What does it mean to be “Spirit-Filled”?: An Exegetical Study of Acts 2

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After seeing and taking part in several conversations lately concerning what it means to be Spirit-filled, I thought that it might be a good time to weigh-in on the topic. For me this usually means referring to something that I have written in the past. What follows is thus a short paper that I wrote for a presentation that I did in Mark Wilson’s Acts class at Regent University. Obviously, there is much more that I could write on this topic and even the Acts 2 pericope. However, I hope that this at least gets some thinking about what the fulfillment of the promise of the Spirit means for us today.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the context, historical cultural-background, theological dimensions, and main point of Acts 2. Many scholars have recognized the importance of Acts 2 within the overall book of Acts, but it remains a pericope that has too often been misunderstood. Therefore, this work will illuminate some of the issues regarding the most prominent elements impacting comprehension of this important pericope. Key factors such as the paradigmatic nature of Acts 2, its narrative context, and historical-cultural milieu will be explored. Furthermore, Luke’s theological emphasis upon the Spirit and his principal message to his original audience will be revealed. Finally, a modern application will be supplied in order to further the conversation pertaining to this important pericope and edify both the individual and corporate Christian community.

 

Context

The first thing that can be noticed about Acts 2 is that it is paradigmatic for the entire book of Acts.[1] It is also a self-contained unit which includes a plot, definite boundaries, setting, characterization, climax, and resolution. The outline of Acts 2 can be easily discerned by the flow of the topics: (1) Verses 1–4 describe the coming of the Spirit; (2) 5–11 contains the outsider’s response; (3) 12–13 expresses their misunderstanding; (4) 14–39 are Peter’s sermon; (5) and 40–47 are Luke’s summary and commentary about what happened.[2] To understand the context of Acts 2 within the whole of Acts, one has to recognize some key features which set it off from the passages that surround it.

First, Acts 2 has to be read in light of Luke’s view of Jesus’ anointing. In Luke’s Gospel, the water baptism of Jesus has become primarily an anointing account.[3] In Luke, the anointing account of Jesus comes before his ministry in order to signify the importance of being filled with the Spirit. Jesus’ anointing both foreshadows his instructions later in Luke 24.49 and Acts 1.1–8 regarding the disciples’ reception and parallels their experience when it comes. Second, Luke builds anticipation for the arrival of Acts 2 in the way that he emphasizes prayer and what happens when prayer is taking place. In Luke 11.1–13, Jesus teaches the disciples how to pray and concludes by saying “how much more will your Father who is from heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” Therefore, by the time readers arrive at Acts 2.2 they would take note of the fact that the disciples were praying when the Spirit came. Third, Luke includes explicit directions at the end of his Gospel and in Acts 1 about waiting in Jerusalem for the coming of the Spirit. Thus, Acts 1 serves as an anticipatory introduction to the events which begin in Acts 2. Finally, the beginning of Acts 2 is set apart from Acts 1 by Luke’s use of an adverb of time in verse one (Καὶ ἐν τῷ συμπληροῦσθαι), which is best translated, “And when the day of Pentecost had fully arrived.”[4]

Everything in Acts 2 occurs on the day of Pentecost. In fact, Peter’s speech is the only one in Acts placed in the context of a feast.[5] Acts 2 is marked off from Acts 3, by the introduction of new characters and theme. In addition, like the beginning of Acts 2, Acts 3 introduces a new time which marks it off from Acts 2. The plot and climax of Acts 2 are easy to detect. The disciples speak in languages they have not learned when the Spirit comes. The onlookers have a mixed reaction to the disciples’ speech. To clarify matters, Peter stands up and preaches. The sermon makes an impact and the people are moved to convert. Peter thus calls them to repentance. The key to the entire passage is Peter’s sermon. It functions as an apostolic interpretation of the Spirit-event on the day of Pentecost. Peter’s sermon can be divided into three parts that are clearly distinguished: (1) 14–21; (2) 22–28; (3) 29–36. Each point (1) begins with an appeal to Peter’s audience: “Fellow Jews and all who live in Jerusalem,” “Men of Israel,” and “Brothers”; (2) contains a significant OT quote: (1) Joel 2 in verses 17–21, (2) Psalm 16.8–11 in verses 25–28, (3) Psalm 110.1 in verses 34–35; and (3) an explanation of the texts. These explanations connect the coming of the Spirit with speaking in tongues and the person and work of Jesus with the OT. Although understanding the narrative flow of Acts 2 helps to comprehend the intended message, the historical-cultural background of the readers or hearers of the narrative helps us to understand how they might have interpreted it.

 

Historical-Cultural Background

There are a plethora of theories surrounding the historical-cultural background of Acts 2. Whatever one decides concerning these matters, it seems apparent according to the internal evidence of Acts, that the document is intended for insiders of ‘the Way’. Perhaps Witherington’s point is apt concerning Gentiles when he says that “a pagan Gentile audience would neither have clearly understood nor necessarily appreciated the numerous references to the scriptures and their fulfillment in this work.”[6] However, it is also unlikely that a non-Christian Jewish audience would understand or appreciate both the way in which Luke universalizes the promises given to Israel and critiques the Jewish people.

As many scholars have attested, the material in Acts appears to be less theologically developed compared to Pauline writings. Therefore, based upon the lack of theological development, we may safely assume that the book of Acts, and by extension Acts 2, is intended for an early Christian audience. I also agree with Stronstad and many others who argue that Luke intends the book of Acts to be a historically reliable document – regardless of the way in which he compiles and presents his material.[7] This means that Acts is intended to serve as an historical defense of the young Christian faith to new or immature believers. The question then becomes: How would these new believers understand what Luke has provided in Acts 2?

There are several internal clues within Acts 2 that indicate how Luke wishes this self-contained narrative to be understood by his original audience. As mentioned in the previous section, the narrative suggests that the original listeners would have been encouraged to understand Acts 2 in light of Luke’s Gospel. The narrative itself takes place on the day of Pentecost or the Festival of Weeks in Jerusalem fifty days after the Passover. This was a celebration of the harvest and possibly a remembrance of the giving of the law at Sinai. Jews and proselytes from all over would have been in the city to celebrate the Passover and many would have stayed there through Pentecost. Yet, the most important factors in comprehending the historical-cultural setting in Acts 2 are its narrative context, geographic listing, and Peter’s sermon. Since I have already covered the narrative context, I will now turn to both Peter’s sermon and the geographic listing in Acts 2.

There have been many theories regarding the geographic listing contained within Acts 2. The four most commonly suggested sources for the listing are ancient astrological lists, lists of the Jewish Diaspora, Gen 10 and the Table of Nations, and biblical prophecies like Isa 11.11 which speak of the eschatological ingathering of Jews from the Diaspora. Scholars advocating an ancient astrological listing have stated that each sign of the zodiac was thought to have control over a certain geographic area.[8] Gilbert uses the fourth-century C.E. astrologer Paul of Alexandria’s listing as a prime example.[9] According to advocates of this position, Luke’s listing indicates the idea of the whole world. However, Bruce Metzger has pointed out that Paul’s list cannot be proven to predate Acts and the two lists are very different as to the locations that they mention.[10] Jewish lists of the Second Temple period have also been proffered as possible sources or models for the list in Acts 2. This is specifically true regarding the work of Philo of Alexandria. Although, the most compelling list from Philo still differs significantly from the list in Acts 2.[11] In fact, the list in Acts 2 would have to be seen as omitting numerous locations that were known by Luke to have possessed large Jewish communities.

