The Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Soren Kierkegaard (Part 2)

dietrich_bonhoeffer1
This is Part 2 of a 4 Part series comparing the ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Soren Kierkegaard. Last time in Part 1 we looked at the evidence that Bonhoeffer knew Kierkegaard’s work on ethics. Here in Part 2, we will look at Bonhoeffer’s ethics. Next in Part 3, we will look at Kierkegaard’s ethics. Finally, in Part 4, we will compare their approaches to ethics and draw our conclusions.

THE ETHICS OF BONHOEFFER AND KIERKEGAARD

Last time in Part 1, we examined the occurrences in Letters & Papers from Prison where Dietrich Bonhoeffer mentions Kierkegaard and his works. From this, we concluded that Bonhoeffer not only knew of Kierkegaard’s work, but indeed knew his work on ethics. Here in Part 2, we will now move to explore the details concerning Bonhoeffer’s approach to ethics.

BONHOEFFER’S APPROACH TO ETHICS

First and foremost, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ethics were Christocentric as was his theology and sociality. His Christocentric ethics then are worked out in three theological caveats of being conformed to Christ (German: Gestalt Christi): (1) the Incarnate Christ, (2) the Crucified Christ, and (3) the Risen Christ [Bonhoeffer, Ethics, 82-83].

Second, Bonhoeffer’s ethics are essentially ontological or virtue-based ethics. In Ethics, he says,

What is worse than doing evil is being evil. It is worse for a liar to tell the truth than of a lover of truth to lie. It is worse when a misanthropist practices brotherly love than when a philanthropist gives way to hatred. Better than truth in the mouth of the liar is the lie. Better than the act of brotherly love on the part of the misanthrope is hatred. One sin, then, is not like another. They do not all have the same weight. There are heavier sins and lighter sins. A falling away is of infinitely greater weight than a falling down. The most shining virtues of him who has fallen away are as black as night in comparison with the darkest lapses of the steadfast.”[Ethics 67]

Thus, he believes that who a person is on the inside is more important than what one does on the outside.

Third, Bonhoeffer approached ethics from situation to situation – often called situational ethics. For him, an ethical decision had to be determined based upon each given circumstance and changing situation. Every situation is different and thus demands different decisions. His extreme situation with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany can surely account for why he would opt to take this approach. Some would summarize this in saying desperate times call for desperate measures. This situational approach is also characterized as being relational.[1]

Fourth, a currently controversial and “unsettled” topic regarding Bonhoeffer’s ethics is whether or not they are apocalyptic [2]. I think that there is some warrant to this, though others may dissent.

Fifth, a focus of Bonhoeffer’s ethics is that they are “for-others.” A large part of his others-focused ethics comes from his sociality and the I-Thou relationship which he develops in Sanctorum Communio (The Communion of the Saints). Furthermore, some think that Bonhoeffer largely had in mind the Jews specifically and the world in general when he speaks of being “for-others.”

Sixth, Bonhoeffer critiques and dispenses with the six major approaches of ethicists throughout history to ethics: (1) reason, (2) moral fanaticism, (3) conscience, (4) duty, (5) free responsibility, and (6) silent virtue (Ethics 67-69). All of them, he says, are inadequate to deal with “the present struggle” [3] which most assuredly is a reference to him working out ethics of coup d’état and tyrannicide.

BONHOEFFER’S NEW WAY OF ETHICS

In dispensing with the primary approaches to ethics throughout history, he therefore must present a new approach and this is precisely what he does. The question of ethics he says is not, “How can I be good?” or “How can I do good?” (Ethics 186). Rather, he says, “instead of these he must ask the utterly and totally different question: ‘What is the will of God?’” (Ethics 186). Thus, in this way, Bonhoeffer approaches ethics in a totally unique way that had never been done before. For him, ethics therefore is about obeying God and living out his will. Moreover, this was not something for the individual alone to do, but rather obeying God’s will as a definition for the ethical life is something for the community and the people of God.

Next time in Part 3, we will take a look at Soren Kierkegaard’s approach to ethics which is quite similar to Bonhoeffer.

End Notes

[1] Larry Rasmussen calls this “his relational, contextual ethic.” See John W. de Gruchy, The Cambridge Companion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 221.

[2] See Philip Ziegler, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer – An Ethics of God’s Apocalypse?” MT 23:4 (2007): 579-594 for a detailed discussion.

[3] Clifford J. Green, Bonhoeffer: A Theology of Sociality (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 306.

The Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Soren Kierkegaard (Part 1)

 bonhoeffer-1_22
This is Part 1 of a 4 Part series comparing the ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Soren Kierkegaard. Here in Part 1 we will look at the evidence that Bonhoeffer knew Kierkegaard’s work on ethics. In Part 2, we will look at Bonhoeffer’s ethics. In Part 3, we will look at Kierkegaard’s ethics. Finally, in Part 4, we will compare their approaches to ethics and draw our conclusions.

THE ETHICS OF BONHOEFFER AND KIERKEGAARD

Many points of contact exist between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Sǿren Kierkegaard.[1] One of these, I believe, happens to be their approach to ethics. In surveying the secondary literature, little ground seems to have been broken comparing their ethical approaches.[2] Thus, in this paper, I will venture to pioneer such a study by comparing Bonhoeffer’s and Kierkegaard’s approaches to ethics. In doing so, I will first ask the question, “To what degree did Bonhoeffer interact with and know Kierkegaard’s works and in particular, are there any places where he speaks about Kierkegaard’s ethics?” After answering this question, I will subsequently seek to answer the question, “What were their approaches to ethics?” Lastly, I will conclude by comparing and contrasting their approaches and determine whether there are points of agreement or disagreement in their approaches. Overall, I will argue (1) that Bonhoeffer knew of Kierkegaard’s ethics and (2) that Kierkegaard’s approach to ethics influenced Bonhoeffer’s approach to a limited extent.

METHOD AND PURVIEW

With regard to my methods and approach to this study, I will default to using primary sources, particularly English translations of Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison and Ethics and an English translation of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. In light of this, with regard to my purview, I will limit my scope of interacting with secondary sources in this study for two reasons. First, very little literature has been written upon this topic. Secondly, I have limited space and time in this study and thus must raze this paper down to the bare minimum.[3]

BONHOEFFER’S INTERACTION WITH KIERKEGAARD

To begin, I will first examine to what degree Bonhoeffer interacted with and knew Kierkegaard’s works and in particular his ethics. To do so, I will explore all the occurrences where Bonhoeffer cites Kierkegaard in his prison works and attempt to assess whether he hints at knowledge of Kierkegaard’s ethics.[4] These occurrences all happen to be in the later time of Bonhoeffer’s life when he was incarcerated by the Nazis.

1. A Letter to His Parents

On October 31, 1943, Dietrich sent a letter to his parents from the prison at Tegel. Within this letter, he thanks his aged parents for coming and visiting him and for providing him with a parcel of bread. Furthermore, he mentions that it is “Reformation Day” and proceeds to expound upon what Martin Luther wanted to happen and how the public’s reaction to his action resulted in the opposite of what he wanted, that is, “insurrection, the Peasant’s War, and soon afterwards the gradual dissolution of all real cohesion and order in society.”[Bonhoeffer, Letters & Papers from Prison (LPP), 123] Then, he talks about a debate he knew of among Lutheran scholars named Holl and Harnack concerning this issue. With pertinence for our study, he then mentions Sǿren Kierkegaard and his take on this subject. Bonhoeffer says,

As long as a hundred years ago Kierkegaard said that today Luther would say the opposite of what he said then. I think he was right with some reservations.” [Bonhoeffer, LPP, 123.]

Here, we see the first mention of Kierkegaard among Bonhoeffer’s prison writings. We can glean from this first of all that Bonhoeffer did know of Kierkegaard. However, this statement is so brief and lacks a context which speaks to ethics. Thus, from this letter to his parents, we cannot conclude that Bonhoeffer knew of Kierkegaard’s ethics.

2. A Letter to Renate and Eberhard Bethge

Next, on January 23, 1944, Bonhoeffer sends a letter to his beloved relatives, Renate and Eberhard Bethge. Within this letter he writes about many things at length. However, pertinent to this study is that he again refers to Kierkegaard. In discussing the recovery of the four mandates of art, education, friendship, and play in the church, he says of Kierkegaard,

I wonder whether it is possible (it almost seems so today) to regain the idea of the church as providing an understanding of the area of freedom (art, education, friendship, play), so that Kierkegaard’s ‘aesthetic existence’ would not be banished from the church’s sphere, but would be re-established within it?”[Bonhoeffer, LPP, 193]

This seems to be somewhat of a critique of Kierkegaard and his base stage of human ethics, namely, the aesthetic. Bonhoeffer goes on further to critique even Kierkegaard’s second level of ethics, namely, the ethical stage. He says,

Who is there, for instance, in our times, who can devote himself with an easy mind to music, friendship, games, or happiness? Surely not the ‘ethical’ man, but only the Christian.”[Bonhoeffer, LPP, 193]

This seems to be a further critique of Kierkegaard’s stages. Bonhoeffer seems to be saying that Kierkegaard’s final and highest stage – the religious stage – is the only place where freedom and the four mandates can find their place in church and society again, whereas Kierkegaard would have disparaged the mandates in ranking them at the aesthetic stage. In other words, Bonhoeffer is saying that only Christians (i.e. the religious) can experience the freedom of art, education, friendship, and play contra Kierkegaard who would disparage them altogether.

Thus, again we conclude that Bonhoeffer knew Kierkegaard’s work. However, in this letter, we see Bonhoeffer interacting with Kierkegaard’s ethics, not only that, but even critiquing them and purposing an alternative view. This indicates that Bonhoeffer did in fact know Kierkegaard’s ethics, but whether or not they influenced Bonhoeffer is another point entirely. Determining this from this particular letter is cannot be achieved since he combats his view rather than embraces it.

3. A Letter to Eberhard Bethge

Then, on March 9, 1944, Bonhoeffer writes a letter to Eberhard Bethge from Tegel prison. In the letter, he speaks of many things, yet fixates upon answering a remark from Bethge concerning “Michelangelo, Burckhardt, and hilaritas.”[Bonhoeffer, LPP, 229] He focuses upon the meaning of the Latin word hilaritas and says that it means more than “serenity, in the classical sense,” but is also a “high-spirited self-confidence.”[Bonhoeffer, LPP, 229] Within this discussion, he makes reference to Kierkegaard. Bonhoeffer says,

I admit that Michelangelo, Rembrandt and, at a considerable remove, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, are in quite a different category from those that I’ve mentioned. There is something less assertive, evident, and final in their works, less conviction, detachment, and humor. All the same, I think some of them are characterized by hilaritas in the sense that I’ve described, as a necessary attribute of greatness.”[Bonhoeffer, LPP, 229]

Thus, again we observe that Bonhoeffer did in fact know and interact with Kierkegaard. However, from this passage in LPP, there is no trace as to whether he is interacting with Kierkegaard’s ethics, let alone whether they influence his own.

