Sunday, March 29, 2015

Audience Relevance: Who was the intended audience of the New Testament?

What did the close of the age mean to the first century readers of the New Testament? Were they expecting the end of the world or was it something different? In order to examine this we have to look at what the first century, second temple Jew would have understood end of the age to mean. We are in luck thanks to the dead sea scrolls.

The King James Problem:
The KJV of the bible is very good in most cases but not when it comes to eschatology in the gospels. The KJV renders aion world in Matthew 13:39 et. al. passages and that is just a bad translation. Aion in the Greek is age. So then, Matthew 13:39 speaks of the end or the close of the age and not the end of the world. It is not the end of the space time continuum for certain. That is not what was meant by the first century, second temple Jews. And yet, the recipients of the messages recorded in the gospels were solely to first century, second temple Jews. While it is very likely that some were written for congregations that were primarily Gentiles, the words recorded told of events that happened to first century, second temple Jews. In other words, the intended audience of the words spoken by Jesus, John the Baptist and others were strictly first century, second temple Jews.

Now that we have solved the King James problem, let's look at its implications. That means that the intended audience of the New Testament writings was those in the first century while the second temple still stood. The best place to understand their thinking on the matter is to look at the community who wrote/copied the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are divided into three types of documents. First was their copies of the scripture. They spent much of their time copying the scripture. Secondly, they wrote about their interpretation of the scripture, especially the Prophets and most especially Isaiah. And thirdly, they wrote about the rules for their community. Because of this, we can get a very good idea of what they thought about many things and one of the main things they were concerned with was eschatology. Therefore, the meaning of the end of the age was made quite clear in their writings. They often referred to it as the end of the evil age and thus, the beginning of a better age to come. They did not refer to the end of the planet and a new existence in heaven. While they were expecting a battle of Armageddon, they were not expecting the end of the planet.

Now, when you read carefully the pages of the New Testament you see that the beliefs of the Christian communities were very similar to that of the Essenes at Qumran which is the group responsible for creating the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is safe to say that the early Christian communities were not expecting an end of the planet. Apocalyptic language is figurative and not literal. The melting of the heavens and the earth and fire and brimstone and coming on clouds is part of the apocalyptic language and is figurative.

We really mislead our audiences when we proclaim that we are now in the last days or the eschaton. The truth is that they were. You can find that in many of the New Testament writings. As an example, Paul wrote the Corinthians telling them that they were the ones on whom the end of the ages had come, (1 Cor 10:11.)

The paradigm shift will go a long way to help us present a much more clear understanding. It will offer more hope for believers.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

An atonement theory for the paradigm shift Part I

First off, I need to lay some foundational ground work before I finalize an atonement theory. To begin with I will acknowledge that there are several atonement theories that have been presented over the history of the church. I will provide a link that will give you a concise overview of atonement theories. Please keep reading this post before you go to the link which will take you to Theopedia.

If we want to be able to present Christ to the world, especially the generations coming, we must find a coherent compelling atonement theory that gives meaning to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It should be a unified theory that makes sense of the biblical data. I think it should be a theory that will show the benefit of trusting in Christ even if one thinks that all paths lead to God.

Don't blow an aorta, I did not say that all paths lead to God, rather I said that the atonement theory should give compelling meaning, significance and benefit to ALL *even if* one believes all paths lead to God. If you believe that all paths lead to God, don't get all riled up as I am not saying that they don't. In other words, whether you do or don't I want to make clear that this atonement theory will show the benefit of believing in Jesus either way.

It is also imperative that the atonement theory acknowledges the facts that I have shown to be overwhelmingly true in this blog. For example, it must fit with the writer of Hebrews assertion that sin and unbelief are synonymous and that the original sin is unbelief. To add to this I must fit with Paul's teaching that faith is obedience and that obedience equals faith. The writer of Hebrews boldly states that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6.) Likewise, the atonement theory must square with the assertion of the problem found in Genesis chapter three. Death and the knowledge of good and evil are the source of all of humanities problems. The fear of death makes us want to survive and therefore develops greed, and the knowledge of good and evil allows us to have judgment and judge others as wrong when they do not agree with us and thereby we are provided with a reason for justification of our own actions.

Further, the atonement theory must take into consideration the fact that according to Paul et. al., we are in reality justified by our faith in the atoning force of Jesus of Nazareth and his death, burial and resurrection, and that this event has some spiritual cosmic significance. It is very important to consider Romans 5:1; "therefore, being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." According to Paul's premise, the reason for peace with God is the fact that we have been justified by faith alone.

Finally for this first post, it is important to realize that atonement is only mentioned a few times in the New Testament and the bulk of those mentions happen in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. Therefore it is safe to say that this passage is very important in our understanding of an atonement theory. Atonement and reconciliation are interchangeable. The definition of atonement includes reconciliation because the word really comes from Middle English, and is literally at-one-ment. In other words atonement is to be put at one with something and that something is God the Father. If one is made at one with the father it means they are reconciled.

Reconciliation is going to be very important as I move forward with this series. We will look at how Paul speaks of the flesh as being similar in nature to what we would now call the ego. Being in the flesh is ego-centric and atonement will specifically help with that in a mystical, spiritual, supernatural way.

A little hint for where this is going. This will closely resemble the Christus Victor atonement with a caveat. But, essentially, Christ's victory is over the ego and He accomplishes it by faith in the Father. More to come... stay tuned.

