Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Mistake Which Outdoes All Mistakes!

Here is a piece of simple misinformation copied without examination by Bible commentator after commentator. It occurs in commentaries on Psalm 110:1, a verse which wins the prize for being the most often cited passage from the Old Testament in the New. Psalm 110:1 is likely (I hope soon) to have its day of fame. It is going to expose a colossal, long-held misunderstanding about the relationship of the one God to His unique son Jesus.

Psalm 110:1 is an inspired oracle about the Messiah, who since the ascension is sitting at the chief position next to God in the universe. Jesus loved this verse and so did the New Testament writers. They allude to it some 23 times. It is of massive significance in describing who Jesus is. Because its testimony is in direct contradiction to the traditional belief that Jesus is “God the Son,” it has suffered miserably at the hands of commentators, who by some extraordinary means actually misinform the public about the crucial Hebrew word for the second “lord” of Psalm 110:1.

Reformer Martin Luther was right to point out that Psalm 110 is “the chief psalm of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, in which his person, his resurrection, ascension and whole Kingdom are clearly and powerfully set forth.”

The Psalm begins by announcing a solemn divine oracle. Jesus quoted this Psalm as vital spiritual information. He referred to David as here “speaking in the spirit” (Mat:22:43; Mark 12:36): “The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at My right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’”

Of such fundamental importance was this proposition that it provided a New Testament proof text for defining the Divine Plan and Jesus’ relationship to his Father. It appears in the New Testament over and over again. What does this oracle reveal to us? This verse has been an embarrassment to “received” traditional views of Jesus as “God the Son.” Psalm 110:1 in fact completely eliminates any such idea.

Peter provides one of the many examples of the quotation of our verse. In his epoch-making sermon in Acts 2 Peter explained that the Hebrew Bible had predicted the elevation of Jesus to the supreme position in the universe next to God his Father. This happened at the ascension, and the words of Peter inform us of the status achieved by Jesus at the ascension. “For it was not David who ascended to heaven, but David himself said, ‘The LORD said to my lord, “Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:34-36). The reaction of Peter’s audience was suitably dramatic. They took the Apostle’s words with utmost seriousness: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, ‘What are we to do, brothers?’” (2:37).

It would be desirable for contemporary audiences to be as touched, if not outraged, by the constant misuse of this verse by tradition-bound commentary. Walk into a Christian bookstore and treat yourself to a perusal of one of the many commentaries available, both new and old. Here is one example among many I found recently: “Ps. 110:1, ‘The Lord said to my Lord’ describes a conversation between God the Father and God the Son.”

This is a complete falsehood, as we shall show!

The Jews as custodians of the Hebrew Bible are rightly insulted by the suggestion that there are two who are God, the one talking to the other! There is only one who is God. God never speaks to God. That would not be monotheism. And monotheism, belief that God is one and not more, is the absolute criterion of truth for us all.

The proof of the rudimentary fact that God is not speaking to God is found in the language of Psalm 110:1. But first another example of misinformation, this time from the 1000-page Commentary on Matthew by William Hendrikson: “In this Psalm David is making a distinction between YHVH (Jehovah) and Adonai - YHVH, then, is addressing David’s Adonai; or, if one prefers, God is speaking to the Mediator. He is promising the Mediator such pre-eminence, power, authority and majesty as would be proper only for One who, as to his person, from all eternity, was, is now, and forever will be God” (p.812, emphasis added).

This statement contains a major error of fact. The text does not say that YHVH is addressing David’s ADONAI! The word in the Hebrew text is not Adonai at all. Adonai is indeed the word (all 449 times) for the Lord God, that is, the supreme God of Israel. But the inspired word in this Psalm, found in all the originals, is not Adonai; it is adoni. There is a vast difference between these two words. Adonai is indeed God, the Lord. Adoni, by contrast, never refers (in all 195 occurrences) to the Lord God. It refers always to a human, that is, non-Deity superior (or occasionally to an angel). Adoni is never a title of Deity. It tells us always that the “lord” in question is someone who is not God, but a human superior.

