Jesus, The First Born of Creation: An Offer of Peace to a Hostile World

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The Son is the image of the invisible God,
        the one who is first over all creation,

Because all things were created by him:
        both in the heavens and on the earth,
        the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.
            Whether they are thrones or powers,
            or rulers or authorities,
        all things were created through him and for him.

He existed before all things,
        and all things are held together in him.

He is the head [i.e. source of life] of the body, the church,
who is the beginning,
        the one who is firstborn from among the dead
        so that he might occupy the first place in everything.

Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in him,
and he reconciled all things to himself through him—
        whether things on earth or in the heavens.
            He brought peace through the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

Identity

The story of our relationship with Jesus does not begin in a manger. In Colossians we learn that the story of the Incarnation in relation to us goes back further than one might have first thought—to creation. Our access to God and life has always come through Christ, Jesus and we were in fact, created by, for and through him.

Regarding the latter, an interesting way to understand in what way we were created through the Son is to consider that something “other” than God can exist because there is distinction within the Trinity. Creation and humanity can exist on the basis of the Son’s free self-distinction from the Father (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Vol 2, 30). Further, our existence as image bearers has always been based in the natural image of the invisible God—Jesus—and of course that gets into some very odd, yet highly plausible understandings of time.

*Exiting the Dr. Who universe now.

That said, we have always had access to God in Christ. Our very identities as image bearers are premised off of his identity and ultimate unity with us by nature. We were called to represent God in this world of whom Jesus is the perfect representation.

In the beginning we were created to be like priests or divine images set up in God’s temple, the earth (Genesis uses Near Eastern temple language to describe creation such as for example the 7 days/time periods among other things) . We were told to rule the earth together and to see one another as counterparts (i.e. the correspondence language all over Genesis).

And yet, we rejected God’s vision for us. We rejected our calling.

Rebellion

Our ancestors and the rest of us when we pattern ourselves after them, choose “wisdom” apart from God. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was not an “evil” or bad tree, but we were told to depend on God and not partake of it at the time. We thought we could live well apart from the source of all life and wisdom. We decided to rebel against the God we were supposed to represent, the one whom all rule and authority was created for and as a result we sought to dominate one another, avoid responsibility, exploit and even murder.

The earth itself suffered. And continues to. Romans describes creation itself as groaning.

God sent us many messengers and envoys and made many accommodations to our warped understandings of power (i.e. Israel insists on a King and God finally relents). Yet we killed his messengers and refused to follow his ways again and again. And we all suffered. And most of our suffering comes from other humans.

Finally, the true and perfect “image of the invisible God” was sent to offer us peace and help us pattern ourselves after him. We killed him.

But what hate destroys, love resurrects.

God Shows Us How To Be Human

The birth , life, death and resurrection of Jesus stand concretely as a declaration of God’s power and love and hope for our future. While we were “estranged and hostile in mind” to God’s purposes, he reconciled with us with his own body. He showed us a new life orientation, one that surrenders zero-sum understandings of power, grandiosity and self-love at the expense of others.

Our egos and desperate efforts to have pride of place at the table were met by the true owner of the table who took the last place and welcomed those we looked down upon to it. He dared to side with the marginalized in front of us. He found those people we exploited and labeled as undesirable “sinners” and not only welcomed them but told "telling” stories in front of us all where they were set as the heroes, true sons, or valued and we were cast as the “sinners” or in rebellion against God (i.e. the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, The Two Sons, The King and Debtors…etc). He named our sins in front of everyone. He outsmarted us as we tried to trap him into saying something to get himself killed. It didn’t work and so we made stuff up and found him guilty in secret so no one could call us out for our evil.

He not only valued and raised up the marginalized, he became the marginalized. And he knew he would. He knew what kind of people we were when he came. He knew how tightly we held onto power and our false gods, ourselves. He kept living, modeling how we were called to act and would not stop. He did say that in order to truly live one must be willing to be brutally killed for living the way we were supposed to live—pure allegiance and devotion to our true calling.

In the end, we had to crucify him. We had to humiliate him, distort who he was and get rid of him so that we could continue what we were doing. People liked him too much and they started to think in ways that were not so beneficial for us. And really, he did say he was willing to pay this price. But nor our evil narratives nor the crushing power of Rome would have the final say.

God Unveils His Future

The physical body of Jesus was brought back to life but in such a way that transcended even a prefall state. God had sent us an offer of peace in human form and we more than rejected it. Jesus’ resurrection not only vindicated his message (he was not cursed by God), stood as God’s answer to injustice, but renewed the offer for peace. He lived the life we could not live as God’s representative and paid the ultimate price for it uniting the human with the divine and opened up the doors for us to also live as he did and except the offer of peace with God by the Holy Spirit. His resurrected body is also the first of many. His resurrection is a sign pointing out our own future and what it could be and look like, a reversal of the damage and transformation into something godly.

Our next move?

