a limited set of qualities. A friend of mine applied for a leadership position. She was highly qualified and was frankly good at her job. She was flat out told she probably would not get the job because they needed an "Asian female" not just a "female." This is unusual as it is just asking for a lawsuit. Lucky (or unlucky?) for her, they could not find an "Asian female" so she would do. The token is interchangeable. "We need to fill our black woman slot." In this latter case, any woman who meets the "black woman" criteria is acceptable. Once they have a "black woman" they don't need "another one." Qualifications either have no, little or incidental value.

I was once told "I don't need another one" when I had initially turned down an offer to be on a podcast (ironically because I thought he wanted a token) but was talked into it by a friend. "Another what?" "We already found a woman." He needed a woman with any theology degree whatsoever so that his podcast could be diverse. He was also happy that this one was a "complementarian" (she wasn't). I awkwardly told him I was glad he found "one of those" realizing he would not get that I was pointing out his objectification of women. Unfortunately, my replacement was met with a barrage of stupid "go make me a sandwich" jokes and asked to represent all women constantly. As it turns out, tokenism worked so well she left the podcast.

Often, the token is asked to comment only or predominantly as the ethnic, gender or other role they are representing--since this is their primary value. I was once asked about the "snuggery" since I was a woman. Oh, what opinions I must have had...on the snuggery? I had none and threw a private fit once I found out what it was.

Tokenism is all about appearances. It is to make the organization look good and affords the token (whether group or individual) a false or shallow voice or representation. This is common on t.v. series or movies. It is easily found in the form of the generic "gay friend" whose only function is to be the best friend ever, but is otherwise a hollow as a character not interesting developed character in his or her own right. His or her only value is being "gay." Generally the gay friend speaks or acts in a stereotypical way or a character is awkwardly made "gay" just because it signals the virtues of the producers. In pictures, it is found in "that one black guy" appearing in every frame. Not because he is a stellar student, employee, head of department or leader but because he is the only person with that skin color and the organization wants to appear more diverse than it is. In my experience when it comes to schools, the students on campus see through the guise quickly when reality does not cohere against the picture. The place wants to look good, but has not expended the finances or resources to be good and thus have more representation.

Tokenism also appears in the form of "centers," "projects" and "initiatives" within organizations. A school, church or organization might create something like "Center for African American Studies" yet not give it sufficient influence, funding or resources afforded to others. It represents diversity and inclusion in name only and exists almost entirely to make the foundation or school look good. Sometimes these start out with the best intentions, maybe a vision with limited funding, but often times funding comes down to priorities. Rhetoric is one thing and action is another. Where do the money and resources go? This will tell you what an organization's real priorities are.

Scholarships can function as a "token" of support rather than real support for a minority group. I have suspected that even I had a token grant or scholarship from a school at one time zeroing in on my Mexican heritage ("Hispanic" in their words). This can be tricky depending on how funding for the program functions. For example, many schools offer a large variety of scholarships where one gets funding piecemeal. I once had a scholarship like this from TEDS for being a female leader. It was not a huge amount but significant and functioned within their broader system to be a source of real financial support in combination with other offerings. On the other hand, in some contexts one or two is all you get and if the goal on paper is to support X underrepresented group it becomes a mere token of support if it does not help them in any meaningful way. 

Tokenism appears in assigning authoritative roles within a church or organization. Sometimes identifying it can be muddy, especially when other factors are involved. A good way to identify the possibility of tokenism is if qualifications are not top considerations, are low considerations in practice, or are selectively applied depending on who is being promoted and to what level of authority. For example, although promotion criteria for higher authority positions may be more strict against the token while less strictly applied for those who aren't (maybe one criteria is deemed not to matter so much), lesser or token roles may have concrete requirements waived. It's all about what exactly is being valued by those in charge. This all gets more tricky when it is unintentional.

I was once part of an organization whose leadership was dominated primarily by white males. They knew this was a problem, knew it made them look bad and yet could not figure out why the small circle of white men who formed a tight click were the only types of people who seemed to be in leadership positions (I had been processing this instance among many when writing 10 Ways Men Can Fight Sexism).

Not surprising to those on the outside looking in, when it came time for promoting someone to the top it was decided that the top performer, a woman with more experience would not get promoted to the desired position and instead get a lesser one with little pay. This is even after it was clearly stated she was not interested in a mid-level position and had voiced from the very beginning that desired to lead and in what capacity. The one from the inner circle with far less experience, little time commitment and less than ideal performance would automatically advance to the highest position even when all criteria were not technically met--namely, a stellar performance for a certain amount of time. Thankfully for them, they found another female to take the less desired position after the first one quit. The position required an individual who demonstrated excellent performance for a certain amount of time and involved training new people. The replacement was brand new, inexperienced and I am told was in need of training.

I can at least vouch that there were indeed many excuses, rationales and perceived technicalities in this case along with "miscommunications."

But enough distancing and illusion, I know the person who was shortchanged on a job because I was that person.

Moving Foward

Tokenism is an ugly thing. Why? Because human beings have inherent value as made in the image of God. God does not show partiality or favoritism (C.F. Col 3, Rom 2, James 2:9). He likes to use those others see little value in (i.e. David, Deborah, Moses...etc), sees individuals for who they are and what they are going through (Gen 6:13), identifies with oppressed people groups (C.F. The EXODUS!) and became one of them. He does not see societal roles or stations as limits on participation (Gal 3:28). We are called to be like God and not have different standards depending on social standing (C.F. James & Paul on how not to show partiality towards rich vs poor).

