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Chapter 3: Messiah and Apocalyptic

Chapter 3 speaks to the concept of Messiah and Apocalyptic.

Messiah: N.T. Wright states that there is a school of thought that Paul was a ‘political’ thinker rather than a ‘religious/theological’ thinker.  That the concept of Jesus as the Messiah would have had no meaning to the Gentile audience that Paul evangelized so that Paul’s concept of Messiah was a political category rather than a religious one.  Wright argues than Paul, in his writings was very clear that Paul saw Jesus as the true royal Messiah that was promised to Israel.  That Jesus was a descendent of the royal house of David (that Jesus came from “the seed of David”).  That Jesus fought the ultimate battle against evil and death, and won.  That had built, in himself, the promised new Temple; and has done all of this as both Israel and God’s representative.  Bringing to a culmination the promised Old Testament covenants.  Which leads into party two of Wrights chapter…

Apocalyptic:  Wright states that over the last few generations the word apocalyptic has been interrupted in a variety of ways.  Many believe this to be a reference to the ‘end times’, or as Wright states God’s abolishing “the space time universe forever, in a cosmic conflagration”.  Most recently in popular culture, is the concept of the righteous being ‘taken’ to God’s eternal glory and those deemed unworthy ‘left behind’.  Wright argues that Paul believed that the apocalypse has already come about!  For Paul, the apocalypse was the “sudden, dramatic, and shocking unveiling of secret truths, the sudden shining of bright heavenly light on a dark and unsuspecting world”.  That Jesus Christ the Messiah, through his death on the cross and resurrection has fulfilled the Old Testament covenant plan “through which the whole creation would be liberated from corruption, evil and death.

Regarding Messiah, I completely agree with Wright.  Regarding Apocalyptic, I had never considered the perspective of Paul presented by Wright – that the apocalypse has already occurred.  In reading this chapter and contemplating on it, I can see and understand the perspective presented.  As presented it makes complete sense.  That said, I am not certain that I fully agree with Wright on this. I will have to consider this more.

Creation and Covenant (Chapter 2)

The first section of Chapter 2 addresses “creation and covenant” in the Old Testament.  Two very different Psalms, Psalm 19 and Psalm 74, are used to show how God is the God of creation, but also a God that is just, all-powerful, and conquers evil.  Wright draws on certain covenants of the Old Testament such as: Abraham.  He points out that God is the creator, yet he is the God of covenant.  He will rescue and deliver his people from the enemy and from all evil.  Through Israel, God will address and solve the problems of the world, bringing justice and salvation to all people and how creation is “invoked” to solve the problems within the covenant.  God is FAITHFUL, but He is righteous.  

 

The second section of Chapter 2 focuses three new passages: Colossians 1: 15-20, 1 Corinthians 15, and Romans 1-11.  This section, as well as the third, seemed similar in the fact that the emphasis was on Jesus Christ, the Messiah, being the NEW creation and the NEW covenant.  Wright states that Paul goes back to Genesis and makes it evident how God fulfills his covenant promises through Christ and renews creation.  

 

There is one particular line that struck me from the third section that I want to share.  It reads. “When God fulfills the covenant through the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the spirit, thereby revealing his faithful covenant justice and his ultimate purpose of new creation, this has the effect both of fulfilling the original covenant purpose (thus dealing with sin and procuring forgiveness) and of enabling Abraham’s family to be the worldwide Jew-plus-Gentile people it was always intended to be.” Therefore, God never leaves anything unfinished.  He fulfills, completes, and makes his covenant even greater, in His timing.    

St. Paul’s World and Legacy

The first section of Chapter 1 addresses St. Paul’s worldview and his use of narrative. I like the way Wright posits that St. Paul uses elements of each of the three worlds in which he lived, Jewish, Greek, and Roman, to propose to his readers a unique fourth world that pre-existed his conversion: the newly developing world of Christianity. This perspective clearly counters the notion that St. Paul “created” Christianity. Wright also addresses the narrative techniques found in the Pauline letters, emphasizing that they are not just literary devices that add decoration to separate theological content, but that narrative is the vehicle for the theological content that makes it accessible to all audiences, both Jewish and Gentile, ancient and modern. This is consistent with the technique of reading Scripture with an eye to all four senses that has been emphasized in other Scripture classes I have taken.

