c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton: February 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Greek Philosophical Suppositions of the New Testament (Rough Draft)

In fulfillment of prophecy (Daniel 8:21, 10:20, 11:2, Zechariah 9:13, and I Maccabees 1:1-7) and for hundreds of years before Christ the Jewish people were Hellenized, that is, profoundly influenced by the Greek language and culture. Hellenization was resisted by some but Jesus likely spoke Greek, quoted the Greek Old Testament, known as the Septuagint (LXX), and the New Testament was written in Greek.  In John’s Gospel it says several times that Jesus escaped threats to his life because it was not time for him to die.  But when Greeks wanted to see him he exclaimed, “Now is the Son of Man glorified,” and spoke of his death as the planting of a seed that would produce much fruit (John 12:24).

The ancient Greeks are known for Philosophy, that is, the love of wisdom.  Philosophy arose about 500 years before Christ; it criticized the polytheistic and mystery religions of the ancient world, putting forth belief in one virtuous God, and the laws that proceeded from his rational mind (Romans 1:20).  When Alexander the Great encountered the Jews in 331 BC he discovered that he and the High Priest in Jerusalem had dreams about each other (Josephus, ANTIQUITIES, xi. 8, §§ 4-6), so Alexander worshiped the God of the Jews and offered sacrifice in the temple.  He allowed the Jews to live in peace, following their own laws.  Many Jews then began to study Philosophy and saw that it was compatible with Judaism.  When Jesus and Paul were boys, for instance, Hillel ran two rabbinical schools in Jerusalem, with about 500 students each, one devoted to traditional Jewish interpretation of the Law, the other devoted to a philosophical exposition of the same .  From a reading both of Philosophy and the New Testament it is obvious that Jesus and the apostles adopted and adapted Greek rational categories and moral theory, making Christianity a philosophical religion, able to transmit the truth of God to a world-wide audience, again in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy (Daniel 7:13-14, and Revelation 5:9 and 7:9).  This was in accordance with God’s plan for the fullness of time (Acts 17:30, Galatians 4:4, Ephesians 1:10, and 2:11-12).

The advantage of a philosophical religion is that it transcends the parochial boundaries of Judaism with its cultic practices confined to the temple in Jerusalem and reliance on ethnic descent.  Jesus spoke, for instance, of God being able to raise up children of Abraham from rocks on the ground (Matthew 3:9) and of his body as the Temple (John 2:19-22).  Jesus is for Christians both High Priest and Sacrifice (Hebrews 6:20 and 10:1-22), following a philosophical method of conserving moral substance in various forms.  Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God/heaven rather than the kingdom of David/Israel (Acts 2:22-32 and Galatians 6:16).  Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people), warned us not to heed “Jewish myths and the commandments of men that reject the truth” (Titus 1:14).  He said the Law was abolished (Ephesians 2:15).  Hebrews says the Law is obsolete (8:13) and set aside because it is weak and ineffectual (7:18).  This represents the ascendancy of Philosophy within Christianity, and Christianity superseding Judaism as the only true religion.

However, we must deal honestly with an objection found in Colossians 2:8, a warning against “philosophy and empty deceit.”  That verse has three qualifying clauses, “according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ” (cf. Galatians 4:8-9).  I assert that there is a philosophy that is “according to Christ,” and thus, holy tradition and used by the Holy Spirit.  We see it in the words of Jesus and the apostles.  What Paul specifically criticized was bad philosophy, the “debaters of this age” (I Corinthians 1:20), like Carneades, a Skeptic, who famously argued both sides of an issue on consecutive days in Rome.  In the New Testament the sophist and debater are excoriated along with the scribe and Pharisee, because by the time of Christ both Judaism and Philosophy had fallen into error and disrepair.  Our goal is to put forth Christian philosophy that is legitimately seen in the New Testament, sanctified by Jesus, who revived and perfected knowledge and vital piety in his day.

Greek philosophers believed in cosmological/philosophical dualism and its moral counterpart, the natural law: one ought to reject evil, seek and do the good (see Romans 12:9b); these form the suppositional basis of Christian theological orthodoxy.  In the chart below are described the classical categories of good and evil used in the New Testament.  For example, Paul spoke of carnal and spiritual being at war with each other (Galatians 5:17).  Likewise, the mature Christian is ready for spiritual meat because he has trained his faculties to distinguish between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14).  Good and evil are the stems from which all other concepts sprout.