Jesus was the ultimate icon, not mask, of God. In Him, we see the Father's face. He modeled self-emptying to the greatest degree and if we are in power sometimes we are called to give some of it up for the sake of our brothers and sisters and especially the Lord. Of course, to give it up we must acknowledge and see the power differences. At the very least we are called to love others as much as we love ourselves. Many "love" those in their group. That is very human. Jesus came and showed us that our "neighbor" is also the "other." The Good Samaritan is subversive because we are called not simply to love him as our neighbor, but model him.

For those without power, it is a fine balance one has to walk. I have not done so perfectly, have not had it as bad as others, and possibly contributed to objectification without realizing it. My only advice is to not hate yourself if you must play the token, but if you can afford not to, give up the slight or perceived benefit and refuse! Say no and walk away. They may replace you, but they have lost the vision of the kingdom of God in a moment and our God is the God who sees.






"Eternal Punishment" and the LXX: A Brief Note on Matthew 25:46

Matt. 25:46 – καὶ ἀπελεύσονται οὗτοι εἰς κόλασιν αἰώνιον, οἱ δὲ δίκαιοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

“And these ones shall go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (NRQT).

A sizeable debate exists within certain sections of the evangelical world, and this concerns the doctrine of eternal punishment. While I am slowly growing weary of this debate, I have been translating large parts of the LXX for a potential article and came across the noun κόλασιν in multiple places, and figured: why not write a small article on it?

Because I have a Sunday off and might as well do some more exegesis: why not.

The noun κόλασιν can simply be translated as “punishment.” Of course what this means is up for interpretation, as ‘punishment’ is a largely broad category, but by and large this is what it means. Paul, John and Jude never use the term, and neither do any of the Synoptic writers except Matthew (25:46) and the author of 1 John in 4:18. Luke uses the verb in Acts 4:21 and so does the author of 2 Peter in 2:9.

Κόλασιν in the Old Testament

In the Greek translation of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible (called the LXX or Septuagint), it carries the same broad connotation. In Jer. 18:20 κόλασιν is used in terms of punishment in a pretty broad and non-specific category. The most concentrated uses of κόλασιν occurs in Ez. 14 (3, 4, 7). These three uses are also extremely broad and there is a pattern of “punishment of the unjust/unrighteous” (κόλασιν τῆς ἀδικίας in both singular and plural genitive), but the punishment itself is never actually specified as torment, pain, or death.

However, later on in Ez. 14 we have uses of violent battle imagery that may be connected to this punishment, though it is fairly far removed—though the context remains the same (the judgment of the elders of Israel as spoken by Jeremiah, 14:1-2). You also have the use of ἀφανισμὸν (destruction, disappearance) in 14:8 and 14:15, and in the context of God’s wrath, the use of ῥομφαίαν (“sword”) suggests that these various uses of κόλασιν means something like “punishment by death” rather than a conscious, painful existence.

The final three uses of κόλασιν in the LXX appear in Ez. 18:30, 43:11 and 44:12. In 18:30, we have a similar phrase used in previous texts: κόλασιν ἀδικίας (“punishment of the unrighteous”), and this context shows us that God desires Israel to “turn” (ἀποστρέψατε) from their “ungodliness” (ἀσεβειῶν), and not suffer this κόλασιν. This κόλασιν is specified specifically as “death” or “dying,” (v.31, 32) as the term ἀποθνήσκω dictates. This term refers to the death of mortals, and its additional use in 18:28 specifies that there are two outcomes of God’s injunction: turn to life (ζωῇ) or die (ἀποθάνῃ). Thus, Ez. 18:30 and the surrounding verses shows that κόλασιν is indeed compatible with the annihilationist interpretation of Matthew 25:46 as an “eternal punishment” that results in death.”

In Ez. 43:11, Israel is said to “cease from” (κοπάσουσιν) their sins, and they will “receive [in an active manner]” (λήμψονται) their ποιήσωσιν. The punishment is not specified. In Ez. 44:12, the punishment is specified as being unable to “approach” (ἐγγιοῦσι) in terms of Jewish offices and priests. They are to work in the temple, but God is merciful and keeps them in Israel. In the Apocrypha, κόλασιν is explained in terms of “death” in Wisdom 19:4-5 and 2 Maccabees 4:38.

So the LXX uses of κόλασιν are generally not specific, but the one instance where it is specific, the context shows that the term refers to “death.” The other instances seem to be too broad to offer any specific conclusions.

Κόλασιν in the New Testament

The two verb uses of κολάζω occur in Acts and 2 Peter. Luke uses the aorist subjunctive (κολάσωνται) to refer to the council being unable to punish Peter and John. The contextual use of the verb suggests imprisonment or death, though it is more likely referring to imprisonment. The second use is in 2 Peter 2:9 suggests that “death” or “annihilation” is in view, as God keeps them unrighteous in punishment until “the day of judgment,” which is clarified in 2:12-14 some of the most vivid and violent imagery we have in the New Testament. The use of ὑπόδειγμα (“sample,” “example”) in 2:6 shows that being “reduced to ash” is a cataclysmic judgment resulting in utter and total extinction. In 2:12-14, we have language of “destruction” and “dissolvement” (φθοράν) being applied to the wicked who are utterly destroyed (φθαρήσονται; v.14).

The contextual use of 2 Peter reveals that κολάζω is compatible with “annihilation,” and the use in Acts is ambiguous and unspecified.

