Paul, Hell, and the Problem of Evil: An Exploratory Sketch

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Note: this paper was given at the Rethinking Hell symposium on January 26, 2019.

As someone who wound up rather circuitously in pastoral ministry, the problem of evil is not one that is lost on me, especially as a graduate of Biola University. I have seen a half dozen of my friends and acquaintances leave the faith over various issues, but I believe these issues can largely be traced back to the question of evil. It would be impossible to try and answer all of the philosophical questions concerning that question in this paper, and I believe there have been sufficient theological and philosophical responses to such questions from adept theologians like Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, and John C. Peckham most recently in his masterful work Theodicy of Love. As such, it is my goal to sketch out a Pauline theodicy that seeks to answer the question of evil. In essence I am taking Jerry Walls admonition for annihilationists to take seriously other various doctrines and concepts and show how they can be integrated. I hope this attempt warms his Wesleyan heart. I know it has warmed mine.

Three theses can be deduced from the Pauline literature, but more could be mentioned: first, the question of the materialization of evil. Second, the promulgation of evil. Third and finally, the end of evil as it relates to our doctrine of annihilationism. The doctrine of hell for evangelicals has been largely relegated to something that happens at the end. What we need is a worldview shift concerning that question: how does God respond to the evil in his world? Does he incarcerate it or destroy it? Those are some of the questions I will explore in this paper.

It is worth noting, simply for the sake of transparency, that I do operate from a specific side of the Christian tradition and so my commentary is intentionally reflective of my own views, not the views of Rethinking Hell as a whole. But I'm right so there is that.

1. Paul's Narrative World

First, we must consider Paul's own reality as it relates to his theodicy. The narrative of Paul the Apostle centers on a lifetime of brutality and anguish, mirroring the narrative of Israel's Scriptures. Often we focus upon the beatings sustained by Paul as depicted in 2 Cor 11:23ff: imprisonments, severe beatings, death ever present, forty lashes minus the one, beaten by a rod three times, danger from rivers, robbers, the hostility from the people of the nations, his own people, city, sea and false family members: "in toil and trouble, in sleeplessness, in hunger and thirst, often fasting, in cold and nakedness." This all occurring during a time where to assert that Jesus the Anointed One is indeed Lord of all was an affront to Caesar's reign was death. The early martyrs attest to this reality in Pliny's letter to Trajan:

An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ--none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do--these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

Trajan responded to Pliny with this:

That whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it--that is, by worshiping our gods--even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance.

The ancient world was an inherently political reality, a world built upon the backs of slaves. It did not pay to be a Christian during this time. Death loomed over every person. Paul gained nothing by being a "slave of Christ." At a time when the wealthiest among the Roman elite held a majority of the land and wealth, we need to be reminded that when we read Paul we are not stepping into a vacuum. Every step Paul took on his missionary journeys was on contested soil. So when one thinks about what non-Christians say about the problem of pain and evil, one can hardly find a better first century source than Paul the Apostle—a man who lived the terror and pain and wrestled through these questions. If one imagines the trial this takes on the human body, one is free to envision a broken, bloody, brutalized figure whose body was evermore being conformed to the image of the crucified Christ. Perhaps that is why Paul boasted in his sufferings.

2. The Materialization of Evil

Concerning the materialization or origin of sin and evil—and I am using the two synonymously for the sake of brevity, the closest we get to a "fall" narrative in Paul's thought is Romans 1:18ff. God's wrath is being "apocalyptically unveiled" against what is considered "godless" and "human unrighteousness." What follows is what can be called a "decline of civilization narrative," where an author dictates the downfall of an empire or a specific reality or nation. Despite "knowing God," these people changed or "bartered" the glory of the immortal God for images in the image of corruptible humanity, and birds, and four-footed creatures and reptiles" (1:23). Paul is clearly echoing the creation account in Genesis 1-3 and the notion of idolatry is ever-present—the lack of the presence of the noun or verb for "sin" or "to sin" is irrelevant because we know Paul is operating with an Adamic narrative. I am also assuming that "unrighteousness" is a sin. This sin manifests itself in the mind and deeds of human beings and becomes, we might say, an organic reality. Seneca writes the following concerning the decline of civilization narrative

But the first men and those who sprang from them, still unspoiled, followed nature, having one man as both their leader and their law, entrusting themselves to the control of one better than themselves. For nature has the habit of subjecting the weaker to the stronger… It was avarice that introduced poverty and, by craving much, lost all…we once possessed the whole world! (Epistles 90)

Similarly, Paul reflects on the origin of sin in Rom 5:12 when he writes—in typical controversial and debated fashion—"For this reason, just as sin entered into the world through the one man [Adam], and death through sin, and so death crept to all people because all sinned." I rendered the verb διέρχομαι ("to spread, travel") as "crept" because I believe it fits contextually—sin is a living thing, and it feeds on living things. But here we see a glimpse into the Adamic narrative, especially as it relates to Death being a ruler over us (Rom 5:14ff) and I would argue this Adamic narrative carries on into Romans 7. Sin came into being because we sinned. Here, we might say, is the beginning of what is often called the "free will" defense: even though humanity was granted all things except to eat from that pesky tree, even though they knew God, they frittered God away for things that do not even resemble God. Thus, the original sin, as it were, came into the world because of a desire for autonomy apart from God. We all worship something, and these days you can see idol worship just by turning on the news. What we can determine quite clearly is that Paul believed that sin was something organic and structural, a personification that takes a whole host of metaphors and analogies. A key verse for this is Rom 6:6:

We know that our old self was crucified along with him, so that the body of sin might be utterly destroyed, so that we might no longer be enslaved to sin.

The slave-master analogy requires a real socio-historical grounding. Slavery was incredibly common in the ancient world, with estimates of around 300,00 of them existing in the Roman Empire during Paul's time. Hence, the presence and materialization of sin not only abounded across the Roman Empire, it manifested itself in the very bodies of the early Christians who were slaves and slave-masters. As such, the question of the emergence of evil is clear. Sin, as a cosmic oppressor, comes to birth through the sinful activity of humanity. Death feeds on life. Sin feeds on life. As such, the materialization of sin and death and evil stems from the desires of creature who have forsaken God—it is not God who created evil; that falls upon us. As Beverley Gaventa writes, "humanities refusal of God's lordship meant that God conceded humanity for a time to the lordship of another."[1]

3. The Reality and Promulgation of Evil

The second point concerns the reality and promulgation of evil. From whence evil came, we know. The reality of evil is more pressing, as it is the straw that broken many a former Christians back. The sin of racism, violence, greed, avarice, and so forth remains ever present in our world. For many, Paul is often considered to be the source of Christian anti-Semitism, slavery, and sexism. This list of Paul's alleged sins increases expansively if one consider the impact of government sanctioned violence (Rom 13:1-7). This is not the place to defend Paul on every point but a few words are needed. If we are to take Paul seriously as a theologian, we must be certain of his character. What good is a theologian if he or she ignores the things of Christ? What good is the apocalyptic vision is that vision is tainted by the worst wiles of the ancient world? First, Paul's Judaism and comments about Judaism reside within, I would argue, the prophetic tradition and I am not inclined to argue that Isaiah or Ezekiel are Anti-Semitic. Paul sees himself within this prophetic strain (c.f. Rom 1:1) and criticism and condemnation of sinful behavior is not limited exclusively to Paul. As it concerns slavery and women, one cannot find a single ancient source that advocated for the abolition of slavery. But, one can find this little Epistle addressed to a certain Philemon that—I would argue—plants the seeds of emancipation for slaves. The famous text in Galatians 3:26-29 about the abolition of hierarchy through baptism in the church, for the Jew and the Gentile, for the slave and the free person, for male and female, is a strong hindrance to the notion that Paul was intent on maintaining a hierarchical social order. If one includes the activity of early Christian women in Romans 16 for example, one would not expect to find a sexist commending such women for their work in the Gospel. That will suffice for now to assure us of Paul's good character toward 'the least of these.' As such, I would argue that Paul's moral character as it relates to the reality of evil is of use to us. Paul, as an ethical theologian, is an excellent source for understanding the reality of evil insofar as he was aware of evil and that he worked to overcome it as he was able in his time.

Moving to the reality of evil, Paul certainly believed that individuals participated in evil activities. But, I think the problem is far greater than being about individual sin. For Paul, evil has a personality to it—it seeks to subordinate and oppress us (Rom 6). It seizes opportunities to enslave and to kill (Rom 7). Although the powers were created as good (Col 1:15ff), they have since become fraught with violence and oppressive power. What was once good at least in terms of concession (recall that whole "give us a king" moment from the Old Testament) has become corrupt. For Paul, this age or this reality is symbolic of the destructive power of Satan and competing sovereignties. This is the reason Paul calls the "rulers" or "sovereignties" as being of "this age" (1 Cor 2:6-8), and not of the unfolding age to come. As Paul recognizes in Galatians 1:3-5:

Favor to you and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord, who delivered himself over for our sins so that he might rescue us from this present wicked age in accordance with the will/resolve of our God and Father, to whom is glory for ages upon ages. Amen.

Several points must be noted about this fascinating little text. First, notice the distinction between ages: the apocalyptic age of God includes the liberation of humanity from bondage. Only God's glory and favor and peace can reign "for ages upon ages," with no hit to God's sovereignty. There are no other sovereignties to usurp God's power. Second, the notion of liberation includes distinct echoes of the Exodus narrative where God emancipated Israel from bondage, taking them from death into new life. Third, this age is characterized as "wicked" or "evil;" (πονηροῦ) as opposed to good or holy (Eph 2:2). Throughout the Synoptic Gospels the language of "ruler" (ἄρχων) is often linked with demonic realities and powers (Matt 9:34; 12:24) and human powers that enslave (Matt 20:25). What this tell us is that human and supernatural powers have been corrupted and in turn have become corrosive toward God's creation. And they wield immense power in our world. With the Adamic narrative and the decline of civilization narrative in mind, what is Paul's response when the person in Adam cries, "Wretched human that I am, who will liberate me from this body of Death?" (Rom 7:24).

