Blog

Does Paul Pose a Dualism Between Flesh and Spirit?

Read in a simplistic fashion, Paul’s pitting of flesh against spirit might seem to be on the order of a gnostic denigration of the physical body and the presumption that one must shed what is corporeal so as to embrace what is spiritual. It might be presumed that flesh, for Paul, is simply the body and one in the physical body is doomed to sin and corruption. The human problem, in this understanding, is being finite, physical, and made of flesh, and the resolution of this problem is to shed the fleshly body and be raised as an incorporeal spirit. In other words, Paul might be read as embracing a form of the belief that spirit and flesh are timeless principles pitted against one another (part of the cosmos) from the beginning. Louis Martyn’s point is that Paul is a dualist but not a dualist of this sort: “Since the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ (Gal. 4:6), it is obvious that the Spirit and the Flesh – as opponents – are a pair of opposites born not of God’s creative act, but of this new-creative act in the sending of his Son and the Spirit of the Son.”[1] This is an eschatological dualism in which two ages overlap, “the present evil age” and the age commenced, not from the beginning of time, but from the apocalyptic moment of Christ’s breaking in. It is not only the Spirit but the flesh that is redefined by this moment. In fact, of the two terms it may be that “flesh” is the most misunderstood and misconstrued.

It is difficult to say anything definitive about the general usage of flesh in the Bible, as context fills in, whether the reference is to the total personality, to the emotions, or to the weak or corruptible part of man. In the Hebrew scriptures flesh appears sometimes as neutral and refers to the collective and individual creaturely existence or relationship. Though it is in creatureliness that sin takes hold, it is noteworthy that in one of the most authoritative of sources the conclusion is, “nowhere is it even probable that the flesh is in conflict with the spirit.”[2] The flesh is that place where the battle between the Holy Spirit and the spirit of iniquity takes place but the flesh or the body is not itself the problem.[3] In other words, the Hebrew scriptures are not picturing a cosmic conflict between flesh and spirit or between the corporeal and incorporeal. The body is not the prison of the soul, and the flesh need not keep man from true knowledge and experience of God. In the Midrash, Psalm 16:9 (“My flesh will dwell securely”) serves to show David as an example of one over whom the corrupting tendency of the flesh has no power. [4]

This conclusion carries over to the New Testament, where the flesh may be neutral, or may refer to a weakness or physical sickness, or it may be specifically designated as “sinful flesh.” In Mathew 16:17, “flesh and blood” denote a limitation, not in terms of mortality but as a medium by which to apprehend God. That is, even Jesus in the flesh may not be recognized due to fleshly intellectual, religious, and mystical limitations. [5]

Though the New Testament does not depict an anthropological or cosmic dualism, the peculiar role of the false teachers and the need to combat their focus on the flesh gives rise to what might be mistaken for this sort of dualism. It may be in both Galatians and Romans that Paul is mistakenly perceived as presenting a cosmic/anthropological dualism.

Flesh is depicted in Galatians as a force superior to man and might be numbered among the principalities and powers, and yet this same power is not alien to humans but belongs to them and arises from them. As the TDNT makes clear, Paul’s view is not that of the Gnostics that presumes “the divine core of man has been tragically overpowered by the sinister forces which seduce the senses” – this “is not Paul’s answer.” Paul does not pose flesh, per se, over and against the spirit as the flesh may simply denote the realm of marriage, of blood relations, or of human interaction (e.g., Col. 2:1,5). It can denote the muscular part of the body, or where one might experience disease or physiological weakness (2 Cor. 12:7; Gal. 4:13).

Too much devotion or trust in the flesh lends the flesh a power which it does not possess intrinsically. The sinful life is, by definition, oriented to the flesh or serves the flesh and this results in fleshly thinking, but being in the flesh or body is not inevitably sinful (Rom. 8:8-9). Christ specifically defeats the orientation to the flesh in the flesh and makes it possible for his followers to rid themselves of this orientation, not by getting rid of the body or flesh but by being oriented to the Spirit.[6] Paul can say the believer no longer lives in the flesh, (Rom. 7:5; 8:8f.) not because he has abandoned the body but because the sinful orientation which he marks, by the shorthand of flesh, no longer controls. He describes the believer as crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24). This is not a literal crucifixion and the flesh that dies is not the literal corporeal body, but the principle of sin attached to the orientation to the flesh. “Paul certainly does not mean that by ascetic or mystical practices man can escape his corporeality.”[7] The believer always lives physically (ἐν σαρκί): “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Co 10:3–4). Paul says, “I now live in the flesh” but this living is now marked not by faith in the flesh but “by faith in the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20).

The false teachers of Galatia are deploying the term flesh in a fashion that may account for the peculiar usage demonstrated in Galatians. Martyn suggests that the Galatians, prior to the arrival of the false teachers, will not have received any peculiar Jewish or Christian teaching regarding the flesh, as Paul seems not to have mentioned it in his initial evangelistic campaign or his earlier writing (e.g., there is no similar warning in I Thess. 4:1-8). The false teachers may have drawn a connection between “the impulsive Desire of the Flesh” (ἐπιθυμίαν σαρκὸς) and their suggested resolution of circumcision. Abraham, in their estimate, would have defeated the desire of the flesh by keeping the law, beginning with circumcision. So, Paul’s juxtaposition of flesh against Spirit, specifically refers to the foreskin of the penis. Their reliance on the law is literally reliance on this piece of flesh.[8]

As a result, Paul, in Galatians, has developed a unique designation for the flesh in which the “power of the flesh” stands over and against the “power of the promise” of God. The power of the flesh is intermixed with a trust in the law, which reduces in Paul’s argument to the same thing. The difference for Abraham between the “power of the flesh” and the “power of the promise” pertains primarily to the object of faith (4:21-31). In both instances the reference is to procreation and birth, but trust in the power of the flesh (the birth of Ishmael) is posed against the power that produced the birth of Isaac. In both kata sarka and kata pneuma the meaning of kata is “as a result of the power of.” The point is not that one is less bodily, less sexual, less fleshly. Both powers produce children in the same embodied manner and both directly reference the act of Abraham, but in one instance Abraham trusted the flesh and in the other instance he trusted God.[9]

The false teachers, according to Paul, are repeating the mistake of Abraham (in conceiving Ishmael) in that they are trusting in the power of the flesh in their insistence on circumcision. This is on the order of trusting in the letter of the law, and thus missing the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:6). The problem is not that the law is conveyed in letters or that the power of the flesh uses the flesh, but it is the exclusive trust in the letter of the law or the power of the flesh. “Flesh versus spirit” might be a shorthand way of depicting this conflict, but this has nothing to do with an anthropological or cosmic antagonism between body and spirit. In both instances the same body and the same mode of conception are deployed, but the dynamic of the fleshly specifically entails an abandonment of trust in the power of God, and belief in the promise trusts God in this same circumstance.  

The same dynamic is at work in Romans 7, which also may reflect a Hellenistic influence, but Paul is depicting the experience of fallen man and not every man. His is precisely not the Greek notion that νοῦς (mind, reason, understanding) can control the flesh. The impotence of the mind, its passive apprehension, is itself part of the agonistic dynamic Paul is describing. It is not a matter of the law of the mind gaining control of the law of the flesh, as both are part of the dynamic of the law of sin and death. It is not the body against the spirit that is causing the problem; in fact Paul’s pitting of his mind against the body seems to be part of the problem. He sees two laws at work: “I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7.23). The point is not that one of these laws is right and the other is wrong; the point is there is a war being waged in which the individual is the victim. As John Bertone notes, Paul’s object here is not to demarcate one form of law from the other: “The point is that this system represented something that simply did not produce life.”[10]

Paul may be thinking of a Pharisaical drive to achieve righteousness through the law as the struggle of sin he is describing. Establishing one’s own righteousness is on the same order as trusting in the power of the flesh. The problem in both Romans 7 and Galatians is that certain individuals misperceive the function of the law, imagining that it produces life. The command (Rom. 7:11) which promised life did not point to itself (as the source of life) but to God. The perception of promise of life in the law is skewed by sin so as to remove the necessity of God: “this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” (Rom. 7:10-11). The correct nuance is to understand that the law keeps one in a life-giving relationship with God, but it is this relationship to God (and not with the law) that is the true source of life.

Just as the law was aimed at keeping one in relationship with God, this positive understanding can be carried over to the meaning of flesh. Where flesh “is understood in a full theological sense . . . it denotes the being of man which is determined, not by his physical substance, but by his relation to God.”[11]

The problem with the law, the problem with the flesh, and the problem with “this present evil age” reduce to the singular problem that the “elements of the cosmos” (στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου) have been made absolute and have not been understood in relationship to God. Whatever Paul might mean by these elements, it seems that the law and the flesh are counted among those things which held all people captive (Gal. 4:3). The law, the flesh, or simply the material order of creation, none of which are intrinsically sinful, enslave those who entrust themselves completely to this order. This is shown in the apocalyptic appearing of Christ which entails a “new creation” (Gal. 6:15). The old cosmic order is broken open and is being brought to an end as the new creation commences (which as Paul explains in his receiving of the Gospel is not dependent upon flesh and blood (1:16)).   

“But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:14-15).


[1] J. Louis Martyn, Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Yale University Press, 1997), 100.

[2] Schweizer, E., & Baumgärtel, F. (1964–). σάρξ, σαρκικός, σάρκινος. G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley, & G. Friedrich (Eds.), Theological dictionary of the New Testament (electronic ed., Vol. 7, p. 114). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 115.

[5] Ibid, 124.

[6] Ibid, 133-134.

[7] Ibid, 134

[8] Martyn, 293-294.

[9] Martyn, 434-435.

[10] John A. Bertone, “The Law of the Spirit”: Experience of the Spirit and Displacement of the Law in Romans 8:1-16, (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2005) 180..

[11] Ibid, TDNT, 134.

Is the God of the Law Among the Principalities and Powers Defeated by Christ?

The difference between contractual and apocalyptic theology is literally a world apart, in that contractual theology presumes history, law, human experience, and human intellect are an adequate or semi-adequate groundwork for prompting and recognizing the work of Christ. The scale of salvation, in a contractual understanding, is limited to humanity and tends to be focused on individuals or individual souls. It harmonizes, or attempts to harmonize, the God of the law with the image of God revealed in Christ. Any tension within Scripture between the Hebrew and Christian understanding of God is glossed over as resolvable.

Apocalyptic theology unfolds, both in its depiction of the problem and solution, on a cosmic scale. The world has been enslaved to forces of cosmic proportion which are spiritual and heavenly and physical and terrestrial. Ruling from above they have taken earth captive and have divided its kingdoms, with various spirits, religions, gods, and heavenly/earthly rulers demarking the spoils over which they reign. In turn, the story of salvation involves the entire cosmos, and as Ephesians depicts it, Christ has challenged the archons or so-called gods of the nations. We may imagine Paul is not including the God of Israel and the giver of the law as among the powers challenged by Christ. I would argue, it is precisely the one who delivered the law that is the prototype of the powers undone by Christ.

Paul, in quoting Psalms 68, which is describing David’s defeat of his enemies, translates the significance of these enemies and their defeat into the spiritual realm: “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men” (Eph. 4:8).  He explains, “In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Eph. 4:9-10). The cosmos, through the original deception but through continued manipulation, has been enslaved to death and hades. The descent and defeat of the place of the dead and the ascent into heaven is a depiction of the defeat of deathly power. Human acquiescence to deadly forces has unleashed these forces onto all that mankind was to have dominion over. How exactly these powers have come to rule may not be clear, but their manner of rule is clarified in conjunction with the death dealing nature of the law.

