White Horse Inn Blog

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(Late) Summer Reading

The Pleasures of Reading In An Age of DistractionLiving in a housing community that boasts a pool and a spa, and in a city where the beach is a twenty-minute drive away, I have almost no excuse for not finishing my summer reading.  It happens every year—the list gets longer and longer, the titles are more ambitious, and the books go unread.  The reasons why are easily guessed—I have Netflix and an iPhone, and (more to the point) at the end of the day, I’d rather catch up on Mad Men than read War and Peace.  

Earlier this year, at the suggestion of our producer (himself a voracious reader), I read Alan Jacobs’ The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction.  It was a great book, but one point he made stood out to me particularly—the American reading public is under the distinct impression that reading is something that is ‘good for you’; that it refines the intellect and stimulates the aesthetic sense, and that it is primarily for this reason that people ought to read.  While Jacobs agrees with this, and acknowledges that reading for self-improvement is and can be beneficial, he’s concerned about the troubling effects this attitude tends to have on the reading public in general.  He acknowledges the helpful pointers and principles in Charles Van Doren and Mortimer J. Adler’s venerable How To Read A Book, but he questions the tone in which they discuss the purpose of reading.  The grave, almost severe manner in which they stress its educational and spiritual value leaves the impression that reading is first and foremost the duty of every intelligent person.  According to Jacobs, this idea permeates the pragmatic American conscious, which has little use for reading per se.  The mindset that reading is something we ought to do for material benefit rather than personal pleasure has, in Jacobs’ estimation, allowed a particular group (the so-called ‘Vigilant school’) to convince readers that they (Harold Bloom and Thomas C. Foster, specifically) ‘are the proper guardians of reading and the proper judges of what kind of reading counts’.  Jacobs believes that their strictures are more of a hindrance than a help:

“There are, it seems to me, only two possible effects that Bloom’s approach can have upon readers: it can make them self-congratulatory—‘Yes, I, and a few others like me, read the proper works’—or it can terrify them—‘How can I be worthy of this high calling?’”

The best reason to read, according to Jacobs, is because you want to.  Read at Whim, he says.

“Don’t turn reading into the intellectual equivalent of eating organic greens, or (shifting the metaphor slightly) some fearfully disciplined appointment with an elliptical trainer of the mind in which you count words or pages the way some fix their attention on the ‘calories burned’ readout.”

There’s a great deal to be said for eating organic greens, and I for one have a deep attachment to my elliptical trainer, but the point is well-made.  While I’m a firm believer in the benefits of intellectual exertion for the sake of personal improvement (as is Jacobs), his exhortation to read books for the pleasure they provide is helpful and timely—there’s a great deal of difference between wanting to read and wanting to have read, and in our competitive, image-driven culture, the lines get blurred very easily and very often.

With that in mind, we asked a few friends of ours to discuss which books they picked up this summer, and tell us a bit about why they chose those books in particular, what they liked and what they didn’t like.  (Whether or not they read them for pleasure, personal edification, or morbid curiosity, we don’t know, but you can judge).  We’ll be posting them successively during this upcoming week, so stop by on Monday for to see what James K. A. Smith, Nancy Guthrie and few other friends have been ruminating on this summer.

Happy Reading!

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Not Having a Righteousness of My Own, Blog 4 of 4

In this fourth and final blog entry on Paul’s letter to the Philippians, I’d like to draw your attention to verses 10 and 11 of chapter 3:

Phil 3:10-11 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

When was the last time any of us prayed to “share in the sufferings of Christ”? Paul is ready to be identified with Christ, so much so that he even considers it an honor to suffer for his sake. In fact, this is actually a common theme in the New Testament (Matt 5:10-12, Rom. 8:17, Phil 1:29, 1 Pet 2:20, 3:14, 4:16), a theme that is not particularly in sync with the 21st century message of having “your best life now.”

Phil. 3:12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Not that I have already obtained all this. This is a wonderful verse that shows that we are declared to be righteous (positionally) while still being unrighteous (inherently). This is at the heart of what Luther was getting at when he described the Christian as “simul iustus et piccator” (simultaneously both saint and sinner).

Again, Catholic theology had taught (and still does) that a person who makes use of the gracious gifts that God offers through the church actually becomes inherently righteous. That person remains righteous until he or she commits a venial sin, and that allows the grace to leak out of one’s life. Mortal sins, on the other hand, immediately drain away all of your grace. In either case, a person can fix the leak by means of penance, confession, etc., and then replenish his or her supply of grace by attending mass, receiving absolution, obtaining indulgences, performing good works, etc. Since no one can know whether he or she will die in a state of grace, one cannot have assurance of salvation; in fact, that very idea is called the sin of presumption.

In contrast, the Protestant Reformers argued that justification, at its most basic level, was a legal declaration (such as a “not guilty” verdict). From the perspective of God’s infinite holiness, “there is no one who does good” (Rom 3:12), all of us by nature deserve a guilty verdict, and only those in Christ are granted a full pardon, based completely upon God in his infinite mercy. With Isaiah, we confess that Christ makes “many to be accounted righteous, and bears their iniquities.” This is also the testimony of the author to the Hebrews, who in chapter 10 writes, “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

So if we’re already perfect, why do we need to be made holy? The answer is that both justification and sanctification are in view in this passage. We are first declared to be positionally righteous, perfect and acceptable before God because of the work of Christ. In reality, we are still sinners struggling here on earth. Like Peter before us, we all have denied Christ, sometimes in subtle ways, other times more explicitly. But Jesus is conforming sinners into his own image; he is sanctifying us and transforming us day by day. We’re still imperfect, but we’re slowly being conformed to the image of Christ.

