Archive for June, 2009
Tomorrow, June 30, Corrie and I celebrate two years of marriage. On this night two years ago, I was kidnapped by my groomsmen and other friends and taken to Iron Hill Brewery for drinks and merriment. Then we went back to my apartment and smoked pipes and talked till 2am. Then I slept on my small pad in the living room for the last time.
When morning came, I symbolically gathered up all my old twin-size sheets and my crumbling egg-crate bed, and tossed them in the dumpster. Then I showered, grabbed my tux, and headed for the church with my buddies.
Eight furious and flurrious hours later, it was all over. Or, maybe it had just begun (cheesiest line ever!)…
Two years later, I am happy to report that we are still in love. But it’s a different sort of love; I knew marriage would change our relationship for the better, but it was one of those things that you just don’t understand until you take the plunge. I think that the scariest part of being married is that the stakes are so much higher; the risk of causing and receiving pain is so much higher. Yet this is also the best part of marriage, since the same closeness that inevitably brings pain also brings joy and intimacy.
It’s easy for me to say that marriage is great. I highly recommend it. But wait till we’ve been married for five years, and then ten, and then twenty-five, then fifty–that’s when my opinion might mean something. I suppose marriage is what Corrie and I make of it, by God’s grace.
In a previous post, Bekah discussed the ancient Mesopotamian mouth-cleansing ceremony for an idol. I commented on the hand-made-ness of the idols, and connected it to Paul’s use of χειροποιητος ("hand-made") in Ephesians 2. This post will explore this relationship in more detail.
In Ephesians 2:11-12, Paul writes to the Gentiles, "Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands [χειροποιητος]–remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world."
Paul refers to Jews as “those circumcised in flesh with hands.” He uses the term χειροποιητος (”hand-made”), which is used in the LXX to translate these words:
* אלילם (”images;” Lev. 26:1, Isa. 2:18, 10:11, 31:7, etc.)
* אלהים (”gods;” Isa. 21:9)
* במה (”high place”/”altar;” Lev. 26:30)
* Aramaic אֱלָהּ (”god;” Dan. 5:4, 23, 6:28)
In Colossians 2:11, Paul again writes to Gentiles (cf. 2:13), "In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands [αχειροποιητος], by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ…"
These two Greek antonyms are used elsewhere in the NT with reference to the temple or tabernacle of God (Mar. 14:58, Acts 7:48, 17:24, 2 Cor. 5:1, Hebrews 9:11, 24). In each case, that which is "made without hands" is superior to that which is "made with hands." God himself has made this new temple, this church, this new Holy of Holies, in which Jesus serves as priest. That which is made with hands is either a worthless copy or a frail sign of that which is to come.
At least for the Jews who translated the LXX, the ideas of “idols” and “hand-made” were linked and used polemically against the nations. In the second half of Ephesians 2, Paul then turns this polemic back on the Jews whom he feels place undue emphasis on the physical sign of the Abrahamic covenant and their ethnic background, rather than on circumcision of the heart. The Psalmist wrote, "For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but YHWH made the heavens" (96:5). Paul might exaggeratedly paraphrase thus: "For the circumcision of the fallen new-Adam-people is become a worthless idol, but YHWH has made a true new-Adam-people in Christ."
In Ephesians 2 (paralleled somewhat in Col. 2), he shows that Jews and Gentiles are saved by grace through faith (vv. 1-10) and then that the dividing wall between the two peoples has been brought down (vv. 11-22). These two ideas are inextricably linked in Paul’s theology; yet Reformation folk and NPPers seem to feel the need to emphasize one over-against the other.
In the beginning, Yahweh God built a temple. Now the stones with which Yahweh wished to build His temple were scattered and broken and there were no hands to set the stones together, and the Breath of Yahweh hovered over the stones. And the Breath of Yahweh blew upon the stones and separated air from stone and ordered the stones into walls. Within the walls, Yahweh built more walls, rooms within rooms. Yet there was no life in the temple. And so Yahweh God fashioned a statue of Himself out of mud, and the Breath entered its lungs and it became a living image. One day while the image was sleeping, Yahweh pulled a rib from its side and with it fashioned another living image.