James Scott has attempted to connect what he calls the Table of Nations tradition in Jewish writings to the list in Acts 2.[12] Nevertheless, Scott’s theory suffers from the same problem as the others in that the lists rarely match up. Furthermore, his argument for a parallel between the tower of Babel and Pentecost seems to fail because the giving of the Spirit does not reverse the diffusion of languages created with the Tower of Babel event. In fact, the empowerment of the disciples to speak in many languages suggests that the word of God is multilingual and not monolingual.[13]

Some have suggested that perhaps the listing would have stimulated the listener to think about the eschatological expectations of biblical prophets and later Jewish writers concerning the Day of the Lord and the ingathering of Jewish exiles. Scholars such as Gerhard Krodel have advocated the position that the list is a representation of the Jewish Diaspora and that Pentecost stands as the beginning of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel before the parousia.[14] This position encounters the same difficulty as the others regarding the names involved in the listing and their incompatibility with Acts 2. Peter’s sermon which follows also seems to play down the implication of the Pentecost event for only Jews while emphasizing its universal consequences. Most importantly, Luke mentions the use of Joel in Peter’s sermon as the passage which interprets the events – a passage which refers to the Spirit being poured out, not upon just Jews, but upon “all flesh”. In fact, none of the passages quoted from the OT in Peter’s sermon have any indication of an ingathering of Jews or the restoration of Israel. Instead, Peter’s sermon emphasizes the universal significance of Jesus’ death and exaltation. The gift of salvation is for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord,” and the Spirit is for “all flesh.” Still, the crowd is largely, although not solely, Jewish, and the event takes place in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Furthermore, the entire passage is pregnant with eschatological meaning. Perhaps Krodel and others thus have it partly right. Maybe this event symbolizes the constitution of a new Israel through Christ.

The most likely candidate for the listing might be a Lukan critique of Roman imperial claims over geographical spaces. Rome was well known for using media to propagate its political ideology. “A variety of media, including literary texts, religious altars and shrines, inscriptions, and coins, saturated the Roman world with evocations of and tributes to the emperor as savior and testimonies of Rome’s ability to establish peace.”[15] Such media even referred to the emperors as gods and Rome as rulers over the world. These often included lists of the countries that were under the control of or had been dominated by Roman power.

The theory is that Luke, in critique of Roman claims, presents the outpouring of the Spirit as the beginning of the gospel’s spread among all nations and the list of nations as a proclamation of Jesus’ rule as Lord and Messiah.[16] Five observations support this position: (1) Geopolitical themes dominate the narrative which makes such a reading consistent with the overall theme of Acts. (2) The rest of Acts seems to dismiss the importance of the restoration of Israel. (3) The giving of the Spirit is used in the rest of Acts to highlight Luke’s universalistic message. (4) Peter interprets the giving of the Spirit as an event for all people (2.14–36, 38–40). (5) When presented with the question of Israel’s restoration in Acts 1, Jesus rebukes the disciples (1.6–8) and refutes their Jewish eschatological expectations by pointing them to the coming of the Spirit and the universal mission of God.

Rather than championing Roman hegemonic discourse, the list (thus) declares the inevitable expansion of Christianity and the universal power of God and Jesus throughout the world. (Acts 2) then provides its readers with the tools necessary to build a stronger understanding of themselves, particularly as they seek to define Christianity in relation to the Roman Empire.[17] The original listeners of Acts would have been immersed in the world of Roman imperial power and propaganda, regardless of whether they were Jews or Gentiles. They would have understood Acts 2 both in relation to the previously mentioned expectations regarding the outpouring of the Spirit in Luke’s Gospel and to the Roman dominated world in which they lived. They would have heard Acts 2 and understood that Luke was first and foremost making an emphatic universal claim concerning the person and work of Jesus against either Roman imperialism or Jewish nationalism.

The problem with all of these theories is that in their conclusions they do not recognize both the continuity and discontinuity taking place within the whole of Acts and ch. 2 specifically. For instance, based upon his strong argument for seeing the listing in Acts 2 as Luke’s critique of Roman imperialism, Gary Gilbert concludes that there is no continuity between what is taking place in Acts 2 and Israel.[18] However, the appointment of Matthias (1.26) and the constitution of the 12 (Luke 6.12–19; Acts 1) are clearly symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel. In addition, it is obvious in Peter’s sermon that he is addressing a mostly Jewish audience and that he calls on the “house of Israel” to recognize Jesus as Lord and Christ (2.36). Equally, Krodel and others make the mistake of concluding that Acts 2 mainly has to do with reconstituting the nation of Israel. But, as aforementioned, it is clear in the passage that Luke intends his message to be universalistic (2.14–36, 38–40). All may receive both salvation and the gift of the Spirit (2.17–21). Furthermore, though it is mainly Jews present, there are Gentiles who are proselytes in the crowd (2.10). Therefore, it would seem that Luke desires his listeners to understand that there is both continuity and discontinuity taking place between the nation of Israel and the new Israel through Christ.

Understanding the historical-cultural background of the audience of Acts 2 within their early Christian and Roman dominated world allows us to comprehend how they would have interpreted the message that Luke provided for them. They would have understood how the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2 related to Luke’s Gospel through elements such as the anointing of Jesus, his teaching concerning prayer, his instructions to wait in Jerusalem at the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts, and his ascension and exaltation. They would have recognized both the Roman critique contained within the geographic listing and the language of covenant used to point out continuity and discontinuity between Jewish expectation and the lordship of Christ. They would have understood that the point of Acts 2 was not as a restoration of Israel or simply a critique of Rome––it was the empowerment given from the Lord Jesus for his people to carry on his saving work. Comprehending these matters allows us to re-evaluate our thoughts and positions concerning Acts.

 

Theological Dimensions

Luke addresses several theological matters in this paradigmatic chapter. He deals with issues relating to Pneumatology, Christology, Trinity, Ecclesiology, and mission. Unfortunately, the scope of this paper does not allow for comprehensive coverage of each topic. Nevertheless, it is important to note that all of the theological issues in Acts 2 are intensely Christocentric. One of the most important issues in Acts 2 for renewalists over the years has been separability––separability of regeneration and Spirit baptism. For classical Pentecostals, separability is vital, for in this matter lies a significant part of their missions-minded Pneumatology.[19] However, initiation-conversion scholars argue against separability. At water baptism, for instance, the charismatic Spirit is thought to be given. Initiation-conversion scholars have pointed out that the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost fulfills eschatological expectation by inaugurating the age of salvation and the era of the church.

The reality is that separability is not what Luke intends. “Luke presents a believer (or apparent believer) without the Spirit as an anomaly, an anomaly that calls for an immediate corrective response from the church” (Acts 8:15; 19:2-6).[20] According to Luke, this anomaly would be abnormal theology and practice. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that in the ordo salutes Spirit baptism follows Spirit regeneration. The theological point is distinctiveness, not separability. This idea is supported by the fact that after the disciples have seen and believed in the resurrected Jesus, he tells them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Spirit which he sends after his ascension. Then, when Luke presents the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2, it is both connected with and distinct from salvation. Peter quotes Joel as his key text for interpreting the event—a text which although universal in scope pertains to those who are already children of God. And, as aforementioned, Luke presents Jesus’ anointing as paradigmatic for the outpouring of the Spirit. As such, the gift of the Spirit serves a prophetic function––it makes believers effective witnesses to Jesus. In fact, this is the pattern that is continually repeated throughout the book of Acts—boldness for witness through the Spirit. However, the giving of the Spirit is also closely connected with salvation: “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (2.38). Thus, it must be concluded that initiation-conversion scholars are right when they assert that the Pentecost event has to do with the disciples entering into the new age and experiencing the blessings of the new covenant, and renewal scholars are right when they say that the Pentecost event is empowerment for witness.

Another point that needs to be mentioned here is the issue of tongues. The principal function of tongues in Acts 2 is to testify that Jesus is the exalted Lord. Tongues are Christological in intent and accentuate the fact that a new age has arrived through the Spirit (2.17). Tongues supply evidence that God is fully at work in believer’s lives. In this paradigmatic chapter, tongues also show that believers are given the responsibility of evangelizing the world. Ultimately, the community can only do it by being full of the Spirit. Jesus’ lordship is manifested on earth by God through the Spirit. Because Acts 2 is paradigmatic and tongues are an integral piece in its structure and content, those who join the community and its mission are expected to receive Spirit-baptism and speak in tongues. Luke intends his audience to understand this when they receive Acts. Since this is what happened in Acts 2, this is what is expected to have happened at every juncture, whether or not it is mentioned at various points in the narrative. This is how paradigmatic episodes function when they are situated at the beginning of the narrative. This is not to indicate that Luke had a dogmatic stance concerning tongues as “initial evidence”; that is a modern theological development. However, tongues should be understood as the normative sign of “Spirit-filledness.”