That is what Paul is saying here. Paul has not already been made perfect, but he presses on because he’s treated as if he was. He’s awaiting an inheritance that he didn’t earn.

Phil 3:13-16 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Pressing towards the goal. Paul here is thinking of the Christian life, along with all of his personal difficulties associated with preaching the gospel, as a long distance race. Though he feels nothing but pain in the here and now, his thoughts are in heaven with Christ and the joy of victory.

In verse 15, Paul does something very strange and counter-cultural (at least as far we’re concerned). He seems to value maturity. Today, not merely in the culture at large but also in the church, we seem to value immaturity and juvenile ways of thinking. We believe that worship should be like a rock concert with lighting effects and fog machines. We believe sermons should be funny, attention-grabbing stage performances. We freak out when our “best life now” doesn’t materialize.

According to Paul, maturity changes the way we view things. God, he says, will be at work in you to help you to mature and to see things more clearly.

Phil. 3:17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Grace and Redemption are at the heart of Christianity, but that’s not all there is. Yes, Christ alone is our righteousness. This is our promised inheritance that will be fully realized and experienced one day in the not-too-distant future.

But this inheritance also implies an adoption. If we have been adopted, we need to live in a manner consistent with our new family identity. Of course, this new life does not win our inheritance, since we’ve already been adopted. Therefore the new life is simply the grateful response of a heart set free. This is why Paul teaches Gentile believers in particular to follow the pattern of life he set before them. Though it’s not part of our justification, it is an important aspect of our discipleship!

It’s important to remember that sometimes even elders and pastors do not live in ways that are consistent with their profession. Paul writes of such an instance in Galatians 2:14 when he observed that even Peter had stopped eating with Gentiles, fearing the circumcision party. “But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” Thus, for Christians, even our sanctification is not primarily rooted in law, but is rooted in learning to recognize the truth of the gospel and those parts of our conduct that are out of step with our new identity.

Phil 3:18-19 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

There are some striking parallels here to what we find in Matt 16. Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” Peter responds by saying, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Then, after Jesus spoke a few words about his coming death in Jerusalem, Peter rebuked him, saying, “This will never happen to you!” How did Jesus respond? “Get behind me Satan! You don’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Peter was rebuked harshly, as if he was Satan himself, because he was speaking as an enemy of the cross, and his mind was on earthy things.

Let’s face it. We often live as enemies of the cross of Christ with our minds set upon earthly things. We sometimes identify God with our appetites, our feelings, or our opinions, even as Christians. Sometimes, like Peter, we have an immature, man-centered—or perhaps even Satanic—view of things.

But if Peter can be saved, we can be saved. At the end of the day, we are not saved by our own righteousness but by Christ’s. When confronted with a sin of this type, we should take the posture of David in Ps. 51, who not only confessed his sin, but also asked God to “create in him a clean heart, and to renew a right spirit within him.” As Jesus taught, his disciples are declared “clean” not on the basis of any work they have performed, but because of the words that he spoke to them (Jn 15:3). After all, if the job of spiritual renovation and cleansing were up to us, at the end of the day who would be able to say, “I have made my heart pure, I am clean from sin”? (Prov 20:9).

Phil 3:20-21 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

The residents of Philippi had been granted Roman citizenship, along with all the rights and privileges thereunto. Here Paul makes use of this concept to speak of something much more important. If we believe in Christ, flee from our own righteousness, and refuse to add anything to his finished work on our behalf, then we are then declared to be citizens of heaven. One day in the not-too-distant future, he will grant us all the privileges associated with this new citizenship, and we will all be transformed to become like he is.

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Not Having a Righteousness of My Own, Part 3

In the last blog piece I discussed Paul’s use of the word “dung” to describe not his sins, but his righteousness. He goes on to say that he desires to be “found in [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Phil 3:9)

Here, we are confronted with one of the crucial components of the gospel message. Sometimes Catholics will argue that the Protestant doctrine of justification amounts to a “legal fiction.” That is, if you say that you are still a sinner but that you are righteous “in Christ” (what Luther called simul justus et peccator), then you are actually telling a kind of untruth or fiction.

But this criticism actually exposes a critical flaw. If our doctrine is to be condemned on the grounds of a legal fiction due to our belief in the idea that we are declared righteous while we are actually not, then what are we to do with the idea that Jesus was considered a sinner when he was in fact personally righteous? In other words, if you stick with this argument, you’ll ultimately undermine the substitutionary atonement.

The idea of an alien righteousness is the witness of both the prophets and the apostles. Paul here is focusing not on his own works, but on Christ’s. Similarly, Jeremiah wrote of coming day when a righteous branch would finally spring up out of the house of David, resulting in salvation for God’s people. “And this is the name by which he will be called, ‘The Lord is our righteousness'” (Jer 23:6).

This is also the witness of the early church. Some have tried to argue that Luther came up with this idea of justification by an imputed righteousness. Though it is true that this particular doctrine had been obscured for centuries (and had in a real sense been recovered by Luther), we find it clearly articulated in the writings of various church fathers. A good example of this is Mathetes, who observed in 130 AD:

Christ Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!

