Thursday, May 31, 2012

In the Beginning Was the Word: The Uncreated and Eternal Divine Logos

John’s Gospel begins with the famous words “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The phrase in the beginning in the first clause of John 1:1 is very significant. By starting off his gospel with this phrase, John is deliberately alluding to Gen 1:1, the very first verse of the Bible, which says: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

The significance of this allusion is profound. By saying that the Word was in the beginning, John implies that the Logos already existed before the beginning talked about in Gen 1:1, namely, the beginning of created reality. This means that the Logos must be uncreated and eternal. It is totally appropriate, therefore, for John to say in the third clause of John 1:1 that “the Word was God.” After all, John’s main argument in the prologue to his gospel in John 1:1–18 is that Jesus is the Logos incarnate, God’s revelation of himself in human form (see “The Divine Logos as Eschatological Torah in John 1:1”). Jesus himself could not be divine revelation if the Logos were not divine.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

In the Beginning Was Language

Words! We are surrounded by words, and on average each of us speaks more than ten thousand words each day. But why do we have words, and from where did the ability of language arise?

Evolutionary biology is not unified on the question of the development of human speech, but the most common theory held today is that the human ability of speaking only emerged around 50,000 years ago. This means that anatomically modern humans (according to this theory) existed for 150,000 years on earth before developing the ability to speak.

I personally find such a theory very hard to believe. What were our ancestors doing for the first 150,000 years? Just grunting and groaning? Some scientists have even suggested that a single mutation in the brain of certain human individuals suddenly resulted in the ability to speak. But that kind of explanation is more likely to be speculation rather than anything more substantial. Generally the evolutionary biologists simply look at the complexity of art and artifacts at various prehistorical periods, and try to determine from this when the ability of speech developed.

All of this “informed speculation” is, however, far removed from the picture painted in the Bible. The Bible indicates that God created Adam with the ability of speech. In Gen 2 we see Adam naming the animals (Gen 2:19–20) and speaking poetry to his wife (Gen 2:23). In Gen 3 we see both Adam and Eve speaking (see Gen 3:10, 12, 20; and Gen 3:2–3, 13 respectively).

But why did God create human beings with the ability of speech? The flow of Gen 1–3 suggests that God created human beings with the ability of speech because God himself speaks! The tenfold and God said of Gen 1 highlights the fact that God speaks. Speech is an expression of thought; and because God thinks, he also speaks. Furthermore, God created human beings in his image with the ability to think and to produce and process language. God did this in large part because his plan of self-revelation (for which he created the world, and human beings in his image) necessarily means that he wants to communicate and share his thoughts with us.

At the beginning of the Gospel of John, reflecting upon the content of Gen 1, the Apostle John was moved to proclaim: “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). This proposition not only asserts that the second person of the Trinity is eternal, but it also asserts that language is integral to the nature of God. As it is for God, so it is for humanity. Language and the ability of speech is integral to who we are as human beings. It is a divine gift that has been with us since the very beginning.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Great Commission to Make Disciples through Baptizing and Teaching

Because all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to the risen Lord Jesus, disciples are to be made of all nations (see “The Great Commission of the King”). But how are disciples made?

The Great Commission itself teaches us how disciples are made. Jesus mentions two main stages in the process of discipleship in Matt 28:19–20. According to Jesus, disciples are made through baptism and teaching.

Baptism in the name of the Triune God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) is something that many Protestant Christians do not associate with being a Christian. In some Protestant baptism ceremonies the minister often spends most of his time explaining what baptism is not and very little on explaining what baptism actually is. Statements to the effect of “baptism does not make you a Christian” are frequent. Protestants who act like this are probably in most instances reacting against a perceived deficiency in the Roman Catholic understanding of baptism; but in doing so Protestants need to consider whether or not such statements contradict Jesus’ teaching on baptism. Jesus clearly teaches in Matt 28:19 that baptism “make[s] disciples” in some sense or other. The words βαπτίζοντες baptizing and διδάσκοντες teaching are both present active participles that are subordinate to the main verb μαθητεύσατε make disciples. These participles function syntactically to explain how disciples are made. According to Matt 28:19, Jesus’ view is that making disciples formally begins with baptism. Furthermore, when it is understood that the word Christian historically is simply another term for disciple (see Acts 11:26), then it is possible to say that baptism makes a person a Christian in some sense of the word.

The key to understanding the way in which baptism makes a person a Christian lies in realizing that conversion in the early church typically went together with baptism. In the early church, a person would convert to Christianity by confessing “I believe that Jesus is the Christ” or “I believe that Jesus is Lord” in the context of a ceremony of baptism. This can be seen in the book of Acts, for example, in the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:37). Indeed, there are nine instances of particular conversions in the book of Acts, and all of these conversions involve baptism (see Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12; 8:37–38; 9:18; 10:47–48; 16:14–15; 16:31–33; 18:8; 19:3–5; 22:16). Baptism makes a person a Christian, therefore, in the sense that it marks the official point of conversion to Christianity, the point at which the convert officially submits to the lordship of Christ. Baptism marks the formal beginning when a person officially becomes a disciple of Jesus. Baptism is, therefore, a sign which says that the baptized person belongs to Jesus, and that his or her responsibility is to follow Jesus by submitting to his lordship.

