Judas: Friend of Jesus?

Jesus is never short on surprising things to say. One such thing comes at the moment he is betrayed by Judas. Matthew 26:50 reads, “Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Friend? Does Jesus really address the one responsible for betraying him to those plotting his cruel destruction as “friend”? What do we do with that?

Well-known preacher and teacher Thomas G. Long suggests that Jesus is speaking ironically and argues that “friend”, in the Gospel of Matthew, “means something like ‘Buster’ and is itself no term of endearment” (Matthew, WJK, 305). He references Matthew 20:13 and 22:12 as other examples in the Gospel where “friend” is used ironically to mean something other than the way it is normally used.
Alternatively, N. T. Wright insists that when Jesus is here using the word “friend” in its normal sense. He says, “It is of course the word ‘friend’ that causes us to catch our breath. Friendship, for Jesus, does not stop with betrayal, even though now it is tinged wth deep sadness” (Matthew for Everyone, WJK, 2.164). He also says that the Greek sentence above translated as “do what you came to do,” could be taken as a question asking, “Do you really want to go through with this?”
What do you think? Is Jesus’ address to Judas as “friend” a term of ironic derision? Or might Jesus be demonstrating the ongoing and unconditional nature of his love, even for those who seek to do him harm? Leave a comment with your take on the passage.

Purgatory Now?

Purgatory is one of those interesting theological ideas that Protestants and Catholics wrangle over, not least because it carries rather significant implications for one’s understanding of the work of Christ and salvation. Have our departed brothers and sisters in the faith entered into a time of suffering during which they are prepared for entrance into the presence of God? Or do they enter immediately into paradise made fit for the presence of the Holy One by the blood and righteousness of Christ alone? And what will happen to us? Where will we be found after our deaths? Well, in honor of All Saints’ Day and the hope that is before us, here’s provocative quote from N. T. Wright’s little book, For All the Saints? Remembering the Christian Departed:
In fact, Paul makes it clear here (Rom 8) and elsewhere that it’s the present life that is meant to function as purgatory. The sufferings of the present time, not of some post-mortem state, are the valley we have to pass through in order to reach the glorious future. The present life is bad enough from time to time, goodness knows, without imagining gloom and doom after death as well. In fact, I think I know why purgatory became so popular, why Dante’s middle volume is the one people most easily relate to. The myth of purgatory is an allegory, a projection, from the present on to the future. This is why purgatory appeals to the imagination. It is our story. It is where we are now. If we are Christians, if we believe in the risen Jesus as Lord, if we are baptized members of his body, then we are passing right now through the sufferings which form the gateway to life. Of course, this means that for millions of our theological and spiritual ancestors death will have brought a pleasant surprise. They had been gearing themselves up for a long struggle ahead, only to find it was already over (34-35, italics original).
Purgatory now? Much could be said. What do you think about that? 

St. Andrews on the Rise in New Testament Studies

The news out this morning is that Professor Scott Hafemann, currently of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has accepted a post as Professor of New Testament at the University of St. Andrews. His prior work has focused on Pauline studies and biblical theology; he is currently writing a commentary on the Petrine epistles and Jude, along with a book on Pauline theology. Hafemann’s responsibilities at St. Andrews will include teaching and research. 
With the recent addition of N.T. Wright to their faculty and now Hafemann, St. Andrews is quickly becoming a top-notch place to study the New Testament. I suspect their pool of applications will be getting much deeper, not least, I imagine, from students with an evangelical tendency. It should be interesting to see how things develop there over the next few years.

