A Lamech Christology

The Apostle Paul regularly utilized what is called “Adam Christology” – that is, a way of understanding Christ in light of Adam. Just as Adam brought death, so Christ brought life. Just as all those who are in Adam will die, so all those who are in Christ will live.

However, I don’t think Adam is the only foundational human being capable of being utilized in the christological enterprise. Another monumental figure among our “older siblings” is a man named Lamech. His story is told in Genesis 4 – he hails from the line of Cain (the first murderer), is the first polygamous man in Scripture, and intensifies the violence of Cain. His story ends with this poetic brag:

“Lamech said to his wives:
‘Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
  you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
  a young man for striking me.
If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold,
  then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.'”

Lamech’s song is the song of human history. Our world is a world of glorified violence, a moral ghetto where revenge is trusted above all else.  If there is one non-negotiable creed in our blood-stained culture, it’s the myth of redemptive violence.

In a world like ours, Christ appears as a kind of “second-Lamech.” While our older brother Lamech forged the path of vengeance on which we slavishly walk, our even older brother, Christ, has charted a new path of Kingdom peace and forgiveness.

Interestingly, Jesus explicitly alludes to Lamech’s infamous speech after an inquiry into the number of times required to forgive one’s enemy: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” As Richard Beck says poignantly, the Song of Lamech is not the Song of the Lamb.  One might also read Jesus’ statement in Luke 6:27-29 as a direct retort to Lamech’s lyrical boast: “But I say to you who hear, ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To the one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.'”

Vengeance came through Lamech, forgiveness has come through Christ.
Lamech brought glorified violence, Christ has brought peace.

All in Lamech will die, but all in Christ shall live.

Theological Interpretation: Cyril of Alexandria on Luke 10:23-24

There are many reasons why Christians should study the church fathers. Among the top of them: the growing popularity of theological interpretation.[1] The more familiar one is with the work of the fathers, the better equipped they will be to appreciate and practice theological interpretation. So what does it look like when a church father interprets scripture “theologically”? Cyril of Alexandria, delivering a homily on Luke 10:23-24, provides a good example.

Luke 10:23-24 reads:
“Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’” [NRSV]

This statement from Jesus comes directly after he has sent out the seventy-two disciples and they have successfully joined him on his Kingdom-mission, casting out demons and healing the sick. Cyril frames his interpretation with this question: what exactly did the disciples see so as to merit being called blessed?

His answer:
“They saw that God the Word, who was in the form of God the Father, had become flesh for our sakes. They saw Him who shares the Father’s throne, dwelling with us, in our form, that by justification and sanctification He might fashion us after His own likeness, imprinting upon us the beauty of His Godhead in an intellectual and spiritual manner. And of this Paul is a witness, who writes: “For as we have bee clothed with the image of the earthly, we shall also be clothed with the image of the heavenly” meaning by the earthly man, Adam, the first created, but by the heavenly, the Word Who is from above, and Who shone forth from the substance of God the Father, but was made, as I said, in our likeness… For through Him and with Him we have received the name of sons, being ennobled, so to speak, by His bounty and grace. He who was rich shared our poverty, that He might rase man’s nature to His riches. He tasted death upon the tree and the cross, that He might take away from the midst the offense incurred by reason of the tree (of knowledge), and abolish the guilt that was thereby, and strip death of his tyranny over us. We have seen Satan fall, that cruel one broken, that haughty one laid low, him who had made the world submit to the yoke of his empire stripped of his dominion over us, him in contempt and scorn, who once was worshipped, him who seemed a god, put under the feet of the saints, him who rebelled against Christ’s glory, trampled upon by those who love Him.

Cyril’s interpretation of the passage is informed by placing Jesus’ statement in the theological context of the Incarnation and its salvific effects. He does so by quoting 1 Corinthians 15:29 and invoking the Adam-Christ typology. In this context, the disciples’ victory over the forces of Satan are indications of the redemptive nature of the Incarnation.

Christ, as the Second Adam, is undoing the curse of Genesis 3. The disciples are finding themselves being transferred out of Satan’s domain, in which they were once held captive in Adam, and now being given the ability to overcome the enemy. Thus, when the disciples “see” both Jesus and their Kingdom-work, they are seeing the Incarnation and its salvific effects. Cyril also interprets 1 Corinthians 15:29 as a reference to deification, the belief that salvation consists of humans sharing in the divine life and beauty of the Triune God (the “Godhead”). Thus, the disciples’ victories over Satan are also indicative of the work of deification that results from the Incarnation – the disciples are blessed with the privilege of seeing (and experiencing) the firstfruits of this work.