So I present the chart below.  Each good above the line, which we should seek, has a corresponding opposite in what is evil below, that which we should avoid.  These concepts are easy to understand, if we will, because Western society is built upon them.  But remember, the supposition is not the conclusion.  God was incarnate in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem us from the curse of our below the line existence, raising us up in him.  Christianity, therefore, represents a modified or mitigated dualism because it foresees an ultimate triumph of good over evil (I Corinthians 15), which begins now (II Corinthians 5:19, Colossians 1:20, and Hebrews 6:1-6) and will be concluded at some point in the future (Matthew 24:14).

References are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

+24 God (the ONE, Creator (Father and first cause)):  Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Malachi 2:10 & 15, I Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:6, and I Timothy 2:5
+23 Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Risen Lord:  Matthew 28:6/Mark 16:6 and Acts 1:9, Philippians 2:7-11, Ephesians 1:20, and Hebrews 9:15 & 12:24,
+22 Perfection, TELEOS, (end, finished, intended goal):  Matthew 5:48, I Corinthians 13:10, Colossians 3:14, Hebrews 2:10 & 10:1, I John 2:5 & 4:17-18
+21 Existence, Being, or Consciousness; I AM (Supreme Being):  Exodus 3:13-14 and John 8:58; Colossians 1:16 & Revelation 4:11
+20 Life, Eternal Life:  Luke 6:9, John 1:4, 3:16, 5:21 & 24, 6:1-71, 10:10, Acts 3:15, Romans 2:6-7, II Timothy 1:10, Jude 1:21, I John 3:14, and Rev. 2:7
+19 Truth:  Luke 1:1-4, John 1:14 & 17, 4:23-24, 8:32, 14:6, 16:13, 18:37-38, Romans 1:18 & 25, 2:8, II Cor. 4:2, Ephesians 4:15, 21 & 25, and I Tim. 3:15
+18 Freedom:  John 8:32 & 36, Acts 13:39, Romans 6:7, 18, 20, 22-23, 8:2 & 21, II Corinthians 3:17, Galatians 2:4, 4:26 & 31, 5:1 & 13, I Peter 2:16
+17 Angelic, Angels, the Heavenly Host:  Matthew 1:20, 4:11, 13:39, Luke 1:26 ff., John 1:51, Acts 6:15, Hebrews 1:4-13, Jude 1:9, and Revelation 8:2
+16 Reason (32x in the New Testament):  Matthew 25:2, Colossians 2:18 and James 3:17 (Romans 12:1 KJV, logikos, “reasonable service,” & I Peter 2:2)
+15 Light, Enlightened (with Knowledge), Renewal of Mind:  Matthew 4:16, 10:27, John 8:12, Romans 12:1-3, 13:12, II Cor. 6:14,
Ephesians 4:18, 5:8-9, 13-14, I Thess 5:5, I Timothy 6:16, Hebrews 6:4, James 1:17, I John 1:5-7, 2:8-10, Revelation 21:23-24 and 22:5
+14 Law:  Matthew 5:17-18, 23:23, Romans 2:12-15, 3:31, 7:12, 14 & 16, 8:2-4, 7, 13:8 & 10, I Corinthians 9:20-21, Galatians 5:14, 18 & 23, and 6:2
+13 Faith:  II Corinthians 4:17-18, 5:7 and Hebrews 11
+12 Inner Man:  Luke 17:20-21 KJV, Romans 2:29 and 14:17, II Corinthians 4:16, and Ephesians 3:16
+11 LOGOS, “Word” of God (Divine Order/Purpose/Harmony in the Universe):  John 1:1 & 14, I Jn 1:1, and Rev 19:13; Lk 19:42, Jn 16:33 & Heb 12:11
+10 Permanent:  Matthew 19:16 & 29, 26:41, John 4:14 & 12:25, II Corinthians 3:11, 4:17-18, & 5:1, Galatians 6:8, Hebrews 6:17-18, 7:24, and I John 5:20
+9 Spirit/Soul, Spiritual:  (spirit 408x in NT, Holy Spirit 91x) Luke 1:35/Matthew 1:18, Matt. 10: 20 & 28, Mark 1:8/John 1:33, John 3:6, 4:24, 6:63, (8:15), 19:30, Rom 2:29, 8:3-13, 14: 17, I Cor 5:3-5, 15:44-46, II Cor 11:4, Gal 4:3 & 9, 5:13-6:8, Eph 3:16, 6:12, Phil 3:3, Col 2:11, and James 2:26
+8 Eternal forms of the good (Platonic):  John 6:27, (John 7:24), PHIL 2:6, Hebrews 10:1
+7 Energy (in the Greek energeia (8x in Paul) and dunamis (power, 119x in NT)):  Colossians 1:29 and Hebrews 1:3
+6 The Ideal:  (Matthew 19:10, and John 11:50 & 18:14), Revelation 21:22-23
+5 Abstract, Noumenal, Right:  John 2:21 (“justification by the Faith” is an abstraction for polemical purposes in Paul)
+4 Universal:  Daniel 7:13-14, Matthew 24:14, Acts 2:5-11, 11:1 & 18, Romans 3:29, and Revelation 5:9 &7:9
+3 Real, Substance (Plato’s Image, Paul’s IKON):  Romans 2:28-29, I Corinthians 8:4, Colossians 2:17, and Hebrews 8:5 & 10:1
+2 Things Above, From Above, Of Heaven:  (Heaven 231x in NT), Matt. 4:17 & 5:34, John 3:12, 31, 6:32, 8:23, I Cor. 15:47-49, Galatians 4:26,
Eph. 1:10, 4:6 & 9-10, Col. 1:20, 3:1-2, and Heb. 7:26, 9:23-24, and James 1:17, 3:15 & 17,
+1 Good:  Matthew 3:10, 7:11-19, 12:35, 19:16-17, John 5:29, 10:11, Romans 2:6-11, 7:19, 12:9 & 21, 15:14, II Cor. 5:10, Hebrews 5:14, and III Jn. 1:11