Acts 2 also provides a paradigm for the nature of God’s community. The head of God’s community is the Lord Jesus. Members are to seal their commitment by being baptized in his name. This indicates the uniqueness of the community. No one can belong to the community without both believing in and confessing Jesus. Although the Spirit is a mark of this community, its identity is found primarily in Jesus. This community is to be Spirit-anointed. In addition, the community can only accomplish God’s purpose through the enablement of the Spirit. The Spirit enables the community to witness, with the accompaniment of signs and wonders, and to be a redemptive-healing community (cf. 2.44). In other words, this is a caring community.

Lastly, Acts 2 speaks about the church’s mission. The presence of the Lord is active within and among its members. The Spirit-filled church proclaims Jesus’ lordship through word and deed, even in the midst of persecution. Jesus’ giving of the Spirit on Pentecost unmistakably shows his present and unremitting activity in the world. Therefore, in Acts 2 Luke clearly shows that Jesus has inaugurated his work from his throne and that he will continue to do so throughout Acts and beyond. Indeed, Jesus has commissioned the church to serve as prophetic witnesses.

Main Point and Contemporary Application

Acts 2 is both foundational for the church and a prophetic outpouring—it is both continuity and discontinuity with Israel and the OT. It fulfills the promise to Abraham to be a light to the nations and connects with Isaiah and Moses in fulfilling what was promised to Israel while making Gentiles part of the new Israel––a spiritual Israel united through Jesus. In other words, it is both and not either or. As aforementioned, the main purpose in Acts 2 is to show that when the Spirit comes upon God’s people they are empowered to proclaim the dynamic and effective message about Jesus. Jesus has provided the way of salvation through his life, death, and resurrection, and as the exalted Lord he has empowered his people, the church, with the Spirit to proclaim this “good news” to the ends of the earth. The exciting part for the modern church is that we are still living in Acts. We are part of the eschatological people of God who are called to be empowered by the Spirit so that we may effectively proclaim the “good news.” We are also called to live in a community worthy of our Lord and to assert the need for God’s people to receive the fulfillment of the Spirit. We, as people of the Spirit, should expect miracles and signs and wonders to take place in our midst when we proclaim the “good news” concerning Jesus to the world. We are his witnesses and he has empowered us to carry on his work by proclaiming him to the world through the power of the Spirit.

Footnotes

[1]. Leland Ryken perhaps provides the best definition for a biblical paradigm in his explication of type scenes in How to Read the Bible as Literature… and Get More Out of It (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984) 191–192. He says that “a type scene is a story pattern or situation that recurs often enough in the Bible that we can identify a set of conventions and expectations for each one… An awareness of such type scenes can become a significant organizing pattern for either individual books of the Bible or the Bible as a whole.”

[2]. All translations are my unless otherwise indicated.

[3]. See Ben Aker, “New Directions in Lukan Theology: Reflections on Luke 3.21–22 and Some Implications,” in Faces of Renewal (Edited by Paul Elbert; Peabody: Hendrickson, 1988), 108–127. Also see Robert P. Menzies, Empowered for Witness: The Spirit in Luke-Acts (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 174 and C.H. Talbert, Literary Patterns, Theological Themes, and the Genre of Luke-Acts (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1974), 16.

[4]. While it is beyond the scope of this paper to deal with all of the narrative elements of Acts 2, an in-depth analysis of some of the most vital aspects can be found in Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation, Vol. 1of Acts of the Apostles (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990).

[5]. See Richard F. Zehnle, Peter’s Pentecost Discourse: Tradition and Lukan Reinterpretation in Peter’s Speeches of Acts 2 and 3 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1971), 36–37.

[6]. Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 63.

[7]. See, for instance, Roger Stronstad, The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1999).

[8]. Gary Gilbert, “The List of Nations in Acts 2: Roman Propaganda and the Lukan Response,” in  Journal of Biblical Literature 121 (2002), 500–501.

[9]. Gilbert, “List of Nations,” 501.

[10]. Bruce M. Metzger et al., Apostolic History and the Gospel: Biblical and Historical Essays Presented to F.F. Bruce (ed. W. Ward Gasque and Ralph P. Martin; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 131.

[11]. See Philo, The Works of Philo (Trans. C.D. Yonge; Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993), 782.

[12]. James Scott et al., The Book of Acts in Its Graeco-Roman Setting, Vol. 2 of The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting (ed. Conrad Gempf and David W.J. Gill; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 483–544.  

[13]. Gilbert, “List of Nations,” 504.

[14]. Gerhard Krodel, Acts (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986), 77.

[15]. Gilbert, “List of Nations,” 526.

[16]. Gilbert, “List of Nations,” 518–519.

[17]. Gilbert, “List of Nations,” 524.

[18]. Gilbert, “List of Nations,” 521–522.

[19]. See, for instance, Menzies, Empowered for Witness and Stronstad, The Prophethood of All Believers.

[20]. William Atkinson, “Pentecostal Responses to Dunn’s Baptism in the Holy Spirit,” JPT 6 (April 1995): 129.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Aker, Benny C. “New Directions in Lukan Theology: Reflections on Luke 3.21–22 and Some   Implications.” Pages 108–127 in Faces of Renewal. Edited by Paul Elbert. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1988.

Atkinson, William. “Pentecostal Responses to Dunn’s Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” JPT 6 (1995): 49–72.

Bock, Darrell L. God’s Promised Program, Realized for All Nations: A Theology of Luke and Acts. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.

Clarke, Andrew D., and Bruce W. Winter, eds. The Book of Acts in Its Ancient Literary Setting. Vol. 1 of The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.

Gasque, Ward W. A History of the Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975. Repr., Peabody: Hendrickson, 1989

___, and Ralph P. Martin, eds. Apostolic History and the Gospel: Biblical and Historical Essays Presented to F.F. Bruce. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970.

Gempf, Conrad and David W.J. Gill, eds. The Book of Acts in Its Graeco-Roman Setting. Vol. 2 of The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.

Gilbert, Gary. “The List of Nations in Acts 2: Roman Propaganda and the Lukan Response.” Journal of Biblical Literature 121 (2002): 497–529.

Hemer, Colin J. The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Edited by Conrad H. Gempf. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990.

Krodel, Gerhard. Acts. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986.

Marshall, I. Howard, and David Peterson, eds. Witness to the Gospel: The Theology of Acts. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

Menzies, Robert P. Empowered for Witness: The Spirit in Luke-Acts. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1991.

Philo. The Works of Philo. Translated by C.D. Yonge. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993.

Porter, Stanley E. Paul in Acts. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999. Repr., Hendrickson: Peabody, 2008.

Ryken, Leland. How to Read the Bible as Literature… and Get More Out of It. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984.

Soards, Marion L. The Speeches in Acts: Their Content, Context, and Concerns. Louisville: John Knox, 1994.

Stronstadt, Roger. The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke: Trajectories from the Old Testament to Luke-Acts. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1984. Repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012.

___. The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1999.

Talbert, C.H. Literary Patterns, Theological Themes, and the Genre of Luke-Acts. Missoula: Scholars, 1974.

Tannehill, Robert C. The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation Vol. 2: Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990.

Winter, Bruce W. and Andrew D. Clarke, eds. The Book of Acts in Its Ancient Literary Setting. Vol. 1 of The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting. Edited by Bruce W. Winter. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.

Witherington, Ben III. The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

Wright, N.T. Acts for Everyone: Part One. Louisville: John Knox, 2008.

Zehnle, Richard F. Peter’s Pentecost Discourse: Tradition and Lukan Reinterpretation in Peter’s Speeches of Acts 2 and 3. Nashville: Abingdon, 1971.

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Revelation, Apocalyptic, and Renewal Studies

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The exodus is a prominent motif which runs throughout the biblical text. Old
Testament scholars have presented evidence that Jewish writers incorporated or borrowed symbols and themes from the Egyptian exodus in order to convey
contemporary messages. NT scholars have linked the exodus motif to the
hermeneutical strategies and theology of the early Christian writers. Likewise,
the exodus is a vital element in the book of Revelation. In light of this I thought that I might discuss the exodus motif in the book of Revelation by describing how the author of the Apocalypse uses the exodus and how it might relate to renewal eschatology. I also thought that I might look at how the exodus motif impacts current renewal eschatological thought.

