Monday, June 21, 2010

The Way, and the Truth, and the Life of Eschatological Torah in John 14:6

Jesus’ words in John 14:6 that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life” definitely constitute one of Jesus’ most famous statements. But it is interesting to consider what Jesus meant when he said this.

The use of way and truth in close connection with each other recalls Ps 86:11, which describes the Old Testament ethical ideal of covenant obedience in terms of walking in the way of Yahweh’s truth. In the Old Testament, as in Judaism, the word way is often used as a metaphor to denote a person’s manner of behavior (e.g., 2 Kgs 21:21-22; Ps 119:9). When used positively, the expression the way signifies the manner of behavior approved by God, or else torah viewed as the body of divine instruction that defines this approved manner of behavior (e.g., Gen 18:19; Deut 31:29; Ps 119:1, 27, 30, 33; Prov 6:23; Jer 5:4-5).

In a similar way, the expression the truth is linked with torah in Ps 119:160; Prov 23:23; and the adjective true is used of the Mosaic law in verses such as Ps 19:9; 119:142, 151. The phrase the truth is connected in John 17:17 with God’s word. It seems, therefore, in the context of the Old Testament and John’s Gospel, that, in speaking of himself as the truth, Jesus was referring to himself as the embodiment of the word/law of God. Jesus, as the Word of God par excellence, is Torah personified. Jesus is eschatological Torah revealed. It should be noted at this point that word and law are virtual synonyms in the Old Testament when used to denote the verbal revelation of God (e.g., Ps 119:113-114; Isa 1:10; 2:3; 5:24; Jer 8:7-9; Mic 4:2).

The link between way and truth on the one hand, and torah on the other, also helps us understand how Jesus is the life. The Old Testament links the concepts of way and life together in a number of places, the idea being that following the way of torah results in life (e.g., Prov 6:23; 10:17; 12:28; 15:24). Therefore, in John 14:6 Jesus is the life in the sense that those who follow him (by following his teaching and example) receive eternal life. Jesus as the Word of God is the ultimate expression of Torah, and following torah has always been the way of life (e.g., Deut 30:16, 19-20; Ps 1:1–3; 19:7).

All of this means that Jesus’ statement in John 14:6 is extremely controversial in a Jewish context. When orthodox Jews thought of the way, the truth, and the life, they ordinarily thought of Mosaic torah. By describing himself as “the way, and the truth, and the life,” Jesus was claiming, therefore, to be the new Torah. In other words, in the new covenant age, torah has been redefined; in the new covenant age, torah is no longer mediated through Moses, but personified in Christ, the divine Logos.

A further implication of Jesus’ teaching in the historical context of his day is that the way of covenant obedience has been redefined. The covenant obedience to the law of Moses, which was required of Israel under the terms of the old covenant (e.g, Exod 19:5), morphs in the new covenant age into Christian discipleship, the halakhah or way of following and imitating Jesus (e.g., John 13:34–35; 1 John 2:6). This significance is brought out in the latter part of John 14:6, when Jesus says that “no one comes to the Father except by me.” Here Jesus not only identifies God the Father as the destination where he and his disciples were going to, but he also sets himself up as being the only way to the Father. In other words, to experience life in the presence of God, it is necessary (in the new covenant age) to follow Jesus rather than Moses.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Divine Logos as Eschatological Torah in John 1:1

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). This is a famous verse, but what does John mean by describing Jesus as the Word? Most commentators point out that the Greek word λόγος was used by some Greek philosophers to designate reason, which was thought of as being the law which structured the universe. While John’s use of λόγος here would be significant in a Greek context, the fact that the argument and concerns of John’s Gospel are fundamentally Jewish suggests that the significance of logos is best understood in Jewish terms.

