The Disadvantage of “Fall” Language

John Goldingay’s Old Testament Theology has just been released in a paperback edition. In the past couple of years I’ve grown in appreciation of Goldingay’s work so I took advantage to explore this volume. As usual it doesn’t take long before Goldingay gives me a lot to think about. Consider these paragraphs.

“One disadvantage of ‘Fall’ language is thus that it portrays human beings as in a position of splendor, prestige and exaltation, from which they ‘fell.’ They were immortal, and they ‘fell’ from immortality to mortality. We have seen that the motif of the life tree suggests a different perspective. Human beings were not created immortal, though God intended them to receive the gift of lasting life through eating the fruit of the life tree. Further, the ‘Fall’ idea can suggest that human beings originally lived a life of heaven-like happiness and closeness to God, while as a result of the ‘Fall’ their relationship with God was broken. But Genesis 1-2 itself does not say anything about how their life actually was before their disobedience. It does not describe them as living lives of obedience and bliss, only as having an opportunity to learn obedience and grow to moral maturity. The tragedy of Genesis 1-3 is not that human beings fell from a state of bliss but that they failed to realize a possibility, ‘fell short of the glory of God.’ Further, the ‘Fall’ idea suggests that whereas human beings could originally obey God, afterward they could not. But in Genesis 3 we find the same dynamics of temptation and disobedience on the way to the ‘Fall’ as we ourselves experience after it, while Genesis 4 pictures Adam and Eve after their disobedience and expulsion from God’s garden still working together with God, worshiping and conversing with God. Their disobedience affected their relationship with God and it cut them off from the garden, but it did not cut them off from God.”

“In broader Christian usage, ‘Fall’ describes not only the consequences of Adam and Eve’s yielding to temptation, but the act itself. In this connection, too, the usage looks questionable. On the basis of Genesis itself, Jonathan Magonet asks whether they fell or whether they were pushed, while Paul calls Adam and Eve’s sin a paraptōma not a ptōma (Rom 5:14)–not an accident or calamity, something that happened to them, but a transgression, a deliberate false step.” (p. 146)

Old Testament Theology, Volume One: Israel’s Gospel is a paperback with 940 pages and sells for $45.00.

John Goldingay (PhD, University of Nottingham; DD, Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth) is David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary

Old Testament Theology



Has the New Covenant Been Established?

It’s seems like a strange question to ask when the New Testament seems so clear about it. But John Goldingay offers an important qualification on the issue in his new release Do We Need the New Testament? (IVP Academic).

“My point involves recognizing a paradox within Hebrews itself. It declares that the new covenant of which Jeremiah spoke has been established, through Jesus (Heb 8:7-13; 10:15-18). Yet a moment’s reflection confirms that this statement involves some oversimplification. The new covenant was to effect the writing of God’s revelation into people’s minds, with the result that they no longer needed to teach each other. Thus another of the contrasts between the Testaments that I listed in the introduction to this volume is that God’s teaching is now written into our minds rather than written only on stone. Yet the very existence and contents of Hebrews shows that God’s revelation is not written into people’s minds. Hebrews addresses an audience that needs basic instructions on matters such as love, hospitality, faithfulness in marriage, contentment and the role of their leaders in teaching them (Heb 13:1-25). Those instructions are not far from being a restatement of the Ten Commandments. The instruction that the audience needs is basic indeed. People who have experienced that of which Jeremiah 31 speaks would not be vulnerable to the comment about needing their faculties to be trained to distinguish good and evil (Heb 5:14). Whatever new potential there is in Jeremiah’s new covenant, it is not realized in the congregation that Hebrews addresses, nor in other New Testament congregations such as that at Corinth. Nor does the church today look like an embodiment of the new covenant. In this sense, the new covenant has surely not been established.”

“There is a converse point. Jeremiah 31:31-34 was a promise made to Israel on the verge of the fall of Jerusalem into exile. It would not be particularly good news to its hearers if it was destined for fulfillment only six centuries later. Indeed, it did not wait six centuries. Within a few decades, there was again a worshipping community in Jerusalem living as Yahweh’s people with Yahweh as their God, one that in due course showed itself to be a community with quite a lot of Torah written into its minds–people no longer worshiped other gods, made images, neglected the Sabbath and so on. I don’t know that they avoided adultery or other covetousness, but then, neither does the church in the New Testament, or today.”

“The fact that the new covenant has not been effectively implemented in the church means that we are not in so different a situation from that of Israel. Our lives do not look to be morally superior to Israel’s, nor do we seem to have a closer relationship with God than the one the First Testament speaks of. Hebrews itself speaks in this way in its telling exposition of Psalm 95. When it refers to the way the wilderness generation failed to enter God’s rest, and goes on to take ‘rest’ as an image for salvation in Christ, one might have expected it to be implying that the church has entered this rest, but in fact it urges people to make sure that they don’t follow the wilderness generation’s example. They could fail to enter this rest as that generation did, and as in effect later generations of Israel could, notwithstanding their being physically in the land. Believers in Jesus are not in a less vulnerable position that Israel’s. They are in the same position. . . . It is worth noting that Paul also quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34, in Romans 11:27, and does so in connection with what God will do at the End, not what God has already done.” (pp. 97-99)

Do We Need the New Testament? is a paperback with 184 pages and sells for $22.00.

