Intersections Between Biblical and Systematic Theology

My field is technically biblical theology, but I’ve found that the most helpful scholars are well-rounded and able to connect the disciplines. Additionally, in my PhD studies I came to the rather outlandish idea (*sarcasm*) that biblical studies, biblical theology, systematic theology (including historical and philosophical sub-disciplines), practical theology, and homiletics ought to form an interconnected whole. This of course is not an idea original to me, but SEBTS helped me to understand it and practice it. Recently I’ve been thinking specifically about the intersection between biblical and systematic theology. I wonder if specific biblical theological themes, such as the Temple, can help us not only connect BT and ST but also categories within ST?

For instance, as the Temple is the place where God meets man, so it is also may be a place where Christology meets eschatology.

Within the doctrine of Christology, one of the most important Old Testament identity markers for the person of Christ is that of Temple. Jesus’ identification of himself with the Temple of God helps theologians to develop a robust Christological identity that includes Christ’s rule over all things, his priestly office of reconciliation, his function as the restored image of God, and his communication of the real presence of God with humankind.

Not only does this help theologians identify and characterize the person of Christ, though, but it also aids them in connecting Christology with eschatology. The doctrine of eschatology is rooted in God’s promises to Israel in the Old Testament, and they can be summed up in the expectation that Yahweh will return to rule over his enemies, reconcile Israel to himself, restore Israel to be the image bearers of God, and dwell with them through his real presence.

These expectations are all realized in Jesus’ identification of himself as the Temple, and thus the Christological identity of Jesus as Temple functions also to define the eschatological reality of the inaugurated last days.

WHO IS ISRAEL?: A PERSPECTIVE FROM AMOS 7-9

Defining who “Israel” is can prove to be a difficult task because of the ambiguity of the term. In the book of the Twelve, “Israel” can refer to the restored covenantal people (Amos 9:7-10), the Northern Kingdom (Amos 5:1-3), Southern Kingdom (Mal 2:11), or an idealised future community of faith (Zech. 12:1-14:21).[1] The ambiguity does not just occur in different books of the Hebrew Bible, but even occurs within books.

In Amos 7-9 there are multiple ways to refer to Israel: Jacob, my people Israel, Isaac, House of Jeroboam, House of Israel, Booth of David. The remainder of this essay will describe how Amos 7-9 presents Israel and how this may impact the identity of God’s people.

Beginning in the first two visions (Amos 7:1-3, 4-6) the term “Jacob” is used in conjunction with “small” echoing Gen. 27:15, 42 connoting the historic people of Israel.[2] Thus, Amos’ first two visions are concerned with the longevity of the historic, covenant people of Israel.

Amos’ third vision (Amos 7:7-9) moves beyond historical Israel (7:8) and progresses to the present day divided nation with Yahweh’s claim that he will rise against the house of Jeroboam–the Northern Kingdom (Amos 7:9).

In verses 10-17, the narrative of Amaziah and Amos shows the issue of the Northern Kingdom and the question of Israel. In this narrative, Amaziah distinguishes between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms and makes the claim that the north is the rightful heir of the land and designates Amos, a “seer of Judah”only.[3] Amos’ reply is that his prophetic authority rests beyond the north and south and rests with all of Israel: “my people Israel (7:15).”[4]

After the vision that both the north and the south fill face judgment (8:1-3), Amos 9:11-15 asserts the restoration for all of Israel–the Booth of David. 9:7-8 deconstructs the idea of assuredness resting in election as Amaziah did. Anyone claiming to embody all of “Israel” as God’s people based on election and covenant will be subject to judgment[5] and will die by the sword (9:10). “Israel” as the restored people of God as presented in chapter 9 will be those who renew their vocation as God’s people.[6]

Amos presents “Israel” in its past, present, and future.   Thus, in Amos, “Israel” is presented in transition to identify with their past, their present split nation, and hope in a restored community of faith.[7] The description of “Israel” as found in Amos 7-9 may prove to describe that although “Israel” may represent a people’s historic roots through to a split kingdom, “Israel” as the eschatological people of God, will only be those who renew their calling as the people of God.

 


[1]          Heath A. Thomas, “Hearing the Minor Prophets: The Book of the Twelve and God’s Address,” in Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address, ed. Craig G. and Beldman Bartholomew, David J.H., (Grand Rapids / Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012).: 365.

[2]          J. Gordon McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,” in Israel’s Prophets and Israel’s Past: Essays on the Relationship of Prophetic Texts and Israelite History in Honor of John H. Hayes, ed. Brad E. and Kelle and Megan Bishop Moore, Library of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament Studies 446 (New York / London: T&T Clark, 2006).: 139-143.

[3]          McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,”: 145-146.

[4]          McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,”: 147.

[5]          McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,”: 151.

[6]          McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,”: 151.

[7]          Thomas, “Hearing the Minor Prophets: The Book of the Twelve and God’s Address,”: 365-366. Thomas applies this to the presentation of “Israel” in the Twelve. It also addresses “Israel” within Amos 7-9.

 

Bibliography

McConville, J. Gordon. “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel.” In Israel’s Prophets and Israel’s Past: Essays on the Relationship of Prophetic Texts and Israelite History in Honor of John H. Hayes, edited by Brad E. and Moore Kelle, Megan Bishop, 132-151. New York / London: T&T Clark, 2006.

