Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
December 20th, 2011

Reading: New Creation in Paul’s Letters – Chapter 5

Chapter 5 will deal with Paul’s use of the term in Galatians. More specifically, Galatians 6.11-18. Jackson notices the flesh-spirit mix and uses this to point to establish an eschatological paradigm in this epistle. There is also Paul’s boasting in the cross which hints at this. Now, for me, this is an interesting line, and a different way of setting the Epistle of Galatians. Further, he follows Winter and Hardin in putting the dispute in Galatians into a political realm in which Paul’s adversaries are those who are seeking to align the Messiah-believers with other Jewish groups in order to have it declared an official state religion. He goes on to counter recent and not so recent (Bultmann, for one) scholarship which creates an unnatural separation between history and the interpreter, and thus, destroys Paul’s cosmos, which, according to subsection B, includes spiritual beings, or the ‘elements’ of the universe.

Throughout the discussion of what cosmos means to Paul, Jackson is able to maintain the point which he raised earlier, that the New Creation regards both the individual and the world, especially given the Greco-Roman cosmology mixed with Jewish soteriology of the times. Paul was a student of his culture, so it should not surprise us that he used those concepts to preach his Gospel, and more, that he, unlike us today, used them appropriately, such as eschatology v. apocalyptic.

Jackson spends a considerable amount of time, almost to the point of ad nausem, detailing eschatology in Paul’s epistle. But, when it comes down to putting the Resurrection in a proper place, perhaps using a previously established understanding of merism, he fails, allowing Paul’s failure to note the Resurrection in Galatians 6 to go unanswered. This may serve problems later, but we’ll see. In my opinion, with so much effort being placed in making the Resurrection a high point in Paul’s eschatology, Jackson really lets this one slide by simply stating, “the fact that there is no direct reference to the resurrection in Gal 6 can probably be explained by the idea that this was not one of the planks of Paul’s message contested by his agitators (105).” But the crucifixion was? Here, he seems to not keep his thoughts clear.

Over all, however, the Conclusion serves to aid the discussion more so than the chapter. In this case, began with the conclusion which maintains the thought which Jackson wants the reader to keep in her mind. His conclusions are, in my opinion, the necessary ones due to his examination of the material. The New Creation is, for Paul, an eschatological shift in paradigm, in which the Cross of Christ is the defeat of the powers, including the Law, of the universe, resulting in a cosmic rejuvenation.

November 29th, 2011

Reading: New Creation in Paul’s Letters – Chapter 4

Jackson picks up Roman Imperial Ideology in discussing the New Creation. He makes the point, early on, that Paul was writing alongside Rome’s developing ideology which was meant to secure a ‘new empire’ of sorts. As we see in the Gospels (Jackson specifically sites John) and the Book of Revelation, this relatively new idea that Roman ideology was playing a role in Christian writings is something which must be continuously studied. It was very much a concerted effort to make everyone Roman under the ‘new world order.’ However, as Jackson notes, there are parallels, but questions remain of why Paul would use the pervasive Imperial Ideology, even in his letters which seemingly had nothing to do with Rome, such as the epistle to Galatia.

He makes a point at the bottom of 62 that there may be unconscious correlations. By this he means that “Similar language does not necessarily imply borrowing, influence or engagement at any level at all. It could be that there were standard ways of speaking about certain subjects that are used in both imperial ideology as well as in Paul’s writing.” This fits well into examining the Gospels, in that some will go so far as to take a single word, find a match in the well-known Homer, forgetting that if Greek literature was learned, it was learned by Homer, and believe that they have discovered the literary source for one of the Gospels. Jackson is correct that borrowing words do not mean that the author has another author in mind; it just means that they use the same language. Jackson saves himself the worry of being proved completely wrong when he allows that while Paul may not be attempting to bring down the house of Caesar, he is nevertheless worried with the cultural implications of the ideology (63). The author seems to be open to making concrete generalizations, but seems equally aware that his thesis is not to be considered concrete, and thus leaves himself some wiggle room, as it were, for further discussion. He moves on, and instead of supposing Paul’s mission against Roman Imperial Ideology, instead focuses on how the idea of the New Creation would have been heard in the communities impressed with Caesar.