Now Yahweh placed these two enlivened statues in the innermost part of the temple, the Holy of Holies, and commanded them saying, “Multiply, fill the whole temple with images, spread the divine space of the Holy of Holies to the whole of the temple until there is no more division between holy and unholy space, between chaos and order, between being and non being. Fill the whole temple with My bodily Presence.” Yahweh gave His images charge over the temple storehouses also, saying, “Eat from all the food in the storehouses and feed the other inhabitants of the temple, making certain that every creature has what it needs. Yet do not eat of the Bread of the Knowledge of Holiness and Unholiness, for in the day that you do, you shall surely cease to be my images.”
Yet there were enemies lurking within the outer walls of the temple courts who did not wish Yahweh to be the God of the temple, and they despised the statues whose senses He had enlivened. And so the enemies broke into the Holy of Holies and lied to the images of Yahweh saying, “Yahweh has deceived you. He knows that if you eat of the Bread of the Knowledge of Holiness and Unholiness, you will become as divine as He and try to overthrow Him. In that day, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, and you will no longer need His Breath in order to live in divine space.”
And so the two images believed the words of the enemies and ate of the forbidden bread, declaring to Yahweh, “We do not wish to be your images any longer! We shall represent only our selves, our own divinity! We shall be our own holiness! Take away the Breath of your Presence!” No sooner had the images eaten the bread and uttered the words when Yahweh’s Breath left His images and they died, for there was nothing to enliven them. They fell from the altar bench to the ground, for there was no more Breath in their lungs. The enemies plundered the statues and carried them away from the temple, stripping them of the precious metals and jewels with which they were adorned. The enemies cast the images out into a razed field outside the temple walls and left them to rot within the earth.
Outside the entrance to the Holy of Holies, Yahweh placed a guardian deity with a flaming sword, lest anything unholy try to enter it again. In the outer courts of the temple, all the inhabitants mourned, for the keepers of the temple storehouses had died. Who would care for the temple and who would fill it with holiness? Who would be Yahweh’s bodily presence to sustain all that lived within the temple and who would protect them from the wild unholy things that lurked outside the Holy of Holies?*
After spending a semester studying ancient Near Eastern mythology and the spatial layout of ANE temples, it is well-nigh impossible for me to think of the Gospel of Jesus Christ without thinking about Mesopotamian cult statues. “What do cult statues have to do with the Gospel?” you may rightly ask. If you’ve grown up in a Christian family or been at all immersed in Christian sub-culture, you’ve probably heard people say that human beings are created in the “image of God” – and that is what the Biblical account in Genesis says. In the beginning, God speaks into the chaos and starts building the universe and filling it with living creatures. When God sets about creating humanity, He says, “Let us make humans in our image, after our likeness.” But what exactly does it mean to be created “in the image of God”?
Later on in the Biblical narrative, Yahweh God commands His people, Israel, not to make any graven images or any sort of anthropomorphic statues in an attempt to represent Him. This command against graven images stands in sharp contrast to the surrounding peoples of Mesopotamia who had oodles and oodles of images of varying kinds to represent their many deities. As W.W. Hallo has noted, because human beings were already the image of God, Yahweh’s command against making graven images was, “presumably intended to discourage all experimentation to arrive at a more precision depiction of the deity.”
If humanity is created in the image of Yahweh, then…humans are Yahweh’s cult statues?
I decided to pursue the connection further. I thought that an understanding of how these cult images were mean to represent their pagan deities might shed some light on humanity’s function and identity as Yahweh’s image. As aforementioned, there were many kinds of images and divine representation of ANE deities, however, these cult statues seemed to have a special function because of their placement in Mesopotamian temples and the specific rituals the images had to undergo in order for the spirit of the deity to take up residence in the image. But before I tell you about that, let me discuss what the temple meant for people in the ANE.