Here is a link to Part 2

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Christ? Does it matter?

A while back I did a series of studies entitled in search of the kingdom of God. In these, I was trying to investigate what scripture had to say about the kingdom of God. I suspected that the way in which most evangelicals use the term kingdom of God was not really accurate. The first thing that I discovered is the phrase *the kingdom of God* is used most prevalently in four gospels and Acts. I believe that it was a first century Jewish term that anticipated the reign of the Messiah. It therefore would mean to the first century hearers the kingdom of the Messiah. If we were to express that in our terms today it would be the kingdom of Christ.

Why make this distinction, kingdom of God... kingdom of Christ what is the difference? I think there is a big difference from a New Covenant view. National Israel was the kingdom of God. God was their King. When reading I Samuel chapter 8 it is clear that God considered himself king of Israel. When Israel asked for a king they really were rejecting God as their king. Yet, in God's ultimate loving grace he provided a king for them at a future time. In fact, in reading Ephesians one it is seen that God had planned to give them a Messiah from before the foundation of the world. This kingdom was God's first purpose in creation. Before humanity was created and allowed to fall, the kingdom of the Messiah, (kingdom of Christ) had already been proclaimed by the word of God. It was a reality before creation. It merely awaited the time in which it would be fulfilled in linear time.

But you say, you still have not made a case for the importance of the distinction. Well, please be patient, I will. The difference is in who the actual king is. God, Yahweh, was their king under the old covenant. They were under a kingship that was predicated on a legal-constitutional reading of scripture. But, the kingdom of God prophesied in the gospels, would in fact be the kingdom of the Messiah (the kingdom of Christ.) When Israel rejected God as king, he said via the prophet Samuel, that if they wanted him back as their king he would not hear. However, grace and mercy prevailed and it unfolded that He had already made a provision for them to have a King.

It was a mystery to them, but He would become their king again via His Son Jesus. Often, I hear someone speak of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and often I fear that they mean God the Father. Since evangelical Christianity insists on a legal constitutional reading of scripture it is very easy to understand why this is happens, but the King of Kings and Lord of Lords of Revelation 19:16 is the *Word of God* verse 13. So then, make no mistake, the kingdom of God is really the kingdom of the King of Kings. It is the kingdom of Christ.

Now then, when one speaks of the principals of the kingdom of God or kingdom of God principals they are speaking of the kingdom of Christ. As I have demonstrated over and over on this blog, Jesus and his first century followers taught a Jesus of Nazareth centric view of the scripture and gave them a redemptive purpose taking away the legal-constitutional reading in favor of a redemptive view.  You can not teach kingdom of God principals from an old covenant mindset. It must be one that focuses on the risen Christ Jesus.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The centrality of Christ in the New Testament

I find it interesting that so many these days speak of faith for the sake of faith. The reality is that if one is a Christian, then faith should be in Christ Jesus. I wrote an article just a short time ago that asked the question whether we should present church or Christ. The obvious answer is that we should present Jesus Christ (1Cor 2:2.) The overwhelming message of the New Testament is the superiority of Jesus of Nazareth as the prophesied anticipated Messiah. When one looks at the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, known as the faith chapter, it is somewhat easy when isolating passages within the chapter to teach on faith for the sake of faith. I think I have been guilty of not making it clear enough what the object of our faith should be. Let me state it unequivocally; it is Jesus Christ.

Let me share the short *Cliff Notes* outline of Hebrews. Chapter 1 & 2 speaks of the superiority of Christ over angels. Chapter three begins the superiority of Christ over Moses and Judaism. He is greater than Moses in chapter three, and he is the Sabbath Rest in chapter four. In other words, the Sabbath was a picture of Jesus. Chapters 5-7 begins to show the superiority of Christ's priesthood. Chapter eight tells us that the whole point of the first seven chapters was to show that the New Covenant under Christ is superior to the Old Covenant. Then chapters 9 & 10 explain that the sacrifice of Christ is superior to the temple sacrifices and the temple formed by believers in the spirit is superior to the stone and mortar temple. Notice this, the entire book of Hebrews is ALL about Jesus and nothing else. Now enters chapter 11 which is the *faith chapter.*  It begins to point out all of the Old Covenant saints who had faith. To name some in a non-all-conclusive list are Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Sampson, Gideon, Jeremiah, Daniel, the three Hebrew Boys, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and on and on. This interesting thing though is that their faith is not even the point of the chapter.... that's right let me state again that their faith was not the point of the Chapter. The point of the chapter is found at the very end of chapter eleven.

Heb 11:39-40 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: (40) God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

The point was that all of the hero's of faith in the Old Covenant could not be made perfect by their faith. They received a good report but were not made perfect. The reason was that they did not know exactly how the plan of redemption was going to play out. They did not know that Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God would by his faith make them all perfect. So you see, in the New Covenant, it is not sufficient to merely have faith. No, one must specifically have faith in Christ. All of the blessings of the New Covenant are channeled through Jesus Christ. He is pre-eminent. He, according to this same book is the author and finisher of our faith. We rob him of his glory when we do not make him pre-eminent in all of our teaching and sermons.

This is a beginning of a series in which I will show that the church today is presenting church and not Christ and that the sole job of the church is to present Christ.

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