The first noun use of κόλασιν is in 1 John 4:18, and refers to the ambiguous nature of the noun. The near-constant use of ἀγάπῃ (“love”) is meant to show a contrast between “fear” and “punishment” and the goodness of God, for Ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν (“God is love”). The punishment is not eschatological, but metaphorical, and all but dissipates within the glory of God’s love and light.

That leaves the final use of κόλασιν in the New Testament, and it stands at the center of a phrase most often proof-texted. As we have seen, the ambiguity of the term makes it difficult to determine the exact nature of κόλασιν, but it is fair to say that it never explicitly occurs in a context of torment or pain. As death is the singular and final offense for sin in the Old Testament, Matthew’s use of κόλασιν αἰώνιον most likely refers to the “eternal punishment” which results in a death from which there is no reversal. In short, “eternal death” makes the most sense of the evidence and works quite nicely in terms of biblical theology.

For example, the “two-ways” of life and death is replete throughout the Old Testament, and is a near universal theme in the epistles. Paul certainly believed in this (c.f. Rom. 6:22-23), and the contrastive nature of ζωὴν and κόλασιν reveal that Matthew has in mind the eternal life of the righteous and the eternal death of the wicked.[1] These are also not strict parallels as αἰώνιον is far more complex than I can explain here. Suffice to say, the quality of the results and the duration of the consequences are two sides of the same coin. The “punishment” of the “coming age” reflects the Jewish belief that the “coming age” was an “eternal age,” and thus a death in the next age would result in, essentially, the utter lifelessness of the person, body, soul, spirit, whatever anthropological combination you want to postulate.[2] Either way, a death that is never reversed is indeed eternal.

In short, Matthew 25:46, in my estimation, cannot be proof-texted as support for the traditional doctrine of eternal conscious torment,[3] as the term itself offers us no specific context from which to draw such a conclusion. Rather, as many things are, it is clear: life in Christ, or death apart from Christ. In this I say, “choose Christ” and participate in the life he offers because of his resurrection.


[1] Of course, this question should be unpacked, as the parabolic nature of the one herd makes one wonder about the nature of those who claim Christ and yet fail to feed and cloth “the least of these.” However, this is a question far beyond this post.

[2] For me, “body” is enough.

[3] Or for universalists who interpret the text in support of a ‘corrective’ punishment.

To be with Christ: The Intermediate State and Phil. 1:21-24

In many theological circles, the doctrine of the intermediate state is often a key theological locus. For many or most evangelical Christians, the intermediate state is a comfort, drawn upon inferences from key Scriptural texts. It is not my interest to dissuade Christians from affirming this doctrine, or taking solace in it. Rather, my twofold goal is to challenge Christians to stay true to the text, and to show why I think Philippians 1:21-24 is insufficient as support for the doctrine of the intermediate state.

To lay my cards out on the table, I do not presently believe in such an intermediate state. My view of the human person does not require an intermediate state, and my view of the resurrection of the body does not either. There is of course debate about this doctrine, and I will not solve it at all in one blog post. But allow me to address a specific text in Paul that is often utilized to support the idea.

The text reads as follows:

Phil. 1:21-24: ἐμοὶ γὰρ τὸ ζῆν Χριστὸς καὶ τὸ ἀποθανεῖν κέρδος. 22 εἰ δὲ τὸ ζῆν ἐν σαρκί, τοῦτό μοι καρπὸς ἔργου— καὶ τί αἱρήσομαι οὐ γνωρίζω· 23 συνέχομαι δὲ ἐκ τῶν δύο, τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν ἔχων εἰς τὸ ἀναλῦσαι καὶ σὺν Χριστῷ εἶναι, πολλῷ γὰρ μᾶλλον κρεῖσσον, 24 τὸ δὲ ἐπιμένειν ⸀ ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ ἀναγκαιότερον δι᾽ ὑμᾶς.

My translation: “For me, to live—Christ; and to die—profit. But if to live in the body, this to me is fruitful work, and what I choose to take up I do not know. I am confined by the two, having the desire to die and be with Christ, for rather this is nobler. And to stay in the body is more important for you.”

I tried to be a bit wooden with my translation, but that is never entirely doable. But I hope the passage makes sense the way I rendered it.

As representative of the dualist perspective, I will engage with John Piper’s website, as I am too tired to grab Wayne Grudem off the shelf. The article on Desiring God was written by Matt Perman and may be accessed here ( John Piper is a prominent neo-fundamentalist pastor, and I suspect his website is influential for those interested in this topic. However, since Matt Perman is the actual author of this piece, I will be referring to him in my response.

Perman writes:

First, Paul spoke of having the desire "to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better" (Philippians 1:23). Notice first of all that Paul speaks of death as a departure (from the body) not into temporary nothingness or unconsciousness but to be with Christ. If we are with Christ once we have died, then we continue existing.

I think Perman makes several leaps in logic here. First of all, the infinitive ἀναλῦσαι (“to depart”) here just means, “to die.” It’s a metaphor meaning ‘death.’ Paul is likely writing from prison here, and the threat of death immanent. He has death on the mind, so to speak. For Perman to assert, “If we are with Christ once we have died, then we continue existing” seems to go beyond the text. There are questions Paul does not answer that Perman seems to presume an answer for. For instance:

  • Does Paul believe in an immortal soul that can survive bodily death? Unlikely.
  • Does Paul believe in the resurrection of the body? Yes. Cf. 1 Cor. 15. Why then the need for an intermediate state?