4. The Vanishing of Evil

For many Christians, the question of the "end" of all things is ultimately a question about hell and suffering. Very little is usually said about what this "end" contains, only that there is pain and anguish and a form of torment as it relates to evil. However, it must be said that Paul did not envision the "end" in a way where people and entities are kept alive forever and ever. Paul's vision of "hell" or the "end" must be reframed in broader and more precise ways. Paul has a much bigger picture in mind. For the apostle, the question is not about whether or not God torments people forever and ever. Rather, the question should be seen as, "what is God's ultimate response to evil in the world?" How does God respond to injustice and violence and oppression and exploitation? Hence, theodicy is at the center of Paul's thought world as it relates to sanctification and God's ultimate act in response to the terrors that bind and enslave us. This reconceptualization will press us toward a more robust biblical theology that takes seriously the evils of our world and God's ultimate answer to the terrors and the trials. Apocalyptic theology or eschatology cannot be projected into the future, as if God is not at work now in our world to redeem and wage a cosmic battle against evil.

Questions, of course, arise when we consider such things. For example, one might suggest that sinners continue in sin in hell. This is the view asserted by D.A. Carson among others, and this view has found little support among New Testament scholars. Other views have softened the traditional formulation of hell as eternal brimstone, fire, and torture to something like separation or compared it to 'warm beer.' Ronnie Demler, my colleague and sometimes-cuddly curmudgeon, has documented this sort of argumentation in the Rethinking Hell anthology, so I point you to that for substantiation.

As one can see, often the apologetic impulse in much of evangelicalism deals not with a grand vision of God's sovereignty and holiness and powerful war against sin, but with the individual being consigned and incarcerated to a small corner of the cosmos. Such a framework does not work well at all with Paul's grand vision. So, allow me a few moments to offer a tentative sketch of the Pauline data as it relates to the problem of evil.

Paul's words in Romans 8:18-23 are an appropriate lens by which we begin our conversation. The text reads as follows:

[EXT] 18 For I think that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to compare to the coming glory to be apocalyptically disclosed to us. 19 Because the created order is eagerly waiting with anticipation for the revealing of the sons of God, 20 for creation was subjected with frustration, not willingly, but because of the one who subjected it in hope 21 that even creation itself would be emancipated from its enslavement of destruction for the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that all creation has joined together in groaning and suffers the pain of childbirth until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves—the ones who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit—groan amongst ourselves, anticipating adoption as sons,[2] the emancipation of our bodies. [EXT]

All of creation is subjected in turmoil and anguish and the evidence of this can be found on whatever news channel you prefer. The present reality of suffering and anguish is a prime element of early Christian thought, although the notion of escapism is to be ignored. For Paul in Rom 8:18-23 we see an active reality—the created order—responding to corruption and the process of destruction, where the cosmos is cognizant of its own status and anguish amidst corruption and degradation. Rather, creation is in need of liberation by means of humanity and our work as agents of liberation. God's own hope for a liberated cosmos (vv.20-21) is set in opposition to agents of destruction and corruption, who seek to subordinate and dominate the created realm. God's act of subordination is assumed to be for the benefit of the oppressed, with the ultimate goal of "adoption" and "emancipation." Thinking ecclesiologically and ecologically, the church is to be God's agent of redemption in a world beset by violence and horror. The church is united to this cosmic reality and we participate with it, groaning and eagerly anticipating and even suffering with the created order. The goal of glory is the final culmination of perfection in God's cosmic order, where sin and evil is ultimately removed from all reality. God's process of rectification assumes a new reality (Gal 6:15; 2 Cor 5:16-17) where the kingly image of the eternal Son is supreme above all other orders and realities and principalities and sovereignties (Col 1:15ff). God's perfection of the cosmos is the ultimate restoration of the original design in creation and Eden.

In an often-disregarded verse, Paul outlines the specific end of a principle agent in the rebellion against God: Satan. Paul writes

[EXT] But the God of peace will crush (συντρίψει) Satan beneath your feet in swiftness. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." [EXT]

What is compelling about this verse is that it directly matches the fate of Satan that is proclaimed elsewhere in Scripture (Heb 2:14-15): as the principle evil actor in the divine drama, Satan maintains a significant presence in the New Testament. The language Paul uses in this text is fascinating on two accounts. First, the language of being placed "under your feet" suggests destruction (Psalm 109:1 LXX)[3] and the church is the agent in doing this. Second, the verb συντρίψει is used throughout Second Temple literature to denote destruction, especially as it relates to warfare. 1 Macc 4:32 and 2 Macc 12:28 are specific in their vision of the "destruction" of their enemies: "but they called upon the Sovereign who with great power shatters (συντρίβοντα) the might of his enemies" (12:28). The Book of Odes also speaks of "The Lord shattering (συντρίβων) [enemies in] wars" (1:3; 7:44)[4] a view that is also echoed in Judith 9:7 and 16:2. In Judith specifically, God is the specific agent who "crushed" or "destroys" various warriors and nations who rebel against God. This suggests linguistic and thematic continuity with Rom 16:20 and that Satan's fate is utter decimation from where there is no life, vitality, or remnant. Hence, the final end of Satan in Pauline thought coordinates best with the view that those who participate in evil against God's call to participate in sanctification and victory in Christ will ultimately be undone in death (Rom 6:23).

Paul's magnum apocalyptic opus in 1 Cor 15:24-26 reads as follows

[EXT] 24 Then the final End: when he hands over the Kingdom to God, even the Father, after he has annihilated all rulership and all sovereignty and power 25 For he will continue to reign until he has placed all of the adversaries beneath his feet. 26 The final enemy to be utterly annihilated is Death. [EXT]

These verses in the larger pericope of 1 Cor 15:20-28 represent a master vision where Paul outlines in some detail what will happen to all evil things, particularly the fate of the powers and the sovereignties. The notion of dueling sovereignties is a question that Paul has wrestled with throughout his entire surviving corpus: Jesus the Lord versus Caesar and the Empires of this world, and the problem of competing imperial ideologies in the ancient world are finally confronted here. Christ's kingship is predicated upon his sole exercise of sovereignty and the annihilation of all (πᾶσαν) of the universal realities that have shaped the cosmos; nothing evil has escaped Christ's grasp. A key Greek verb bookends our section here (v.24: καταργήσῃ in relation to the annihilation of the powers) and in the complete annihilation (v.26: καταργεῖται) of the final enemy.[5] These realities (the Powers) and the final enemy (Death) will cease to exist when Christ finally and decisively acts in response to their tyranny. Similarly, the various "rulers" will also be "destroyed" or "brought to nothing"[6] (καταργουμένων) in 1 Cor 2:6. Thiselton notes, "the present tense underlines that they are in the process of being reduced to nothing; this process remains continuous as an unstoppable process, i.e., they are doomed to come to nothing, or doomed to pass away."[7] The perfection of creation and the call for holiness means that the current world order is in direct conflict with God's desires. God's will for a world without sin is predicated upon the free actions of creatures who refuse God's gift of Christ, and all who have aligned themselves with the sovereignties will be given over finally into death. The hostility of the powers—both human and non-human—are doomed to nothingness, as sin cannot co-exist with God and God's people in New Creation. This word group (καταργέω) is also applied to the "lawless one" or the "person of lawlessness" (ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἀνομίας) in 2 Thess 2:7-10. In response to the evil done by this figure, Jesus will "kill" (ἀνελεῖ) him and "annihilate" (καταργήσει) him when he comes in glory (2 Thess 2:8). The discontinuity procured by Sin and Death means that Paul's vision of a triumphant God entails the annihilation of all things hostile to God: the final enemy of God is that which seeks to dominate all of creation, this ultimate adversary of Death. The removal of sin from the body of the believer (Rom 6:6) echoes the removal of sin and evil from the cosmic order here. In responding to the created powers, God renders them null and void, with utter decimation and final obliteration for the benefit of those who were oppressed by them and enslaved to them.

A few closing points:

·      To assert that God maintains old vestiges of sin and evil entities somewhere in the cosmos does not comport at all with the Pauline data. Evil cannot exist with a good and sovereign God at the helm of history. Evil and Death, as powers that enslave and corrode, cannot exist within God's creation.

·      To assert that evil and sin and death are eternally existent in the bodies of those who rejected Christ is miss out on the military language utilized by Paul. Paul's use of incarceration imagery is never used in an apocalyptic sense to refer to people being eternally existent in a state of agony or boredom. Rather, in all of Paul's apocalyptic discourses, annihilationist or destructionist language is used.

5. The Sea will be as Glass

The question, in conclusion, is how Paul's vision concerning the destruction of evil affects our theological consideration. The integration of various issues in theodicy and the apocalyptic fall of Satan and the powers are actually vital for Pauline theology. To introduce various other questions about the eternal existence of people in a state of hell is to miss out on the point of Paul's theological outlook. There are no other sovereignties or powers to press against God's sovereignty. In the chaos of this world, Paul's perspective gives us hope—especially to those of us who are pastors—in that evil and sin and death exist, and they are at war with God. As John Peckham has stated, "The suffering God of the cross himself took on death in order to destroy it, and he will indeed destroy death and the enemy who has its power (Heb 2:14). In the meantime, we can maintain faith in the goodness of this God of love while raging against the (temporary) "dying of the light."[8] One is not immune from suffering simply by privilege of being born or being a Christian. Evil is overwhelming because it is evil. Evil does that. But God did not hide himself from such evil. And Paul didn't either. Chaos reigns but it cannot reign eternally.

