The End of Time?

I have just returned from SBL’s Annual Convention and as always it was a great time. Caught up with old friends, met new friends, and even put a few faces to cyber-friends.

Even though the main reason I make the annual trek is the people, there is another part of the conference…the papers. And as always, I heard really good papers, good papers, and others.

One paper I was really looking forward to this year was Ann Jervis’ “Christ and Time” and it did not disappoint. Last year at a conference at Princeton, Dr. Jervis gave what she called a preliminary look at “Paul’s Understanding of Time” and since it was a smaller conference I had the privilege of discussing the ideas with her at length (a great reason to attend at least one smaller conference each year). When I saw she was going to be giving a paper on the topic at SBL, I knew it would probably be a highlight of the conference.

In her paper, Dr. Jervis offered a critique of the Pauline Apocalyptic School’s view of time (see Paul’s Apocalyptic Imagination). She focused on three points of difference:

  1. The End of Time: According to Jervis, contrary to what many in the apocalyptic school assert, time will not end (or in some cases has not ended). What Paul does say will end is death, and in the defeat of death time will be drawn together so it may be seen more clearly. In other words, there is no last day in Paul just a last day for death to disrupt time.
  2. Time and Eternity: Jervis also concludes that eternity is not a distinct Pauline category. In her view, time and eternity are not different ages; there is not a moment when time stops and eternity begins. She is not claiming that life will not reach into eternity but that eternal is a qualification of life. Eternal life, according to Jervis, is the nun kairos lived without death and therefore without sin.
  3. Christ Changes Time: Finally, Jervis based her claims in the fact that Christ connects time with life not death. For those in Christ, time is now invaded (a play on common apocalyptic motif) by life. Death gives way to life and so there is no end of time, life is lived eternally “in Christ time.”

Dr. Jervis ended by illustrating that time is often seen as the story of conflict in humanity’s relationships with each other, creation and God. She stated that if this is your definition then time will certainly end. But in her view time is not a story about conflict, that is the result of sin and death’s disruption of time, but a story about relationships. Thus, when in Christ humanity’s relationships with each other, creation, and God are restored so is time; time is eternal.

I find the discussion of time in Paul fascinating, especially since so many rely on the now-not yet paradigm when interpreting Paul without ever defining what now and not yet mean. In this manner, I appreciate Dr. Jervis’ efforts to define time by Christ and in particular to struggle with this very complex topic.

(One further note, one questioner asked how, in her view, does God relate to time? This was a very good question and one I look forward to hearing her answer as she continues to ponder on “Christ Time”)

Paul’s Apocalyptic Imagination: ‘The Martyn School’

I have discussed the apocalyptic imagination several times on this blog…

The ‘Lacking’ Apocalyptic Imagination

Holy Apocalyptic, Batman!

…and in my next several posts I want to continue the discussion by highlighting several different views of Paul’s apocalyptic imagination. This first installment discusses:

‘The Martyn School’

  • known for its inaugurated eschatology
  • drawn significantly from Martyn’s work in Galatians

J. Louis Martyn writes, “Paul’s theological point of departure is…the apocalypse of Christ and the power of that apocalypse to create a history.”[1]

The opening and closing of Paul’s letter to the Galatians frame the whole letter in an apocalyptic manner. Galatians begins with a declaration of deliverance as Paul writes, “the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘who gave up his very life for our sins,’ so that he might snatch us out of the grasp of the present evil age, thus acting in accordance with the intention of God our Father.” (1:3b-4).[2] As the result of Jesus Christ’s death “for our sins,” he liberated “us” from the destructive power of the world. Richard Hays writes, “Paul’s gospel declares God’s gracious invasion of the world.”[3] Thus, Paul’s apocalyptic gospel is evident from the letter’s opening words, as he begins Galatians proclaiming deliverance from this evil world through God’s apocalyptic act in the death (1:3-4) and resurrection (1:1) of Jesus Christ.