This idea of the great exchange, though clearly taught in Scripture, has at various points been controversial in the church. This was especially true at the time of the Reformation. In a tract called “The Necessity of Reforming the Church,” John Calvin summarizes the thinking of his day:

It’s true Jesus is called a Redeemer, but this is understood in a manner which implies that men also, by their own free will, redeem themselves from the bondage of sin and death. True, he is called righteousness and salvation, but in a way that men can still procure salvation for themselves, by the merit of their works… True, Christ is said to have reconciled us to the Father, but with this reservation, that men, by their own satisfactions, buy off the punishments which they owe to the justice of God. When supplementary aid is sought… no more honor is paid to Christ than to saints such as Cyprian or Cyricius. For, in making up the treasury of the Church, the merits of Christ and of martyrs are thrown together in the same lump.

This Christ and this approach is exactly what frustrated Paul about the Judaizers. The Judaizers said that, in addition to believing in Jesus, one also needs to be circumcised in order to be saved. Unfortunately, this same spirit is plaguing the church in our day, even in Reformed circles. There are some who teach, for example, that we are saved by Christ, and by our own obedience or faithfulness to the covenant, and that, on the last day, the basis of our final justification will partly rest upon our good works.

But Paul does not say that if we do good works, we will be justified, but rather, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). Peter also addresses this in his first epistle when he says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…” (1Pet 1:3-4). It’s an inheritance, not a wage; it’s rooted in God’s mercy, not our works; and it’s in heaven right now, waiting for us, rather than something that we currently possess.

In Phil 3:10-11, Paul then says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Here again we’re met with the verb “to know.” Many Christians in our day might wish to state this a little differently, something to the effect of, “I want to experience Christ and the power of his resurrection.” It’s certainly true that our knowledge of Christ has an experiential dimension to it (since we don’t merely know things about our savior, but we know him in relationship). But when “experience” or “relationship” becomes unmoored from doctrine and content, it quickly turns into mysticism, which is a huge problem in our time.

In the next blog post, we’ll draw some conclusions as we finish up with Philippians chapter 3.

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Not Having a Righteousness of My Own, Part 2

In the last installment of this blog series, we introduced Paul’s letter to the Philippians as a companion to our current White Horse Inn series. In this piece, and for the remaining three installments, we’ll be focusing exclusively on Philippians chapter 3. In this chapter, Paul walks us through his own background as a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” a background which he ultimately presents as a hindrance to the gospel.

In the opening of chapter 3, Paul writes:

Phil. 3:1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. 2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.

Who is Paul referring to as “dogs” in verse two? Jewish people regularly described Gentiles as “dogs,” but here Paul is using this word in a different sense. He says, “Look out for the dogs… those who mutilate the flesh.” This phrase might be mysterious on its own, but the next verse goes on to explain that he is thinking of the circumcision party. Also referred to as the Judaizers, these were Jewish believers in Christ who taught that a person needed to continue to keep all the laws and ceremonies of Moses in order to be saved. Paul addresses this issue most clearly in his epistle to the Galatians, even to the point of calling it another gospel (Gal 1:6).

What’s amazing here is that Paul uses the word “dogs,” which had formerly been used to describe Gentiles or those “outside the covenant,” including Jews who professed faith in Jesus’ messianic identity. Paul is saying here that race doesn’t matter and, ultimately, neither does denominational affiliation. Being Jewish is not enough, nor is belonging to a Bible-believing church. It’s not even enough to believe in Jesus if you end up adding your own works to the finished work of Christ. This is what places a person outside the covenant, and it is why Paul refers to these Judaizers as “dogs.”

3 For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—

In Colossians chapter 2, Paul explains more fully what he means by this idea of “the real circumcision.” Starting with verse 11, he says,

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh [literally: in the stripping off of the body of flesh], by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

What Paul is saying in this text is that there is no need for the ceremonial act of circumcision, since this particular blood oath covenant was merely a temporal placeholder that pointed to the ultimate and eternal blood oath covenant that we find in the cross of Christ. He suffered the stripping away not merely of the foreskin, but of his entire body, and this greater circumcision becomes ours by faith.

Phil 3:3 For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh

Paul here appears to be echoing Christ’s words to the woman at the well: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). In John 6:63 Jesus says that “the spirit gives life, the flesh profits nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Later, in John 15, Jesus says,that the Holy Spirit ” will testify about me” when he comes. Worshiping by the Spirit of God, then, is not related to ecstatic or exuberant worship experiences, as it is often misunderstood in our day. Instead, it is directly related to those who, as Paul says here in our text, “glory in Christ and put no confidence in the flesh.”

Phil 3:4 …though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless.

We know, of course, that Paul was not inherently righteous or blameless. In Rom 7: “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” So here, when he speaks of blamelessness under the law, he is likely thinking exclusively of outward conformity. Inwardly, he was unclean. This is exactly what Jesus regularly communicated to the Pharisees during his earthly ministry: “Woe to you, for you are like whitewashed tombs which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt 23:27).

Phil 3:7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

Any goodness that Paul had claimed previously he is now putting in the debit column. All his outward obedience, all his zeal, all of it, he says, is worthless apart from Christ. Concerning his fellow Jews, Paul writes in Romans 10: “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (10:2-4). In Phil. 3:8, Paul speaks of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Some people in our day don’t like to focus on this knowledge element, saying “I don’t want to know about God,” or “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” But zeal without knowledge is a serious problem. At the end of the day, we cannot trust someone we know nothing about, for otherwise we end up having faith in the idea of relationship rather than in Christ himself.