Jackson goes backwards, a little bit I believe, in connecting once again New Creation with the Cosmos. He seemingly connects Virgil’s thought of Rome with new creation, but doesn’t really provide the evidence that Virgil’s political poem could first be connected to Isaiah in any meaningful way. Granted, cosmic events were connected to the Empire in the ancient world, but I think that in trying to connect a similarity in thought between Paul and Virgil, at least here, over Isaiah, is stretching it. If anything, given the Pax Romana, Jackson should be focusing on a less-than cosmic New Creation, and one centered fully on earth. Throughout much of this section, Jackson makes the case more for a new world order, devoted to temporal things, than he would to a cosmic new creation, even if it was predicated upon the idea that ages come and go. He correct, then, to not the cyclical view of Roman history. And again, while he doesn’t want to go as far as some in declaring that Paul was writing with Roman imperial ideology in mind, he right to note that those immersed in the Roman culture would have been hit hard by reading Paul’s letters which declared that it wasn’t Caesar who did these things, but Christ.

All in all, this chapter is filled with a good amount of Roman history with the first Emperors, and what they used to establish their thrones. It is interesting, in that while some Emperors helped to ‘restore the Cosmic order’, the nevertheless did so while firmly rooted on earth.

November 11th, 2011

Reading: New Creation in Paul’s Letters – Chapter 3, Early Jewish Literature

In this chapter, the author delves into Second Temple Judaism, which had had a chance to develop theology around both Creation and Isaiah’s New Creation. This, of course, preceded Paul’s use and no doubt informed Paul. He begins by stating that the situation of the material is diverse, too diverse, to write of a single social reason which produced the apocalyptic fascination with the idea of the New Creation. This apocalyptic thought found it’s way into Paul’s writing, and later into the Book of Revelation, but before them, there was the books of Jubilees and Enoch, not to mention the Dead Sea Scrolls. In all of this, he is attempting to establish the “broad social and historical framework” in which the use of the new creation them gave hope and group identity to the Jews.

To begin with, he notes the renewal associated with the eschatological outlook, something not always seen in the apocalyptic. He notes the difficulty of discovering the dominant theme in several of the books. One could be a total restructuring of the world while another could be a completely new creation – and sometimes, within the same book. Further, this is shown to represent either a cosmic viewpoint or what de Boer called, a forensic viewpoint. It is the same thing we see in the interpretation of Genesis and Isaiah, and the questions left. Is the New Creation cosmic or local? All of this is a set up to more unanswered questions. After all, each track as Jackson calls it, would lead to different interpretations and thus get the reader nowhere fast in determining the way in which Paul saw the concept. Fortunately, Jackson doesn’t waste our time on exploring this area, but does entice us just enough with the cosmic v. forensic image and instead moves to examine only the Book of Jubilees.

After detailing his four reasons for centering in on Jubilees, and most striking is the connection to Paul, Jackson moves on to giving a broader view of the identity politics of the ancient book. In this section, he interprets Jubilees through the social situation which gave rise to it. It was a time of failed promises, in which Israel had returned from exile only to find themselves under one regime after another until the Maccabean Revolt allowed them some measure of independence. This time was filled with great crisis and eventually saw the Romans coming in to restore order. But before them, there is the inescapable reality that Israel was now a hodge-podge of races with borders which didn’t match up to the biblical mandates. All of this was playing into the rise of the fervor of the new creation and helping to inform the developing interpretation of what exactly that phrase meant.

The next subsection’s title is revealing, “Reclaiming Identity through the Redefinition of Time and Space.” For those familiar with Jubilees, and if not then one should become familiar with it, the Creation story is greatly expanded and ordered in such a way as to give a certain primacy to Israel. No doubt, there were pulling from extant dogma at the time, but nevertheless, they are interesting. Jackson cites this as one of the cues in the book which points to the idea that Jubilees was devoted to resurrected the national identity. To preserve their national identity, familiar stories were reordered to tie certain events to specific doctrinal ideas. This created a pattern of history which Jackson aptly points out, and it is one which feeds into the concept of new creation. Jackson uses this building pattern to tie the Jubilee Year to both the cosmic and the anthropomorphic redemption. After laying such a foundation, Jackson moves on to tackle the specific phrase in Jubilees.

