Sunday, 16 October 2016

Am I better than Trump?

“Just to be clear, if we’ve understood the gospel, we know we’re no better than Trump. Anything I say about him is true about me. Do I hear an Amen?”
So a friend of mine recently on Facebook.

Disclaimer: This post is not about politics. My friend could assume that there would be wide agreement among his Facebook friends about the characterisation of Donald Trump as depraved. This might even allow for the belief that in some respects Hillary Clinton is more depraved. It only excludes people who see nothing much wrong with Donald Trump.

This got me thinking. Am I better than Trump? Without further qualification the question cannot possibly be answered. Better in what way?
Am I better than Trump at making money?
Am I better than Trump at making women feel uncomfortable?
My friend presumably means something like “better before God” – am I better before God than Trump? To my taste even this question lacks precision but I am inclined to answer yes. From what it looks like across the pond I am in Christ and he is not and this means that I am right with God and Trump is not.

More precisely, what my friend means is that we are “guilty, vile and helpless” apart from Christ. I am no less in need of God’s grace and mercy than Donald Trump or anyone else. Agreed.

And yet I am unsure whether it makes sense to declare that “on our own” we all are (would be) equally bad and wicked. It is hypothetical. None of us is, ever was, or ever will be “on our own”, as far as I can tell. All of us have been shaped by our heritage and upbringing; many people and events have impacted on us long before we can even begin to ask who we are.

To remind myself than in some (many) ways I am “no better than Trump” may strengthen my humility and if it does, it will do some good. (Of course, perverted as our hearts often are, it is also possible to take this along lines that bolster pride: I am so glad that I am aware of how sinful I am unlike this Pharisee over there who thinks himself better than Donald Trump.)

Still, there is something that bothered me and as I reflected on it further I came to the conclusion that it is probably this: the danger of nothing-buttery.

I am a bunch of cells, a mass of molecules. So is Donald Trump. No difference then, eh?

Nothing-buttery is usually a way of avoiding moral and theological questions. "Embryos? Nothing but a bit of tissue." It can be useful in some contexts to simplify and focus by way of deliberately ignoring some of the complexities of a situation, but maybe more often nothing-buttery sidesteps what is most important.

“There but for the grace of God” is a helpful sentiment. I remind myself regularly of my privileges. My upbringing and the contexts in which I lived my life enabled me to become less of a crook than I might have been. And the grace of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, has positioned me differently before God. Not only that but it changed my life down to ways of thinking, relating and acting.

I am what I am by the grace of God. If it helps me to remind myself of my ongoing need of Christ then saying “I am no better than Trump” fulfils a useful purpose.

And yet, precisely because Christ is everything should I spend much time thinking about me apart from Christ? It would be a reductionism, and in the end there can be nothing but the most general answer to the question what I would be apart from Christ. What would I be like if I had not married 24 years ago? Who knows? Who cares? What would I be like if I had not lived half my life in England? Is it not futile to speculate for more than a few minutes?

If I had been born in the USA and spent my life there I would be as American as Donald Trump. But I was not and I have not.

If I had spent as much time in unhealthy locker room conversations as Donald Trump apparently has, my way of relating to women might well be as corrupt as his. But I have not, and I am grateful for that.

I am German albeit maybe not as German as I might be if I had not made my home in England.

My ways of relating to others are less corrupt than Donald Trump’s although my life could have turned out very differently.

If I am better than Donald Trump, it’s not down to a splendid achievement on my part.

And yes, there are ways in which I am no better than Trump; my heart can still be pretty twisted. But I am reluctant to shout about it for fear of dishonouring the one who has begun a great work in me.

If it helps to magnify Christ, I will declare that I am no better than Trump. But to the extent that it obscures the real difference Christ makes in people's lives I will not agree to the proposition. Nor would it bear true witness to God to pretend that he does not know the difference between relative good and evil.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Tears in Heaven

Suggestions towards an interpretation of Eric Clapton's famous ballad in preparation for a funeral at which this was requested. It is well known that Tears in heaven was written in response to the sudden, tragic death of the singer's four-year old son Conor.

The first two strophes ask hypothetical questions.
Would you know my name,
If I saw you in heaven?
They are hypothetical questions because the singer confesses "I know I don't belong here in heaven." It is probably not only that his own time has not yet come ("I must be strong and carry on"), given that the second stanza ends with "'Cause I know I just can't stay here in heaven." There may be glimpses of heaven for him but heaven is not a place that suits the singer, or probably better, not a place for which he feels suited. Maybe a legacy of thinking that heaven is for good people and sweet little boys like his own son? The singer expresses no doubt that the person addressed in the song is in heaven.

