Chinese New Year, and Continuity and Discontinuity in Biblical Theology

Chinese New Year passed with the usual surfeit of steamboats and lo heis and barbecues and restaurant feasts and CNY tidbits.

homemade pineapple tarts with melty crusts and Anzac biccies with bak-kwaWas glad to get back to merely nibbling on a colleague’s homemade pineapple tarts and some Anzac biccies (because of Australia Day) studded with bak-kwa, instead of being pressed, on pain of seeming discourteous, to sample a plenitude of snack jars as we visited friends over the holidays.

Double-treat Tuesday -

Ecstatic too to be back to smoothie bowls for breakfast and to be cracking on with the second volume of “Justification and Variegated Nomism“. Nom nom.

The lecturers at the Cornhill Training Course used to be adamant that every single passage of the OT should point to Christ, citing Luke 24:27. I thought this an unwieldy sledgehammer that resulted in all sorts of dodgy exegesis. Yet, I also thought that the insistence of some folk at St. Helen’s Bishopsgate on holding tightly the tension of the biblical narrative (and so being very hesitant in going to Christ), while dealing quite well with an OT passage’s position on the salvation-historical timeline, did not adequately take into account our position on that same timeline.

How then to read, teach, and preach the OT now? Could some part of the answer depend on one’s conclusion on the continuity and discontinuity between the testaments?

  • What should we, who live on the other side of the cross/resurrection/ascension, make of the Old Testament ?
  • Which laws should we follow and which ones should we ditch?
  • What about infant baptism (as continuity from saved-as-a-household x circumcision)(see eg. pg 3 of Themelios April 2016)? What about keeping the Sabbath (on Saturdays)?
  • What is the biblical warrant for any of that?

 This didn’t make it as one of my Heresies of the Month back in London. But since it will be a lifelong task to comprehensively consider the continuity and discontinuity between the OT and NT, let’s get this party started.

dragonfruit smoothie bowl with Korean strawberries and Chilean blueberries

 I do not think the usual tripartite division of the law into moral, civil, ceremonial laws works well:

  • they are not biblical categories – no Bible writer thought in those categories
  • therefore, they impose an alien framework on the text

The first port of call, perhaps, would be a careful reading of how NT writers treat the OT.

D.A. Carson, in “Mystery and Fulfillment: Toward a More Comprehensive Paradigm of Paul’s Understanding of the Old and the New” (p393, Justification and Variegated Nomism), concludes that for Paul, this is a “both-and”. That is,

“Paul thinks of the gospel he preaches a simultaneously something that has been predicted in times past, with those predictions now fulfilled, and something that has been hidden in times past, and now revealed.

…there is no evidence that Paul himself was aware of any tension between these two stances…the two stances…genuinely lock together…

…Paul assess the significance of Israel and the Sinai covenant within the larger biblical narrative…the law’s most important function is to bring Israel, across time, to Christ…

…the Old Testament, rightly read in its salvation-historical structure, led to Christ…

…the law is upheld precisely in that to which it points…”

Yet, Carson is insistent that we need to see too “how radically Christocentric Paul’s reading of the Old Testament really is…”

Andy Naselli’s done a good summary here.

cast-iron shashuka - tomatoes, chickpeas, bayleaves, cabanossi, eggsa quick shashuka lunch straight from the hot cast-iron pan

Right. So are there any general principles that one can draw on what continues and what doesn’t, and can this be applied to any OT text faithfully?

Akan datang.

Chinese Lunar New Year Reunion Steamboat Dinner

Peashoot smoothie bowl, and Christ’s descent to hell

Holy Saturday, some call it. That day between the death of Christ and his resurrection from the dead.

Laryngitis still gripping me by the throat, the smoothie bowls continued with a shocking green peashoot smoothie, topped with the now-usual strawberries, blueberries, chia seeds, homemade gula merah granola:
peashoot yoghurt smoothie bowl topped with strawberries, blueberries, chia seeds, homemade gula melaka granola

There has been much speculation as to the whereabouts of Jesus on that interim Saturday. One of the Christian creeds states that he “descended into hell”, to rise again on the third day.

In his chapter on Christ’s Humiliation in Reformed Dogmatics, Herman Bavinck argues that there is no proof of this in Scripture:

  • Acts 2:27, citing Psalm 16:10 teaches that Christ, having died, was in Hades and belonged to the dead but contains no hint of the idea that he descended into hell
  • 1 Peter 3:18-22 about Jesus preaching to the spirits in prison, first does not speak of what Christ did between his death and resurrection, but of what he did either before his incarnation or after having revived his body. Second, there is no mention whatever of a descent of Christ into hell for this purpose.
  • According to Hebrews 12:23, the devout of the old covenant form the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven and have received heavenly citizenship before the believers of the New Testament.
  • The concept of Hades has changed through the centuries from merely denoting death to being equated to the concept of Gehenna (hell, a place of torment).

peashoot yoghurt smoothie bowl topped with strawberries, blueberries, chia seeds, homemade gula melaka granolaWhat we do know is this: that Christ drank the cup of suffering to the last drop and tasted death in all its bitterness in order to completely deliver us from the fear of death and death itself. Thus he destroyed him who had the power of death and by a single offering perfected for all time those who are sanctified (Hebrews 10:14).