As one might suspect, the concept is filled with relevance to the Exodus story and the pattern of restoration. Again, and while this is not the point of Jackson’s work, the concept of, or rather, the very lack of the concept of ex nihilo is made present during Jackson’s review of the “renewing” of all of Creation in the New Creation. What is present, however, is the idea of cosmic renewal which is connected to Exodus and the cosmic war. I think that those who approach the concept of the new creation without an adequate education in the cosmology of Exodus, or Genesis for that matter, will tend to miss many of the important concepts of what is being spoke about when any ancient author writes of a renewing, or a new, creation, earth or creature, which Jubilees does. Of further interest to this point is the connection to Jerusalem which is made in Jubilees regarding new creation. As I wrote earlier, a temple theology would see the new creation centered, just as in Genesis 1, on the temple. Here, Jackson comes close to echoing that sentiment as well as when he relates that the new creation restores the covenanted position between YHWH and Israel (49), which is calls the “ultimate eschatological restoration.” Finally, he is right to, as it is throughout the recurring themes of restoration, to note that while there are nationalistic concerns, no one can divorce the spiritual issues at stake which raises the need for the new creation.

Leaving the Book of Jubilees, Jackson moves into discussing the Dead Sea Scrolls. New Creation as a phrase is not mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls, so Jackson bases his examination on the abundant use of the phrase “the end of days.” It is a rather weak section, built on admittedly unclear meanings and contested scholarship; however, the point of a dissertation, I’m told, is to push scholarship, meaning that sometimes, you have to be a little controversial. Still yet, I’m not sure of his thesis here. While the communities which contributed to the DSS look forward to the End with great vigor, many of them cared little for the Temple or a renewing of the world, it would seem. In the DSS, I would see the viewpoint as more apocalyptic rather than eschatological. Of particular connection to Paul, however, is the doctrines found there regarding the restoration of humanity, something humans lost due to Adam, at the return of the Messiah.

November 8th, 2011

Reading: New Creation in Paul’s Letters – Chapter 2, New Creation in the Old Testament

Beginning with Isaiah, Jackson aims to show that when speaking of a “new heavens and a new earth” the ancient prophet was using a merism which entailed not just a New Creation, but so too a new covenant, a theme which would come into a fuller use with later prophets. This helps to connect Paul’s dualist cosmological and anthropological views to the Old Testament, at least for the author. Jackson notes that Paul, when speaking of the New Creation, is specifically using Isaianic thought.

Showing a certain conservative streak, Jackson acknowledges the scholarship which divides Isaiah into three previous works but insists that the book be taken as a literary united. This is not uncommon, even among more liberal scholars who note that such a neat division of Isaiah is defeated because the present work is replete with crossovers of shared thoughts, allowing that one final redactor, while may have been assembling different source material, nevertheless produced a final, edited, version of Isaiah which is not so easily separated. But, beyond the needs and deliberations of scholars, Jackson is correct that the early readers, including Paul, saw the work as a unified book and would thus have interpreted as such. Further, he is correct that the theme which connects humanity and creation is, even if it is emphasized in one section of the work more than a previous section, one which connects the whole of Isaiah. It is also this theme which Jackson chooses to investigate further as he believes it is related to Paul’s theologizing.

