Thursday, 26 October 2017

The last day: what eschatology in the Gospel of John?

It often happens that "sophisticated" Christians contrasts the literal and "naive" belief in "the last day" and in the "Second Coming", proper of the of the Synoptic Gospels (Matt 24; Mark 13; Luke 21) with the "spiritual" message of the Gospel of John.

Typically, these "sophisticated" Christians bring up as proof text chiefly this verse:

“But a time is coming – and now is here – when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers.” (John 4:23)

At the level of theological discourse, it has become common to speak of "realized eschatology" in the Gospel of John. The seminal work for the introduction of this notion is C.H. Dodd's The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, (1953)/1968.

A synthetic account of Dodd's work is Rudolf Bultmann's Review of C.H. Dodd: The interpretation of the fourth gospel, (1954)/1963 (Harvard Divinity Bulleting, 27, pp. 9:22), unfortunately not available online.

Yet, in spite of all the talking of "realized eschatology", the question remains: is there a literal eschatology, a literal "last day" in the Gospel of John?

I believe there is:

“For this is the will of my Father – for everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him to have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40)

“The one who rejects me and does not accept my words has a judge; the word I have spoken will judge him at the last day.” (John 12:48)

Any comments?

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Two Powers in Heaven? Here are Three Items ...

Item #1

Dr. Michael Heiser lectures at Beit-Tefillah in Gig Harbor, WA, on the Two Powers in Heaven in Jewish Thought. (Two Powers of the Godhead, YouTube, May 4, 2013, 1:21:52)

Item #2

The thesis (by the same Mike Heiser):
Twenty-five years ago, rabbinical scholar Alan Segal [see @  Wikipedia] produced what is still the major work on the idea of two powers in heaven in Jewish thought. [Two powers in heaven: early rabbinic reports about Christianity and Gnosticism, Brill, 313 pp., 1st ed. 1977, 2nd ed. 2002] Segal argued that the two powers idea was not deemed heretical in Jewish theology until the second century C.E. He carefully traced the roots of the teaching back into the Second Temple era (ca. 200 B.C.E.). Segal was able to establish that the idea’s antecedents were in the Hebrew Bible, specifically passages like Dan 7:9ff., Exo 23:20-23, and Exo 15:3 [see @ NET Bible]. However, he was unable to discern any coherent religious framework from which these passages and others were conceptually derived. Persian dualism was unacceptable as an explanation since neither of the two powers in heaven were evil. Segal speculated that the divine warrior imagery of the broader ancient near east likely had some relationship.

In my dissertation (UW-Madison, 2004) [Mike Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Jewish Literature”, see footnotes 1,2,3] I argued that Segal’s instincts were correct. My own work bridges the gap between his book and the Hebrew Bible understood in its Canaanite religious context. I suggest that the “original model” for the two powers idea was the role of the vice-regent of the divine council. The paradigm of a high sovereign God (El) who rules heaven and earth through the agency of a second, appointed god (Baal) became part of Israelite religion, albeit with some modification. [see @ Wikipedia > Ugarit > Religion; Baal Berith] For the orthodox Israelite, Yahweh was both sovereign and vice regent—occupying both “slots” as it were at the head of the divine council. The binitarian portrayal of Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible was motivated by this belief. The ancient Israelite knew two Yahwehs—one invisible, a spirit, the other visible, often in human form. The two Yahwehs at times appear together in the text, at times being distinguished, at other times not.

 Early Judaism understood this portrayal and its rationale. There was no sense of a violation of monotheism since either figure was indeed Yahweh. There was no second distinct god running the affairs of the cosmos. During the Second Temple period, Jewish theologians and writers speculated on an identity for the second Yahweh. Guesses ranged from divinized humans from the stories of the Hebrew Bible to exalted angels. These speculations were not considered unorthodox. That acceptance changed when certain Jews, the early Christians, connected Jesus with this orthodox Jewish idea. This explains why these Jews, the first converts to following Jesus the Christ, could simultaneously worship the God of Israel and Jesus, and yet refuse to acknowledge any other god. Jesus was the incarnate second Yahweh. In response, as Segal’s work demonstrated, Judaism pronounced the two powers teaching a heresy sometime in the second century A.D. [there simply is no evidence for this ...]
-- Mike Heiser, Two Powers in Heaven (@

