Friday, May 3, 2013

Premise of History

'Adam Crouching' by
Paul Wayland Bartlett
Back when I first got interested in Jesus of Nazareth I sometimes watched a televangelist who was given to making startling, bombastic statements. Come to think of it, that describes most of the televangelists I saw.  This particular preacher held the belief that, because Jesus once predicted in Matthew's gospel (and nowhere else) that, "the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights," it meant he would be laying in the tomb for precisely 72 hours -- no more, no less. 

Evidence of how ancient Jewish people reckoned time counted for nothing with him. "If Jesus wasn't in the grave for exactly 72 hours," he would proclaim, "you have no Savior!"

J. R. Daniel Kirk, whose blog I read, wrote an article recently trying to answer a question that can sometimes elicit a similar response: Does St. Paul's explanation (found here and here) of how Jesus counteracts Adam's sin fall apart if it turns out an actual Adam never existed? Does the current scientific understanding of human origins, which has precious little room for Adam, Eve, and their garden, shoot holes in Paul's theology?

Such ideas are enough to move some people to exclaim, "If Adam and Eve never existed, then Christianity is nothing more than a fable!"

I have an idea about this. Maybe I'll post something about it at some point. But whatever the ultimate answer to this question is, I believe the key to understanding it probably lies in this section of Kirk's paper:
New Testament scholarship over the past half century has developed the insight that the first data point in Paul’s Christian theologizing was his understanding that the cross and resurrection formed the saving act of God. In the 1960s, Herman Ridderbos argued that this fundamental conviction becomes the great act of God by which all other acts and ideas are understood.5 The significance of this focus on Christ is that it ripples out in all directions: not only does Paul rethink the future in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but he also reinterprets what came before. Thus, Ridderbos concludes that “Paul’s whole doctrine of the world and man in sin . . . is only to be perceived in the light of his insight into the all-important redemptive event in Christ.”6 A decade later E. P. Sanders concurred, claiming that Paul reasons “from solution to plight.”7 Because Paul knows that God has provided the solution to the problem of human sin in the crucified and risen Christ, he therefore reassesses the place of the Law, in particular, in God’s saving story.
Both Ridderbos and Sanders have come to the same conclusion: what is a “given” for Paul is the saving event of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The other things he says, especially about sin, the Law, and eschatology, are reinterpretations that grow from the fundamental reality of the Christ event.
Not just for Paul but for all faithful early members of the Christian Movement, the crucifixion and resurrection  of Jesus, when the Kingdom of God began, when the universe's High King was crowned, is the lens through which all of history makes sense. We need to take Paul's perspective and look back through history -- especially scriptural history -- from inside the vortex of Christ's transformational work on the cross and in the tomb. That, I believe, is where the answer to this problem can most clearly be seen.

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