Purpose and Method

The purpose of this essay is to discuss the exodus motif in the book of Revelation by describing how it is used by John,[1] how it relates to renewal eschatology, and what significance it might have for renewal eschatology moving forward. The exodus is a prominent motif which runs throughout the biblical text.[2] In fact, the exodus seems to serve as a paradigm for John. Thus, ignoring the exodus motif in Revelation can lead to a misunderstanding of its message specifically and eschatology in general. The recent work of renewal theologians can serve as an example of how understanding the paradigmatic nature of the exodus in the Apocalypse can be valuable for eschatological formulation. Therefore, this work will illuminate and analyze some of the most important features of the exodus motif in the book of Revelation. The method used for this research will be examination of primary and secondary texts pertinent to the discussion at hand. The exodus motif has the potential to provide a vital contribution to the study of the Apocalypse, eschatology, and renewal theology. Therefore, this essay will discuss recent renewal contributions in relation to John’s exodus paradigm and attempt to reveal its potential impact for current and future renewal eschatological formulations.

 The Exodus Motif in the Book of Revelation

The exodus paradigm is pervasive throughout the book of Revelation. In fact, it serves as the backdrop to the entire writing. John uses the familiar exodus pattern of prophetic witness, rejection of the prophetic message, resulting judgment, persecution of God’s people, and finally exodus into the new heavens and earth (cf. Rev 10–11; 21). Like those before him, he uses the exodus as a way to speak about God’s salvation of his people. Due to John’s extensive use of the exodus, it would be impossible to mention every instance or elaborate upon all passages, but a few of them deserve attention here.

There are many points in Revelation that reveal an exodus framework to the writing, some are subtle and many are more obvious. For instance, in Rev 1 and 5 the exodus motif is presented in terms of Christ as the Passover lamb. In Rev 1, John points to Jesus’ death as that of the paschal lamb, whose blood marks the redemption of God’s people from slavery – slavery to sin.[3] Redemption is powered by the love of Christ and instituted by his sacrifice that freed believers from sin into an inheritance formerly promised to Israel. The imagery could not be clearer, especially with John’s quotation of Exod 19 concerning Christ’s activity. Jesus’ sacrifice is depicted as that of the new and greater paschal lamb that offers redemption and a new exodus. In Rev 5, John once again quotes Exod 19 in stressing the redemption of a people to become a kingdom and priests to God through the sacrifice of the Lamb. In fact, lamb Christology runs throughout the book of Revelation and is referred to directly twenty-eight times. The lamb’s connection to salvation is implicit in Rev 13 and 21. In Rev 15, the salvation of the Lamb is related to the Red Sea deliverance in the song of Moses and the lamb. Still, the most powerful representation is of the slain lamb that purchased the people of God through the shedding of his blood (cf. Rev 5; 14). The victory in the exodus by God over the forces of chaos was celebrated in the liturgy of Israel’s redemption, and John’s reference to victory through the blood of the lamb continues this line of development that witnessed the replacement of the Red Sea deliverance by the Passover as the symbol of the entire exodus.[4]

Like redemption, the presentation of judgment in the book of Revelation follows the exodus paradigm. Exodus typology underlies the presentation of the seal, trumpet, and bowl series of judgments. As aforementioned, the pattern of witness, persecution, and judgment holds these together. In addition, lamb Christology appears perhaps most profoundly within the pericope leading to the opening of the seals. Beyond the significance of the number seven within the Apocalypse, John likely uses the pattern of seven plagues in keeping with the exodus tradition. There is evidence for a widespread ancient tradition of seven plagues in addition to the narrative of ten plagues inflicted on the Egyptians according to Exodus.[5] In fact, there was a strong tendency to reduce the ten-plague tradition of Exodus to seven plagues. The tradition of a seven-plague divine scourge appears to have been well known in early Judaism.[6] John also transforms the plague elements of the Exodus by adding features of Sinai. However, the events of Sinai and the exile were commonly interwoven into one exodus tradition. For instance, in the OT poetic descriptions of the exodus, the theophany imagery of the thunderstorm and earthquake is extended to cover the whole exodus event from the Red Sea to the Jordan.[7] The importance of the seven plague scheme for this essay is that it shows further evidence that John employed the exodus tradition that was well known and utilized by Jewish writers.

One other aspect of the exodus paradigm that should be mentioned is the presentation of inheritance. Inheritance dominates several significant passages, even whole chapters. For instance, the interlude of Rev 7 uses exodus analogies and is linked to the trumpet and bowl judgments that use the Egyptian plague tradition. By linking these together, John has made the image of the sealing of the servants of God an element in his exodus structure. The image of the sealing of the people of God is itself dependent upon the exodus tradition of the protection of Israel in Egypt during the plagues, and particularly on the blood of the Passover lamb as a saving (sealing) mark against the final and most severe plague on the new Pharaoh (cf. Rev 15; 16; 19; 22).[8] Revelation 7 also incorporates images such as the 144,000 from the tribes of Israel that represent the entire church, the reversal of the exodus prohibition concerning the possibility of meeting God face to face, and the fulfillment of the exodus promise that God’s people would be “a kingdom of priests.” All of these images and analogies serve as central elements in John’s use of inheritance within the exodus paradigm (cf. Rev. 14). Revelation 15 follows the exodus pattern very closely and includes plagues, the crossing of the sea, the engulfing of the pursuers, the song of Moses, the erection of the tent of testimony, and the smoke that accompanies God’s presence. The entire vision is a reminder of God’s promise to drive out his people’s adversaries and bring his people into the land. Likewise, Rev 20 speaks of the reign of Christ and the priestly rule of his people upon the earth. These are all glimpses of the inheritance promised to God’s people.

The vision of the new heavens and earth is the climax of Revelation and the whole Bible (Rev 21 and 22). Although John’s description of the new creation is not extensive, what he emphasizes is newness. The focus of the new creation is the new Jerusalem, and the significance of its appearance is described in the language of the exodus tradition.[9] First, God comes to dwell with his people and they will enjoy his presence eternally. Second, the removal of tears, death, mourning, crying, and labor pains, and God’s offer of “springs of living water” flow from John’s use of the Isaianic new exodus. Third, all of the visions in Rev 21 and 22 thread together elements of the exodus tradition. Finally, John includes the figure of the lamb to the description of the city as a means of ‘Christianizing’ Isaiah’s view of Zion. Specifically, he uses the exodus motif of the lamb to redefine the eschatological Zion tradition. In these passages, John gathers up all of the promises of the exodus and applies them to Christ’s followers. Throughout he shows a willingness to adapt the exodus traditions of the past to his formulation of an exodus paradigm that rests upon Christology. John proclaims that something new is coming. This new heavens and earth inherited by the followers of the Son will be built upon the promises of God in the exodus but will far exceed the expectations of the exodus tradition.

 Renewal Theology and the Exodus

 Renewal scholars have recently produced works that propose a positive outlook on the eschaton. These works generally purport themes such as social justice, Pneumacentric eschatology, and renewal of the cosmos. However, there are differences in approach and emphases within this area of modern renewal scholarship. For instance, Thompson revisions Pentecostal eschatology in reaction to the marriage between Pentecostalism and dispensationalism. Meanwhile, Amos Yong seeks out a pneumatological eschatology.

Thompson’s goals are to propose an eschatology that is harmonious with his interpretation of Pentecostal distinctive, and to provide a more accurate portrait of God’s salvific purposes in the world (Thompson, Kingdom Come). Thompson believes that Pentecostalism is a movement that is first and foremost fired by the eschatological imagination. The themes of pneumatology, spiritual experience, process, and cosmic salvation drive his work. He depends heavily upon Moltmann and Eastern Orthodoxy, but overlooks that the more positive views of the eschaton that he proposes are at best marginal within the Christian tradition (e.g. Origen). Thompson also adopts Moltmann’s denial of the filioque in favor of a Pneumacentric eschatology. Essentially, he proposes a positive view of the eschaton, a pneumacentric culmination of all things, and hell as the cessation of existence in reality (Crenshaw, “Kingdom Come”).

