Sunday, April 25, 2004

Jacob have I loved-2

V. Gospels


1. Matthew

The seminal motif is evident in the Matthean genealogy of Jesus. Although it is often said that Matthew only traces our Lord’s lineage back to Abraham, whereas Luke carries it all the way back to Adam, this is misleading inasmuch as the wording in v1 alludes to the genealogy of Adam (Gen 5:1, LXX), with special reference to the Sethite line (v3, cf. 4:25), which—in turn—picks up on Gen 3:15; while Ruth (1:5) triggers the seminal motif via Boaz, as her kinsman-redeemer.

The seminal motif is implicit in Matthew’s account of the Virgin Birth, which he views as the fulfillment of Isa 7:14. Matthew’s citation of the Septuagintal rendering as been dismissed by liberals as anachronistic, but the LXX is a pre-Christian version by Jewish translators. As such, it constitutes an independent witness to the traditional Jewish interpretation of this verse.

Conversely, Rahab (1:5) triggers the binary motif inasmuch as Jericho was put to the sword while she was spared, and is thus illustrative of the gracious remnant. Jesus also strikes the remnant note in his reference to the chosen few (22:14).

The binary motif is brought into high relief in 11:25-27, which distinguishes between the worldly wise and the children of God. Such a polarity not only reflects two opposing ways of responding to divine revelation; rather, revelation is targeted to accentuate the division—like the preaching of the Prophets, which was an appointed means of hardening the reprobate in order to expose their implacable malice (Isa 6:10; 63:17; Jer 7:16; 11:14; 18:11-12; Ezk 2:3-7).

Both seminal and binary themes cross-pollinate in the Sermon on the Mount and parables of the sower and the wheat & tares. Mt 5:45 is a favorite prooftext for common grace. And it is sometimes treated as a prooftext for the well-meant offer inasmuch as it conveys the divine attitude towards the reprobate. But implicit in 5:45 is the same agricultural imagery we see in the parables of the sower and the wheat & tares (Mt 13). And this is suggestive of the seminal motif.

Given the same setting and same distinction, it seems only natural to interpret 5:45 and cognate parables as a conceptual unit. If so, then the function of common grace is to facilitate special grace. Because the elect and reprobate share a common field, God cannot warm and water the wheat without at the same time sending his sun and rain on the weeds. Yet, this does not imply a favorable attitude towards the reprobate. Rather, he blesses both as a means of blessing the elect. His general mercy towards the reprobate are the incidental crumbs and instrumental consequence of his special mercy towards the elect. The reprobate are genuine beneficiaries, but only apparent objects of divine mercy —like dogs devouring whatever scraps fall from the dinner table. The meal was meant for the children, not the dogs.

Likewise, the binary motif is evident in the parable of the sower, where the good seed stands for the children of the kingdom whereas the bad seed stands for the children of the enemy (Mt 13:38). Yet this ought not foster spiritual pride, for the elect were stray dogs and moral mongrels. We are children of the kingdom by virtue of God’s gracious adoption, and not our natural pedigree.

The polemical motif is conspicuous in dominical exorcisms. This is spiritual warfare, and something of a proxy war between Christ and the devil’s deputies. The polemical motif comes to a head in the temptation of Christ (Mt 4), where we have a direct confrontation between the King of kings and the prince of darkness.

2. Luke

The binary motif is present in Luke’s contrast between the elect and reprobate. In the Gloria, the heaven-sent blessing of peace is pronounced upon the elect—as those on whom his favor rests (2:14). "God's good pleasure extends to…men of his good pleasure, which is almost a technical phrase in 1C Judaism for God's elect, those on whom God has poured out his favor," D. Bock, BECNT 3A (Baker, 1994), 220.
Likewise, Jesus hits the remnant theme in his reference to the little flock (Lk 12:32).

The flipside of election is reprobation. To be a favored remnant implies a part/whole relation. Out of a larger whole, God showers his favor on a remnant. And this implicit relation is expressly drawn in 2:34-35 & 12:51-53, which are logical and literary corollaries (cf. 1 Pet 2:8-9). Christ came to bring about division: he was destined for the downfall of many—like a conqueror who puts some of the vanquished to the sword while sparing others (cf. Ezk 14:17, LXX). So here we have a confluence of the binary and polemical themes.

If Malachi unveils an eschatological dimension lying behind historical dualism, Luke unveils a protological dimension. The historical drama merely enacts a scripted series of events inscribed in the timeless decree. This aspect will attain greater prominence in John and Paul as they address the apologetic challenge posed by the failure of the Jewish nation to receive and believe the Jewish Messiah.