The second section of this chapter is devoted to what Wright calls St. Paul’s “legacy,” that is, the research on St. Paul that has been performed over the past two centuries. He goes into some rather particular details, but his main point in this section seems to be that, while a reader should always approach a text as objectively as possible, it is not possible to remove oneself completely from the context of the world in which one lives, and so reading of Scripture will always have an eye to its relevance in the current age. I particularly appreciate in this section that Wright does not propose an “impossibly objective” reading of St. Paul, but rather assures the reader that it is natural to read a text within one’s own historical context, and that one can never discredit the working of the Holy Spirit as scriptural texts are re-read with fresh eyes. In comparison with some of the positions we discussed in class and some that he mentions in this chapter, Wright seems to have a balanced perspective on the writings of St. Paul.

Resurrection in Jesus of Nazareth

In the chapter on the Resurrection in Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI focuses on the fact that the Resurrection is the foundation of the Christian message. It cannot be boiled down to an invention of the early Church nor is it a mystical experience of the Apostles. It is an event that is rooted in history, that is, it actually happened, yet it transcends history as we are confronted with an entirely new reality. He continues to examine this central theme through the use of two different types of testimony, the “confessional tradition” (which gives the essentials of the Easter faith in short phrases that establish the basics of what occurred) and the “narrative tradition” (which is the type of testimony used in the Gospels that gives content and shape to the faith through narrative).

The part of this chapter than I enjoyed reading the most was the section that talked about the historicity of Jesus’ Resurrection. Someone of faith can sometimes be intimidated by “scientific” arguments against the Resurrection, and this often causes doubt. It is important to know that there is plenty of evidence to the historicity of the Resurrection, and this evidence can be comforting to someone of faith who is currently questioning if what they believe was a human invention or factually based.  

Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidence Right

In the article “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidence Right,” Mr. Craig A. Evans presents a detailed and precise argument in support of the hypothesis that Jesus was buried in a tomb.  He does this in response to the arguments of Mr. Bart Ehrman, who believes that Jesus’ body was not laid in a tomb based on the facts that a) his burial was not mentioned in the early creeds of the Church and b) it was not the custom of the Romans to allow the burial of criminals.  Because of this, he believes that the story of Jesus’ burial, even the detail about a certain “Joseph of Arimathea,” was a legend that was added to the gospels at a later time.

To counter these arguments, Evans thoroughly lists ancient sources, both Jewish and Roman, as evidence to support his claims.  By citing historians and witnesses like Philo and Josephus, Evans is able to give substantial proof that, according to the ancient burial customs of the Romans and the Jews (especially of criminals), Jesus’ entombment is not only plausible, but probable.

I enjoyed Evans’ methodical and thorough approach to the issue.  Though he seemed repetitive and his evidence lengthy, all seemed necessary to adequately satisfy the doubts that Ehrman leaves in the mind of the reader.  However, my favorite part was the last section of the reading.  Here, Evans logically and concisely answers the issue of the tomb, wonderfully summing up the evidence he manifests throughout the article.  It is a perfect apologetic answer for the average person.

Gethsemane

Gethsemane

The agony at Gethsemane is very singnificant for the salvation of humanity. It is in this moment when Jesus Christ freely accepts his Father’s will. Though, here we see, how the two natures of Jesus enter into a fight. In this chapter, Cardinal Ratzinger wants us to explore certain characteristics of the person of Jesus. 

First, Jesus experienced a deep need of prayer. As the second person of the holy Trinity, Jesus keeps communion with his Father. It is not unusual for Jesus to separate himself from the disciples to have this intimate communion with the Father. However, his need of prayer, is not only because he wanted to avoid the horrific moments that were about to happen, but this fear, also came from the human destiny that he was assuming.  Jesus freely assumes all the responsibility of human sin in order to bring humankind back into a relationship with the God.

Second, Jesus experience sorrow and distress. The agony of Jesus in the garden shows that the divinity of Christ suffers with his humanity. At first, Jesus prays “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” On the other hand, he prays “yet, not as I wil, but as you will.” Because of his humanity, Jesus felt tempted to avoid this moments of horror, he felt sad, and abandoned; but in his divinity God himself saved the entire humankind.

Jesus as the high priest. According to Ratzinger, by his auto-donation Jesus became the true priest. The word priest, means the one who mediates in religious service. Also it means one who is holy or set apart to perform those services. In his priesthood, Jesus is greater than any other priest because through him hour humanity is back into relationship with God the Father. He was the only one who could be the mediator between God and humankind.

I like it based on this reasons.

1- it clearly reflects both the human and divine nature of Jesus.

2- Gives a better sense of the suffering of the Cross. Without the Cross there is not resurrection.