As John the Seer said some thirty years after Paul, "And I saw what looked like a sea of glass glowing with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and its image and over the number of its name" (15:2). Let us live into that.

 NQ

[1] Beverley Gaventa, "The Cosmic Power of Sin in Paul's Letter to the Romans: Toward a Widescreen Edition," Interpretation 58.3 (2004): 229-240, 233.

[2] Here, Paul is addressing a mixed audience and hence women are included with the status of first-born sons.

[3] Specifically, the language of "corpses" (πτῶμα) and and the verb for "shattering" (συνθλάω) in vv.5-6 of the LXX denote annihilation. This victory is envisioned as a military conquest, not a passive or peaceful submission.

[4] The verb can also be used to denote metaphorical destruction; cf Sir 13:2 and 27:2. 

[5] Louw-Nida glosses this verb as "to cause to cease to exist - 'to cause to come to an end, to cause to become nothing, to put an end to.' " 13.100.

[6] Richard Hays observes the following: "this parallel [with 1:28] shows that it is God who is acting to destroy these rulers and to establish his sovereignty over the world." First Corinthians, 43.

[7] Thiselton, First Corinthians, 231-232.

[8] Peckham, Theodicy of Love, 170.

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?

The Incarnation & The Iconoclast: A Theological Framework of Hope in the Midst of Suffering & Abuse

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This last weekend I gave a paper at CATA’s 2018 conference in Toronto Canada. Below is just a snippet before we load the recording onto the Split Frame of Reference Podcast.

The Incarnation & The Iconoclast:

A Theological Framework of Hope in the Midst of Suffering & Abuse

Surviving chronic abuse, especially in a Christian context, can be disillusioning and disorienting—much like existing in “the room” from C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength. On the surface the room may seem normal, and yet if one pays attention, he or she will notice it is ill-proportioned, if not designed to gradually condition one to accept the distortion as what a room ought to be. Initially one sees that the room is off, but “near enough to the true to deceive you for a moment” but off kilter enough to “go on teasing the mind even after the deception” is unmasked.[1] If one continues probing one sees the room is not just ill-proportioned, but has several distorted, if not disturbing details. In a similar way, abuse functions to do more than injure and destroy, it seeks to remake reality and warp images and perceptions. One fighting to survive abuse finds that not only must they fend off a constant assault on one’s identity as coercive tactics are employed to ensure the abuser’s distortions are “made reality” i.e. felt in real time and space with maximal control, but the distortion may also be internalized and maintained by others as accepted reality. Both the target and Christian community will need all of its biblical and theological resources to resist this false and damaging reality if they are to live out their calling as image bearers and to borrow a phrase from a book title, “push back the dark.”[2]

Abuse becomes more complicated when intermixed with classic manipulative and abusive tactics are appeals to the example of Christ, catch-words, such as “forgiveness,” “grace,” and “submission.” The experience of abuse is also made more difficult by bizarre expectations that those experiencing various (and often prolonged) attacks just “move on,” be more “positive,” or less “selfish” from the community at large. These concepts are frequently, if not regularly, out of place and used in oversimplified ways—especially as it relates to Scripture. The result? It is implicitly or explicitly communicated that the target should not be concerned about their own self-respect, dignity, well-being or need for healing from damage done to them. Rather, it is the abusive individual’s voice that must be heard, his or her perceptions and feelings and the group’s sense of equilibrium that must be religiously guarded, at all costs as it was with the infamous cases involving Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll, the Southern Baptist Convention and the past actions of Willow Creek.

In this brief presentation I will be offering a particular way of approaching abuse theologically by considering it in the framework of iconoclasm, the incarnation and the imago dei. I will simultaneously be countering some of the harmful misuses of scriptural concepts used to continue the abuse of power by offering a different theological framework or particular theology from which to understand suffering, abuse and bold resistance. As support I will be drawing from the doctrine of theosis and Christus Victor models of atonement as well as the language of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. This beginning of a constructive theology will be developed around two figures: the iconoclast (one who abuses, whether structural or personal) and the incarnation, and our participation in them. This venture will involve arriving at an understanding of Christ’s and one’s own identity through narrative placement.[3] 

The Incarnation and The Iconoclast

“Let there be light.” The Anastasis icon meets us in a burst of uncreated light as the Incarnation descends down into the darkness of Hades parting the earth as though it were the Red Sea and shattering the gates of the underworld. In a moment we are caught up in the transfiguration as we see him for who he is—the Incarnation—our hope and life—yet still wrapped in the dark mystery that is God signified by the gradation of blue surrounding him. With nail pierced hands reminding us of his bloody struggle, he grabs Adam and Eve, drawing them up out of their graves towards himself to follow him in resurrection freedom. “Christ is depicted not as the victim of mortality and evil, but as the victorious Son of God, clothed in glory, who by death has conquered death, and has released those who have been held captive.” The Devil is bound and “the darkness of Hades has been filled with light.”[4]

Colossians 1:13-14 describes those who are in Christ as persons who are “rescued from the domain of darkness,” and transferred into the kingdom of the Son in whom we have redemption and forgiveness. And this is possible because the Son is the “image,” the perfect and natural icon, “of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him (vv. 15-16).” The Incarnation, the Son, who is fully God yet differentiated from the Father and Holy Spirit, is the one by whom creatures, those “other” than God, were created, are being held together in God’s ongoing creative act (Col 1:17), and through whom they are recreated. He is firstborn of creation because he is the destined Lord over creation and he is the one through whom all of creation will be brought to completion. The Incarnation lifts us up, not just out of the grave, but also up to himself to become like him. As those made in the image of God and rescued by the Incarnation we are called to be creative agents of liberation and representations of God in the world. 

The Incarnation is the basis for reconciliation (Col 1:20-23). The Incarnation, the perfect human who cried tears of blood from stress, was crushed by the weight of the cross and died. Reconciliation through a “fleshly body.” He entered into our darkness to rescue us from an “alienated and hostile mind” and “evil deeds,” bringing us hope (Col 1:21-23). And, the Incarnation chose to dwell (or tabernacle) among humans as one who stepped in on behalf of those who were marginalized and exploited by society by eating with and openly associating himself with them while calling to account those who claimed holiness yet exploited others. And he demonstrated God’s heart for humanity by becoming impoverished, humiliated, and abused. His sacrifice in the flesh and opening the gates of Hades is a call into perfect love in him. Having been lifted from the grave into resurrection life, the church is called to enter into the dark with the light of Christ, exposing and binding evil wherever we find it to set the captives free. We are called to recognize and respect the image of Christ within us as we endure unrelenting and unimaginable suffering and respect other image bearers who are as well.

The destiny of a person and humanity are wrapped up in the incarnation, the perfect and natural icon of God, the template and telos for all creation who enables us to live out our purpose to love out of a “pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”[5] Human beings were created to represent God on the earth, to be in relationship with God, the world and one another. Put differently, God gave “his face to Adam and Eve,” to us, “so that—individually and collectively—[we] may become his icon[s] within the cosmos.”[6] Individuals only truly become themselves when they can accurately see the face of Christ in their reflection. To bear the “image” of God means one has the potential to grow into the “likeness” of Christ, and ultimately be united with God.

            And what of the Iconoclast? The incarnation and the iconoclast represent two polarizing yet unequal figures: the first is creative and life giving and the other, destructive yet disconnected from the source of creative life and destined to fade with time. The Iconoclast is a figure representing a power: whether personal, institutional or mob. Functionally, they may be bullies at work, abusive individuals at home or church, oppressive systems or to a lesser extent, merely cogs or a group identity that has taken on a life of its own transcending any individual identity. In the end, the iconoclast does not value human beings as made in the image of God and in turning away from “the other,” the iconoclast turns from his or her own purpose.

            At its core, an iconoclast worships a false image of his or herself and despises the image of God in others and attempts to smash the image of Christ in others or recast that image into one of distortion. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “...for the individual who hates, the beautiful becomes ugly, and the ugly becomes beautiful. The true becomes false, and the false becomes true. The evil becomes good, and the good becomes evil.”[7]An iconoclast sets what he or she perceives as the self in the place of God, having rejected the divine image within themselves and others and in doing so puts him or herself in opposition to the Incarnation and his purposes. The abuse of power, among other things, is a pervasive form of idolatry. The abuse of one dearly loved and valued by God, and bears his image, is a life orientation that is sacrilegious at its core.

Reframing Abuse

In order to resist the iconoclast, one must be able to identify “him” or even one’s own dark shadow, that piece of the self that eludes consciousness and if recognized would lead to the understanding that one is less good than perceived. All that is not of God, must be brought to light and exposed before it can be converted. Part of one’s call as made in the image of God in the context of sin is to expose those dark corners, those ill-proportions of “the room” for what they are so that they can be offered to the Lord and then transformed. Part of this process of offering means reframing the iconoclast’s narrative, discerning it as a negation of the good and seeing oneself and the “other” as made in the image of God—as beings worth fighting and dying for, rather than a necessary sacrifice to the false self. One must see abuse not as a one-time “slip up,” nor a “sin” to be excused or left unspoken, but a pervasive pattern of idolatrous rebellion against the Incarnation and all that he stands for. With that said, we now turn to part of our corporate shadow.


[1] C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 294-295.

[2] A phrase taken from the title of Elizabeth M. Altmaier’s book, Push Back the Dark: Companioning Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse.

[3]Richard B. Hays, “Reading the Bible with the Eyes of Faith: The Practice of Theological Exegesis,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 1.1 (2007). Francis Watson, Text, Church and World: Biblical Interpretation in Theological Perspective (Grand Rapids: MI: Eerdmans, 1994).

[4] John Baggley, Festival Icons for the Christian Year, St. Vladimir’s Press, 122.