Paul goes so far as to call all his outward obedience rubbish. Not wanting to offend our sensibilities, most English Bible translators end up choosing the least offensive of the various translation possibilities for the word Paul uses here. In actuality, skubalon is a little cruder. According one Greek lexicon, the way this word is used by other ancient writers of the period makes the sense closer to “dung, filth, excrement, manure, or crud.” And what’s interesting is that Paul isn’t merely thinking of all his sin as dung, but his righteousness. We find this same sentiment in Isaiah 64:6: “all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags.”

In the next installment of this series, we’ll continue this discussion of Philippians chapter 3. We will pick up in verse 9, where Paul places his trust in a righteousness that is not his own.

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Not Having a Righteousness of My Own

Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians sometime between 60 and 62 AD. So who exactly were the Philippians, and what was Paul’s relationship to them? According to the IVP Dictionary of Paul & His Letters:

Philippi was already a very old and historic city when Paul arrived and later wrote his letter to the Christians there. Philip of Macedon had built it in 358-57 BC. on the site of an ancient Thracian city located eight miles from the sea in a spring-filled, fertile region. He fortified it and named it after himself. Later Philippi became part of the Roman Empire and was made one of the stations along the main overland route connecting Rome with the East. Destroyed by wars, it was rebuilt by the Emperor Octavian, who established it as a military outpost, populated it with veterans of his wars, made it a Roman colony and gave it thehighest privilege obtainable by a provincial municipality. Consequently, as the citizens of Rome, so the citizens of Philippi could buy and sell property, were exempt from land tax and the poll tax and were entitled to protection by Roman law.

Google Maps places the ancient city of Philippi about 6 hours north (by car) of Athens. Romans predominantly inhabited it, but many Macedonian Greeks, along with a strong Jewish population, lived there as well. Its people were proud of their city and its ties with Rome.

Philippi is the primary setting for the events recorded in Acts 16, which takes place early in Paul’s second missionary journey (likely 49 AD). While in Philippi, Paul and Silas are dragged before the local magistrates after some claimed that they were disturbing their city (vs.19-20). The two were then put in jail, but while they were praying, an earthquake occurred and the prison doors were opened. This caused the Philippian jailer to ask of Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they answered him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (vs. 29-31). According to Acts 17, when they arrived in neighboring Thessalonica, Paul reasoned with the Jews in the synagogues. Some of the unbelieving Jews formed a mob, which set the city in an uproar (1-5).

Interestingly enough, we know from a secular source that something identical to this happened in the city of Rome during this same year. The historian Suetonius records that in 49 AD, Jews were expelled from the capitol city of Rome for a time because they “caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus” (Life of Claudus 25). According to many of the early church fathers, it was common for Romans to mistake Christus for Chrestus, since the latter was a common Roman name. For example, Lactantius writes, “But the meaning of this name must be set forth, on account of the error of the ignorant, who by the change of a letter are accustomed to call Him Chrestus.” Similarly, Turtullian complained to one of his opponents that it is merely “by a faulty pronunciation that you call us ‘Chrestians.'” It is for reasons like this that there is general consensus among historians that the expulsion of the Jews from Rome under Claudius in 49 AD was a result of the chaos that resulted in the Jewish community as people were beginning to take different sides on the question of Jesus’ identity. Was he the messiah, or wasn’t he?

In other words, exactly what we read from Acts 16 & 17 in the cities of Philippi and Thessalonica is also happening in the capital city of Rome itself. Jews from Rome, you will recall, were present on the day of Pentecost some two decades earlier. No doubt by this time word about him had spread throughout Jewish communities that were longing for the fulfillment of OT promises. Suetonius says these particular disturbances among the Jews in Rome were continuous, so that the Emperor Claudius himself had to be called in to arbitrate. Luke records this same event in Acts 18:1-2, saying that when Paul arrived in Corinth, “he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.”

Thus the overall picture we discover is one of tremendous upheaval in the middle of first century Judaism throughout the Greco-Roman world. All of it centers on Jesus’ famous question to Peter, “Who do men say that I am?” If we fast-forward another decade to around 59 AD, we discover that Jews had been allowed to return to Rome and that Paul is with them, though in prison. It is from here that he writes his letter to the Philippians.

In the opening lines of his epistle Paul writes to the Philippian congregation, saying, “To the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” So right off the bat we discern a particular ecclesiastical structure. This structure is discovered when we focus on the words saints, elders, and deacons. In other words, it wasn’t simply every believer for himself. There were teaching elders who were called to look after the sheep, and there were deacons who were appointed to serve. But even more importantly, whether they were Jews or Gentiles, they were all referred to as saints. They were pure, consecrated, holy, sanctified, purified.

It is common for Paul to use the word “saints” in the introductions of his epistles, so it’s easy to overlook. However, we should stop and think about the significance of this word for a moment. Needless to say, it was uncommon for first century Jews to refer to a group of uncircumcised Gentiles “saints.” One would more likely hear the word “dogs.” We even get a hint of this in an analogy that Jesus himself uses, saying to a Gentile woman, “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

So what happened? Why does this particular Pharisee refer to a congregation made up of mostly of uncircumcised gentile “dogs” as “saints”? He explains in verses 2-5. In Christ Jesus they have grace and peace. So whether they are Jews or Gentiles, these believers together have a partnership in the Gospel. This gospel is not about new resolutions, ethnic identity, social justice, or anything that any of us can invent. Rather, it is about the good news concerning the events in the life of one particular man who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant” (2:6-7). This is substance of the Christian gospel that Paul goes on to outline in his letter to the Philippians.