Notes and links for Mike Heiser's Dissertation

[1] Dissertation Defense, 5 pp., May 3, 2004 (@

[2] Abstract, 2004 (@

[3] Dissertation, 271 pp., 2004 (@

Item #3

Here are some problems with the thesis:
The Talmud relates that Elisha ben Abuyah (a rabbi and Jewish religious authority born in Jerusalem sometime before 70 CE), also called Acher (אחר, "other", as he became an apostate), entered Paradise and saw Metatron sitting down (an action that is not done in The Presence of God). Elishah ben Abuyah therefore looked to Metatron as a deity and said heretically: "There are indeed two powers in Heaven!"[18] The rabbis explain that Metatron had permission to sit because of his function as the Heavenly Scribe, writing down the deeds of Israel (Babylonian Talmud, Hagiga 15a).[19]
The Talmud states, it was proved to Elisha that Metatron could not be a second deity by the fact that Metatron received 60 "strokes with fiery rods" to demonstrate that Metatron was not a god, but an angel, and could be punished.[20]
-- Wikipedia > Metatron > Origins


[18] Alan F. Segal titled his book, Two Powers in Heaven (Brill, 1977/2002) on this alleged exclamation.
[19] Scholem, Gershom (1974), Kabbalah, Keter Publishing House Jerusalem Ltd
[20] Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies, Society for Jewish Study (1983). The Journal of Jewish Studies,Volumes 34-35. The Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies. p. 26. Retrieved 5 March 2014.

Conclusion (?)

So what is it? (Two Powers in Heaven:  Christian Heresy or Theology of the Tanakh?)

Thursday, 5 October 2017

misunderstanding kenosis

I cannot enter here in detail into why the Eastern Orthodox (Palamite, but see # NOTE) notion of "Uncreated Energies of God" has produced a completely abusive understanding of the fully Scriptural notion of kenosis.

Ultimately the "foundation" is a hyped, abusive metaphysical interpretation of this verse ...

“... but [Jesus Christ] emptied [ekenôsen] himself by taking on the form [morphê] of a slave, by looking like other men, [Grk: 'by coming in the likeness [homoiôma] of people'] and by sharing in human nature [Grk: 'and by being found in form [schêma] as a man'].” (Phil 2:7)

... whereas it is entirely evident, to any exegete/hermeneute that is  not swept off balance by unwarranted metaphysical spin, that the above  verse applies to the real Jesus Christ who lived in Palestine, 1st century AD, NOT to some mythical and "preexistent" "God-the-son", as made fully clear by the context of the immediately preceding and following verses ...

5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 6 who though he existed in the form [morphê] of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, [Grk: harpagmos, 'robbery'] 7 but emptied himself by taking on the form [morphê] of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross! (Phil 2:5-8)

In the 4th century, when the "trinitarian" solution of Christology was being concocted, the notion of kenosis had NOT (yet) the meaning of something like "temporary metaphysical emptying of divine prerogatives".  Both the Arians and their (orthodox) opponents affirmed that God is entirely free from passion and change. The orthodox position held this view in regard to the divine nature of Christ, which is homoousios with God, but allowed the human nature to suffer.

Athanasius, in particular, said of the Logos that ...
The Word perceived that corruption could not be got rid of  otherwise than through death; yet He Himself, as the Word, being  immortal and the Father's Son, was such as could not die. For this  reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death,  in order that it, through belonging to the Word Who is above all, might  become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and, itself remaining  incorruptible through His indwelling, might thereafter put an end to  corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection.  [Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation, 2. The Divine Dilemma and Its Solution in the Incarnation, (9)- emphasis by MdS]
So the unchanging, incorruptible and impassible Logos, impassibly ("by His own impassibility") endures suffering in the body...
He manifested Himself by means of a body in order that we  might perceive the Mind of the unseen Father. He endured shame from men  that we might inherit immortality. He Himself was unhurt by this, for He is impass[i]ble and incorruptible; but by His own impass[i]bility [en tê eautou apatheia] He kept and healed the suffering men on whose account He thus endured. [Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation, 8. Refutation of the Gentiles (continued), (54) - emphasis by MdS]
... which clearly means, in short, that, according to Athanasius, in this body that "He" adopted, the Logos ("God-the-son") did not really suffer, but only feigned anguish and ignorance for our sake.



