The writer of Hebrews builds on his assertions that the particular son of God (Jesus) who was the agent of creation, eternal wisdom, and the essence of God, by comparing him to other supernatural sons of God (angels). But what does a phrase like “You are my son, today I have begotten you” mean? Does this mean Jesus was a created being? This episode notes the use of this phrase and other Old Testament passages utilized by the writer of Hebrews to explore its actual meaning. Along the way, the episode discusses two links in Hebrews 1 to the Deuteronomy 32 worldview and the divine council.
This is the 5th and final post in a series by guest blogger, Stephen Huebscher
This is the final post in this series, and I draw a number of conclusions here. At the end, I list all the works that I referenced in this series, in case I missed one earlier. This has been a great opportunity to read through these texts again and think through the issues and the claims that I make here. Thanks to Mike and all of you for your openness!
The first major finding of this study was that cosmology was often linked to liturgy in such a way that it could be considered an indicator of the kind of worship that was practiced. Cosmology includes the description of heaven and beings in it, and their relationship to those on the earth (and under it). There were two primary cosmologies used by these groups: the biblical cosmology and the platonic cosmology. In the biblical cosmology, there are three basic levels to the universe (heaven, earth, and the underworld), as opposed to seven in the Hellenistic cosmologies. For instance, Aune writes,
It is striking that Revelation does not reflect more specifically the cosmology typical of the Hellenistic and Roman period, in which the cosmos was thought to consist of seven heavens. Paul’s account of his own ascent to the third heaven reflects a cosmology of at least three heavens (2 Cor 12:1-5). John knows only a single heaven as the dwelling place of God and his angels. This older cosmology consisted of a three-tiered universe consisting of heaven above, earth in the middle, and the underworld beneath (the three-tiered universe is also reflected in several apocalypses, including the five apocalypses that constitute 1 Enoch, the Testament of Abraham, and the Apocalypse of Ezra . . . .) The earth itself was thought to be a flat disk surrounded on all sides by water. Below the earth was the underworld, which was the realm of the dead, called Sheol by the Israelites but Hades by the Greeks. Above the earth was the vault of heaven containing the heavenly bodies and, in the highest place, God and his angelic entourage. The new cosmology that developed during the Hellenistic period, and quickly displaced older cosmologies, regarded the earth as a sphere . . . . The earth was thought to be a stationary center surrounded by seven planets (including the sun and moon), each of which moved in its own sphere . . . . The earth was at the same time the ‘innermost’ as well as the ‘lowest’ part of the cosmos . . . . God was thought to dwell in the highest heaven or sphere, usually the seventh or eighth heaven (Corpus Hermeticum 1.26), with various supernatural beings located at various levels below him. (David Aune, Revelation 1—5, 318).
The mystical belief of “worship=ascending to heaven,” which was first a part of Jewish and later Gnostic (and still later, Christian) mystical groups, seems to have built on the Platonic cosmology of various levels Plato described in Timaeus. Timaeus was the standard work for much of the ancient world about the cosmology of heaven and earth. In it, the astronomer/philosopher who sees the stars and understands the cosmology is the hero. Margaret Barker has argued (unconvincingly, in my opinion) that this work reflects First Temple Judaism (via Pythagorus). More helpful is Gordon Lathrop, who has pointed out significant parallels between the blind man in Timaeusand the blind man (his name in Aramaic is “Bar-Timaeus,” which Mark carefully explains means “the son of Timaeus”) in Mark’s gospel.
At the junction of the two major parts of the Second Gospel, between the Gospel’s ‘Galilee’ and its ‘Jerusalem,’ exactly between the ministry narratives and the passion story, there stands the account of a blind man (Mark 10:46-52). He is called ‘the son of Timaeus.’ The name itself strikes us at least three ways. First, this is the only recipient of the healing ministry of Jesus in the entire Gospel who is given a name at all. The name matters. Second, the name is intensified, this patronymic being repeated both in Greek and in Aramaic. . . . And third, as many commentators have noted, the name is very hard to place in a Jewish context. It is not a recognized, current Hebrew or Aramaic name. . . . It is a Greek name and, in fact, one with a very specific and recognizable history. Here is the ‘son’ of Timaeus, Plato’s Timaeus, and, ironically, he is himself blind, crying out in lament, seeing nothing, going nowhere. This cry for help occurs at the very place, structurally, that the lament of the blind man occurs in the Timaeus: at the juncture of the two major parts of the book. (Gordon Lathrop, 30-31).
Unlike Plato’s blind man who laments without hope, Bar-Timaeus abandoned his cloak (perhaps a philosopher’s cloak?) and came to Jesus. After calling Jesus “my teacher,” he received sight and followed Jesus “in the way” (Mark 10:52).
It occurs at a place that corresponds, in the Timaeus, to the ethical culmination of the argument, to the turning of the consideration of all things toward the ordering of the life of the wise. Only now the wise—together with everyone else—are invited to the wise folly of the cross. (Lathrop, 33)
A second difference between the two cosmologies is the population of heaven. In the biblical cosmology, not only is God in heaven, but there is a core group of the heavenly host that works closely with God. The core group in the biblical model is known as the divine council (DC) or divine assembly, and is found in many places throughout Scripture. “One of the central cosmological symbols of the Old Testament is the imagery of the divine council and . . . the issues of order in Israel and in the cosmos are rooted in and understood as under the aegis of the divine council” (P. Miller, 423) It is not an exaggeration to say that the DC may be the most important hermeneutical guide for understanding celestial worship, whether in ancient Jewish or early Christian theologies. Even some Gnostic texts adopted an eclectic approach and incorporated a heavenly assembly into their doctrine, while still relying primarily on the Platonic model. In the original Platonic model, there is no such core group of “helpers.” Instead, there are the Ideals.