[5] 1 Timothy 1:4 NIV

[6] Daniela C Augustine, The Image of God in an Image Driven Age: Explorations in Theological Anthropology, 176.

[7] MLK 7 March 1961, 427

———

This was a unique experiment for me and if I am honest, a little uncomfortable because it represents the tip of an ice berg involving tons of exegesis, nearly 25 years of conscious theological reflection wrestling with at least three realities: 1) God is immeasurably good, personal and everywhere with us, 2) the reality that evil and abuse exists, and 3) the deep desire and draw—almost like a siren’s call—to become more like Christ. These realities were highly ingrained from an early age from my reading and interpreting of copious amounts of Scripture, experiences of the Spirit forming my character confronting me with the goodness he gave me along with the bad, later reading the church fathers and interacting with Eastern Orthodoxy, and, an early experience of God the day I “accepted Jesus into my heart” that has instilled in me a conviction of his omnipresence in such a way that is intimately connected with our life and being as humans.

At the end of the day, I find this paper terribly lacking. It does not cover all of my thoughts, show any of the exegesis, does not dissect or show how I have drawn from all of my patristic sources, nor get into many of the out workings of my use the seventh ecumenical council…among other things. It is also a faint sample of what is in my mind. Until next time. ;)

-AQ

Resisting Evil Part 3: Masks, Disillusionment & The Light

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. -Ephesians 6:12
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If we are being formed into the image of Christ, darkness within and directed at us is transfigured in light of the work of Christ and his promise of resurrection. At our core identity, we are also people of hope for those with spiteful disillusionment and even iconoclastic tendencies. We may, with the help of the Spirit, lift the mask and see the face of another under the grip of evil (personal evil or otherwise) and yet love the person in all their pain, misplaced hope, and even disillusionment. We can also have joy recalling our own dark past (perhaps present?) and yet perceive ourselves as belonging to God, understanding that this same hope, although painful, can also transform the iconoclast.

To finish my short meditations on resisting evil I will now zero in on directly battling against the powers of darkness with weapons of light and even placing oneself at risk for the sake of God's kingdom. Please note, this post is not about personal survival (I have other work in that direction), but of risk. Even still, I do not advocate for self-dehumanization or codependency as these ultimately benefit no one and do not reflect God's future. However, at the end of the day, prayer and formation are not meant to be private nor separate from our vocational calling to love the Lord in our everyday actions. We love and sacrifice for those around us even those bent on destroying us because we are people of hope.

Ultimately, risking oneself and standing against evil in the world are not added Christian bonuses to a life of prayer and Bible study, but are integral to our life purpose. Otherwise, why pray and why read? To think we are called to pray and not get involved misses one of the key purposes for prayer in the first place: formed obedience to God whereas the Spirit fills every crevice of our will and sense of self thus enabling us to act as agents of God's world yet to come. Our place in time requires risk by virtue of the world currently being under the control of the evil one, since we are under the power of the Spirit (hopefully!) and thus opposed to dark purposes. We must see this and recognize that we must fight our enemy as God places us in positions to do good whether it is forgiving or blessing an enemy, standing our ground, exposing evil behavior or putting even our own bodies at risk for another.

God Has Called You To Fight

We are called to resist darkness from within and without. The powers of darkness try and sell all of us a pile of lies that we must preserve ourselves at any cost. Lies that hope and loving-kindness are weak. And darkness deceives us into believing one is enlightened in disillusionment! But it builds us up just to tear us down and take us away from the God who knows our dark world intimately--who entered into despair & powerlessness--and became the light that the darkness could not overcome (John 1). Christ subverted the dark world in the form of being crucified thus giving suffering and unspeakable, horrifying evil new meaning turning our gaze towards resurrection. The amount of power we as little ones have to fight against the powers of darkness depends on how much we are dependent on the all-powerful God of love. Hope is vulnerable yet necessary to defeat evil. The key, however, is hope in God, on God's terms.

We Fight the Iconoclast

The iconoclast and others are not directly our enemies (even if they are in terms of position), but the dark powers that have ensnared them are. Often those trying to destroy us have themselves been destroyed by evil and continue to be used by their false gods even as they try and gain mastery over others.

In resisting the iconoclast we fight for both ourselves and ironically, for the iconoclast! The iconoclast thinks in zero-sum. In order for this false image of myself to persist, I must destroy you. The iconoclast both hates and admires the image they smash because the image of God is a threat to their god--themselves whether in the form of an idol or directly, ego. The existence of the divine image is beautiful and powerful and thus a threat to the iconoclasts' power. The divine image may be evident in one's personality, gifting, character or other abilities. In contrast to the iconoclasts vision of power, God's economy is one of interdependence and the diffusion of power. We resist the iconoclast by, with kindness, seeing through their mask and loving him or her as we worship the living God. We do not pretend the iconoclast has beauty he or she does not have, but we do recognize the light of the divine image whenever we do see it in them and if we fall short and are not able, then at least the potential of Christ within them.

Because we worship God and love him with all our hearts and out of this love the iconoclast, we do not make ourselves easy for the iconoclast to destroy. We say, "No, I will not let you destroy me because I bear the image of our Savior!" This further threatens the iconoclast's false image as one further represents Christ. The iconoclast is then in a bind. The more they mar the image of Christ in you the more you may resemble Christ exposing their behavior for what it is, evil in opposition to the good. Please note, the key here is not you uncovering faults with the iconoclast, but allowing the power of God manifested in your love and formation of character to do it, and allowing the Spirit to convict their hearts. The goal is to point towards the one you represent and in the process surrender one's own desire for revenge and ego thus becoming more animated with divine life and beckoning the iconoclast into this life. However, this will not be easy. False images masquerading as persons and objects of worship must be painfully torn down and surrendered by individuals entrapped by them and this is often a horrifying and threatening--even if necessary--prospect for the iconoclast.

How does one love an iconoclast? Romans 12 gives some excellent insight as do other parts of Scripture. Put simply, when they harass us we refuse to take revenge and instead try and bless them (vv. 13-21). We desire their good. I once had someone constantly trying to sabotage me at one of my jobs. I not only refrained from doing the same, I defended her when she was unfairly accused and praised her when she did good work. When she was sick I gave her medicine. I did this while refusing to let her walk all over me. This person would actually grind their teeth when I would show empathy towards her and once cried when her attempts to destroy me failed. She wanted me to wither away and be revealed as evil and after ultimately accomplishing neither of those things (though at first successful), all she was left with were her own actions and heart.

In terms of identity, we match the iconoclast's ego with our humility. We delight in the gifts of others even when similar or superior to our own and we joyfully lift up the strengths of others truly believing we are part of one another (vv.3-5). We utilize our gifts as best as we can even though it stirs the iconoclast's jealousy because we see them as gifts from God and use them worshipfully since this was why we were given them in the first place (vv.6-8). The world gives and "loves" with strings attached, we must do so out of the abundance of our hearts from the Spirit (vv.9-11 cf. 5:5). Welcome those around you who do not have social capital and provide for those in need without thinking you are better (vv.13-16). We do not give because we are "the bigger person" but because God is.

Lastly, stand your ground and pray (v12). Pray for the iconoclast. Ultimately we go where and do what God tells us to. Prayer is the way we connect ourselves consciously to the Spirit as agents in God's world. God often wants us to be consciously involved in his process and wants us to come to him with self-emptying obedience with our hearts directed towards him. Sometimes he even tells us or gives us clues for what is to come, but often not. The key is to act with God and not against or independent of him. Really, none of us can save anyone! To think so would be to retain a false image or idol doomed to fail and be exposed. All of us are saved by the power of God in Jesus Christ through the Spirit. At best we are the child given a small package by a parent and told "see that person over there?" go give this to them!

We Fight For Others Enslaved to Darkness

A friend of mine was in the process of earning his doctorate in addition to full-time ministry when he noticed a younger disabled man in his community being harassed by a violent man. The man would stalk or hunt him and then beat him up. The poor guy had no family and was especially vulnerable. My friend decided to call him his "son" and protect him. He helped him through the court system and when asked by the judge why he was involving himself the minister answered, "I am a minister of the gospel and this man was harming my son." Although he was busy, he could not avoid getting involved even though the harasser was now confronting him too. The minister battled the violent stalker for years and would not back down. You are also ministers of the Gospel.

If you are in a situation where you can stand up for another, give aid or give of yourself in some way then probably God has called you to the task. Don't wait to "pray" on whether to do good or manifest a slice of God's kingdom. God tells us in Ephesians that he has gone ahead of us and prepared good works for us to do ahead of time (Eph 2:10). Sometimes he matches us with peculiar situations suited to our own special abilities.

I test high on the empathy, forgiveness and patience scale, but also tend to have a highly strategic mind. Most of the time this manifests in my ability to come alongside others in more of a counselor role or make their day in little ways which I love to do, but sometimes God is sneaky. I do not especially like it when he does this, but he will sometimes interrupt my own flow of life and place me in very strange, even psychologically dangerous situations. Sometimes it has been to help liberate someone, but really, it could be anything he wants to do at the moment and most of the time I am in the dark. However, I can usually recognize God is using me for something specific when: 1) God has prepared me ahead of time emotionally and spiritually in some way, 2) often there is some sort of sign/knowledge of what is to come that I otherwise do not have access to, 3) God gives me the tools I need, and 4) After the event I can look and see that God accomplished a particular thing by giving me X knowledge and Y tool. 

