Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Witherington on Jesus' Eschatology, Son of Man, and Abba

I have three items for my write-up today on Ben Witherington III's The Christology of Jesus.

1.  In my post on this book yesterday, I struggled to understand Witherington's view on Jesus' eschatology, as I sought an answer to the question of whether Witherington believes that Jesus envisioned an immanent eschaton that would overturn the current world order and establish the Kingdom of God.  On page 214, Witherington states the following:

"...we saw Jesus as an eschatological messenger who announced the near coming and even presence of the dominion of God.  More than this, however, clearly from Luke 11:20/Matt. 12:28 Jesus saw himself as in some sense bringing in the final eschatological dominion of God, insofar as it affected the human condition directly.  By contrast, there is little or no evidence that Jesus thought he was bringing in that dominion in a way that would cause cosmological change during his ministry.  Human history and human lives are the arena into which he sees the dominion breaking, in spite of the unchanged nature of the earth, the cosmos, and even the continuing existence of 'this generation' or, as Paul called it, 'this present evil age.'  God's dominion is breaking into the midst of a dark world without immediately transforming or obliterating it all.  Only those who have eyes can discern its presence."

Jesus may not have thought that his ministry was causing cosmological change, but did he believe that cosmological change was imminent?

2.  Witherington discusses different views on the Son of Man (who will rule) in Daniel 7.  The first view states that the Son of Man was "one or more angels", for Gabriel in Daniel is said to be one "like the appearance of the sons of humanity" (Daniel 10:16), and Daniel 7 refers, not to a man, but to one like the Son of Man.  Witherington disagrees with this view because Daniel 7:27 affirms that the kingdom will be giving to "the people of the saints of the Most High" (Witherington's words), not to angels, plus the suffering Israelites would not find comfort in the angels being given the kingdom.  Witherington also asks in what sense the horn ("perhaps Antiochus") waged war against the angels (page 239).

I think that the first view deserves more consideration, for Daniel 12:1 says that Michael will stand up and calls him (in the words of the KJV) "the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people."  In addition, Daniel 8:10 talks about the little horn casting down the hosts of heaven.  And I can see the suffering Israelites finding comfort in the notion that angels will rule them, for that is better than Gentile oppressors ruling them.

The second view states that the Son of Man is "a symbol for Israel, or at least for faithful Israel----the 'Saints of the most High' who endure persecution" (page 238).  Witherington thinks that this view makes sense because animals symbolized kingdoms, and so it would be reasonable for the Son of Man to symbolize Israel.  Witherington states that the "symbolism would indicate the inhumanity or 'unhumanity' of the pagan empires in comparison with the people of God" (page 239).  Moreover, Daniel 7:27 affirms that dominion will be given to the saints.  For Witherington, a collective understanding of the Son of Man would have comforted the suffering Israelites.

The third view is the the Son of Man in Daniel 7 is an individual representative of Israel, such as a Messiah.  This is the position with which Witherington agrees.  One reason is that the four beasts in Daniel 7:27 are said to represent four kings, who are individual representatives of nations, and so the Son of Man could likewise be an individual representative of Israel.  Moreover, early use of the phrase "Son of Man" (i.e., the Similitudes of Enoch) regarded it as Messianic.  And Witherington states that, in Daniel 7:27, the reign of the Son of Man "meant the reign of the saints since he was their ruler and representative" (page 240).  The reign of Israel's representative will entail the rule of Israel's saints over the world, in short.

3.  Scholars have advanced two arguments based on Aramaic: that the word "Abba" is not a special term of intimacy (such as "Daddy") but simply contains an Aramaic construction making a noun definite ("the father"), and that the term "Son of Man" is a circumlocution, a method of self-reference (meaning "I").  Witherington disagrees with these arguments, for he maintains that they are based on later Aramaic sources rather than the Aramaic that existed during the time of Jesus.  Regarding "Abba", Witherington believes that Jewish sources (i.e., Targum Malachi 2:10) and the New Testament (Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6) indicate that the word is an expression of intimacy.

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