4. A Letter to Eberhard Bethge

Lastly, on July 28, 1944, Dietrich composes another though rather short letter to Eberhard Bethge from Tegel. Here, he again addresses a theological issue that Bethge brought up. The issue concerns health and fortune in the Old and New Testaments as relates to suffering and the cross. Within his brief response, Bonhoeffer mentions Kierkegaard and how he thinks that the Old Testament view of blessing is mutually exclusive to the cross. He says,

Now is it right to set the Old Testament blessing against the cross? That is what Kierkegaard did. That makes the cross, or at least suffering, an abstract principle; and this is just what gives rise to an unhealthy Methodism, which deprives suffering of its element of contingency as a divine ordinance. It’s true that in the Old Testament the person who receives the blessing has to endure a great deal of suffering…but this never leads to the idea that fortune and suffering, blessing and cross are mutually exclusive and contradictory – nor does it in the New Testament. Indeed, the only difference between the Old and New Testaments in this respect is that in the Old the blessing includes the cross, and in the New the cross includes the blessing.”[Bonhoeffer, LPP, 374]

Thus, again Bonhoeffer clearly knows Kierkegaard’s works. However, there is no trace in this letter that Bonhoeffer is interacting with Kierkegaard’s ethics. Moreover, like the second letter we examined, Bonhoeffer again critiques Kierkegaard’s position on the topic at hand and presents his own view.

CONCLUSIONS

Overall, in assessing these four letters from his time in Tegel prison, we can conclude that Bonhoeffer indeed knew of Kierkegaard and was versed enough in his writings to interact with his thought by memory without his books at hand. What is more, we can conclude that Bonhoeffer had some knowledge of Kierkegaard’s ethics, at least his three stages of the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious as we see in his letter to Renate and Eberhard Bethge. However, in this letter, we see Bonhoeffer critiquing Kierkegaard’s three stages and he sees some major problems with them, the effects of which were stretching all the way to the church and society of Bonhoeffer’s day. Thus, with this little though vital evidence, at this point, we can tentatively conclude that Kierkegaard’s approach to ethics did not influence Bonhoeffer’s. However, as we proceed and discuss the specifics of their approaches, this conclusion may or may not be warranted.

Next time in Part 2, we will look at the ethics of Bonhoeffer.


End Notes

[1] First, they were both Lutherans. Secondly, their theologies are Christocentric. See Tim Rose, Kierkegaard’s Christocentric Theology (Burlington: Ashgate, 2001) for a work on Kierkegaard’s Christocentric theology. Third, they both critiqued nationalism in their own times. See Stephen Backhouse, Kierkegaard’s Critique of Christian Nationalism (New York: Oxford, 2011) for a study on his critique of nationalism. Also, they both speak on ethics of responsibility. See Mark Dooley, The Politics of Exodus: Kierkegaard’s Ethics of Responsibility (New York: Fordham, 2001) for a book on Kierkegaard’s ethics of responsibility. Lastly, Kierkegaard and Bonhoeffer were used and abused in a similar way as founders of the secular theology of the 1960’s. See Bishop J. W. C. Wand, The Minds behind the New Theology: Kierkegaard, Barth, Bultmann, Tillich, and Bonhoeffer (London: A. R. Mowbray, 1963) for a brief study on Kierkegaard’s and Bonhoeffer’s “influence” on this new theology.

All of this goes to show that a massive amount of work has yet to be done in comparing Kierkegaard and Bonhoeffer. I believe that such a study would be profitable and would return abundant dividends, though such study has yet to be done.

[2] However, other similarities in their life and thought have been thoroughly explored. One is promeity within their Christology. See Philip Ziegler, “Christ For Us Today – Promeity in the Christologies of Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaard,” IJST 15:1 (2013): 25-41 for a great article comparing their thought on Christ being for us.

[3] At some point, I hope to expand this paper into several chapters interacting with “commentaries” on Kierkegaard’s and Bonhoeffer’s ethics and produce an advanced and in depth study on their approaches to ethics. This however unfortunate cannot be done here.

[4] Note that Bonhoeffer mentions Kierkegaard in Christ the Center and in some of his sermons, but these are in his early years before Bonhoeffer undertakes the task of writing upon ethics. Thus, I will limit my scope here to his references to Kierkegaard during and after he writes ethics.

Easter Expectations (Part 4)

Fresco depicting the Resurrection in Notre Dame de Bayeux cathedral, Bayeux, Normandy, France, Europe

This is a 4 Part series exploring the question of resurrection expectations held by ancient Jews and the historical Jesus. The primary question of this study is, “What did the historical Jesus expect of his resurrection in relation to the general resurrection?” In other words, did the historical Jesus expect his resurrection to be a unique event in history detached from the future general resurrection or did he expect it to be at the general resurrection? Before we can answer this question, we must first answer another: “What did ancient Jews expect of the resurrection of the dead and was there any connection with it to the Messiah?”


Previously in Part 1, we explored the ancient Jewish expectations of the resurrection before the time of Jesus and Paul within Intertestamental Judaism, also known as Second Temple Judaism – the time period between the Old and New Testaments.

Last time in Part 2, we continued exploring the ancient Jewish expectations of resurrection, only this time we looked at expectations during and after the time of Jesus and Paul. Here, I provided a summary and conclusions about resurrection expectations in ancient Jewish thought before, during, and after the time of Jesus and Paul.

All of this was laying the groundwork for our main question at hand – “What did the historical Jesus expect of his resurrection in relation to the general resurrection?”

In Part 3, we looked at Jesus’ view of his own resurrection.

Here in Part 4, we will look at Jesus’ view of the general resurrection, and then make our final judgment as to what the historical Jesus expected of his resurrection in relation to the general resurrection.

Overall, I will argue that the historical Jesus expected his resurrection to be a unique and individual resurrection with no relationship to the general resurrection.


THE EXPECTATIONS OF THE HISTORICAL JESUS

Here in Part 4, we now turn to explore what the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) claim that Jesus said about the general resurrection prior to his death.

Jesus on the General Resurrection

When examining what Jesus said about the general resurrection, there are only two passages in the Synoptics: the question about the resurrection and the last judgment. However, given the lack of the historicity of the last judgment in Matt 25:31-46, we will only examine the former.[1] In doing so, we will survey it and observe Jesus’ view regarding the nature, scope, number, agent, and time of the general resurrection. We will also report whether allusions to Messiah appear.

The Question about Resurrection

Matt 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40

In this passage, the Sadducees come to Jesus and ask him a question concerning the resurrection, particularly with regard to marriage in the resurrection. In doing so, they are trying to stump Jesus in his beliefs in the resurrection since the Sadducees do not. Jesus’ response to them is two-fold. First, he addresses the issue of marriage in the resurrection and then he addresses their unbelief in resurrection.

In analyzing his view of the general resurrection from his response, we can first decipher that the nature of it is bodily and is “like angels” in that the resurrected do not engage in marriage. Furthermore, he does not explicitly state what the scope of resurrection is, though the mention of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob may indicate that Jesus is thinking of a resurrection of the righteous alone. In addition, the number seems to be both corporate and individual. The corporate dimensions are found in that Jesus frequently uses the plural, while the individual aspects come again from his mention of the three patriarchs. Also, Jesus asserts that God, being “not of the dead, but of the living,” is the agent of resurrection, that is, resurrection life comes from the living God. Concerning time, Jesus gives no reference as to when this general resurrection will occur. Lastly, there is no trace in the triple tradition here of Jesus making a connection between his resurrection and the general resurrection. Moreover, he makes no connection between resurrection and Messiah.

Below is a chart summarizing our study concerning the question about resurrection:

Nature Scope Number Agent Time Messiah
Bodily Righteous? Corporate & Individual God NOS No

Conclusions from the Question about Resurrection and the General Resurrection

Overall, the question about the resurrection only fulfills one criteria of authenticity, that is, it is multiply attested in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. However, it fails to fulfill the criterion of dissimilarity because here Jesus adopts a view of the general resurrection that is more or less consistent with ancient Jewish views, namely, that the general resurrection will be corporate and that no connection exists between resurrection and Messiah. Moreover, it seems to have some elements of theologizing upon the resurrection here, brief though it may be. Unlike the predictions above, the passages here give details about there being no marriage in the resurrection, describe the nature of resurrected persons being like angels, and expound upon what it means for God to be the God of the patriarchs.

For these reasons, then, we can only tentatively conclude that this Jesus saying on the question about the resurrection was from the historical Jesus, although with below moderate certainty. However, if we could conclude with stronger certainty that this came from the historical Jesus, then we would deduce that the historical Jesus here expected his resurrection to have no connection with the general resurrection.

CONCLUSIONS

In conclusion, we have thus far explored the question of resurrection expectations held by the ancient Jews and the historical Jesus. The first question we explored was, “What did the ancient Jews near the time of Jesus and Paul expect about the resurrection of the dead and was there a connection between the Messiah and resurrection?” We concluded that there was not a monolithic view on resurrection in this intertestamental period, though the majority of Jews believed in a bodily and corporate resurrection of the righteous with God as the agent and with no connection to the Messiah. The second and primary question that we asked was, “What did the historical Jesus expect of his resurrection in relation to the general resurrection?” In exploring the three passion/resurrection prediction and the question about resurrection in the Synoptic Gospels, we have established the historicity and authenticity of these texts. In addition, we have discovered that what has made our task in this present study difficult is that we have relatively little extant information about what Jesus taught and said concerning his resurrection and the general resurrection. While Jesus probably taught more on resurrection than what we have in the Gospels, we unfortunately do not have any more extant evidence today.[2] Nevertheless, with the information that we do have, we have argued above that the historical Jesus expected his resurrection to be bodily in nature, unique and individual in number, shortly after his death, and a totally separate event from the general resurrection. Furthermore, this hypothesis fulfills the criteria of embarrassment, dissimilarity, multiple attestation, and the lack of theologizing in many places, and thus bolters our thesis concerning the historical Jesus’ resurrection expectations.[3]

 

POSTSCRIPT: FOR FURTHER CONSIDERATION

What about the Parousia?

