Sunday, May 22, 2011

For he must reign

Dan 7:9-14

9"As I looked,
    thrones were placed,
   and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
   and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
    its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
   and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
    and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
   and the books were opened.
 11"I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.
 13"I saw in the night visions,
   and behold, with the clouds of heaven
   there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
   and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
   and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
   should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
   which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
   that shall not be destroyed.

Mt 21:33-39

 33 "Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.' 39And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Mt 25:31-33

31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
1 Cor 15:24-28

24Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For "God has put all things in subjection under his feet." But when it says, "all things are put in subjection," it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

Anti-Trinitarians are fond of quoting 1 Cor 15:24-28 to disprove the deity of Christ. But one problem with this appeal is their failure to appreciate the way in which 1 Cor 15:24-28 is part of a stock narrative.

We can see this more clearly if we step back from 1 Cor 15:24-28 and compare it to similar passages in Scripture. What we have here is a conventional type-scene.

For more on this category, cf. R. Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (Basic Books, 2011, revised and updated), chap. 3.

This involves the archetypal character (or character type) of a king, who’s the father of the crown prince. It also involves a conventional plot motif in which the royal son, acting on his father’s behalf father, in his father’s stead, comes in the name and authority of his father to restore his father’s rightful claim to the kingdom. By implication, if the son is successful in his quest, the kingdom will revert to his father’s dominion, in whose interests the son was acting. Of course, as heir apparent, the son also has a stake in restoring the kingdom to its rightful claimant. That’s the natural narrative cycle for this particular type-scene. 

The characters stand for God the Father and God the Son, but this is depicted in picturesque, anthropomorphic terms. A warrior-king who defeats usurpers on the field of battle.

Because 1 Cor 15:24-28 belongs to a different genre, it omits some of the narrative imagery we find in similar passages, but it belongs to the same type-scene, with the implicit literary tropes. Because it’s so conventional, not every occurrence or allusion to the type-scene will reproduce the full details. For the audience is already familiar with the back-story.

Anti-Trinitarians who appeal to 1 Cor 15:24-28 fail to make due allowance for the stylized storytelling formulae (e.g. father/son, king/prince; narrative arc). That's the way this kind of story is supposed to end. 

But we should bring to 1 Cor 15:24-28 the same sensitivity to theological models and metaphors that we bring to Dan 7:9-14 and Mt 21:33-39. Don’t fuse the parabolic level with the literal counterparts. In addition, this type-scene must be supplemented by other eschatological type-scenes in Scripture to see the complete picture. 

No comments:

Post a Comment