The Patristics and Lost Texts concerning the Descent of Christ

descent_of_christ_to_limbo_wga I was reading up on the interpretation of the “spirits in prison” passage in 1Peter 3:19-20 in John H. Elliott’s Anchor Bible Commentary when I realized that one of the primary interpretations held by the church fathers seemed to have been partially rooted in an extant OT textual tradition.  As Elliott references a few texts from the fathers (particularly Irenaeus and Justin Martyr) to identify their interpretive tradition, he observes that in their addressing of the descent of Christ, they do not openly refer to or quote 1 Peter 3:19-20, but to a textual tradition seemingly shared by early fathers that is no longer attested to by any biblical manuscripts we have recovered thus far.

The view spoken of as espoused by these early fathers (as 1 Peter 3:19-20 has frequently been interpreted, even among later reformers such as Calvin) is as follows: when Christ descended (πορευθεὶς – having gone) to the realm of the dead upon His death before His resurrection, He in the spirit proclaimed good news to the righteous who perished before the flood (and in some cases all those faithful to God before Christ came) whose souls were imprisoned there to deliver them (most likely in conjunction with 4:6).

Oddly enough, though it may be in mind, this specific passage is not sited in defense of this view which some of the apostolic fathers clearly espoused but is supported by an unknown text attributed to Jeremiah (and also once to Isaiah by Irenaeus [Against Heresies 3.20.4]), referred to often by scholars as the “Jeremiah Logion”.  We find this supposed lost textual tradition cited in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, 72.  In context, Justin charges his Jewish interlocutor’s teachers with a most sweepingly general accusation that they have removed from the true scriptures, which Justin argues the LXX rightly represents or interprets.  Trypho then asks for an exmaple of these alleged texts that have been removed by his Jewsih kinsmen who militantly appose the Christian faith.  Justin gives two examples: one he says from Esdras and the other from Jeremiah.  The supposed Jeremiah fragment is at the heart of our discussion.  He says it read as follows:

The Lord God remembered His dead people of Israel who lay in the graves; and He descended to preach to them His own salvation.”  –  Dial. 72

Interestingly enough, we see the same kind of quotation by Irenaeus in his Against Heresies in multiple locations at important theological intersects (3.20.4; 4.22.1; 4.33.1; 4.33.12; and 5.31.1).  This supposed extant OT textual tradition seems to be a theological butress to Irenaeus’ understanding of the descent of Christ.  In the very places you would expect him to default a quotation of 1 Peter 3:19-20, he does not, and instead supplies us with the same extant quotation.  The citation is recorded in minor formulaic variations as follows:

And the holy Lord  remembered His dead Israel, who had slept in the land of sepulcher; and He came down to preach His salvation to them, that He might save them.”  –  Her. 3.20.4 (here Irenaeus claims this passage is from Isaiah)

“And the holy Lord  remembered His dead Israel, who had slept in the land of sepulcher; and He descended to them to make known to them His salvation, that they might be saved.”  –  Her. 4.22.1 (here Irenaeus claims the passage is from Jeremiah, in congruence with the claim by Justin Martyr)

The holy Lord remembered His own dead ones who slept in the dust, and came down to them to raise them up, that He might save them.”  –  Her. 5.31.1 (here Irenaeus states that “others”, in context speaking of the prophets, have said this, indicating he may of thought both prophets had recorded this sentence in its most rudimentary form)

It seems unlikely for the fathers to invent similiar passages to build a theology upon, especially as they are in context being used apologetically.  Due to its frequent citation, its apolegetic usage, and its proposed deletion from manuscripts due to Jewish removal, this leaves us with the strong possiblity of the previous existence of an extant LXX tradition that provides seemingly adequate support for a possible view regarding the descent of Christ.

A good read.

job1I saw Robert S. Fyall’s book, “Now my Eyes have seen You: Images of creation and evil in the book of Job” sitting on my roomates shelf, probably due to my constant talk about creation and the waters.  This book is part of the “New Studies in Biblical Theology” series edited by D. A. Carson.  A fine addition this makes to the series, unique due to the topic.  I thoroughly enjoy any scholarly work done in this area of study (as seen previously by my Levenson post) but this one stood out a bit.  The way in which Fyall deals with the sea motif in his forth chapter (“The Raging Sea“), first the texts in Job and then subsequently relating it to the calming of the sea by Jesus in the gospels will be illuminating for many who have not studied the topic (this book having been written primarily for evangelicals).  He interracts with the best scholars in the respective fields and deals judiciously with previous work on the topic.  I recommend it for those who are interested with OT themes of creation, the Leviathan/sea problem, and God’s dealings with evil.