To be with Christ is a relational term, and Christ is already raised in Paul’s mind. In other texts, Paul talks about the immediacy of the resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15:51-52), but this begs a question: perspectivally, did Paul believe he would be literally raised in an instant? Unlikely. More likely, he would remain dead until resurrection (that’s why it is called resurrection), but for him, time is but a “twinkling of an eye.” To die with Christ, then is both relational and soteriological.

The preposition σύν (“with”) occurs in conjunction with Christ elsewhere in Paul (Rom. 6:8 and in Col. 2:20 and 3:3-4). In Rom. 6:8, it refers to the death of the person with Christ (soteriology) and her resurrection. The death of the believer means she has participated in Christ’s life, and her resurrection is secured because of his resurrection. In Col. 2:20, ἀπεθάνετε σὺν Χριστῷ (“dying with Christ”) is also a relational term, as in being bound to Christ in death as opposed to the “elements of the world.” In 3:3-4, the life of the believer is “hidden” (κέκρυπται) with Christ and in God (σὺν τῷ Χριστῷ ἐν τῷ θεῷ). Col. 3:4 sums this up quite powerfully:

Col. 3:4: ὅταν ὁ Χριστὸς φανερωθῇ, ἡ ζωὴ ὑμῶν, τότε καὶ ὑμεῖς σὺν αὐτῷ φανερωθήσεσθε ἐν δόξῃ.

My translation: “whenever Christ [the Messiah] may be manifest in our lives, then also you will be manifested in glory with him.”

Paul’s basic premise is sound: to die with Christ is to participate in his life and example, in imitating the dying Messiah so that we may have eternal life in his name. For Perman to make it about continuing to exist seems to contradict the witness of Paul elsewhere, and here especially.

He writes:

Second, notice that Paul speaks of this state as "very much better" than the present state. It would be hard to say such a thing of a state of complete unconsciousness.”

This seems tenuous. Eternal life, in resurrection, is surely preferable to death. The intimacy of Christ, the fullness of his life, and the vindication of Paul’s witness remain forlorn and forsaken without resurrection. To remain dead in light of his own life and sufferings, Paul undoubtedly thought resurrection with Christ was better! To be raised is vindication (cf. Dan. 12:2-3), not abandonment.

Particularly when we consider that Paul's passion was to know Christ, it would seem that the reason the state beyond death is better than this present life is because we are with Christ and know it. If we were suddenly unconscious at death until the resurrection, wouldn't it be better to remain in this life because at least then we would have conscious fellowship with Christ?

He writes:

…notice again that [Paul] speaks of this state as his preference, which indicates (as in Philippians 1:23) that we not only continue existing between death and the resurrection, but that we are aware of our existence.

Nowhere in Paul do we have any language about “existing” between death and resurrection. As has been shown already, this looks to be a fallacious line of argumentation. Of course, resurrection is Paul’s preference! He lived and suffering and ultimately died for Christ. “Awareness” seems more like a modernistic ideal than a New Testament reality.

In essence, Paul in Philippians 1:21-24 is speaking relationally, with an eye toward future resurrection (c.f. 3:10-11). The language about being “in the body” is likely an idiomatic phrase about being alive. For instance, Rom. 8:3 uses a similar syntactical phrase κατέκρινε τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ἐν τῇ σαρκί (“condemned sin in the body”), that is, Jesus’ living mortal body being crucified and killed, and thus condemning sin. Elsewhere, 2 Cor. 4:11b reads as follows:

2 Cor. 4:11: ἵνα καὶ ἡ ζωὴ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ φανερωθῇ ἐν τῇ θνητῇ σαρκὶ ἡμῶν

My translation: “so that also the life of Jesus should be manifested in our mortal bodies.”

The idea of “in the flesh/body” is not to promote a dualistic and tripartite view of the human person (that we are composed of body, soul and/or spirit). Rather, the relational idiom denotes the idea of being alive (or formerly alive). “In the body” is an idiomatic way of simply stating the obvious: you are alive, in the most basic sense of the phrase.

Paul’s language here is about participation in God’s mission in the world, not about a conscious intermediate state. If one desires to argue for such a concept, one is on far better ground in the realm of philosophy and theology rather than this text. I am mildly open to the concept of an intermediate state on philosophical grounds (although I do find it to be unnecessary and not in harmony with the witness of the New Testament), but I cannot endorse such an idea from this chief proof text.


Why the Resurrection is better than going to Heaven: Sermon Notes

"Resurrection" © Allison M. Quient

"Resurrection" © Allison M. Quient

Philippians 3:17-4:1. The text (my translation):

Join in being imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and likewise take note of those who already live according to the example you have in us, for I have told you often about the many who live, but now I say this even while weeping, that the enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is utter destruction; their God is the belly; and their “glory” is their shame; these are the people concerned about earthly matters.  For us, however, exists citizenship in the heavens, and from these heavens we anticipate a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ will transform our subjugated body, for our body will be conformed to his glorious body according to his power, who is being able to subject everything to himself. So, my beloved brothers and sisters whom I long for, my joy and my crown, persevere in this way in the Lord, beloved!

In the ancient world, life sucked. It really did. The majority of people were in extreme poverty, and this directly affected the marginalized groups within urban settings like women, who often died young or in childbirth. In a setting of rival religious viewpoints, how is Paul to communicate to this fledgling church in Philippi? How does he communicate the authority of Christ when Caesar is Lord? How do the various social hierarchies and dynamics affect slaves, women, Gentiles and Jews in such a small and volatile setting?

