Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christian Zionism and the narrative of exile, restoration and the Gentiles. Pt 2

My previous post summarised the sort of narrative one confronts in much prophetic literature. It was, of course, a crude over simplification and missed out much, such as the significance of the tribulation which I ought to have mentioned.

When I first encountered these prophetic traditions and the narrative contained therein, I was tempted to make aspects of Jesus and his ministry, death and resurrection, and claims in the letters, cohere with specific points within this narrative. However, things are not so simple. While Jesus' death, in some respects, reflects the tribulation, he also prophesied the coming 'Great Tribulation' which was to overtake Jerusalem within one generation (Cf. Wright, Pitre etc.). Paul, likewise, could speak in tribulation-related language of a coming catastrophe across the entire Mediterranean world (Perriman), yet the Gentile mission had already begun – based precisely upon the prophetic narrative outlined in the previous post on this series.

Instead of a direct equation between aspects of this narrative and moments in the 'Christ event', what we have is the eschatological inauguration of this prophetic narrative in the life death and resurrection of Jesus (and in the life and ministry of his Apostles), with some aspects of the narrative starting when others have not ended. This prophetic narrative was nevertheless inaugurated. It had begun, and the entire structure of NT theology presupposes this fact.

Let me press the point. Whenever we celebrate communion and the new covenant in Christ's blood, we are saying that this prophetic tradition begun in Christ. Whenever we read in the New Testament of the 'new creation in Christ', or the giving of the spirit, or of the 'new heart' or about Paul's Gentile mission, or Christ's preaching of the arrival of the kingdom of God, and his 'gathering' of the Twelve, or even when we simply read the New Testament, we do so because this prophetic narrative has been inaugurated.

All of this has clear implications in the Christian Zionism debate. At the beginning of this series I defined Christian Zionism along the following lines: that it is the belief that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, is in accordance with Biblical prophecy.

What I have argued is that these prophesies were inaugurated not in 1948, but in the Christ-event. The crucial time for biblical prophecy is not 1948, but the first century. It is entirely irresponsible to ransack Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah or whoever, with the understanding that verses harvested from the chapters of these prophetic writings somehow confirm modern political events in a direct sense. To make such claims is to short circuit one of the fundamental narratives within Scripture and the justification for the very existence of the New Testament.

I don't think the above reasoning entirely excludes the notion that 1948 may in some sense be a faint reflection of the eschatological promises already inaugurated in Christ (but see below). Nor does it exclude the notion that the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 was an act of God's grace. What is excluded is the Christian use of these OT prophetic writings as proof for these events as the fulfilment of biblical prophecy.

Especially when this 'return' led to the persecution of Christians, i.e. those who claim to be the result of the real messianic inauguration of these prophesies. Especially when the return was no return in a literal biblical sense, either (the twelve tribes - including the lost ten northern tribes, to their alotted land), which they claim it is (but cf. Jesus and the Twelve disciples). I.e. the Christian Zionist reading is not a literal reading over and against the 'christological' one. And one also wonders whether the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 itself really coheres with the prophetic narrative, such as the ingathering of the Gentiles, the pouring out of the Spirit etc. Does the narrative trajectory understanding, of at least the Apostle Paul, support the CZ case at all? In light of Romans 4:13 ('For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith') one would be hard pressed to add the CZ addendum here without writing a most unusual closing chapter to the narrative as it has developed through Christ.

One of the realisations I have come to is that the NT hermeneutic is variegated. Many are as christological as I maintained in the previous posts in this series. To that one must now add the scope and significance of the prophetic narratives for the structure and direction of NT theology. My argument leads me to no other conclusion other than that the straightforward CZ case must be rejected.

I may write one more post in this series reflecting upon Romans 9-11.

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8 Comments:

At 12/19/2007 1:50 AM, Anonymous Nick Norelli said...

Ooh, Ooh, Ooh, Please write one more on Romans 9-11!!! This will show us all how much Calvinist you got in ya... :^P

 
At 12/19/2007 7:31 AM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

Pauld could speak in tribulation-related language?

Well, yes. Paul thought that the world would end soon, and so tells his fellow Christians that not all of them would die.

The Holy Spirit loves inspiring false things...