3- The experience of the cross, shows how God brings good out of evil.

 

What did the First Christians think about Jesus? -Gathercole

In Gathercole’s essay: What did the First Christian Think about Jesus? the author describes the likely Christology of early believers so as to show that the facts do not point a Jesus that gradually becomes God. Gathercole does so by contrasting the thought of Bart Ehrman, a novelist purporting Jesus as an “ugly duckling” arriving at divinity during different stages of his life, i.e. at birth in Luke and Matthew and the baptism in Mark. One of the responses is the “I have come” statements made by Christ which imply Jesus as pre-existing then come into the world to accomplish his mission. During the Tunnel Period, Erhman claims to have found a pre-literary formula or creed in Rom 1:3-4 which seems to imply Jesus being adopted at Son of God at the Resurrection. This claim is addressed as wildly speculative by Gathercole on many levels. Finally in the exaltation understanding of Jesus glorified, Gathercole highlights the different characteristics and actions of Jesus during his earthy mission and glorification in order to show where the adoptionists go wrong in their line of thought, namely seeing this transition as the moment Christ became God, which he posits, was not the orthodox position of early Christians.

            I enjoyed the article however the author does assume the reader have an advanced understanding of theology, scripture and logic. I found myself re-reading sections just to understand his arguments. I did agree with his positions and especially enjoyed his reflection on Jesus’ exalted and earthly characteristics as a pitfall for some adoptionists who view this as the moment of divinization for Jesus. The work was a great counter argument and debunking of the claims of Ehrman positing the Jesus became God gradually in the thoughts of early Christians.

Chapter Seven- The Trial of Jesus

The Trial of Jesus, presented by Joseph Reisinger in his book Jesus of Nazareth, takes place in different scenarios: the first part is a meeting between Jewish leaders in Caiaphas’ house, the interrogation before the Sanhedrin, and the Trial of Jesus before Pilate. The aim of the Trail from the Sanhedrin’s standpoint is to kill Jesus and Pilate seeks to save Jesus; meanwhile, he wants social peace during the Jewish feasts. To each of the three scenarios, Ratzinger, provides reasons, misunderstandings, worries, and preferences from the Sanhedrin as well as from Pilate that led Jesus to the Cross. However, the third part, the Trial of Jesus before Pilate, has deep theological description behind the motives to what happened to Jesus. That is, Ratzinger describes the truth about Jesus’ kingship and his proclamation to be the Son of God, the two motives for Jesus’ condemnation and hidden theophanies to the eyes of Pilate and Jewish leaders. The Jewish expected the Messiah for centuries but when they had him in the fragile, tortured, and helpless person of Jesus their blindness to the truth unable them recognize him. For them, the truth is limited compared to the whole truth that is God, who is supreme and absolute truth.  Creation, for example, becomes what means to be as long as if it reflects God, the eternal Reason by which has emerged. Man, on the other hand, reaches his true nature when becomes according to God. That is, God is the measure of being for man. With it is understood that the truth is perceivable when God is known, an ability that Jewish leaders and Pilate did not possess.

 

Jesus of Nazareth – Volume 2 Chapter 5 – The Last Supper

In this chapter, Ratzinger provides an excellent summary of scholarly thought on the events of the Last Supper. He harnesses the historical-critical method with finesse – deftly avoiding becoming bogged down in boring detail, and instead focusing on becoming more closely acquainted with the person of Jesus.

First, our Pope emeritus asks whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal, and gives a convincing “no”. He goes to lengths to show that John’s chronology, which places the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, is chronologically true to history, unlike the Synoptics. The Last Supper couldn’t have been a normal Passover meal, as it didn’t occur on Passover!

Benedict turns next to look at the words of institution. Words, he says, that militate against an image of “friendly Jewish rabbi” or “political revolutionary”. Rather, they include an anticipation of the cross and resurrection, of His death for the expiation of our sins. All Passover celebrations, all sacrificial lambs point to Him, and Benedict shows a beautiful sense of continuity in the relationship of God with His people before and after the events of Holy Week. In response to our sin Jesus gives himself freely, and the reality of evil is overcome, not ignored.

Benedict goes on to touch on many important nuances, like the “for all/for many” change we’ve seen in the new translation, and what the “this” of “do this in memory of me” refers to (more than the words of consecration, but not a whole Passover meal). Finally, he concludes with a section that deals with the importance of both the cross and the resurrection for our liturgy. All is useful knowledge for seminarian debates – and of course, for good liturgy.