This is my (quick, largely incomplete and not perfectly chronological) summary profile of the EO "plotionian chain":

Origen (who was a pupil of Ammonius Saccas just as Plotinus was ...) => John Chrysostom => Cappadocian rascals (Basil the Great, Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzus)  Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (a neoplatonist through and through, who received undue and misplace importance by bein mistaken for Paul's companion mentioned at Acts 17:34) => St John of Sinai => Maximus the Confessor => Symeon the New Theologian => Gregory Palamas (challenged by Barlaam of Calabria).

The EO "plotionian chain" has carried on to this day: one name is sufficient, that of Vladimir Lossky, in spite of his finicky distinctions "between Christian thinkers such as Saint Dionysius the Areopagite and such thinkers as Plotinus and the Neoplatonists".

The Trouble with ... Multiverse

“The scenario of many unobserved universes plays the same logical role as the scenario of an intelligent designer. Each provides an untestable hypothesis that, if true, makes something improbable seem quite probable.” -- Lee Smolin, The Trouble With Physics, 2006, page 164
Lee Smolin compares the untestable explanatory power of MV vs ID not so much with regard to Evolution, but, more in general, with the unquestionable and eerie fine tuning for life of virtually all the physical constants of this universe in which we indisputably live.

Why should we assume at all that, "beyond the event horizon", there are "multiple universes", if not for the obvious reason that out of the roulette of as many as 10500 of them (the exorbitant figure —apparently drawn from "string theory" and/or "M-theory"— is provided by Stephen Hawking, among others) surely the existence of one so appropriately fine-tuned for life, nay, for intelligent life, becames "possible", even "probable"?

As we cannot realistically account for the eeriness of fine-tuning for intelligent life of the ONLY universe that we can experience, we invent a host of "universes" that, even in principle, we will never be able to experience, because they are ... "beyond the event horizon" ...

... how convenient ...

Friday, 29 September 2017

... for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory?

Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio, Brera, Milan, 1606

Only the Gospel of Luke has the narration of the encounter between the resurrected Jesus and the disciples at Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Central to this account is that Jesus explains to the two disciples how the life, suffering and death of the Messiah were inscribed in "all the scriptures", "Moses and all the prophets". This is the question with which Jesus precedes his "interpretation" of the Scriptures for the benefit of the disciples:
Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory?(Luke 24:26 - bolding by MdS)
The Greek verb translated with "enter" is eiserchomai, which definitely and only means "enter". There is no hint whatsoever, in the verse, of any form of "pre-existence" of the Messiah, let alone "eternity".

Then he appeared to the Apostles:

44 Then he said to them, These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled. 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures, 46 and said to them, Thus it stands written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  (Luke 24:44-47).

Again, no hint whatsoever of any form of "pre-existence" of the Messiah, let alone "eternity".

Shouldn't John 8:58, shouldn't John 17:5 be interpreted in the light of Luke 24:26?

Friday, 15 September 2017

Hosea, Paul and the final conversion of Israel

Hosea and Gomer (Bible Historiale, 1372)