In the next 3 installments of this blog series, we’ll focus primarily on Paul’s arguments in Philippians chapter 3 about his own background as a “Hebrew of Hebrews” and why he came to the conclusion that all of his righteousness was rubbish.

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What The Gospel Is & Why We Should Believe It, Part 7

Throughout this blog series I have been arguing that Paul clearly identifies the essence of the Christian gospel in 1 Corinthians 15. But his discussion of what the gospel entails is presented in a summary form only and is certainly not exhaustive. For example, though he writes elsewhere about propitiation (Rom 3:25), imputed righteousness (Rom 5:17), or our adoption as sons (Eph 1:5), in this passage Paul simply sums up this gospel by pointing to Christ’s death for our sins and his resurrection from the dead. All that happened to Jesus, he argued, was both “according to the Scriptures” and verified by eyewitnesses.

I have also argued that Paul’s words in verses 3 through 7 appear to be in the structure of an early Christian mnemonic device, or creed. I believe this is what he had received (15:3) from the early Christian community in Jerusalem and was bringing to the remembrance of the Corinthian church.

Some get confused at this point when comparing this passage to Gal 1:12. In that passage, Paul says he received the gospel not from any man but directly “through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” This is totally consistent with the account of his conversion that we discover in Acts 9.

But here in 1 Cor. 15, he is not merely passing on the content of the Christian gospel. Instead, he is passing on a particular construction of it in the form of an early Christian creed that likely dates back to sometime within the first decade after Christ’s crucifixion. In other words, the story of Christ’s death and resurrection was not one that evolved later. This was the confession of the earliest Christians.

So now let’s conclude our reading of this section from 1 Corinthians. Paul, the chief of sinners, the most hostile of the hostile eyewitnesses, goes on to say:

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. 12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

That last line is especially significant when paired with the observation from De Tocqueville that we quoted in the first blog post. He had observed that,

Preachers in America are forever pointing out how religious beliefs favor freedom and public order, and it is often difficult to be sure when listening to them whether the main object of religion is to procure eternal felicity in the next world or prosperity in this.

Unfortunately what was true in 1840 has only gotten worse in our generation. Visit an average congregation, regardless of the denomination, and you’re likely to hear sermons about life in this world and how Jesus will help you live more abundantly here and now.

I’ve been arguing in these posts that the gospel is not ultimately about us or how we can improve this world or ourselves. Rather, it’s about Christ. And it’s not merely about Christ in general or what he can do for us in the here and now. Rather it is about what he did during a particular time when Tiberius was reigning as Caesar and Pontius Pilate was the procurator of Judea. It’s about Christ’s death for sin and his resurrection on the third day, testified by the prophets before it happened, witnessed by the apostles when it happened, and richly explained by them after it happened. We’re dealing with real time and space events that are first and foremost to be understood as true rather than helpful, useful, or life changing. This gospel may have the effect of changing a person’s life, but that is to be understood as a fruit of the gospel and not the thing itself.

These days we’ve turned things around. We don’t talk about the truth of the gospel anymore, just its therapeutic value, what it can do for our finances, how it can repair our broken relationships, how it solves loneliness, etc. As we go around repeating these kinds of things, many people will respond, “Oh that’s great for you, I’m glad that you found something that works.” Others say, “I’m doing just fine with my finances and relationships, thank you,” or “What worked for me was reading Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard. That book changed my life!”

But a truth claim is something different. If Jesus really rose again from the dead then, like all historical facts, this would be true not merely for me but for everyone. And if it’s true for everyone, we would all do well to pay attention to what Jesus says about himself and the claims he makes about where history is headed, about our true nature, and about our need for redemption.

Finally, we end with the beginning. This gospel is the announcement concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Paul says in the first two verses of 1 Corinthians 15 that it is the gospel “in which you stand and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached…” In other words, this isn’t merely an announcement of a particular set of facts, but is something of eternal significance for us all. We are not made right before a holy God by the things we do. However, we can be saved by attending to these particular words about a particular event that took place some two thousand years ago having to do with a certain Jewish rabbi who got himself crucified and didn’t stay dead.

This is why we put such an important emphasis on preaching and proclamation. The gospel saves, not going to church, or concern for the poor, or spiritual journaling, or the pursuit of social justice, or simply trying to be a nice and decent person in a fallen world. As Paul says in Romans 4:25, “Christ was raised for our justification.” We are declared righteous based on the events of his life, not our own. And if clinging to this gospel is what saves, then preaching this gospel is the main business of Christian ministers in Christian churches throughout the world until he comes.

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What The Gospel Is & Why We Should Believe It, Part 6

Not long ago I watched a television documentary that dismissed the Gospels because “believers with a religious agenda” wrote them.

Is this a good reason to dismiss the Gospel accounts? Both prosecutors and defense attorneys have agendas, and yet we don’t dismiss them on that basis. Rather, we are told to examine the evidence, to evaluate the trustworthiness of the various witnesses, and to make our conclusions after thinking through these issues.

To dismiss either side because they have an agenda is simply lazy thinking. Everyone has an agenda, a worldview, a foundational starting point. The question is whether our current ideas about the world actually fit with the world that is. In other words, are we willing to have our ideas challenged?