Galatians closes by focusing on the new that has come. Gal. 6:12-15 contains some of Paul’s most striking language as he explains that the old world has been crucified to him and he to the old world through the cross of Jesus Christ. He writes, “As for me, God forbid that I should boast in anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the cosmos has been crucified to me and I to the cosmos.” (6:14). Nevertheless, Paul does not end with crucifixion, instead concluding with an ecstatic cry, “new creation” (6:15). In 2 Cor. 5:17, Paul explicitly connects “new creation” with being “in Christ” saying, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” and the image is the same in Galatians. Those who are “in Christ Jesus” (3:26) receive “the Spirit of [God’s] Son” (4:6) thus they “belong to Christ Jesus” (5:24) and with him they die to the old and live in “new creation” (2:20, 6:14-15).

The beginning and ending of Galatians highlights how Paul views the Christ-event as the act that brings about the death of one world and the inauguration of another. Bruce W. Longenecker writes, “[Paul] envisages the establishment of a new realm of existence. It is a sphere of life wholly differentiated from the ‘cosmos’ that has been crucified to Paul a domain where distinctive patterns of life are operative.”[4] Simply stated, Christ in his death and resurrection rescues “us” from the present evil age and inaugurates new creation. God’s sending of his Son to liberate humanity is the axis around which everything revolves. The old defeated. The new inaugurated. The present altered. To quote at length, Douglas A. Campbell writes,

Nothing can be the same again. Both Paul and his fellow Christians are living in a new reality that, in a sense, only they can understand. In the light of this new reality they understand that Christ has rescued them from a tortured previous reality within which they were oppressed by evil powers. Christ and his followers are presently at war with that evil dominion, and to a degree the war extends through the middle of each Christian community and each Christian person in the form of an ongoing conflict between flesh and spirit. Nevertheless, Christ has effected the decisive act of deliverance and victory. Christians are saved and dramatically! They have been set free and must now resist the temptation to lapse back into the old, evil, but strangely comfortable reality from which they have been delivered.[5]

God has transformed the cosmos by creating a history, a new creation, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

[1] J. Louis Martyn, “Events in Galatia: Modified Covenantal Nomism versus God’s Invasion of the Cosmos in the Singular Gospel: A Response to J.D.G. Dunn and B.R. Gaventa,” in Pauline Theology, vol. 1: Thessalonians, Philippians, Galatians, Philemon, ed. Jouette M. Bassler (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 164.

[2] Translations of Galatians are from Martyn’s commentary. J. Louis Martyn, Galatians, The Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997), 3-10. 

[3] Richard B. Hays, Galatians, New Interpreter’s Bible IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 202.

[4] Bruce W. Longenecker, The Triumph of Abraham’s God (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998), 37.

[5] Douglas A. Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 190.

Holy Apocalyptic, Batman!

I am working on a paper that examines Paul’s apocalyptic imagination through conceptual metaphor. ‘Apocalyptic’ is term fraught with difficulties and the array of explanations offered by scholars range from sublime to ridiculous. I hope to have a post from my paper sometime this week, but the quote below from Douglas Campbell (who can go from sublime to ridiculous sometimes in the same paragraph – you know I love you Campbell!) captures both the importance and difficulty of the term for Pauline theology:

Nothing can be the same again. Both Paul and his fellow Christians are living in a new reality that, in a sense, only they can understand. In the light of this new reality they understand that Christ has rescued them from a tortured previous reality within which they were oppressed by evil powers. Christ and his followers are presently at war with that evil dominion, and to a degree the war extends through the middle of each Christian community and each Christian person in the form of an ongoing conflict between flesh and spirit. Nevertheless, Christ has effected the decisive act of deliverance and victory.  Christians are saved and dramatically! They have been set free and must now resist the temptation to lapse back into the old, evil, but strangely comfortable reality from which they have been delivered.

Douglas A. Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 190.