The exact manner of the rule of the powers is specified in Colossians, which also describes what happens now that they have been defeated: “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col 2:16–17). The specific “basic principles” which formerly enslaved and which now threaten again, are precisely those commanded in the law (I Ch. 23:21). The Colossians, like the Ephesians and Galatians, are being lured back into a Judaized Christianity, in which the law is pictured as a necessary first order arrangement (much as in contractual theology). Paul argues that, the specific way in which the reign of death is exercised is through human subjection to laws, principles and powers, which have no substance. They are lacking in truth and reality and yet these shadowy powers once reigned where Christ now reigns.

Both passages (from Ephesians and Colossians) seem to be an example of what the Apostles Creed describes as the “harrowing of hell,” or the defeat of the reign of death and those powers (or that power) which held the power of death as an enslaving instrument. Paul describes the release from captivity as a setting free of delusion, and his fear is that the Christians will forsake the truth for the lie of false religion: “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (Col 2:18). The worship of angels may indicate, according to F. F. Bruce, a return to Judaism, as it was not God, but angels who delivered the law. The return to the law, characterized as worshipping angels, is probably Paul’s way of deriding legalism and asceticism.[1] 

Both Stephen, in Acts, and the writer of Hebrews make it clear, the law did not come directly from God but was delivered by angels, and to mistake their message and presence for the full substance of reality is the equivalent of idolatry (a worship of angels) in deifying what is not God (Acts 7:54; Heb. 1:4). Paul takes this a step further, indicating the Lord of Israel was an angelic mediator and should not be confused with the Father of Christ. The law delivered through this “God,” along with his reign, was a mediating phase displaced by the real thing: “Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made” (Ga 3:19). Paul is quick to explain that the problem is not with the mediation or the mediator, but the problem is to imagine this temporary measure is permanent or real. He is arguing that the law is temporary, but he also suggests the one doing this mediating was not God per se, but a mediator for God. “Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one” (Gal. 3:20). This mediating personage is not God and is not life giving, as his message is only partial: “For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law” (Gal. 3:21).

In 4:8 he equates returning to the law as returning to enslavement “to those who by nature are not gods.” He could be quoting the injunction from Chronicles (I Ch. 23:31; 2 Ch. 31:3) to observe and keep “Sabbaths, new moons, and set feasts.” Yet these things, which might have once been mistaken for divine ordinances, are “weak and miserable forces. . . who by nature are not gods” (Gal. 4:8-10). Is the “mediator,” this “weak and miserable force,” presumed to be God or the law or both? It may not matter, as neither is to be equated with the God revealed in Christ. “But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal. 3:22). There was no access to God, to life, or to righteousness, as this mediating system “shut up everyone under sin.”

Other than as a pointer to the reality of Christ, as the writer of Hebrews indicates, the laws and institutions making up Israel are a shadow and not the reality: “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves” (Heb. 10:1, RSV). The writer then nods toward the prophetic tradition (quoting Psalms 40) in which the voice commanding sacrifices and institutions of sacrifice (the temple, altar and priests) was not conveying the will of God: “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired. . . in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure” (Heb. 10:5-6). Jeremiah says it even more bluntly, “For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Jer. 7:22). Jesus quotes Hosea to indicate what God really wants: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mt. 9:13).

Yet there are many passages where God (or a mediator) does command sacrifice and seems to enjoy the pleasing aroma of sacrifice. “The Lord smelled the soothing aroma” of Noah’s sacrifice and his anger was calmed (Gen. 8:20-21). Exodus pictures God or his messenger demanding sacrifice and finding pleasure in the smell: “You shall offer up in smoke the whole ram on the altar; it is a burnt offering to the Lord: it is a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the Lord” (Ex. 29:18). Every indication, from a series of passages, is that the Lord commanded and enjoyed sacrifice (Gen. 8: 21; Exod. 29: 18, 25; Lev. 1: 9, 13; 2: 9; 4: 31). Yet there are an equal number of scriptures that indicate these were not commands from God: “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:9-10). “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Ho 6:6). “I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats” (Is. 1:11). God says, you have me confused with someone else, “For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Jer. 7:22).

Whether it is, as Novation put it, that God has allowed himself to be fit to a frame of understanding “not as God was but as the people were able to understand,” or as Gregory of Nazianzus pictures it, God allowed fallen understanding to be mixed with right understanding as an accommodation, in either case the reality of God is obscured (even according to the Old Testament) in many of the Hebrew scriptures’ portrayals of God.[2] To fail to miss the possible accommodation and to presume to make all things equal in the Bible, will amount to committing the very error Paul is warning against. Law, sacrifices, blood offerings, new moons, sabbath keeping, taken as more than a shadow, amount to idolatry. These things are in danger of becoming an enslaving god, in competition with the Father of Christ. As Paul and Hebrews indicate, the law was given through angels (lesser spirits), and these in no way attain to the reality of God.

If this is the case, isn’t it also true that the principalities and powers, the archons of the age, the thrones and dominions, Paul speaks of, may be a mixed bag of malevolent spirits and corrupted and incomplete principles, inclusive of what he calls a “bewitching” (3:1) misapprehension of the law? He equates this delusion with the principle of the flesh (3:3), with reducing Christ to nothing (2:21), with the curse of the law (3:10), and with the equivalent of a return to idolatry (4:8-9). Paul compares living under the law to enslavement to the “elemental principles of the world” (Gal. 4:3), and to trade this enslavement for freedom in Christ is nothing short of the original malignancy introduced by the serpent.

If it seems odd to suggest that many of the theophanies of the Hebrew scriptures not only fall short of the reality of God but are at times indistinguishable from fallen angels or malevolent spirits, Origen is an early example of one who equates theophanies with malignant spirits. In a section of his book, On First Principles, entitled “The Opposing Powers,” he pictures the one commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son as a malign spirit. “For he is manifestly described as an angel who said that he knew then that Abraham feared God, and had not spared his beloved son, as the Scripture declares, although he did not say that it was on account of God that Abraham had done this, but on his, that is, the speaker’s account.” He equates this spirit with the one called “the destroying angel” slaying the first born in Egypt (Ex. 12:23), with the “evil spirit from God who “came mightily upon Saul” (I Sam. 18:10) and with the “deceiving spirit” sent upon the prophets (I Kings 22:19-23). Origen recognizes that the violence of the Hebrew Bible is mitigated and to be read through the peace of Christ, so that violence and a spirit of violence is unworthy of God, let alone being identified with God.

Christ has conquered the whole mixed bag of demonic spirits, malevolent principles, enslaving powers, the archons, thrones and dominions, inclusive of those connected to the law and the giving of the law. Paul is not concerned to sort out and save the one who mediated the law from other powers. In an apocalyptic reading, in which the old world order (perhaps most clearly represented by the law) is disrupted and defeated by the work of Christ, there is no middle position between slavery to the world principles and freedom. As Paul explains, the Jew is at no advantage in this regard (Gal. 2:16-20). He might as well have said, “Go ahead and observe the law and pretend the God who sends evil and deceiving spirits which enslave mankind and which enslaved the Jews pertain to the reality of God, but understand in observing special days and months and seasons and years and in turning back to the mediating angel of the law, I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you, for this has nothing to do with the God revealed in Christ” (see Gal. 4:10-11).


[1] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991). 118.

[2] Novatian, De Trinitate, 6, cited in Gregory Boyd, Cross Vision (Kindle Location 1563). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition. [2] Gregory of Nazianzus, “Fifth Oration: On the Holy Spirit,” in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, vol. 7, trans. P. Schaff and H. Wace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), 326. Cited in Boyd, (Kindle Locations 1564-1565).

Why Death and Not Sin is the Primary Human Problem

Ignatius, Irenaeus, Basil, Athanasius, and the Greek Fathers as a whole, according to John Romanides, look upon salvation as first and foremost redemption from death.[1] In the early church and Eastern tradition death, and not sin, is definitive and primary in the human predicament, while in the West the presumption has been that sin is primary and precedes death in terms of cause and effect. The biblical portrayal, that the reign of death is the cause of sin, has been rendered obscure if not inaccessible, by the presumption of Augustinian original sin (a mysterious and inherited guilt). Where this presumption can be set aside, it is clear that death and not sin is pictured as primary: it is death that is the “last enemy” (1 Cor 15:24–25); death and Hades (the place of the dead) are the last thing to be thrown into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14); Paul’s primary thing from which he needs rescue is “this body that is subject to death” (Rom. 7:24); sin is the sting or result of death and not the other way round (that is death is not the sting of sin in I Cor. 15:56); the problem is not that sin reigns and then comes death but death accounts for the spread of sin because “death spread to all men” (Rom. 5:12), “death reigned” (v. 14), “the many died” (v. 15), “death reigned through the one” (v. 17), “as sin reigned in death” (v. 21). As Paul concludes in verse 21, “sin reigned in death” and not the other way round. In Paul’s explanation in Romans 5, it is not sin that is inherited from Adam (as in Augustine’s misreading) but it is death which Adam passed on. Now with death comes sin, but not inevitably or all inclusively, as Paul can speak of those who have not sinned in the manner of Adam (5:14).

Certainly, Adam sinned and introduced death, and with the spread of death sin becomes a contagion, but it is precisely this dynamism in which death is the cause and not the effect that accords with Paul’s parallel picture of Christ. Christ introduces righteousness and eternal life into the world, so that this introduction of life spreads righteousness to all of humanity (vv. 17-18). So, what was done in the first Adam is undone in the second Adam – sin introduced death to all (not because all sinned), so too righteousness introduces life to all (but even more abundantly as life and righteousness overflow to all (v. 17)).

But the question arises as to why death would cause sin? Part of the explanation is connected with the depiction of the devil, who exercises his power through fear of death. It is not that death or mortality, per se, can be equated with sin, but fear of death and deception are linked with the work of Satan. It is not that Satan is a generic or ambiguous tempter, but his temptation is specifically linked to how he misorients or enslaves through death. Hebrews pictures the devil enslaving humanity as he wields fear of death (Heb. 2:14-15) and Paul describes this same reign of fear and enslavement (Rom. 8:15). Hebrews explains, the death of Jesus was intended to “destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil.” John puts it succinctly, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (I John 3:8). At the opening of Revelation Jesus holds “the keys of death and Hades” (Rev. 1:18). Presumably the one who holds the keys to death has taken control of what was formerly under Satan’s power. He has the power to unlock the chains which bound human kind.

We can continue to specify in what fear of death consists by recognizing both how it is resolved and what this resolution allows for. John equates love and life as enabled through Christ: “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him” (I Jn. 4:9). The fear, that would obstruct love is cured through the love of Christ: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (I Jn. 4:18). On the other hand, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death” (I Jn. 3:14).

Lest there is any confusion, John explains: “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (I Jn. 3:15-16). Fear of death leaves one under the control of death and incapacitates love and gives rise to violence. Fear, death, hatred, and violence, pose one option and life, love, abiding in Christ, and laying down life for others constitutes the other option. But we still might ask why captivity to fear enslaves to lovelessness and death? What is it precisely in fear of death that leads to enslavement and violence?

The book of Wisdom goes some way in explaining cause and effect. It sets out to explain how Hades (the place of the dead), has come to rule in place of God’s intent for creation through the ungodly:

For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, “Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end, and no one has been known to return from Hades. For we were born by mere chance, and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been, for the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts; when it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes, and the spirit will dissolve like empty air.” As a result, death is invited into a person’s life as those who are captured by it say, “Let none of us fail to share in our revelry; everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment, because this is our portion, and this our lot. Let us oppress the righteous poor man; let us not spare the widow or regard the gray hairs of the aged. But let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless. Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training” (Wis. 1:12–2:15).

As Richard Beck notes, the book of Wisdom may be an indicator that the tendency to read the Genesis 3 story as the origin of sin may have missed the point. It is death that comes to be shared by the race and death contains the impetus to sin. As Beck argues, “the main impulse of the story, given how the Orthodox follow the framing given in texts like those in Wisdom, is less about how the world became infected by sin than how it became infected by death.”[2] Further, “we see that the root cause of death isn’t sin, as the devil/serpent actually predates sin. It’s the “envy of the devil” that introduces sin and death into the world.”[3] In other words, the mortal condition is the situation in which the failed moral condition spreads to all. In this understanding sin is not mystified, as it is in Augustinian original sin. It can be understood how the disease and corruption of death give rise to sin.