Eve Christology: Embodiment, Gender, and Salvation

“But she will be saved (σωθήσεται) by the childbirth (τς τεκνογονίαςτς) [of Christ Jesus], if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. The saying is trustworthy.” --1 Timothy 2:15-3:1a

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Soon I will be giving two presentations based on a longer 35-page paper titled Eve Christology: Embodiment, Gender, and Salvation where I will argue that Eve may be viewed as a type of Christ (similar to how Adam is a type in Rom 5 & 1 Cor 15) in 1 Timothy 2:13-3:1a. The conferences I will be participating in are: The Duke Graduate Conference in Theology (September 29-30, 2017) and The Interdisciplinary Theology Conference (October 20-21, 2017) arranged by CATA--like ETS--but better. :)

Below is a taste of my upcoming presentations. Enjoy~

Scholarly interaction with the position of Eve in relation to Christology has tended to relegate Eve to an absent, subordinate or implicit position from the standpoint of the typological significance of Adam.[1] For example, Benjamin Dunning describes Paul’s typology as one that tethers together two men, Adam to Christ.[2] The result is a question framed with the assumption of the presence of only a particularly male representation of salvation with an inadvertent question mark when it comes to where a female body fits in the scheme of salvation.[3] That is, the discussion is approached from the standpoint of the assumed presence of Adam and the “problem” of Eve’s placement as a representation of humanity as whole.[4] It is my contention that the difficulty of whether a male Christ can represent humanity is an artificial difficulty conceived with a lens that from the start erases “Eve” (i.e. women)[5] and then either mourns or celebrates her absence.

            It is time to approach Christology and gender from a fresh perspective yet without ignoring the historical exclusion of women on the basis of biblical, primarily Pauline, texts. For this reason, I will be delving into the discussion of how Eve figures Christologically, and may subsequently transfigure our notions of the embodiment of salvation. The question of where “Eve” figures in the theological world both reflects the inner world of worship and has the power to transfigure how one relates to the world as a whole. I will be arguing that far from her being absent—or merely present as an absence—Eve is a type[6] of Christ whose existence serves to undermine the prevailing notion of male domination in the Christological representation of embodied humanity. I will accomplish my thesis by first offering a change in lenses from an emphasis on both historical reconstruction and patriarchy as the frame for understanding Eve’s place in salvation, to the utilization of varied gendered language in the Pauline text to exemplify embodied faith, and how this undermines various gender hierarchies that may be perceived. This thesis will also involve considering the “correspondence” language of the Genesis text, to which Paul appeals, and how early Christian writers used gender language to describe the struggle of faith, embodied existence and future hope. The point here is to provide a plausibility lens or starting point from which to be able to conceive of an Eve Christology and open the doors to re-imagine the place of Eve in our theological world.

Second, I will attempt to launch a uniquely Eve Christology. Far from being absent or implicit, it will be argued that 1 Timothy 2:13-3:1a with 2 Corinthians 11:3 offer Eve as a type to Christ (comparable to Adam-Christ typology) and representation of humanity. I will work out how the text understands Christ as a representative of humanity and lastly, briefly wrestle with whether Christ ‘as male’ reinforces gendered power structures or serves to diffuse them. Does the idea that a woman is merely a deformed man who must “become male” to enter into salvation best capture the figures of Adam and Christ presented by these Pauline writings? 

Switching Lenses

How one approaches and/or experiences the larger question of gender in the Christian world will shape what is noticed or goes unnoticed in the Pauline corpus. Does one approach Paul with “a distinctly ancient logic of sexual difference, one that conceptualizes this difference, not in terms of an ontological and incommensurable binary, but rather on a single sliding scale, oriented towards maleness and deeply rooted in variables of status?”[7] Or, does one approach the question of gender and representation from the vantage point of only or primarily passages considered exclusionary making them universally applicable only to women? Does the mention of Adam as a type of Christ in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 suddenly indicate a logical universal such as only Adam or only a men can represent humanity?

It is not my desire to contend there is never the assumption of male priority in the background of the Pauline texts or to argue that everything fits neatly or perfectly into a modern feminist scheme. However, I would like to offer the following interpretive possibility: There exists a unity in diversity in Christ that relativizes power structures which allow for men, in a metaphorical sense, to become women in the context of these structures and women to become men in relation to gendered power structures. This lens which will be used as a starting point for approaching the position of Eve in relation to Christ comes out of the following brief points: 1) gender correspondence language in Genesis, 2) a sampling of Paul’s use of feminine and masculine language in regards to himself and spiritual growth of believer toward their telos in Christ, and 3) how some early Christians used gendered language to describe themselves in relation to Christ.

...the rest will be available at the two upcoming conferences! :)

[1]C.f. Benjamin H. Dunning, Specters of Paul: Sexual Difference in Early Christian Thought (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011); Christ Without Adam: Subjectivity and Sexual Difference in the Philosopher's Paul (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).

[2] Benjamin H. Dunning, "Christ Without Adam: Subjectivity and Sexual Difference in the Philosopher’s Paul," n.p. [cited June 8, 2017]. Harvard Divinity School. Online: https://hds.harvard.edu/news/2014/10/16/video-christ-without-adam. October 16, 2014: 10-minute mark.

[3] Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins (Cross Roads: New York, 1983).

[4] C.f. the influence of Mary Daly: "Exclusively masculine symbolism for God, for the notion of divine 'incarnation' in human nature, and for the human relationship to God reinforces sexual hierarchy" in Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation (Boston: Deacon Press, 1973), 4. 

[5] From henceforth I will be using Eve as shorthand for women in general in the spirit of her typological significance. Gradually, I will expand this type to encompass humanity in general.

[6]In this article I will be using type in a comparative sense. For example, Eve from the Genesis narrative can be a type of Christ as a representative but not directly in terms of imitation. However, as we will see, Eve can also function as an antitype in the sense that as a representative of women in particular and humanity in general “she” can fulfill her vocation of being formed in the image of Christ connected to the divine telos of humanity. I believe this future looking sense is present in Eve being “pregnant” with the Christ child in 1 Timothy 2:15.

[7] Dunning, Christ without Adam, 18. C.f. Gaventa, Our Mother Saint Paul, loc 654.

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!

NQ