The seminal motif is present in the account of the circumcision, along with the juxtaposition of the baptism and genealogy of Christ. Whatever their function in Luke, it is an interesting question what precise importance we should attach to Biblical genealogies, the rites of baptism and circumcision, and the interrelation of the three. Why does Scripture devote so much attention to genealogies? Why is circumcision the sign of the Abrahamic covenant? Why is baptism the sign of the New Covenant? Why the semiotic shift?

There is a logical relation between circumcision and genealogy inasmuch as Biblical genealogies are generally patrilineal in form (A beget B), while circumcision is a phallic sign. And this, in turn, naturally plays into the seminal motif.

And if Christ is the seed of promise par excellence, then it is reasonable that his circumcision would mark the discontinuance of the old rite inasmuch as what it had once foreshadowed was now fulfilled in him.

And just as the covenant sign is first applied to the federal head, and then those party to the covenant (Abraham and his seed), it is only logical that baptism, as the new sign of the New Covenant, would first be applied to Christ, and then to Christians.

And why is baptism the new sign? Competing theories have been proposed, but perhaps the typical significance of the water-from-the-rock (1 Cor 10:4)—a note that reverberates throughout a variety OT genres—made baptism an especially fit figure of initiation into the life in Christ.

Complementing the conceptual triad of baptism, genealogy and circumcision is Luke’s account of the Virgin Birth, where 1:31 alludes to Isa 7:14. Although the wording has other parallels (e.g., Gen 16:11), it is only in Isa 7:14 that the themes of virginal conception, birth and naming coalesce and cohere with the Lucan same themes.

3. John

Various commentators offer sundry subdivisions of the Fourth Gospel. Is there a leading theme that runs through the whole?

Several commentators have noted a parallel between the seven signs and seven speeches. But that only covers the first half of the Gospel (2-11), exclusive of the Prologue. I would suggest that there is a leading theme throughout.

Everyone admits that the prologue (1:1-18) is programmatic for the whole. It presents the revelation of Father in the person of his Incarnate Son (9,14,17-18). And this is, in turn, a deeply divisive event (5,10-13).

Picking up on the creation account, John depicts this initial state and unfolding process in terms of light and shadow, fiat lux, day and night. The world lies in darkness—symbolic of sin. Piercing the darkness is the luminous event of the Incarnation. Yet the result of this event is not to illuminate the darkness, but to divide the darkness from the light.

Dropping the metaphor, the design of the atonement is to peel away the elect from the reprobate. Exposure to the light draws the elect out of darkness, like a flower unfolding in sunlight; while driving the reprobate into the open and intensifying their opposition (3:19-20; 9:39; 12:37-40). The reprobate are blinded by the light (9:39; 15:22) while the blind are granted sight as a sacramental sign of inner illumination (9:1-7,38).

This, in turn, harmonizes the dialectical interplay between the cosmic or universal sweep of the atonement (1:29; 3:16-17; 12:32) and its narrower or ulterior design (6:37-39; 10:11,26; 11:52; 13:1; 15:13; 17:2,6-7,9,24). For in order to reach the elect and smoke out the reprobate, there must be a witness to the world at large. Thus, revelation is wider than redemption. And that constitutes the burden of 2-11.

Chapter 12 marks the turning point. The revelation of Christ, in word and sign, has succeeded in separating the sheep from the goats. The Jewish and Gentile remnant comes to Christ while the reprobate resist in their invincible ignorance. Hence, the action now shifts to the care and feeding of the sheep (13-21).

The decisive and divisive self-disclosure of God in Christ brings out into the open an underlying and preexisting division. And here is where the binary theme figures in the seminal motif. On the one hand, Christ is the ontological Son of God (1:14,18; 5:18). On the other hand, Christians are spiritual offspring of God by virtue of adoption and regeneration (1:12-13; 3:3-8; cf. 1 Jn 3:9; 5:1). Conversely, the reprobate are the spawn of Satan (8:31-32,44; cf. 1 Jn 3:8).

Historically, there is a transition from the unregenerate to the regenerate state; but eternally, there is no transition from a reprobate to an elect state. The regenerate are a subset of the unregenerate, which are a subset of the reprobate. Only the elect are regenerated. The elect overlap the unregenerate, and the unregenerate overlap the reprobate, but the reprobate don't overlap the elect.

