A New People in Christ

I’m excited to announce that mANPCy new book, A New People in Christ: Adam, Israel, and Union with Christ in Romans, is now available.

In this book, I examine the theme of union with Christ in Romans, especially highlighting (1) the role of union with Christ in Paul’s argument and (2) the connection between union with Christ and Paul’s use of the Old Testament.

The thesis I am arguing is that the Old Testament Adam and Israel narratives provide the Old Testament background for union with Christ. I do this through an exegetical analysis of Romans.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will write additional posts introducing the argument of the book.

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A Narrative Outline of Mark

To adequately grasp the message of the Gospels, one must give careful attention to the flow of the narrative. However we understand the genre of the Gospels, they are narratives. Moreover, analyzing the movement of the narrative shows how the unity of the book as a coherent story. To that end, here is my attempt at a narrative outline of Mark’s Gospel:

 

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Most would agree that Mark wrote his Gospel with the dual purpose of introducing Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and encouraging discipleship to Jesus. With that in mind, I have divided the material into two main sections with an introduction, transition, and conclusion. The two major sections focus on answer the questions “who is Jesus?” and “what does it mean to follow him?”

The introduction anchors the story in the story of Israel. Thus Mark presents the story of Jesus as the continuation, and indeed, climax of the OT story. John the Baptist prepares the way for the return of Yahweh to Israel, thereby presenting Jesus as the embodied return of Yahweh.

Part 1 gives particular attention to the question of Jesus’s identity. Mark’s strategy is to tell the story vividly and leave the reader to ponder the issue. The story of Part 1 begins Jesus’s announcement of the kingdom’s arrival and then demonstrates Jesus as the kingdom-bringer through his authority over demons, sickness, nature, etc. Moreover, in his teaching, he is the prophet par excellence, perfectly bringing God’s Word.

Part 1 also draws attention to the meaning of discipleship as Jesus calls his followers to find a new identity in relationship with him. That is, as Part 1 defines Jesus’s identity through the narrative, Mark also invites readers to discover a new identity.

The short transitional passage in Mark 8:27-30 explicitly answers the question: Jesus is the Messiah. Of course, the multiplicity of messianic understandings in the first century demands that we read the entire Gospel in order to understand just what kind of Messiah Jesus is. And that’s just what we find in Part 2.

Part 2 defines the messianic mission of Jesus, beginning with a strong emphasis on his death and resurrection. The rest of Part 2 fills out the details of the mission with Jesus defeating the true enemy, beginning the restoration of God’s people, claiming authority over the temple and even replacing it, all leading up to the climatic moment of his death.

Thus Part 2 defines the messianic mission, focusing on the death and resurrection of Jesus as the means of restoring God’s people and bringing God’s blessing to the nations. In terms of discipleship, the call of Part 2 is for those who have found their identity in the Messiah to join his mission.

Finally, the abrupt ending of Mark fits beautifully with the movement of the narrative (I hold the majority position that the original ending is at verse 8). The question of mission is answered, through somewhat cryptically. Jesus brings restoration through resurrection. Mark is open-ended — the mission is to continue through Jesus’s followers. They are to live resurrection lives and bring the good news of Jesus to the world.

While Mark could be outlined in other ways, I think this narrative outline allows us to keep the focus on the both the message and the medium. The story invites us to participate in it: find our new identity in Christ and join him in his mission.

Text and Context

‘By a strange paradox, Paul may be most significant today when he is most carefully re-situated in his own original context.’

-John M.G. Barclay, Paul and the Gift, p. 7

I have received my copy of John Barclay’s new book, Paul and the Gift and it looks to be a game-changer for Pauline studies. I’ll have more to say about this important book in the future, but for today, the last sentence (quoted above) of the prologue got me thinking about exegesis, biblical theology, and communicating biblical truth across cultures.

Barclay’s primary subject is Paul’s theology of grace, understood in terms of gift. His strategy is careful exegesis of the biblical text, understood within its first century context, particularly Paul’s Jewish heritage. Here, Barclay argues that while the biblical text is primary, proper exegesis must take background study into account. Doing so clarifies the meaning the text and, consequently, illuminates it’s significance for the contemporary church.

I want to add one thought to this: responsible exegesis set within the textual and historical context of the biblical text also aids in communicating biblical truth across cultures. 

context-matters

There are at least two reasons this is so:

1. First, biblical truth was revealed in particular cultures.

To appropriate the words of John Donne, ‘No text is an island.’  The Scriptures did not fall from the sky as a set of propositions, but were revealed over time and in particular cultural contexts. Thus, the words of Scripture are best understood within their cultural contexts. Of course, I am not saying that texts and historical contexts carry equal value. Indeed, the biblical text is sufficient in and of itself. And, primary interpretive weight is given to the biblical context.

Nevertheless, historical contexts are important for rightly understanding the meanings of particular words and phrases. Thus, background study helps us rightly understanding authorial intent and meaning.

This point is significant in teaching cross-culturally because no one reads the biblical text as a blank slate – i.e. without their own cultural lenses. Historical context helps guard us from importing foreign meanings into the biblical text.

2. Second, placing texts in context helps illuminate the concreteness of truth.

Removing texts from historical context often results in the abstracting of the message of the text, which inherently makes it more difficult to understand. While some theological truth is abstract in nature, most biblical theology is communicated in concrete stories. In choosing this manner of self-revelation, God contextualized truth so that humans could understand and apply.

It is helpful for us as readers of texts to see the way in which God has acted in history, the way in which these great historical acts were understood by believers, and the way in which believers’ lives were changed as they applied the gospel to real life situations. Concreteness communicates cross-culturally.

Reading biblical texts in historical context helps us to see the concrete reality of biblical theology. This is the point at which truth is truly life-changing and worldview building.