Because I cannot hope to answer all of these questions directly or fully, I have two main points that I want to stress as we walk through God’s word tonight. The first is the nature of “somatic ethics,” or how we live as bodies, as both a community and as individuals. Ethics of this sort include sex, food, power and the nature of what it means to be a human being in the ancient world.

The second is more controversial and will likely get me in trouble, but I’m already preaching and it is bad manners to take the mic away from an honored guest. The controversial point is that, for Paul, resurrection is better than heaven.

Rival religious groups or people in Philippi were dominant, as were religions in the ancient world. When Paul speaks of these rival groups, perhaps even movements within the church, he is filled with weeping. The “enemies of the cross of Christ” are concerned like most people: they desire money, prestige, sex, power, and social status, all of the things we all kinda want but shouldn’t desire. Paul characterizes them as people entirely devoted to themselves and their own pleasure: their “bellies” are overflowing as the many grow sick in the streets, and they pursue “earthly things,” that is, things that are not of God. We can see this in our own lives, desiring things that are not good for us: pornography, drugs, better clothes, better phones (hopefully the kind that don’t explode if you are a Samsung user like myself), better cars, anything to keep from thinking about the deep things of God.

Don’t worry if you see yourself in there: that just means you are in good company with me and everyone else.

For Paul, the eschaton—the end of all things—was immanent. He was waiting, like we are, for the return of Christ. Instead of participating in Christ and in the church, their pleasure becomes their “god.” Pleasure in the ancient world, much like today, was not about the autonomous freedom of a person to seek pleasure apart from another person. Pleasure was taken, bought, or stolen. It was about power, greed, and avarice: in that sense, the ancient world looked a lot like Game of Thrones. We see this in numerous places throughout the New Testament, where people in power abused those who were not in power.

For Paul, the eschatological end for such people was utter destruction in v.19. The end result of a life lived in sin apart from Christ was annihilation, a shameful eternal death that is hardly glorious. The word for “destruction” appears throughout the New Testament: for instance, Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Matthew to:

”Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

We see this similar mindset, albeit with an economic focus, in 1 Timothy 6:6-10, where the author says:

“ Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

It seems that the “enemies of the cross” in Philippi are cut from the same cloth as these people in Ephesus, in 1 Timothy 6. In our text tonight, we have people who have embodied the very lifestyle that God hates. So when Paul evokes the “destiny” of those who are leading wicked lives, Paul is being a bit sarcastic by saying, “their glory is their shame.” The shame of a life lived in utter selfishness, apart from the participatory suffering of God’s people. Hardly glorious, hardly worth remembering. As Paul says in Romans 6:23: “the wages of sin is death.” Death is the payout for a life lived in rebellion, in Sin.

We do not let our lives be defined by “our pleasures.” Rather, Christ defines us. Thus, our ethical framework is that we treat our bodies as a temple, as something noble and good. What we do with our lives, our actions, our deeds, matters deeply to God. He gave you life, and he wants you to live a life that does not destroy his image (c.f. Gen. 1:26-27); whether male or female, you image God. That is why what you do and how you live matters.

This leads us nicely into Paul’s second point, where he draws a specific contrast between those whose destiny is destruction. Rather than being citizens of Caesar’s Republic, our citizenship is defined by Christ, by the cosmic realm. We are not citizens of earth, that is, we do not belong to the reign of Death or the reign of Caesar. To be earthly is to be mortal, under subjection. To be a “citizen” affords a person with certain rights: that is, as citizens of heaven, we have a specific claim or right:

That right is resurrection.

Christ’s return signifies that our bodies, our subjected, broken bodies will be “conformed.” The Greek word σύμμορφον is a compound word: the prefix σύν means “with” (among other things) and the word μορφή (“form”): literally, “formed with.” This same word (though it is not a compound word) is used in Philippians 2:6 to describe the preexistent Christ as being “in the form of God.” That σῶμα (“body”) is to be transformed means the totality of the human person is to be formed by Christ: mind, heart, skin, everything. All that you are will be transformed, not left unburied in shame and contempt, or left in the corrosive grasp of Death.

We aren't going to be like Casper the Ghost in New Creation.

Christ is not coming back as Casper the Ghost.

Like it says in Romans 8:29 “being conformed to the image of his son.” As opposed to “glory” being shame, like in v.18, rather glory here describes the body of Christ in his true form, as the eternal Son of God. He came from Heaven, relinquished his authority to life a life marked by slavery and death, but he also comes as savior, as deliverer, to rescue people from suffering and that evil, narcissistic tyrant, Death. His resurrection is liberation.

His resurrection is our liberation, gang.

Liberation from what?

What does resurrection mean?

It means that death is destroyed.

Death is a significant force in Paul. In Romans 5, he speaks of Death having “reigned,” describing it like one would a king, like how one would describe Caesar. If Christ is not risen, what? We’re dead and gone. We’re like those earthly ones, whose destiny is utter destruction. Our gods might as well be our belly. What good is there? Porn, adultery, sexism. What good is there?



Christ is risen.

The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate triumph of God over the forces of evil that prey upon you, upon me, upon us. Resurrection is not about going to heaven when you die. Resurrection is about God saying “no” to Death and to Evil.

Resurrection is God’s way of saying, “I freaking love you,” and I will not abandon you to Death. This magisterial love of Christ then pushes us to say, like Paul did:

“Persevere!” “Christ is risen!”

This is good news! The best news! God loves you, and wants you to participate in resurrection life: a life lived in service, as brothers and sisters, ministers and pastors and priests. Be holy! Be righteous! Be gracious when people fail, so basically be gracious always. The greatest sign of God’s love is that he raised Jesus from the dead, and you can be like Jesus in his resurrection. Love triumphs over sin, over evil, over Death.