Here then in this marvelous Psalm we have a brilliant definition of the status of the son of God, Jesus the Messiah. He is not Adonai (Lord God) but “my lord - adoni,” the Messiah. The word provided by the Scripture which Jesus described as inspired and which he used to silence all counter arguments (Mat:22:46) is the Hebrew word for “lord - adoni” which never designates God! This verse was alluded to massively in the New Testament, and Peter used it to define and demonstrate the status of Jesus at the right hand of the Father: he is the uniquely elevated human lord (Acts 2:36), but not a second GOD! The text should put an end to the centuries of dispute about who Jesus the Messiah really is. He is not God (which would make two Gods) but the one and only Lord Messiah, the man Christ Jesus, as Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:5, reflecting the information provided by Psalm 110:1.

Jesus is referred to as the lord Messiah over 100 times in the New Testament. He is called Messiah or the Messiah 516 times. That should be enough to convince us about who he really is. He is the “our lord” of the ancient prayer “maranatha” (1 Cor:6:22).

I would ask the reader to ponder the extraordinary fact, without parallel in the history of Bible commentary, that the actual word for the second “lord” in our verse has been constantly misreported by those expounding the Bible. The error is very, very common. It actually appeared in the margin of Acts 2:34 in editions of the NASU Bible, where the note reads: “The Hebrew word in Psalm 110:1 is Adonai.” But it is not. And the fact can be checked by anyone consulting the original. (Strong’s does not show this distinction.)

Standard authorities are in no doubt at all about the immense significance of the difference between the forms of the Hebrew word for “lord.” The Hebrew text makes a clear-cut and consistent distinction between the one supreme Lord God and human (occasionally angelic) “lords.” The Hebrew text wants us to know exactly who is the LORD GOD (Adonai) and who is a human superior (adoni, my lord).

Every student of the Bible should know that when the personal name of the One God appears in English translations, the word is printed in English (in many versions) as LORD (all capitals). This tells us that behind the LORD (nearly 7000 times) lies the Hebrew word YHVH or Yahweh (sometimes pronounced Jehovah, though this is almost certainly not accurate). Another significant editorial policy is to write Lord (capital “L” but lower-case “ord”) when the Hebrew word is Adonai (= the Lord God, the supreme Lord). But when in the Hebrew text we have the word adoni (pronounced in Hebrew “adonee”) then many English translations have the word “lord” (lower-case “l”). For example, Sarah (Gen:18:12) referred to Abraham her husband as “adoni,” my lord, not Adonai (the Lord God)!

That distinction between the Lord God and a human lord or superior is faithfully reflected by the English Lord (capital L), as distinct from lord (lower-case l). However, when translators arrived at Psalm 110:1, they broke their own rules and wrote the second “lord” (adoni) as Lord (with capital). You will find this misleading inconsistency in the King James, NIV and many other versions. The Roman Catholic Bible most accurately kept a lower-case “l” on the second “lord” telling us that the word was “adoni” (= my human, not Deity lord) and not Adonai, the Lord
God. The Revised Version of 1881 (the first correction of the KJV of 1611) wrote “lord” and thus emended the KJV mistake.

The RSV and NRSV followed suit and correctly wrote “lord.” BBE (Basic Bible in English) and the Jewish Publication Society also rightly provided us with the truth about that second “lord” by writing it with lower case “l.”

The difference between God and man is the most significant of all distinctions, and it is carefully and precisely given us in Psalm 110:1, which the New Testament uses universally to define the status of Jesus in relation to God. Jesus is the human being, the “man Messiah” (1 Tim. 2:5) at God’s right hand. This fact, which Satan does not like and wants to suppress, tells us of the amazing position God has granted to a sinless, virginally begotten man, Son of God (Luke 1:35), installed at the right hand of God’s own throne in heaven. Jesus of course will leave that position and come back to the earth at his future coming to take up his position on the throne of David in Jerusalem (Luke 1:32, etc.).