The one thing Paul cannot bring himself to do is discuss what Jesus said on the subject of the tribulation of Jerusalem.

It is almost as though Jesus had never said any such thing.

 
At 12/19/2007 2:11 PM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...

Any N. American evangelicals reading these posts who want to know more should read Gary Burge, Whose Land? Whose Promise?

 
At 12/20/2007 11:08 AM, Anonymous james mendelsohn said...

@ J.B.Hood: and also read this fairly devastating critique of Burge: here and Barry Horner's fantastic book "Future Israel: why Christian anti-Judaism must be challenged"

 
At 12/21/2007 7:13 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Steven,

"Paul thought that the world would end soon, and so tells his fellow Christians that not all of them would die"

See Perriman for a strong critique of this notion in Paul.

"The one thing Paul cannot bring himself to do is discuss what Jesus said on the subject of the tribulation of Jerusalem"

No, Jerusalem not really. But that was not necessarily on the horizon of Paul's audience. Of course, there is the text Thessalonians of "wrath finaly overcoming them"

"The Holy Spirit loves inspiring false things..."

You had a funny typo. You wrote "Holy Spirit" when you obviously meant "Dawkins"!!

 
At 12/26/2007 12:37 AM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

'See Perriman for a strong critique of this notion in Paul.'

I'd rather read Paul.

'15According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.'

And it is disputed that the text about God's wrath coming on the Jews is genuinely Pauline.

Did Paul really claim about Jews 'They displease God and are hostile to all men....'

Such racial stereotyping and hate-speech is typical of the Bible, but did *Paul* think that of Jews, rather than an interpolator who hated Jews?

And why would Paul think that the wrath of God had come upon Jews, when the destruction of Jerusalem lay in the future?

 
At 12/29/2007 7:17 PM, Anonymous Owen Weddle said...

"I'd rather read Paul."

You forgot to add "and include my interpretation that best fits my own argument."

"'15According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.'"

The argument could be made of the first person plural referring to "us" as a groups of Christians without specific reference to time.

"And it is disputed that the text about God's wrath coming on the Jews is genuinely Pauline."

Sure, but where is the beef for that claim? I can say my mom added that to the text, but claiming it doesn't mean much, now does it?

"Did Paul really claim about Jews 'They displease God and are hostile to all men....'

Such racial stereotyping and hate-speech is typical of the Bible, but did *Paul* think that of Jews, rather than an interpolator who hated Jews?"

But what if it was actually true? What is the Jews as a corporate whole (thought not all individually) actually did what Paul spoke of? You presume racism without allowing the possibility that he is speaking the truth. That statement is no more necessarily racist that me saying "Whites enslaved and abused many people in American history." Nor is that statement a judgment against every single white person, but it is only a generic statement.

"And why would Paul think that the wrath of God had come upon Jews, when the destruction of Jerusalem lay in the future?"

There was an expulsions of the Jews around 49 A.D. in addition to a massacre of around 20 to 30 thousand Jews in Jerusalem around 49 A.D. also (as recorded in Josephus). If Thessalonians was written about 51 A.D., it would not doubt make sense of that such events, especially the massacre, would weigh heavily on Paul's mind and make him think God's wrath had come upon them.

 
At 12/29/2007 8:09 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Greetings, Steven. I hope you had a good Christmas.

“I'd rather read Paul”

The matter is not about whether you read Paul or not, but about whether you understand him. Perriman, I suggest, can help you. So with regards the 1 Thess text you cite (erroneously thinking it ‘proves’ your point), cf. Perriman.

“And it is disputed that the text about God's wrath coming on the Jews is genuinely Pauline”

But are such grounds for doubt good enough?…

“Did Paul really claim about Jews 'They displease God and are hostile to all men.…”

Did the prophets of Israel say such critical things about Israel? It is called ‘critique from within’

Funnily enough, uninformed stereotyping is typical of Dawkins.

“And why would Paul think that the wrath of God had come upon Jews, when the destruction of Jerusalem lay in the future?”

Why did the prophets speak in such terms, I.e. about future events of judgment as though they had happened. I’ll let you do the homework on that. Plus: cf. Perriman.

 

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