For example, he had shown me a particular person in a dream before I met them the next day so that I would notice them and dig deeper. On the surface, they seemed rather nice and unassuming and I am already prone to liking everyone, but was bothered for months about the dream (I am not in the habit of seeing people I have never met clearly in a dream a day before I meet them). Long story short:  she had my friend trapped in a morbid web of lies! She had made him think he was personally responsible for her being raped by someone 3 times, having a stillborn baby she supposedly named after him (she was never pregnant) and a whole lot of other weird stuff all aimed at keeping him with her. It may sound ridiculous from the outside, but if you are in the middle of a manipulative person's web of deceit, you will gradually believe anything. She would also pretend to know extended network connections to get close to people. I ended up exposing her. God had seen the mess my friend was in and used extraordinary means to free him. I got to be part of it.

Sometimes we also need to pray directly against demonic spirits. We are not alone. Tied to and entangled with an entire host of familiar problems whether of character, systems or illness are also dark forces that love to feed off of the inflated and vulnerable. Once when I realized four individuals were doing everything in their power to destroy me, I immediately started praying against evil spirits, in this case spirits of deception and lies, asking the Holy Spirit to be manifest in that place. Immediately all sorts of truths began to surface that were otherwise hidden. Also, those who give themselves over to evil thinking they will have mastery over themselves and others, are not only ruled by it, they often have some not so welcome "friends" hanging around them that they are unaware of. Pray for God's peace and that you will be a good agent of his peace.

Why Do We Resist Darkness?

We resist darkness because we can't not! The more we surrender ourselves to Christ the less possible it seems to hand over anything to darkness. We are horrified when we find darkness within ourselves not out of dread, but out of love for the one who did so much for us. When we see evil in others we do not feel better or superior but have a deep desire for their good, God's destined shalom. When we see others being mistreated or harmed and are in a position to help (even if it involves risk), we hear the call of God on our lives. To resist doing good would be to dim the transforming image of God and miss an opportunity to become more like Christ. Basically, our end goal or telos is entirely different from the world's and its focus on survival and amassing good objects, status and perceptions for itself. Our goal is love from a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith (1 Tim 1:5). God is our inheritance and if we have him, that is enough even if we die in obscurity or a pool of character slander.

An ugly symbol of dominance, gore and humiliation signifies our hope and something to strive towards. And this is just as absurd to the world as our willingness to risk and sacrifice for the kingdom of God, our future. The cross is an ugly symbol and one that Christ appropriated in order (among other things) to explain to us how we gain new life in him. He does not ask us to do what he did not do in his every day life struggles or death. In Matthew 16:24-28 Jesus attempts to explain this. We try so hard to preserve what we call "life" trying to gain the world, but to what end? To follow Christ and be under his power is the reverse: to say no to oneself (because we go, do and move towards new ends) and instead exchange our selfish ambition for a symbol used of totalizing gruesome subjugating power at a victim's expense. But in embracing the cross we show ourselves to be agents of the kingdom of God and belonging to God, we realize we have gained life from the source of life who will resurrect even our mutilated bodies from the dead.

Embracing the cross and with it, the resurrection means that we look at others who harass and try and destroy us with love. And we fight--we stand our ground--refusing to die because of who we represent, but not despairing if we must die. However, our weapons are of the Spirit--prayer and formation--not returning evil with evil. After all, we see in our self appointed enemy possibility in the Spirit. Just as Eve was pregnant with hope, so also God's kingdom reality is just around the corner for those deceived and being used as tools by the enemy whether they identify as "Christian" or not. 

At the end of the day, we can be filled with delight (or at least not despair), during persecution, suffering, and trials because we see the Spirit's work in our hearts and we desire the good for our enemy (Rom 5:3-5). We revel in our belonging to Christ, realizing we are truly under his power and influence. The seed of the kingdom has grown into a tree and we may almost be distracted with this underlying reality, though perhaps only in moments.

God's kingdom in, with and through us. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The "Headship" of the Apocalyptic Son: Exploring Paul's use of κεφαλή in Col 2:8-23

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"It is widely understood by linguists, lexicographers, and philosophers that words do not have one and only one meaning; they have several meanings, some of them quite distinct. Words have a variety of denotations (things they represent) as well as connotations (implied or associated meanings)."[1] This is demonstrably true given the vast ocean of literature surrounding the Greek word κεφαλή, especially as it relates to the evangelical debate about women's ordination. I will argue that Paul's primary emphasis in his use of the term κεφαλή is best understood in terms of "source" or "originating power." In order to illustrate this point, I will survey Paul's "prepositional" Christology in Colossians 1:15-20 as an interpretive lynchpin for the rest of the passage, as it is directly related to Paul's discourse in 2:8-23. Then, once this has all been established, I will build upon this foundation by exploring Paul's use of the noun κεφαλή within Col 2:8-23.[2]

1. Paul's Prepositional Christology: A Brief Analysis of Col 1:13-20

Col 1:15-20 is considered the highlight of Paul's epistle, especially as it relates to any analysis of Paul's prepositional Christology. Chief among my analysis is Paul's use of the preposition ἐν[3] ("in, on, among")[4] throughout Colossians 1:13-20. Paul's use of the preposition often corresponds to a spatial or participatory element: brothers and sisters are ἐν Χριστῷ (1:2), that is, within the sphere or locale of Christ, who represents a positional nexus in a way similar to those who live within a city (c.f. ἐν Κολοσσαῖς 1:2a). Similar to this is Christ being described as the 'object' of faith (ἀκούσαντες τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ: 1:4), where it is the realm of Christ that is emphasized.[5] However, in 1:14 we have a potential shift of usage (ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν), where the preposition does not emphasize the locality of Christ, but the activity of God in Christ. The verb ἔχομεν[6] (1:14) speaks of something achieved or gained in terms of active agency, as God is the one who "liberates"[7] (1:13a) us from bondage and transfers us into Christ's Kingdom.

This does not exclude the locative nature of Christ, but liberation is enacted by the action of God in Christ, so there is potentially a dual meaning at play in Paul's rhetoric here.[8] Redemption, whether from Egypt or Rome is a God-in-Christ act. As Porter has already noted, "temporal location can and often does imply the idea of accompaniment, control, agency, cause and even means (price)."[9]

Crucial to a notion of Christ's self-agency is how one understands the preposition ἐν in 1.16; whatever conclusions one derives from this verse will have an impact on one's exegetical conceptualization of how Paul uses κεφαλή in 2:10 and 2:19. The text reads as follows: First, I will survey Paul's "prepositional" Christology in Colossians 1:15-20 as an interpretive lynchpin for the rest of the passage, as it is directly related to Paul's discourse in 2:8-23. Then, once this has all been established, I will build upon this foundation by exploring Paul's use of the term κεφαλή within Col 2:8-23

ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, τὰ ὁρατὰ καὶ τὰ ἀόρατα, εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι[10]· τὰ πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται·

"For by him all things were created in the heavens and on the earth, seen and unseen, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or sovereignties: all things have been created through him and for him" (AT).

Paul uses the preposition ἐν twice in this verse, with one clear case of it being used in a spatial manner, i.e. "in" or "among the heavens" (ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς) and "over" (ἐπὶ) the "earth." That much is clear. However, whether ἐν αὐτῷ is exclusively instrumental or locative is debated. The reticence of the instrumentality argument concerns Paul's concluding use of διά, which could be seen as redundant,[11] and for some the "locative…is preferable."[12] Two points may be said in response to this. First, in the dominant usage of Paul's "in Christ" language, the Son is seen as the direct object of the person's faith/fullness (c.f. 1:2 and elsewhere);[13] however, in 1:16a, there is no such referent. Christ is πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως (1:15b), the "firstborn." God is not the one who is active; rather it is Christ in 1:15b, suggesting a continual agency on the part of Christ, and cannot be limited to locality—without the action of the preexistent Son, creation is not created (δι᾽ αὐτοῦ: 1:16b). Agency is required for creation, a point that is bookended in 1:16b. Robert Wilson, following Peake, concurs: "it is probably safest to say that the act of creation depended causally on the Son."[14]

Thus, it seems best to see Christ as the Son who "creates" whatever is in heaven and on the earth: this would include thrones, dominions, rulers, and sovereignties—human and demonic.[15] Christ—as King, Creator, and Lord[16]—is best seen in 1:16 as a principal actor on the stage of creation, and this includes his role in creating the Powers and his own locative presence as being directly involved in God's plan. Christ, therefore, is the locative agent by which the Powers come into being as "created" beings.[17] The question now turns to the relationship between Christ, the Powers and the Church in 2:8-23 and how we are to interpret Paul's language of "headship."

2a. Lexical Perspectives on Kephalē

Despite the fact that a majority of the evangelical gender debate has centered on what has been called the "battle of the lexicons,"[18] one can quickly notice that all of the major English lexicons offer the primary gloss in terms of physiology and not primarily on authority relationships. For instance:

BDAG 3675:

head – a. as anatomical term Mt 5:36; 10:30; 27:39; Mk 6:24f, 27f; Lk 7:38; J 13:9; Ac 21:24; Ro 12:20; 1 Cor 11:4f; 12:21; Rv 1:14 and oft. in Rv. – b. in transf. sense of a, as architectural extremity Mt 21:42 and par. – c. in transf. sense of a, as directing agent within a ranking system 1 Cor 11:3; Eph 1:22; 5:23; Col 1:18. – d. in ref. to political significance Ac 16:12 v.l. 

Friberg 15975:

κεφαλή, ῆς, ἡ head; (1) literally, of a human or animal head (MT 6.17); (2) figuratively; (a) metaphorically, of Christ as the head of which the church is the body (EP 1.22); (b) of persons, designating first or superior rank[19] head (1C 11.3); (c) of things uppermost part, extremity, end point; of buildings keystone, capstone (MT 21.42); (d) leading city, capital (AC 16.12)

Liddel-Scott-Jones 24124 Abridged:

the head of man or beast, Hom., etc.; κατὰ κεφαλῆς, Ep. κὰκ κεφαλῆς, over the head, Id.; κὰκκεφαλήν on the head, Il.:- ἐς πόδας ἐκ κεφαλῆς from head to foot, Ib.:- ἐπὶ κεφαλήν head foremost, head downwards, headlong, Hdt., Plat., etc.