There is hope! There is hope for those of us who suffer now, and will suffer in the future. For the woman who is oppressed by sexism in the church, there is hope. For the man who struggles with his sexuality, there is hope. For the person who is the chief of sinners, there is hope.

Paul believed that Christ’s coming was the end of death, of pain, of suffering. He believed that our resurrection was better than heaven, because the resurrection is the final triumph of God. Death has been utterly and completely destroyed, and we wait in anticipation of the coming Son of God.

Heaven hath no joy like a resurrecting God, and that is why our resurrection is better than going to heaven. There are not ghosts in New Creation.

There be dragons – there be resurrection, brothers and sisters. Now go live it, and go love those who most desperately need it.



o   3:17-19: Paul begins this section with an imperative to be like him, and to observe the conduct of those already in the assembly. He has already argued against “adversarial ones” (1:28), and has stressed ethical unity (2:5-11). With tears in his eyes, he says the trajectory of the “enemies of the cross of Christ” is utter destruction.

§  Somatic ethics—ethics of how one lives, eats, etc.—are important to Paul here. For example, somatic ethics are stressed by Paul to treat our bodies like a temple (1 Cor. 3).

§  While it is not entirely obvious that the people of Philippi are suffering, suffering is surely a probable outcome.

o   3:20-21: In drawing a contrast between those concerned with earthly things, Paul asserts that the believers in Philippi are already citizens of the heavens. The word “savior” (σωτῆρα) means “deliverer” or “one who rescues.” Paul tells the readers to “anticipate” the coming Christ

§  Eschatology is the study of the “end” of all things: heaven, hell, new creation.

·      Paul stresses what one does as a human being—as an embodied person—matters to Christ. Because Christ is not going to discard your body like a plastic wrapper from a snicker’s bar.

·      Jesus thinks the body is good. Our bodies will be like Christ’s: glorious, immortal, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

o   4:1: Paul exhorts his brothers and sisters to be steadfast and persevere despite suffering, for we hope for the resurrection. Death was a tyrant until Christ was raised from the dead: now, death has no sting (1 Cor. 15:55).

o   Conclusion: Paul believed that Christ’s coming was the end of death, of pain, of suffering. He believed that our resurrection was better than heaven, because the resurrection is the final triumph of God.

§  How then should we live in light of the defeat of Death?

Paul's Language of Destruction and the Modern Problem of Hell


This is both a difficult and an easy post to write. The reason it is difficult is because I am talking about Washington D.C., as in, a place I have never been and a place I have no desire to travel to. Joke.

The reason it is easy to write a post like this is because of the nature and use of the language used in the Pauline canon. A quick note regarding sources, only one use of the term under discussion occurs in the so-called ‘Deutero-Pauline’ canon[1] (maybe a post on that is forthcoming, now that I think about it) and that is in 2 Thessalonians (which I take to be Pauline). So the sources I draw from are almost exclusively from the widely accepted Pauline texts.

This is preliminary personal work for a Directed Study I am putting together with some colleagues under the guidance of one Dr. Tommy Givens here at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Paul’s chief vocabulary surrounding the ‘final fate’ of the wicked[2] can be fairly and uncontroversially summarized as follows:

·      ἀπόλλυμι (“destroy, kill, cause violence”) (Rom. 2:12; 1 Cor. 1:18; 10:10)

·      θάνατος (“death”), which is a ἐχθρὸς (“enemy”) (c.f. 1 Cor. 15:26)

·      ὄλεθρος (“destruction”) (c.f. 1 Thess. 5:3; 2 Thess. 1:9; 1 Cor. 5:5)

·      ἀπώλεια (“destruction, death”) (c.f. Phil. 1:28; 3:19; 2 Thess. 2:3; 1 Tim. 6:9[3])

·      φθορά (“ruin, corruption, destruction”) (c.f. Gal 6:8; Col. 2:22; Rom. 8:21; 1 Cor. 15:42, 50)

·      φθείρω (“to destroy, corrupt”) (c.f. 1 Cor. 3:17).

I could list more words and instances of each word, especially from the Synoptic Gospels,[4] but you get the point. There is no mention in Paul of a final conscious state where they are inflicted with torment, nor where they are kept alive in a state of sadness or pain. Under our modern conception of what we popularly call “hell,” we can safely say Paul did not believe in that.

What Paul did believe in, however, is far more personal, intimate, and realistic. So let us explore the first word ἀπόλλυμι in Paul. This will be a little technical, but I hope it will also beneficial to you. I won’t translate every single use of the term or even the entire verse, but only the one’s I find most helpful.

Rom. 2:12

Ὅσοι γὰρ ἀνόμως ἥμαρτον, ἀνόμως καὶ ἀπολοῦνται· καὶ ὅσοι ἐν νόμῳ ἥμαρτον, διὰ νόμου κριθήσονται·                                                                                                            

“For everyone who sins apart from the law, apart from the law they will perish. And everyone who sins in the law will be judged through the law.” (NRQT).

I think an important point that must be made is that many modern Christians too quickly insert the adjective “spiritual” in front of any use of ‘death’ or ‘perishing’ (and I used to count myself amongst those who used this term). Paul is not conceiving of some sort of ‘spiritual’ judgment, for that is simply not historically viable. Here, the use of the future verb ἀπολοῦνται is a reference to a hypothetical person (in the middle tense) of both being destroyed and destroying themselves. “Perishing” is a real concept for people who believe they are bodies, and the problem of death in an ancient culture is real. To “perish” in a Hebraic sense was to go into the ground, to return to dust, to return to “Adam.”