There is only one who is God, the Creator of all things, in the Bible. He is the Father, indeed the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah” (Rom:15:6; 2 Cor:1:3; Eph:1:3; 1 Pet:1:3). Paul put it this way: “There is to us [Christians] one God, the Father” (1 Cor:8:6). Paul went on to add that we also recognize “one Lord Jesus the Messiah.” But that lord Jesus the Messiah is not the Lord God! He is the lord Messiah and was announced with this title when the angels told the shepherds, “Today in the city of David there has been born for you a savior who is the lord Messiah” (Luke 2:11, literally the “Messiah lord”; cp. Col:3:24; Rom:16:18). Luke adds a few verses later that Jesus can also rightly be called “the Lord’s Messiah” (2:26). He is the Messiah who belongs to the LORD GOD. When the two blind men appealed to Jesus to have their sight restored, they touchingly addressed him as “lord, son of David” (Mat:20:31) and even the pagan, Canaanite woman pleaded with Jesus to help her with her demonized daughter. She expressed her faith in the true Messiah as “lord, son of David” (Mat:15:22).

Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, was thrilled to greet Mary when she was pregnant with Jesus. She rejoiced that she was in the company of “the mother of my lord” (Luke 1:43). She meant of course not “the mother of God,” but the mother of my lord, the Messiah. This was the “my lord” of Psalm 110:1 (adoni). A ghastly twist was given to the Christian faith when later Bible readers began to speak of “the mother of God.” (I heard a Catholic priest say that God had asked Mary to be His mother!) This is standard language in the Roman Catholic system, but Protestants equally speak of Jesus as being God! For some illogical reason they balk at the
idea that Mary is the “mother of God.” But why should they? Constantly one hears that “Jesus is God.” Mary ought really then to be called the “mother of God” in the Protestant system. Readers ought to ponder this interesting fact. But most importantly they should ponder deeply the distressing and amazing fact that Bibles and Bible commentaries have in many cases not permitted you to know that Jesus in Psalm 110:1 is not Adonai, the LORD GOD, but adoni,
my lord, the human Messiah.

All the centuries of strife and confused argumentation which eventually led to the “creeds” could have been avoided if the adoni (“my lord” of Ps. 110:1) had been recognized as the perfect definition of the Messiah not as Lord God, but as Lord Messiah.

Currently the battle over the identity of Jesus continues and Psalm 110:1 is not being recognized as the appropriate corrective to centuries of misunderstanding. It is not uncommon for the following kind of comment to appear on Paul’s classic monotheistic statement in 1 Corinthians 8:6. Paul tells us that “there is one God, the Father…and one Lord Jesus the Messiah.”

Astonishingly the Oxford Bible Commentary has this to say: “The Jewish Shema (‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our GOD is one LORD,’ Deut. 6:4 and affirmed by Jesus in Mark 12:29) is here split apart into a statement about GOD THE LORD, the Creator of the world and the goal of salvation, and a matching statement about the Lord, now taken to be Jesus Christ, the medium of creation and redemption. The way in which Paul reads them both out of the Jewish declaration of monotheism is suggestive of the ways in which Christian theology will struggle to define Jesus the Messiah’s exalted status without falling into ditheism [belief in two Gods]” (p. 1121).

The Shema is “split apart”?! The Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4 and of Jesus in Mark 12:29 has now been supplemented and expanded to include two who are God? This is precisely what Paul does not mean. He carefully distinguishes the ONE GOD, who is the Father, from the one Lord Jesus Messiah. The Messiah is not the One God, and the difference between them is exactly the difference declared 1000 years earlier by Psalm 110:1 in which as we have seen YHVH speaks to the Messiah in a prophetic oracle, and defines the Messiah not as the Lord God but as the human lord Messiah, adoni.

Tampering with the biblical creed (splitting it apart) which defines God as the Father of Jesus is unwise. If Psalm 110:1 had been fully recognized instead of being widely misrepresented in regard to the actual Hebrew words of the text, centuries of argumentation could have been avoided and today the great “monotheistic” religions would have common ground, rather than being hopelessly at odds over who and how many God is (Jews, Christians and Muslims).