A lexical study of the words used for the DC includes, among others, the Hebrew words qahal (“congregation”), ‘edah “assembly”), and most importantly, sod(“council”). The sod was a group of elohim that worked closely with Yahweh. The term sod was also applied to righteous, human worshipers on earth in some texts.
Those beings in his council (sod) are charged with three functions:
(a) “demonstration of Yahweh’s omnipotence in the form of accompaniment (Dt. 33:2), praise (Job 38:7; Ps. 19:2; 29:1f.), fear (Ps. 89:7f. [6f.]), counsel in the form of obedient response (Job 1f.; Isa. 6:8; cf. the resistance to polytheistic notions in Isa. 40:13:f.);
(b) mediation of Yahweh’s salvific will to the world of human beings (1 K. 22; Isa. 6; cf Dt. 32:8f.; Jer. 23:22);
(c) implementation of social justice (Am. 3:7; cf. Ps. 82:3f.).” (Fabry, 10.174-75)
The first category contains our primary interest—heavenly worship—but you can see that it is likely that these various functions are interconnected. The DC is probably the heavenly model for the creation of the human community in the early chapters of Genesis. It is the congregation that is the plural referent in “let us make man as our image” (Gen. 1.26-27). The text is clear that God made the man (the Hebrew verbs are singular here), but that the model was plural. Thus at the very beginning of the Torah, the cornerstone of the OT and of the whole Bible, we have humans created in order to be the physical, earthly representation of the spiritual, celestial community.
To say that the image of God is the primary overarching motif in Scripture is good. However, this claim goes beyond that, and this leads us to the third major finding of this study: that liturgy or worship is one of the key purposes of human existence. It is an essential part of our reason for existence.
Psalm 29 is an example of this. “If Psalm 29 were to be considered a song for the solemn prostration before Yahweh . . . then we would have to assume that a heavenly act would correspond to the earthly hymn of praise and prayer (cf. especially Psalm 148)” (Kraus, 348). In other words, the heavenly worship is the model for the earthly worship. In fact, Psalm 29:9b “is the key-verse of the whole psalm—it leads us away from the commotions on the earth up to the heavenly sanctuary where the company of the heavenly beings recognizes and glorifies these very occurrences on the earth as a revelation of the glory of Jahweh” (von Rad, 1.360).
All quotations from the Apostolic Fathers are from the translation of Lightfoot, Harner, Holmes, 2nd edition.
All quotations of Origen’s Commentary on John 13-32 are from Ronald E. Heine, trans., FOTC, Origen: Commentary on the Gospel According to John Books 13—32(Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1993). Thanks to Peter Martens for pointing out this passage to me.
“The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas,” in Acts of the Christian Martyrs, trans. Herbert Musurillo (London, UK: Oxford University Press, 1972), 111-13.
Harold Attridge, Hebrews (Minneapolis: Fortress Press).
David H. Tripp, “‘Gnostic Worship’: the State of the Question,” in Gnosticism in the Early Church, Studies in Early Christianity 5, ed. David M. Scholer (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1993), 322-23; reprinted from Studia Liturgica 1 (1987): 210-20.
Margaret Barker, Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (London and New York: T & T Clark, 2003).
Patrick D. Miller, “Cosmology and World Order in the Old Testament: The Divine Council as Cosmic-Political Symbol,” in Patrick D. Miller, Israelite Religion and Biblical Theology: Collected Essays, JSOTSS 267 (Sheffield, 2000). Previously published in HBT 9 (1987), 53-78.
Robert A. Oden, Jr., “Cosmology, cosmogony,” Anchor Bible Dictionary 1.1170.
H.-J. Fabry, “סוד, sod” in TDOT 10.174-75; H.-J. Fabry, “סוד als ekkleiologischer Terminus,” Bausteine Biblischer Theologie: Festgabe für G. Johannes Botterweck zum 60. Geburtstag dargebracht von seinen Schülern, (Köln-Bonn: Peter Hanstein, 1977).
Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. by James Robinson, 3rd edition.
April D. Deconick, “Heavenly Temple Traditions and Valentinian Worship: A Case for first-Century Christology in the Second Century,” in Carey C. Newman, James R. Davila, and Gladys S. Lewis, Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism: Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, SJSJ 63 (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 308-41.
Pheme Perkins in “Identification with the Savior in Coptic Texts from Nag Hammadi,” in Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism, ed. Newman, Davila, Lewis (Leiden: Brill, 1999).
Frank C. Senn, “Lutherans Are Natural ‘Splitters’,” Worship 79 (July 2005).
Gordon W. Lathrop, Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.
Jean Daniélou, Theology of Jewish Christianity I.
- K. Beale, NIGTC,Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999),
Daniel Boyarin, “The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John,” in HTR 94 (2001) 243-84.
- J. Krause,Psalms 1-59: A Commentary (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988)
- von Rad,Old Testament Theology, trans. D. M. G. Stalker (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001).
David E. Aune, WBC, 3 volumes: Revelation 1—5, Revelation 6—16, and Revelation 17—22.
Hans Wildberger, Isaiah 1—12.
George Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1 (Hermeneia).
James Davila, Liturgical Works.
Claus Westermann, “kbd” TLOT 2.
Robert Hayward, Divine Name and Presence: The Memra.
Lucien Deiss, trans Benet Weatherhead, Early Sources of the Liturgy (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1975).
- Ringgren, “עמד,” inTDOT 11.182-85.
- Grundmann, “‘ίστημι,”TDNT 7.641, 43.
Guest blogger, Stephen Huebscher
This is the third of five posts in this series.