An Easter Hymn by N.T. Wright

Yesterday, I featured the opening chorus from N.T. Wright’s Easter Oratorio, a moving piece that is devotionally meaningful, biblically faithful, and theologically substantial. As I looked through the rest of the oratorio, I discovered the final verse is an appropriate reflection for the celebration of Easter morning that is likewise meaningful and substantial. So, I thought I’d share this Easter Hymn from N.T. Wright:

Ye choirs of new Jerusalem
Your sweetest notes employ
The Paschal victory to hymn
In strains of holy joy.
How Judah’s Lion burst his chains,
And crushed the serpent’s head;
And brought with him, from death’s domains,
The long-imprisoned dead.
From hell’s devouring jaws the prey
Alone our Leader bore;
His ransomed hosts pursue their way
Where he hath gone before.
Triumphant in his glory now
His sceptre ruleth all,
Earth, heaven, and hell before him bow,
And at his footstool fall.
While joyful thus his praise we sing,
His mercy we implore,
Into his palace bright to bring
And keep us evermore.
All glory to the Father be,
All glory to the Son,
All glory, Holy Ghost, to thee,
While endless ages run. Alleluia! Amen.

A Meditation for Holy Saturday by N.T. Wright

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that N.T. Wright is a prolific writer of books. It turns out that he is something of a poet as well. Working with composer Paul Spicer, Wright has written the text for an Easter Oratorio that tells the story of the resurrection from chapters 20 and 21 of John’s gospel. The opening chorus is a fitting meditation for this Holy Saturday:
On the seventh day God rested
in the darkness of the tomb;
Having finished on the sixth day
all his work of joy and doom.
Now the word had fallen silent,
and the water had run dry,
The bread had all been scattered,
and the light had left the sky.
The flock had lost its shepherd,
and the seed was sadly sown,
The courtiers had betrayed their king,
and nailed him to his throne.
O Sabbath rest by Calvary,
O calm of tomb below,
Where the grave-clothes and the spices
cradle him we did not know!
Rest you well, beloved Jesus,
Caesar’s Lord and Israel’s King,
In the brooding of the Spirit,
in the darkness of the spring.
Rest well, indeed. For tomorrow there is work to be done and a grave to be conquered.

N.T. Wright on Biblical Universalism

Here’s another resource for those who might find themselves engaged in the recently revived Universalism debate. Also from Themelios 4:2, this one is by N.T. Wright, former Bishop of Durham and now of the University of St. Andrews. Wright is a widely known and respected New Testament scholar, who, I am persuaded, is able to write books faster than I am able to read them.
The article is called Towards a Biblical View of Universalism, and Wright’s aim is twofold. He intends first to dismantle universalistic interpretations of some New Testament texts that are commonly marshaled in favor of universal salvation for all people without exception. He intends second to interpret those same texts in light of their contexts as describing a salvation that is universalistic in that it is not restricted to a single ethnicity.
Wright argues that a major issue in early Christianity was Jewish particularism, the belief that God’s saving purposes were limited to their own people-group, and that one needed to become a Jew in order to become a follower of Christ. Another problem was Gentile snobbery, the belief that God was quite done with the Jews and had expanded his purposes beyond their borders leaving them all behind. Against both these views, Paul believed that the God revealed in Jesus Christ was God of Jews and Gentiles (Rom 3:29). So, biblical universalism is not the belief that salvation is given to all without exception, but that salvation is available in Christ to all without distinction.
Wright summarizes some implications of the distinction:
Biblical ‘universalism’, therefore, consists in this, that in Christ God has revealed the one way of salvation for all men alike, irrespective of race, sex, colour or status. This biblical ‘universalism’ (unlike the other sort) gives the strongest motives for evangelism, namely, the love of God and of men. (This itself is evidence that we are thinking biblically here.) This view specifically excludes the other sort of ‘universalism’, because scripture and experience alike tell us that many do miss the one way of salvation which God has provided. This is a sad fact, and the present writer in no ways enjoys recording it, any more than Paul in Romans 9-11 looked with pleasure on his kinsmen’s fate. Yet it cannot be ignored if we wish to remain true to scripture or really to love our fellow men. If the house is on fire, the most loving thing to do is to raise the alarm.
The article is not all that long and contains a great deal of help on how better to understand the passages often used to support Universalism of the usual sort. It’s well worth a read and will be helpful when you find yourself sipping a hot coffee and engaged in charitable debate.