Rom. 14:15.

εἰ γὰρ διὰ βρῶμα ὁ ἀδελφός σου λυπεῖται, οὐκέτι κατὰ ἀγάπην περιπατεῖς. μὴ τῷ βρώματί σου ἐκεῖνον ἀπόλλυε ὑπὲρ οὗ Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν.

The imperative form of the verb is linked to Christ, who ἀποθνήσκω (“died”). This was not a spiritual death, unless one is intent on discounting Nicene Orthodoxy. Rather, Christ died in the fullest sense we can mean. Death, itself, claimed him as its own. The use of ἀπόλλυε serves to remind believers not to cause the “death” or “destruction” of the person for whom Christ died. In a real context of not causing a brother or sister to stumble, Paul has to remind people that what they do with their body (this being in the case of eating things which are ‘unclean’). Believers, in a true and tragic sense, can often be a source of destruction for one another. Ask a burnt out pastor if she feels ‘destroyed’ or ‘distraught’ if she has been the source of ‘stumbling’ or being the one who caused another to ‘stumble.’

1 Cor. 1:18-19.

Ὁ λόγος γὰρ ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῖς μὲν ἀπολλυμένοις μωρία ἐστίν, τοῖς δὲ σῳζομένοις ἡμῖν δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν. γέγραπται γάρ· Ἀπολῶ τὴν σοφίαν τῶν σοφῶν, καὶ τὴν σύνεσιν τῶν συνετῶν ἀθετήσω.

"For the message/word of the cross is folly to those who are being destroyed/perishing. but to the ones being liberated [the cross] is the power of God. For it is written, 'I destroy the wisdom of the wise ones, and the understanding of the experts I reject." (NRQT).

These verses are within a larger commentary (or even assault) on the wisdom of the wise (or the elite, even, possibly because of economic stratification). The λόγος of the cross is silly to those in a state of ἀπολλυμένοις. The middle voice is often thought of as being entirely passive; however, this is not always the case and is likely too narrow. Rather, here, Paul is assuming that people without Christ are in a state of decay, ruin, destruction, and oppression. The cross, as a means of killing Christ, is also the greatest means of resurrection power: that is, life itself. To those in a state of “perishing” or “being destroyed” and “destroying themselves,” this is a meager offering and could even be seen as a cold and calloused bribe: attempting to make someone feel good before they die, or even be viewed as a “charlatan,” attempting to steal or take advantage of them.

Subsequently, the second use of the term refers to the “decimation” of the elitist wisdom offered, and God is putting that wisdom out like a cup over a candle.

 1 Cor. 8:11.

ἀπόλλυται γὰρ ὁ ἀσθενῶν ἐν τῇ σῇ γνώσει, ὁ ἀδελφὸς δι᾽ ὃν Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν.

"And the weak one shall perish because of your knowledge, [this is] for whom Christ died." (NRQT).

This verse is in reference to the perishing of “weak one, brother,” for whom Christ died. As we saw in Rom. 14:15, this is again a context of causing another to stumble. This “perishing” is a very real threat, especially regarding exclusion from the sole community of Christ in Corinth or even within this same community. This similar type of threat may be found in 1 Cor. 5:5 where the exclusion of the incestuous man is likely to lead to his destruction—i.e. his physical death. The contrast between Christ’s own atoning death for the “weak” is highlighted in contrasting the one who is perishing due to the Corinthian elitist hierarchy versus Christ’s own death on behalf of that same weak man.

Thus, this verse is stressing the imperative of Christ-likeness.

1Cor 10:9-10

μηδὲ ἐκπειράζωμεν τὸν Χριστόν, καθώς τινες αὐτῶν ἐπείρασαν, καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν ὄφεων ἀπώλλυντο. μηδὲ γογγύζετε, καθάπερ τινὲς αὐτῶν ἐγόγγυσαν, καὶ ἀπώλοντο ὑπὸ τοῦ ὀλοθρευτοῦ.

"Neither should we test Christ, just as those who tested [him], and were killed by serpents. Do not grumble, just as some of them grumbled once, and were slain by the annihilator/ destroyer."

Paul is offering a commentary (midrash, even) on the story of Israel in the desert. The Israelites who tested Christ[5] were “killed” by the serpents, rendering them – well – dead. Paul uses the imperfect tense to stress the finality of their own death as well as stressing the ancient image: testing YHWH lead to them being destroyed—killed—by serpents. The idea that this word again refers to “spiritual” death is simply not a necessary conclusion one should consider. These people died.

The second use of refers again to the perished ones, but this time they were killed by τοῦ ὀλοθρευτοῦ. This phrase is difficult to translate, but I follow David Instone-Brewer and think “the annihilator” is sufficient. This refers to an utterly destructive force or entity that renders destruction upon a person or a people or a nation. The imagery of death, destruction, even cataclysmic judgment is at the heart of this verse. Death is the ultimate punishment for sin in the Hebrew Bible, and Paul does not seem to move beyond that notion. In the light of Christ as the source of life for those who participate in Him, this notion is stressed far more strongly by Paul.

1Cor 15:18

ἄρα καὶ οἱ κοιμηθέντες ἐν Χριστῷ ἀπώλοντο.

"And then those who have fallen asleep in Christ [have] perished."