To the Mesopotamian mind, the destiny of humanity was inextricably linked to the will and destiny of the gods. The temple was not just a place for humans to offer sacrifice and make requests to a deity who lodged elsewhere – the temple was thought of as the divine residence of the god. The presence of the god was needed in order for the community to thrive. If the nation was to function as it ought, you needed to gods to move into the neighborhood. Without the gods, the crops would fail, the animals would languish, and you wouldn’t have success in battle, so you wanted the gods to live among you as members of the community. But no one would expect a god to take up residence in an unholy house or live in the community with the proper treatment. So the people must build a house fit for…well…a god. And so grand temples were built on mountains or atop tall ziggurats in order to bring humans closer to the divine space of the heavens, in hopes that the gods would condescend to dwell among humans. The high places were the meeting point between human and divine space.
The spatial layout of the temple determined where the god would reside. There was a good deal of diversity and complexity within ANE temples, but usually the holiest, most sacred space was deep within the heart of the temple. There were sometimes outer courts where any temple functionary or worshipper could go, but travel a little deeper into the temple and you would find holy places that only certain officiates and priests could enter. The holiest place was the cella or holy of holies, which might be thought of as the throne room of the god. This was where the image of the god lived.
While there is some debate on how precisely the cult image was supposed to represent its deity, the majority of scholars own that the image did not function like an icon in a church. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, icons are pictures that remind the viewer of the saint or Christ who is beyond the icon. An icon is like a window through which one speaks to the person depicted, yet the reality of the person is elsewhere. Mesopotamian cult statues are a different kind of image. It was supposed that, through ritual cleansing, the spirit of the deity actually became present in the statue. (And, some postulate, the statue simultaneously was and was not the god itself – I’ll discuss this in greater detail later.) Through ceremonial washing, the image became the living presence of the deity.
However, even if a cult statue was crafted, this did not guarantee the presence of the god within the image. The image had to undergo several ceremonies, the mis pi (mouth-cleansing) and pit pi (mouth-opening). As part of the mouth-washing ceremony, the human craftsmen who had fashioned the image had their hands ceremonially “cut off” with a wooden tamarisk sword while swearing that they had not made the image; that it was in fact a god “born of the heavens.” The lips of the statue were cleansed at least fourteen times in order to make it a proper abode in which the deity might dwell. After this, the statue’s mouth was ritually opened, which meant that its senses were activated in order that it might it might smell incense and hear and eat food, etc. In essence, it became a living being and was treated as one (the image was often clothed, adorned and given food and incense by the temple officiates who cared for the images). After this “activation,” the statue was escorted to its residence in the holy of holies.
So how does this shed light on the idea of human beings as the “image of God”? I think this “temple action” in the pagan temples of Mesopotamian parallels what’s going on with the earth and humanity in Genesis 1-3. There are numerous Psalms and other poetic descriptions in the Bible that portray the heavens and the earth as a kind of cosmic temple (Psalm 104 is one example that comes to mind). The heavens are Yahweh’s throne and the earth is his footstool (Isa. 66:1). Even the apostle Paul in his speech in the Areopagus says that, “the God who made the world does not dwell in temples made by hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25). Yahweh is not like other gods who live in temples and must be served food and drink by human hands. Yahweh does not create humans to serve Him in that sense, as if He needed anything, but it is He who formed the temple of the world and sustains it by the Breath of His Presence. After fashioning the world, God fashions an image, Adam, and breathes His Spirit into him and Adam becomes a living being. From Adam’s rib, God creates another image, Eve. God sets His images in the Holy of Holies (the Garden of Eden) and commands His images to, in essence, push the sacred space of the Garden out to the rest of the world. They are to be their Father’s bodily presence to the rest of the world.
In Mesopotamian temples, if the cult image of the deity was in the holy of holies, it meant that all was well with the world, for the god was in his earthly home. If the image was alive, it meant that the deity it represented was also alive. Sometimes, however, foreign invaders would ravage the city and steal the temple images. Once the statues were thus desecrated, it was believed that the spirit of the deity had abandoned the image because of its unholiness. In order for the statue to once again become the living presence of the deity, it had to be repaired and ceremonially cleansed, activated, and installed in the temple in order for the deity to return to the temple and dwell within its image once again. A time of mourning took place while the statue was being repaired, for the death of the image meant that the god, too, had died. When the statue was brought back to the temple, a time of rejoicing took place, for the resurrection of the image meant the resurrection of the deity.