In the generation following the first couple, it is not that Cain and Abel are equally depraved and immoral (totally depraved according to Augustine). Cain is evil and he attacks Abel because he is righteous (I Jn. 3:12). This explains how the murderous Cain and his type might come to out-populate and dominate the harmless Abels of the world. We understand how a righteous man like Noah might find himself alone amidst a murderous people. The world has been infected by death, and as Wisdom and presumably Genesis are explaining, this gives rise to murderous competition in which life is a zero sum game and one better grab all the life he can while the grabbing is good.

As Wisdom puts it, God did not intend for it to be this way: “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them, and the dominion of Hades is not on earth. For righteousness is immortal” (Wis. 1:14-15). This fits with Genesis but it also fits with what is obvious. People die and this creates a limit condition in which people are desperate.

This might show up, as Wisdom describes it, in a desperation to find pleasure when and where it is possible. Or it might show up in the sort of desperation on display in Cain, in which he is put into competition for God’s acknowledgement, as if there is only so much to go around. Or maybe, as with those in Babel, the attempt is to storm the heavens, make an enduring name, and leave a mark, so that people will not be undone and dispersed by death. The psychology of the fear of death may take any number of forms, but what is obvious is that God did not and does not intend it to be this way. As Beck describes it, “As mortal creatures, separated from God’s vivifying Spirit, humans are fearful and survival-driven animals, easily drawn into sinful and selfish practices.” This mortal drive to self-preservation, makes us “tragically vulnerable to death anxiety—the desire to preserve our own existence above all else and at all costs.”[4]

Mark Lilla’s description, relying upon Thomas Hobbes, describes how fear of death gives rise to the continual need for violence:

Natural man, according to Hobbes, is desiring man—which also means he is fearful man. If he finds himself alone in nature he will try to satisfy his desires, will only partially succeed, and will fear losing what he has. But if other human beings are present that fear will be heightened to an almost unbearable degree. Given his awareness of himself as a creature beset by desire—a stream of desire that ends, says Hobbes, only in death—he assumes others are similarly driven. “Whosoever looketh into himself and considereth what he doth,” Hobbes writes, “he shall thereby read and know, what are the thoughts and passions of all other men.” That means he can think of them only as potential competitors, trying to satisfy desires that may come into conflict with his own . . . That is why the natural social condition of mankind is war—if not explicit, armed hostilities, then a perpetual state of anxious readiness in preparation for conflict.[5]

As Beck notes this fits with James depiction of why there is quarrelling and violence in the church: “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts” (James 4:1-2). This formulation closely follows Hobbes. “Why is there violence in the world? Because of a desire motivated by want, lack, and scarcity—whether it be real, potential, or simply perceived scarcity.”[6]

This clarifies why in overcoming the fear of death the very specific result will be the capacity to love. John describes this love as a self-sacrificial love which might be something as simple as the willingness to share worldly goods: “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (I Jn. 3:17). To obtain, possess, and survive does not lend itself to even the simplest act of sharing, apart from which love is an impossibility. Christ breaks the grip of death in his passion as he succumbs to the worst human situation, and overcomes it.

In his defeat of death Christ opens a way beyond death to life. As Basil writes, “To the extent that [man] stood apart from life, in like amount he also drew closer to death.  For life is God, and the deprivation of life is death.” In Christ life and righteousness are opened up as a possibility. Athanasius the Great writes, “When, by the counsel of the devil, men turned away from things eternal, they returned to things of corruptibility and became themselves the cause of dissolution unto death.”[7] In the defeat of the devil Christ turns men back to life and not their dissolution in death but the dissolution or defeat of death. John Chrysostom writes:

He who fears death is a slave and subjects himself to everything in order to avoid dying. . . . [But] he who does not fear death is outside the tyranny of the devil. For indeed “man would give skin for skin, and all things for [the sake of] his life,” [Job 2:4] and if a man should decide to disregard this, whose slave is he then? He fears no one, is in terror of no one, is higher than everyone, and is freer than everyone. For he who disregards his own life disregards more so all other things. And when the devil finds such a soul, he can accomplish in it none of his works. Tell me, though, what can he threaten? The loss of money or honor? Or exile from one’s country? For these are small things to him “who counteth not even his life dear,” says blessed Paul [Acts 20:24]. Do you see that in casting out the tyranny of death, He has dissolved the strength of the devil?[8]

This defeat of the fear of death frees one from slavery – “he fears no one and is freer than everyone” – it defeats the devil and opens one to love. Here is a mode of life that gives life and shares life and does not horde it in fearful self-salvation (the sort in which he who would save life experiences only death). The slavery of self-salvation is driven by fear, lack, and the attempt to preserve what is rendered absent in the attempt. Only one willing to give up the death-dealing grab to save the self has access to life.

Isn’t this the point of Christ’s self-giving sacrifice which is the model to emulate so as to defeat captivity to death?

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,   but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Php. 2:3–8).

The selfishness and empty conceit which enslaves to death is undone in the one who reversed the instinct behind the fear of death and became the means to life and the defeat of sin.


[1] John Romanides, The Ancestral Sin, pp 34-35.

[2] Richard Beck, The Slavery of Death (Kindle Locations 263-267). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition. Thank you, Tim, for the gift of this book.  

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 304.

[5] Mark Lilla, The Stillborn God (New York: Knopf, 2007) p. 81-82. Quoted in Beck, p. 14.

[6] Ibid. Beck, p. 422.

[7] Ibid., Romanides.

[8] The excerpt is from Homily IV of Chrysostom’s Homilies on Hebrews. Quoted in Beck, p. 14.

.

The Lost Gospel of Ignatius of Antioch

There is a New Testament and patristic understanding, sometimes lost to modern theology, which organically connects Christ’s death and resurrection to salvation. That is, the predicament of death, with its corruption, inherent deception, and loss, is directly addressed in the life giving truth of the work of Christ. In the modern equation, in which resurrection is a seal of sacrifice accepted, resurrection is not intrinsically connected to either forgiveness or purification and Christ’s death is simply the payment of a penalty. For example, in Calvin’s explanation: “We have in his death the complete fulfillment of salvation, for through it we are reconciled to God, his righteous judgment is satisfied, the curse is removed, and the penalty paid in full.”[1] Once Christ’s death is set in a legal framework, his death addresses a problem in the mind of God rather than a reality inherent in death. Yet, this organic connection of Christ’s death and resurrection to the predicament of death is an understanding repeated and developed in the earliest theological writing of the post-New Testament age. Ignatius of Antioch is working with categories presumed in the New Testament and early church, linking death with corruption and which makes of resurrection, as well as the life and death of Jesus, purification, release from bondage, and forgiveness. The danger is that this understanding is obscured by theological developments from Augustine to Calvin which shift the theological focus to issues of sovereignty, determinism, law, and total depravity.  

When he writes his series of letters to various churches, Ignatius is headed to Rome where he knows he will be martyred. This march toward death informs his comparatively simple theology describing the necessity to embrace death with Christ. For Ignatius, fear of death is the corruption or disease which Satan wields so as to give death the final word. His journey and his letters are a demonstration of how one can put off the corrupting power of death by reversing the instinct and orientation to flee, rather than take up the cross.

 As he explains to the Ephesians, the death and resurrection of Christ are the medicine that provides the cure for the corruption and sickness of sin in its death denying orientation. Death is corrupting precisely in that the sinful, like the false teachers, would deny its reality and would consider the fleshly embodied world as unreal. They would assign prime reality to the soul and spirit and pass over the flesh and the reality of death, and in denying this reality they transmit the original disease. For these false teachers, “He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be [Christians].” Ignatius grants that it may happen exactly as they believe: “as they believe, so shall it happen unto them, when they shall be divested of their bodies, and be mere evil spirits.”[2] To lose the body and to become a spirit is an evil and damnable state. The docetists, who deny the reality of the flesh of Christ, “labor under an incurable disease” in that they deny the reality of the cure of the “Physician” who “is the only true God.”[3]

Ignatius explains the cure straightforwardly: “For ‘the Word was made flesh’ [John 1:14]. Being incorporeal, He was in the body; being impassible, He was in a passible body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts.”[4] Life and immortality are not innate to man, but come from God. “For were He to regard us according to our works we should cease to be.”[5] God was manifested in Christ “for the renewal of eternal life.”[6] Christ is “the constant source of our life, and of faith and love.”[7] He “breathes immortality into the Church”[8] and “apart from whom we do not possess the true life.”[9]

Ignatius is reflecting the teaching of Hebrews: the defeat of death equals the seizure of the kingdom of Satan, as the devil reigns over a captive humanity through death (Heb. 2:14-15). He is following Paul’s notion that “sin reigned in death” (Rom. 5:21) and “the sting of death is sin” (I Cor. 15:56).

According to John Romanides’ explanation and expansion upon the theology of Ignatius, “Because of the tyrant death man is unable to live according to his original destiny of selfless love. He now has the instinct of self-preservation firmly rooted within him from birth.” Romanides builds upon this to say, “Because he lives constantly under the fear of death he continuously seeks bodily and psychological security, and thus becomes individualistically inclined and utilitarian in attitude.”[10] Though this may put a modern twist on Ignatius, it gets at his understanding of why the “abolition of death” is an undoing of sin and a defeat of the devil.[11]

For Ignatius, death and life are two fates: “Seeing, then, all things have an end, these two things are simultaneously set before us — death and life; and every one shall go unto his own place.” There are two kinds of coin, and each coin has stamped upon it either the character of the world or the character of God, and the sole difference is that “the believing have, in love, the character of God the Father.”[12] Those who deny Him have become the “advocates of death rather than of the truth.”[13] There is life and truth or death and a lie, but there is no means to life apart from the truth of Christ.

It is by Christ alone that man has life. He is the door to life “by which enter in Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the prophets, and the apostles, and the Church. All these have for their object the attaining to the unity of God.” These too “proclaimed the Gospel, and placed their hope in Him, and waited for Him; in whom also believing, they were saved, through union to Jesus Christ.” [14] They pointed to this one in whom “is the perfection of immortality.”[15]

Ignatius tells Polycarp, his friend, to strive as an athlete for the prize of “immortality and eternal life” and he tells the Trallians that “by believing in His death you may escape death.”[16] He warns the Smyrnaeans that those who deny Jesus had a natural body simply succumb to death, and he equates belief in his suffering in the body as the equivalent of resurrection: “But he who does not acknowledge this, has in fact altogether denied Him, being enveloped in death. . . . Yea, far be it from me to make any mention of them, until they repent and return to [a true belief in] Christ’s passion, which is our resurrection.”[17]

Death is corrupting in that it poses a moral orientation which unleashes the fleshly passions, as the mortality of the flesh reigns unchallenged. In this sense, there is no division between the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Christ, in that in each he is combating the same foe. The corruption of death is overcome in his life, in his passion and taking up of death, and in his resurrection. On the other hand, the false teachers are “dumb dogs,” “raving mad,” and their bite is poisonous as they inflict the original lie, which would obscure how it is that Satan and death ensnare and enslave.[18] The truth of life in Christ exposes the lie of Satan positing a death dealing lie.