Thomas, Heath A. “Hearing the Minor Prophets: The Book of the Twelve and God’s Address.” In Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address, edited by Craig G. and Beldman Bartholomew, David J.H., 356-379. Grand Rapids / Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012.

Is God Going to Go All Death Star on the Earth When Jesus Returns?

Via Google Images

A common view I often encounter is that God is going to completely obliterate the entire physical universe at Christ’s return and basically just start over. It always reminds me of Darth Vader destroying Alderaan in Episode IV.

Alderaan Destroyed

The text most often used in these encounters is 2 Peter 3:1-13, which says this:

3 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,[a] not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies[b] will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.[c]

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12  waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

The common assumption is that the language in this text about “burning” and “dissolving” and “passing away” means that the physical world will be completely annihilated. There are a number of reasons, though, why I doubt this is the meaning of the passage.

  1.  The meaning of the word “pass away” – In the New Testament, the verb used for the phrase “pass away” in 2 Peter 3 takes on a number of different meanings.
    1. Concerning Heaven and Earth
      1. Matt. 5:18 – “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished”
      2. Matt. 24: 34, 35; Mark 13:30, 31; Luke 21:32, 33 – “this generation will not pass away before these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”
      3. Luke 16:17 – “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void”
    2. Generic sense of walking, going, or coming – Matt. 8:28; 14:15; Mark 6:48; 14:35;  Luke 12:37; 17:7; 18:37; Acts 16:8
    3. Generic sense of time passing – Acts 27:9; 1 Peter 4:3
    4. Neglect or disobedience of a command – Luke 11:42; 15:29
    5. Jesus prior to arrest, “let this cup pass from me”  – 26:39, 42
    6. Mortality of human beings  – James 1:10
    7. Referring to our salvation – 2 Cor. 5:17
  2. Notice that Matt. 24:34, 35 and parallels and 2 Cor. 5:17 seem to indicate that at least part of the “passing away” has already taken place. In other words, this “passing away” in at least those verses is not obliteration but simply the removal of the old and replacement of it with the new.
  3. Use of “melt” and “burn up” metaphor elsewhere in the NT – In at least two places in the NT, fire is used not as an agent of annihilation but as an agent of refining, sifting, and perfecting (1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 1 Peter 1:3-9; cf. also James 1, esp. 2-4, for similar language about testing but without explicit use of the fire metaphor).
    Additionally, I cannot think of a place in the NT where fire is explicitly used for annihilation or obliteration.
  4. In the context of 2 Peter 3, perhaps the most important point is that Peter compares this coming judgment by fire with the historical judgment by water in Noah’s flood. The earth was not obliterated during that judgment, but was purged of sin. Peter’s parallel with Noah’s flood points to the fact that they are similar in effect although not in means. The difference noted by Peter is between the different means of water and fire, not between the ultimate effects of either judgment.
  5. Corroborating Evidence
    1. A view of God’s creation as “good” – God creates the world as good, and connects his image-bearers to it by giving them the task of caring for it in the Garden. He does curse it because of Adam’s sin, but it is also clear that the Abrahamic covenant is a reversal of not only the spiritual effects of Adam’s sin but the physical effects of it on the land as well (Gen. 12:1-3; cf. James Hamilton, “The Skull Crushing Seed of Woman and the Promises to Abraham”; Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15). In other words, God cares about his creation – all of it. The obliteration of it would be contrary to his creational and redemptive purposes.
    2. Revelation 21 – The word “new” in Rev. 21:1 is kainos, and denotes restoration, renewal, and freshness, not total “otherness” or distinctness from what came previously. Additionally, the imagery of Revelation 21 and 22 is full of images from the physical creation – a city, streets, gates, walls, rivers, trees, leaves, fruit, etc.

The metaphor of fire, combined with the historical parallel of the purging Noahic flood, a sacramental worldview, and an understanding of John’s use of “new” and creation imagery in Revelation 21-22 points to this coming judgment of fire as a purging judgment, not an annihilating one. It’s purpose is to purge the physical world of the effects of the curse so that God can dwell with his people on it, not to obliterate it completely and start over.

So, God isn’t going to go all Death Star on the Universe. At least not in my opinion.

 

Jesus and the Last Days

Last night I attempted to explain to my New Testament class that the Old Testament anticipates certain things to happen in the “last days” that are fulfilled in Jesus in the Gospels and Acts – e.g. the coming Davidic King, the new Temple, the resurrection, etc. After I demonstrated (hopefully successfully) that the “last days” anticipated by the Old Testament are inaugurated by Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and giving of the Spirit, and culminated by his return, I made this summary statement: “In Christ, the end of time has entered into the middle of time.” In other words, we are now living in the end times because of Christ’s life and work.

I came across this quote today from G. K. Beale’s new NT theology that summarizes what I was attempting to say:

. . . Christ’s resurrected body was the first newly created body to to pass to the other side of the new creation. The coming new creation penetrated back into the old world through the resurrected, new-creational body of Jesus. Although his postressurection existence was on this old earth for a time, he ascended to the unseen heavenly dimension of the beginning new creation, which will finally descend visibly at the end of time, when the old cosmos disintegrates (Rev. 21:1-22:5).