What does the concept word convey in Jewish circles? The Old Testament is the most natural place to look for the answer. Indeed, the language of the prologue of John’s Gospel (i.e., John 1:1–18) points us in that direction. When the concept word is thought of in the context of concepts such as in the beginning (vv. 1–2), creation (v. 3, 10), life (v. 4), light (vv. 4–5, 7–9), and darkness (v. 5), what are we meant to think of? We are meant to think immediately of Gen 1. And the word that occurs in Gen 1 is the word of God.

When first-century orthodox Jews thought of word, they thought supremely of the word of God. But what is the function of the word of God in the Old Testament? The primary function is that of revelation. The most common way in which God revealed himself in the Old Testament was by way of his word spoken by the prophets on his behalf. God’s word reveals his character and will. It seems, therefore, that John has used the concept of the logos to assert that Jesus is the supreme revelation of God.

And this is confirmed by the way in which the prologue ends: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (v. 18). God the Father is unknowable unless he reveals himself. Just as a person’s words reveal the character of the person, the word of God reveals the character of God. Jesus is the supreme revelation of God. He makes God the Father known.

To say that Jesus is the Word is the same as saying that Jesus is the supreme expression of torah. In other words, Jesus is eschatological Torah! Being the supreme revelation of the God the Father, the Word is divine. The Son of God, in his capacity as the Word of God, is God as he has deigned to reveal himself. God as he reveals himself is none other than ... God! “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dwelling in the Presence of the King of Glory: A Sermon on Psalm 24

Here is a sermon of mine on Psalm 24:1-10, entitled Dwelling in the Presence of the King of Glory.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Significance of the Law in Romans 7

Romans 7 has often been interpreted as if it is talking about our inability as Christians to keep God’s law, but is this interpretation correct? I believe that it is not correct as an exegetical interpretation of Rom 7 for the following reasons:

Firstly, we need to recognize that the law that is being talked about in Rom 7 is the law of Moses, not the law of God in general. As Douglas Moo says: “the topic of Rom. 7 is … not just ‘law’ in general, but the Mosaic law” (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996], 428). The debate between Paul and orthodox Judaism was an argument over the role of the law of Moses in divine revelation. Was the law of Moses still currently the supreme authority in faith and practice (as it had been since Sinai), or had the gospel revealed through Jesus Christ come to occupy this position?

Secondly, in Paul’s thinking, God’s people in the new covenant age are no longer under the law. We have been set free from the law (Rom 7:4, 6; see also 6:14). The law in question here is the law of Moses. We need to remember here that the law of Moses was given exclusively to Israel (Exod 19:5–6; Deut 4:7–8). By definition, Gentiles as Gentiles cannot be subject to the law of Moses. The coming of Jesus means that the period of history during which the law of Moses ruled God’s people has come to an end (Rom 7:4, 6; 10:4; Gal 3:23–25).

Thirdly, Paul is concerned in Rom 7 with the effect of the law of Moses on old covenant Israel. He argues in Rom 7 that the historical function of the law of Moses was to bring about the death of carnal Israel (Rom 7:14) as a way of compounding the death of humanity in Adam (Rom 7:8–11, 13; 5:20). Paul’s view of the function of the law of Moses (and the old covenant) in salvation history is thoroughly consistent with the teaching of the Old Testament at this point. The Old Testament prophets looked forward to to a powerful work of God in the future whereby he would act through the coming of his suffering and Spirit-filled Servant, who would die as the true atoning sacrifice and who would then pour out God’s Spirit to effect a radical change in the hearts of God’s people, so that they might be able to keep covenant with God and, as a result, experience the full and final blessing that God had promised as part of the covenant (Rom 8:2–4). This time of spiritual renewal is what the Old Testament calls the new covenant (see Jer 31:31–33). As the Old Testament prophets prophesied, the only way of full salvation for Israel (and the nations) is the salvation that comes through the new covenant, which Paul identifies as having come in Jesus (Rom 7:25; 8:1–4).

All in all, Rom 7 describes the historical situation of carnal Israel under the law of Moses, not the situation of Christians under God’s law in general.