2. the head, put for the whole person, Hom.; ἶσον ἐμῇ κεφαλῇ like myself, Il.; φίλη κ., Lat. carum caput, Ib.: in bad sense, ὦ κακαὶ κεφαλαί Hdt.; ὦ μιαρὰ κ. Ar.

3. the head, i.e. the life, παρθέμενοι κεφαλάς setting their heads on the cast, Od.:-in imprecations, ἐς κεφαλὴν τρέποιτ᾽ ἐμοί on my head be it! Ar., etc.

II. generally, κ. σκορόδου a head of garlic, Id.: the top or brim of a vessel, Theocr.: the coping of a wall, Xen.:-in pl. the head or source of a river, Hdt.

III. metaph., like κεφάλαιον, the crown, completion of a thing, Plat.

Louw-Nida 8.10:

κεφαλή, ῆς f - 'head.' θέλω ἵνα ἐξαυτῆς δῳσ μοι ἐπὶ πίνακι τὴν κεφαλὴν Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ 'I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist on a plate' Mk 6.25. In some languages it may be necessary to distinguish clearly between the head which is still a part of a body and a severed head. It is this latter meaning which is obviously involved in Mk 6.25 .In rendering 1 Cor 11.4, πᾶς ἀνὴρ προσευχόμενος ἢ προφητεύων κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων 'any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered,' it may be important to indicate that the covering is not one which is designed to cover the entire head including the face, but only the top of the head. The same applies, of course, to 1 Cor 11.5 and 7.

In each instance, the lexicon is prone to interpreting the various occurrences of κεφαλή, with little justification as to the various interpretive placements. While one cannot dismiss glosses out of hand, a proper methodology ought to focus on the individual occurrences within a specific corpus before turning to the various lexicons.[20] Lexicons are summaries of data that cannot replace commentaries or monographs on specific subjects.[21] Context decides the meaning of a particular lexeme, and now we turn to that specific and vexatious word: κεφαλή.

2b. Kephalē and the Necessity of Contextual Distinctives in Paul

The Greek word κεφαλή occurs 67 times in the New Testament, with a majority of occurrences coming in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts (37 times)[22] and the Book of Revelation (16 times).[23] Paul uses the noun a mere 13 times in his surviving epistles.  Some of these instances clearly fall under the physiological category[24] (c.f. Rom 12:20: τοῦτο γὰρ ποιῶν ἄνθρακας πυρὸς σωρεύσεις ἐπὶ τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ)[25] with no specific denotation or connotation of 'authority' or 'source.' It must be said that there are at least two separate categories for "head" in Paul when he uses the term in a metaphorical or mixed (metaphor and literal) manner. One category concerns conduct within the ekklesia (Rom 12:20; 1 Cor 11:2-16, 12:21; Col 2:19; Eph 4:15-16, 5:23), and the other category concerns Christ's relationship with the Powers (Eph 1:22; Col 2:10). While there is some blurring between these categories given the household nature of the ancient church,[26] interpreters ought to exercise caution in assuming and consequently conflating the two categories together. Christ's relationship to the Church is different than his relationship to the various Sovereignties—one is reconciled to God, the other is ultimately destroyed (1 Cor 15:24-28)

2c. Kephalē and the Discourse of Col 2:8-23

The epistolary context of Col 2:8-23 shows a great deal of continued linguistic correspondence with Col 1:15-20. What defines κεφαλὴ in the pericope that follows is determined by authorial application and by the epistolary context of Colossians, and not by a narrow lexical category.[27]

Col 2:10

The use of ἐν αὐτῷ occurs significantly in both chapters (1:14, 16, 17, 19; 2:9, 10) in Paul's Christology of creation, where Christ's actions as creator are stressed, and 1:15, 18 and 2:10a have similar syntax:

1:15: ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ

1:18: αὐτός ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ

2:10b: ὅς ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ[28]

The correspondence language between the Christ-Hymn, Christ's role as Creator, and Paul's language of the Powers in 2:10 strongly suggests a thematic and linguistic relationship.[29]

καὶ ἐστὲ ἐν αὐτῷ πεπληρωμένοι, ὅς ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ πάσης ἀρχῆς καὶ ἐξουσίας: ("and you have been filled in/by him, who is the head of all rule and authority"). For Wayne Grudem, this verse "emphasizes that Christ is the authority over[30] not only the church, but over all rulers and authorities, over all powers in the universe."[31] To be the "head" is to be in authority over the powers. Cervin argues

The notion of authority may be present [in Col 2:10], but so are prominence and preeminence. Again, the question is which notion, if any, is primary? It is unlikely that "source" is applicable in this context because that would make Christ the source of "every ruler and authority" and that does not make much sense in this context.[32]

Proponents of κεφαλή as meaning generally "source" like Philip Payne suggest, "the meaning 'top or crown' fits" Col 2:10 better than 'source.'"[33] However, both Grudem, Cervin and Payne miss a crucial element: Paul specifically speaks of Christ being the "creator" (ἐκτίσθη; ἔκτισται) in Col 1:16 and Paul specifically includes the various Sovereignties and Empires as created entities:[34] indeed, 1:16a begins with the aorist ἐκτίσθη and bookends with v.16b with the perfect ἔκτισται, showing that Christ bookends the creation of the totality of the hostile powers (τὰ πάντα …εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι… τὰ πάντα), who are subsequently reconciled to God (vv.19-20).[35] "Source," seen as the preexistent Son's power to create even the hostile Powers that have enslaved humanity (1:13), shows his own preeminence over them as a subsidiary—not primary—meaning.[36]

The primary connotation for this lexeme, therefore, not "authority" or "top/crown," but "source" or "origination" in terms of Christ being the agent of creation. Christ, as Creator, is preeminent over the Sovereignties by nature of being their Creator. However, Joseph Fitzmyer claims, "those who have claimed than[37] "source" is the meaning intended by Paul have offered no other argument than their claim that kephalē would not have meant "ruler, leader, one having authority over" in Paul's day."[38] As one can see, Fitzmyer is simply mistaken: I have offered contextual and theological reasons for seeing Paul's intended use in terms of "originator" or "source" without once appealing to the paucity of evidence that kephalē might mean "authority over"[39]—it certainly might.[40] Given Christ's role as "creator" in 1:16 in relation to the Sovereignties, the best understanding of 2:10 should be seen primarily in terms of "source" or "origination" and not in terms of "rulership."[41]

Col 2:18-19

καὶ οὐ κρατῶν τὴν κεφαλήν, ἐξ οὗ πᾶν τὸ σῶμα διὰ τῶν ἁφῶν καὶ συνδέσμων ἐπιχορηγούμενον καὶ συμβιβαζόμενον αὔξει τὴν αὔξησιν τοῦ θεοῦ: "and not holding onto the head, from which the entire body—through the ligaments and sinews being supplied and instructed together—grows in the growth of God." Wayne Grudem asserts: "the idea of allegiance to Christ instead of to angels makes the mention of Christ as “authority over” the church an appropriate one in this context. Especially when we realize that the image of head involves not just authority but leadership, direction, guidance, and control, then the following idea of the whole body being knit together and growing together is appropriate."[42] However, this interpretation is most unlikely for two reasons. First, the preposition ἐξ, which is used in both a locative and instrumental sense, suggests "source" or "movement" from τὴν κεφαλήν to the rest of the body.[43] The life of the body and the production of its faculties are derived exclusively from its head—Christ. Hence, Christ is the cause of the Body in the first place (c.f. 1:17-18), so we have a 'head-body' image here. Second, the somatic imagery used in Col 1:6 and 1:10[44] forces us to prefer the organic nature of τὴν κεφαλήν instead of the "ruling" component.[45] Given the explicit language of growth and somatic imagery at play, we have the additional language of avoiding the cosmic elements of bodily abuse (2:20-23), where Christ is not present.

Grudem writes, "whether the idea of “nourishing” carries an image of food that is transported through the mouth (a part of the head) to the rest of the body is not made clear here."[46] It is worth noting, however, that Paul does speak about the Colossian church "eating" and "drinking" in 2:16 and 2:21, where the church is not to worry about being judged for their feasting habits.[47] In summation of this point, the intra-participatory nature of Paul's somatic image is fully in line with his thought elsewhere (1 Cor 12:12-27) and suggests a united harmony between Christ and his Body; the focus in Col 2:19 is not on the authority relationship between Christ and the Body in any explicit manner, despite Grudem's claims.[48] Rather, Paul's focus is on Christ as the preeminent creator and sustainer of our lives, the one who takes a hold of our very lives (3:3), so that we in the Son who will be apocalyptically manifested (3:4), the only hope of our future glory (1:27).

            Conclusion

Paul's prepositional Christology is both locative and instrumental, revealing a complex and intricate relationship between God and the Powers. In our study, we have seen that—in Colossians—Christ is the agent of creation, the preexistent creator who has been manifested in glory for us. As a consequence, Christ's active and locative relationship with the Sovereignties reveals two facets of the Christian life. First, Christ is preeminent over creation for the benefit of the church, as our protector; in stripping the Sovereignties of their power, God in Christ has triumphed over all evil and death, nailing such tyrants to the cross. Second, Christ's relationship to his Body—the Church—is one of generosity, where God-in-Christ relates to us not as a sovereign, but as a beloved father (Col 1:2). As the source of our existence, and as the sustainer and holder of our lives, where a new humanity can grow, thrive and flourish in the Kingdom of God's beloved Son (Col 3:10-11).

NQ

[1] Richard S. Cervin, "On the Significance of Kephalē ("Head"): A Study of the Abuse of One Greek Word," Priscilla Papers 30.2 (2016): 8-20, 8.