Have you heard this alternative reading of the ‘universal’ passages before? Do you find it helpful? Unhelpful? Do you agree with Wright’s suggestion that Universalism undermines evangelism? Why? Why not?

Through Faith & to Faith: Pistis Christou & Redundancy in Romans 3:22?

Readers familiar with the field of Pauline studies will know that the Greek phrase pistis Christou has been hotly contested. Throughout church history the phrase has primarily been translated as “faith in Christ”, though with the publication of Richard Hays’ monograph, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11, the alternative translation of “faith (or faithfulness) of Jesus Christ” has gained a very significant scholarly following. The difficulty comes in the fact that both translations are grammatically possible. As a result, arguing for either translation is a matter of making the exegetical case from the contexts of the texts in which the phrase appears. 
One of those texts is Romans 3:21-22, which reads:
But now apart from the law, the righteousness of God (dikaiosunē theou) has been revealed, being attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in/of Jesus Christ (pisteōs Iēsou Christou) to all who have faith.
The debate is over whether Paul is saying that the righteousness of God (itself a contested phrase) is revealed through human faith in Christ or through Christ’s own faithfulness in his life and obedient death.
One argument to which regular appeal is made claims that to take the phrase as “faith in Christ” would mean that Paul has come quite close to redundancy: faith in Christ for those who have faith. Would Paul make such an unnecessary and superfluous syntactical move here in one of the most dense and important arguments in the whole letter? N.T. Wright argues just this way in his Romans commentary in the New Interpreter’s Bible:
A further reason why pistis Iēsou Christou here is likely to refer to Jesus’ own faithfulness is that, if taken instead to refer to the faith Christians have “in” Jesus, the next phrase (“for all who believe”) becomes almost entirely redundant, adding only the (admittedly important) “all” (470).
But is this appeal to redundancy really a fair reading of Paul’s Greek? There was a time when I would have said yes, but now I would suggest that it is not. The reason is that I have become persuaded that the two prepositional phrases in v. 22 are functioning in two different ways.
The first phrase reads “through (dia) faith in Jesus Christ.” And the preposition dia (through) suggests that faith is the instrument by which God’s righteousness is revealed. That is to say God’s righteousness is perceived or apprehended through the process of coming to faith in Christ. The second prepositional phrase reads “to (eis) all who have faith.” The different preposition eis suggests that Paul is now making a different point which concerns the objects of the revelation of God’s righteousness, namely all who have faith. This distinct point, that God’s righteousness is revealed to all who have faith, is clarified and substantiated by the following statement “For (gar) there is no distinction” (3:22). No distinction between who? The answer is  no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. All people, both Jews and non-Jews, are objects of the righteousness of God. This is the concern of the second prepositional phrase, a concern substantiated in the following sentence, a concern quite distinct from that of the first prepositional phrase which speaks not to the object of the revelation but to the instrument of it. Paul is making the point that people do not qualify to apprehend God’s righteousness because of their ethnic identity but because of faith, which is a related but different point from that made in the first prepositional phrase regarding the instrument by which God’s righteousness is revealed.
So, to sum up, if Paul is purposefully making two distinct points with his two distinct prepositional phrases, then the redundancy argument falls. Paul’s argument is not redundant; it is nuanced. And this is just what you might expect in Paul’s Greek. He is piling up the prepositional phrases (as he is wont to do) to make multiple points. The compact and dense nature of this passage only supports this argument. Paul is packing a very full and nuanced argument into a very compact space. Thus, I no longer find the redundancy argument persuasive. I’m sure others have made the argument this way before, but its been a while since I looked at much of the secondary literature on this one. Personally, I find the argument for nuance to be good support for taking pistis Iēsou Christou in Romans 3:22 to refer to human faith in Jesus Christ.

Let me hear from you! Do you prefer the translation “faith in Christ” or “faithfulness of Christ”? What is the best argument for each rendering? Do you think Paul is writing with nuance or redundancy? Might he be using repetition to emphasize the point?