What is remarkable in this understanding are all of the things that are not only missing but if they are added, will obscure Ignatius’ understanding. There is no consideration of a legal framework or of future punishment. Rather, sin is a disease which Christ cures by uniting his immortality with his mortal body. Christ became subject to corruption which is simultaneously a physical and moral state, as is evidenced in those who are spiritually corrupt. Their corruption is not only that they are subject to death, but in denying this reality they make themselves completely corrupt, as evidenced in their foolishness and vanity, leaving them subject to death.  (Ignatius puts heavy emphasis on the importance of meekness, “by which the prince of this world is brought to nought.”[19])

 As he puts it in the letter to the Trallians, “Abstain from the poison of heretics.” Partaking of heresy is like eating poisonous herbage. So he says, “use Christian nourishment only.” Ignatius claims you can either turn to the nourishment of Christ or to poison, with the result that you will die. Or more fatally, one can ingest the poison of heresy, imagining it is the word of Christ: “For those [that are given to this] mix up Jesus Christ with their own poison, speaking things which are unworthy of credit, like those who administer a deadly drug in sweet wine, which he who is ignorant of does greedily take, with a fatal pleasure leading to his own death.”[20] The result of sin is that one becomes completely subject to death, physically and morally.

Ignatius does not speak of future punishment, and he knows nothing of limited atonement or individual election. One either entrusts herself to the love of Christ or attempts to take in “herbage of a different kind.” These “unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer” and it can be said of them “they themselves only seeming to exist.”[21] They have given themselves completely over to unreality through the delusion of death.

The docetic claim, that Christ did not come in human flesh, is directly from Satan, according to Ignatius, and is equivalent in its effects to the original lie of the serpent. “Flee, therefore, those evil offshoots [of Satan], which produce death-bearing fruit, whereof if any one tastes, he instantly dies.” It is evident that such men are not planting good fruit, “For if they were, they would appear as branches of the cross, and their fruit would be incorruptible.” In denying the embodiment of Christ they deny the reality of the passion, and thus they leave themselves subject to the deadly passions (death resistance) which Christ defeated. “By it (the cross) He calls you through His passion, as being His members. The head, therefore, cannot be born by itself, without its members; God, who is [the Savior] Himself, having promised their union.”[22] The true branches springing from the cross, enflesh themselves with the clothing of Christ, such as meekness and love, in which they “become the imitators of His sufferings.” These are the salvific fruit stemming from faith; specifically, faith “that is the flesh of the Lord” and “love, that is the blood of Jesus Christ.”[23] Living in faith is, by definition, to live by the flesh and blood of Christ.

There is no room here for a disembodied, in the head alone, sort of faith. Living by faith and love connects one to the incarnate, fleshly, humanity of Christ by means of which he can “continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ our Lord.” This union can be disrupted through the heretical tendency, which is a type of the sinful tendency, of denying the reality of Christ’s enfleshment. The alternative is to trust in his works in the body which bring about life in the face of death. The ‘flesh and blood’ of Jesus directly counters the “deadly disease” of “depravity,” “foolishness,” “evil,” and “vanity.”

I arm you beforehand by my admonitions, as my beloved and faithful children in Christ, furnishing you with the means of protection [literally, ‘making you drink beforehand what will preserve you’] against the deadly disease of unruly men, by which do ye flee from the disease by the good-will of Christ our Lord.[24]

As Mako Nagasawa notes, Ignatius links ransom language to cleansing: “When He gave Himself a ransom for us, that He might cleanse us by His blood from our old ungodliness, and bestow life on us.” Life is purification and cleanliness, just as death is corruption. For Ignatius the ransom, while addressing the work of Satan, also “concerns ridding human nature of ‘the depravity that was in us.’ Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves: heal his human nature, and rid it of sin, by uniting it perfectly with God. He can therefore do in us what we cannot do by ourselves.”[25]

 Ignatius, according to Nagasawa, reflects (and quotes) the participatory thought of 2 Peter: “He (Peter) reminds them of the power and promises of Jesus, that ‘you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust’ (2 Pet.1:4). The term ‘corruption’ occurs two more times in Peter in connection with false teachers (2 Pet.2:10, 19), who ‘indulge the flesh’ (2 Pet.2:10) and ‘entice by fleshly desires’ (2 Pet.2:18).” One can either follow the dogs and pigs (2 Pet.2:22) or overcome this corruption through “purification” and healing by participation in ‘the divine nature’ in and through Jesus Christ (2 Pet.1:9).[26]

This divine nature, the cure to the predicament of death, is imparted throughout his incarnation and is made available through the fact that his flesh and blood are shared. Church historian Philip Schaff writes of Ignatius’ theology, “The central idea is the renovation of man (Eph.20), now under the power of Satan and Death (ib. 3, 19), which are undone in Christ, the risen Savior (Smyrn.3), who ‘is our true life,’ and endows us with immortality (Smyrn. 4, Magn. 6, Eph. 17).’27 Jesus’ new humanity is the ‘cure’ for our corrupted humanity. It is what the eucharist points to: the ‘cleansing remedy to drive away evil.”[27]

Again, what is missing, is the notion of wrath as a legal category (removed from death), the notion of a limited atonement, or any hint of a monophysite or monthelite will or any discussion of will. Augustine’s notion of original sin, focus on God’s sovereignty, focus on human free will or total depravity, and individual predestination, change the landscape of theology to such a degree that by the time of Calvin, even those Arminians who would oppose him were caught up in the same web. They are seemingly unable to extract themselves from the world put into place by Augustine and Calvin. Thus, they pose the innovation of prevenient grace to combat total depravity, and are left with a focus on voluntarism in which the issue of human will and God’s will is the dominant factor in the universe. What they did not have access to was the world of Ignatius and the New Testament.

 In the description of Romanides, for Ignatius death and its corruption are the condition God would destroy through the incarnation, and next to the will of God and the good, there is only the temporary kingdom of Satan, who exercises his power through death and corruption. Man is oppressed by the devil but is still free, at least in regard to will, to follow one or the other. “The world and God has each his own character – the world death, and God life (Ign. Mag. 5.) . . . It exists now under the power of corruption (Rom. 8:20-22), but in Christ is being cleansed.”[28]


[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.xvi.13

[2] Ignatius, The Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 2.

[3] Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians 7.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians 10.

[6] Ignatius, Ephesians 19.

[7] Epistle to the Magnesians 1.

[8] Ephesians  17.

[9] Epistle to the Trallians 9.

[10] John S. Romanides, The Ecclesiology of St. Ignatius of Antioch, http://www.romanity.org/htm/rom.11.en.the_ecclesiology_of_st._ignatius_of_antioch.01.htm

[11] Ephesians 19.

[12] Magnesians 5.

[13] Smyrnaeans 5.

[14] Philadelphians 5.

[15] Ibid. 9.

[16] Epistle to Polycarp 2

[17] Smyrnaeans 5.

[18] Ephesians 7.

[19] Trallians 4.

[20] Ibid, 6.

[21] Ibid 10.

[22] Ibid 11.

[23] Ibid 8.

[24] Ibid, 8. Comments on the translation are those of Mako A. Nagasawa, “Penal Substitution vs. Medical-Ontological Substitution: A Historical Comparison” Documents/atonement/article-penal-substitution-vs-ontological-substitution-historical-comparison.pdfignatius.pdf

[25] Nagasawa, Ibid.

[26] Nagasawa, Ibid.

[27] Philip Schaff, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Series 2, Volume 4 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867), p.37. Quoted in Nagasawa.

[28] Ibid. Romanides.

A Review of David Bentley Hart’s Tradition and Apocalypse

As I have previously described (here), it may be hard to trace the survival of the fullness of the gospel in particular periods of church history, and to assume that it is fully traceable historically or institutionally (in the tradition) would be a category mistake. It would be to assume that the victors are capable of writing a history of losers (those who take up the cross). At the same time, to presume Constantine or the Dark Ages or American Evangelicalism wiped out any trace of the authentic gospel, presumes Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, or Protestantism, with their various institutions and formulations, are the sole purveyors of the gospel. I assume that the word of the cross is, as Paul describes it, a suspension of the symbolic order in which the law and its oppressive force is rendered inactive. The symbolic order is that place where things are thought to endure, where history is written, where people make their mark, where institutions reign, and it is where order is maintained through an established hierarchy (the arche of this world), but this is precisely what the gospel is not.

David Bentley Hart’s Tradition and Apocalypse,[1] concurs with my understanding that the truth of the gospel continues to unfold, but not necessarily in ways that are traceable through history and doctrine. As he points out, his work may not provide any immediate practical benefits in sorting out the paradox that the teaching of the New Testament and the institutions and doctrines which claim to be passing on this teaching may be (and often are) in complete contradiction. But the book, in pointing to a future eschatological coherence, does an important work in indicating the form of salvation in which that coherence would consist. In turn, the attempt to paper over the contradictions is in danger of misconstruing salvation (at least this is implicit in Hart’s argument). For example, the drive to unify church history and doctrine in a coherence it does not intrinsically possess is in danger of making salvation a matter of forensics, a matter of adhering to authority, a matter completely summed up in doctrine and history, and under the domain of various institutional manifestations and authorities.

Hart nowhere states it this plainly, as his is a concerted effort to imagine an open-ended element to every distortion in which there is more than meets the eye. The “truest in tradition” has not yet been “delivered over” – so there must be the “yet more” consisting of “the nimbus of the unseen that shines all around the seen, a boundless excess of meaning that lies beyond the scope of every formulation of the faith” (pp. 1632-1636).  To foreclose too quickly the contradictory elements in history and doctrine is to miss out on the unfolding nature of the truth of Christ which will only be fully realized in the eschaton.

Hart provides an abundance of examples indicating that what is at stake in embracing his open-ended take on tradition is the understanding of salvation.  Negatively, a salvation that devolves to “forensic justification” and “a happy hereafter” will have missed the story of “a real union of creatures with God himself” brought about through the mediation of the Son and Spirit, in which “God became human that humans might become God” (p. 123). Positively, salvation as theosis bears an unfolding and not yet realized coherence which relinquishes final trust in the Christian tradition’s historical forms, the failures of which can be fully admitted, such that “believers might surely rejoice to some substantial degree in the collapse of Christendom” (p. 172).

Part of the problem is that the constraints of his project do not allow for a clear definition of either Christendom or the exact nature and extent of its failure. From an Anabaptist perspective, one need not wait for the decline of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of the modern nation state, the collapse of the so-called Christian empires, to declare Christendom collapsed – Christendom is itself a collapse (of the gospel). But Hart’s point is to define the tradition in such a way as to escape this conclusion while at the same time acknowledging the failures of Christendom. It is not clear that he succeeds.

He acknowledges “even the most prominent features of the faith were altered almost beyond recognition by the imperial culture into which the faith was integrated from the time of Constantine on.” According to sound historical judgment “essential elements of the Christianity of the first generations became at best accidental to the Christianity of the next few centuries, and then as often as not entirely absent from the Christianity that ensued in the next few centuries after that, as social, political, and ideological conditions shifted around the communities of believers” (pp. 534-538). The Constantinian shift would end the early communalism of shared goods and condemnation of accumulated wealth and private property. It would end proscriptions against military service, participation in capital punishment, disdain for those who lord it over others and for those who dwell in palaces and wear fine clothes (pp. 538-551).

He suggests that what we call Christianity in contemporary America cannot possibly be made to fit into the original understanding of the faith, with its commitments to a “comfortable bourgeois cult of civic respectability and personal prosperity, or to the free-market capitalist orthodoxies and ridiculous gun-obsessions and barbarous nation-worship . . . (even among many Catholics and Orthodox).” One would be hard pressed to say “how any of this (and similar departures throughout church history) could truly be regarded as a single continuous faith, rather than merely a series of historical ruptures, divagations, accidental sequelae, and frequent total inversions” (pp. 552-557).

His conclusion makes one wonder what can be said to have survived of the original faith. The “entire way of life” which was once the essence of being Christian, with “its contempt for wealth and its civic dereliction and its hostility to the mechanisms of power by which societies and nations and empires thrive and survive and perpetuate themselves, is the very way of life to which most Christian culture throughout the centuries has proved implacably hostile.” Modern Christians would be precisely those condemning the lifestyle of the first Christians as equivalent to hippies, delinquents, unpatriotic sentimental snowflakes or seditious socialists. “It would be no exaggeration to say that, viewed entirely in historical perspective, cultural and institutional ‘Christianity’ has, for most of its history, consisted in the systematic negation of the Christianity of Christ, the apostles, and the earliest church” (pp. 560-563). His scare quotes around “Christian” indicate he is suggesting that this “Christian” has erased the authentic kind.  