Amos Yong attempts to present a distinctively new pneumatological eschatology in his works. His hermeneutic basically revolves around a rather unique reading of Acts in which, like Moltmann, he purports that the Spirit was poured out upon all creation (Yong, Spirit Poured Out). Yong’s eschatological assertion is that the expectation of a final apostasy in the last days leads to a ‘Noah’s ark’ mentality that awaits the rescue of the church from the wicked all around it (In the Days of Caesar). He thus argues for the renewal of all creation through the Spirit. Like Moltmann, Yong’s driving concern seems to be at least partially for a renewed emphasis on social and political action. For Yong, the pouring out of the Spirit involves a concern for every facet of creation in the present and a renewal of the entire cosmos in the future. The problem is that not only do these eschatological formulations not take into consideration the exodus paradigm of Revelation, but they seemingly lack fundamental understanding of biblical eschatology altogether.

Implications

While renewal scholars are promoting a more positive eschatology that incorporates concerns for social justice and renewal of the cosmos, John depicts an exodus pattern that includes prophetic preaching that brings either salvation or judgment. He emphasizes witness, persecution, wrath, and inheritance of a new heavens and earth. There are certainly similarities in John’s depiction and current renewal theological trends. For instance, Revelation clearly shows the church playing an active role in God’s plans for the eschaton. John also speaks of the new heavens and earth and God’s reign in cosmic terms. Moreover, the Apocalypse is concerned with the oppressed of the world. However, in Revelation the church does not bring about the kingdom of God on earth through social action but serves in the mission of God through prophetic witness. The oppressed are God’s prophetic witnesses. Furthermore, John uses “insider” versus “outsider” language throughout. There is no indication from him that he expects the world to be renewed. In fact, the “earth dwellers,” like the Egyptians, refuse to repent and are judged on a mass scale (cf. Rev 19–20). Although John uses universal language in his descriptions of God’s reign and the heavens and earth, the themes of “newness” and judgment militate against an all inclusive renewal interpretation. In other words, while there is continuity between what is now and what comes after, there is also a radical discontinuity that is not incorporated into many current renewal interpretations. Renewal theology could thus benefit from understanding the exodus paradigm in the book of Revelation.

Understanding John’s use of the exodus would prevent renewal scholars from purporting an overly positive and inclusive view of the end times and help forge a way forward by emphasizing a more holistic eschatology. This can be done by consulting the text first within its context and then interlocking it with biblical
theology and concern for a kingdom ethic. This method would avoid the pitfall of developing a theology that is in contradiction with the biblical text. It would also allow renewal scholars to present a biblical ethic that is distinctly renewal oriented. The renewal of the church can be promoted through a recuperation of biblical comprehension concerning the church as the people of God led by the Spirit in the eschaton. This type of eschatological understanding will lead the church to recover both its historically distinctive eschatological heritage and witnessing role to the entire world.


[1] This essay will refer to John as the author for the sake of space and in reference to the larger Johannine corpus.

[2] Cf. Walter Harrelson, Interpreting the Old Testament (Rinehart and Winston, 1964); Martin Noth, A History of Pentateuchal Traditions (Prentice Hall, 1972); Rikki Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark (Baker, 1997); David Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus (Baker, 2000); David Daube, The Exodus Pattern in the Bible (Faber and Faber, 1963); Ulrich Mauser, Christ in the Wilderness (W. & J. Mackay, 1963), and the works of Gerhard von Rad and Brevard Childs.

[3] Jay Casey, “Exodus Typology in the Book of Revelation” (Ph.D. diss., SBTS 1981).

[4] Casey, “Exodus.”

[5] Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy (T&T Clark 1993). Cf. David Aune, Revelation 6-16 (Thomas Nelson 1998).

[6] Aune, Revelation.

[7] Bauckham, Climax.

[8] Casey, “Exodus.”

[9] Casey, “Exodus.”

[10] Frank Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit (Zondervan 2006).

[11] Amos Yong, The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology (Baker 2005).

[12] Amos Yong, In the Days of Caesar: Pentecostalism and Political Theology (Eerdmans 2010).

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What is Theology?

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I have recently taken part in several conversations about theology that revolve around its nature and processes. Meanwhile, in the Pentecostal academy of today it is becoming more and more acceptable to lean towards a philosophical theology that does not require nor provide much Scriptural support. The argument for this type of theology usually revolves around one of a few points: 1) Pentecostal theology is about hearing what the Spirit is saying to the Church today. 2) Such theology should be acceptable because it has some precedent in the history of theology, even if the precedent is from a theology that has been declared and/or considered anathema. 3) Such theology should be acceptable because it agrees with at least one aspect of the biblical story or nature of God, etc. For these reasons, I have decided to attempt to offer some clarity within this milieu.

(Before I begin, I want to offer a bit of a disclaimer because I have often been erroneously accused of several things, one of which is being against philosophy and/or using philosophy for theology. I am not against using or remaining in conversation with philosophy in the development of theology. I am also not arguing a biblicist position, as historic biblicists were strict literalists that rejected historical research of the biblical text.)

I have chosen to offer this in sort of a copy and paste form from works that I have had to concentrate on for PhD studies. I think that these works that I have covered are invaluable for understanding the task of theology. Furthermore, I believe that these contributions will show the problematic nature of the philosophical theology that has become so popular in Pentecostal circles today. I will begin with a bit of Western history regarding biblical understanding and its interaction with philosophy. I will then cover some works that speak more directly to the issue of theology and study of the biblical text.

Western History Through the Lens of Philosophy and the Bible

From the beginning of what is now known as “Europe,” there was a tension between historical and philosophical streams of thought, one flowing from Greece and Rome and the other from Israel. The biblical story contradicted the thoughts of the great Greek philosophers like Philo and Aristotle. The intellectual leaders of the early European tribes were taught to think in Greek and Latin. In addition, Greek rationality excluded the possibility of finding truth in the biblical story. This meant that Christians had to take on the intellectual task of relating the story of the Bible to classical thought. Christians sought to convey the fact that God had acted in a way that, if believed, must thereafter determine all ways of thinking. This new radical reality is that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1.14). The problem for Christians trying to communicate this fact was that it required a radically new way of thinking.

Acceptance of the Christian message about Jesus meant rejection of two basic dualisms of classical thought: material and spiritual, and being and becoming. However, the new Christian paradigm also provided a new starting point for a whole new chapter in human thought and action that would shape what we now call Europe. Reality was no longer unknowable – it was made available in the person of Jesus Christ. One of the profound advancements came as a result of the theology of Cappadocians in the late fourth century. Their four guiding principles, based on faith in biblical revelation and developed in discussion with the science of their day, provided the foundation for the development of science in Europe. This new way of thinking broke with the classical tradition by rejecting the idea of the subject-object model and purporting a new way to obtain knowledge that could only come about through relationship. The idea is perhaps best represented by Augustine’s now famous phrase “I believe in order to know.” The message of the Christians was spread across the rural tribes of Europe by the monastic movement. As a result of the spread of Christian teaching, the biblical story became the one story that shaped the understanding of who Europeans were, where they came from, and where they were going. The biblical story was the story that shaped their mental framework and the barbarian tribes into the cultural and spiritual entity that separated Europe from Asia. Unfortunately, the European mindset would be challenged again by Greek philosophy in the form of doubt.

While the biblical way to knowledge reigned in European thought, Greek philosophy was going through a kind of ‘rediscovery’ in the East. In fact, Islam had incorporated Aristotelian philosophy into the heart of its theology. Before long, Muslim theologians began to have an impact upon the thinking of Europe. This began in Spain with people like Averroes and spread into Europe. The result was a movement called skepticism that was based upon reason and Greek philosophy.  

The Enlightenment

Enter Rene Descartes, who was originally commissioned to battle the skeptics but ended up adopting their system and promoting methodological doubt. In Proper Confidence Lesslie Newbigin aptly points out how methodological doubt came to permeate the search for understanding.  Through the work of Descartes understanding was limited to what a thinking mind could discover as truth through the process of continual skepticism. In his initial effort to challenge the skepticism of his day, he actually rejected the Augustinian paradigm based upon faith for a foundation built upon skepticism. Knowledge based upon authority, tradition, or belief was tossed aside and only that which could be logically ascertained or deduced was preserved. In effect, doubt replaced belief and all beliefs were to be doubted. Descartes effectively dichotomized philosophy from theology and proclaimed philosophy as superior. He believed that reason alone could provide certain knowledge. Descartes’ goal was to build a structure of knowledge that had the clarity and indubitability of mathematics.