Cyril’s interpretation is not likely to be arrived at through the classic historical-grammatical hermeneutical model. There is little in the text which would naturally direct a reader to reference 1 Corinthians 15:29 or the Adam-Christ typology (perhaps a canonical interpretation might be led in that direction because of the reference to Satan and his defeat). Yet, it is an explicitly Christian interpretation of the text, both orthodox and edifying. If Christians do believe that Christ is the Second Adam (Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 45-49), then surely it is appropriate to understand the disciples’ victory over Satan as an indication of Christ’s successful undoing of Adam’s curse.

What do you think of Cyril’s interpretation of Luke 10:23-24?
What do you think are the benefits, and possible weaknesses, of theological interpretation

[1] Defined by Stephen Fowl as “the practice whereby theological concerns and interests inform and are informed by a reading of Scripture.” (The Theological Interpretation of Scripture, xiii)

‘Interchange’ in Christ

I recently did a book review for my Paul class on Morna Hooker’s From Adam to Christ: Essays on Paul and thought I’d share my summary of her main argument on ‘interchange’ in Christ.

The book is a collection of Hooker’s essays on Pauline theology, most of which focus on Paul’s understanding of redemption.  She notes early on in her introduction that Paul is distinctively Jewish and “saw redemption primarily in corporate terms,” (p 2-3).  Hooker argues that while Paul’s soteriology is originally situated within a salvation-historical framework, following his encounter with Christ Paul comes to understand salvation as ultimately participatory for God’s covenant promises are “effected through incorporation into Christ,” (3).  Because these covenant promises have become universally available to all through Christ, Paul looks to Adam as “the only figure with universal significance” to draw a link between the old and new (5).  From this connection, or juxtaposition rather, Hooker develops the idea of ‘interchange in Christ‘ and its necessary implications.

What does Hooker mean by ‘interchange’?  The idea of ‘interchange’ in Paul’s theology in that “Christ is identified with the human condition in order that we might be identified with his” (26).  Though Hooker clearly favors the term ‘interchange’ she quickly identifies it’s deficiencies, namely, it is not a simple exchange that takes places between Christ and humanity.  According to Hooker, Christ acts not as humanity’s substitute (as many scholars have argued) but as humanity’s representative.  She argues that the interchange that takes place between Christ and those who are ‘in Christ’ is necessarily participatory–as we participate in Christ everything that is true about Christ is true about us.  In other words, “to be in Christ is to be identified with what he is,” (37).

The cornerstone text for Hooker’s understanding of interchange is Paul’s simple yet perplexing proposition in 2 Corinthians 5:21, Christ was made sin in order that we might become the righteousness of God in him.  Hooker stresses the importance of the reciprocal nature of redemption, albeit unbalanced, arguing that “it is necessary, not only for Christ to identify himself with us, but for us to identify ourselves with him,” (43).  Kenosis and cruciformity (though she doesn’t use that word) are prominent themes in Hooker’s interchange framework as it is ultimately through Christ-like “self-abnegation” that we display pistis Christou, faith in the God who raises the dead, the same faith evidenced in the person and work of Christ (46).

Paul’s idea of participation in Christ is fundamental, not only for his Christology, but for his understanding of salvation, of the nature of the redeemed community, of God’s plan for humanity and the world, and of the way of life appropriate for restored humanity. Those who live ‘in Christ’ depend on him. Being changed into his likeness, they reflect his glory; but the glory of the new humanity is the glory of God’s children, who are obedient to him, responding to him in faith, who share the obedience and faith of Christ himself. (9)

Hooker offers some interesting perspectives and I’m particularly partial to her reading of 2 Corinthians 5.21.  Are you familiar with Morna Hooker’s ‘interchange’ description?  If so, any thoughts?

A Sermon on John 20:11-18 (Cyril’s Theological Interpretation in Action)

Update [10/6/13]: Click HERE to listen to my sermon “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” – a (longer version of the below) sermon that I preached at Fc3 on October 6, 2013.

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“Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” – John 20:15a

The Gospel according to John is a story about creation.  This much is clear.  John invites the reader to follow the bread crumbs when he begins his story with the haunting and enigmatic phrase, “In the beginning.”