But even if the singer could see his son in heaven. Would the son acknowledge him? This question seems to be a good part of his anguished grief. The singer has failed and, having apparently made up his mind only the day before to make up for this, he will now not be able to do so.

It is often said that "Time heals all wounds." The singer is not convinced.
Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees.
Time can break your heart, have you begging please, begging please.
The first half of each of these two lines expresses the belief that there is a lot of damage that can be done by time as well - it does not necessarily get easier, but the second half suggests that it can also lead you to prayer.

And this changes everything. There is now a different sort of knowledge, one that is no longer centred on what the singer knows about himself or wants to know about himself, and there is a certainty ("I'm sure").
Beyond the door there's peace I'm sure.
And I know there'll be no more tears in heaven.
How does the singer know that? He doesn't tell us but I reckon Eric Clapton had Revelation 21 in mind.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.
Cf. Isaiah 25:8Revelation 7:17. Prayer helps us to look beyond ourselves and to trust God's revelation and so come to a new and better knowledge. The next step would be to ask God himself, "Will you know my name? Will you acknowledge me?" This is the most important question of them all.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Bavinck on the Eastern Understanding of the Trinity

“For the Eastern church the unity of the divine essence and the Trinity of persons does not arise from the divine nature as such but from the person of the Father. He is the sole originating principle (αἰτια). The three persons, according to the Orthodox, are not three relations within the one being, not the self-unfolding of the Godhead; rather it is the Father who communicates himself to the Son and the Spirit. From this it follows, however, that now the Son and the Spirit are coordinated: they both have their originating principle (αἰτια) in the Father. The Father reveals himself in both: the Son imparts the knowledge of God, the Spirit the enjoyment of God. The Son does not reveal the Father in and through the Spirit; the Spirit does not lead [believers] to the Father through the Son. The two are more or less independent of each other: they both open their own way to the Father. Thus orthodoxy and mysticism, the intellect and the will, exist dualistically side by side. And this unique relation between orthodoxy and mysticism is the hallmark of Greek piety.”

Herman BavinckReformed Dogmatics, vol. 2: God and Creation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 317.

Bavinck on the Generation of the Son

Notes from Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2: God and Creation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004).
“God’s fecundity is a beautiful theme, one that frequently recurs in the church fathers. God is no abstract, fixed, monadic, solitary substance, but a plenitude of life. It is his nature (οὐσια) to be generative (γεννητικη) and fruitful (καρπογονος). It is capable of expansion, unfolding, and communication. Those who deny this fecund productivity fail to take seriously the fact that God is an infinite fullness of blessed life. All such people have left is an abstract concept of God, or to compensate for this sterility, in pantheistic fashion they include the life of the world in the divine being.” (308-309)
The generation of the Son is (1) spiritual, not physical. 
“The most striking analogy of divine generation is thought and speech...Just as the human mind objectivizes itself in speech, so God expresses his entire being in the Logos [Christ]. But here, too, we must note the difference. Humans need many words to express their ideas. These words are sounds and therefore material, sense-related. They have no existence by themselves. But when God speaks, he totally expresses himself in the one person of the Logos, whom he also “granted to have life in himself” (John 5:26 NIV).” (109)
The generation of the Son is (2) out of the being of the Father, not out of nothing by the will of the Father.
“This is not to say, of course, that the generation is an unconscious and unwilled emanation, occurring apart from the will and power of the Father. It is not an act of antecedent decreeing will, like creation, but one that is so divinely natural to the Father that his concomitant will takes perfect delight in it.” (110)

The generation of the Son is (3) eternal
“For if the Son is not eternal, then of course God is not the eternal Father either. In that case he was God before he was Father...rejection of the eternal generation of the Son involves not only a failure to do justice to the deity of the Son, but also to that of the Father.. It makes him changeable, robs him of his divine nature, deprives him of the eternity of his fatherhood and leaves unexplained how God can truly and properly be called “Father” in time if the basis for calling him “Father” is not eternally present in his nature...It is not something that was completed and finished at some point in eternity, but an eternal, unchanging act of God, at once always complete and eternally ongoing. Just as it is natural for the sun to shine and for a spring to pour out water, so it is natural for the Father to generate the Son. The Father is not and never was ungenerative; he begets everlastingly...For God to beget is to speak, and his speaking is eternal.” (110)