If these Gospels are reporting real historical events and not merely the ideas of the early Christian disciples, why would the resurrected Jesus only show himself to his disciples, rather than to unbelievers? This particular objection rests on a false premise that can be easily detected by thinking through the implications of 1 Corinthians 15.

Throughout this blog series, I’ve been arguing that Paul cites an early Christian creed in verses 3 through 7, which he received from the early Christian community in Jerusalem, and that this creed dates to the mid 30s AD. In the final line of this creed we find the phrase, “then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

So let’s talk about James for a second. He’s one of the few New Testament characters who also appears in the writings of the first century historian Josephus. Here is the account of his martyrdom in Jerusalem:

With Festus now dead, and Albinus traveling; Ananus the high priest assembled the Sanhedrin, and brought before them James the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, along with some of his companions, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them over to be stoned; …when he found out about this, King Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest (Ant. 20.9.1).

So what made James such a firm believer in the idea that his older brother was in fact the divine messiah? In the gospels we find that he, along with his other brothers, rejected this idea outright:

John 7:5 For not even his brothers believed in him.

In Mark 3:21, the issue is put even more strongly: And when his family heard [what Jesus was saying], they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

But things have changed by the time we get to Acts chapter 1. Here the disciples were gathered in the upper room and were devoting themselves to prayer, “together with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”

What had happened was that James and his brothers became believers after the resurrection. Though it is true that the authors of the New Testament documents are not writing history for the sake of history, they do have a theological agenda. In other words, they are writing so “that you may believe,” as John admits at the end of his gospel (20:31).

But this in no way invalidates their claims. The question is whether these particular beliefs are justified. Did the resurrection happen, or did it not? Those who said that they witnessed the resurrection ended up taking sides, and tried to convince others, which is what you would expect if it really happened.

What about the claim that Jesus only appeared to his followers? The evidence simply does not support this. James is a great example. If a prophet is not accepted in his hometown, how much worse is the case inside his own family. This is the testimony that we find in the gospels. Even Jesus’ own brothers did not believe him. Later, after the resurrection, after “Jesus appeared himself to them alive by many proofs,” we find these unbelieving brothers meeting with the disciples in the upper room.

Jesus also appeared at other times to believers. The New Testament is filled with accounts of his appearances after the resurrection. Remember Doubting Thomas who would not believe the report of Christ’s resurrection until he put his hands in Jesus’ nail prints and side? Matt 28:17 reads, “And when they saw the risen Jesus they worshiped him, but some doubted.” Or the time when some of the female disciples try to tell the others about the empty tomb, but their report is rejected as “an idle tale” (Luke 24:11).

According to the gospels, Jesus did not show himself to merely believers, but to many different kinds of unbelievers. And the best example of all: that of the Apostle Paul.

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God (1Cor 15:8-9).

By this point in 1 Corinthians 15, the content of the early Christian creed has likely ended. Paul is now adding his own eyewitness testimony and apostolic appointment to what’s already been recited. Verse 9 is a good reminder that Paul was in fact a hostile witness before he saw the risen Lord. Yet, like James before him, we know that something convinced him to do a complete reversal, and this is not in dispute by even skeptical historians. What is disputed is the claim that it was the resurrection of Jesus that changed his disposition.

As we have seen, this isn’t a story that has grown bigger over time. Here we have an early Christian creed in all likelihood dating to around 33 AD, just a few years after the crucifixion. This creed claims that a particular Jewish rabbi has died for our sins, was raised on the third day, was the subject of Old Testament prophecy, and appeared before believers and hostile eyewitnesses alike.

In the seventh and final blog post in this series, I’ll walk through the implications of Paul’s arguments in verses 10 through 19, in which he claims that “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless and your faith is in vain.”

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What The Gospel Is & Why We Should Believe It, Part 5

Now let’s take a closer look at verses 5-6 of 1 Corinthians 15. In particular, pay close attention to the sequence of events listed here. First the text says Jesus appeared to Cephas (which is the Aramaic equivalent of Petros, the form of Peter’s name that we would expect to find in an early Christian creed dating to around 33AD). Later Jesus appears to the twelve and then to a large crowd of over 500 brothers.

Interestingly, this is a different sequence of events from what we find in the Gospels. According to various gospel reports, several women discover the empty tomb first and are confronted by an angel declaring that Christ has risen. They tell Peter, who runs to the tomb with John, and they find it empty, just as the women had reported. When they leave, Mary Magdalene stays behind and sees the risen Jesus, who she at first mistakes for the gardener. The various accounts report different aspects and perspectives of the same event. Sometimes these accounts can be difficult to piece together, which is what typically happens in the case of actual eyewitness testimony of unexpected events.

But we should stop for a moment and ask why Mary Magdalene or any of the other women are not listed in 1 Corinthians 15 as the first eyewitnesses to the resurrection. I believe the answer has to do with the purpose of this early creed.

If this creed was crafted sometime in the early 30s, then it was primarily to be used among Jews rather than Gentiles. As we’ve seen, this creed does not only outline the basic facts of the gospel. It also provides two kinds of witnesses to testify concerning those facts, namely the testimony of the prophets and the Apostles. But there was something else going on as well. In the Jewish culture of the first century, women were not considered reliable witnesses in a court of law. Though Moses never prohibited women’s testimony in a legal proceeding, first century historian Josephus writes the following as he comments on the Law of Moses:

Antiq. 4:219 “…let not a single witness be believed; but two or three at the least, and those such whose testimony is confirmed by their good lives. But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex…”

So in light of this 1st century evidence, it makes sense that we would find this early Christian community rooting the gospel of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection in the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles and other male witnesses as part of its public deposition.