Read this book.

k5555Creation and the Persistance of Evil: The Jewish Divine Drama of Omnipotence” has, I have to say, become one of my favorite books in OT Studies.  The reason I say this is because it opened up my conservative evangelical mind to the reality of some difficult things in the OT.  Granted many conclusions or interpretive decisions that are made in the book may be called into question, he deals with many themes in the Hebrew scriptures that are often read over by mainline evangelicals which are critical to OT theology.  Not only this, but the book will help all those who are unfamiliar with the warfare motifs in apocalyptic literature and allow them to begin making connections, not only in the OT genre, but in NT apocalyptic as well.  Theologically the Christian may run into some difficulties, but keep the big picture in mind.  Levenson is certainly a creative thinker but this is a very important book and there is much to be gleaned from it in terms of the mythopoeic background for many of the polemics in the Hebrew Bible.

Clement of Rome and the Unity of the Chosen of God

Clement of RomeWhen reading the Apostolic Fathers such as 1 Clement as a biblical studies student, my first knee jerk reaction is to read it with the excessively critical lenses of one who is searching for theological trajectories that can be traced from the scriptures to these deuterocanonical texts and do comparative work in order to be able to say something about the authorial conception of God.  Last night, to my own amazement I must admit, I did not read the text in this way.  I just layed back comfortably in my bed, tired from a long day, and said “hey, why not read some 1 Clement (if you are thinking random, I know)?”

Surprisingly enough I was encouraged and lifted up at the choice words of one of our fathers in the faith.  After reading the opening of the letter, presumably written to the Corinthian church from the church in Rome, I was struck with its overwhelming focus: a plea for the unity of the people of God and the warning against the sin that would separate us from each other and from the Lord.  Scripture was coming to mind as I was struck by these words of the first verse:

Because of the sudden and repeated misfortunes and reverses that have happened to us, brothers, we acknowledge that we have been somewhat slow in giving attention to the matters in dispute among you, dear friends, especially the detestable and unholy schism, so alien and strange to those chosen by God, which a few reckless and arrogant persons have kindled to such a pitch of insanity that your good name, once so renowned and loved by all, has been greatly reviled.

Many churches in the baptist tradition have been through splits or schisms in recent times; I having personally experienced this in the beginning of my ministry to students.  When I read this I began to hurt with the realization that we have lost a strong view of the unity and the sanctity of the people of God.  The last time we have heard of a split did we see it as detestable?  Did we see it as unholy?  Has splits in churches become so common that it is no longer realized as strange?  Has it become something indigenous to the church and no longer foreign?  Have we been so conditioned that we have never seen it as strange or foreign?

When Clement states why the schism has occurred in Corinth, it begins to hit a little to close to home.  It began with “reckless and arrogant persons“.  This seems always to be the case.  Time and time again this line rings true.  Men who are reckless: theologically, relationally, administratively, etc.  Arrogant men who are puffed up and full of their own knowledge, which is for the benefit of others, as it swells and makes heavy the head of the unwise man.  He raises himself high and exalts himself over his peers.  His cancerous banter is an excretion of prideful lewdness that one might call “a pitch of insanity”. The all-to-familiar sound rings true of a great many men today who have forgotten the humility of Christ and the gospel they once believed.

Something else in this text rattles our ecclesiological cages.  Notice the way Clement recognizes the previous state of the church: “…your good name, once so renowned and loved by all…”  Did our churches ever have a good name?  Were we ever loved by all?  Did our love and unity become apparent to the community around us?  Have we served our community in such a way that word has spread of our good name and we could actually be recognized as renowned?  Have our lives been such where it spawns a great love for our people from among all our community?  Lord help us.  May they see and hear our gospel from our deeds.  May we gain a name and community that when reckless and arrogant men cause a schism, people could say that our name would have to change to be reviled.  May we then amongst our busy and trying schedules be bold enough to address it publically and seek reconciliation and faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who is the head of a body to be unified and holy; to be recognized among the peoples of the earth as the Chosen of God.

"Only begotten" or "Elect" Son? A reassesment of "μονογενής"


“For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten (μονογενής) Son…” These words have resonated in the ears and hearts of people all over the globe for ages, Christians and non-believers alike. One of the most famous passages in all of scripture (John 3:16) has always reminded us of Jesus as God’s only Son, but is it possible we might have missed something about Him that was integral to the original audience’s perception of who Jesus was? What did it mean to them? Did the early Christian community see Jesus as God’s only Son? And what of Him being the only begotten? Is it possible that our modern, post-enlightenment lenses have tainted the reading of an eastern Semitic text relying primarily on the theology of the Hebrew bible as its foundation?