This is a relatively simple verse: if Christ did not die (or was not raised!), then those who died in Christ have ultimately perished. There is nothing else for them. Paul does not extrapolate this into a modern systematic outlook of an intermediate state followed by a disembodied existence of bliss. Rather, Christ is bliss if he is raised, and if people do not have the risen Messiah—they are still dead and in the ground.

The natural order, it seems, is controlled and dominated by a foreign imperialistic power: this power is θάνατος and if Christ is not risen, θάνατος reigns. θάνατος is King.

But Christ is risen, then θάνατος is not King anymore. Death as the final destination of the totality of the human person is undone, it is finished, it is annihilated and put out of existence entirely.

2Cor 2:15

ὅτι Χριστοῦ εὐωδία ἐσμὲν τῷ θεῷ ἐν τοῖς σῳζομένοις καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις,

“Because we are the aroma of Christ to God among the ones being liberated, and among the ones being destroyed.” (NRQT).

The sacrificial imagery of our own existence as somatic creature is tinted by the middle participles σῳζομένοις and ἀπολλυμένοις: these two sides are intentionally drawn: Christ is life, all else is death. The liberation offered in Christ is the flipside of the idea of “being destroyed” or “perishing.” The offer of Christ is that of intentionally countering the imperial order of θάνατος. This verse seems to presuppose two sets of people by the direct syntactical parallels:

  • ἐν τοῖς σῳζομένοις
  • καὶ
  • ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις

Preposition + dative plural article + dative middle participle.

This grammatical parallelism supports the contention of two distinction groups highlighted by the order of θάνατος and the order of Χριστοῦ. To be in Christ, or part of Christ’s people, is to place oneself outside of θάνατος’ dominion and sovereignty.

2Cor 4:3, 9

εἰ δὲ καὶ ἔστιν κεκαλυμμένον τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἡμῶν, ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις ἐστὶν κεκαλυμμένον,

"And if our gospel is being covered, it is being covered among those who are being destroyed." (NRQT).

We have the exact middle participle being employed here as in 2 Cor. 2:15, even the same exact grammatical usage. The image is difficult to communicate in English, but it seems that a “veil” is what Paul utilizes and this applies to those who are also “perishing.” Those who cannot see this are both “veiled” and “veiling themselves” as the middle suggests.

διωκόμενοι ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἐγκαταλειπόμενοι, καταβαλλόμενοι ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἀπολλύμενοι,

"[We are] persecuted but not forsaken; beaten down but not destroyed." (NRQT).

This is a fascinating rhetorical phrase by Paul, all of which is syntactically identical. You have very similar phrasing, suggesting a specific type of speech making. The usages are contrastive, showing dissimilarity and continuity. We are X, but not Y. We are “struck down” but not “destroyed” or “killed.” This language of ἀπολλύμενοι refers likely to external imperial forces, that is, political forces rather than θάνατος. Thus, one can sense martyrdom within Paul’s contextual usage, and it is likely he is focused on the idea of witness and testimony, especially as using their bodies for Christ.

2Th 2:10

καὶ ἐν πάσῃ ἀπάτῃ ἀδικίας τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις, ἀνθ᾽ ὧν τὴν ἀγάπην τῆς ἀληθείας οὐκ ἐδέξαντο εἰς τὸ σωθῆναι αὐτούς·

"And in every deception of unrighteousness [are] the ones being destroyed, because they do not receive the love of truth for their liberation." (NRQT).

The final term is used within a context of persecution, similar to 2 Cor. 4. Paul seems to use the middle participle ἀπολλυμένοις in the sense of a final and doomed assault on those in Christ by those lack the attributes of the Spirit. The final phase of eschatological destruction is the last attempt to rage against the people of God, and this includes political and imperial powers as the one’s who rage. This likely has echoes of God versus Nations in the Hebrew Bible.

In any sense, the use of the term refers to their final death, and not their ‘spiritual’ or ‘existential’ death but to their final and irrevocable destruction. The crucified God who is also the returning King amplifies the paradoxical idea of an oppressive regal force assaulting the minority of Christ-followers in the first century; in the end, this King returns for the oppressed and destroys the oppressors.


Much more could be said about this language and debate, but I think the case is pretty clear: Paul’s use of destruction language does not comport well with the modern vision of Hell we find being taught in the evangelical world. Rather, we see that Paul’s vision is the God of Life being raised from the dead and returning for an oppressed people who are under siege by the order of Death.

Much of this can revolve around how Christians treat one another, and our ability to not cause one another to stumble. In other senses, it is about treating our bodies as things that will be liberated, not escaped from.

In another sense, Paul’s vision offers us a way to view the death of loved ones. We may view death as in the process of being destroyed, and as the final enemy God is working to overthrow. We groan for the liberation of our bodies and for the salvation found in Christ, and Paul’s idea of the final fate shows that “hell” is indeed far more personal, intimate, and realistic: the conquering of Death can only be found in the one who conquered Death.

Thus, I fail to see any notion of an eternal conscious existence of pain and/or misery in Paul’s vocabulary, thought or theology.


[1] That is, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles. However, there is considerable debate regarding the first two and less debate about the Pauline status of the second two. Most critical scholars do not believe Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles.

[2] I prefer the language of “those not in Christ” but I will use the phrase “wicked” simply to keep things simple.

[3] See footnote 1 for the comment about the status of the Pastoral Epistles. I’m withholding my own thoughts on their authorship for now.

[4] For a helpful survey of apollumi in the Synoptic Gospels, see Glenn Peoples:

[5] This may be a nod to preexistence, but not likely.