[2] Since the noun under question does not occur in the Colossian Haustafel, my arguments are independent of the debate concerning the ordination of women—although it must be said that I am in support of the ordination of women. For the various understandings of κεφαλὴ in the literature, perhaps representative is Anthony Thisleton's First Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 812-822 ["preeminence"]. Other helpful—and diverse—works include Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul's Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 117-137 ["source"]; Joseph Fitzmyer, "Kephalē in I Corinthians 11:3," Interpretation 47 (1993): 52-59 [mixed, leans toward "authority" or "ruler"]; Fred D. Layman, "Male Headship in Paul's Thought," Wesleyan Theological Journal 15.1 (1980): 46-76 [broadly "source"]; Wayne Grudem, "Does Κεφαλή ("Head") Mean "Source" or "Authority Over" in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples," Trinity Journal 6.1 (1985): 38-59 ["authority over" or "ruler"] and Andrew Perriman, "The Head of a Woman: The Meaning of κεφαλὴ in 1 Cor. 11:3," Journal of Theological Studies 45.2 (1994): 602-622 ["preeminent"]. For a major survey of the literature until 2008, see Alan F. Johnson, "A Review of the Scholarly Debate on the Meaning of "Head" (κεφαλὴ) in Paul's Writings," Ashland Theological Journal (2009): 35-57, who leans toward "preeminence."

[3] BDAG 2196 states: "generally functioning as marker of position within, but used to govern numerous other categories, such as means, agency, cause, and associated aspects." Stanley E. Porter notes the following concerning agency and ἐν: "the label 'instrumental' is given to a range of metaphorical extensions of the locative sense of ἐν. Temporal location can and often does imply the idea of accompaniment, control, agency, cause and even means (price)." See Idioms of the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.: Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 158. If am I understanding Porter correctly, the notion of realm/locality is not to be entirely removed from the actions of a particular agent.

[4] While there is a textual variant concerning Κολοσσαῖς, the earliest disruptive witness is Codex Claromontanus in the 6th century; Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Vaticanus support the standard reading.

[5] Murray J. Harris, Colossians & Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 16, believes this phrase refers to the "realm" of the faith exercised by the Colossians.

[6] The present tense-form ἔχω most likely refers to an achieved and enduring consequence of a previous act: the liberation and transference of a people from one state to another in v.13.

[7] Liberation is from slavery and bondage (Ex 6:6 LXX: καὶ ῥύσομαι ὑμᾶς ἐκ τῆς δουλείας καὶ λυτρώσομαι ὑμᾶς ἐν βραχίονι ὑψηλῷ καὶ κρίσει μεγάλῃ), a people group leaving an oppressive empire for the Kingdom of God. This is where my final paper for MMT at Fuller is centered.

[8] The dual activity of God and Christ here (God liberates, and Christ gives us ἀπολύτρωσιν or "redemption") suggests a high view of Christ's work and appears to assume a form of preexistence—a view that is largely evident in the Christ-Hymn to come.

[9] Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 158.

[10] A very late scribe interpolated εἴτε δυνάμεις after εἴτε ἐξουσίαι. The sole evidence for this reading comes from 14th c., "a paper ms. of Acts, General Epistles and 1 Peter-Hebrews, located at St. Catherine’s Monastery, classified as an Aland category II text." Per Bibleworks Apparatus. The significance of this variant is that a scribe sought to include a universal element of the various powers and sovereignties in the cosmos, and the lack of δυνάμεις by Paul was intended to expand upon Paul's cosmological statement.

[11] James D.G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 91 n.20. This seems to downplay the nuances of both prepositions. See Porter, Idioms, 156-159 and 148-151 for a discussion on the differences.

[12] Harris, Colossians & Philemon, 44.

[13] C.f. 2 Cor 5:17: ὥστε εἴ τις ἐν Χριστῷ, καινὴ κτίσις: "if anyone is in Christ, new creation." This verse and grammatical sequence suggest a clear locative element to the "in Christ" motif, in a way that is distinct from Paul's own language in Col 1:16a.

[14] Robert McL. Wilson, Colossians and Philemon (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 137-138.

[15] Marva J. Dawn, Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), esp. ch1.

[16]  There are numerous terms and images used by Paul to describe the Cosmic Christ. The inference of 1:13 is that Jesus is God's Son and the present King over the kingdom of God (τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἀγάπης αὐτοῦ); Christ is "Lord" (κύριος: 1:3, 10; 2:6; 3:13, 17-4:1, 7, 17), and Messiah (Χριστός). Jesus is also described as "the hope of glory" (ἡ ἐλπὶς τῆς δόξης: 1:27b), and as "creator" (v.16; ἐκτίσθη, ἔκτισται) and "beginning" (ἀρχή:v.18), which stresses his creative causal power. Christ is also called the "head" (κεφαλὴ) of his own "body" defined epexegetically as the "church" (τοῦ σώματος τῆς ἐκκλησίας), twice in relation to his own σῶμα (1:18; 2:19). Finally, but not exhaustively, Christ is "revealed" or "made manifest" to us (ἐφανερώθη: 1:26; 3:4; 4:4) as God's final bodily incarnational manifestation.

[17] The middle ἐκτίσθη probably stresses the actual creation of the universe, which suggests both locality and agency on the part of the preexistent Son.

[18] A phrase coined by Christianity Today, January 16, 1987. Cited by John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today (4th ed: Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 357 n.45.

[19] Friberg's conflation of "first" and "superior" in relation is unhelpful, as both terms convey distinct meanings. For instance, one could say, "I hit my head first and then I fell down." A notion of "superiority" is absent from the context, and so Friberg's non-descript gloss is unhelpful for those who rely solely on lexicons to determine theology. It is also worth noting that "first" is not the same as "superior." Temporality does not equate to a value judgment, which Friberg seems to infer.

[20] For instance, Friberg's gloss "as directing agent within a ranking system" is misleading, as arguably several of the occurrences are within a political context (c.f. Eph 1:22 and the "Powers").

[21] A lexeme also does not necessarily derive a meaning simply from its philology either: rather, context is the decisive factor in determining a preferential gloss over and against others.

[22] Matt 5:36; 6:17; 8:20; 10:30; 14:8, 11: 21:42; 26:7; 27:29; 27:30, 37, 39. Mark 6:24-28; 12:10; 14:3; 15:19, 29. Luke 7:38, 46; 9:58; 12:7; 20:17; 21:18, 28. John 13:9; 19:2, 30; 20:7, 12. Acts 4:11; 18:6, 18; 21:24; 27:34. See also the language of Jesus in reference to the "cornerstone" (Matt 21:42 par Mark 12:10/ Luke 20:17 and Acts 4:11)

[23] Rev 1:14; 4:4; 9:7, 17, 19; 10:1; 12:1, 3; 13:1, 3; 14:14; 17:3, 7, 9; 18:19; 19:12. We see a mix of apocalyptic metaphorical imagery here, but no specific instance of a person being directly referred to as "authority" or "ruler."

[24] As Cervin states rather dryly: "What then does kephalē mean? The answer is easy: the literal head." "On the Significance," 18.

[25] Paul's direct citation of Prov 25:22 LXX reveals that this lexeme is not concerned with 'head' as a metaphor, but rather in a physiological sense. See also 1 Cor 12:21: ἢ πάλιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῖς ποσίν: Χρείαν ὑμῶν οὐκ ἔχω, where the function of the lexeme is for the physiological aspect to be given primacy as it relates to the various parts of the "body" are interdependent.

[26] C.f. Carolyn Osiek and Margaret Y. MacDonald with Janet H. Tulloch, A Woman's Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006) and Lynn H. Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009).

[27] This is not to say that Plutarch or Philo is irrelevant to this conversation; rather it is to say Paul is permitted to use an admittedly polysemous word in any way he wants to.

[28] Specifically 1:15 and 2:10b: relative pronoun + εἰμί + object in the nominative.

[29] C.f. also the close relationship between "fullness" (πλήρωμα; πληρόω) in 1:19 and 2:9-10.

[30] Paul does not include a spatial preposition like ὑπέρ here, so the addition of "over" in Grudem's gloss is misleading. Paul's only specific uses of a spatial preposition in reference to κεφαλή is in 1 Cor 11:10 (διὰ τοῦτο ὀφείλει ἡ γυνὴ ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς), which refers to a woman's authority to prophesy and not to her subordination (c.f. Payne, Man and Woman, 181-187; Westfall, Paul and Gender, 35-36), and in Eph 1:22, where Christ is exalted "over" the Powers for the sake of the church (καὶ αὐτὸν ἔδωκεν κεφαλὴν ὑπὲρ πάντα τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ: taking the dative in terms of benefit: τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ as "to the church"). Harris makes the same mistake as Grudem. Murray J. Harris, Colossians & Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 100.

[31] Grudem, "Does Κεφαλή ("Head") Mean "Source" or "Authority Over" in Greek Literature?," 57. It is worth noting that while Grudem emphatically states his thoughts on this verse, he does not provide any specific reason as to why we must favor his gloss within this specific verse—what may be obvious to him is not immediately obvious to other interpreters. In light of Christ's role as creator, it seems unlikely that "ruler" is a lexeme of primacy.

[32] Cervin, "On the Significance," 18.

[33] Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul's Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 128 n.72.

[34] A point also noted by Marianne Meye Thompson, Colossians & Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 54.

[35] Paul's similar use of bookended prepositional phrases confirms that Christ is the active agent of creation: "by him" (ἐν αὐτῷ) and "through him" (δι᾽ αὐτοῦ). Paul's theology of Christ and creation, it seems, is prepositional rather than propositional. See James D.G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 91.

[36] This brings up a lingering question that Paul does not answer: if Christ is the creator of the Powers, what does this say about theodicy and instances of severe evil in our world that are beyond our control?