Of interest is Jackson’s description of the ‘new thing.’ YHWH is telling the exiles in Babylon to forget the Exodus story and instead, wait for the new liberation. This is also the meaning behind the ‘former things’, in that it is not speaking about the old world, but the old world system which was established by YHWH’s deliverance of Israel. All of this is playing into a conversation which the author is yet to have, and that of what the old Creation actually was. Was it the actual creation of the universe, or God’s intrusion on the world? That aside, Jackson’s point is that the New Creation is not a moment of eschatological end and start, but something related to deliverance which accomplishes new things while ending the sins of idolatry of the old world system. This idolatry takes center stage for several subsections, in which Jackson attempts to show that the New Creation is God’s deliverance of Israel out of exile and a re-establishment of a God-centered dispensation. I would also add that in reading Jackson, it is difficult to argue for creatio ex nihilo as YHWH is bringing about the New Creation from the material of the Old. Creation, then, becomes the track of history.

Granted, in one subsection, Jackson is apparently arguing for a more cosmogloical understanding of the New Creation, although noting that the possibility that it was locally focused, and that whatever the eventual understanding it would not have made much difference to Paul. Jackson’s only focus for the new creation is that it, in Isaiah at least, maintains “a strong connection between God’s people and God’s world. (30)” While it may not be important in the overall thesis, Jackson, I believe, misses the underlying Temple Theology of Creation in Genesis, which no doubt was intermingling with the New Creation theology in Isaiah. If we take Jerusalem, and perhaps even Israel, as the (location of) God’s Temple, then with the old Creation being a Temple Theology, the New Creation could very well be cosmologically based and locally, or rather, nationally based in that the national YHWH Temple would have served as the nexus of the cosmos between God and God’s world thus disallowing a dualist explanation of the New Creation. It is not an either/or type of interpretation, but one in which a proper Temple Theology is needed.

Beyond the obvious disagreements, Jackson shows that a deep connection between sin and the effects on the world exist. He argues, forcefully, that Israel’s sin has so upset the created order that something new, and something bigger than the Exodus is needed. This is what God is going to do in the New Creation. Further, he is correct to destroy our modern ideas of the separation of Church and State, which has in many ways infected the way in which we read Scripture (31).

Looking forward to chapter 3…

September 16th, 2011

Reading: New Creation in Paul’s Letters – Chapter 1, the Introduction

The author’s, T. Ryan Jackson, work is focused on the concept of the New Creation in Pauline writings. As he notes, Paul doesn’t use the phrase much, only twice – Galatians 6:15 and 2 Corinthians 5.17, and yet we know from the amount of scholarship applied to that concept, it seems to be a prevailing thought during this time period. As often is not the case, the author actually takes time to state the definition of the words he has chosen to use. He will use the Pauline concept of anthropological and cosmological, which he then precedes to give a short history of how these two viewpoints developed in Pauline studies. Previously, he gives two modern scholars who have produced works pointing to one of the other of the viewpoints. The more familiar names of Adolf von Harnack and Albert Schweitzer are used to create the short histories of the development of the concepts. It should be no surprise to how these respective studies developed, or to what they led to, but the author is able to highlight the connections between them, which I assume will be explored in the present work. As a matter of fact, he notes that the division between the two has “muddied the waters” of Pauline studies, as Paul himself would not see a division. (5) He goes on to chide the non-use of “Roman imperial ideology” (6) and the lack of relevant Greco-Roman background in approaching Paul. Of course, this use of imperial ideology interests me, as it seems to be a secure way of examining the New Testament. Of this approach, he writes, “(T)his thesis maintains that a balanced approach to the apostle Paul’s conception of new creation will reveal that this idea is an expression of his eschatologically infused soteriology which involves the individual, the community and the cosmos and which is inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Christ.” (6)

After laying down the crux of the problem, Jackson then briefly tackles how the early Church saw the New Creation. Surprisingly, the early Christian writers wrote very little about it. Jackson is able to pull an allusion from Barnabas and several statements from Clement of Alexandria. But, the development of Christian thought around this phrase picks up steam around Gregory of Nyssa. With Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa and Chrysostom mentioned, I will be interested to see if Jackson, in mentioning the use of Roman imperial ideology will somehow connect these thinkers to Roman imperial theology of which these men were associated.

In the overview, as with most, the scope of the project is given, but chapter seven is already on my horizon, as Jackson writes,  “the salvation of the individual is specifically linked to the salvation of creation.” (12)

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