B. CONCEPTIONS OF HEAVENLY WORSHIP IN EARLY CHRISTIANITY
Early Christian conceptions of heavenly worship drew heavily on the OT and, not surprisingly, show a similarity, though with some important differences. Revelation and Hebrews are undoubtedly the most important NT books to gain an understanding of the heavenly liturgy and its significance for Christians on earth.
Revelation 4—5 is the most comprehensive of all the worship scenes and hymns in the book. It has a number of OT antecedents, including Exodus 19, Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1—2, and especially Daniel 7:9ff, which Beale argues is the primary interpretive lens John uses to understand the visions he has seen (Beale 315, 366-69). The fact that Isaiah 6 forms a part of the understanding of the heavenly throne room in Revelation is a striking contrast to the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice where this OT text is not even mentioned! (Davila 91). Rev. 4—5 presents a scene of heavenly worship around the throne of God, and in that sense is similar to what were later called the merkavah hymns in Jewish mystical texts of hekhalot literature. David Aune correctly observes the connection between the heavenly worship scenes in Revelation and the divine council. “The focus on the throne vision is God enthroned in his heavenly court surrounded by a variety of angelic beings or lesser deities (angels, archangels, seraphim, cherubim) who function as courtiers. All such descriptions of God enthroned in the midst of his heavenly court are based on the ancient conception of the divine council or assembly found in Mesopotamia, Ugarit, and Phoenicia as well as in Israel” (Aune 277). Scholars have argued for a variety of sources for the liturgy portrayed here, ranging from Jewish synagogues to Christian churches. However, I have been most persuaded by Beale’s arguments for a strong OT background for this passage (as well as the rest of the book), and I believe he is correct when he writes, “John intended the readers to see what is told of in the vision as a heavenly pattern that the church is to reflect in its worship rather than the other way around (just as the heavenly pattern of the tabernacle shown to Moses on the mountain was to be copied by Israel in the construction of their own tabernacle)” (Beale 312). Beale summarizes:
“The concluding hymns of Rev. 4:11 and Rev. 5:9-13 bear out that this idea—that sovereignty in creation is the basis for sovereignty in judgment and redemption—is the main theme of the two chapters . . .” (Beale 369, italics original). One of the keys to seeing these chapters as a heavenly liturgical pattern for earthly worship comes at the end of chapter 5, where creatures on earth join the heavenly praise, and to which the elders add “Amen.” Of the prayers of the saints that the elders hold in 5:8, the elders function as heavenly priests, according to Aune (356). The use of καινός (new) “associates Christ’s redemptive work with the beginning of a new creation . . .” (Beale 358).
In Revelation 6:9-11 (souls of the martyrs under the altar) Beale believes that the altar is to be identified with the throne of God, thereby showing divine protection (Beale 391-92). Although the importance of silence in Revelation 8:1-4 (silence in heaven) is probably to be found in Jewish writings, it may perhaps reflect “the practice of maintaining silence in the Jerusalem Temple while the priests went into the Holy Place to offer incense; it was during such a time that Zacharias had his vision of the archangel Gabriel” (James Roger Black, personal note). Revelation 11:19 with its mention of the ark in heaven points to the “presence of God without a literal reappearance of the ark . . . which is expanded in 21:3, 22, where the establishment of the end-time temple is interpreted as God’s presence in the midst of his people” (Beale, Revelation, 619).
Revelation 19:9 mentions the wedding supper of the Lamb, which may be the (eschatological) wedding meal mentioned elsewhere in Scripture and Gnostic literature (Isa. 25:6-7; 65:13-17; Matt 22:1-10 = Gos. Thom. 64; Matt. 25:10; Luke 12:36; 14:8; Acts Thom. 4-5, 7, 13) (Aune, Revelation 17—22, 1032). If this is so, then it is the referent for Jesus’ statement at the Last Supper about drinking new wine in his Father’s kingdom (Matt 26:29; Mark 14:25; possibly Luke 22:18). This, in turn, makes the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper an earthly type of the (future), heavenly worship. Other texts that could be added, though not specifically wedding texts, include Matt 8:11-12; Luke 13:28-29; 14:15; 22:28-30.
Hebrews. Hebrews 8—10 has a lengthy discussion of the application of Jeremiah 31 and the new covenant to the situation of Christians. In it, the author repeatedly makes distinctions between the earthly “tent” of the Mosaic worship and the true, heavenly “tent” that Christ has entered to make atonement for sins once for all. For our purposes, two observations by Attridge will suffice. “The basic image with which our author operates is that of a paradigmatic sanctuary, probably with two parts, in heaven” (Attridge 223). “The interior reality that the heavenly temple symbolizes is not a principle or virtue generally available to humankind, but a relationship made possible by Christ” (Attridge 224). Although the author of Hebrews makes much use of liturgical language, the application to Christians generally does not put a lot of emphasis on ritual act, but rather on prayer, public praise, and service (e.g., Hebr. 13:15).
You, however, have approached Mount Zion and a city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem; and myriads of angles in festive gathering and an assembly of firstborn who are inscribed in heaven; and a judge, God of all, and spirits of the righteous who have been perfected. [This passage uses language that draws on the picture of the cosmic mountain in the OT and ANE (which is where God convenes the divine council), divine theophanies, and visions of the celestial court. This text shows human Christians participating with heavenly beings in a festival gathering, which, by definition, has liturgical overtones.] (Attridge 371, 374-75).