I. Thematic Exposition.

Let there be Light: light into darkness and light out of darkness (1)

II. Witness to the World

Sign 1: Water into wine (2) Word 1: New Birth (3)
Sign 2: Restoring life (4) Word 2: Living water (4)
Sign 3: Healing on Sabbath (5) Word 3: Working on Sabbath (5)
Sign 4: Feeding 5000 (6) Word 4: Bread of Life (6)
Sign 5: Walking on water (6) Word 5: Work of Spirit (7)
Sign 6: Restoring sight (9) Word 6: Light of the World (8-9)
Sign 7: Lazarus (11) Word 7: Good Shepherd (10)

III. Turning Point

Day and Night: division of light and darkness (12)

IV. Redeeming the Remnant

A. Weaning the sheep (13:1-14:14)
B. Leading the sheep (14:15-31)
A. Weaning the sheep (15:1-25)
B. Leading the sheep (15:26-27)
A. Weaning the sheep (16:1-4a)
B. Leading the sheep (16:4b-15)
A. Weaning the sheep (16:16-33)

A. Keeping the sheep (17:1-19)
B. Seeking the sheep (17:20-26)
C. Feeding the sheep (18-20)
D. Shepherding the sheep (21)

VI. Pauline Epistles

1. Romans

There are different ways of isolating and subdividing the argument in Romans, but I would state the main argument as: the justification of man in the justification of God:

A1. Man’s injustice under general revelation (1)
A2. Man’s injustice under special revelation (2-3:20)
B. Man’s justification under the law (3:21-4)
A1. Man’s injustice under Adam (5)
A2. Man’s justification under Christ (5)
B1. The personal life of the justified: simul justus et peccator (6-8)
A. God’s justification in Israel’s election & reprobation (9-11)
B2. The corporate life of the justified: the church (12-15)
A. Postscript (16)

A particular apologetic problem facing Paul is the unbelief of the Jewish nation in its Jewish Messiah. How is Israel’s covenant-breaking consistent with God’s covenant-keeping? How is Israel’s apostasy consistent with God’s promises? Is God just in his dealings with Israel?

And Paul deploys the both binary and seminal to relieve that tension by distinguishing between the natural and the spiritual Jew (2:28-29), which—in turn—figures in his discussion of double predestination (9-11), where there is a gracious remnant (9:27; 11:5) within a reprobate nation—the latter being the object of divine hardening (11:8-9).

(On the basis of Rom 11:26, some commentators argue for a mass, end-time conversion or restoration of the Jews. But I question that interpretation on the grounds that "all Israel" is an idiomatic phrase in Septuagintal usage which is often used to denote a representative sampling of a larger whole [cf. 1 Chron 9:1; 12:38; 21:5; 2 Chron 1:2; 10:16-17, LXX]. As such, it only denotes a part/whole relation.)

God is just, for the falling away of Israel is in fulfillment, and not negation, of his word and will. (The predestinarian character of Rom 9 is hotly disputed by Arminians. For a defense of the Reformed reading, cf. J. Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans, 1965), 2:8-45; J. Piper, The Justification of God (Baker, 1999); T. Schreiner, "Does Romans 9 Teach Individual Election To Salvation," T. Schreiner & B. Ware, eds., Still Sovereign (Baker, 2000), 89-106.)

And this, in turn, expands into the seminal motif, for Christ is the singular seed of promise (Rom 1:3; 9:5), whereas the elect are the collective seed of promise (4:13,18; 9:8,). The seminal motif is further underscored in the agricultural image of the holy root/branch (11:16b-24).

2. Galatians

In Galatians, Paul expressly brings together the singular and collective strands of the seminal motif (3:16,29). Christians are the collective seed of promise by virtue of their union with Christ as the singular seed of promise.

3. Ephesians-Colossians

The polemical motif receives classic expression in Paul’s passage on spiritual warfare (Eph 6:10-18). And if the emphasis in Ephesians is on the believer’s struggle, Eph 4:7-13 & Col 2:15 present the Christological complement and counterpart as Jesus disarms the principalities and powers, exposing them to open shame—just as prisoners of war were led naked and chained in public procession.

VII. Revelation

The polemical motif is pervasive in the Book of Revelation. In some measure, but at a higher and wider register, this represents a replay of the battle between Moses and the magicians as well as Yahweh and the false gods of Egypt. The beastly Nero reprises the role of Pharaoh, the false prophet of the imperial cult—the role of Jannes and Jambres, while the two witnesses reprise the role of Moses, Aaron and Elijah as they send plagues upon the earth. And behind the human players are good and evil angels.

In equating Nero with the Beast, I'm not limiting my identification to that historical referent. For John, Nero would just be another alias and figurehead for the Dragon, who is the real power behind the throne.
Although the association of fire with Elijah is what first comes to mind, we should also keep in mind the association of fire and plague with Aaron (Num 16:46f.). John is a juggler who keeps several balls in the air at any one time.

Both sides gain ground and lose ground without either side winning a signal victory until the King of kings leads his troops into battle, defeats the Beast and the false prophet, sets up his throne, and puts down a final counteroffensive by the Dragon (19:11-20:10).

The binary motif is also pervasive in the Book of Revelation, as between a true and false theocracy, true and false Trinity, true and false prophecy, Christ and Antichrist, mark of the Beast and Book of Life, Babylon and Jerusalem, Bride of Christ and whore of Babylon.