Those who may not be convinced of the resurrection of Jesus and do not see this as historical will have many more issues to deal with and difficult questions to answer. The question of Jesus’ parousia predictions will need to be taken into account here then; such questions as: Did Jesus really predict his parousia? If so, did he mean that his parousia was in fact his resurrection, his coming? For he was gone, and then came back to the realm of the living. Perhaps his resurrection is his parousia? Given his teaching about his parousia, I do not think this is the case. However, more research needs to be done searching out such questions.

What about the Disciples’ Expectations?

Another area for further study should be done on the disciples’ expectations concerning Jesus’ resurrection and it in relation to the general resurrection. It is clear from the Gospel texts that Jesus’ own disciples do not expect Jesus to be resurrected after his death, at least not immediately as he predicted. This has cast doubts in the minds of some historical Jesus scholars particularly with regard to the historicity of Jesus’ passion and resurrection predictions due to the disciples’ eccentric response to Jesus’ death had he indeed foretold the events.

How does one account for their response? One possibility perhaps is that the disciples did not think that Jesus would be raised at all. This seems improbable given their Jewish heritage and given that their teacher holds to a more Pharisaic view, namely, that there will be a resurrection. Another possibility is that the disciples thought that Jesus would rise, but at the end in the general resurrection with them. This seems to best account for how they respond. They are grieved and have lost hope. Moreover, their response certainly demonstrates that they did not expect Jesus’s resurrection to be imminent, whether it would be unique or general. If they thought that Jesus’ resurrection would be unique and immediately after the third day, then they would not have been mourning in such despair. Also, if they thought his resurrection would be at the general resurrection and that this was imminent on the third day, then we would expect them to have excitement because the end would be near with their own resurrection on the way. However, what is recorded in the Gospels is the exact opposite. There is not the slightest hint that the disciples are expecting Jesus to rise immediately. Due to the fact that the Gospels also record Jesus predicting his resurrection (whether they were historical or not), this gives a somewhat embarrassing tone in depicting the disciples as not anticipating Jesus’ resurrection. Overall, more work needs to be done in this area.


[1] The historicity of this saying is doubted (1) because it is not multiply attested, (2) it is more concurrent with Jewish views on resurrection than dissimilar, and (3) it is highly theological in nature.

[2] In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus speaks more of the resurrection, though we do not consult these occurrences here.

 

Easter Expectations (Part 3)

Fresco depicting the Resurrection in Notre Dame de Bayeux cathedral, Bayeux, Normandy, France, Europe

           This is a 4 Part series exploring the question of resurrection expectations held by ancient Jews and the historical Jesus. The primary question of this study is, “What did the historical Jesus expect of his resurrection in relation to the general resurrection?” In other words, did the historical Jesus expect his resurrection to be a unique event in history detached from the future general resurrection or did he expect it to be at the general resurrection? Before we can answer this question, we must first answer another: “What did ancient Jews expect of the resurrection of the dead and was there any connection with it to the Messiah?”

_________________________________________________________________

Previously in Part 1, we explored the ancient Jewish expectations of the resurrection before the time of Jesus and Paul within Intertestamental Judaism, also known as Second Temple Judaism – the time period between the Old and New Testaments.

Last time in Part 2, we continued exploring the ancient Jewish expectations of resurrection, only this time we looked at expectations during and after the time of Jesus and Paul. Here, I provided a summary and conclusions about resurrection expectations in ancient Jewish thought before, during, and after the time of Jesus and Paul.

All of this is laying the groundwork for our main question at hand – “What did the historical Jesus expect of his resurrection in relation to the general resurrection?” – which I will take up in Part 3 and Part 4.

Overall, I will argue that the historical Jesus expected his resurrection to be a unique and individual resurrection with no relationship to the general resurrection.

___________________________________________________________________

THE EXPECTATIONS OF THE HISTORICAL JESUS

Here in Part 3, we now turn to explore what the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) claim that Jesus said about his own resurrection prior to his death.[1] In working through the pertinent texts, we will evaluate Jesus’ view of the resurrection, the historicity of each passage, and draw conclusions therefrom.

Jesus on His Resurrection

When examining what Jesus said about his own resurrection, there are only three clear passages in the Synoptics: the three passion and subsequent resurrection predictions. Thus, we will survey all three in sequential order and observe Jesus’ view regarding the nature, number, agent, and time of his resurrection. We will also account whether the thought of Messiah is within purview.

1. The First Prediction

Matt 16:13-23; Mark 8:27-33; Luke 9:18-22

To begin, in Matt 16:20-23 and Luke 9:21-22, Jesus seems to understand the nature of his resurrection to be physical and bodily. Coming from Q, they both read τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ ἐγερθῆναι.[2] Also, since the main verb ἐγερθῆναι is third person singular, this would infer that Jesus is speaking of an individual resurrection. In addition, since this verb is passive, and probably a divine passive,[3] the implied agent of resurrection is God. However, this differs somewhat slightly from Mark. In Mark 8:30-33, he words it as such: μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας ἀναστῆναι. The main verb here, while still third person, is active. This means then that the agent is unidentified, though the number is individual. Despite this minor difference, Jesus still understands resurrection to be bodily in Mark as in Matt and Luke. Another minor difference is how Mark words the three day motif. Instead of Q’s τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ “on the third day,” Mark has μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας “after three days.” Although their idioms are somewhat nuanced, all three agree that the time of this resurrection is three days post death for Jesus.

But was Jesus referring to himself here? The answer is “Yes.” In Mark 8:31 and Luke 9:22, the subject of the third person verb “to rise” or “to rise up” is τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, “the Son of Man.” Many scholars suggest that “Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite “self-designation.”[4] In Matthew, however, Jesus does not use this self-designation, rather Matthew uses indirect discourse that describe this saying. As such, he uses ὁ Ἰησοῦς “Jesus” to specify who was speaking these words. Thus, Jesus certainly refers to his own death and subsequent resurrection here.

But is Jesus’ resurrection related to his messiahship here? Again, the answer is a definitive yes. If the “Son of Man” language does not hint at it enough, the triple tradition immediately before this pericope is Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah. In Matt 16:16, Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” In Mark 8:29, he says, “You are the Messiah.” Finally, in Luke 9:20, Peter exclaims, “The Messiah of God.” This therefore seals the deal that Jesus’ resurrection is being intricately linked to his resurrection.

Below is a chart summarizing our study concerning the first prediction:

Text

Nature

Number

Agent

Messiah

Time

Matt 16:20-23

Bodily

Individual

God Implied

Passive Verb

ἐγερθῆναι

From Q

Yes

 

on the third day

τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ

From Q

Mark 8:30-33

Bodily

Individual

Unidentified

Active Verb

ἀναστῆναι

From Mark

Yes

Son of Man

 

after three days

μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας

From Mark

Luke 9:21-22

Bodily

Individual

God Implied

Passive Verb

ἐγερθῆναι

From Q

Yes

Son of Man

 

on the third day

τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ

From Q

 Conclusions from the First Prediction

Overall, this first passion/resurrection prediction fulfills several criteria of authenticity. First, it is multiply attested in the triple tradition, having a heavy reliance upon Mark and Q. Second, it fulfills the criterion of dissimilarity in two ways: (1) in that Jesus is presented as expecting to have a unique and individual resurrection without any mention of it being corporate, or related to the general resurrection which as we have seen from our above study is the norm in ancient Jewish thought; and (2) in that Jesus’ resurrection is connected to his messiahship which is something that ancient Judaism does not do. Thirdly, the surrounding context in Matthew and Mark has embarrassing elements such as Peter’s rebuke of Jesus and thus fulfills the criterion of embarrassment.[5] Lastly, there is a total lack of theologizing upon Jesus’ resurrection here. The triple tradition does not hint at what his resurrection means theologically. They simply report a brief saying from Jesus.

For these reasons,[6] we can conclude that this first resurrection prediction was historical, at least to some degree.[7] Furthermore, we can conclude that the historical Jesus here expected to be raised without any reference to or connection with the general resurrection. Thus, he expects his resurrection to be unique and individual, not anticipating his resurrection to usher in the eschatological general resurrection.

2. The Second Prediction

Matt 17:22-23; Mark 9:30-32; Luke 9:43b-45

In the second resurrection prediction, Matthew and Mark are the only viable sources since Luke omits the statement about resurrection. In both Matt 17:22-23 and Mark 9:30-32, then, the nature of resurrection is physical and bodily. Furthermore, the number is individual because they both have third singular verbs. However, the verb ἐγερθήσεται in Matt is a divine passive and thus indicates God as the agent of resurrection, whereas the verb ἀναστήσεται in Mark is active and thus has an unidentified agent. Also, the subject of these verbs in the triple tradition is ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου “the Son of Man.”[8] This perhaps indicates messianic language although contra the first prediction, this second one does not have the same previous context which strongly asserts that Jesus is the Messiah. Nevertheless, the overall book context of the Gospels still asserts that Jesus is the Messiah. Thus, this second prediction has a connection between Jesus’ resurrection and his messiahship, though somewhat less direct than the first. Lastly, the time of the resurrection is the exact same as the previous prediction: Matthew (M or possibly Q) has “on the third day” and Mark has “after three days.” Overall, the time is three days post Jesus’ death.

Below is a chart summarizing our study concerning the second prediction:

Text

Nature

Number

Agent

Messiah

Time

Matt 17:22-23 Bodily Individual

3rd Singular Verb

ἐγερθήσεται

From M (Q?)

God Implied

Passive Verb

ἐγερθήσεται

From M (Q?)

Yes

Son of Man

 

on the third day

τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ

From M (Q?)

Mark 9:30-32 Bodily Individual

3rd Singular Verb

ἀναστήσεται

From Mark

Unidentified

Active Verb

ἀναστήσεται

From Mark

Yes

Son of Man

 

after three days

μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας

From Mark

Luke 9:43b-45

N/A

N/A

N/A

Yes

Son of Man

N/A

Conclusions from the Second Prediction

Overall, this second passion/resurrection prediction fulfills three criteria of authenticity. First, it is multiply attested in Matthew (M) and Mark, while Luke attests to the passion prediction but not the resurrection prediction. Second, it fulfills the criterion of dissimilarity in the same two ways as the first prediction: (1) in that Jesus is presented as expecting to have a unique and individual resurrection without any mention of it being corporate, or related to the general resurrection which is the norm in ancient Jewish thought; and (2) in that Jesus’ resurrection is connected to his messiahship – though to a lesser degree than the first prediction – which is something that ancient Judaism does not do. Thirdly, there is a complete lack of theologizing upon the resurrection here as in the first. Matthew and Mark leave no trace of what the implications of Jesus’ resurrection means theologically. Like the first prediction, they simply report a brief saying from Jesus.