Similar to Descartes, the Enlightenment removed any idea of authority and placed reason in the position of absolute power. The Enlightenment had a drastic affect upon understanding and how humanity sought to obtain knowledge and explain the world around them. In fact, reason came to be regarded as a natural faculty of humanity – a basic human ability or skill. “Reason simply is; it is humankind in its intellectual nature.” Therefore, reason also came to be considered transcendent. It was an intellectual legislator that was answerable to none but itself.In the Enlightenment, the primary means of attaining knowledge through reason was the scientific method. It was believed that only the scientific method could produce objective truth. Only scientific knowledge that could be acquired through the use of mathematics was viewed as true knowledge. It was believed that through science the researcher could objectively study and come to understanding. Thus science was seen as superior knowledge due to its claim to complete objectivity–it was free from all uncertainty.

It was only a matter of time before the elevation of reason and the use of the scientific method had an effect upon biblical studies. Gradually, scholars began to examine the canon of Scripture by using the methods of science. The profound impact of this had far reaching implications. No longer were the texts of the church to be viewed as the authoritative word of God–they were to be looked at as historical writings that could be subjected to the rigorous testing of the scientific method. Furthermore, tradition and faith were to be discarded as one approached the text with complete scientific objectivity. The Christian Bible, and the God of it, effectively became an object that could be studied by the scholar at a distance using the human capacity for reason to decide truth.

What is Theology and How Should We Do It?

In his book Holiness, John Webster argues that theology is a holy task that is proudly founded upon certain presuppositions or beliefs. It is also a task that is performed within a relationship – a relationship with the Holy Trinity and the community of believers. In fact, theology is a part of the sanctification of reason by the holy God. Webster’s argument is that theology is an exercise of holy reason that “has its context and content in the revelatory presence of the Holy Trinity which is set forth in Holy Scripture.” Furthermore, theology is an endeavor “undertaken in prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit.” It is an exercise in the community of God, serving the confession of the Church. Therefore, “it is a work in which holiness is perfected in the fear of God; and its end is the sanctifying of God’s holy name.”

Webster argues that reason must be reconciled to the holy God if it is to work well. This means that the holiness of theology comes in relation to the sanctifying presence of God. Reason is a creation of God that requires reconciliation and sanctification. And holy theology is possible due to the self-communicative character of the God of the Christian faith. God’s self-revelation presents away to know him through relationship. God’s self-presentation is a free act of mercy; it is an act of reconciliation and fellowship. This also means that holy theology is always done in the terrifying presence of God. Holy theology is thus a positive science – it works from and towards the given of God’s communicative presence. “Theology’s content, its object, is always subject….” Theology’s relation to its content is never one of master but servant. For Webster, reason is not an independent master that can summon God but is summoned by God into his presence. God’s presence is encountered through his self-revelation – Holy Scripture. Encountering God through Scripture is one of the basic presuppositions of holy theology. This means that holy reason is exegetical reason, directed by the reading of the texts which are the words of God. Holy theology, or holy reason, thus finds its norm and its limit in the authoritative canon of Scripture.

Webster points out that “as an exercise of holy reason, Christian theology is a venture undertaken in prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit.” As aforementioned, reason must be reconciled to God in order to make truthful judgments. God does this through the work of the Holy Spirit. The work of holy reason requires a dying and rising again. By the Holy Spirit and through the cross of Christ, reason is judged and destroyed before being raised again and given new direction. This means that holy reason is always turned towards the knowledge of God. The exercise of holy theology is also inextricably connected to the community of believers. Specifically, holy theology is reason that is designated to serve the community’s confession of the Holy Trinity. Holy reason is thus an ecclesiastical science; it is an activity of the gathered community of the church which is founded and structured by the Word of God as his revelatory presence. In turn, God’s majestic presence perfects holy reason as the theologian is encountered by the hallowed one. Reason can only be holy if it resists its own capacity for idolatry and recognizes its place before God. The end of the work of theology as holy reason is to sanctify God’s holy name. Yet this sanctifying adds nothing to God but is simply an acknowledgement and indication of what is. This means that intellectual activity can and should not be dichotomized from other acts of discipleship. Holy theology, as an aspect of holy reason, is therefore a human communal endeavor that is a means of thinking and speaking about the holy God – it is a form of praise.

Like the philosopher Polanyi, Webster denies the abandonment of tradition, faith, and presuppositions in the process of obtaining knowledge. In fact, it is only armed with these elements that the theologian can do holy theology. Reason cannot banish the presence of God from the sphere of its operation. This means that reason cannot be dichotomized from relationship or elevated as transcendent judge over all. It also means that holy reason, or holy theology, is done within the economy of God’s dealings with his creatures. Reason is thus like all other aspects of creation – it is in need of reconciliation to God. It is not the master but the humble pupil. It is a receptive and not a poetic enterprise. This means that the work of theology can be held responsible – responsible to God and responsible to the community of faith. Theology is then to be done in prayerful dependence upon the work of the Holy Spirit to reconcile the theologian’s reason to God. Of course, these ideas are in direct contradiction with the Enlightenment model of reason as sole arbiter of truth and its relegation of faith and confession to the realm of myth.

Because theology should stand in prayerful relationship to the Holy Spirit, and God has revealed himself as a fellowship creating Trinity, theology should then find its existence in the realm of the church. This is powerful because it means that theology is accountable to the community of the saints. As part of the church, theology partakes of the same judgment that the Word pronounces, receives the same absolution, and is renewed by the same Spirit – it is an integral part of the body of Christ. Theology is thus also responsible to the community of faith. Whereas the Enlightenment model has caused many modern theologians to reject the use of confession and tradition within their theology, Webster gives these aspects a fundamental place of importance. Indeed, it would seem that aberrant theology would be less common if theologians placed a renewed emphasis upon confession and tradition.

Because holy theology is only done in relationship to God, it is bound by the authoritative canon of Scripture as its norm and limit. God has divinely chosen to speak to humanity through the mode of speech-acts. This is not to deny the reality of the incarnation but to affirm that, through the Holy Spirit, God chose to act in history through his word, including the divine Word made flesh. Holy Scripture thus provides theologians and biblical scholars with the divine authoritative means of communicating and understanding God’s self-presentation. Understanding Scripture in this way means that scholars cannot pick and choose which parts of Scripture are historically valid and which are human embellishment, for they are all the work of God to communicate and reveal himself to humanity. This also means that theologians cannot bifurcate certain portions of the biblical text or God’s character from other portions in order to argue their theological points.

The impact of Webster’s work could not be more profound for modern theology and biblical studies. No longer can Scripture be viewed as simply historical documents that can be subjected to scientific analysis. The word of God is authoritative and is the means of his self-revelation. Furthermore, the scholar cannot claim to stand outside of Scripture and relationship with God and
community in order to come to proper interpretation. Contrary to Enlightenment thought, reason is not the judge of all. All reason is part of creation and needs reconciliation to God. Theology and biblical studies are thus done in relationship to God and the community of believers. The study of God’s word is a somber endeavor that requires prayerful dependence upon the Spirit. Therefore, biblical studies and theology are works done in humbleness before the holy God with reverence, fear and praise. These aspects of Webster’s impact are paramount because they invalidate current beliefs and practices held by many biblical scholars concerning Scripture, the task of theology, the relationship of the theologian or biblical scholar to his or her work, the importance of the faith community, and their responsibility before God. Webster actually elevates theology in that he takes it from the limitations of a purely human science restricted by reason to a holy work of praise to God.

Conclusions

As aforementioned, there are serious problems within certain Pentecostal theological circles today. For instance, in his book Spirit Poured Out (that is critiqued on this blog), Amos Yong builds his entire argument around a faulty interpretation of Acts 2. This leads him to argue for a universalistic “renewal of the cosmos.” In other settings, he has argued that just as the NT authors “reinterpreted” the OT in light of Christ, Pentecostal theologians can and should reinterpret the NT in light of what “the Spirit is saying.” He has also gone on to say that Christians should not be surprised to meet a religious other (Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, etc.) and find that they already have the Spirit. Of course, this is more than problematic because those who have the Spirit are always insiders – they are saved through Christ. Matthew Thompson has recently entered this milieu with his work Kingdom Come: Revisioning Pentecostal Eschatology. Essentially, Thompson follows similar paths as those of Yong in arguing for a very positive and inclusive view of the eschaton. He also takes steps to turn the Christocentric nature of biblical eschatology into Pneumacentric and reimagines eternal punishment as some philosophical cessation of existence in reality. The conclusions are nuanced when compared to some of the other current Pentecostal theologians that lean heavily upon philosophy, but much of the methodology and hermeneutic is the same. Christology is replaced with Pneumatology while a very fluffy “renewal of the cosmos” is purported.