Other NT. In other NT texts, the cosmology and population of heaven is usually very similar to that found in OT texts. For instance, Paul’s statement “I charge you, in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels,” (1 Tim 5.21) should be probably be understood as a divine council scene. The differences in heaven are both cosmological and liturgical. Cosmologically, Christ has been highly exalted. The liturgical implication is that he therefore receives worship. In other words, Christ now becomes the focal point of heavenly worship. Unlike some of the DSS and later hekhalot texts, no angels, not even exalted ones, ever receive worship in heaven. A second cosmological difference is that whereas OT Israelites would pray to the Name in the Jerusalem temple and God would hear in heaven, now Christians are to pray to Jesus in heaven, and the Father will hear them (e.g., 1 Kings 8; John 14:13-14). “Name” was still used as a reference to Jesus in some of the NT texts (Acts 5:41; 3 John 7). Other names or titles for Jesus include Law, Covenant, Beginning, and Day (Daniélou, 147-63).
The present identity of Christians is often referred to in the same terms used of celestial beings: sons of God, children of God, children of the Most High, saints/holy ones, stars, etc. The future identity of Christians seems to be celestial beings, and some texts seem to state that Christians will be on par with or part of God’s divine council (DC).
Some texts show joint human/angelic worship (e.g., Hebr 12:22-23), just as some OT texts show joint human/angelic combat (e.g., Judges 5:20 “the stars fought with Sisera”). This joint worship makes sense when we understand that God is present among worshipers, and that members of the heavenly host are present with him. The fact that God is present accounts for the emphasis on the proper way of worshiping God.
The worship of angels in Colossae that Paul opposed “may represent a cultic practice of visionary ascent and deification,” a practice which has connections with the mystical views both in Jewish and Gnostic sects. (Perkins, 167)
This last quotation in this post is from Justin Martyr, and early Christian writer.
Justin, Apol. I, 65-66. On the day which is called Sun-day, all . . . gather in the same place. Then the Memoirs of the Apostles or the Writings of the Prophets are read . . . . The president speaks. . . . Then we rise all together and pray (Deiss 25). [Basil some years later comments on his understanding of standing in prayer, which scholars believe to be reflected in the forgoing quotation from Justin. “We stand up when we pray, on the first day of the week (i.e., Sunday)… also because that day itself seems in some fashion to be an image of the world to come” (Deiss 25). This becomes significant when we realize that the phrase “stand before” is often used with the liturgical sense of “serve” in biblical and Jewish texts of angelic messengers who serve God.]
CONTINUITY AND DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OT & NT
There is a lot of continuity and overlap between OT and NT on this issue. The biggest difference is that the OT has a mysterious “second Yahweh” figure, whereas Jesus is part of the equation in the NT. Stay tuned for Part 4.
Here’s the latest video (thanks to Shaun’s work!). It does a good job summarizing how to parse the cherubim and seraphim (and how not to over-read that material).
I’m grateful to Frank Viola (the author, not the MLB pitcher!) for the time he invested into reading (studying, really) my book, The Unseen Realm. Frank is a best-selling author in the wider evangelical world, as well as a blogger and speaker. He gets the content of the book and is enthusiastic about it. He really understands what I’m trying to do, both in terms of what I write and the Naked Bible Podcast — exposing the non-specialist to biblical scholarship on the supernatural worldview of the Bible. From the post linked below:
I can’t say this about most authors today, but I owe a debt to Heiser for showing me aspects of the principalities and powers that I’ve never seen before nor read in any other scholar, theologian, or commentator.
So, for those of you who have friends who are afraid to give the content of The Unseen Realm a serious read because they need a mainstream voice to encourage them, this interview will be a good resource. Check it out!
Gerald R. McDermott (PhD, University of Iowa) is Anglican Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. Before joining Beeson, he was the Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Roanoke College. He is also associate pastor at Christ the King Anglican Church and Distinguished Senior Fellow in the History of Christianity at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion.
In this episode of the podcast we discuss two of Dr. McDermott’s books: God’s Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions? and Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land.
God’s Rivals raises the question of why there are other religions—why would God permit that? The content of the book takes note of the Deuteronomy 32 worldview discussed so often on the Naked Bible Podcast – that, for biblical writers, the gods were real and allotted to the nations (and vice versa) in judgment at the Babel event (Deut 4:19-20; 17:1-3; 29:23-26; 32:8-9 [per the Dead Sea Scrolls “sons of God” reading]; 32:17). Dr. McDermott surveys early church thinkers reflections on this situation and what it meant in God’s plan of salvation.
Israel Matters discusses the diversity of opinion (positive and negative) in the believing Church toward the people, land, and state of Israel.
- God’s Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions? Insights from the Bible and the Early Church
- Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land
- The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land
This is Part 5 of David Burnett’s guest series.
In early Judaism it was widely accepted that in the resurrection or afterlife, the righteous were to in some sense become as the stars or angels.1 In Dan 12:2-3, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” John Collins points out that the stars in Dan 8:10 are the host of heaven, which in comparison to Dan 12:3 implies that those raised from the dead in vindication will be associated with the angels.2 A similar idea is found in regard to the destiny of the righteous in 1 Enoch 104:2-6: “But now you shall shine like the lights of heaven, and you shall be seen; and the windows of heaven will be open to you… and you are about to be making a great rejoicing like the angels of heaven.” In the Testament of Moses we also find the affirmation of the astral immortality of the faithful as it states in 10:9: “God will raise you to the heights. Yes, he will fix you firmly in the heaven of the stars.” In context of a discussion of the seven ordered eschatological rest promised for those who “keep the ways of the Most High,” 4 Ezra 7:97 states, “The sixth order, when it is shown to them how their face is to shine like the sun, and how they are to be made like the light of stars, being incorruptible from then on.”