For these reasons, we can conclude that this second resurrection prediction was from the historical Jesus, though its historicity pines behind the first in authenticity. Furthermore, we can conclude that the historical Jesus here expected his resurrection to have no connection with the general resurrection. Again, he expects his resurrection to be unique and individual.

3. The Third Prediction

Matt 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34

In the third prediction, we have all three Gospels reporting. Like the previous predictions, the nature of resurrection is physical and bodily in the triple tradition. Furthermore, all three report Jesus speaking of an individual resurrection using third singular verbs. However, Matthew is the only one that uses a divine passive ἐγερθήσεται to imply God as the agent. Mark and Luke both have active verbs ἀναστήσεται which leaves the agent unidentified. Furthermore, all three reference “the Son of Man” as the subject of these verbs and this may indicate a messianic claim as described previously. Lastly, all three Gospels agree on the three day motif, though again use different syntax. Mark uses his usual μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας and Matthew his τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ. However, Luke does something different. He takes Matthew’s attributive construction and alters it to a different form of the attributive position: τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ. This however still seems to indicate that Matthew and Luke were using Q with this saying of Jesus.

Below is a chart summarizing our study regarding the third prediction:

Text

Nature

Number

Agent

Messiah

Time

Matt 20:17-19 Bodily Individual

3rd Singular Verb

ἐγερθήσεται

From M

God Implied

Passive Verb

ἐγερθήσεται

From M

Yes

Son of Man

 

on the third day

τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ

From Q

Mark 10:32-34 Bodily Individual

3rd Singular Verb

ἀναστήσεται

From Mark

Unidentified

Active Verb

ἀναστήσεται

From Mark

Yes

Son of Man

 

after three days

μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας

From Mark

Luke 18:31-34 Bodily Individual

3rd Singular Verb

ἀναστήσεται

From Mark

Unidentified

Active Verb

ἀναστήσεται

From Mark

Yes

Son of Man

 

on the third day

τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ

From Q

 Conclusions from the Third Prediction

Overall, this third passion/resurrection prediction fulfills three criteria of authenticity. First, it is multiply attested in Mark, Q, and M. Second, like the previous two predication, it fulfills the criterion of dissimilarity in the same way: (1) in that Jesus expects to have a unique and individual resurrection without any mention of it being corporate, or related to the general resurrection which is the norm in ancient Jewish thought; and (2) in that Jesus’ resurrection is connected to his messiahship – though to a lesser degree than the first prediction – which ancient Jews do not do. Thirdly, there is again a complete lack of theologizing upon the resurrection here as in the first two. None of them leave a trace of what Jesus’ resurrection means theologically. Again, they simply report a brief saying from Jesus on his resurrection.

For these reasons, then, we conclude that this third resurrection prediction was from the historical Jesus, though its historicity certainty is not as strong as the first. Furthermore, we can conclude that the historical Jesus here expected his resurrection to have no connection with the general resurrection and again he expects his resurrection to be unique and individual.

CONCLUSIONS

Overall, it is clear from these three passion and resurrection predictions that Jesus expects his resurrection to be bodily, individual, shortly after his death, and not connected to the general resurrection. Furthermore, the predictions demonstrate a strong amount of historical certainty given their fulfillment of multiple criteria of authenticity. Given our above study of resurrection in Intertestamental Judaism from Parts 1 and 2, the most notable fulfillment of criteria is how dissimilar Jesus’ view of resurrection, particularly with regard how he connects it with messiahship, is from the dominant Jewish expectations prior to, during, and after his time. Furthermore, there is really quite little information to go off of here. The Synoptic authors really do not present much on Jesus’ view of his resurrection. Nevertheless, from this little amount of data, we can yet conclude that the historical Jesus did not expected his resurrection to usher in the general resurrection, but rather to be a unique event shortly after his death.



                [1] Note that I am limiting my study to the Synoptic Gospels (1) because this is what most historical Jesus scholars practice today, and (2) because of time and space restraints.

                [2] It is interesting demonstrates that Q has some minute presence here concerning resurrection which is not normally. Q is notoriously known for not mentioning resurrection. One possible explanation for this may be that this is a saying of Jesus. This therefore indicates an early source accounting for Jesus’ resurrection prediction.

                [3] Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (NICNT, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 371.

                [4] Michael Licona, “Did Jesus Predict his Death and Vindication/Resurrection?” JSHJ 8 (2010) 48.

                [5] See Keener, IVP, 91. Keener notes that one of the most basic rules of ancient discipleship is “Never criticize the teacher, especially publicly.” He continues, “Here Peter breaks that rule, even on standard cultural grounds.” This constitutes embarrassment.

                [6] Licona gives more reasons, one being that Semitic elements are present in this material. Licona, “Did Jesus Predict,” 48.

                [7] I think that there is more or less a strong amount of historical certainty for this first prediction.

                [8] See Matt 17:22; Mark 9:31; Luke 9:44. We have added Luke in this investigation because the surrounding context of Luke is parallel in Matthew and Luke, minus the resurrection saying. Luke had access to this second resurrection prediction in Mark but chose not to use it. Also, he could have had access to it from Q, but left it out. If he had Q, then what we have deemed M in the chart below is really Q. Hence, I have put (Q?) in parentheses due to the tentative nature of the issue.

How do we account for this then? Perhaps Luke thought it was superfluous. He adds to Mark and further expounds things that Mark does not here. It is possible then that Luke chose to omit the resurrection saying for the sake of space. See Appendix I for details on source criticism.

Easter Expectations (Part 2)

Fresco depicting the Resurrection in Notre Dame de Bayeux cathedral, Bayeux, Normandy, France, Europe

           This is a 4 Part series exploring the question of resurrection expectations held by ancient Jews and the historical Jesus. The primary question of this study is, “What did the historical Jesus expect of his resurrection in relation to the general resurrection?” In other words, did the historical Jesus expect his resurrection to be a unique event in history detached from the future general resurrection or did he expect it to be at the general resurrection? Before we can answer this question, we must first answer another: “What did ancient Jews expect of the resurrection of the dead and was there any connection with it to the Messiah?”

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Last time in Part 1, we explored the ancient Jewish expectations of the resurrection before the time of Jesus and Paul within Intertestamental Judaism, also known as Second Temple Judaism – the time period between the Old and New Testaments.

Here in Part 2, we will continue exploring the ancient Jewish expectations of resurrection, only this time we will look at expectations during and after the time of Jesus and Paul. At the end of Part 2, I will provide a summary and conclusions about resurrection expectations in ancient Jewish thought before, during, and after the time of Jesus and Paul.

All of this is laying the groundwork for our main question at hand – “What did the historical Jesus expect of his resurrection in relation to the general resurrection?” – which I will take up in Part 3 and Part 4.

Overall, I will argue that the historical Jesus expected his resurrection to be a unique and individual resurrection with no relationship to the general resurrection.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

ANCIENT JEWISH EXPECTATIONS

The question that we will seek to answer here in Part 2 is “What did the ancient Jews during and after the time of Jesus and Paul expect about the resurrection of the dead and was there a connection between the Messiah and resurrection?”

Resurrection in Intertestamental Judaism

2. Contemporary with Jesus and Paul

To reiterate from Part 1, we will proceed by examining a number of texts from Intertestamental Judaism on resurrection in chronological order. Furthermore, we will address how each text understands the nature (bodily, spiritually, immortality), scope (the righteous and the wicked, only the righteous), number (corporate or individual), and agent (God, wisdom, or unidentified) of resurrection. In addition, we will note whether there is a connection with the Messiah.

            Fourth Maccabees is dated around A.D. 20-54 and thus is the only text we will assess that is contemporaneous with Jesus and Paul.[1] In 4 Macc 10:15, the nature of resurrection is described as “everlasting life.” This is in contrast to “everlasting destruction.” This “life” however is somewhat vague and may not be referring to resurrection, rather to a competing view of afterlife. Nevertheless, everlasting life is for the pious and everlasting destruction for “the tyrant,” namely, Antiochus Epiphanes.[2] Thus, this displays corporate – the pious – and individual – the tyrant – aspects to this view of the afterlife. Lastly, no agent is specified and no Messiah is mentioned.

In 4 Macc 9:22, 16:13, and 18:23, the idea of afterlife is that of immortality.[3] Also, in all three texts, there are no messianic allusions. In addition, all three emphasize the exclusive scope of the righteous for immortality.[4] However, in 9:22, immortality is individual, whereas the other two texts have corporate and individual elements. What is more, the author does not specify an agent of immortality in 9:22 and 16:13, but in 18:23 he says that “the sons of Abraham…have received pure and immortal souls from God.” Thus, God is the agent in 18:23.

3. After Jesus and Paul

            Next, 4 Ezra was composed around A.D. 100 and is the first text we have assessed which postdates Jesus and Paul.[5] In 4 Ezra 4:41-43, the nature of resurrection is difficult to decipher. It mentions the hastening and longing of Hades to “give back those things that were committed to them from the beginning.”[6] Since there are no traces of immortality language nearby and given the context – 4 Ezra 7 – perhaps this is implicitly describing bodily resurrection. Furthermore, the scope and agent is not otherwise specified. However, given the use of plurals here, one can conclude that the number of resurrection is corporate. Lastly, there is no hint of messianic reference here.

In 4 Ezra 7:26-44, the nature of the resurrection is bodily.[7] Also, the scope includes both the righteous and sinners: “righteous deeds shall awake, and unrighteous deeds shall not sleep. Then the pit of torment shall appear, and opposite it shall be the place of rest; and the furnace of Hell shall be disclosed, and opposite it the Paradise of delight.”[8] Furthermore, there is no allusion to individual resurrection, only corporate, and there is no agent identified. Last but not least, 4 Ezra 7:28-29 mentions the Messiah and draws a connection between him and resurrection. It says, “For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years. And after these years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath.”[9] Then it talks about how seven days after the Messiah’s and humanity’s death, “the world…shall be roused, and that which is corruptible shall perish. And the earth shall give up those who are asleep in it; and the chambers shall give up the souls which have been committed to them.”[10] This then is the first text thus far that has drawn a link between the Messiah and resurrection. However, even though this connection exists, the connection is between the death of the Messiah and the resurrection of the world. While the Messiah may be encompassed within “the world” and its resurrection, there is nevertheless no explicit statement regarding the Messiah’s resurrection, only death. What is more, since 4 Ezra postdates Jesus and Paul, it is possible that there is some Christian influence on or tampering with this text. Thus, although a connection is made, this text is not early enough to ensure pre-Christian, solely Jewish anticipations of the resurrection.