Is there any survival at all in a Christianity which has “consisted in the systematic negation of the Christianity of Christ, the apostles, and the earliest church?” He describes the “church surviving” – but this survival seems to be by way of totally abandoning anything that would make the church the church. “Certainly, the church survived after the time of Constantine as much by virtue of the early Christian principles it abandoned, belied, or inverted as those it preserved and ‘naturally’ developed” (pp. 742-744). Is it a mystery so grand that words such as failure, contradiction, and negation are rendered equivocal and possibly mean the opposite? Is there no possibility of an apostate church, and if there is must it remain a mystery as to which church, which place, which time, which teaching, this must refer?

In fact, in Hart’s depiction of New Testament salvation as a defeat of archons and powers and the ushering in of “a cosmic dispensation under the reign of God” (see pp. 568-581), one wonders if a Christendom, which stands for a negation of New Testament Christianity, is not among the very powers to be defeated by the Christianity of Christ. In his own estimate, there are specific beliefs which are “preposterous and alien to the actual teachings of scripture.”  Penal substitutionary atonement, limited atonement, imputed righteousness, salvation through faith apart from good works, eternal conscious torment in hell, inherited guilt, arbitrary predestination – beliefs that, he concludes, “could not be true in any possible world” are taken to be the very core of the faith. These teachings which contradict Christianity have been presumed, “in various epochs and regions of the Christian world,” to be “the very essence of the faith” (pp. 597-601). So, there is, at least in these instances, no clear doctrinal survival of the essential core of the faith.

His attack on the institutions of Christendom is only slightly less negative. Mythic and retroactive notions of apostolic succession, the development of cults of the saints, tautologous notions of authority in which “every claim to authority turns out to be reducible simply to itself,” a “mythical consensus partum” and notions of “all but infallible testimony of the ‘holy fathers’, are accorded an authority and authenticity “too absolute and uncomplicated to correspond to reality” (pp. 174-175). Hart pictures his approach to the tradition in the positive light (which he acknowledges, “many do not crave”) of enabling liberation “from too great a reliance on organs of authority” entangled with “a very great deal of ideological and institutional myth” (p. 173).

Lest there is any doubt, he spells out who might be guilty of belief in this myth: “The Protestant fundamentalist clinging to literalist scriptural inerrancy, the Catholic traditionalist clinging to a brutally reductive concept of infallible dogmatic pronouncements, the Orthodox traditionalist clinging to the nonexistent unanimity of the fathers – all are merely clutching at whatever bits of flotsam seem to them most buoyant atop the ocean of historical contingency, following the shipwreck of Christendom” (p. 179).

He raises the question of any possibility of connection between the unhouseled (those who have not received the Eucharist as the peculiar institutional encrustations which render it the “Eucharist” have not developed) and those social recusants (the anti-institutional) “that constituted the church of the apostolic era” – how can these have anything to do with “the enfranchised and powerful institutions of imperial or national Christendom?”  The implied answer – there is no continuity, no “organic vitality,” no “living idea” which can possibly connect them (pp. 826-829). His project is not such that he is advocating full liberation from institutionalized notions of authority (a clear break with the institutional church), but it is clear that he holds such notions loosely. Though he still holds to the legitimacy of church offices, he does not explain on what basis he holds this position or to what extent.

One cannot disagree with his premise that the truth of the gospel continues to unfold in spite of not being able to trace it in the history and doctrine of the tradition. One can agree that this is a mystery and that the love of Christ breaks through in most every situation, by ways and means that we know not of. One can agree that the eschaton will bring about a coherence which will only be realized in retrospect. This is all helpful, but Hart seems unwilling to address the very gaps he notes which make later forms of the faith a contradiction of the Christianity of the New Testament and the early church. He admits he is offering no practical solutions and no program of action.

Mine is a more peaceful and anti-institutional inclination (while recognizing none have escaped Christendom and its seeming necessities). I presume we really should attempt to reduplicate the economy, the nonviolence, and the disempowerment of the first church and the first Christians so as to put in place the lived reality of the peace of Christ. I presume it is not enough to name the failures without specifying their nature and striving to rid ourselves of the specific forms of violence, the oppression, the abject failures and contradictions which have negated and continue to negate the gospel preached by Jesus and the Apostles. Specifying the nature of this failure comes with the practical necessity of doing something about it; an imperative of which Hart remains free.


[1] David Bentley Hart, Tradition and Apocalypse (Baker Publishing Group, Kindle Edition).

Death as Containing Sin in Irenaeus

A key shift entailed in Augustine’s misreading of Romans 5:12, concerns the meaning of death. Where Irenaeus, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Ambrose, up to Maximus the Confessor, held that death was a prevention of the immortalizing of sinfulness (a containment of sin), Augustine sees death as a penalty incurred due to sin (probably the prevailing understanding today).[1] He says, “We used our immortality so badly as to incur the penalty of death: Christ used His mortality so well as to restore us to life.”[2] In On the Trinity he concludes, death is a “just retribution.” He explains, “Just as the judge inflicts punishment on the guilty; yet it is not the justice of the judge, but the desert of the crime, which is the cause of the punishment.”[3] For Augustine, death is simply the infliction of punishment and through this (mis)understanding, the groundwork is laid for a shift not only in the meaning of death but the meaning of punishment (focused on the second death).  Those attuned to the Augustinian depiction may not recognize the contrast this poses with the teaching that preceded him, in which death is not retribution for sin but the beginning of rescue from sin.

Augustine’s point of departure concerning death (that it is visited upon all due to the guilt inherited from Adam), stands in contrast to the teaching of the earliest church father’s such as Irenaeus, who saw death as limiting sin’s possibility. Irenaeus, as one of the earliest church theologians and one whose experience included both east and west, stood in a direct line, through Polycarp, to the teaching of the Apostles. In other words, he represents the clearest teaching concerning death and sin in the post-Apostolic period up to Augustine. This is especially true, since he is concerned to refute Gnostics (such as Valentinus), who also have a perverted view of sin and death. Where Augustine will make a gnostic-like move in privileging human interiority and rationality (focusing on thought, word, and will) as containing the “image of God,” Irenaeus locates the image of God in the body and in human relationality through the body. Where the body is subject to death and corruption, the image of God in humans is marred (but certainly not completely spoiled).

 One way of getting at the difference between Augustine and Irenaeus (but also between Irenaeus and the modern), is to note Irenaeus’ appreciation for the body and relationality, which is more post-Wittgensteinian than modern. For Irenaeus, to be human is to be a physical body and this entails relationality. As Mako Nagasawa depicts it, Irenaeus had a relational, marital, and physical understanding of what “the image of God” meant for human beings. The marital/physical relationality was paradigmatic, such that to explain how the individual, and not just the married couple bore the image, he “appealed to the relational identity of the Word-Son as the image of God.” So too every “human being was meant to be in relation to God by the Spirit, in some sense mirroring an internal relation of the Son to the Father in the Spirit.” The image could be traced in marital relationship or in relationship to God, but Irenaeus had no notion of an isolated individual bearing the image of God. Nagasawa concludes, “Irenaeus’ theological anthropology was relational to its core.”[4]

This embodied notion of relationality as bearing the image, explains how physical death impacts the image bearing capacity. Irenaeus appeals to the Genesis story and the formation of man from earth, and the giving of breath, seeming to relish the earthy nature of the image as a contrast to gnostic denigration of flesh. “For He traced His own form on the formation, that that which should be seen should be of divine form: for (as) the image of God was man formed and set on the earth. And that he might become living, He breathed on his face the breath of life; that both for the breath and for the formation man should be like unto God.”[5] As he explains in this same paragraph, “And this great created world, prepared by God before the formation of man, was given to man as his place, containing all things within itself.” Though this world contains “all things,” God also prepares a place where he can give himself: “And so fair and good was this Paradise, that the Word of God continually resorted thither, and walked and talked with the man, figuring beforehand the things that should be in the future, (namely) that He should dwell with him and talk with him, and should be with men, teaching them righteousness.”[6] The physical body, the breath from God, God’s presence, and the male/female presence, together constitute the fulness of this relational image.

Irenaeus also pictured the first humans as having free will as part of their image bearing, such that their decision for the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” constituted not only disobedience but a willful rejection of life (in the “tree of life” or in God’s presence); a rejection which God honored. In this sense, death was the fulfillment of the desire of sin; namely, to be free of God’s arbitration of the good (life). Now they would be the arbiters of their own ethics (“knowing good and evil” in the absence of life).

Death though, is the built-in limit to sin: “But He set a bound to his [state of] sin, by interposing death, and thus causing sin to cease, putting an end to it by the dissolution of the flesh, which should take place in the earth, so that man, ceasing at length to live to sin, and dying to it, might begin to live to God.” Death poses a definitive boundary to sin, so that there is no possibility “that the sin which surrounded him should be immortal, and evil interminable and irremediable.”[7] Death is not a punishment then, but the first step in rescue, but at the same time death potentially contains the deception of the serpent. “For at the first Adam became a vessel in his (Satan’s) possession, whom he did also hold under his power, that is, by bringing sin on him iniquitously, and under color of immortality entailing death upon him.”[8] The original lie held out the promise of immortality but brought about death, and death continues to hold out the possibility of this deception in Irenaeus depiction.

Though the tendency, even among expositors explaining Irenaeus, is to pose an aspect to death that is not physical (that is the tendency is to separate out physical and spiritual death). Irenaeus could not be clearer: death refers not to soul or spirit but to the fleshly, physical body.

What, then, are mortal bodies? Can they be souls? Nay, for souls are incorporeal when put in comparison with mortal bodies; for God breathed into the face of man the breath of life, and man became a living soul. Now the breath of life is an incorporeal thing. And certainly they cannot maintain that the very breath of life is mortal. . .. Neither, on the other hand, can they say that the spirit is the mortal body. What therefore is there left to which we may apply the term mortal body, unless it be the thing that was moulded, that is, the flesh, of which it is also said that God will vivify it?[9]

Death then, describes the corruption of the physical body,

For this it is which dies and is decomposed, but not the soul or the spirit. For to die is to lose vital power, and to become henceforth breathless, inanimate, and devoid of motion, and to melt away into those [component parts] from which also it derived the commencement of [its] substance. But this event happens neither to the soul, for it is the breath of life; nor to the spirit, for the spirit is simple and not composite, so that it cannot be decomposed, and is itself the life of those who receive it. We must therefore conclude that it is in reference to the flesh that death is mentioned; which [flesh], after the soul’s departure, becomes breathless and inanimate, and is decomposed gradually into the earth from which it was taken.[10]

This captivity to death, by its very nature, indicates the absence of God: “The flesh, therefore, when destitute of the Spirit, is dead, not having life, and cannot possess the kingdom of God: [it is as] irrational blood, like water poured out upon the ground. And therefore he says, ‘As is the earthy, such are they that are earthy.’”[11] The earthy are subject to the mortality and corruption of the flesh, indicating “a certain dominion of death,” which unless resisted through the soul and spirit describes the state of the man. One succumbs to the corruption of death by being fleshly and living according to the principle of the flesh.