4 Maccabees 17:5-6 re-narrates the martyrdom of the faithful mother and her seven sons from 2 Maccabees 7 in the following way:
“O mother, destroying the violence of the tyrant with your seven children, rendering his evil intentions void and demonstrating the nobility of faithfulness (πίστεως)! For like a roof set nobly upon the pillars of the children, you, unwavering, bore up under the earthquake brought on by torments. Be confident, therefore, O pious-souled mother, holding firm toward God the hope (ἐλπίδα) that comes from endurance! Not so much, not so much has the moon in heaven among the stars been made to stand as revered as you, who lit the path (φωταγωγήσασα) toward piety for the seven star-like children (ἰσαστέρους ἑπτὰ παῖδας), have been made to stand honored in God’s presence and firmly fixed with them in the heavens. For your child-bearing was from father Abraham.” (4 Macc 17:5-6)
Here the mother embodies faithfulness (πίστεως) and her seven sons demonstrate firm hope (ἐλπίδα) that God will vindicate them in their willing martyrdom. The faithful mother now stands more august among the stars than even the moon. Her faithful sons are deemed “star-like,” which seemingly identifies them as true children of Abraham.3
Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of the Early Jewish Qualitative Interpretation
When considering Paul’s use of Gen 15:5 in Rom 4:18 in light of this early Jewish qualitative interpretation, we find fruitful and interesting exegetical results. When the evidence above has been taken into account, we are provided with a kind of narrative framework, out of which we arrive with a reading proposal that may provide a cogent answer to the interpretive problem this study sought to address. This proposal would provide us with a reading which links all the constituent parts (the inheritance of the cosmos, becoming a father of many nations, and the resurrection of the dead) of the one promise Paul understands to be given to Abraham in Gen 15:5 when he is told “so shall your seed be (οὕτως ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα σου),” a reference to becoming as the stars.4
Psalm 82 as a Narrative Framework for the Reception of the Abrahamic Promise in Early Judaism
Within the reception of the Deuteronomic vision in early Judaism we find a coherent narrative through which the promise of Abraham could be read. We find the setting up of the cosmic polis, where the celestial bodies (or angels of god) were “allotted to all the nations under the whole heaven (πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν τοῖς ὑποκάτω τοῦ οὐρανοῦ)” (Deut 4:19; 32:8-9), while Israel was Yahweh’s inheritance (κληρονομία) (Deut 32:9). In early Jewish reception of this tradition, the cosmos was understood as the “greatest of commonwealths (πόλις ἡ μεγίστη)” where the celestial bodies were appointed as rulers (ἄρχόντας) who were to mimic (μιμουμένους) the rule of the “Father of all (πάντων πατρός),” exercising their rule in law and justice (δίκην καὶ νόμον) (Spec. Laws 1.13-19). These celestial rulers (ἄρχοντα) were to “preside (or rule) (χρή) over his subjects (ὑπηκόων) as a father over his children (πατέρα παίδων) so that he himself may be honored in return as by true-born sons, and therefore good rulers may be truly called the parents of states and nations (ἐθνῶν) (Spec. Laws 4.184-188).” But as Philo states, “those who assume great power to destroy and injure their subjects should be called not rulers but enemies (πονηρότεροι) (Spec. Laws 4.185).” Psalm 82 (81 LXX) provides a narrative where the Father of all stands in judgment of the gods who were apportioned over the nations who have failed at precisely task that was set out for them saying “how long will you judge (or rule) unjustly (Ἕως πότε κρίνετε ἀδικίαν) (Ps 81:1 LXX)?” They were commanded to do justice or righteousness (δικαιώσατε) (Ps 81:3 LXX), but they failed, leading to the announcement of their judgment: the gods (Θεοί), or sons of the Most High (υἱοὶ ὑψίστου), will die like men (Ps 81:7 LXX). The hope of the psalmist is then stated: “Arise, O God and rule the earth (ἀνάστα, ὁ θεός, κρῖνον τὴν γῆν), for it is you who will obtain the inheritance of all the nations (ὅτι σὺ κατακληρονομήσεις ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν) (Ps 81:8)!” This narrative provides us with a framework for how early Jewish interpreters of the Abrahamic promise could understand it qualitatively as well as quantitatively. In light of these traditions, the Abrahamic promise could be read afresh.