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Reflecting on Habakkuk 2 Verses 4-5

The message of Hab. 2:4-5 is not dissimilar to “What you sow, so shall you reap” (Gal. 6:7; see also Hos. 10:11-14, Gal. 6:7, Lev. 26, Deut. 19:21). Those who pursue greed will finally be overcome by it; those who remain loyal to God will live. Wellhausen asked whether this needed revelation and suggests that Habakkuk received precious little here.[1] But the anguish expressed in chap. 1 arose from the fact that the Babylonians did not simply act on their own accord; they were said to be God’s instrument. It seemed to the prophet as if God was prepared to overlook the atrocities the Babylonians committed, probably on the grounds that they were his instrument. In this light the revelation affirms that the ends do not justify the means. God uses the Babylonians for his own ends but the means they employ will lead to the end determined for such evil; the greed with which they pursue the conquest will be their downfall. The elaboration of the principle that evil falls back on the one who commits evil in the following verses confirms that we are here not dealing with some new truth but it was nevertheless important in this context to re-affirm the validity of this principle and so to exhort the righteous (in the words of Acts 11:23) “to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion.”

Who are the righteous in Habakkuk? The chapter will continue to offer a fuller description of its opposite, the arrogant who is no other than the wicked in the words of the oppressed nations. But the righteous are characterised negatively only – they are the oppressed innocent ones (1:4, 13) whom the law proves unable to declare innocent. The wicked are the Babylonians in the first instance. But given that the Babylonian oppression made internal injustice only worse, it would be a mistake to identify the righteous with the whole of Judah. The righteous are those who have become victims of injustice and of the inability of Torah to set things right. They are characterised by weakness. The only other thing that must mark them out is that they cling steadfastly to God. While the text in Habakkuk does not tell us explicitly how righteousness and faith are related, taking faithfulness (steadfastness in faith, see previous post) with “live” rather than with “righteous,” it is clear that those who abandon their trust in God would no longer be counted among the righteous.

The ultimate outcome of the Babylonian domination is not yet spelled out in the book of Habakkuk. But we know of course that the breakdown of Torah as governing instrument for the people of God prefigured the end of the Davidic monarchy and the destruction of the temple. In other words, the revelation given here had to be able to address a spiritual crisis even deeper than the one reflected in the text itself. With the temple in ruins and much of Torah legislation in abeyance in so far as it related to and depended on a central sanctuary, the exiles had to face the question whether it was still possible to live faithfully in relation to God, to be righteous. Habakkuk would have given grounds for believing that even those who live in a society not governed by Torah and unable to access the provisions made in the Torah, e.g. for expressing repentance and receiving forgiveness, can still remain loyal to God.

This, along with the theme of Torah’s inability to declare the innocent righteous in chap. 1, makes the verse attractive to the apostle Paul and others. As in Habakkuk, the Spirit-receiving faith of which Paul speaks belongs to a persistent habit of trusting in God. It is not a one-off posture in which assent is given to a truth which can then be compromised by subsequent attitudes without loss. “Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3). It is faith from the beginning and throughout one’s life (cf. Gal. 2:20, also implied in Rom. 14:23). But Paul expands the argument beyond Habakkuk by drawing explicitly on Deut. 27:26 rather than Hab. 1:4 in his letter to the Galatians. The phrase ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν in Rom. 1:17 could be understood to stress the centrality of faith: righteousness from God is a matter of faith from beginning to end (cf. “from strength to strength” in Ps. 84:8 [Greek 83:8]; “from evil to evil” in Jer. 9:2 [ET 3]). But the phrase could also imply a movement of faith from one person or group to another (cf. “from town to town” in Sir. 36:26 [ET 35] and “from your [sg] generation to your [pl] generations” in Lev. 21:17) and there are still other interpretations on offer.[2] See further below.