There is a simple message here: Instead of the brain-breaking difficulties and infinitely complex vocabulary of Trinitarianism, Jesus offers us an easier burden. He affirmed the great unitarian creed of Israel (Mark 12:29) as did Paul (1 Cor:8:4-6). The astonishing new fact since the ascension is that there is a glorified, immortalized son of God, a human being by origin (Mat:1:18, 20; Lk:1:35), whom God has honoured by taking him to be with Him at His throne of the universe. Jesus, the lord Messiah, son of God is now waiting to return to this planet. He remains at the right hand of God until he is given the signal to come back to the earth. He will then inaugurate the long prayed-for Kingdom. With the saints of all the ages he will supervise the first ever successful world government. We need that day!

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Righteousness of God

The Righteousness of God

The purpose of the covenant, in the Hebrew Bible, was never simply that the Creator wanted to have Israel as a special people, irrespective of the fate of the rest of the world. The purpose of the covenant was that, through this means, the Creator would address and save His entire world. The call of Abraham was designed to undo the sin of Adam. But, as the exile made clear, Israel needed redeeming; the messenger needed a message of salvation - deliverance. The people with the solution had become part of the problem.

Most first-century Jews did not believe the exile had ended. The Temple had not been rebuilt properly; the Messiah had not yet arrived; the general resurrection had not occurred; the Torah was not being observed perfectly; the Gentiles were not flocking in to hear the word of the Lord on Mount Zion. Until these things had happened, god's purpose and promises had not come to pass. The Jewish eschatological hope was hope for justification, for God to vindicate His people at last.

Paul had imagined that YHVH would vindicate Israel after her suffering at the hand of the pagans. Instead He had vindicated Jesus [the representative man of Israel] after his suffering at the hand of the pagans. The resurrection demarcated Jesus as the true Messiah, the true bearer of Israel's God - sent destiny. So if Jesus was the Messiah, and his death and resurrection really were the decisive heaven-sent defeat of sin and death and vindication of the people of YHVH, then this means that the Age to Come had already begun, had already been inaugurated, even though the Present Age, the time of sin, rebellion and wickedness, was still proceeding apace.

The death and resurrection of Jesus were themselves the great eschatological event, revealing god's covenant faithfulness, His way of putting the world to rights: the word for 'reveal' is apokalypso, from which we get 'apocalypse'. Paul realized that he was already living in the time of the end, even though the previous dimension of time was still carrying on all around him. The Present Age and the Age to Come overlapped and he was liberated in the middle, liberated to serve God in a new way, with a new knowledge to which he had before been blind to. If the Age to Come had arrived, if the resurrection had already begun to take place, then this was the time when the Gentiles were to come in.
Saul's vision on the road to Damascus equipped him with an entirely new perspective, though one which kept its roots firm and deep within his previous covenantal theology. Israel's destiny had been summed up and achieved in Jesus the Messiah. The Age to Come had been inaugurated. Saul himself was summoned to be its agent. He was to declare to the pagan world that YHVH, the God of Israel, was the one true God of the whole world, and that in Jesus of Nazareth He had overcome evil and was creating a new world in which justice and peace would reign supreme. He was now to be a herald of the king. What never changed was his utter and unswerving loyalty to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who made promises to Abraham, the God who gave the law, and the God who spoke through the prophets, including THAT PROPHET JESUS. Paul proclaimed that when YHVH set up His own king as the true ruler, His true earthly representative, all other kingdom would be confronted with their rightful overlord. Paul knew that because of Jewish monotheism that there can be 'no king but God'. The proclamation of the good news message about the coming Kingdom of God is an authoritative summons to obedience, in Paul's case, to what he calls 'the obedience of faith', because Jesus is lord.