However, John’s gospel is not a narrative about the formation of the cosmos.  Instead, it is an account of the life of Jesus.  Indeed, his gospel masterfully details the surprising entrance of the Life of Jesus into our dark world.  This Life, the Light, burst into our presence and dazzled our unprepared eyes, which were only accustomed to seeing the darkness found in the cave of sin’s slavery.  John’s gospel is about a life, a Life that has conquered Death.

The Gospel of John, then, is a story about new creation.

It is at the dawn of this new creation when we read of the reunion of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.  The resurrected Jesus, the one who was crucified, finds Mary weeping in the garden.  She has not yet realized that Life has overcome Death.  She has not yet realized that a new day has arrived.  The scene is pregnant with emotion.  Mary is one of Jesus’ most devoted followers and is making a visit to his tomb in order to grieve privately.  As we read, we find our emotions rising and falling.  We are excited as she discovers the empty tomb, yet sympathetic when she assumes that Jesus’ body has been stolen.  We can feel her confusion and pain even as we yearn for her to discover the remarkable truth of his new life.  We are elated when she directly encounters the risen Jesus, yet frustrated when she mistakes him for the gardener.  Finally, Jesus speaks to her.  Mary’s tears of mourning are changed into tears of joy.

Cyril of Alexandria, an early church father, wishes to remind us that John’s Gospel is about new creation.  Indeed, Cyril is quick to remind us that all of Scripture is always about new creation.  It is for this reason that he consistently speaks of Christ as the Second Adam.  With this title, he draws on Saint Paul’s parallel between these two representative men.  Just as Adam’s disobedience brought death, so now Christ’s obedience brings life.  Behold, the Second Adam.

Cyril invites us to remember the scene in the First garden where Adam and Eve fell into death.  Listen as Cyril explains:

“For by Adam’s transgression, as in the firstfruits of the race, the sentence went forth to the whole world: Dust thou art, and to dust though shall return; and to the women in special: In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.  To be rich in sorrow, then, as by way of a penalty, was the fate of woman.”

Keep listening, however, because Jesus’ resurrection brings good news.

“It was, therefore, necessary that by the mouth of Him that had passed the sentence of condemnation, the burden of that ancient curse should be removed, our Savior Christ now wiping away the tears from the eyes of the woman, or rather of all womankind, as in Mary the firstfruits.”  

Christ, the Second Adam, is now undoing the curses of our ancient ancestors.  He is now wiping tears away.  He is now freeing men, women, and children from their bondage to corruption.

It is this same Christ, gently drying the tear-soaked face of Mary, who now invites you to participate in his new creation.

Adam, Jesus, and the Divine Economy (1)

I’m currently writing my Master’s thesis on Cyril of Alexandria’s exegesis of Romans 5:12-21 and his use of the Adam-Christ typology throughout the rest of his writings.  As I’ve studied Cyril, I’ve been struck by how important the parallel between Adam & Jesus is throughout many of his works.  In turn, I’ve been increasingly thinking about the relationship between Adam & Christ and its implications for our theology.

Cyril is of course inspired to utilize this typology by the theological work of the Apostle Paul.  In three texts in the New Testament, Paul places Adam & Jesus in a typological relationship: Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, and 1 Corinthians 15:42-49.  There are two questions that stand out to me regarding this theme in the Pauline literature: 1) To what extent is Paul influenced by this theological connection? and 2) What does Paul wish to achieve by making these parallels?

I’d like to start a series of blog posts in which I explore the answers that various scholars (including Cyril) have given to the above questions.  Along the way I’ll try to tease out some of my own thoughts as well.  We’ll start with the first question:

 To what extent is Paul influenced by his view of the Adam-Christ typology?

Gordon Fee lays out three possible ways of answering this question:*

1)  The “Minimalist” Position

  • Believes that the Adam-Christ typology should only be found in the three texts where Paul explicitly mentions it.

2) The “Maximalist” Position

  • Finds that the Adam-Christ typology is an implicit theme in much of Paul’s thought & can be found underneath the surface of many other texts.

3) The “Middling” Position

  • Acknowledges that the Adam-Christ typology might be in play outside of the three explicit texts, but cautions against attempting to detect it everywhere.

What do you think?  How important was this typology for Paul’s theology?  Is it something that he has deeply considered and that forms a foundation for much of his theology or is it simply something he formulates ad hoc on occasion in his letters?  Is there a middle ground where we might be able to land between these two poles of opinion?

Comment and let me know what you think.  In my next post, I’ll survey some of the interesting thoughts that N.T. Wright has offered on the matter.

* Fee, Gordon D., Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), 513. [Available on Amazon.]