-1 Evil:  Matthew 7:11-19, 12:35, John 5:29, (10:11), Romans 2:6-11, 7:19, 12:9 & 21, II Corinthians 5:10, Hebrews 5:14, and III Jn. 1:11
-2 Things Below, Of Earth, Worldly:  Matt. 18:7, John 3:12, 31, 8:23, 18:36, I Cor. 1:26, 7:33, 15:47, II Cor. 1:12 & 17, 4:4, 5:1, 10:2-4, Eph. 1:10, 4:9-10, Phil. 3:19, Col. 1:20, 3:5, Titus 2:12, Heb. 9:1, James 3:15 & 4:4, II Peter 1:4, I John 2:15-17, and Jude 1:19
-3 Shadow:  Matthew 4:16/Luke 1:79, Colossians 2:17, Hebrews 8:5, 10:1, and James 1:17
-4 Particular:  I Timothy 1:4, and Titus 1:14
-5 Concrete, Phenomenal, Appearances:  John 2:21
-6 What’s Expedient:  Matthew 19:10, and John 11:50 & 18:14; Revelation 21:22-23
-7 Matter, the Elements/Elemental, Earthen Vessel:  II Corinthians 4:7, Galatians 4:3 & 9, Colossians 2:8 & 20, and II Peter 3:10 & 12
-8 Apparent forms (Aristotelian, formal cause), signs (77x in NT), appearances:  Matt 23:27-32, Mark 16:12, Luke 3:22, John 5:37, 6:26-27, 7:24, I Cor 7:31, Phil. 2:7-8, II Timothy 3:5, and (Hebrews 10:1), also Romans 8:28, 12:2, Galatians 4:19, and I Peter 1:14; Luke 1:4, Jude 1:5
-9 Body, Flesh, Carnal:  Matthew 10:28, 16:17, 26:41, Luke 12:4, John 3:6, 6:63, 8:15, Romans 6:6, 7:24 & 8:13, 7:5,14, 18, 25, 8:3-13, I Corinthians 5:3 & 9:27, 3:1-3, 5:5, 15:50 II Cor. 5:6 & 8, Galatians 5:18-6:8, Ephesians 6:12, Colossians 2:5, II Peter 1:13-14, and James 3:15
-10 Temporal, Passing Away:  Matthew 24:35/Mark 13:31, I Corinthians 7:31, II Corinthians 3:11, 4:17-18, 5:17, I John 2:8 & 17, and Revelation 21:1 & 4
-11 Chaos, Confusion, War:  I Corinthians 14:33; Romans 7:23, James 4:1-2, and I Peter 2:11
-12 Outward Situations and Circumstance:  II Corinthians 4:16 and Hebrews 11
-13 Sight:  Luke 17:20-21 KJV, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold,
the kingdom of God is within you,” and II Corinthians 4:17-18 and 5:7
-14 Sin:  (“Sin is lawlessness.” (I John 3:4)), Acts 2:23, II Thessalonians 2:3, 7-9, II Peter 2:8 and 3:17
-15 Darkness (Ignorance):  Matthew 4:16, 10:27, Luke 6:23, John 1:5, 3:19, 8:12 & 12:46, Acts 26:18, Rom 13:12, II Cor. 6:14, Eph 4:18, and I John 1:5-7
-16 Passions (Desire, Emotion):  Romans 2:2, Colossians 2:18, Ephesians 4:17-24, Titus 3:3, James 4:1-3, I Peter 1:13-16, 2:11, 4:1-5, and II Peter 3:1-8
-17 Demonic, Hellish:  (Devil 35x and Demons 48x in NT) Matthew 13:39 & 23:15, I Timothy 4:1, James 3:15, and Revelation 16:14
-18 Slavery, Bondage, Oppression:  John 8:34-35, Romans 6:17, 8:15, I Corinthians 7:21-23, Galatians 2:4, 4:3, 26 & 31, 5:1, Titus 3:3, and II Peter 2:19
-19 Lies, Illusion and Delusion, False Witness:  Matthew 7:15, 26:59-60, John 8:44, Romans 1:25, II Corinthians 4:2, II Thess. 2:11, and Ephesians 4:25
-20 Death:  Matthew 4:16, John 5:24 & (8:51), Romans 6:10, 13, & 23, I Corinthians 15:21, 26, 54-56, II Cor. 3:7, II Timothy 1:10, and Revelation 21:4 & 8
-21 Nothingness, Utter Destruction:  I Corinthians 1:28, 13:2-3, Galatians 6:3, Hebrews 11:3, II Peter 2: 17, Jude v. 13, and Revelation 9:11
-22 The Imperfect, which passes away, childish, partial, and immature:  I Corinthians 13:8-11
-23 Satan, the Anti-Christ:  Mark 1:13, Luke 10:18 & 22:3, Acts 26:18, II Thessalonians 2:9, and Revelation 12:9
-24 Ultimate evil exists in multiplicities:  Mark 5:9&15 and Luke 8:30; (many) Matt 3:7, 6:7, 7:13 & 22, 24:11, Mk 15:3, Lk 10:41, I Jn 2:18, 4:1 and II Jn 1:7