The announcement of the 'crucified Messiah' is the key to everything because it declares to the rulers of this age that their time is up; had they realized what was going on, 'they would not have crucified the lord of glory' (1 Cor:1:18 2:8). The death of Jesus, seen as the culmination of his great act of obedience, is the means whereby the reign of sin and death is replaced with the reign of grace and righteousness (Rom:5:12-21). The good news included the announcement of a royal victory

When we ask how it was that Jesus' cruel death was the decisive victory over the powers, sin and death included, Paul at once replies: because it was the fulfilment of God's promise that through Abraham and his 'seed' [Jesus] He would undo the evil in the world. God established His covenant with Abraham in the first place for this precise purpose.

Paul's exposition of God's faithfulness to His covenant (in technical language, His 'righteousness'), is explained in terms of the fulfilment of the promises to Abraham (Rom: 3:21 - 4:25), and then explored in terms of the undoing of Adam's sin (5:12-21) and ultimately of the liberation of the whole creation (8:17-25). In Galatians the full exposition of the covenant with Abraham, and how it has reached its dramatic climax in Jesus the Messiah, points ahead to the message of 'new creation' (6:15). In 2 Corinthians, similarly, new covenant (chapter 3) leads to new creation (chapter 5). And always the fulfilment focuses on the death of Jesus, the covenant-fulfilling act, the moment when God executed judicial sentence on sin itself (Roma:3:24-26; 8:3), the moment when God's astonishing love was unveiled in all its glory (Rom:5:6-11; 8:31-39). When Paul declared that 'the Messiah died for our sins according to the scriptures' this is the beginning of his official summary of 'the gospel' in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, he means that the entire scriptural story, the great drama of God's dealings with Israel, came together when the young Jew from Nazareth was nailed up by the Romans and left to die. The shameful death of Jesus was the centre and starting-point of what 'the gospel' was all about. It was the fulfilment of the Isianic message. It was the proclamation of the ultimate royal victory. It was the Jewish message of good news for the world. Without the resurrection of Jesus, the crucifixion carries no gospel, no announcement of royal victory over the rebellious creation, when the forces that have enslaved humans and the world are defeated once and for all. Since Jesus had defeated sin, death could not hold him. His resurrection from the dead meant he indeed had dealt with sin on the cross - in other words, that God through His son Jesus had achieved at last what He had promised to Abraham and the prophets. As far as Paul was concerned, the most important eschatological event, through which the living God had unveiled (apocalypsed) His plan to save the whole cosmos, had occurred when Jesus rose from the dead! God's righteousness is vindicated.

At the heart of 'God's righteousness ' is His covenant with Abraham/Israel, the covenant through which He will address and solve the problem of evil in and for the whole world.

We can say: "Enter not into judgment with your servant, O Lord, for in your sight shall no man living be justified" (Psalm 14:3)

If and when God does act to vindicate his people, his people will then, metaphorically speaking, have the status of 'righteousness'. God's own righteousness is His covenant faithfulness, because of which he will vindicate Israel, and bestow upon her the status of 'righteous', as the vindicated or acquitted defendant.

God has renewed His covenant, and has done so with a community in which Jews and Gentiles belong together, in which the badge of circumcision is irrelevant.

God has been true to His covenant, which always aimed to deal with the sin of the world; He has kept His promises; He has dealt with sin on the stake; He has done so impartially, making a way of salvation for Jew and Gentile alike; and He now, as the righteous judge, helps and saves the helpless who cast themselves on His mercy. What God has done in the Messiah Jesus was all along the meaning and intention behind the promises made to Abraham in Genesis 15, the great covenant chapter in which God promised him a worldwide family characterized by faith. Romans 3:21 - 4:25 as a whole expounds and celebrates God's own righteousness, God's covenant faithfulness, revealed, unveiled, in the great apocalyptic events of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Paul declared that the 'righteousness of God' had been revealed in the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, the gospel which declares that God has one way of salvation - deliverance for Jew and Gentile alike. The gospel, he says, reveals or unveils God's own righteousness, His covenant faithfulness, which operates through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah for the benefit of all those who in turn are faith (from faith to faith). In other words, when Paul announces that Jesus the Messiah is lord, he is in that very act and announcement unveiling before the world the great news that the one god of all the world has been true to His word, has dealt decisively with the evil that has invaded His creation, and is now restoring justice, peace and truth.