The polemical and binary themes combine with the seminal motif in chapter 12, which reviews and previews the whole unfolding of the protevangelium throughout OT and NT church history. The satanic dragon persecutes the OT church, her Messianic seed, and the seed of the NT church.

VIII. Afterword

After taking my mother to her hair appointment one morning I went on a walk along the beach. It was windy and cloudy, with intermittent sprinkles, but the deserted beach, the sight and sound of the breakers, and the hazy gray—so reminiscent of my native Northwest—made for a walk at once bracing and soothing, evocative and prayerful.

Upon returning to the car I had planned to take down my favorite Psalms, but brought the wrong Bible along, instead of my marked version. So after meditating and praying for a spell on some of the happy providences that had graced and greased my earthly sojourn, I turned my eyes to the alleyway.

Back alleys have a certain ugly honesty and frank dignity about them, as the business end of the artificially pretty and brightly painted storefronts facing out onto the thoroughfare. Up above the trash cans and gas station and garage doors was a striking point-counterpoint of manmade blight and natural beauty as I watched the palm trees swaying in the wind and the rain.

And that caused me to think on the cycles of nature, of day and night, of seed time and harvest, of seed-yielding trees and tree-yielding seeds, of honey bees and beating hearts, of young lions and their perennial prey, of cycles within cycles within cycles of providential care and loving-kindness. One generation passes away as another assumes its place, but the earth remains the same. The sun rises, the sun sets, and returns to rise again. The wind blows northward, then eastward, then southward, then westward before blowing northward again. The rivers run into the sea, and rise to the sky, and snow in the highlands, and run again into the sea.

And that caused me to think on Bradbury’s story, "There will come soft rains," of the Martian ghost towns with their automated homes in which alarm clocks and automatic doors, preprogrammed appliances, stereos, sprinklers and TV sets maintained their domestic routine long after the Martian occupants were wiped out by the alien germs of earthborn astronauts. Bradbury elsewhere explains that this was really a political parable of Cold War angst over the prospect of a nuclear winter. Ironic that though his Doomsday vision never dawned, his fantastic dream of an automated domicile has, indeed, come true.

And that caused me to think. Suppose, instead of an earthling visiting a Martian ghost town, a Martian visited a deserted earth? Would not the earth resemble a vast ghost town? An automated suburb? Would not our Martian naturally assume that the good green earth had been prepared for life by an urban planner whose engineering skills far exceeded the ken of Martian architects and carpenters? Why is it that at a time when automation has become an omnipresent feature of modern life, when we pat ourselves on the back for our technological prowess, that we are so slow to see in the ubiquitous clockwork precision of the world around us a far more subtle and superior intelligence, of which our childish feats are but a clumsy and simple-minded imitation?

Yes, yes, I know! Has not Hume, has not Darwin rapped our naughty knuckles and rinsed our foul mouths lest we should ever again utter those dirty words about a foreseeing decree and all-seeing providence? Has not Dawkins said once and for all that the appearance of design in nature is an illusion, a trick of the mind? Has he said that the mind is itself an illusion? If, to deny the mind of God, we must even deny the mind of man, then écrasez l’infame! For faith is the one remaining blasphemy.

And that caused me to think on John Howe’s description of the God-forsaken soul:

"God has withdrawn himself and left his temple desolate. The stately ruins are visible to every eye, bearing on their facade this extant inscription: Here God Once Dwelt. Enough appears in the admirable frame and structure of the soul of man to show that the divine presence did once reside therein. Its shapely relics and harmonious fragments betray the sculpting finger of God. But the Menorah is now extinguished, the altar overturned, the holy clouds of incense exchanged for billowing clouds of hellish smoke and sulfur," "The Living Temple," The Works of John Howe (Soli Deo Gloria, 1990), 1:225f.

And that caused me to think on the greatness of the goodness and the wisdom and the mercy and the might that forethought and foreordained and foresaw and foreshadowed and wrought and brought about the enmity of the serpent’s seed with the woman’s seed, and the bruising of the woman’s seed by the serpent’s seed, and the crushing of the serpent’s seed by the woman’s seed, from timeless eternity to time immemorial, through fire and flood, famine and sword; from Eve, Abel, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Terah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Judah, from Moses and Aaron, Caleb and Joshua, Rahab, Ruth, Boaz, David and Jedidiah, Elisha and Elijah, Daniel and Malachi, until the Desire of the Ages and the Rock of Ages at last had come; and until he comes again, with men and angels, saints and martyrs, to reign with the Father and the Spirit throughout the ages of the ages; because in Christ the lunar chimes and moving parts and piping figurines align like clockwork to strike Messiah’s meridian hour.

These things I thought on until my mother was done, and then we drove home.

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