We see further evidence of this in verse 6 as the creed goes on to say that Christ appeared to more than 500 brothers at once. Notice it does not say 500 people, but brothers. It was the custom of this period to only count male heads when calculating crowd sizes. When this early creed says that more than 500 brothers were witnesses to Christ’s resurrection, in reality this may have been an audience of up to a thousand or more individuals if we are to assume women and children were present. Another example would be the feeding of the five thousand. The crowd may actually have been up to twice that size since we read in Matt. 14:21 that “those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.” Now, like slavery, you may find this sort of patriarchalism distasteful, but once grasped, it actually helps us understand many New Testament texts, 1 Corinthians 15 in particular.

Now, in terms of the order, it’s interesting to note that the creed does not say that Peter was the first eyewitness. It simply lists him first. He was the first of the Apostles to witness the risen Lord and that’s all that is being claimed here. After this, Jesus was seen by the twelve. Most of the gospel accounts don’t narrate Peter’s exclusive meeting with the risen Christ, but we do find it briefly mentioned to in Luke 24:34. After the two disciples talk with Jesus on the road to Emmaus and return to Jerusalem (which is roughly about a three-hour walk), they finally meet up with the disciples and find them saying, “The Lord has risen indeed and has appeared to Simon.” So sometime during that first Sunday, Jesus had revealed himself to Peter before he appeared to all the disciples at once.

Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once (most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep).

Many scholars here believe that the creed is interrupted by a parenthetical comment by Paul. He writes that “most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” Here, Paul is admitting that a few decades have now passed since these events transpired and that some of the witnesses have died. Most, however, would still be living and would have been available to be questioned about these events.

One question that has perplexed scholars over the years is the exact timing of this large gathering of believers who were witnesses of Christ’s resurrection. Since it is not reported in the gospels, no one is exactly sure.

Some have argued that it may be hinted at in Matthew 28 when Jesus appears to his disciples and instructs them to tell others to leave Jerusalem and go to Galilee where he would appear to them there. The text says that the disciples then go to “the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.” Now remember, they don’t have minivans at this period, so this takes a little time to do by foot. Since they were instructed to tell others, by the time they arrived there may have been a significant crowd with them of the type described in 1 Corinthians 15.

But why did Jesus show himself to his followers only? Why didn’t the risen Lord show himself to unbelievers as well? We’ll take up those questions in the next post in this series.

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What The Gospel Is & Why We Should Believe It, Part 4

As we saw in the last post in this series, Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christ’s death and resurrection on the third day is the basic substance of the Christian gospel. Everything that had happened to Jesus was, Paul argued, “in accordance with the scriptures.”

But where in the pages of the Old Testament do we find prophecies of Christ’s resurrection or, more specifically, that Christ would be raised on the third day?

I think the first place to look is Isaiah 53. We don’t know whether this is one of the texts that the framers of this early creed had in mind, but it surely it is one of the best candidates among various options. Starting at verse 9 we read:

Is. 53:9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied.

That last verse is really interesting. “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied.” Who is doing the seeing here? There are really only two options: the LORD or the messianic servant. Which of these two is it?

The English text of the ESV translation is rooted in the Masoretic text, which is a collection of Hebrew scrolls that were meticulously copied by Jewish scribes between the 7th and the 10th centuries. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1948, scholars were able to compare them to an amazingly complete scroll of Isaiah dating back to about 200 BC. Apart from a few spelling updates, it was virtually identical to the Masoretic text. In other words, the Qumran discovery proved the overwhelming reliability of the process of transmission through the centuries.

Apart from the few spelling variations, there was one significant difference. It is found here in verse 11 of Is. 53, which now reads, “out of the anguish of his soul, he shall see light, and be satisfied.” This reading also matches what we find in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which the apostles frequently quoted from in their day. We’re not sure why this particular word “light” dropped out of the Masoretic text. Based on the fact that it appears in the earliest manuscript that we have of Isaiah, and that it matches was we find in the LXX, it is something that I recommend you pencil into the margins of Is 53:11.

So if you accept this new reading, it says, “Out of the anguish of his soul, he shall see light and be satisfied.” In verse 9 we learned that the anguish of the messianic servant resulted in death. Yet here in verse 11, it is this same servant who sees light. I believe this is a prophecy of Christ’s resurrection.

We also see the apostles at various places in the New Testament interacting with Ps. 16 in which God promises not to let his Holy One see corruption. But our text from 1 Corinthians 15 does not merely say that the messiah will die as a substitute for sin and be raised again. It specifically mentions that he will be raised on the third day. Many see here an allusion to the words of the prophet Hosea, who in chapter 6 writes:

“Come let us return to the Lord, for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days, he will revive us, on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him” (6:1-2)

Others here point to the parallel that Jesus frequently made between himself and the prophet Jonah. Just as the annual Yom Kippur sacrifices were pictures of the once-for-all eternal sacrifice of the true Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, so too the temporal prophets point to the true and ultimate prophet, Christ himself. In this light, the events in the life of Jonah—such as that he was swallowed by a whale and entombed for three days—was a kind of foreshadowing of Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate prophet. His life was swallowed up by his own people but he conquered death by his resurrection on the third day.