Good Friday, Dragonfruit Smoothie Bowl

After a week of heavy day-time negotiations (at work) and even-tide talking loudly in very noisy coffeeshops (about the Bible), my voice has called it quits and I’m laid up at home on Good Friday with the ‘flu.

In an attempt to get some vitamins into the body, I’ve very sniffily made a poor man’s/budget/frugal acai bowl (but still about S$2 (£1)): marked-down dragonfruit from the wet market blended with discount yoghurt, topped with half a banana, cheap about-to-go-off strawberries and wrinkly blueberries, chia seeds from Mustafa, and homemade gula melaka granola.

Good Friday frugal budget dragonfruit yoghurt smoothie bowl with bananas, bruised strawberries, wrinkled blueberries, homemade gula melaka granola (with cranberries and pecans), chia seeds

Good Friday frugal budget dragonfruit yoghurt smoothie bowl with bananas, bruised strawberries, wrinkled blueberries, homemade gula melaka granola (with cranberries and pecans), chia seedsBeing ill on Good Friday is a good time to consider the frailty of humankind, and our ephemeral impotent existence on this earth.

A Buddhist colleague was asking about Good Friday rituals over lunch yesterday. Her sister, a Catholic, was going on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the major Catholic churches in Singapore. Would I be doing the same?

I’d tried to explain that the locus of the Christian faith isn’t on the church buildings or church practices (or even on a holy man, the priest) but on the person of Jesus Christ and what he achieved on the cross. No merit is gained, as the Thai Buddhists believe, in visiting “holy” places or doing “good” or saying prayers.

As usual, the wisdom of hindsight kicked in today and I thought how much more could have been said. First, Christians do not belong to a BDSM cult that wallows in the blood and gore of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.

But how can one then summarise the vast and multi-dimensional and cosmic work that was achieved by Jesus’ death on the cross?

Good Friday frugal budget dragonfruit yoghurt smoothie bowl with bananas, bruised strawberries, wrinkled blueberries, homemade gula melaka granola (with cranberries and pecans), chia seedsReading the chapter on Christ’s Humiliation in Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics in bed today was not much help in corralling Bible truths:

  • Christ’s death was not an accident of history, nor a ultimately the tragic consequence of the human cunning of his enemies. Jesus was not a human genius who made a great impact in world history. Rather, he was himself a special revelation and on a unique mission from God himself. He was handed over to those who killed him “by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23). Jesus came to die.
  • Sacrifice was instituted by God in the Old Testament as atonement – covering for sin by means of shed blood. But the bloods of goats and bulls were incomplete and needed to be endlessly repeated. This anticipated the coming of the Suffering Servant who would make himself an offering for the sins of the people. Jesus fulfils the Old Testament law regarding sacrifices – he is the true covenant sacrifice and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
  • His death was payment, satisfaction of judgement, justification.
  • His death was propitiation of God’s wrath.
  • His death was for the expiation of sins.
  • Christ  is also the priest that makes that sacrifice. He is the perfect mediator between God and man because he is himself true God and true man.
  • Christ’s death was ransom paid.
  • Christ’s death was redemption obtained for us, complete redemption of the whole person, body and soul. The whole renewal of all things is the fruit of his obedience though we now experience it only in part, particularly as deliverance from sin’s guilt and power.
  • By Christ’s death, God showed his love and his justice
  • Christ’s death was also for the healing, reconciliation in our relationship with God.
  • By Christ’s death, we obtained righteousness and eternal life. Christ obtained for us the righteousness and life Adam had to secure by his own obedience. Christ’s obedience returns us not to the beginning but to the end of the road Adam had to walk.
  • By his death, we obtained sonship, confident access to God, gift of the Spirit, second birth and power to become children of God, sanctification, dying to sin, being crucified to the world, walking in the Spirit and in the newness of life, freedom from the curse of the law, deliverance from death and fear of death, victory over the world, resurrection on the last day, ascension and glorification, heavenly inheritance, new heaven and new earth, restoration of all things etc.
  • By Christ’s death, he achieved his own exaltation. (Bavinck: “What Christ acquired by this sacrifice is beyond description.”)

The mind, whether groggy or not, is blown by the magnitude of what happened that Good Friday.

Even the rather rich lyrics of Samuel Crossman’s My Song is Love Unknown seemed insipid in this light (but still rather lovely when sung by King’s College Cambridge to John Ireland’s “Love Unknown” tune):

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then Crucify! is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they saved,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.