In Habakkuk continuing trust in God is surely thought to be expressed by continuing to cling to God’s commandments in spite of the apparent uselessness of such obedience in the face of Torah’s numbness. This means arguably that the obedience flows out of trust in God’s promise rather than faith in Torah’s rewards. Even in Habakkuk the call is not for Judeans to find their identity anew in Torah but to keep faith in spite of the inability of Torah to reward such faith. Paul goes beyond this in arguing that Torah was not merely ineffective in bringing about righteousness but even brought a curse on God’s people due to their disobedience. Paul’s premise is that Israel as a whole is not “in the right” with God but that God has done something about this. God has demonstrated his righteousness in another event, part of which from one angle can be described as unspeakable wickedness.[3] If Torah as such is used as the defining factor of the community, it defines a community under the curse of the law. It must be faith in God that defines the community and this God has in Christ done another deed one would hardly believe but which commands a response of faith for salvation (Rom. 1:17).

Given that the martyrdom and resurrection of Christ are decisive here, another reading of the phrase ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν in Rom. 1:17 is worth considering. Some have proposed that Paul sees the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel “by means of faithfulness (namely, of Christ), with the goal of faith or faithfulness (in the Christian)”.[4] God’s righteousness, and indeed his faithfulness although this is maybe not stressed here, is demonstrated in the faithfulness and vindication of Christ. This in turn evokes a response in us.[5] Christ’s fidelity is the source, the Christian’s fidelity the goal. This suggests a Christological re-reading of Hab. 2:4. Christ is “the righteous one” (so also in Acts 7:52; 22:14; cf. Acts 3:14; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 2:1)[6] who lives by faithfulness, namely the one whose fidelity brought him (and those who are “in him”) resurrection life.[7] While ἐκ πίστεως in the citation of Hab. 2:4 in Rom. 1:17 has often been read as adjectival (belonging with δίκαιος) rather than adverbial (belonging with ζήσεται), there are compelling arguments for allowing the phrase to modify the verb just as in Habakkuk.[8]

Jesus’ act of righteousness, undergoing suffering and death in faithfulness to God, effects righteousness leading to life for all (cf. Rom. 5:18-19). Those who are “in Christ” are vindicated not through Torah, which proved unable to prevent the death of Christ, but by his resurrection into the new creation. This new creation is characterised by life in the Spirit rather than by adherence to the Mosaic law. Those who today insist on defining God’s people with reference to the Torah are still arguing from within the old creation and thus implicitly deny the new work God has done. In so far as they come first to the law and then with appeal to their obedience, presumed to be meritorious, present themselves to God, they adopt a way which is not commended in Habakkuk where the righteous live in their loyalty to YHWH and so, as those who keep faith with God, seek to do his will. It is not that obedience leads to a right relationship with God but being right with God leads to obedience. Such faithfulness and obedience was expressed in Habakkuk’s days in obedience to the Torah and is today expressed in Christian discipleship. Habakkuk did of course not yet reckon with God’s supremely new work which effected a change in the law. This is why the apostle has to do more than simply repeat Habakkuk. And so do we. With more revelation comes a responsibility to say more.

Habakkuk may have inspired Paul also in seeing a double antithesis to true loyalty to God. One is obviously to stop trusting God, the lack of faithfulness against which Hab. 2:4 implicitly warns (and which is picked up in Hebrews). Another is the contrast drawn in Hab. 2:4 between pride and faith which may have inspired Paul’s references to false boasting (Rom. 2:17, 23; 4:2). And while the idea that God’s wrath is not an alternative to salvation but its vehicle can be found elsewhere, it is certainly found in Habakkuk and may have prompted Paul to link the revelation of the Gospel with the revelation of God’s wrath.[9] Without speculating about what went on in the apostle’s mind, it is certainly possible to draw numerous links between his letters and Habakkuk and to read them together as harmonious and mutually enriching one another. Both allow for the possibility of being “righteous” without (yet) being publicly vindicated as such and so encourage faithfulness, even if Habakkuk is only concerned with how the righteous are to live (and implicitly how to remain righteous), while Paul explores the question how we become righteous.

Like Habakkuk we live “in the midst of the years” (Hab. 3:2) between an astonishing act of God, which in Habakkuk’s days numbed Torah in its effect (cf. Rom. 8:3) and in our days has set it aside as law with the establishment of a new priesthood (Heb. 7:12), and a further act of God which will judge the proud, wicked oppressor and prove the righteousness of those who in loyalty to God find life. (In Habakkuk, too, the designation “righteous” would not be worth much, if there was no difference of outcome between the righteous and the proud.) Both these acts of God can be read as judgement and an expression of God’s wrath, the conquests of the Babylonians as well as their downfall, the cross of Christ as well as the final judgement. God vindicates the righteous when he reveals that injustice and wickedness will not have the last word. He has done so supremely in the cross and resurrection of Christ but will confirm this in the final judgement. Therefore our faith, like Habakkuk’s, is forward looking (“wait for it,” v. 3). It will be fully vindicated only in the future when it will be evident that its end is life rather than death.