Finally, 2 Baruch is dated to the early second century A.D.[11] In 2 Bar. 49:1-52:12, the author clearly has bodily resurrection in mind which is both for the righteous and the wicked. The author says that “both…will be changed,” the righteous “into the splendor of angels” and the wicked “into startling visions and horrible shapes; and they will waste away even more.”[12] Furthermore, this is corporate and no agent is specified. Lastly, there is no mention of Messiah.

In 2 Bar. 85:15, the nature of resurrection is somewhat diluted; all it says is “then he will make alive those whom he has found.” This is rather vague, although given what 2 Bar. 49:1-51:12 says about resurrection, we may tentatively conclude that bodily resurrection is intended here. Additionally, this is corporate for the righteous only, for the author goes on to describe the fate of the wicked as such: “at the same time he will destroy those who are polluted with sins.”[13] The third singular verbs here also indicate that the agent of resurrection is God. Finally, there is no mention of the Messiah in 2 Bar. 85:15.

Conclusions from Intertestamental Judaism

            In summary, it is clear that the ancient Jewish view of resurrection in intertestamental Judaism was not monolithic.[14] With regard to the nature of resurrection, few believed in no resurrection; some embraced the immortality of the soul; others held to spiritual resurrection; still others believed in everlasting life; but most believed in bodily resurrection. Furthermore, concerning the scope of resurrection, most hold to a restrictivist view that only the righteous will be raised, and some believe that both the righteous and wicked experience resurrection. It is important to note that there is no exclusive reference to only the wicked being raised; they are either excluded or added with the righteous, but never mentioned on their own. Moreover, in regard to number, most believed in a corporate resurrection, though others emphasized both individuals and groups, and only in 1 En. 92:-35 do we find a resurrection reference that is strictly individual. As regards the agent of resurrection, more often than not, an agent is unidentified. However, God is still identified quite often as the one who raises the dead. Lastly, with reference to the Messiah, there is almost no connection between resurrection in intertestamental Judaism and the Messiah. Possible exceptions may be found in 1 En. where the author mentions “the Son of Man” in 46:4, “the Elect One” in 51:1-5, and “the Righteous One” in 92:3-5. However, it is difficult to interpret these titles and texts and decipher whether they are references to a messianic figure. If they do in fact refer to Messiah, then they are the only early texts in Judaism that link resurrection to Messiah. What is more, 4 Ezra 7:26-44 is the most explicit text linking Christ and resurrection. However, as already discussed above, this text postdates Jesus and Paul and thus could possibly have been influenced by Christian teaching on resurrection which clearly connects the Messiah and resurrection.[15] Thus, it cannot be considered a pertinent or authentic text for this study. The vast majority of intertestamental Judaism prior to Jesus and Paul, therefore, do not connect the Messiah with resurrection. Perhaps the best explanation for this is that ancient Judaism did not expect the Messiah to die, rather expected a conquering, victorious, and kingly Messiah.

Below is a chart summarizing our study in chronological order with three divisions: (1) pre Jesus and Paul; (2) contemporary with Jesus and Paul; and (3) post Jesus and Paul.

Text

Nature

Scope

Number

Agent

Messiah

Before Jesus and Paul

Sib. Or. 4:179-192 Bodily Righteous & Wicked Corporate & Individual God No
T. Benj. 10:6-11 Bodily Righteous & Wicked Corporate & Individual God No
Sir 37:26; 39:9; 44:8-15; 46:19 None Righteous & Wicked Corporate & Individual N/A No
1 En. 22:13 Bodily Righteous Corporate Unidentified No
1 En. 46:6 Bodily Righteous Corporate Unidentified Son of Man?
1 En. 51:1-5 Bodily Righteous Corporate God The Elect One?
1 En. 92:3-5 Bodily Righteous Individual God The Righteous One?
1 En. 103:4 Spiritual Righteous Corporate Unidentified No
Pss. Sol. 3:11-12 Bodily Righteous Corporate & Individual Unidentified No
Pss. Sol. 13:11 Everlasting Life Righteous Corporate Unidentified No
Pss. Sol. 14:6-10 Everlasting Life Righteous Corporate Unidentified No
Pss. Sol. 15:10-13 Everlasting Life Righteous Corporate God No
Wis 2:23-3:4 Immortality Righteous Corporate God No
Wis 5:15-16 Undefined Righteous Corporate God No
Wis 6:17-20 Immortality Wise Individual Wisdom No
2 Macc 7:9, 14, 23, 29 Bodily Righteous & ?????? Corporate & Individual God No
2 Macc 14:37-46 Bodily Righteous Individual God No

Contemporary with Jesus and Paul

4 Macc 10:15 Everlasting Life Righteous & Wicked Corporate & Individual Unidentified No
4 Macc 9:22 Immortality Righteous Individual Unidentified No
4 Macc 16:13 Immortality Righteous Corporate & Individual Unidentified No
4 Macc 18:23 Immortality Righteous Corporate & Individual God No

Post Jesus and Paul

4 Ezra 4:41-43 Bodily NOS Corporate Unidentified No
4 Ezra 7:26-44 Bodily Righteous & Wicked Corporate Unidentified Yes
2 Bar. 49:1-52:12 Bodily Righteous & Wicked Corporate Unidentified No
2 Bar. 85:15 Bodily? Righteous Corporate God No

We can therefore conclude that the ancient Jews in the time immediately prior to, during, and after the time of Jesus and Paul had a variety of expectations concerning the resurrection of the dead and that they made almost no connection whatsoever between the Messiah and resurrection.

Next time in Part 3 and Part 4, we will explore what the historical Jesus expected of his resurrection and the general resurrection.



                [1] Oxford Apocrypha, 309.

                [2] 4 Macc 10:15.

                [3] Fourth Maccabees 9:22 says, “Although the ligaments joining his bones were already severed, the courageous youth, worthy of Abraham, did not groan, but as though transformed by fire into immortality he nobly endured the rackings.” Also, 4 Macc 16:13 states, “but, as though having a mind like adamant and giving rebirth for immortality to the whole number of her sons, she implored them and urged them on to death for the sake of religion.” Lastly, 4 Macc 18:23 says, “the sons of Abraham with their victorious mother are gathered together into the chorus of the fathers, and have received pure and immortal souls from God.” This clearly has Hellenistic flavors of the immortality of the soul.

                [4] This is made clear in all three sayings by the fact that those being tormented and put to death by Antiochus are said to be noble for obeying God’s law rather than the tyrant’s.

                [5] Charlesworth, 520.

                [6] 4 Ezra 4:42.

                [7] 4 Ezra 7:31-32, 37.

                [8] 4 Ezra 7:35-36.

                [9] 4 Ezra 7:28-29.

                [10] 4 Ezra 7:31-32.

                [11] Charlesworth, 615. Vol 1.

                [12] 2 Bar. 51:5.

                [13] 2 Bar. 85:15.

                [14] Elledge further notes that, “Our earliest evidence for the resurrection hope is often fragmentary, incomplete, and occasionally inconsistent.” Elledge, “Resurrection of the Dead: Exploring Our Earliest Evidence Today,” 24.

                [15] E.g. see 1 Cor 15.

Easter Expectations (Part 1)

Fresco depicting the Resurrection in Notre Dame de Bayeux cathedral, Bayeux, Normandy, France, Europe

           In this 4 Part series, we will explore the question of resurrection expectations held by ancient Jews and the historical Jesus. The primary question of this study is, “What did the historical Jesus expect of his resurrection in relation to the general resurrection?” In other words, did the historical Jesus expect his resurrection to be a unique event in history detached from the future general resurrection or did he expect it to be at the general resurrection? Before we can answer this question, we must first answer another: “What did ancient Jews expect of the resurrection of the dead and was there any connection with it to the Messiah?”

So, here in Part 1, I will begin by exploring ancient Jewish expectations of the resurrection before the time of Jesus and Paul within Intertestamental Judaism, also known as Second Temple Judaism – the time period between the Old and New Testaments.

In Part 2, I will continue exploring the ancient Jewish expectations of resurrection, but during and after the time of Jesus and Paul. This part will also provide a summary and conclusions about resurrection expectations in ancient Jewish thought.

In Part 3, I will move to an exploration of the historical Jesus’ expectations of his own resurrection by looking primarily at the three passion “predictions” in the Synoptic Gospels.

In Part 4, I will move to an exploration of the historical Jesus’ expectations of the general resurrection by looking at his teaching on the resurrection prior to his death in the Synoptic Gospels.

Overall, I will argue that the historical Jesus expected his resurrection to be a unique and individual resurrection with no relationship to the general resurrection.

METHODOLOGY

            With regard to method, I will use only the Synoptic Gospels and refrain from using John, which is quite common in historical Jesus studies. Next, I will not consider the Greco-Roman literature on the afterlife, resurrection, or the dying-rising deities. Furthermore, since there is very little secondary literature exploring this topic, I will interact mainly with the primary sources.[1] In addition, I will approach this study with methodical neutrality, that is, with hypotheses needing to bear the burden of proof. Also, since this is a study on the expectations of the historical Jesus, I will examine neither the empty tomb narratives and beyond nor Matthew’s interesting statement in Matt 27:52-53 concerning the resurrection of some saints after Jesus’ death, primarily because the focus of this study is on the teachings and sayings of Jesus prior to his death regarding his expectations of resurrection.

ANCIENT JEWISH EXPECTATIONS

            So to begin, the question that we will seek to answer here in Part 1 is “What did the ancient Jews before the time of Jesus and Paul expect about the resurrection of the dead and was there a connection between the Messiah and resurrection?”

Resurrection in Intertestamental Judaism

1. Before Jesus and Paul

As we proceed, we will examine a number of texts from Intertestamental Judaism on resurrection in chronological order. Furthermore, we will address how each text understands the nature (bodily, spiritually, immortality), scope (the righteous and the wicked, only the righteous), number (corporate or individual), and agent (God, wisdom, or unidentified) of resurrection. In addition, we will note whether there is a connection with the Messiah.

First, the Sibylline Oracles are dated around the third or fourth centuries B.C.[3] In Sib. Or. 4:179-192, the nature of resurrection seems to be bodily. It says, “God himself will again fashion the bones and ashes of men and he will raise up mortals again as they were before.”[4] Furthermore, its scope is that of all people with the impious sinners contrasted to the pious and gehenna to life on earth.[5] Thus, it is a corporate resurrection though it has individual elements as well.[6] With regard to the agent of resurrection it is most certainly God. Sibylline Oracles 4:181 asserts strongly that “God himself” will do this. Lastly, there is no reference to the Messiah or any messianic figure here.