Paul’s Reception of the Qualitative Reading of the Promise to Abraham? A Proposal
The following proposed reading will be a rough attempt to understand Paul’s use of Gen 15:5 and his midrashic exposition of the promise in Romans 4 in light of the above tradition. Paul states in Rom 4:18 “In hope against hope (ἐλπίδα ἐπʼ ἐλπίδι) he believed (ἐπίστευσεν), so that he might become a father of many nations (πατέρα πολλῶν ἐθνῶν) according to that which had been spoken ‘so shall your seed be (οὕτως ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα σου)’.” When taken qualitatively, for Abraham’s seed to become as the stars of heaven meant to become as the gods or angels, the celestial bodies, the “fathers (πατέρας) of the nations (ἐθνῶν)” who had been allotted to rule the nations (Posterity, 89; Spec. Laws 1.13-19; 4.184-188; Sir 44:21; Apoc. Ab. 20:3-5). “In hope against hope (ἐλπίδα ἐπʼ ἐλπίδι) he believed (ἐπίστευσεν)” that he would attain the promise of astral glory (Rom 4:18; 4 Macc 17:5-6). For Paul, the faithful Abraham who had been credited righteousness was known now in astral glory as “the father of us all (πατὴρ πάντων ἡμῶν),” as it was written about him in Gen 17:5 (Rom 4:16-17). As was common in Jewish expectation in Paul’s day, he hoped in the god “who gives life to the dead,” who would raise his seed in celestial glory, replacing the powers (ἂρχοντας ἔχουσα), calling “into being that which did not exist (καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα),” or establishing a new cosmic polis (κόσμου); a new creation (Rom 4:17; Philo Spec. Laws 4.187; 2 Bar. 21:4; 48:8). This is what would be understood in Rom 4:13 when Paul states the promise to Abraham and his seed was to “inherit the cosmos (κληρονόμον αὐτὸν εἶναι κόσμου).” As in Gen 22:17, for Abraham’s seed to become as the stars of heaven would result in “inheriting the cities of their enemies (κληρονομήσει τὸ σπέρμα σου τὰς πόλεις τῶν ὑπεναντίων)” (see Ps 81:8 LXX; Philo Spec. Laws 4.185). This expectation is further delineated in Romans 8 where the “sons of God (υἱοὶ θεοῦ)” or “children of God (τέκνα θεοῦ)” are “heirs (κληρονόμοι)” of creation as “the creation waits with eager longing for the apocalypse of the sons of God (τῆς κτίσεως τὴν ἀποκάλυψιν τῶν υἱῶν τοῦ θεοῦ ἀπεκδέχεται, 8:19).5
- See above conversation on 2 Baruch 51. For further treatment of resurrection and celestial immortality in Early Judaism, see Hans C. C. Cavallin, Life After Death: Paul’s Argument for the Resurrection of the Dead in 1 Cor 15, Part I, An Enquiry into the Jewish Background, CBNT 7.1 (Lund: Gleerup, 1974); Smelik, “On Mystical Transformation,” 122-44; N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), Wright disagrees that there is a tradition of astral immortality in the usual texts used to support that idea; Nickelsburg, Resurrection; Jon D. Levenson, Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: the Ultimate Victory of the God of Life (New Haven: Yale, 2006); Turid Karlsen Seim and Jorunn Økland, eds., Metamorphoses Resurrection, Body, and Transformative Practices in Early Christianity, Ekstasis 1 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2009); David Litwa, We Are Being Transformed: Deification in Paul’s Soteriology, BZNW 187 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012), 140-51: It is surprising that in an otherwise thoroughgoing discussion of celestial immortality in Greco-Roman and Jewish sources in relation to Paul, Litwa never mentions the texts that read Genesis 15:5 qualitatively as a promise of celestial immortality, especially in light of how important that text is for Paul to his argument in Romans. For other recent works on the topic of deification or theosis in Paul, see Michael J. Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009); idem, “Romans: The First Christian Treatise on Theosis,” JTI 5.1 (2011): 13-34; Ben C. Blackwell, Christosis: Pauline Soteriology in Light of Deification in Irenaeus and Cyril of Alexandria, WUNT 2.314 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011); Rabens, “Pneuma and the Beholding of God”; Michael J. Thate, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, and Constantine R. Campbell, eds., ‘In Christ’ in Paul: Explorations in Paul’s Theology of Union and Participation, WUNT 2.384 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014). ↩
- John J. Collins, Daniel: A Commentary, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress), 393-94. ↩
- The tradition presented here in 4 Macc 17:5 of being exalted above the moon and the stars may reflect an eschatological expectation to shine as the sun, the greatest of the luminaries in the heavens. This tradition is reflected in Matt 13:43, in the context of the eschatological reaping where the Son of Man sends his angels to dispense of the devil and his people, Jesus says once this has been accomplished, “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (οἱ δίκαιοι ἐκλάμψουσιν ὡς ὁ ἥλιος ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῶν).” ↩
- The following allusions or references to primary texts below do not denote citation or allusion for Paul in any way, but are used to simply construct the narrative framework which provides for an alternate reading using the qualitative interpretation to how Paul might understand the promise to Abraham in Gen 15:5. ↩
- See Rom 8:12-25. Pertinent here is the shared complex of language between Paul and Philo associated with inheriting or judging the cosmos, see footnote 7 in Part 3. ↩
Readers will recall that I blogged about being on the Voice of Olympus podcast some time ago. This is the talk show hosted by Hercules Invictus, who embraces the gods of classical Greece and Rome. I was back on that show this past week. As was the case the first time, it was once again a lot of fun. Hope you find it interesting!
This is Part 4 of David Burnett’s guest blogging series
Philo’s Spec. Law 4.187, 2 Baruch 21:4; 48:8, and Romans 4:17: Misconstrual and a Missing Link?
This passage is frequently cited by commentators on Rom 4:17, rightly recognizing the parallel language regarding God’s calling “the non-existent things into existence (μὴ ὄντα ἐκάλεσεν εἰς τὸ εἶναι)” (Spec. Laws 4.187) and Paul’s recounting of the God of Abraham who “calls into existence the things that do not exist (καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα)” (Rom 4:17b). Most commentators on Rom 4:17 understand this particular passage in Spec. Laws 4.187 as a reference only to creatio ex nihilo while not taking into account the wider context of the citation as a reference to the establishment of God’s celestial government over the cosmos.1 In this particular context, Philo’s language of calling the non-existent into existence (μὴ ὄντα ἐκάλεσεν εἰς τὸ εἶναι) has nothing to do with the creating of all things out of nothing, but with the creation (in the sense of establishing) of the order or government of the cosmos (κόσμου γένεσίς τε καὶ διοίκησις). This should be read and understood in light of what Philo has already stated earlier in Spec. Laws 1.13-19 (see above), that the κόσμος was created or established (γενητός) as the “greatest of commonwealths (πόλις ἡ μεγίστη),” where the celestial bodies were appointed as the delegated rulers (ἄρχόντας), Philo sharing the Deuteronomic vision. Calling “the non-existent into existence (μὴ ὄντα ἐκάλεσεν εἰς τὸ εἶναι)” is connected to “bringing order out of disorder;” for Philo these are part of a long list of acts of cosmic beneficence that are not works of God alone, but of “He and His beneficent powers (δυνάμεσι)” who in their governance of the κόσμος, “ever make it their business to transmute the faultiness of the worse wherever it exists and convert it to the better (Spec. Laws 4.187).”