This is what we read in Hosea (8th-century BC prophet in Israel): 
4 For the Israelites must live many days without a king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred fertility pillar, without ephod or idols. 5 Afterward, the Israelites will turn and seek the Lord their God and their Davidic king. Then they will submit to the Lord in fear and receive his blessings in the future. (Hosea 3:4-5 NET)
And this is the relative comment by Father Augustine Lemann (1839 - 1909, a Jew converted to Catholicism in 1854):
“These carnal Israelites, who today refuse to believe in Jesus Christ, will one day believe in Him, that is, their descendants will do so, for Hosea foretells their conversion in the following terms: 'The children of Israel shall sit many days without king, and without prince, and without sacrifice, and without altar, and without ephod and without theraphim.' Who is there who does not see in this a portrait of the present state of the Jewish people? But listen to what the prophet adds : 'And after this the children of Israel shall return, and shall seek the Lord their God, and David their king: and they shall fear the Lord, and His goodness in the last days.' Nothing can be clearer than this prophecy, in which David evidently stands for Jesus Christ. Christ, says the Apostle, is born of the line of David according to the flesh.” (Father Augustine Lemann, Histoire Complète de l'Idée Messianique chez le peuple d'Israël, 1909 - pp. 443-445 [translation from the French by MdS])
Hosea certainly deals with the idolatry of his day, of which the repeated prostitution of Gomer, his wife, is a figure. But it is also a prophecy of Israel's future repentance, achieved only after the prolonged loss of independence, and only after they have renounced for good all forms of idolatry. But the expressions "without sacrifice", "without ephod" have no apparent connection with the repudiation of idolatry, and may suggest that the time framework is very ample, and includes the end of the priestly sacrifice, which definitively ended only in 70 CE.

When the Babylonian captivity finished with the fall of Babylon to the Persian king Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE, and the exiled Jews began to return to the land of Judah, they had already abandoned all idolatrous practices, and never resumed them. It was precisely from then on that their Messianic expectations started growing.

In Romans 9-11, Paul speaks extensively of the rejection by God of the Jewish people, which has not recognized the Messiah, Jesus Christ. At Rom 9:25-26 he quotes Hosea 2:23 and 1:10  Hosea 1:10, apparently interpreting Hosea's prophecy ("Although [lit. 'in the place'] it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it will be said to them, “You are children of the living God!”), with reference to God's new people, "not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles" (Rom 9:24).

Did Paul really quote those verses from Hosea with reference not to the Israelites but to his new people formed by converted Jews and Gentiles alike?

There are several theories.

Some propose a "spiritualizing" approach, whereby Paul has reinterpreted the passage from Hosea, attributing it to the "new people" of God, formed by Jews and Gentiles. (see, for instance, George, Eldon Ladd, in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four View, p. 24).

Some affirm that Paul is applying the prophecy to Israel, according to the obvious sense of the text. (See, for instance, John A. Battle, "Paul's Use of the Old Testament in Romans, 9:25-26" in Grace Theological Journal, Vol. 2 No 1, Spring 1981, pp. 115-129: "this approach has the distinct asset of taking Hosea’s prophecy at face value and maintaining complete harmony between Hosea and Paul" p. 122)

A third approach is to consider to consider the conversion to the Messiahship of Jesus Christ  that has happened to a minority of Jews and mostly to Gentiles as a prophecy of the full restoration of Israel. As Scott J. Hafemann says, "Just as God can bring Israel back from the dead, he can also call Gentiles to new life."

See also here:
What Paul does here is to take this promise, which referred to a situation within the frontiers of the chosen people, and extract from it a principle of divine action which in his day was reproducing itself on a world-wide scale. In large measure through Paul’s own apostolic ministry, great numbers of Gentiles, who had never been “the people of God” and had no claim on his covenant mercy, were coming to be enrolled among his people and to be recipients of his mercy. (F.F. Bruce, TNTC Romans, 2015, IVP ebook, Rom 9:25-26)
This approach finds its corroboration in what Paul says in Romans 11, where he speaks of the "mystery" of the "partial hardening [has] has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in" (Rom 11:25). But in the end, also Israel will be fully converted: "For God has consigned all people to disobedience so that he may show mercy to them all." (Rom 11:32)

Thursday, 14 September 2017

What Peter and Paul said (... and what they never said)

This is what Peter said ...

“But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power.” (Acts 2:24)

... and this is what Peter NEVER said ...

“But Jesus rose up, having released himself from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power.”

This is what Paul said ...

“... because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9)

... and this is what Paul NEVER said ...

“... because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that he raised himself from the dead, you will be saved.”

Any comments?