Saturday, March 17, 2007

Contra Paul: Teasing Out the Pattern

by Alice C. Linsley

Christianity builds upon certain established facts. It does not spring forth ex nihilo. It develops out of the Semitic experience of God, which in the Scriptures is well represented by Abraham and his descendents. What do we know about Abraham and his people? We have enough factual information to fill the pages of a large volume.

One of the facts that can’t be avoided is that salvation for Abraham was personal and embodied. Abraham, like Moses after him, spoke to the Lord as an intimate. His relationship with his Maker was so unlike most people’s that Abraham’s faith is remembered throughout the Old and New Testaments.

For Jewish Christians living in the first decades, Father Abraham’s faith represented both imputed righteousness and the necessity of faithful works. It depends on who you read. “Abram put his faith in Yahweh and this was credited to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6) For Paul this text proves that righteousness depends on faith, but James cites this text when he argues that faith without works is dead. James writes: “Was not Abraham our father justified by his deed, because he offered his son Isaac on the altar? So you can see that his faith was working together with his deeds; his faith became perfect by what he did. In this way the scripture was fulfilled: Abraham put his faith in God, and this was considered as making him upright; and he received the name ‘friend of God’.” (James 2: 21-23)

For both Paul and James it is clear that to be a son of Abraham meant to have faith like the Father. On the other hand, to be a disciple of Moses required keeping all the Law. For James there seems not to be a conflict here, but Paul sets these up as a dichotomy. For Paul the wife, Sarah, represents imputed righteousness or grace while the bondservant, Hagar, represents the Law. (Gal. 4: 21-31) Paul writes, “There is an allegory here: these women stand for the two covenants.” The Apostle strikes a contrast in order to teach the superiority of the covenant of grace which he understood to be fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ. But did all early Jewish Christians think of these figures this way? Isn’t it likely that they also saw similarities between Abraham and Moses that spoke to them of the Person of Jesus Christ?

We recall that both Abraham and Moses were in contact with the Pharaohs of Egypt and both found themselves in trouble there. They do indeed have much in common when it comes to Egypt. What might this have meant for early Jewish Christians? What did it say to them about Jesus?

To understand how they might have thought we must explore other similarities between Abraham and Moses. Consider these:

• Both came into Pharaoh’s presence by water: Abraham because of lack of it in Canaan, and Moses as a baby floating in a basket.
• Neither Abraham nor Moses had offspring in Egypt. In terms of progeny, Egypt was not a fertile place for them (as compared to Joseph).
• In Egypt both men’s natural relationships became distorted. Abraham was estranged temporarily from his wife (also his half-sister). Moses was not raised as his parents’ son, but as a prince in Pharaoh’s household.
• Both leaders left Egypt with greater authority and wealth.
• Both were princes yet foreigners among the people.
• Both were blessed and counseled by noblemen priests: Abraham by Melchizedek, and Moses by Jethro (his future father-in-law).
• Both met their wife at wells: Abraham married Keturah in Beer-Sheba (well of Sheba) and Moses met Zipporah, his future wife, at a well.

The Person of Jesus Christ is foreshadowed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Paul, John, Peter and the early Church Fathers found continuity between the faith of Abraham and the revelation of Jesus Messiah. Nothing in the Scripture is extraneous to the Person of Jesus Christ. As with Isaac, Jesus’ sacrificial journey required three days. As with Isaac, Jesus carried the wood upon which he would be sacrificed. As with Isaac, the sacrificed one is bound. As with Isaac, the Son is sacrificed on a mountain. Only with Jesus, no substitute is provided. God did not make a switch to save His Son. This is because Jesus is the real thing, not the archetype. Salvation is an embodied reality and has archetypes which point us to the True Form. As we consider Abraham and Moses as archetypes of Christ, we begin to see a pattern. Here are some threads of the pattern:

• The Prophet Hosea tells us that God called His Son out of Egypt. Since both Abraham and Moses were led out of Egypt, this can not apply to Israel. Were it so, the prophecy would speak of “sons.” Clearly this prophesy speaks of the Son, Jesus Christ.
• Jesus’ is revealed at his Baptism in the Jordan. Instead of the waters parting, the heavens part.
• Jesus had no progeny.
• On earth, Jesus’ natural relationship with the Father is distorted in that moment when He cries: “Why hast Thou forsaken me?”
• Jesus victorious rose from the grave, Almighty God.
• Jesus was a Prince whose royal lineage was not recognized by his own people. John reminds us that He came into the world but the world did not recognize or “receive” him.
• Jesus was blessed by noblemen sages (priests?) at His revealing by the great star.
• Jesus met his archetypical “bride” in the woman at Jacob’s well. She was the first female evangelist, and according to tradition, Photini and all her children were martyred. Photini means “Illumined One” and she represents the Church, the Bride of Christ.

Doubtless the reader will find more similarities between the archetypes and the True Form, but these suffice to tease out the pattern of Scriptural revelation. If we stay only with Paul’s dichotomy between Grace and Law, we are likely to miss some elements of the pattern.

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