Secondly, the Testament of Benjamin is dated around the second century B.C.[7] In T. Benj. 10:6-11, the nature of resurrection is bodily and refers to restoration of the nation Israel. The scope similar to Sib. Or. is a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked, “some destined for glory, others for dishonor.”[8] What is more, it makes explicit that Jews and Gentiles alike will be raised, the Jews first and then the Gentiles.[9] Furthermore, it is depicted as both corporate and individual. Concerning the individual aspect, it says “you will see Enoch and Seth and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob being raised up at the right hand in great joy.”[10] Regarding the corporate part, it says “Then shall we also be raised…then all shall be changed…and then he shall do the same for all the nations.”[11] Also, the Lord is explicitly stated to be the agent of resurrection in v. 8. Lastly, there is no reference to the Messiah with regard to the resurrection.

Third, Sirach is dated to about 180 B.C. Here there seems to be no understanding of afterlife or resurrection, but only death or the grave. In Sir 46:19, it speaks of “eternal sleep.” Also, it speaks of the memory of people lasting forever while theirs bodies being “buried in peace.”[12] Thus, the scope refers to all – both the righteous and the wicked – as does the number – both corporate and individual. Further, there is no agent and no mention of the Messiah.

Fourthly, 1 Enoch is dated somewhere between the second century B.C. and the first century A.D.[13] In 1 En. 22:13, the author emphasizes that the wicked will not share in the resurrection. Assumedly speaking of bodily resurrection, this means that only the righteous will be raised. This then means that the event will be corporate and does not make mention of an individual element. Moreover, no agent is specified and there is no trace of messianic language.

In 1 En. 46:6, the writer again focuses upon how there will be no resurrection for the wicked, only punishment and judgment. Thus, again the nature is bodily, the scope is limited to the righteous, the number is corporate, and no agent is identified. Also, while there is no mention of the Messiah, “the Son of Man” comes up twice in 46:3-4. Here he is depicted as a righteous judge and king who removes and deposes “the kings from their thrones and kingdoms.”[14] This may perhaps be a messianic figure, though this is not certain. Nevertheless, this “Son of Man” is neither connected with nor the agent of resurrection, simply spoken of prior to the mention of no resurrection for the wicked.

In 1 En. 51:1-5, the focus is on the resurrection of “the righteous and the holy ones,” excluding the wicked.[15] Also, v. 5 specifies the corporeal nature of this resurrection by speaking of the righteous dwelling and walking upon the earth. What is more, it mentions both corporate and individual aspects. With regard to the individual, it remarks in v. 5 that “on that day the Elect One has arisen.” This could possibly be a messianic reference since v. 3 says he “shall sit on my throne, and from the conscience of his mouth shall come out all the secrets of wisdom, for the Lord of the Spirits has given them to him and glorified him.” However, it remains tentative whether or not this is the Messiah. Lastly, God is identified as the agent of resurrection in v. 2.

In 1 En. 92:3-5, the author tells of an individual resurrection of “the Righteous One.” This righteous one may be a reference to the Messiah, though this is again not clear. The nature of his resurrection seems to be bodily and the scope is limited to only one righteous person. Lastly, God – “the Holy and Great One” – is the one who raises this “Righteous One” from death.[16]

In 1 En. 103:4, there is a shift in the nature of resurrection; here the writer indicates that resurrection is spiritual: “The spirits of those who died in righteousness shall live and rejoice; their spirits shall not perish.” Nonetheless, the scope and number stay persistent, that is, it is only a righteous and corporate resurrection. The agent is unspecified, though God “the Great One” may possibly be an implied agent. Finally, there is no mention of Christ here.

Fifth, the Psalms of Solomon are dated anywhere from about 125 B.C. to the first century A.D.[17] In Pss. Sol. 3:11-12, the psalmist depicts a bodily resurrection to “eternal life” for the righteous and destruction for the sinner.[18] So, resurrection is limited to the righteous and this is corporate. However, v. 11 speaks of the sinner in the singular – “the sinner” – and this constitutes for an individual component. Thus, it is corporate and individual. Also, he identifies no agent and mentions no Messiah here.

In Pss. Sol. 13:11, there is actually no mention of resurrection here, just the strong emphasis on eternal life for the righteous. This is in contrast to sinners who will be eternally destroyed. Thus, we will categorized the nature of resurrection here as “everlasting life” and this is only corporately for the righteous. Moreover, there is neither an identified agent nor Messiah.

In Pss. Sol. 14:6-10, the language is that of inheritance. “The devout” are said to “inherit life in happiness,”[19] while “sinners and criminals” inherit “Hades, and darkness and destruction.”[20] This seems to indicate the nature as “everlasting life” which is limited corporately to the righteous. Also, an agent is unidentified without messianic claims.

In Pss. Sol. 15:10-13, the view of resurrection is similar to the previous psalms. On the one hand, the righteous “who fear the Lord” will “live” by God’s mercy.[21] On the other hand, the sinners “shall perish forever” and “for all time.”[22] Thus, this life is corporate and exclusively for the righteous. However, God and his mercy are identified as the agent of life for the righteous. Nevertheless, there is no messianic language here.

Sixth, the Wisdom of Solomon is dated around the late first century B.C.[23] In Wis 2:23-3:4, the nature of resurrection is the Hellenistic idea of the immortality of the soul.[24] Thus, it is not truly an anastasiological view, rather a competing idea on the afterlife. Furthermore, this immortality is corporate with no individual elements mentioned and restricted to the righteous, while the wicked experience only death.[25] Also, God is clearly the agent of determining who will receive immortal souls.[26] Lastly, there is no mention of the Messiah here.

In Wis 5:15-16, it says, “the righteous will live forever and their reward is with the Lord.” Concerning the nature of resurrection, this seems indeterminate. To “live forever” could mean resurrection but could also mean immortality or even something else. Though given the broader context of the book, immortality is probably the intended meaning. In addition, the scope is limited to the righteous and it is corporate with no hint of individuality. God – “the Lord…the most High” – is the agent of this everlasting life and once again there is no mention of the Christ.

Similar to Wis 2:23-3:4, Wis 6:17-20 portrays the idea of the immortality of the soul rather than resurrection.[27] Also, this immortality is exclusively available to the wise and is explicitly individual in its statement that “immortality brings one near to God” in v. 19. In light of this, wisdom is therefore the agent of this immortal bliss and there is again no reference to the Christ.

Seventh, the book of 2 Maccabees is dated somewhere around the first century B.C. to the first century A.D. In 2 Macc 7, it interprets resurrection to be bodily.[28] Also, this chapter speaks of resurrection in corporate and individual terms.[29] However, it is somewhat unclear as to whether being raised is only for the righteous or for the wicked as well. In responding to King Antiochus who is killing these Jewish brothers, one brother says to him in 7:14, “But for you there will be no resurrection to life!” At first glance, this may seem to mean that this wicked king will not share in resurrection. However, he says there will be no resurrection “to life.” Perhaps, then he means that the king will be raised to eternal death or judgment as we have already encountered in Sib. Or. and T. Benj . This difficulty in interpretation leads me to leave the fate of the wicked indeterminate, though I think the former choice may be the better one. Furthermore, God is the agent of resurrection and the author describes him as “the King of the universe” and “the Creator of the world.”[30] Yet, there is again no statement concerning the Messiah here.

In 2 Macc 14:37-46, the authors tells the story of a Jewish elder named Razis who denounced Nicanor and committed suicide due to impending persecution from him. At the end of his fiery and bloody suicide, he throws his entrails at the on-looking crowd and prays for “the Lord of life and spirit to give them back to him again.”[31] Such an entreaty displays his belief in bodily and individual resurrection. It further indicates a conviction that he will be raised based upon his righteousness.[32] Also, God, “the Lord of life and spirit,” Razis trusts is the agent of resurrection. Nevertheless, no allusion to the Messiah is made here.



                [1] Part of the reasoning behind this is that not much has been done on this specific topic asking these specific questions. While much has been written on resurrection and the historical reliability of the Synoptic texts, I have not found any historical Jesus scholar who has asked what the historical Jesus expected of his resurrection in relation to the general resurrection.

                [2] While I do not agree with Elledge’s method in limiting our purview of OT texts on resurrection to Daniel 12, and while I think that a better investigation of early resurrection theology in Judaism should examine all OT texts, I have nonetheless limited my scope to intertestamental Judaism for two reasons. First and foremost, I have time and space restraints on this study. Second, the purpose of this study is to determine what the historical Jesus believed about resurrection in relation to the general resurrection. Thus, we want to examine the ancient beliefs about resurrection that are immediately prior to the time of Jesus (and Paul), contemporary with Jesus (and Paul), and immediately after Jesus (and Paul). This will set the historical context and help us determine whether Jesus held similar or not so similar beliefs regarding resurrection.

Furthermore, I concur with Elledge, Wright, and Keener that there is no warrant for concerning ourselves with the dying and rising deities in ancient Greco-Roman literature.

Also, pertinent OT texts include Deut 32:39; 1 Sam 2:6-8; Job 14:14; 19:25-27; Ps 16:10; 49:15; Hos 6:2; 13:14; Ezek 37:1-14; and Dan 12:1-3, 13.

See C. D. Elledge, “Resurrection of the Dead: Exploring Our Earliest Evidence Today,” 23-26 on his reasoning for restraints; and N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), 81-84 for his reasons for restraining the scope of study.

                [3] Charlesworth, 381.

                [4] Sib. Or. 4:181-182.

                [5] Sib. Or. 4:184-189.

                [6] Regarding the corporate, it uses the plural often. For example, see “bones,” “ashes of men,” “mortals,” “they will live,” and “these pious ones,” in vv. 181-190. Regarding the individual, in v. 192 it says, “Oh most blessed, whatever man will live to that time.” Thus, it speaks of the resurrection as both corporate and individual.

                [7] Charlesworth, 775, 777-778.

                [8] T. Benj. 10:8.

                [9] T. Benj. 10:6-9. Compare this with Paul’s emphasis in Rom 1:16 where he says that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Also, in Rom 2:9-10 judgment and/or glory is first for the Jew and then for the Greek.

                [10] T. Benj. 10:6. The author names five individuals from the OT. These ones he seems to think will be raised first. Compare this with 1 Thess 4:16 where Paul says that “the dead in Christ will rise first.”

                [11] T. Benj. 10:7-9. Also, Paul seems to play off of this “all shall be changed” language in 1 Cor 15:51-52.

                [12] Sir 44:14. In Sir 37:26, it says, “and his name will live forever.” Also, Sir 39:9 says, “his memory will not disappear, and his name will live through all generations.” Similarly Sir 44:14 says, “and their names live to all generations.”

                [13] Charlseworth, 5.

                [14] 1 En. 46:5.

                [15] 1 En. 51:2.

                [16] 1 En. 92:2-3.

                [17] Charlesworth, 641. Vol 2.