By the end of Genesis 3, we have God’s images stripped bare and abandoned just outside of the temple. Obviously, there is not a one-to-one correspondence between Mesopotamian cult statues and humanity and all these comparisons must be taken with a grain of salt. Unlike the abandoned cult images, Adam and Eve are still alive and, in some sense, are still the images of God, but not in the old way. All is not right with the world; the Garden has been ravaged by evil creatures and humanity (instead of subduing evil), has been subdued by evil.
So where does the Gospel of Jesus Christ come in? In my next post, I will discuss Jesus as both the image of the Deity and the Deity Himself and also address in greater detail the relationship between the image and the deity in ancient Mesopotamia (there’s this recurring theme that what is done to the image is done to the deity). I will also discuss the idea of the Eucharistic Presence and what being Yahweh’s image might entail in the context of the covenant community.
*As you can see, I have taken a good deal of poetic liberty in my rendition of the Creation story. It is not meant to be a theologically precise account, but a creative interpretation to provoke thought and dialogue.
It’s a privilege to welcome my sister, Rebekah, to this blog as my co-host. I’ll let Bekah introduce herself more fully, but I will say that you will find her writing thoughtful and enjoyable. I have encouraged her to put up some of her poetry, past and present, for you to savor.
Check back in often, or subscribe to ThinkHardThinkWell using the feed on the right. Thanks for reading!
Several years ago I discovered a radio program based in the Midwest called "Issues, Etc." The host, Todd, is a Lutheran pastor, and the show is a mix of theology, culture, politics, history and pastoral theology, livened by Todd’s and Jeff’s dry humor. As someone who grew up in contemporary, evangelical, credobaptistic churches but has come to Reformed theology as an adult, I appreciate the perspective of my new-found Reformational "cousins" in the Lutheran tradition.
Here’s Pastor Todd in a round-table discussion with some other LCMS pastors on the history and theology of the debate on priestly celibacy. All of Todd’s shows are available in MP3 format on the website.
Priestly celibacy finds its roots in fourth-century monastic asceticism–abandoning the world in the pursuit of higher spirituality. When governmental persecution ended in 313, the church lost its "refiner’s fire," so Christians had to come up with some other way of getting close to God–or, more skeptically, of proving how truly spiritual they were. Thus, some chose to afflict themselves.
Yet in the contemporary American church, the pendulum has swung the other way as a result of the Christian response to the 1960s revolution. This results in "how-to" books from the Song of Songs, and a general "Why-should-the-devil-have-all-the-good-sex?" mentality. Are we telling our teens and young singles that marriage will be a sexual bonanza?
One issue I’ve been mulling over for the last few years is the relationship of Genesis’ primeval history to modern science. I grew up believing that the world was 6,000-10,000 years old, that God created the world in 144 hours, and that geologists and evolutionary biologists were bent on twisting the scientific evidence in order to destroy the Bible.
While doing undergraduate biblical studies, I set aside the “creation vs. evolution” debate in my mind, focusing on the literary and theological world of the Hebrew Bible rather than the historical. However, since Christianity is an historical religion—it makes claims about things that actually, physically happened in history—the question kept coming around again. Recently, I encountered the debate as a part of the Enns controversy at Westminster. That debate was technically over the role of Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith, but competing perspectives on Genesis 1-11 were part of the mix.
So, as an evangelical with quite a bit of biblical training, some understanding of Hebrew, but little or no expertise in the fields of biology and geology, I ask the question: how much must I, as a Christian attempting to be faithful to Scripture, assert about the “historicity” (and that’s a loaded word, of course) of the Bible?
I will give two examples at the ends of the spectrum. It is widely acknowledged that Jesus’ parables are not historically factual; when Jesus begins, “There was a certain Pharisee who did such-and-such,” he does not actually mean that there was such a man, though there may have been. On the other hand, if the accounts of the bodily resurrection of Jesus are not broadly historically reliable, if Jesus did not rise from the dead physically in history, then our faith is in vain.