In the meantime the good news are proclaimed in a context in which God’s wrath is revealed on human society and God’s people suffer (cf. Rom. 1:18-25 and Heb. 10:32-34 with Hab. 1). There is therefore still need for the encouragement “not to abandon that confidence of yours” (Heb. 10:35), trusting the promise that such confidence has a great reward when “the coming one” will come (Heb. 10:37, citing Hab. 2:3 in a modified version of the Greek Bible, see the reflection on 2:2-3 above). Faithfulness is still expressed in doing the will of God (Heb. 10:36). This is, however, no longer understood in terms of obedience to the Mosaic Torah (cf. Heb. 7:12 mentioned above). Using a verb found in the Old Greek tradition (ὑποστέλλω, “to draw back”), the alternative to keeping faith is to shrink back. By reversing the two clauses the letter to the Hebrews makes it easier to see not so much a contrast between two groups of people but two actions open to “my righteous one.”[10] Of these only the former is appropriate for the Christian community: “But we are not people of hesitancy towards destruction but of faithfulness towards the preservation of our lives.” This contrast is in fact a fundamental pastoral concern in the letter to the Hebrews.[11]

Life has to be received from God. It cannot be sustained by greed, nor even by obedience to God’s Torah.


[1] Wellhausen, Skizzen, p. 163. So also Lindström: “But is this really revelation, ‘vision’ (2.2-3)? Is it not rather experience?” (“‘I am Rousing the Chaldeans’ – Regrettably?” p. 51).

[2] For details and discussion see commentaries on Romans, e.g. Colin Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), pp. 71, 74-78. The literature concerning the use of Hab. 2:4 in the NT is vast and complex. See, e.g., Desta Heliso, Pistis and the Righteous One: A Study of Romans 1:17 against the Background of Scripture and Second Temple Jewish Literature (WUNT II/235; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007).

[3] The Gospel event is the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. On the cross we see the death of an innocent victim at the hand of an oppressor, aided and indeed promoted by internal enemies, with Torah unable to provide vindication.

[4] Building on important contributions by Richard B. Hays and Glenn N. Davies among others, see, e.g., Douglas A. Campbell, “The Faithfulness of Jesus Christ in Romans and Galatians (with special reference to Romans 1:17 & 3:22),” a paper offered at the SBL Annual Meeting in San Diego on 16th Nov 2007, cf. The Righteousness of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), esp. 601-38, 1091-98, cf. pp. 323-26, 350-53, 377-80, 1033-34.

[5] One of the arguments against taking the first πίστις as faith in Christ is that such faith is better considered a response to God’s righteousness rather than something that reveals God’s righteousness. The same would be true for Habakkuk where God’s justice is not revealed in human faith but in God’s word and deed, expect that in the NT the decisive acts involve the one who is both human and divine, i.e., God acts in and through the faithfulness of Christ. For a recent defence of reading “faith in Christ” here see Francis Watson, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith (London: T. & T. Clark, 2004), pp. 50-53.

[6] Cf. Richard B. Hays’ 1988 essay reprinted as “Apocalyptic Hermeneutics: Habakkuk Proclaims ‘The Righteous One’,” in The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as an Interpreter of Israel's Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2005), pp. 119-42; see his The Faith of Jesus Christ: An Investigation of the Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11 (SBLDS 56; Chico: Scholars Press, 1983), pp. 151-57, for the question in relation to Galatians. It is of course not necessary to accept “The Righteous One” as a known title for Jesus in order to allow that “the righteous one” in Rom. 1:17 refers to Jesus, “the paradigm for the life of faith” (Hays, “Apocalyptic,” p. 134 on one of the roles of Jesus in Hebrews, see Heb. 12:2). N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (London: SPCK, 2013), pp. 1466-71, thinks that identifying the righteous one with Christ “is probably a bridge too far” (p. 1470) but argues against Watson (see above) for a reference to divine faithfulness.