                [18] This is the only passage in Pss. Sol. that uses the verb “to rise up.” Verse 12 says, “those who fear the Lord shall rise up to eternal life.” In addition, the destruction of the sinner here seems somewhat annihilistic. Verse 11 says, “The destruction of the sinner is forever, and he will not be remembered when (God) looks after the righteous.” The other three passages from Pss. Sol. all seem to share this same view.

                [19] Pss. Sol. 14:10.

                [20] Pss. Sol. 14:6, 9.

                [21] Pss. Sol. 15:13.

                [22] Pss. Sol. 15:12, 13.

                [23] Oxford Apocrypha, 102.

                [24] It says, “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,” and, “their hope is full of immortality,” in 3:1 and 3:4.

                [25] See Wis 2:24-3:1 which says, “through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it. But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.”

                [26] Wis 3:1.

                [27] See Wis 6:18b-19 which says, “Giving heed to [wisdom’s] laws is assurance of immortality and immortality brings one near to God.”

                [28] Second Maccabees 7:9 says, “the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life.” Furthermore, 2 Macc 7:14 states that one must “cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him.” Also, 2 Macc 7:23 says, “the Creator of the world…will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again.” Lastly, “Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers” is in 7:29. Thus far, 2 Macc 7 has been the most explicit in describing the details of bodily resurrection.

                [29] With regard to the corporate aspect, v. 9 uses the plural pronouns saying “God will raise us up…because we have died for his laws.” Also, v. 23 uses a second person plural reflexive pronoun “yourselves” referring to resurrection. With regard to the individual aspect, v. 29 says, “so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers.” This verse expresses both individual (you – singular) and corporate (your brothers – plural) resurrection.

                [30] 2 Macc 7:9, 23.

                [31] 2 Macc 14:46.

                [32] Second Maccabees 14:37-38 describe Razis as an exceptional Jew “who loved his fellow citizens and was very well thought of and for his good will was called father of the Jews.” This seems to be enough evidence to consider him “righteous.”

Review of “Heralds of the Good News” by J. Ross Wagner

Wagner  Review

Timothy J. Christian. Review of J. Ross Wagner, Heralds of the Good News: Isaiah and Paul in Concert in the Letter to the Romans, (Boston: Brill, 2003).

INTRODUCTION

In this book review, I will critically evaluate New Testament scholar J. Ross Wagner’s Heralds of the Good News: Isaiah and Paul in Concert in the Letter to the Romans. I will begin by summarizing Wagner’s aims, methodology, and central theses in the book. Next, I will analyze it by judging whether or not it lives up to its claims and by discussing both places for improvement and the work’s lasting contribution. Overall, Wagner’s work here on the intertextuality of Romans and Isaiah is an invaluable contribution to the field of New Testament studies.

SUMMARY OF WAGNER

The Aims and Methodology

To begin, Wagner’s main aim is to investigate exegetically Paul’s use of Isaiah in Romans, particularly in Rom 9-11 and 15, and specifically regarding his reinterpretation of Isaiah and possible alterations of his Isaianic Vorlage. He attempts to do so by two primary methods, one being intertextual analysis through examining the OT (esp. Isaiah) echoes in Romans, and the other textual criticism through comparative analysis of the Septuagint (LXX), Masoretic Text (MT), Dead Sea Scrolls, and other versions of Isaiah with Paul’s rendition in Romans.

The Central Theses

Throughout Heralds of The Good News, I have traced about eight central theses that Wagner argues. First, he argues that the current “remnant of Israel” guarantees the future restoration of Israel.[1] Secondly, he asserts that Paul’s convictions are threefold: “God’s sovereignty, God’s election of Israel, and God’s fidelity to the covenant.”[2] Thirdly, he contends that Paul consistently interprets the OT christologically and that he adapts or reinterprets Isaiah for his own mission and theological purposes in Romans sometimes regardless of the original context. Another argued thesis is that Paul sees his mission to the Gentiles resulting in the restoration of Israel as prefigured in Isaiah. Next, he sees Isaiah as a fellow herald proclaiming with Paul the good news (gospel) of Israel’s restoration. Moreover, Wagner argues that Paul often conflates other OT texts with Isaiah in Romans, which serve as harmony to the Isaianic melody sounding in Romans. Thus, Isaiah is the prominent soloist and the other texts from Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Hosea are the accompaniment. Lastly, Wagner maintains that Paul uses a Greek Vorlage which is similar to the LXX and has little influence from the Hebrew or Aramaic versions. Overall, Wagner concludes,

[Paul’s] scriptural interpretations serve the ends of the larger argument he is constructing in the letter, an argument that is called forth by a complex set of circumstances and concerns that have arisen in the context of his mission to the Gentiles. And yet, at the same time, the letter to the Romans reveals, perhaps more clearly than any other of Paul’s letters, the deep and pervasive influence that Israel’s scriptures exert on the shape of his thought and on the contours of his apostolic ministry…Paul appropriates Isaianic images in order to depict his ministry of the gospel as the proclamation of Israel’s long-awaited release and restoration.[3]

ANALYSIS OF WAGNER

In my judgment, Wagner most certainly accomplishes his aims in Heralds of the Good News and gives a thorough and detailed analysis of Paul’s use of Isaiah in Romans. Furthermore, he interacts with a plethora of other scholars and touches on many of the main interpretive issues in Romans throughout his exegesis of Rom 9-11 and 15. In addition, his argument has both logical consistency and explanatory power. With regard to his method, Wagner executes the intertextual method and textual criticism with such obvious expertise and experience, and has done a stupendous job setting the standard for intertextual studies in Romans and the NT in general. Furthermore, since his whole study relies upon working with the primary text, he tends to remain faithful to the primary materials of Romans, Isaiah, and other OT texts.

Room for Improvement

There is, however, one main change that Wagner could make to improve his volume even more. While he does a fantastic job at setting out the data concerning Paul’s use of Isaiah and other OT texts in Rom 9-11 and 15, he is nevertheless quite sparse in providing the implications of that data. Most chapters end leaving one asking, “So what?” Even though the final chapter is set aside to display the full implications of the study, Wagner could still have given more to the reader at the end of each chapter.[4] Even though this is for a scholarly audience which will be patient enough to read through until the end, it would be far better to give some “pay off” to the throughout.

The Lasting Contributions of “Heralds of the Good News”

Despite this, Heralds of the Good News has made several important and lasting contributions to NT studies. First, it is a definitive work on Paul’s use of Isaiah in Romans. I am not aware of any other work that attempts such a feat, let alone executes it so well. Secondly, it is a definitive work on intertextual studies and OT echoes in the NT, and advances the body of knowledge as a superb example of how to do intertextuality. In addition, Wagner’s charts and tables comparing and contrasting the several witnesses to the quoted OT texts are indispensable for reference. Finally, this work is both an entry point and cistern for those who desire to understand better Paul’s use of, interpretation of, and adaption of OT Scripture. All in all, Heralds of the Good News is an excellent contribution to the field of biblical studies and I highly recommend it.

You can buy it on amazon for an arm and a leg (about $75): http://www.amazon.com/Heralds-Good-News-Isaiah-Concert/dp/0391042041/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1397321103&sr=8-2&keywords=j+ross+wagner


[1] Wagner says, “Paul joins Isaiah in insisting that the existence of a remnant of Israel in the present time vouchsafes the future redemption of ‘all Israel’” (41).

[2] Wagner 357.

[3] Wagner 356-57.

[4] That is not to say that he gives no implications, because he certainly does, but rather 300+ pages of detailed intertextual and text critical work with little momentary payoff  is quite difficult to trudge through. My point: he does not need to save the climax of implications for the end. It would benefit his work to add more inferences of the data in the chapters proper.

Time Out, Time In: The Divine Transcendence of Time (Part 4)

Alarm clock on wooden table

This is the 4th and final Part of a series discussing God’s relationship to time. The question at hand is, “Is God inside of time, outside of time, or both?”

In Part 1, I introduced the topic and underscored its importance for Christian theology.

In Part 2, I looked at Wolterstorff’s Open Theism argument that suggests that God is inside of time, that is, God is everlasting. I concluded that this is least plausible among the three options.

In Part 3, I looked at Boethius’ traditional and widely held argument that suggests that God is outside of time, that is, God is timeless. I concluded that this too is quite implausible.

Now here in Part 4, I am putting forth my own new position – God is transcendent of time yet immanent in it – which sees this issue as both-and instead of either-or like the other two. 

——

The Transcendent Argument: Why It Is Most Plausible

Now that I have shown how the arguments of Wolterstorff (God is everlasting/inside time) and Boethius (God is timeless/outside time) are quite implausible and that there is need for a new position, I will now put forth my own new argument that the biblical God both transcends time as its Creator, and yet still acts immanently within it. As one can infer, this view is somewhat a middle ground between Wolterstorff and Boethius’ arguments. So, let me now lay out my reasons for holding such a view of God’s relationship to time.

First, the transcendent view upholds the attributes of God as espoused by classical theologians such as the omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence of God. Concerning God’s omnipotence (all powerful), if he is all-powerful, then he must therefore have power over time, not being subjected to it. In addition, this would imply that God cannot be bound within the constraints of time and be fundamentally temporal as Wolterstorff purports. Furthermore, presupposing God’s omnipotence, his Lordship over time also leads one to believe that he is not finite, but rather infinite. It is the finite world that he created that is bound to temporality. But since he is infinite, he does not need time to exist and cannot fundamentally be temporal (although his actions in the world can be temporal). Thus, God’s transcendence of and actions in time aligns with his omnipotence.

With regard to God’s omniscience (all knowing), if he knows all things, how does one account for his relation to time? On the one hand, if one holds that God is fundamentally inside time and experiencing temporality moment by moment, then he could not know what the future holds and therefore not know all things. On the other hand, if one holds that God is outside of time, then it is possible for God to know the past, present, and future, thus knowing all things (particularly with regard to what transpires in the temporal world). In addition, if God transcends all things (including time), then it is therefore possible for him to know all things. Thus, God transcending time and acting in time aligns with God’s omniscience.

Regarding God’s omnipresence (all present), if he is present everywhere then that would include temporality and non-temporality, both in and outside of time. Thus, to put God strictly in one time-frame or another would contradict his omnipresence. God is present outside of time because he transcends it. Nevertheless, he is present inside of time because he interacts with the temporal world. In other words, if God is not in time, then he is not omnipresent and if God is not outside of time, then he is not omnipresent. Only the transcendent argument can account for God’s omnipresence.