[37] This is how they original spelled the word.

[38] Fitzmyer, "Kephalē in I Corinthians 11:3," 59.

[39] Indeed, I have never asserted anything that would lead a proponent of the "authority" reading to think otherwise, nor have I seen any such scholar do so. Fitzmyer does not offer a footnote to elucidate his claim, so one is left wondering exactly who Fitzmyer has in mind.

[40] C.f. perhaps Ephesians 5:22-24, but even within the concept of marital hierarchy, one seems mutual submission in v.21 as a guiding light that illuminates the rest of the passage. C.f. Cynthia Long Westfall, "This is a Great Metaphor!" Reciprocity in the Ephesians Household Code," in Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture: Social and Literary Context for the New Testament, ed. Stanley E. Porter and Andrew Pitts (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 561-598.

[41] Even if one wanted to see some sort of preeminence or prominence (per Perriman and Cervin), and I admit this is possible, 'rulership' is a highly limited word to understand Paul's contextual uses of the noun under dispute.

[42] Grudem, "Does Κεφαλή ("Head") Mean "Source" or "Authority Over" in Greek Literature?" 58.

[43] Porter, Idioms, 154-156. Specifically, "if something is the origin or source of something, it may often be possible to say that it is the instrument, cause or agent by which something comes about." 155.

[44] καρποφορούμενον καὶ αὐξανόμενον, 1:6; καρποφοροῦντες καὶ αὐξανόμενοι, 1:10.

[45] For instance, Col 1:10 speaks of us "walking/living in a manner worthy of God" (περιπατῆσαι ἀξίως τοῦ κυρίου), showing a relationship where God in Christ is the source of our ethical lives, and we grow through the work of God in Christ.

[46] Grudem, "Does Κεφαλή ("Head") Mean "Source" or "Authority Over" in Greek Literature?" 58.

[47] Dunn, Colossians and Philemon, 173.

[48] The language of subordination or hierarchy is not immediately present in the relationship between Christ and the Body, so Grudem has assumed a narrow lexical range without sufficient justification. There is also a forced and selective hermeneutic at play here: Grudem accepts that Paul was not a patriarchalist—as was the standard in the ancient world, so even in Grudem's complementarian schema, Paul has changed the nature of marital hierarchy to where the headship of the husband "must be exercised in love, in gentleness, and with consideration for one's wife above one's self." P.57. This is an arbitrary hermeneutic that gives preference to an area where Paul developed his thought above the ancient world, but refuses to allow Paul to nuance his own lexical framework.

Resisting Evil Part 2: The Incarnation and the Iconoclast

“And do not participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them.” (Ephesians 5:11.)

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So often the call to stand against evil comes from a triumphalist position of power. We are asked to rise from our lofty position of comfort and offer a hand from above to the unfortunate. More often, the stand against evil is thought to be against “known” agreed upon evil. Too easy. Minority group or person X is evil and hence they must pay.

But often the need for warriors and knights require material and social risk and when knights turn their backs, the one called to fight is the one being crushed. This brief reflection on the incarnation and the iconoclast reaches up to the discussion on resisting evil from below. It is especially for those facing destructive hostility on a prolonged basis and presents the audacious call to oppose evil from the ground.

The Iconoclast is a figure representing a power whether personal, institutional or mob. Often, it is an actual person who wants to destroy you for any reason: whether to feed their own ambition, greed, ego, sense of order or because they hate what you stand for. They may hate you for your faith.

...And yet, the cross is a symbol of the victory and power of God over sin and death that radically reoriented human history. Any attempts the iconoclast made to mar the image of God was subverted and their power inverted.

Read the rest at Tim Fall's blog.

Or check out Resisting Evil: Pt. 1 “Forgiveness” Versus Stepping Out in Faith or, Resisting Evil: Pt. 3 "Masks, Disillusionment & The Light"

 

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.

Christology and the Gift of Prevenient Grace: A Look at Titus 2:11

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In thinking through much of John Wesley's teachings and writings, I am often struck by the idea of prevenient grace. Most of my Reformed brothers and sisters find the entire concept to be compelling, but for other reasons offer objections to the doctrine—I find these to be unsatisfying but will leave them aside for the moment only to note anecdotally that there is some significant correspondence between common grace and prevenient grace.

A text that I have been meditating over is Titus 2:11. The Greek text reads as follows:

Ἐπεφάνη γὰρ ἡ χάρις τοῦ θεοῦ σωτήριος πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις

I have translated it as follows:

"For the Gift of God has apocalyptically revealed [i.e. displayed] the [i.e., his] liberation to all people."

The Greek verb Ἐπεφάνη is regularly used in the LXX (the Greek Old Testament; that is, the Greek translation of the Hebrew, which would have been Paul's primary Bible) to refer to God's revelation of himself to various people (Jacob: Gen 35:7), to Moses and the totality of Israel (Num 6:25), and to show kindness and mercy to the various Psalmists (Ps 31:16, 67:1, 80:3 and others). More citations could be offered, but the point is relatively clear: this verb refers to an apocalyptic unveiling of God's presence and purpose for humanity. God has also revealed himself to people in wrath as well (Rom 1:19): the interplay between "apocalyptic" language and "revelation" language in Rom 1:18-20 strongly suggests that God has been revealed to all people, even the unrighteous in Romans 1 and to the present righteous in Titus 2. There appears, therefore, to be no distinction in God's revelation to all people, as the categories of righteous/unrighteous are Paul's major binary thinking, especially as it relates to his eschatology (c.f. 2 Cor 2:15; 4:3, 9).

What is more controversial or disputed perhaps is the articular use of χάρις ("gift, grace"). Personally, I suspect this may be a reference to Christ, as the capstone of Paul's argument in 2:11-13 is that Christ is both God and Savior, so v.10's reference to "gift" could refer to Christ (c.f. Titus 1:4), who is perhaps described as a gift elsewhere in Paul (c.f. Eph 3:8 and 4:7; Rom 3:24; 2 Cor 8:9; plus the ending benedictions of most of Paul's epistles include χάρις and Christ). This is not a major point, but it might be a substantial one if I am correct. Or, perhaps as likely, the use of σωτήριος is itself the gift to all people. It may even be both.

In any sense, this "liberation" (see λυτρώσηται in v.14 as well) has been apocalyptically revealed "to all people" (taking the dative in its most normative sense). The use of ἀνθρώποις is generic, referring to the mass of humanity, and is thus not necessarily restricted to a specific group. This is consistent with Wesleyan theology, which specifies the need for all people to repent and join the family of God.

Some disagree. Thomas Schreiner ("Does Scripture Teach Prevenient Grace?" in Still Sovereign) is perhaps representative when he writes:

Titus 2:11 says that God's grace has been manifested through Christ's work on the cross, but it does not say that God has thereby supplied the ability to believe to all people. Wesleyans conclude from the atonement effected by Christ that enough grace has been imparted to all people so that they can now choose whether or not to believe. But it is precisely this point that is not taught explicitly in the verse. It does not necessarily follow that since grace was manifested in the death of Christ that all people as a result have the ability to believe in him.

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Schreiner seems to miss the point on multiple counts. First, the verse is not exclusively about the atonement, but about the revelation of God in Christ (vv.11-14). Liberation and atonement surely correspond but we must be careful to not reduce this verse to atonement theology. Second, a mistaken matter of logic seems to be at work in Schreiner's brief commentary on this verse: if one assumes that a verse is limited entirely and exclusively to the text, and does not address any other issues within the text, then the text itself cannot be said to speak "explicitly." One is then forced to ask, "How explicit must the text be for you?" Evangelical theology is predicated upon asking the proper questions of the text of Sacred Scripture, and not excluding questions that arise from a natural reading of the text. Theological interpretation is key here.

Third, and perhaps most problematic, is the assumption of "ability" on the part of Schreiner. Many Reformed theologians seem to assume that "ability" is in view here, but that places the exegesis of the text backward: what is the purpose of revelation (especially an apocalyptic revelation) if not to reveal the eternal Son of God as an impetus for belief and confession and submission? Take for instance the Christ-Hymn in Philippians 2:5-11, which assumes that people's bowing the knee to Christ's exaltation is predicated on his resurrection! The imperatival nature of New Testament ethics does not necessitate that all human beings are able to respond to the apocalyptic revelation of God in Christ, but the inability does not suggest the opposite: that we are prohibited from recognizing our own need for liberation in Christ. A slave may recognize that he or she is a slave and believe in Christ, but that does not automatically free them from bondage: such is the need for Christ's reconciliation and salvation for all people. Of course, one might ask what the purpose of revealing what God desires ("perfection," see Matthew 5) if it is merely an ideal that does not demand pursuit: simply put, I do not think God gives laws and commands simply to show that people are sinful, but they are given because people are sinful and need a Savior.

Therefore, God has revealed his liberation to all people, unveiling the mystery of his plan for liberating all people (1 Tim 3:16). All people are witness to this resurrection power, and all are called to repentance, awaiting the "blessed hope and the grandeur of the glory of our great God and Liberator Jesus Christ" (v.13). Even the wicked acknowledge God (Titus 1:16) but in action/works, they deny him (ἀρνοῦνται). This assumes that participation in Christ is no mere mental acquiescence, but fully engaging and participating in the life of God's calling.

Does Titus 2:11 teach prevenient grace? It seems most likely, given Paul's theology and the immediate context that the Wesleyan reading is the best interpretive option, and the objections do not stand. So, yes: this text is a sufficient prooftext in support of the doctrine of Prevenient Grace. Thus, the revelation of God in Christ illustrates that all people are, by consequence, to not only submit to God in the totality of their being, but to live lives of "good works" as opposed to people who chose to participate in evil, suffering, and self (1:15-16).

NQ