In terms of the necessity of a corresponding historical event, the biblical historiographical accounts fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Must there have been over 600,000 fighting men in Israel at the beginning of the wilderness wandering, or is this an exaggeration? Must Job have been a real person, and if so, need he have conversed with his friends in poetic, first-millennium-BCE Hebrew while scraping his boils with shards of pottery? Need we say that all the multicentenarian ages recorded in Genesis 4-9 be literally true in a modern sense, or could we say that this is a way of honoring ancestors by ascribing extremely old age?
What say you? What must we affirm in order to say that the Bible is true?
Since I haven’t posted in a while, I thought it might be nice to update. In light of my previous post, this may seem strange to think that you care, but my rationale is that pretty much only people who know me will read this, and if you know me, you might care.
1. In May, I completed my first year of MDiv studies at PBU, after transferring from Westminster in the wake of the Enns debacle. In God’s providence, this was a great move for my spiritual and intellectual growth; PBU is going through some great changes in leadership and direction. With all the credits they gave me from WTS and my undergrad, I have only two FT semesters and one PT semester left.
PBU’s large undergraduate base affords the grad students many opportunities not available at a seminary. There are more professors, who have a plethora of specialties and interests, as well as time to do independent studies and smaller classes with the grad students. I did two independent studies this semester, and I’m working on one right now over the summer. I was also given the chance to present some of my research in an undergraduate Hebrew class.
It’s a great time to be an MDiv student at PBU, especially since they beefed up the program last year. I think it is among the best in the Philadelphia area, in terms of academic rigor, academic freedom, practical teaching and diversity among the students. (For you Reformed folk, don’t worry–dispensationalism is going the way of the buffalo here.)
2. My current research interests include Paul and the Roman Empire, Christology in Second Temple Judaism, and Hebrew discourse analysis. My independent study is with OT professor and newly appointed provost, Brian G. Toews; we are studying DA methods in Hebrew poetry. Dr. Toews is a polymath; his advanced degrees are in theology and linguistics (his dissertation was on Biblical Aramaic), but he teaches philosophy, linguistics, film, anthropology, OT, Hebrew, Aramaic and NT. It’s unfortunate that academia has become so specialized that there are very few true scholars, Renaissance men.
I took Exegesis of Romans last semester, which is the capstone course of the MDiv. It was a challenging course, translating through the Greek every week, writing and researching. But it was also very encouraging, particularly in light of some personal and family issues I encountered. I think Romans 5-8 is one of my favorite passages in the the Bible.
3. Corrie just finished her second year as the choral director at Plumstead Christian School. Given the financial troubles that private schools are facing, there was some question as to whether she would keep her job for next year. But they found the funds somehow, and she will be back in the Fall–teaching Spanish as part of her courseload (go figure!). So our evenings often include messing around on one instrument or another, and extended conversations en Español.
We lead a small group of young couples at our home. We’ve been at a Baptist church for two years now, but I’m still a Presbyterian at heart. Thankfully, Chelten is pretty Calvinistic, and they let me teach Reformed theology in Sunday School. We also get the chance to lead the music every once in a while.
4. Bekah is back from Oxford. She has one semester left to finish at PBU. She then hopes to go back to Oxford next fall for grad work. Deb is taking some community college courses and babysitting. Michael is going into high school, and he loves computers, music and Greek.
5. Pray for me and Corrie as we make life-changing decisions in the next year or two. We have talked about going overseas to do Bible translation or teaching, pursuing a doctorate right away, or going into FT ordained ministry in the states. We also hope to be blessed with children soon. God has provided for us so far, and we know he will continue to do so.
That’s all for now. I hope to post more faithfully this summer, so check back occasionally.
Last year I started this blog with every intention of posting something interesting or helpful every so often. As you can see, that has not worked out as I hoped.
It was difficult to make time to blog when I wasn’t sure it would be worth it. There are millions of other blogs out there–what could I say that would contribute to the world more than others?
Why do we think that other people give a rip what we do from day to day? It strikes me as a reflection of our arrogance as a society. There is a tension between our disconnection from our history and the desire to be remembered in history. We just want someone, somewhere, at some time in the future, to know and care that we existed.
Yet all the voices drown each other out, and our collective noise is something like the eerie sound of thousands of maggots feasting.