Irenaeus patiently spells out over several chapters that this is what Paul means when he says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom.” It is not that flesh and blood will be gotten rid of in the Kingdom, but the spirit added to the body (flesh and blood) does indeed inherit the Kingdom. As he puts it in the title of book 5 chapter 14: “Unless the flesh were to be saved, the Word would not have taken upon Him flesh of the same substance as ours: from this it would follow that neither should we have been reconciled by Him.” Christ has reconciled us in the flesh by his flesh, not by getting rid of the flesh but adding to it the life of the spirit. Afterall, to be human is to be flesh and blood, even in the Kingdom, as it is by such that we have life in the first place: “Now, since man is a living being compounded of soul and flesh, he must needs exist by both of these.”[12] He concludes, “If, therefore, flesh and blood are the things which procure for us life, it has not been declared of flesh and blood, in the literal meaning (proprie) of the terms, that they cannot inherit the kingdom of God; but [these words apply] to those carnal deeds already mentioned, which, perverting man to sin, deprive him of life.”[13]

Physical, bodily, death can be a bondage as the principle of the flesh is taken as an end in itself, without admixture or resistance of soul and spirit. Irenaeus equates this condition with the “falsehood” put into place by the serpent, and he sees this lie as potentially fragmenting the person: “For godliness is obscured and dulled by the soiling and the staining of the flesh, and is broken and polluted and no more entire, if falsehood enter into the soul.” This corruption is a loss or corruption of the self, just as keeping the self or maintaining wholeness is possible “when truth is constant in the soul” and the flesh is pure.[14]

This in turn, explains the specific nature of the work of Christ as explained by Paul: “And it is this of which he also says, ‘He shall also quicken your mortal bodies.’ And therefore in reference to it he says, in the first [Epistle] to the Corinthians: ‘So also is the resurrection of the dead: it is sown in corruption, it rises in incorruption.’ For he declares, ‘That which thou sowest cannot be quickened, unless first it die.’” As Irenaeus puts it in the title of chapter 7: “Inasmuch as Christ did rise in our flesh, it follows that we shall be also raised in the same; since the resurrection promised to us should not be referred to spirits naturally immortal, but to bodies in themselves mortal.”[15] He does refer to this raised body as a “spiritual body” but in no way is this a departure from the physical body. As he states it, “This, however does not take place by a casting away of the flesh, but by the impartation of the Spirit.”[16]

This may be shocking for those weaned on the Augustinian idea that death is a punishment and the Calvinist notion focused on the second death (eternal torturous punishment in hell). In this  understanding, physical death has next to nothing to do with the human predicament, focused as Calvin is on hell and rescue from infinite torture. (In this sense, evil is immortalized, over and against Irenaeus’ notion that this was the very point of death – to limit evil.) This of course makes nonsense of Paul’s explanation, which Irenaeus is building upon, that sin reigns in and through death. Death is the occasion for sin as where “death spread to all men” (Rom. 5:12), where “death reigned” (v. 14), where “the many died” then “sin reigned in death” (v. 21). Here death is not a punishment and is not even necessarily connected to sin, as Paul describes those who have not sinned in the manner of Adam – “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam” (v. 14). All people are subject to death, but apparently there are entire classes of people that have not sinned (e.g., infants and children).  As Paul explains in Corinthians it is not that death is the punishment or sting of death but just the opposite, “the sting of death is sin” (I Cor. 15:56).

In Irenaeus explanation, it is not that death of necessity contains the pollution or is itself sin, but he links sin to an inclination of the soul implicit (or contained in a second sense) in death (a deception?).[17] The corruption of death takes up residence in the soul through sin, unless the counter to sin and death is displaced by the spirit of life.  


[1] This is the claim of Mako A. Nagasawa, “Penal Substitution vs. Medical-Ontological Substitution: A Historical Comparison,” The Anastasis Center Documents/atonement/article-penal-substitution-vs-ontological-substitution-historical-comparison.pdf

[2] Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, 1.14. Yet, in this same passage there is a picture of the work of Christ as healing from the sin sickness (we are still far from Calvin’s penal substitution), but death, in this understanding, has no constructive purpose.

[3] Augustine, On the Trinity, 4.12

[4] Ibid. Nagasawa.

[5] Irenaeus, The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, paragraph 11 p. 81

[6] Ibid, p. 82

[7] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.23.6

[8] Ibid, 3.23.1.

[9] Ibid, 5.7.1

[10] Ibid,

[11] Ibid, 5.9.3.

[12] Irenaeus, The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, paragraph 2. p.71.

[13] Ibid, 5.14.4

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid, Irenaeus, 7.

[16] Ibid, Irenaeus 8.1.12

[17] So sin is contained in death in a two-fold sense: death contains an inclination to sin but delimits it or contains it.

The Word of the Cross as Defeat of a Universal Nominalist-like Sickness

The New Testament describes a form of realism, in which words and actions connect in the definitive giving (δίδωμι) of Christ, and in contrast there is a passive “handing over” (παραδίδωμι) in which the agent simply relinquishes or betrays the Word or his words. In this latter instance, the agency of the action is unclear in that the betrayal or handing over is to a power (e.g., Satan or sin) which carries off what is given up.  It is on the cross that there is positive gift or giving: “he gave himself” (Gal. 1:4, 1 Tim. 2:6; Tt. 2:14), that he might rescue, ransom, and redeem from the power to which men have been given up. This gift (δίδωμι) stands juxtaposed to the giving up (παραδίδωμι) by which Christ was killed, in that the gift specifically defeats the betrayal.

The agency of the positive gift, and the unclear or failed agency, in James’ depiction, characterizes two kinds of faith. The betrayal of the word, or a failure to bring together words and action, describes an empty faith: “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give (δίδωμι) them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (James 2:16). The words are hollow and the faith is “dead.” For Martin Luther (steeped in nominalism – i.e., God’s essence and universals are unavailable) faith (sola fide) is an inner quality (disconnected from works) and not a sharing in the life of God. So for Luther, this passage marked James as an “epistle of straw.” Luther’s error (the nominalist error, but also the failure behind the modern) points to a more basic and universal failure James and Jesus are addressing.

Jesus indicates his conjoining of work and word marks something new and unique: “But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John (the culmination of the previous testimony); for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me” (Jn. 5:36). Jesus’ words and deeds completely overlap in his divine mission. He embodies a different relationship to words than even John, the pinnacle of the Jewish system. Jesus words accomplish something, or intersect with ultimate reality, where John (and Judaism) could only point to this reality. This prior incapacity is most starkly represented, by the particular betrayal (παραδίδωμι) which killed him.

The betrayal of Judas, the conspiring of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the complicities of Herod, Pilate, and “the Jews,” all played their part, but each of these parties passively “hand him over.” Judas starts the chain reaction of “handing over” (παραδίδωμι) in which he “hands over” Jesus to the Jews (Mark 14: 10), who in their turn “bound Him, and led Him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor” (Math. 27:2). The Jews picture their handing him over as a self-evident sign of guilt: “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have handed him over to you” (John 18: 30; cf. also Mark 15: 1 and Matthew 27: 2). This handing over of Jesus includes Pilate, Rome (the world of Gentiles), Judas, the Jewish priests, the Jews, and Satan.[1] All are involved in the “handing over of Jesus unto death.” At the end of the trial Pilate will hand Jesus over to the Jews to be crucified, but of course the Jews could not carry out crucifixion, so they hand him over to the soldiers.

It is true, Judas is the “betrayer” (ho paradidous) or the one whose entire identity is marked by this “handing over” (Mark 3: 19, “Judas Iscariot, who handed him over (hos kai paredōken auton),” and in Matthew 10:14, “Judas Iscariot, the one who handed him over (ho kai paradous auton).” Once Jesus is delivered into “the hands of men,” into the hands of the high priests, into the hands of the Gentiles, the momentum toward the crucifixion is a foregone conclusion. But the sin of Judas, “handing over,” is shared by every class of people, and in particular the apostles, from which Judas originated and with whom he is still identified even after the betrayal.

At the last supper, when Jesus announces that the betrayer is among them, all of the Apostles assumed they are potentially the betrayer. The Apostles “began looking at one another, at a loss to know of which one He was speaking” (Jn 13:22). Mathew pictures each of the disciples as questioning if they personally will betray him: “Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’” (Mt 26:22).  They each see within themselves the possibility which resides in Judas. Judas is singled out and his sin is singled out, but this great sinner who sums up the worst sort of sin as the betrayer, is so much a part of the apostolic band that they cannot distinguish him.

 It is in conjunction with this disclosure that Jesus washes the disciple’s feet. When Peter protests, “Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me’” (Jn 13:8). When Peter insists upon a complete bath, Jesus explains, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you” (Jn 13:10). The wholly clean still need to have their feet washed and what they are washed of, the uncleanness which still resides among them, is represented by Judas. Jesus cleanses their feet, yet they will have to continue in this service which Jesus renders to remain clean. That is, this service and what it represents directly addresses the Judas-orientation of which they all need cleansing.

All of the apostles are included in the foot-washing and yet, Peter’s and Judas’ failure both unfold from this point in the story. The specific element which both Peter and Judas fail to recognize, maybe from different ends of the same spectrum, is that Jesus intends the foot-washing to symbolize or foreshadow his self-giving in death. He has already explained that the foot-washing is a model of sacrificial service; something Jesus explains to the disciples immediately (13:12-17). They must understand this part but Jesus indicates they have not comprehended the significance of what he has done. “You don’t know now what I’m doing. You will understand later” (13:7). The foot washing is not fully comprehensible because they have yet to link sacrificial giving to death. Peter would block Jesus from going up to Jerusalem to die and Judas would bargain his way out of being counted among those who would die. They are consistently uncomprehending or unwilling to grasp what it might mean for Jesus, let alone themselves, to give his life.

After the foot-washing, Peter seems eager to press the point and to show that he has made the connection: “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You” (Jn 13:37). We know from Peter’s actions at the arrest of Jesus that he would lay down his life in battle – taking as many ears (and heads, his true target) as he can. Peter’s words parallel those Jesus used when describing his own role as the good shepherd (“the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” – Jn 10:11,15). Jesus answers Peter by repeating Peter’s words as a question: “Will you lay down your life for Me?” (13:38).  Of course, instead of giving (δίδωμι) his life for Christ he betrays (παραδίδωμι) him, and it is not clear, even at the end of the Gospel, that Peter can give in the manner of Jesus. To pass from betrayal (παραδίδωμι) to giving (δίδωμι) in the manner of Christ, specifically involves cross bearing – a lesson Peter will subsequently grasp.

In the final discourse and High Priestly Prayer Jesus’ understands the disciples would be tempted with betrayal (by “the evil one”) and the Spirit alone (15:26) would enable them to be unified (in word and deed and with God). This capacity is described as deriving, as with Christ, from within the Trinity: “keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are“(Jn. 17:11). The unity of the Godhead, given in “Christ,” will be carried on in his name (because “the words which You gave Me I have given to them” (v. 8)) Here, naming, nominating, giving, is connected to ontological being. The hypostatic union brought about by the Word assuming flesh becomes a shared communion and communication. Christ’s words-actions are marked by this conjoining (unity), constituted in who he is and is to mark his disciples (“that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us” (v. 21)).

What is enabled in true giving is entry into a divine capacity of communication. As George Florovsky states it;

For man is created in the image and likeness of God – this ‘analogical’ link makes communication possible. And since God deigned to speak to man, the human word itself acquires new depth and strength and becomes transfigured. The divine Spirit breathes in the organism of human speech. Thus it becomes possible for man to utter words of God, to speak of God.[2]

Luther and Calvin could not conceive of this sort of participation in the divine nature, as man is totally depraved and justification is outward (legally imputed) and there is no real participation in divine life. But the nominalist/Protestant inspired devolution from Hegel, to Kant, to Marx, to Nietzsche, is not simply a modern dilemma. The disconnect (between word and action or between words and ultimate reality) describes the “truth” of the failed human condition. The “transfigured” word stands over and against this failed human word (not only in modernity), as Christ’s giving contravenes and changes up a universal condition.