All these things lead one to seek an alternative to the traditional views of God as either timeless or everlasting because these arguments have unfortunately fallen prey to the “either-or” fallacy. However, when accounting for the attributes of God, it seems clear that the issue is one of both-and rather than either-or, at least according to classical theology which rests upon a biblical theology. God transcends time and exists outside of it, yet he is present and interacts in the temporal universe which he created. Because of this, the transcendent argument is the most plausible resolution to the inquiry about God’s relationship to time.

POSSIBLE OBJECTIONS TO THE TRANSCENDENT ARGUMENT

            However, one may object to this view in that I have not used any Scripture to argue this position. In response, I would have used much Scripture to give evidence of the transcendent argument. The main reason I chose not to is because I am Bible scholar and would write a thirty page exegesis paper on each Bible passage I would use to support the claims that God is omnipotence, omniscient, and omnipresent, and that is not my purpose in the series. So, I have made use of widely accepted biblical doctrines concerning the attributes of God instead of providing exhaustive explanations of biblical texts. Overall, I believe these doctrines give sufficient evidence in and of themselves.

THE UPSHOTS OF THE TRANSCENDENT ARGUMENT

            In conclusion, one upshot of the transcendent argument is that one does not lose certain attributes of God which have been established throughout two millennia of church history at the expense of others, whereas the everlasting and timeless arguments do. In this regard, it seems to maintain the biblical view of God as the Creator (of time) who is infinitely not subject to time, yet chooses to interact with his creation within time. In addition, it refocuses the issue of God’s eternity off of an either-or scenario onto the possibility of both-and, thus avoiding the pitfall of ascribing God as only outside of time or only inside of time. Lastly, it implies that the transcendent God of the Bible deserves worship from his creatures because he is both transcendent and immanent; both beyond and near them. This mystery and paradox is one that we could happily meditate upon for the next two millennia to come.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Peterson, Michael, ed. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. 4th Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Peterson, Michael, ed. Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. 4th Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Wood, Laurence. God and History. Lexington: Emeth Press, 2005.

Time Out, Time In: The Divine Transcendence of Time (Part 3)

Alarm clock on wooden table

In Part 1, I introduced the topic at hand, namely, God’s relationship to time, and underscored its importance for theology and philosophy today.

In Part 2, last time, I critiqued Wolterstorff’s Open Theism argument which understands God as Everlasting showing its logical inconsistencies and why it is least plausible among our options.

Here in Part 3, I am going to discuss Boethius’ argument that God is Timeless, offer my critique, show how it is no better than Wolterstorff’s, and that a new position is needed.

Boethius’ Timeless Argument: Why It Is Not Plausible

            In the opening of The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius defines eternity by stating, “Now, eternity is the complete possession of an endless life enjoyed as one simultaneous whole.”[1] This is how he understands God’s eternity, namely, that “God lives completely outside of time, in a changeless ‘eternal now’ that contains all of time within itself.”[2] This view of God’s eternity seems correct in that it makes a clear distinction between God who is infinite and unbound by time and the universe which is finite and bound by time. While this argument of God as being timeless living outside of time may seem accurate at first glance, it is lacking in several areas.

First, as Wolterstorff conjectured, Boethius seems to rely too heavily upon Greek philosophy rather than biblical theology. He mentions Plato and Aristotle, but gives no credence to Holy Scripture, Jesus, or Paul. Thus, Wolterstorff’s critique seems to be valid.

Furthermore, this leads to the two main lacks in Boethius’ argument of timelessness: (1) that he does not explicitly state that God is the Creator of time and (2) that his timeless God is remote and does not interact with the time bound world.

First, explicitly stating that God is the Creator of time would have greatly strengthened his argument. While this is somewhat inferential of his view, it nevertheless would have bolstered his case had he overtly said that the reason why God is timeless and unbound by time is because he created it. This may be due to the fact that Boethius scarcely relies upon Scripture.

The second lack in his contention is that his timeless God is a distant spectator of the world that does not interact with his creation. He says, “God is the ever prescient spectator of all things.”[3] But is this all that God does with the world? Does he merely know all that will happen and then watch from the outskirts of time what transpires in time? Again, dependence upon Scripture would have aided Boethius in this respect.

From Genesis to Revelation, the God of the Bible intimately interacts with humanity and creation. God creates the universe and then calls the nation of Israel through Abraham to bless all the other nations of the earth with the knowledge of God. As they walk with God and fail over two millennia, God then sends his ultimate revelation, his own Son, to redeem his fallen creation. On the last day,[4] God will fully redeem humanity by destroying death forever when his Son returns to the earth to establish fully the kingdom of God on the new heavens and new earth. The biblical narrative is one which describes the God who interacts with humanity and creation which are finite and bound in time, and Boethius’ argument seems to ignore these perspicuous biblical facts. The Bible does not portray God as a spectator of the world, but the ultimate participant in it. Had he availed himself to Scripture, Boethius would have avoided such theological pitfalls in his argument. For these reasons, Boethius’ view is inferior to the God of the Bible.

Since both of the most popular views of God’s eternity are flawed (Wolterstorff and Boethius), I will attempt in Part 4 next time to set forth a biblical understanding of God’s relationship to time.


[1] Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, 150.

[2] Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, 150.

[3] Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, 152.

[4] Notice, it is the end of temporality.

Time Out, Time In: The Divine Transcendence of Time (Part 2)

Alarm clock on wooden table

Wolterstorff’s Everlasting Argument: Why It Is Least Plausible

            In the 20th century, Nicholas Wolterstorff argued a different view from that of classical theologians concerning the eternity of God. He purported that God’s relationship to time and eternity should be understood as everlasting rather than timeless, that is, that God lives within rather than outside of time. Throughout his work God and the Good, Wolterstorff states his primary point and conclusion several times, namely, that God’s “own life and existence is temporal.”[1] While his work has several strengths to it such as (1) a critique of early Christian theologians relying too heavily upon Greek philosophy, (2) noting that God indeed does act in human history, (3) attempted fidelity to the Bible, (4) excellent biblical exegesis, (5) interaction with possible objections to his view, (6) unveiling the classic timeless view of God as “an impassive factor in reality” rather than an actively involved God in human affairs, and (7) recognizing that change in human history does not necessarily mean a change in God, Wolterstorff’s argument and logic has several problems.

First, his whole argument rests upon the assumption that if God is a redeeming God as the Bible portrays him to be, he therefore must be temporal because a redeeming God changes. He states, “If we shall accept this picture of God as acting for the renewal of human life, we must conceive of him as everlasting rather than eternal [timeless]. God the Redeemer cannot be a God eternal [timeless].”[2] His major premise here seems to be false. Just because God is a Redeeming God does not necessarily infer that he is everlasting no more than it would necessarily infer that he is timeless. Rather, it could imply several things. One alternative possibility which Wolterstorff ignores is that God foreknew the fall of humanity and planned beforehand their salvation and redemption. This seems to be the consensus among many biblical writers.[3] All in all, whether one accepts the doctrine of divine foreknowledge or not, the point is that Wolterstorff ignores this possibility assuming that the only conclusion to his premise is that God must therefore be everlasting. However, I maintain that God indeed has foreknowledge and because he had foreknowledge of the fall, he was therefore able to plan beforehand his plan of redemption for all creation. In this way, then, Wolterstorff’s premises and conclusion are logically inconsistent and unwarranted.

Second, he asserts that God’s acts have beginnings and ends and concludes that God is therefore fundamentally noneternal (i.e. God is temporal/everlasting). However, again this is fallacious logic. The proper inference of the premise “God’s acts have beginnings and ends” is that God’s actions are fundamentally temporal or everlasting, not that God himself is fundamentally temporal or everlasting. For all we know God could fundamentally be timeless. Regardless, the proper inference from Wolterstorff’s premise should be directed at God’s acts not God himself.

Thirdly, while Wolterstorff recognizes Heilsgeschichte (“salvation history”), also known as God’s acts in the history of salvation, he fails to see the possibility for the Redeeming God of Heilsgeschichte to exist outside of time. Again, he is basing his argument upon the presupposition that a Redeeming God must necessarily exist within time, not outside time. However, it is possible that the Redeeming God of Heilsgeschichte who transcends time could have planned out their redemption before time began, knowing beforehand that humanity would sin. It is not an absolute fact as he suggests that a Redeeming God must be bound to time planning out the redemption of humanity as time is transpiring and history unfolds. What he misses from Scripture is that the biblical God had a plan to redeem the human race before he even created the human race. Wolterstorff unfortunately ignores this important alternative.

Lastly, the most contradictory part of Wolterstorff’s argument comes at the end of his discussion. He states, “Though God is within time, yet he is Lord of time. The whole array of contingent temporal events is within his power. He is Lord of what occurs.”[4] However, it is contradictory to purport that God is fundamentally bound under the sway of temporality, and yet Lord over it. Is a king both a poor beggar and the wealthiest man in his kingdom? Of course not. Why then could one hold that God is subject to time yet in control of it? For if God is subject to time, then time has control over God, not vice versa. Only if God subjects time can he therefore be Lord of time.[5]

For these reasons, then, I think Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Open Theism view of God as everlasting is least plausible. In Part 3, we will consider why Boethius’ view is more plausible than Wolterstorff but still inadequate.



[1]Michael Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, 153.

[2] Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, 154.

[3] See Ps 139:4, 16b; Jer 1:5; Rom 8:28-30; Eph 1:4-5, 11; Rev 13:8. These all share the commonality of God’s foreknowledge, some about certain people and groups of people, while others concerning the salvation and redemption of humanity. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but Wolterstorff cannot ignore the biblical language of divine foreknowledge. How one understands God’s foreknowledge will certainly play a significant role in how one understands God’s relationship to time. As a side note, knowing all possibilities is not the same as knowing all things. If I apply for 4 Ph.D. programs (and I did) and am still waiting to hear back from them, just because I know all of the possibilities (1 of the 4 schools) does not mean that I will know where I will end up. So then I am in the dark about knowing the future. This example goes to show that just because someone knows all possibilities does not mean that they will know what will happen. So for God to have foreknowledge cannot simply mean that he knows all possibilities, foreknowledge means that God actually knows what will happen. And this of course does not mean that he causes it to happen (determinism). That discussion is for another time.

[4] Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, 159.

[5] I must briefly note here the contribution of Albert Einstein’s theory of general and special relativity which concludes that space and time are a unified entity (for an in depth analysis of this, see Laurence Wood’s God and History pp. 259-208). Thus, if God transcends space, as most theologians would assert, then God must also transcend time. If Wolterstorff wants to argue that God does not transcend time, then he must also argue that God does not transcend space. Once one moves into the realm of describing God as not transcending space, then one’s theological framework shifts from classical theism to pantheism. This is another logical inconsistency of Wolterstorff and others who espouse the Openness of God theology (Open Theism).