Wednesday, February 13, 2013

4X Justin Martyr

In this series, I am looking at Brevard Childs' The Struggle to understand ISAIAH as Christian Scripture.

Why 4X? A reminder, that the further we get from the event in history, the thicker our lenses. X = the event; 2X = the first commentary (the LXX), 3X was the NT but could have included the pesherim of Qumran. These show the formation of Isaiah as part of the emerging canon. A canonical piece of writing is one that is capable of generating commentary. (Joseph Blenkinsop in McDonald and Sanders, The Canon Debate).

Isaiah was considered third in the later prophets series, after Jeremiah and Ezekiel in some lists, because it is closer to the Twelve in its redacted canonical form.  It was no shock to me to realize that the poems of the Psalms were not written by David and his contemporaries.  It cannot be a blow to faith. So it can be no shock to realize that other books like Isaiah were brought together after the exile and include passages that are not written by 'Isaiah'. The experience of Israel is the canonical problem - and it must happen before it can be canonized for it to be a human if inspired history.  Faith then is recognizing our participation and our complicity in this same history - hence the need for ransom and restoration.  Both also very human things.

I am shocked, however, by a too quick assumption that humans can define God or the divine or inspiration. Nevertheless, I must get used to it. It is a quick solution to a fearful problem. 

So where do we go with Childs on Justin Martyr (c. 100-165) and in particular on the reception of Isaiah in that early second century when the nascent Christ-faith was vying with early Rabbinic Judaism in the person of Trypho (identity uncertain - my initial thought is that he is constructed for the conversation)?
  1. Justin cites Isaiah more even than the Psalms (!) 76 direct quotations (not to mention the allusions).
  2. he takes for granted (as does Trypho - assuming he is not an imaginary dialogue partner) the authority of the OT.
  3. Justin takes for granted the apostolic tradition (too early to call it the NT).
  4. He quotes more extensively from chapters 40 and on (I base this mostly on the list of topics to which he applies Second and Third Isaiah).
  5. The list of theological applications is quite long - Childs lists 14 categories that Justin uses Isaiah to support, from Christ as Israel's everlasting king (Isaiah 43:15) to the reign of 1000 years (Isaiah 65:17-25).
I am sure I have heard these arguments and proof texts put forward in various assemblies today without so much as a thought (in me) of what type of hermeneutical method is being evoked. Childs notes that in the dialogue: "Nowhere does one find any discussion of rules or defense of assumptions..." I find it interesting that "Trypho repeatedly asks for further explanations of proofs he judges, at best, to be ambiguous, artificial, and highly selective."  That seems to me to make the dialogue far more interesting than it might otherwise be.  (It's quite a hoot actually - here's a pdf.)

Trypho makes a good beginning here but does not follow it up: Moreover, I am aware that your precepts in the so-called Gospel are so wonderful and so great, that I suspect no one can keep them; for I have carefully read them...

Then Justin: law placed against law has abrogated that which is before it, and a covenant which comes after in like manner has put an end to the previous one; and an eternal and final law – namely, Christ – has been given to us, and the covenant is trustworthy, after which there shall be no law, no commandment, no ordinance. Have you not read this which Isaiah says: 'Hearken unto Me, hearken unto Me, my people; and, ye kings, give ear unto Me: for a law shall go forth from Me, and My judgment shall be for a light to the nations. My righteousness approaches swiftly, and My salvation shall go forth, and nations shall trust in Mine arm?'

If only Trypho could answer... Then Justin throws whole chapters at his interlocutor all at once. Really! Then the tone gets worse. I find the arguments embarrassing because the prophet's criticism is internal and Justin's is external and a judgment of his brother. He hurls Psalm 49 (LXX) 50 (Hebrew) against him not recognizing that in the second half, But unto the wicked God saith, that Justin is himself that wicked. Psalm 50 is a trap for those who judge just as is Romans 1-2 (which may indeed have been modeled on that psalm.)

Then Justin jumps from Song 8:5 to Isaiah 63:2-3 and Trypho asks: Why do you select and quote whatever you wish from the prophetic writings, but do not refer to those which expressly command the Sabbath to be observed? For Isaiah thus speaks: (58:13) etc. There is little here but a form of mud-slinging. Justin has created Trypho to pound him down with clobber-chapters. And he is missing that very Christ that he professes. (Well, at least Childs got me to read a little of this.)

Childs makes an attempt to defend Justin (devil's advocate) against the accusation that he is 'an example of primitive exegetical misunderstanding that has largely served as a liability to the Christian church ever since'. Childs notes that Justin respects the OT. OK I guess - but it is not the sort of close reading that I think it deserves - not that I am capable of completing Isaiah the way I did the psalms - there is not enough time in one life.

Childs everywhere uses 'Christ' as an abbreviated name for Jesus. Is this a linguistic trap? When I see the anointing in TNK and am taught by the LORD God through these words, must I see Jesus or do I see the anointing (Christ) and teaching Spirit? [God is Spirit] 

I have definitely come to this experience of mine through Christ Jesus and through his death in which I participate, but when I call him 'my Lord' I do not call him 'my LORD'. Because personal possessive pronouns are never applied to the name of God. 

Curious eh?  We did a study over several years of Christ in the OT. It takes years for Christians to see that the God of the OT is not Jesus, but rather the LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob - ... this is my name for ever and this is my memorial unto all generations. This is also the "God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ".   I fear we are already on the road to the Shoah in the year 100 and even post-Shoah, we do not perceive this problem.

That's why X is the subject of this series. Where do you think I will get to? I think I know something of X already: The TNK exhibits the same Spirit as is incarnate in Jesus, but so often we short-circuit our obedience and our knowledge of this gift.  I think I can and must live with the tension. I would name Jesus in his humanity as my Lord and I would identify Jesus as Christ in his incarnation of the logos with respect to his divinity. In his Anointing he teaches me the same anointing from TNK as he exhibits in the NT. And the Anointing Spirit teaches me 'through Christ' the same way he teaches the elect poet of the psalms or the redactors of the later prophets.

We must take care with our hermeneutics lest we take the name of God in vain. [and it may be that I have more to learn about my pugnacious spirit]

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