So then for Philo, the language of God’s calling “the non-existent things into existence (μὴ ὄντα ἐκάλεσεν εἰς τὸ εἶναι)” in Spec. Laws 4.187 should be understood more in terms of the ancient near eastern archetypical idea of creation as bringing order to the chaos, withstanding the idea of the act of bringing things that do not exist into existence. The thrust of the reference to creation here is an establishing of the cosmic government, seeing the κόσμος as “the greatest of commonwealths (πόλις ἡ μεγίστη),” in which the celestial bodies, or powers (δυνάμεσι), are delegated to the nations of the earth as rulers (ἄρχόντας) who are to rule as a father over his children (πατέρα παίδων), imitating (μιμεισθαι) the rule of the Father of all (πάντων πατρός). It is through the mimicking (μιμεισθαι) of this rule that the earthly ruler (of any kind) may be “assimilated to God (ἐξομοιώσεωσ της πρὸς θεόν),” becoming like the celestial “fathers (πατέρας)” or even the “Father of all (πάντων πατρός).”2
The same argument as above can be made with regard to the commentators’ use of 2 Baruch 21:4 and 48:8 as examples of creatio ex nihilo in relation to Romans 4:17.3 2 Bar. 21:4 reads: “O, you who have made the earth, hear me, who has (fi)xed the (fi)rmament by the word, and have set the height of heaven in place by the Spirit, which has called from the beginning of the world things which did not previously exist, and they obey you.”4 Here, in context, the calling into being of “things which did not exist” speaks of the fixing of the “firmament” and “the heights of heaven” which are actually personified saying, “they obey you.” Reading a bit further into the context may make clear what is being discussed here. Immediately following in 2 Bar. 21:5-6, “You have commanded the air by your nod, and have seen the things which are to come as those which have occurred (already). You who rule the hosts that stand before you with great reckoning and who rules with indignation the countless holy beings which you created from the beginning with (fl)ame and (fi)re which stand around your throne.” In context, the language of the personified “heights of heaven” that “obey you” that “previously did not exist” (2 Bar. 21:4), are referring to the celestial bodies or the heavenly host; the countless holy beings that “he created from the beginning.”
Again, when 2 Bar. 48:8 is read in context, the “bringing to life of that which did not exist” takes on a new dimension. 2 Bar. 48:8-10 reads:
“With signs and fear and indignation you command the (fl)ames, and they change into spirits. And with a word you bring to life that which does not exist, and with mighty power you hold that which has not yet come. You instruct created things in your understanding, and you make wise the spheres so as to minister in their orders. Armies without number stand before you and minister in their orders quietly at your sign.” (2 Bar. 48:8-10)
What is brought to life that has not existed before in this text, like above, are the celestial bodies and their role in the ordering of the cosmic government. Once he has brought them into existence, he “makes wise the spheres so as to minister in their orders.” Both of the texts from 2 Baruch refer not merely to creatio ex nihilo, but to the establishment of the order of the cosmos, giving the celestial bodies wisdom to “minister in their orders.”
It is important to keep in mind this interpretation when considering how 2 Baruch later discusses the vindication of the righteous. After the dead are raised in 2 Bar. 50:1-4, the destiny of those that were righteous is discussed in 2 Bar. 51:
“their splendor will be glori(fi)ed in changes, and the appearance of their face will be turned into the light of their beauty, so that they may be able to acquire and receive the world which does not die, which is promised to them (51:3) … When, therefore, they [speaking of the unrighteous] see that those over whom they are now exalted, who will then be exalted and glori(fi)ed more than they, they will be transformed: the latter into the splendor of angels (51:5) … and time will no longer age them (51:9). For they will dwell in the heights of that world, and they will be made like the angels. And they will be made equal to the stars … and from light into the splendor of glory (51:10) … and there will then be excellence in the righteous surpassing that in angels (51:12).”
Here in 2 Baruch, the angelic transformation of the righteous is spoken of in terms of “being made equal to the stars” (51:10). Baruch’s reason for this is so that “they may be able to acquire and receive the world which does not die, which is promised to them” (51:3).
So in 2 Baruch 21:4 and 48:8, the language of being “called from the beginning of the world things which did not previously exist” referred to the establishment of the cosmic order and the celestial bodies who obey him, similar to that of Philo’s Spec. Laws 4.187. Later in 2 Baruch 51, the righteous after the resurrection must be changed into the likeness of the stars or angels so that they might be exalted and “be able to acquire and receive the world which does not die, which is promised to them” (51:3). In both Philo Spec. Laws 4.187 and 2 Bar. 21.5 and 48:8, the bringing into being of that which did not exist referred not merely to creatio ex nihilo in a general sense, but more specifically of the establishment of the celestial bodies and their orders, akin to that of the Deuteronomic vision. It is also important to note that in both texts there was the hope of deification (or angelomorphism), whether in terms of assimilation to God or to become like the stars or angels. This reading of Spec. Laws 4.187 and 2 Bar. 21.5 and 48:8 may provide a missing link with Rom 4:17b and the constellation of language and concepts found there.