Could it be that the obscuring of this understanding begins with a separation within the Word – separating the Logos from the “word of the cross,” making a division between the word and work of Christ? The incarnate identity (displacing an incapacity to embody the word) in the New Testament and early church is pictured as definitively established in the cross. The presumption in John and among the early church fathers was not that this identity was a given, in some pre-incarnate form of the Logos. As John Behr notes, the early Church did not presume to start with the pre-incarnate Word – claiming the term “pre-incarnate” is absent from patristic literature. He depicts modern theology as having “changed, from Jesus Christ the crucified and risen Lord proclaimed by the Gospel, to the narrative of the Word of God, treated first as ‘pre-incarnate’ (a term I have yet to find in patristic literature) or as ‘asarkos’, ‘fleshless’ . . . who then, later, becomes enfleshed, for the next phase of his biography.”[3]  By way of contrast, the order of identification in Gregory of Nyssa, for example, begins with the cross and from the cross (in reference to Ephesians 3:18) the height, depth, breadth, and length, of all things unfolds and returns. As Gregory describes it, the cross is divided into four parts because the One upon it binds together in Himself all forms of existence. The apprehension of all things and the reality of all things converge on the cross.[4]

The Word in the Prologue of John is already, by the time of the writing of the Gospel of John, synonymous with the Gospel. The Word, like the Gospel, is about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The “word of the cross” (I Cor. 1:18), upon which apostolic preaching is centered, contains the details leading up to the passion, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus. As Cyril of Alexandria makes clear, Word refers to Jesus Christ: “We say that there is one and the same Jesus Christ, from the God and Father, on the one hand, as the God Word, and, on the other hand, from the seed of the divinely-inspired David according to the flesh.”[5] There is no division in the subject of Christ before and after the incarnation, rather: “One is the Son, one Lord, Jesus Christ, both before the incarnation and after the incarnation.”[6]

Both Cyril and Hippolytus describe a putting on of flesh, but this is not pictured as having been inaugurated from the conception or birth of Jesus but is generated backward in time, having been woven from the sufferings of the cross. Hippolytus, commenting on Revelation 12, pushes the metaphor to suggest this weaving of flesh is an unceasing function of the Church, “bearing from her heart the Word that is persecuted by the unbelieving in the World.” The male child she bears is Christ, God and human, as announced by the prophets, “whom the Church continually bears as she teaches all nations.”[7]

The significance of this focus on the incarnate Christ is spelled out by Irenaeus of Lyons, (predating but directly contradicting nominalism) in his insistence that each of the major metaphors for God’s entry into the world – Word, Life, Light, etc. – should not be separated out, or reified as a self-constituting entity, but must be taken as referring to Jesus Christ. The Word, the Light, the Life, is the one who became flesh. Jesus Christ is the Word in the beginning and history’s center is open to the immanent Trinity and all of history is an unfolding of this intersection in the incarnation and its continuation in the Church.

The specific connections and connectedness we develop in the body of Christ are a participation in God, who is giving our communion, our relationship, our interconnectedness an enduring eternal significance. The incapacity for giving (παραδίδωμι) is displaced by the specific giving of the cross (δίδωμι).


[1] In the atonement theory of Anselm and Calvin, the various human agents who actually brought about the hammering in of the nails were acting in accord with the will of God, so that God used evil men to bring about the death of Christ. Anselm removes the devil from the equation (ignoring the major motif of Scripture), and Luther thought that any interruption to the procedure was the work of evil. He explains Pilate’s wife’s dream as a demon’s intervention seeking to impede the crucifixion. In this understanding, Pilate, Judas, the Jews, the Romans, all line up as part of God’s effort to have Jesus punished. That is, as a result of Anselm’s doctrine of divine satisfaction, to interrupt the restoration of God’s honor through the death of Christ, would be the work of Satan, so that Satan and God seem to reverse roles. In the Gospels darkness, sin, death, uncleanness, and evil, deliver Jesus unto death, but according to Anselm, we can add God to the list. This not only splits God against God, putting him on the side of the devil, but it splits the devil against himself, as John equates the chain of handing over as the work of Satan..

[2] George Florovsky, «Revelation and Interpretation», Bible, Church, Tradition (Buchervertriebsanstalt, Vaduz, Europa, 1987), p. 25. Quoted from Manuel Sumares, “Orthodoxy and the Gospels: Repositioning hermeneutics beyond nominalism” Downloads/2085-article-4451-1-10-20191021.pdf.

[3] John Behr, John the Theologian and his Paschal Gospel: A Prologue to Theology (Oxford University Press, 2019), 15.

[4] Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): The Great Catechism, 32

[5] Cyril of Alexandria, That Christ is One (ed. Pusey, 371.12–14) quoted from Behr, 16.

[6] Cyril of Alexandria, First Letter to Succensus, 4. Quoted from Behr, 17.

[7] Hippolytus, Antichrist 4, Behr, 18.

An Apocalyptic Atonement

(Part 2 Introducing the Course on Sin and Salvation)

Once sin is defined as a deception with cosmic implications (e.g., as in cosmic bondage to oppressive structures of racism, nationalism, capitalism, etc.) an apocalyptic breaking in of truth and redemption is the only alternative. It is apocalypticism, in contrast to legal theory (which accommodates the structures of oppression), that takes full account of real-world evil and its defeat and gives full accord to Christ as the center of history. But what sort of Apocalyptic? Apocalyptic theology, as an alternative to a Lutheran (contractual) reading, or a salvation history approach (represented by N. T. Wright and others), presents a largely unified front in what it is not. While this departure (from the legalistic/historic) is key, there has been less work done in providing a full coherence to an apocalyptic approach. A focus on bondage to deception and liberation through Christocentric truth fills out this need.

Filling Out the Coherence and Positive Aspect of Apocalyptic Theology

In Paul’s depiction, deception explains the simultaneous possibility for cosmic (all creation is subject to futility) and personal alienation (they exchanged the truth for a lie) and enslavement. To claim that we are fostered in deception and darkness might seem to be a religious abstraction, but concrete descriptions of how we are captive to culture, to capitalism, nationalism, sexism, racism, ethnocentrism, paints a picture of seemingly inescapable determinism. So too, it may seem unlikely that satanic forces (literal or metaphorical) control the world but then description of the enslaving force as elementary principles of the world, thrones and political powers, spiritual and human forces, the very way we think, might result in the counter-inclination to claim this matrix (constituting the Subject) is impenetrable and irredeemable. So, apocalypse takes seriously the problem resolved through an apocalyptic breaking in.

The widespread notion in the ancient world, which Paul is clearly opposing (in Gal. 3:28 and 6:15), is that the origins or the fundamental building blocks of the universe are based on opposed pairs. As Louis Martyn notes, “He is denying real existence to an antinomy in order to show what it means to say that the old cosmos has suffered its death. He says in effect that the foundation of the cosmos has been subjected to a volcanic explosion that has scattered the pieces into new and confusing patterns.” The cosmos founded on opposed pairs (which for Paul was universal), no longer exists. “For when all of you were baptized into Christ, you put on Christ as though he were your clothing. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; there is no male and female; for all of you are One in Christ Jesus” (3:27–28). Those in Christ, in rightly recognizing the condition, have suffered the loss of the cosmos for the unity (the new cosmic order) found in Christ.

Of course, what is lost is not God’s good creation but a punishing order of understanding (the opposed pairs need oppression). The work of the cross breaks the captive power of the old age (in which death and law reigned), and in his life Jesus enacts the peaceful life (the disempowering cruciform identity) which, as Mary’s song proclaims, “has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty’” (Luke 1:52-3). Jesus can walk through the barriers put up by the symbolic order as easily as walking through doors or as permanently as being raised from the dead. The resurrection type life (which Paul describes “as if not” in regard to cosmic law) suspends the violent necessity of the old dialectic age. The Hutterites will refer to this experience as Gelassenheit, a term carried over from mysticism which means “having-let-go-ness.” As with Paul’s “as if not” there is an abandonment of self-concern or self-affirmation and a relinquishing of the desire to be in charge or to rule over things. This view from the bottom puts all things in a new perspective.

The Cross Exposing the Lynching Tree

In the American experience it is not Jew/Gentile so much as white/black which grounds the symbolic order. As James Baldwin describes it, “I was also able to see that the principles governing the rites and customs of the churches in which I grew up did not differ from the principles governing the rites and customs of other churches, white.” The punishing law is still in place. “I would love to believe that the principles were Faith, Hope, and Charity, but this is clearly not so for most Christians, or for what we call the Christian world.” Baldwin describes a Christianity that “has operated with an unmitigated arrogance and cruelty” as it has identified itself with “the realm of power.” The dominance of the value system of the ruling culture emptied the gospel for Baldwin and he is left under the crushing weight of the symbolic order thrust upon him.

James Cone however, describes the cross as enabling the lifting of the anger and pain entailed in black oppression. “The more I read about and looked at what whites did to powerless blacks, the angrier I became. Paradoxically, anger soon gave way to a profound feeling of liberation. The countless acts of violence enacted on black bodies in lynching and murder brought Cone to a definitive choice: “Either God is identified with the oppressed to the point that their experience becomes God’s experience, or God is a God of racism.” We must accept, according to Cone, “that God is known where human beings experience humiliation and suffering” and that He identifies with the oppressed, suffering and excluded. “Being able to write about lynching liberated me from being confined by it. The cross helped me to deal with the brutal legacy of the lynching tree, and the lynching tree helped me to understand the tragic meaning of the cross.” 

 Law establishes itself through the power of exclusion, the exception upon which the rule is built (e.g., the exclusion of blacks, or Jews, or strangers).  In confronting the law, Christ suffers the ultimate exclusion, and is not afforded the protection of Jewish or Roman law. Homo sacer (the one excluded from humanity) is stripped of legal status and falls outside the political community and is among those continually and unconditionally exposed to the potential of being killed. This power of death, deciding who dies outside the city, establishes the rule and rulers of the city. This, of course, describes who killed Christ and why. He dies outside the city of man, beyond law and religion, reduced on the cross to bare life (biological life, not fully human). Christ as the exception, however, forever exposes the basis upon which inclusion and universality are constructed.  The Subject dependent upon the law and dependent on the city of man requires homo sacer, the lynched, the crucified, the erased, as this violence secures his identity. In Paul’s depiction, the wall of hostility which constitutes the lawful Subject has been broken down by Christ.

The Violent Subject Exposed by the Cross

This is a psychological and anthropological insight (inclusive of epistemological insight), grasped by Søren Kierkegaard (if expressed in a slightly different idiom). Do we learn this truth (of Christ), Kierkegaard asks, as if we are constituted a learning Subject prior to the founding of this subjectivity? This knowing does not reason to the truth but from the truth. The truth determines the form of reason. The truth, Kierkegaard concludes is in the relation to God, who constituted the whole relation, and falsehood or the sickness unto death (the violence of the Subject) is to imagine that this one who relates would found the relation within himself (that the truth is in self-relation, a cosmic truth). His so-called “fideism” is the apocalyptic refusal to subject God’s Self-revelation to a method incapable of receiving knowledge of God. God has acted in his Self-revelation to constitute new Subjects.

Recreation From Nothing

The encounter with Christ is not simply an improvement on the present human situation. It is not simply the attainment of forgiveness or relief from guilt, nor is Christ’s death a vicarious payment for sin. In this contractual understanding, the law, the cosmos, or the old order, provides an entry point into the new creation. Paul is arguing that no one has any ground left to stand on. In fact, all of these explanations of Christ (in Galatians) could be framed as part of the false gospel being taught by the teachers Paul is opposing. They want to make of the Gospel a covenantal nomism, in which Christ has met the requirements of the law, so righteousness has been obtained on the basis of keeping covenant through the law. Paul’s Gospel opposes this partial gospel with the pronouncement that the malevolent grasp of the old-world order is finished. Christ has liberated from slavery through his cross. The lie is displaced by the truth, as “by the cross the cosmos has been crucified to me and I have been crucified to the cosmos” (Gal. 2:19; 5:24; 6:14). Circumcision is nothing, Jewishness is nothing, Gentileness is nothing, gender is nothing, ethnicity is nothing, philosophy is nothing, as what is taking place is on the order of creation from nothing, but the nothing is exposed in light of the new creation: “For neither is circumcision anything nor is uncircumcision anything. What is something is the new creation” (6:14–15; my translation).