These are interesting questions that have sparked much debate over the centuries and is deserving of our attention today as we strive to know Christ and who He is as adequately as we can from the scriptures. The Council of Nicea in 325 AD dealt with the Arians who used the “begotten” language to say there was a time when Christ was not and that He was a created being, denying His co-equal, co-eternal identity with God. This was dealt with and recognized as heresy and is not part of our question. The question at hand is in regards to the proper use of “μονογενής” in the NT in general, and in the gospel of John in particular. When approaching these texts, we will need to be careful not to read theological presuppositions into the documents to the best of our abilities in order to allow the text to speak for itself. The “μονογενής” language in Johns gospel is important to His Christology due to its calculated placement (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; further attestation in the Johanine corpus can be found in 1 John 4:9).

* “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten (μονογενής) from the Father, full of grace and truth” – John 1:14

* “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten (μονογενής θεός) God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” – John 1:18

* “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten (μονογενής) Son…” – John 3:16a

* “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten (μονογενής) Son of God” – John 3:18

At first glance we see John apparently concluding that Jesus is God’s ONLY son. This would be the case if “μονογενής” is taken in John as it is apparently understood in Luke (7:12; 8:42; 9:38 from stories without messianic overtones). What makes John’s use of “μονογενής” problematic is that Luke is not the only other place we see this language used. In Hebrews 11:17 we see “μονογενή” used in the context of Isaac being Abraham’s child of promise. Now what is interesting about this use is the fact that Isaac was not Abraham’s only son, but he was his “beloved” son (Gen.22:2, 12, 16 in LXX). Abraham also had previously had Ismael, who was not the son of promise, the chosen son as was Isaac.

Is it possible then to say that John could be using “μονογενής” in the same way as the author of Hebrews in regards to Abraham’s relationship with Isaac as the “child of promise”, the “chosen” or “elect” son? If so, then the implications for Johanine Christology could be great. Is Jesus the “only” son of God, or is He the “unique, elect, or chosen” son of God? If so, does God have other sons? I hope this question sparks conversation and I will be further addressing this question and how I think John answers it in a post  soon.

We must pray. We must do something.

Abortion Outrage: Face to Face with a Human Being

I am once again made aware of the darkness of the killing of human beings that is legalized in this country.  I am sitting in here with my fellow aspiring pastors at the pastor’s conference in Jacksonville, Florida and we are without words at the reality of what took place in this story and what is taking place across the nation, even today as we read this.  After seeing this post on Dr. Denny Burk’s blog I have been moved to pray and to do something.  What Lord shall we do?  How shall we fight this injustice in our world?  May your kingdom come, may your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.  Please come Jesus, come.

Time for Hope…

ResurrectionHope is a hard commodity to come by these days. In a time of economic “crisis”, political turmoil, unstable foreign relations, and even war, many Evangelical Christians have a hard time believing that they have anything to say to the lost and dying world in regards to supplying this precious commodity in the present. After talking to many of these Christians, many tend to retreat to the idea that “well, we will all go to heaven when we die” as if to escape any glimpse of this precious commodity we call hope in the present life. We try to muster up enough looking towards a relatively uncertain post-mortem state in the place we call “heaven” leaving the world to its demise. As Christians with a hope resembling that of a battered child we pray our Presidents and politicians we vote in can give us a glimpse of this precious commodity by implementing policies that will somehow help the nation we live in with its socio-economic and moral distresses. The on-looking pagan world looks for hope and hears of a far off gospel about going to heaven when we die, looks around at the world around them, and sees little need to believe in that which has no real power to change the world. In the Southern Baptist Convention of which church I have been a part of, our own Baptist Faith and Message seems to agree with this frail line of thought. Article 10 on last things reads as such:

“X. Last Things – God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.”

At first glance this seems to illustrate our Christian belief about the end quite well, but it feels as though something is missing? What about God’s creation? What about the earth? Is it forgotten? Is it destroyed? Why get new bodies if we are going to live forever in heaven? I thought heaven was a place for spirits? Is heaven our final goal? Do people really get resurrected in the end or do our spirits just go to heaven?

What is missing is a pillar of the Christian gospel, the focus on the resurrection from the dead and the new creation. We must strive to recapture the Christian hope of resurrection from the dead and a restored creation and work toward that end knowing our deeds will not be in vain.

The Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain: a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine. And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples, even the veil which is stretched out over all nations. He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken. And it will be said in that day, ‘Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.'” – Isaiah 25:6-9