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Faith vs. Works Principle in Paul

There is no doubt that Paul uses a principio argument with regard to faith vs. works as the means to achieve salvation:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

                 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
                                and whose sins are covered;
                 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:1-8 ESV)

In order to understand this passage we must assume like Paul a broad perspective and narrow scope.

First, it’s broad perspective can be explained in terms of salvation history, that is, the movement of God away from Judaism, a parochial and traditional religion, to Gentile Christianity with it universal appeal.  Those that resisted change have been called the circumcision party or Judaizing teachers.  They were also called dogs!  But in his polemical argument against the Jews, Paul focused on receiving circumcision as the symbol of converting to Judaism.  Therefore, in the immediate context of his principio argument above we find the following verses:
Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.  He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.  (Romans 4:9-12 ESV) 

This passage also determines, second, the narrow scope of his principio argument, which is the question of whether the new Gentile believers should follow the law.  In other words, should they become Jews?  Paul’s answer is simple.  Abraham was not circumcised when he was chosen.  He received circumcision, the work at issue, only after he believed and was reckoned as righteous.  In this way Abraham became an example, as Paul said, the father of all that experience God as he did: sequentially to trust and obey.

Now, in order rightly to apply this “no works” principio argument in preaching and teaching we must exercise intellectual discipline.  It is a logical fallacy to apply a polemical argument about salvation history to the personal discipleship of an individual Christian.  Paul used the example of Abraham to make an argument that justifies admission of believing Gentiles as a class in the unfolding historical plan of God.  But it would be wrong to take that argument and apply it in reverse order to individual people.  Paul said, for instance, stepping back from his argument with the Judaizers: 

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.  (Galatians 5:6 ESV) 

So, Paul envisions on the personal level a faith that works.  Likewise, he is not against the moral law but sees it as essential to salvation for the individual: 

He will render to *each one* according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life … For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the *doers of the law who will be justified* … For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the *righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled* in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  (Romans 2:6-7, 13, and 8:3-4 ESV, emphasis mine) 

One might be tempted to say, in light of the immediately argument above, that pneumatology replaces legalism or works righteousness in Christianity.  But “legalism” often gets a bad rap!   “Works righteousness” is a canard used by anti-Catholics that do not understand the broad perspective and narrow scope of the no works principle in Paul.  In truth there is nothing in the New Testament to say that an individual Christian ought not to work, pursue righteousness, or obey God’s holy word.  In fact, obedience is required and conditions met in order to receive the Spirit: 

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38 ESV) 

And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”  (Acts 5:32 ESV) 

The "no works" principle then applies only to arguing for the independence of Gentile Christianity in the broad perspective, admitting that Gentiles had not been in covenant previously and could not point to any works of the law that qualifies us.  Gentile Christians are justified by the Faith “apart from” works of the law (Judaism) as a mere function of historic reality.  God forgives us Gentiles for past sins (Romans 3:25) and invites us to enter covenant relationship through the blood of Jesus.