Enroll in the course, Sin and Salvation: An in-depth study of sin and salvation with a focus on the meaning of the atonement (2022/1/31–2022/3/25).

Introducing the Course on Sin and Salvation

A nonviolent atonement is an entry point that takes into account all of theology. The work of Christ understood as peaceable (throughout) is not a sub-point to the doctrine of God (God is nonviolent and establishing peace), to hermeneutics (peace is integral to the method), to cosmology (the universe is not a dualism but contains the harmony of the Creator), to hamartiology (sin is violence), or to ecclesiology (the church is to be a culture of peace); rather all of these (and the entire theological catalog) are determined together and to separate them is already to have made a decision about each (an incorporation of violence). How each is treated is determined by the whole and vice versa. One might argue that a violent theory of atonement will result in its own sort of coherence, making God the perpetrator of violence, dependent on a violent hermeneutic (incorporating a violent image of God into the image of Christ’s Father), and dependent on a violent cosmology (a cosmic dualism), and constituting a violent ecclesiology (the Church must make its concessions to violence in a variety of forms), but the person and teaching of Christ sticks out as the exception (though, ironically, there are a variety of ways of glossing over Jesus). But where Christ is made central (the hermeneutic key) – not only in reading the Bible but in apprehending God, understanding creation, recognizing the purposes of the church, etc., then peace is the coherent frame in which doctrine holds together.

The peculiar problem with this understanding is entry into the difference of this Christocentric understanding (depicted by Karl Barth – but which is true to the patristic understanding). How do we get there from somewhere else?

So, for example, how do we read the Bible? Do we make this decision apart from our understanding of who Christ is or is this too determined in conjunction with our understanding of the peace of Christ? Is the Bible a book of eternal trues or is it a by-product of the age that produced it (the fundamentalist and liberal choice, respectively) or can we see revelation unfolding such that the work of Christ functions as the hermeneutic key, bringing coherence where there would otherwise be contradiction? What one does with the contrast between the violence of the Old Testament and the peace of Christ is not only determinate of the view of God, of the Bible, of the meaning of Christianity, but ultimately it is an insight into how self and world are apprehended. What one does with the former picture (the God first glimpsed in revelation) in light of the revelation of the latter (the fulness of Christ), is the very question which the revelation of Christ raises. Hermeneutics must be centered on the peace of Christ or there is no coherent doctrine of revelation or of God.

Or, to take another example, how do we understand the history of the church? Does church history bear an authority that floats free of the specific work of Christ? Two things are clear from the teaching of the early Church prior to Constantine: 1. Christians were forbidden to participate in violence or in those professions connected to violence. 2. Violence is such a pervasive and deeply rooted problem that it often went unnamed and unrecognized even among those advocating its abolition. For example, Tertullian forbids any form of participation in violence for Christians, declaring: “But how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away?” A Christian, must not bear the sword in any circumstance as the Lord, “in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier.” [1]  Yet, Tertullian could also revel in the potential delights of watching his enemies suffer: “What sight shall wake my wonder, what my laughter, my joy, my exaltation?—as I see all those kings, those great kings, unwelcomed in heaven, along with Jove, along with those who told of their ascent, groaning in the depths of darkness!”[2]  Tertullian completely rejected violence, in so far as he understood it but he was simply blind to the violence he projected onto God and which he still harbored in himself. If Christ institutes peace in place of violence, the presumption is that the atonement is aimed at defeating violence throughout. But the extent of violence is not a fully worked out understanding in the early church so that only an unfolding Christocentrism (a gradually realized atonement) holds together the contradictions of history. 

This problem is compounded with the conversion of Constantine (under whom violence is still equated with sin, but is now allowed) and the developments of Augustinianism (dualism, original sin, etc., which make violence inevitable) which feed into Anselm’s rational theology (the ground of a violent atonement), culminating in Lutheranism and Calvinism (giving rise to penal substitution and endorsement of state violence). It becomes nearly impossible to begin with a positive theology of atonement without deconstructing this error. To state the situation most darkly, a mistranslation (of Ro 5:12) gives rise to sin as a mystery – and this nonsensical notion gives rise to an equally mysterious and nonsensical notion of salvation (divine satisfaction and penal substitution) and an entire system which, in each of its parts, has nothing to do with New Testament Christianity. Total depravity of the entire race gives rise to unconditional election – divine fiat that cannot be penetrated with any insight. This cannot include all (limited atonement) and all of this is built on a flattening out and rendering irrelevant of human will and action (irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints). Where Christ is removed from the center it is questionable if what survives can be called Christianity.

Perhaps the primary tragedy of this misreading is that it renders Christianity irrelevant to real world problems and the reality of the solution Christ provides. But in another sense, this simply returns us to square one – humans have been deceived and religion plays a primary role in that deception. Christ is the resolution to a problem we do not understand apart from his exposure of the problem (again, Christocentrism as opposed to beginning with Augustine’s original sin and all that follows), as stupidity, ignorance, false sophistication, having believed a lie, is part of the problem he exposes (I Cor. 1:20). The answer comes prior to the diagnosis because the disease is one of deception.

Strangely, the theological explanation is, as Anselm and Calvin recognized, in regard to the law, but they make the law explanation of sin and reduce the work of Christ to satisfying a law. Salvation is reduced to payment of a debt or penalty (rather than defeat and deliverance from evil). The biblical picture is that sin involves a misorientation to the law, grounding itself in the very lie that Anselm and Calvin promote. That is, the lie is that the law is the arbiter of life (there is life in the law) and death. This is not only the depiction of sin but gets at the root of evil (the outworking of the law of sin and death) defeated in Christ’s suspension of the law. He does indeed suspend the punishment of the law, but this law and punishment are not from God but is at the root of human evil in its destructive power.

Once the ground clearing is complete, it is obvious the biblical conception of sin and the sinful Subject is built upon a very specific deception, detailed in Genesis, renamed the covenant with death in Isaiah, described as a poisonous lie, a throat shaped sarcophagus, and a bloody path of violence in the Psalms. Paul’s summation of the sin problem calls upon the fulness of this Old Testament depiction, both to describe the problem and Christ’s defeat of the problem. Being baptized into the death of Christ directly confronts the sin condition because sin is entangled with the primordial deception regarding death which amounts to an active taking up of death (Ro 5:12 rightly understood). Death as a lifestyle speaks not only of outward violence but of an inward destructiveness (a psychology of death), and salvation from this orientation to death (death-in-life) is through life in the midst of death.

With a long nod to René Girard, who explains how violent sacrifice/death is projected onto the gods as the genesis of all things, the myth/lie of sacred violence can be dispelled through Christ (even in its Christian form). With the exposure of the lie a series of modern idols (nationalism, capitalism, racism) are exposed as part of the same reifying lie. To put it in the context of Genesis, there are endless means and material for creating a false covering (leaves, sacrificial religion, nationalism, capital, race, etc.) all of which involve a turn to death and violence. Christ does not participate or succumb to sacred violence, but exposes and defeats it. 

Enroll in the course, Sin and Salvation: An in-depth study of sin and salvation with a focus on the meaning of the atonement (2022/1/31–2022/3/25).


[1] Tertullian (145-220 AD) in On Idolatry

[2] Tertullian, De Spectaculis 30. Translation by Carlin Barton in Barton and Boyarin, Imagine No Religion, 68. From https://uwaterloo.ca/grebel/sites/ca.grebel/files/uploads/files/cgr_35-3_otto.pdf

Decoding Your Matrix: Are you ready for the Real?

This is a guest blog by Tyler Sims.

It is 2022 and an opportunity to start the year off with some puzzling questions.

Did you watch Matrix Resurrections? Watching the film created questions for me.  I am quite curious about my downloading, processing and uploading of this multifaceted existence.

What reality is being created around you? 

What do you see unfolding in the world? 

How  do you view God in relation to you? Is God here, there, within?

What is r/Reality?

Think for a moment. Feel into your answers. Sense the beat of your heart. The feeling of your gut. How you answer these questions– including their countless offspring –shapes your reality. You are the “processor” forming your reality.

Jesus was a subversive-peaceable agent undermining the regional matrix of His day. He helped people question their experience of Reality and realize the importance of subjective perception. The distinction is key. Subjective perception plays a crucial role in how a person creates their particular reality–lowercase r reality.

Much of Jesus’ work was helping people perceive through the matrix as in Matthew 6. 22: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

The experience of the external world, your reality of God, your reality of yourself is up to you. This creating of reality unfolds presently as you think, feel and sense the world around and within you.

How can this be? You might ask, “Am I omnipotent?” One thing is for sure your perception is potent. More potent, more powerful than you have been taught to understand. You have indwelling power in you to create your reality and influence Reality. 

Do you believe it? How does it feel to state, “someone else creates my reality.”? How does it feel to claim, “I create my reality.”?

It is the Matrix programs of various societal structures that teach you otherwise. The government, news media, technocracy and co-opted religious institutions regularly upload programming into your “operating system” and influence your processing. 

The message you hear is, “Reality is out of control. Be afraid. Exchange your freedom for the security of consolidated power.” In other words, “You do not create your reality. We-the powers that be-create reality.”

Thus, the Empire claims that only might creates reality. Meanwhile, religious bodies teach of creating reality as God’s business not man’s. Fittingly, the American Matrix uses Romans 13 as proof text for the blessed metaphysical union of the Empire and God’s people. Thus, placing individual and community based reality-creating out of reach. In regards to what’s perceived to be real,  the teeth have been removed from the lion so to speak.

Institutionalized church steps in and teaches God’s metaphysical powers and divine will are beyond and above human agency. God’s reality-creating Spirit is approached more as a gentle-lullabye to be conjured at one’s whim through worship songs and morning devotions. 

Again, ignoring the embodied power within a reconciled and awakened humanity. The more fully integrated people are seen in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul described them as both BEing the body of Christ and BEcoming the temple of the Spirit. How did creative power and responsibility feel to Ephesians? How did this creative empowerment change everything for the group of people at Ephesus?

Reality-creating empowerment is absolutely subversive to Matrix dogma. It is what got Jesus noticed by the Judeo-Roman matrix and crucified. He claimed to be One with God and He actively created the kingdom of God via communities. Jesus was not passive with his identity as Son of God and he encouraged fellow humans to accept the power of their divine connection to God. For example , in John 17:21 “that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me . Jesus challenged the matrix by more than his words. He embodied reality-creating-power. Jesus felt it in his being. He claimed it.

Jesus was response-able and creative with his Power. How many people are responding with the embodied, felt empowerment of creating? Perhaps this is why the Earth is moaning in the 21st century waiting for the awakening of humans as reality-creating Children of God (Romans 8).

Instead of passively viewing matrix systems wield their power, creative agents respond. Wide eyed (Matthew 6:22) and reconciled humans are those who claim their Divine lineage of co-creating. Consider, Jesus’ blessing: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). They create realities of a peaceable world with every step.  How? Through BEing holistically united with God and embodying the movement of the Spirit. They see and feel what is Real. This is the sort of empowered exploration the matrix abhors.

How do you and I start feeling the reality-creating power of BEing within Spirit?

How powerful is it to take responsibility for creating your reality? How does it impact Reality?

This is exactly the power of individuals waking up to being embodied in God as a participant. 

Wake up to being descendants of  the Father/Creator.

Wake up to being constantly unified through the  Spirit . 

Wake up to being the flesh of God through the body of Christ. 

As a member of the Body of Christ, claim your power. “My business is my Father’s business.” Start creating reality. Connect your creative desire with the Spirit. Claim God’s power in your being. Do not be sheepish about your creative power. After all Jesus said, ““Truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12”

Some might claim radical creating is idolatry–as Jesus often heard.

But what if idolatry is sitting passive and letting the Matrix-agents  proliferate illusion and inequality?

What if it is time to become an awakened agent of creating reality? 

Now, what r/Reality will you help create?