John Goldingay (PhD, University of Nottingham; DD, Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth) is David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. He was previously principal and a professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at St John’s Theological College in Nottingham, England.

Do we Need the New Testament

Book Give Away

This week I’m offering Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul by Simon Gathercole. The atonement is enjoying lively debate currently and this book will be a welcome voice. Here are two of the endorsements:

“The meaning of Jesus’s death remains controversial. In this short exploratory study Simon Gathercole draws on a range of classical as well as biblical sources to argue that for Paul, at least, the notion of substitution remained central. Many questions remain, but this book will give new energy to the ongoing discussion.”

N. T. Wright, Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, University of St. Andrews, Scotland

“Can Christ’s work of atonement be substitutionary in nature? Though Reformation Protestantism has replied in the affirmative, much recent scholarship has tended to have a negative view of this atonement motif. Simon Gathercole is to be congratulated for intervening in this debate with a short, clear, and lively book that argues the case for a substitutionary motif from a biblical perspective, and with an eye to both the Christian tradition and recent debates in the literature. This is a work all those interested in the atonement will want to read and engage. It is certainly a book I shall be recommending to my students.”

Oliver D. Crisp, Fuller Theological Seminary

Leave your name in the comments section by NLT Friday, May 22nd 6:00 am EST. I’ll announce the winner that Friday. If I don’t hear back from the winner within seven days the book will go to another entry.

Defending Substitution

On Making the Sign of the Cross

We’ve all seen it–people making the sign of the cross over themselves. Most assume these are Catholics and odds are they would be correct. However, there is a subtle difference that can alert you that the person is probably Orthodox. After touching the forehead and abdomen Catholics will go from the left shoulder to the right shoulder. The Orthodox, however, go from the right shoulder to the left. Less noticeable but important is the way in which they hold their hand. In her book, Welcome to the Orthodox Church, (Paraclete Press) Frederica Mathewes-Green offers some helpful guidance to understand this long-standing church tradition.

“In the West, all five fingers are loosely held together, some say this represents the five wounds of Christ. In the East, it’s more complicated. . . . When Orthodox Christians make the sign of the cross, they position the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand together at the tip, to represent the Trinity. This is what you use to touch forehead, abdomen, shoulder, and shoulder. The ring and little finger are held together, to represent the two natures of Christ, they are bent down to touch the palm, to represent his descent to earth. When I first began attending Orthodox worship, I found it very hard to scramble my fingers into this position on short notice. So I would form them correctly at the beginning of the service and just try to keep them that way till the end. I never knew when it was going to be time to make the sign of the cross again, it seemed like we were doing it every few minutes. I grew up thinking of the sign of the cross as something you do at the beginning and end of a prayer, like bookends. But Orthodox Christians cross themselves with great frequency during worship: when entering or leaving a church, when kissing a cross, an icon, or the Gospel book, at each mention of the Trinity or of the cross, before and after a reading from Scripture, during the Nicene Creed, during the Communion prayers, at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, before and after receiving Communion—really, just about any time. Even outside the church I cross myself when I hear an ambulance siren, and when I hear something I should pray about. In such cases it is the gesture that seals a flying prayer: ‘Lord, help.’” (pp. 9-10)

In this short video Fr. Mike Schmitz offers three things you should know about the sign of the cross. He is from the Catholic tradition but does mention the unique manner in which the Orthodox make the sign of the cross.


Coming Soon – “Jesus and the Last Supper” by Brant Pitre

My first introduction to Brant Pitre was his doctoral dissertation which was published by Baker Academic in 2005. The 586-page book was titled Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile (now out of print). Scot McKnight said of this book, “Not only a good read but also simply an important contribution to scholarship and the down payment of much more to come from this young, insightful, and wise scholar. Of the dissertations I’ve read, this is perhaps the finest.” My second exposure to him came in a much more lay friendly format: Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist (Image Books). The first book demonstrated his depth as a scholar. The second showed me he knew how to communicate to a lay audience with just as much depth. So when my Eerdmans rep showed me his next book I was genuinely excited. Coming this Fall will be Jesus and the Last Supper. Here’s the catalog description:

The most extensive study to date of the historical Jesus and the Last Supper.

Who did Jesus of Nazareth claim to be? What was his relationship with early Judaism? When and how did he expect the kingdom to come? What were his intentions? Though these key questions have been addressed in studies of the historical Jesus, Brant Pitre argues that they cannot be fully answered apart from a careful historical analysis of the Last Supper accounts.

In this book Pitre offers a rigorous, up-to-date study of the historical Jesus and the Last Supper, filling a significant gap in current Jesus research. Situating the Last Supper in the triple contexts of ancient Judaism, the life of Jesus, and early Christianity, Pitre brings to light crucial insights into major issues driving the quest for Jesus. His Jesus and the Last Supper is sure to ignite discussion and debate.”

I have no doubt this will be a solid contribution to historical Jesus studies. Pitre’s scholarship has marked itself early on as competent, insightful, and compelling.

Watch for it this November. Jesus and the Last Supper will be a hardcover with 560 pages and sell for $55.00.

Brant Pitre is professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana. You can find his website here.

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