[7] Cf. Walter Zorn, “The Messianic Use of Habakkuk 2:4a in Romans,” Stone-Campbell Journal 1 (1998): 213-30. On the tradition of reading Hab. 2:4 as a messianic prophecy see also Strobel, Untersuchungen, and Dietrich-Alex Koch, “Der Text von Hab 2.4b in der Septuaginta und im Neuen Testament,” ZNW 76 (1985): 68-85, p. 73, n. 25. Already C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures: The Sub-Structure of New Testament Theology (London: Nisbet & Co., 1952), pp. 49-51, argued that Hab. 2:3-4 belonged to the key OT passages considered to testify to Christ “from the earliest period” and was therefore agreed ground between Paul and others.

[8] See D. Moody Smith, “ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται,” in Studies in the History and Text of the New Testament in Honor of Kenneth Willis Clark (ed. Boyd L. Daniels and M. Jack Suggs; Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1967), pp. 13-25, for a detailed argument, summarised in Campbell, Deliverance, pp. 1094-95. The phrase is sometimes taken by commentators on Romans to apply both ways.

[9] This is explored in Mark A. Seifrid, “Paul’s Use of Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17: Reflections on Israel’s Exile in Romans,” in History and Exegesis: New Testament Essays in Honor of Dr. E. Earle Ellis (ed. Sang-Won Son; London: T & T Clark, 2006), pp. 133-49.

[10] Unlike MSS A and C which read the same text as Heb. 10:38, most LXX manuscripts have the pronoun not with “righteous” but with “faith.” The genitival relationship could be understood as objective (“faithfulness towards me”) or subjective (“my faithfulness”) with the former maybe the more natural reading here. 8ḤevXIIgr, Aquila and Symmachus are closer to the MT, reading the third person pronoun. There are manuscript differences in the text of Heb. 10:38 as well, assimilating the text either to MT by omitting the pronoun or to the majority LXX tradition by shifting the place of the pronoun.

[11] So, e.g., Cockerill, Hebrews, p. 510.

Habakkuk 2 Verses 1-5

1   At my watch I will stand
and I will station myself on the rampart;
     and I will keep watch to see what he will say about me,
and what I will answer when I am reprimanded.
2   And YHWH answered me and said:
Write down a revelation and document it on tablets
                   so that one will run who reads it.
3   For still there is a revelation for the appointed time,
and it is a testifier to the end; and it does not lie.
     If it lingers, wait for it,
            for it will surely come, it will not be late.

4   Look, swollen, not judicious is his appetite within him,
but the righteous: in his faithfulness he will live.
5   And furthermore, the wine deals treacherously;
            a proud man will not abide.
Indeed, he is like the death and is not sated.
He gathers to himself all the nations
and collects to himself all the peoples.

Verse 1 employs what appears to be formal, official language, such as might be used in a court setting.

Verse 2 stresses not the legibility of the writing but the importance of the content and its official nature.
The use of the plural “tablets” is best explained as a reference to duplicates, ensuring the documentation of the witness.

Running is regularly associated with messengers, as, e.g., in 1 Sam. 4:12; 2 Sam 18:19; Jer. 23:21; 51:31; Zech. 2:8 (Eng. 2:4).

It is possible that an earlier version of verse 4 asked, “Consider the doer: Is not his desire in him right?” in a reference back to 1:5-6. See my “An Emendation of Hab 2:4a in the light of Hab 1:5,” JHS 13/11 (2013). The LXX offers a significantly different text, “if he/it should draw back, my soul has no pleasure in him/it” (with variations surrounding the positioning of the personal pronoun). The Targum similarly offers two contrasting responses to the prophecy, “Behold, the wicked think that all these things are not so, but the righteous shall live by the truth of them.”

The debate about the reference of the pronoun (his/its) with faithfulness is of little consequence as far  as the underlying dynamics are concerned: The loyalty of the righteous rests on the dependability of YHWH which finds expression in the reliability of the revelation. The righteous will live because they faithfully cling to the reliability of the revelation given by a faithful God.

Likewise, the contrast between (a) the “righteous by faithfulness” shall live, and (b) the righteous shall “live by faithfulness” may be smaller conceptually than syntactically. The revelation is not given in answer to the question how someone becomes righteous but in answer to the question how the righteous can live in the face of brutal assault. The expression “by faithfulness” therefore surely goes with “live” but there is little doubt that any who abandon faithfulness would no longer be considered “righteous” in accordance with this prophecy and it would be no overstatement to say that in Habakkuk the righteous are characterised by faithfulness, even if this is not the precise statement being made in this verse.