So as we’ve seen from 1 Corinthians 15, the gospel that Paul reminds these Christians of is Christ-centered, cross-centered, and rooted in the Old Testament scriptures. But in verses 5-6 we find something more:

He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve, then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time.

Here we see that the gospel is not some kind of eternal principle, like the idea that no matter how dark things get in the middle of winter, spring is always just around the corner. No, the gospel is not a principle that is always true, but rather an event attested to by eyewitnesses at a particular point in time. This is why it is called “good news.” Moses taught that only on the basis of two or three witnesses could something be established by law. And here, in this creed, a host of witnesses are brought forth and to testify to the risen Christ.

Many throughout the past few centuries have argued that the first Christians are not describing actual historical events but rather their own internal Easter experiences. In other words, it’s about something going on inside their hearts. Those who witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion, the story goes, finally understood the object lesson of his death. They might also argue that the texts that mention his resurrection should never be taken literally but are figuratively presented.

The problem is that this theory does not fit the facts of the case. All the apostles tell the same story. Talk of the resurrection was not a symbol for something that was going on in their hearts. It wasn’t even some kind of a vision or hallucination. Here’s how John and Peter put it:

1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have felt in our hearts… No, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this we proclaim to you…”

2Pet. 1:16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we ourselves experienced warm feelings when we thought about his teaching.

No. Peter says, “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

So according to 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and on the third day rose from the dead.

An old hymn goes, “And if you ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart!” But this is not exactly how Paul puts it, is it? We find that “he rose again on the third day” not according to my heart, but according to the scriptures, and according to Cephas, the twelve, and more than 500 brothers at one time. In other words, there are two kinds of witnesses being cited here. One is the witness testimony of the prophets who wrote of these events before they happened. The other is of the apostles who wrote about those same events after they occurred.

In the next post we’ll take some time to evaluate the claims of the first century apostles along with the significance of those claims.

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What The Gospel Is & Why We Should Believe It, Part 3

Scholars have noticed that the information Paul passes on in 1 Corinthians 15 is presented in a stylized format. Paul appears to be using the form of parallelism, which is often used as an aid to memorization.

1Cor. 15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
that he was buried,
that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

In fact, the structure is not unlike that of the Apostles Creed. This fact has led many commentators to conclude that Paul is actually reciting an early Christian creed, the form of which he had received from the earliest followers of Jesus. According to N.T. Wright: “We are here in touch with the earliest Christian tradition, with something that was being said two decades or more before Paul wrote this letter.” If Paul wrote this letter around 53 AD, two decades earlier would have been 33 AD, and that is only a few years removed from the crucifixion. This is essentially the same time that liberal scholar John Dominic Crossan said that Paul went to visit Peter (see Part 2 of this series).

Notice also that there is great specificity to the good news that Paul records. The good news is not merely about God in general or how we can have a relationship with him. Instead, it’s about Christ in particular. Christ is not presented as a groovy teacher or one who offers moral clarity. He’s not presented as a helpful guide to get us through life’s difficulties. There’s nothing here about him being “chicken soup for the soul.”

Rather, Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. This is what the gospel is. It’s both Christ-centered and cross-centered. The gospel is the good news associated with an event regarding the person of Christ. That event includes a particular word in the past tense: he died. That is not an esoteric principle or proverb; it’s an historical claim. With that historical claim we find a purpose statement. According to this early Christian creed, Christ died for our sins. Here we discover that the gospel, as defined by the earliest Christians, was not a kind of therapy or plan for social justice. It was not a collection of groovy ideas by a wise sage. Rather this gospel was a particular historical claim related to the death of a particular Jewish Rabbi, wrapped together with the explanation of this event’s incredible significance.

This gospel was not merely Christ-centered and cross-centered, it was also Scripture centered: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” What Scriptures? Perhaps Paul and the authors of this early creed were thinking of a text like Daniel 9:24-27. This text teaches that when messiah comes, he will “atone for iniquity.” Or perhaps the authors were thinking of the great servant song of Isaiah 53, which says that the man of sorrows will “make many to be accounted righteous and shall bear their iniquities, by pouring his soul unto death.” Or perhaps they were thinking of Zechariah 12 in which God himself says, “I will pour on the house of David… a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn….” That text goes on to say that on that day “there shall be a fountain opened up for the house of David… to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.”

The framers of this early creed could also have been be thinking of the shadows of Christ that we find throughout the law of Moses. For example, earlier in this epistle (1 Corinthians 5:7), Paul writes, “Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed.” In other words, the Passover lamb was but a shadow of things to come but the reality was Christ. This is the same type of language that we heard from John the Baptist who, when he saw his cousin Jesus approaching, said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

But this gospel is not only rooted in atonement. It is also rooted in resurrection:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died
for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
that he was buried,
that he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.

Here this ancient creed argues that throughout the Old Testament not only was Christ’s death foretold but also His resurrection, and that on the third day. The fact that Paul does not cite any scriptures at this point is further evidence that he assumed his audience was familiar with these texts. He is presuming that what he is reciting is part of a memorized formula. In verse 4 we also discover the repetition of the phrase “according to the scriptures,” which is a particular construction not found elsewhere in Paul’s writings. His typical way of interacting with the Old Testament begins with phrases such as “Scripture says,” or “what do the Scriptures say,” along with their citation.

In the next edition of this blog series, we’ll investigate what Old Testament texts Paul and others might have been thinking of when they argued that Christ’s resurrection on the third day was foretold in the Scriptures.

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