Athens and Jerusalem?

The thing that has most jumped out at me in my study of the world of the New Testament (2nd temple Judaism, historical context of the Gospels, etc etc) is just how far the categories of modern theology are from the world of the NT. To take one example: were one to go back to, say, 30 AD and talk to a certain carpenter about the hypostatic union, or essence, nature and being and being cosubstantial with the father, said carpenter would probably look at you like you had matzo balls coming out of your ears.

Now, I’m absolutely not pulling that old ‘Greek philosophy’ criticism that seems to get thrown around a bunch. There’s nothing wrong with using concepts/grammar/categories that aren’t strictly ‘biblical’. Anyone who spends any time reading this blog will realize that I think that discussing the finer points of the hypostatic union is important.

I suppose my question then is at odds with my last paragraph. At what point does it cease to be productive to use foreign (non-biblical) categories in our understanding of Scripture, Jesus, God, etc? N.T. Wright has made some powerful points criticizing the use of terms like nature, substance, etc in (for example) Chalcedon and to an extent the Nicene Creed, though his criticism of the NC is that it screens out the Jewish narrative of Scripture. I’m somewhat inclined to agree with him when he makes these points. Should we be using categories of thought that would have been utterly foreign to Jesus?

The extent to which our questions are foreign to the biblical world has been most clearly illustrated (in my opinion) by the recent debates over justification. Wright has pretty much demonstrated that the questions which were being brought to the text not only were the wrong questions but the wrong concepts and frameworks of thought (and yes, I regard Wright correct, broadly, in that debate) altogether. This isn’t to debate over justification but rather to illustrate that when we impose our own thinking on Scripture instead of allowing the reality of God and the Word of God through Scripture to impose its reality upon our thinking we’re going to come up with things foreign to Scripture.

Anyway, I’ll end this incoherent coffee fueled rant.


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