Sirach’s Reception of the Deuteronomic Vision
Sirach also appears to share in the Deuteronomic vision. Sirach 17:17, speaking in context of Yahweh’s election of Israel, states: “He appointed a ruler for every nation (ἑκάστῳ ἔθνει κατέστησεν ἡγούμενον), but Israel is the Lord’s own portion (καὶ μερὶς κυρίου Ισραηλ ἐστίν).” Though the term ἡγούμενον is used frequently in the LXX of human rulers, there seems to be a clear echo of Deut 32:9 here in Sirach 17:17, “but Israel is the Lord’s own portion (καὶ μερὶς κυρίου Ισραηλ ἐστίν)” (see Deut 32:9, “καὶ ἐγενήθη μερὶς κυρίου λαὸς αὐτοῦ Ιακωβ”).5 This is significant in light of Sirach’s understanding of the Abrahamic promise of Gen 22:17, as discussed above, that God would “exalt (ἀνυψῶσαι) his seed as the stars, giving them an inheritance (κατακληρονομῆσαι) from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Sir 44:21). The reception of the Deuteronomic vision in Sirach makes clear how the author can read the promise God makes to Abraham in Gen 22:17, to “multiply your seed as the stars of heaven (πληθυνῶ τὸ σπέρμα σου ὡς τοὺς ἀστέρας τοῦ οὐρανοῦ),” as “exaltation (ἀνυψῶσαι).” In Sirach 44:21, the connection made between the Abrahamic and Davidic promises is that the inheritance (κληρονομήσει) of the “governments of your enemies (πόλεις τῶν ὑπεναντίων)” in Gen 22:17 is understood as receiving dominion (κατακυριεύσει) from “seas to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”6 In the Deuteronomic vision, the stars were understood as the “gods (θεοῖς)” or “angels of God (ἀγγέλων θεοῦ)” who had been “allotted (ἀπένειμεν)” to rule all the “nations under heaven (πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν τοῖς ὑποκάτω τοῦ οὐρανοῦ),” but Israel was to be ruled over directly by Yahweh as his own inheritance (κληρονομίας) (Deut 4:19; 17:3; 29:6 ; 32:8-9). It can be argued then that Sirach 44:21 reads the Abrahamic promise of Gen 22:17 qualitatively through the lens of the Deuteronomic vision, seeing the promise of celestial glory as usurping the rule of the gods or angels of the nations and exalting (ἀνυψῶσαι) the seed of Abraham as the stars to receive the inheritance (κατακληρονομῆσαι) of the all nations of the earth “from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”7
Wisdom of Solomon’s Reception of the Deuteronomic Vision
The Wisdom of Solomon, a text scholars have mined for parallels to Romans, speaks of the vindication of righteous dead in 3:7-8: “In the time of their visitation they will shine forth (ἀναλάμψουσιν), and will run like sparks (σπινθῆρες) through the stubble. They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them forever (κρινοῦσιν ἔθνη καὶ κρατήσουσιν λαῶν, καὶ βασιλεύσει αὐτῶν κύριος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας).”8 Later in 5:5 the unrighteous who are amazed at the unexpected salvation of the righteous say, “Why have they been numbered among the sons of God (υἱοῖς θεοῦ), and their lot among the holy ones (ἁγίοις ὁ κλῆρος)?” In Wisdom, common to texts that share the Deuteronomic vision, the connection again is seen between heavenly shining (ἀναλάμψουσιν) in the afterlife and the rule of the nations (κρινοῦσιν ἔθνη) (Wis 3:7-8). The connection is only strengthened when it is recognizes that they are seen to be among the “sons of God (υἱοῖς θεοῦ)” and the “holy ones (ἁγίοις),” both commonly denotations for the angelic hosts of the heavenly court.9
- It will arguably result in an anachronistic reading of this text to use the language of later Christian doctrine such as creatio ex nihilo in attempting to articulate the thrust of the passage. For the common interpretation of the parallel language of Spec. Laws 4.187 and Rom 4:17b as referring only to creation ex nihilo, see e.g. Byrne, Romans, 159-60; Cranfield, Romans 1-8, 245; Dunn, Romans 1-8, 218; Jewett, Romans, 334; Käseman, Romans, 122. ↩
- For further texts in Philo regarding celestial deification or assimilation, see Creation 144; Dreams 1.135-37, 1:138-145; Giants 7; QE 2.114; Moses 2.108. ↩
- As with the frequent misconstrual of Spec. Laws 4.187, the same argument can be applied to commentators interpretations of 2 Baruch 21:4 and 48:8 as referring only to creatio ex nihilo, see e.g. Byrne, Romans, 160; Cranfield, Romans 1-8, 245; Dunn, Romans 1-8, 218; Jewett, Romans, 334; Käseman, Romans, 122. ↩
- Translation of 2 Baruch is taken from Daniel M. Gurtner, Second Baruch: A Critical Edition of the Syriac Text with Greek and Latin Fragments, English Translation, Introduction, and Concordances, JCTCRS 5 (New York: Continuum, 2009). ↩
- See Di Lella, Ben Sira, 283. ↩
- See also in the discussion above of the connection with the “exaltation (ἀνύψωσεν)” of David in Sirach 47:11. ↩
- This interpretation of the covenant promise may have a narrative similar to that of Psalm 82 in the background. ↩
- For recent comparative studies of Wisdom of Solomon and Romans, see e.g. Joseph R. Dodson, The ‘Powers’ of Personification: Rhetorical Purpose in the Book of Wisdom and the Letter to the Romans, BZNW 161 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2008); Jonathan A. Linebaugh, God, Grace, and Righteousness in Wisdom of Solomon and Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Texts in Conversation, NovTSup 152 (Leiden: Brill, 2013). ↩
- See Nickelsburg, Resurrection, 81-82. ↩