The word translated “faithfulness,” when applied to the character and conduct of persons, including God, elsewhere carries the notion of “honesty, integrity, dependability, steadfastness,” i.e. trustworthiness more than trustfulness. The promise does not so much call the arrogant to repent and adopt faith in God but urges those who put their trust in God to continue to do so. In other words, it calls for faithfulness in keeping faith, as it were. It does not address the temptation to imitate Babylonian greed and arrogance but the temptation to give up trust in God in the face of the earlier prophecy’s (1:5-11) disastrous outcome in the Babylonian devastations and Torah’s inability to tackle injustice (1:4).

Verse 5 originally may have referred to “presumption” dealing treacherously – a true statement in this context, as is the statement that “wealth is treacherous” (1QpHab, cf. Prov. 13:11; 28:8). But “wine” is a suitable object for developing the metaphor of the previous verse. It is is treacherous because at first it gratifies the drinker, increasing elation, but consumed in greater quantities turns against drinkers and leads to their downfall (cf. Prov. 23:32). Drunkenness is an apt image for someone whose unbounded appetite will lead to their downfall.

The Babylonians are not named but there can be no doubt who is in view as being in the process of gathering and collecting nations.  He – the empire embodied in its ruler – is the glutton who like death will always be hungry for more. He is a proud man who will not be able to enjoy living in rest and peace. He is the one whose intoxication will be his downfall.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Why was it the Son who became incarnate?

“Because the Mediator must be God, redemption requires that one of the three persons becomes the Mediator (and thus the God-man, with two wills)” (Mark Jones). Why was it the Son who became incarnate and not the Father or the Holy Spirit?

David Kirk notes that ‘while the creation is a work of the whole Trinity…it also stands in a peculiar relation to the Son’ (citing Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:423).
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made… (John 1:1-3 ESV)
The Logos becomes flesh because he is the one through whom and for whom all things were made (Colossians 1:16). The world, made through the Son, is to be saved through the Son:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17 ESV)
Mark Jones offers the following reasons (my headings and combining the last two reasons):

(1) The title "Son" for one person of the Trinity only
The Son of God is, by virtue of his title, more appropriately the Son of Man and the Son of a woman. In other words, it was not “fit” that in the Trinity there should be two persons who both bear the title of “Son,” which would have been the case had the Father become incarnate.
Turretin argued that the Holy Spirit, for example, could not be sent to be Mediator because “there would have been two sons, the second person by eternal generation and the third by an incarnation in time.”
(2) The Son is the middle person within the Trinity
the Son, as the “middle person” bears the best resemblance of the work as Mediator. He comes between us and God.
Turretin argues that “he who is between the Father and the Holy Spirit should be Mediator between God and men.”
 (3) Adoption as sons of God is the aim of salvation
The Son is peculiarly fitted to be Mediator since, according to Thomas Goodwin, “the main end of his being Mediator,” that is, the adoption of his people into the family of God, is “made one of the greatest benefits of all others” (Eph. 1:5).

The Son is the most suitable person to convey this soteric blessing insofar that as a Son Christ conveys sonship upon his people by virtue of his union with them (Gal. 4:4-5).

Again, in similar fashion, Turretin argues that it was fitting that “he who was a Son by nature should make us adoptive sons by grace.” Besides Trinitarian reasons, soteric factors – i.e. the doctrine of adoption – explain why the Son should be Mediator.
(4) The offices of priest, prophet, and king are most apt for the Son
Regarding the office of priest, it is the birth-right of the eldest Son in the family to be the priest. Therefore, to prove he was a Priest (Heb. 5), the author cites Psalm 2: “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” As an intercessory priest the Son is uniquely able to approach the Father, which is a function grounded both in ontology (i.e. their natural subsistence) and economy (Christ’s work of mediation).

As a prophet, the Son is especially fit to be Mediator because he is the Word and Wisdom of the Father (Heb. 1:1; Jn. 1:18).

As a King, there is none so fit as the heir, “none so fit to have all Judgment and the Kingdom committed to him as God’s Son” (Goodwin).
[The last paragraph is an assertion rather than an argument. The argument may be in the first paragraph, given that the citation of Psalm 2 is more apt for kingship than priesthood. Priesthood and kingship are of course combined in Melchizedek, cf. Psalm 110.]