In the beginning, I mentioned how the Pentecostal academy of today it is becoming more and more acceptable to lean towards a philosophical theology that does not require nor provide much Scriptural support. The argument for this type of theology usually revolves around one of a few points: 1) Pentecostal theology is about hearing what the Spirit is saying to the Church today. 2) Such theology should be acceptable because it has some precedent in the history of theology, even if the precedent is from a theology that has been declared and/or considered anathema. 3) Such theology should be acceptable because it agrees with at least one aspect of the biblical story or nature of God, etc. As one can see from reading Augustine and others, prior to the Enlightenment or after the Reformation, Scripture was always central to theology. Philosophy was never considered adequate on its own in the development of theology; it was often a contributor but not the norm and limit – the standard. Furthermore, theology is done in relationship through the power of the Spirit who is faithful to Scripture just as Jesus was/is. This means that one cannot rightly claim to receive a theology of the Spirit that is contrary to the Word of God, or to the full story of Scripture and the full nature of God! Lastly, just because one’s theology is not new but has been argued by misguided theologians of the past does not mean that one has a right to rehash it all over again or repackage such misguided attempts in new wrappings – especially if such a theology or theologies has been rejected by the community of believers and is inconsistent with Holy Scripture. Hopefully, we can learn from history and move forward with a Pentecostal theology that is more balanced and biblically based.       

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The American Church and Biblical Christianity

I am reading Thaddeus Barnum’s “Never Silent” now that deals with the apostasy of the Episcopal Church USA and its correction by Third World Bishops and Arch Bishops, which set up the Anglican Mission in the Americas. It seems that Pentecostals are now running in the same direction that began the heresy in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. The younger generations and many of the educated are beginning to really push “open dialogue” with the homosexual issue. For the Episcopal Church USA it was called “come and see” as they promoted open dialogue with the homosexual agenda. They began to use the Bible out of context to promote the validity of the homosexual lifestyle while claiming that the church needed to be more open and willing to change in light of culture, science, philosophy, etc. I see the same exact thing happening among many Pentecostals now. There are already professors at Evangel University that teach homosexuality as a …genetic trait and not a behavior. There are already Pentecostal scholars that I have spoken to personally that believe that homosexual relationships are fine and not sinful as long as they are monogamous, just like a real marriage between a man and woman. There are already Pentecostal scholars writing books and doing lectures that challenge the uniqueness of Jesus as the only way to the Father. What is amazing to me is that very few seem to see it coming and many seem to be ok that Pentecostals are running in that direction. In 2010, a Pentecostal academic organization tried to have a pro-homosexual scholar come on to the campus of an A/G university. When Dr. Wood personally got involved they developed a committee to investigate breaking their confessional ties so that they could be more broad focused and open to dialogue outside of certain confessional links. In 2012, they had a special session just for homosexual dialogue/theology on the campus of a charismatic university. This last year they tried to drop portions of their original statements that claim confessional ties and restrict membership. In fact, many pointed out that the newly drawn up parameters in the statements cast such a large tent that even a non-Christian could potentially hold office in their organization. The answer that they got was essentially that it will never happen, you are blowing things out of proportion. I think that recent church history proves that to be naïve thinking at best! There is a war taking place for the soul of the American church and it has reached the shores of the Pentecostal world; I pray that, like the Anglican Mission, there may be more leaders in the Spirit-filled church in America that are willing to hold to the faith once delivered to the saints.

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Final Rule For Faith And Practice? Really?

For as long as I can remember I have been told that the group that I have been a part of always and in all circumstances held to the Bible as the final rule for faith and practice. In fact, in no uncertain terms, other groups were often purported as being the ones that placed human reason or desire above Holy Scripture in their development of doctrine and practice. The high churches, especially Catholics, were the worst offenders because they believed that their history of tradition (practice) should be placed upon the same level as Holy Scripture. Essentially, like Vatican II, concentric circles were drawn with my group in the center and other groups appearing on the succeeding lines in order from low church to high. This graph represented the belief that our group followed the Bible closest while the others travelled further and further out from the center of truth.

This whole way of looking at the Church was fine with me as long as I remained ignorant and uncaring about the larger Christian world outside of my own little existence. The problem came for me when I felt the Lord calling me to get a biblical education. Of course, I knew that this meant that God was calling me to go to our schools; after all, our schools were the ones that taught the real truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. This is what I believed before I started actually studying the Bible for myself with the tools that I was taught in our schools.

Being Pentecostal, I was always enamored with the study of eschatology and the book of Revelation. I had watched all of the old dispensational dramas like “A Distant Thunder.” I had even shown the Left Behind series to my youth when I was a youth pastor. I encouraged them to be ready for the rapture of the Church at any time because they could be left behind! I helped them to gain a great appreciation for national Israel, because after all it was they who were really God’s chosen people. All of this I believed and taught before I learned to study for myself. Furthermore, I verbally beat my members over the head with the “holiness” message. If they wanted to be true Christians then they would strive to never curse, never listen to secular music, and never, ever smoke or drink a sip of alcohol. All of these things were the greatest of sins, next to being a Catholic of course. Every time I would hear a preacher from my group talk about sin, the conversation would immediately move to smoking, drinking, and cursing. These were the trifecta that were the signs to everyone that you were not really a Christian. Breaking any one of these rules meant that you needed to immediately repent because, who knew, you might just find yourself missing the rapture before you had the chance to beg for forgiveness!

Something began to change within me as I got a biblical education. Uneducated ministers would say that I had lost my salvation or my Christian liveliness – this is what Pentecostals often call “being dead.” However, the truth is that I began to discover that what the Bible said and several things that I was taught to believe that it said were worlds apart. At the same time that this was going on, the Lord brought great teachers and mentors into my life that were not afraid to challenge long standing beliefs and practices that were clearly unbiblical. In fact, all of them had been persecuted by others within the group for daring to go against the tradition. What I learned through all of it, over the past ten to twelve years of moving in biblical academia, is that the claim to the Bible as the final rule for faith and practice just was not true in every case. All groups within the Church develop their own dogma that is based upon a number of factors that move way beyond the bounds of the biblical text. Fortunately, many groups “cast a big enough tent” so that discussion on the non-essentials can take place without fear of persecution. Unfortunately, the group that I have been a part of often appeared to cast a big tent, only to zip the door closed when someone dared to challenge some of their pet beliefs. I guess that is what you get when in a group historically connected to fundamentalism.

Take for example the issue of alcohol. I have recently had many conversations with people from my group concerning the use or non-use of alcohol. To drink or not to drink, that is the question! Many in the group that I have been a part of have started to come to the same conclusions that I have come to: it is time for the group to “put its money where its mouth is.” In other words, if the group wants to claim that the Bible, and not man made rules, are their final rule for faith and practice, then they actually need to practice that! Over the years I have seen how this faux view of holiness that created such beliefs has actually caused many to turn from the faith. This generally happens for two reasons: 1) People begin to realize that it is unbiblical. 2) People constantly fail to live up to the Pharisaical standards created by others and end up giving up. Ironically, Jesus alludes to this same thing happening in his day. Jesus, seeing how the Pharisees added all of their man made laws unto God’s, told them that they travel the whole world to win one convert only to turn that one into twice the son of hell that they were (Matt 23.15).