So baptism is important, but at the same time it needs to be remembered that baptism is only a beginning. Baptism marks the official beginning in a person’s role as a disciple of Jesus. Baptism can be thought of as being like a citizenship ceremony that proves that a person is a citizen of a particular country. But after becoming a citizen of a particular country, one is bound to live as a citizen of that particular country, which involves obeying its laws.

This is the reason that Jesus in Matt 28:20 moves from baptism to talk about the second element involved in making disciples, namely, teaching. If Christian discipleship formally begins at baptism, then it develops and matures through Christian indoctrination. Disciples in the true sense of the word are made through being taught about the gospel (about Jesus and what he has done for the world) and how we are expected to live in response to who Jesus is and to what he has done. This indoctrination occurs with a view to Christians growing in their obedient service to the King. Being disciples in name, we need to become disciples in reality. Therefore, teaching is essential. Christians need to be taught in order to learn and to grow in their devotion to the King.

If you have been baptized, this means that you have received the sign proclaiming that Jesus is the risen King. Baptism is the sign of Christ’s lordship over your life. Having been baptized, your responsibility is to persevere in your submission to the King by studying and following his teaching.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Great Commission of Discipleship

The Great Commission is the command of Jesus, the divinely-appointed Messiah, for the church to engage in the important task of calling upon all people everywhere to submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ, the risen King (see “The Great Commission of the King”). The Great Commission serves to explicate the significance of the lordship of Christ for humanity, and to promote submission to his lordship on a worldwide scale. Because Jesus is the risen King with authority over the nations, everyone from every nation is to submit to his lordship.

If Jesus is indeed the King over all, that means that this planet, and everything on it, in it, above and around it, belongs to Jesus. That means that you and I belong to Jesus. In fact, every single human being, every cockroach, every fly, every kangaroo, every piece of gold or silver, every single mobile phone … these all belong to Jesus. And if we belong to Jesus, honesty demands that we acknowledge this fact, and submit to Christ’s rule.

According to Jesus’ language in Matt 28:19, everyone is expected to submit to his kingship. This is why Jesus says “having gone, make disciples of all the nations.” From this we can see that Christ’s lordship is realized throughout the world as people become disciples of Jesus.

Contrary to what many evangelicals naturally think, Jesus’ focus in the Great Commission is not on preaching the gospel per se, but on discipleship. Matthew 28:19 does not mention preaching the gospel; but it presupposes (as shown through the use of the aorist participle πορευθέντες having gone) that, as Christians go out into the world, the gospel will be proclaimed to all the nations. Every person in every nation needs to bow down and acknowledge the truth that Jesus is the risen King as proven by his resurrection. The focus of the Great Commission is on discipleship, but discipleship at this point includes both initial conversion and subsequent indoctrination.

The Greek word μαθητής disciple, which is implied in the verb μαθητεύσατε make disciples, is related to the verb μανθάνω learn. This lexical connection clearly indicates that a disciple is a learner, a student. In the ancient world, a student submitted to the wisdom and authority of his teacher. In the case of Jesus, the master teacher is also the King of heaven and earth. The task of a disciple of Jesus is to submit to Jesus’ lordship by following his teaching.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Great Commission of the King

Many (if not most) Christians have heard of the Great Commission:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19–20).
But all too often these verses are quoted, and even thought of, in isolation from their context, which includes in particular Jesus’ preface to the Great Commission in Matt 28:18.

Immediately preceding the words of the Great Commission, Jesus proclaimed his universal authority. In saying “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt 28:18), Jesus clearly stated his understanding that he was the divinely-appointed Messiah. Jesus understood, in accordance with Old Testament prophecy (see my previous post ‘“All Authority in Heaven and on Earth Has Been Given to Me”: Intertextuality between Matthew 28:18 and the Old Testament’), that he had been appointed by God to be King over all the nations on earth.

It is important to understand, therefore, that the Great Commission is a function of Jesus’ great authority as the King of all nations. The presence of the word οῦν therefore in v. 19 makes explicit the causal connection between Jesus’authority (as stated in v. 18) and the Great Commission (stated in vv. 19–20). Because all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to the risen Lord Jesus, disciples are to be made of all nations.

The Great Commission, therefore, is not just about evangelism in the narrow sense of merely preaching the death and resurrection of Christ. The gospel is supremely the proclamation of the lordship of Christ, and the Great Commission is the command of the divinely-appointed Messiah for the church to engage in the important task of calling upon all people everywhere to submit to the lordship of the divinely-appointed risen King.