In Galatians 3 is a lengthy exposition of the family of Abraham, focused initially on the covenant chapter, Genesis 15, and moving though various other covenantal passages, not least from Deuteronomy 27. In discussing Abraham, Paul is not simply producing a powerful string of proof texts. He is going back to the actual subject, which is not how individual, Abraham then and the Galatians now, come to faith (as we say), but rather the question of who belongs to Abraham's family. This is clear in Gal;3:29, where the conclusion of the argument is not 'if you are Abraham's family, you are in the Messiah', but the other way around. God established the family of Abraham. Paul reaffirms it. What matter is who belongs to it. Paul says that all those in the Messiah Jesus belong, whatever their racial background. When two people share in the faith of Jesus, they can share table-fellowship, no matter what their ancestry. All this made possible by the 'stake' which is the redeeming turning-point of history. Through the stake, 'the world is crucified to me, and I to the world,' so that now 'neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters; what matter is new creation (6:14-16). This is covenant language. 1 Corinthians 1:30 declares that 'it is by God's doing that you are in the Messiah Jesus'.... It is we who are 'the circumcision' - we, who worship God in spirit, who boast in the lord Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh.

So, the covenant status we now enjoy as followers of the Messiah Jesus, is the gift of God; it is a dikaiosune ek theou, a 'righteousness from God'. God's own righteousness has to do with his on covenant faithfulness, not with the status He bestows on His people. What we have is the status of covenant membership; it is the gift of God, not something acquired in any way by ourselves; and this gift is bestowed upon faith. At that moment that we come to accept Jesus as the one sent from God we become members of Abraham's family,

Paul's conception of how people are drawn into salvation starts with the preaching of the gospel, continues with the work of the Spirit in and through that preaching, and the effect of the Spirit's work on the hearts of the hearers, and concludes with the coming to birth of faith, and entry into the family through baptism. No one can say "Jesus is lord" except by the holy spirit (1 Cor:12:3). When that confession is made, God declares that person, who believes the gospel, is thereby marked out as being within the true covenant family. Justification is not how someone becomes a follower of Jesus, it is the declaration that they have become a Messianic believer (Christian). Our obligation now is to regard Jesus as our Saviour and thus to receive covenant membership in God's people as a gift. When Paul preached the gospel he did not mean 'justification by faith' he meant the message about the soon coming Kingdom of God, the royal announcement of Jesus the Messiah as lord, and soon coming King of kings and Lord of lords.

The gospel - the announcement of the coming kingdom of God and the lordship of Jesus the Messiah reveals God's righteousness, His covenant faithfulness, His dealing with the sin of the world through the fulfilment of His covenant in the lord Jesus the Messiah.. He has done all this righteously, that is, impartially. He has dealt with sin, and rescued the helpless. He has thereby fulfilled His promises.

The point is: who will be vindicated, resurrected, shown to be the covenant people, on the last day? those who will be vindicated on the last day are those in whose hearts and lives God will have written His law, His Torah. God has now done in the lord Jesus by His spirit what the law could not do. God has now revealed His righteousness, His covenant faithfulness, through the faithfulness of the true Jew, the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

The gospel - not 'justification by faith', but the message of Jesus - thus reveals the righteousness, that is, the covenant faithfulness, of God.

God's purpose in the covenant was to deal with the sin of Adam. Now, in the Messiah Jesus, that is exactly what He has done, and those who believe the gospel of Jesus are already demarcated as members of the true family of Abraham, with their sins being forgiven. The badge of membership, the thing because of which one can tell in the present who is within the eschatological covenant people, is of course faith, the confession that Jesus is lord and the belief that God raised him from the dead (Rom:10:9). It is faith in the gospel message of Jesus, the announcement of the true God through His son as defined in and through Jesus the Messiah.

All quotes will be from N.T. Wright's book: "What Saint Paul Really Said", and edited in places by myself.