The tradition within the group that I have been a part of has done the same thing with many issues, including the issue of alcohol. Of course, the problem is that the biblical text is very clear on the use of alcohol – it is permitted with moderation. As aforementioned though, the group that I have been a part of rejects this clear teaching in favor of the holiness that it has created in its own image. Holiness, we are made to believe, is about what one takes into the body as much as what comes out of one’s body. The only problem with this is that Jesus actually said the exact opposite. He said that no one can be made unclean by anything that is taken into the body but it is what comes out of the body that makes one unclean (Mark 7.14; cf. Matt 15)! This means that if we want to hold to Holy Scripture as our final rule for faith and practice then we must change our tradition so that it lines up with Scripture. But when this is pointed out the conversation quickly devolves into historic practices and beliefs of the group again. So, I ask, what is the difference between the group that I have been a part of and the Catholics that they love to hate so much? Do not both hold that their tradition in certain circumstances is equal or even superior to Scripture? Do not both attempt to interpret Scripture in light of their tradition? These are some of the questions that have changed my life!

In the aforementioned recent conversations, it has become even more apparent that the Bible is not always the final rule for faith and practice for the group that has always claimed it as such. The leader of this group was even called in recently to a conversation in order to “correct” the ones who tried to help the others understand how their beliefs and practice concerning the issue of alcohol was unbiblical. Other leaders within the group got heavily involved and began to give all sorts of philosophical reasons why one should continue to “hold up the standard” of the group’s tradition. Like I said, it is zipper time when it is a “pet” issue. Now, this does not mean that most of the group’s faith and practice is unbiblical, for indeed it is. But what it means is that in these cases it is an example of what takes place when we put our desires and beliefs before the Word of God. We are always in error when we begin to use our own reasoning and philosophy to try to circumvent Holy Scripture to make it fit within our paradigms. We need to all reconsider our thoughts on Holy Scripture so that we may reaffirm it as the genesis for all of our faith and practice. This is a serious task that will also cause us to reflect upon what we believe and change what needs to be changed in order to line up with Scripture. If Holy Scripture truly is our final rule for faith and practice, then our faith and practice should line up with Holy Scripture! If it does not, then it needs to be challenged immediately!

To finish off this little posting here are some texts dealing with the issue of alcohol and holiness:

Mark 7.14-23

After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you,  and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.

“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.   “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”

Matt 15.11

Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? “For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.’ “But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ ” After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, “Hear and understand. “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

Lk 5.36-39

And He was also telling them a parable: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. “But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. “And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough.’ ”

Lk 7.33-34

“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

Jn 2.10

and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” (in other words, they could tell the difference – it says nothing of people being too drunk so that they could not tell that Jesus’ wine was not alcoholic!)

Acts 2.13-15

But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.” But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. “For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day.

II Cor 10.28-31

Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake; for the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains. If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Rom 14.1-23

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

1 Tim 3.8

Deacons must also be of good character. They must not be two-faced or ADDICTED to alcohol.

1 Tim 5.23

No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and  your frequent ailments.

Titus 1.7

For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-  tempered, not ADDICTED to wine.

Titus 2.3

Tell older women to live their lives in a way that shows they are dedicated to God. Tell     them not to be gossips or ADDICTED to alcohol

Gen 14.18

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a PRIEST of God Most High.

Lev 23.13

Its grain offering shall then be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering by fire to the Lord for a soothing aroma, with its drink offering, a fourth of a hin of wine.

Num 6.20

Then the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the Lord. It is holy for the priest, together with the breast offered by waving and the thigh offered by lifting up; and afterward the Nazirite may drink wine.’

Num 15.5-7

and you shall prepare wine for the drink offering, one-fourth of a hin, with the burnt offering or for the sacrifice, for each lamb. ‘Or for a ram you shall prepare as a grain offering two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one-third of a hin of oil; and for the drink offering you shall offer one-third of a hin of wine as a soothing aroma to the Lord.

Num 18.12

All the best of the fresh oil and all the best of the fresh wine and of the grain, the first fruits of those which they give to the Lord, I give them to you.

Deut. 11.14

that He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain, that you may gather in your grain and your new wine and your oil.

Deut 14.26

“You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.

Psalm 4.7

You have put gladness in my heart, More than when their grain and new wine abound.

Psalm 104.14-15

He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the labor of man, So that he may bring forth food from the earth, And wine which makes man’s heart glad

Proverbs 3.9-10

Honor the Lord from your wealth. And from the first of all your produce;

So your barns will be filled with plenty. And your vats will overflow with new wine.

Ecc 9.7

Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God   has already approved your works.

Isa 25.6

The Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, And refined, aged wine.

Isa 55.1

Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters;

And you who have no money come, buy and eat.

Come, buy wine and milk

Without money and without cost.

Jer 31.12

They will come and shout for joy on the height of Zion,

And they will be radiant over the bounty of the Lord—

Over the grain and the new wine and the oil

Joel 3.18

And in that day

The mountains will drip with sweet wine,

And the hills will flow with milk,

And all the brooks of Judah will flow with water;

And a spring will go out from the house of the Lord

Pseudo-Ignatius

Do not altogether abstain from wine and flesh, for these things are not to be viewed with abhorrence, since [the Scripture] saith, “Ye shall eat the good things of the earth.” And again, “Ye shall eat flesh even as herbs.”6 And again, “Wine maketh glad the heart of man, and oil exhilarates, and bread strengthens him.” But all are to be used with moderation, as being the gifts of God.

Justin Martyr

There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands.

Irenaeus

God give to thee of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, plenty of corn and wine.

And the list could go on and on and on…

So, why against the warnings of St. Paul do we cause division in the body of Christ by proclaiming something that God gave to be unholy and by suggesting that our brothers and sisters who partake of it are unholy, unworthy, sinful, immoral, or not minister material for us, when the Bible, Church history, and the vast majority of the Church today disagree with us?

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Antichrist in the Context of 1 John 2

Antichrist in 1 John 2

Antichrist in 1 John 2

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Worship In Revelation

WORSHIP IN REVELATION

Worship is a key element in the book of Revelation. However, there have been a plethora of claims and arguments made concerning their function. While it would be impossible in such a short paper to cover all of the different views, I will provide a few for the sake of promoting discussion. Fiorenza argued that the hymns of Revelation were intended to promote political struggle.[1] G.K. Beale stated that the heavenly worship in Revelation was intended to be patterned by the Church on earth.[2] Osborne asserts that the hymns are strategically placed in order to draw attention to two things: the majesty and sovereignty of God, and the worship of his people, heavenly as well as earthly.[3] Still Bauckham says that the worship of Revelation has a polemical significance in that it “sees the root of the evil of the Roman Empire to lie in the idolatrous worship of merely human power, and therefore draws the lines of conflict between the worshippers of the beast and the worshippers of the one true God.”[4] Bauckham understands the significance of this polemic to flow from the Jewish and early Christian importance of worshipping the one God and creator.

Fiorenza’s position seems to be problematic in that she solely focuses upon what she sees as liberation elements within the Apocalypse. In addition, the context of the hymns and their heavenly imagery would suggest that John would have not considered earthly political struggle to be of primary concern. Beale, Osborne, and Bauckham’s positions seem to have valid argumentation from the vantage point of context and history. Beale’s argument is the weakest of the three but it might be significant to take seriously the connection that he makes between the tabernacle of Moses and the worship scenes, especially considering the exodus and wilderness imagery found in Revelation. The imagery of the slain Lamb of God standing in the middle of the throne while being flanked by elder worshippers is very similar, if not identical to, the Eucharist. Could John have been drawing upon early Christian practice as well? Osborne seems to corroborate Beale’s argument while also touching on Bauckham’s sovereignty motif. Bauckham seems to recover Fiorenza’s position without the need to place primary importance upon political struggle; instead he is concerned with the sovereignty of God and Christ.

Like Bauckham, I believe that Revelation intends to convey theology. I also believe, with Beale and Osborne, that John intends his readers to learn from and emulate the more perfect worship that takes place in the heavenly realm. It would seem illogical that the early Church would receive this book as truth and not seek to pattern their behavior after the divine reality that it represents. I think that in a sense all of the positions mentioned contain truth. John certainly intended the worship presented to be a polemic to the worship of Rome and the beast. However, this does not seem to be his primary purpose or message in these scenes. The primary purpose seems to be, to borrow from Wilson’s motif, a message concerning the sovereignty of God which points to ultimate victory for his worshippers. This is not to say that the worship is limited to this aspect but simply flows from it.


[1]. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Revelation: Vision of a Just World, ed. Gerhard Krodel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 103.

[2]. G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 312.

[3]. Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 236.

[4]. Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993), 59.

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